Archive for the ‘jrr tolkien’ Category

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, and, her home and creation, the Jungle.”
I sat up straight, making a drowsy groan in doing so, and then beheld 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 black 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 than Steer or the fairies, so I immediately began trusting him. It 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 this 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 asked.
“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 just been 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 belongs to you alone. 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? The latter 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 distrust 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 three 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. 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.
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.”

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 Alpha and Omega (or “good and evil”) who were at an eternal war with one another, each being equal in power and ability (although 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 make 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,“ – Alpha bowed his head at the word ‘God‘, 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 damned 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 savior is the one who lacks selfish pride enough for the helmet to connect to the suit. 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 revenge, which 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, what 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 that he and I were thinking the exact same thing – 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. Steer stopped fretting immediately and muttered a soft apology. Alpha’s gaze remained fixed upon the wall before us.
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 being sung by a friend? He didn’t finish until right before we got out, which would end up being around thirty seconds after this whole ordeal began. Altogether, starting after the first four lines, this was what he sang:
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 mass of rock began crushing us into the wall. I felt immense pain – but just 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 befofe! 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 asked. “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 the 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 a row of pegs on either side of the path. Somehow, 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 had been before arriving in 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. For instance, you won’t provoke Vengeance as easily as before. It is integral for your journey ahead. But the vices won’t stay gone. They will come back, but not nearly as strongly 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 so that we can 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 were surging through me. 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, which 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 focal 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 Fairies, 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. Still, 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 the helmet grow red and pulse with blood, and I could of course feel my living helmet pulsing as well. I felt a scowl form on my face as I realized what I was feeling: burning hatred for Alpha. He had known of my past. How could he not have 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 eyes and saw sympathy, consideration, and compassion. I remembered who he really 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 Steer when I met him and for wanting 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 both of my friends’ smiles assured me that I should move on from my ghastly mistake of betrayal and press forward. After all, what can one do after a mistake but try to move on? Forgiving yourself, however – now, that’s the trick. For so many 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 feeling betrayed and lied to 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 the mistakes I had 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.

“You said they were vegetarians.”
“Pardon?”
“You said they were vegetarians. That isn’t true. I watched them eating their young.”
I started this conversation with the cow after I had awoken to find myself being carried on his back. My helmet was now clipped to a belt on my waist, which allowed me to begin eating the strange candies that the cow had given me. Even though I wasn’t sure if I could trust this cow, I was still famished enough to eat what he gave me. Surprisingly, I felt no pain from the kick he had inflicted earlier. It was very dark. Moonlight stabbed through the branches above, taunting me with its beauty. I remembered dreaming about a beautiful woman during my cow induced sleep. I loved her hair….silky, golden, and mesmerizing. It was to my enjoyment that I remembered her because she took my mind off of the horrors I had faced previously and that I would probably have to endure again in more dreadful, terrifying ways. Still, the dream was like a blur…upon awakening, I could not envision her fully. I had only caught a blurry glimpse of what I would later come to find was the most utterly real and beautiful thing in existence. Was she from my past? Did I even have a past before waking up in this world? Could I ever see her face to face?
But it was hard to find solace in thinking about her, because the cow I was with knew things, things of this world, and I didn’t, so I had to talk to him. He didn’t answer my question, so I asked again.
“Cow, they aren’t vegetarians. I saw them…”
“Address me as Steer, young creature. Or, if you prefer, sir. I am much older and wiser than you. Every creature of this world is older than you. Centuries old. Though none of us really know how to explain it….oh silly me, I’m rambling like a common horse. You want me to tell you of the Fairies? They are a dreadful annoyance, every time someone new comes along, they have to frighten them. They are not evil or even formidable in the least bit. That display, young man, was the fairies feasting on their own bodies…..why so shocked? Your face is sickly pale….well they don’t like eating anything else with blood filled veins, and their wounds recover instantly when inflicted by themselves. Their main diet is fruit and leaves, but eating themselves allows them to live forever. Most boring creatures, all controlled by one simple mind and vocabulary….”
“Why is nothing here normal?!?!?! Cows talking?!?! Creatures that eat their own flesh?!?!?! A suit of armor that is somehow alive?!?!? Tell me now or I’ll slice you with my sword, I swear…”
The cow simply laughed at my interruption. I was in horror, and this creature who acted as if he was my helper did not even give me pity. He replied, with a look of self righteous satisfaction on his face.
“You cannot harm me, silly one. I am noble servant of the Alpha, as are you, and I know that each of our brains are too large to permit us such stupidity. And what, exactly, is normal?”
I could not answer him.
“As I had thought. Cut me with your sword indeed! Even if you truly wanted to, I am much faster than you, and…”
I rolled off of his back and kicked him hard in the face. Vengeance was mine. I didn’t care to know how he could help me anymore. His assumed authority over me (that’s how he seemed, anyway) was unbearable. I put my helmet back on and ran off laughing as he howled with pain. Yes, it did sound very much like a moo, and it was hilarious.
“COME BACK HERE YOU FILTHY COWARD!!!” He began to chase me with surprising speed. I sped off into the jungle, wanting to look back, but not daring to. I cut through vines with my sword, smashed tree roots with my colossal feet….and then I tripped. I could hear him calling behind me. I waited for a laugh or another fearsome kick from his hoof, but neither came. As he approached me, I could see a look of what seemed like fear upon his face.
“You have called Vengeance,” he said. “You have called it…it will be here shortly, we must make haste. Terrible mistake you have made! Terrible!”
If this cow, this Steer, this sole creature I knew that had answers was frightened, then I knew I should be as well. He seemed to know this world so well, acting as if he had survived centuries grazing amongst the place. What on earth could frighten him?
“We must make haste, we must make haste,” he said in a terrified whimper. “Vengeance is coming, we must make haste! Get on my back.”
Fear was now coursing through my veins, but putting my helmet back on gave me courage. I got onto Steer’s back and held tight. He zoomed off into the jungle even faster than I had done just a moment before. His strides shook the jungle floor, scattering birds and fairies from the trees and into the night sky.
“Where are we going?” I said.
“We are going to the waterfall, the only place that can protect us from Vengeance until you are trained. What a considerable amount of mortal peril you have gotten us into…hold on tight!”
We continued our race through the jungle. I had a feeling we were out of harm’s way, for nothing seemed to have been following us or anything, but then something broke that illusion. I heard a bloodcurdling roar that shook us hard enough for Steer to trip over his own feet and fall face first into a puddle. I fell off his side and rolled down a hill.
“Youngling!”, he yelled as I tried to grab hold of a branch, a vine, anything that could keep me from rolling further into this unknown called a jungle. I finally gripped a slimy toadstool protruding from the earth that didn’t break or even budge as I latched onto it. It held my weight and suspended me over what I now saw was the edge of an immense cliff.
I began scrambling up the cliff face, hoping that whatever produced that roar wasn’t waiting there to face me. As I pulled harder onto the toadstool to lift myself up, I saw that it was not a toadstool at all. Two big yellow eyes were perched atop its head. Slowly, it lifted up out of the ground to reveal a body covered with feathered tentacles. It made a disgusting shriek that was echoed by my own, for I was in deep fright. An evil mushroom, for pity’s sake! In this moment of fear I made a terrible mistake and let go, falling thousands of feet down, down to certain death below, down to the end of all things…
But I was saved.
I had almost reached the bottom when slimy tendrils coiled around my head, legs, and arms. The cables jolted with the speed and weight of my falling body. I looked up and saw that the fairies had rescued me.
“Look alive, ninny!” they laughed. “We’ll have ya back to your ugly cow in no time!”
My saviors carried me up to the top of the cliff. They released their hold on me and I roared with pain as I fell to earth.
“Would you rather us have let ya fall down there?” they shrieked. “We can still do that if you’d like! It wouldn’t hurt at all when ya landed!” They howled with laughter into the moonlight.
“No, thank you,” I said. I didn’t much care for them, but they had just saved me for a second time. “Thank you for saving me.”
They continued to laugh, acting as if they didn’t even hear me. Then, Steer appeared and trotted towards me.
“Time to go,” he said. I climbed onto his back and we set off once more. The earth was still shaking, due either to the deafening roar, or perhaps the footfalls of the thing that made it. I apologized to Steer as he ran.
“No time!” he said. “No time at all. But apology accepted.” He was breathing very heavily. Many twists and turns later, we found ourselves in the middle of a clearing. Yellow and violet flowers were scattered all over the ground amidst our presence. I was attracted to them, like I was to so many other frightening, terrible, and beautiful things of this world. They were absolutely gorgeous, so pure and colorful that it just didn’t seem right, especially so because we were running from some sort of gigantic monster.
“Why did we stop?” I said.
Steer hesitated to reply. He was muttering what may have been curse words under his breath. His fur was soft and wet from the trees we had clashed against in our run.
“Steer,“ I began to plead, “Why have we stopped?”
“At least now you’re being polite,” he replied. “You are learning young one. Now let’s see…no, not that way…maybe there perhaps…ah yes it is this way…oh dear, I am mistaken.” His head was jerking rapidly left to right. It was obvious that he was unsure.
“Are you lost, oh noble, wise, intelligent servant of the Alpha?” I knew these words seemed like harsh sarcasm fired back at his all knowing disposition, but in my heart I meant them. He may not have been as fast as he said he was, but he definitely seemed wise, though I suppose any cow with formal speech could be considered wise, compared to other cows.
“Oh calm yourself, creature. I know exactly where we are going. I don’t appreciate sarcasm by the way.”
“Which way, then?” I asked impatiently.
“In the direction of the Alpha or course! Now, which direction that is, I haven’t the faintest idea.”
He seemed less frightened, but still I could hear the uneasiness in his words.
“So you are lost?”
“Of course I am,” he replied. “But you know even less than me! You don’t even know yet where I am taking you or what wonders you will see…that is if your stupid, careless mistake didn’t land us in the belly of Vengeance. Why, you practically offered us up as a buffet!”
“What is this “Vengeance”?” I queried.
“It is where you are wronged and you try to give the perpetrators what they deserve for it. You didn’t even know that?”
I was annoyed. If this cow wasn’t my only way to knowledge, I might say I’d be very happy to slice him with my sword and roast his ribs on a fire. He would have made an excellent steak, and I could have used his pelt for a bed. At this thought came another, a humorous but at the same time vile one of a steak talking to me, saying things like “Youngling” and “I know exactly where we are going”. No, killing him probably wouldn’t do, as insane as this world was. I’m not even sure if I would have been able to kill him. My sword was heavy and it was very difficult to lift. Instead, I simply just returned to our conversation.
“Of course I know what vengeance is. But you are speaking of it as if it is a beast, as if it is that creature that produced the roar.”
“Is it not a beast?” Steer said.
“Yes, I suppose,” I replied with annoyance. “But last time I checked, it didn’t roar or have legs to chase us with. Or does it fly?”
“It can take many forms. That is why it is so dangerous. Vengeance and demons like it affect you and your predecessors much more than creatures like me. That is why your seemingly trivial action against me called it out. Alpha shall explain more when we find him. You wanted vengeance on me, and there it came. Trouble is, vengeance doesn’t just kill the antagonist. It kills the poor soul that conjures it to life as well. So its after you too.”
“What variety of forms can it take?”
“Well, let’s see…the ones I’ve seen it take are a vampire bat, an elephant, an immense tree, a toadstool, a giant reptile, and a lake. But it can transform into virtually anything.”
I shuddered at my realization. Perhaps the toadstool I grabbed was the very monster we were trying to avoid. When I told Steer of this, he fell silent for a few moments.
“Steer?” I said. “Why are you lost? I thought you knew this jungle.”
“Know it?” he said in a soft, frightened tone. “I know it very well. But some places are cursed, and if you go for a run at night, or are placed into deep trouble by a fool such as yourself, you will wind up in said places. They turn you around…confuse you…try to stop you. They are not of the Alpha. They are evil.”
“What are we to do then if we are in a cursed place?”
“We must simply guess at the right direction, and seeing as we are in the same predicament with the same advantages, you get to choose the path until I remember where we are going.”
“Why must I choose?”
“You are the chosen one, my friend. In situations like these where all hope seems lost, you are the one to eliminate the dirty, clouded illusion of fear and doubt, and bring order and direction to the world.”
Pride and determination flooded my being. Could I truly be the savior of this Jungle?
“You simply guess?” I said.
The cow nodded.
“Alright,” I said with confidence. “We go that way.” I pointed to the left, where the trees were the most colorful and beautiful in the moonlight.
“As you wish,” he said, and then cocked his head to the right. “Oh no, now that is it.”
“That’s the right way? But I thought you said you didn’t…”
“No. That is Vengeance.”
I looked to the right and felt my jaw drop inside my helmet. If I had been afraid before, it was nothing compared to this. In the tallest trees, I made out a shape that seemed reptilian, but gargantuan, simply colossal. Its horse like head parted the branches as if they were mere twigs. I saw six eyes with teeth for brows, curved teeth in its jaws, a long, forked tongue, and tentacles coiling out from all over its body. So far, every creature in this world besides Steer seemed to be related to an octopus. This newfound terror’s color was mottled gray, and the moonlight seemed to have enhanced its horrific appearance. Blue crocodilian spikes christened the monster’s gigantic back. Its appearance almost made me want to embrace death with open arms.
The beast stared us down with a look of pure evil. We were both petrified in fear, with no hope for escape. I could feel Steer trembling beneath my legs. I’m sure we both thought that this was the end.
But then I remembered something.
I was the chosen one.
“GOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!” I yelled at the top of my lungs and thrust my sword towards the left side of the clearing. With my excitement, the blade wasn’t even heavy. I felt ready to take on this whole world and all its vicious monsters. Steer regained composure and ran as fast as he could to the left. Tentacles swayed from Vengeance as he let out a deathly cry and began to pursue us on two gigantic, birdlike legs. One tentacle slammed into my back so hard that I almost fell off of Steer.
“Hang on!” he cried.
A tentacle soared over my head and attempted to knock me off again. I was quicker. With a flash of gleaming silver, I cut the tentacle in two with my sword as Vengeance let out a howl of pain. Thick, blue blood splashed all over me.
I rode Steer further into the jungle. The trees were closer together now. It was to our misfortune that there was hardly any space between them, for Vengeance was still in pursuit, rearing his ugly head up into the bright light of the moon. He kept roaring, and it was filling me with fear again.
“I can’t do it!” I yelled to Steer. “I can’t go on! I will simply die!”
“Don’t you talk like that!” he barked, losing his breath with his run. Every word was rushed and separated by heavy breathing. “Doubt…is…an…illusion. You…are…the…chosen…WAAAAAHHOOOOOOOOO!!!” He screamed the last word of his sentence as a tentacle wrapped around us and lifted us high above the treetops. We were being carried higher and higher towards its mouth.
The colossal jaws opened and let out an ear shattering roar that literally made me go deaf for a few seconds. The ugly beast reared its head back and spat out fire that seemed to engulf the moon with ruby red flames. It was a most horrible sight. I was laced with sweat and couldn’t breathe. Steer, on the other hand, kept screaming so helplessly that it nearly brought tears of sadness to my eyes. They were already soaked with sweat and tears of fright anyway, so tears of sorrow wouldn’t add much to their already sopping wet sockets.
Despite my fear and sympathy being combined into a ghastly emotion that one can only get by being lifted into the air by gigantic monster, I was not ready to die. I had a survival instinct, and I knew I had to use it. My purpose was to get myself out of tough spots without letting fear stop me or slow me down. This was my chance and I decided to take it.
As we got closer to the mouth of the dreadful, roaring beast, I swung my sword into the tentacle wrapped around Steer’s body and my legs. A howl of pain was emitted as we began to fall from the severed set of tendrils. Then, we were caught again by another appendage and carried once more towards the mouth. This time, the tentacle coiled itself around Steer and I in such a way that it seemed impossible to lift my sword for another strike.
“Punch it! Punch it!” cried Steer
I took his advice and began punching the slimy tendril with my sword less arm. The tentacles seemed to have their own form of life themselves, their own form of mind; for when I had struck it with my fist I could hear it emit a squeal of pain amidst the colossal roars of Vengeance. I kept punching and the tentacle seemed to only tighten its grip. I could feel the monster’s hot, sickly breath on the skin of my armor. We were inches away from its gaping jaws.
As I kept punching, seconds away from being swallowed, Steer leaned his head back in such a grotesque way that it seemed to me that he had snapped his neck. His jaws clamped onto the tentacle and bit right through it, freeing us and my sword. As we fell and screamed, another tentacle lurched towards me, but I was too quick. I sliced and diced about ten tentacles in all on my way down. I began to think I was getting the hang of this warrior thing.
We fell into a pool of water and I could hear the beast of Vengeance no more. I looked down, scanning the bed of the water pool for those hairy beasts I had seen earlier in the river. There wasn’t anything but black, shiny stones with a colorful aura around them. They intrigued me, for they were colors I cannot describe, and reminded me again of how I seemed to remember certain things such as color, light, speech, and water, but not much else. I quit thinking about this and pushed Steer towards the surface. He was unconscious. I heaved him onto the bank with surprising strength. He was light; a cow that probably weighed at least a ton was light for me. I felt good that I was this strong.
I knelt over him and his eyes slowly opened. “The Fall,” he said. I replied, asking if he meant the fall we had just experienced. “No,” he said. “The Fall behind you.” I looked behind me and gasped.
In front of me was an enormous, beautiful waterfall. The water was bright white with hints of blue. It almost looked like frozen water or crystallizations, for like the rest of the water in this world, the waterfall was not flowing. The falling water was simply suspended in midair. It was such an incredible sight.
“Get us behind there,” said Steer. “We will be safe there.”
I lifted him to his feet and we began walking towards the fall when I heard an ear piercing roar, more dreadful than any sound I had ever heard. I looked back and saw Vengeance coming at us fast. He looked angry and even more terrifying than earlier.
“Run!” cried Steer. We ran as fast as we could through the huge sheet of enchanted water and tripped on a large stone, falling a few feet into a brightly blue lit cavern. There were stalactites and stalagmites everywhere. I looked towards the sheet of water and saw the immense shadow of Vengeance on the other side. He roared in fury, walked in circles for a bit, then ran far away until his screams became distant, and eventually, inaudible.
Steer began murmuring in a panicky state, “The Alpha? Where is Alpha? He said he’d be here! Oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no.” I tried to calm him down by telling him we were safe here, though I did not know why we were. This mere waterfall had protected us from a creature of unspeakable evil and colossal height. But why?
“You don’t need to ask questions yet,” said a sweet sounding voice that echoed through the cavern walls. It seemed like singing. Steer was still huddled over in fear, obviously too shaken to pull himself together.
“Did you hear that voice?” I asked. When it spoke he didn’t seem like he took notice of it at all.
I got my answer not from Steer, but from the voice itself.
“You need rest. Badly. You look terrible. Go to sleep and I will reveal all things to you in the morning.”
“But I don’t want…” I started, but the voice cut me off.
“It’s not what you want or don’t want. It’s all about what you need. That’s all anything is about, in the end. And right now, you need sleep.”
The voice seemed male, but at the same time kind, smooth, and reassuring. I wasn’t even afraid.
“Steer did you hear that?” I said. He replied, saying something I couldn’t make out much of through his muffled sounds. “Voices, oh……..no………no one here…..we’ll be alright though won’t……tentacle tasted dreadful.”
He began asking me if I was alright when I heard the voice again.
“Only you can hear me. Now sleep.”
Instantly, I felt a weight of drowsiness pressing upon me. I fell to my knees. It would be impossible to stay awake. But could this be a trick?
“No trick,” said the voice.
As I faded out of consciousness, I saw a blurry white figure of what seemed like a skinny man standing in front of me. He seemed to be shining bright. He was the last thing I saw before I fell asleep, and the last thing I heard was Steer.
“Alpha! Alpha! He is the one.”

“You said they were vegetarians.” “Pardon?” “You said they were vegetarians. That isn’t true. I watched them eating their young.” I began this conversation with the cow after I had awoken to find myself being carried on his back. Surprisingly, I felt no pain from the kick he had inflicted earlier. It was very dark. Moonlight stabbed through the branches above, taunting me with its beauty. This caused me to remember that I had been dreaming about a beautiful woman during my cow induced sleep. I loved her hair…silky, golden, and mesmerizing. It was to my enjoyment that I remembered her because she took my mind off of the horrors I had faced previously and that I would probably have to endure again in more dreadful, terrifying ways. Still, the dream was like a blur, for I could not envision her fully upon awakening. I had only caught a fleeting glimpse of what I would later come to find was the most utterly real and beautiful thing in existence. Was she from my past? Did I even HAVE a past before waking up in this world? Could I ever see her face to face? But it was hard to find solace in thinking about her, because the cow I was with knew things, things of this world, and I didn’t, so I just had to talk to him. He hadn’t answered my question, so I asked again. “Cow, they’re not vegetarians. I saw them…” “Address me as STEER, Young creature. Or, if you do prefer, SIR. I am much older and wiser than you. Every creature of this world is older than you. Centuries old. Though, none of us really know how to explain it….oh silly me, I’m rambling on like a common horse. You want me to tell you if the fairies? They are a dreadful annoyance; everytime someone new comes along, they have to frighten them. They are not evil or even formidable in the least bit. That, young man, was the fairies feasting on their own bodies…why so shocked? Your face is sickly pale…well, they don’t like eating anything else with blood filled veins, and their wounds recover instantly when inflicted upon themselves. Their main diet is fruit and leaves, but eating themselves allows them to live forever. Most boring creatures, all controlled by one simple mind and vocabulary…” “Why is nothing here normal?!?!? Cows talking?!?!? Creatures that eat their own flesh?!?!?! A suit of armor that is somehow alive?!?!? Tell me now or I’ll slice you with my sword, I swear…” The cow simply laughed at my interruption. I was in horror, and this creature who acted as if he was my helper didn’t even give me pity. He replied, with a look of self righteous satisfaction on his face. “You cannot harm me, silly one. I am s noble servant of the Alpha, as are you, and I know that each of our brains are too large to permit us such stupidity. And what, exactly, is normal?” I could not answer him. “As I had thought. Cut me with your sword indeed! Even if you truly wanted to, I am much faster than you, and…” I rolled off of his back and kicked him hard in the face. Vengeance was mine. I didn’t care to know how he could help me any longer. His assumed authority over me(that’s how he seemed anyway) was unbearable. I ran off laughing as he howled with pain. Yes, it did sound very much like a MOO and it was hilarious. “COME BACK HERE YOY FILTHY COWARD!!!” He began to chase me with astonishing speed. I continued to race off into the jungle, wanting to look back but not daring to do it….and then I tripped. I could hear him calling for me from behind. I waited for a laugh or another fearsome kick from his hoof, but neither came. As he approached me, I turned to face him and saw a look of what seemed to be fear upon his face. “You have called Vengeance,” he gasped. “You have called it. It will be here shortly. We must make haste! Terrible mistake you have made! Terrible!” If this cow, this Steer, this sole creature I knew who had answers was frightened, I knew I should be as well. He seemed to know this world so well, acting as if he had survived for centuries grazing amongst the place. What on earth could frighten him? “We must make haste, we must make haste,” he said in a terrified whimper. “Vengeance is coming, we must make haste! Get on my back.” I climbed onto his back and held tight. He zoomed off into the jungle even faster than I had done just a few moments before. His strides shook the jungle floor, scattering birds and fairies from the trees and into the night sky. “Where are we going,” I asked. “We are going to the waterfall, the only place that can protect us from Vengeance until you are trained. What a considerable amount of mortal peril you have gotten us into….hold on tight!” We continued our race through the jungle. I had a feeling we were out of harm’s way, for nothing seemed to have been following us or anything, but then that illusion was broken. I heard a bloodcurdling roar that shook us hard enough for Steer to trip over his own feet and fall face first into a puddle. I fell off of his side and rolled down a hill. I heard him yell “Youngling!” As I tried to grab ahold of a branch, a vine, ANYTHING that could keep me from rolling further and further into this unknown called a jungle. I finally gripped a slimy toadstool protruding from the earth that didn’t even break. It held my weight and suspended me over what I now saw was the edge of an immense cliff. I began scrambling up the cliff face, hoping that whatever had produced that roar wasn’t waiting there to face me. As I pulled harder onto the toadstool to lift myself up, I saw that if was not a toadstool at all. It had two big yellow eyes perched atop its head. Slowly, it lifted up out of the ground to reveal a body covered with feathery tentacles. It made a disgusting shriek that was echoed by my own, for I was in deep fright and disgust. An evil mushroom, for pity’s sake! In this moment of fear I made a terrible mistake and let go, falling thousands of feet down, down to certain death below, down to the end of all things…….

Thank you for reading! Stay tuned for more!

-s.d.