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The delicate white bird balanced on my finger, his bright ivory wings spread to their full length. He was a little thing, but beautiful in ways I couldn’t describe. His only imperfections were the tiny black specks marring his snowy back, like ebony paint splattered on a new canvas.
“You’re looking at my infections,” he accused, his musical chirp sounding too bright for the harsh words.
“Infections? They only look like black spots,” I replied, confused. This bird had some to me as soon as the bullets had pierced my chest, as soon as my eyes dimmed and my final breath sat lodged in my throat. He’d told me that he was dead, and that I was too. I hadn’t had any trouble believing him, as one would expect. I’d seen Troy heft the gun, seen him pull the trigger, and I had been prepared to die. In fact, I welcomed the oblivion of eternal sleep.
“They are infections,” the bird told me crisply, snapping me back to the present. “Infections from the harsh human world.”
“But how…?” I didn’t need to finish my inquiry; he knew what I was asking.
“Long ago, when the sea kissed the sky and the land glistened with newness and forgotten beauty, my kind swarmed the skies. There were millions of us, each looking as I do now, minus the spots. We called ourselves the Zraykoo, but your kind simply referred to us as ravens.”
“But…the ravens I’ve seen are big and black and harsh, not small and beautiful,” I said, confused once again. The bird ignored me.
“We ruled the heavens until Man came. They built fired that blackened the air, then structures that cut into Zraykoo skies. Soon, Man started hunting the creatures of Earth, Sea, and Sky. Those who were not killed were sold or kept as pets. Then, the Corruption began. Wars and famine and death were all around, until even the pure Zraykoo were tainted with it. Our creamy feathers turned black and tattered, our delicate claws twisted into talons, and our sweet song became a lugubrious caw. Luckily, I died before the Corruption ruined me forever, but my brothers weren’t so fortunate. They were caught in the maelstrom of hatred and sorrow and soon the beautiful, innocent Zraykoo were as black-hearted as Man. We continue to exist as a reminder of how the perfect can become the ruined.”
My eyes were wide with terror and fascination as the bird finished his grisly tale. Who knew the ugly, morbid raven had once been so pure and magnificent?
The bird looked at me, his pale blue eyes glistening.
“Innocence is temporary. Cling to it,” he said, seeming a thousand years old. Then, he opened his wings and soared into the whiteness of oblivion, until I all could see were the black specks of infection on his back, a constant reminder of the price of life.