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Chapter 5

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Cohen spoke first, welcoming everyone to the tenth Culling announcement of the season. That meant I was the last to announce—the last girl to come forward as marked. Nine other girls had sat next to Cohen on this stage, some of them eager and some of them afraid, and declared themselves as part of the Culling.

I listened to him explain the history of the competition.

I'd heard it before. This was one of the traditional Erydian legends, the kind that all children grew up hearing. Even my mama, as jaded and hurt by the goddess as she was, used to tell my brothers and I this story. She would whisper it to us during the coldest nights of the winter stretch—when we were hungry and afraid—back then it had all felt so very far away. Then, the Culling had still felt like a fairytale and not something I might one day have to do.

Now it was real and true and I was here—a player in a game that was nearly as old as our world. And even though I'd heard this story a million times, even though I hated it and what it was doing to me, I found myself listening to Cohen.

He wasn't reading it from the teleprompter, he was reciting it from memory and I could tell by the way he spoke, that he'd also heard it a million times. So, I listened and let myself be that child again, the one who had not understood that the story being told was a part of me—that it might one day be my story.

It is said, that the goddess created ten daughters, all of them in her image, all of them happy and content. Until one day, amongst all the goodness the goddess had made, a daughter wasn't content anymore. They were created to be companions for one another. They weren't supposed to need or want anything more than what they had. But they were human and, of course, they asked for more.

The last of the daughters, the tenth, was restless. This girl did not fit with the other nine. She was rawer, made from a different sort of power than the rest. She scared the other girls and so she had no one to care for her.

Because of her loneliness, she grew sullen and began to fade away. The goddess, fearing for her child, offered to create an eleventh daughter, a sister who could be a friend to the girl.

But the tenth daughter declined.

Instead, she wanted something deeper, something more than that. The tenth daughter wanted what the lions had. What she saw amongst the birds and the wolves and the deer. She wanted affection, protection and, what is more, she wanted love. And so, the goddess said that she would form for her a companion, unlike any that her sisters possessed.

Cohen said, "The goddess spoke to the tenth girl saying, 'I will give you all that your heart desires, not because you need it, but because you have asked. But, daughter of mine, this creature will have free will, just as you do. Perhaps it's desires will not always align with your own.'"

And, as the story goes, she made a man and named him Erydi. The goddess was right and the man had his own will, uncontrolled by the daughters or the goddess. Much to the tenth daughter's dismay and horror, he fell for one of her sisters instead. That girl's name was Batya.

This upset the tenth daughter.

But still, Erydi could choose for himself. That was the goddess' way.

When Batya and Erydi were blessed with a child, it was the tipping point for the tenth daughter. She wanted Batya and the man banished from her home, their oasis. She could not bear to look upon their happiness and see all that Batya had gained in her stead.

So, she went to her sisters and asked them for help. Together they might convince the goddess to cast out their sister and her lover. After much deliberation, the daughters disagreed. They said Batya, Erydi, and their new child should be allowed to stay.

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by Brianna Joy Crump
Destined to compete for the throne, Monroe Benson must fight nine gir...
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