The next morning rose without any commotion. The people of the town continued about their business, without even the fast-spreading ripples of gossip, or any explanation about the screams. The city took it as normal.
In the young girls house, however, it was a different story.
The child lay on a lumpy couch in the front room of her home, her mother and younger sister hovering over her, running often for cold water and dry towels. She was sweating, limbs shaking, her thin chest heaving with heavy breath, and her fever could be felt from two inches away from her forehead. It was always such, the first day. The new candidates either lived or died. The weak were disposed of by the rigors of the transformation if they were not strong enough to bear the Lady's Blessing, the curse of Ildach, the town in which they resided. The town from which there was no escape.
The girls mother was torn. She wanted to call a doctor, or a Wise Woman, who could use her herbs to ease the fever. Yet she knew that there was no cure, nothing to do but wait and make her eldest daughter as comfortable as she could until she sat up or stopped breathing.
"Mother," her younger daughter, Sheska, asked. "Is Nikita going to be alright?"
"I don't know," she answered truthfully, fearfully. "I don't know."
By the end of the day, the fever had receeded. Niki was breathing evenly, eyes closed as if sleeping. The mother felt relieved, although she wasn't out of the mire yet. She may just pass away quietly at this late stage, but she didn't voice this fear to Sheska.
"What is it?" the youngest suddenly asked. "What is making her sick?"
The mother sighed. If there was ever a time for a child to know, it was when their own sibling was chosen. "It is called The Lady's Blessing," she spat the words. "I consider it a curse. Nikita was . . . bitten last night, by one of the monsters that live in the castle."
Sheska gasped, her hands flying to her mouth. "No! That castle is a school! That's only legend! Only some are chosen to go-"
"And your sister has been chosen. See this?" She reached out and lifted up the edge of her daughters blouse. The round bruise was there still. Faded, but there. "This is the mark of the Blessing. It will move as the moon moves, and when it is whole again, Nikita will change. They will come for her before then." She spoke as monotonly as a woman spoke gazing at the cold corpse of a loved one long dead. Sheska began to cry. Her mother put her arms around her, stroking her hair and humming. "We still have some time with her," she cooed. "Always in this town it has been considered an honor to have a family member chosen. But . . . . " she trailed off, her daughters heavy sobs shaking both their bodies. "They won't take her so easily from us, Sheska. We will fight for Nikita."
Sheska looked up with tear-stained cheeks into her mothers face, and saw the hardness and determination there. Her own young face hardened, and she nodded.