Death came fast, filled with fury, full of vengeance. It seized the young man in its heinous fist, ripped his spirit from his bloodied, broken body, then gleefully tossed, into a black pit, the warrior’s soul.
The warrior cried out, a deep cry of anguish as death battered and pummeled him. Burning pain, like that of a fire devouring a forest, consumed him, heart, mind, and soul. He fought, but darkness surrounded him. Tired. Too tired to fight, he surrendered.
“No! Warrior of the night! You must live!”
The sharp command broke through the never-ending firestorm of poisoned arrows. “Who are you? Where are you?” Darkness left him blind.
“Live. For me.”
The words came from nowhere yet everywhere, the voice young, desperate, and female. Her voice slid through him, warm and sweet as honey. It rose over the furious buzzing gnawing away at his insides. He whirled around in the darkness, blind and helpless.
“Help me. Show yourself.” His cry came out a mere croak.
A spear of light shattered the black, smoky veil and revealed his limp, bloody, and lifeless body.
“Return and claim the life meant to be yours. Live! Warrior of the Night, I need you. Come to me.”
Compelled by something he could not name, the young warrior fought his way out of Death’s pit. One step, two steps, each through a sticky trail of his blood, leading his spirit and soul back to the shell of his body where life giving blood pumped out of a fist-sized hole in his chest.
In horror, he watched his body sink into the widening river of red gore. He reached for his lifeless form. Without warning, a thick, viscous fist rose up and slammed into him, sending him flying backward through the darkness. The sound of hissing grew louder, filled his mind as though he had a furious swarm of bees between his ears.
“Do not give in, warrior of the night. Fight evil. Choose to live. Choose me, not death!”
Focused on the woman’s compelling voice, the warrior blindly obeyed. “Claim me not, Death,” he shouted as he kicked his way through the blood back to his body.
Death responded. Each splash became a long, red monster that twisted and twinned together to form a wall between soul and body. They slithered and slipped around the young man’s ankles and calves, and they pulled him deeper into the shadows.
“No!” Weak, tired, and in pain, he wasn’t sure if he was speaking to Death or to the unknown woman. “Too tired,” he whispered, his spirit fading. “You are too late.”
“Free will. Chose to live. Chose to fight. Do not give in to Evil.”
He heard fear in her voice. “Show yourself,” he demanded.
The white light grew brighter, warmer. It blinded, beckoned, and promised both sanctuary and life.
You died in battle this day. The words were a hiss of fury in his mind. The writhing snakes pulled his spirit deeper into the dark shadows.
“No! I choose light over darkness.”
Screams and shrieks filled his mind. Without warning, sickly yellow eyes popped open from the mass of snakes binding him. In agonizing slow motion, the creatures opened their mouths, revealing dagger sharp fangs. As one, they struck.
He screamed. Pain and fire consumed what was left of him. Defeated, he went limp.
“Iche! Please. Do not leave me alone.” Her voice warmed, soothed, and offered hope.
“Who are you?” he whispered.
“Your future. Your fate. Your soul mate. You must fight for us.”
A roar of fury drowned her sweet voice. Angry, needing answers, the young warrior shouted to the demons pulling him deeper into the black pit, “Release me.”
A slice of blinding light stabbed him in the eyes and shattered both shadow and pain. Everything went still.
To his surprise, shock, and relief, the snakes dropped off his body as he floated away from the ugliness of death.
Where before it had been darkness and shadow, pain and fear, there now was light so bright it dazzled and even hurt his eyes. A swirling rainbow of color appeared above his head. Vibrant blues, greens, and violets swirled into a mass of soothing warmth. In that breathtaking moment, he understood. It was his time to leave Mother Earth and journey onward to the Spirit World.
Chanting his personal power song, the warrior lifted his arms and reached for the wondrous light and color, ready to accept his place in the land where warriors never feared attack, where food and game were as plentiful as laughter and joy. His battered spirit floated upward toward the rainbow world.
“No! It’s a trick. Do not leave!”
The frightened cry of the woman interrupted his chant. The warrior glanced into the obscure, swirling darkness beneath his feet, to where his broken body lay in a sea of red. He shuddered. Death was ugly, messy. Yet, glancing up, he realized there was beauty in death. Once again, he lifted his hands. Suddenly, a tiny sphere of pure pulsating light flew at him.
“Inihan!” He ducked as he uttered the expression of shock and wonder and stared at the wavering ball of light that resembled a miniature glowing moon.
He lifted his hand to touch the dazzling ball, but it darted left and began circling him, faster and faster, spinning a web of translucent thread that cocooned him as neatly as a spider trapped its prey. Done, the sphere rose and sat above his head as though waiting.
For what? He frowned. The walls surrounding him seemed solid yet allowed him to view everything around him. Intrigued, he touched the soft, silky shimmering web that looked fragile but held with surprising strength.
Before he could break free, he began sinking, falling back into the darkness toward the writhing sea of snakes.
“No!” He shoved hard against the finely spun web of light. It melted into nothingness, leaving him chilled and filled with a stabbing pain that pierced his soul and drove him to his knees.
He lifted his hands toward the bright light of the after-world, welcomed the end of one journey and the beginning of another. He floated higher and higher until, once again, his ascent came to an abrupt halt, this time, by a brilliant and blinding flash of blue light that exploded around him and formed a bubble, trapping him in the center.
“Let me go,” he shouted as he shoved at walls pulsing as though alive. They thinned but did not melt or fade.
“It is not your time.”
Love and compassion poured over him, through him, into him. He whirled around and faced the approaching woman. An aura of golden light surrounded her, nearly blinding him. He knew her. She was Blaze, daughter of his tribe’s medicine man and a woman his people feared. “You are Tunkasila. God!”
Her glittering blue and yellow eyes tracked his backward movement. The warmth of the bubble halted his retreat.
The healer smiled sadly. “No, I am the woman sent to help you find your way back to the life you were meant to live.”
A splash of color near his feet startled him. Red, black, and yellow fingers cupped the walls of blue and crawled upward, like a grotesque claw clutching prey.
“Do not be afraid.”
“I am not afraid.” But he was. He feared this woman, feared her powers. He drew in a deep breath. “I died this day a warrior. My mother will be proud of her eldest son.”
Blaze smiled gently, her long, shiny black hair swung in time to the living, breathing aura she projected. “Your mother has reason to be proud,” she agreed with a simple nod. “Her pride in her son will grow even greater over time.”
Blaze closed her eyes and lifted her hands high, her fingers stretching out toward the rainbow world above their heads. The air shimmered with tiny pinpricks of golden light. Below their feet, a stardust trail of gold formed and forged a winding path through the darkness to the still body below. “The Gods offer the gift of life. Do you have the courage to fulfill your destiny?”
Around him, the bubble of protectiveness grew thinner, transparent, the pulsing heartbeat slower, fainter.
“Kahnige. Choose,” she commanded softly.
A fist of darkness shattered the blue light. Blackness once again trapped him with the hideous creatures slithering against him.
Hundreds of gleaming yellow orbs with red eyes stared at him as they slid up and over his body, his chest, and around his throat, cutting off his cry. His choice. Waves of icy anguish pounded his body and mind.
No more pain. He craved the calming peace of the rainbow world. Thunder roared, and white-hot jagged bolts of light shot into the writhing mass. Shrieks of fury assaulted his ears, and the air sizzled as the creatures were burned off him.
Blaze stood before him, her eyes sparks of blue fire. “Evil wishes for you to die. Evil tempts you with promises of the Spirit World. You are a great warrior. Do you have the courage to return to life, to live and fight evil?” Blaze waved her hands. Stars formed a misty golden cloud around healer and warrior.
He stared at the glittering path that led the way back to his body. He glanced back at Blaze, then to the small shimmering ball of light hovering above the healer’s head. “You would condemn me to pain?” He spoke to both women.
“More awaits you than pain. But you must choose. Now,” Blaze said, her voice urgent. She stretched out her hands. The tips of her fingers glowed; the light that was in her, around her surrounded and warmed him.
He leaned forward to take her hand but something shoved him away from the healer. Once again, he floated upward. The tiny ball of light followed, pulsing fast, like the heartbeat of a man who’d run for hours.
“Warrior of the Night. Wiconi kahnige! Choose life,” came the voice of the first woman.
For a moment, it seemed as though an inner fog cleared, and he saw for the first time the woman who’d begged him to live. Her features were blurry except for her compelling gaze. Never had he seen eyes filled with the colors of the Earth Mother. “Who are you?”
Blaze lifted her hands and held them out. The light-ball drifted toward her and came to rest on her palm. From the world of rainbows, an owl flew. It landed on her other arm. She smiled. “The answers are there for you, but you must live in order to ask the questions. You are Night Warrior, warrior of the night. Return to life and fulfill your destiny.”
Night Warrior stared first at the river of pulsating red, then returned his gaze to the sphere of misty light and the sad eyes of a woman who gave his soul hope.
“Wiconi,” he said, choosing life as he stepped onto the starry trail.
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