“Watch,” she said, pausing, “watch as every little sunset-winged beauty soars gracefully just above our heads, going home. Their tiny wings beating the wind, taming it to be fit to ride like horseback. We take advantage of their beauty, expecting them always to come back in larger numbers, even when we are so careless of the many sunset-painted canvases, which dance across our sky and not only color our plain world, but give us reason to live to see the great migrations,” Grandma Lilly said, smiling warmly. Her long grey hair danced in the gentle winds like snow upon the tallest mountain. She wore the grass skirt she had worked for so long to make as a girl, she only wore her treasured item if the time was special, not only to her but to the island. A feeling of ignorant happiness hung over our world like a fog never to leave. At the time I didn’t know it, but that night we stared into the sky, watching each emberring body pass by would change the course of my life, and stop a seemingly endless war which had lasted almost a century, for it was me, the hero, the child with the blood of the gods. Grandma Lilly had told me before, in the form of ancient songs and legends of the gods, but I was young and didn’t think much of her tales, not until far too late, when I finally had to accept my hero’s fate, until now, when the fog of ignorance was lifted, and I knew the truth which hid in my blood.
I stared at the sky as thousands of little fiery orange butterflies filled the deep blue sky, giving me a sense of longing for the ability to glide across the sky, just as they did. Gracefully, they danced high above our heads. The Twilight Leaders, we called them. The ones who lead the twilight. A fitting name the village had given the proclaimed messengers of the gods. Every night, for months, we ate dinner on the porch, watching the Twilight Leaders march across the sky just before dusk, bringing twilight with them. Every once in a while, it was tradition for the youngest child of island blood to stand at the hill closest to the fiery sky, hold their arms open wide, and greet the butterflies. I was the youngest of the island. It was Akuma the month before I, my best friend. There for me, my whole life was bonded with a butterfly he had named “Vaitafe,” or “river,” in the tongue of the ancients.
The sky was growing dark. We knew the Twilight Leaders would be coming soon. I stepped out of the house, onto the soft sand, squeezing it between my bare toes. The air smelled like fresh fish and burning firewood like it always did. Grandma Lilly held my hand, my long white dress flowing in the gentle evening wind. I looked up at the large hill at the top of the island, where we were closest to the sky. Grandma Lilly glided gracefully at the bottom of the forest floor beside me, still grasping my hand lightly. The entire village followed carrying torches, used to light the way on the dirt pathway through the forest, Akuma following the closest with his classic goofy smile, always knowing how to make me smile back, even on a day when the sun seemed it was never to shine again. He held the hand of Maktu, the village history keeper. He had adopted Akuma after his mother had left and his father had died with my own mother, although we were young at the time, the memory still hurt, as Grandma Lilly had done a wonderful job teaching us of their memory, hoping we would never forget why and how we were here. “No matter how many times the sun goes down, it always finds its way back here, where it will guide us until the end of time,” Grandma Lilly said, time and time again.
We arrived at the hilltop. I was given a torch to hold. It was believed that the torch kept the demons which were held in the future. I held the torch above my head and stood still, listening. The sound of thousands of wingbeats riding the wind filled the air. They were here. The light of my torch showed me every one of the little bodies, who individually looked like fire, but painted the darkening sky to look like wildfire. Torch in one hand, I held out the other, leaning over the edge, but holding my ground.
The villagers began to chant, musical instruments joined in, dances were performed, all of the ancient stories of these tiny creatures. Tales of how our spirits were bonded and every child had a bonded spirit. Legends told that a child with ancestors of the gods would be bonded to the leader of these fiery creatures, as a kind of legacy. I continued to hold my hand out, begging a Twilight Leader to land, so that I may truly be a child of island blood.
Time slowed. One emberring body, brighter than the rest danced gracefully from the collective forest fire, down to my hand. It landed with a quiet bow. The village gasped as I looked curiously at the glowing figure.
“Ember,” I whispered, “that’s your name.”
“In all my years…” I heard Grandma Lilly rejoice in awe.
I brought Ember closer and looked carefully at the ornate designs on her wings. They were a fiery orange with yellows like the sun and blood-like crimson reds. In a pattern of flowing lava, until at the bottom of each glowing wing, the color of ash which rained from the sky after an eruption, both beautiful and dangerous. Ember seemed to bow, once again, to the point where I could feel her faint heartbeat. She rose from her bow and dove into the air, twirling and dancing among the wind. She waited until the rest of the Twilight Leaders had gone, and then followed, still glowing brighter than the rest.
I turned slowly, after watching her leave. I set my eyes upon the mass of people who were staring, awestruck, as they began to bow… for me, Afira, the child with the blood of the gods, I was to grow into the hero of our broken world, although I had no idea what had been bestowed upon me as a blood right. Never again would my life be the same, no matter how hard I wished it would be, I was no longer just a child, instead, I was a hero who had not grown up yet. I was the one who would be expected to end a century-long war with the power of my blood. The secret I had kept in my veins was out, now the entire island knew that I was the distant grandchild of the gods, whether or not I chose to be, and the years Grandma Lilly had spent pretending I was a normal child were to waste. The Island knew, and so did I, the secret which I had so unknowingly kept in my blood was out and the fog was lifted.