For Bethany. You were worth the fight.
The cool, autumn night brought with it the presence of uneasiness and uncertainty. The full moon hung high in the air like a stationary spotlight–a beacon guiding the two lovers with its gravitational force. It pulled the two together in ebb and flow; in high and low, just as it did the tides of the seas and oceans.
The Girl with Sunlit Hair and Black Wings stood atop the mountain. Her shadow draped across the valley under the gleam of the moon like a black sheet. She breathed in the crisp, night air then exhaled.
“Dear God,” she prayed. “Please bring him safely to me. Let not my lover stumble nor let fear be found in his valiant heart.”
Her thoughts were on The Man with Hazel Eyes and Broken White Wings. She knew it would take him longer to find her since he could no longer fly. He was now down in the valley, obscured by the curtain of her stretching shadow. He heart pounded deep in her chest and perspiration formed on her forehead. She knew what things were awakened in the valley when the full moon stepped onto the stage of the night sky.
The Girl had seen the Creatures in her dreams and heard their whaling. She had visions of the Demons and had seen their teeth. She had premonitions of the Monsters and trembled at the energy they gave off.
“Dear God,” she prayed again. “I hope he remembered the protective amulet. And may he be strapped with his steel and prepared for battle.”
She had given The Man a protective amulet when they first met. It was a black cross crafted from jet stone. She knew deep within her heart and soul the Man would need it one day. She never thought today would be the day.
She also knew The Man was wise and would not enter the Valley without its protection nor the comfort of his steel. Nevertheless, her heart feared his journey. So, under the glow of the night’s sun, she awaited her lover.
The Man with Hazel Eyes and Broken White Wings traveled through the Valley under the shadow of the Girl. His thoughts jumped from her to his Guardian Creator. His ears were attentive to every sound. His nose picked up on a rancid scent.
In the Realms of the Phantoms both good and evil had a smell. The Good gave off a clean fragrance of fresh linen and sunflowers. The Evil stunk of rotting flesh and sulfur.
The Man knew if he could smell the entities of the night, then they could smell him as well. It would only be a matter of moments before they would pick up on his scent. When they did, they would awaken and seek to spill his blood.
He looked up from the Valley and saw the trees. He peered through the twisted fingers of the leafless branches at the moon and thought of her again–The Girl with Sunlit Hair and Black Wings. He had to get to her. Their very lives depended on it.
A shuffling in the rocky sand of the Valley drew his mind away from her. His hand moved with a swift motion and gripped the hilt of his steel, which rested in his waistband. The noise ascended. It grew closer and louder.
And then he saw them in the moonlight.
These weren’t the foes he expected to see first. From the tales of the few survivors to make it through the Valley, the Creatures were the last to face.
The Man drew his steel then gripped his cross amulet. “Dear God,” he prayed. “Let my feet be swift and my blows deadly.” He let go of the cross and held his sword with both hands.
A massive, churning clod of serpent-like creatures raced towards him. In the light of the moon, the reflection of their scales resembled all the colors of the rainbow. Their tales were as scorpions and they had no face.
These were the Mind Serpents. They were beasts of such negative, psychic power, they were able to enter the mind of a man and make him go insane. Doubt, depression, and self-loathing would take over. Once the Creatures had a man paralyzed by his own self pity and sunken into the hatred of his own soul, they would strike with their tails.
The venom would work as a mind toxin and make a man take their thoughts as his own. Once this happened, a man would, in a fit of insanity, run his blade through his own heart.
Legend had it that the number of the serpents represented the threat the warrior posed. A man of normal courage would face one. A brave man, two, and a courageous man, three. Never had there been tales of more than this.
The Man counted the faceless heads as they approached.
There were five.
The Man swallowed hard and felt the finger of fear tickle at his heart. He swiped it away and prepared himself for war.
The Creatures were within twenty yards when they launched their psychic attack. The mind fuck was the most insidious sensation The Man had ever experienced.
He always thought he was mentally strong, but now he felt himself in a tornado of negative thoughts and emotions. He dropped his blade and fell to his knees. He placed his hands over his bleeding ears and screamed.
“Jesus! God! Make them stop!” Spittle flew from his lips and the tendons in his neck stretched as a flesh covered harp.
The Girl with Sunlit Hair and Black Wings gasped as she heard the screams of her lover echo through the Valley. She ran towards The Willow Tree at the edge of the cliff. She parted the curtain of its hanging branches and placed one hand on her bosom and one hand on the trunk of the tree. Her eyes searched in desperation for The Man but he could not see through the shield of darkness in the Valley.
“Please, my angel. Please be all right,” she said between heavy breaths.
The Man continued his screams and the serpents encircled him. They churned and twisted, running their bodies over his stomach and shoulders.
In his mind, The Man saw visions of great sorrow, pain, and loss. He saw all Abaddon had taken from him and his heart grew faint.
“I am no warrior,” The Man thought. “I am no fighter. I am only a failed savior with broken wings. I am a coward frozen by terror and self pity.”
Further and further his mind spiraled down into an abyss of nothingness.
But there was something different about The Man the serpents were not prepared for; something no man in the Valley ever had…
As The Man reached the bottom of the pit of his mind, he found a Phoenix waiting for him.
“Who are you,” The Man asked.
“I am you,” the Phoenix said.
“I am no Phoenix,” he said. “I am but a wasted angel with useless wings and a coward’s heart.”
The Phoenix flapped its wings and engulfed The Man in waves of fire. “No,” it said. “You are thunder and lightening. You are a burning ember and a flash of fire!”
The Phoenix took flight and extended its talons. The bird gripped The Man by the shoulders and began to fly him out of the abyss. The grip of the Phoenix burned and brought a sense of mental sobriety to The Man. The two ascended higher and higher, causing all the dark thoughts to dissipate.
The Man now saw who he really was. Though he had broken wings, he was a warrior. He was more courageous than all his peers and the most noble knight to ever step foot into the Valley. He was a man of abounding love. A man of resilience and perseverance. A man loved by God and The Girl with Sunlit Hair and Black Wings.
The Man was jolted back into consciousness. A stinger from one of the serpents was whizzing through the air at him. He ducked and rolled away, then knelt and fetched his steel.
The serpents lashed and coiled in anger and confusion. The Man saw their hesitation and struck. With the rage of a wild beast, his sword followed the lead of his hands as a bridled horse. He chopped off one head, followed by another. Sprays of rainbow colored blood misted from the serpents as their bodies flopped on the road of the Valley.
He finished off the rest of the serpents in the same manner. Their bodies seized and their rainbow life seed drained from their bodies. The Man was soaked in the multicolored blood and pools of it puddled around his feet.
“Oh God, the smell,” The Man said and his his nose in the gape of his arm. He gagged a few times then dry heaved.
After he composed himself, The Man gathered the faceless serpent heads and ran them through with his blade. His piercing left holes at both ends of the heads. He wiped his sword on one of their lifeless bodies, then returned it to its sheath. He removed his backpack and retrieved his rope. He then slid the rope through the heads and tied it off at each end into a giant necklace.
The Man clenched his trophy and raised it towards the night sky.
“Abaddon,” he yelled. “Heaven knows no fury like a warrior’s blade!”
He lowered his prize and continued his journey. The necklace of heads crackled as he dragged them through the rocky soil of the Valley.
“Girl with Sunlit Hair and Black Wings,” he called out. “I am coming for you. As I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, it shall fear my evil!”
The Girl with Sunlit Hair and Black Wings heard the voice of her lover ascend from the Valley to her ears. She stepped away from the cliff and rested her back against The Willow Tree. She slid down and sat, relieved.
“I know you are coming, angel,” she said. She breathed deep and exhaled as she awaited him to face his next challenge.