Summary: What if Morgarath had succeeded in taking over the Kingdom and defeating the Barons and their armies fifteen years previously at Hackham Heath? Not all have survived the Battle of Hackham Heath. And is there any hope for the Wards on their upcoming Choosing Day? Or will everyone sink into the blackest night of Araluen?

OK, I lied. Just like Elfpen. XD My mind couldn't resist the temptation to create a new story instead of working on my NaNoWriMo novel, so here it is for everyone. Enjoy, and happy Thanksgiving as well!

Disclaimer: I do not own Ranger's Apprentice. Goes for the whole story.

Will pushed his plate away from him, though it was still laden with all his favorite foods.

"I'm not hungry," he muttered as he got up from the table and walked away.

"Will? What's wrong?" Alyss and Jenny asked at the same time, getting up from their places as well.

Horace shook his head. "Honestly, I don't know what you two are getting so worked up about. It's obvious that he's worried about tomorrow, the Choosing Day."

"And you aren't, Horace?" Alyss asked him, one eyebrow raised as her blue eyes fastened coldly on his face, smeared with gravy and sauce from the chicken and potatoes he'd just eaten.

He shrugged. "Not really. I'm big and actually have muscles, unlike that little boy," he sneered, nodding in the direction Will had left in. "There's no way that I won't be chosen for the Battleschool tomorrow morning. But do you honestly think he will get in? The Choosers wouldn't take so much as a second glance at him!"

Alyss continued to glare at him. "Maybe they wouldn't, but you, and all of us gathered here, really, ought to comfort him! Do you remember—" and here her voice dropped to a whisper— "Do you remember what happened to James Griffin five years ago? He was so much like Will. And then on his Choosing Day, on the very day that he turned fifteen, they..."

George, who had not yet entered the conversation, now nodded and leaned closer towards his Wardmates.

"They sent him to the Incinerator."

Everyone shivered as George spoke the name of the dreaded killer machine that had sent many previous Wards to a fiery-hot death.

"Ah, it was a pity that he was sent there," George said quietly. "I saw him being dragged, kicking and screaming for all he was worth, down the path leading...there. And then they pushed him through the door, there was a bright flash of fire, he screamed, and then...and then he was no more."

"Well," Horace said a little shakily, looking as if he was about to puke, "now we know what's going to happen to Will then, don't we?"

"Thanks, Horace," Will whispered as he watched his friends from the dark hallway leading into the dining room. "That's real comforting."

Then he turned and ran down the hallway towards the front doors. Everyone around the table heard his feet pattering away and looked uncomfortably away.

"There's got to be something we can do to stop it," Jenny finally said, breaking the silence, as everyone knew she would.

"But what, Jenny, what?" Alyss asked, nearly losing her composure as tears fogged her vision. She blinked them away, and then continued, "We can't defend him, or we'll all go to the Incinerator. If we plead and protest, they'll still send him, and probably all of us along with him, there. We can't hide him, or they'll definitely search for him and find him, and then toss him into that dreadful place. So what can we do?"

Silence around the table.

Alyss and Jenny looked first to George, then Horace, but the former shook his head sadly, and the latter shrugged unconcernedly.

"It means he won't be able to trick me in anything anymore. And the Ward will also be much quieter without us fighting all the time."

"Think, Horace. For once in your life, use your brain!" Alyss shouted at him, real tears streaming down her face now. "What will the little kids who came to love Will's bedtime stories do? And what about the way he always managed to coax an extra treat from the kitchen cooks, or wheedle paper and pens to draw and write with from the scribes, or how he managed to convince the Ward overseers to let us stay up just ten minutes longer, talking into the night? And then there's us three, his friends and companions, but not you, Horace! What would Jenny, George, and I do without a happy face joking around and smiling with us? What would I do?" she added, more quietly.

Then her eyes widened and she turned away, facing towards the dark hallway where Will had previously concealed himself.

"Well, I hope you're happy now, Horace. Enjoy your brief time of peace before the small sensible part of your brain asks you why you didn't make up with him beforehand," she said bitterly before running out of the room, heading towards the front doors.

"Oh dear," Jenny cried as she went after her friend.

George and Horace were now the only two left at the table. Horace stared down at the table, troubled by what Alyss had just said. Then he hesitantly looked up at George. He'd never before taken much notice of him; George had always seemed a boring, judicious boy who studied for far too long during the day.

"George," Horace began. "Do you honestly agree with-"

His Wardmate glanced sharply up at him. "Do I agree with what Alyss said? Very much so, unfortunately for you. You'd better think about what she said before you go to bed with the rest of us."

With that, he stood up, pushed his chair back towards the table, and left Horace sitting at the dining table, alone.

Will had secreted himself in the top branches of the small oak tree in the Castle Yard. His mind constantly turned over the problem that awaited him less than twelve hours ahead, and whenever this happened, he would try unsuccessfully to shrug it off.

Had Horace really meant what he had said?

'Well, now we know what's going to happen to Will.'

Will bit back an angry sob by stuffing his fist into his mouth. When he withdrew it, he saw tiny scratch marks on his knuckles.

Suddenly, the Ward doors opened, letting loose an uneven rectangle of light on the ground in front of the building. Will turned to see who was leaving and was surprised to see that it was Alyss, sobbing, head in her hands.

Quickly, almost instinctively, he dropped down from the tree and took off running towards her, forty meters away.

"Alyss, are you all right?" The yell was torn from his throat. He was twenty meters away from five...

She looked up at him, tears trickling down her face, and stopped in front of an elm tree, also part of the Castle Yard.

"Alyss...are you all right?" Will asked as he caught up to her, gasping for breath after his run.

"What do you think?" she replied, wiping her eyes hastily with a handkerchief from her pocket.

Will looked up at her and sighed. "No, I guess not. But you know," he added after a pause, "we can make this last night our best. Together with Jenny and George as well."

"Do you think so, Will?" Alyss whispered. "Really?"

In response, he smiled, took her hand, and gallantly led her back to the Ward, down the hallway, and into the main Ward gathering room, a large, disused room previously used for teaching lessons, where Jenny, George, and the younger Wards were all waiting for them.

With all the fun and excitement of playing and talking with the other Wards minus Horace, Will quite thankfully forgot about the dreaded Choosing Day happening the next day. But when all the play was over and done at midnight, the tight feeling he'd had in his stomach at dinner returned and he found himself wondering if there was any way to escape the inevitable fate that awaited him the next day.

Alyss held on to his hand and gripped it tightly in her own.

"Promise me, Will," she whispered, "that you will try to survive."

So she knew the truth as well. Will felt a sinking sensation in his heart, but then told himself that it was only to be expected. He had known ever since he'd seen James Griffin sent to the Incinerator five years ago, when he'd been only ten years old.

But then he remembered that Alyss was waiting for his reply.

He nodded several times and licked his dry lips before answering.

"I promise I will, Alyss. I will escape the guards, and then come for you," he said firmly. And then he leaned in closer to her and whispered into her ear, "We'll escape together and hide out in the forest nearby and do our best to save the others. All right?"

She looked deep into his brown eyes and asked, "Even Horace?"

Will nodded again. "Even Horace."

She smiled and then kissed him on the cheek before pulling away from him and waving behind her as she walked quickly towards the girls' dormitory.

Will stared after her until she disappeared into the dark room, and then sighed, turned away, and walked in the opposite direction to the boys' dormitory.

If only he had the strength to do as he'd promised her. But he wouldn't be able to do it anyway.

Because no one ever escaped from the guards, especially not here in a bigger fief like Darkmount.

Ooh, how dark and spooky. Maybe it's not the best type of story to put up on Thanksgiving, but my mind is crazy that way. XD

I hope you enjoyed! Even if you didn't, why not go ahead and leave a review? (Flames are especially good with jumbo marshmallows and graham crackers and Hershey's chocolate, if I say so myself. :D)