Kemujin stood on the ridge. He knew the valley was below him, but he could not see a thing. Only murky, yellow dust. He was listening out into the distance. A neighing, some hooves on a stone? Nothing. Just the swishing wind.
The Tenggo had come suddenly. He was tending Maja's hind leg. She was not the fastest of his mares, but she was the brightest. She knew where to go, she sensed when something was about to happen and she lead the other horses with authority. So when she got restless and was looking up again and again from her grains, Kemujin knew something was wrong.
He got up and walked a couple of steps onto the small mound that sheltered his hut and his horses from the cold winds. He squinted his eyes and looked north.
There, in the flat part of the horizon, in the gap between the Tenshi Mountains and the Heaven's Wall, the place his father and his father's father had known as the Mouth Of Darkness a thick black billow rose into the sky.
His heart started pumping ferociously and a hot wave gushed into his lungs. He was scared pale. But there was no time to lose. So he sprinted down the hill and hastily ushered his mares into the gate. The torches around the compound had to be lit and the Jin-stone hoisted up on the pole before Kemujin could dash for his hiding.
And then it started.
The howling and the thunderous booms.
His mind was whirling and he was not able to hold on to one clear thought, his fingers manically clutching the sheath of his sword. There in his grubby foxhole, he prayed they would not find him.
He did not know how much time had passed when the gale finally abated. Only a thumping pain in his head and mad images behind his eyelids. Were they gone? Was it a ruse? Did they still hide outside? His breath shallow, his pulse racing. Wait, one more hour. Just to be safe.
Eventually he felt the thirst. His throat as dry as the Gan-Gutou. He pushed the branches aside that had covered him in his little cave and peeked out into the dark dust. No way of opening one's mouth without swallowing spoons of soot.
Yua! Was she safe? The village was more than five Tian away. But still. If the Tenggo raged wildly, they were known to wreak havoc as far as the Blue River. No, she was safe! She had to be safe. Yua knew what to do, in case they came. After all, she was the one who had taught him the ways of the mother. She was safe.
Kemujin glanced into the dark but could not see any contours. Only slowly his eyes got used to the absence of light. On all fours he scuttled out of his cavity, scanning the ground with his fingers. Moving forward inch by inch. Finally he stood up, sheltered his eyes against the blasting sand and turned his head towards the gate. Just a hundred yards from where he was, but the dust was too thick. There was nothing to see but a sulphur-colored fog, nothing to hear but the howling of the wind. He scurried forward. Finally he reached the wooden bars and he knew the mares were gone. The gate was still closed, but when they really wanted, they could jump over the fences. Kemujin had built it that way. He hoped that Maja and her herd had made a dash for it in time. But above all he hoped that it wasn't the Masoo'q that had raged. Then there would be no hope for his horses.
In any case, he needed to search for them. But it was still pointless. While the sand was in the air he might as well be blind and while the winds were still blowing as fiercely he might have been deaf as well. So he shuffled to his hut to find his water flask. The door was open and his few belongings lay scattered over the earthen floor. He thanked An when he saw the leather pouch dangling from the center pole. Just where he had left it. Greedily he gulped down the water to the last drop. Than he sat down on the cold clay. His head felt like an anvil and a vicious iron was hammering down on it. Boom, Boom, Boom.
He took a deep breath and tried to think. If the horses ran wild, they usually gathered down at the small creek in the valley. So maybe in a while he could walk to the vantage point up on the ridge, to see whether he was lucky. Whether Maja had lead her herd to the water. With this thought he suddenly felt an utter exhaustion rolling over him and he fell asleep, cowering on the hard soil.
When he awoke again, the wind had calmed a bit. Kemujin dragged himself up. He felt like an old man, but he had to get moving to find his horses. Stepping out of the hut, he saw that the sand had settled as well. And so he walked west, towards the ridge as fast as he could.
That's where he stood now, looking down. But the valley was still engulfed in a brown fog. He had to climb down there if he wanted to find his herd. Or better yet, take the way down the southern slope. It was safer in these conditions but it took longer. No matter. If he tripped climbing down then that was the end of it. No one would come looking for him if he broke his leg or worse.
'No. Take the long way...' he muttered to himself as he turned right.
Even the easy way down was a challenge with plumes of yellow mist hiding the path every few steps. When he finally reached the bottom of the valley he stood silently for a minute and listened out into the dim nothingness. At first there was only the rustling of the north wind but then, barely there, a snorting sound. This could be Huja. She had always been the most talkative of the lot. Kemujin's heart quickened as he moved forward, careful not to tread too far right and get stuck in the muddy riverbank. He stopped and whistled his call. Silence for some moments, but then another snorting sound much closer now. When he heard the slow trot of hooves approaching, he knew he had found them.
'Hey...Maja, are you well? Did you lead your friends to safety, hey?' He stroked her strong brown neck while he counted them as they were appearing out of the mist. One by one. Yes, all eleven of them were there. A sigh of relief.
'Ok...let's go back....home..'
He turned around and walked a couple of steps but then he noticed they were not following him.
'Hey, Maja...what is the matter? Let's go!'
A short snorting while she stomped her left foot on the mud. Something was up.
'What is it?'
Maja threw her head into the air and turned around, moving back into the mist.
'Maja!' Kemujin shouted. But no use. Once she had set her mind on something it was hard to convince her to do otherwise. So he loped to catch up with his horses, as they all followed Maja's lead.
They trotted quietly through the soft spray that had set in when the shape of a gnarled spruce appeared out of the murk. Some dense bushes around the trunk. That's where Maja stopped, stomping her hoof on the ground.
'What is it? What's the matter?'
She looked at him, then clopping once more. The other horses stood in a circle around him. Calm and quiet. At first Kemujin could only hear the gurgling of the creek and the rushing of blood in his head. But after a while he thought he could hear breathing. No, this could not be...
And yet, there was a soft but continuous sound coming from underneath one of the shrubs. A tiny lung pushing and sucking life in and out. Kemujin stood transfixed. Was it a bear cub? This could be dangerous. But then Maja would not be so calm. Slowly he moved towards the bush and bent down. Pushing away the branches two jade green eyes looked at him, scanning his face. A child tightly wrapped in a blue silk, calmly breathing in and out.
1. Tian: The distance that can be covered in one day on a healthy mare.
2. An The Creator – The highest of the Jin. (Deities)