In the midst of a hot afternoon, in the innocent part of the wood under the watch of broad daylight, as lily pads seem to melt into the surface of a nearby pond and as birds converse throughout the tree tops, I lie on the ground, the grass brushing up against my skin like butterfly kisses. In this moment of bliss, this single moment of absolute ignorance, my thoughts ruin me. I have to return to the village soon. I have to talk to Ailward about what needs to be done about the creature terrorizing our people.
I understand the importance of defeating this evil; it already attacked me like it has many of our women. We call the creature Abaddon, to remind us of those who have fallen at his hands. No one knows exactly what he looks like, for he takes on many shapes. I had been gathering food at dusk when he appeared as a strong and handsome warrior. I was unsuspicious and all too naive, so he took advantage of me easily; my training as a warrior was useless against him, and my struggle had been futile. While the men try to protect the women and also shield themselves, they are aware that our bows and arrows and physical strength cannot defeat Abaddon.
“Chaviva!” My sister’s, Gracia’s, voice rings out through the forest. I bring myself up from the grass and go to her. All the warriors are being called.
“I do not like this,” I say as I fill my water sac and sling it over my shoulder. My bow and quiver rest on my back over my cotton blouse and leather vest.
Ailward split them, once all warriors had been gathered, into groups and sent them to pursue Abaddon in the darker parts of the outlying forest. I believe this to be ridiculous.
“We will all die,” I murmur. My group of ten walks between trees, over logs, and around rocks.
“Do not be so sure,” Gracia says to me over her shoulder. She is older than I and feels the need to be a mentor, especially after my encounter with Abaddon. She and my brother are responsible for my protection as I am for theirs. She does not carry a bow, but a gleaming two-edged sword. I know not where she acquired this weapon, but I do not like it. It requires too little space between her and her opponent.
“Perhaps we shall run into El,” Declan, my brother, comments with a mischievous grin. I come up behind and knock him in the back of the head.
“Do not speak that name. He is a myth. I do not care what our people say of this sorcerer’s miracles, of his valiant deeds, of his protection. He is unreal, a legend, meant to give false hope to those who cannot find any truth,” I walk forward in a rage, ignoring Gracia’s remarks about my sensitive heart and short temper.
The first night of our hunt we scout in shifts, keeping watch over others as they sleep in the light of a fire. I am wide awake under the deep night when Uggi, Ailward’s brother, begins howling at the sky in madness. He stands up from his spot by the fire and begins running through the forest as if he is possessed. Declan and two other men are scouting and see him. Declan runs after Uggi and catches him with a strong hold, trying to calm him down and bring him back from the dark. The rest of our group is sleeping still; how they manage to be so at peace in this wood I do not know. Gracia and I are standing up now, observing, fully knowing Uggi is lost to us already. Once men become possessed, they do not recover, not completely.
“This is hopeless,” I say to my sister. She puts her arm over my shoulders.
“I do not believe so. El is said to inhabit this forest. He watches over us, you know,” I violently push her arm away.
“If he is watching over us so closely then why did Uggi lose his mind not a day into our quest? You make this legendary sorcerer sound so kind and compassionate. I must wonder if you see anything that happens within your own village.”
“Abaddon is ruthless, yes, Chaviva, but do you not think he wishes us to be hopeless? What if he feeds off our hopelessness?”
“You are speaking nonsense.”
“I am serious.”
“Yes. I know,” I have moved to the other side of the fire now, standing opposite Gracia. Uggi has stopped struggling for now and Declan is walking him back. “I know you are serious, sister. But you have not yet seen the violence of Abaddon. You have not yet experienced his deceitfulness or his quick tongue. I have.”
The third night comes upon us and after we have set up camp, Declan and I are scouting, keeping watch over our comrades as they converse over fire.
“They should not have lit a flame. Abaddon will see us better,” I whisper, fingering the sharp tip of the arrow in my hand. Declan holds the hilt of a sheathed sword identical to Gracia’s at his hip.
“I do not think so; it is said that this demon cannot survive in light.”
“And who says this? Who has this knowledge?”
“You should not be so deceived by legend. I have told you; El cannot protect you, for he is unreal.”
“And if he is true?”
There is a rustling about twenty trunks before us, causing me to arm my bow and Declan to grip his sword tighter in its sheath. All is quiet save the crackling of the flames thirty trunks behind us. I am painfully aware of how far we stand from our group, how exposed our destructible bodies are.
We are already dead, I think.
“It’s a serpent,” Declan whispers. Yes, a large basilisk two men high and one man wide is slithering through the trees with small movements; the grasses and ferns brush silently against its scales. It is light enough to see it, but dark enough that it does not appear to see us. At least, not yet.
“We must warn the others!” Declan cries and begins sprinting towards camp, leaving me alone.
The basilisk hears me and screeches like there is lightning in its throat. Without hesitation, the creature slithers toward me with alarming speed. Despite the fear in my heart, I raise my bow and release one arrow into its forehead; the arrow dissolves into the flesh of the great snake without phasing it.
“Mere arrows cannot kill me!” The snake roars, coming closer. I begin sprinting in Declan’s direction, but I cannot see camp; the flame has been vanquished and my comrades have run.
“I can see you, Chaviva!” I recognize Abaddon’s voice and hear a series of sickening crunches behind me. I do not look. This area of the forest is unknown to me, and darkness now consumes my world; I am running blindly.
A shriek escapes my throat as I fall through a deep hole in the soil. Ten trunks down I tumble only to be harshly rejected by the dirt below. I land on my stomach and my mouth, eyes, and nose are filled with the dust of the ground. I groan and cough before rolling over onto my back. It is darker in this hole than it is above ground.
I am unsure if I have broken anything, though I do not feel as if I have. Upon sitting up I am greeted by a severe ache in my chest and lie back down in submission to my own body. While I lie there, scenes of Abaddon’s form of a serpent plague my mind. I suddenly wonder if I hear a hiss in the ground with me. Paranoia sets in over hopelessness and frightening forms begin creeping out of my subconsciousness and seducing my fears. The horrible darkness is overwhelming.
As I lie there, quietly listening for Abaddon, a dim light comes into my vision from the side. As I turn to it, it is revealed that I have fallen into an underground tunnel. The light emanates from some kind of floating orb. Fear strikes my heart and I attempt to run but instead fall to my knees, for I have not yet recovered.
“Why do you run from me?” A voice like the sound of fluttering doves interrupts my escape and soothes my heart, but only for a moment.
“Who are you?” I stand up straight, ignoring the aches.
The orb moves to one side to reveal a withered old man hunched over a staff. His skin is like pale leather, his eyes like sparkling rubies. His hair is long and white, trailing down his tattered robes along the same path as his equally long beard.
“You may speak the name you know, though I go by many,” for a man so seemingly fragile, his voice is strong and warm, without fear or shyness.
“You are not El. You do not exist.”
“Do I not? Here. Touch my staff or cloak, and believe.”
“What game are you trying to play? I have no time for this,” I allow myself to be harsh; I do not want to show weakness. “Whether you be sorcerer or man or Abaddon himself, you do not frighten me.”
“Do you find yourself telling this to me or is this simply a reflection of what you feel you must tell yourself?”
Angry now, I reach for my bow and quiver, but I am shocked to find no weapon on my back. I recall dropping both my quiver and bow in panic as I had desperately run from Abaddon.
“Those weapons of which you are so fond will not defeat this evil one you seek; he is not of this world,” the man reaches into his cloak and reveals a long parcel tied with leather strings. “You require something much stronger.”
“I will not accept help from you, sorcerer,” I think he must be a sorcerer, though certainly not the legendary being called El. “I will defeat this demon without you.” The man chuckles and his eyes fill with pity.
“Yes indeed, because this method of offense has been successful for you thus far. Are you women not being attacked as they travel into the darkness of the night to pick cuma berries? Are your men not being possessed and enraged as they sleep in their beds? Have you not turned your heart against the men in your village because you were lured to your fate by a man bearing your warrior seal? You have failed to slay this beast on your own. You have no choice but to accept aid.” As he speaks he is putting the parcel in my hands. I unwrap it to expose a gleaming two-edged sword clad in delicate markings and braced with a golden handle.
“Does this weapon have a name?”
“To your people it would be Elon.” He tells me. “It will not fail you, if you embrace its aid.”
I look away from the man and back to the weapon. A dim glow radiates from it as it sits comfortably in my hands. I grip the hilt and realize how familiar every groove feels on my palm, as if I have been wielding this weapon since infancy.
“…Thank you,” when I raise my eyes the man has vanished. The orb of light that had been embedded on his staff is no more, and darkness fills in the space he had occupied. The dirt where he had been standing appears undisturbed in the dim light of Elon. I sigh and toss the cloth and string to the ground, slicing the air with my new weapon.
A scream pierces the atmosphere and yanks a gasp from my lungs. I spin to look up to the hole through which I had fallen. The night has settled, having suffocated the stars and extinguished the sun. Dirt moves behind me and I glance over my shoulder.
I am being watched.
A red glow emanates from one direction of the tunnel, but I do not investigate. A deep-chested growl and an earth-shaking roar make my blood freeze and my veins twist.
“Chaviva!” Another growl molests my name and makes soil crumble from the tunnel roof and walls. I flee in the opposite direction of the growl and the collapsing tunnel. The path before me is thick with black fear and I am running blindly once again. As I run, I imagine the basilisk slithering through the tunnel with me and shivers attack my spine. A separate tunnel enters my vision and I slide around the bend to continue my escape. Soon the growls fade and I no longer feel overwhelmed by an evil presence. Sweat drips from my brow and strands of long hair fall into my eyes. My legs halt but my mind races onward. If Abaddon is in this tunnel with me, I think, I can have assurance of the safety of my comrades.
I turn to see a warrior standing in the light of Elon. I keep the sword raised as the familiarity of this warrior arrests my senses. My village seal is pained on one of his bare shoulders; his features are strong and handsome; he smells of sweet cuma berries.
This is he who attacked me.
This warrior is Abaddon.
“Stand down, demon,” I grip Elon’s hilt and turn my knuckles white. I back into darkness and Abaddon steps toward me. Elon’s light begins to dim and fear begins to choke me. My body begins to quake and my hope is extracted from my soul.
“Yes, Chaviva; give into me. I will possess you, numb you,” Abaddon’s tone is provocative and mystical. I sink to the ground, leaning on Elon, trying to fight the control Abaddon holds over me. “Your strength shall fail you now, your voice silenced forever.”
The demon hovers over me, his face darkening and his eyes burning like the fiery pits of Hades. His presence weighs me down; his fingers weave themselves through my hair; his acidic touch makes me sweat and shiver. I try to find strength but my supply is depleted.
It will not fail you, if you embrace its aid.
I grip Elon’s hilt and push my thoughts past Abaddon’s hands gliding down my neck, aiming to strangle me. The tighter I grip, the brighter Elon glows. Abaddon gasps and he pulls his hands away from me. Elon’s blade sinks deeper into the earth; cracks spread away from it. The ground shakes and the light pierces the darkness like a stake through Abaddon’s heart. Dust falls from the soil above my head; Abaddon’s form begins to change, becoming an ebony silhouette, a memory of a shadow.
I squint and weakly shield my eyes from the blinding light of Elon…it is greater and brighter than the light of the sun. The ground becomes like sand, sifting and sliding beneath my knees.
And I fall.
My limbs are limp and my body numb as I fall through and through. I nearly drop Elon, but the hilt somehow clings to my hand, as if it will not leave. My warrior instinct, as I brace myself for the pain I imagine will come, is kindled, my strength restored.
The rocky ground below hits me hard, knocking the breath from my chest. Though my strength has been given back to me, my drive to defeat Abaddon is gone. I painfully push myself into a ball, embracing my knees and carefully positioning Elon to keep from further injuring my body. I allow myself to crave Declan’s company and Gracia’s wisdom. I crave Ailward’s guidance and I crave the presence of the sorcerer, he who bestowed upon me Elon. I crave companionship as I lie alone in the darkness. The tears come unashamedly and flow in rivulets down the map of my face. Abaddon’s warrior flashes through my mind, and for a moment his presence infects me again. I cringe and scurry sideways, as if this action will cleanse my mind of a bitter memory. My pride in my once valiant village, my pride in my warrior skill rips itself apart and I am broken in half.
You require something much stronger.
Elon’s light grows dim for a moment, but as I sit up, wiping away the sweat, tears, and blood from my eyes, it is restored to its former intensity. By this light I am able to see jutting rocks and stones lying about me, and I become aware of the stinging cuts on my face and arms, the large tears in my leg coverings, the blood on my blouse. I readjust myself until I am on my knees, moving Elon through the air around me to further define my surroundings.
I have fallen into a strange place. Celestial crystals and precious gems glitter and shine about me, embedded in the black obsidian that composes the walls of this hole. A kaleidoscope of shades and hues glint off Elon’s blade and back to their origins in the core of each and every gem.
“He will find you down here,” the elderly man appears before me in one blink of my eyes. His orb glows and causes Elon’s glow to be strengthened. His eyes are hopeful and full of joy.
“How can you come to me with such ease, sorcerer?” I am hysterical now, standing up and stepping towards him, threatening him with the weapon he had given me. “No man has power enough to phase through layers of earth. Are you a specter? What sort of hell have you come from? Are you not a demon? Explain yourself!”
But my ferociousness is extinguished when this man’s cloak becomes soaked in wild flames. I trip over a shard of obsidian as I flee in fearful reverence, landing hard on the base of my spine. I do not feel the pain; the fear of this man absorbs my hurt. His cloak burns but is not consumed. He holds hope in his face and strength in his form. The flames smolder soon and are absorbed into the orb on the man’s staff.
“I am El,” he straightens up to his full height, towering high above me in the glory of a king. “All you have heard of me is true. Many things you have not known and many shall still be hidden from you. Yet I shall guide you to the ground above, where other warriors are searching for you, yearning to hear your voice,” El gestures with his staff toward some avenue in this cave. “Follow the tunnel of black agate. In the light of Elon it will show you the way out.”
“Why did you not reveal to me the way of escape upon our first meeting?” I ask him with a quivering voice as I regain my footing. Elon scrapes the ground as I am restored once again, and the glow of the blade reveals myriad gems in the cave floor.
“Not all things may be revealed now, but perhaps you shall see.” El phases into the earth and vanishes once more, leaving me to stand hunched over in illumination. Without a second thought, another breath, a final sigh, I head off to the tunnel of black agate, the one that will lead me to freedom. This tunnel is wide and water drips from the ceiling, now granite and coarse instead of obsidian and smooth. I am running upwards for some time before I slow down to a halt.
He will find you down here.
Something slimy glides along the tunnel wall around a corner about ten trunks ahead. I hold my breath and try to slow down my heartbeat. Elon is ready in my hands and, despite my fear, I stand strong and sure. The slithering sound begins to grow towards the climax of its crescendo, and I expect some sort of terror to dart around and scramble to destroy me. Yet, as I await its arrival, leaning against the jagged wall, the noise ceases. No sound save the subtle dripping of water can be heard. I lean around the corner and try to see through empty shadow by Elon’s light. As far as I can see, there is nothing.
Stepping wisely I continue onward through the tunnel. I become aware of the poisonous slithering behind me and turn around to face my suitor. Elon’s glow reveals nothing.
“You are a coward!” I yell into the shadows; I receive the echo of my voice as a quick reply. “Come and face me, Abaddon. I will not run from you any longer.”
Silence reigns like a powerful monarch over the atmosphere that engulfs my senses; its judgement is severe and its answers are cold and heartless. But then, when Silence is thought to be in control, a dark form lifts itself from the ground to stand before me. My blood ices over in the biting wind of Abaddon’s breath, but my courage melts in the heated gaze of his eyes.
“You cannot defeat me, warrior,” he speaks, his tongue flicking like a serpent’s. He is suddenly phasing from one space to another and I no longer know where he is. I am walloped from behind, slugged from the sides, and tripped from below. I lie on my back, my leg injured, perhaps broken, and I am exposed, naked before the eyes of my opponent. The black hand of Abaddon grips me hard around my neck and lifts me off the ground. My eyes feel they are about to burst; my fingers and toes are tingling.
“You will be silenced. You have caused me much trouble in little time. I cannot have you running around spoiling my game, since you have escaped my attempts to break you.” Abaddon places his free hand over my eyes, and my mind begins to empty of memory, of emotion, of thought. The remembrance of my first shot with a bow, my first boar kill, evaporates. The fire in my soul, the determination to defeat this evil running through my body, disappears. The faces of Ailward, Gracia, Declan, and others fade from my mind. For a moment in time I feel as if I am no more. But one thought remains:
You require something much stronger.
An anguish-filled battle cry pierces the erasing of my mind, and with a strength that is not my own I slice Abaddon through the stomach with Elon. I steal back my stolen thoughts as the demon the drops me; I do not crumble. I land on my feet and come at him with blow after blow. Every gash my sword makes extracts shadow from Abaddon’s skin, and his form is maimed, fading, and now conquerable.
He is on his knees before me, drifting through his many forms, from serpent to child, from child to warrior, from warrior to raven, and from raven to shadow.
“Allow me to live that I might serve you,” he puts his face to the ground. “Oh fair and beautiful Chaviva.”
I do not hesitate at his offer, but let Elon fly over my head downwards to behead Abaddon. The moment his head is gone, the remnants of his form burst into comets that shoot in every direction, spinning about in a whirlwind of dark distress and defeat, bouncing off the tunnel walls. A great wind comes in and snuffs out the chaos with such suddenness that I wonder if I imagined them. I am left crouching on the ground, covering my head. I look up once the comets are gone, and I feel able to breathe freely as silent tears of relief fall from my eyes.
The sun is rising in the east as I come out of the tunnel. Illuminating colors decorate the vast expanse of the sky above, as if to tell those who live beneath it that there will be more of its kind…more mornings to come. The freshness of the wood around me cleanses my lungs of the stagnant air of under-earth. Elon no longer glows in my hand, but its magnificence causes nearby flowers to bloom and dead grass to become alive and green once more.
“Do you think your comrades will believe in your journey?” El is with me again, beside me this time, gazing at the sunrise as I am.
“Perhaps. They believe in you,” I turn to him. “Why did you give me aid when I was unbelieving?”
“Would you have been less unbelieving if I had not offered aid?” He smiles at me. “You think me a mere sorcerer, a dabbler in magic, but magic is not Truth, my child. I am more than your senses can grasp. You understand me here, do you not?”
“I do…must I now part with Elon?”
“No. Because you have believed, Elon will be your constant companion in times of great need, when Abaddon returns to you.”
“He will return?”
“Not for some time, but yes, he will return. And you will be ready.”
“What of my comrades? My village? I cannot protect them all with one weapon.”
“Elon has many siblings who are companions of many warriors, all the same but different. You must tell others of your journey, of your belief in me. If they believe as you have, they too will receive Elon, and Abaddon will be unable to touch them.
“I understand you doubt my words. But remember your journey. Elon provided a way of escape, a protection, when you embraced its aid and allowed it to save you, when you believed the words I spoke unto you.”
“Yes, I remember. What shall I tell them, my comrades, when they ask who has given me this protection?”
El leans down to me and whispers in my ear. When he pulls back, he kisses me gently on the forehead and fades into the air one last time. I stand there, speechless, my tears at the edge of a dam and my heart falling of the pedestal of sanity. But I am joyful. I am sane.
“I found her!” Gracia parts the large ferns before me and runs directly into my body, knocking me to the ground. She strokes my hair and cries as Declan and the others come into the clearing where I had been standing. Many words are exchanged and I am pulled back up to my feet. I tell my comrades of my journey, as El had instructed me. They stand in wonder and in awe and believe what I say, for I have scars and bruises and injuries they can see. They tell me there are black finger prints on my face and soot on my clothing. When I have finished speaking, all is silent for some time.
I show them Elon and tell of its protection from Abaddon. I demonstrate its healing powers with a nearby patch of dry grass, which is brought from death back to life. This time silence does not proceed; questions do.
“And who has given you this weapon?”
“Who is this great protector?”
I smile at them.
“He spoke to me before you entered, explaining to me in peaceful terms his love for us, despite his power and his ability. He instructed me, when you ask these questions, to answer in this way:
‘I am El.’”