A brown owl perched in an ancient tree swiveled its head in a complete rotation towards the center of the forest.
Pupils expanded like hungry black holes - something was happening in that unassuming area, but what? Not a thing could be seen or heard, even with hyper senses. Yet, a cowl of feathers puffed out all the same. Some call this sensation instinct.
For most creatures, the "unassuming area" is a strange place where one jumps a distance of three miles in less than a second.
Curiosity sent the Owl into flight. As eyes scanned the area beneath it, the grove abruptly became another, like the seam between a patched quilt of land. Although the Owl couldn't solve the riddle of this change, it most certainly pondered it the best it could.
It returned to its nest to focus on more important matters: preparing for hatching. Three eggs remained patient and still. The Owl roosted and blended into the bark.
Right behind that aforementioned area, enshrouded within an enchanted curtain, the oldest civilization on the planet prepared for reincarnation.
The Elder Tree, the center of Oldroot and the Treethane's home, was surrounded by hundreds of Gnomes carrying glowing mushrooms, all in ghostly hues of white, the Gnomish color of mourning. They flickered in unison, a sea of stars underneath the ancient trees.
Many sang songs of The Illuding, the closing of Oldroot's borders three centuries ago, still a living memory in the oldest members. It was marked as the day the Illusion went up, rendering Oldroot invisible to the outside world. Many remembered this day as the end of the war between Gnomes and Humans.
Many were not yet alive during the Illuding, or it only meant to them a muted memory of childhood: the Illuded Oldroot was the only Oldroot they knew.
All the current Oldrootians had lived under the guidance of Treethane Falco, the Eye of the Eagle. These were his final days, dictating the end of the Falconian Era. Four-hundred-and-sixty-seven years old Falco was, and he had informed the public that today, the beginning of the summer solstice, was his last.
Inside the Elder Tree, on the third level, Treethane Falco lay in his bed, breathing heavy, his sharp eyes blinking slow.
Sitting bedside, dressed in a gown of glimmering spider silk, was his daughter Finola, the only heir to the Treethane throne. The Rite was presented to her as a child. She had been abhorring this day since the moment she understood death.
Her father sighed, holding her hand. "I've been where you are now. I know in my heart that there is no one in all of Esûne more capable than you."
Fin's tongue tied into a knot. She squeezed his hand and nodded. She was unable to cry. Something held her back: a numbness had already consumed her.
The Council also stood in the chamber: Pensive Bubo Orsetto, the Leader of the Watch; whimsical Lute Gibbon, Head of Diplomacy; and humble Alen Maripona, Head of Foraging and Farming. They kept their heads down, staring at the floor, as a sign of respect.
Fin looked at her father. She felt the exhaustion in his weak but heavy hand. It was time.
Whether she was ready or not.
"Loyal Council of Oldroot," she announced, her voice shakier than she anticipated. They looked up from their feet. "I will have more time to spend with my father during the Rite. Let us prepare."
They bowed with a hand over their heart, the sign addressed to the Treethane. She had watched many address her father this way, a silent "my heart lives as you live." She returned it with a heavy weight: it felt premature.
They exited the chamber. She returned to her father's side.
"Are you…ready?" Her question was loaded on many levels.
"…As ready as you are," he smiled. He had been in her position, and some day, she would be in his.
She presented him the Book of Eras. He weakly signed his last edited page:
This marks the End of the Falconian Era, and the beginning of the Finolian.
She then felt the tears come, as if river pressure had finally broken down a dam.
Alicia Krupskaya, BFA, is a filmmaker, author, and artist residing in Milwaukee, WI.