The girl stepped out into the cool night, the loamy earth squishing between her toes, and breathed deeply of the fresh air. Leaving the tiny village behind, she made her way toward the ancient forest that dominated the surrounding land. Though the far sideof the forest was invisible from the medieval community, the girl knew it ended. She had been to its boundary, where chalky white cliffs met a vast body of water. Her grandfather, who had taken her on that journey, once told her stories of the sea thatstretched away from those cliffs, and a land, much greater than their own, beyond it.These memories flashed through her mind as she skipped past small fields and into theforest.Though a cloudy sky obscurred the full moon, the girl had no trouble finding her way. In the darkness, her nose told her what her eyes could not. The soothing fragranceof wildflowers and harvested grass permeated her body. She entered the woods, a silentwraith, with her white robe and flaxen hair trailing behind. She sensed, rather than sawthe movement of the trees around her, as a light breeze tickled their boughs, making her own skin prickle. She was young, barely sixteen, but her lithe, graceful frame possessednothing of the awkwardness of youth, and her crystal eyes reflected an intelligence that belied the appearance of innocence.
This is my night
she thought. As she picked her way among the trees, her elationrose with each step, her heart pounding out the rhythm of her excitement. Nothing couldhave been more perfect. Her whole life, she had anticipated this night above all others.On this night, she would
From the darkness, the voices of the woods greeted her with their buzzing andchirruping, as if urging her to hurry, she must hurry, for the ritual would soon begin.Her feet did not hesitate as they led her swiftly to her destination. A vision of the ancientstone at the heart of the wood burned brightly in her mind. It had been there forever, itseemed, its original purpose lost in time. The carved and polished stone only hinted atthe wonders of a race which had ceased to exist, of rituals long forgotten. Its elaborate