Long ago, in a time of no death and no pain, Corax the raven stole fire from the gods. The animals and people were celebrating their new prize, setting flames everywhere they could to brighten the forest in the dark night, and danced their victory around its warmth. Back then, fire had no smoke to darken its light.
Corax was the only one who did not dance, for she had felt the heat of the gods’ rage as they chased her, a heat so strong it had singed her feathers black. She looked with worried eyes on the dancers. Her friend Cervus the deer bounded over and nudged her with his antlers.
“You are a hero, Corax, for stealing the fire as we had asked. You have given us a beautiful gift. Why do you not dance?”
“I fear the heat of the gods’ rage might enter this fire and cause us great harm.”
“Oh, you worry too much,” Cervus laughed. “The fire’s warmth is soothing and good. We have never known harm and, thanks to you, we will now never know cold or darkness. If you will not dance, I will.”
As Cervus joined the dance, Corax felt the sharp crack of energy as lightning struck down in the middle of the largest bonfire. Heat and hunger entered the flames, and they spread, consuming all around. Pain entered the world, and death followed it.
Corax flew high above the flames until their anger burned out and they were nothing but hot cinders. Those who had survived the fire huddled at the edge of the field of death, staring in horror at the glowing embers.
Near the frightened survivors, Corax saw her friend collapsed on the ground, badly burned but still breathing. She flew down to him, and he smiled weakly at her.
“I think I am going to a new place,” he said to her. “I feel a long journey ahead.”
“I am sorry I ever stole the fire,” Corax cried. Cervus nudged her with his antlers.
“Don’t be sorry. Perhaps it may yet be tamed. Let me make you a gift before I go. Take my eyes, so that you can always see where I am, and take my antlers so that you may always know how to find me.”
Corax placed the antlers on her head and the eyes behind her own eyes. When Cervus left on his journey, she saw where he went. Her own eyes fell upon the still-glowing embers, and then she turned to the humans huddled in the trees.
“You must take these now. You are the only ones with hands nimble enough to tame fire. The rest of us will not touch it.”
The humans fearfully accepted, and with Corax’s help learned to tame the fire. But even once fire was tamed, death could not be.
As more and more people and animals passed, the ones left behind began to miss them and wish to speak to them again.
“You have eyes to see into the world of the dead,” they cried to Corax. “You know where they go. You could get them.”
Corax agreed to go, and she flew the long path of the dead to her friend. The air in the land of the dead was cold and dark, but she stayed and talked with him for a long time, and then she talked to the others who had passed there. She spread her wings to fly back home, but when she flew to the living they could not see her. With her own eyes she could see the world of the living, but she was trapped in the cold world of the dead.
“What now?” she asked her friend. Cervus nuzzled her feathers.
“You were touched by the gods’ fire. Maybe you can touch it back.”
She nodded and flew in search of a flame. Once she found one, she stepped inside and danced. The people were at first afraid, for all they saw was smoke and they feared it was a new punishment from the gods. A bright eyed shaman looked closer, and in it he saw Corax’s dance and knew that she could tell them of their departed loved ones only in this way. He learned to read her movements, and even today you can read the messages from Corax in the dance of the smoke.