As I awakened from my sweet, wine induced slumber, I found myself not in the library but in my own bedchamber. This, along with the dull ache of my battered body, gave me a feeling of great discomfort and dismay, for I wished very eagerly to read the ancient literature of this world. I wanted to know history, as well as the history of my friends(which, on this day, I would learn much of one of my companions past without the use of books). But above all I wanted to study the rhinocydonts. Alpha was correct about my curiosity, as usual. For some reason, I felt the rhinocydonts and their dragon kin would be a very important subject to learn about. It was one of those strange intuitions I always had on my journey, which almost always proved to be correct. This one especially so, but I must go on with the tale of my training.
I walked through the corridors and stood outside on the balcony. I immediately noticed that something was very different. For one, the aroma of food I had adored the day before was not present. This disappointed me, but not as much as the feeling of emptiness I felt in the air. Looking out from the balcony the day before, I could see many people bustling to and fro between balconies awaiting their breakfast. This day I saw no one walking and I wasn’t greeted by a frog prince. I just knew that everyone had left the area.
In panic, I assumed that Alpha and Steer were gone as well, but this assumption was checked by the fact that Alpha had said he would help me the next few days with my training. Still, the absence everyone else filled me with uneasiness. I figured that they saw what they could of my fight with Snapper and had left with disappointment.
After staring into the sunrise and waiting for someone to come to me for about an hour, I decided to go search for my friends on my own. I checked their rooms and made my way down to the breakfast hall to no avail. The whole world seemed dreadfully empty.
Through frantically searching the rest of the training area, I came across many small but intricate statues scattered abroad. They were each about a hundred feet away from each other. Some were dragons, some were unicorns, and a few bore resemblance to Alpha and Steer. I continued walking and stood before what appeared to be the last statue to see. It was considerably bigger than the others and seemed to be built with more craftsmanship. I had to blink a few times to reassure myself that it was indeed a statue, for it looked unbelievably lifelike.
Unlike the other ones, it had colors. Dark shades of green and orange made up a grotesque but elegant figure that I saw to be myself. It was a statue of me, but not only me. It was a statue of me fighting against something monstrous. My sword was pierced through its belly and its arm was pierced through mine, coming out of my back with a clawed hand much more fearsome than that of a Kappa. It was a very lifelike and intense rendering of a creature, but I was at a complete loss as to what that creature exactly was. It stood like a heavily muscled naked man with no genitalia; but its skin looked so alien, as did its arms. The one that wasn’t pierced into my stomach was more like a tentacle, and it was constricted tightly around my neck. Upon closer inspection I could see that the end of the tentacle was an eyeless head with snakelike jaws. It had fangs that looked as though they could secrete venom. But the worst part of the beast, the foulest, most unholy thing about it was its own head. I don’t know how to describe it except that it looked like a human skull, but horrific and deformed beyond recognition. It also had vile looking horns, like those of a bull but longer. My stomach sank as I suddenly connected the word bull to another word. This word was also the name of the creature.
“The Minotaur,” said Alpha’s voice from behind me. “Omega incarnate. With the head of a bull and the body of an athlete, this very creature is the cause of all sin and death. All because he wants Happiness to himself. I said before that he almost has a personality. But when I made this statue…”
“You made this?” I asked with excitement.
“Yes, I did. Dreadful, isn’t it? No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t quite get the eyes right. And the tails are too long.”
“Alpha, though it is an evil creature, it is beautiful just because you made it. You are a fantastic artist!”
“Friend, you do flatter me. But I really don’t think it does his evil justice. I tried very hard, but it just doesn’t seem very good to me. It could never look as frightening as the real thing. Its really supposed to have evil markings written all over its body. But if I duplicated them, I would be accursed.. Anyway, I like the statue of you best myself. You are my greatest work, and you truly will be in more ways than one after I have trained you. But I know that you don’t like my methods.”
“Well, making me fight Snapper was a bit much….”
“But you did beautifully. You are…”
“Alpha, listen. I’m weak. I’m a frail man. How can I ever save Happiness from…from this?”
“I’m a frail man too, youngling. If not in character, at least in body. Trust me, no one else has ever done as well as you did on their first sword match. I know your doubts. And the rest of your training will purge their poison from your soul. In the meantime, just try with all your might to not doubt yourself. Look what happened to Snapper because of uncertainty. Faith is what creates strength.”
I said nothing for a while. Looking at these statues made me doubt myself even more. The one of me, I noticed, looked very different than how I thought I looked at that time. Its arms and legs looked spidery and weak. Its helmet, even though it obviously bore no expression, somehow looked defeated and wearied. There were cuts all over its body, and whatever Alpha used for blood looked eerily real and wet. After fighting back the churning in my stomach, I continued conversation, changing the subject from myself to Alpha’s amazing talent.
“How did you get them to look so lifelike? Especially the blood…”
“Spells. Special enchantments that only statue makers know. Also, you have to use all the right materials. There are special black stones scattered throughout the rivers of this jungle that are absolutely essential.”
“Do they give off a colorful aura?” I asked.
“Yes. You have seen them?”
I told him about how I had seen them in the lake of the waterfall when Vengeance was chasing Steer and I.
“Oh. You were attracted to them, were you not?”
“Yes. They seemed to draw me in as if they had a will of their own.”
“They do, my friend. They do indeed. For not only are they useful for statue making, but also they are used for meditation as well. You shall use them to fight against your vice for the plants. I shall go and fetch them now.”
“Can I go with you?”
“No, I’m sorry. I must get them and prepare some other things for your training. Steer shall talk with you.”
To my delight, my bovine friend appeared. He was carrying the brown bag of tobacco in his mouth. After Alpha told me that he would be back soon, Steer and I began to smoke and converse. It was difficult to light his pipe for him, as well as hold it to my own lips, but I desired the tobacco now more than ever. The pain was worth it. Steer, at first, tried to dissuade me from doing so upon remembering my maimed arm, but I wouldn’t have it. It did gladden me that he would refrain from his favorite habit on my account though. In the end, we settled for him passing it to my lips with his mouth after I strained to ignite it for him. The pipe’s stem was about a foot long, so our mouths never came close to touching, thankfully (Steer being an amazing person and friend still wouldn’t have been worth getting too close to his honestly foul smelling breath).
` “You were incredible yesterday,” said Steer. “Do you hurt much?”
“Well, I was ignoring it till you mentioned it,” I said, taking a long drag from his dragon pipe. He laughed and apologized.
“It’s my arm mostly,” I said, the pain becoming clearer to me than it was when I was in a panic thinking I was all alone and when I was distracted by the statues. I asked Steer what the sling I was wearing was made of. He told me it was made by the frogs from some sort of magical healing tree found in their country. They are masters of herbs and medicines. They also have quite a strong sense of aesthetic, for the sling was very beautiful. It was made up of many large bright green leaves. They were put together so well that I could not see one seam or stitch. I could tell that if I had taken it off my pain would be increased a hundredfold. I could somehow feel its magic. Physically, it felt cool and icy, like a winter breeze. I tried to pull it up to my face so I could smell it, but the pain was too great.
Steer stuck his muzzle inside of his bag and came out with a glass bottle. “I have something that may help.”
It was wine; that sweet, sweet wine that had helped me so much after my battle. I gulped it down with delight and took another puff of the pipe. They went well together.
“You’re hoarding it to yourself again,” said Steer, annoyed.
We laughed and talked for a few minutes about dragons, frogs, and rhinocydonts. Then I saw his expression changed as I brought the subject to his species. His face looked grave.
“There aren’t many left,” he said. “The Omega drones raided our homes a few years back. They hit us harder than they had hit anyone. I think they wanted our tobacco, but I feel that it was more than that. I saw them do it. They looked upon us bovines as inferiors, as scum. They laughed as they disemboweled mothers right in front of their young.”
“Steer, I am so sorry,” I said, my heart sinking. I wanted to console him, but I knew it would be to no avail. Steer was trembling and tears streamed down his face. Oh how I wish I could have comforted my trusted and cherished friend! I believe he hated the Omega perhaps more than anyone else in the jungle.
“They killed my parents. My children. My wife. All of my brothers and sisters. To them, we were inferior vermin. Well, they are the true rats! Selling out their joy and purpose for some tobacco and Omega plants! They have polluted this world for far too long…”
“That’s the way to talk my friend,” I said, tears streaming from my eyes as well. I reeled from my own heart in disgust, knowing that I especially could be just like the Omega drones and Kappas because of my own strong desire for the plants. Could I be capable of murdering the innocent and torturing beauty for a high? Never!
I told myself this, but I still didn’t quite have complete faith that I wouldn’t succumb somewhere along the road. I began sobbing and speaking my feelings to Steer, not to try to deter him from his own sorrows, but to assure him and myself that I would not fall.
“Steer! I will never fail you in any way! Though those plants may plague me with desire, I will never act on it! I promise you, my friend.”
“I once had a friend who was an angel,” said Steer. “And he promised me the same thing. But the Omega possess him now.”
I felt that he would never trust me, and I did not blame him at all. From the look in his eyes now I felt that he had a horrific and unimaginable problem with trust. I couldn’t believe that he had trusted me for so long and fought back his uncertainty so well. I felt like I was losing him. Then, to my astonishment, he walked towards me and nuzzled me with his snout. He was such a person of endearing character and love. I embraced him, thanking the creator for my two amazing brothers who I knew couldn’t ever go on without.
“I know you think I doubt you,” said Steer. “And you are half right. But even though I have had a friend, a brother, who succumbed into darkness and became a demon, I know that you will not. I do not doubt that you are the true chosen one for Happiness, and I have faith that nothing will hinder you from her. No matter how much you doubt yourself when it comes to the plants, I know that you are stronger and purer than any brother of friend I have ever had.”
“You don’t think I will fall to the plants?” I asked, still hugging his loveable furry form tightly.
“I have doubted some on occasion,” he said, “But I know that Alpha will train you against the plants over the next few days. Friend, i have faith in you because I love you. Though I have only known you a few days, I already feel like that you have been sent here not only for Happiness, but for all us jungle dwellers, myself included. You are my closest friend, Warrior. The pain of losing my family is being healed by your presence. He had stopped crying and seemed that he had pulled himself together a bit, and though I still wanted to cling to him, I let go, wanting to hear more about his family.
“What was your family like, Steer?”
“I’ve lived and loved in this jungle for countless centuries and have never found anything given by Happiness that matches the true fulfillment and enchantment of family. We held each other up. We laughed at all of our flaws together. I would stay up so many nights with the children, telling them stories about their uncle Alpha and I fighting dragons and trying to train the failed heroes. They loved stories. I will never forget how they looked in their beds as they listened to their father’s stories…They were all wanting to be just like their Daddy. They never failed to make me happy. And my wife…yes…my wife. She was to me what Happiness is to you. Perfection, love, loyalty, beauty, charm, kindness: she had it all. She would be honored to know that her husband has met the savior of this world. She’d be even more honored to know that I call him friend. I hope that whatever the afterlife is like, that you will get to meet her. She would agree with me that you should be a part of our family too.”
There were still tears on my face, but now they were streaming from joy.
“Joy indeed, my friends,” said Alpha as I turned around to see him return. He was carrying a shiny black box.
“The joys of family and friendship is what Happiness is all about. I feel that no matter what happens, this trio’s fellowship will never end. We are all three brothers of the closest kind.”
Tears streamed from my face as I went to embrace Alpha. Steer joined us. Though Steer’s story of his melancholy experience with life had saddened me, I felt within me a joy and a love unlike any other. This brotherly love couldn’t be nearly as powerful as the love I had for Happiness, but it was still quite overwhelming. We embraced, sobbed, smiled, and laughed. Two people who had only known me for a few days considered me a brother, and this experience was the first time in my memory that I truly felt like I belonged and was welcome. Friendship is the cure for all sorrow and the source of the greatest ecstasy. Not the plants…
“We shall begin your training, warrior,” said Alpha. “Follow me.”
We walked through the doorway of a building into a pitch black corridor that turned into stairs winding down and down into the dark below. I could see nothing until I looked directly below me at the bottom of the spiral staircase. I saw light.
We followed the staircase out of the darkness and into that very light at the bottom. There were four chairs arranged in a circle. Emanuel was in one of these chairs. He leapt up, embraced me, and gave me some wine. Alpha told me I could only drink a bit of it for my pain, because my training was about to begin.
Alpha set the shiny box on the circle of wood floor that our chairs surrounded. Then, we all took a seat . Alpha pulled something out of his pocket; a black, pen shaped object. He clicked a button on it and began speaking.
“This is what happens, my warrior friend, when you mess with the Omega plants.”
All the lights went out. The black box began humming and making beeping noises. Light shot out of a vent on the top of it; but the light seemed very unnatural. Go figure. The light widened and illuminated the circle around which we were sitting. I could see a miniature scaled version of a part of the jungle in that light, with a Kappa picking off branches off of an Omega plant and eating them. The thing that really struck me about him was the look of glee he had upon his face. It seemed like he was a young child who stumbled upon a forest of sugary sweets. Could he have known what would happen next? His arms clutched his stomach as his face twisted in pain. All the leaves had been consumed. He wanted more. He screamed, and though it was only a recording, it filled me with just as much anguish as Snapper did when he screamed evil at me to my face.
The Kappa went running deep into the jungle in a rage. He saw more plants and started towards them, but he collided into two other Kappas, who wailed with grief when they saw his face. There was foam at his mouth and death in his eyes. He clawed at his brothers as they struggled to restrain him. His jaws clamped shut on one of their throats. The other one pulled a sword quickly and stuck it into the raging Kappa’s belly. As he fell to the ground, the other ran towards some massive, intricately carved buildings that were shaped like tortoise shells. The city of the Kappas.
My heart filled with joy, knowing that this kappa would warn his people about the flowers of evil. But he stopped dead in his tracks, ceasing to breathe. His face looked blank and disillusioned. Slowly, he made his way back to the plants and began to eat.
The light from the machine went off and the moving pictures were gone. Then, after some loud clicks and pops, they were there again, this time showing a scene of the still waterfall I had met Alpha in. Standing on the bank were two humanoid figures with feathered wings. I recognized them from somewhere deep within me as angels. Their faces looked human, except for their eye sockets, which were elongated vertically and held three eyes each.
They were looking at a patch of the Omega plants growing near their feet. One bent to pick some up and spoke to the other.
“Just a few of them won’t hurt. We are not weak like men and Kappas. It will not affect us as it does them.”
The other angel was a female. Wind blew through her long hat and she gave her male companion a smile that at once removed all her beauty and innocence. She opened her mouth and ate the flowers from his hand. He then ate some as well. Their pupils faded from all twelve of their eyes as they ate up the rest of all the plants. Then, they walked together, hand in hand. They looked like walking corpses. Without stopping or slowing, their skin slowly started falling off of them like ashes. Their bare muscle looked like boiling blood. Their bodies were changing into a grotesque skeletal shape. Most of the outer muscle melted away, and now all that remained was a blackened exterior of burnt flesh and bone. Their eyeballs were gone; all that was left was four elongated and empty black sockets. Then, their only beauty left; their enormous, birdlike wings fell off of their backs.
When the recording stopped I leaned forward and vomited. Steer, Alpha, and Emanuel were all silent. This world was more suffocating and nihilistic than it had ever been before. Could these plants have such a truly devastating effect? Alpha had told me that they affect me more than they affect anyone else, but what I had just witnessed caused me to question this. After I pulled myself together a bit, the lights came back on. I tried to locate the source of the light, but I could not find it. Emanuel gave me a towel to clean my mess. I looked down at it and felt another ball of filth and bile roll up my stomach towards my throat. It made me choke, but I fought it off. I said sorry to Emanuel, for he had taken the towel from me and was now cleaning it up. I don’t think I could’ve cleaned it up if I wasn’t so disgusted anyway. The sling prohibited many things. I then began to ask Alpha questions.
“These…angels,” I began, “I thought they were nearly perfect in spirituality. Why did the plants turn them into Omega drones so quickly?”
“the bigger the pride,” answered Alpha, “The harder the fall. You are right. In fact, they were so spiritual that when they willingly made this fatal mistake, knowing that it was wrong, their gifts of beauty and love and immortality dropped off of them quicker than any other created being. These two angels were the first of their kind to fall. Their greatest sin was that they thought themselves too high up and morally sound for any evil to ensnare them. They thought they were above everything.”
“What of me?” I asked. “I thought -”
“You thought that the plants affect you more than they do anyone else. Well, they do. The real damage they do is to your soul. Remember, friend, I can see into your mind. And what I saw showed me that even though they affect you more slowly than they did the angels, they do more damage to you in the end. There is already a poison working deep within you. Remember, these angels fell so hard because they knew better. They knew better than anyone else what could happen to them. They knew they shouldn’t have eaten the plants, but they did it anyway. They fell faster on the outside because of their pride. What you saw actually wasn’t even their complete transformation into Omega drones. They still could have been saved.”
“But they weren’t.”
“No. I tried to set them on the right path, but they wouldn’t listen to me. Anyway, the Kappas are wrong about you. You are not simply a frail man. You are different from men as well as angels. If the plants consume you in the end, you would become an even more wicked being than the Minotaur. The plants usually appear to affect people slowly, you included. But I am not deceived by externals.”
“So more damage has already been done to me than to the angels?”
“Yes. And that’s the curious thing. You must have an even more pure soul than angels do. I don’t know how to explain it or even how to fully visualize it. Bur even though you have been affected more, you somehow have something deep within you that is keeping you from becoming wretched. But if you tried the plants again…it would be much harder for you to fight them off the next time. And you would see how they truly do affect you more than anyone else in this world.”
My head felt like it was spinning because of what he did next. He lifted a brown bag next to him and emptied its contents onto the table. They were the Omega plants themselves.
It was at that moment that I first believed them to be conscious and have a will of their own, for though I could hear no voice, I felt so strongly that they were literally begging for me to eat them. As I stared at them with horror, everything and everyone in the room faded from my perception. It was just me and the plants. Everything else was a sickly blackness. I reached down for them and as I touched them I heard Alpha speak, whether audibly or in my head I did not know.
“Don’t do it warrior. Remember Happiness.”
But I couldn’t resist.
As I devoured them, the blackness got worse. All feeling was emptied from me. I couldn’t even feel my wounded arm, which had broken free of its sling to bring the evil to my mouth. I couldn’t even think of Happiness. Then, after I ate them all, the darkness frightened me, so I ran to try to escape it. But it was more than fear that propelled me. It was the desire for more plants.
After running for a while, I found myself outside. I knew this only because instead of the black I now saw grey, which must have been the sunlight distorted by my pathetically wayward soul. I could only see the color grey, but I could still make out the silhouettes of trees. I ran towards them, knowing that somewhere within the jungle there were more plants. But then I remembered I didn’t have to go very far. Frantically, I ran faster and faster amongst the trees to find the road of purification.
I was hindered for a moment by crashing into a couple of frog princes. I could only see their blurry forms for a split second as I treaded upon their painful faces and heard their cries of surprise and anguish. Everything became clearer in my sight for a few moments. I was almost coming to my senses, almost feeling true contrition for running them over, but the feeling went away as soon as it had arrived. Their faces became green and alive and then went back to grey as I turned to look at them briefly. Then, I forgot about them and kept running. I was in such a blinded state of black desire that the only explanation I can think of for being able to find the flowers was that they were calling for me. It wasn’t an actual voice, but I felt something that sent sweetness to my heart, just as Alpha’s singing would have.
It only took me a few seconds to find them. I could actually see their beautiful green colors against the backdrop of grey. Falling to my knees, I reached for them, tearing my sling and my muscle tendons, and shoved them into my selfish mouth. I didn’t consume but a handful before I felt an immense pain in the back of my head and fell to my face unconscious.

**************************

Throughout my journey, I have been knocked out many times, but none of those times of waking hurt me as much as this one did. My head felt like it was splitting apart. I lifted up in a frenzy of anguish, and not just from my throbbing head. I felt in an instant all the awful consequences of my selfishness. I had disappointed my friends and had hurt two harmless frogs of peace. I was sobbing and shaking so violently that I couldn’t open my eyes. Then I heard Alpha.
“Warrior, stop it. i didn’t expect you to give a flawless first performance last night.”
I let out a howl of pain and regret.
“Pull yourself together,” said Steer. I opened my eyes and saw him and Alpha standing before me with somber faces. I couldn’t stand sight of them. I stood up and did one of the most pathetic things I have ever done. I began to punch my head as hard as I could, embracing the pain in my wounded and now slingless arm as well. I did it so hard that I felt I would become unconscious once again. Perhaps that was what I wanted. Staying awake and facing the bitter truth of my mistakes was too much for me to bear. I finally stopped and sat back down, only because I felt too weak to continue punishing myself.
“Are you finished?” said Alpha. “We must go back to the meditation room. You are to try again right this moment, and this time you shall not fail. I don’t wanna have to hurt you again. You think your own punches hurt? I can show you real pain.”
I said nothing and rose to my feet. It all felt so hopeless, but I still wanted to keep trying.
“Those plants will not win!” I screamed. “They will not! They cannot!”
“That’s more like it,” said Alpha. “You are a man. Act like one for Godsake. Now come on.”
I do not know which room we were in when I awakened, but it seemed to be a very dreary one. I noticed that there was dust and all over the walls and ceiling and spider webs woven together on the sides of the doorway. On our way out, a frog came to me and began to put my arm back in a sling as we walked.
I already had it set in my mind that even though I had failed my first test with the plants, I would not fail again. After walking through a few blackened corridors, I remembered Emanuel. Where was he? Did he leave because my wretched self had trodden upon two innocent members of his race?
“No, that isn’t why he left,” answered Alpha. “Yes, he was very much dismayed that you hurt his friends, but he really had to go on a mission for me.”
“What mission?”
“You will find out when your training is complete, which will hopefully be in two or three days. You shall see him again as Steer accompanies you on the first part of your trek into the jungle. Don’t worry, he will be glad to see you. His friends’ injuries were minor. They went back to their home.”
I imagined them telling the frog kingdom what an utter failure I was.
“Stop feeling sorry for yourself, warrior. They forgive you, as Steer and I also do.”
Steer glanced at me and shot some happiness into my soul with his kind, compassionate face.
“Everyone makes mistakes my friend,” he said. “What matters is how you handle yourself after the mistake and how you do better the next time.”
“Well said Steer,” said Alpha.
I still couldn’t help but feeling that they were wrong. The frogs weren’t the only ones who left. Everyone did. They must have lost all faith in me, if they even had any to begin with.
“No,” said Alpha, “Your thoughts betray you. Everyone was actually very impressed with what we told them about your battle with Snapper. Everyone left because they needed to return to their homes. I am the only one who permanently resides in this training facility. The others, save for Emanuel, are keeping watch from their homes for the evils of Omega. The brute knows that you are here. That’s why we must train you quickly. Everyone thinks that his agents will come to this facility and destroy you before you can begin your quest. But I disagree. I know Omega better than they do. I think that he and his army do not think you are worth going after. Everyone else before you failed. No, I think they want to see if you will go out and find them, which is exactly what you are going to do.”
We were in the room where I had seen the moving pictures. We sat down in the circle and I asked Alpha if I was to view more of them.
“They are called holograms,” he said. “And no, not for a while. You will see another hologram if my plan succeeds later on. And it will be of something that you actually desire to see with all of your heart.”
“Happiness! I exclaimed, feeling all worry and pain drop from me momentarily.
“Yes,” said Alpha. “And that is what today’s training is all about. You are to meditate on her for as long as you can. Focus on her beauty, imagine what her voice sounds like, and pretend you are with her bodily at this very moment. Then, when you are finished, we shall see if you still try to eat the plants. Begin.”
It was strange, trying to think about her. Usually it just happened without effort. But once I was told to put effort into imagining her, it became surprisingly difficult. I couldn’t quite picture her, even though in my dream of her I had seen her emerald green form in all its dazzling fullness. Now my thoughts were blurry and almost colorless. How could I not envision her? It must have been the plants, continuing to work their evil in the back of my mind. I was now at a war in my mind between two competing powers: The glory and grace of my beloved, and the sinful ecstasy of the plants. Obviously, I tried to focus on the greater of the pleasures, for her sake and my own.
“Keep your eyes closed,” said Alpha, after handing me a lusty black stone of meditation. After looking at it, I closed my eyes and gripped the stone to my chest, imagining it to be Happiness embracing me. But Happiness was supposed to be warm, so this cold stone didn’t help my imagination very much.
Long minutes passed. It seemed like hours before I finally conjured up the golden hair, crimson lips, and slender hourglass body. Surprisingly, I didn’t have any erotic thoughts. She was so beautiful that the thoughts should have come very easily, but it felt like she was too pure to think of sexually. It wasn’t even tempting, because somehow I knew in my heart that it wasn’t right for me to think of her in that fashion. True love waits. Besides, her beauty was much more than just skin deep. Even though I had never had a conversation with her of even heard her speak, I felt like I knew her intimately, inside and out. Her external beauty was so obviously a reflection on her inner beauty. I am glad I didn’t have any lustful thoughts, for Alpha could see into my mind. I would have been very embarrassed.
“You’re doing well,” said the mind reader, ever so softly. I could tell that he didn’t want my concentration broken. “Don’t think about anything else. Describe her beauty to me.”
I was overjoyed that I could finally picture her, but dismayed at the same time because it wasn’t real. She wasn’t beside me like I wanted her to be. But when I began thinking like this, she became blurry again.
“Careful,” said Alpha, speaking a bit louder now. “If you let your mind wander to your own wishes, you will lose her.”
It was difficult, but I did what he said. I forgot all about him, my wishes, the plants, and most importantly myself. The picture was clear again. I rejoiced and praised her beauty aloud.
“Her hair is like the sun, but brighter. Her skin is like the moon but much more pure. Oh, Happiness! You are my joy! You are my love! Your eyes created love itself! Your smile is like the sunrise. The beauty of your neck exceeds that of the tallest and most intricate trees!”
But then I made a forbidden connection of her eyes and dress with the plants. Imagining their leaves for but a second completely changed the way she appeared. The plants were coiling themselves tightly around her like evil vines. Her face became desperate and fearful. I didn’t choose to think of her this way; it simply happened because of one small thought of the plants. Their poison was working deeply. I kept trying to kill the thoughts of them, but I just couldn’t shake them. They were too strong. So I opened my eyes, hoping to clear the picture in my head – and I gasped at what was before me. The plants were on the table once again, coiled like snakes in a much greater quantity than before. With well placed and righteous anger, I threw down the rock, stood up, and began chopping the plants into bits with my sword. Their sweet soundless symphony became audible shrieks of pain. They could actually feel themselves being torn apart, and I relished it.
“Kill them Alpha!” I screamed. “Make them disappear!” But they were already shriveling up and becoming brown. As their cries began to cease, they withered away into ashes. Steer leaned forward with a loud snort and blew them off of the table with his breath. He and Alpha now beamed with smiles. Upon looking at them, I realized what I had done. I had overcome the plants.
***************************************************

We became very drunk that evening. The wine tasted better than it ever had before. I don’t remember much of it except for my friends’ words of praise and encouragement, as well as something humorous. I learned that night that if Steer becomes drunk, he behaves exactly like a regular cow would from my old world. Kicking and mooing, he rolled about the grass joyfully on his back.
I used the phrase, “my old world” — for this is what I truly felt my blank slate of memory to be. At last, I felt like I belonged to this beautiful and monstrous jungle.
Throughout the night I drank for two reasons. One was obviously for celebration. The other was to numb my body’s ever increasing ache from the battle with Snapper. My arm, which no longer required the sling, felt worse than ever; for I had severely strained it by twice breaking free of my sling, once to grab the plants, the other out of my anger towards them. But with every sip of wine, the pain became more and more worth it.
And that brings me to a very important part of this story. The pain. It had increased greatly after we had left the bonfire and gone to bed. So great was the pain that it would not permit my body to sleep. It became more than pain — it became evil, spreading from my arm to every tendon, nerve, and to my very exoskeleton. The pain wanted control. It wanted to make me do something unspeakable. Something appalling, sinful, and wretched. Something that I believed I had defeated but a few hours ago.
I walked out of my chamber, grabbing a torch from the tunnels along the way, and out into the jungle to find the plants.
When I came to the road of purification, all the sounds of the jungle ceased simultaneously. All I could hear was the soothing pseudo voice of the plants within my mind. They wanted me to consume them; they longed to rid me of my pain. That was what they somehow said to me anyway. Like I mentioned earlier, they possessed no true voice, but I could distinctly perceive that they wanted me to believe that they weren’t evil.
I began to reach for them, thinking in the same way as the angels of the hologram.
Just a few won’t hut. Just a few…….
But that reminded me of the angels’ beauty they possessed before eating the plants, which in turn reminded me of an even greater beauty, the very greatest.
She came to me the same way as before, as a vision behind evil glass, so very close but still unreachable. Her eyes pierced me to my very core once again, as did the rest of her. Her hands, her beautiful hands – they were pushing down at the air. I didn’t understand until her sweet, voluptuous lips began to move. Oh how I longed to not be deaf to her behind this glass! Her lips opened three times and produced three words that I recognized at once: Put. Them. Down.
I lifted my hand to my face and saw that the plants were already in my hand. I just knew that if I dropped them I would finally hear her voice and feel her warmth. I dropped them, and she was in my arms in an instant. I have no way of describing the feeling.
I leaned forward to kiss her, but discovered that my helmet was somehow on again. Her eyes looked up at me and I cursed myself for having such an ugly, demonic looking biomechanical face. But all she did was smile and speak the first words that I ever heard from her lovely mouth.
“You have done well, my love. You have done well…”
Then the vision ended. I turned around, feeling that someone was behind me, Alpha looked at me with pride and repeated the first four words I heard from Happiness.
“You have done well. You have done well indeed, my brother.”
I was the love of Happiness and the brother of Alpha. All my pain ceased at that very moment. I was ready to begin my journey. Or so I thought, for when the next day began, Alpha had a dangerous surprise in store for me.

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