Chapter Four – The Journey’s Beginning
“Aren’t we going in the van?” Dezba asked, frowning. Mingan smiled, slinging his bag over his shoulder.
“We would, but the van is too easily recognised. It’s better if we set off by foot.” He grinned, helping her pull her bag over her shoulders.
“But were will we sleep?” she asked, almost dreading the answer. He chuckled lightly.
“Anywhere we can,” he shrugged, “motels, alleyways, youth hostels, doorsteps. Anywhere that provides us with shelter.”
Dodger frowned. She was not looking forward to the nights, but at least she was not suffering alone – she would have the others by her. They had promised. Anyway, Mingan had promised more. He had promised to stick by her side through thick and thin; to protect her, from anything that she felt threatened by. And she was positive he’d keep to his word.
She glanced around, taking in her surroundings, wondering if she would see this place again. It was beautiful. It had rained during the night, providing the forest with gentle raindrops that littered the grounds. Light reflected from them as each one of them were tiny fires blazing gracefully and harmlessly around them. Close by, Elu was laughing as Honaw clumsily tried to fish a round, plump apple from a nearby tree for her. He was up in the high branches, clinging on to the trunk whilst trying not to fall. Chayton was watching the scene, amused, whilst Madam Hausisse swung a well aimed blow at him with her cane, before barking instructions and advice at him.
Mingan chuckled as he watched what Dezba was musing at.
“They may not seem like it yet,” he smiled, looking at his friends, “But they’re the greatest friends anyone could hope for. They’ll keep you safe.” She smiled up at him, before looking back at the others, only to see Hausisse calling her over. Glancing at Mingan, she stepped towards her, slightly nervous.
“Dezba, child, are you nervous?” she asked, not cracking a smile. She hesitated, before nodding, confirming the woman’s thoughts.
“I’m terrified...” she admitted, looking down at her feet biting her lip. Madam Hausisse nodded.
“It’s only natural.” She said, “The others will care for you, as for when you’re in battle, it should all come natural to you. You are a guardian. You’re designed to survive.”
Madam Hausisse paused, before rummaging in her pockets for something. She muttered ‘where is it? Where is it?’ continuously as she felt around; before giving a yellow toothed grin and pulling out a wooden amulet.
“Wear this, child,” she ordered, lifting it over her head, “it may save your life.” Some how, Dezba did not find this reassuring. Never the less, she smiled lightly at the elderly woman.
“Come on, guys, enough fooling around!” called a voice, and Dezba glanced around to see Chayton smiling as he pulled on his backpack. Unsure how to part with Madam Hausisse, Dezba hesitated before giving a soft ‘see you later’ before hurrying over to the other four. Mingan smiled at her before giving her hand a reassuring squeeze.
And then suddenly, they were off; Chayton and Elu walking up front, whilst Honaw and Mingan walked either side of Dezba. As soon as they set out all five of them noticed a similar thing; as they walked along their ears filled with the familiar sounds of twigs cracking underfoot, the shuffle of leaves as one of them occasionally dragged their heal through the crisp, papery vegetation, and the short breaths as the uneven ground tired them ever so slightly.. The usual sounds hikers emitted on their travels through woodland. The thing that was strange was there were no other sounds. Dezba listened intently, yet there was nothing. No birds. No creatures scuttling through the undergrowth. There wasn’t even the groan of the trees as they rocked ever so slightly in the breeze. Dezba was not worried too much about the silence; she was more worried about her friend’s reactions. Elu grasped Chayton’s sleeve nervously, Honaw had his hand grasped on a knife at his belt; Mingan nudged her forwards, telling her to keep up with the others. Chayton no longer talked and laughed with Elu, but slowly searched the branches above him for something, anything; a small amulet that had recently been hidden under his shirt held tightly in his fist.
She glanced weakly at Mingan.
“What’s the chance’s something’s following us right now?” she whispered nervously. He glanced at her, and then his eyes met with Honaw’s. After a short silence, Mingan sighed and shook his head.
“Don’t worry about it…” he smiled warmly, “I’ve promised you you’ll be ok, didn’t I?”
Somehow, that did not make her feel any safer. She walked closer to him, looking up at the branches as well, whilst the only thing she could think about was the howler that had attacked her and Chayton and its dying words: You’ll pay for this! My pack will gain its revenge. Both of you will die!
It wasn’t long before Dezba started to tire drastically. She had never really been much of a hiker, and she miserably realised how unhealthy she was compared to the others. Whilst they scouted her ahead, Mingan urged her forwards whilst she gasped, trying to force air into her lungs that sliced with pain during every breath. Mingan offered to give her a piggy-back several times, which she declined; she was determined to show she could be as strong as the others. Unfortunately, she finally had to give in when Mingan started to get edgy about how far behind they were becoming. She sat miserably with both his and her own bag slung over a shoulder each as he ran effortlessly with her on his back, his hands under her knees to holding her up.
When they caught up with Honaw and Elu who had dropped back slightly, he refused to let her down.
“Just rest a while,” he insisted, “you looked as if you were going to feint before! Please, just ten minutes and then I’ll let you down!” He would not listen to her protests, and ended up ignoring her when she whined like a child. Sulkily she let her arms hang over his shoulders, daydreaming as she gazed up at the trees above her.
“Min?” she said half heartedly, “Where exactly are we going?” Mingan glanced over his shoulder at her, before returning his eyes to the path ahead of him.
“Well, you know how we’re in a war?” he said slowly, watching as everyone else lightly stepped over a fallen log, before going the longer way and walking around it.
“Well, in every war, there are certain weaknesses in the oppositions guard. In this case, the weakness in our guard is a gate.”
“A gate?” Dezba frowned, “Any gate, or a specific one?”
He laughed lightly, looking up at her.
“We just call it a gate, Dez.” He smiled, “We don’t actually know what it looks like… well… we’re not actually sure if it exists…. All we do know is in some ancient writings written by the first guardians, they mention a passage from this dimension to another; the place where Demons originate from. Our job is to go out and look for it, and if we find it, we have to find a way to shut it so no more Demons come through.”
“What if it’s not real though?” she questioned softly, staring at the back of his head.
“We can’t think like that…” he muttered after a hesitation, “Its said if we shut the gate we have a great chance of winning this war – no more Demons will be able to get through… if it doesn’t exist then that means we’re overpowered by Demons. It means they’re not passing between worlds at will. It means they’re all here at once and that means there are hundreds of them here – thousands even – all hidden and disguised on this oblivious planet…” He broke of softly, his eyes on the floor.
For a while after that they didn’t speak. He let her back down to her feet and walked silently beside her, frowning lightly as he brooded to himself, sucking his cheeks in as he did. Like he had already done many times to her before, Dezba slid her hand into his and gave it a reassuring squeeze. She watched as he blinked, looking down, and chuckled lightly; giving her a thankful smile before she let their hands drop, smiling back at him.
Without looking forwards, Mingan stopped so suddenly that Dezba did not have time to stop too, causing her to walk into the back of Honaw, causing the strongly built boy to look startled back at her – grabbing her arm before she fell backwards. Dezba looked up at him, surprised and blushing at the fact that she hadn’t really been paying attention as well as the others, and silently cursed herself. Chayton had returned to the boy who was constantly giving her warning looks when she looked at him. He held a finger to his lips, his eyes grazing the forest around them, his own knives drawn; one grasped in each hand. It did not take long for Dezba to feel it too.
During the short journey so far, all of them had felt eyes gazing upon them as they walked. Here, it felt like many.
“Dez, get behind me…” Mingan muttered, nudging her behind him. Honaw stood beside her, glancing at her, then back up at the leaves. The whole forest seemed silent, like a graveyard on a winter’s day. Dezba held her breath, quietly trying to hide her fear and look brave for once.
Suddenly, Dezba froze, staring back at the eyes she had found camouflaged in the leaves. They were big, looking too big for the head they were set in. Clinging onto a branch, the grey creature stared down at her, its teeth too big for its mouth and hanging past its black lips. It resembled a deformed monkey, apart from the tail, which hung over its head tipped with a huge spike. Slowly, not to startle the little Demon, she reached forwards and tugged on Mingan’s sleeve. He glanced at her, frowned, and then turned his head to see what she was looking at. Softly, he swore.
He nudged Chayton and nodded at it. Meanwhile, Dezba’s eyes slowly searched around. Now she knew how hard they were to see, she spotted a lot more than earlier. Hundreds of them sat, clinging onto the trees bark and staring down at them. One did not look too hard to kill one alone, but there were dozens of them; the little creeps looked like they wanted to eat them.
“Min,” Chayton muttered, “take Dezzie and run.” Mingan nodded, then suddenly reached behind him and grasped her hand.
At the sudden movement, the whole flock of the monkey-things screeched like furious crows, slithering down the trees like furious little snakes at an alarming speed.
“Run!” Chayton snarled at us as he drew two hand knives like Honaw. Elu, on the other hand, unhooked a slick leather whip from her belt. Mingan spun around, gripping Dezba’s hand tightly and pulling her through the forest. Dezba looked over her shoulder, her eyes wide, watching as Chayton and the others started fighting off the weird monkey-scorpions already.
“Don’t look back, Dez!” Mingan ordered as she stumbled over a mischievous root that stuck out in the path, “Keep your eyes forward!”
The volume of the screeches quietened slightly, but the constant cracking from the trees behind them revealed that many were leaping from branch to branch in pursuit. Dezba had no idea where they were running to; she doubted Mingan had an idea either. She gave a startled yelp as something flew past her ear, only to accidentally kick it into the bushes as it landed in front of her feet. The flock of Demons were upon them. Dezba could feel their sharp little fingers swipe her hair as they reach to grasp it.
Then abruptly she saw a greyish blur shoot down from a high branch above her, which resulted in Mingan gasping a startled cry and tripping. Dezba gasped, releasing his hand and automatically jumping over him to prevent her from falling to. She spun around, her eyes wide as she saw Mingan laying on his tummy, looking back over his shoulder to see the Demon who had launched itself around his legs clinging onto him, its sharp tail twitching. His own sleek knife that had previously been grasped tightly in his fist skidded into the bushes out of his reach.
“Dezba…” he muttered, “Run…”
But she could not. Forgetting about the other Demons above, she swallowed, watching as the one who held her friend captive reach down and flip Mingan onto his back with strength the little thing did not look as if it possessed. He stifled a painful groan and watched wide eyed as the Demon monkey crawled up one of his legs and sat on his stomach, its sting twitching menacingly. Above in the branches, the flock watched and waited, wishing to witness the death of a guardian. The monkey-scorpion sat on its hind legs, its head tilted slightly as it stared down into Mingan’s eyes. The boy’s chest looked awfully vulnerable to the deadly sting that twitch, ready to strike.
Dezba didn’t realise she threw the knife until the creature let out a scream and fell to its side beside Mingan. He gasped in surprise, before rolling over and scrambling to his feet. He stared at her with the same bewilderment as she had on her face, both surprised at how good her aim was. Unexpectedly, the forgotten company above them slowly started to get more and more aggravated.
They yowled; beat their fists against the branches, and even bit into each others flesh in fury, before they all turned in unison, and started dropping from the branches around them. Now, both of the warriors were defenceless and vulnerable. Mingan stepped beside Dezba, facing the Demons, softly muttering a prayer under his breath. She swallowed, gripping his arm as they were cornered into a tree. When the Demons were in striking range, Dezba screwed her eyes shut fearfully.
Shrieks surprisingly filled the air. Dezba opened her eyes to see the first row of monkey-scorpions slumped to the floor, their throats slashed, whilst dying gargles dribbled out, like the blood that gathered in their mouths and slid down their chins. The rest of the flock where screeching furiously, and trying to find their attacker. Dezba was surprised to look up and find that Mingan was smiling softly to himself. Then, when she looked back to the Demons, more now had their throats slit and were withering on the floor. Then finally, when she was watching the final group of beasts, she jumped as a brown blur flicked towards them, slitting their throats as it passed; it disappeared from the bushes it came from in less than a second. The Demons were all dead, and the forest had gone back to silence. That did not provide Dezba with comfort. What ever killed them was out there still. She could hear the pounding of blood in her ears, and her breath was short and ragged with fear.
Mingan let out a short laugh.
“Cheers, Elu!” He called, loosening Dezba’s tight grip on his arm, just as the girl herself stepped from the bushes, grinning brightly and supporting a deep, bloody gash across her cheek. She held her whip in her hands, but was fumbling with the end, trying to untie one of Chayton’s knives from where she had temporarily attached it. Chayton stepped after her, limping slightly; then Honaw followed, a bloody cloth trying to stop the blood flow from a wounded shoulder.
“Well, that was fun!” Elu chirruped happily, handing Chayton back his knife and wiping the blood from her cheek.
“You two ok?” Chayton asked, turning Elu toward him and studying her wound as she beamed up at him.
“Thankfully, yes!” Mingan grinned, “But, to be honest, it’s all thanks to Dezba!” Chayton looked up at them, frowning.
“What?” he asked doubtfully, making Dezba blush and look down at her feet.
“Bloody hell, she was brilliant!” Mingan laughed, before explaining excitedly about how he had been pinned down, and how little Dezba had thrown the knife just before the Demon struck, thus saving his life.
Silently, Dezba concentrated on her shoes, trying to ignore the disbelieving stares from the rest of them.