The Countdown

July 9, 2014
02 Months 01 Weeks 05 Days
A knock came on our door late in the night. Exhausted, I dragged myself out of bed and down the rickety stairs. Mother was already opening the door to a man, holding a small girl in his arms. His broad shoulders and wild hair were silhouetted by the moonlight outside. Mother invited him in.

“Please, ma’am,” He pleaded. “You have to help Ann. She’s been sick for a few nights now, but she just got worse.”

Mother just nodded and we led him into the small living room. Lighting a few candles, we discovered the man had not been lying.

The girl, Ann, could have only been four or five. Her once blonde bouncy curls, now lay flat and shapeless. Her pale skin had a sheen of feverish sweat across it. She shivered violently, her breathing uneven and strained from coughing. The situation was serious and we quickly got to work.

I grabbed towels and cold water, while Mother grabbed herbal remedies. We worked until the sun began to rise in the east. The man never left the child’s side.

01 Month 03 Weeks 02 Days
“Sophie,” Mother called. “Come on, the broadcast is about to start.”

I came in with an armload of firewood. Setting it by the fireplace, it scraped up my arms slightly. Sitting down on the worn out couch, my younger sister Abigail curled up next to me.
Just as the clock struck seven, the small television in the corner of the room lit up. Glowing across the screen, as the Anthem played, the Kingdom’s symbol announced the weekly Capitol Report.

As the Anthem came to a close, the screen changed, showing the royal family sitting regally in front of the blue velvet backdrop. All my life, I had grown up watching King Peter, Queen Sarah, and Prince Karter reign over us, the people of Nirvana. Twelve years ago, the same year Abigail was born, the royal family was blessed with a princess. Her name was Lucille.

Tonight to start off the Report, King Peter gave the war update. It was currently a treacherous time to be living in Nirvana. We were being ambushed on all sides by countries who either didn't like our government, or wanted our land. Attacks were frequent, and tonight, like most nights, the reports were grim.

As the King spoke, I turned my attention to Prince Karter. He was attractive, I suppose. His dark suit fit nicely across his broad shoulders and he had the same almost rugged features his father possessed. Blonde hair neatly combed down, tan skin, and bright blue eyes, he captivated the public constantly.

All of the royal family looked similar. Queen Sarah and Princess Lucille both had long blonde curls, that always fell perfectly, beautiful tans, and sparkling smiles. The only differences among the family were that the King and his daughter both had brown eyes instead of blue.

The prince shifted, the cuff of his sleeve riding up ever so slightly, and I noticed for the first time in my life the soft green glow of a digital timer in his wrist. I gasped.

"What is it Sophie?" Papa asked hearing me.

"The Prince, he has a Countdown too," I marveled running my fingers across the smooth surface of the timer in my own wrist.

"Of course he does dear," Mother said her expression perplexed.

"Seriously Sophie, everyone has one," Abigail's tone was sarcastic. "Why wouldn't he?"

I looked down at my wrist. Every citizen in Nirvana, and quite possibly the world, was born with a small digital timer in their wrist that would count down to the time that person would meet their soulmate. Mine had been counting down for 19 years. Now it was down to one month, three weeks, and two days. Most of the time I wouldn't let myself think about it because it made me too nervous. Seeing Prince Karter had a Countdown too, made him seem almost more human, more like the rest of us. I wondered if he was nervous too.

01 Month 01 Week 06 Days
I walked down the dirty streets of the Sties as a light snow started to fall. Behind me the beautiful Luxe began to fade behind the grimy streets most of us lived on. Shivering, I shoved my hands into the pockets of my thin coat and winced. They were red and cracked from the harsh chemicals the aristocratic families made us use when we cleaned their houses.

The sound of a fight came from down the road. I could understand why the wealthy families from the Luxe would avoid the Sties. Most of the time there were fights breaking out in the streets. The sound of gunfire and yelling was common. It was just something you had to live with when you lived in the worst part of town.

Crumpled on the muddy street was a two day old news paper. The headline focused, not on the war like most people felt it should be, but on the Prince's twentieth birthday celebration.

As I reached our street, I noticed a man supporting his friend on our doorstep. Considering Mother was a healer, he was most likely injured in the fight. When I reached them I realized my assumption had been correct. The younger of the two was clutching his side, red soaking his shirt around his hand.

I hurried them into the house. Mother looked up from her cooking and Abigail quickly cleared our small supper off the table. She instructed the less injured of the two to help his friend up onto the table. Just as he did, the one with the bleeding side collapsed from the pain and loss of blood.

Mother worked quickly and carefully, cleaning out the man's wound before beginning to stitch it back together. When Papa came home, he didn't seem surprised to find an unconscious man on our table and his friend being fed.

04 Weeks 02 Days 18 Hours
As we gathered around for the weekly Capitol Report. We sat two others with us. James, the man who had been stabbed, who was still recovering in our care, and his friend Eli, who stubbornly refused to leave without his friend.

After the King had finished giving the war update, something new happened. A man, Joseph Dally, the Royal Reporter, came onto the stage.

"Prince Karter," he began respectfully addressing the prince. "The kingdom is curious, how much time is left on your Countdown?"

The Prince laughed. "Only four weeks, Mr. Dally." He seemed confident in himself, comfortable on the stage, and enjoying the public eye.

Next to me Abigail squealed. "Sophie, you only have four weeks left! Maybe it's you!"

I just laughed. "Yeah, but there are seven days in a week, twenty four hours in a day, sixty minutes in an hour and sixty seconds in a minute. It could be anyone."
In response to my logical thinking, she pouted.

"Is there anything in particular you're hoping for in a bride?" The Prince was asked.

"Only that she is strong enough to stand by my side when times get tough, and caring enough for the nation to love."

I couldn't help but roll my eyes. Everyone knew the the future princess would have to be absolutely gorgeous for the cameras. Yes, she would have to be strong. It was well known how much danger the royal family was in.

I looked around and blushed, finding Eli staring at me. His intense grey eyes were slightly unnerving at times. I quickly looked away the blush staining my cheeks.

02 Weeks 04 Days 20 Hours
I walked into our small house after a long day of cleaning. I smiled seeing James standing up and walking around a little. It was good to see him making a recovery.

Eli smiled at me and I blushed looking away. I went and washed my hands in the small sink, clenching my jaw against the pain in the bleeding cracks in my skin.

“You wanna go for a walk Sophie?” Eli asked and I looked at him confused.

“Sure I guess,” I said bewildered, and put my thin coat back on.

We walked out into the lightly falling snow. I walked along next to him as we wound through the streets of the Sties. He seemed to know just where to go to avoid the most dangerous of the places. Places where gangs would hang out and beat people up just for fun.

He led me to a small bridge that led across a stream. The water was filthy, but it was unofficially the border between the Luxe and the Sties. Standing looking over the railing at the small flow of water we watched the snow fall. I shivered and he put his arm around me.
As he did his jacket slid up on his wrist displaying his timer. It read 01 Days 02 Hours 23 Minutes. I watched it for a few minutes before I realized it wasn’t counting down anymore. I looked up at him and found him watching my expression.

“It’s broken,” he said his voice soft.

I must have looked confused because he continued.

“She died.” His tone was almost bitter now.

“Oh my gosh,” I whispered unable to understand how he was able to bare it. How he was able to look at the permanent mark on his wrist that told him that he would never be completely happy. “I’m so sorry.”

He scowled at me and I flinched away from his gaze. He dropped his arm from around my shoulders.

“What do you have to be sorry about?” He asked, angry now. “Your’s is still working, you still have a chance. Don’t go on telling me you’re sorry!”

I flinched as he yelled and backed up a couple of steps. His expression softened and he looked ashamed.

“Sophie, I’m sorry,” He said his shoulders slumping. “Please, don’t be afraid of me.” He came back over to me and I resisted flinching at his gentle touch on my arm.

In the distance a car engine hummed in the streets. It seemed out of place considering there were rarely cars in the Sties.

Ever so gently he brushed his fingers across my cheek. He was standing so close to me. Blushing, I looked up at him.

The mysterious car sound roared up the bridge toward us. I spun around out of his arms startled. It began to slow down as it neared us. Eli’s eyes widened in alarm.

“Run,” He said urgently grabbing my sore hands and tugging me down the road.

The van sped up and drove along side us. He pulled out a small hand gun he kept in his coat pocket and fired at the windows of the vehicle. I screamed as the door of the large black van slid open. A man dressed entirely in black reached out grabbing my arm as another fired back at Eli.

Eli’s grip on my hand went slack and he crumpled to the ground. I think I screamed his name as they dragged me into the van. I fought against my captors until a cold barrel of a handgun was pressed to my temple. I instantly froze, not wanting my brains blown out of my head. One of the other men grabbed my wrist examining my timer.

“She’s the one,” he said in a gruff voice to the others.

A strange smelling cloth was held over my mouth and nose and I fought against breathing. Eventually the struggle became too much and I slipped into unconsciousness.

02 Weeks 04 Days 18 Hours
Prince Karter sat with his father looking over the maps of the kingdom.

“The Northern regions are the most prone to attack,” the King said. “Maybe we should travel to the South first.”

They were busy planning the tour of the kingdom in hopes of meeting the girl with the timer that counted down at the same time his did.

“When you meet her,” his father continued. “You must do absolutely everything in your power for this young lady. She is going to be the most important person in your life.”

Prince Karter nodded, not wanting to admit just how nervous he was to meet this girl. It had caused him many sleepless nights and hours of worry. What if she wasn’t suited for palace life?

Well then, he thought to himself. If she isn’t suited for palace life, I will do everything I can to help her adjust and make her comfortable here.

“Can I come too?” Lucille asked looking up at him with her large brown eyes. “Please, please, please Karter. I really wanna meet her too.”

He grinned. His mother smiled gently from next to his father.

“Of course Luci, we are all going,” he said with a smile.

She laughed happily and danced around the room.

Just then the door to the families private rooms burst open. Breathless, a steward stepped in.

“Your Majesties,” he said his knees shaking slightly. “There’s someone here to see you. He has bad news.”

King Peter looked furious, not appreciating the rude interruption. “Send him in,” he finally said through gritted teeth.

The steward disappeared out the door, returning a minute later with a man dressed in black. Prince Karter recognized him almost instantly. He was one of the strongest leaders in the opposing army.

“Don’t shoot,” the man instructed, knowing he was recognized. “Do anything to me and the girl dies.”

“What girl,” King Peter demanded his expression unreadable.

“This one,” the man replied pressing a button.

A holographic image appeared out of a small device. It showed a small cell like concrete room. Huddled in the corner was a girl close to the Prince’s age. Her long hair was as black as night and made her pale skin appear even paler than it most likely was. The door to her small cell opened and she jumped to her feet. She had a small delicate appearance, her hair falling to the small of her back. Her clothes were worn and the knees of her pants torn. A man entered her tiny prison. He said something and pointed to the camera in the upper corner of the cell. The girl looked up at it. Her eyes were a startling shade of green, so vibrant the emeralds in the Queen’s necklace couldn’t begin to compare. The only flaw any of them could see were her hands. They were dry, cracked, and bleeding slightly from working with harsh chemicals.

“Who is this peasant girl?” the King demanded.

“Show us her timer,” the man in the room with the family said into a small cellular device.

The man in the room roughly grabbed the girl’s wrist showing her timer. After a second the camera focused in on it, and everyone in the room gasped. It matched Prince Karter’s countdown exactly.

“Yes, she’s your future princess,” the man's voice was cold and hard. "Do as we say, and you will get her back. Do something wrong, and she is dead.”

The entire royal family went pale.

“I’ll just leave this camera with you,” the man said with a wicked grin. “She can’t hear you, but we can. Let us know when you are ready to act.” The man backed out of the door and closed it behind him.

On the screen, the man hit the girl across the face. Everyone in the family flinched in response to the girl’s pain. She crumpled to the ground, and once the man was gone she began to cry.

“Alright, mister,” Prince Karter said hitting the button to talk to the girl’s captor. “Tell me what I have to do.”

01 Weeks 06 Days 12 Hours
I shivered sitting on the cold cement. This stupid prison didn’t have any heat and my thin coat just wasn’t doing the trick. I didn’t know what they thought they were getting having me here. No one was going to pay any ransom for me. My family was far too poor for that.

Quietly I hoped someone had found Eli, I hoped he wasn’t dead. I couldn’t be sure. I knew nothing of what happened in the outside world. I wouldn’t even know time was passing if it wasn’t for my Countdown.

I looked up at the small camera in the corner of the cell. I didn’t know who it was broadcasting to, or if it was even on right now.

“Please, whoever you are, please come save me,” I whispered to the camera in the corner.

01 Weeks 06 Days 12 Hours
Prince Karter scowled watching the hologram picture. He knew the girl couldn’t last much longer under these conditions. Even from where he was, he could see her shivering. The small coat she had on clearly wasn’t helping her at all.

She looked directly at the camera and it seemed like those striking green eyes could see him sitting there. She said something. It was hard to read her cracked lips, but she looked like she was pleading for something.

“I’m coming for you,” he said to the image even though he knew she couldn’t possibly hear him.

“Your Majesty,” General Johnson said coming into the room. “We are all ready to initiate the plan.”

“Good,” he replied standing up ready to go.

02 Days 04 Hours 16 Minutes
I shivered curled in my corner, my coat wrapped tightly around me. My stomach growled. I was so hungry, it was painful. My throat was dry. It had been a full day since I had gotten anything to drink.

For the first time in the time I had been held captive, I heard something out in the hall. Confused and curious I sat up. A small ray of hope started to grow inside me, but I quickly stomped it out. No one would be coming for me. I was a nobody.

As I thought this, the door to my prison crashed open. A man in the same uniform as those who had kept me prisoner stepped into the small enclosure.

"What's your name?" He asked grabbing my wrist and hauling me to my feet.

"Sophie White," I stammered hardly able to stand.

The man grinned, and for the first time someone here seemed welcoming instead of horrifying. "Come with me, Miss White. Let's get you out of this awful place."

My knees went weak. It was too good to believe. I tried to follow him, but black spots danced in my vision and I felt myself falling as everything was consumed in darkness.

02 Days 03 Hours 12 Minutes
Prince Karter ignored his bulletproof vest, his gun still strapped to his back, as he ran toward the infirmary inside the palace walls. Others said the mission had been successful, but he had to see for himself.

The head nurse stood in front of the infirmary doors.

Several nurses and doctors came rushing towards them with a gurney. On the white sheets, unconscious, lay the girl. Her hair was fanned out around her face and she was impossibly thin. The doctors wheeled her into the infirmary and closed the doors behind them.

"Let me in," he demanded.

"No,” the nurse said firmly. “You will only be in the way.”

He sat outside the doors for what felt like an eternity before one of the doctors came out to get him.

“Her name is Sophie White,” he informed him. “Do not wake her. She needs her rest.”

00 Hours 00 Minutes 00 Seconds.
I opened my eyes slowly. It felt like someone had filled my eyes and throat with sand. The light in the room was soft and natural making the white room I was in seem heavenly.

Heaven. I began to panic, was I dead? Was this heaven?

A gentle touch brushed my hand. "Shhh, everything is ok, you're safe now." The voice was gentle too, and vaguely familiar.

I looked over and gasped as the familiar face and familiar voice connected in my head.

"Prince Karter, Your Majesty," I gasped and tried to sit up, but I was still too weak.

"Hush Sophie, everything is ok," he repeated and I was too stunned to wonder how he knew my name. "You've been asleep for two days, I was worried sick."

I recovered from my shock enough to ask, "Worried? Why?"

He just smiled and turned my wrist ever so gently so I could see my timer. It had reached 00 Hours 00 Minutes 00 Seconds. Slowly the realization dawned on me and I looked up at him.

"You," was all I could whisper.

He grinned and nodded. "Yes my Sophie. It's me."

Three Months Later
I stood in front of a large beautiful building, Karter by my side. All around us cameras flashed and news reporters held up microphones. I wasn’t far from my old home in the Sties.

“I am honored to present the first clinic and hospital to open here. If anyone is unable to pay for medical treatment, the Crown will pay their bill for them,” I said with a smile. “It will also provide jobs for those who are unable to find work elsewhere.”

Karter smiled at me. This was my first official act as Princess and future Queen of Nirvana. I wanted people to have a place to go when they were sick or hurt, even if they couldn’t pay for it themselves. All across the kingdom places like this were opening today, but I wanted to be here.

It was definitely taking some time to get used to all the things I had to know to be Princess, but I would survive. The wedding was scheduled to be held in two months. Then after that my official coronation. Things were about to get real crazy. Karter took my hand, and I knew everything was going to be ok. This is where I was destined to be.

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