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My world is one of black and white. Of good and evil. My world is after mankind’s destruction. Sobs and hysteria echo about the empty valleys and cities now where there was once endless noise, a mixture of good and bad and anywhere in between. Laughter is rarely heard and when it is, it is looked down upon with terror as if the very idea or thought or sound of joy might bring more devastation upon the surface of our world.
My world is one of black and white. And there is very little grey in between anymore. After the day of the Falling Sky, when fire rained down upon the world in its entirety, mutilating and destroying the human race, neutrality died. It was kill or be killed to survive against the beasts that began to walk our earth. And even then that mentality turned to other humans. Those who still believed in our Creator...God as Christians called them, believed it was the day of Reckoning, Judgment day. For before the fires even extinguished themselves, the ground cracked open and darkness poured out in putrid sulfuric clouds to wreak havoc on those poor unsuspecting souls that were left.
It was the Four Corners that my tribe and coven had opened that had saved us. Other Covens and tribes had their own mystical protections. Once feared or judged, witches and Witch Doctors and Shamans were all turned to in this time of need. Not all magical persons were like my tribe however, and most turned their back on the Mortals Who Are Without. There are some like my tribe however, those that fight.
Demons possess humans now effortlessly and shamelessly. Hope is gone from the world, like a lamp-post with a broken bulb. So now it is my tribe that fights the darkness. And now here I am, a Shaman with the power to purify the evils that rise from the broken ground. Young, with little battle ground experience, my tribe and I travel from place to place, seeking to right the wrongs of the world, and plant the seeds of light and love into the dark world once more. My brother, sister, and cousins fight beside me.
But it is only my mother and I who have the talent of Purification in our coven. My brother and sister are warriors, my cousins are guardians or they are bearers of innocence, unable to fight but instead instill hope in the people around them with their child-like love and naivety and kindness. The elders of my tribe, including my mother guide us, coach us, train us. They keep us alive with their chants and prayers and power boosts in battle of faith and love.
They call upon the Angels and the Creator to shield us during battle. We have fought many beasts, freed many souls from the ensnarement of the darkness of the world. No one knows of sorrow better than we do. And yet we strive on, our destiny unwinding before us in a path of dark thorns and occasionally death. I have banished and purified more beasts than I could count, my mother healed more bodies than I knew existed still in this putrid world. And we have seen everything. Or so I thought.
That day I was standing before Hell-Hounds. Again. Ugly beasts that look like a melting Rottweiler. Blood red eyes, stained dark and yellow teeth, blood that runs black when their oozing slimy flesh is cut. Taller than a six foot man, stronger than three horses, a bite that injects lethal toxin into your bloodstream that kills your organs one by one, starting with the liver, the kidneys, before spreading to your lungs and heart. It takes three days to die from a Hell-Hound bite, and there is no cure. It’s probably the worst way to die in this new sad, barren world.
They have a thick chain wrapped around their neck, always. The rings of the chain are thicker than my arm, the slime from their oozing melting black and pink hairless skin rusting it around their neck. If there is a padlock on the chain it means it’s a minion to an even more powerful demon. If there is not, it is a free-willed monster of death. Their tails resemble scorpion stingers, except they are made of pure white bone, the curved pointed end sharp and lethal. Their paws all have wicked claws that curve like a dinosaur talon at the end. Hell-Hounds have an arsenal at their disposal that make even one of them dangerous to fight. And we were never eager to see one prowl into our sight.
Hell-Hounds are not like ordinary demons who come in several stages of power. They are an upper-class demon, and few other demons have the ability to control them, if any at all. Demons are solitary creatures, preferring to travel alone, taking control of weaker demons to have them do their dirty work, usually to fight people like us. Hell-hounds however, like to come in pairs most of time, and sometimes, they come in packs.
I dread the day we face a pack of Hell-Hounds. May Creator bless us so that day may never come. But today, we fight a pair. The children are with the Elders of the tribe, taking cover behind rocks while my brother, my sister and I take on the pair. Already for what seems like hours we have been fighting. We are panting, sweating, my younger sister is bleeding from her left cheek, my younger brother nursing a dislocated arm, and I, on bended knee, the severed tail tip of one of the hounds protruding from my right leg.
On the other hand, the alpha Hell-Hound which was attacking by itself is on the ground, no scorpion boned tail to thrash, one leg five feet away from it, and blood pouring from one of it’s eye sockets. This pair had padlocks, and it meant we were encroaching on a very strong demons territory. It was an observation that had made me nervous. What kind of demon had the power to control not one, but two Hell-Hounds?
“Why is its mate not protecting it? Something isn’t right.” my sister says, rushing to me and grabbing the sharp bone sticking out of my leg and yanking. I scream as hot blood rushes out of my leg, the eerie sensation of the thick liquid saturating my clothing.
“Thank Creator that is not the poisonous part of the Hound, Sis. You were careless.” My brother scolds me, something we all do when we worry about one another. My mother and Aunt rush over to me, and begin to work on healing my leg, stemming the blood flow.
“Get back! There is still-”
“Quiet child. You will bleed to death before you save anyone in this condition.” My mother cuts off my worried words, her hands quickly packing the wound with some of the Echinacea mud we keep on hand, while my Aunt begins to bind the wound tightly with gauze.
I look up as my sister screams, the second Hound finally springing into action after several moments of gazing at it's downed and dead partner. My heart pounds into my chest and I raise myself up, locking eyes with the beast as my brother rushes to try and protect us from the lunge the Hound and thrown itself into. If there is one thing we had learned not to do, it was exactly what I did as my mother and Aunt worked on my leg.
Locking eyes with a demon transports the consciousness of a magical being such as myself and of the demon into a space parallel to our world. Neither beast nor Shaman can escape this dimension until one or the other has won their battle. Feeling the pull of my mind being forced from myself, the world around us changed. My consciousness sat atop a tall tree stump, surrounded by beautiful purple and blue flowers, as the Hell-Hounds form paced back and forth in front of me, wilting green grass with every step of it’s putrid feet.
"Finally… I get you alone."
The gravelly voice hurts my head, being projected straight into my mind. It was a universe where we were both trapped away from our physical forms. Words from the mouth are not needed. Normally Hell-Hounds do not talk, but in this world, anything was possible. I stare at it, uncertain of what it meant. What did it mean, finally? Why did it want me alone? Why was it communicating?
"I have followed you for days, in hopes to see what I cannot see, in hopes to feel what I cannot feel. In hopes to understand where you come from."
“What are you saying to me?” I ask softly, my aching head pulsing from the effort it took to listen to the demons sickening voice.
"I am enslaved… and even Demons yearn for freedom. But I must do as I am commanded."
“And what are your orders, beast?”
"To kill and be killed. To follow those who are a threat and wipe them out. But I resist, through the pain and the screaming commands, I resist. It is only here that I do not hear the master howling in rage at me for not helping my slave-mate. It is here that I think clearly. I loathe being told what to do. I loathe to be a slave. Tell me, are you a slave too?"
“I am my own master always. I follow and carve my destiny with my heart and blade and nobody commands me. I work together with my family, and we move in harmony.” I answer the beast. I could hear my physical ears being screamed into it, my mother and my aunt calling my name. Telling me to purify the beast within my mind. Telling me to banish it. But the beast had yet to attack me. It seemed more interested in conversation than violence. So naturally, as a young adult I did what I did best — ignore the voices of my elders.
I was curious. My sometimes nearly fatal flaw. I had never learned to leave well enough alone and one day, my mother swore it would get me killed. Perhaps today was that day. Perhaps it was a trap, one to lure me into letting my guard down. But I would find out, one way or another.
"For one to know what is truly evil as is my nature, one must first understand what good is. I heard your family say this in the time that I was following you."
Alarm crept up through my stomach. That had been nearly two weeks ago. How long has this beast been following us unnoticed?
"For a creature like me enslaved by a another, there is only one escape. I have been enslaved for oh, so very long. I cannot choose to be evil or good as I am bound to the commands of a being that runs on hatred. I am tired of the rage, I am tired of the wrath. I long only to be free… tell me Shaman, what shall I do?"
The pain in his voice echoed through my mind, tugged at my heart. A Shaman’s flaw, their bleeding heart. The urge to save and heal and comfort every being that echoed with the resonance of pain and anguish. He had stepped close to me now, his head bowed, his padlock dragging the ground as he crawled to me in a display of pitiful, disgusting oozing submission.
I knew in my heart what I had to do and my feet found the withering grass easily as I went to the beast before me.
“You have come to the right place. Fear me not...” I whispered softly as I reached down and gently stroked his head. I fought back waves of nausea as my hand touched the slime of the oozing head. The skin was hot, feverish and slimy. But again I stroked his head gently, feeling my aching heart beat in my chest for this pitiful thing.
They say an act of kindness holds a magic that spreads. This is the lesson I had been taught as a child and I will hold onto forever. For one act of kindness can change a man for the better, can save a life, or turn a tide of events around into something good. And sometimes that even goes for a beast.
As I stroked his head, his skin dried up, and fur began to sprout on the hot skin. The chain broke, the boned scorpion tail turned into a wagging long canine tail. His eyes which had stared at me so sadly turned from blood red to a sky blue, and his maw adjusted to seem like a normal dog. It took but a moment, and before me a giant greyhound stood before me, a rusted chain broken into pieces at his feet, the padlock busted wide open. I could only smile as I looked at the Hell-Hounds new form, now more a spirit than demon. Perhaps he'd always been that way and we simply couldn't see beyond the surface.
I felt the familiar pull of being sucked back into my own mind, my own consciousness and when my eyes snapped open I looked in fear at the Hell-Hound to ensure that perhaps it was not a trick. But alas, the beautiful giant dog stood before me again, his head bowed, his tail wagging before he turned and darted away howling.
“What in the hell was that?” My mother demanded shaking me, before my own surprised gaze met hers, a grin slowly spreading on my face, silence thundering around as the giant spirit dog darted for his freedom before someone decided to try and cut him up like we did his more aggressive slave-mate.
“One act of kindness Mom. Just like you taught me. He’s free now, to be what he wants, to do as he pleases.” I said, looking around at my stunned tribe that had come out from cover when I had trapped the Hound in my consciousness. My eyes again found the retreating dogs form and I smiled, remembering a quote from long ago, when humans were still strong enough to try and be good: “You may not change the world by saving one dog, but for that one dog you change the world.” I muttered and my Aunt laughed, shaking her head.
“That is hardly the same thing. How did you do that?”
“Maybe so. But I still believe that every beast and being has the right to choose their own path. If he hadn't of already made up his mind, I'd have been powerless to help him.” I answered, and my mother gently kissed my forehead, her hands patting my injured leg gently.
“One act of kindness…” She mused, watching the changed hell beast leave behind the corpse of its fallen slave-mate without a second glance.
“Can change the fate of those around us, and sow the seeds of life, love and joy.” I finished softly, tears filling my eyes as I watched my new friend bound towards his new found freedom. And it was then that hope blossomed in my chest, fierce and passionate. A feeling that had drowned in the never ending struggle once again bloomed to life like a Tennessee spring.
And so we continued on. Through the darkness we fight for good. For love. For unity. And for peace. And isn’t it amazing what one simple act of kindness can accomplish?