‘’Do you see the east side of the mountain from here, where the cherry blossom trees grow? You must promise me that you’ll never go there.’’
My grandmothers voice had been grave and final when she told me this. I could not think of anything to do but nod my head. Of course I had already heard whispers of that place, rumors of those who had wandered over that side of the mountain and were never seen again. I had already wandered over there myself in my mind many a night. Often had I dreamed and wondered of the beauty of this place. The mountain breeze that fell on those cherry blossom trees swayed their soft pink petals in a silent dance. ‘Sacred’ is the word that the people of my village used to speak of it. It was a ‘sacred’ place of old magic that must not be touched. Still, every time I walked that way, past the mountain slope and towards the deep woods, I had to stop and gaze towards the trail that would lead me there, to the place of mysteries and adventure. I always knew it would only be a matter of time until the calling grew too strong, and I had to disobey my grandmother for the first time in my life. Against all reason, against common sense, I wanted to be taken away. I knew that there were things there, things that might not take kindly to being disturbed, but there were silent voices whispering in my ears every night as I dreamed - voices that spoke of unknown treasures waiting to be retrieved.
It was a day that started off as any day might. I had not acknowledged to myself yet that today was the day I was finally giving in. I packed up as I normally would for a day of traveling. After tying up my pack and pulling on my boots, I headed out the door. It was a clear and cool day, an early autumnal breeze blowing through the green leaves of the trees. When I reached the edge of the mountain, I stopped right on the edge of the path that no one took, the path that led to the east side. I simply stood there for a moment, my gaze drifting over the slope where the pink petals of the cherry blossoms danced just out of my sight. Then I knew where I would go. Without a glance back at the road that would lead me to town, I took a step forward and was on my way.
Minutes passed by as I strode onward over the steep slopes. Either the path was more difficult to travel or it was far further than I had figured. Moment by moment I labored on further. Eventually, I stumbled over a small, clear creek. Taken aback a moment, I decided to follow the rocky, wet trail this creek provided. After splashing across the steep, sharp stones a few minutes, I turned a corner and I was there. The cherry blossom trees parted to show a dark path within their majestic branches. The creek which I had been following gently flowed within this little, shadowy opening between the trees as if beckoning me further along my path. Though my hair now stood on end, I ventured within.
There was never any doubt in my mind that my grandmother had been correct. Now, however, as I stepped through the dim-lit passage way beneath shrouding pink petals, the only light to see by a dull rose color that seeped through the cherry blossoms, I could only think about turning back and escaping. What was I thinking to bring myself here? What could I possibly be expecting? Even now I could hear voices at the back of my mind - faint but growing ever stronger with each step I took deeper within the dark pathway. There were many voices, like whispers in the tree branches. As if they spoke in foreign, but slightly familiar tongue, I could just not quite make out what they were saying. All I could configure was that they were not happy, for they spoke with an air of menace, as if to ward off an unwanted visitor.
I grew desperate and glanced backwards at the way I came in by, only to discover that the opening in the trees I wandered through was now out of sight. Sweat started trickling down my forehead. The voices continued whispering, angrier and angrier. I looked forward again and, in a moment of rash decision, I began running. I ran and ran through the enclosed cherry blossoms. My only thought was to get away, escape those horrible voices somehow, so I kept running forward. It felt like like voices were screeching in my ear now, and I wanted to scream. Then, to my utter astonishment, the voices stopped altogether. I halted to a stop and was shocked by my environment.
I had run into a circular clearing in the cherry blossom trees. Beneath my feet was a fresh green meadow of grass. The creek that I had followed so far in my quest now emptied in a perfectly round, crystal-clear pool in the middle of the meadow. Though this place was beautiful and peaceful in a way I couldn’t describe, what had caused a shock though my body like a lightning bolt was the thing that lay beside the crystalline water. There, nestled within a wreath of strange green leaves, was a large green egg as wide around as two hands breadths.
I caught my breath up in a large gasp and slowly walked towards the strange object. I knelt down and carefully grasped the egg in my hands and felt a thrill of amazement wash through me. The egg itself shone in the sunlight as if it were made of jade-stone. Adorned along it’s length was a string of pale stones, as if to add more to it’s splendor. Most astonishing of all, though, was that there was a deep green symbol engraved into the egg, the likes of which I had never seen nor understood. The moment I grasped hold of this egg, I knew in my heart that this very thing was the reason I had come here, the reason I had gone against my grandmother’s will. I knew that this egg was the very treasure I was seeking, the treasure that had called out to me in my dreams so many nights. I held the egg to my body confidently and set out to leave for home again.
Just then, the cherry blossom trees swayed ominously and the ground shook beneath my feet in a great rumble, throwing me to the ground. I clutched the precious egg close to my body to ensure it’s safety and got back on my feet, dazed and confused. I heard a strange crackling sound from above and turned towards the sky and saw, to my utter horror, small balls of fire raining from the mountain top. I cried out and ran to the shelter of the trees, feeling the singe of fire on my arm as the hellish rain barely missed me. The ground continued to rumble angrily beneath me, and the delicate pink petals in the trees above started turning a violent red as some of them caught fire. I kept running in desperate fear, all the while holding on to my precious egg. For a long time I ran from the flames, only thinking of escaping this cursed place. Eventually, my surrounding changed from pink and red to green again.
I halted to a stop and caught my breath, then looked over my shoulder to see that the flaming cherry blossoms were far behind me. With thankful relief to be away from that place, I clutched the egg to me again and set out to find my way home. Before I had taken three steps, something dark loomed beside a tree in the corner of my eye. A harsh chill ran down my spine as I stood frozen to the spot. Whatever the thing was, it’s skin was deep green and it glared at me with piercing red eyes. With great force of will, I slowly turned my head towards the creature that stood beside me to see - nothing.
I blinked my eyes in disbelief and shook my head vigorously. I had to leave the mountain now. This place was bewitching me, causing me to see things that weren’t truly there. With an exasperated huff, I kept walking forward over the rough terrain. The slope of the mountain was no easier to hike then when I had first come before. The pebbles beneath my feet kept giving in, and I would stumble and falter over the dirt hills. Every now and then, I would see the strange, dark figure out the the corner of my eye again, not too far from where I trotted. My heart would race once more as if to leap from my chest, and I would spin around only to see that the fierce, red gaze I had imagined watching me was no where to be seen. I continued on my way each time this happened, ignoring the pain of unease I now felt in my stomach. I still clutched the jade, stone-like egg as if were my own life. I was determined to make away with my precious treasure. Surely by now the path away from the mountain was not far away! I dragged my feet on forward, confident that the end to my nightmare must be near. Still, somehow, I found that I was not nearing the end of the mountainside, no matter how far I tread. The unease I felt strengthened as I saw the sun begin to set by the mountain’s peak.
Finally, after many hours had passed, the darkness of evening fell over the the ground beneath my feet, and I collapsed underneath a tree from exhaustion. Once again, from the corner of my eye, the red gaze of an unknown monster watched me. I did not turn my head to verify the creature’s existence this time. Instead, I only laid my face against the hard egg and wept. I wept because I knew now why those who wandered in this forest were never seen again. I knew now that whatever I had disturbed in the forest would never let me out, not for the punishment of what I had done by coming here, and I would never return home again. Before long, I would die from hunger or exhaustion or both, and my corpse would lay in this cursed forest until the end of time. Still, the horrible figure just out of my sight watched me as I wept. Forever I would be watched and tormented by this unknown being, never to be released.
As I sat by that tree in tears of despair, the egg in my arms slowly grew warmer....
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