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Level 7


In the dark hours before dawn, the three elder women of the village stood around the pool in the floor of the temple. Three younger women also stood there, one next to each of the older women. Natalie was one of these younger women, her eyes fixed on the pool. On the scarlet waters laid a body wrapped in cloth; the body was that of Natalie's father. A tear sprung up in the corner of her eye, but she quickly wiped it away .

From the moment that Alex had arrived on the island, she had known that her father had a limited time left to live. The island, with all of its power, had chosen a new leader and the old would not be permitted to live. She knew this was necessary, as did the two other younger women with her. They had all three been handpicked by the elders to take their place when the elders passed on, for nothing truly lives forever. These elders had lived and thrived on this island for the last two millennia and they knew their time was nearly over, so they had chosen those who would assume their positions when they were gone.

Thus far, over the past several weeks, Natalie had received much training, especially in the necessity of maintaining laws of the island. The primary law was that they did not venture beyond the boundaries of their home. The second law stated that they should not try to develop technology. In return for their obedience to the laws of the island, the women were blessed with exceptionally long and healthy lives. Their wombs were never barren and their crops never failed.

A small pang of sadness gripped Natalie as she looked at the shroud that held her deceased father. The island demanded things that many of the girls and women who lived here were unaware of, things she had been unaware of before her training. The first was that, although the leader of the island, always a man, was also granted a long life, it came at a high price. The island would slowly devour the soul, the primal essence, of whichever man was currently in charge. For her father, the process had taken a century and a half; the leader before him, Natalie had been told, had taken only a hundred years. It was different with each man.

The second price, and perhaps the harder one to pay, had to do with the elders, or priestesses, as they referred to themselves. As a rule, the women of this island only gave birth to daughters; however, this wasn't true of the priestesses. Occasionally, they would give birth to a male; in these cases, the priestess must also sacrifice her own son to the island. The purity of a new soul would grant the island much power.

When Natalie had heard these conditions, she had been distraught for a long time. She had nearly committed an unspeakable crime and ended her own life, rather than continue with her training. However, Anora, who had been training Natalie, had convinced her of the necessity and rightness of such sacrifices. "Our lives are long and blessed", the older woman said. "The price asked is rather small when measured against the reward. And, perhaps the island will be merciful and you you will never have a son ."

It had also helped that Natalie's father had told her that she should go through with the training. "This is a good life", he had said. "Do not let the darker side of our blessings keep you from enjoying the rewards." He had, by this point, known of his own fate, that once a successor was chosen by the island, that he would perish. The fact that it didn't seem to bother him was a big part of why Natalie had agreed to continue with her training.





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