“It’s ok, I’m here. I’m not going to leave you. I will protect you. Forever.” The reassurances that spilled from his lips as he held me close was what I needed to hear. I know there was no way I could be hurt - not while I was cradled in his arms. Not while he was near me. But there was still a nagging feeling deep inside my soul that something wasn’t right. Something was different than before. In all my life I had known only one truth and today, that truth had been shattered into a million lies.
They say the world can be a dangerous place and that was something I had spent my entire life experiencing. From my earliest memories, I could recall the monsters. The shadows that followed me during the day and the bumps that followed me in the night. My father did his best to protect me from them; he had fought them his entire life and he helped bring me into this world knowing I would have to fight them too. He taught me to defend myself. He taught me to survive. But what he didn’t teach me was why.
Years into my life and I had never thought to ask what it was that we ran from or why it was that we fought. It had been my entire life. My only truth. And I knew that it didn’t matter why we did what we did, we had to hunt the monsters that preyed on the unsuspecting humanity. My mother had learned the answers to those questions but at the cost of her life. And so, with a sword in hand and the wind at our backs we battled.
And it all came down to this. We chased the biggest beast back to its den in the woods. This creature had had an affinity with me since the day I’d been born. It stalked me when I was alone and it watched me when I was with my family. And in return, I had become obsessed with it. My father trained me for my first solo mission and I knew that I would either return to him with the pelt of the monster or I wouldn’t return at all. At the mouth of the cave I said my goodbye and I stepped into the darkness.
The only warmth I felt was from the leather sword-grip in my palm. I knew no fear - only the calming reassurance of a task that needed doing. I had no questions, no doubts. Step after step took me deeper into the cavern until it opened into a stone room so large I realized I had been in a tunnel. The sword fell from my hand and my mouth hung open as the scene before me processed through my eyes.
My mother lay asleep, curled against a wall of scales so large it had taken me a minute to realize it was moving. Across from her was the beast that had stalked me in the night, his fiery eyes boring into me. “I have been waiting for you.” The growl came not from the creature but from within my own mind. Despite that, my mother stirred in her slumber and blinked the weariness out of her eyes. I thought for sure she was here as a captive, an unwilling slave bound by these demons and tasked to do their bidding. But as she stood and stepped toward me I could so no bonds. She did not speak but only watched as I turned my attention back to the thing before me.
Sharp teeth partnered with sharp claws could only mean that the monster before me was created to kill. And yet the voice in my head was one I knew could deal me no harm. “You have been deceived, my child.” My body took a step in retreat but my soul willed it to advance instead. My mind screamed to run while my heart begged to stay. I was paralyzed with uncertainty.
Until the beast before me took a step toward me and I collapsed to the ground, unable to continue in the war my body was fighting against itself. “I don’t...understand.” The words were spoken as if by someone else. I did not recognize my own voice. It did not feel as though I had spoken.
The space between myself and the monster was lessened as the beast stalked toward me. This was how I was going to meet my end - at the claws of the creature my father had specifically prepared me to kill. I could feel it coming toward me, although my gaze was locked on my mother and the scaly monster that stood behind her. I closed my eyes and prayed a silent goodbye.
And then my world fell apart. “It’s ok, I’m here. I’m not going to leave you. I will protect you. Forever.”