For Bethany. You were worth the fight.
Part Three: The Demons
The Man took deep, heavy breaths and held his ribs. His side screamed with agony and every breath felt as if he was being stabbed with a dagger. His face grimaced in pain yet his heart soared with determination. Each aching step brought him close to Abaddon; closer to vengeance, and closer to The Girl with Sunlit Hair and Black Wings.
The road in the Valley narrowed. Before The Man stood the entrance to a forest. He eased his hand away from his throbbing side and stood erect. He narrowed his eyes and the determination in his heart was expressed on his face.
“The Forest of Lost Hope,” The Man whispered and stared at the trees. The leaves on the branches were no leaves at all. Rather, they were shards of human flesh. A crisp breeze blew through the forest and made the skin dance. Patches of the anthropomorphic coverings dropped to the ground. The Man picked one up and examined it. He recalled a passage from The Book of Abaddon:
“If a warrior is of skill to have made it to The Forest of Lost Hope, it would bid him well to take heed before entering. It is required that a man make deep examination of his heart and soul before he enters. A pure heart and unwavering faith are required to conquer the dark spirits who lie deep within the forest. The Demons are unmerciful mercenaries of Abaddon who will strike at any weakness. The man of sincere heart who enters this realm should also remember that it would do him well to cover himself with the flesh which hangs on the trees. If his heart is pure, he will absorb the strength of the flesh of those who went before him and none of their weaknesses. However, if he is a double souled man, he will absorb none of their strength and all of their weaknesses, thus assuring himself both defeat and death.”
The Man knelt at the edge of the forest and fixed his mind on Creator God. “My Lord,” he prayed. “By thine Spirit, search my heart and see if there is any wicked way in me. Cleanse me by Thy blood from my sins. Make me whole in Thine eyes. Let my faith in you soar as on the wings of an eagle and let my doubts be annihilated by the power of Thine right hand. Let not fear enter into my heart but guard it as Thine own.”
The Man sat in silence as he drew in strength from his God. With assurance in his soul, he rose to his feet. Though she could not hear him, he spoke to The Girl. “My darling, our God has brought us thus far, and He will not fail us now. Into the forest I will go, and victorious I will emerge.”
The Man reached up and removed a patch of skin from a branch at the edge of the forest. He placed it on his face. Within moments he felt the blood bond to his skin. He proceeded to cover the rest of his face and the exposed portions of his arms and legs. He imagined what he must look like–a patchwork of skin hanging on skin. A brutish amalgamation of human flesh which would give nightmares to young children. But the only nightmares he planned on giving were the ones he would gift to Abaddon.
Once he reached Abaddon, he planned on making him suffer. He wasn’t going to kill the demigod, oh no. He was going to torture to the point of death; to amputate and dismember, then leave him as an invalid who could do no more harm. Instead, Abaddon would be left in torment in his body and mind, as he would forever have to live with how he was bested by God’s knight.
“Abaddon,” The Man said with a snarl. “You picked the wrong man of God to fuck with.” He grabbed his necklace of vengeance in one hand then took his first step into the forest.
“Abaddon,” he thought. “Your time is coming. But for now, I will slay your henchmen.”
Once in the forest, the man felt a tingling sensation on his skin. His body was absorbing the strength of the deceased’s warriors’ flesh. The pain in his side subsided and the bones made popping sounds as the ribs were forged back together. His muscles grew stronger and his heart braver. He felt as if he could take down an army of thousands. And indeed he could.
The Man journey further into The Forest of Lost Hope. The moon’s rays were cut by the tree branches, leaving slices of light to guide his way. The woods smelled of depression and despair. It was the scent of loneliness. A smell only one who has breathed it in could identify. And The Man could. It was what he felt when his children were taken from him. The forest tried to bring these disparaging memories up, but the power of the Spirit of God and the power of the warrior’s flesh kept The Man’s mind sound.
The Man paused. He gripped the hilt of his steel and attuned his ears to the forest.
A howl bellowed forth in the distance followed by deep, maniacal laughter. The sounds came north of The Man. He drew his blade and journeyed towards the noise. The forest became more dense and the darkness grew as the light of the moon was no more. The Man was now practically blind. He was not going to be able to rely on his physical sight to defeat The Demons. Rather, he was going to have to rely on his psychic ability to emerge victorious.
The Girl had taught him how to enhance the abilities of his mind. He had the gift since childhood, but never knew how to develop it. The Girl had trained the sight of her third eye into near perfection. The townspeople had considered her a witch because of her uncanny ability and at one point, had tried to set her on fire. The Man intervened and rescued her. He scorned the villagers for their ignorance and saved The Girl from certain death.
The people had listened to The Man because they considered him a prophet sent from Creator God. Well, almost all the people. The Man’s former wife grew jealous of his stature in the city and of his friendship with The Girl. She conspired with the husband of The Girl to put The Man to death. One night, the two of them attacked The Man in his sleep. They had gathered rocks to stone him. The Man awoke to a throbbing pain in his face after his wife clobbered him with a stone. He was able to fend them off. The commotion awoke the villagers. They saw what was happening, and because they considered The Man a prophet, they took his wife and The Girl’s husband out into the streets and stoned them with the very rocks they tried to use on The Man. Because of their heresy, their bodies were dragged outside the city gates and left for the birds. They would be a reminder of what happens to the ones who attack the anointed of God.
Since then, the relationship of The Man and The Girl flourished into love. She taught him how to use his third eye and he taught her the ways of Creator God more clearly. Now, in The Forest of Lost Hope, The Man was going to have to rely on his gifting and his God.
“Creator God,” The Man prayed. “Please enrich the sight of my third eye. Let me see my foes in my mind. Let me know their moves before they do. Give me foresight and precognition.”
The Lord answered The Man’s prayer.
In his mind he saw the entire forest, down to the last details. He saw the grooves in every tree, the high and low spots of the ground, and the location of every Demon. It was as if the woods were now illuminated by the sun.
The Demons were a nasty sight. They had the body of a humans. Their skin was red and their faces and arms were covered in black markings. They had no jaw. Instead their mouth connected with their neck, leaving an open cavity revealing their tongue and rows of sharp teeth.
The Man drew his sword and his precognition guided him. The first Demon would make a zig zag motion through the trees and then attack to his left. The second Demon would be close behind the first and leap at him. The third would sneak him from behind.
The Man dropped his Necklace of Vengeance, held his sword with both hands, and waited on The Demons to make their move.
It happened just as The Man predicted. He timed his counter attack with perfection. He turned to his left and swung his sword. The blade connected in the space between The Demon’s mouth and neck. The blow severed his head and a blue geyser of blood spewed from the wound.
The Man was ready for the next Demon coming to his front. He thrust his sword into The Demon’s chest, ran it through, then tossed it over his head. The Man pinned The Demon down to the ground. The Demon convulsed then melted around his blade and onto the forest floor where it evaporated.
The Man stood to his feet and turned with a thrust. His sword entered the gaping chest cavity of the third Demon. The Demon hissed then placed its hands around the blade and tried to free itself. The Man twisted the blade and The Demon released it then melted just like the other.
“What the hell,” The Man said as he watched The Demon squander away. He caught his breath then prepared for the next onslaught.
The Demons were a crafty lot and not unaware of The Man’s ability. But they knew something The Man hadn’t discovered yet. His precognitive ability only reached as far as being able to predict up to three attacks. This time, The Forest would send five Demons after him.
The Man saw his next three assailants in his mind. One would travel to the tree tops then drop on him. The second would appear from behind the same tree and the third would flank him on his right.
The Man raised his sword above his head and the first Demon lunged to its death. He met the second Demon with a swing and the blade sliced open its midsection, disemboweling it. Blood and guts sloshed to the ground. The Man turned and brought his blade down on the shoulder of the third Demon. It howled, staggered backwards, and fell to the forest floor. The Man drove his steel through the heart of The Demon and it died like the others.
The Man was not prepared for the fourth and fifth attack. He heard a snarl behind him but it was too late. The Demon grabbed him by his long hair and tried to drag him deeper into the forest. The Man sensed an odd sensation in his back, as if his skin was stretching and being pulled off.
The Man dropped his sword and latched on to The Demon’s wrist. He was able to look over his shoulder. He stood bewildered at what he saw. An arm was extended from his scapula.
What The Man couldn’t see was the full profile of another warrior protruding from his back. The warrior gripped The Demon’s tongue with both hands and yanked, hard. The Demon’s tongue separated from its mouth and a river of blue blood poured out. The tongue flapped in the warrior’s hand then he proceeded to beat The Demon with it.
The fifth attack came from The Man’s right. A Demon leaped from the foliage and brought the Man to the ground. He planted face first. His head spun and he tried to regain his wits. He felt the odd sensation in his back again.
Warrior after warrior expanded from The Man’s back, covered in his skin like a flesh cloak. HIs skin continued to stretch and the warriors stayed attached by strands which stayed connected like ropes.
The warriors now encircled him. The Forest let loose the Demon horde. The Man closed his eyes and buried his face on the ground, letting his army of encased warriors fight for him. Demon after met their demise at the hands of The Man’s protectors. He could hear the squealing of The Demons as their bodies were dismembered and annihilated by the warriors.
The floor of the forest ran blue with the blood of the Demons. When the last one evaporated, The Man’s body absorbed the warriors and he was left alone on the ground. He pushed himself up and sat. “Thank you God,” The Man prayed. “Thank you.” He stood to his feet and returned his steel to its sheath. He picked up his necklace of vengeance and held it in his hand. He then heard a crackling and popping sound.
The forest erupted into flames. A sense of haste and alarm filled The Man. He was worried he would be burned alive in the inferno. He then heard the voice of his God.
“When you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. Now travel ahead.”
The Man believed the promise of God and stepped forward. The blazing trees surrounded him yet he could not feel their heat. He reached out his hand and stuck it into one of the flames. Nothing. He left it there for several seconds then removed it. His skin was unmarked by the fire. The Man smirked, then traveled through the fire unharmed and said, “The same God who protected Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the furnace of Nebuchadnezzer now protects me.”
The Girl with Sunlit Hair and Black Wings saw the blazing forest. Her heart sanke and her mouth went dry. There was a churning in her stomach and she grew ill. All the strength left her body and she sat on the ground and wept. She knew there was no way her beloved could survive such a fire.
“My love,” she cried. “My precious angel, how will I go on without you.” She wept until the point of despair. She lied down under neath their tree and waited to die.
The Man felt the anguish of The Girl. He had been so focused on using his energy to fight the entities of the Valley he had not yet used The Reach to contact his beloved. The Reach was a psychic bond the couple discovered in the early days of their relationship. It was a type of astral projection each could use to project their energy to the other and communicate thoughts and feelings.
The Man paused amidst the fire and reached for The Girl.
Underneath the tree, The Girl felt the presence of her beloved. She sat up and exclaimed, “It’s you!” She could sense The Man as if he were around her and inside her. She heard his voice in her head.
“It is me,” The Man said. “I am very much alive. The power of Creator God is with me and He is protecting me from the heat of the flames.”
The Girl reached back and said, “Oh, my angel. I was so worried.”
The Man felt her and heard her voice in his soul. “I know, my darling. But rest assured I am alive and well.”
“Where will my angel go next?”
“I do not know….” The Man’s voice was cut off.
“Wait,” The Girl said. “Where did you go?”
The Man was now focused on what was before him. The forest had burned away and in front of him was a cave. The Man now knew where he stood. It was the lair of Abaddon. A cage of iron bars was over the entrance and a demonic guard stood watch. It was tall and muscular and human bones as armor adorned it from head to toe. The guard held a giant ax in its hands. It’s face was full of eyes and its mouth was a long, pointed beak.
The Man sensed The Girl reaching.
“My love,” he said.
The Girl was relieved. “Yes?”
“Where is ‘here’?”
“The lair of Abaddon,” The Man said.
“Please be careful,” The Girl warned. “I have a bad feeling.”
“Sit at ease, my darling,” The Man said. “I will add the fingers of Abaddon’s right hand to my necklace.”