Before him loomed a cave. Above the entrance, carved deep into the orange-tinted rock, was the unmistakable shape of the Great Yellow Eagle entangled with a serpent. Eddie did not know what it meant, but that was a sign that here is where his journey went next. His first darkened steps were met with the moist air from inside the earth, where his ancient ancestors would go escape the heat of the day. In the dim light, he could see more carvings and pictograms. Depictions of warriors hunting great buffalo, of owls and eagles, of wolves and creatures of the night adorned every surface. At the end of the shaft, just before all light diminished, was a depiction that gave him pause.
The unmistakable diamond-shaped head of a great serpent, a diamondback rattlesnake, gazed back at him through its narrow eye slits. He stepped closer to inspect the glyph. It was so life-like, Eddie felt like the eyes were watching him.
“Sahale!” came Hania’s voice from the dark. Eddie let out a shrill chirp in fright at hearing his voice. “Come. Your next trial awaits.” Hania sparked a flint onto a torch and the cavern glowed a dull orange. The acrid smoke of the old torch burned his nostrils. Hania turned to go deeper into the cave. Eddie followed with reluctance.
It was dark. So dark that Eddie had to place a hand on the wall as he walked the narrow path. Before long, the cave ended into a room with a small crackling fire set in a ring of rocks. The damp stones hissed from the moisture drawn from them by the heat. Hania motioned for Eddie to sit on one side while he sat opposite.
“Sahale, child of the Apache people and future warrior,” Hania said in a deep tone that echoed through the room. “Does your spirit tire, or are you still prepared?”
“I am prepared,” came the response his grandfather told him to say. “I am ready to face the trial of the Great Yellow Eagle. I will become a warrior among my people.”
“This is good, young brave,” Hania began. “Many moons have passed since the Great Spirit brought you to this world. Among his greatest creations is the Yellow Eagle, which our people revere.” The heat from the fire intensified. Eddie could feel the sweat forming on his brow, even though the temperature in the room was cool. Hania continued.
“Even Its’a, The Great Yellow Eagle was not without trials, and his greatest foe was T’iish, the serpent. Will you face the T’iish as Yellow Eagle has, and become one with him?”
“I will,” again was the prompted response. “I will become one with Yellow Eagle and face my trial with his blessing.”
“This is good,” Hania said, and lowered his head down. He began a low mumbling chant as Eddie stared into the fire, watching each glowing ember shift and squirm from the heat. The coals shimmered from red to orange to white and back as the fire intensified with Hania’s words. The chanting went on for several minutes. Eddie was mesmerized by the stillness of the room, the tone of Hania’s chant, and the tiny flickers in the dancing flames.
Time slowed. His legs grew numb. He didn’t know how long they had sat there in the dark. As he awoke from the fire’s trance, Eddie noticed a swaying movement above Hania’s head. He strained to see into the shadows, trying to determine what it was. It was small. Barely noticeable at first among the thick wolf pelt draped over the medicine man. Then, it broke through the shadows, growing in size and made its way over Hania’s shoulder, down next to the fire. Eddie froze with fear, eyes widening as a monstrous Western Diamondback moved effortlessly across the space between them. Its eyes were fixed on Eddie, just as the eerie glyph outside on the wall was. It was the same eyes. T’iish, Yellow Eagle’s nemesis, had come and now stood face to face with Eddie.