Ideas are dangerous. This is not because of the impact they can have on society, or their ability to change the world. They are dangerous because once they’re let loose, once they’re let out into the wild, they can take on a mind of their own. Once unleashed an idea cannot be controlled or contained, it will spread in whatever way it wishes and transform itself into whatever its whims dictate. No longer tempered by the context and knowledge of the mind from which it sprang, it will warp and twist itself into something that no longer resembles its original form. There is no rhyme nor reason to a wild idea. They are unpredictable, as are those which it latches onto. That is why ideas are dangerous.
The morning began cold and misty, as it always did in the high places. The village and all the land about it lay in thick, inky shadow. The sun rose late here, for to the west lay the grave and titanic majesty of Aase Acalapati; Highest of the High; That which Looms; The Immovable One; Queen of Peaks; The King of Mountains. Light crept slowly over the ridge line and jagged pinnacles of both her and her lesser brethren, spilling down the slopes and into the valleys. The light ran slow and languid, crawling like thick syrup, pooling in the forest dells and coating the land in a thin layer of pale, electric blue. This was old light, tired light. As it passed it took the mists with it, burning away the night and trundling sedately down to the lake shore. The waters were flat and still, no boats or skiffs darted across its surface, there was no dragging nets for the thin white fish that swam in the glacial depths. For today was the first day of summer, and the day upon which the old rites must be performed and the pact renewed. It was the day of the leap.
Volante had risen early, while the moons were still high and the white stars had yet to complete their transit across the heavens. She was in the garden at the centre of her family home, stood on a springy mat woven from the thin fronds of the trees that garlanded Aaes Acalapati. Volante had watched the rites every year since she had been a small girl. She had seen so many given to the mountain; Friends, family, even her mother. They had all taken the winding path to the heights, never to return. One final glimpse, a tiny black speck silhouetted against the noonday sun, tumbling into and out of the sky, and then they were gone. Taken. It was inevitable that eventually she would be called, but unlike all the others which had gone before her, she had vowed to be ready. Today was the day. Her day. So many had laughed at her when she had decided to devote herself to the ancient arts of the body and the soul; the training of muscle, flesh and spirit; the path to transcendence some called it. The way to be more.
“Silly little girl,” they had said “The mountain cannot be conquered. The mountain takes all.”
Naturally, she was not the first to think that she could leap like none but the old ones had. Not a single one of them had succeeded. It made little difference to her. She would conquer the mountain and make the leap, or she would die trying. It was only a matter of waiting for the appointed hour. Until then Volante went through the motions and forms. It would make little difference to the outcome now, she would either be ready or she would not, but moving through the body shapes and stances brought a calm, clarity to her mind. They stilled the swirling worries inside her, they forced her to clear her mind and focus only on the moment. The Warrior, The Tree; no anticipation, no trepidation; The Falling Sword, The Hanged Man; no fear, no doubt; The Dancing Wind, The Mountain. Stance after stance, hour after hour, Volante waited in the cold morning air. So absorbed was she, that she didn’t even notice the sun rise or the pale blue light flowing into the quiet garden.
The Priest came shortly after dawn. Draped in robes of faded crimson the old and withered man lead Volante up the twisting paths, through forest and scree and the scars of long departed ice, all the way to the thin rarefied plateau that was the mountain crown.
A handful of the great and the good of the village waited for her just below the crown. For only she, the one to be given to the mountain, was allowed to sully the true peak with her steps. They stood in a rough line; The mayor, with his jowled and whiskered face; The chirurgeon with her starched dress and wrinkled brow; The master of hunts, with his wind raw skin and bleached leathers; the master of boats with her tar stained smock and forearms like hams. As they did every year, they had come to bear witness.
The Priest cleared his throat and spoke, addressing the small gathering.
“Today is the first day of summer.” He began, his voice dry and dusty like rustling leaves, but strong like the wind. “As is tradition we have come unto Aase Acalapati; Highest of the High; That which Looms; The Immovable One; Queen of Peaks; The King of Mountains, to offer up one of our own. To give them unto the mountain. To renew the pact, as it has been since the time before time, when the world was young, and such shall it be until the ending of days.”
The elders nodded solemnly at the Priest’s words.
“Come forth. Who are you that gives yourself to the mountain? Who are that gives yourself to our Lady Aase Acalapati?”
Volante strode forward
“I am Volante Pakuna. I have come to make the leap. I give myself willingly to the mountain and to the empty air.” The words learnt by rote tumbled out of her mouth, but Volante’s mind was elsewhere. She was looking up the crudely hewn steps towards the crown and beyond into the sky, her mind drifted away on the breeze.
The Priest droned on, intoning the words both he and his predecessors had used for generations. Volante was no longer really listening, only snippets of the words made their way through to her. As she loosened her spirit and let her mind drift, she wondered. About the hows and the whys. How had the rite come to be? Why did it have to be performed? She knew the reason they were all told from childhood, but something in it did not quite ring true. It seemed wasteful and brutal. It felt, now more than ever, as if it were all the result of one sole misinterpreted message that had rattled down the eons like one great Chinese Whisper.
“…since the old ones came to this place from beyond the sky…”
Could it be that the rite was nothing more than an accident? The result of an event in the old time that had birthed an idea. An idea which the people of the village had clung to harder with each passing year. Something which in the beginning had given them comfort, or hope. A coincidence, or a twist of fate which became something that the community relied on to hold itself together: The sacrifice to the mountain. But they had held onto it for so long that it had ceased to be merely an idea. It was now so interwoven with their collective consciousness, that it had become a truth. A cast iron fact which must be held to, even if it were not really a truth. Was all this sacrifice based on a lie? Or were all these thoughts just doubt? Doubt in the rite, doubt that she could do what could not be done?
“…that which is made cannot be unmade.”
“Or can it?” she wondered.
The Priest’s voice trailed off, until the only sound was the faint whistling of the wind and the cold, empty silence of the sky. They were all looking at her. Their eyes were full of expectation and a small grain of pity. Volante took a deep breath and walked forward to begin the last part of the climb: Up mossy steps hewn out of the rough stone of the mountain and through a cleft in the rock. The great and the good disappeared from view, obscured by the rock.
The crown lay before her. A crude circle of flattened off space, perfectly smooth and a drab, slate grey that did not match the rest of the rock around it. It was ringed by towering pillars of night-black steel, pillars that were said to have been forged at the very heart of the old world. Things not of this place, but of another. A place far older, angrier and more unforgiving than this new home. They stood as sentinels, watchers and memorials. They surrounded the sacred crown, casting no shadow. They loomed with an eyeless, yet ever watchful menace. As if they brooked no intrusion upon the highest of heights, even by those deigned worthy enough to enter. The air felt still here, as if even the wind avoided this holiest of holies. With each step through the circle Volante sank herself deeper into her calm. Both her breath and her heart beat slowed, each stride made her feel lighter. Almost as if she was just one step away from being able to float.
She crossed the crown, leaving the ominous henge of night-black steel behind her. Beyond it lay a small ledge jutting out from the side of the mountain. On it sat a boulder the size of a small pony. It was mottled with lichen and pocked with age. They called it the core stone. A great stone from the depths of the old world, older than the mountain, older than this place, older even than the mighty pillars. It was all that was left. It was the jewel in the crown.
Volante summited the core stone with a single bound, light and effortless, as if it were no more than a single stair. She stood in solemn silence, feeling the age of it beneath her feet. Then she gazed out into the valley. The whole vista of the high places laid out before her. All the forests, the lesser peaks and the lake, stretching out into the distance. She could feel the wind swirling, rising. Whirling around her and towards here, seeking to embrace her. Volante took a deep breath of that clear and cold mountain air and held it within her. Flexing herself, she became the last of the forms. One which she knew well but had dared not assume. For it held within it a potential, an ever-burning fire, a grave and titanic majesty which rivalled that of even Aase Acalapati. It was not to be undertaken lightly. Grounding herself on her right leg, she raised her left until it was perfectly vertical and held it tight within her right hand. She thrust out her left arm holding it in a flat and steady horizontal. They called it The Conqueror and The Breaker of Ways. Volante held herself still and unmoving, letting the world around her melt into her skin and the wind blow through her flesh. This was the moment, the final test. It was her turn to make the leap of faith into the empty air. She wasn’t here to simply make the void jump, she was here to make it.
And she would not fail.