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Inside the cave, I sit on the brink of a bottomless deep. I hang one leg over the edge, into the impenetrable blackness. Staring into the hollow, I dream of what used to be, only one sunrise ago.
My people live in the shadow of the Mountain. The land there is dry and barren, the dusty ground hard and cracked. It hardly ever rains. The sun always beats down all day, scorching the land with its angry yellow eye. You can walk for days without finding a single bit of green.
The Mountain is covered in green. Rain clouds blanket its slopes almost every day. Since I was a babe, I wondered why we couldn't live there. The adults complained that we needed more water to combat the sickness and death that plagued our village. So I would say, “There’s water on the Mountain. Let’s go get some.” They would look at me with horror.
“No, child, we must never do that,” they would reply, aghast. “The Mountain is evil. There are demons in the forest. We never set foot in that dreadful place.” I asked how they knew there were demons if they never went there. They told me I would understand when I got older. Well, I got older, and I still didn’t understand. But I learned that it was best to keep quiet about the Mountain.
When I was still a girl, I was in my hut tending the breakfast fire when I heard a commotion in the village center. I investigated, and found a mob attacking something. I pushed through the crowd to see that the victim was a defenseless bird, albeit a larger one than I had ever seen in the desert. I threw myself between the villager’s clubs and the bird—after all, I had been taught from birth that you are never to harm another creature unless for food or in self-defense. In the ensuing confusion, the bird vanished.
The villagers were angry with me. They said the bird had come down from the Mountain; therefore it was a demon, and must be destroyed, or it would destroy us. It only looked like a big bird to me, but I didn't say so.
That evening, I took a walk to get away from the fuming village. Outside of town, I nearly stumbled over the injured “demon.” I still doubted that the creature was dangerous, demon or not. What I did know was that it was an animal who needed my help. I knelt beside it. Even broken and bloodied, it was the most beautiful bird I had ever seen. In the desert, the birds are small and dull and usually covered in dirt. This bird was as big as a fox and covered with slick black feathers that glinted with indigo fire in the moonlight. Was this what a demon looked like? I ran a finger lightly over the blade of one perfect feather. At the touch, the bird lifted its head and fixed its eyes on mine. Gazing into those deep blue eyes, as dark as the night sky, I heard the bird speak. Not in words, but in thoughts. In my mind, the bird told me that he could only heal if I took him to the Mountain. I shied from the thought, remembering the warnings. Then I remembered that it was my people who had done this to him, a bird that had done them no harm. And I knew in my heart that there couldn't possibly be anything on that mountain worse than what lived in the village.
The bird, who called himself Rex, continued to speak to me. By his directions I ascended the forbidden slopes until I came to a cave. Although afraid, I took a deep breath and stepped inside the gaping black maw.
I couldn't see anything through the darkness. Fear crawled like spiders under my skin. I hesitated, but I had come too far to back out. I inched forward and after the third step I could see the Light, bright and pure and beckoning to me from somewhere ahead. I needed no further instructions. Enthralled, I followed the glow until I reached the end of the tunnel. The back of the cave opened into a cavern big enough to hold the sky. The Mountain was hollow. And in this hollow was the Light. Never had I seen anything like it. The Light sparkled like all the sands of the desert were dancing with the stars in the sky. Without thinking twice, I took one more step, off the precipice. Rex and I fell into the glorious Light.
I have a vague memory of a wonderful feeling, soft and warm, not falling so much as gently floating down. The next thing I remember lucidly was waking up in the forest, confused because the air felt strange. There was no hot sun or bone-dry wind. There was instead a damp, cool breeze. I opened my eyes and saw leaves where the sky should have been. At first, I was terrified, but then I remembered Rex, and the light, and I felt at peace. A flutter came from nearby, and I turned to see the bird in question perched on a low branch. His broken wings were flawlessly healed, his torn feathers miraculously replaced. I knew at once that the Light had done it.
I couldn't return to the village. Not after seeing the wonders of the forest and the Light. So I stayed. I lived in the cave. I soon learned that the Light could speak, like Rex. It taught me how to use its power to heal, to create luminescence in the darkness, and to make my mind one with the forest. Finally, it taught me how to make it rain.
I had been in the forest many seasons, but I hadn't forgotten my people. I wanted to bring the rain to them. At first, the villagers were glad to see me alive. But when I told them my story, they became frightened. They claimed I had become a demon myself. I gathered the clouds to bring rain, but before I could prove my good intentions the villagers chased me away.
That night, the Light revealed to me that my people used to live on the Mountain and be part of the Light, like me. But they couldn't handle the power—they used the Light for evil and committed horrible deeds. Then they saw what they had done and fled. They cursed the Mountain as a place of darkness, when the darkness was really in them. I reminded them of their fear.
The village Elders had not forgotten the old ways. Hiding in the cave, I watched as they chanted and howled, harnessing the Light with their obscene ritual. They turned the power inward and forced the Light to devour itself.
I feel cold inside, and empty. There are men in the distance, shouting. They’re coming to kill me. Let them. Let the very Mountain collapse upon me; I care not. I hear wing beats. Rex lands upon the precipice and looks with me into the emptiness.
Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”