I'm standing on the edge of a stone pathway that hugs a huge black cliff. I can smell the water and feel the cold breeze. I'm a good 20 feet above the black water. It's a familiar place to me. During the story “The Coda” I fell into that water and sank down towards the Hadel Zone. I found this stone or the entire stone then and it guided me to my 36-year old self and out of this place. I look down and out and the water stretches way out. The cavern is massive, hundreds of stories high. I remember falling into this place, falling and falling. It's amazing I wasn't killed when I landed in the water.
Since I'm not in the mood for another baptismal swim I follow the path hugging the edge. The green light is a comfort and feels safe and secure. I don't know what I have to worry about. I still have the dirk even if I don't have Mithra anymore. Safeguards. I squeeze the handle of the dirk to reassure myself. The path skirts around and continues down another tunnel out of the massive cavern. I round a huge bend of massive stone, then I stop. Ahead of me is a twisted, rocky, narrow opening. I see a faint light, far away. I take a deep breath and try to stay calm. I know where I am now and already I feel the pull. Already feel the pain rises in me like flood waters starting to overflow. I turn to go back but I know I'm not going back. Oh, how I wish Mr. Gryphon were here. I need him so much. I close my eyes and then I'm scrambling into the twisted opening. The urgency, the beautiful anticipation is pushing me forward and I can't stop. I pull my way through the narrow twisting path, I cut myself and rip my clothes but I don't care. I keep going, shoving myself forward. I get out of the twisted area, not really knowing how and as soon as my feet hit the ground, I run towards the light at the end of the tunnel. I fall, again and again but I don't stop. I sprain my ankle and still I run on. The pain inside is unbearable now. I have to get to the light. I have to do it no matter the cost. I run limping along. The light gets closer and I'm not surprised that tears are pouring down my cheeks. I keep running until I'm crying so hard that I'm doubled over but still I can't stop. The pain and divine pull on me keeps me moving forward. I hobble towards the light as fast as I can. I feel like I'm dying and I can't see anything but the beautiful light as it gets bigger and bigger.
My mind is slipping away. When I reach the end of the tunnel I know I'll be almost out of my mind. I force myself to stop and the pain is so bad that all I can do is collapse. I'm lying in a ball on the dirt and stone floor, small jagged pieces of rock cutting into my cheek. The sharp pain pulls me back for a moment. I reach into my pocket and pull out the switchblade. I take the tip of the blade and shove it into my left upper arm. The pain is sharp, it feels good, and snaps me back to my senses. It doesn't make the longing go away but it takes the edge off it enough to allow me to focus a little. I attempt to stand up but can only limp forward, holding my bleeding arm. I walk towards the light. I keep limping on, squeezing my bleeding arm to sharpen the pain. I manage to make it to the end of the tunnel without running. The pain in my ankle is scaring me.
As soon as I walk out of the cave tunnel and into the pastoral scene in front me I collapse to my knees, overwhelmed. I sob and no amount of squeezing my arm will help. I feel a pouring of love and sweetness coursing through me, only a taste. I feel the pull wash away all the physical pains. I stagger to my feet and make my way towards my destination. I feel naked. I feel open and the promise of redemption and salvation floods every fiber of my being. I sob as if I'm meeting my destiny and then start rushing towards the wall.
The pastoral scene with it's perfect green fields and trees, the shine of the blue sky and scent of fruit and flowers is nothing compared to the wall which looms ahead of me. The garden wall. Paradise. For I am running to the garden of Eden. The place of humanity's home. Everyone longs for home and this is the place where we all want to return to. I can see the entrance ahead of me, the flaming sword blazing. As I run towards it I completely ignore skeletons of the poor people who made here but died trying to claw their way in. I round the corner where I expect to see the guardian angel, Michael. I stop, stunned.
In front of me, in full angelic battle gear, is my own Mr. Gryphon. He is holding the flaming sword. His eyes don't look right. I limping towards him, tears steaming, my eyes swollen. I keep wiping my eyes. Then I see that his great yellow eyes are clouded over, milky. He's blind.
“Stop!” he thunders. I whimper and do as he says. The sight of him is keeping the overwhelming pain and tears a little in check. He frowns and tilts his head towards me.
“You sound familiar,” he says, turning his eagle's ears to me. I haven't said anything yet but he's heard me cry often enough.
“Yes,” I say, my voice a whisper. He stops, lowering his sword. I am walk forward towards him. “It's me!” I say, choking. I want to throw myself into his embrace but I know I can't right now.
He continues to tilt his head. His claws show and he opens his wings to their full size. I stumble backwards.
“No, no. You are the Destroyer. You have the unholy weapon. I can feel it. I was warned about you so STAY BACK,” he shouts, holding out the flaming sword.
“No, no! You are my friend and protector. You follow me everywhere even when I'm not talking to you. You are here right now as I am writing this story! YOU ARE MY FRIEND!” I scream these last few words.
He twitches and frowns, shaking his head. “I don't have any friends. I've been here for eternity and will stay here. I am the guardian of this place,” he shifts, centering his stance. The sight of him is killing me and this fresh new pain is different from the visceral longing to get into the Garden. His wings are open, his claws out, he is holding the beautiful, terrible flaming sword. I know without a doubt that I can destroy him with my dirk but I feel like letting him destroy me instead. What would happen then? That arrogant prick promised me safe passage and Mr. Gryphon's head. Maybe that's what this is all about. Me getting his head.
I sag and fall to the ground. I'm not going to hurt him. I can't. I'd let him kill me before laying a finger on him. The Boss knows it, the bastard. I don't feel the devastating desire to get into the Garden anymore. The hell with that place. It's perfection and beauty can rot for all I care.
“Destroyer!” he shouts at me, “What do you have to say?”
“I...I can't hurt you. I love you. You are my friend so I will do as you say. I will stay back,” I get up slowly and limp backwards. He frowns, his eyes obscenely clouded. He sniffs the air. He still has his eagle ears turned towards me. I stay where I am and sit down again. The resignation slips over me, and I stay with it.
“Why aren't you leaving?” he asks, after a while. His sword is still slightly lowered.
“I can't leave. If you don't want to come with me then I'll just stay here with you. At a distance, of course,” I say, cradling my sprained, swollen ankle. The wound in my shoulder throbs but it's not bleeding so much.
“You're hurt. I can hear your limping and smell the blood,” he says, “and there is something oddly familiar about you. You've been here before, is that right?”
“Yes, the last time I was here I was with you. We were here just before the Fall.”
“Inside the Garden?” he asks. He's blinking rapidly now, something he does when he's surprised.
“LIAR! They told me you would lie. No one goes inside the Garden, not even the Boss,” he shouts, puffing out his cheeks.
“I'm not lying. Not in this context, anyway. And I do go inside the Garden. With you. We just visit and observe. Nothing else,” I say. I should be wondering what to do next but I know what needs to happen now. I don't question it at all.
“If that's true then why DON'T I REMEMBER???!!!” he thunders. His sword is trembling a little.
“Since when did you start speaking so much in capital letters?” The question slips out of me unexpectedly but I decide it's a legitimate one.
He opens his mouth and closes it again, unable to answer. He ignores the question. “You should leave. This is no place for someone alive or even dead for that matter.”
“I'm not leaving you. I've been to Hell and Heaven looking for you. I can't give up now.” I had stopped crying but now the tears are starting up again. “I can't.”
“How long will you stay here?” he sounds a little worried now. The Garden's warm, soothing breeze blows gently past us, bringing scents of fruit and flowers. I don't care at all.
“Forever. Until either you come to your senses or I die and even after I die, I suppose. We are bound together, you and I. We are a team.” I wipe my eyes. I'm mostly oblivious to the beauty around me. There is nothing more important now than him.
“That's reassuring. Truly it is but you have no reason to stay here. You're young and have the rest of your life to live. You need to go back where you came from.”
“No,” I say. He responds by advancing towards me, sword out.
“If you don't leave I will be forced to use this sword on you,” he is walking over the velvety green grass with measured steps. “No one is allowed to stay here.”
“Why all the skeletons then?” I ask. He stops walking and tilts his head towards me. “You must have let them live. They're up against the Garden wall. Looks like they were trying to claw their way into the Garden when they died.”
“I killed them. Ran them through with this sword. It's what I was made for. I am the Guardian,” he says.
“If I don't leave, you'll kill me too, isn't that right?” he is only a few feet away from me. I can feel the heat from the flaming sword. The shimmering metal flames with a beautiful fire, all purple, red, orange, blue, and gold.
“If you don't leave, I will be forced to use this sword on you, yes.”
“I'm not leaving so you better kill me now,” I say, still sitting, “You can cut off my head. I'm sitting right in front of you.”
He hesitates and slowly lowers his sword. “They said you, the Destroyer, would be cunning. That you would lie to me. You would say we were friends but I didn't expect you to say you would stay. If anything I assumed you would try to kill me.”
“I can't kill you,” I say, “We will be here together, forever, even at a distance. Unless you decide to kill me with that thing.”
“I know you're the Destroyer of all that is right and holy. Some even whisper that you are Satan, but you don't seem like a destroyer or the ultimate evil,” he says. He takes a step towards me, sniffing again.
I reach out my hand to him and he instantly swings the flaming sword at me, stopping it before it can cut off my arm. The flames are so close to me that they burn my skin and I fall to the soft, rich green grass yelping.
“I thought you were attacking me. Truly I did. I...” he stops talking and I'm crying again but just from the burning, unbearable pain.
“I...” he starts again and stops. His sword slowly slips from his hand and falls to the grass, still burning. He stands there, head tilted down. He takes another couple of steps, very careful steps, until I am lying at his feet.
“You are my friend. Please come home with me. I miss you so much. You belong at home now,” I have to struggle to get the words out as the burn on my arm subsides only a little bit, my voice cracks from the streaming tears, my throat tight.
He falls to his knees next to me and retracts his claws. His wings close softly. He lays his hand on my head, touching my cheek. He turns his head this way and that.
“I was born blind,” he says softly now, “but why am I seeing images now?”
“What are you seeing?” the pain won't go away but I know this moment is important so I grit my teeth and try to stay still.
“I think it's table with cups and saucers. And tea. And I'm sitting in a special chair. And...and,” he stops, a tear runs down his face, “And I think it's you I see. I hear your voice.”
“What am I saying?”
“You're saying 'Mr. Gryphon, why can't you be my boyfriend?' It sounds faint, far away,” there are no more tears from him but he still has his hand on my cheek. The feel of his golden feathers and the familiar smell of him fills me with comfort. I cry harder, the tears streaming and I'm whimpering.
“I don't know what that question means,” he says no longer looking at me. Instead, he's looks out beyond, straight ahead.
“I love you,” I say, barely audible now.
FWACK!!! And Mr. Gryphon's head goes flying and rolling over and over the carpet of grass. Without looking I roll and slam the dirk into the leg of the creature that cut off my friend's head. A high musical scream fills the air. Mr. Gryphon's body has fallen down next to me but already it's starting to fade in color. The musical scream goes on and I see the horrified frozen face of April as I struggle to my feet.
“NO! NO!” I yell, the shock makes me fall down again. She doesn't disintegrate, though. She stays frozen in place, still screaming. I pull the dirk out of her leg and feel a wave of familiar nausea. Ravelle. The nausea roils in my stomach and I fall to my knees again and throw up. I look up at April again and she is peeling away, flakes of her being falling and fluttering in the breeze. My head spins and I bend over, throwing up again. My stomach craps and I get the dry heaves. All around me April is peeling and fluttering away in small flakes, swirling in the warm, beautiful wind. Her scream fades, breaks several times, then slowly fades away like a broadcast from a broken radio dying away. When I look up at her again, she's gone, a mass of shimmering flakes swirling on the wind.
I drag myself away from her remains Mr. Gryphon's body has already collapsed into powder but his head still remains. I grab hold of it. The wind is singing soft songs now, dreamy songs and promises float on the wind. The gate to Paradise is unguarded now. That won't last long. Once again, I struggle to my feet and limp towards the unguarded gate, then I look back at the pile of April's remains and grab a small handful.
I limp through the unguarded gate which closes behind me. I limp past all the beautiful animals and magnificent, if overgrown, plants and trees. I keep going, knowing my destination. The small path I'm on winds through the Garden and then opens up to a small pond. The water is shimmering silver in the light instead of blue. I'd bathed in two rivers flowing from this Garden but never at the Source. I step to the edge of the pond and holding Mr. Gryphon's head and April's remains I step right into the water.
There's a little drop off here, as I remember correctly, and I slip into the water up over my head. The water can't be more than 6-7 feet deep but I don't try to surface. Instead, I let myself sink slowly to the bottom. I let go of Mr. Gryphon's head and April's remains. The water is cold and when you look up it's an odd shade of aqua in the sunlight. I stop holding my breath and inhale the water. My body tries to choke the water out but still I inhale and try to swallow what I can. I struggle involuntarily. I need air but I still inhale and swallow. In a few minutes my self-inflicted drowning will be complete. The usual fear of the water flies through me but I pay it no mind. I sink further down to the bottom of the silver pond until I'm lying on the bottom. The bottom of the pond mud is soft and soothing on my skin. The beautiful little fish swim around me like the most beautiful neon tetras. The aqua tint of the water colors the thick pond plants in a strange light but I can still see that the plants are beautiful and perfect. I can't see Mr. Gryphon's head any more and April's remains have disappeared. The silver pond becomes my living tomb even if it is the most beautiful body of water in existence.