At the crest of the hill, we stood, looking out over the valley below. The surface rubble here was beginning to be overtaken by the stonegrass. It spilled in spiked tufts down the face of the cliffs leading to the base, rustling and clicking. Far down below, a lazy pool laid beneath the bruised sky, rippling dully in the ash wind. It had been days since fresh water, and our peeling lips bled as we sang, walking with closed eyes, opening them in blinks, finding the way by feel.
The children ran ahead, as they always do, bolder and braver now, with it in their company. Captain was not far behind. We brought up the rear, though singing, always glancing behind, newly fearing what might come behind us, what else might have heard the music. Luroteo was the last down the hill, picking his way slowly and carefully, helping those who straggled before him, lifting our eldest back to her feet, dusting the ash from her battered knees as if she were a child, his child. We cared for one another more, when we sang. We wished for one another more, the longer we held the tune.
When we got to the banks of the water, we pulled the children back, and our party knew despair — this could not be an oasis for us; the pool was blackwater, it would infect even the healthiest of us with hallucinations, fever, agony.
It stood at the bank and looked down, bare feet standing in the mud of the edge, and then looked back at the rest of us, still singing. The children we held back, though they cried to be near it. The one that no one pulled away remained beneath its wing, watching reflections in the surface. It sent the last one away, back to us, and picked up a rock from the edge, and held it to its own palm, still singing. When the blood welled up, it was redder than anything, brighter than anything — it let the drops fall to the pool, singing the name of each one that fell. They hit the blackwater soundlessly, but exploded beneath the surface in a note of harmony.
It dug the shard further into its palm, its voice lifting in perfect agony. The red notes welled up quickly, pooled, fell faster, became a pulse.
The surface cleared; it continued to bleed, to sing.
The depths cleared; it continued to bleed, to sing.
It knelt at the bank, knees in the mud of the edge, and let the red light of itself spill into the pool, singing all the while, until it laid its cheek to the rocks, and its hand splashed into the clean water, and it closed its eyes, and the song itself dwelt in the water, moving with the waves made by wind, echoing beneath the bruised sky.