“What are you doing Nigel?” Shiv said as he walked out to the courtyard. Nigel turned and noticed Anastasia’s hand in Shiv’s. He smiled and said. “Just finishing up the preparations.” He gestured towards Anastasia beside Shiv and continued. “I see you were a little bit occupied.”
Shiv unclasped his hand from Anastasia’s and coughed. “Yes, well.” He looked around before asking Nigel. “Where is Zakhira?”
“Over there.” Nigel nodded to a gray beast with a flat skull plate and five horns sticking from its forehead, similar to the beast that he was strapping a leather saddle to.
Zakhira glanced at Shiv and tsked. “You are late.”
“I’m sorry.” Shiv scratched his head and continued. “How can I help?”
“You can say goodbye to ‘her’ so we can start moving. We lost too much time as it is.”
Anastasia counted the elixirs in the satchels beside the saddle and turned to Shiv. “The queen requested me to ride with you.”
Nigel lightly elbowed Shiv and whispered. “You get to have two beautiful women on a ques? You are the luckiest man alive!”
“The queen said what?” Zakhira’s face contorted revealing her dissatisfaction. She then remembered the conversation she had with Shiv and her father in the dungeon. The queen was up to no good, Anastasia was there to make sure the job got done.
Shiv jumped on the saddle and felt the hard leather resting between his legs. He jostled a little trying to get comfortable and turned to Zakhira with a smug look on his face. He was proud of hopping on the horned beast. “Is there a problem with Anastasia coming?”
Zakhira looked at Anastasia and then moved her glance to Shiv. “Of course if ‘you’ don’t have a problem with it, then how can I have a problem with it?”
Shiv pulled Anastasia up to the space behind her. “Comfortable?” He asked.
Anastasia nodded her head. She wrapped her arms around his waist and said “Do you know how to ride the gargoth?”
“Gargoth?” Shiv asked and then thought of riding the ox in his village. He looked for the reins but could not find any.
“Here.” Nigel handed Shiv a long rope with a large horn attached to it. “Put that around your neck.”
“What is this?” Shiv asked.
“That is the sixth horn of the gargoth, hold on the horn and tell the beast what you want it to do.”
“Sixth horn?” Shiv leaned over the flat skull plate of the beast and saw the cracked remnants of where the sixth horn had been on the right cheek of his gargoth. He slipped the necklace around his neck and gripped the horn. Can you hear me? The gargoth lifted its head and growled.
“Now that you have finished your lesson can we go?” Zakhira said curtly.
Shiv nodded his head. Let’s go my friend. The gargoth got off its knees onto its feet and took slow steps forward, walking carefully on the paved path just behind Zakhira and her gargoth, his mate. “So where are we going?”
Zakhira looked up at the orange and purple skyline, basking in the thought that she won’t see her father for a long time. She had never been far away from her father for a long period of time and she trembled at the thought of being completely alone to fend for herself. “Do you see those clouds?” She gestured toward the sky.
Shiv looked up and saw a bunch of clouds in the vivid backdrop. “Which one?”
“Do you see those?” She pointed specifically at a cluster of clouds that were very thin and seemed to curve to what seemed like a winding road. “That is the way to the seer.”
“So we just follow the clouds?” Shiv thought that was a clever way of finding directions. “We can take our time then.” He leaned and felt Anastasia’s head snuggled on his back.
“We have to hurry, no time to waste. These clouds only appear at certain times when the seer is in her abode. If she leaves then the clouds will disappear and we have to wait for her return.”
“How long with that take?” Shiv asked knowing fully that he was tugging on Zakhira’s patience.
“Hmph! If you don’t want to go on this quest then why did you accept it? Just tell the queen that you would rather take her pet to your bed.”
Shiv felt Anastasia’s embrace tighten and looked at Zakhira. She was obviously angry at his pushing her away last night. He kept his mouth quiet and savored her furrowing brows. She looks good when she’s angry.
They went through the cracked path and circled around the city center, passing by ancient ruins and destroyed statues of Gods. Shiv noticed one of the statues resembled a bearded man perched on a large staff. He thought that was Hanuman and wondered why he did not greet him as he left for his quest. It seemed unusual for Hanuman to ignore him, but he seemed different. Something was troubling Hanuman since his arrival in the realm. He didn’t blame Hanuman, everything was odd in this realm.
“You are awfully quiet back there.” Zakhira looked back at Shiv and noticed that he was staring blankly in the air. What is he thinking about? No doubt something happened between him and that woman.
Shiv shook his head. “Nothing Zakhira.” He smiled and then continued. “What are these statues?” He pointed at the cracked statue of what he thought was Hanuman and asked. “Is that Hanuman?”
Zakhira turned to the statue that Shiv referred too and nodded her head. “This used to be one of the palaces of the Gods and all of these ruins where the Gods resided.”
Shiv looked around and understood that this must have been where the battles started. He thought of asking the most obvious question but before he could do that Zakhira stopped. “What is wrong?” He asked.
“We are passing the threshold.” And then said. “From here on out we are on our own.”
Shiv felt a cold chill pass over him and looked down on his wrists. The engraving of the four wavy lines on his bracelets started fading away. “Esen is not protecting us anymore?”
Zakhira shook her head. “Don’t worry I can go on alone if you’re scared.”
Shiv smiled. “I think you will miss me too much.” And with that Zakhira willed her gargoth forward and he followed her, step by step just like on the bridge in the dungeon. They passed by a small dirt road and he turned to his left. A small hill with a solitary tree sprouted d and Shiv could have sworn that he saw Hanuman waving at him. He waved at the tree hoping that he was right.
In the distance Hanuman smiled. Shiv saw him as he thought he would. He wished that he could have been there seeing him off to his quest, but he didn’t want to be around Esen, not for the time being. He hopped down on his staff and tapped the tree twice with his hand. A large root sprung up from the ground, and then another. The large tree moved a step, making use of its roots as legs. A branch swooped down and Hanuman rested on it, taking out a small joint from under his shawl. This is going to be a long trip. He lit the joint with his fingers, just like he did with Shiv not too long ago and took several puffs as he laid there carried forward by the large tree.
“They look very pretty.” Anastasia pointed at some pink flower with yellow anthers. “Stop! Stop!” She released her embrace and jumped next to the flowers.
“What are you doing?” Shiv asked.
“I just want to pick one out.” Anastasia bent low and tugged on the stem of the flower. It must have been quite hard because she was tugging on it for a while and it did not budge. She pressed a finger against her lips and tried to observe the flower. “Hmmm…maybe.” She leaned close to the opening of the flower and shrieked.
Shiv turned and watched as a strew of vines grabbed Anastasia by her leg and dangled her in the air. “What?” He hopped off from his gargoth and clenched his fists, revealing the knuckle-spikes and elbow blades of his gauntlets.
“What is going on?” Zakhira saw Shiv facing a trapper, a large flower that acquired it’s prey with it’s vines. She knew that the trapper was deadly and would start moving in a moment to its lair. She joined Shiv and pulled out two three-pronged daggers from the sides of her green sash. “Be careful.”
Shiv studied the monster, it was very different from fighting with Nigel. The monster stood there waving Anastasia about. He tried to read its movements but it seemed very random and he could not think of a plan of attack. He thought that going in wildly at it would not be an option, there was a lot of vines popping up from the ground and he counted that he and Zakhira were outnumbered 30 to 1.
Anastasia dangled in the air and bent up toward her feet, she pulled out a wavy dagger from her boot.
“Anastasia wait!” Zakhira screamed.
Anastasia with her dagger slashed at the vine trying to free herself from its grip. The trapper released a loud scream which froze Shiv and Zakhira in their place.
“Ahhhh!” Shiv tried to move his arms but he couldn’t. The large monster started moving, first forward to him and Zakhira and then it shook sideways. In a moment it released another petrifying shriek and it crawled away from them, still holding the frozen body of Anastasia. “No! Anastastasia!” Shiv could do nothing but scream as he watched her disappear in the distance.