Jacey stood alone on the platform while the villagers stared at her with anticipation. Her skin prickled as their dagger-piercing eyes inspected her. She shivered despite the heat and folded her arms across her chest.
The bright sun scorched her tanned skin. The village of Valin was hot during summer. Hottest in summer, Jacey corrected herself. Solaris was an arid country where the sun is nearly visible all day. The people were always greeted with the harsh star.
Jacey wished for the wind to take her away but there was none. The tall trees, maintained by the vegetation guild, surrounded the village and blocked the wind. She wished she could sneak into the trees as she used to do when she was bored. The gust of air against her skin was always refreshing.
She wanted more of it, she wanted to escape the village, to see beyond the trees, and to experience the world outside. But she couldn't. It was too dangerous. The war was still going on.
The war, Jacey quivered at the thought of it. Two alliances fighting against one another for their own purposes. She could never figure out what these purposes were, and which one of it was right. She only knew it was going for thousands of years. The world had suffered, and everyone was affected. Millions had died, yet there was no sign of stopping, and Jacey felt it was just the beginning as if something big was going to happen. Something that could change the world. She hoped it was a change for good, a new world with peace and serenity.
Jacey faced the quiet crowd and wanted them to speak. She dug her nails into her skin at the discomforting silence, it made the wooden houses seemed ominous. The bright, blue sky felt like the peace before the chaos, and the shadow of the trees that surrounded them felt distant and eerie.
The audience's eyes were wide and their ears pointed. They were all excited. Jacey couldn't blame them since the Summoning was an exciting event. She used to stand in front of the crowd, clapping and cheering, but as she grew older her enthusiasm was replaced by anxiety. She no longer stood in the front, and instead watched from the distance while her stomach lurched at every summon. She sometimes missed her childhood eagerness when she became scared.
The Initiator was still talking to the person that summoned before her. Liran, she remembered his name, greeted all of the village officials with a smile. The officials stood in front of the crowd and celebrated Liran's Summoning with his parents. The parents of the summoner grinned with every praise the officials gave. Jacey couldn't take it anymore and looked at the houses instead.
The houses were scattered behind the mass of people. The houses came in varieties, some were larger and more extravagant than others. Some houses challenged the trees height and others that are more colorful than the rainbows she had seen. The ground beneath them was dry, even though it had rained yesterday. Many people came to see the Summoning, but few could not because of their jobs. The farmers' guild, for instance, planted during the Summoning and harvested their crops in fall.
The people cheered as Liran demonstrated his powers. He reached out his hands to the trees and concentrated. The power of summoning requires willpower or it will fail, resulting in injury or death. The village lowered their voices as Liran grunted. The trees swooshed and leaves flew through the air. Jacey was amazed and clapped along with everyone. A tinkling sound traveled through the village and everyone silenced themselves.
The villagers inclined their head as the head officials prayed. "We gave thanks to the Gods of the Stars for the gift they brought to Liran. Amraph, we thank you for the good spring we had. All of the crops we planted last fall were accounted. Parys, we are grateful to you for protecting us from the war..."
Jacey raised her head she when she heard the chirps of birds. It was quiet but sounded so sweet. She spun around and searched for the sound. Jacey heard it to her left, then right, then left and so forth. Where did the sound come from, she asked herself. She strained her ears as she looked for the birds then she heard a cough. Her cheeks reddened and she bent down her head.
"Adamerta, we thank you for the light you brought to this world..." the prayers went on.
Jacey clasped her hands together and brought it to her lips. She ignored the prayers and recited her own.
The Sirens, the rulers of the world and beyond. The one that formed the oceans and seas, and the one that cared deeply for us all. They don't see you right now, but I do. I believe, and I hope you forgive me for hearing these false prayers. One day they will see the truth in you. They won't call us devil worshippers, child rapers, and murderers. They won't call this Saranism but instead, acknowledge it as truth.
Jacey kissed her hands and rested them on her thighs. The prayers went on, and the sweet and quiet sounds of the birds left the village. She sighed and her mind wandered to her parents, her friends and stopped at the thought of the Summoning.
"The Summoning," Jacey whispered to herself, but she bet the crowd heard.
The Summoning was when you acquire the ability to summon. It was held during the first day of summer, and everyone that passed 16 after the previous Summoning would participate. She wanted to go back to the days where she wanted to summon, back when she didn't realize the burden of it.
Everyone had said that days before the Summoning the 16-year-olds would always be worried. Jacey experienced it since the last few weeks she didn't talk to her friends as much. She spent time preparing dinner and talking to them more. Even her friends are doing it. One of her friends, Pearl, spent all her time in her bedroom. Never going outside and not eating. She was worried about her and was glad when she saw her along the way to the Summoning.
Bells disrupted the silence, and the prayers concluded. Jacey lifted her head, and the village started talking. The people muttered at first, but it broke into loudness and cheering. One of the officials reached out his hands and cleaned a stick using water while another held it. An official older than the others grabbed the stick and wiped it with a cloth emblazoned with suns.
Jacey scanned the throng for her parents. She walked around the platform and peered for them. It was hard to find someone among the white clothed crowd but not for her. Her mother's blond hair, which she inherited, was distinguishable among the audience. Jacey's parents did not wear their usual red uniform but instead wore a white smock and brown trousers.
Her mother looked at her and gave Jacey a sincere smile. She didn't return the smile, her heart was beating in speed she never thought possible. She glanced at her father, whose posture was stern but his smile full and bright. He stood a little taller than her mother's, and his messy brown hair gave Jacey familiarity. It was a quick escape from her nervous feeling, but it was fast, and she started to tremble.
Sweat formed around Jacey's forehead. Her blond hair was tightly braided by the tailors, but few strands escaped. She patted it down as it blocked her vision and bit her lips. It was a bad habit of hers, one she wanted to go but could never get rid of. She wanted the Summoning to commence, but the Initiator was too busy congratulating the previous summoner.
What if I summoned something humiliating, Jacey thought. She felt she needed to be punished but regretted thinking about it as soon as it came.
The conversation with her parents came back to her. They were inside their house, it was bigger than most houses in the village since it was given to them.
Jacey's parents were highly respected since they were healers. Their job was to summon blood to people who need it. They could save lives in a minute, and she wanted to be like them. Since Valin was the closest village to the coast, Solaris soldiers would come to the village. The soldiers, when saved from facing death, would thank her parents and Jacey. She would always smile when someone praised her even though she didn't do anything.
Jacey wanted to help end the war. But what if I failed them? What if I shamed them because I tried to be them? Scenarios played in her head but she knew that they would not be angry, but instead be disappointed. She would rather see her parents yelling and screaming at her than being embarrassed when someone asked about their daughter.
"What If I get something disappointing?" Jacey blurted days before the summoning.
Jacey stood in the doorway. Her mother sat on a wooden chair behind the wooden table. Solaris have an abundance of wood since the vegetation guild numbers had been growing the last few years.
"What do you mean disappointing?" Her mother replied, her right arm extended in the air.
Jacey watched intently. Blood appeared at her mother's fingertips and floated in the air. Lines of blood flew in the direction of the blood bags on the table and filled the dozen bags quickly. Jacey stretched her fingers, pretending that blood appeared from it. She scratched her arms and moved towards her mother. She could hear his father teaching in the living room.
"Well..." Jacey bit her lips. "What If you don't like it?"
Jacey's mother hesitated and stood up. She placed her hands on Jacey's shoulders. Her mother was wearing red clothing that matched her naturally pink lips. She's beautiful, Jacey thought as she looked at her mother's mesmerizing blue eyes and defined face.
"Me and your father love you, Jacey. We want the best of you. If you like it we-"
Jacey jolted as she felt a sudden coldness in her hand, a dread came to her from the contact. She heard the crowd chuckle and looked behind her. It was Reras, the Initiator. The one that would allow her to summon.
Like all of the officials, he was wearing an intricately designed robe embroidered in silver. The silvers glimmered in the sunlight as Reras walked along the stage. The design depicted a goddess slaying the Sirens with her unbreakable sword. Reras' gray hair was trimmed short, and his face heavy in cosmetics to hide the wrinkles. His face was paler than his skin tone, and it surprised her that he has no facial hair.
Jacey shrunk in shame as Reras stopped in front of her. He was an influential person and could punish her for touching him. She averted her eyes from him and the crowd. She looked down at the black stage with her red cheeks.
"There's no need to be nervous," Reras said with his hoarse voice.
He looked back and smiled at her, half of his teeth were missing. Reras turned back to the crowd before she could smile back and started the Summoning. It was a lengthy speech, one he would do for every participant. Jacey eyes wandered to her left where the other participants stood.
They were all wearing the Summoning uniform. Black tunic, white pants, and red shoes. It supposed to symbolize the world, but Jacey felt it was a waste. Black for the evil, white for the good, and red in between was what the village officials told them. She didn't understand it but didn't question it. Her questioning would be perceived as doubt to the officials, and she could be punished.
Jacey turned her gaze to Reras when she heard him coughed. Reras smiled at her and was holding a cane, but it wasn't an ordinary stick. It was a cane that granted power. She used to laugh when she saw the stick. How could a stick grant powers? But every time she was amazed at the outcome. Now she realized how much it affected.
Jacey walked towards Reras and looked at the cane, it was barely shorter than her arms. Her mind wandered over the possibilities of what she could summon, a part of her hoped she would summon blood. She saw her mother do it many times, and she felt she could easily do it.
Three people already summoned and Jacey envied their amazing abilities.
Rain, the first one, summoned a bird. Her heart exploded in happiness when a bird emerged from the stick and flew away. Its wings flapped in the sky and joined a flock that passed the village. A bird, Jacey thought, how amazing is that. Rain would travel the world with his birds and live freely.
The second summoned an apple. A single red apple, but the crowd applauded when they saw it. The village expanded in the last few years and incredibly needed food. If she can't summon blood, Jacey wished she would get something that could help the community.
Liran summoned the wind, just a small gust of wind but with practice, he could make a storm. Liran would be living in a battlefield, wind summoners are valuable during the war. The wind can change the outcome of the battle. He would live in luxury if he survived the war, but Jacey doubted it. Wind summoners are heavily targeted, and most of them died at the start of a battle.
Jacey grasped the cane with her two hands. When she touched it, her senses vanished. It felt like time stopped. She couldn't see anything or felt anything, everything was non-existent. The darkness had consumed her. Then she heard a low grumble. Then the beating of hearts, and the taste of stale bread. She felt incredible, like a bird flying in the wind with its flock. Everything was crystallized, she could see animals miles away, hear the winds across the sea. She involuntarily raised her arms and gasped.
She couldn't think properly, her head felt like it was exploding. Moments ago she felt like a crystal -- clear and amazing -- now she felt like a rock. Like a rock thrown across walls, she was going to break. And she did.
Pain surged through her body, starting from her feet to her head. It was electrifying. She fell and dropped the cane. The impact of the ground made her gasp for breath, the pain so great she could taste death. It was black, but she could see the surrounding chaos. It was inaudible as her ears rung. She felt empty as if her soul was taken and given to someone.
Jacey breathed heavily as her head throbbed. She tasted blood in her mouth, the flavor of iron touched by water came through her. Jacey spat it out and slightly opened her eyes. She raised her head, pain throbbing in her neck, but she fought it. Her vision was blurred, but she could identify bodies and trees.
Everyone was running, people with steel swords swung at the air. Why are they swinging at the air, Jacey thought as her senses started to come back. The buzzing of her ears subsided enough that she could hear voices. Blood run across her face, and her vision turned red.
The sound was worse than the ringing. Everyone was screaming, their voices so loud and terrifying. Few with agony, some with fear, and others with confusion. It was a horrible symphony.
What happened, Jacey thought. Then she heard it, a word that somehow answered her question. A word that sent chills through her.