Someone shouted to the rest of the squad. Two boys were lagging behind. They picked up their pace at the jolt of the order.
But soon, they slowed down again. They were escaping through a valley and fatigue was catching up.
One arrow swished from behind them.
"Advay!" Vayden pushed him out of its way.
The whole squad reached the summit soon. They could see the sun rising. A little more, and they'd reach the coast.
"You two! Get going and be careful. Now!"
The two boys looked at each other, reflecting the fear in their eyes.
"Now! You're safer on your own, go!"
They both quickly stumbled downhill. They staggered often but kept running towards the sun, rather the bright orange colour of the sky where the sun rose. It was still dark on the leeward.
Advay finally came to a stop, he could not move any longer. Vayden was not any better, they had been fighting, ambushing and getting ambushed since the past two days. To the 15 year olds the war meant chaos and confusion.
Vayden bent down, catching a breath. "They'll get us!" He hissed and pulled Advay along with him.
The two rushed again.
Suddenly, they heard bullets being fired.
None dared to look back. They turned to their left and moved uphill. In the valley there was a narrow stream and low shrubs and bushes covered the cleared out area along the stream. On the slopes, the canopy was a little thicker and gave some protection.
They crouched and crawled praying that they were not the ones the bullets were after.
When they climbed to a good height, the bullet sounds were louder.
They were moving as fast as they could but their escape was not successful.
"Ah!" Vayden cried out and held his shoulder.
"Vay!" Fright and anguish were clear in his tone.
"Shh!" Advay shut his mouth quickly and supported Vayden. Quietly, they moved forward, almost reaching the other face of the hill. On this side, it looked peaceful.
"Let's go down," Advay said as he led Vayden. If they are careful enough, they could slide down in the right direction and be shielded by the hill.
"We've already deviated. If we land on that side, we'd be going opposite from the coast," he whispered with a little difficulty.
"It's better than dying sooner," Advay said calmly despite his fear and he let them fall down the slope.
Little did they know of the lurking dangers on the other side. Arrows came their way from almost all directions. Vayden used all the energy he had in reflex as he swung Advay over to the side where they had just come from.
"What are you doing!" Advay knew what he was doing but he was simply baffled, Vayden’s eyes had never been so determined perhaps. He stared stunned at his friend who was getting hit by two of those arrows. He tried to reach out for Vayden but the two had slid down in different directions to a good length by then. Vayden was no longer in his view.
He knew his friend was saving him and he knew the cost. But his thoughts froze and went no further.
More bullets banged loudly in his ear. He looked behind, and he saw a man. The man quickly pulled Advay behind him as he continued firing. Some others joined him. Someone gave him a gun too. Advay did not recognize them but shot out at the other side once he spotted an enemy.
The firing ended soon with no injuries. "Thanks," he said and rushed in search of Vayden.
"That's not the right direction," some man pulled him away.
"My friend is there!" Advay tried to free himself.
"Others will bring him," They took Advay along with them. Advay could not resist much.
In ten minutes another small group caught up to them. There were few teenagers but they were older than him.
In this group, Advay caught Vayden on the back of a heavily built man.
"Vay," he quickly ran to him.
Vayden opened his eyes and looked at Advay. He was relieved. Then he closed his eyes.
Within the big team, everyone was kept safe. They had to fire bullets intermittently until they reached the coast.
They soon got on a ship and Advay tried waking up Vayden. He was one of the most injured people present and the doctors were giving him first aid.
Vayden gained his consciousness. He could barely feel his body. It was sore, burning and painful all over.
"He's poisoned," one medic said.
"He's even lost so much blood!" said another one.
The situation was not optimistic.
"Here, keep this," Vayden softly spoke as he gave Advay a pocket watch.
Advay's eyes burned. Few tears dripped down.
"We should not have gone that side..." Advay whimpered.
"I should not have dragged you that side."
"If you live through this war, don't let a war like this happen again. And believe in the Force." Vayden could still not make sense of death. He felt like he had a very bad fever, that was all.
"Sorry, Vay... I'm sorry!"
"No... the both of us would have died sooner. It was the best choice."
Vayden lived only for a few moments after that.
The next one year, there was no smile on his face. He bore the guilt for Vayden’s death.
After that period he was not as fearful of death anymore. He had matured a lot during that year. Later on, nobody could tell if the mishap of the past still haunted him. But there were times when he acted recklessly.
One time, Aris, a caring senior of the two boys, admonished him for his suicidal instincts. After an entire hour of lecture on life and faith, Advay only gave a tight smile and said to him, “I’m not. Who wants to die? I was confident enough!”
Aris was much older than them and had taught the two at least half of their combat skills. He had seen the two boys grow, from how Vayden and Advay learnt together to how they would nominate themselves on each other’s assignments. They were young, indeed. But they were not ignorant of the risks involved. Of course, a good number of their nominations were never approved as they passed through him. He knew that Vayden’s farewell would have a big impact on Advay. He was worried but thankfully, Advay tuned down his actions a lot.
As time went on, Advay had clearer views about the past and he formed his own thoughts on what life and death meant. The words Vayden spoke to him in the end then became a strong conviction. He knew the importance of maintaining peace and order in the world and he also knew the challenges it came with.
When he had turned 17 he finally understood what he had been doing in his past 7 years of life at the so called Force. They had been taught a lot of ideals and faiths, principles and ethics. But who said he had to believe whatever he was told? He was never someone who simply let others invade his ideas. He judged the goals of the Force all the time, unlike Vayden, who believed what they were taught.
And so, the two disagreed on many topics and would argue over it for a little while before Vayden would put a stop to it. He would always say, “What good do they have lying to us? Just have some peace.”
But then he understood fully well that the dream he had formed aligned perfectly with the ideals and aspirations of the Force. He had to lead the Force one day. That meant he had to get into the Governo unit of the Force.
Now, at the age of 18 he was nowhere near close to leading the Force. He was good at fighting and wielding weapons but he lacked skills at administration and diplomacy. This was what was written in the report that came back after he put forth his desire to be trained as a member of the Governo to the management of the Force. This position was not a much coveted one and there was little competition, unlike the First Commando of the Militia. Almost everyone wanted to serve as a First Commando before leaving the Force and it requires great effort to emerge as the strongest among the applicants.
Aris recommended that in the East there was a reputed college to study administration. He had just enough time before he attained an eligible age to join the Governo. When he researched it more he came to know that this institution is rather respected by the management of the Force. What his senior said really did not need a double check.
His student permit to the East Country was soon settled. He got that card stamped by the Force. He set out to the Eastern country.
On the ship, an old lady asked him, “Young man, what is the time?” He pulled out the pocket watch which was now decorated with tiny shiny blue crystals. “9:40,” he read the time. He had just put new batteries in it.
The warm afternoon breeze of the midday of fall hit Advay when he set his foot on the foreign land of the East country. He had black hair and black eyes, typical of the Central Gardenia and most of the North Country. But his sharp features gave away that he was from the Central. He carried his bag over his shoulder and walked out of the shipyard.
"Take me to the Provincial University," Advay asked the pool of rental car drivers. He could fluently converse with the locals in their language. Indeed he knew the language of the East and of the other countries too, thanks to the Force.
The drivers seemed to exchange some confusion, but Advay did not give it much thought. An old man came forward and asked him to get in. He put his huge luggage in the truck and settled into the car.
As the car zoomed down the road, Advay took in what this country was like. It was different from his homeland. The buildings had a different architecture style. There were wide stretches of grasslands where there was no civilization. Intermittent towns they passed through seemed to be smaller in this country.
He slowly grew bored as one hour passed. He quickly took a look at his phone and there was nothing new. He passed some time with the phone. After sitting in the car for two hours, they had still not reached the University. He thought he was being scammed by the driver but his sense of direction told him that they were not going in circles.
"How much longer?" He finally asked the driver. At this point he was also worried about the fare. The driver told him he'd charge a 9 livres per mile, but had not told him it was going to be so distant. Advay felt like a fool and he was aggrieved for the driver's smarts.
The driver slightly turned his head to take a look at this suave young man who was still, with no doubt, a teen-ager.
"This is the East where the sun rises and all traditions and culture started in our land. So, boy, you cannot be disrespectful to anyone here. Address people when you talk to them." The driver boasted.
Right, indeed, he thought. The Central Gardenia is his home country and was the western neighbor to the East. They shared many traditions, he had heard. But when the old driver said these words it only made his gut feeling of being sweetly scammed heightened.
"Grandpa, how far is the university?" Advay asked yet again.
"Good lad, it will take us another hour or more. The train would have been a better option."
"What? It is so far. Why didn't you tell me about the train earlier?"
"You had a phone on you. I thought you knew of the train." Said the driver looking at the gloom that covered the boy's face. "Don't feel bad. I am poor. And you are my blessing."
He was suddenly overcome with sympathy for the old man. Oh well, he was being scammed and on top of that being poor could as well be an act by the driver, though he looked a little impoverished.
"Grandpa, are there public restrooms around?"
"There are. We have one nearby."
"Okay," he sat waiting. He needed to relieve himself soon. The shipyard had been sticking with the smell of fish when he used a public bathroom there. He wished this one wouldn't be so unpleasant.
Of course he was a male and did not necessarily need a closed cubicle for the activity. But he took it as a matter of self pride.
The vehicle came to a stop suddenly. "See the small shed? There should be one in it," he pointed to a side.
"Alright," he quickly got off and almost ran in the direction when he caught sight of the shed the driver pointed. There better be a toilet in there. What did the old man mean there should be one?
Thankfully for him there was a toilet. It wasn't very dirty but it wasn't tidy either. He quickly did his work and came out. Beside the shed there were some overgrown bushes. He suddenly sensed a certain disturbance from them. He became alert. 'Before the enemy takes action, you should!' he remembered.
He put his two hands forward and then cleared the bushes out of his view. There he saw a boy buttoning his pants. The hem of his shirt was caught between his chest and chin. Soon the boy’s emerald eyes stared at him. It was evident that the boy was horrified. He pulled his shirt down quickly and fled from there.
Advay was stupefied. Did he just waste his aggressiveness on a peeing boy‽