The canyon was completely dark, lit only by the stars above. A coyote sniffed along, following the trail of a rabbit. It froze as there was a scuff and a muffled curse.
“Shh,” several people whispered and there was an exasperated sigh and a few giggles.
The coyote turned and faded back into the rocks. It was too noisy here. He’d find something else to eat.
“If you guys don’t cut it out they’re not going to let us come back,” Ayr said quietly.
“Then they should have given us night vision like theirs!” someone hissed back. “I can’t see a thing!”
“We don’t use night vision out here,” a new voice said from off to their left and there was a couple of muffled yelps. “Next time spend more time getting used to the dark.”
“Simon?” Ayr whispered.
“Yep,” the voice said from a few feet away. “We came out to make sure you made it okay. You’re almost there.”
She squinted at a form she could barely make out. “Sorry for the noise.”
“Nah, you’re doing fine,” he said, coming closer. “Just around the boulders and then stop there and wait. I’ll be back to show you the way down, afterwards.”
“After what?” Dina whispered.
“You’ll know it when you see it,” Simon said and disappeared back into the night.
Ayr led the rest of them around several massive boulders.
“I swear, if this is a big practical joke, I’m going to beat someone,” Dina whispered.
“Do you think Theo would let them do that?” Ayr whispered back. “This has to be it.” They were on a large flat area on the edge of the canyon. “Everyone okay?”
They stood there, unsure what they were waiting for. Ayr knew that Theo wouldn’t let the Rangers do anything mean to them, but standing here in the dark was really creepy. Her eyes had started to adjust, she could make out the vague forms in the starlight, but didn’t know if that made it better or worse.
They waited, it was getting a little lighter to their left and Ayr wondered if someone was driving around out in the desert. Then a thin sliver of white showed over the ridge and she realized the moon was rising.
An eerie buzzing noise echoed down the canyon and the little group of Ta’avi drew together. It almost sounded like one of their voices but the pitch and tone weren’t like anything Ayr had ever heard before. The sound reverberated down the canyon, the lonely wild feel of it made the hair on her arms stand up.
Whatever was making the sound was joined by the another one. Someone gasped as the rhythms began to wind and twist around each other as they reverberated against the canyon walls. It was getting to be too much for Ayr, why had she come out here?
There was a pulse of yellow light in the canyon and they squinted down. It looked like someone was holding a stick that was burning. The long pulsing buzzing rhythms joined and became a staccato beat as the light began moving began moving down the canyon. Ayr saw that the person holding the torch was sprinting down the canyon with it held high over their head and the beat got faster and faster. Voices around them began to yell, a long rising “ohhhh” and then all of the sound stopped as the torch flew into the air, flipping end over end. It hit the ground and embers scattered and the canyon was suddenly dark and quiet again.
Then the buzzing began again, a long low hum and the people joined in. Below them the dark red embers began to grow into the flames of a bonfire. The buzzing rhythms began again, fast and loud. The voices around them mimicked the sound, yelling faster and faster with the beat. The flames suddenly roared up from the middle of the pyramid of logs and the chanting turned into wild yells. There were figures all along the canyon edge, cheering.
Ayr jumped as Simon landed next her. “Welcome to Stand Down,” he said.
She looked back and realized there were people standing on the boulders behind her as well.
“You were standing right there the whole time?” Ayr was angry suddenly. “This was a joke?”
She looked past him as Leah slithered down the rock and landed lightly on her feet. “Not even close to a prank. The first time everyone comes that way. It’s something, huh?” She walked off without waiting for an answer and Ayr’s anger flickered out.
“Come on, let’s go down,” Simon said, taking her hand and pulling her to join everyone else. Her little group was already gone, joining the crowd that was walking down toward the flames.