It was five minutes until midnight in Castelluccio, Italy. There wasn’t a cloud in sight as a cool breeze blew by, making the poppies, rapeseed and wildflowers dance. The pale moonlight shone over a strange group of people assembled in the colorful valley that laid just outside the rustic Italian village. It bathed them in a silver glow, providing an unearthly atmosphere that made everything around them seem like fragments of a dream.
What made these people strange was that they were not human, but beings lost to the narrative of history. Their creator, the Watchmaker called them Protadons, which in the lost dialect of Watch-Speak meant ‘here first’. They valued the title and it lead them to develop their prideful nature. It was because of that pride that they turned from their creator, and lead them to their eventual downfall.
The group that had now assembled, however, had not turned from the Watchmaker’s light. They were excited to learn what he had planned for the young Protadon who was coming of age, and eagerly awaited for the stroke of midnight.
The young Protadon’s name was Sebastian, the Dalca’s oldest child and he had reached a very important milestone. He stood with his family—which comprised of his baby brother, little sister and parents. They waited whilst the dozen or so elders prepared for the ceremony that would uncover Sebastian’s future, and all he would become. The wind rushed through the flimsy, black pants and white t-shirt that flapped against his goosebump covered skin.
Humans and Protadons weren’t all that different in appearance, and the only thing that distinguished them were their silver eyes and the pair of horns that sprouted from their foreheads. They also had a personalized tattoo on the center of their back that carried their family symbol, and through mystical methods could unlock a Protadon’s entire life story before all of it could come to pass. Although, understanding one’s mark was a painful process that required experienced individuals to undertake—hence why Sebastian and his family stood anxiously waiting. While it wasn’t common for a Protadon to die in the process, it was still a possibility that they risked and it made them nervous.
Sebastian’s little sister clung to his leg with a fierce grip, afraid her big brother would disappear if she let go. He held on to her as hard in return, to reaffirm that he’d never leave her. He then pushed back the long, charcoal curls concealing her face and put on the most reassuring smile he could muster.
Sebastian’s papa carried his baby boy, wrapped in a hand-knitted scarf and bounced him up and down to keep him from crying. The young Protadon didn’t have the luxury of warmth since the rite required him to wear thin clothing that allowed the marks to run deep. To hold in body heat, he used the wool blanket his mamma had draped across his shoulders when they had first arrived. She grabbed Sebastian’s hand and squeezed it, while giving him a look that radiated with pride. Her weather-worn face gave away the years of life she had experienced, yet she was the kindest person he had ever had the privilege of knowing.
With not even a minute left until the clock struck twelve, the elders signaled for Sebastian to take his place in the circle they had formed. He gave each of his family members a kiss on the cheek and a quick hug before standing in the middle of the formation. He handed his mamma the blanket back, and hesitated for a second because he didn’t want to let go of her warm, inviting hands just yet. The Protadon knew he would be with them again, but separating himself for even a moment expelled clumps of dread in the pit of his stomach. Still, the nagging feeling in his head was unfounded, and there was no call for worry. They’d planned this for months!
Taking one last shaky breath, he left his mamma’s grasp and turned to walk into the circle. The elders bore long black robes and dour expressions as they joined hands and mumbled something incoherent under their breaths. It was intimidating for Sebastian standing among such powerful Protadons, and he noticed himself puffing out his chest to stand just as tall as they did.
The chief elder walked forward, and the wind ceased, time stopping outside of the circle. It had begun, there was no going back.