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The Glass Serpent
As a beam of moonlight glistens on the armor of scales, my eyes come to attention. The serpent’s slender body is at the surface of the sea, large and beautiful, mysterious and intriguing. I watch it, trying to mark which part of its body I’m looking at. I start thinking it must be the neck, due to the small scales and strong muscles, but the flap of a crystalline tail and quiet wave of water interrupt my thoughts. My mind starts to race, my heart practically escapes my chest with its beating, and a cold bead of sweat drips down my cheek. If it this the tail, where is the head?
I instinctively look for another shape on the surface of the water, but as the tail slips into the water with one last ripple, the water is silent. My fingers tense, squeezing the hilt of my weapon. I can feel the serpent here, like I can practically touch it, but the serpent does not want to be seen.
A rustle of nearby bushes sets fire to my senses, and my sword flies forward with a deadly rushing sound. Now I see the serpent, but just its silver tail, nestled behind a tree. Before I process what grave mistake I just made, the serpent’s battle cry rings out behind me. My weapon blurs in a circle around me, and the hilt of my sword, and my hand holding it for dear life, strike the serpent’s head, just below its eyes. I feel an ivory tooth sink barely a centimeter into my shoulder, and I shudder as the serpent reels away in pain, thinking of how close that tooth was to my vulnerable neck. It was pure luck I struck the serpent’s eye, but if I know one thing, it is that I am not to die today.
The serpent’s head rears backwards, casting a serpentine shadow against a ghostly gray half moon. A sea serpent’s eyes are their soft spots, since they don’t need to be strong or protective underwater, so that hard clunk caused more damage that I realized.
Pure fear drives my actions, and I lunge at the nearest flesh-the serpent’s tail. While its neck is flailing around in pain, its tail and body are still, anchoring it to the ground. My sword whistles as it swings into the easy target, effortlessly slicing a third of the way past the armor, now shattered and cracked, into the strong swimming muscles. Of course, a cut on the tail would not at all fatally injure the serpent, but pain was perhaps the most potent of distractions. I yank my sword from the wound just as the serpent maneuvers its tail away-one more second and my sword, and my life, would be gone. The pain and blood loss are effective against the serpent, but also provided plenty of blind rage, helping my cause but also endangering my position.
The serpent, as it pushes the agony away to make room for muscle command, swings its bleeding red tail like a whip towards my head. The blow would have killed me, but it strikes the side of my head, just knocking me out for a few precious seconds.
I wake, and before leaping to my feet, I survey the surroundings. In less than a second, I know roughly where I am and the whereabouts of the serpent. I can hear it sifting through the forest, looking for the broken remains of its prey. One movement of my legs or arms would give away my position, and before I could sit upright, the serpent would be upon me. My hands, though, they are free to move with slow, cautious action without alerting the serpent. I close my eyes to assess myself-Yes, though I had been knocked out, I have enough energy left. My left hand gently cradles a handful of moist earth in its palm, gathering as much as it could fit. I force energy into my hand, crushing the soil in a bruised, glowing fist. When speaking of the four elements, earth was just one away. One away from fire.
Fire, some people think, is very dangerous, and it is. But the fact that it is MORE dangerous than the other elements is completely bogus. Need I mention tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, and many other natural disasters, all products of these other elements? All fire can do is burn, but air can blow to make it larger, earth can provide food to feed it fiercer, and water can utterly destroy it, unless in the form of gasoline. Fire is useless on its own, like a helpless infant that needs lots of aid to survive. When controlled, fire, like a trained tiger, is not very dangerous, but very, very useful.
The fire leaps from my fingers, eager for thin, flammable grass, an offering from the earth. The inferno quickly surrounds me, but recognizing me as its master, as only a kind being would, it ignores me. The forest is soon in flames, but the flame travels slowly across the ground, which has been covered in evening dew. This fire is magical, thinking like a human but smarter, with only one desire or thought: To please its master.
The serpent, being of the sea, did not know what fire was. It didn’t think anything of the fire, that is, until it tried charging at me. The ring of fire around me, ever growing, stings the serpent, sucking the moisture away until the shiny scales looked red and hurt. The serpent flees from the flames, unsure of the power of this new formidable foe. The fire, strong as it as, will not let an enemy escape easily, and surrounds the serpent before advancing upon it, acting more intelligently than any mortal fire.
The serpent, trapped but showing no signs of fear, roars majestically and fiercely, trying to scare away the approaching, invincible enemy. In one final attempt to save its life, it falls onto the flame, smothering a good part of the fire into a greasy black ash.
I now see that the legends are true. I had always believed this legendary serpent existed, but there were rumors that it was made of a pure, reflective glass. Even I, with everywhere I’ve been, everything I’ve seen, did not believe that myth. But now, as the thousands of individual scales melted into one mass and the strong muscles and bones shattered from the heat, I truly believed the tale. This serpent is the glass serpent.
In horrifying awe, I watch the serpent die. The tail is already a liquid, bubbling as fire eats away at the magic that ebbed from it. Up to the middle of the belly, everything is like thick syrup, taking its time in dripping down and hitting the fiery ground below. The neck is still strong and solid, not really melting but sweating, and it flings its head around helplessly through the air. However this creature was animated, it was by magic, and it would not die until all of its body was gone and useless.
With the remainder of energy I have left after the fire spell, I thrust my sword cleanly through the weak, brittle glass of the serpent’s neck. One final dying cry escapes its throat as it splits in two, and as the fire greedily devours the remains, the serpent is still.
All around me is a messy, sparkling carnage. The fire dies down, sensing the enemy is no more, and their master is satisfied. The dying firelight is reflected in the remains of the serpent, and when the last of the firelight blows away in the cool night wind, moonbeams shine on the destruction. I stand amidst a lake of silver shine, not feeling like I had a victory, it had finished so soon.
There was nothing more to be done, I start heading home. The remains of the serpent seem to push me away, begging to be left in peace. With each step in the pool of silver melted glass, small ripples edge around my foot, starting small but growing surprisingly large before disappearing. As my left foot swings forward out of the enormous puddle, I feel a small burst of energy from my ankle, channeling into the molten liquid, or maybe I was just imagining things. I don’t know if it was the calm of the night or the exhaustion in my bones, but I didn’t turn around despite my instincts.
As my left foot thuds against the ground in front of me, I hear a gentle slithering sound behind me. This disturbance in the peace of the forest was enough for me to turn around to see a pair of perfect, wide, gaping jaws diving towards my torso.
Pain was like a streak of lightning filling every hollow in my bones. Four--I felt exactly four--fangs were pierced inches into my chest and stomach, mercifully far from my heart, but deep enough to be deadly. I feel the fury behind the jaws, the fury that had, combined with the magic and energy still emanating from my person, brought the glass back to life in its familiar shape. Based on how much energy and magic it could’ve gained from mere footsteps, it could only live for minutes more. It only took seconds for a snake to swallow a helpless baby bird.
The serpent is weak, but the sheer mass of the creature balanced the odds. I am still holding on to my sword, but I am still so weak, and the torturing agony didn’t make it any better. The serpent thrusts its head down, with my nearly lifeless body still clamped in its jaws, and then flings its head upwards as it opens its jaws, releasing me, and I go flying towards the moon.
I feel air rush through the holes in my side. My arms, one holding the sword, dangle uselessly, but I dare not let go of my weapon. The pain refuses to give me control of my body. As I hit the climax of my flight, my stomach turns at the thought of falling into the serpent’s cruel, heartless mouth, and the pain ebbs away to a frightening numbness. I could think clearly without the pain, though an inch away from blacking out, and I realize what I need to do. I know I probably don’t have the strength, but I have to try, even if it costs me my life, for doing nothing would cost the same.
Luckily, air is all around me. Air is a boring element; most of it just sits in space, tired of doing nothing, so the spell happens practically on its own. Air flies to my sword, eager to be anything but air, and turns to fire, causing the plain steel of the weapon to flash with orange and red. Then the air adjusts me, ever so slightly, so my sword is pointed down, and my legs raised to the sky.
I fall into the serpent’s maw faster than I think possible. The serpent, expecting an easy, unconscious creature for its meal, shrieks like a banshee as red-hot steel hits the soft, fleshy throat lining. The jaws close anyway, capturing me between two rows of teeth, and I start to feel a deep pain in my ankle, and I pass out for the second time that night.
I gradually come out of my slumber, feeling sore but strangely safe and secure. The serpent is still a solid, shining figure, lying only a few feet away from me. We are both still alive, both badly injured. The magic of the fire-sword must’ve gone into the serpent after it escaped my sword when I passed out, keeping the serpent magically alive after all these hours. I start to remember what happened just before I passed out, and my eyes travel down to leg and rest on my ankle. In is still skewered in one of the serpent’s fangs, my foot still lying on its tongue. I look away at once and wince as a wave of pain brought on by this realization slams into me like a load of bricks. However bad I have it, I know the serpent must be in much more pain. My sword was nowhere to be seen, so it must’ve dug who knows how deep down the serpent’s neck. Its eyes are barely open, and not full of rage or lust, but of a sorrowful, defeated, lifeless look.
Then I notice the fairies. No more than floating circles in the air, but certainly magical creatures. As I gaze upon them, they float over and seem to look at me curiously. When one wanders over to my mutilated ankle, I think I hear it chirp, and the others rush over. They just float there for a second, looking at my ankle like a particularly strange museum exhibit. One of them flies into my ankle and pops like a bubble. Then another after it, and soon hundreds of bubbles, each seeming to come from nowhere. In the popping frenzy, I cannot see or feel my ankle, but when the bubbles clear away and I can, I am mesmerized.
There is my ankle, healthy and unscathed as could be, right beside an untouched serpent’s fang. I don’t know how it happened, but magic is a unique and strange being whose children are their own species with their own laws and abilities. When my fire-sword released its energy, some went in the serpent to keep it animated, but the rest must have, in some way I will never understand, turned into magical bubble fairies. These magic bubbles were apparently expert healers.
Until the sun blazed from high in the sky, the bubbles work on us. My bones knit together like they are made of fabric, and as the magic bubbles disappear down the serpent’s gullet to heal the throat tissue, I see the serpent’s eyes lighten with pain relief. Soon both of us are well again, only slightly sore despite yesterday’s heated battle.
With no more healing to be done, the bubbles go their separate ways, looking for work, their only purpose in life. The serpent and I are both sitting upright, just looking at each other. We know our senseless brawl is no more, but we don’t know how to say goodbye. Through the deep hate we once shared, we developed a huge respect for each other’s endurance and strength, becoming a strange kind of friend without a word being spoken. Then its head eases forward towards me. I’m not afraid, I see the kindness in its eyes, and I walk towards it. It rests its head calmly on my shoulder, and I stroke the small of its back. We both know only a twist of fate had brought us together, and only the same could do it again. The serpent then slithers away, towards the sea, and it is gone with barely a sound.
Strangely enough, I had gotten my sword back. As I watch the serpent go, I rest the flat of my sword on my right shoulder. I walk away towards my home when I can see it no longer, and I feel something in my other hand. I don’t remember picking anything up, save for my sword, which is in my other hand, so I wonder what this object could be. I put down the sword and cradle whatever it is in both hands. In intake breath sharply in surprise as I see what it is.
The object is a little glass whistle.
St. Louis, Missouri
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I'd rather fail because I fell on my own face than fall because someone tripped me up
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כל העולם כולו גשר צר מאד והעיקר לא לפחד כלל
The whole world is like a narrow bridge and the main thing is not to be afraid at all
-Rabbi Nachman of Breslov
(sounded a lot better before it was translated... oh well)