He took a deep breath, pulling air down low from his already tightened belt, making sure he filled his lungs. His armor expanded around his body, his skin was covered in goosebumps for the moment that was to come. He closed his eyes and worked to center himself and quiet his mind, if only for a moment. Senses heightened and adrenaline rushed from his center to his toes and fingers. The grip on his sword tightened with enough torque to break it in two. His footing dug into the grit below him, securing the first step would be he best.
He was as prepared for this battle as he could ever be. There would be either success or failure… there was no middle ground. Nothing else mattered but this moment in time and he was dialed in.
The surroundings came back into sight as his eyes opened and his lungs emptied. The sky was masked with clouds of black and hints of gray. Orange and white light rippled through them as cracks of lightning crawled sporadically and screamed down at him. The thunder shook the ground, trying to take his footing. Sharp and cold wind followed the thunder like a tail. It came fast, hard, and with a chilly whisper it relayed the same message as the thunder, “Go home.”
His gaze did not break. The path was narrow and on either side of his uphill charge would be a fall into certain death. The earth wore the same mask as the dark clouds as above him. He wanted nothing more than to arrive at his destination – the top.
But a wretched smell of death rolled downhill. A piercing, high pitched howl shook him to the core as the creature marched towards him. 20 yards uphill was the demon, blocking his march forward and upwards. With its’ two legs like an elephant’s and its’ torso like a gorilla the creature stood in his path. Its’ skin looked like it had been marred by constant battle and fire – cut and burned all over. Intruded upon, it stepped forward, closing the distance between itself and him. Horns stemmed from its’ skull in a circular fashion and pointed upwards at an angle. The right horn being bent downwards, a sure sign it had been used to impale. The villain let out a snort that finished with a deep growl. Its’ eyes were glowing bright yellow and shot through our hero like a spear. The face was covered in exposed flesh wrapped around a skull that looked like it was ripped from a grizzly.
The creature was also ready. It was always ready. The demon refuses to let anyone pass. It’s only purpose is to remove people from the path and feed upon their defeated corpses. The joy it finds is in the negative, in the taking of its’ victims, whether that be in consumption or pure destruction. It will eat you or it will simply send you to where you whence came.
Legend has it that the creature was once like you. It only made it so far up its’ climb and found treasure. The power took hold of the traveler and transformed him. The traveler had always gained his power from the taking of others. He always wanted more for himself and no one else. His greed became him. As far as the creature is concerned, this is his path and no one else can travel it.
Our hero was scared to death. What if he fails? What if the monster defeats him? Can he defeat such a creature? What if he slips? Other men had done it, but is he like those other men? If he went home, he would still have the comforts of fire, ale, and shelter…
Our hero may have traveled this path alone, but it wasn’t a journey that was started alone. The journey itself began long ago, before even one step was taken. Long ago, our hero had no destination, no understanding and no belief that such a quest could lay before him. If it weren’t for the texts and stories of past heroes, how could he know that such things were possible? Slaying of dragons, riches beyond his wildest dreams, lands of pure beauty. These were all of the imagination until he read from the scrolls written by past townspeople from his village. He could do it too, his parents told him. It took many years of listening to such tales before he could even think for an instant that he could one day live a similar tale. His father and mother’s faith in him never once wavered. They always believed, so he had to.
His sword training was many years in the making. He trained and fought daily. Not a day passed where his sword laid idle. It was being sharpened, practiced, held. He had a lot of help from a fleet of teachers. Men and women who knew the ways of the sword and could correct, guide, and prepare him for what was to come.
Now, he was no blacksmith either. The armor he wore was not something he could have created himself. The blacksmith believed in him and his purpose and took liking to him. The blacksmith forged the greatest of armor he was capable of making. It was both extremely light for mobility but equally as durable to withstand any attack. He knew our hero would need to be protected against both the elements, creatures, and even the other men of his journey. Our hero’s flesh would be torn to pieces early if it weren’t for the blacksmith’s efforts and faith in him that he could complete his quest.
There were others that helped along the way. Upon hearing our hero’s purpose, he was given shelter, food, guidance along the way from many others. They all believed in him. They fulfilled their sense of purpose by helping him along his way. The people who gave him food felt cheer giving our hero strength to continue. Innkeepers that let him rest in their home smiled knowing that when our hero was victorious, they had done their good deed.
In his some of his lowest moments, he still had the letters of a very wise and lovely redheaded woman that always reminded him of the love that awaits him back home. She loved him dearly and genuinely believed in him with every ounce of her being. It was rare to find someone that radiated such beauty inside and out. She cared for him when he was hurt, celebrated with him when times were great, and made sure that when he returned from his journey, all the comforts of home would await and their story would pick up right where it left off.
Although he was alone right now, our hero did not make it this point alone. Everyone that had lent a helping hand all did it out of faith that he would succeed. If he turned back and ran from the demon, he’d be letting down everyone who got him to this point. There would be a life of regret, misery, and embarrassment for giving up. Succeeding would affirm everyone’s beliefs in him. They would be proud knowing that their efforts were not in vain. His fear was shook with another deep breath and he knew in an instant – he would defeat the beast or he would die trying.
All as one thought, the people that supported him flooded his mind. Emotion ripped through his body like a bucket of fuel on a flame. A battlecry burst from his soul and he pushed off his backfoot towards the monster at a speed matched by the lightning above him. The demon came forth with the same intensity, like an horrifyingly evil mirror. They met in the middle with a shockwave and in a second it was over. Our hero, through years of preparation for that moment in time, parried a swipe from the beast and cut deep along its’ side – from the neck all the way down to the hips. Its’ innards spilled behind him and our hero watched as his fears hit the ground with the same thump as the demon’s lifeless body.
Our hero fell to the ground and sat in contemplation, staring at the path he had walked up to this point. All that fear he had before, the questioning of himself, it all dissipated as quickly as the monster fell. He had conquered something much larger than that beast, something that had followed him from his home many steps behind him. Although never visible, it felt tangible, like a shroud that wrapped around him at times of weakness.
It was gone now. For how long, he did not know. What he did know is that it would be back and just as strong and paralyzing. Acting like a spring below him, that thought popped him back to his weary feet. He turned back towards the path moving forward. Rusted gates opened behind the corpse of the demon. He was tired, but gained energy from his victory. Part of him would like to stop to celebrate and spoil in the demons’ treasures. “Enjoy them, you deserve it. Stop here!” said a voice he did not recognize as his own. It was the shroud reaching back out to grab him. The fear of that shroud is what then propelled him forward.
Perhaps, it was that same shroud that created such demons, keeping past victors here to deter future travelers and warriors from reaching the top – as if there were no bigger victories to be had. Travelers, scared of encountering larger monsters along their path, stopped there. Unfortunately, the initial purpose of their quest was veiled by that same voice and they became the demon. The more people they stopped, the stronger they became. Their intentions matched that of the devil. Their fear and greed became them.
As our hero ambled through the gates, he noticed the countless footprints underneath him, some smaller, bigger, more dug in, some filled with stained blood… the variety was endless. Many people had made it this far and continued upwards. There’s no telling how many creatures had been slayed up to this point or warriors that had cleared the path for him.
One thing was for sure; he was grateful. He was grateful for those that had helped and those ahead that would continue to help. It was his duty to not only fulfill the faith that everyone had put in him, but to also help the others behind him.
As he stopped briefly to take a sip of water, he read a letter from his redhead at home. Her words put a smile on his face and reminded him of what he would come home to. That love and comfort would be earned. He knew at this point that nothing that great in life comes easy. The cheer faded and was replaced with a sense of determination as he put the letter away and he looked back to his path. The journey must continue.
His stride quickened, his confidence grew, and excitement rose at the thought of slaying whatever may lie at the next gate. Of course, the shroud would be there too. That’s fine, he was ready for that motherfucker too.