The circle was smaller this year, Marrissa noted. Previous years had seen dozens of people crammed into the clearing about the fire, jostling to hear the tales that the campfire brought, but this year only 20 people had come. Even her own tribe had sent only a few representatives, the rest of the survivors had been too scared to come. Not that she blamed them, the rumours were out that the Dark Ones had been seen again, for the first time in a decade, and no one wanted to risk a large gathering. But Marrissa felt the Fire Circle was too important to skip. Information was too preciously rare these days to skip passed on rumours and hearsay.
“Good evening, my Friends,” said the Speaker as the last of the sun vanished from the grove. The circle had formed, the fire already built to a crackling roar. “I see we have fewer guests this year than normal. I hope we will make up for that this year in our stories.” A warm murmer went up from the crowd as the Speaker gestured to the woman on his right. She stepped into the circle of light, the fire revealling a woman who Marrissa guessed to be forty years old. Her brown hair was pulled back to reveal a well-tanned face with creases worn deep around her eyes.
“Good evening,” she began. “I wish I came here with better stories to tell, but unfortunately my news is quite grave. You see, my tribe lives to the north, out past the river. And we fear that the Elements have awakened again.” A deep murmur went up from the crowd, yet no one spoke as the woman continued. “It started out slowly, the river was swelling. It was to be expected, after the winter we had. But then a few weeks later, three of the children went down to the river to do laundry… And only two returned. One was my own son, he says they were splashing each other when they saw a man in dark robes on the opposite shore. He says they all turned and ran, but Billy never made it back to camp. When we went back to look, there was nothing but a shoe caught in the river rocks.” The woman bite her lip nervously. “By the time I left to come here, the river was flooding over our bridge. I only hope it has not washed away entirely by now.” The woman fell back from the circle in nervous silence as the Speaker rubbed her back. The next person stepped forward, a rugged youth who looked barely sixteen.
“My story is also a bad news. There have been tremors in the west again. Our west most pastures fell into the abyss over the winter. Luckily, no one was injured, but the tremors are growing stronger each week…”
The night continued as the skies got darker, dark clouds rolling in to block out the star. With each passing story, Marrissa grew more and more worried. If the Dark Ones were waking the elements again, there would be nothing they could do again but to watch all their hardwork vanish again. And it did seem that way, with forests running rampant and more flooding. One particularly long traveller even spoke of storms and tornadoes rolling in from the east. She relished the good news as best she could, clinging to the news of new babies being born or couples being married, until it was her turn.
She stepped forward into the warmth as the light revealed her skinny arms sticking out of her too-short sweater, matchstick legs poking out beneath a thin skirt bleached white from the sun.
“Good Evening, Friends,” she said, holding her arms close to her body. “My tribe does not have much news this year, I’m sorry. I brought an offering though, for the feast.” She pulled off her backpack as she spoke, rummaging through it. “I came up from the south, through the fire-swept lands. The forest seems to be recovering still, the new trees are still growing. And it was there that I found this.” She pulled from her bag a large, pink egg, the size of an ostrich egg, and held it up to the circle. The crowd muttered in admiration as she held it high. She took a step towards the feast table, but her foot caught a root, sending her tumbling.
Instinctively, she curled about the egg, trying to shield it while avoiding the roaring fire beside her. It nearly worked too, she thought as she lay on the ground beside the fire with her knees and palms stinging, watching the intact egg beside her delicately roll into the firepit, just out of reach. She started to push herself to her feet when the fire pit exploded in a blaze of pure white. She dropped to the ground shielding her eyes as the heat washed over her, singing the hairs that stood straight up on her body. Through cracked eyes she watched as a bolt of lightning arced into the sky, splintering off in a thousand directions like a tree growing in fast forward.
It lasted only a moment, but Marrissa stared blindly at the sky for long after, the image still burned into eyes as the dark soil cooled her burned back. As her vision returned, she slowly sat up, taking in her surroundings. The people had all fled, leaving nothing but her and the charred fire pit. The ground about the firepit smoldered slightly, but her eyes were drawn to the form in the fire. There, though the fire still burned about it, stood a crimson bird, the size of a hawk. Blue patterns traced over it’s wings an long tail feathers as flames danced over it body. Marrissa gasped, pushing herself away from the fire as it advanced towards her, a curious tilt to its head. The fires lingered about it’s body, dying away slowly, until at last it stood before her as if it knew her. She raised her arm in front of her face as it flew at her, turning her face away from it’s powerful beak, but the pain she expected didn’t come.
When she opened her eyes, the bird sat on her arm like it belonged there, its plumed tailfeathers trailing to the ground. She stared at the bird in shock as she realized this time, the Awakening would be different.