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Not Another Chosen One

     I’ve seen more “chosen ones” than I care to remember. Of course, a shining island at the crossroads between dreams is exactly the sort of spectacle that attracts such arrogant twits. And I’d just as soon let them wander off one of the Rainbow Roads into the Unknowing Abyss and be done with them, but by virtue of my bestowal as Keeper—a curse, really—I’m obligated to provide assistance at the start of their quests. Luckily, the bestowal of Mentor went to someone else, so at least in the stories I get roped into, I don’t have to keep dying.

     This one’s name was Arthur—of course it was—but that was the only thing predictable about him. Usually they’re tall, smartly dressed, and have a self-assured look that I’m more than happy to wipe off their faces. But when I laid eyes on this scrawny, sloppily dressed child with tousled hair and a quizzical look, I had to cough to conceal my amusement. Leaning on my iron staff, I managed not to laugh as I made my way through the standard introduction—the one with the terribly outdated rhyming scheme—but he didn’t give a sly grin or raise a haughty head in response like the rest.

     Instead, he furrowed his brow.

     But I’ve been doing this long enough not to let a strange reaction get in the way of doing my job, so I hurried on. I had almost finished explaining the rules about walking the Rainbow Roads and the perils that lay beneath and beyond them before I realized he’d asked me a question.

     How long had I been here?

   Long enough to see a hundred of your kind try to defeat the Nightmare and restore order to Slumberland, I said. I let out a loud sigh and simply waited for the inevitable overstatement of his lineage or abilities.

     It never came.

   Instead, he lowered his head a bit and said I looked tired. I shook my head and frowned. Maybe I was too tired to teach him, he said. Maybe I needed a nap.

    I threw back my hood in frustration. Was he really so dimwitted that he couldn’t even make it through the introduction to my training speech? Hadn’t he heard what I said about the rules and the dangers?

    He repeated them back to me, almost verbatim. I strained to hear sarcasm in his voice, but it wasn’t there. He just looked up at me expectantly with his deep blue eyes as if waiting for my approval.

     This one was different. When he failed Slumberland, it would break his heart wide open.

    So, to spare him the agony he would surely feel when his beloved quest ended abruptly, I may have gone out of my way to invent a series of impossible challenges for him to complete before he could begin his long walk along the Rainbow Roads.

     And Oneiros strike me down if he didn’t pass every single one of them.