Ashen Dust. Chapter 1: Deliverance from the Depression
Ashes to Ashes
There weren’t always dragons in the Valley. These days it seemed that very few people knew of their existence, let alone cared. You can’t blame them though. It’s as if in accepting their humanity that they’ve decided to discard everything else about themselves.
Yes, I too am human just like them. However, are we not meant to be more than human? We were not meant to be more than just ourselves, individually? It always perplexed me about how people dreamed about being part of something bigger than themselves, then in the end a large majority feared about devoting apart of themselves to something that could be bigger than themselves in a whole.
Trudging my way along through the clay of the canyon in the Dragon’s Valley, I kept my head held high, though not out of pride, but in order to keep the skin on my neck cool. Oh, the Valley, oh the Canyon, this deep chasm within the heart of the land I knew of where I had to go. For it was not destiny that called me, nor was it the dreams of a lavish luxurious lifestyle, it was the calling of parts of myself longing to see the light of day.
I could hear them. I could hear the voices. I could hear the roars, the bellows, the grunts, the calls, and I could hear the thirst, the desire, the need to be free. I knew that they lied in there. I also knew that the longer I allowed them to persist without me in their presence the less likely I would be able to remain in assertion of myself. For we both needed expression. They needed me as much as I needed them. The bounty of the Valley would only persist for so long. They needed me like how a horse needs a rider, and I needed them as a rider needs a mount. Though we can both survive in the Valley, me in its garden alongside its river, and them in its caves, we would both continue to live a life of not bliss and comfort, but of struggling to escape this falsely constructed paradise to reach an area of actual viability where we could build a fortifying way for ourselves in this world.
The longer they grew here, the more difficult it would be to rear them if we were to try to leave. To escape this false paradise would either mean certain death for us. They would lose willpower and strength to go on, and I would lose the ability to provide guidance and course correction. The longer I stayed here the less motivated I was. The less I wanted to leave. Eventually there would be a point of no return in which staying would be more dangerous than leaving.
“Come to think of it,” I began to talk to myself, “isn’t that the same with all things given the gift of existence?” The dread had stirred within me. Thankfully it stirred instead of remaining stagnant. If it does not continue to stir, I fear that its stagnation would lead to my further stagnation. As I approached the cave, I thought back to how peacefully I’ve been able to sleep these past couple of nights. Since they had never seen the light of day, the only objective sense of time they developed was in their growth. Sadly, for me that meant that their cries would be heard throughout the entirety of the day, whether the sun shone in the sky or even if it was the blackest of starless nights. I cannot ignore us any longer.
They haven’t ignored me. That I know for certain. That’s why they were crying, singing, being sirens to my ears, stirring me to action. Having several baskets of fruit prepared to leave that I had placed at my resting spot, along with the several others that I had brought with me, I knew that the only way out of this Valley was through hell that I’ve made for myself.
Yes, you could call it a peaceful slice of heaven, but everything’s always peaceful in the eye of the storm. As time marches forward, I have to be prepared to march along with it, but also to prepare myself to leave the safety of this as our window of opportunity closes up on us. The cave, the deep maw, the cavernous depths with which I am conquer, they wait for me. They yearn for me.
After quenching my thirst at the river, I proceeded to fill my water skin. Continuing my treacherous journey, I neared the cave’s entrance. I looked up into the sky and let out a mighty sigh. There would be no turning back.
I remember a time when my family told me that sometimes the harder things to do is quit. I remember that time. Some things are hard to quit. Some of them are hard to quit because we see them as an investment. All our energy, resources, but most importantly, our time would be put into those very same things. Which is why those things would seem to be so important to us. That’s why some things, no matter how harmless they seemed, no matter how infantile they were, were difficult to let go of.
This was not one of those things. This was going to be a time that if I were to quit, it would be harder to leave, to return to a state of ignorant bliss, to not put forth the extra effort, than if I were to keep trudging along. Whether it was the person near the end of a project, the student near the end of a school year (or even better, their school career), the person near the end of a session of mandatory training; no matter what it was a purpose or mission that was always near the end of completion. Without completion the constant nagging within the back of one’s head would be ever present. The incompletion would remain ever-present, everbearing; serving as a constant reminder of what could have been, instead of what currently is.
Now, it’s time for me to walk forward to accept what I can be, and what the future I can have for myself and potentially even the rest of the world. By denying myself this process, I continue to deny the present what it could have been, delaying it for the future. That’s a burden that I know I’m not the only one to bear. Everybody has their own plate to eat, their own responsibility to bear, their own sack to carry. The longer we deny the present the less of a chance it’ll exist in the future. Their cries echoed out to me again. Let us deny ourselves of the present of completion in the present no more.
“Though I walk through the Valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” If there is anything to fear about this Valley, it should be the fear of never leaving it. It should be the fear of complacency. It made sense why there didn’t seem to be many dragons in the Valley anymore. Those that were no longer complacent, had left and gone. Of those that left few made it across the desert to find salvation. Others would come across oasis that would either ensnare them in a false sense of comfort, dooming their fate just as quickly if not quicker than that of the Valley, or those that were wise enough would leave after an expeditious rest. Some would succumb to the desert for a lack of direction. Let it be known some would give up due to lack of motivation. Not to forget those that left only to return to the false sanctuary that was the Valley, only did the desert become one with the Valley; dooming them for having to now leave again.
I entered the cave, my scent wafting in from the wind tunnel of the cavern’s maw. As I descended into its gullet, the light of the day began to dwindle from behind me. I now had to rely upon my other senses, as my eyes slowly adapted to the darkness.
Their singing, their sirenous wailing, was a guide for me as I continued to implore into the depths. The further I went the more the hairs on the back of my neck continued to grow. The deeper I went, the colder it seemed to get. As if imploring me, my instincts told me to no longer turn or run away, but like gravity, I was being pulled downwards at a rapid decline, yet, to the beat of my sandals in this subterranean dwelling.
First, I lost the light. Then the warmth was drawn away. The eventual lack of heat, the cold set into play. I could feel the water condensing on my face. Becoming colder and colder till the point that it had made a thin ice mask on my face. Only the silent breathing of my nostril flares kept the ice from completing a fully formed mask. My fingers, my toes, even the tunic and robe I had worn overtop were starting to crust over with ice.
The fruit in the basket; the peaches, the pears, the apples, the plums, even the grapes and with their leaves, all started to develop a layer of ice overtop of their skin. The grape leaves started to wither and curl away from the cold. The apples and pears started to become even more solid than they were before ripening. The plums skin started to peel as if the Jack Frost had given them frostbite himself with ghastly, wispily, fingernails. The peaches started to appear like small prickly sea urchins when their fuzz was subjected to the frigidity in the air.
The cold, the briskness, the deep freeze of the deep esophageal descent to the howling at its core I traveled through. As tight as its jaws closed in upon me, it seized just as harshly as its hypothermia inducement would cause those ensnared in its traps to seize in their tracks. The warmth began to flow. Almost as if I were near the entrance of the surface, I heard the sound of water. Yet, it was not from the river above. The stalactites that formed had given rise to pools of waters. The pools of waters eventually beget ponds of water. The ponds of water those too had eventually beget lakes of water that had never been exposed to the light of day. Eventually, then, the lakes would fill their basins so much that the only place for the water to go was further down. Like a long slippery chain, one droplet would pull on another, thus pulling another, and so forth. Rivers were born and made.
Their force, their rumbling, their trickling first started off lighter and were drowned out by the beating of my own heart. The farther they fell down the larger they grew. The larger they grew, the more forceful they became. The more forceful they became, the louder they were.
It wasn’t long before the rivers almost challenged, if not had drowned out the songs of those calling for me. How could such beings ever wish to overthrow a constant force of nature? Simple, being born of nature themselves, they had learned to sing not against the currents, but with it. Allowing their notes to carry upstream as a salmon does in hopes of spawning.
As the rivers began to peter out to the sides, as the ground gave way beneath the weight of the water, the several falls to the river’s rivers and had split them up into even deeper lakes and flat shallow streams. Though the streams may be shallow, they were more than capable of taking life as much as they were capable of birthing and sustaining it. As I trudged my way further downward, I eventually paralleled the prisons of the dark beasts.
Am I right to call them beasts? Do they deserve such a title? If the darkness resided not in their hearts, not in their very nature, then the only darkness here was that of their home. The only darkness that they could truly have was not the absence of light, but the darkness that I, man, could give them.
Their singing, wailing, caroling, chanting if you may, ceased. I could feel the air pressure pulled from my skin, pulled from the hair on my legs, pulled from my cloaks, pulled from the skin of my face, let alone the very skin of my teeth. They smelled me.
The sense of pressure pulling me in, the heaviness of their breaths, they knew that I arrived. Almost simultaneously it seemed that I felt a series of warm droplets of air rush at me, as if someone- No, somethings had just breathed directly in my face. As if I could feel their tongues pushing the air, they lapped at their jaws brandishing fangs that one could only see within their most tumultuous of nightmares.
Without a howl, without a siren, without a shriek, roar, yell, or whimper, they were off. Off bounding their way upwards. Off flying past passages through tunnels that they knew better than the veins of their own hearts. Pumping their arms and legs faster than that of a steam engine cranking with the power of sun within its internals, they hurried their way over towards me.
The ceiling of the cavern began to separate even further from that of the floor. “There weren’t always dragons in the Valley,” I said to myself. Their scampering, their hurrying, their clawing up the mineral rocks and splashing in the waters of lakes and rivers echoed past me, signaling their oncoming. “Though I walk through the Valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”
Those words seemed to steel my resolve even further. I did not fear for my safety. My heartbeat more rhythmically than the most experienced drummer, my breathing remained steadier than the ocean’s current, and my thoughts were calmer than the undisturbed pools of water submerged in the earth that would give rise to crystals that have been forming for millennia.
The speed of their galloping whipping the air up striking the torches like match heads against a box, I would get to see them as they see me. They ran faster than the light could give chase to them, exhibiting their forms. For they approached me as I approached them, clothed in darkness.
Splashing in the rivers’ waters, they soon paralleled me. Some ran back and forth, a few reared up, stretching their arms beyond the rock gates of their prison. Their hands outstretched for me; I could have sworn I heard the joints in their hands popping as they reached out for me. I was no stranger to pawed at before, but even though I feared no evil, I knew that I dare not stray from the path. For I must conserve my strength.
It was their cries and singing that had brought me. It was my scent that had brought them to me. It was the journey of needing to go through that brought us together. Yet, there was someone missing.
“Go, I will claim you,” I beckoned to them.
Without argument, squabble, controversy, or quarrel, they heeded my words. Playing with one another briefly, they hastened back from whence they came. Leaving me not alone in the darkness, I walked with my shadow that danced on the walls with the other shadows of rocks, moving to the enticement of the flickering flames.
The closer I got, the less spaced out the torches were from one another. The nearer I arrived, the brighter it seemed, to almost rival the sun in the sky. The less distance there was between us, the more my resolve had set like that of concrete of a hot summer’s day. Eventually I entered into the throne room.
Descending the slope, the red dust was blown away by my mere presence displaying the steps of the staircase below. To the sides of the circular arena the sand was shown to display two directions of being pulled in. For their running had whipped them up in a hurry, redesigning the floor.
There he sat in a chair, bathed in light, even though there was no hole within the ceiling above us. How it was possible? I could not say. What I could say, was that he was patient and waiting for me as much as they were.
“I’ve arrived,” I began.
“So, you have,” he answered.
“You know what I’m here for, do you not?”
“I do,” he twirled his hand from where he had rested his head, waving to the mineral gates around him. “What do you want?”
“What do they want?”
“What do I want?”
He almost stumped me there, “Freedom.”
“What do you really want?”
“Freedom of choice.”
“So then,” he continued, “what do I want?”
“Freedom of choice.”
“Why would I want what you want?”
“You are I and I am You,” I said pointing from him to myself, then back again.
“If we are one in the same, then why do you dwell up there and I dwell down here?”
“We’ve both grown,” I started. “I didn’t know how truly strong I was. Moreover, I didn’t know how pitifully weak I was. I was afraid of my weakness.”
“Do you see me as weak?”
“Then why do I dwell down here, and you up there?”
“I feared of your strength coupling with my weakness. Alone your strength is nothing. Combined with the weakness of another, with the weakness of myself, I could’ve ruined you, or allowed you to take us into ruin.”
“Are you saying that you would’ve made me weak?”
“Yes, and that weakness is stronger than strength. You’ve would’ve succumbed too, especially without proper guidance. Both of us would’ve perished along with the rest of those that had left the Valley unprepared.”
“Are you afraid that I would’ve controlled you, allowing my strength to delude myself?”
“I was afraid of my own strength deluding us, allowing our weakness to take hold never letting go, like a snake to a mouse, suffocating the life force from us.”
He stood up, walking to approach me. “So, why do you come here if you’re afraid that your weakness will be preyed on by the likes of me?” He pointed to the bars behind him, “By the likes of them?”
“I fear no evil.”
“No,” I paused, then my breath hit his face with a pungent warmth causing him to flinch, “the only evil you have is the evil I choose to let out.”
“So, you’re going to let us out? You’re going to unleash us upon this world?”
“No,” I placed a hand on his shoulder, shifting the weight of the fruit basket behind me, “we’re not being released upon this world, we were born into this world. We were born free, not to be slaves to the earth,” I bent down, picking up sand, letting it fall from the center of my grip, “nor are we to be slaves to one another.”
“What do you mean?”
“You are not my slaves; I am not yours. We belong together, to enter freely to each other’s lives as we deem fit.”
“Yet, now we are not free, as you’ve come before we would be made slaves of the Valley.”
“Yes, we still have needs. The only ones capable of making sure our needs are met are ourselves. Eventually we will have to make sure that our needs our fulfilled, to retain our freedom.”
He pushed me backwards by vehemently placing a hand on my chest, “Do you dare tell me that I’m a SLAVE to my NEEDS!”
“I don’t dare. I do tell you. Our needs are inherent, yet we are not enslaved to them. We can choose to ignore them if we’d like. You get to choose whether you feel pleasure or pain. Our hierarchy of needs determines our continual survival before returning to a state of equilibrium with the rest of the cosmos.”
“Is that what you want?” His eyes started to flash red. Flames seemed to be lit within his pupils. “You dare want us to join the likes of you,” the ashes started to climb up his legs. “You want us to be enslaved just like you?” The dust floated from the ground to the tips of his fingers and along the length of his arms. “How DARE YOU!”
He jumped back as the ashes and dust that swirled around him took shape and gave form. One clawed foot on an arm rest, the other on the crest rail, the dust and ashes were dust and ashes no more, but they were flesh incarnate. Before me he stood with his wings extended. In a stance that was ready to pounce, he flapped his wings rearing his head back. Throwing his neck down in my direction with a glint in his eyes, from his gaping jaws, I was greeted with a geyser of a blazing inferno.
I remained unharmed. Though I felt the warmth, the heat, and his passion, not a hair on my head, of my clothes not a single thread, nor even the basket of fruit was singed or burned. I looked up at him, not to him, but I respected his sentiment. This brought a smile to my face.
I patted one of my shoulders with a smirk on my face. “You really do care, don’t you?” He roared at me; my robes flying from his bellowing. “If you had a true genuine burning passion, that would’ve hurt, and caused a lot more damage than what you intended.”
He glared at me with a red glint within his piercing yellow eyes. Roaring in my general direction, end tails of my cloak was sent whipping behind me as he vocalized his anger. Leaping from the chair, he jumped up and descended upon me with the talons of his foot. I was pinned to the floor.
His weight, though pressed upon me, felt like a vapor that was flowing off of my body. His claws, though sharp, never punctured my skin, let alone my clothes. Rearing back again, he consumed me in a blaze of flames. Again, I was unharmed, the only thing potentially changed was the sand transmuted into glass. Yet, even the glass's new form didn’t last long, as it just turned back into dust.
“Come on now,” I said, placing a hand upon one of his foot’s talons, “this isn’t your desire.” His toe seemed to melt off into the sand. He neither hemorrhaged nor experienced any form of discomfort or pain. The toe simply just returned to whence it came. Ashes to Ashes.
He jumped back at the sight, at the feeling of losing part of his new form’s physical autonomy. Standing up to approach him, he stumbled backwards. Walking towards him, he tried spearing me with his tail. That too melted away. Shrieking at me, at a sense of powerlessness, he cried in disgust and even fear.
“Be not afraid,” I said to him. He fumbled back into his throne. Trapping himself, there was nowhere else to go. As I stepped forward his legs started to disintegrate back into the sand beneath him. Fearing of disappearing entirely, stretching his wings, he tried flying away towards the light. However, being submerged by the entirety of the earth, his best chances would be to cling to the wall like a giant bat. With a mighty flap of his wings, the membrane itself dissolved and his bones fell away as dried branches do from grape vines.
He roared and shrieked again in fear. He feared of being turned into sand. He wished to not turn into such a state. Dust to Dust.
I placed a hand beneath his chin, and moved it towards his cheek, “Be not afraid,” the red ceased to glimmer within his yellow eyes, and their glow of anger and fear diminished, “for I will be with you always.”
Dust and ashes fell away from around his eyes, almost giving the appearance of him crying, till the cloaked beast was no more. “There weren’t always dragons in the Valley. For some were condemned to a fate worse than the Valley.”
“I’m not here fight you or conquer you,” I said. “I’m here to make peace with you.” I held one of his hands in both of mine. I kissed it, bringing it forth to my forehead. “Please,” I looked up at him, “I need you. I can’t do this without you. We’re not always going to like each other, but we’re stronger together than we are apart.”
He took in a deep breath, holding it to compose himself as tears rolled down his cheeks.
“What do you want,” I asked him.
“What is your inheritance?”
“My inheritance is your inheritance?”
“My inheritance is your inheritance, and your inheritance is mine.”
“So,” I asked him, “what is it that you desire to inherit. “
“Freedom,” he huffed a great puff of air. “Freedom of choice. Freedom of will. Freedom to chose who I get to become, as great or as less as I desire.”
“As greater or as lesser as we desire?”
“Yes, that and so much more.”
“I desire that too. I hold the same ambitions.”
He blew out a breath of air. “Well, now what?”
“We attain it,” I told him. “It’s out there, waiting for us. The greatness of this world is patient. Let us not deprive the world of ourselves, nor ourselves of the world.”
“So, you’ve come to attain our inheritance.”
“I’ve come for us to attain our inheritance.”
“Say the words, and they’ll come. It’s obvious that they’ve been waiting for you.”
“No, they’ve been waiting for us.” I pulled him up from his chair, “together now.”
With grace, we hugged as only brothers of the same ilk that drank of the same milk could do so. For she had helped to nurture him when he had regressed, and care for us both. Now, it was our turn to go forward, and not to react, but to act with purpose.
Pushing past the throne; it fell away like the rest of his ashen form. Facing the gates, one of my hands in one of his we prepared to summon them.
“Unlocking the inner self, opening the gates of the seven kings.” Our voices rang out in a deep tone, as if we were one. The mineral rock bars melted too, and we heard their whooping, howling, whining, and giggling. They ran towards us.
Excited as they were, they new the rules. Only approach as we called out to them. For they remained on the edge of darkness, before coming into the light.
For we pointed and waved to each one, beckoning them to our side.
“Greed, come to Me, You are Mine.” She approached us with benevolence.
“Gluttony, come to Me, You are Mine.” She approached us with gentleness.
“Pride, come to Me, You are Mine.” He approached us with humbleness.
“Sloth, come to Me, You are Mine.” She approached us with docility.
“Lust, come to Me, You are Mine.” She approached us with modesty.
“Envy, come to Me, You are Mine.” He approached us with peacefulness.
“Wrath, come to Me, You are Mine.” He approached us with meekness.
They surrounded us; wagging their tails, and their jaws slacked, grinning from ear-to-ear. They were no longer “the,” but they were “ours.” We were not afraid of them, nor of the harm that they could do. Since, the harm that they could only cause, was the harm that we allowed them to.
“Now, before us,” we called out to them. They walked in front of the dismantled throne, waiting ahead of us, facing the steps.
I turned towards him, opening my mouth, the words let loose, “Together.” From the sand manifested chains, picking them up, whipping them into shape, leashes, harnesses, and mounts formed.
He placed my hand on the ground. “It’s your turn now. I put them away, now you must set us free. Wield it with courage, strength, will, and they’ll respond in kind.”
From the sand I picked up and threw the cattails into the air, cracking the whip. Almost in a blaze of fire, did the chariot form. We were dressed and strapped into it, the wheels were more magnificent than something any smith in Babylon could craft. Its beauty was beyond that of human’s creation.
Cracking the whip again, they reared up, as I yelled, “HOME!” They dug their claws into the ground, “Take us home, and beyond towards our destiny filled with greatness!” They pulled, and faster than they had ran to greet me before at the parallel rivers, in a mere flash had we left the cold clutches of the darkness and basked in the light of day.
Running past the footprints I had left on my journey before entering downwards, we gathered the supplies that I had prepared for the crossing of the desert. As the sun began to set, I urged them to climb up the walls of the Valley towards the oceanic desert. With the stars serving as our map above, we began our journey making our way in this world. For we were born to be free. We were born to make ourselves as free as we possibly could and help others in doing so as well.
For we had chosen to leave the Valley. Now our odyssey truly begins.