The land stretched away bouldered by snowy mountains and filled with green forests, prickled by snow, spreading through the valley as far as the eye could see. The weather was clear but it could never be told about the weather, it’s always random in the Akali peak.
For now, though the sky was brilliant blue, the first day of the cycles are always beautiful to Yohan. The prime sun was blazing overhead. He turned his face towards it, closed his stinging eyes and allowed the light to wash over his face. It was good to be out of the woods. He looked about, they had entered the main road that leads to Albenmarth.
” Why not the shorter route?”, he asked the warden.
“It would take you longer to run if you so decide to. And also, it’s easy to shoot you from here.”, he smiled. “Keep walking”
“How much more?”
“Just keep walking “
“I am tired”
“Should have thought that before your escapade “, Rijiju laughed, ” Better start praying to not get punished”
” Why to bother? I am going to get punished anyway and I wasn’t running away. I was just afraid of getting hit by warden Yathiki. I must have hit my head when I fell down the slope and then I got lost in the forest. It was just a bad day.”
” For someone who tried to escape from the order, you seem to be a pessimist “, Rijiju spoke in an amused tone.
” I told you. I wasn’t trying to run away”
“No point in lying to me kid”, Rijiju said in response.
Around them the mountain was starting to wake up from its slumber, the day was unusually sunny when compared to last week’s snowfall. Yohan let the hood fall back and let the cold wind caress the nape of his neck.
Behind him, Rijiju was rummaging through a bag that he had tied to his belt. He took a small pouch from it and took out a sweet roll from the pouch and munched on it.
” I am hungry “, Yohan spoke watching the warden.
“Why bother asking me? You do know that you are not going to get anything from me”, he said while munching on the roll.
“It helps to know that it irritates you”
Rijiju whacked Yohan on his head as he kept walking.
“For a Yakshas, you are a cruel one.”, Yohan said in response.
Rijiju had not restrained Yohan. There never had been a tale of one escaping from a Yakshas. It was too much to hope that I would make history by being the first mused Yohan.
Yakshas are strong men and women born with powers mostly to the south of the old empire. Legend says they were created by a god that ruled the lost southern city to guard his realm that is now under blighted lands. Clearly, they had failed in that.
People down south sometimes called them the cursed ones. Southerner’s are strange, who would call the power a curse if it gave strength more than humans. And with a better sense of justice but if the world is corrupted then it must appear to them that just men are the ones cursed.
He looked at him to see that Rijiju had also let his hood down revealing white curly hair. How old is he? Yohan wondered. The man was huge and he towered over Yohan who was one of the tallest in his dorm and he seemed spry and didn’t have any wrinkles to show his.
Rijiju raised an eyebrow on noticing Yohan watching him. Yohan shrugged and turned around to watch his steps as he walked.
“What made you run away?I am curious”, Rijiju said.” This time the truth. I won’t tell the dean “
“Identity. A person without a past doesn’t have an identity”, Yohan replied.” I don’t know who I was and who my family is. All I do know is if I were to stay here. I would have nothing that could be said to be mine”
“The past you seek may not be what you want boy”
“I wasn’t searching for my past”, Yohan denied. As it happens Yohan was hoping to find a seer and know about his past. ” I just wanted to make out of my own “
“You are seeing it wrong. Instead of seeing you as part of an order. You must see the order as part of you”
Yohan shrugged the advice away. He had heard it before from some of his seniors and friends. Anyway, he was too hungry to speak. And the thought of the last meal he had, made him want to puke. His belly was starting to jab at his senses, making them dull.
He looked down the path from where the traders usually arrived the sanctuary. The road dropped and curved slowly away, bouldered on both sides by trees and rocks, on one side more than the other.
The cliff to which he had been chased by the lion had had a whole different view. It was according to Rijiju, the west of Albenmarth. And the pass he had seen between two mountains peak was supposed to be his gate out of the valley. The road here steeped to the south and would curve east and eventually north to the village that stood on the foot of the mountain. From there lay the pass to the west of the village.
“You are lucky boy not many can have the option of fighting for one’s identity when they have to fight for life”
“People have their needs”, Yohan shrugged.
“I don’t understand others needs and the same applies to them, they won’t understand mine” Like you.
Rijiju kept silent and after an hour of walking, Yohan was getting accommodated to silence. They were halfway around a curve when the sounds of bells chiming filled the air, at the same time they heard the creaking of the cartwheel.
Traders? both warden and Yohan looked back.
“They are early this year”, said Rijiju. Yohan couldn’t figure if he was being sarcastic or real.
The road behind them was empty but they could hear the sound of hooves on the road approaching them. Rijiju suddenly lets out a burst of curses under his breath. Yohan looked at to Rijiju to see him turn towards the other direction of the road. The horses weren’t coming from behind the curve they were coming from ahead. Are Yakshas senses strong too? Yohan considered asking then decided against it.
From around the curve, soon two horses dragging a cart and riders on it became visible. Yohan waited for the rest of the caravan to appear, but it didn’t seem like anyone else was coming. The horses neighed and stopped with a jingle of harness. The men had their faces covered with a grey and dirty scarf and had makeshift turbans on their head to protect them from the elements.
The driver dropped off the cart and looked at them both, two others sitting behind the cart also peered at them.Their clothes looked as if it had seen better days, a long time ago.
The man seemed as if he wanted to start a conversation with them but at the same time gave the impression that he wanted to run away. His face was filthy and his hair was greying at the side. A long strand of hair fell before his eyes but it didn’t seem to disturb him.
The man smelled like a graveyard. Is it the man or the horse. mused Yohan burying his nose under the cloth. He heard Rijiju sniffing. If his senses are powerful. It’s probably not helping. The horse looked diseased to Yohan and was surprised that the creatures could still walk.
” Irkians “, Rijiju said. It was the first time Yohan had come across Irkians. They are said to be mad people, but also the herald of fates bidding the request of ghosts of Irkia. He had heard the tales from the Keepers when he was young.
The man nodded his head in acknowledgment or maybe he wasn’t as he kept rolling his head. Another one who was mirroring the driver’s acknowledgment looked as if he was afraid and angry at the same time. Yohan wondered whether he could make away with the horse. He would be doing both him and the horse a favor.
Rijiju gave Yohan a hard look. ” No, I won’t run away. I don’t think I will survive that horse” Or the creature me.
Rijiju walked back some distance with tottering Irkian . The man looked befuddled at why he was there and seems to be thinking about it.
“You are one of us”, spoke a voice near Yoahan jumping him in the process. Yohan looked to his side, it was the third Irkian who spoke. Unlike the others, he stood straight and still, too still for a human. And too close for comfort.
“The sanctum grooves in the sanctuary”, the madman looked to the top of the peak.” Holds your past.” His face shuddered then he started looking around confused, a smile spread across his face.
Yohan turned to see Rijiju and the madman returning. The warden seems to be disturbed for some reason, the Irkian, on the other hand, seemed to be sharing the disturbing smile with third Iirkian. The second one still seems to be frowning.
The one close to Yohan stepped forward to Rijiju and bowed before him, then started laughing hysterically.
An hour later. The Irkians were gone, Yohan and Rijiju were now trudging through the ground cold, tired and hungry. Yohan felt as if these aspects have become part of him.
The ground was sloppy on either side of the pathway and fringed on both sides by pine and small green foliage that was mostly under snow. The slopes seemed to be a hundred feet down. Yohan peered down at the slope. It’s too deep maybe he could take a chance at it.
” I will shoot your leg with an arrow and drag you up “
Nope too deep. It will kill me.
Yohan felt a small irritant, itch in his nose and then next he let a sneeze out continued by another. He had for some time left his ears and face uncovered and had let the cold wind caress in the hope of catching a cold. Maybe the dean would go easy on him if he is sick.
He closed his eyes as the cold wind kissed the nape of his neck. Please make me sick before I reach the sanctuary.
He sneezed again and Rijiju looked back at him. ” Cover your ears boy”
Three times the charm, I am saved.
Yohan breathed in through his nose, rubbing them with his fur sleeves. It seems one of his noses was blocked. Shit, I hate being sick.
Suddenly the ground changed and the road began to climb steeply up the mountain. Two stones towered over the one side of the road on the top of the incline, Yohan had to wonder if it would fall and crush them or just Rijiju. If so what should he do, should he run or should he go to the sanctuary to get help.
The Irkian had said he would learn about his past in the sanctum groves in the sanctuary. He shook the thought from the mind. The rock seems to be enforced with other rocks at the bottom, there didn’t seem to be any chance of them falling down and crushing the warden.
Yohan saw that thistles and some other plants dotted the base of the rock as they reached the top. The road was further poked with fewer weeds in places and had become flat.
The climbing was over, he could see the walls of Albenmarth. But he was starting to sweat in the cold and was now panting from the steep climb. His legs suddenly felt week more out of fear that due to being worn out by all the trudging up the mountain. The last steps were the hardest he had taken. His pace began to slow down.
” Don’t get cold feet on me now boy “spoke Rijiju pushing him from behind.