Joanna| Genesis

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Joanna shivered as a cold wind blew across the rocky ground they trod on.

The light of the moon, now nearly full, illuminated the earth with a blanket of tinted light, as though one walked not in the present, but on a path of a world long forgotten. With each successive gust of wind, new shadows were born, each with a unique sound and movement. Had it not been for the fact that they were following the thin, blonde woman, the twelve teens imaginations would have given way to fear. And still, they walked into the night.

Joanna tripped over yet another rock. "How much longer do you think we will continue walking?" She asked Sarai.

Sarai shrugged, "I don't know, but I'm getting super cold."

"You look frozen."

"I feel frozen."

"Serves you right for not bringing a jacket along. Did you think we were going to Disneyland.  Common sense is always your friend." Liberty added, her eyes forward and posture perfect. She didn't look affected by the chilly weather at all. 

"No discussions, please." The blonde woman called out from the front without even stopping or looking back.

Silence once again shrouded the group. Then Joanna pulled out a thin scarf from her satchel and tossed it to Sarai who gave her a grateful look then wrapped it around her neck, chest and the top of her shoulders.

Turns out the warehouse was just a meeting point. Not the actual inauguration destination. They'd been driven in a pitch black sixteen sitter bus to the fringes of the city, to the secluded wooded areas. Then for approximately thirty minutes, they had been walking into the unknown.

Joanna locked at her digital wrist watch. 7:23 PM

She would have to, unfortunately, fib to her mother about her whereabouts when she got home. She could probably get away with a fabrication about having had to take an extra shift at the diner.

Joanna blew on her hands and rubbed them together. She could smell smoke in there air. Just then, a small clearing came into view at the base of the outcrop. Several woodpile fires could be seen arranged in a large circle. In the center of the circle, two glass bowls filled with a clear liquid sat atop stone podiums. The perimeter of the fire circle was outlined with figures in full black. Ski Masks covering their faces, only an opening from the bridge of the nose to a few inches above the eyes could be seen. There were patterns inked into the skin that was visible. A matrix of swirling lines.

The blonde woman stepped into the fire circle, stood between the two podiums, and turned to the teens. Her smile glittered like poisonous water.

She raised her arms and like a switch had been flipped, the masked figures begun to dance--or what passed for it. They moved to a tribal drum beat, a loaded and jumpy staccato. They did a lot of swaying back and forth and occasional lunges toward the floor. The dark figures--women--wearing metallic corsets on top of their black parachute dresses, blowing eerily in the wind, floated forward then dipped under the outstretched arms of the men. Two men dressed in similar garb beat animal skin drums in a fast, rhythmic, tribal beat. Joanna could only attribute the type of movement to something between herbal ecstasy and Gothic ethereal.

And just as suddenly as they begun, the drums came to an abrupt stop. The movement ceased, and almost robotic like, the figures resumed their earlier positions surrounding the fire circle and the blonde within.

She lowered her head, like a tiger does before it pounces, her hands clasped together loosely.

In that position, Joanna thought she looked like a skinny, twisted, albino tree she saw once when she was younger on a school field trip.

"Welcome." The woman said, "welcome to the inauguration ceremony. Welcome to the day we honor the unsung ancestors. My name is Alira. Your trials chaperone. I will pop in every now and again to guide you through your trials."

The teens all exchanged looks.

"You all stand on the precipice of adulthood, and it is now up to you to decide what kind of people you will be." Her voice was solemn and gave equal weight to each word. "Centuries ago, the ancestors realized that it isn't political ideology, religious belief, race or nationalism that is to blame for a warring world. Rather, they determined that it was the fault of human personality-of humankind inclination toward evil, in whatever form. This evil, can only be overcome by facing true fears; then meaning can be found, purpose and life follow suit."

Alira gestures to the bowls on each side of her. "When you name is called, you will step forward and choose a bowl. Once you have chosen one, you are required to offer your lifeblood...Just a few drop into the bowl."

Libby made a choked noise beside Joanna, "Um, I don't know how I feel about that. Seems kind of...cult-ish."

"Not to mention unsanitary!" Monica piped up, crossing her arms.

Murmurs of agreement hummed from around the group. 

Alira smiled tightly, "the first lesson you must learn is to never question the game's requirements, the game's design. Do. As. You. Are. Told. Or you can leave right now. Wait at the bus, be disqualified and all the money you've earned will be repossessed. Your choice."

No one moved. 

Alira squinted her eyes then slowly her smile returned, "good. Now as I was saying, you chose a bowl and stand behind the bowl. Only six people per bowl, so if one bowl is chosen to capacity, the remaining initiates will automatically be part of the second bowl." she paused with a thoughtful hum, walked to one of the masked figures and retrieved a long object rolled in black cloth from him. 

Joanna couldn't make out what it was at first, but the when Alira was back in the center and the illumination of the fires surrounded her, she slowly unrolled the cloth and Johanna saw the object--objects-- in all their metallic glory. Several double edged daggers. A cold sweat dripped down her neck.

"Oh shit." Sarai murmured beside Johanna. Her face pale and eyes wide. "This is going to hurt. I think I might be sick."

Joanna ignored her and squared her shoulders. She came here for a reason, if she has to do some creepy stuff to get to that cash prize so be it. It's only a little blood any who. Her eyes shifted to the bowls in the center of the fires. Which one will she choose? 

Alira cleared her throat, the daggers were laid on the ground on top of the cloth they had been wrapped in before. "When your name is called, pick a blade and you know the rest."

"This is so twisted." Monica whispered, face aghast, hand covering her mouth.

"lets begin." Alira's hawk eyes scanned the small audience of initiates. Joanna could practically feel everyone hold their breath. Dread and anticipation made her feel drowsy and wide awake all at once. 

Alira's icy orbs glided past the tense frame of Joanna and landed on Libby. Joanna saw a shiver ripple down Libby's slender frame, and for the first time a trace of vulnerability seeped from her. Joanna grinned internally, maybe she wan't as tough as she portrayed...

"Liberty Bradley," Alira called, silence enveloped the small clearing. "You're first."

************


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