Believe it or not, I was not looking forward to my ceremony. Be it the fact that I'd never liked animals much, or the way my brothers teased me about being the first ever Greencloak in our poor, countryside family. Being up there on that stage, surrounded by wide-eyed folks with nothing better to do gave me chills and sent beads of sweat down my forehead. I hated attention, which was why, if I were to ever get anything, I'd hope for a chameleon so that nobody would ever get to see how nervous I was.
On my eleventh birthday, I hid myself up in my room. All night, I lay there, dreading the day I'd have to stand up there and either summon nothing and look like a fool, or summon an animal that stood out and left people in awe. The image alone was enough to make my stomach roll so much, I'd thought I would vomit in my little secluded corner of my private bedroom.
Later that night, I finally reached a descision: I wasn't going. My parents could do whatever they wanted to me, but I wouldn't budge. I'd thought that while chewing aggressively on my twin bed, glaring down at the wooden floorboards as if I believed they would burn and catch fire, engulfing me in the blaze before the ceremony.
And yet, the next day, I stood upon that stage in my best dress, my hair done, and my parents proudly waving to me. My envious brothers sat with their arms across their chests, looking similar to me the night before. They were possibly wishing they had my chance. Little did they know that I'd do anything to switch places with them.
The ground was uncomfortable. That was the only thing I could pay attention to. The Greencloak, Marin, was giving a speech but I could hardly hear her over the pounding of my heart and my blood in my ears.
The girl beside me, a short girl with hair tied back into a tight braid, seemed to notice my anxiety. She gave my arm a squeeze, but said nothing. Her eyes were still wide as she listened to the speech I'd heard Marin utter a thousand times.
"Ana Salvie, daughter of Lanea Salvie, please step forward."
I was hardly aware of the speech ending. I almost stood, believing the name that had been spoken to be mine, but I was discouraged by a steely glare from Marin. "Wait your turn," she mouthed, and just like that, my anxiety doubled.
The girl beside me stood, as if in a trance. Ana. So that was her name. I'd seen her a few times around the city, but I'd never caught her name.
She wore a thin royal blue dress and ragged and torn shoes that looked similar to my pair from three years ago. With trembling legs, she made her way over to the tall female Greencloak. If her eyes could go any wider, they would fall out. Which, to me, wouldn't be such a bad thing.
She kneeled, her hands brushing and disturbing the thin layer of dirt and grime covering the stage.
Marin, who'd previously had a performing job here, raised the flask above her head slowly, as if every movement pained her. "Please receive the nectar of Ninani!" she shouted, her voice booming inside the small building. And, again, she let the flask drop to meet Ana's waiting lips, as the girl sipped eagerly.
Before the girl could take any more, Marin pulled the flask away. Ana's eyes glowed, not literally of course, but they seemed to glow as faint beams of light colored her pale face.
The crowd held its breath. You could have heard a mouse shuffling around in a hole had you been listening careful. But I was not. I was focusing on breathing as little as possible, which is difficult when you're being faced by at least twenty people.
Finally, after twenty sluggish seconds, Ana's face lost hope. She slumped down, and Marin sent her back. She reminded me of a wounded dog as she limped back to sit kneel beside me.
The crowd let out its breath. I felt a dozen eyes now shift to me, and felt my stomach drop. Oh god, I was going to throw up. Yes I was.
Marin, who seemed not the least bit discouraged, parted her lips once more.
"Kalei Swanson, daughter of Sarah Swanson, please step forward."
For a moment, I hesitated. I felt rooted to the floor as what felt like thousands of eyes stared at me. I could almost hear their disapproval through their silence.
But still, I found my legs unfolding. The ground creaked beneath my weight, my stylized hair fell in my face, and I tried as best I could to walk confidently over to Marin, who was back to her disapproving gaze made of steel.
I kneeled before her. My fingers were curled at my sides. Every movement made me want to scream, every breath sent my heart racing faster.
"Please receive the nectar of Ninani," Marin said, completely abandoning the theatrics. Suddenly the flask was at my lips, and I allowed curiosity to take a hold of me.
Once again, everybody held their breaths.
The nectar tasted like the pudding mom used to make. I loved that udding. On instinct, I tried to down another gulp, but the flask was pulled away before I could attempt to.
Suddenly, my stomach filled with butterflies that churned and shook my insides. This was difference from the nervousness that I felt before. This was a stirring, something that made me want to throw up my breakfast but at the same time... made me want to howl.
Something blinded me. With a yelp, I jumped backwards and nearly crashed into Marin and the flask she held. Spots dotted my vision. My anxiety was replaced with joy, and an unmatched loyalty towards my family. I wanted to leap off the stage and kiss them.
'Oh my god. What just happened?'
In front of me was a dog, a dog I could hardly see but a dog nonetheless. She was engulfed in purple light that was quickly fading, but I could tell at was a dog. And not just an 'it'. A she.
I'd summoned a Spirit animal. I'd summoned a... spirit animal. A real, live, spirit animal.
The light vanished. Before me stood an over sized red wolf with a long snout, pink tongue, and a dark brown eye with a honey-gold eye.
My spirit animal was a type of wolf?
But before I could say anything, Marin squeeled, which hurt both my ears and the animal's. Our eyes met. Hers seemed to be brimming with intelligence, her eyes pools of liquid.
I felt the urge to pet her. Like an itch that you just couldn't get rid of, I felt like I had to touch her.
Without warning, I ran to her and tangled my fingers in her long, silky fur and allowed her to lick my ear in return. I'd never felt such affection towards an animal. Never felt such unabashed joy before.
And just like that, it was over.
My senses came tumbling back, and a keened forward before feeling a hand catch me by the shoulder.
I glanced over my shoulder. A woman dressed in a green dress with an evergreen cloak had caught me, though she definitely wasn't familiar.
"Good morning," she said, a warm smile on her face, "you don't know me, but I am Navei. I'm here to take you home."
"Home?" I whispered, my throat seizing up.
"Yes, home. Home is where your people are, after all." she surveyed the crowd. "Behold, Kalei, summoner of the red wolf," she paused, connecting her gaze with everybody in the crowd. "The first of the next generation of heroes of our land."
Next generation? Hero? Wolf? Home? It was all too much to handle.
And then, the roof exploded into murderous fireworks to symbolize the next generation of heroes.
Well, this is the product of a sleep-deprived girl's 1 A.M. fantasies. Not exactly my best 1 A.M. fantasy either.