Whichever way I looked I saw only blackness. I sat enshrouded in my tiny circle of light, too afraid to run, too afraid to leave this bastion of safety, too afraid to flee into the cruel unknown of that seemingly solid dark.
I had been stranded for as long as I could remember and quite possibly longer. Somewhere in the back of my mind I was afraid that I had already regressed down the path I had thus far struggled forward on. Terror gripped me every time a barrier approached and I thought to myself that I had hurtled this before. I was fearful that I was being led in a slow circle, so slow that I wouldn’t even feel the curve of it, but just as sure as the earth moves around the sun, I would snake back to past pathways I had trodden. For I knew that, without a doubt, I was being led. Every footstep forward I gained was only because my circle of light was advancing me forward. And what could I do but follow the light through the darkness. I was being led.
Soon as I thought it, the pathway forward became a little dimmer, and the terror spiked once again. What beast would come this time to block my way?
I drew my blade, or it is certainly possible that it was already in my hand, as I doubt I would ever drop it in this cold darkness of leading light.
I took a hesitant step forward.
My bastion grew. Light flooded around me in the same tight circle, stretching my snake of visibility one length more.
I could feel each beast that had been hurtled at me; I could feel the bone-deep weariness that came from each thrust and swing of my sword, the weariness that weighs from the countless times I felt the resistance of my blade cut through the flesh of nightmares. Slain beasts of unknown origin and anatomy lay strewn across the pathway behind me. They came constantly from the darkness ahead and now they came again, as I knew they would, as they had since maybe before I could even remember.
Sometimes I fought one on one and sometimes I fought many at a time. Every time I stopped they renewed their efforts tenfold and I was forced to battle for my life, to battle for another step forward. I fought. I won. I wouldn’t be telling you this story if I hadn’t. I have known some who were defeated by those beasts. You know them too; their corpses have been strung in a line throughout all of history, alone and forgotten and turning to dust.
If I admit and tell this tale true, a few times I almost fell, myself. A few times I almost became one of those lost and forgotten. But sure as I am standing here in front of you, someone would come help me in those times, when I was beaten down so hard I had to take a knee. Some would put a firm hand on my back and give a gentle push through the throngs of demons, and sometimes I would be so broken that they would have to pick me up off of the ground. Many times there were three of them and I tell the truth again when I say that they stood like a wall in front of my demons giving me just enough time to regain my feet; even as their own threatened to tear them apart.
I would come across many fallen in my own right, my spotlight shining on them briefly as their strength waned and their resistance wavered. I stood firm against their hordes sometimes. I bought them time with my own blood, allowing them to get their feet planted, their defenses set, and to pull their wits about them. Some of them I recognized as they had stood firm for me. Some of them were new to me but I gambled that I could make a new friend in that desolation. My gamble did not always pay off, but then again, some of my fiercest support was bought with a wager of blood.
I tried not to, but sometimes I stepped over those fallen. I am ashamed to admit I was fighting my own battle in those times and left them to theirs. But I tell true, I never once stepped on them to get a leg up against my own burdens; I swear to you that I did not. I had experienced it myself a few times, not so extreme I fell fully, but I was tripped enough to stumble. And I swear to you, I tried not to do it in kind. Not of my own conscious thought at least. Please believe me that anytime I caused another to falter it was not with cruel intentions in my heart.
Gods those moments were dark. They were the blackest time, when my bastion of light, my shrouding cloak of some semblance of the known, became smallest. It closed around me so that each breath seemed to pull a little darkness into my lungs, into my blood. Each swathing path of my sword weighed heavier than the last.
Those were the moments when the three would stand in front of the press to let me catch a clean light filled breath.
I would draw strength from them and we would battle forward, scything through beasts as if they were nothing but wheat. Bleeding, yes, for every single step forward but we four were strong. We still are, as you know. Throughout the years they have never been far away, ready to catch when I stumbled and myself, poised to fight for them at the slightest signal as they followed their own path, one snake length at a time.
Once, when I was close to failing, so fearful that I was drifting along one of those slow circles of regression or worse some dead air of sad stagnation, she came to me.
She changed everything.
I bled for every stride gained and many people I had come across in those dark caverns had bled with me. We were each being led by our own strange lights as if some puppet master were dragging us forward, each battle we fought as if some grand orchestrator had composed the free will from our lives. There was nothing else, only darkness and the lighting of the next step.
She was being led by no such grand schemer; no spotlight dictated her next step. I watched her struggle for a time. I cried out as she tripped and fell. Tears of joy cascaded down my face as I watched her beautiful dance through the darkness.
Gods the beasts she faced made mine look like garden gnomes. They were fierce, true demons of darkness and decay. But she battled like a phoenix; ever full of fire and never wary of a single step, confident in her ability to rise from even the most bleak of positions.
It was beautiful to watch. No she was beautiful to watch.
She fell, yes. Over and over I saw her being tripped by others in the darkness that was blacker than a moonless night. She did her fair bit of tripping too; it must be said in all honesty. Hell I remember well the feel of her boot in my own shin. But she fought, that phoenix. I would say “That phoenix of mine,” but she belongs in no cage, even one of love. Let me tell you again, it was beautiful. You know her though and you know that it still is.
Where I was resigned to walking the path laid before me, she charged darkness; she was and is passion and fury.
Our paths crossed. It came unexpected in a time when I was too terrified to move my own life forward. I had never known before, and have never known since, anyone to lurch straight from the darkness into my life like that one. She badgered and bullied her way to my side, pushing back my friends and even brothers a step to claim her place next to me.
If the truth is being told, I battled to get to her too. I shoved just as much of her out of my way. At some point I found myself dragging her into that light of mine, so fearful was I of the unknown demons of the dark that she was so accustomed to. I don’t think I recognized then that the light was a poison. It was killing my firebird. Each step crushed a piece of spirit. I shed a tear now just thinking of it.
She longed for the adventure and challenge of that unknown. She was scarred, some of them were still bleeding wounds, yet still she ached for that storm.
I was afraid of it.
In my defense, and I beg you to allow me this for I cannot bare the thought that I have been the cause of her molting, she was hurting when we found each other. Her wounds were deep. I had to hold back the swarm, I had to battle harder and longer than I had ever done in my own life and I had not yet learned how in that darkness. I have never felt as humble as I did when I picked up her fight. It was a scary time; my light had stopped moving forward for me. The circle closed in on both of us. Claws and fangs reached out from the darkness. My sword cut into them all. I was good, you know. If I could see the enemy I could hold back any numbers. They couldn’t touch me there, the only pain I felt was that of standing still, for as we stood still she was behind my shield with her sword drawn, trying to fight through me to claim back that dark unknown. They were her demons and she was tired and I wanted to fight them for her but they just kept coming. She was cutting into my back trying to battle them. I started falling, losing ground in my own struggle. I was scared again.
At one point she saw the blood she had drawn from my own back, deep red droplets. That was the moment she fell, begging me to leave her by the wayside while at the same time screaming at me with those deep hazel eyes to please not leave her. At that moment she started fearing me, she saw my terror, my desperation to stay in the defined lines, and she could not bear to be tethered to me if my path was being laid down by another. I was bleeding it into her and, oh my gods, I could see it taking root.
I like to think I learned but, truth be told, she showed me. She showed me true power. I was quick with wit and sword but I only knew how to fight in the light, with strong people backing me. But I was scared of that unknown darkness, I was fearful of the freedom to place my own feet.
We battled her demons back a pace but now my stagnation was beginning to suffocate us. We were choking on it like a poison searing into our lungs.
She was rising again. I was awed by the power; she was striding once again into that unknown black.
She had my hand tight by now, and I had hers. We had given each other scars but we had learned to trust each other now. I would not let go for anything as she waded into the unfamiliar eddies, swirling at the edge of my light.
She tried and tried to push me into the darkness, again and again she tried to make me forgo the next lit step.
“Follow your own path,” she screamed at me, “Follow your own instincts and your own dreams.”
“Can you see where it leads,” I asked her.
“No, my love, but I can feel it, it is a dangerous slope but it is the pathway to freedom. You are a slave to whomever above is holding this light. Don’t let them lead you where they want to go, don’t follow their prescribed rules, trust me and let’s make our own.”
She was saving me, I battled her but she was saving me the whole time. She knew it was kill me, that evil little light. It was drawing me astray and she could see it plain as day. How much smarter she was and is and always will be.
I gave her a deep kiss and held her hand oh so tight, and then I stepped out from beneath the light and wandered with her into the darkness.
Her hand was my lifeline through those times. I had forsaken that path of least resistance. This unknown was scary and terrible but my heart was singing as we danced in darkness, weaving our own dreams.
With the blindness came an awakening of other senses. The monsters here were fiercer and darker and clawed and scraped with no warning. But my sword was faster and each strike surer. I flowed from instinct and it was good. My own fire started to kindle from somewhere deep. And happiness flowed from that center. With her hand held firm and fast in mine we both braved that life of unknown, but in that darkness we can dance whatever pattern we see fit.
And so we flow in harmony together, weaving a faint trail of fire, weaving whatever our soul’s desire.