Author's Note: Again, I normally refrain from posting these, but I'm making another exception. This is the original "Chooser of the Slain"--it is unchanged (besides a few minor details earlier in its life). It will remain so. The only reason it is still here is because I just don't have the heart to rip it down. It won't be getting updated. All future updates will occur on the story entitled simply "Chooser of the Slain." You're welcome to read it if you so desire, but for any and all future chapters, look for the "Revision Three" version of "Chooser of the Slain."

"Chooser of the Slain"

Chapter One: The Calling

Splat. A fat raindrop fell from its place in the clouds to hit home, smack on Lara Amherst's mouth. Moving with as much freedom as her pleated skirt and fancy, auburn shoes allowed, she rushed from the black and white Cape Cod behind her to the rain-streaked Chevy Express, inconveniently parked at the farthest edge of the driveway.

It was a cloudy, dreary Sunday in the hometown of the Amherst's, a remote city in Maryland located in what was known informally as "the Boonies." The gloomy weather put a damper on the already bleak Sunday morning.

Lara grimaced and wiped her mouth. Huddling over, bent nearly in two, she scurried down the long sidewalk to the slanted driveway, going as fast as she could so that she could come away as dry as possible. She darted into the side door of the van just as a peal of thunder rolled, making the squeaky windows of the house rattle and shake.

Lara carefully squeezed into the back of the car, where a male teenager, dressed in khakis and a blue shirt, already sat on the far right. She seated herself in the middle of the seat, pulled a brush out of her purse, and started brushing her hair, turning slightly so she could talk to the person next to her.

"We're going to be late for church," she announced, panting faintly as she yanked her brush through her hair. " Church starts in fifteen minutes! I knew you shouldn't have taken such a long shower this morning, Rider!" At seventeen, Lara was the oldest of her three siblings, and also the beauty of the family. She was tall and slim, and long legs and a well-developed figure. Locks of her glossy brown hair framed her heart-shaped face, complete with hazel eyes set under straight black brows, a small, pert nose, full red lips, and peach-tinted skin. Despite her harmless looks, Lara could frequently be found exchanging verbal blows with her father.

Lara's brother Rider rolled his eyes. "Maybe if you hadn't taken an hour-long shower, I wouldn't have had to wait until ten minutes before we were supposed to leave to take a shower. Then maybe we wouldn't be so late." A year younger and three inches taller than his older sister, Rider was one of two males in the family. At 5'9, he towered over everyone in the family, with the exception of his father. He was muscular from his years in various sporting activities, and his sun-bleached blonde hair looked dazzling against his dark green eyes. Rider's face was adorned with compact eyebrows, well lightened by the sun, a strong nose, and lips that liked to smile. With his mellow personality, Rider could help calm down his fiery sister just by keeping her talking. However, Lara was in one of her notoriously bad moods, which meant that it would be a while before she calmed down.

Scowling, Lara quickly averted her face from her brother and look around for a scapegoat. She found it in the shape of her younger sister, who was entering the car at that very moment.

"Well, at least I took a shower this morning!" she snapped, emphasizing the verb and throwing an annoyed look at the small figure sitting down next to her.

Allison, known as Ali, ignored her sister and stared out the window, apparently absorbed by the view of the tall maple tree in the front yard, which was swaying so hard with the dramatically increased wind that it almost touched the ground on it's west side. The youngest in the family, Ali was at the delicate age of thirteen years old. She was of a medium height of 5'4, though she wished she would grow a bit more. Her straight, shoulder-length blonde hair usually fell over her face, an action she encouraged. Her ready-made camoflage concealed her bright green eyes, arched eyebrows, and button nose. Avidly reading any books she could get her hands on, Ali gulped down pages of books as one might an exceptionally scrumptious Christmas dinner. Her favorite genre of books were those of Medieval times, resulting in her spending much of her time soaking up books of swords, wizards, and knights of the past. She didn't share her fascination with age-old eras with anyone, not even her brother and sister, for fear of being teased. Nevertheless, she continued to read all she could of those distant pasts, taking care not to let anyone see her reading about them.

Ali didn't appreciate that little dig about showers, but she was willing to let it go. For Lara's own self-preservation, though, she had to be quieted before their father came into the car. If those two started attacking each other, they would never make it to church, and she didn't want Lara to become the behemoth she was after losing a verbal with their father. She carefully leaned back in the upholstered seat and, after quickly checking to make sure Lara was not looking her way, raised and lowered her eyebrows at her brother, a frantic signal to shut Lara up.

Rider correctly interpreted her look and leaned forward in the seat, hoping to quell his older sister before it became too late. But just as he grabbed Lara's arm, a large form wrenched the door on the driver's side of the car open, and slammed itself into the seat behind the steering wheel.

Dave Amherst was a tall, muscular man in his mid-forties. His face, once handsome, had become slightly monstrous; age, drink, and hate had all joined forces to diminish the handsomeness of the large man, to the point where the saying "a face only a mother could love" had been proved distressingly incorrect. Only his wife showed feelings other than disgust for the misbegotten man. He was a lawyer, an occupation that served him well, surprisingly enough. His preferred hobby was shouting and roaring, and his ugly features and ways prompted judges to give him his case and eject him from their courtroom as soon as possible. He despised Lara's fiery ways, and tried his best to break her by using his roaring lawyer techniques. But Lara was strong willed, refusing to break to her father's will. Most conversations between the two usually turned into shouting matches.

Dave had heard Lara's last comment. He turned around in his seat, leering at her in a way that would make most shudder. " Lara, if your sister is stupid enough to take a shower at night, then let her carry on, and let me be the one to"-he grinned-" reprimand her, if you will." His smile disappeared, and as he leaned forward, his face hardened into an agonizing picture of horror."But for now, shut up!" he roared, taking full pleasure in her wince, not knowing it was because of his horrific face as opposed to his words.

Lara was trembling with anger and disgust, but she refused to talk. She knew it would just make things worse. Ali and Rider exchanged looks behind her rigid back.

Just then, the passenger side front door was pulled upon. Everyone lurched as the vehicle sank a few feet, signaling that Jane Amherst, Ali, Rider, and Lara's mother, had sat down in the front seat. She threw a scathing look at the back seat as she settled herself. " That Lara giving you trouble again? Figures. She thinks she's so pretty, she can get away with anything." She smiled maliciously at the backseat, enjoying the battle raging inside Lara as she fought her temper.

Jane Amherst was a big woman, not in stature as much as bulk. She tipped the scale at well over 200 pounds, and she took full advantage of her booming voice when she felt Dace needed support ranting at his children. She was not a pretty woman; her features irregular and her eyebrows thick, but she carried herself as if she should be obeyed. She told anyone who asked that she was a "work-at-home mom" but for her, that meant going out to the bar all day, having drinks with her friends.

Lara shook her head and looked out the window, determined not to rise to her mother's bait.

Mrs. Amherst looked a little disappointed, but she recovered quickly and, lovingly caressing Mr. Amherst's arm, she said sweetly, " We should get a move on, sweetums. We are running a bit late." She threw a dirty look at Lara, quite obviously tacking her with the blame.

"Of course, darling." Mr. Amherst, smiling down at his wife in a way that made all three of the teens in the back shudder. He started up the van and backed out of the short driveway, peeling out onto the road and gunning away from the house. Rider, Ali, and Lara scrambled to put on seat belts, although Mr. And Mrs. Amherst didn't bother, as they hurtled away from the house, surpassing the speed limit usually attained in this road, and breaking quite a few driving laws in the process.

As they held on for dear life, Ali, Rider and Lara talked quietly in the back seat. While there was room for some of them in the middle seat of the van, they always felt safer together, and as far away from their parents as possible.

"What's wrong, Ali?" asked Lara, still trying to calm down from her painful bout with her parents. She tucked a lock of hair behind an earring-clad ear.

Ali looked up. She had been peering out the window again, mesmerized by the terrifying beauty of the weather. She shrugged.

"Doesn't this weather look a bit…odd to you?" she replied, keeping her voice low so that her parents wouldn't hear.

Rider and Lara both obligingly looked out the window. The sky had darkened to a menacing shade of gray, and the wind was so strong that the van was swaying from it.

Rider turned back to Ali. "It looks like a storm or something. Nothing to worry about."

Lara nodded, adding "You're probably just a little paranoid about bad weather because we had that tornado warning last week." She grinned at her sister, taking the edge out of her words.

Making a face at Lara, Ali let the subject drop. Despite her sibling's dismissive words, though, she continued to sneak looks out the window at the odd weather all through the ride to church.

It wasn't long before the church was in view, and they were turning onto the road, named, quite originally, Church Road, that led the way up to the bleak cathedral. The Chevy puttered its way to the circle-shaped, surprisingly full parking lot. Mr. Amherst circled the lot three times before securing a parking place near the main entranceway of the building before them. He and his wife hurried out of the car and bustled, or, in the case of Mrs. Amherst, waddled to the doors, not looking back to see if the three teens were following.

Ali, Rider, and Lara climbed out of the van more slowly than their parents, taking time to adjust to the austere building before them. Perfectly trimmed bushes furbished the wide expanse of lawn surrounding the church. The church itself was large and imposing, with a high steeple jutting out of the slanted roof, and a large sanctuary and foyer area, the whole thing rather large and magnificent. It could not have been more pretentious. Gray brick clothed the stark walls, dotted with windows of medium lengths and width, and a dreary black roof completed the picture of abjection. It was as stiff and formal on the inside as it appeared on the outside. Nevertheless, the three siblings made their way to the entranceway at a trot, although more to escape the rain than for fear of being late.

Ali paused briefly as they reached the overhang shielding the front doors. She watched the sky for a few seconds. Out of the midnight blackness came licks of lightning like lamps traveling down a path of darkness. The lightning was constant; thunder came along in weird bursts, as if it couldn't keep up with the frequency of the lightning. It was like a tornado, she decided, but not quite the same. She shook her head. Silliness. It was probably just a bad storm. Maybe her sister was right, and she was paranoid about the weather. Still, why was the air being sucked to the west, as if a giant vacuum was sponging it all up?

"Ali, get in here!" called Lara from inside the door she held open, as she frantically tried to straighten her hair, which was tangled and twisted from the mighty wind. With one last look at the sky, Ali walked through the door, only to jump back as it was slammed shut from the heavy wind. A little shaken, she walked into the foyer.

Miraculously, they had managed not to be late; they still had five minutes to spare before church started. Ali glanced around the foyer and spotted Lara and Rider in deep discussion with someone whom she was unable to distinguish. She hurried over to join them, weaving her way in and out of few people left in the foyer so close to the beginning of church. As she got closer, she heard Lara say, " If we just tell Adam to let Ali switch places with him, then she would be right next to Tobia-," Lara looked up at the sound of Ali coming over to the threesome, and hastily cut off her sentence.

Ali rolled her eyes. She could see who the third person was now. Lara and Rider were talking to Neal Griffith. A few inches taller than Lara, Neal had kind brown eyes, sun-streaked blonde hair, and a broad happy face, with a hawk-like nose and wide, smiling lips. Rider's age, Neal had a cheerful disposition, which, along with his kindly looks, made him a very likable person. He lived on a farm with his father and younger brother, Tobias. It was a well-known fact, at least to Ali, that Lara and Neal were conspiring to get her and Tobias together. They were willing to go to most extreme measures to carry out their increasingly elaborate schemes, but despite their hard work, Ali had managed to divert them one way or another. Personally, she didn't really mind, because she was certainly attracted to Tobias in a more-than-friendly way. Of course, she wasn't going to let Lara and Neal in on that. Between the pair of them, they would have a field day with that kind of information. She doubted they even knew she was aware of their plotting.

Raising a cynical eyebrow, Ali inquired dryly, " Yes? Did I miss something?"

Shaking her head, Lara replied easily, " Nope, not a thing." She exchanged the smallest of glances with Neal before exclaiming, "Oh, hi, Tobias!" She gestured for him to join their small gathering.

Even Ali had to admit that Tobias was cute. He was her age, 13, about 5'7 in height, and wirily muscled. He had light brown hair and intense blue eyes, set in a sculpture-like face; straight eyebrows, full lips, and complexion most teenage girls would die for. The only flaw was a slightly crooked nose, mark of an unfortunate encounter with an erratic tractor. He was easy-going and friendly, always making jokes and laughing. Tobias and Ali had always tried to make each other laugh, the very thing, Ali though wryly, that had started the scheming between Lara and Neal. The Amherst's had met the Griffith's, Neal then five, and Tobias three, when they and their father had started coming to the church without warning. They never said why they had come, and Neal and Tobias never mentioned a mother of any sort. They had no complaints, though; both got on well with their father and relished the work on the farm. Because there was no one in the church under the age of forty, the five had become fast and good friends, and they were a tightly knit bunch despite the difference in some of their ages.

Tobias sauntered over to the group. "Hey, all." he said with a grin. "Running a little late, are we?"

Ali laughed, her uneasiness over the weather fading. "Don't even get Lara started."

Tobias nodded understandingly. "Another hour-long shower?"

Flushing the smallest bit, Lara declared," It wasn't an hour long, per say."

The four looked at one another, fighting to hide grins.

Lara gave up. "You four are impossible!" she exclaimed, whirling to put her back between herself and their amused faces.

A monotonous song began in the sanctuary, signaling the end of their chat time and the beginning of church. The five hurried to squeeze through the double-doors leading into the sanctuary before they closed for good.

The sanctuary was a large, dismal, unofficial torture-chamber for anyone with imagination. Rows and rows of hardwood benches, without padding, seated horizontally from left window to right, took up almost all the space. The walls were painted a merciless yellow-green, encouraging anyone looking at them to soon feel nauseated. A finely crafted pulpit, its beauty diminished by the gray paint smothering it, resided in the front of the room. The bright lights only brought out the color of the walls. All in all, it was a very disheartening type of room.

Neal and Tobias headed to their father's bench and sat with him, in the middle row of seats. After locating their parents on the far right of the room, the Amherst's hurried over to the bench they were sitting on. Both adults gave them looks that would have stripped paint, but they could not reprimand them without drawing attention to themselves. Ali, Rider, and Lara exchanged quick looks of relief and sat down, Rider next to their mother and father, Ali on the far right end of the bench, and Lara in between them, where she could avoid the scathing looks favored on her from her father.

After the song had ended, much to the relief of the five teenagers in the room, the preacher read off some announcements, most regarding how pleased the church was that they had received so many donations for repairing the roof (which was, in fact, not in need of repair at all). With a slightly avarice smile on his face, the preacher then settled quickly into his sermon, which was on the evilness of greed, ironically enough.

As his voice droned on and on, Ali started looking around at where she was sitting, bored already. Because they were usually late coming to church, the Amherst's almost always had the same seats every Sunday. They were the ones on the far right of the room, right by the windows. Before, Ali had always taken some comfort in looking out the windows, for it provided a welcome change of scenery. Taking care not to look at the walls, Ali glanced discreetly out the window, and fought to contain a gasp at what she saw. The sky had changed in the five minutes since she had last glimpsed it. It was no longer pitch black, but an even odder pale green, the color of growing things, lanced with a bright red. It was also pulsing, as if some great force was pounding on a door that served a double purpose of being both a human atmosphere and a slab of hinged wood big enough for giants. The constant lightning had not abated since she saw it last, but now its tips did not reach the ground, as they should. Instead, they were pulled mid-strike, along with the wind, to the west, straight and true as an arrow. It gave the sky an additional oddity, the appearance of being striped.

She looked to her right, hoping to catch Rider's eye.

He was already looking at it. "Sweet mother of pearl," he breathed, looking shaken. "What is that?"

Ali shook her head. " I don't know," she hissed back, careful to keep her voice quiet so as not to attract her parent's, or anyone else's attention." Has anyone noticed?"

Rider glanced around the room. All eyes seemed to be focused on the preacher-except for Neal and Tobias. Neal was talking rapidly to Tobias under his breath, while Tobias glanced over in the direction on the window, apparently horror-struck at the sight of the ominous sky.

Rider looked back at Ali. " No one seems to have noticed, except for Neal and Tobias. What about…?" He looked down at Lara.

Lara was staring out the window, oblivious to all discussion. Her eyes were opened wide and her face was white as snow.

Rider nudged her. "Are you all right?" he asked.

Lara shook her head slightly as if to shake a lock of hair off her forehead. She stared at Rider and Ali as if she had never seen them before. " I can feel it," she whispered, looking awed. "Everything is being sucked to the west, but how? And why? And-" she paused. " Why doesn't anyone else notice?"

By then her voice had risen involuntarily to a shriek. Ali clapped a hand over her mouth and Rider elbowed her, hard, but their efforts were futile.

Everyone gasped as the echo of Lara's scream fell over the entire congregation. The preacher looked down at Lara in a disapproving manner. " What is the matter with you?" he demanded, not at all happy his abysmally dull sermon had been interrupted. " Why are you screaming?"

"Lara!" Mrs. Amherst hissed, her expression dangerous. Mr. Amherst looked as if he was struggling to keep from exploding. As one, the church community glared at Lara for disrupting their sermon.

Lara snapped. The combination of the morning's events, the danger outside, and the disapproval of the people in the stiff, formal church brought her anger to a boiling rage. Her temper, on so short a fuse, flared wildly out of control.

"What's the matter with me?" she shrieked. " What's the matter with you? Look outside, you idiots, and tell me what you see!"

"Lara!" exclaimed Mrs. Amherst, shocked beyond the point of anger. The preacher and half the church stared in astonishment at the impudence this almost adult was showing. But some of the people seated by the windows couldn't help taking a look at what was causing Lara to carry on so. A heavily built blonde woman looked once and screamed, shrilly, before dropping in a dead faint. Her husband froze, unable to take his eyes away from the sight outside long enough to help his stricken wife.

"She is right!" cried an elderly man, waving his cane around his head. "Look!" He swished his cane down and pointed it in the direction of the window.

"My lands…." "God help us!" " What IS it?" the rest of the people in the sanctuary forgot their original skepticism and rushed to the window to take a look. The blonde woman was not the only one to faint. More people fell to their knees and sobbed, crying out for God to save them. Still others ran around and around the benches, trying to escape the inescapable. The preacher tried to shout over the noise, but to no avail. Utter chaos ensued as people reacted to the horrible sight painted outside the window.

In the mayhem, Neal and Tobias managed to fight their way to Ali, Rider, and the shaken Lara. The five huddled together and retreated to a corner of the church.

"Lara, what did you do?" moaned Rider.

"I'm sorry," whispered Lara, her face still chalk-white. " But the people weren't seeing it…"

Neal's face was pale, his eyes afraid. "What if what's there is too horrifying to see?"

Before anyone could answer, an overpowering noise sounded in the air. It was composed of the call of a thousand trumpets screaming their highest notes, a thundering roar of what sounded like hooves pounding the ground, and the haunting song of a wolf faintly dipping and twisting around the main noise. The sheer power of the noise blew the church on its side as if it was no more than a dollhouse. The awful light of the sky streamed in, bathing everyone in the freakish glow of the red-green sky. The people of the church were now exposed without protection to whatever was occurring.

Lightning flashed once, twice-and then a titanic bolt of lightning, blue-tinged and bristling with power, larger than anything ever witnessed before, came roaring from the west, straight from the direction all of the lightning tips had been sucked to. It hit the ground with a shudder, right in front of the people of the over-turned church, but did not disappear. Instead, it strengthened, sucking stray ends of energy together to form a spinning column of sky-high lightning. The awful noise resonated again, making the air tremble with the strength of it. The mass of people fell in a single, wave-like motion, flattened on the ground by the overpowering presence of this thing. The pillar hovered, spinning idly, before once again omitting, twice, in quick succession, the noise, loud enough to shatter eardrums. The ground quivered like jelly in reaction. The pillar started to glow, a blindingly white light.

By this time, Rider and Neal had lifted their heads and were watching the lightning pillar with growing horror and fear as the light grew brighter and brighter.

Neal turned to Rider and mouthed, "What was that?"

Rider shook his head. He looked over to his left. The throng of people collapsing had thrown Ali, Lara, and Tobias forward, away from Neal and him, but they weren't that far away. He started to squirm towards them.

Suddenly, the pillar pulsed, much as the sky had, and the light that had been building in the heart of the column was unleashed, sending out a wave of brilliance that swamped the people as they lay. Rider froze, and Neal yanked him back as the light surged towards them. It swept harmlessly past the limp people in front of Ali, Lara, and Tobias, and then converged on the trio. Unaware of the danger, Ali couldn't help looking up as the light came towards her. As it hit her, she was abruptly gone, without a trace. The light continued past the place where she had lay, relentless in its charge of the people of the church. Tobias and Lara didn't see Ali disappear, but they felt her go, and instinctively raised their heads to see what had happened. As the light enshrouded them, they too disappeared.

Rider and Neal had watched the removal of their siblings, horrified at the sight before them. Now, without knowing why they were so sure, they knew, without a doubt, that the light would come for them next. They looked at each other. Neal had a tight, but determined look on his face. Rider's face was the same. They were not going to leave their siblings to whatever fate awaited them in the light. They would go right along with them, and if they died, they would die as men, giving themselves up for the sake of others!

The blazing light advanced on the duo, fast and merciless. Neal and Rider closed their eyes and bowed their heads as they huddled there, at the mercy of the brilliant beam streaking towards them. And it did not hesitate. As it swooped down on the two, they were removed as swiftly as their siblings had been.

The light spread out over the mass of people, covering them all with a luminous glow, before it started to ebb away. The column of lightning started to disintegrate, strands of lightning breaking away from the pillar like errant threads in a frayed shirt. The energy need to solidify the sky-high totem pole of lightning flowed up to the atmosphere above it. As the first people started rising and looking around, wondering what had thrown them to the ground and blinded them, the pillar broke apart, the few strands of lightning left curled and twisting as it traveled back to its home in the skies.