Guardians of Golrake

By Joanna Sears

Copywrite © The Monster Zoo

Chapter one: The Time of Choosing

It was a very special time of year. It was the time of Choosing. From all over the country they came. Hundreds of children aged nine or ten converged with their families on the Golrake Mountainswhere the Clans resided. Everyone hopeful that they would be be bonded to a totem animal and join the ranks of the Elite Guardians. Cassie and her brother Colin had traveled with another five from their village, as they were all the same age the group were friends. They arrived at the Citadel the night before the Official Ceremony and camped together in a designated spot a mere fifty yards from the actual cave of choosing. The night before the morning of selection the seven sat together in a quiet corner and agreed that on the morrow they would all stay together and if any were chosen the others would be happy for them. In truth they all doubted they'd be chosen they were from the far south. To their knowledge no one from the Blue Ring Sands had ever been blended in to the Guardian Clans. They came every year but mostly to pledge Fealty to the King.

The sun had barely breached the Eastern Horizon the next morning, when horns and trumpets began to sound all around the camp grounds. The Choosing was about to begin. Parents hurriedly finished grooming and preparing their candidate children and joined the excited throng heading into the Choosing Cave. Cassie squeezed Alice's hand and wished her good fortune She reciprocated and wished the same to Samantha. The boys were also wishing each other good luck.

The King was the first thing they saw as they entered the choosing cave. He sat on a golden throne high above. Cassie curtseyed as she approached the throne she sensed her twin brother at her side, doing the same. Once past the throne the children saw the newborns. Each one accompanied not only by its sire and Siress but the riders of them. Cassie noted all the clans bar one had young. The missing clan hadn't really been expected. The Jade Masquer animals were exceptionally long lived and only birthed perhaps once a generation. There hadn't been any Jade Masquer young for a very long time even though as a guild they'd rank highest of all, after the King. The candidates passed on into the main cavern gradually spreading out. Their parents and families climbed up into walled galleries to watch and hope. Already the newborns were shifting and mewling sensing their soon to be bondsmates. Silence fell as the last child entered. High above in the galleries the parents leaned forward hopeful of their particular child being chosen.

Suddenly one of the cubs made a joyful sound and there was a ripple of movement within the line of candidates.

A boy was sidling forward. Tom stepped out, a trifle self-conscious aware he was the first but unable to resist the call in his head. The largest of the Tawny Jaguar cubs leapt foward meeting Tom halfway across the cavern's sandy floor. The choosing had begun within seconds dozens of other children were moving forward and bonding with their lifelong partners. Josh unlike his brother mated with a Wolf He was a Brunnenskier. Alice got the call at the same moment as Sammi. Alice much to her father's delight was chosen by a dark feathered Hatchling meaning she was joining the Eagle Knights, to train as a flyer," Cassie and Martin also moved together but towards different guilds. Martin was selected for the Red Reptiles and Cassie the Arboreal Climbers. Now only Colin remained from their village. He began to despair as more and more children bonded and the number of infants dwindled. Then he realized it was over and he was left rejected. He tried to hold back the tears of disappointment and smile at his sister be happy for her and the others. But deep down he'd never felt so lonely. He knew he would henceforth always be alone. He was the only boy from his village not to bond. There would be no one left at home his age. He felt his father's hand on his shoulder and struggled to swallow the lump in his throat. He pasted a bright smile across his face and gave his friends the thumbs up sign. But Cassie knew! She was his twin. She struggled to control her tears too. Colin was going home. Going home without her. She'd be all right she was with her friends but he was going home unwanted rejected. The loneliness aside how would he cope with the shame of not being chosen when all of them had been?"

A scuffle near the entrance distracted Cassie. A murmur of awe traveled through the throng then a rumour started. It grew in volume as it passed from mouth to mouth.

"The Jade Masques! The Jade Masques! The Jade Masques have come." Even the King rose to acknowledge the sudden appearances of the reticent clan most people had never seen a Masquer. At the head of the column riding on strange Multi-limbed creatures, was the Arachis of the clan, and his lady. Behind borne on a Golden Litter was a glowing silken wrapped object. A sigh went through the remaining candidates and every girl stepped back. They may never have seen one but all knew what the green silk signified it was a male. It was not for any of them."

The Arachis slid from his mount and noted the boys as yet unbonded. Twenty hopeful kids vied for position desperate for him to see them. Colin didn't raise his head from the sands. He had no illusions - all the other infants had rejected him. Why would this one be any different.

But it was different as he was about to realize. A strange wind drifted across him A cool breeze and yet it was something more. It held a soft sibilant hiss that seemed to whisper his name. His head came up. He looked around puzzled as to who was calling to him. Then he knew! His eyes flew to the Cocoon. The Arachis had sensed it too. He turned from the eager boys and sought out the lone child that had slipped back into the crowd. He walked across the cavern following the direction mentally mandated by his mate. Colin's father saw the High Lord headed his way and joy swept over him. There was only one boy anywhere near him all the others had moved across to the far wall. Bariel knew! He and his wife wouldn't be taking any children home. Colin was chosen after all and his was the highest of all the bondings. For the first time in sixty summers the Jade Masques had come and they had come for his son. Colin glanced up and saw the exalted man striding towards him and his deflated spirits dared to suddenly hope. The Arachis reached him and laid a hand on his shoulder.

"Welcome Colin of Asper! Chosen of the Jade Masques." Colin inhaled then he felt the whispering call again and looked past the Arachis to the Cocoon. The Tall Masquer smiled. "Yes! It is time! See your mate already sheds his hatching silk." Colin smiled now as he moved forward to join with his chosen partner. Across the Cavern Cassie breathed a happy sigh. Okay! She wouldn't see Colin that often as a member of the Jade Masques he would live high up. But she was happy he was chosen. He wouldn't be going home to the life of an lonely ashamed outcast."