The world is a small place – give it a look sometime. Most countries are beautiful, and savvy travelers can always find those hidden cultural gems. But be careful. If you’re out in the more sparsely populated regions of almost any country, you may spot a picturesque little village where all the houses appear to each be fashioned from a single, enormous black stone. If this occurs, don’t bother checking your map – it’s quite accurate, and you made no wrong turns while following it.

Stone villages have been recorded in Morocco, New Zealand, Honduras, Fiji, New Mexico, Mississippi, and the Philippines, to name some. Survivors’ accounts don’t say what these villages are, where they came from, or how old they are. The first written mention of stone villages comes from present-day Slovenia, around 343 AD, when six monks went out to map the countryside. Only one returned. They are likely far older than this. No known record of the villagers’ language has been found. Accounts of their culture and religion vary wildly, despite all of them sharing seemingly identical practices.

The only consistent and therefore reliable information across accounts is what course of action will allow you to leave the village once you’ve found it. These accounts come from various cases, some of lone travelers, some of lone survivors of groups. The compiled instructions are as follows:

If you have seen the village, made out its strange volcanic walls, even from a distance, you’ve already crossed the threshold. You are now a visitor. Do not try to turn back. Someone watching might consider your aversion rude, and someone is watching. If you do turn around, you will not get far.

Approach the village as nonchalantly as you can manage. A guide will be waiting for you at the village’s edge, where the farms and mills hug the surrounding hills or valleys like fabric. The guide will greet you warmly in whatever the official language of the country you’re in is. She will most likely be the only villager who speaks a language you can potentially understand. If you have any gods, pray that she is the only one. She will offer you a tour of the village; accept. If you don’t speak the country’s language, nod politely. Accepting the tour grants you protection – initially – and allows you to walk freely in the village. You are now a guest.

Feel free to explore, for you won’t see another place like this. Take in the architecture. The walls and doorways of every stone house will be intricately carved with breathtaking curves and angles. Some carvings will be writing in an unknown language; comparisons of this writing range from Maya glyphs to Sumerian cuneiform to a strange form of ancient Korean; rest assured it is none of these. Some accounts suggest that if you stare at the writing long enough, you may start to get inklings of what it says, as though piecing together an old memory. You may otherwise ask your guide to translate. But be warned – the writing is that of prophets, and not everyone is built to hear the words of the gods.

Other carvings will be sprawling murals depicting massive wars, rich landscapes, and gods descending. The stone faces will carry more emotion than seems possible, and you will understand centuries of history in one glance. Should the mural be one of gods, don’t look any of them in the eye.

Throughout the exploration, your guide will have been taking you towards the village square. The square will contain the temple, the inn, and the festival hall; no written descriptions exist of these buildings, but rumor has it that survivors mumble about their beauty decades later on their deathbeds. The square will also be full to bursting with villagers buying and selling wares of all kinds. You may meet them later on.

In the center of the square will stand an enormous statue which you will be drawn to. Estimates place it at 15 meters tall. The statue will be haunting, but much like a word you just can’t remember, you will not be able to place what the statue depicts. The image will round your mental corners every time you try to approach it. At this point, you’ll be overwhelmed with curiosity and frustration. Nothing will be as necessary as understanding the statue. But you would awaken something. You may ask your guide about anything in the village – she will have an answer – but no matter how much it scratches at your sanity, you must not ask about this center statue.  

If you manage to fight off the curiosity, the guide will then take you to the villagers, who will greet you in their language with emphatic cheer. The vendors will offer you all kinds of fresh fruit, plump and perfectly ripe. Feel free to take some; it’s not poisoned, and more importantly, it’s delicious. Whether or not you accept, each villager will fall in line behind you as you pass, singing and forming a single file line. This is the Guest’s Procession, and it is a deeply spiritual celebration of your arrival. As such, as more and more people join the cheering line, you may begin to hear crying, screaming, laughing, unnatural echoes, and far more inhuman sounds mixed into the now-dissonant chant. Do not disturb the ritual. No matter what you hear, you must not look behind you.

The last person waiting for you in the square will be the high priest. Greet him politely; he’s honoring you with his hospitality. He may only favor you with a smile and gesture of welcome. If so, thank whatever god is looking out for you. If not, well, you’ll hear his smooth voice greeting you in your own native language, whatever it is. You must not look at the high priest after you have greeted him, and you must not show any emotion at his using your native language.

The high priest will begin by asking a series of questions about faith, commitment, and sacrifice, questions about yourself that even you may not know the answer to. In the unlikely event that there are several of you, the high priest may only speak to one of you. You must answer as truthfully as you’re able; if you reply with the slightest hint of doubt or dishonesty, the high priest will say, in a pleasant, chiding tone, “The gods don’t appreciate being lied to.” From here, accounts vary as to what happens. Some suggest the heretic is cannibalized on the spot; others suggest he or she is dragged into the temple, kicking and screaming. There is no record of the temple interior.

If the high priest is satisfied with your answers, he will invite you to stay the night, stating that that night is the Festival of Patronage, and the gods themselves will be honoring the village with a visit. You must try to decline this offer. Think of someone or something you truly love, look the high priest in the eyes and say, firmly, “I’m afraid I have my own purpose to serve.”

You must be genuine when you say so. It can be your own religion, a friend or lover, your career, your art – as long as it’s something you would be willing to dedicate your life to. If you answered honestly, the high priest will nod in understanding and wish you well on your way. If, however, you are a person who loves nothing and no one passionately, you’ll soon know. The high priest will instead smile and say, “Please, spare us a night for the gods.”

Accept this offer. He will not ask a third time.

The village will have an inn, oddly enough, and you’ll be taken to its finest room. The walls inside will be just as elegantly carved, the bed will be dressed in fine silks, and the lantern will be made of stained glass. Lock the door and make yourself comfortable.

Later that night, you will hear beautiful, haunting music and see mesmerizing lights through your window. Do not look outside. Remain in your room; no one will come to get you, and you will not be harmed. It’s advised you bring a book to read for this part of the day. Do not, under any circumstances, attend the festival.

If you haven’t gone to bed by the time the music stops, do so immediately. Blow out the lantern and pull the curtains shut. Make sure your door is locked. Until sunrise, you must stay silent. The gods are visiting.

If all goes well, and you make it to sunrise unnoticed, you’ll be free to leave unharmed. The villagers will bid you farewell in the square with silent waves and very wide, still smiles, quite unlike their festive greeting. The high priest will escort you to where you first spotted the village, and he may even give you a parting gift – a small pendant of a glyph, perhaps, or the tooth of some unidentified creature. Thank him for his hospitality and be on your way. The village will not have moved during your stay, so simply follow your map back the way you came. It’s better you do not turn around; they may insist you stay a little longer.

From this point on, you may want to avoid the countryside. The stone villages are always moving, and no one leaves a second time.

Written by VanishingCircus
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