Mitch stood alone in the unnatural gloam of the sacred canyons. He hated it here; it gave him the creeps. The long branches of the wanderwood trees slithered slowly across the chalky stones, shedding their bark with a wooden groan that swirled around him as it echoed from the canyon walls. A chill breeze swept over him and he turned his back to the wind. That’s when he saw her.
She approached like a walking shadow, freed from its source. She wore a wide disc-shaped head covering that floated over her like a black cloud. From its edges hung a black veil that reached down to her feet, leaving her completely enveloped. Mitch rubbed his hands together and tried not to stare, but his eyes kept finding their way back to her amorphous form. She came close enough to speak without shouting, but no closer. Still, it was close enough to that Mitch could begin to make out her face through the veil; she was not the old crone he’d imagined. She appeared no older than himself.
“Do you know why you’re here?” she asked. Her husky voice had a gravitas that suggested a wisdom well beyond her years.
Mitch cleared his throat and tried to look unafraid. “I’m here for the test.”
“You’re far too old. Why were you not sent sooner?”
His cheeks grew warm. “It takes resources to come, you know. Resources take sacrifice; we did our best.”
“You know nothing of sacrifice,” said the Stargazer. From within her veil she produced a small black sphere and rolled it to him. “Pick it up.”
He knelt down and examined it. It was covered in deep, complicated grooves, and bore not a scratch or spec of dust. It was artificial. He’d never seen anything like it. He picked it up, and it fit comfortably in his palm. It was surprisingly heavy. From within its core, it produced a sharp needle that rapidly fired out and then retracted, stinging his palm and drawing blood. Mitch cursed and dropped the object, and it rolled back to the Stargazer on its own, without command or assistance. “What was that thing?”
“We are not of this world, boy.”
Mitch scrunched his face. “That’s just a story.”
“Stories often have a bad habit of being true,” she said. “The starship remains hidden and guarded, waiting for the right descendant to be born; someone whose genetic signature can wake it from its prolonged slumber.”
From within her veil the sphere began to glow and flare with neon green light.
“The starship favors you. It appears the wait is over.” She did not sound pleased. “Follow me, and keep your distance,” she commanded. “Soon you will learn the meaning of sacrifice, boy.”