Burana Tower, Kyrgyzstan. Fall 2004.
Rune sang as she ran. The words came quick and easy, leaving her mind as soon as she spoke them.
Stone follow, way to light
deep but hollow, lost in night
when and where and how and why
arise, arise, oh stones, arise
Stones and blades of jagged grass bit at her callused bare heels, but she barely noticed. The stones were close now. Only one more hill to crest.
World of shadow, cast away
morning’s widow, true today
place beneath my hands the stones
arise, arise, arise, oh stones
The mountains behind Rune slipped in and out of fog, as if they weren’t sure whether to be dream or reality. The memory of crossing those mountains felt like it had to be a dream. Too much cold and flickering consciousness to be otherwise.
But she’d made it, somehow, and now the plains carried her feet in waves of red-green grasses. To the stones.
From the top of the hill, she saw them. Nine smooth thumbs sticking out from the earth. The tenth must have fallen. Or perhaps it’s buried, She thought, her song catching in her throat.
She walked down the sloping path, hands trembling, mouth dry. She felt the sting in her heels that had so long been numb, and the raw ache of muscles from her legs to her back.
“Hello, stones,” she said as she wandered among them. She wanted to touch their chill surfaces, but not yet.
From one pocket she took her own six stones: black, yellow, green, white, brown and clear.
In her other pocket, she had the four heartstones. Colors she never imagined could exist in stone: blue, red, purple, and gold.
She placed each stone on a pillar., finding small indents the perfect size. The stones had been waiting.
A small doubt snuck inside. Did she really know which pillar went with which color? Her hands seemed to know, so she continued. Until only the gold stone was left, and she still hadn’t seen the tenth pillar.
Frantically, she dashed around the stones, searching with hands and eyes, digging into the grass even, until she realized.
“It’s for me. I’m the tenth pillar.”
She placed the stone on her head and stood, waiting, eyes closed.
The transformation began slowly. A tingle in her toes and the tips of her fingers, a hum from the center of her ribs. Soon the vibration spread, forcing her arms up and out, her legs down to kneeling. But the stone didn’t fall.
The vibration became an ache, a deep insistent pain as organs shifted to make room for new muscles. Her eyes wouldn’t open so she focused on her arms and legs, keeping them steady even as they shook and grew, becoming long and thing.
Her eyes changed last, flickering with the pale gold of the stone. When she opened them, she knew.
“I am no longer human,” she said with a throat that could no longer speak aloud. But she knew the words were there for those who knew how to hear.
Twisting her long neck, she gazed at her back to see feathered wings.
The tinderdeer that had once been a girl called Rune ran up the ridge and leapt, rising into the air.