This article is part of the The Reificant series.
I have traveled across the darkness. I walk among the bipeds of soft flesh and they are called men. Their place is warm and sunlit and there is no sea. The sand is white and the mountains are made from black rock and red and crumbling, rusty brown. Among them I am alone...
Silence. The village is quiet without the children. None of the remaining adults speak unless absolutely necessary. There are no more barks of laughter. No more games of climbing ladders or chasing after the animals they call dogs. No more cries of, "Winged Brave, what did you bring us?"
The juvenile humans departed with those adults who did not bathe in the waters of the pool. I scouted a path for them to the nearest river, but even still there seemed little hope among River Stone and his brothers that this group would survive.
"It is the end of our tribe," spoke River Stone. Most of the adults had succumbed to the waters, believing the regenerative process was a blessing. They remain with me.
"We are alone," one of River Stone's brothers says to me. "What will you have us do now?"
I help them find a rock large enough to cover the pool. It is very heavy, but with my help we are able to move it into the cave and position it near the pale, stinking waters.
"In time the water will eat the stone," I quill in their language. "We must make this better. Do you have the means to take gold from the mountain?"
They do not, but they have traded longer ago than any can remember for necklaces and bracelets of gold. These are old treasures of their people, though they do not seem to place much value upon them. They pile them up for me and do not seem to care that I begin to melt them in a clay bowl set over a fire.
It takes me three days to prepare the rock with the gold. I do not know if a certain thickness will be required to resist the corrosive effects of the pool. I can only hope it is adequate to seal the waters within the mountain.
"It is ready," I quill to River Stone.
When darkness comes to the village the men and women build a large fire on the highest outcropping. The walls of the canyon are lit red and seem to squirm with the moving shadows produced by the firelight. The tribe dances in a ritual circling of the fire. As they do, they raise their voices, making sounds, but not words. Some embrace in mating rituals. Some sit alone and look up at the sky, dappled with ten thousand stars.
They laugh and make merriment long into the night. When I rise I find them slumped upon the bare earth, their bodies damp with dew. Only River Stone is awake to greet me. He rouses the tribe. One by one the men and women lift their heads and slowly, stiffly, come to their feet.
"It is decided," says River Stone. "We wish to see you in the sky once more this day."
My wings open with a snap, shaking loose the dust that has gathered during the night. The morning light beams through the translucent inner wing. I beat my wings and rise into the blue, circling higher and higher above the canyon, catching thermals and rise until I cannot even see the buildings of the village below. I can see the curve of the planet and the distant, silver meander of a stream passing through the tableland.
I dive lower, swooping through the canyon, close enough that my beating wings stir the hair of the men and women gathered upon the tiers of canyon rock. I repeat this several times, swooping closer and closer. My legs unfold from my body and, with a last beat of my wings, my weight settles back upon the ground.
"Don't you get it? What we have to understand is it's them or us. It can't be all of us, or one. It's got to be us, or they become it. Then we lose what makes us we."
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