I breathe in. I breathe out.
A first breath. The first breath I ever take among Life’s beautiful creatures.
Finally! I jump high in an overwhelming burst of euphoria. This is the moment I have been waiting for ever since my consciousness first saw the Light.
I have become a being made to live, laugh, cry, and die.
I have become a warrior.
I breathe in.
The excitement spreads through every limb of my new body. I hold my second breath for as long as I can and listen to the short pulses flowing the breath through my veins. I love it! My lungs burn and everything around me fades into a blur. I let go, and immediately fill them again. I want them to burn again. I want my body to scream in desperation. I want the world to fade just to relive my first moments again, and again, and again.
I want it all before it is too late.
I breathe out.
I wipe the sticky sap off my face with a new breath locked in my chest. I must see the world before all is taken from me. My eyes follow the trail of sap my body created when I fell. I laugh, it is the first time I see, then I laugh again. I have never laughed before. The Light pains my eyes, but I do not blink. I wait for the pain to pass.
The sight fills me with awe. A tree-trunk rising as massive as a wall, only interrupted by the hole I was birthed from. Tree branches stretch to the infinite sky and wave. Winds of Light dance among the branches. They sing the most beautiful song. I laugh again, they hear me too. I spread my glimmering wings and lift to join their celebratory song. Together, we celebrate my survival. Together, we sing for my success, just as we sing for the day they stand in a body birthed from Life. They are my siblings, my brothers, and my sisters. They are all waiting to become my fellow warriors. They are waiting to save Life.
And for Life, we are willing to give up the Light.
We are willing to give up who we are.
I am pulled down.
Our creation is broken.
Everything becomes Light as the voice whispers in my ear. The creature circles me. Then it disappears in a burning light dissolving all shadows into nothingness. My cherished breath turns to ice as Darkness creeps up on me between the roots guarding our cherished fortress. The demon felt my presence the moment I was chosen. Arms wander up my body. They pull me down below the protective roots. Teeth bite into my wings. And my wings give in. Pain crushes me as hands tear me apart. I scream. Darkness licks my back dry.
Where Darkness dwells, Light cannot fly.
The dark arms claw at my body, then their disgusting fingers dig into my mind. I fight the urge to resist their tainting touch. I must accept these shadows to become one with the world I want to save.
Where Life goes, Darkness follows.
The fingers dig deeper. They find all that is me and all that is Light. Their touch destroys it all. They search through all my memories only leaving what can be tainted. Greed, hate, desire, fear, it leaves it all. Darkness continues deeper down my core. I give up the last of me with a silent prayer.
“Please guide me through the shadows and show me the path to enlightenment. Show me how to fight for those too weak and those doomed to live within Darkness. Show me how to make Life a better place.”
I breathe in. I breathe out.
“Let me once again sing by the tree, and dance in the wind.” It is the last memory the Darkness touches. It leaves the memory to rot among the ruins of what once was. The vague memory of a better life to taunt me for as long as I live. We knew Darkness would leave it. Our war depends on it. Darkness loves that our war depends on it.
Save what Life gave us. Save what Darkness tainted.
The creature wheezes in my head. A voice growing more foreign with every word. Even after I have forgotten all else, its voice will haunt me. It will become nothing more than a stranger’s voice hidden in a memory of dancers whirling around tree branches. It will remind me of what is important, even when my heart turns dark.
I hope it will remind me.
For the sake of Life.
Darkness shows its ugly face. A fanged smile and charring eyes. It laughs. It longs for meeting me. Another Light for it to quench. The glowing smile fades as darkness shuts its disgusting mouth. Only two glimmering sparks burn fiercely in the distance.
Then in a blink. Nothing is anymore. All becomes Darkness.
Only a stranger wheezes from afar.
You have become one with Life and Darkness. You are no longer worthy of our Light.
A wheezing voice greets me as I awake. It is the first I ever hear. Before its whisper, all was nothing. Before its whisper, I was nothing.
With its words, the world explodes in a flood of sparks, and within the sparks, winds whirl around shadows in a shining dance. The winds sing with astounding beauty. Then my mind goes blank, and I am left to dwell in loneliness.
You will love. You will fight.
My mind fights to focus on something, anything, but it is fruitless. All is emptiness. My breaths move through my mouth faster and faster, but the emptiness crossing my lips leaves no sensation at all.
You will die.
The voice, again, and layered under it the song of beauty repeating the wheezing words in a haunting choir. The voices thunder in my ears but no matter in which direction I look the source remains hidden.
“Who are you?” I scream.
Do I even have a voice?
Am I even real?
I am only answered with silence accompanied by darkness in a sad duet for the hopeless and lonely.
For those like me.
For those who do not exist.
For those without memories.
For those without history.
For those who are nothing.
I force myself to scream again.
“Who are you?”
Still silence. I am doomed to live alone in this dark place forever.
The life of your Love will be your death.
I look up, or down.
“Please help me,” I cry. “Just, please help me.”
Only your Love’s Life rewards your suffering.
“What do you mean?” My screams fall down the emptiness unnoticed. Not even an echo answers me.
Go forth, my knight. Save your Love from the Darkness tainted onto our creation of beauty. Save Life. Follow the warrior’s heart planted in your being. Be the knight of Light the world needs.
“Please,” I whisper. “I don’t understand.”
I am sure now. I am certain of it. I am falling to my death.
This is my end.
Go forth and lead the path to Light, Gabriel warrior of the snake.
The demon’s final words wheeze as hot knives through my last moments of falling through the emptiness and accompanying it is the familiar song taking the command to a new horrifying level.
Everything hurts. Everything is pain.
I hit the ground.
There should be pain, but there is only cold stretching along my back. I lay completely still as my thoughts try to patch together a mess of inconclusive fragments. Light and dark, screams and silence, hope and disbelief, all blends on an uneven canvas. My mind continues to wander until I catch a glimpse of the single fragment of importance.
I am not dead.
The clarity in my realization bursts me out of my comatose state. I am alive! I grab my arms, my chest, my legs. Any and every part of me my hands can reach, I pinch.
I have a body. I can touch. Slowly, I push my hands together and tie them closely around each other, and I feel everything, every little wrinkle and every little dent in my rugged skin.
I am alive. I repeat the words louder and louder until they are too big to be confined within my thoughts and burst out through my mouth.
“I am alive!”
It is so unreal.
I slap my face. My cheek turns warm from the sudden strike. It is real. It is not just in my mind.
Everything is real.
I am real.
“Hey!” I shout.
My words immediately bounce back at me and fill the room with the sound of my voice.
It sounds terrible.
But I have a voice.
Laughter. I laugh. Loudly as if I am going insane. Maybe I am. Maybe all this is just me being trapped in my own craziness. But then, what an idiot I must be. With a mind so empty the echo can go on for days, I surely must be the dumbest of them all.
I laugh for so long my stomach hurts. I laugh until only wheezes pass between my lips. Tears run down my chin. The stomachache, the wetness, and the salt taste drive me to more laughter. Weak, wheezing laughter.
This must be madness. It is the only truth making any sense.
I mean Gabriel, warrior of the snake. Such a title can only be one born out of madness. It is the only reason that brings all the pieces together.
But then again, would madness make any sense?
“Where am I?” My laughter turns into cries of fright and panic. “Please.” I curl into a ball and lay on the cold floor, waiting for anything to make sense.
I cry. I cry until my eyes are unable to force out more tears.
The room becomes visible from one moment to the next. My first instinct is to curl my arms harder around my head and hide behind my own shadows. I scream, certain of the end finally coming for me. But the end never comes, and my scream fades off only to bounce between the walls in a one-voice-choir.
My second instinct is to look up into the light. I catch a glimpse of the two beams illuminating the room before I return to the safety behind my arm and the shadows. The light is so bright it burns. My eyes slowly adjust, and I let myself look again. This time I look to my right. I cast a shadow, not just the shadow behind my arm but a wonderful shadow spreading across the dark floor. I move my arm in a wave, a tiny wave nothing more.
It is all I dare.
The shadow instantly waves back at me. The uneasy lump in in my chest erupts in a tickle from the depth of my stomach. I laugh. I wave again, bigger and bolder this time, and the shadow copies my movement without waiting. I wave both my hands and giggle when the shadow does the same. My movements become bigger and more complex with each time. I walk, I run, I jump, I attack. My shadow duplicates it all with flawless perfection. I corner the shadow on the wall and laugh.
“I got you now,” I say. “What are you going to do about it?”
The shadow answers with a discomforting silence.
I let my fingertips touch the shadow’s fingers one by one. The sparkling explosion reverts to the cold lump in my chest it once was.
It was just a dumb game, I tell myself, just a pointless, dumb game. But I know all too well I can’t look the shadow in the eyes again because of what it forces me to realize. It is just a shadow. It will always be just a shadow. No matter what I would have wanted it to be.
I force myself to look away from the shadow and focus on the curved walls in my room. I dare myself to look up into the light beams once more. My room is two globes stacked on top of each other. The walls are dusk grey. Four tunnels leave the lower globe where I am, they are way too small for me to fit through, though. There is only one way to go, up to the light beams and all terrifying and exciting awaiting me behind the light. Whatever it is, it is way more terrifying than exciting.
I continue examining the two tunnels in the bottom, hoping my first impression was wrong. Maybe they are soft and can be stretched for me to fit through. I guide my hands over their edges but stop myself at the sight of my arms.
For the first time, I see myself.
And I instantly regret it.
I am a terrifying sight. My rugged and scaled skin glimmers in the new light. Each scale is a jaded knife imbued with blood fixed onto my skin. I feel them now, each scale stabbing against my touch. I touch my face with my clawed hands. Sharp fangs signals death to all who face me. Two small holes create a nose between my fangs and my narrow eyes. I have a killer’s face. The long claws on my fingers get caught between the scales. I look at my body. The light shatters against my shining armor and spreads onto the walls. I stand in the beams and watch myself illuminate the room. The reflections wander across the walls as I move. Green and red on dusk.
This is not insanity. This is hell. And I am the warrior guarding it. I am the monstrous serpent at the bottom of the pit.
Gabriel, warrior of the snake. The words make sense now. I am the snake. I am the dragon. I am the blood-jaded wingless dragon.
Follow the light.
The chorus of heaven lingers behind each whispered word. Every note reaches me with its beauty. My body remembers a flowing dance, and I wish I was among the dancers unaware of who they are. Up in the top globe, the light turns brighter as the whisper fades back into the shadows, and with it, the song and the memories of a dance leave me.
The whisperer wants me to climb up to the two light beams and bathe my face in the sharp rays. The light grows brighter until I can no longer look directly at it. Even glancing in its direction burns my eyes.
I don’t need to climb up there, I tell myself terrified of what the fate awaiting a fanged monster of the snake might be. I can stay here in this prison forever and pretend the light never came through the windows. It is as easy as closing my eyes and everything will be dark again. If I close them for long enough, I will even forget what the light looks like.
I might even forget my hideous scales.
In reaction to my hesitation, the light bursts into flaring rays, and the floor turns into glowing coal.
Love is your destiny
The word destiny echoes through the walls of my prison.
“What destiny?” I scream, pushing myself against the wall to avoid the coal slowly burning me alive.
“Why are you hurting me?”
Silence is how the whisperer answers me. Silence and flares.
I look up. My eyes dry out immediately. I close them and cover my face just to feel the burn crawl through my scales. Soon, I will also burn, along with the room trapping me.
My scales curl under the flares. The scales let go of my flesh and the fibers of tissue underneath bubble from the heat.
“Why?” I cry.
The bubbles burst on my skin one after the other in painful fireworks. The water underneath vaporizes in an instant.
“I will do it.” The heat continues to rise. “Don’t you hear me? I, Gabriel of the snake, give up! I accept my destiny. Just, please, let me be.”
As if destiny was the magic word, the room turns cold, and the light fades.
Love is your destiny.
“Love is my destiny,” I repeat, hoping it will please my cruel ruler. Anything to not endure the torture one more time. The singers echo the words behind the whisper. Love. Love. Love. Their heavenly voices turn haunting. Seeing my muscles rebuild themselves and my scales curl back into place makes the experience even worse.
Small dents show themselves along the curved wall. They go all the way up to the two beams in a path created only for me to climb. The floor heats up under my feet. In the fading light, the faint choir chants Love. It could all be my imagination, but I doubt it.
Why? I let myself think before throwing myself at the dents. My claws scratch against the wall. I panic as I lose my grip and my feet touch the floor. I jump again as fast as my brain can command my legs to move.
I look down, the floor looks as dark as it was when there was no light on its surface. It just so happens that this darkness can burst into flames at any given moment.
For love and for destiny.
I climb knowing love will not be what awaits me. The rays will ignite again as I reach the top and burn my face of my bones. Then my body will regrow, and I and the whisperer can continue this cycle of torture forever. That must be the destiny awaiting the horrifying monster of the snake.
My claws grab onto the dents with surprising ease. I look down. The floor has turned red from the heat now emitting from it.
Love. Love. Love. The voices I just moments ago wished to join celebrate me choosing life in glorious happiness.
The light turns bleaker as I get closer. I swing myself over a bulge between two dents. I continue up as fast as I can, scared that it too will burst into flames. When I finally reach the windows, I dare to look down at the red floor again. Red flames arise. This whispering devil knows exactly how to motivate his beloved pets. I quickly grab hold of the right window with my hideous clawed hand.
I lift myself and let the bleak light gaze on my face. There is absolutely nothing at the other side of the window the whisperer was so eager for me to look through, only a pale white light.
“I am here!” I scream and look back down.
There is nothing but the cold dark floor there now.
“What do you want me to do now?” I fail to hold my voice steady as I break into tears. I shake so hard I’m afraid to lose my grip, but even though my hands want to vibrate my bones out of my skin, they never leave their place. My claws and the dents are too well molded after each other.
I want to tell myself to breathe slowly, that I am not afraid. I am only trapped between a cold dark floor threatening to burst into flames at any sign of hesitation and a pale white light described to be my destiny. Either one is a path to certain death. That said I am too terrified to even breathe.
“What do you want of me?” I stutter. “What do you want me to do?”
In front of me the light shifts from pale to sharp in a sudden blink.
Or was it my eyes lying to me to comply with all other insanities this prison built for me?
The light sharpens again. I wipe the tears off my face, seduced by what meets me in the sudden flashes. A new world takes shape. White shelves. Tiled floors, altering between black and white. Pieces slowly fade into place. A lamp hangs from the ceiling. It is in the shape of a flower with six leaves in six different colors. Blue, yellow, red, green, pink, and orange, then it starts over again.
It is beautiful. Just, so beautiful.
Toys grow from the shelves in front of me like they were flowers just like the lamp. Teddy bears, cars, dolls, every kind of toy I did not know I knew the name of until now. Tears fall from my face, but not in fear this time. It should be fear, nothing about the world flowering in front of me is natural, but the tears are from happiness. If I was in hell just a moment ago, this on the other side of the windows must be heaven. I push my face closer to the glass and feel the cold against my skin.
No, I remind myself. Scales. I have scales.
The depressing reminder sinks back as quickly as it surfaced as something new captures my eye on the heavenly side of the window. An old man walking past the shelves on the tiled floor still fading into place under him. He whistles loudly to himself and his grey moustache dances joyfully. He climbs a chair and hangs an airplane with colorful propellers on the ceiling. He admires his work before he pushes a button, and the propellers start to rotate. Shortly after, just about at the same time as the old man has stepped down from the chair, the airplane starts moving in big circles. The airplane gives off a loud boom at the end of every other cycle. The man laughs for himself.
“Boom,” he says with the airplane. “I love that part.”
Then he walks away and leaves me admiring the plane. The propeller creates a colorful circle breaking the lamplight. With the view in front of me, I forget everything. I am no monster. I am the admiring crowd awaiting the next wonderful toy to grow from the shelf.
It is a stuffed lion that finally sprouts from the shelf next to me. It smiles a gorgeous fangless smile and waves a welcoming clawless wave.
It all looks so lovely.