It was the dead of night, the only things alive and moving were the owls and small rodents, playing their games. The sand resettled after the wind storm of the day kicked up old footprints and trails, placing the roads elsewhere. The river, full and fat from the rains weeks ago, cooed softly, babbling into the ears of the sleepy alligators.
Down the river, where the river turned into a lake, a small village sat at the edge of the treeline. In their huts made of mud and clay, lay the small children and their guardians, asleep under their large, heavy blankets. Crickets and other small bugs sang to them, their lullaby keeping them in a deep slumber as some of the elder guardians and older children left their huts.
With no fire to light their way, they placed their hands on the trees, deep hand prints pressed into the bark from travelers before. They walked for miles, some of the more scared children quietly whispering prayers of strength and courage. A few of the elders did the same. They came upon a large wooden cabin, a tall grey cloud of smoke made its way upward, toward the stars. They were greeted by a few more people. They kissed foreheads and squeezed hands, touched faces and whispered love, hugged and cried. The door to the cabin opened, an ancient guardian standing before them, covered in a long honey-colored robe. They smiled at the group, placed a hand on their lips and pressed their hand to the heavens. The group bowed deeply and hummed. The ancient guardian stepped aside as the group made their way into the cabin. They moved their way to the inner most part of the cabin, where a hole filled with white water made itself home. They sat around it in an almost perfect circle, a small space to let people in and out sat between two of the children.
The ancient guardian made their way through the space, to the head of the circle, standing at the base of the water. It looked like milk but it was pure water that sprung from only this spot in the trees. The ancient guardian clapped their hands and howled, stomping their feet and yelling. The circle followed suite, waving their hands in the air, lifting their own cinnamon-colored robes as they danced. The ancient one let out a sharp scream and the circle stood still.
A figure stood in the empty space, covered head to toe in a robe the color of the first frost of the winter. The circle whispered and clicked their tongues in praise as the figure slowly walked to the ancient one. The two stood quietly for a moment before the ancient one reached down and lifted up the hood.
The hooded figure was still a child but was to join the ranks of the children, to find out what role they would play in their society. The ancient one kissed their forehead and turned them around. The child had their feet in the water now. The ancient one removed the rest of the robe, the child standing in the white water naked. The ancient one clapped. The circle clapped too. The child took a deep breath and walked into the water. It went up their knees. The ancient one clapped again. The circle clapped too. The child laid down in the water, their back touching the dirt beneath them, the water barely covering their face. The ancient one started to wave their hands in the air and started to sing. The circle hummed and rocked side to side. The child slowly closed their eyes, falling asleep to the song.
As they fell asleep, the earth beneath them reached its brown fingers up and wrapped their arms around the child, pulling them into the soil. The water rippled, a few red spots rising up from the dirt, where the child had been. The ancient one yelled out, the circle screamed back as the red spots started to get darker.
The child forced their eyes open, their body feeling hot and heavy. They laid on everything and nothing. Many eyes stared at them, or maybe they were stars?
“Awake,” a whispered called out, but to the child, it was the loudest yell they had ever heard. Fingers dragged over the child’s face. They flinched.
The child tried to look around. Their body was stuck in place.
The child caught the flash of something sharp from the corner of their eye. Or maybe it was an asteroid hitting a planet? They let out a scream when something punctured and dragged across their face.
The white water started to bubble.
The child kept screaming, as the pain went from under their left eye, across their nose, to under their right eye. Three times, the sharp item went into their forehead.
The child was thrust up from dirt, still screaming. Through the dirt and white water, they stood up, coughing and yelling up water. The circle didn’t move. The ancient one watched. The child could feel the burning on their face still. They looked at the ancient one, white blood pouring from the cuts on their face, their eyes glowing a midnight sky blue.
The ancient one smiled, their eyes glowing the same color of rice, 3 dots on each cheek and 3 lines across their forehead glowing the same color. The circle started to glow their own colors, their own markings glowing as well.
The child let out a howl.
The ancient one and the circle followed suit.