11 September 2011


Vidasu Valley & Moses's Path to the Sacred Gate

Aaron stared out of the hut’s window as the rain began to patter down on his hatch roof. It started lightly, but was quickly gathering force, both of wind and water. He looked over at his wife, Sarah, standing next to him and leaning out the window. As the thunderstorm intensified, so did her gaze. She was looking west toward the encroaching darkness.

All across the lower Vidasu Valley it was the same—men and women staring out of their windows at the drops pelting the wide, dry riverbed on either side of a paltry stream that ran through Vidasunha Village. Those with children held them close, whispering the ancient stories of the Lightening Prince in their little ears as they stared in awe at the mighty force of the wind bending the trees that dared grow on the ridge tops.

But Aaron was not looking west toward the impending storm or at the riverbed or at the trees on the ridge. He looked east toward the distant plateau that stretched across the horizon, rising abruptly from the river valley like an enormous wall. Aaron feared that this storm would not be like the others. He feared that the admonition he had been given by his half-starved friend was not just a delusional rambling. But most of all he feared that his wife would find out what he had done. He wrapped his arms around her and gave her a squeeze. Her mouth curled up into a half smile, unconsciously it seemed, since all her conscious attention was on the storm.

The sky brightened slightly, indicating the first visible lightning strike over the horizon. Aaron began to mouth the prayer. His heart was not in it, but he made an extra effort to appear cheerful. Sarah was on the Rain Council after all, and it would not do for the husband of a councilwoman to abstain from the most important prayer. At first, as always, he could only hear himself say it. However, at the first visible bolt in the sky, he began to speak louder, and he could hear Sarah beside him, though still softly:

Light in the sky, chase the Rain,

Prick it here above my home

That it may bleed into my well,

Light in the sky, chase the Rain,

Vanquish it among the mountain tops,

That its lifeblood may flow from the East

Over the cliffs and into my fields.

As the rain fell, the riverbed quickly muddied. Small puddles spilled out of their little depressions and joined up with others to form large puddles. The stream in the middle of it all seemed to run a little faster, and a little higher. But this was just the teaser. The main event would come when a slight depression in the middle of the plateau overflowed, becoming a waterfall. It was amazing how quickly the riverbed would fill after that, rising right up to the banks, but never spilling over. It was Aaron’s favorite part of a storm, but today he anticipated it with dread.

In the pauses between flashes of lighting, Aaron offered up a prayer of another sort. This one was silent—and blasphemous—that the Cloud Demons would escape the Lightening Prince, just this once, and the rain would pass on.


Several miles east of the village, Moses hurried along the southern ridge of the valley, heading toward the plateau. With the wind at his back, he should have felt light. But he was weak. He had not eaten in three days. He was sore and cramped from kneeling on the cold stone floor of a repentance cell for the past week. The tendons in his knees felt like they might snap with each step.

Luckily, the trail was still dry, though he felt a rain drop on his hand, and then another on his cheek. Even after everything that had happened, and with everything that he now knew, the rain on his face still gave him a little jolt energy. It could not be helped, it was wired into a part of him no cynicism or anger could efface. But the storm would soon make this trail his enemy. It would become a mix of mud and puddles hiding roots and rocks. His stomach tightened and he had to bend over to heave, but there was nothing to come up. He needed rest and water. He would likely get neither until it was too late.

The uncertainty sapped his strength further. Was it already too late? He had no way of knowing. He staggered on, willing his legs forward with the knowledge that to rest now would be to fail and, whether they knew it or not, everyone in the village was depending on him.


Moses had spoken so quickly when Aaron visited him in his cell less than an hour before—something about a water gateway, whatever that was, and the river rising higher than ever before and everyone being swept down the valley and into the sea. Aaron could not make his mind understand what his friend was saying. It just sounded like a string of cryptic and impossible statements.

The village being swept away? The Priests had to beg for water from the Lightening Prince. Presumably, they were up on the plateau among the Oestalta Mountains at this very moment, shattering clay vases in honor of the Lightening Prince, as an offering that he might slay the clouds and let their water flow down to the village. But Moses had said the Priests were not in the mountains. Without the Priest’s prayers, wouldn’t that only make it more likely that the falls would not spill forth any water at all?

No, no, Moses had practically screamed, but he had not had time to explain. He just needed to be let out of the cell and he would explain everything later. Aaron would be a real hero; he just had to trust Moses.

The thing was, Aaron did trust Moses. Throughout their childhood, Moses had always been more faithful and honest than Aaron. Still he did not see how any of what Moses was saying was possible. And it had taken all his courage to lie to Sarah, saying that he was going to check on the irrigation channels one last time before the storm, when really he was sneaking away to see his imprisoned friend.

While the fear of being found out ate away his courage, his only regret was not thinking to bring any food to give to Moses. Perhaps that pang of guilt was what had given him the strength he needed to risk his life, pry the cell door open with a nearby steel rod, and free Moses from his captivity. Moses had shown this gratitude with a weak smile and dashed off toward the plateau along the valley's southern ridge. Aaron dropped the steel rod and ran home.

What Aaron did not have the strength for was to let on that he knew anything about the supposed peril they were all in, not even to his wife. They would never believe him anyway. He hardly believed it himself. The river had never crested the banks in Aaron’s entire life. The Priests knew exactly how many Cloud Demons to beg the Lightening Prince to slay among the mountains. Even if Moses was right and against all odds, he somehow succeeded in reaching the secret gate and stopping the supposed flood, Aaron would be hanged for faith-crime and maybe a bit of blasphemy for good measure.


Moses reached the base of the plateau. To the north, high above the river bed, he could see that a faint trickle had appeared over the edge of the plateau—the waterfall was just beginning. It misted away on the long descent to the valley floor below. He wanted to take a moment to muster some energy in his legs, but instead he just plowed on, starting the steep ascent up the now slick switchback trail carved into the side of the nearly sheer face of the plateau.

The rain was falling heavier now, but Moses was still ahead of the worst of the storm. This one would be bad; as a Waterman in the Preisthood he had been trained in what to look for, what to listen for, and how to sense the storm’s personality.

He had taken the trail up to the Sacred Gate once before, but that was years ago, and he had been heavily drugged on the Priests’ incense and a carefully cultivated sense of mysterious grandeur at what he had been about to witness. And what a sight it had been! After the grueling hike to the top of the cliff, the sight of the enormous curved wall holding back a vast reservoir of fresh water had been a revelatory experience for Moses. How important he had felt to be the keeper of such a precious resource. He remembered how much he yearned to share the experience with his friends and family in the village below.

But the Priests had him sworn to secrecy. And now that revelation was just another bitter burden for Moses to bear. The Priests had become too carried up in all their lore. In their delusions of grandeur, they had lost a sense of the practical. They had not established any contingency plans. There were only two Gate Stewards overseeing the Sacred Gates at any given time. No reliable way had been established to quickly communicate between the Gate Stewards and the Priests in the valley, miles away and thousands of feet below. Moses could not help but imagine all the possible tragic mishaps that could befall the village under such neglect.

Surely, the village had a right to know that their trust was misplaced. By bringing these risks to light, Moses would be protecting the whole Vidasu Valley. After all was that not the oath he had taken when he was anointed a Waterman in the Priesthood?

The Priests did not see it that way. They saw his call for transparency as a challenge to their mandate to protect the village. The traditions had been kept, unchanged for many generations, because they worked, the Priests had said. Who was he to upset the delicate balance of the already difficult life that villagers lived in the dry river valley?


Aaron saw a flash and heard an enormous CRACK. Sarah shrieked with a cry of pure ecstasy. Within seconds the whole valley was awash in the shouts of the faithful, cheering the Lightening Prince as He corralled the Cloud Demons east, over the plateau and toward the mountains of the Oestalta Range. Aaron screamed along with his wife. But his was a scream of fear.


The switchback trail was at river. Moses struggled to retain his footing as his legs burned and his stomach wretched. With every other switchback in the trail Moses faced the waterfall. The trickle had turned into a steady flow. The storm had caught up to him as he climbed the side of the plateau. He had no idea if he was already too late. Moses knew that the Sacred Gate was usually regulated by the Gate Stewards long before the first rains fell. But he had no idea if that was necessary or just another tradition with a long forgotten origin. He was not trained in Sacred Gate operation. Only Priests were. And if Moses’s suspicions were correct, all the Priests were dead.

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