Old raw fish isn’t the most pleasing to eat. It has a sort of fishiness to it, tender with no taste and borderline bland. It reminded Yohan of the concoction he had to drink once as punishment. He threw the fish bone into the earth that he had cleared to settle himself earlier. He had started a small warm fire, not big enough to be spotted but enough to keep him warm from the cold, he would have liked to go without it but the cold would kill him.
Yohan spat into the fire in disgust trying to take away the taste from his mouth.
Some yards away from the woods where he was sitting was a clearing on to which he had stumbled into an hour ago. The small clearing had a rocky terrain with a frozen pond in the center. He had dug out the frozen fish from the pond with the knife he had pawed from the kitchen before leaving for the village from the sanctuary.
“I am fucked” he murmured to himself.
Yohan was sure that he was lost. The woods were bigger than he had expected them to be from the time he had looked at the forest from the dorm windows in the sanctuary. He had been running for hours and at times, he had to double back when he came across stony impossible terrains which were discouraging enough to put his spirits on low by the time he had reached the clearing.
A goat’s skull left sitting on a fallen tree seemed as a rather ominous sign from the gods to let you know that you are lost and is probably walking to freezing death. The broken bones of the goat that had been scattered all around the fallen tree had crumbled under his feet making popping sounds when he stepped on them huffing for breath just like the time before when he was through that path, bringing him to a stop and making him think, he became acutely aware that he had been through that place before. He had then scanned for tracks and had found his prints on the snow that he had made while he was there before, which brought him to his second predicament.
He had seen the warden Rijiju making down the slope after him when he had turned around to look back at the group. The red scarf was a dead giveaway even at the distance. But evidently he didn’t seem to be in a hurry to catch him or presumably he didn’t want to trip to his death
Yohan had then stopped to shout some defiance at them to make himself feel good but had then decided against it and sped into the woods after he had noticed the bow Rijiju was armed with. Would he shoot him for punching the warden or would it be for running away?
He had heard the tales of runaways. Every one of them had been tragic though he suspected the tales were carefully placed by the order itself to demoralize anyone from acting up.
To throw Rijiju off his track that he left all over the snow, he had then climbed the fallen tree and then had walked over it and had proceeded to jump from one rock to another and clambering through rotting fallen trees trying not to leave any prints on the snow.
It was more time consuming but he was feeling proud of himself until he became acutely aware as to how stupid he was. He was now perfectly sure that he had left a perfect trail behind him, as broken branches from rotting trees, that had fallen when he was clambering over them and the few rocks overturned, when he had jumped from above them, He had lost all the time he had saved by trying to break his neck running down the snow.
He had stopped what he was doing and began running in earnest again to cover as much distance between him and the warden. By then the darkening gray clouds had spread its wings above the forest blanketing it in gloom and by the time it was starting to get impossible to see, he had started to wonder for a place to spend the night, the high peaks covered in snow wasn’t most comfortable place to sleep.
And as the sun had begun to truly sink over the hidden horizon under the gray clouds he had started to worry berating him for being a fool. He had had a good life but just not the one he had wanted. He wished he was back in the sanctuary. It was even mildly heartening to think that someone was after him even though he had a bow with which he may even shoot him. Still it felt nice.
After some more time of running around in the dark, he had come across the clearing, he had found the fishes and had walked away from the clearing as it was too open and had found the base of a tree that he felt was warm. The first few tries with the fire failed as it kept going out but after a few more tries it fluttered into life. He had then gone around collecting dry twigs and fallen branches to keep the fire alive. It’s different while leaving away from the safety of the sanctuary.
A particular strong blast tugged at the hood covering his face. He glanced at the trees over the side of the clearing from where it had blown. The little gray clouds visible through the trees were being replaced by the dark, reminding Yohan that night was going to be a long one. The nights after the second day of the cycle are always long.
He had read the tomes and books in the great library about people escaping great prisons. There even had been stories about men and women entering and escaping from Irkia, one of the dreaded places in the land. Some have been skilled and others have been said to be lucky but Yohan was starting to see that he was neither of them. The much thought about escapade that he had come up with was falling into pieces in front of his eyes.
He had goaded Agan into the fight while they were in the village knowing that he would snap at some point of the climb. The things he hadn’t expected was getting lost in the woods. He drew the knife from the earth where he had stuck it near the fire. It had a waning heat to it from the proximity of the fire. He hadn’t thought he might find any use to it when he took it.
The forest was eerily silent. Insects probably can’t survive the chill and animals are probably still in hibernation. The forest of Akali is filled with life in the summers. Yohan sighed to himself frustrated. The winter trials should have ended last week, according to the Aninthan calendar, but the mountains never pay heed to the calendar, they remained asleep, grudgingly holding on to its snow cloak unwilling to wake from its sleep.
Despite wearing all the coats and overalls to protect him from the cold, Yohan was still ill-equipped to stay the night out in the cold. He wasn’t sure as to whether he will wake up if he were to go to sleep.
Thankfully the snow had stopped falling. It could be possible that winter-trials were actually over. The only variable in his plan was that he didn’t know when the winter trials will end. The end of winter-trial would mean the traders will be coming which meant no trips from the sanctuary to the village and which left Yohan with no opportune moment to escape. He had to know the right time to escape.If he had tried escaping earlier the mountain pass that lay between the Ayankal and Manasar would have been snowed in and blocked. He would have died of the cold.
He had poured into libraries charts of weather and scrolls that told the tables of different weather patterns of the land. He had zeroed in on this week. He had been careful to get punished now and then so as not to bring attention to himself but also to be not to miss the chance and the situation provided. He had been observing the weather for a week and had scouted the trails for possible escape routes. And he had found the day ideal, fearing a chance might not present to him like this he had taken it. Yohan drew a scarf from the pocket from inside of his robes and draped them around his neck and wondered whether he should sleep.
The woods were one of the most dangerous stretches of land in Ayankal. It spread from the side of the mountain to the valley and he had been walking through the forest for hours and was tired now. His weary senses were crying at him. There was something uneasy about the woods.
Yohan picked up the pebbles from the ground and began throwing it at the fire.He didn’t have anyone who would be particularly worried about him, it had always been just him. He could protect himself if need be. He was safe enough for now. The fire suddenly crackled and send sparks flying.
Yohan frowned at the fire. The light from fire dimmed for a moment sending shadows rising around him. It was changing color and started to burn with a green tint. The wards he had set around him had gone out. Intruder. Rijiju?
Don’t move. Don’t let him know that you know. His mind murmured. But he has a bow and an arrow. What is going to stop him from sticking an arrow in him? The fire turned amber from green.
His ring finger started glowing as he drew runes into the fresh patch of the ground, devoid of snow. The runes glowed as they appeared on the earth. His fingers shook now more from fear than from cold. The glowing runes changed to form into a circle with two dots in it one in the center and the other to the side. Yohan glanced at the clearing to his side hidden by the trees.
He raised his fingers to the side of the clearing drawing runes in the air leaving behind glowing runes hanging in space. His eyes widening in the process, as he saw a flash of motion beyond a small stand of trees to the side of the clearing.
Yohan didn’t stop, even when he saw the snow tiger stepping out of the foliage, growling showing off its ridiculously huge canines, the black stripes on white was almost impossible to catch the eye in the snow.
In the next instant, Yohan felt shoved back by the shield from earth that had erected just in time to ward the whole of the snow tiger, effectively preventing it from mauling him to death. Yohan fell on his back and the oncoming horror had hit the shield.
The tiger itself had struck the shield at a poor angle and was thrown back into the tree striking it in a blur which led the snow that was collected in the tree top tumbling down on the lion covering it in a fresh blanket of snow. The beast clawed its way out of the snow and began to prowl towards Yohan while its tail moved right and left brushing at the snow. Then the shield that had acted as a wall between the tiger and Yohan crumbled down to the earth. The beast was startled by the sudden disappearance of the wall for a moment but bounded after Yohan by the time he was on his legs and had started running towards opposite direction of the lion.
It struck a wall covered in flame that appears in the area Yohan had stumbled before. But Yohan didn’t stop to look at the howling beast which was rolling in the slow to stop the stinging flames. He wasn’t sure whether it would have hit the animal. He had hastily drawn the rune with a counter to set it off in fire hopping to startle the creature and earn more time. The creature’s roar echoed behind him as Yohan fled through the woods.
Yohan plunged through the trees. His leather shoes slipping sliding on the thin layer of snow, dividing the pine needles with his hands when they came to meet his face. His breath was rasped and blood was starting to thumb in his brain. He began to draw more shakamana and his ring finger began to glow as he started leaving hastily drawn runes hanging in the air which after moments of its creation burst into flames. Not as big as the first one but good enough to throw the beast of its chase momentarily, with sharp detonations which left the beast half blinded and deaf for a moment or two when it got too close to the fire bursts.
Yohan wasn’t sure as to how long, he could holdout. He was too tired. He had been running along the forest for too long early in the day and was dead tired while the beast didn’t seem to be showing any signs of slowing down. And the process of drawing shakamana required a disciplined mind which was hard to keep while running and each time he drew more of it, he was left further tired.
He wished he could find a cliff to fall off to leave this all behind or maybe the lion could go over the cliff and leave him behind. It was high time, something that he wished was given to him today. He hadn’t stopped drawing runes as he ran; it would save him in the long run by making this a long run than a short run with him dead in the end.
Suddenly he stumbled and staggered into a clearing, a greyish blue sky filled the entire view with a cliff at the other end of the clearing.
“You have to be kidding me.”, he cried.
Yohan came to a stop at the end of the cliff and peered down the cliff, it was deep with sheer rocky sides that would probably rip him to shreds before letting him fall to his death. There was nothing to hold onto if he wanted to hang himself by the cliff and the rock was too hard for his knife to get a hold on.
He swept his eyes around the surroundings, the wild cat hadn’t reached the clearing yet. Did he lose the animal, mused Yohan for a moment? No his heavy breathing is probably going to lead it right to him anytime soon. Yohan raked his brain, not helping he needed to be in control; he looked back at the woods and slowly he slowed his breath.The tiger still hadn’t reached the clearing yet. He sighed and then began to prepare a rune; his whole hand glowed as he began to draw more shakamana to him. He hoped it would work.
He wasn’t proficient in mystic arts to enable him to levitate himself from the ground and save himself. Something he had avoided studying as he had thought the particular art pointless and hard work. He was more proficient in illusions and elemental arts but he wasn’t sure as to whether he could fool a snow tiger with illusions. It would probably recognize him by smell. He wasn’t even sure how the eyes of animals worked he knew enough that they didn’t work like humans, they could see in the dark, who knows about illusions.
He glanced down the cliff again as he drew the rune.Still too damn deep. ” burned gods”, he swore.
He finished preparing the runes in the air and invoked the mantra stored in his bracelet; the glowing runes formed into a glowing orb and floated in the air before Yohan waiting for him. He touched the light with his fingers and it began to slowly spread through his body; a warm feeling spread through his hands following the light.
He crouched down on to the stone ground and drew his hand around him forming a circle “Where the hell is the damn lion?” He cursed. The cold seems to have left him but he was starting to get tired of crouching down.
Then a twig snapped somewhere among the trees. Yohan became alert and before even had his head up, the tiger was coming at him with cruel look on its face, it didn’t seem like it was happy with all the flashes and bangs that he had left.
Was this how the heroes of tales felt when they faced mortal danger in front of their eyes a warm feeling between the legs? Aww shucks, I pissed on myself. Damn.
He let go of the mantra he was holding on to the last second when the monster was a few feet away from him more out of fear than the plan that he had decided on.
A great surge of force hit him from the bottom and threw him into the air, the air left his lungs and his chest hurt. For a while he felt the fear ebb away as he concentrated upon the pain in his chest from the force he had employed on himself and then suddenly he knew that he had overshot the force and had gone up way more than he had intended. Please find me a bed of snow to fall on.
Then he was falling, his limbs flailing around helplessly face first onto a bush. Well better than the rocks. He tried to cover his face with his hand and let out a squawk as he felt thorns pierce his hands and side of the face that was left unprotected. His side ankles hit the rocky ground and pain shot through his legs. He let out a howl and rolled around the ground.
And then with a jerk, he raised his head and looked around for the lion.
Nothing. Gone. Looked like the fates were with him.
Sighing he let himself lay there for a moment. He looked to the side. The sun was rising up from the mountains. He let out a sigh after a few moments and rose from his back and checked his leg by wiggling his toes.
Looked alive and wiggling. I will walk.
He dragged himself to the snow nearby not believing in himself to stand up on his legs. He gathered the snow and poured it into his boots and after some moment let out another sigh.
A cold wind blew across the cliff side, a morning wind probably the last of the winter-trial. The mountain is going to wake up. He looked at the end of the cliff were the lion had gone over. It probably woke up from its sleep last night. He sighed again. He was alive.
He needs to be prepared to stay alive now that he is out of the sanctuary, out of its protection. He tottered to his feet wincing at the pain. He plucked a thorn from his nose. He looked at himself trying to assess the damages. How long he would be able to stand not for too long and he was hungry.
Side of his face seems to be covered in bruises but he couldn’t know without taking a look at it. But it was tender to touch. He hoped the thorns weren’t poisonous. His legs weren’t a mess as he had feared. But I still send shots of pain up his leg when it touched the ground but then again he will live
He patted his robes and found that he still had the knife in the sheath hidden inside and for some reason he felt reassured though he wasn’t sure how a blunt life would make him feel so; he even had a hard time cutting the frozen fish with the knife
He shrugged to himself than to anyone else and swept his eyes around the area; he had no idea where he was, but he could just keep walking downhill. He was bound to get to the valley and from there he could just walk east and he would eventually reach the Manasar pass. He nodded to himself making up his mind and turned around to the woods.
After a few, steps he stopped as he saw an arrowhead pointed towards him from the foliage and after a minute later Rijiju stepped out into the clearing. After all this, now he comes.
He wanted to look to the skies and shout at the gods up above but the man before him was tantalizing enough to receive his full attention.
Yohan noticed that the Warden still had the red scarf around his neck. His face was a mask, no emotions played on his face.” You are such a disappointment boy”, he spoke loud enough for Yohan to hear.