She had found the clearing on accident, hidden away in the dense forests, tucked back away from a world that was becoming more and more crowded with people and technology. It was a sanctuary, only able to be found by those who knew where to look, or who stumbled there by chance, and didn't understand the meaning of the place. She was just a girl, in the only place in the forest that was clear enough where you could look up and see the blue sky. The light had hit the stones just right, and as she stood there, the gods had appeared. Owl faced creatures with grass-like hair, small, fat ones with moon colored skin, foxes with the eyes of humans who looked at her and laughed, their teeth so white they shone, and then there was him. He stood tall, proud and old, tired and dying. The god of the forest. He didn't say a word, and she wasn't sure if he even could speak. His face was nothing but a gray spiral carved into a stone, his body made of twisted roots and rocks that crumbled off him when he moved, but never seemed to make him fall apart.
/You do not belong here, little one./ A slow, deep voice that sounded like a tree groaning. The odd god who said it was like an old toad, looking at her with big bulging eyes. /It is not your time./
It had felt like ages had past, but now she was going back. The toad god had told her to return when she knew the world, and could count the stars, whatever the hell that meant! He said the gods would come out one last time, and then be gone forever, and if she wasn't patient, she would miss it, and never see them again. She was tired of waiting, and something was telling, no, forcing her back to that place. Back to the god with the spiral stone face, back to that odd banquet she had found all those years ago.
Her body ached from the running, and her lung burned, but she couldn't stop. Not now! Not when she was so close!!!! What if he had gone? She couldn't think that. Not now, not after all this time had gone by!
She stumbled, falling her way into the clearing, her body crumbling, unable to run any further. She gasped for her breath, clinging to the ground and clutching the grass like the whole world would fall out from under her if she wasn't careful. She didn't want to look up, afraid that if she did, she'd be alone. The triangular opening to the cave where people had long ago built a small wall for the gods would be crumbled into nothing but a pile of ruble. The carving above the triangular door would be smashed, and the old trees that hung low for the small moon colored gods to sit would be dead and nothing but stumps. As she rose her eyes, she knew her fears were foolish, but her heart couldn't help but to turn to the worse.
The clearing was the same, right down to the small rocks where the fox goddess had sat, judgmentally grinning at her as she licked her paws, but there was no one there....she had missed it. Her body trembled, the pit of her stomach turning as a sob rose in her throat. Her forehead went to the ground as she cried, her tear streaked face, smeared with dirt and mud. She couldn't move as she clung to ground, ripping up handfuls of grass, her insides feeling like they were caving in on themselves.
/What a horrible sight./ a cold voice cut through her sobs. /It's hard to believe a little thing like you is his favorite./
She lifted her head, only to be staring into the fox with the human eyes, sitting a few feet from her, looking down with a stare that could only be described as disgusted, as if a fox really could feel that emotion at all. The girl blinked, wiping her eyes, sitting up, "I thought..." The fox looked unamused, as if she had no right to be speaking to her, but she continued anyways, "I thought you all had gone."
The fox laughed, her teeth glittering brightly, /Oh no. He couldn't leave without seeing you again. It's so hard to believe!/ The fox came closer, sniffing her over, bored, /A human. A creature no better than food. His favorite./
The girl watched her, only pausing when she felt a fingerless hand on her face, making her turn her head to find herself looking at a little moon colored creature. It tilted its head, smiling with a face that only had a crude mouth, and touched her nose as she stared at it in shock.
/They're water babies./ the fox said, licking her paw, very bored with the two of them, /They're harmless, if not a bit bothersome in the dry season./
The tiny humanoid patted her nose, looking up as some more little white bodies came out of the ground, now and then a few of them letting out a whistle as they crawled over the ground jumping in and out of cracks in the ground. The girl sat up, curling her knees to her chest to brush them off, the fox goddess sitting beside her in silence of a long moment as they watched the parade of gods and goddess, some of horrifying, and others so beautiful, the goddess had to give the human a scolding look for coming to tears.
/Waste no tears for them./ she said as the human girl wiped her face yet again, /They shed no tears for you./
"Where are all of you going?" She asked, watching the great toad god crawl his way out of the ground, his muddy body glistening as he wiped his hands over his bulging eyes.
/We're dying./ her voice was distant, proud and angry all at the same time, /This isn't our world any more and we have no right to try and exist in it./
The girl watched as a pair of owl faced tree gods greeted each other, touching each other's faces in the odd way that they did after not seeing each other for a long time. "I'm sorry." she finally said, turning her attention back to the fox.
/You should be./ was all she replied, lifting her chin when all the noise of the forest seemed to melt away.
The procession of monsters and gods stopped as he stood, tall as a tree, his body, growing and decaying, covered in new grasses, yet dying moss came into the clearing. The girl stood, looking up at him as he seemed to greet the god and goddess with barn owl faces, and plant like bodies. He didn't see her yet, but he had to have known she'd have come back to this spot. When he turned his head, dirt and rocks fell from his neck as his featureless face seemed to fall on her. She stared at him, swallowing as her eyes traced the spiral that was etched into the rock, unsure where to look, but unable to look away. He was beautiful and horrifying, and as the longer she was able to stand in his presence, the less her body ached.
He tiled his head, kneeling down and reaching out a gnarled tree limbed hand. She stared at him a long moment, uncertain and unsure of herself until the fox goddess sank her white fangs into her leg, /GO WITH HIM!/ she snarled, the girl jumping and stumbling back, crying out, /It is an honor to walk with the king of the forest you fool!/
She stumbled a bit, only to fall into the cupped hands of the god. His fingers, like the rest of him, were nothing but gnarled wood, clumps of dirt and grass, and other things you'd find on the forest floor. He helped her into his palm, holding his thumb out so she could have something to hold onto as he stood. They walked in silence, the girl unable to say a word, standing on one leg as blood began to flow out from where the fox had sunk her teen into her ankle. As the blood dripped down onto his hand, he stopped, turning his head towards her and appeared to look at her quizzically. It was hard to judge the emotions of a stone, but she supposed he must have been questioning, "Oh no..." she said, looking down, her voice soft, "I'm quite alright...."
He shook his head, and seemed to let out a sigh. /She is a young goddess./ he finally spoke, his voice coming into her head much like all the other gods she had seen, /I hope you forgive her./
The girl looked him over, so very close to his face now. She gently reached out and touched the smooth stone of what she could only assume was his cheek, trailing her fingers down the rock. "Why don't you have a face?" She asked him quietly.
/I am life and death, created by a being even higher than myself. I do not question things like this./ his voice seemed to sound like the god was smiling, /Your face is very odd to me as well./
The two stood in silence, both looking each other over before the girl finally spoke again, "Why did you call me back here? I've never been able to figure out why you picked me in the first place, or what for. I was just a child, but my whole life, I've always wondered-"
/Why we chose you?/ he finished for her, /We are the children of yesterday, and you are the daughter of tomorrow. Humans are the future of this world, we know that now.../ he was quiet, his voice sad, /I need someone to teach us the ways of your kind, if we are to pass on our knowledge to the future generations./
"So you picked me?!" She exclaimed, disbelieving, "I'm a nobody! A waitress for Pete's sake! I haven't gone to college, I don't know anything! And you expect ME to teach YOU!?"
The god laughed, stunning her into silence, /You will know in time why you were chosen./ He gently touched her ankle as he spoke, making her jump, /We will not force you to undertake this task, if you don't want to./ she watched as the bite began to sew itself shut, leaving nothing but a white scar from where the goddess had bitten her, /But it must be you./
"You're making me decide wither or not your kind lives or dies?" her voice came out shocked, "How can you ask me to do something like that?"
The god turned his face downward, looking away from her, /It is not something I'm proud to burden you with...but you are the one I must ask./ He looked back up at her, /So will you do it? Will you be the one to teach us?/......