Long ago, the land of Yonder was a magical world, full of life. That has changed. A great darkness has fallen over the country, bringing the once great nation to it's knees.
Tomek - a 12-year-old boy determined to prove himself a true leader - finds himself at a crossroads. His village is dying and there is only one way to save it, but to do so, he'll have to risk everything.
Join Tomek, as he embarks on a journey that may very well be his last...
Mystic: A Story
Chapter 2 - Yana
The cold bit deeper as they left the woods and climbed above the canopy to the caves of Mt. Amana. Tomek’s knees felt stiffer, the higher they climbed. Whenever he was grabbing onto a stone to pull himself up, he cupped his hands over his face, trying to hold onto the warmth of his own breath for as long as it would linger. It never lasted more than a second or two. Every breath was doomed to turn into puffs of ice.
There was a breathtaking view of the woods up where they were, but it was impossible to look at for very long. Snow was blowing so hard into Tomek’s eyes that he found it best to keep his gaze on the ground, following Maari’s tracks up the path.
“How much farther?” he asked.
“It’s only a little more,” she said. “Ready to give up already, son of Gennadi?”
Tomek didn’t answer. For once, he could make her swallow her words because there was one thing at which he was better than her or anyone else in the tribe – climbing.
“Is that the cave?” he pointed at a big one, some two hundred feet above them.
“That’s the one,” she said.
He took a look at the mountain walls, then the path that wound around the steeper edges, and finally at what could be a straight path climb from where he stood. It would be hard, but he was certain that if he climbed straight up, he could beat her to it.
“I’ll race you,” he told her.
She turned around a smirk on her face.
“I bet I can get there first,” he said.
“You want to race me?” she said. “In this weather?”
“I mean… We don’t have to if you’re scared you’ll lose,” he said, tightening the knots on his leather pouch.
“Fine,” she said. “But only up the hiking path. This is too slippery to–”
Tomek didn’t wait to hear the rest. He turned on his heel and immediately began to climb the wall. He’d been climbing walls since he could walk. He was better at it than his father. Better than any of the other kids his age. He wouldn’t lose. Not at this.
Maari took off up the hiking path. She was moving twice as fast as they had been thus far, but Tomek was set on taking the straight path up.
Though the stone was rough and cold, his hands were calloused and well-adjusted to this. He looked left, grabbed an edge, looked right, placed his foot against a curve in the rock, and in a single motion, exploded up two feet higher than he’d been. He swung his left arm out and grabbed hold of the edges of a crevice in the wall, stabilizing himself. All the while, Maari was still moving swiftly along the path.
He had this in the bag. He looked up for his next move: a small leap from where he was to the left, then another straight up. He prepared himself and planted his toes, then took a breath and pushed off, shooting upward. He grabbed a hold of a small hole in the wall, with both hands, then repositioned his feet, one on each edge to the left and right – only… there was a problem. The edge to the right was covered in black ice and his foot was barely able to grip. Unless he wanted to backtrack, he would have to make his next move entirely with his arms.
Maari would soon reach the turning point and come back in the opposite direction. If he didn’t move faster, she’d pass him.
“It’s fine,” he said to himself. “I got this.”
He reached deep within and launched upward, reaching his hands to grab the ledge. One hand landed but the other didn’t and he felt the gravity of his mistake as the hand that did manage to grip began to slip under his weight.
His feet searched for a surface to put against, but everything was ice. His hand slid a little more and his body swung just enough for him to catch sight of Maari, turning the corner and heading back in the other direction. She was going to pass him.
He looked down. If he let go, it was a fifteen-foot drop. Not a great idea, but his fingers were losing grip anyway.
That’s when he saw it. A small root sticking out of the ice to his right, just a few feet from his ankle. He could feel it. If he waited two more seconds, he was going to fall, so without time for a plan, he swung his body right and used what little grip he had left to pull and gain the tiniest amount of momentum, then he let go and flew toward the root.
His right foot knew where it needed to land. His eyes spotted a couple of edges to grab onto and his hands stretched out.
His foot met the mark, and he felt his weight bear down on the root.
His hands caught the edges and gripped tight. Only…
The root snapped.
The sudden weight was too much for his hands and they slipped off the edges.
His vision went white as his stomach leapt to his throat and his heart skipped a beat. His body began to fall.
“Ha!” cried Maari, reaching out and catching him by the shirt. She yanked him up and pulled him back a couple of feet from the edge, then let him go.
Tomek lay on his back, his heart beating so fast his breath couldn’t keep up. Staring up at the sky, he saw her standing over him, hands on her knees. Out of breath. He
“I didn’t need your help,” he said. “But… Thanks.”
She looked at him, but there was concern. She brought a finger to her lips.
“Shhh!” she said, whispering. “Something’s wrong.” She pointed up the path and took out her knife as she looked up toward the cave.
“What is it?” said Tomek. He gripped his own knife and started to look around in all directions.
Maari brought a fist to the back of her neck. This was a sign the warriors used to tell those behind them to be on the lookout for Kerzit.
Tomek’s eyes shot straight to the trees. Kerzit hid best among the bushes and clusters of trees, where their hide and the spikes on their backs camouflaged them, making it easy for them to attack unsuspecting prey. Slowly, they inched their way up the path, toward the cave, hunched and on guard.
Up the path, Tomek could see a small fire burning and the silhouette of a child next to it. He couldn’t wait to sit next to the warmth. His lips were chapped, and his lashes covered in frost. His limbs were stiff and trembling.
“What makes you think there’s Kerzit around?” he asked. She pointed her knife at an object some fifty feet ahead of them. It was a knife, like the one they had.
"Anton’s,” she said. “And look at the snow.”
Sure enough, there were all sorts of footprints marking the area.
“I can smell ’em,” she said, wrinkling her nose. “Yana’s alone in the cave.”
“How do you–?”
“If Anton fought them here, it’s because he was drawing them away from her,” Maari said. “He wouldn’t leave her otherwise. C’mon. We need to get up there, but we need to do so quietly.”
A little girl with big brown eyes and a head full of messy brown hair, came running down the path.
“Mama!” cried Yana loudly. Maari ran to meet her daughter, taking the child into her arms.
“Yana, where’s Anton?” said Maari.
“He saw Kerzit,” said the little one. “Told me to stay in the cave. Said he’d be back but… Mama, he hasn’t come back.”
Maari nodded, then shot a concerned look at Tomek.
“Take Yana back to the cave,” she said.
“No,” said Yana. “What about you?”
“I’m not leaving, little one,” said Maari. “I’ll keep watch out here. If those damned Kerzit are around, I’ll be ready.”
Tomek took Yana by the hand and walked her back up the path.
“Hey!” Maari said. Tomek and Yana looked back at Maari. “Stay vigilant.”
Yana wore a big toothy smile as she stared up at Tomek. He took one look at her and that was all it took to annoy him.
“What?” he said.
“I’m glad you two are here,” she said. “I knew Mama could find you.”
They walked up to the fire just inside the cave opening.
“I told her so,” said Yana. “She said she hoped you hadn’t gone too far but I told her she shouldn’t worry ’cause you’re slow and she’s the best tracker in the whole world!”
“Gee, thanks!” he said, rubbing his hands together then holding them up to the flame.
"Anton said there’s a lot of Kerzit around here,” Yana said, matter-of-factly, then looked over her shoulder at the inside of the cave. “I think they like dark places like this because it keeps them safe from the snow.”
“That’s dumb,” said Tomek. “They like the snow. And they hide in the woods, not in caves. Everyone knows that.”
He looked up at the dancing glow of the fire as it painted the walls with orange and yellow. Not even a year ago, his mother stood before a fire like this, with her Kalyuka in her hand, telling a story to the rest of the village.
“Did the Darkness kill her, too?” asked Yana.
“No,” said Tomek. “She was sick, but it was something else.”
“Mama said that Lady Tiana could heal people with that,” she reached for the Kalyuka, but Tomek turned his hips, keeping her messy little hands from touching it.
“Yes, she healed people.”
“So why didn’t she heal herself?”
“I don’t…” he started, but his voice trailed off as he pulled out the instrument. He’d asked himself that same question for a year now.
“I don’t think that’s how it works. I think you have to use it to heal other people.”
“Then who heals the Seer?” asked Yana.
“No one, I guess,” he said. “The Seer just has to be really careful.”
“That’s stupid,” said Yana. “I bet the Guru could heal her.”
“The Guru?” said Tomek, chuckling. “The same Guru who spends all his days comfy at the Shrine, watching over his font of Aura?”
“I think so,” she said, scratching her head. “Is there another one?”
“No, there’s only him,” said Tomek, turning the Kalyuka in his hand.
“One Guru for the whole land.”
“Do you know how to play it?” Yana asked, her eyes wide with awe as she watched Tomek handle the instrument.
“Not really,” he said. “Not well, anyway.”
“Can I try?” she said.
“No!” he snapped. “It’s not a toy.”
She recoiled just as a gust of wind blew snow into the cave, sapping the fire of its warmth.
“You play it, then,” she said. “Mama said you’re going to be the next Seer, so that means you must know how to play that. So play it!”
Tomek shifted in his seat, then glanced over his shoulder at Maari, who stood outside the cave.
“I think she’s wrong,” he said, pulling out his father’s knife and holding it side-by-side with the Kaluyka. “I wasn’t meant to be the Seer.”
“Why not?” asked Yana.
“Because Seers… Seers aren’t heroes. Seers don’t hunt Kerzit. They don’t lead the people. They can’t even fight.”
“You like to fight?” she asked. “Because Mama said that–”
“I dosxn’t care what your Mama said, Yana. Okay? Just stop talking for one second and let me enjoy this fire.”
“She said you were a moody kid,” said Yana. “Guess she was right.”
Tomek shot her an icy stare, then put the Kalyuka down on the ground and began to fiddle with the knife, poking the tip of it into a fast-burning log.
“I have to be a warrior,” he said. “My dad gave me this knife. He said I have to protect everyone. He was a warrior. This is a warrior’s knife. The flute is nice, but I can’t do what my mom did. She knew about medicine and magic.”
“She knew magic?!”
“Yeah,” he said. “But don’t even ask. She never taught me any of it. If
I was meant to be Seer, she probably would have taught me things. So, you see, Maari is wrong about me. I’m not the next Seer.”
Yana stared at the Kalyuka on the ground.
“Can you tell stories?” she asked.
“Stories?” he said. “Yeah, I guess I can tell the ones she used to tell.”
“Tell me one!” said Yana. “Tell me the one about the king and his horse!”
“Tomek!” cried Maari. Tomek turned to find that the warrior was on her knees, no longer looking around.
He stood up and ran out to her.
“What happened?” he asked. “Is it Anton? Is he back?”
Maari didn’t answer. Her shoulders were trembling.
“Mama?” said Yana from the cave.
“Stay there!” Tomek told the little one, unsure of what was wrong with Maari.
“Take me inside, Tomek,” said Maari.
“Take you…?” he said. “What do you mean, take you? Why can’t you just–”
She shot him one look and it was enough to shut him up. Black tears dripped down her cheeks. Black as night. Black as Death.
“Maari…” was the only word he could muster. Words failed him. He’d been here before. Five days ago, exactly, was the last night he ever spent with his father before… this happened.
“Don’t tell her,” said Maari. “She can’t know.”
“Y-y-you…?” said Tomek. “You caught it?”
She reached a hand into her neckline and pulled out a small vial she’d been wearing, tied to the end of a leather strap, around her neck.
“Take this,” said Maari, grasping Tomek’s hand in her own and stuffing the vial into it. She closed his fingers around it and cupped his hand in both of hers as she stared at him through blackened eyes.
“This is the last of it,” she said. “Don’t you dare give this to me. It’s for her. You understand me?”
But Tomek didn’t understand. He just nodded under the weight of her words.
“C’mon,” she said, grabbing a hold of his shoulder to help herself stand up. “Let’s get inside. I want to be with Yana. And if Anton shows up, you do not tell him what I gave you.”
“But… What did you give me?” he asked, looking down at his hand.
“Don’t play dumb,” she said. “You know what that is.”
“Aura?” he whispered. She smiled.