Two simple concepts that created a simple cycle.
Everything lives just as everything dies.
At least, that was what she had always believed in her youth. The same belief she shared with her fellow Manaketes.
Naga never really gave the cycle much thought. It was pretty obvious that death always followed life and it was just natural. There was no big deal. And she shared this idea with the Manaketes of her village.
But this belief did not ease the hatred towards humans. But it did affect the reason of this anger. To them, humans killing Manaketes left and right were interrupting the cycle by shortening it beyond its intended length.
There was one Manakete who greatly influenced the reinforcement of her beliefs however. A young boy from another village that had been almost wiped out by a bunch of humans.
His name was Ladon.
Ladon and Naga had become close childhood friends within days, constantly spending time together. Rumors began to spread that the two would end up becoming mates.
However, the events of one day would bring those rumors to a screeching halt and would change Naga’s beliefs forever.
It was in the early beginnings of summer several years after they first met. Naga and Ladon were heading to a creek in a nearby forest in order to see about catching a few fish for later. As they were walking down a worn out trail, Ladon stopped in front of Naga and turned to face her.
“I heard that there was a bunch of humans preparing to attack the village.” He suddenly said, completely out of the blue.
“What?!? Are you sure about this?” Naga asked, immediately furious at the idea that humans had the nerve to attack her home.
Ladon nodded, seeming to be dead serious, but a glint in his eyes told her that he had something planned.
“Sadly, yes. But, we can use the element of surprise to take them out first. We attack where they live tonight and take them all out before they have a chance to even reach the village.” He proposed.
The idea, at the time, seemed appealing to her. Humans had always been killing Manaketes, shortening their cycles. Perhaps, it was on natural that the same action be paid back in kind.
“Alright. I’m in.” Naga said confidently.
“Great, meet me here as soon as everyone else is asleep.” Ladon replied before the two continued to make their way to the river.
Later on, once the moon had risen and everyone had gone to bed, Naga snuck out of her home and made her way to where she was to meet Ladon. He was already there waiting for her, carrying a satchel that seemed to be filled with several large items.
“There you are, Princess. I was starting to think that you weren’t going to show.” Ladon said teasingly as he pushed off of the tree he had been leaning against.
Naga rolled her eyes and crossed her arms over her chest.
“Very funny. And don’t call me ‘Princess’. You are just as much aware of the rumors as I am.” She playfully chided.
Ever since the rumors started, Ladon started to mock them by playfully flirting with her and calling her names like ‘Princess’. She always responded by playfully chiding him, but, if she was to be honest, she did find her most trusted friend rather attractive.
Ladon only chuckled in response and began to lead the way deep into the forest, Naga following behind closely. They walked in silence for what seemed like hours until a faint glow came into view. The two young Manaketes hid behind the trees to remain out of sight as they moved closer, catching the sight of a campfire that lit up a camp, a few humans sitting around the dancing flames.
“There they are.” Ladon whispered, glaring at the group of humans.
Naga’s eyes scanned over the camp, taking note of the large number of humans present as well as the large arsenal of weapons. She felt sick to her stomach as anger began to cause her blood to boil. These humans deserved an early death for what they were intending.
“So, what is the plan?” Naga whispered, her eyes not leaving the campsite.
“We wait until they go to bed, and then, we prepare to plant packs of thermals that I just so happened to have brought along.” Ladon explained.
And so, the two waited for a few minutes until finally, the humans began to go to bed. After waiting a few more minutes, Naga and Ladon moved in, splitting in separate directions to place the explosives around the campsite, making sure to remain silent. Ladon had explained that, when one was set off, the explosion would trigger the shockwave detonators of the other explosives, causing a chain reaction and that he would set the first one off by shooting it once they were far enough away to safely escape.
While Naga was setting up her half of the explosives, she froze where she stood when the sound of a baby crying reached her ears. She then heard the soft comforting words of a mother shortly after. Why would the humans bring a mother and child along with them if they intended on attacking an entire village of Manaketes? She remained still and silent, waiting and listening for any possible clues.
She heard shuffling in the same tent and then a man’s voice spoke out, barely speaking above a whisper.
“Was it a Grimm?” He said to ask.
“No. I think she is just having a nightmare. If it was a Grimm, we would have been attacked by this point. I can’t wait till we reach the city. Maybe we all will be able to get better sleep.” The woman whispered in response.
Naga’s eyes widened in realization as she heard the two humans converse. They weren’t intending on attacking the village. They were merely traveling to the city and the weapons she saw were for fending off Grimm. She and Ladon were making a mistake and she needed to stop it!
She quickly rushed off to find her friend, her blood running cold, forgetting all about the explosives, leaving them at the tree she had been standing at. She found Ladon carrying his last explosive, grinning as he walked over to the tree closest to the tents on his side. However, his grin faded when he saw Naga rushing towards him and his eyes widened in surprise when she tackled him for no apparent reason.
The two tumbled away from the camp for a few feet, Naga having tackled him with enough force that they were now barely out of earshot of the humans. Ladon quickly got to his feet, growling as he glared at Naga as she stumbled to her feet.
“What are you thinking?!?! You could have woken them up and then we would have been dead along with them!!” He shouted, shoving his arm out towards the direction of the human camp.
Naga hung her head before gently shaking it. She lifted her head to look at him, the sad look in her eyes taking him by surprise.
“We were wrong, Ladon. We were so so wrong….we can’t go through with this….they don’t intend on attacking the village. They are just traveling to head to the nearest city. The weapons aren’t for attacking us, they are for protecting themselves from any Grimm attacks as they travel. There is a woman and child with them….why would they be tagging along if they intended to attack?” Naga asked, hoping rational logic would change his mind.
However, she was wrong.
Ladon growled at Naga and pulled his gun from his jacket, putting the bomb in its place.
“How can you be so sure? Did one of them tell you? They could have been lying Naga! That is what they do! They lie and kill you when you lower your guard. Humans are nothing but liers and a threat to our very existence. They lie and they kill! The force others to have smaller life cycles just for fun! This is our chance to give them a taste of their own medicine!” Ladon shouted aiming the gun at her, a crazed look filling his eyes.
Naga looked surprised but calmly walked towards him slowly, not wanting to give up on him.
“And what if they aren’t? Wouldn’t we just be stooping down to their level? The cycle is a simple one, with two simple concepts. But shouldn’t we just let the natural order take its course so that it remains simple?” She asked softly, stopping a few feet from him, her sad eyes looking into his crazed ones.
“Why don’t you tell that to them?” Ladon spatted out.
No longer seeing a way to resolve things calmly, Naga jumped forward, grabbing onto Ladon’s gun hand and the two began to struggle for the weapon. This continued for several minutes, the two Manaketes growling at one another until the sound of a gunshot rang out. Their eyes widened and they stumbled back from each other.
Naga looked herself over and then looked towards Ladon. He was looking at the palm of his hand that was stained red, a soft beeping coming from inside his jacket. It did not take long for the two to realize what just happened. The trigger had been pulled and Ladon was shot as a result and that shot triggered the explosive he had placed in his jacket. But only the timer had been triggered and that alone filled Naga with hope to counter the fear that was chilling her very core.
“Quick! Get rid of it! We can both still get out of here alive!” She begged her stunned friend.
She didn’t know why but, the thought of him dying was terrifying. Why did something that was so simple and natural scare her now of all times?
Ladon looked up at her, a sudden realization flashing across his eyes as the sound of alarmed shouting came from the direction of the camp. A similar realization hit her as well, the gunshot had woken the humans and they would surely come to investigate, and the explosive could still kill whoever had gotten too close to it when the timer went off.
“Naga...it’s….it’s too late for me. I...guess you could say that I am far too damaged both physically and mentally at this point…” He said, letting out a dry chuckle.
He looked at her and gave a small, sad smile.
“But...you’re not beyond repair….Naga….I know...that you realized it too...how wrong we all have been….about the cycle...about life…..and about death….you need to be the one to set things right. You need to be the one to make things better between humans and Manaketes...you...may want to stand back...:” He said, watching as a stunned Naga took one step back.
“Maybe a littler further….no telling just exactly what this thing might do..” He added.
Naga took a few more steps back, putting several feet between them. She looked at Ladon in shock, trying to wrap her head around what all was going on. They had been wrong? All this time? How? Was things more complicated than they first believed? And what was he planning? Why didn’t he just toss it far enough away? Surely, he still had the strength to do so. Her confusion only grew as she seemed to hug the bomb closer to his body.
“You know….even though I always teased you because of the rumors….I always did love you...I’m wishing that either you had kissed me or that I had worked up enough courage to kiss you myself…I...I know this might sound selfish but….I hope you’ll miss me, Princess….and just know….the nickname….isn’t exactly part of the teasing….it’s...it’s because I worship you, Naga. You’re one of a kind….and I know….you will do something great with your life….I’m….I’m sorry that I won’t be around to see it…” Ladon said, looking down sadly, tears starting to fall as he accepted his fate.
Naga’s eyes widened as her body trembled, her core and blood turning colder than ice as she watched one so dear to her.
“Oh my God…” she muttered softly, slowly starting to shake her head in disbelief.
“Promise me...that you will fix the mess I made tonight...ok? We don’t need them deciding to attack the village because of my stupidity…” Ladon asked, looking back at her.
“Wait….hold on!! There has to be another way!!” Naga pleaded as tears began to stain her own cheeks.
But Ladon merely shook his head, giving her a soft smile and began to softly sing a song that was cherished by their kind, though it no longer held any religious value.
“Our love is God…” he began to sing, repeating the lyrics as if they were some sort of mantra.
Naga could only watch in shock as the ticking of the timer melded with his words, tears falling as she tried to urge herself to rush forward, to either stop him or die with him. But when Ladon took on his dragon form, wrapping his lithe body tightly around the bomb as if his body alone could absorb what was to come. Closing her eyes tightly, Naga looked away, clenching her fist as she cursed herself for being so weak in the moment she was needed the most.
“Say hi to God…”She said, knowing that Ladon had still managed to hear her.
Then time seemed to slow down as the timer reached zero, the bomb exploding as the force managed to break free, everything going to a blinding brightness as a ball of fire erupted outwards, the ringing in her ears disorientating Naga as she slowly fell to her knees.
When she opened her eyes, there was no trace of Ladon and various spots and the tops of a few trees. She could hear the muffled yelling of the humans who were rushing towards her through the intense ringing. Tears started to fall once more as she soon collapsed to the ground as darkness began to overtake her senses. As she heard the humans rushing towards her, she made a solemn vow to herself while she was still mentally aware.
Never again. Never again would she allow something like this happen again. Never again would she allow a life be forfeited like this ever again.
Years later, Naga had grown up more, though she did not look that much older. A civil war in the village had been avoided by her sacrifice and now she was leaving the village, donned in a suite of armor that had offered her a means to do something worthwhile with her life. But she could not leave just yet. There was still unfinished business she had to attend to.
She walked through the forest, her eyes full of sadness as she walked a path that had been al too familiar to her, despite hardly coming down this way. The memories were still too painful for her, the wounds still fresh. But she could not leave without one last farewell.
After walking deeper into the forest, she stopped as she reached a particular part of the forest that had remained untouched by all, even the creatures that called the forest home. The flora grew without supervision or with anything to prevent it from growing consuming whatever remained in the area. But only one thing stood in the lushest part of the forest.
A large boulder that had been placed the day after THAT night by both humans and Manaketes. The same boulder that she had engraved several words into. She walked over to the stone, carefully removing the vines that were starting to cover the boulder before gently running a hand over the words, repeating the words she had memorized before engraving them in her mind.
‘Here lies the place that Ladon, beloved son and friend, last stood. He gave his life to save others and the one he held dear. May this memorial act as a reminder of a lesson that he wished the world to know.’
She gave a soft smile full of sadness before resting her head against the boulder, a few tears managing to break free.
“Ladon….I’m….I’m leaving for good….I finally realized….I finally realized what you meant that night….I finally realized the truth….And now, i am going to head out into the world and spread that truth to all...I am going to do something worthwhile with my life...just like you wanted. I will make you proud. I promise. And...I wish I had kissed you…..I loved you then and, even now, a part of my heart belongs to you. Farewell, my Knight…” She said before kneeling down on one knee, lowering her head.
As she sat there silently, a soft tune began to play in her head. It was one that she and Ladon use to sing together whenever the other was having a nightmare. She soon began to softly hum the tune, smiling fondly as she did. Eventually, she went from humming to singing as she stood up.
“When this world is no more...The moon is all we’ll see…..I’ll ask you to fly away with me...Until the stars all fall down...They empty from the sky….But I don’t mind…..If you’re with me, then everything’s alright….” She softly sang, turning around and began to walk away from what she believed to be the final resting place of her beloved friend.
She would devote her life to protecting what had been taken for granted for so long. She would protect unity and the rights of all living things. But she would do more than just that. She would spread the truth. The same truth that Ladon had opened her eyes too.
The truth that life and death were not as simple as they seem. That the cycle was far more complicated than first assumed.
The truth that…..all life is precious.