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I spent ten years as a girl named “Naiya” before I had to say goodbye. But I don’t remember any “if only’s”. It was tradition, the way things had to be. Someone would smile over my corpse. Perhaps that wasn't so bad.
They escorted me into a hall filled with people who kept their eyes on the floor. A boy was waiting for me at the end of the aisle. His frail wrists were shaking, and so was the blade in his hands.
In my final moments, I was crowned with leaves of gold and adorned with gem-encrusted rings. There was a blinding light, cold metal and red spilling onto the tile floor.
Then I stopped breathing.
They planted my bones in a hole beside a clear lake. They piled soil on top. Lots of it. I wasn’t awake then, but I can still feel the heaviness of the soil in the folds of my dimmest memories.
Time was out of joint. I found that the seconds and minutes that once seemed so important meant nothing at all without light or sound. There were simply periods of warmth, and with it, sweet rain that trickled into my hair, wound around my spindly arms and raced down my waist to my feet. But sometimes there was bitter cold, with cruel needles that dug their fingers into my skin while I cried out to a stoic sky. I found that prayers had no meaning either.
I think many years had passed, though I never once thought of “before." Or maybe I had, but the concept had been too vague to name, like the colors of a dream.
But on the anniversary of my death, I felt someone press their lips against my forehead. They were gentler than velvet and heat flowered from that spot. My muscles seemed to melt, as if they were made of liquid sunlight.
And there was a small weight on my feet- toes, like a child's. Then I knew.
I opened my eyes. I took in the colorful shadows, vibrant green beneath my feet, dashes of crimson and violet petals. When I knelt to the ground, I saw my own fingers, bare, soft and supple, as if they'd never been twisted into coarse bark.
An Elder stood before me with a sad smile on his weathered face. I hadn't noticed him before, but when I did, I thought he looked rather familiar. I don’t know what I felt then, when he welcomed me back to humanity.
I looked behind me. There was a sapling, delicate and graceful, rising from a heavy mound of soil.