Archive for the ‘Fantasy’ Category

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As I dip my quill to begin the dictation of these first lines, six hours have passed since I began reading through the records of the library. Oh! How Happiness and I miss each other already! However, she is likewise very busy currently tending to our newborn daughter and to the Rhinocydont hatchlings – which reminds me that I must write quickly, for Dienok and I are due for a hunt at dawn. Still, no matter how quickly I write, I know that I will have to stay awake throughout the whole night to finish it (perhaps even after the hunt).

I am not alone, however. Our cat, who the whole kingdom knows by the title, “Princess”, is with me, curled up next to my papers at this very moment (she has learned not to spill my ink or eat my parchment, for she will have to sleep outside if she does it again). She is always with me when I am alone. Her presence has proved to be an immense comfort to me most of the time, though I do wish that she would leave me to myself on occasion.

Now, back to hurrying. About two minutes have passed since I finished reading the works of Alpha, Amoris, and Steer (the records do not show who dictated Steer’s poetry for him). The content of each scribe’s work is written beautifully, but it lacks the substance of narrative integral to storytelling. The whole Jungle has long wished that I would write a second book, but my life is so perfect now that I have constantly had to tell them that I have nothing to write about (I once attempted to compose a book of poetry for Happiness, but have since hidden it, for it cannot do her beauty and excellence justice). So I have now decided to give the Jungle Dwellers what they want with another book. But, as a wise man once said to me, “It’s not about what you want. It’s only about what you need.” And this whole world needs, in fact, desperately requires that the chronicles of my late friends (the REAL heroes of this Jungle, no matter what anyone, including Happiness, says) be made known.

Most of this story came from Alpha’s diary, and the only reason I even read it is because Happiness and the bovine tribe have convinced me that Alpha would have wanted it. It has been the strangest thing I have ever experienced – entering the mind of a mind reader.

The writings of Amoris were cryptic and prophetic, for she composed in detail the periods of isolation that the heroes experienced, hundreds of years before the events even occurred.

I believe I have captured the essence of my beloved Steer’s mind and soul due to heartfelt and cathartic poetry he left behind. This gives me the greatest joy of all, though it does make me wonder what he might have truly thought of me at least on occasion when he was alive. But the same goes for Emanuel, the Rhinocydonts, and, most of all, Snapper. Not necessarily about what he thought of me, but about the fact that all the inhabitants of the Jungle, myself included, may not have truly known him or any of these heroes at all.

When I am finished (whether before or after the hunt), I shall go over the whole work with Dienok for his approval. I wouldn’t want the public’s intimate knowledge of how his race once was to be a reason for him to return to his home world with his dragon kingdom (which Happiness could do for him at any time; but, thank the Creator, they have decided on remaining in the Jungle indefinitely).

I do believe that this is enough of a preface, so I shall now begin the tale. Please, enjoy it, for the sake of my fallen friends.

 

 

 

– Contentment (written signature)

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Prequel to THE FIRST AND THE LAST

Chapter One:

 Though it was eight o clock in the morning, there was no light. The trees of the jungle grew too close too each other in this place for that. It was like a sanctuary of darkness – a cathedral of black where the only things to be made out were the sharp smells of flora and fauna. Perhaps this place had existed since the dawn of time – no – far older than that. More like since before the dawn of time. Before the worlds. Before the wars. Before Happiness.

Except, of course, for the fact that this place contained life. Amid the immense trees and the for once silent fairies was a horse. The hunters did not know exactly where it was located. They just knew that if there was one place in this jungle that an escaped dumb beast would flee to for protection, it would be here.

The two warriors couldn’t even see each other, and they dared not even breathe, much less speak, for fear of startling the hidden horse and forcing it to escape further into the blackness. Thankfully, these two could communicate with one another via their minds.

“Do you smell him, Snapper?”

“No, Alpha. But I smell something else. Something not right…out of place…wait. Wait, I can smell him now.”

“How far?”

“We must walk another hundred feet. Cautiously.”

          “I know, Snapper. We must be very quiet. He could run away at any moment.”

“No. Cautiously. There is something else here with us.”

Alpha and Snapper moved on. The fierce Kappa warrior had a difficult time in doing so, for he was very heavy. Alpha’s agile, silent form had already succeeded him by several yards. But it was more than just the fear of making noise that held Snapper back.

It was the fear of the “something else”.

As they continued to stalk, Alpha took great care to not let his hidden thoughts about Snapper reach the turtle’s mind. Snapper had been different as of late. He didn’t eat as much. He was easily startled. And, most disquietingly of all, he had lost his edge in the art of sword fighting. Alpha would never forget the time he caught Snapper rumbling up his cannon in anger when his twin brother beat him in a sword match. Alpha would have intervened, but thankfully, Snapper collected himself quickly. His brother didn’t even realize that Snapper’s cannon was preparing to fire, which would have completely decimated the winner of the sword match. But Alpha did. And he knew that Snapper could somehow sense a new presence within the Jungle. Something that did not exist before. However, when asked about it, Snapper always shrugged his massive shoulders and grunted. Was this new presence of the Alpha? Or the Omega?

They could only guess.

“Halt,” said the telepathic voice of Alpha.

“What is it?” thought Snapper in reply.

“There is light. Sunlight, stabbing through the trees.”

“Nonsense. There are no open spaces in this part of the Jungle. Oh, you are right. I can see it now. And there’s the horse.”

The sunlight rained down upon the horse, briefly illuminating his black body before he moved back into the shadows. His head was at the ground, eating what looked like mushrooms. This horse, like so many other things in this Jungle, was different from horses belonging to other worlds.

For one, the horse was actually owned by another horse. The owner’s name was Swiftmane, and he was the Jungle’s lead breeder of dumb horses. Whenever he was not jealously wishing that he had been born a unicorn (pure black, red eyed, horned creatures that were this world’s epitome of grace, wisdom, and beauty), the Common Horse Swiftmane was busy with his farm of dumb horses. These ones were bred for milk, and, more importantly, for their nourishing, delicious meat that was the source of Horse Steak, the absolute delicacy of this world.

But those delicious meals were not being enjoyed frequently as of late. The livestock was depleting. It began at a slow pace, about a horse a month, but gradually escalated to two a week. Naturally, due to Alpha’s well-honed telepathy, Swiftmane put Alpha in charge of finding the beasts and discovering the reason for their disappearances. Alpha’s powers always produced an accurate answer for anything questioned of in this world, except for the fates of the Jungle’s creator, Happiness, as well as her future rescuer who was to come from another world (Alpha did, however, have some insight into certain things about these two that didn’t involve his telepathy). But this horse dilemma proved to be the third puzzle that Alpha was unable to solve with his enchanted mind.

Still, Alpha did succeed, with abundant help from Snapper, in locating a few of the horses, but most remained unaccounted for. Their condition upon being discovered caused great fear amongst the Jungle Dwellers. Blood was always present. The amount varied from a trickle to a pool, but it was there every time, along with an occasional piece of hoof or horse hide. Without tracks or any other signs of predation, all the Jungle folk were totally baffled.

All they could ascertain was that something had assaulted the horses from above—some sort of flying beast. But the fliers of this world were gentle, herbivorous animals that never caused any trouble—aside from the Fairies, but the only flesh those creatures consumed was their own.

No—there was something in the air, possibly ever-present, and it had proven itself extremely lethal. A specter of death, a power of the air, a killer that could soon lose interest in livestock and begin attacking people.

But that’s not what troubles Alpha the most. What truly disturbed him was that whatever else these monsters may have been, they were completely alien to this world. Alpha’s senses told him that they belonged neither to the good force his name represented, nor to the corrosive energy of the Omega. All created beings, even the cowardly humans, could be identified in at least a small way with one or the other. The phantom, on the other hand…

Crack.

The horse, startled by the sudden noise from within the Jungle, jerked his head up and began scanning his surroundings.

“What was—”

Snapper’s thought was cut short by a visual and auditory frenzy. The horse was thrashing about violently and screaming in ways no one had ever heard from a horse before. A blur of feathers and blood surrounded the animal from all directions. Alpha and Snapper rushed forward, but were too late to even get a good look at the winged assailant.

The entire incident lasted no more than two seconds, and during that time, all the two warriors could make out were flashes of yellow and red, a pair of glowing green orbs, and four impossibly long limbs with what appeared to be hooks on the ends. Then, their eyes were blinded as a cascade of burgundy blood rained down on them from above.

The phantom had struck again, and Alpha knew in his heart of hearts that this was only the beginning.



​​​​​​​​

I awoke, not in a bed or on a table as I had before I began my quest, but on the jungle floor. The foliage was quickly replaced by tan cobblestones that pained my already weary body as the rhinocydonts dragged me in the net. I attempted slicing through it, and succeeded in making an opening large enough for my arm to reach through it, only to receive another intense shock.
A rhinocydont walking alongside the two that were dragging me held a cylinder in his clawed hand that must have been the catalyst for sending the electric pain into my body whenever he wished. He glanced at my screaming form for a moment, then grunted in satisfaction.
“Let me go,” I shouted. “I’ll kill every single one of you! Face me like men, you cowards!”
“We are not men, armored one.”
I was stunned to see that they could speak my language, what with them also being from a different world and all, but then I remembered Alpha telling me that he had conversed several times with their leader, Dienok.
“Dienok,” I panted. “Let me see Dienok! I am a friend of Alpha’s.”
All three dragon warriors chuckled.
“And you think that will help you,” said the one holding the cylinder. “Alpha is no friend of our race, no matter how hard he tries to be. We only stand by each other, not with anyone of your weak race. Yes, we trade with the small ones for wine, but – “
“Oh shutup Trikor,” interrupted one of those who were dragging me.
“This creature is only here for entertainment. Not conversation, you half wit.”
I asked what he meant by ‘entertainment’. Their only reply was to send another searing pain of electricity accompanied by their satisfied laughter.
Monsters. I thought to myself. Sadistic, merciless monsters.
I was dragged through what seemed to be a courtyard. Stone effigies of dragons were scattered throughout. The biggest construction was an immense wall in the center with a beautifully detailed mural etched upon it. It showed two rhinocydonts, a male and a female, standing under a tree. I could distinguish their sexes, for unlike the ones dragging me and the few I saw bustling their way around the courtyard, these two in the mural were naked. The female was shorter and had breasts, which disgusted me. Coiled on the tree was a colorful serpent. It had a piece of fruit in its mouth that resembled an apple. I didn’t know why at the time, but the image seemed oddly familiar.
I didn’t see much of Dragonopolis on that day, but as my captors dragged me through a dark tunnel, I could hear what sounded like hundreds of rhinocydont voices cheering.
As two doors of thick stone opened, I was thrown into a chamber of utter darkness. The doors closed with a heavy thud that echoed in the walls of the room as well as in the walls of my mind. Then, I heard a metallic, hissing sound that was followed by a strikingly bright green light coming from a shimmering golden pyramid on the floor. As Alpha had informed me previously, this race truly did possess an extremely advanced technology.
The electric net suddenly vanished into thin air, making my vision much clearer. Also, the greenish light seemed to have enhanced the features of the three dragon warriors. Each one had shorts on that resembled the ones Alpha wore.
Belts carrying complicated looking devices and weapons were around the waists of each. Their bodies were a grayish green that had patterns of spots resembling those of a leopard. These ones were apparently males, for their muscular chests were bare. Each one of them carried eccentric looking guns in their right hands. The claws on the hands were even bigger and more fearsome looking than the claws of Snapper. All of their features made them look completely identical, save for their heads, which did however all seem to share the same basic plan and shape. But each skull had a uniquely shaped frill at the top of the head with sharp horns of different number and position. The mouths were like the beak of a bird. Their eyes were black, as black as death.
“Quit gawking at us, scum,” yelled the one called Trikor before punching me in the face. I was too dazed to stop them from wrapping a chain around my waist that came from the pyramid.
A system of sliding mechanical plates twisted apart on the floor near me. Strange, yet also delicious looking vegetables rose from the center on a large plate. The rhinocydonts then left the room.
Because of distrust and suspicion, I almost didn’t eat the food set before me, but no matter how hard I tried to resist, the aroma completely overwhelmed me. I just had to regain my strength so I could find a way out of here. For Happiness. Alpha. Emanuel. Steer…
Recalling the heroic horns of my best friend, I sprang into action. I tried everything. My sword would not cut through the chain, my punches would not crack the walls, and the pyramid was indestructible. The chain I was bound to possessed a good deal of slack. I pulled on it and rolled it into a ball, with a considerable length continuing to drag out of the pyramid.
What could have been the purpose for this? A chain that would allow me to pull out lengths of it long enough for me to question what it was chaining me from?
After what seemed hours of testing its length and pacing around the room, I gave up. Leaning against the wall opposite the doors of my prison I was led through, I discovered the reason for the chain’s length.
I fell backward as the wall I leaned against opened without warning, bringing blinding sunlight into the chamber. Upon looking up, I saw something that I just could not believe.
Rhinocydonts. Hundreds of them. My dungeon chamber was apparently right in the midst of a massive arena. All I could see was a writhing mass of reptilian flesh in every direction. The balconies reached to an even greater height than the immense trees of the jungle. Every single rhinocydont was standing and cheering, apparently awaiting a spectacle. They did not have to wait long. The ‘entertainment’ was about to begin.
Directly in front of me by about a hundred feet, a wall under the balcony slid up to reveal a dark chamber that looked the same as my own. Within the darkness, the figure of a man began to advance slowly into the arena. It was strange for me to see him, for up until that moment I had only met one man, Alpha(if he even was human). He had no distinguishing physical characteristics aside from a sword and a shield. His waist was bound by a chain in the same way mine was. We eyed each other curiously for a few moments and then cautiously began to approach each other. The chains would have prevented our meeting even if he had succeeded in taking three full steps out of the chamber, but, as it was, something else hindered him. And killed him.
Being still partially inside my own cell, I was as oblivious as he was to the winged monstrosity that charged him from his right. Claws and teeth literally shredded the poor man to bits before he could even scream.
This creature was a devil out of hell, and yet strangely beautiful at the same time. Though shaped like a bird, it only possessed feathers on its wings and tail. Silver, metallic looking talons were attached to its fingers and toes. One claw on each foot was much larger than the rest, and this specialized claw was obviously the beast’s preferred method of killing. One of its feet was bound by a chain, which kept it from flying too high and escaping. Two horns protruded from the back of its head, and from the mouth that foamed with its victim’s blood came a high pitched shriek that sent immense pain to my head.
The crowds of rhinocydonts were going absolutely wild for their vicious dragon pet. I knew that I was its next combatant, and quite possibly its next meal; that is, if the creature even devoured the things it killed. The remains of the hapless man were still on the ground, and not one bit of his flesh was swallowed by the dragon. It seemed to simply just enjoy its art of disemboweling victims with its claws. But it was still just an animal, not really a monster. No, these snarling, vicious rhinocydont masters of his were the real monsters. Because of the sickening way in which they used this arena to entertain themselves, I immediately began to despise them just as much as I despised the Omega drones.
Just as the dragon set his gaze on me, I felt another one of the rhinocydonts’ cruel jabs of electricity. Spinning around, I saw two of the warriors facing me from my now dimly lit cell. They were carrying long metal sticks that produced electric shocks whenever they prodded me.
After the electric current surged into my body for the third time, my fear and anger transformed into adrenaline. Despite the fact that I was chained, I was still able to jump high enough to land on one of the guards, slit his throat, and stab the other one in the face. I had hoped to anger the audience by killing one of their own, but they only cheered louder. No matter who it was that died, the monsters would be entertained. They seemed to thrive on the shedding of blood.
My disgust of them was completely forgotten when a second winged killer charged me from my right. Its claws slashed against my sword, and the battle began.
He was slashing me much more frequently than I was him, causing me to curse the fact that I must have left my shield back in the Jungle. A normal man would have perished quickly, but, thankfully for me, my armor was resilient.
The dragon spread its wings and flew around in circles as high as its chain would permit. This behavior only lasted a few seconds, but it was just enough time for me to see what was happening with the other dragon.
Two more guards had appeared out of nowhere. They were holding onto the dragon’s chain, letting it drag them as it flew towards my current opponent and I. To anybody unfamiliar with the rhinocydonts, the reading of their facial expressions would prove to be impossible. I, however, had come to know them so intimately on this day that I could instantly tell that they were smiling. Smiling with bloodlust. But their smiles faded away quickly as their dragon spun around and pounced on them both. I saw enough rhinocydont blood to make me the one who was smiling.
My grin, however, disappeared even quicker than theirs did, for my dragon had clenched his jaws onto my arm while I was distracted. I attempted to thrust my blade into his side, but was blocked by the reptile’s clawed hand. These attempts at attack and subsequent blocks continued long enough for the other dragon to reach us. Both of the guards who had attempted to lead him to me were on the ground in pieces. I hardly need to mention the crowd’s reaction to this. If they had paid money to witness a legendary brawl, then that money was well spent.
A dragon on my arm and an unchained one flying towards me were all I could afford to worry about. In the next moment, my sword and I both learned that we were not fast enough for an unchained dragon. Its snarling, ferocious form leapt on me and sliced my armor with its foot claws. Taken to the ground, I was released from the jaws of my first combatant. This angered him deeply. Amidst the sparks of claw against armor, the dragon pounced upon the one who had stolen his victim. I rolled away, watching with a sick fascination as the beasts fought each other to the death.
But it was very obvious which one had the advantage. After brawling for a while, The one without the chain flew above the enraged bound dragon and seemed to taunt it. Despite being animals, these beings were obviously intelligent. I almost came close to believing that the taunting one was laughing as the other one was hindered from reaching its new enemy by its chain.
I almost felt sorry for the chained dragon as I pulled its taut chain towards me and sliced open its belly, which resulted in bloody intestines falling on my face. Yes, I really did almost feel sorry for it.
The dragon still living quickly abandoned me and flew towards the crowd of rhinocydonts. I believe it was more out of its hatred for them than out of any fear it could have had of me. No wonder all the peaceful dragons left Dragonopolis ages ago.
One of the audience members was picked up by the dragon’s feet. He was decimated very quickly in midair by the predator’s claws.
What happened next gave me more anger and disgust than I have felt in my life. Not only was the crowd nearest to the victim cheering, but they were also laughing. How could a person laugh at their own brother dying? Why were these creatures so corrupt?
My immediate thought was to leap onto the balcony and slaughter as many rhinocydonts as I could, but before I could act, white hot lights of every color imaginable pierced the flying dragon’s abdomen. I shifted my eyes to the ground and saw three dragon ‘people’ aiming their sinister guns at the flying one. They did not stop shooting until its deceased body collided with the earth.
I raced towards them. As far as I was concerned, they and every other member of their race deserved to die. Forcing random warriors to fight impossible battles. Laughing as their own brethren were slaughtered. Raising simple animals that belonged in the wild to become killing machines that mirrored the hearts of their masters…
All three sadistic warriors pulled out whips from their belts. These whips, like most of the rhinocydonts’ technology, produced electric energy, but to a degree that shocked me more painfully than ever before as they coiled around my body like evil serpents. I pondered for a moment why they would not just simply kill me, but that thought was checked when I discovered that at least one of them did desire my death.
A blast from his laser gun exploded against my shoulder. My sword shoulder. The three of them slowly advanced towards my screaming self. My pain, though very strong, was not as powerful as the single word that echoed within my head. Death. Death. Death
“NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”
I had never before, or since, heard a voice so loud. It came from a new rhinocydont that had jumped down into the arena from one of the balconies. He wore a long, shining robe of scarlet that reflected the sunlight so much that it hurt my eyes.
“You fools! You damned, idiotic, pathetic fools! Hell itself would be a paradise compared to the wrath you have stirred within me!”
The newcomer mercilessly assaulted the guard who had shot me. The speed, precision, and sheer force of his blows shocked me more than all of the rhinocydont electricity combined could have. Even the crowd became silent.
The victim, though granted the grace to even still exist was beaten to a bloody, silent pulp. I began to fear this robed rhinocydont much more than I had feared his dragon pets.
“You listen,” he shouted in dominance, not just to the guards, but to the audience as well. “This one is different. Do you understand me? In my thousand years of life, I have never, EVER seen such skill as to match this one. He is our captive, our entertainment. Our new and only entertainment for eons to come. I command you all to respect him. He shall never be unfairly touched by weapons that can kill. I desire watching him fight for centuries. What say you?”
The crowd’s roar of excitement and approval was loud enough to drown out my hopeless, defeated, and utterly heartbroken sobs. I hadn’t even cried that loudly when Steer was murdered. It agonized me beyond measure to know that I would forever remain nothing but a tool for entertainment. A pet, forced to endure the tortures of battle for all eternity, just like their dragon pets.
No one paid heed to my emotions, save for the robed speaker.
“Do not fret. Do not cry.” He lifted my chin at an attempt to encourage me. If my helmet was off, I would have spat in his hideous face. “I have given your life a purpose. Meaning. Your abilities shall be used and displayed for all of my kind, from the most fearsome warrior to the smallest of hatchlings. Do not dwell on dreams of a lost and lonely maiden. Yes, yes, Alpha has told me who you are and what you are trying to do. Would it please you to know that he came to me yesterday literally begging for assistance? My army sent him running like the true coward he really is.”
I wanted to cut off his head, but was impeded by a guard stepping on my sword. The robed rhinocydont, who I now realized to be their leader, Dienok, laughed softly.
“You will find that Alpha and I are more alike than I admit to him. Just like your training with him, you shall not rest between battles. We have another one for you. Don’t get me wrong, warrior. I do respect you. But I do think you should pray for a quick death from your next opponent, so that you won’t have to fight against his brothers for the rest of your fantastic life.”
He left my presence, and the guards dragging their beaten comrade followed him, the electric whips uncoiling from my body and receding back to their holders. I followed their movements for as long as I could before the ground began to shake.
Sliding plates like the ones in my chamber, though much more massive, were grinding and sliding apart to reveal something much larger than a meal of vegetables.
On a platform that was like the plate carrying food in my cell, only huge, stood a dragon at least twenty feet tall. Its build was similar to its predecessors, but much, much bigger and more heavily muscled. It did not possess special foot claws, horns, or wings. The arms were embarrassingly tiny compared to the rest of its body. I would have laughed at this had it not been for the creature’s enormous skull with massive jaws, serrated teeth, and eyes that burned to the soul of anyone unfortunate enough to gaze at them. It also had another alarming trait, at least to me. Feathers, which looked more like spikes or quills, christened the back of its head and neck like the crown of a king.
As it roared and shook the earth with its colossal footsteps, I realized that the painful laser gun wound in my shoulder was going to severely impair the use of my sword. As if this wasn’t enough, the giant did something that made me wish I was fighting ten of the smaller ones at one time instead of him. Fire erupted from its hellish mouth, a burst of flame so massive that it made the fire of Vengeance look like a spark in comparison.
The massive jaws lowered and sent the flames in my direction. I scrambled up to my feet and ran as fast as my weakened legs would permit. But no matter how fast I could have ran even at my full capacity, it would have been all but impossible to avoid the speed of the monster’s deadly breath. My shell was charred to black from just one lick of the flames. It is difficult to describe the feeling, for not too many people have smelt their own flesh being cooked and then lived to tell the tale. My armor protected my human flesh for the most part, but it could still feel the immense pain from the fire. Having armor that can feel the sensation of pain is not an enjoyable thing.
I leapt into the air as my back was turned to the monstrosity and landed atop his colossal head as he continued to race forward. The flame stopped abruptly and was replaced by a deafening roar of frustration. It was all I could do to hang onto that ugly dragon head, latching onto it like a parasite with my arm and my legs. The pain I felt from the burn was still nothing compared to the searing pain left from the laser gun in my sword shoulder. Thus, my attempts at stabbing the beast between his eyes resulted only in small cuts that further enraged him. His skull was too thick for me to deliver the killing stroke, so I had to think of something else. I had to think quickly though, for I knew that the beast would get me off of him very soon.
He did so the very next moment by violently shaking his head back and forth. My limbs lost their grip and I plummeted earthward. The dragon opened his jaws wide and lunged towards me, ready to swallow me up forever. The pain of my weakened sword arm was unimaginable, but so completely worth it as I shoved the blade into the roof of his mouth and out the top of his scaly head. The death was so instantaneous that he didn’t even make a sound. As his massive body collapsed to the ground in front of me, I pulled my sword out of his brain and saw the beginnings of flame spark from within his throat. Though dead, the beast apparently still had one more shot of flame left.
A powerful force that felt like more dragon flesh tackled me to the ground from my left. Looking up, I saw the face of Dienok, which was unreadable, with the flames of the dead dragon dancing behind him and burning off his robe. Consciousness fled from me in the next instant.

Don’t forget to read Chapter One as well, but start here if you want!

From the lush, colorful, moist treetops of the jungle, the flock of grotesque fairies fluttered their wings in unison against the afternoon breeze. As drops of saliva and blood rained down from their bodies, two eagles soared up and ahead of them. The fairies cackled with mischief and flew rapidly in circles around the avians. The birds squawked in confusion as the fairy generated cyclone forced them down to the earth. The fairies howled in amusement and flew out of sight. “Stupid birds! Stupid birds! Hehehe!” They were having fun on this day.

Surprisingly, after my duel with the Snapper zombie and in spite of my confusion over Alpha leaving, I felt good as well. Steer had led me to a creek surrounded by horsetails and buzzing dragonflies after we had walked for an entire night. We bathed in it, becoming absolutely rejuvenated by its magical qualities. According to Steer, it was called the pool of Amoris. The witch who wrote my prophecy composed it on the bank of this very creek, seconds before an Omega drone pierced her heart with a scimitar. As she took her last breath, she fell into the water and became one with it, forever transferring her magical essence into every single molecule.

Sunlight beamed down upon us and caused my wet armor to glisten. That was the only time I can now remember seeing it as beautiful. Throughout most of my journey, I had perceived it as an ugly curse separating me from Happiness and from the rest of the world, despite the fact that it served as my nearly impenetrable protection. This one instance of joy with myself, as well as my ever increasing hope for Happiness, invigorated me. The journey had at last begun.

We walked, talked, and smoked for hours after we had left the creek. We were both taking advantage of these moments we had together, for, as Alpha had said, I had to complete most of the journey on my own. Already missing Alpha, I dreaded the parting that Steer and I would have to eventually face.

“Steer,” I began as I put his pipe back into the cloth sack atop his back, “Why must we go our separate ways? And when? I don’t believe I can finish this without you.”

“I’m sorry, my warrior-friend. It is necessary. For one thing, your shell possesses enchantments that work against the deep, magical traps that Omega has laid out for you within the Jungle. I, on the other hand, do not possess these gifts of yours. Remember the clearing where I got lost? Eventually, the jungle will simply not permit me to go on after a certain point. Only you and the gargoyles in the service of Omega are invulnerable to the hindering curses within the foliage. It is most unfortunate that the gargoyles are not on our side, for they impede the Jungle’s magic even for those who travel with them.”

I frowned in bitter disappointment. “When will that certain point arrive, friend?”

“I know not. I am truly sorry, my brother.”

Joy disappeared, and I wouldn’t experience much of it for quite a while. No longer wishing to carry on with this painful subject, I asked Steer about the undead, and now most fully dead Kappa.

“How did Alpha do that? What was the black magic?”

“You see, Warrior, Alpha knows every single word etched onto the walls – or that were etched onto the walls – of the training field. He came across a spell that could bring the dead back to life, though not fully. Only the evil will within a being could be resurrected by the Omega spell. It also required the sacrifice of blood from two creatures that were not evil – yours and Alpha’s.”

“But how did Alpha get my blood?”

“While you slept, he drew some from your wounds. But with your blood, strength was drawn as well, for you were the one to fight the Kappa. All that there remained to do was to attach the chain of resurrection to the monster turtle’s shell.”

I wondered for the first time if Alpha ever actually slept.

As the sun began to set, we came across a tree with a gigantic hollow within it and rested. Steer snored loudly, which probably would have kept me awake even if my mind wasn’t so full. Thoughts of Alpha, Emanuel, Snapper, and my beloved, beautiful Happiness raced through my mind continually.

Eventually, after hours of thinking, I actually did begin to desire sleep so that Happiness might visit me in my dreams. But my anxiety, as well as Steer’s snoring, kept sleep far away from me no matter how hard I tried. It is absolutely dreadful to lay awake for a full night doing absolutely nothing at all. I would have explored, but the honest fact of the matter is that I was afraid. Feeling shame, confusion, and deep depression, I almost wished that I could be blotted out of existence like acne on the face of God.

When the morning arrived, we headed East. Steer said that we would change direction often so as to avoid the known Omega drone camps, as well as Dragonopolis, the city of the Rhinocydonts. I was relieved, for I was still too frightened and uneasy to want to fight. Thankfully, I could lie to Steer and act like I was ready for any challenge. He could not read minds like Alpha could.

“Why avoid them,” I asked. “We must fight them and show them that there is a new sheriff in town.”

“And what exactly,” replied Steer, “Does that mean?”

I laughed, remembering that Steer and I came from two different worlds.

“You know, Steer…I’m not even sure myself. I just know that it means I am the one to bring about justice, order, and restoration.”

“It sounds like a silly word, friend. Let’s just stick with, ‘Warrior’. Here, let’s stop for a moment and smoke.”

I reached into his pack and felt something else besides the pipe and tobacco. As I pulled out the contents, I discovered two sacks tied together. One of them contained hay for steer, and the other one contained horsemeat for myself. After lighting the pipe and putting it to his lips, I opened up the bag of horsemeat and devoured it ravenously. With all the excitement and confusion, I had completely forgotten to try eating the day before. It felt wonderful to consume the meat without vomiting it up. Strength and joy were mine once again, but only momentarily. Steer was looking at his hay, but not eating it.

“Are you not hungry, Steer?”

“You remember the deal, friend. For every day that you do not eat, I shall abstain from doing so for two days. Or did we decide on three? I can’t remember.”

I began to feel guilt that almost crippled me.

“Steer! It’s alright! You need to eat! I’m sorry that I forgot to yesterday, but let’s just forget about it, ok?”

“No, Warrior. I am a cow of my word.”

I continued to protest and threw down my meat in frustration.

“Steer, if you don’t eat that hay, then not only will I not eat, but I will not help you smoke.”

“As you wish. But you will only be increasing my days without food. I am not backing down from this.”

There was nothing I could do. He smoked and I ate in silence, making sure that I didn’t eat too much so as to conserve the food for rations.

After a few more hours of walking, Steer possessed a concerned look on his face.

“Steer? Are you ok?”

He exhaled a deep sigh. “Well, we are drawing near to Dragonopolis. We could avoid it in a few miles by walking towards the North, but I feel like something dreadful is about to happen.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well…the jungle’s Omega magic feels very strong towards the North. Meaning I may not be able to go with you much farther. Reach into my bag and pull out the piece of parchment.”

I did as he said, unrolled it, and gasped. It was a map of the jungle; but not just any map. The landscapes looked real, almost three-dimensional. Letters forming the names of places quivered as I held the map up to the light. Even the trees were shaking, as if being blown by the wind.

“Amazing,” I said. “Is this like the hologram?”

“A bit,” said Steer, his smile returning. “You know, it makes me happy seeing you be so enthusiastic about this world. I can tell, even with your helmet on.”

Beneath that helmet, a smile formed on my face.

“What are we going to do Steer? When will Alpha meet us?”

“You mean, when will he meet you. I am unsure. He only told me that he had to run an errand that might restore some peace.”

“Peace between whom?”

“Now, that is the question. I haven’t the faintest idea. The Rhinocydonts are a doubtful answer, for they have never listened before. Perhaps the drones who have not completely turned yet…” He stopped speaking and seemed to be wrestling with his thoughts. I believe he was thinking of his former angel friend, who was now one of the demon slaves. A single tear slid down his face. I rushed forward and embraced him. Instead of again consoling him by saying I would never turn to the dark side, I poured my heart and soul out to him.  I blubbered about my fears and uncertainties, and I begged him to never leave me.

“I’m sorry,” he cried, “But I cannot stay with you for the entire journey. If only – “

A fearful, bloodcurdling scream tore us from our embrace.  It sounded like someone being attacked. I somehow recognized the voice of the screamer, but at that moment I could not place.

As I raised my sword and shield, prepared for anything, Steer and rushed towards the direction of the disturbance. It could have been a trap, but we didn’t care. Somebody needed our help, and we were the only ones who could give it.

A few yards away, an ugly grey beast with a massive yet delicate looking wingspan was pinning a frog prince against a tree. Its hind legs held it in place while its forelimbs slashed deep gashes into the wailing frog’s bright green skin.

“Please! Please stop! Y- y –y – ou have goodness in your heart. I – I can s – s…”

Emanuel’s pleading was replaced by a shriek of pain, worse than all of the others combined.  We sprang into action, Steer ready to trample the monster to death, and me ready to cut him into little pieces with my sword.

The creature turned towards us and let out a screech of fright. Releasing our friend, it flew over our heads, probably thinking we would rush to Emanuel before pursuing him. He was correct, but the stupid creature flew too close to my sword. I slashed at him as he flew past, screaming in pain.

“After him, Steer, “ I cried without turning around. “I will help Emanuel.”

As I held my wounded friend with my sword-less arm, I could hear Steer racing hard towards the monster and shouting out obscenities at him. As his hoofbeats faded away with the distance, I cursed myself for only having one arm to steady Emanuel with. My sword was far too sharp to be of any use.

“W – w – warrior,” He whimpered, using every ounce of effort to speak fluently. “You arrived just in the nick of time.”

“Yes,” I answered in relief. “We will make you better.” But upon examining his wounds, I began to doubt that we could really save him.

“No,” he began, “But you arrived just in time for my purpose to be availed. H – here…NO! I shall not die as a weak stutterer!”

His voice now sounded stronger and more robust than ever before, but the light was fading from his eyes. I tried desperately to encourage him and hide my sobs of grief.

“Y..y..you will be okay. Steer w…will come back. He will know w..w…what to do.”

Emanuel smiled.

“Once again, now you are the one who is stuttering. Take this.”

He handed me a shimmering blue cube that was larger than his webbed hand.

“Do not doubt yourself, Mister…Ah. I do wish you had a name. You will save Happiness, my friend. I believe in you.”

Emanuel breathed his last and closed his eyes. The smile still remained on his kind face. My friend was dead, and I wanted to completely annihilate the murderer.

As if on cue, Steer came into view, dragging the disgusting beast by the neck with his jaws.

“Poor frog,” chuckled the monster in spite of his pain. “If only his body was not so frail….”

My sword was pressed lightly against his chest within an instant. Lightly, because I wanted to cause as slow and painful a death as possible. The creature howled in pain, apologized, and begged my forgiveness. It almost sounded genuine.

Steer’s mouth released him, but then one of his hooves pinned him to the ground.

“It’s a good thing your weak wings will not allow you to fly high, gargoyle!” Steer seemed even angrier than I was. He had known Emanuel for centuries.

“Please,” begged the gargoyle. “Don’t kill me! I can help you! I swear! I swear by the power of Omega…”

Steer’s other front hoof kicked the gargoyle in the jaw.

“Shutup, you worm,” shouted Steer. “How dare you? Only Alpha and the creatures on the side of Happiness possess grace.”

At the mention of my beloved, the gargoyle’s face became grave and truly remorseful. He looked at me and once again began to plead.

“I love her too! She is our mother…our love! Its not my fault! Notmyfaultnotmyfaultnotmyfaultnotmyfaultnotmyfault!!!!” He continued spewing those three words. Steer and I did not stop him for a while, shocked by the apparently genuine guilt he possessed.

Eventually, Steer kicked him again and asked him how he thought he could help us. The horror’s eyes locked onto me as if he didn’t want to look at Steer. I stared back at him and noted his features. I called it a ‘horror’, for that is what the beast truly was. It looked like a reptilian bat with charcoal gray skin that reminded me a bit of the fairies. His teeth reminded me of the ‘annoyance’ as well. Above the jaws were two murky black eyes that looked like blackened glass, and above those eyes were two long, sharp horns that gave the gargoyle the impression of a demonic unicorn.

“If you wish to save Happiness,” he wheezed, continuing to stare me down, “You cannot do it without my aid. I can make you immune to the traps of the jungle.”

“That’s what you think,” bellowed Steer. “Ugly, stupid creature. My warrior friend’s suit shall protect him even better than your pathetic Omega charms can.”

The gargoyle sniggered.

“Ah, yes. But can they protect you?”

Steer’s open mouthed silence was his answer.

“You murdered our friend,” I said. “Why should you want you to help us? How do we know this isn’t some sort of trap?”

Without the slightest hesitation, the gargoyle answered.

“I love Happiness. I love her so much that I have never even tasted the plants.”

I could swear that the beast knew of my weakness. But even if he did, he couldn’t have known that I had already conquered it.

“Your bovine friend,” the gargoyle continued, “Should be with you for the whole journey to help you. Is that not your desire? And this is no trap. I want her rescued.”

I drove my blade a bit further into his skin. “Then, why did you kill Emanuel?”

“He wouldn’t let me see her,” he said between his squeals of pain. “I tried to be reasonable, but he just wouldn’t let me!”

“What are you talking about?” I asked, my curiosity completely piqued.

“The cube in your hand,” he answered. “Please let me see her!”

I inspected the object and pressed a button that was on the bottom of it. A tiny opening on the top let out a bright light that began to materialize into a miniature version of my beautiful maiden. It was a hologram. My eyes widened and my jaw dropped inside of my helmet. She – well, the hologram anyway – was looking at me and smiling. Then, to my immense pleasure, I heard her musical and infallible voice.

“My love. My rescuer. My King. Emanuel has taken a great risk in carrying my message. He is the only one in the jungle with the gift to hear it. Plus, magic can always be useful, of course,”

She laughed, sending chills of excitement down my spine.

“You have a task,” she continued, “That would break the spirits of just about anyone. But it shall not break you. I know you are different. You are the one. Once again, as I have said before in your vision, well done, my love. You have gotten far already…but, I am sorry to say that it is as proportional to the whole journey as a foot is to a mile. Omega is furious. Especially the beast he dwells the most within. The minotaur. My ‘guard’…..”

I could tell that she was sad and disgusted. But then her face brightened again.

“But you are my true protector. I must warn you – he is strong. Take all the help you can get. Remember that if somebody says they love me, they mean it. Even if it is a love distorted by evil. The purpose of this message is to give you hope. Remember what I have said. And think of the dragon monsters…the rhinocydonts. I’m not sure why, but I feel that they are a force you must reckon with in some way or another. Give Emanuel, Steer, and Alpha, my deepest gratitude. But my gratitude towards all of them does not come close to my gratitude towards you. Save me, hero. The only hope for me Is you.”

With those last few words, the hologram disappeared. Then the blue cube shrank and shrank until it became nothing at all. Exactly as I was doing, Steer stood awestruck and spellbound by her beauty, even though she was of a different species.

“Its been so long,” he said, “That I had forgotten what she looked like.”

“You must save her, warrior,” screamed the gargoyle. “You must save her and you must let me help. All three of us can save her!”

I looked up at Steer, pondered the options for a moment, and gave the winged monster my answer.

“You shall come with us. You – “

“But he will lead us into a trap!”

“No, Steer. Even if he wanted to, we shall not let him. Besides, I don’t think that he does want to. He loves Happiness. And if he can keep you with me for the whole journey, then all of the Omega, all of the Rhinocydonts, and all of the other beasts of this jungle will have no chance of stopping the two of us.”

I looked back at the gargoyle, who was now grinning with excitement. “I know that you want her rescued. Swear by her name.”

“I swear, friend! I swear on the name and honor of Happiness! Thank you! Thank you for sparing me and accepting my aid, my wondrous friend!”

I punched him in the face with all of my strength. It felt wonderful to have a working arm again. As the gargoyle hissed in pain and confusion. Steer grinned in satisfaction.

“Do not call me ‘friend’,” I snarled. “I have only had three friends. Because of you, however, I only have two. You are nothing but a murderer, and you are only still alive so that we can use you.”

“I’m sorry! I only wanted to see her! Sorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorry!”

“Quit your wailing worm. You’ll have to somehow prove yourself worthy of forgiveness. Emanuel risked everything in facing the jungle on his own to deliver me hope. He died for me. We shall now resume the journey, but only after I – “

Turning around, I looked down at the deceased frog prince. Tears of grief flowed from my eyes like rivers. I could not leave my friend’s body out in the open where scavengers could find it and desecrate his memory.

“Take the gargoyle a good distance away from me,” I said to Steer, who was also sobbing. “I shall bury our brother.”

Steer bit the gargoyle by the foot and began to drag him away, but not before I turned to face them and sliced off one of the murderer’s wings. He shrieked in agony as Steer’s face brightened in satisfaction.

“If you hadn’t killed Emanuel, I would have just bound your arms and mouth. So let that be a lesson to you. Remember your place, One Wing.”

As steer dragged him away, I used my blade and my powerful left arm to bury my comrade. I only paused once for a second when a tree swayed its limbs in an odd fashion. As I continued to dig, I wrote it off to a mere trick of the light.

 

 

“Speed up, filth!”

After walking a few miles North, Steer was getting sick of our prisoner who was lagging behind on all fours. Steer had released his grip on the gargoyle’s foot, saying that we had no reason to drag something that had no chance of escape, but I believe the true reason is that the captive’s rotten looking gray flesh tasted vile.

“Forgive me, cow,” said the murderer turned servant. “But its just a tad bit difficult to walk when you have an excruciatingly painful stub where your wing used to be.”

“Wow,” laughed Steer, “You can use big words? Perhaps you aren’t as dumb as you look.”

“Shutup, cow. If you were not a friend of the hero’s, I would bite your head off and pierce your abdomen with my horns. Its too bad that you don’t have horns of your own to defend yourself with.”

Because I had been counting, I knew that this was the seventh time that Steer, out of anger, had kicked the gargoyle’s repulsive face. This kick was the hardest, for Steer had told me before on occasion that he greatly envied anything that possessed even a small horn.

“We aren’t just born with them,” shot Steer with a hateful glance. “Us noble bovines have to earn them. We aren’t just born with them like your spoiled and undeserving species.”

“Whatever you say, Mister Udder.”

I lost my patience, and not just with the gargoyle.

“You two are behaving just like children. Just ignore him, Steer.”

“How can I when he cannot keep his putrid mouth shut? Let’s just bind him like you suggested earlier. Or, maybe we could remove another wing.”

The gargoyle hissed in anger.

“As for you, gargoyle – “ I said before he cut me off.

“I do have a name, warrior. It is Edshu. Please, do not bind Edshu! And please let me keep my wing so that Happiness will only have to regenerate one after we save her.”

“Listen here, Edshu. Happiness wouldn’t waste her breath on you. Your ‘love’ as you call it is corrupt. Anyway, why are you so angry with Steer? I was the one who cut off your wing.”

“Because you will rescue her! Because you are powerful! Because you are merciful! Because you are my friend!”

“He is not your friend,” retorted Steer. “But you are right about his mercy. Most people would completely slaughter you and string you up like horsemeat. ‘Most people’ includes myself.”

“I’m not afraid of you, Udders!”

I was getting sick of this.

“Edshu,” I exclaimed fiercely enough to make him jump.”If you utter one more word, I will slice you just enough for you to be paralyzed but remain alive so that we may use your magical defense.”

Edshu became silent, as did my companion and I.

As Steer and I inhaled puffs from his dragon pipe, we continued our trek. Eventually, the silence became nerve wracking.

I began to feel extremely paranoid, imagining every sound that could be heard throughout the jungle to be a Drone or a Kappa. I was like this for hours, once even drawing my sword for battle as a small bird rustled a bush and flew off into the sunset. Edshu chuckled at my fright, and was punished by Steer with another fearsome kick. I actually scolded Steer for this, knowing that on any other occasion the both of us would have laughed it off.

“But he is a murderer. And a traitor to his very own brotherhood of evil. He is also a coward,” He turned to the sulking gargoyle, who had used whatever strength he had left to keep the pace so that he couldn’t receive nearly as many fearsome kicks.

“Remember, gargoyle, that when we came upon you assaulting our friend, you flew as high up as your weak wings could carry you to attempt escape. At least the warrior raises his sword and braces himself when he senses danger. Doesn’t fly away like you, One Wing.”

Edshu must have felt about his wings in just the same way that Steer’s kind felt about their horns. In the blink of an eye, the gargoyle pounced on Steer and gave him a nasty bite before being kicked into the air, this time by four hooves. My sword was to the beast’s throat at the instant he collided with the ground.

“If you do something like that again,” I began as calmly as possible, “Your new name will be ‘No Wing’. Understand?”

Edshu’s snarling face turned into a face of fearful contrition. I knew that I shouldn’t have believed his shame to be genuine, but I couldn’t help but feel sympathy for Emanuel’s murderer anytime he made a face like that.

“I’m so sorry,” wailed Edshu. “Please forgive me! Both of you! I just became so angry because the bovine is right.”

Tears literally jetted from his eyes. They didn’t just stream and flow like mine even at my worst moments.

“I am a coward. Traitor. M…m…murderer. Omega….the drones…the Minotaur….they all lied to me! You are what Happiness needs. I only want to help you! Then I wont be so worthless!”

He was either an extreme hater of himself or a very convincing con artist.

Steer, getting up and dripping blood from the attack, could tell what I was thinking.

“Why,” he began, “Are you even considering his fate? You believe this charade? He is a part of the Omega. He killed Emanuel!”

I remembered the words of Happiness about those who loved her despite their corruption.

“He wants us to save her, Steer. Can’t you tell? Yes, he is a pathetic murderer, but Alpha said that even Snapper could have changed. But I do not fee; as much sympathy for him as you think. I only want him with us so that you will be able to travel with me. He would be dead already if he was of no use to us.”

I wasn’t so sure of my words, because my heart was actually breaking for Edshu. He must have been blinded and changed in the same way as I had been with the plants. But I conquered them, so why shouldn’t this gargoyle be able to conquer his own sins?

“He stays alive, Steer.”

“Oh, thank you,” cried the relieved Edshu. “Thank you so much, warrior!  After you rescue Happiness, I shall forever bow down to you as your slave.”

Then he jumped up and embraced me. I almost even embraced him in return, but then I remembered Emanuel’s pain and I hurled the sickening lump of gargoyle flesh away from me.

“Don’t ever touch me. Ever.

We once again resumed our quest, Steer cursing, Emanuel humming in delight, and me silenced by deep contemplation. When darkness arrived, Steer came to a halt.

“What is it,” I asked.

“Well…what happened the first time that you and I walked into a moonlit clearing?”

We had indeed come to the edge of a clearing, and Steer had once again forgotten the way.

“Get me the map,” he said.

I reached for it, unrolled it, and gasped once again. Not a gasp at the beautiful, animated scenery of the parchment, but a gasp at nothing. The scroll was blank.

I showed it to Steer. His face became graver than ever.

“Curse them! Curse the Omega! All of them! The drones, the bad kappas, the energy possessing the Minotaur, the – “

He shot a sudden glance at Edshu.

“You! I thought you could make it to where spells wouldn’t affect me. What trickery is this?”

“No trickery. You know that my kind make all who are with us immune to the Jungle. But apparently, the Jungle is far more powerful than any of us had thought. My magic has protected you from its spells…at least the important ones. You know that I am correct. If the noble warrior had not spared me, you would have been hindered by the Omega glass that springs from the earth to stop all who can be affected by the magic.”

For some reason, Edshu’s tone of voice disturbed me. It sounded hollow, cold, and emotionless.

“Perhaps,” he continued, “The spells haven’t really affected you at all. Only your map. Maybe you are just becoming forgetful.”

“Shutup. What shall we do, warrior?”

Before I could answer, Edshu resumed speaking.

“I know the way to the Sphinx. We will run into men though, but that would be better than running into the dragon people.”

“What about drones,” I asked. “Where are their camps?”

“There are none. They keep far away from the Rhinocydonts, many miles away in fact.”

What were these rhinocydonts? To have a power so great that even Omega’s armies fear them?

“Very well then,” I said. “Lead the way, Edshu.”

Emotion returned to his face. He literally skipped to the left with a giddy smile upon his face.

“Once again, warrior, thank you! Thank you for giving me a purpose.”

I began to follow him, but then I noticed that Steer was reluctant.

“Come on, buddy,” I said. “Everything will be just fine. We can avoid Dragonopolis and the drones. And just look how happy he is to be of use.”

My friend sighed.

“Alright. But I’m not taking my eyes off of him, not even for a second. I still do not trust him.”

We began to follow Edshu – or at least we tried to follow him. With Steer’s reluctance to go forward, the gargoyle must have gone on without us, for he was nowhere in sight. I called out his name many times, but to no avail. Edshu had vanished.

“I told you – “

Steer’s voice was cut short by a wall of glass that shot out of the ground in front of him. I barely saw it shimmer in the moonlight, but I could easily tell that it was the same Omega glass that had separated me from Happiness in my dream, for Steer had collided with it, and I could see his face pressing upon it in vain. I cursed myself, finally seeing that Steer had been right about Edshu all along. The double timing traitor’s magic protected my friend from Omega’s cruel powers no more.

“Steer! I’m sorry! You were right! After I find a way around this glass to get to you, I will make him wish he had never been born. The trickster!”

My brother’s face was panic stricken. I knew the exact reason at that very moment, for his mouth was moving in speech, but no sound came from it. The evil glass blocked his words, which meant that he must not have been able to hear me either.

“Hold on,” I cried, even though I knew that he was deaf to my voice. “I’ll find a way around it!”

I ran hundreds of feet to the left and then to the right. It was useless. Omega had finally separated us.

“Noooooo!”

I continued to wail in desperation, despising myself for not seeing what Steer had seen all along. Edshu had this planned the entire time. Even if he truly did want my Happiness saved, he still clung to the empty promises of Omega. Edshu travelled with us no longer, which could only mean that the separation from Steer that I dreaded had finally happened. I was wailing in emotional agony, knowing that this was the fault of no one but myself. Steer needed me, and I needed him.

As I continued to bawl and hit myself because of my own stupidity, Steer did something that broke my heart. Pressing his right hoof against the glass, he smiled. It didn’t matter that we couldn’t speak to each other. We both understood one another completely. I lifted my hand and pressed on the glass directly opposite his hoof, but then something happened that had me frozen immediately. His loving, brotherly, valiant, understanding eyes were replaced by eyes of fear and pain.

Five arrows were protruding from his back. It had happened so quickly that I didn’t even see them until after they had pierced into pierced his flesh. I hacked against the glass with my sword and then punched it with my hand, but it was all to no avail.

“They promised me, fool!”

The voice was from Edshu.

“They promised that when you were defeated, I would get to live with Happiness and enjoy her forever!”

I wanted so badly to rush at the gargoyle and stick my sword into his mouth, but I would not abandon my fallen friend. Looking back towards the glass, I saw Steer being dragged away by two black, six eyed monstrosities. Omega drones. As I heaved my body against the glass, I saw a sight that gladdened my heart before the glass vanished and I fell to the earth. My wounded friend had broken free of the monsters’ grip and had kicked them with a force that I had never seen nor felt before. Steer was wounded, but he was far from beaten.

After falling to the earth, I lifted my head to see him knock the maces out of his now standing attackers’ hands. My grin lasted but a moment, for Steer had fallen down and was grunting in pain. The drones rearmed themselves quickly and began to close in on him. I raced forward, but was heeded by a sharp pain in my back. Spinning around, I saw another drone staring me down and already stringing another arrow. In one quick motion, I sliced off his arms, legs, and disgustingly foul head.

“Bless the Energy, O my soul!”

The voice belonged to a once hornless bovine. Steer had always been a bull in heart and action, but he now looked the part. Immense, razor sharp horns as long as his body were protruding from his smiling face and were skewering a horde of drones that had snuck into view from behind the trees. I joined in the action, knowing full well that Steer’s joy did not take away the pain of his wounds.

Dodging arrows, maces, scimitars, and axes, I counted eight drones that I had killed. Steer, on the other hand, pierced eight drones at once with his horns on at least three separate occasions. It seemed that victory was near, but then I gasped as an arrow in my shoulder caught me off guard and revealed to me what was upon us.

Legions of black, skeletal, shrieking drones were charging us. They numbered well over a hundred. Steer and I charged them right back, blocking but still receiving many arrows into our skins. Steer was hurt far worse than I was, but he seemed to be stronger and more confident nonetheless.

“Come on, filth! I shall slaughter every last one of you!”

Steer stopped abruptly just as he finished his war cry. A single drone was pushing past all of the rest and speeding towards us with his arms waving in the air. As far as I could see, he had no weapon. He also looked drastically different than the others. The six eye sockets all possessed eye balls, unlike the blackened and burned craters of the rest of his horde. His skin was more white than black, and I could faintly make out tiny, vestigial wings sticking out from behind his shoulders. His face also possessed emotion, something that his troop obviously lacked. They were all still a good distance away from us, but this strange one reached us far sooner than his companions did. I raised my sword for the kill, but, to my surprise, it clashed against one of Steer’s horns instead.

“Steer! What on earth are you doing?”

“After all this time,” said Steer, though apparently not in reply to me. “You have returned, Malchus. Why?”

I realized with a shock that this was none other than Steer’s corrupted angel friend.

“Brother Steer,” replied the drone Malchus, “I only wish to be free of the clutches of Omega and his sickening fiends.”

At this, the other drones halted in unison and let out maniacle roars that I could see were the closest the monsters could come to laughing.

“Save me, Steer,” cried the once beautiful angel. “We are friends…brothers. I – I – “

All that now came from Malchus’ mouth were gurgling attempts at words. His tiny wings fell, his skin darkened, the eyes became empty sockets, and bones began to appear on his outside rather than his inside- an exoskeleton, eerily familiar to my own. What was worse was that the fingers on his left hand merged together and lengthened into a blade much like my own, though much longer and nastier looking. As this last horrific bit of transformation occurred, the drone Malchus set his gaze upon me and smiled, as if to show me that I could become wretched and betray Steer in the same way he had. But if he had already betrayed Steer in the past, it was nothing compared to what he did next.

Before I could even flinch in reaction, his blade pierced into Steer from under his jaws and out between his two shoulders. I screamed so loudly that it shook the earth and caused Malchus and his drone army to stumble backwards.

From that moment onwards, everything was a sickly blur of anger for many minutes. All colors were now grey, an even darker and more evil grey than the vision the plants had given me. All I can remember perceiving was the howling laughter of the drones, my blade clashing with the blade of Malchus, black splashes and jet streams of blood, and Malchus collapsing to the ground, begging my forgiveness. His eyeballs returned to their sockets for a split second and they were gushing out streams of tears that mixed with his blood. One by one, they were all stabbed out with my blade, slowly and methodically. I cannot fully remember what I did to him in his last few moments of life, but to this day, I can still hear his screams echoing within my conscience.

Color returned to my vision as I saw the drones, who were no longer laughing, running away in panic. I began to pursue them, but ceased immediately and turned around so quickly that I felt my spine almost break when I heard the sound of Steer’s voice. He was still alive.

Kneeling over him and caressing his forehead, I prayed the most sincere prayer for healing that I had ever or will ever pray.

“Hello, friend,” said my dying companion. “I am so happy to have guided you on your quest. Forget what Malchus did, and don’t you ever doubt yourself. You will never become like him.”

I was crying so much that I could barely speak.  When words did leave my mouth, I couldn’t believe that they were all I could think of to say at that moment.

“I like your horns, brother. You always had them in your heart.”

He laughed. “ I like them too, my friend. Thank you for giving them to me.”

His eyes were fading and he began to cough out blood. I couldn’t believe that he could still speak.

“Vengeance…no…don’t…ven – “

“Steer! Please! Stay with me! I love you! Don’t leave me all alone! Alpha can save you.”

With a smile, he then uttered his final words. “I love you too, warrior.”

I wanted to lay with his body for eternity. My entire world had been completely shattered. Then my sobbing was replaced by fierce roars that sounded even to me like those of an evil monster. I had remembered the drones.

My pursuit for them was a short one. Vengeance was mine. I will not go into detail about what transpired when I found them, but I will say that it wasn’t even a fight. Every last one of them paid severely. I slaughtered them in such a fashion that when I was finished I could hear many of them still moaning in agony. It had to be that way. They deserved to suffer and perish slowly.

I then realized the folly of my tortures, as well as what Steer had tried to tell me before he died, when a massive tree dropped off its leaves and branches to reveal a gigantic, gray, six eyed monstrosity with hundreds of swaying tentacles. Vengeance had been following me ever since I cut the wing from Edshu.

Too enraged to even notice my fear, I charged towards the monster only to be knocked down by a tentacle. As I began to rise, I felt and saw his massive jaws sink every one of their serrated teeth through my armor and into my flesh. He lifted me into the air and shook me around, his teeth digging inches deeper with every passing second. Then, his jaws opened and I fell to the earth. I was in so much pain that I couldn’t move a muscle. A colossal foot stepped on me as I began to fade out of consciousness.

Then, something happened that jolted me right back into consciousness. My body felt an intense shock of electricity. Vengeance felt it as well, for he shrieked in pain as miniature lightning bolts surged all over his body. He lifted his foot from me and ran away.

I felt another intense jab of electricity and found that I was wrapped in some sort of steel net. Even without the electricity completely immobilizing and eventually knocking me out, I would have been too weak to fight back whatever was attacking me. Actually, at that moment I doubted if I could have fought back against my captors even with my full strength. Their reptilian, humanoid forms with horned heads and muscles that matched those of the Minotaur seemed like they would have been too much for me. I thought one word and said it out loud before I became fully unconscious.

Rhinocydonts…”

About a week ago, I logged into my wordpress. It wasn’t a busy day for me – work was over and my wife and daughter were at my mother in law’s house, so I had a free day to check my stuff and read as many blog posts as I could. I didn’t expect anything special to be on there specifically about my own blog (though I did expect, as I always do, to read fascinating posts made by those I follow), for I hadn’t made a new post in like two weeks.

But something cool was about to happen.

My good ol’ blog pal, piezoradeon(The Enthralled Cloud of Thought) nominated me for a blogger’s recognition award. Now, I’ve only had followers on this blog for literally two months, have made only a few posts (and even fewer posts about things the populace would be interested in), and when it comes right down to it, I’m the biggest NOOB of them all when it comes to word press. So how do you think I reacted?

Ecstatically.

It feels so good to have people like Piezo and everyone else actually reading the things I write, and I’d like to thank EVERYONE who has ever read anything I’ve posted. Outside the internet, I don’t really have anyone who appreciates my art other than my family. At least not yet 🙂

But my excitement didn’t stop there.

3 days later, A Thought, a Word, and an Eternal Bliss nominated me for this very same award.
A lot of people would say, “Oh its just a blog. Who cares? You didn’t win a real award.”

Not so.

We bloggers are artists(but I’m so inexperienced that I barely have the right to say that!). We all thrive on our art and opinions being viewed and appreciated by somebody. ANYBODY. Because BLOGS START CONVERSATIONS PEOPLE! Intelligent conversations, across thousands of miles, with people appreciating each other’s creativity through an outlet which for some is the only outlet they have to express themselves. At least at first. Blogging gives a person confidence, and it also greatly helps their credibility when they try to send their work, be it poem, sketch, or novel, to a publication company. So for anyone who wants to succeed, blogging is an excellent starting point.
(All that being said, I’m still in no way under any delusions about my blog being great or anything. I wasn’t in a competition, and I didn’t actually win anything, but it just feels good that a couple of people enjoyed my blog)

Let me just say before I type the rules that those nominated for this award are supposed to type that it is an absolute treasure to be recognized by other bloggers, but especially by ones who are as talented and engaging as A Thought, a Word, and an Eternal Bliss and Kushal Gorti(Piezo Radeon). I love both of their blogs so much, and I strongly recommend that you check out their pages.  Now, time for me to post the rules, and then to follow those rules.

The Rules

*Write a post to show your award

*Tell your blog’s origin story – how did it start?
*Write two pieces of advice for new bloggers
*Thank whoever nominated you and share a link to their blog
*Select 15 other blogs that you want to nominate

The Domain: Origin

A little over a year ago, I started my blog for a single purpose – to have my first completed mythical novel read by as many people as possible. Well, that was the MAIN purpose, but I also had one that was far less selfish, albeit only possible if the blog ever became a major success…..to be a place where people all over the world and even in my own humble hometown could post their works of art without fear or criticism, regardless of the medium(by the way, if anyone wants their stuff posted and doesn’t have a blog yet, you can contact me and get your stuff out there through the domain). My idea was for it to be something sort of like the Community Pool, the only exception being that it would specifically be for people like myself who are horribly self conscious and terrified of sharing their thoughts and ideas with the world. Hence my blog slogan: Let’s Slay the Minotaur, One Idea at a Time. This refers to the Greek myth of the slaying of the Minotaur by Theseus, but more poignantly to my own little tweak on that myth which plays a huge part in my novel, “The First and the Last”, which when all is said and done is about nothing more than overcoming life’s many struggles. Well, to this day, that grand dream of idea sharing hasn’t yet come true. But I’m still hopeful. However, the other thing that I wanted actually did happen, surprisingly. A few noble souls have read my posts, and more specifically, chapters from my book. Let me say again that I simply cannot stress enough the amount of gratitude that I feel towards you all. Anyone who has ever even clicked the Like button honestly made my day and gave me strength. But something important to mention is that it took my blog a literal year to be read by ANYONE, at least regularly. I’ll explain more of that later under the Advice heading, but suffice it to say – perseverance. That’s the magic word. But I have learned something very important from blogging that actually overshadows my own desires for success – How to CONVERSE. I have had more conversations on wordpress than I can count, and they were all very intelligent and enjoyable. I don’t really get to talk about things that interest me face to face, because I don’t really know anyone personally who would be interested. Of course I have friends and family – but I’m a loner when it comes to my interests, hobbies, and passions. Hence, the beauty of blogging.
2 bits of advice

1. Take a genuine interest in others. This is a tried and true approach that is crucial to any successful blogger, and, at the risk of me sounding like a barren platitude, is essential to daily life as well. When I first started my blog, I was desperate for attention. I kept posting chapters from my book as well as music and movie reviews for weeks, but it was all for naught. No one even clicked any of it. Then I did what would have been obvious to me in the first place if I had possessed any common sense: I searched through tags and categories and started following people. I really just wanted to get my book read by people, but I discovered something even better. CONNECTION. I stopped fretting over my vacant blog posts and instead read the posts of others. And they were great. They were all just great. Every single person I have followed on wordpress has made at least one post that had me absolutely engaged. Poetry, artwork, books, short stories, reviews, even paragraphs about every day life – its all amazing to me. As I believe I had mentioned previously, CONVERSATIONS are the best thing about blogging. You can easily find people who share your own interests, as well as other people who may spark your interest in other things. I did this for a few weeks and, lo and behold, my blog actually grew from nothing into something. So, suffice it to say that if you take a genuine interest in other blogs and give them feedback, your own blog will inevitably prosper. And don’t just click the like button or comment without reading the actual post. I know its sometimes a temptation to just scroll through and click like a few times, but I have read through every single post that I have ever liked or commented on. You’ll find enough thoughts, ideas, and true works of art through blog posts that you’ll forget all about your own page. You’ll just wanna start some conversations 🙂

2. Community Pool. Post a comment introducing yourself and your page. Then, go through the introductions that others have posted and click on some blogs that look interesting to you. Give them some feedback, and you’ll get some in return. The pool really is a blessing. I found so many awesome people to follow through this, and my own blog almost doubled in feedback.

The Nominees

First, let me introduce the two bloggers who nominated me. The Enthralled Cloud of Thought was the first one to do it. Now I don’t wanna play favorites, but really, who else is as awesome as he is? Nah, I love so many blogs equally, but this guy really is amazing. Every word in his posts is just saturated with wit. You can tell that he’s really intelligent, creative, and has a great sense of humor. He writes all of his posts like a pro, and is just an incredibly nice person. If I knew him face to face, I’d wanna hang out with him all the time.

The second person who nominated me is A Thought, a Word, and an Eternal Bliss. She’s just as awesome and amazing and Kushal and all of my other followers. Very obviously intelligent, very gifted, and very poetic. All of her posts regarding short stories or poetry are just fascinating. She really has a way with words, and she knows exactly how and exactly where to just freakin lace stuff with metaphor. Reading her posts are very good for your imagination, for the imagery she conveys through the words is just stunning

Now, onto the fifteen nominees. This was the hardest part of this post, because all the blogs that I follow are just fantastic. It took me two days to sort through them and make some tough decisions, but if I ever do any other post that recommends people I’ll be sure to talk about everyone else. But literally every blog I follow is already very successful, so a NOOB like me recommending them might not even make much of a difference for them lol. Here are the fifteen I’ve chosen, and with the list I am also going to very briefly explain why you should check out each of their pages and follow them

1. PoeteX
Poetry with a lot of heart done beautifully and professionally. She really knows what she’s doing. A lot of it is very classical and sophisticated. I look forward to reading every new one she so skillfully writes.

2. loveletterstoaghost
Hauntingly beautiful poetry that I believe can connect with ANYONE and speak to their heart. Every single line is excellent. And I just LOVE that name.

3. The Creative Works of James Harrington
The storytelling is just fantastic. He writes exciting books detailing epic struggles between good and evil. He is also very kind and willing to give writers of any kind extremely helpful advice.

4. Relating to Humans
There are all kinds of cool posts on this author’s page, but what’s really exciting is that he is making a war movie with a very well thought out premise that speaks out against misogyny.

5. ericTknight
His book, “Watching the End of the World”, is extremely unique, thought provoking, and exciting. When I’m able to get an Amazon account, his book will be the first one I purchase.

6. Rebecca Elysium
Very dark, fantastic, and unique artwork. But it doesn’t stop there. The poetry that goes along with it is practically perfect. I’ve never come across a page quite like this one. Really engages your mind.

7. (Over)Analysing Literature
If anyone wants a site where you can talk about books, check this out. The content is great. She is quite a skillful writer, and her personality shows through very nicely. She is very well read and has some nice book reviews. Her short stories are fantastic as well.

8. La Audacia de Aquiles
I love mythology, and it was so cool to find a page like this that had such a wealth of information about it. Aquileana really knows her stuff, and she presents it all in a very thoughtful and informative way. She also speaks about a number of great philosophers, including my favorite, Friedrich Nietzche.

9.Gospel Isosceles
The main vibe I get from this blog is intelligence. Passion too. Every post is really top notch, and deals with a wide range of subjects. Awesome poetry, opinions, faith, and so much more. The whole blog is really like a big work of art.

10. Corasteel
Beautiful poetry. The cool thing about it is that it is not only well done, but also REAL. True words from a true heart. Cathartic. I’ve always said that I don’t like any art(especially music) unless it has an edge. And this page has it. Also plenty of other stuff that is just really well written.

11. Writing Dragons
Posts a picture of a dragon every day. And it’s freakin awesome. She always posts pictures of dragons done by fantastic artists, and I haven’t seen a single dud to date. Dragons(dinosaurs in my opinion) are my favorite animals. And this site DELIVERS for a dragon fan boy like me! She’s also working on her own dragon novel, which I look forward to reading.

12. Benjamin Fisher-Merritt(Author)
This blog, among other things, has a fantastic book/saga called “The Starvdale Adventures”. I read one chapter and was hooked. The fight scenes in this story are excellent, as well as the character development, the humor, and the basic story. If you like mythical fantasy, then check out this page immediately.

13. Ultimate Solace
First of all, I’m sure you all agree with me that that name is just tops. Second of all, what terrific poetry! The whole layout of the blog is just excellent, as is the wealth of fantastic, spiritual, and just simply well done poetry! You can read through a LOT of cool things here.

14. Dirty Sci-Fi Buddha
Practically everyday, a post is made that inspires myself and countless others to new heights. Overcoming struggles, breaking free from stagnation in your creativity: you can find anything here. There are also samples from his scifi book/saga, “Echo”, which I wanna buy when I get an Amazon

15. Invisible World

There’s an extremely well written book on here called “The Hashna Stone”, and I highly recommend you check it out. The story arc, characters, creatures, everything is cool. It reminds me of Tolkien in a very good way, but is still a completely original and creative work.

 

At dawn, as I walked out of my bedchamber, met Alpha and Steer, followed them down the dimly lit corridors leading out into the sun soaked facility, and ate a bit of horsemeat, I felt as one undead. Even though I had experienced bliss at its highest but a few short hours before, I felt drained, fatigued, and uneasy.
What struck me the most was that I felt such a thickness in the air; the very same thickness of evil and doubt that I had felt around Snapper and the wretched plants.
I literally only ate a bit of horsemeat, for my stomach felt so small and queasy. Steer noticed this before Alpha did, which surprised me, as Alpha was usually so perceptive and attentive. They kept telling me to eat more of it to restore my strength. I knew that they were correct, but my appetite had completely vanished. Alpha’s pale face became grave and he stopped eating his horsemeat. Steer also abruptly stopped eating his hay.
“Very well, friend,” began Alpha. “If you cannot eat, then neither shall I.”
“Nor I,” said Steer, spitting out his hay and brushing the rest of it into the morning breeze with his hoof.
“No, no, no,” I said, feeling very guilty for inadvertently causing my friends to cease with their breakfast. It did however gladden my heart for a moment, for it was one more instance of how much the best of friends will sacrifice for one another. “I’m not the only one who needs strength.”
Alpha smiled. “Well then,” he continued, “I believe Steer and I both know what we are to do. We knew this would happen, for last night I had to perform some horrible black magic, with Steer knowing that I was doing it. That is what is causing this dreadful thickening of the air, as well as your sudden loss of appetite and strength.”
“Black magic?!?” I exclaimed, deeply shocked and disturbed. “Isn’t that evil? Demonic even?”
“Most of the time,” chuckled Alpha. “But I didn’t commit any sin or evil. I did indeed bring something evil into our midst, but it is for your own good as well as for the good of Happiness. Its sort of like fighting fire with fire….”
“What evil thing is in our midst?” I inquired.
“That isn’t your concern currently, Warrior. Your only concern right now should be recovering your lost strength. Especially to aid you against the result of my deed. You shall see. But forget about it for now. So, back to what I was saying; about how Steer and I are both thinking the same thing right now and have made a pact together inside of our minds. Tell him, my bovine brother.”
“Well,” began Steer with a look of pride and determination upon his furry face. “For every day that you do not eat, Youngling, Alpha and I shall abstain from eating for two days. Oh come now, Youngling, cease with your shouting and protesting – “ for my face was contorted in anger at his words and my lips were yelling in an angry protest – “It’s only fair, you know.”
I actually began to laugh. “How is that fair,” I shouted. “Just because I can’t eat does not mean that you two shouldn’t. That’s ridiculous! You’re just using my guilt against me, and all because I am simply not hungry this morning.”
“You’re lying,” Alpha shouted suddenly, with just a hint of anger. “I know what is happening to you because of the thing I have done. Your stomach is shriveling, your throat is closing, your breathing is labored, and you have lost a few pounds of muscle already within a mere span of hours. You have also lost all the color in your face. You look like you are wearing my face paint. I’m sorry that I have done this to you, Warrior, but I assure you that it is absolutely imperative for the final stage of your training. I don’t blame you if you doubt me or are even angry with me right now, but….do you trust me?”
His words on the night of my ceremony echoed within my mind. Doubt is an illusion. Yes! Of course! Of course I could trust my companion and guide. He had never let me down before. With my anger and doubt now fading away swiftly, I already began to feel some of my strength returning to me. But only a bit. The air still felt dreadfully thick.
“No, Warrior,” said the mind reader. “Not enough strength yet. That is why you must force yourself to eat.”
Steer nudged the plate towards me with his muzzle.
“Before I try,” I started, “Please just tell me why whatever you did is draining away my strength.”
“I told you,” Alpha replied. “You shall see.”
I moved the plate away from me.
“Then I shall not eat.”
Steer kicked my shoulder with one of his hooves, causing me to groan in pain and surprise.
“What on earth was that for, Steer?”
“Oh calm yourself, Youngling,” said Steer with a chuckle. “I have kicked you much harder in the past than that. That was only a nudge. Now, listen here. If you refuse to eat, then Alpha and I shall make our fast three days for your every one.”
I could only sit there in silence. There really wasn’t any point in arguing. My friends were absolutely adamant about this.
“Alright,” I finally conceded, “I shall eat for the sake of the both of you.”
“That’s more like it Young-“
“On one condition,” I said, interrupting Steer. “You must promise me to never address me as Youngling from this moment forth.” Alpha laughed heartily and Steer looked as if he was startled.
“But,” he began with a faltering tone, “I am far older than you are. Centuries old-“
“Yes Steer, I know. You have told me this before. But I am not a child. I have proven myself by fighting Vengeance, Snapper, and the plants. I even overcame them. I have grown very strong…powerful even….”
“Careful, Warrior,” warned Alpha. “You are on the verge of prideful thoughts.”
“I know, Alpha, I know. I’m just happy with myself. I’ve done things that I never would have dreamed were possible a few days ago. So, what’s it gonna be Steer? Do you promise to stop calling me Youngling?”
With a mournful sigh, he agreed. “Yes, I promise. Even though I know you enjoy it. Now eat Young – I mean Warrior.”
I consumed all of the meat on the plate faster than I had ever done before. But, upon swallowing, I felt piercing stabs of pain within my abdomen and chest. It felt as if I was going to choke to death. Leaning forward, then collapsing to my knees, I regurgitated all of the food onto the ground. I was stunned. How long would this bulimia and feeling of emptiness last?
“Hopefully,” began the mind reader, “It will stop today.”
He possessed a strange look upon his face; one that I hadn’t yet seen before. It appeared as if he was in an angry sort of trance. I also noticed his hand reach for the sword clipped to his belt.
In a flash, the warrior of all warriors unsheathed his sword and sliced open my vulnerable face. I could feel the blood oozing down my cheek as I stood up in a confused panic.
“What the hell are you doing,” I screamed. For an answer, he lashed his sword wildly at my legs, but I blocked it with my own blade. “Alpha! What is this? We are brothers!”
His only words within the next few minutes were “Put on your helmet!”
Our swords continued to clash, and after a few strikes he successfully sliced open my other cheek. I put on my helmet then. No sooner had I done so that he once again went for my head, but this time more forcefully. His continual hacking at my helmet was sending out showers of sparks that resembled fierce fireworks. Though the helmet was my protection, it was a living part of me and could still feel pain, and this hurt much worse than the slices inflicted on my man-skin. Then, our swords clashed against each other once again, and we spent the better part of a minute pushing at each other and staring each other down.
“Steer!” I cried fretfully as Alpha continued his attack. “Stop him! Please!”
Out of the corner of my eye, I could perceive Steer standing there motionless. He remained silent, without the slightest hint of expression of any kind on his face.
The duel went on for a few more minutes, which seemed like an eternity to me. Not only was I feeling pain from the gashes that Alpha was continually inflicting onto my living armor, but I was also feeling every single possible negative emotion. This was the worst pain by far. Feeling confusion from my brother attacking me, sadness from the draining of hope, and fear from the wicked strikes and burning eyes of Alpha, my adrenaline suddenly kicked into overdrive, which caused me to quickly forget the air’s thickness and my body’s weakness.
As I leapt over Alpha to avoid his blade, he finally spoke again. “Why will you not strike me, Warrior? You have had plenty of chances. Retaliate! Quit running and leaping!”
I was utterly dumbfounded. Had something sinister happened to my companion? Was it the work of Omega? Would Steer turn against me as well? Or could this all have to do with the black magic that Alpha spoke of? These questions dominated my mind as I kept trying to avoid his blade and his eyes. I was actually more afraid of his stare than his sword.
“Fight back,” he shouted. “You are supposed to save Happiness. Or…perhaps Snapper was right about you after all.”
Anger bubbled out from the deepest, darkest depths of my heart. I slashed at his stomach, which he quickly avoided just enough for my blade to only lightly slice his belly. He smiled. Then, quickly flipping his sword so that he held it by the blade, he gave my face a swift bludgeon with the sword’s hilt. I staggered briefly then fell on my back.
“Excellent work, Warrior,” said Alpha as he leaned over my face. “That must have greatly confused you. I am sorry, but it was the best possible way to train you. You must be ready to do more than just defend yourself. You must learn to kill anyone if the need arises…..” He glanced to the side, apparently in deep thought. “Even me. I am sorry, friend. Your cuts will heal. Some may remain as scars until you rescue your beloved, perhaps even afterwards. But look at me. I have thousands of scars. To me, they are marks of accomplishment. Every warrior receives them in battle as well as in training. But I am mostly sorry – even deeply remorseful – for what I said about Snapper being right. I did not mean it. Not one little bit. I only wished to provoke you so that you would fight back.”
He backed away as Steer helped me up with his muzzle. I could not bring myself to forgive Alpha. His methods of training were cruel and harsh. In my opinion, he was moving much too quickly. I even wanted to stab him, but was unable to do so, only because now that the fight was over my strength was draining away once again. I could hardly stand.
It was at that very moment that it dawned on me. Alpha was right. On this day, I was weary and weak. But only if I remained stagnant, doing nothing. If I was fighting, my strength returned due to adrenaline, and also due to something unexplainable that I believe must have been a sort of magic. The black magic?
“I understand, Alpha,” I sighed, trying to breathe deeply, which was nearly impossible as I felt like I was suffocating. “You…you are only trying to help me…I forgive you. But please, just please let me rest.”
“I’m sorry, dear friend,” he replied gravely. “But you know I can’t let you do that. If you rest, you will lose your strength altogether. You must stay in motion. You must fight and become stronger so that you can eat and recover even more strength. Though you do not feel ready, I am afraid I must now show you the black magic.”
I staggered from sheer exhaustion. I would have fallen on my face and remained there had not Steer been there to catch me with his back.
“Hang on to me, brother,” said the noble bovine. “Let’s go. You are doing wonderfully.”
He helped me to walk in the direction that Alpha was walking. We followed him through the courtyard. I did not know where we were going, for I had to fight to keep my eyes open. After a while, as Alpha faded into a blur ahead of me, they remained closed for a good while. But upon opening them, I simply could not believe what was happening.
Before me were the accursed walls of death that had served as the battlefield for my duel with Snapper. I felt the sorcery immediately, and I also felt that it somehow had to do with the Omega inscriptions etched into the stones. Every letter was glowing with a bright blue hue that reminded me of the eyes of both Happiness and Snapper. Two of the bright lights were moving towards me. I could hear what sounded like chains being dragged about the ground.
“What’s going on – “ I stopped speaking abruptly. Everything became clear to me. The letters moving towards me actually were eyes. Beneath them were fangs that reeked of decay, a leathery body that smelled even worse, two fearsome clawed hands that each gripped a sword, and, in between them, a metallic cylinder that swiveled in a circular motion. Snapper was alive once again, and more evil and dangerous than ever.
“Go find your shield,” whispered Alpha. “And when you have defeated him, pull the chains out of his shell.”
I found that I could not move. It was more than just fear. My strength had been almost completely extinguished. Steer moved away from me so that I couldn’t hold onto him any longer. As I fell down, he pushed me into the deathmaze.
The undead turtle charged. I blocked a strike from his right hand sword, then jumped over the left one as it sliced towards my legs. My strength was returning ever so slightly, but not enough for me to leap very high, which is what I was longing for. After seeing Alpha defeat him, I knew that the place I needed to be to deliver the killing strike was atop his wretched shoulders. For now, however, I was confined to the earth.
Our three blades were all glowing red hot from the action. Sparks flew from his carapace and from my armor. What surprised me was that he wasn’t roaring, snarling, or making any sort of vocalization at all. His mouth hung open as if his decayed jaws were paralyzed. He looked like a lumbering, mindless monster; but he still moved very quickly and possessed an even worse light of evil in his eyes than he possessed when he was alive.
I rolled behind a wall and waited. As his heavy footsteps drew closer, I rolled silently to the next wall. Peering out from behind it, I saw his cannon begin to glow. The wall that he thought I was hiding behind, as well as the next three following it, exploded into a fiery blaze of rock like a line of dominoes rigged with dynamite.
I went around a few more walls and then crept up behind him. Suspense and adrenaline were enabling me to feel even more power surging into me. When I felt that I had the amount that I needed, I made my move and leapt to his shoulders.
I realized then two things. One was that with his two swords blocking my every strike, I couldn’t stab him like I needed to. I tried for the back of his neck, but every time I did so he either reached back and blocked my strike or threatened my existence by slashing his other blade at me. I needed my shield.
The second thing I realized was that my very shield was leaning against a wall not twenty paces away from us. As I was about to leap from his shoulders to retrieve my protection, the demon leaned backwards and fell to the ground. He was crushing me with his immense dead weight. Literally, dead weight. My sword was smashed to the earth along with my body, so I was unable to even fight back. I cursed myself for letting this happen. I did not expect such cleverness from a zombie. With my strength draining once more, as well as my oxygen supply, I began to succumb to the thoughts of hopeless defeat.
But then I remembered Happiness. With more strength than I believe I have ever or will ever possess, I heaved the foul ton of slobbering decay off of my body. As I sprung to my feet, my eyes met his wicked glare as he turned around to face me. His cylinder began to rumble and spark. I had no time for the shield. The moment I perceived the fire erupting from his chest, I grabbed the cylinder and pushed it upward with all my might so far that it went into the Kappa himself. The explosion of ember, metal, and rotting flesh sent me reeling backwards. I had killed Snapper for the second time – or so I had thought.
Half of his charred corpse remained, and it began to walk. The legs, the left arm with a sword, and the cannon itself were all still intact. But this remnant possessed no eyes to locate me, so it walked blindly away from me. I began to laugh at what the demon turtle was reduced to, but my laugh soon disappeared and was replaced with panic as I watched the monster walk slowly in circles and fire his cannon in every direction. Even with lacking the ability to aim, the swiveling cylinder fired many shots that narrowly missed me.
Remembering what I had to do, I raced towards him as his back was turned and pulled the chain that was dragging behind him. The blind force of destruction crumbled into ashes. By that time, not a single wall remained in the battlefield. Only smoke and ash. It looked like a barren wasteland, and I was alone.
Then, to my inexpressible delight, Steer trotted towards me out of the smoke.
“Once again, my friend,” he exclaimed with pride, “You have done well. This just keeps getting better and better!”
But the tone of my friend’s voice did no match the expression upon his face. He looked weary and confused.
“What’s wrong, Steer? Where is Alpha?”
Steer exhaled a deep sigh.
“He is gone, my friend. He shall meet with you later on. Now, we shall finally begin the journey.”
He walked towards the jungle. I followed him, questions spiraling within my head.

This first poem may not even qualify as poetry as it doesn’t stick to any form. Its definitely not traditional. Its basically a big metaphor, and is partially inspired by Nietzche. The infant is the everyman, and the mother is life.

WILL TO BIRTH

The infant…no, he wasn’t yet an infant, but only a fetus.

Covered in beautiful life mucous that sustained…

Created, preserved, and eventually destroyed.

Anyway, the infant(fetus) attempted a breath, but no matter how hard he tried, he just couldn’t. The walls were caving in around him.

Yes, harder and harder he tried, but he was hopelessly trapped.

Then… LIGHT! SOUND! FEAR!

He burst into the world and tried to crawl back.

But the mother smiled a sweet, sadistic smile and said,

“My child, you can go back! Yes, yes, my child, you can! But this time, through my teeth!”

This was the moment the infant discovered that he wasn’t helpless any longer.

He had eyes, ears, and hands to manipulate things to his will.

Yes, yes…above all he discovered that he possessed will. 

And with that will, still the most powerful of his assets, he commanded his mouth to spew acidic venom at the predatory mother. Before he ran, and eventually escaped, he abused her with his lips and with his harsh, newborn vocal cords.

“LIFE! LIFE! YOU ARE NOTHING BUT AN EATER! AN EVER SELFISH, EVER EVIL, PREDATORY EATER!”

Then, after escaping, he collapsed into a deep sleep that I believe must have lasted for eons.

 

And here’s number two, which is a real poem but was shoddily written in about two minutes.

PRETTY

Have we reached the unknown?

Like a cascade of cyclones, this breeze has blown.

Have we reached the end?

Is it hard to admit?

Or is this the beginning

Of our living legit?

So much was under shade

Beneath locks and keys

Now we’re running through the glades

Cliched but we’re free

I think hope just woke up.

She had lost a bet with luck.

But now she is standin’

With Lady Wisdom so true

And we are also standin’

I think she’s pretty too.

I awoke to the smell of freshly fried eggs. The smell of cooked food will always be something I relish remembering from my past life, though it always seems to me to be somehow tweaked in some form or another. For instance, the eggs I was about to consume had a sweeter, stronger scent than what I would expect to come from regular bird eggs. And this, this, NEW smell is something that will eternally remind me of the beginning of my journey. For this day was truly the beginning; the past few had only been a contemplation of the beginning. As Alpha had told me the night before, the next few days would be full of danger, difficulty, distress, and an ever increasing feeling of doom. But for now, I would focus on the eggs.
I rushed out of my chamber, helmet in my arm, following the aroma eagerly. After a few twists and turns in the dimly lit tunnels of our resting house(there were no windows, only torches), I was greeted by one of the frog princes. He spoke to me, and his words made my heart sink and my stomach rumble.
“Eggs not ready yet. They take a long time to make.”
His enormous eyes must have permitted him excellent vision, for though I could scarcely make out his upright amphibian form, much less his facial features, he could definitely see my disappointed facial expression. His silhouette stuck out two long arms to offer me something. It was a large platter. I took it and breathed in the smell of horse steak and vegetables. Not quite as inviting as the eggs, but it would have to do. I was starving.
“Have some of it if ya’s want, mista warrior,” he croaked. “And don’t ya’s eat it all. Carry rest down steps for me.”
I took a bite of the steak and followed him down the steps, shrugging off his rudeness and stupidity. The way he spoke sounded very unintelligent. Much less intelligent than Alpha, Steer and myself. Karma must truly exist, for after but a few short steps I tripped over my own feet, dropped the platter of food with a loud clang, and tumbled all the way to the bottom of the steps. I should not have judged the frog.
Landing on my knees, I looked up and caught a brief glimpse of Alpha and Steer laughing at me. My glance was brief because my own helmet came falling after me and hit me in the back of my head. For a moment all I could perceive were stars and the sound of my two companions laughing even harder. Then, as I started to regain my vision, I could hear the frog behind me. Turning to face him, I saw that he was running quickly with a wild sort of dance about him. He pushed me out of the way and began to pick up the food that I had dropped in my clumsiness. He got it all onto the platter in about two seconds, gave Steer and Alpha a quick gesture with his head, and said one more thing to me before scampering out of sight.
“You is stupid.”
My friends, of course, were still laughing. I even began to laugh myself. Oh how I love to recall these sweet, sweet memories. Before the wreckage. Before the pain.
We were all three standing on a stone balcony outside. The sun was beginning to rise, and by its light I could finally make out the place of my training. I shall describe it. There were reddish building everywhere, stretched out for what may have been at least a mile. They were circular in shape and appeared to be made from some sort of red clay. Each was connected to another by the stony balconies. These were all uneven, with some twisting, some slanting, and some suspending horizontally between the buildings. Despite all this and the fact that some were crumbling, as if they had all been constructed without much thought or regard to geometry, they all possessed a look of simple beauty. Very simple, but very beautiful nonetheless.
Under many of the balconies was an ever flow-less river, twisting and turning throughout most of the area. In some parts it merged together and split apart like a cardiovascular system. Every stream branching from it went uphill into the center of the area and fell into a lake with the same sort of beautiful, still waterfall that had protected us from Vengeance. Beside the lake and the streams were dead looking shrubs without leaves. Off into the distance, the early sun’s rays cut through tall jungle trees that surrounded the entire perimeter. They looked small from a distance, but for the first time I could make them out in full. This jungle was made up of many trees that were shaped like animals, though not all of the trees were like this. I could see elephant trees towards the right, dragon trees towards the left, and even the balcony we were standing upon had a single white tree with branches on top that shaped the head of a unicorn. It reminded me of how strong my desire to see them was, for the night before Alpha had greatly stressed their wise and beautiful qualities.
“You very much desire to see them, don’t you,” he said.
“Reading my mind again, friend?
“No, no, no,” he laughed. “I do have eyes you know. I can see the way you look at this tree. I as well hope that you see them, but thanks to the rhinocydonts, I haven’t even seen them in centuries, and I explore this jungle frequently. Don’t get your hopes up, except for your hopes for Happiness.”
How had I not thought of her yet that morning? The crimson lips, the hair of gold, the soft looking skin…how could I actually not have been thinking about her yet? Especially because much, indeed, very much had already changed in one night about my love for her. I actually knew in full what she looked like now.
This is because, during my deep and peaceful sleep the night before, I had dreamt of her. But it was one of those odd dreams that has all the wonder and attraction of your greatest fantasies, yet still retains the vicious and cruel quality of a nightmare. It was a nightmare because of the way she had appeared to me.
The dream began with just her eyes. Her eyes and nothing but darkness surrounding them. I knew from the beginning that she must have been terribly saddened, because her eyes were the brightest shade of blue I had seen them to be. In fact, they were the brightest shade of blue I had ever seen anywhere. Unfortunately, with this adventure, I would have to have to get used to this color, for they would stay this way until I saved her. If I saved her.
This maddening, crippling doubt of myself and my destiny was constantly on my mind in the dream(I would later see, with devastating effects, what doubt can do to the soul). Those eyes are what did it to me. The way they looked at me, with so much hope and love, and yet still so much melancholy and doubt, utterly burned me to my soul.
And then it got even worse.
Slowly, the darkness around the eyes lifted, showing instead a beautifully formed face with long golden hair. The darkness gradually lifted away to reveal her full body. She was wearing an emerald dress with both large and small diamonds stitched throughout. The shoes on her feet seemed to be made entirely of diamond. And atop her head was a crown with the most beautiful ruby red stones that you could possibly imagine.
But you couldn’t possibly ever hope to imagine the most beautiful thing…her smile. It was beautiful and terrible at the same time, because in those soft red lips I could see the joys and sorrows of all the world combined into one. It made me want to look away, made me feel unworthy, made me feel like I had failed already. How much worse it would have been to hear her voice! At that moment I knew that it would be unbearable, for with this mere sad yet joyful smile of hers alone I could barely stand.
I was standing in complete darkness other than her beautiful form. It still surrounded her. I knew what this meant. This was the darkness of Omega.
The dream was almost too real to be a dream. The only reason I know that it was is because when it was over I woke up in my bed with my heart pounding and my sheets soaked with sweat. This was because she reached out her hand to touch me, but was stopped immediately by a sheet of sparkling glass that shot up out of the darkness. I took in every single thing I could with my eyes, even the detail in her fingerprints I could now see pressed against this cruel trick of Omegas. That’s what he’ll always do, just like with the plants. Trick you. Entice you. Show you beautiful things and then take them away. But stopping me from embracing my love was the cruelest thing imaginable.
Her mouth began moving. She was speaking to me. I yelled from the top of my lungs to the bottom of my heart in a hoarse, desperate tone that I loved her and that I couldn’t hear her. Cruel, cruel Omega! And this cursed glass of his…I would actually later learn that it didn’t just come from Omega. It shot up from the darkness within myself, darkness that no one trying to rescue a princess should have in his heart. Darkness that I would come to find…
“Still dizzy from that stumble my friend?” laughed Steer. He was apparently still very amused with what had just happened. But Alpha was not. His face was grave, for he could see what I was thinking. I looked at him and then looked away in shame.
“Breakfast will be finished momentarily, Warrior,” he said.
I was ashamed because my recollection of this dream had brought much doubt and fear into my heart. “Yesterday,” I thought to myself, “I was ready to cut through this entire forest to get to her. Now I am terrified. It seems so hopeless.”
Maybe I was thinking this thought so that Alpha could encourage me, sort of like when one says bad things about himself to fish for compliments. No, that couldn’t have been it, for I did not like Alpha knowing about these doubts I had. He always seemed so sure of me, so proud, so encouraging. But that glance he had just given me was almost as bad as the smile of Happiness. It seemed in his expression that even he was doubting me. I kept thinking like this but tried with all my strength to stop. It felt like he was going to give me a rebuke, but in the seconds that kept passing, which felt like years to me, he did something worse. He gave me silence. Was he truly ashamed of me?
Steer must have sensed this tension, for he tried to break the silence but couldn’t. He kept stuttering and getting choked up, which made things even more uncomfortable. Finally he blurted out a question.
“Friend, can you help me with something?” I nodded a yes and walked towards him, trying to avoid Alpha’s gaze. His eyes followed me. Then, Alpha said, “See you at breakfast,” and walked across the bridge between our two resting houses, disappearing into his door. I wasn’t looking at him. I only saw him from the corner of my eye.
Steer, bless him, got my mind off of this for a while with his once again lighthearted presence and speech. He had a knack for cheering someone up without saying one word about what was bothering the person he was talking to. He wanted me to dig through a brown cloth sack beside him for something. It was a pipe filled with sweet smelling tobacco.
“You can smoke some too if you’d like,” he said. “It does wonders for stress and fills your lungs with absolute ecstasy. It’s my favorite thing to do after a long days walking, as well as every morning before and after breakfast.”
The tobacco smell and the mention of breakfast helped me to forget the troubles I was having with my doubts, as well as with my shame in the presence of my mind reading guide. I was still incredibly hungry, and the aroma of the meal enticed me. It must almost be finished. But I was actually even more eager to taste this tobacco. I held the pipe to the sunlight and inspected it. It was shaped like a dragon. The crushed and torn leaves within were brown in color and they had a smell that reminded me for some reason of pine trees. Steer motioned towards the bag. I reached in again and pulled out a lighter also shaped like a dragon, though much smaller.
“I like this,” I said to Steer. “And the tobacco smells lovely. Do you always have to have someone light it for you?”
With a laugh, he replied “Well of course warrior! I have no hands. It is a bother, no, a curse really. I can run fast with these hoofs of mine, and I am very proud of them for that. But because of them I can’t even enjoy my favorite luxuries. That’s the good thing about friends. Here, I’ll let you take the first puff. Go ahead and light it.”
The dragons mouth was the pipe’s bowl, so when I lit it, it appeared as though the dragon was breathing its deadly fire. The look of it really grabbed my interest. But as I put the tail end of the dragon to my lips, I forgot all about the way it looked. It tasted even better then it smelled. I felt the smoke go into my lungs and give them an enjoyable tickle, then exhaled the smoke. This smoke took on the shape of a dragon as well, this one winged. I watched it fly off gracefully into the sunrise.
“You like it?” Steer said.
“Like it indeed! I love it. Very, very much so my friend.”
He smiled with satisfaction. “Delicious, delicious leaves, picked right from the smoke pine.”
“Yes, yes, very delicious,” I said as I took another puff. Then another. Then a few more. “I feel rejuvenated. This can’t be healthy though, can..?”
“Who cares,” he interrupted, annoyed. “This is a vicious world; we can die at any time. We may as well enjoy ourselves. Now, my friend, quit hogging it to yourself.”
I laughed and put the pipe into his mouth, realizing that I had been smoking his stash all to myself. I couldn’t help it. It was lovely. But it made my mind wander to other things. Like the flowers. Like how they might taste smoked….
“The smoke pine,” Steer said between puffs, “Was all but obliterated by Omega and his drones. Filthy scum! When we good creatures cut down the trees, we replant them so that we may harvest them again next season. The scum have no regard for life at all. They only steal. Take, take, take, and never return.”
He let go of the pipe. I took it and continued smoking, glad to have him start a subject to remove my mind from those seductive plants.
“Tell me,” I began. “What are these Omega drones? Where do they come from?”
“Ah,” he said with a scowl. “The filth. You see, they were once a benevolent race known as angels. They were second in spirituality only to Alpha. They fought against the Minotaur constantly to defend Happiness. This was before he locked her away. They were–and still are—armed with the best of weapons. Clubs, maces, bows, axes, and swords. They even developed a cannon much like that of the Kappas. Their greatest weapon however, has been lost in their evil. Pure hearts. Now, only blackness. Alpha tells me that their evil is not as strong as their former goodness….but I sometimes don’t believe even him about that. The way they mercilessly slaughtered men and frogs, the way they tortured Kappas into joining them. The way they…….”
He stopped speaking for a moment and it looked to me like something was wrong with him. I even may have seen a tear come from his eye, but at that time I wrote it off to a trick of the light or something. He continued.
“The way they…never mind. Yes, I believe their power is only matched by that of the rhinocydonts.”
He paused and looked me up and down.
“And hopefully yourself.”
“How did they become evil?” I asked. Steer lowered his head in dismay.
“Omega,” he began, “realized that possessing the body of the Minotaur wasn’t enough to turn souls. Some were too strong willed; too hardheaded. So he possessed something else….”
I became stiff with uneasiness.
“The plants? The ones that affect me so?”
“Yes,” he replied. “The plants. They enticed most of the angels centuries ago. And then, shortly before you came, the last few were also turned. Now there are no angels left. I wonder…”
“What?” I interrupted, fearing he might say what I was thinking he would say. “What do you wonder?”
“He wonders if you are an angel.” This voice was not from steer. It was from Alpha, who was once again among us. The joy of the tobacco had now completely been extinguished within me. But Alpha smiled compassionately.
“Don’t let your heart be troubled,” he said. “You are not an angel. You are a man, but unlike any other sort. You are greater than all the other men in this jungle, myself included. For though I am willed by the ultimate good, I am still merely a man. But you are something greater. You are the warrior. Do not let your heart be troubled. That goes for you as well Steer.”
Now joy again. As I was looking at Alpha, who was still smiling, with gratitude, I once again heard his voice inside my mind. It was only two words, but they were words that a noble soul such as he should never have had to utter to anyone. I still hear them echoing in my head to this day.
“I’m sorry.”
Next his audible voice. “Come my companions. Breakfast is ready.”

**********

We entered the vast breakfast hall to a sight of many beings bustling and mingling their way around. There had to be at least a hundred of them. Kappas, frogs, dragons, and a few of Steer’s own kind. Even the fairies, who I was a bit annoyed to see, were flying over our heads, cackling together with glee. They seemed to have only been there for amusement, for as soon as they saw me, they swooped down upon me, licking me with their sticky tongues, then flew out the open windows. They wouldn’t have cared for this breakfast anyway. As Steer had said before, all they liked eating was fruit. Oh, and themselves too.
In the middle of this chamber were two long wooden tables with tall chairs for seating. The wood had carvings of a language that I didn’t know scattered throughout. Some creatures were sitting at these tables, but most were off in crowds towards the sides of the room, heaping stack after stack of horse meat onto their plates. The night before, everyone seemed so eager, so expectant just to see me, the warrior who was said to bring order and justice to their home. Now all they seemed to care for was food. I will never forget the way they all looked, smacking their lips and eating without silverware and dropping bones all about the floor in a gruesome and greedy way. Some of them, however, appeared to be merry and lighthearted, passing food to all the others sitting at their respective tables. The frogs seemed especially courteous. After two had sat an immense platter of eggs and steak on an empty table, one called out, “Eggs are ready!”, and then another one handed me a little sample plate with a single egg on it, which is what all the other frogs were giving out to everyone else in the room with a smile. I devoured mine with pleasure. It tasted just as amazing as i had thought it would. Yes, I thanked that frog very much for giving me my first taste of heaven from a skillet. My opinion of his race became nothing but admiration. So they were not all stupid and rude like the first one I met. They really were very courteous and generous.
But not the kappas. No, these creatures looked terrifying, even more so because the meat that they were eating dripped quarts of blood all over the place. They must have liked their meat raw, fresh, almost still alive. I even saw a few of them carrying large baskets of dragon eggs with the shell still on. They shoved them into their fanged beaks and cracked them as if it was the most natural thing in the world to do. I knew they were sentient, so I wondered how they could be so vicious. The night before, I hadn’t even really seen them properly. Even with the lanterns of the ceremony and the road of purification, they had only been immense, dark silhouettes. Now I could see them in full.
They were mottled green, shelled, and as spiky as my helmet. Large claws like meat hooks were on their fingers, and their teeth looked just as fearsome. On the chest of each was an apparatus that seemed to grow out of their bodies as my sword did mine. They were cylinders with large holes in the middle. These must have been the cannons that Steer had told me about. Yes, these creatures seemed to be living weapons. I was afraid of them and disgusted at the same time, but now, as I look back, I realize that I was in a sense being hypocritical. Was I not much different than them with my grotesque armor of death?
Though all the kappas looked identical, save for some having larger cannons, one in particular stood out to me. He was sitting at the far left end of the table furthest from me. His head was lowered over the table, apparently in deep thought. Hot, sticky saliva poured from his gruesome mouth. I knew it was hot, because it did a curious thing. It produced smoke and melted away the wood on the table as if it was some form of acid. As far as I could tell, none of the other Kappas did this. He was very different from the others. I could hardly see his face, but I could see that he had an ugly scar going vertically down the right side of his face, right through his eye. Suddenly he looked up, directly at me, as if he had sensed my presence. He gave me a look of pure malice, matched at that time only by the looks Vengeance had given me. “How could he be like this,” I thought to myself “Is he evil? I thought all these Kappas were on my side?”
I looked at Alpha, hoping he would answer my thoughts. He didn’t. He just kept gazing at the Kappa with a look of dread, anger, and disappointment. It didn’t look like he was afraid, but it looked like he was as confused as I was about this creature.
I looked back towards the kappa. All the others in the room, the sight and sounds of them, seemed to fade away like a dream as I looked into his eyes. It felt like he and I were the only ones in the room, no, the only ones existing in the whole world. And I did not like it. I thought then that it was some sort of hallucination, but I could see clearly that within his eyes was what appeared to be blue flame. A flame that gave me the same feeling of hopelessness that the blue eyes of Happiness had given me. Then, as quickly as it began, the vision faded. I could once again hear and see everyone in the room. The flame in his eyes was gone. Only a regular blue remained. But he was still gazing at me, and I could still feel the malice. It didn’t matter that the vision was over. I still felt the same.
Another kappa came to his side with a basket. It contained only one egg, which was shaking back and forth all on its own. It then abruptly stopped and began to crack. Out came a baby dragon. It was hard to tell, with its lack of human features and all, but it looked like it was smiling, happy to be born. Then it saw the Kappa that was gazing at me. Its squeaks of joy were replaces by shrieks of fear as it tried to crawl out of the basket. But the Kappa was too quick. Not taking his eyes off me once, he grabbed the poor, defenseless creature with his clawed hand and brought it towards his mouth. It was silenced as his teeth sank into its skull, crushing it with a crack that silenced all who were in the room. Everyone was looking at the Kappa with the same sort of fear and disgust that I felt. Even the Kappa that brought him the basket was shaking with fright.
Alpha began marching towards him in anger. Only then did the monster’s menacing gaze leave me. It was now directed at Alpha.
“Snapper,” said Alpha, “One more grotesque display like that and I will have your head on a platter. These people,” he motioned towards the others in the chamber, “Know me to be peaceful. But you know that I can be even more savage than you and your race if I need to be. You know this more than anyone.”
The Kappa, Snapper, gave a low snarl in reply that sent chills down my spine. He then looked back at me. Alpha’s expression changed. He now bore an almost wicked smile.
“Ah,” he said. “You have a problem with the warrior. Well, Snapper, after he gets his food, he and I will sit with you. Then you can get to know him better. Or perhaps you can come to know his sword, if you give him any trouble.”
Snapper reared his head back and roared with laughter. Most of the other kappas did the same, save for a few who were seated with a look of embarrassment upon their faces. Ignoring their laughter, Alpha stormed off with a scowl on his face. He disappeared into a dark corridor. Inside my head, he said to me, “Don’t worry about him. As soon as you get your food, sit across from him. Have Steer join you. In the meantime, converse with the other guests. Stay away from the bad kappas…you’ll be able to tell which ones I’m talking about. The other ones you should speak to, as well as the frogs and dragons. I’ll be right back.”
Stay away from the bad kappas. What could Alpha have meant? “I thought the bad ones were in the possession of Omega,” I thought in reply to him. He gave no answer. The crowds were once again bustling and talking amongst themselves as if nothing had happened, continuing to eat and make a mess of the place. Snapper continued to disembowel his prey.
As Steer muttered something about needing to see someone in the other room, told me he would be back by the time I sat down, and walked off, I decided to take Alpha’s advice and grab some food and speak to some guests. Besides, the aroma of the eggs had once again enticed me, but only for a moment. I tried not to think about the baby dragon, but I just couldn’t shake the thought. I just couldn’t eat those eggs. So I just attached my helmet to my belt, put some steak on my plate, grabbed a glass of wine, and began conversation with a frog prince who looked at me with admiration. In his speech I could tell that he was nervous to be around me, for he kept stuttering. He didn’t seem afraid; he just seemed like he thought it was an honor to be talking to me.
“I’m…v-v-v-very excited that you are here sir,” he croaked. “I-I-I’ve had the opportunity to speak to all of those who came before you. And…I can tell that you are different. You have kindness and…l-l-l-ove and….bravery in your face. I can read people well. It is a gift all us frog princes possess, but more so with me, f-f-for I am the reader.”
My preconceptions about the frog race had been shattered entirely. This one seemed fair minded, and very courteous and respectful as well. He was the third true friend I met along this journey. I asked him what he meant by “reader”.
“I have a gift,” he responded, “of understanding people. All species. I-I-I-I can tell instantly about them, every single one. My job is to report to Alpha those who are falling into the dark abyssal shadow of Omega. The past few days have been the worst in centuries, so many have slipped. And…” He gave the kappa, Snapper, a quick, frightened glance. “I can see it amongst us. But that one takes no reader. I only wonder where he got a fertilized egg from. Only dragon eggs without souls can be eaten ethically. They give plenty to us all…it is only Omega filth who desire to eat the children. Robbers, they are. Destroyers of innocence and joy.”
So this is what Alpha meant. Not all of these guests were on my side. I wondered with fear if perhaps a few could even be evil unnoticed, like double agents, reporting information back to the Evil King. I felt a sinking in my stomach. Could I trust anyone in this world? What of Steer? What of Alpha even? Was anyone my true friend?
I suddenly remembered Alpha’s words to me from the ceremony. Doubt is an illusion, my friend. A tricky one. It robs us of our hopes, dismantles our dreams, and can blacken even the purest hearts. Surely, the man who uttered these words could not be evil. He even warned me that doubting people, including one’s self, can be your downfall. But what if he had only said that to throw me off? I shudder now in my seat, remembering these doubts I had of my guide. For I can assure you: nowhere in the following chapters of this story does he even do something mildly bad, not even impolite (well, on second thought, he did do something very rash at one time). And Steer…how could I have ever doubted that kind, wise face of his?
The prince noticed that I was in deep thought. He had still been talking and I wasn’t listening. “A-a-are you alright mister warrior?”
“I’m sorry,” I said, “Very sorry. Mister…?”
“Oh, goodness! Please excuse my manners. My name is Emanuel. What is yours?”
That was unexpected. Up until that point I hadn’t wondered what I was called. Everyone always just addressed me as “friend”, or “Warrior”, or, as is the frogs’ custom, “mister”. This bothered me greatly, but I just laughed and told him I didn’t know what my name was.
“Ohhh….” he said. “You ARE different. All the others knew their names. But why you don’t know yours…I haven’t the slightest idea. Maybe it’s just one more clue that you may be the true one for Happiness.”
“But aren’t I? I-I-I-ve…I thought it was obvious. Everyone else f-f-f-ailed…”
“Oh,” he laughed. “Now YOU are stuttering. Don’t worry, I know you are the one. There just need to be certain signs for the people, as it says in the prophecy.”
“What signs?” I asked.
His look became serious. “Only Alpha can tell you that. His lips alone are the only ones that have been blessed with the energy’s knowledge. And only he, Steer, and I have read it. All others are forbidden. That is because when you warriors first began appearing, while we were building this facility, most of the others native to this world were so full of doubt. One warrior fell, another arose, and so on, just like that, for centuries. Many just gave up trying to help save Happiness altogether and joined Omega. They thought that they may be able to reach out and feel her grace by joining him and hoping to participate in torturing her for pleasure. Yes, even the most evil things imaginable can start out from the best intentions.”
“That’s horrible!” I said.
“The best intentions,” he continued. “Yes, yes, the best intentions….they can become poisoned if one thinks more of his own pleasure and self satisfaction than that of the beloved he is enjoying. Many have turned out this way. It stopped for a while, but only because it has been such an unusually long interval between you and the last warrior. That is why many, such as myself, are so full of hope. No, no….I say many…but in actuality the only ones who I believe haven’t had a single doubt about you are Alpha, Steer, and myself. We are the only ones who could never possibly turn. It’s simply how we are made.”
I asked him if he knew beyond doubt that I was the one because he could read it with his powers.
“No,” he smiled. “I can’t see the future. There were many in the past who I was so sure of. I kept thinking that after some time, their helmets would connect. I just have faith that you are the one. Yes, it is true that you are different in many ways. But even if I didn’t have my gift, my heart would tell me that you are her only hope. Our only hope.”
The hunger was returning, so I offered to Emanuel that we continue our conversation while eating. We walked through the crowds, bumping into grunting Kappas and jumpy frogs. A few of Steer’s kind were conversing about the best kinds of tobacco (which he would have laughed at, for he was strict about smoking only pine), and as we were beginning to sit next to them I remembered what Alpha had told me. I was supposed to sit by Snapper.
The filthy child murderer.
The excellent warrior.
The monster.
I got up from a sort of half sit at the table with the ones of Steer’s kind. Emanuel noticed I was behaving strangely. In truth, I was frightened half to death.
“Well,” he said, “where are we sitting? And are you feeling quite alright?”
In this training area I had felt completely fine without my mask, that is up until this point. I wanted to put those spikes on so bad. I didn’t want anyone to see the look of fear upon my face. Enough of them were doubting of me already. And the ones who did doubt I felt I could intimidate with my mask. I wished I had a free hand to cling to it (the sword, however useful, has proved many times to be a curse). Sweat seemed to pour from me like the ocean spilling off of the edge of the earth. I wondered why the waters of fear should flow while the waters of the rest of existence should remain eternally still. I have seen this often in battle, the stirring up of the waters of one’s own inner being by powerful emotions, so my answer is that in emotions such as fear, we are most truly alive. life disturbs the waters, disrupts the peace. Even so, after all the combined fear and doubt that i have experienced, sweat has become a comfort for me.
As we approached Snapper, however, sweat was not a comfort. It was especially bad because it made me look nervous, and I wanted to look as intimidating as I possibly could to the monster without my mask. I still couldn’t possibly have looked as afraid as Emanuel. He knew where I was going.
“How are we supposed to carry on our conversation about good and evil,” he squeaked, “by sitting next to the most evil thing in this room?”
“Trust me!” I said.
I didn’t even trust myself. My only trust was in Alpha, who I hoped would join us soon. We were getting closer to Snapper. Blood still dripped from his fangs. And shades of blue fire were once again erupting from his eyes that were now locked onto me like I was a target.
I started to feel faint but I ignored it. I had to show this beast that I wasn’t afraid of him. Emanuel, I could tell, was even trying to conceal his fear. It comforted me that such a small and frail creature could be so brave in the face of evil. Frogs truly are amazing creatures.
Suddenly, two kappas that were sitting closest to Snapper got up and charged. I thought they were trying to attack me, but they weren’t.(it is hard to tell, for they always look so fearsome and bloodthirsty) They were rushing to speak to me.
“Look, ” one began as Emanuel began shaking again, “Not all of us are like Snapper. We all have some doubts about you, but none of us are as consumed by it as he.”
I opened my mouth to speak and to my surprise, Emanuel beat me to it.
“Then w-w-w-hy are you sitting so close to him?”
The kappas exchanged glances.
“Snapper isn’t completely on Omega’s side,” the other one said. “Within all his doubt is the belief that all us Kappas must stand united for happiness. He has wanted her safe more than perhaps any other of our kind. Its just that he’s been traumatized by all the failure of…”
“Well this one is no failure!” exclaimed Emanuel, this time bold and stutter free. His inner strength put a smile on my face. Snapper continued to glare menacingly at me. “He is the one. And you know as well as I do that there is no hope for Snapper. Yes, yes, he calls you friends alright. But he will abandon even those closest to him in the end.”
“He is our brother,” the Kappas said together. I felt a sort of draining in the air. What would it be like to lose a brother to madness? Alpha? Steer? I cannot imagine the pain.
“I am sorry for his behavior,” said the one who spoke first. “Just don’t sit by him. You make him get crazy.”
“Well then,” I said, “It looks like I’ll have to shatter all of his doubts now won’t I?”
I walked towards them and they moved aside for me. They had a look of surprise on their faces. Emanuel followed close behind. I approached the seat, looked back at my friend, and sat down. I was a mere three feet away from those bone crushing jaws and soul crushing eyes.
As I sat down, the demon turtles facial expression changed drastically. The look of malice was still there, but beneath it, beneath the fangs and blood and baby dragon flesh, was a look of surprise, almost a proud sort of surprise. He didn’t look intimidated, but he looked at least impressed by my boldness. I think I even saw the beginnings of a grin, though it was hard to tell with his turtle beak.
I looked him in the eye for a few seconds, fear leaving my spirit with every passing second(I have found that acting as if you were unafraid and continuing to practice it really does take away the fear). Then I said hello and began to eat. He gave a low grunt. I got the feeling that he thought I was arrogant.
Emanuel was now shaking again. I didn’t blame him, for despite his bravery he was still just a frail frog physically. Snapper could have easily devoured him in no more than two bites. At least I possessed a shell, so I did possess some confidence. I wanted to put on my helmet, but the horse steak was delicious. I ate it sloppily and voraciously, as to appear ruthless to Snapper I suppose. I could see Emanuel looking disgusted, whether with me or with the Kappa’s breath I am unsure, for most frogs are very proper creatures who abhor the sight of a mess.
The other two Kappas sat on opposite sides of Snapper, who still had his gaze fixed upon me. These brothers of his looked almost as frightening and intimidating as he, but not evil. They didn’t give me a bad feeling. I could see by the looks on their faces that they felt the same thick air of dread and uncertainty that accompanied their brother as I did. They seemed as if they didn’t want to sit by him, so I believe that the sole reason they were there was to restrain him if he tried to attack me. It gladdened my heart that they didn’t doubt me as he did. Well, everyone probably doubted me to some extent, but at least these two didn’t want to rip off my arms.
Alpha appeared out of nowhere, as if he just materialized at the table. I didn’t even him sit down. Steer came trotting along shortly afterward. I was amazed that a quadruped such as he could actually sit down on a chair. He looked very comical. Alpha however looked the complete opposite. he was focused on Snapper, with a furrowed brow and a serious facial expression. He began to interrogate Snapper, who was still looking at me.
“Where did you get the fertilized egg, Snapper?” he asked.
I was about to hear the brute speak for the first time. I already knew it would be a terrible voice, but I maintained composure and held back my shaking.
“That’s my business, Alpha,” he said. Every word sounded like a growl. “Not your business.”
Alpha smiled.
“I’m making it my business,” he said. “it is weak beyond comparison for a warrior to devour the defenseless. Where’s your honor Snapper? I wanna know. Maybe you left it back at the place where you stole the egg-”
“I didn’t steal it,” growled Snapper in reply, now looking at Alpha.
“Why not? If you are wayward enough to murder, what would keep you from stealing?”
Snapper started looking even more vicious, which I had thought to be impossible.
“The mother sold it to me,” he said. “Said she didn’t wanna have any kids in this rotten damned world without a hero.”
“I don’t believe you,” Alpha laughed. “A dragon would never sell her baby, even if she felt she couldn’t raise it.”
“Are you laughing,” snarled Snapper, “because you believe me to be a liar?”
“No, no, no,” said Alpha calmly. “I’m laughing because you said this world is without a hero. Look across from you. He is our hero.”
Snapper reared his head with laughter, joined in by some other Kappas at the other table. But Alpha wasn’t finished speaking.
“I am also laughing because you are so weak and pathetic.”
The reptilian laughter ceased abruptly. The whole hall was quiet. As everyone in there knew, if there’s one thing Kappas hate, it is being called pathetic. The ones who laughed got up and rushed towards us. they stood behind Snapper, a mob of teeth and claws. All the remaining Kappas, his two brothers included, were still sitting, looking down at the floor with in shame.
“Listen here,” began Snapper. “You know how bad things have gotten. What the hell are we supposed to be hoping for? Happiness is in chains, the plants are enticing everyone, and this so called warrior is gonna die before he takes two steps into our jungle.” He looked at me.
“You have spirit, I will give you that. But it will fail you. You don’t look like you know how to fight to me. I’ve been watching you. I’ve seen how you struggle with that arm of yours.”
Some of his friends sniggered. He paid no attention and continued speaking. “Guts ain’t enough. All the others failed. So shall you. I don’t know why the Energy is so unintelligent…can you tell me, all knowing and wise Alpha?”
As the others continued to laugh, Alpha sat calmly with a small smile on his face. Even with the smile, he looked for the first time to me like a fully fledged warrior. His face paint stuck out undeniably as macabre war paint. I hated that these foul Kappas were laughing at him, a noble man worthy of respect. I wanted to say something, but the filth continued.
“Tell me, Alpha,” he said. “Why doesn’t the energy choose a powerful warrior like a Kappa to restore happiness? A warrior, like myself, and not a mysterious and unknown man from another dimension?” He looked at me again. Rage bubbled up from the deepest part of my soul.
“A frail man,” he hissed. “Beneath all that armor, you are still just a mere weak man. Like the men of the forest, the cowards that do not fight. They care only for their material possessions. All men are weak. Just like your friend Alpha, the fleshly incarnation of the energy’s vast stupidity.”
I lost my cool. I jumped up and put my sword to his throat. No one was going to talk like that about Alpha in front of me. Sword to his throat, I reached for my helmet. In a flash, the demon pushed my sword away, stood up, and knocked my helmet from my hand. Then he laughed. A maniacal, victorious, arrogant laugh. His friends, as usual, joined him. His brothers got up and grabbed ahold of him.
Alpha stood and began to laugh as well. His cackle was confident and mischievous, as if he had just gotten a crazy idea. He did, in fact, have a crazy idea. Insane.
“Snapper, Snapper, Snapper,” he began while clapping his hands together. “You mean to challenge the warrior? you got it. You two are gonna fight. Then, we’ll see who is laughing. You’ll also be cured of your doubt.”
Snapper’s expression became vicious once again.
“I will drink his blood. I will peel the shell from his flesh and the flesh from his bone.”
His friends were roaring with laughter.
“Blood!” they howled. “Blood! Death! The weakling is afraid!” They were correct. All my fear rushed into me like a pack of wild animals.
“I’ll explain the rules,” shouted Alpha under their laughter, “When we go outside. But for now, I will tell you the most important one. Its not gonna be mortal combat. There shall be no death. The first with a sword to his throat loses. Let’s go.”
He walked over to me and tugged on my arm. I picked up my helmet and put it on immediately. Many were laughing at me, and I know that this was because my face was soaked with sweat and had no color. Steer looked afraid too, afraid for me. Emanuel looked the same.
The crowd rushed out of the chamber into the open sun, following the twists and turns of the river. Snapper spat in my face as he walked past me. I felt his saliva searing into my helmet, which I had luckily just put on. He grabbed an egg before going outside and devoured it. His friends followed, after he ordered them to fill their baskets with eggs for him. “I haven’t finished my appetizer yet boys,” he said.
Alpha, Steer, Emanuel, and I were the last ones to walk outside. I just knew we were walking to my doom. The smile never left Alpha’s face.
We followed the curvy road for what seemed to be an immensely long time. I suppose this is in part because it was already beginning to look like a walk of shame. This Kappa had experience, stronger armor, and better weapons. though he didn’t lack confidence, as I did, he still had a flaw of doubt in his character. The doubt was still poisoning the both of us from within. He doubted the outside world, I doubted what was inside of me.
After all the dead leaves and still river streams we came to it. A place that already begun to feel like home to me. I knew I must partake in many a battle in my quest to save my love. One thing I have always loved about the war is the arenas that surround us and reflect our very selves within the bloodshed. The energy of violence is sculpted into every environment within this world. My first battlefield was no different.
There were walls standing everywhere within the courtyard. They were of colossal height and has many strange markings that I now know to be the language of the Omega drones. Alpha has told me since that its very letter carvings produced a spell of uncertainty and mental decay, which one must inevitably face if he is learning to fight. Though the words are beautiful, I have never learned them, for they are an evil albeit genius invention. You could feel the evil conjured by the words within the walls. Alpha, Snapper, and I were the only ones to step inside these walls. I wondered if it also looked like death and evil to the spectators; for outside of the walls, they could not have possibly seen the extent of symbol that I could see.
We entered. It wasn’t exactly like a maze. None of the walls were connected so it was easy to navigate through. We stopped behind the second wall and Alpha began to speak.
“Here is your protection,” he said, addressing only me. Snapper already had his. All Kappas carry their weapons at all times.
I looked down and saw a sturdy shield resting against the wall. Upon inspecting it, I could see it exactly for what it was – the carapace of a Kappa, an almost perfect defense. It was only almost perfect because I didn’t possess enough strength to lift it very high. Snapper lifted the one he possessed with ease.
“That shield,” said Alpha, “will protect you from anything but a good solid hit from a Kappa cannon. Snapper, you are only to use your sword.”
The beast hissed with disappointment and drew his blade. It was fearsome looking, with permanent stains of blood upon it from many previous kills. I knew for certain in my heart that I would lose this battle, but I was ready for it. I would walk right up to death itself for Her already. Why was Alpha offering me up to this vile creature? I didn’t expect that the first part of my training would be to fight against a walking weapon that despised me. I was even more afraid of Snapper than I had been of Vengeance.
In my head I kept thinking hard, trying to reach Alpha’s mind for consolence. I had been doing this ever since we had begun walking to the battlefield, and he still hadn’t answered me. The only thing he said to me before the fight was to pick up my shield. I expected encouragement. I have found sinse in all my training with Alpha that sometimes the best way to fight is to have no encouragement. The fear of blood, the rush of the blade, the sting of self doubt – these were all things I must conquer on my own.
After Alpha explained the rules (that there was to be no bloodshed, no cannons, and no stepping outside the walls), the fighting began. Snapper treaded fast with his colossal feet and disappeared behind a wall. I approached it with my lifted sword and got a nasty surprise. From behind the wall to the left of the one I was approaching came Snapper charging at me with a wicked roar. He or the Omega writing had somehow fooled me into not seeing him change walls. Our blades clashed. I was already surprised with myself, because though this Kappa had experience, he did not possess the speed that I did. I blocked every strike and rolled about the ground. I also discovered a strength that I did not know I had. It was jumping, and I was very skilled at it. Amidst all the action I could see Alpha smiling ear to ear. We must have been equally impressed with my ability. I did several leaps and bounds over Snappers’s head. I could get behind him easily without him knowing it, but every time I struck the sword he eit,her spun around and swiftly blocked it or else it collided with his carapace and sent off a shower of sparks.
“Don’t hit his belly, warrior,” Alpha shouted. “Remember, no bloodshed.”
But I wanted to kill the turtle. I wanted to with every fiber of my being. I don’t know if Alpha could see it, but I could tell by my opponent’s expression and fierce war cries that he meant for there to be bloodshed. His sword, early on, even made a small slash into my shoulder at one point when I wasn’t quick enough. Don’t hit his belly indeed!
I rolled behind a wall, pausing to catch my breath. I could hear Snapper. He was breathing hard as well, but I kept getting turned around with my senses and could not make out exactly where he was. The wall that served as my refuge as well as all the others were looking more like a death prison with every passing second. Just a few seconds before I had felt a swell of confidence, but these walls had drained out every bit of it. Their spell pierced into my inner being with the suddenness and destructiveness of a cannon.
This cannon was not as bad as the one I was about to experience. I heard Snapper scream violently and then I was blasted backwards against the next wall. The shattered stone pounded down on my body as I stood up, struggling with pain, to see that my refuge had been completely obliterated.
What replaced it was Snapper, the blue fire in his eyes burning more brightly than ever. The apparatus in his chest that swiveled in a circular motion was scorched black with smoky embers falling out of its hole.
“Snapper!” Alpha cried desperately, “You mustn’t use your cannon!” He was running towards us, waving his arms in panic.
The demon turtle looked completely different than before. Every spike was bigger, every tooth was longer, and his acid saliva literally foamed from his mouth accompanied by the stench of death.
“YOU ARE NOT THE ONE! he shrieked, running towards me. “YOU WILL NOT SAVE HER!”
Fire erupted from his chest. If i I had lifted my shield but a second later I would have been the next shattered wall. Instead, my shield exploded into a thousand pieces and I felt all of the bones in my arm crack and splinter. Bone was sticking up through my armor. Wailing with pain, I watched in horror as the monster rumbled towards me, When he came upon me. I lifted my blade and had it struck down in an instant. Towering over my crippled defeated self, the monster raised his weapon to slaughter me.
Alpha arrived between us just in time, with a sword in his hand that clashed against Snapper’s. He was standing in an elegant fighting pose, feet planted firmly into the ground. For the first time I saw my wise companion for what he truly was – a flawless warrior full to the brim with energy.
“You know what i must do Snapper,” he said, his sword still pressed hard against Snapper’s. “flee the Omega’s evil ways. Save yourself. Let go of the doubt.”
Snapper’s cannon began to make noise. It was about to fire. In my head I heard Alpha tell me to roll. Before I did so, I saw Alpha jump onto the cannon and climb over Snapper’s face and onto his shoulders. Then I rolled and felt fire burn my side as the shot narrowly missed me. Curled up in pain on the ground, I looked up briefly to see if Alpha was alright. He was standing on Snapper’s shoulders, who was now on his knees. Alpha’s sword was stabbed all the way through from Snapper’s neck into his abdomen. I could only see the sword’s handle. Snapper’s eyes now had neither fire nor life. The most powerful of the Kappa’s was dead, and I was unconscious.
I awoke an hour or so later to find myself in a vast circular room full of huge bookshelves and long wooden benches. I was laying across one of these benches, feeling immense pain. My head felt dizzy from the fight as well as from the bright blue light that came from oil lamps floating above the benches. I could smell them burning, as well as what seemed to be the aroma of powerful herbs and spices. Alpha was at my side, with a smile I knew to be a proud one. Next to him was Steer, who was shaking violently. At my other side were two princes. They were pushing wet white plants into my wounds and pouring cool oil over my burns. I wondered where Emanuel was. I looked towards my hand and saw that it was sitting of a liquid filled stone basin. I couldn’t feel my arm at all.
“Alpha,” I grunted, “Where am I? What is this place?”
“You are in the infirmary, which is also the library,” he said. “This is where the prophecy is to be read.” He was still smiling. Everyone else was somber, and I knew the reason, for I could already tell that my wounds would take days to heal. But Alpha looked absolutely ecstatic.
“Are you ready,” he asked, “to better know your destiny through the reading of what was foretold many millennia before you?”
I didn’t understand. I was in immense pain and needed to rest. Why was Alpha so adamant about the prophecy at a time like this? I could have died.
“You’ll have plenty of time to rest your body,” he said, answering my thought, “during the next phase of your training, which is meditation by the way. I am sorry friend, but the prophecy must be read now. It even says so itself. Your fight with the traitor was in every detail matched with what the prophecy said about you. the jumping, the readiness to face danger head on, the sheer energy of it all! You did magnificently?”
“But I lost,” I said, not believing at all that I had succeeded, but hoping all the same for Alpha to tell me how I did.
“Yes, yes, you lost,” he answered, “But you showed fantastic courage. And no one in this world has ever had that kind of skill during his first battle.”
“It’s true,” mumbled Steer with a smile. He was still shaking, but he seemed to be excited in a good way. “You truly are the one, Warrior…I thought we had lost you though! I am honored to be your friend, and I want to torture every living Kappa for what Snapper did to you…”
“Come now, Steer,” said Alpha. “Don’t talk nonsense. It is not the whole Kappa race’s fault for Snapper’s fate. In fact, it may not really be his own fault. He was a victim of doubt, one of Omega’s greatest tricks.”
I shuddered when he said that. Could doubt poison me the way it did Snapper? Even self doubt?
“Now no one should ever doubt you,” exhaled Alpha with satisfaction. “I know you are in pain, my friend, but we must go on with the prophecy. Are you ready?”
I said yes. A frog prince scampered over to Alpha and handed him a scroll. He unrolled it. I tried to sit up to get a better look at it, but I couldn’t. The pain was just too great. I wheezed with pain and laid back down. Alpha cleared his throat and began reading.
“From a world where men
Think they can own the energy
And condemn
Each other to hell,
A warrior shall come
Encased in shell.
Dressed in machine.
Machine that gleams.
Carrying a sword without a sheathe.
His helmet must connect
Only he who can be united to it without
Looking at himself with pride.
Only he who will face danger
And shall not be afraid to die.
Many will come.
Many will fail.
Omega undone,
The warrior shall make him crawl.
A ceremony will welcome him
And then he will be trained.
He’ll face another shell
And be for days maimed.
A traitor will fall
And many more will rise.
Deep within the walls
His soul shall be confined.
But it shall burst forth
and with it the traitor.
They must fight again
But a few days later.
Leaping within the walls
The second time with victory.
The warrior shall see further
And much more clearly.
He will have but one strong vice,
The name I do not know.
But in his training he shall prevail,
Reaping what was sown.
he will travel through the jungle
Facing many deaths.
All for the hopeful glory
Of his only Happiness.
First the drones
Then the unknown
Then at last the Sphinx.
But only if he guesses right
May Happiness be reached.
Alpha is the revealer
The only revealer
Of what I have foreseen,
If the warrior wins the final battle
He shall find his queen.
He may fail if…”

Alpha paused for a few seconds. His face showed that he was uneasy.
“He may fail if what?” I groaned, still feeling the pain of my battle with Snapper.
“It doesn’t say,” answered Alpha. “The witch who wrote it, Amoris, was killed by a drone before she could finish it. We are very fortunate that it did not fall into the wrong hands.
“How are we fortunate?” I asked. “All I know now is that something in the final battle will cause me to fail.”
“May cause you to fail, my friend,” said Alpha, his smile returning. “But you won’t fail. It is obvious that you are the destined one. You fought the traitor, “the other shell”, Snapper. And you leapt over his head many times, and the prophecy said that you would be leaping within the walls. And, Warrior, you know much more than that. You know what path you must follow and you know that you will overcome your weakness for the plants. You should also be proud of your strength. You come from a world where people destroyed each other to own the Energy. As if God, the creator, could be a possession! I cannot even begin to imagine the horrors you must have seen in that world. Kurtis, remove his mask please. He needs the wine.”
He was talking to one of the frogs, who did as he was told. He held a flask to my mouth and I tasted a glorious wine that I hadn’t yet tried. It gave me ecstasy, but not of the same sort as the plants. It didn’t taste evil like they did.
“I think,” began Alpha, “that I can make some sense of one of the “unknowns” of the prophecy. Before it was written, the rhinocydonts had not yet entered our world. This may be a problem, for they are very powerful. Even stronger than the kappas. But it is not today’s problem. Yes, today’s problem is one I must solve. Namely, how to train you to overcome your one strong vice. That wine you drank may help in the next few days. Anytime you desire the plants, drink the wine. It still isn’t good to be a drunkard, but hopefully you won’t need it too much. At any rate, it is a safer poison than the plants. They could completely consume you. So tonight, while you get your well deserved rest, I shall study on how to best prepare you against the plants. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“But…” I began, but he had already disappeared out of the room. I was angry and worried about the unfinished words of the prophecy, but the wine, which Kurtis kept pouring down my throat as Alpha spoke, was making me sleepy. Within moments, the worry, as well as the sight of Steer and the frogs, had faded away from my perception.

“You had some real guts out there kid. Everyone else who messed with vengeance met a bloody death.”
Those words were my wakeup call, and I heard them coming from the same unknown voice that had put me to sleep. But now it wasn’t just a voice. It was a man, standing in front of me.
“Greetings, newcomer. I am the Alpha, secret revealer of Happiness, or better known to you as, the jungle.”
I sat up straight, making a drowsy groan in doing so. I looked at the man’s features. He seemed to shimmer as sunlight burst through the still unmoving cascade of water. What struck me the most was that he looked very familiar to me. He was dressed in brown, tribal looking shorts. Adorning his skinny body were many markings of a language I did not know and trinkets of gold and bones pierced into his flesh. He had long, black hair, big green eyes, big ears, and a smear of what seemed like war paint on the flesh around his eyes. The rest of his skin was pale white. He looked like he had lived wild and free, like an animal, all his life. At the same time, there was a hard look of weariness upon his face. As I looked closer, I could see at least a hundred small scars cut into his face as if by a razor. So much pain, so much anguish, so many things lost. These were the things I felt when looking at him. I also felt a strong connection with him. I knew he could give me answers, and he seemed a lot more intelligent that Steer or the fairies, so I immediately began trusting him. I felt like I was looking at an old friend.
I noticed that Steer was eating a large quantity of hay. “Good morning, Youngling,” he said to me between chews. “Good morning Alpha!”
“Good morning Steer,” Alpha said. “I am very proud of you for getting the boy this far. If you wish to, you can accompany him for a while longer, though at some point you will have to stop, for his destiny is that he must do it on his own. Now, man, I trust you are wondering why you are here, who I am, who you are, and why the water doesn’t move unless life touches it. Which question shall I address first?”
It was very strange that this man knew exactly which questions I was thinking of at that moment. I had a sick, uneasy feeling that he could enter my mind as he wished. This thought made me feel vulnerable and I did not like it one little bit. But for some reason, I really wanted to know why the water was the way it was. “Why isn’t the water normal?” I said.
“Normal?” he replied. “What’s normal? Why do you think you have pre-assumptions about how things should be? I’ll tell you why. It’s because you’ve gone mad. There is no reason to make assumptions on how a thing should be. The important thing is how a thing is. But yes, I know it must be confusing. You seemed to have been just created. You have no idea why you have these “memories”, if it is fit to call them that. Perhaps you had experienced a vision, perhaps even a vision that lasted a lifetime, before you became conscious in our world. I don’t know if you have had a past, you or any of your predecessors….well, actually, it is more fit to say that I do not know what your past consisted of. You, at least, are a warrior with a true past, as it says in the prophecy. I don’t know about the other ones. Hundreds have appeared, all attempting to complete the destiny that completely belongs to you. Still, not much is known for certain. But I can tell you one thing. There is no such thing as normal. Things change, everything. Nothing is exempt. It may take a while, say, thousands of millennia, but it all eventually changes. Nothing stays the same. Nothing. No “normality”. And to explain our water a little better, I’ll have you know that water is the basis for all life to exist. You are pretty much made out of it. So, naturally, the only thing that can go into the water is life itself, just as water went into life at the creation. And why would it flow or evaporate? It is eternal, always still and always good. Objects with no life, with no water, cannot disturb it. Oh, goodness! What a wonderful morning! I can hear the mountains whispering far off into the distance.”
I was in deep thought about what he had just said to me. No such thing as normal? A world that constantly evolved, never to be trusted? What was he talking about? What did these things mean? And who were my so called predecessors that he mentioned? The water dilemma made perfect sense though. It seemed as though all life was connected in this world, sort of like the group of grotesque but graceful fairies with one directing mind. Everything, in a sense, moved and breathed in unison. What surprised me is that this was not much different than my preconceived notions of what normality was. I somehow knew that water connected all life. All drank it, all were made from it, and some even breathed it. Still, I would have never guessed that water in this world would repel nonliving things.
Did I have a past? A different life in a different world perhaps, memory warped completely by an unnatural transfer from world to world? Or was I simply just created? That is how it seemed…but then why did I have preconceived notions of how things should be? And what was this man saying about a prophecy? It was all so difficult to grasp, but unlike with Steer, I had virtually no issues of mistrust with this man. He spoke with eloquence, yet at the same time I felt a tone of simplicity in his voice. Not stupid simplicity, but pure simplicity. Untouched. Undefiled. For some reason, I felt like he was perfect. He just had something about him, something familiar, as if a deep, unknown longing of mine had been met by his mere presence.
I decided to ask him about something he had said. “You mentioned creation. Was there such a thing? Or has everything somehow always existed?”
He smiled. “Yes. And no. As I have said, we are all connected, all bound together, by water. Has water had a beginning? You could say so, I suppose; that certain chemical reactions occurred and a composition for water was put together. But, what of the atoms that the chemicals themselves are composed of? And what of still smaller objects of matter that make up the atoms? And could there even have been things put together that weren’t even matter that created matter?”
Once again, I was dumbfounded at how I knew what “matter” and “atoms” were. He continued.
“In a sense, everything has a beginning. But in another sense, everything has existed and will exist forever. I will tell you the tale of what you may call the beginning of this world. And it will answer all of your questions as well. You should be very glad that you found me, because if you hadn’t, you would never know the answers. I am the only creature permitted to tell you the things of your journey and the origin of this world. And I am one of only two creatures who have actually experienced it
Too long ago to even be measured, all that existed was energy. This energy created matter, things such as rocks and soil and mountains, things that didn’t live. No animals, no plants…simply a desolate earth. But the energy decided to do something new, something that was precious, something beautiful beyond all words. Life. But not just any form of life. It created the most important entity that will ever exist. Her name is Happiness. You saw her in your dream. She created all other forms of life, for them to enjoy her, simply out of her conscience. But that’s not all that erupted from her pretty little head. You see, once the energy was breathed into her body, it changed. For all eternity it had never changed before, and this moment I am speaking of is what you may call “the beginning”. It split itself in half. No one, not even Happiness herself knows why or how. It was as if once there was a mind other than the Energy’s in existence, the Energy could be controlled and shaped as if the creation was creating the creator. I can see by the look on your face that this information is very hard to grasp.
The halves of the Energy were good and evil. Right and wrong. Left or right. Pairs of opposites. Whatever you choose to call it. So, at once, the energy entered a civil war. This all came from the very first thought of the creature Happiness, the second she was conscious. And since they came from her, they were each at a war to eliminate the other for complete ownership of their beautiful maiden creator. One’s desire was to help her, to be consumed by her. The other’s was to consume, control, and use her. To fight this war for the soul of the very first life form, they needed to become life themselves. The evil one possessed a body and called itself Omega. The reason for its name is that it represents death, which could be looked at as the end of all things. His desire is to conquer and enslave all life. He bewitched thousands of simple souls who he had promised to give good things. That is the monster’s greatest strength, that he can disguise himself as good. The real good force possessed the body of the creature standing right in front of you. I am Alpha incarnate, protector of the beginning, destroyer of the end. But the life force is greater than I…it knows all, and will someday give all the knowledge it has to me. So for now, though my knowledge is extensive, it is incomplete. This whole world is. But not for long. You are the chosen one.”

He was indeed quite right…it was very difficult to make out in my mind exactly what he was talking about. And I once again had that queer feeling that I had known bits and pieces of what he had said my whole life…whatever sort of life it was before I came to call this jungle ‘reality’.
A word, out of nowhere, entered my mind which I believed for some reason to be the definition of his philosophy.
Dualism.
It seemed to me that he was saying there were two independent and opposite powers called good and evil (or alpha and omega) who were at an eternal war with one another, each being equal in power (though I had a notion that evil currently had the upper hand). I had an objection, so after a few moments of pondering (and of watching Steer put forth a funny looking sort of cow-smile), I returned conversation.
“I disagree.” To this, Alpha smiled, kindly, but also in a challenging sort of way. “I don’t think,” I began, “that good and evil can be equal and independent. For some reason, God only knows why (at the word ‘God’ Alpha bowed his head, but I could tell he was still listening), I feel like evil is dependent upon good and not eternal.”
“I admire your noble heart and words,” began Alpha in response, “For it is your heart, your very soul that is telling you that this cannot be so, that evil is something temporal that should not have existed. But let us discuss for a moment, ‘existence’. Is it not true that good and evil can only exist once they are perceived by a consciousness other than pure energy, or ‘God’? It is in the very heart of the creation of consciousness that there are two very real, very different paths. Something has to be conscious or rational, to understand evil. Something other than god has to first exist in order to go the completely opposite direction of god. If you like, think of evil as a piece of fruit that began as voluptuous and juicy, but fell off the tree and became rotten and selfish. Or, my personal favorite example, a heavenly being that rebelled and tried to overthrow its creator. Or you could just call evil a nasty damn parasite. As I said before, there are many ways of describing the only real Fact. Please bear with me. For now, your words will be few and mine many. Do you have any questions before I continue?”
“No,” I said without a moment’s consideration. I needed to know about this woman ‘Happiness’. “I want to know everything you know. Then I may ask questions.”
“Very well then,” he continued. “There are many more ways of explaining all of this, but put them all on hold in your mind. A description is not a point. The single point, the single eternal fact (if hope prevails) is love and love alone. The creature Happiness…she loves all creations and finds beauty in them even after her conscious has wrecked them and they gain the ability to turn on her. And believe me you; they have done so on innumerable occasions. I cannot even begin to tell you the tortures they put her through…all for their own sick pleasure. They rebelled against her beauty by becoming ugly; she rebelled against their ugliness by shining even brighter. They have not been successful in corrupting her…so they locked her up. She is guarded by the evil beasts and men of this fallen forest, and most fiercely by the Minotaur in her labyrinth. Evil has no personality…all its servants are mindless pawns, once they choose that path. But the Minotaur…it almost has a personality, but only because it is the most evil and corrupted creature of them all. Long ago, it stole someone else’s personality. That’s all evil can do…steal, kill, and destroy. But it cannot create. Good things can, however. And that’s where you come in.
As the ancient prophecy foretells, ‘The one who appears in the shell and connects with it without looking pridefully at his own self’. For the rest of your journey, you will face many tests against your own selfishness. But do remember this: in the Law, rebellion as betrayal will always possess a venomous sting of death. I’m sorry if I am speaking too much. All these words will mean nothing And everything at the same time when you are reduced to wobbly knees and a loss for speech when you at last gaze upon her beautifully formed face, sculpted with the very energy and essence of God.”
I opened my mouth to speak, to inquire further, but he wasn’t finished.
“Only if one’s helmet connects can they begin their quest to free her by love. This is all about love. No one has ever been able to wear the suit you are encased in and still focus on the outside world more than its own prideful mind. You are carrying quite a heavy burden of selfishness, passed down through the suit by your predecessors. But you alone out of the many others before you have a shred of innocence in your heart. These times are rough, in every single conceivable world. The disease itself is so poisonous that it has the capability to turn from even the most beautiful creation of them all. And it has proven itself capable. It is the joy of all who possess good, pure hearts to aid the hero with love. We love the Lady too…but it is for you that she was made. I don’t know why The Creator has allowed so many failed attempts to save her. Why didn’t he send you in the first place? Is it his cruel punishment to her for creating Omega? We can only guess…and some just wither away in doubt. But we must not blame him or her for the way things happen as they do. The only way to persevere is to believe that he has a greater purpose behind the tortures. A seed, after all, must essentially die to become a tree. And that is what your shell represents…the shell of a seed.”
His words surprisingly didn’t inject fear of death into my heart. All I could think of now was the hair of gold, lips of crimson, eyes of ocean, skin of silk that I could only scarcely perceive from my blurred dream. And this filled me with anger, because I was already love struck. I needed to continue this journey to gaze upon her beautiful form in full. I needed to see her…she seemed even more beautiful with every passing second of thought accompanying her. But then I felt a dreadful stab of guilt. Alpha said I was the One, HER one. But I had begun the beginning of my quest with moments of fear, cursing, pride, and even vengefulness. Vengeance so far seemed to be the worst demon of them all.
How could Alpha be right? If I was doing such a horribly pathetic job of focusing on her rather than myself (a fact that bewildered me, for she is a thing, no, the thing, the single clear manifestation of beauty, kindness, faithfulness, innocence, gentleness, creativity, and love), then how evil and barbarically selfish the men before me must have been! I took some comfort from this, that this burden of selfishness I carried was passed on to me by those who came before me, and also from the fact that, at the start of my journey, I didn’t know what my purpose was. I didn’t even know about her. But I was still guilty.
Oh the pain! Oh the pain of beauty! Alpha and Steer’s faces grew somber as they watched me fall to my knees. I was feeling what must only be a small proton of her agony. And that proton alone was unbearable.
“In my dream,” I began mumbling with a heavy heart, “She was the true physical embodiment of pure ecstasy. How can she experience so much pain?” At this point I was sobbing uncontrollably. “And…how is she so beautiful?”
“To your first question,” replied Alpha, tears flowing freely down his cheeks, “My answer is: FIX IT. That’s all you have time for. Thinking, pondering, analyzing, feeling sorry for yourself…these will get you nowhere.”
He stopped speaking and it seemed that the earth herself did as well, as well as the wind, birds, beetles, and bumblebees. He and Steer faded from my sight for but a second, and I relished what replaced them…a momentary glimpse of the emerald green eyes of happiness herself. Then it all went black, but I could hear Alpha speaking again.
“To the second question…taste and you will see. Think of those eyes at all times. There is a literal ocean within them known as love. Fight for it at all costs. Don’t disappoint her, for I can see now that her eyes are becoming blue,” – and there the beauties appeared to me again, this time crystal blue indeed. “That is her sadness. It is beautiful, but at the same time, evil, undeserved madness. She is on the complete verge of abandoning hope. Make her eyes green again.”
When the last word left his lips, I rose to my feet, head and sword held high. I could do this. I WOULD do this, willingly…for her. Beaming grins appeared on the faces of my newfound companions.
“Now,” I said, “What’s next?”
Alpha looked at Steer, then back to me, and answered with only a single word.
“Ceremony.”
Then he began walking towards me. I thought he was coming straight to me, and he had a look of determination on his face that frightened me. The closer he got, the more frightened I became. He looked angry. But he walked right past me. I looked at Steer, hoping to get some sort of explanation for Alpha from him, but he only smiled. I looked behind me, where Alpha was now – at the back of the cavern, facing the shimmering wall of rock. I couldn’t see his eyes, only the back of his head, but I could tell that he was staring intently at the wall. “What could be behind that wall?” I wondered.
“I’ll tell ya,” said Alpha. The mind reading thing still gave me goose bumps. “What’s behind that wall is the place where you are to be trained. You will need it for the dangerous demons that reside in our forest. Omega drones, gargoyles, sprites, kappas, rhinocydonts, men, and much, much more that I will explain to you better later. This will all be after the ceremony of course. Come, you and Steer. Stand on each side of me. We need to hold a steady ground in case something happens.”
“What are you doing,” I asked. “What sort of bad thing could happen to us in here? The fall protected us from Vengeance; can’t it protect us from everything else?”
“I am opening up this wall using sensitive magic. The musical incantation I must use has the potential to demolish this whole place, no matter how careful I am. This whole world is unpredictable, even for me. Now stand at my sides brothers.”
I looked at Steer and he replied with a shrug. He then trotted to the left side of Alpha. I, however, was hesitant.
“Come on,” said Steer. “We must make haste!”
“Please don’t say that again,” I spoke with a laugh. “I don’t wanna think about that memory right now.” He laughed, and Alpha beckoned to me. I swallowed my fear and stood at Alpha’s right side. Then he began to sing. It went like this:
This was never their world
They took the angel away
Evil left innocence
Lost, without a way.

With these first four lines, which were being sung in an absolutely beautiful, enchanting, but still altogether somber way, I felt shakes. No, not trembles from Alpha’s endearing falsetto poem, but violent shaking accompanied with dust and crumbled rocks and such. I spun my head around and around scanning the cave, looking for what I was afraid to see. And I did see it.
On every side of the save, enormous cracks were being torn through the rock walls. These cracks kept getting wider and wider in such a fashion that the walls were being broken into sections, rolling and grinding against one another. They were also approaching us. The place was caving in at Alpha’s song. The whole process of it seemed to be more than just a geological disturbance. The cave seemed to be doing it itself, as if it had a mind. And it must have been an evil mind of course, with trying to crush us and all. I had an intuitive feeling that it didn’t want us to begin the journey. Alpha’s face turned pale, and it was noticeable even under his already pale white face paint. I felt like I was thinking the same thing as him…that this was the work of Omega.
Steer was mooing the word “NO!” over and over again. He was almost as bad as he was when we had our encounter with Vengeance. “Damn the Omega!” he hollered. “Damn them, damn them, damn them!” Steer and I seemed to share a less brave outlook than Alpha.
His wailing continued until Alpha, still singing, smacked him in the face with a backhand. His gaze at the wall before us remained fixed. Steer stopped fretting and muttered a soft apology.
Amidst the thundering noise of the cave collapse, Steer’s cursing, and my own bottled up fear that probably showed up very well on my face under the helmet, I still heard every word of Alpha’s song. The walls were rolling closer to us by the second, and I felt that we may die, but I Still held on to every note of the song. Besides, this wasn’t the first time I felt impending death, so why not die to the sound of a peaceful melody sung by a friend? He didn’t finish until right before we got out, which would end up being around 30 seconds after this whole ordeal began. Altogether, starting after the first four lines, this was what he sung:
She possessed only joy
The joy that you destroyed
You robbed her innocence
Used her like a toy.
But lo
And also behold
The savior from ages old
Every story
Every world
Has men like him
To pierce their swords.
Right into the flesh of bandits.
None of you will be left standin
Here he is, dressed in machine
Through it all his heart still gleams
Open and ready
To strike fear into your hearts
And embrace his love, they’ll never part.
Over the mountains and over the seas.
Only love is forever free.
Our cause will never leave.
Omega drones
Rhinocydont bones
Will never crush us
The hero and his comrades
Will be but forever glad
To fight against your lustful lies
Because in the end, one of us has to die.
The evil or the goodness
That brought forth her, in all her bliss.

When his lips closed for the final time, the rock was crushing us into the wall in front of us. I felt immense pain…but in a moment later, all I could see were beautiful lights up in trees. Then I saw nothing but the grassy ground…for my face had landed on it.
The wall had opened up and we had fallen out onto a patch of green, fresh smelling grass. It was now night; and the darkness was for some reason comforting to me. But it was daytime only a moment ago! How could this be? We all turned around to see that the wall had sealed itself back up.
“Steer,” said Alpha. “Please forgive me for hitting you my friend. But I needed you to just shut up.”
“Oh,” began Steer, “It’s all fine, mate. So the wall of transportation was cursed?”
We all stood to our feet and Alpha continued conversation. “Yes it was. See what I meant by unpredictable? This is terrible news. Much worse than I had thought. Even the most sacred of places can be cursed by that evil Omega. They must all know you are here, warrior.”
It felt very good to be called that. But I knew that pride would be very deadly on this quest, so I swallowed it. “Wall of transportation?” I answered. “You mean we aren’t behind the cave? We’re somewhere else in the Jungle?”
“Yes we are,” said Alpha. “Hundreds of miles away from the cave. And a few hours ahead of it as well. Much time has passed while we were falling out of the cave. It’s a form of future travel…well, at least it used to be. We have used that wall for centuries, using different incantations to get to different places and times, though only spans of hours of time in the future. Now we have no protection against Vengeance. But this is where our journey must begin, with the ceremony, which has been waiting here for you since the dawn of time.”
I looked up ahead. There were tall, slender trees scattered this way and that around a path of red earth that I could see twisting into the distance. This was definitely a different part of the jungle; it didn’t even look like a jungle. The trees were further apart from each other, and the grass looked different than where I had been before being in the Cave. In highest branches of the trees were bright lights of yellow, orange, and red. Along the path were floating lanterns that emitted a green light. Beneath the lanterns were two ropes strung up by pegs on either side of the path. It all looked very familiar to me. The moonlight cast from the sky, along with the many stars, accompanied this beautiful path and made it even more beautiful. Next to my lovely maiden Happiness, this sight was and always will be the most beautiful sight my eyes have taken in.
“It’s all for you Youngling,” said Steer. “Alpha says that it was made specifically for you; all your favorite colors and smells are thrown in.”
He was right. I could smell the fresh grass, the warm air, and the sap of the trees. I felt so strongly that wherever I was before this world, these sights and smells were abundant. It felt like home.
“Well,” began Alpha, “We must carry on. At the end of this path is your magical welcoming party. Our words will be few, for this walk will be a walk of contemplation and purification. With every step, vengeance, anger, and all other vices will slowly drop off of you. It is integral for your journey ahead. But they won’t stay gone. They will come back, but not nearly as strong as before. Without this purification, you will not last one day in this Jungle. Omega has, as I feared, injected its evil into the very air we breathe. We can speak only a little, because we must concentrate, but if necessary, don’t hesitate to talk to me. The right questions to ask will come into your head as we walk. Let us begin.”
We began to walk down the path. As soon as my foot stepped onto the red earth, my feelings of fear dropped immensely. New feelings of confidence and inspiration surged into me the more I walked. What surprised me the most was that I didn’t have any pride from being brave either. It seemed as though I was set free from all evil. It felt absolutely incredible.
We ended up walking for what seemed like miles, and I was in such a blissful state that it didn’t even matter. “We’ll get there when we get there” was my general outlook. I truly did feel that the scene before me was made specifically to fill some niche in my soul, with some sort of strong, rather, VERY strong connection to memories that I must have experienced before I came to the World and set out to free my gorgeous maiden, the ever consumingly beautiful creature Happiness.
As we walked on, my two focus points were the beauty of Happiness and the painting of forgotten memory I was walking in. The beauty and wonder of both of these was all I could think about, so I wasn’t even growing impatient. Alpha and Steer had practically vanished from existence in my mind, as well as the Faeries, the Water Sprites, the cave, Vengeance, and whatever on Earth those Rhinocydont creatures Alpha spoke of were.
After maybe a few hours(my mind could not be subjected to time as I was in such a state of ecstasy), I began to think of much more than just my own joy. More than just the beauty of the things I loved. Happiness didn’t just need to be pondered to suit my fancy, she needed to be rescued. And she herself even seemed connected to my forgotten past, the beauty of which lay before me I was also pondering. The selfishness! I needed to know when we would reach the ceremony, the first step I had to take to free my love. So I asked.
“This is the first question you needed to ask, and you are asking it at the right time, my friend,” said Alpha with a big smile. “You have broken past selfishness, even amongst ecstasy and your own wishes. Even good things consumed you with selfishness because you did not think of them for them; you thought of them for your own blissful imagination. But friend! You have broken passed it with flying colors. We will reach the ceremony soon. There are a few more rites of purification on this stroll, a few more questions you will need to ask.”
Still walking, and just when the last word had parted from his lips, I asked him another question.
“Do you know anything about my memories? About what scenes in time these trees, lanterns, and pathway have come from?”
“The Creator put these things here because they remind you of your strong connection you had with him in your previous life,” answered Alpha. “They are small tastes of eternity’s glory.”
“How do you know this?” I replied.
“The Prophecy reveals many things about you. Including a bit of your past.”
To think it! I had connections with the eternal otherworldly abyss in my previous life. Why did it seem so absent from me in this place?
Something changed. I felt my cheeks under my mask grow red and pulse with blood. I felt my helmet do this as well. I felt a scowl upon my face. I felt burning hatred for Alpha. He had known of my past. How could he have not told me? I stopped in my tracks and raised my sword in fury, ready to cut Alpha in half. I lunged….and stopped.
I looked into Alpha’s face and saw sympathy, consideration, and compassion. I remembered who he really was. He was my friend, my ally, my revealer of truth. I shuddered away from him in shame. Steer’s gaze caught my eye, and I could see the same benevolence in his eyes. He laughed and spoke.
“He has serious anger issues Alpha. But I’m glad he caught himself with you.”
Oh! I still to this day loathe myself for hurting my mammalian friend and trying to kill my humanoid guide. I looked away from Steer and just watched the ground. How could I ever have been so selfish and impatient as to do these awful things to my comrades. I could feel tears running down both my metallic and my organic face. Alpha and Steer were simply laughing, in a very merry way. They at least didn’t seem hurt, but I was still feeling horrible guilt. Their laughter sounded victorious and proud. Alpha’s answer showed me why.
“My friend, my friend, my glorious friend! You have broken through anger and malice. Another very wonderfully executed rite of passage! Let’s move forward.”
“Alpha…I’m so…,” I began, but he cut me off.
“Alas! You needn’t worry my friend. You have done beautifully. Now, let’s keep moving, only another four hundred yards to the ceremony.”
I was still feeling guilty for almost attacking him, but the way of he and Steer’s smiles assured me that I should move on from my ghastly mistake of betrayal and move forward. After all, what can one do after a mistake but try to move on? Forgiving yourself, however….now that’s the trick. A lot of my mistakes, like these for instance, I tried to find solace in excuses. I was a lost, confused, and scared stranger when I met Steer. And I was only thinking of the good of Happiness when I lashed out upon Alpha…and yet it is at these very thoughts that I shudder. Excuses, excuses. How one handles himself under pressure is the true mark and revealing of one’s own character. But why wallow in self pity over mistakes when there are better things to accomplish further along the path? And beyond that, Happiness herself. So I decided that all mistakes I have made so far in this journey, and, unfortunately, the ones I would make in the future, would be reversed by me rescuing my Destiny.
I started paying more attention as we walked. There were shadows of living, walking beings all around us. They may have been there for the whole walk, or they may have only showed up at this point. But one thing was for sure. Their presence was accompanied by a thickness of the air, as if it was caked in smog, and also by a feeling of dread. The moonlight seemed to dim, and I felt uneasy enough about the shadows to ask Alpha about them.
“Oh, those,” he began. “They are nothing to dread. Look closely at them. To your right are good kappas, fierce turtle warriors of who unfortunately most belong to Omega. They are flawless in their battle strategy, using their armor and cannon blasts to obliterate all in their past. Another unfortunate thing, however, is that the Omega ones are tougher. To your left are the princes of the Frog kingdom. They are ALL on our side, because though they are weak physically, their hearts are as strong as the shell of the Kappas. None have been veered to the serving of Omega’s evil purposes. Toads are evil though, which fits for they are putrid.”
The kappas were frightening to look at. As I squinted my eyes in the now fading moonlight, I could see that they were walking with us, the frogs too. The frogs were timid and graceful looking, but the Kappas gave me a feeling of fear. But Alpha said they were on our side, so I tried to get past the glowing orange eyes, spiky skin, terribly tough looking armor, and those razor sharp teeth that showed through the sides of their mouths….
Both sets of creatures were walking forward, following our path at the sides. Every single set of eyes was on me though, and it gave me a weird feeling watching them walk with us with their reptilian heads turned towards me. Still, no creature on the side of Happiness should give one a feeling of dread, so there had to be something else.
“Yes, something else,” Alpha answered my thoughts. “But nothing that walks. Watch out for everything around you, warrior. Looks deceive. Amongst all of this beautiful flora is a monster disguised as grace.”
There were flowers all around us, arranged into sections. The colors, I knew, my world must have lacked, for most other color in this Jungle was familiar to me. I had seen colors I couldn’t recognize earlier in my journey, and those were undoubtedly not from my world either. But these flowers were of a different sort. Through my peripherals I could see the Kappas waving at me wildly, as if they wanted me to stop doing something…as if they didn’t want me to stare at the flowers. But they were so beautiful, so graceful, so….
In the middle of each section was flower with a color that I did recognize. They were green flowers, and I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw them. I stared intently at them, unable to unfix my gaze. Though they weren’t moving, I could somehow feel that they were pulsing with life. Not just life, but joy….ecstasy. I then began to smell them in the air.
At once I bent down and snatched one up. I put it to my face. It smelled divine! I wanted to see what they tasted like, so I took my helmet off. Everything became a blur of sensations. I could hear Steer, the kappas, and the frogs yelling, but I couldn’t understand what they were saying. Nor did I care. I tore off a small piece and shoved it into my mouth…and my own helmet’s tentacles wrapped around my arms to try to stop me!
More yelling, more struggle with my tentacles, more voices. Much more voices. Voices of singing…singing a downright perfect melody. I punched my tentacles and felt their pain, for they were a part of me, but at even this I didn’t care. I kept throwing punches at them, giving me horrible stabs of pain. But the pain was short lived with every punch, for with every bite of the flower ecstasy flowed into me. Even though it was all a euphoric blur, I was also conscious of hitting Steer back a few times, as well as some frogs. Then I heard a voice that was understandable. It was inside of my head. I need not tell you who it belonged to.
“Warrior,” alpha’s voice said with ferocity, “Stop! STOP!! STOOOOOOPPPPPPP!!!!!”
I looked up. Alpha wasn’t even looking at me. He was looking sort of downward, as if he was ashamed of something. As if he was ashamed of me. Kappas were rushing towards me, but alpha stuck out his hand, which of course made them stop. They, the frogs, and Steer, were all glaring at me with a painfully strong look of sadness on their faces. The euphoria I had experienced moments ago was quickly extinguished. I must have done something wrong. I felt sick.
“I’m sorry warrior,” began Alpha, this time speaking openly. “You did not pass this test. I was afraid of this…”
He must have seen the look of maddening guilt and confusion on his face, for he started talking differently, in a lighter, more assuring tone.
“Its alright. Now we know what your weakness is. We can better equip you against Omega…though this is a very difficult obstacle to overcome. Let us continue walking. I will explain to you what just happened. Put on your helmet.”
I obeyed, and stood up. Steer must have also been able to sympathize with me, for he nuzzled his nose against my hand and looked up at me with deep, understanding eyes, accompanied by a soft, reassuring smile. We all began walking again, and Alpha began to speak.
“You see, youngling, when that vile Omega began his reign of carnage in this Jungle, he did it by inhabiting a body, as did I. His body is the Minotaur. But our views on life and love are not the only things different about us. For some reason, he was able to actually materialize into a new species of flora, a beautiful one. Its colors captivated unsuspecting victims. Once they got just one single bite of it, they craved for it for the rest of their lives. It drew them in, and they could never get out. It would give feelings of pure ecstasy, unmatched by anything else the victims had experienced in their lives besides being created by Happiness. And a lucky few of the victims had even met Happiness in trying to stop the Minotaur from locking her away. Despite these blessed souls’ peaceful assurance that came with meeting Happiness, the weaker ecstasy still prevailed. The flowers are obviously a lie, something omega uses to take souls. The victims crave them so much that they will even follow his orders and worship him. They become mindless savages, all love and beauty replaced by addiction and unfulfillment. Empty is what they are, truly empty.
Many who fell to this illusion were of the Kappa race. The few you see standing around us are all scarred by their family members’ departure into oblivion. They are more depressed than you can comprehend, but not as depressed as Happiness is over her whole jungle being perverted with lies and filth.
And these captive agents of destruction of his are another thing he uses to infiltrate the Jungle. They obey his orders to torture people, making them join him by force. They also can sometimes simply persuade someone to join them. They are very good at deception, as they have done the ultimate deception to themselves; trading the peace of Happiness for a lie. You would be surprised how easy it can be to betray Her.”
I lowered my head in shame, knowing that I had already betrayed her with revenge, despair, anger, and those awful, vile, sickening damned plants.
“Happiness is probably curled up and enticed with pain at this very moment,” I thought to myself. Alpha answered my thought. And as he did, he stopped walking and looked me squarely in the face.
“Friend, don’t fret about the mistakes you have made. Many have done much worse, and still been forgiven and freed. You are much stronger than you see yourself to be. The plants affect you worse than they affect anyone else, and you still haven’t considered joining Omega’s most wicked game. I am very proud of you.”
Beneath my helmet was a smile. Oh, the joy! Not all hope was lost. I was stronger than I had perceived. I really could save her…yes, yes, I really could save Happiness! And Alpha, my glorious friend, was pleased with me.
“Look onward my friend,” he said. “Your ceremony awaits you.”
I looked at the scene before me, and I gasped. There were thousands, no, millions of little golden and little green lights flying speedily in circles over a wide clearing. The earth below them was covered with moss mud, and water, but of a most exquisite sort. The moss and mud was actually very beautiful, both with the way they looked naturally and the way that they reflected the lights. Beneath the water were fish, namely, cat fish. They flopped out of the water every now and then with a splash and during their short time in the air they always looked at me and smiled. Everyone was smiling. Alpha, Steer, the frogs, the kappas, and every new creature before me was smiling. And there were MANY new creatures.
The way they looked and what they were was obviously designed specifically for me, for these must have been my favorite animals in my past life. The names of many I could not make out, and a few of the nameless were reptilian. But they were also birdlike, not ungraceful like a reptile. I could think of one word for them, though I had the strangest feeling that it was not the word I chose to call them by in my past. The word I connected them with is Dragons. They were covered in scaled as well as beautifully colored feathers, and they danced gracefully like little sparrows. Other creatures I saw were birds themselves, of the regular blue jay and eagle sort. I wondered why the eagles didn’t eat the jays, but I realized that this place was a perfect place of harmony and peace between living beings. Predators and prey in peace. Lions and lambs lying together beneath the flying lights; green cheetahs lying beside graceful gazelles; and even sharks and catfish, swimming together in the ponds of the clearing.
What was I to do next but only step forward and welcome this ceremony with open arms…or with one open arm and a sword hand at least.

“I see that you have an intense interest in the dragons,” said Alpha, as his green eyes gleamed in the lantern light.
“They are very beautiful,” I said. “I think they were called something different in my world. Are they dangerous?”
“Many are, yes. But all the ones here are sentient and herbivorous. The carnivores live deep within the jungle in the arenas of the rhinocydonts.”
I asked him what exactly these rhinocydonts beings were.
“They are the strongest and nastiest of all dragons. They are the smartest as well. In fact, their technology is extravagantly complex. They have guns that shoot out a white lot light of many colors that they call laser guns. They are less destructive than the Kappa cannons, but much faster, much more efficient, and much more effective. Their technology is what landed them here. They come from a different world, you see. Like you. But probably not the same world. The dragons you know of from your previous life couldn’t have been these ones. I have had several conversations with their leader, Dienok, trying to persuade him to help us save Happiness. They are a selfish, vile people who only care about getting their race to the world that their religion calls, “heaven”. In attempting to travel there, in using their advanced technology to cross over to other worlds, they ended up here. Because of this, they have a love-hate relationship with their technology. Now they focus on the mythology of their homeworld that was forgotten long before they entered this world. All they do in their city, Dragonopolis, is study mythology, debate on if or how they should use their technology, trade goods with the men of the jungle, and train inside of arenas with gladiator fights. They are not evil, but they are of no help to us. Sometimes, they have even, kidnapped people of all races in this world and make them fight their dragon pets just for their own entertainment. I sincerely hope that you don’t run into them. Don’t seek them out either, for I can see in your mind that you are curious. No, my friend, just focus on these dragons. They left dragonopolis ages ago. They were sick of the confusion and chaos of their rhinocydont superiors. Focus on them, my friend, please. The rhinocydonts may still play a part in your journey, though for good or ill I do not know. But never seek them out.”
As i was pondering this, a frog prince came to me and gave me a silver platter with sweet smelling meat on it. He bowed low to the ground as he offered it. Then, after I took it, he scampered off to join those of his own kind. The meat smelled divine and I was about to remove my helmet to consume it when I noticed something unsettling. It was steak. And as far as I knew, steak was made from cows. Like the one whom I began my journey with and now called friend.
“Steer……”
“Oh calm yourself youngling,” said Steer as he trotted to my side with a smile on his face. “This is not from my kind. It is from horses. This is horse steak, one of the most favored dishes in all the jungle.”
“Are horses sentient?” I asked.
“Yes, a few. There are three species of horse. One is the common horse. I believe I compared myself to one earlier. They are annoying to the utmost degree. I only say they are sentient because they can speak, but to me, their speech is stupid. They ramble on and on as if the day would never end.”
Sure enough, I began to make out a very fast paced conversation between two horses a few yards away from me. Steer looked at them with displeasure.
“But are they what this steak is made from?”
“No, No my friend,” began Alpha. “Remember, there are three separate species. You are about to eat the non-sentient species, the one we breed as livestock. ”
I removed my helmet to eat, but still had a look of confusion on my face, which Alpha noticed.
“You do not suppose it is like this in your world, do you?” he asked.
“No. I feel like the natural thing my world used for livestock was cattle.”
Steer and Alpha roared with laughter.
“Are you kidding me?” Steer said. “Even if that is true, your world must be very strange, for horse meat is much more filling and delicious than the flesh of my kind. You believe that in your world you ate of my kind? To think of it! Its ridiculous!”
As they continued to laugh, I looked for a place to sit and asked Alpha where the silverware was.
“What’s that?” answered Alpha.
“You know,” I said, “Blades and such for dining.”
Steer and Alpha both looked confused. This surprised me. People in this world seeming so wise and intelligent like Alpha and Steer had never used tools for eating.
“Yes,” began Alpha, “We do use blades and such for cutting food into appropriate servings, but everyone eats with their hands, except for Steer’s kind of course. It is the custom of all, Alpha and Omega alike.”
The wild, untamed nature of the people in this world was clear. I began to feel a twinge of animal in me myself. I reached down and then brought a hearty chunk of reddish cooked flesh to my mouth. It was delicious. It was my first true meal in this world, and I could tell within a second that it must have been much better than the food of my home world.
“Here,” said Alpha, “This will wash it down nicely.” He handed me a glass full of red, strong smelling liquid. The glass sparkled with a colorful shimmer that I immediately recognized to have to do with magic.
“Good guess,” continued Alpha. “Sorcerers of long ago figured out a way to make certain minerals into glasses that could harness the still waters. The men of this jungle then found a way of using certain berries to make the water become this enchanting wine. The rhinocydonts trade goods with the men for loads of it. They only have anything to do with the creatures of this world if they can get a deal out of it.”
The wine sent glory down to my stomach, encouraging and strengthening me. This was shaping up to be a wonderful welcoming party.
In the air, fireflies of many colors were moving in groups and changing shape. Clusters of them became trees, lions, dragons – and some other species that greatly aroused my curiosity. Three clusters of green, orange, and blue were now three horses with a magnificently long horn on each of their heads.
“Unicorns,” said Alpha with a smile. “Wisest and most beautiful of all beings And the third species of horse. They rarely fight, but when they do, those horns of those are unmatched. Or….I should say they used to rarely fight.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well…they only fought the rhinocydonts on grounds of self defense. They were the first from our world to speak to them. They tried to welcome them, tried to make them calm down and abandon their overworked and regrettable technology…and they only defended; they never launched an attack outright. But the rhinocydonts struck them on many occasions.”
My heart sank. They were so beautiful.
“Are they all dead?”
“No. A few linger on. But they haven’t been seen in centuries. I believe they will only return if someone can unite all the forces of this world together, rhinocydonts included, for the sake of Happiness. But I don’t think anyone could ever do it. Not even…”
“Me?”
He did not answer.
All of a sudden, everyone began walking away into the darkness beyond the light of the fireflies.
“Time for bed,” said Alpha. “You have a big day ahead of you warrior.”
I was disappointed, but I didn’t object. I had already eaten three plates of the horse meat as we conversed, and I was now beginning to feel tired. Alpha, Steer, and I followed one of the unicorn shapes up a smooth paved slope. Despite the fireflies’ brightness, as well as some torches hanging up on walls, I could only see very faint silhouettes of architecture. We were walking in something like a city.
I was very sleepy indeed. The last thing I remember was hearing Alpha speak to me.
“Doubt is an illusion, my friend. A tricky one. It robs us of our hopes, dismantles our dreams, and can blacken even the purest hearts.”
Nothing after that. I do not even remember going into my bedchamber to sleep that night.

Chapter Four: the Prophecy