The mountain air fresh in my lungs, the wind blowing softly through my hair. The cold rock is hard under my feet. My heart longed to be back with my friends and family.
I thought back to the thousands of others who traveled this path before me, not knowing what lies ahead. My heart thudded with the sound of the unknown and my task that lies ahead.
Let me start from the beginning. My name is Dhara Apala, and I’m the eldest daughter of Bodhi. I never knew my mother, she was sent on this journey just like her, I hope to find her in the process. We don’t know what happened to her and we may never know.
This journey has been passed down for generations, my great great great great great great great grandmother was sent a message from Agni, the God of Messengers. His words were passed down and held up as well as the legs of a noble steed that led the men to war.
The message read, Of firstborn daughter born to you, a journey across the Kangchenjunga mountains they must make, when one reaches the age of nineteen. Many dangers will be faced, leading to one, final, a beast of unimaginable power which they must conquer.
Ever since then the eldest daughter of the family went on this journey and no one has ever returned. It was initiated by my great great grandmother that we should each have one child born within a year before they go on their journey.
I have a one year old daughter, Aahald. I can never forget that moment when I looked into her eyes and she said the word mama. I felt warm tears run down my cheeks, knowing it would be one of few special moments I would share with my daughter. She was one of the hardest things to leave behind.
Not to mention my beloved husband, the thought of leaving him after only a year of marriage tugged at my heart like one pulling at a wagon full of coal. We are allowed one person to walk us to the foot of the mountain. My husband was the one I wished to see me off, and be the last face I see if I never came back…
His soft voice warmed me from head to toe, and will forever. My mind drifted away to what could have been if I wasn’t the first born daughter. If only Agni didn’t give my several great grandmother that message, we would never be stuck in this loop.
I gave myself a small shake and brought myself back to reality, the only way I’d be able to defeat this mysterious creature was to keep going and not linger thinking thoughts that would not do me any good. I had to keep going and not stop, my family needed me, and I was not about to stop and abandon them as my mother had.
I shifted my bag over my shoulder and continued my trek up the mountain, taking in a breath of fresh air. The sun was starting to set beneath the mountains, which means it would be getting dark soon and the cold would start setting in.
I walked for a while longer until I found a nice dry spot to sleep. I pulled out my quilted blanket and draped it over my shoulders, scrunching into a ball to keep as much warmth near me as I could.
“Oh Durga please help me through this,” I prayed, letting myself fall into a dreamless sleep.
Suddenly I sat straight up, eyes wide and ears strained, listening for the cause of the disturbance in my sleep. I squinted through the darkness, but saw nothing.
After a few minutes of silence I heard the noise again. It sounded like a heavy wet foot moving slowly against the rock. The footsteps sounded like they were coming closer.
I reached for my sword at my side. I stood up, brushing my long black hair away from my face. My heart thudded against my chest, threatening to burst.
I prepared myself to fight, my sword gripped tightly in my hand. I gripped the cold stone with my bare feet for some stability.
The thing stomped closer and closer until it finally came into the light. My breath caught in my throat as I looked at the monstrous beast before me. It was at least eight feet tall, with muddy green skin, it had no eyes, dark black pits. It swung its enormous arms everywhere, taking a tree down with it.
My sword trembled in my hand. I knew I couldn’t let myself be overcome with fear. I had to stand my ground and defeat this monster. I waited until it spotted me. Waiting for the moment when it attacked.
It saw me. It was headed straight for me. I dived behind a boulder just as the giant fist hit the spot where I had just been standing.
I need to get behind him so I have the element of surprise, I thought, looking for a way around the monster. An idea sprouted in my mind, I would throw a stone into the cave where I was sleeping so it’d think I was in there.
I picked up a smooth, round stone and mustered up all my strength and threw the rock into the cave. The monster turned its body and lumbered to the cave. My plan had worked.
I ran on top of the rock at full speed, holding my sword high above my head and jumped from the rock with all my strength. I brought it down over the monster and cut it in half.
I was sprayed all over with mud and grime. The monster let out a bone chilling scream. I jumped from its back right when it was falling over.
I stood back and watched as the beast fell to the ground, the mud splattering every crack and crevice. I made sure to keep my mouth shut so I didn’t get any in my mouth.
I shakily started to move forward, towards the cave where I had thrown the stone in. I had left my bag in there, which now I see was probably not a good idea. I retrieved my bag, which was covered in mud of course.
Looking inside my bag I saw a few things were covered in mud, I sighed, relieved that my only source of food was untouched. But my clothes on the other hand, not so much. I didn’t care, I could wash them at a stream, what I was worried about is how many more monsters I would have to fight.
“Get yourself together Dhara, there’s no point worrying about what’s to come as you will just scare yourself even more,” I told myself, slinging my bag around my shoulder. I turned and left the cave, I was no longer tired, the excitement from the fight had woken me up.
I turned out of the cave and walked the way the mud monster had come. This way was darker and denser with trees. An owl hooted in a nearby tree. I followed the big, wet footprints the way they came.
I walked and walked until the sun came up. I hardly noticed the sound of rushing water coming from the side of the rock. My mouth ached with dryness, I knew I had to find the source of the rushing water soon.
Following the sound of the stream, I saw a lush bit of land, filled with green grass, sprouting flowers, and flourishing trees. Looking at this sight brought a smile to my face. It was like the fields back home, except there were cows everywhere.
“Thank you, Prithvi, for this beautiful sight,” I sighed, lying down on the soft earth. The grass soothed my sore muscles. I closed my eyes and immediately fell into a deep sleep.
“Dhara, it is so good to see you at last,” A woman said, she had blue skin and four arms. Her black hair billowed down her back. She wore a skirt made out of bones and wore several necklaces that looked like animal skulls.
“W-who are you?” I questioned, standing up, drawing my sword in case of a battle. But the woman just laughed and said, “Drop your sword young warrior, I am not here for a fight, just a chat.”
Though I was not fully convinced, something was familiar about this woman. So I placed my sword back in my sheath. While I was putting away my sword I noticed my hands were no longer muddy. Well that’s weird, I thought, last time I checked I was still covered in mud.
Realization hit me like a wave crashing down over me. I was in a dream and this was the Goddess of War, Durga.
“So, why have you brought me here?” I wondered aloud, looking around the strange room I was in. It seemed to be emitting a red glow from the walls and there seemed to be a sound of snoring coming from the far side of what I assumed to be a cavern.
“I have a message from your mother,” Durga replied, her eyes gleaming with amusement as my mouth dropped open.
“A-a message from my mother?” I asked hesitantly, part of me wished to hear the message and the other half wanted it to burn in the pits of the Patala. I don’t know why I resented my mother so much, it’s not like she had the choice to leave or not…
Durga nodded her shaggy head. She started speaking in a sweet and strangely familiar voice.
“Welcome onto the journey my darling Dhara, you have been so brave and noble. We are all so proud of you. You are reaching the end of your journey, and when you do we will be there to fight with you. Never give up hope."
After she finished relaying her message she turned and left in a big blue smoke.
"W-wait! Don't go!" I cried, running to the spot where she used to be. But as soon as the last wisp of blue smoke disapperated I woke up from the dream.
I sat up immediately, it felt as if my world was crashing down on me. I needed answers. My mother had told me so much, but so little at the same time. And why did she keep saying 'we'? Who else was with her and where is she?
Questions buzzed around in my head like a hive full of bees. I thought back to the cave-like room I was in during my dream. Could that be where she was? If that was where she was then maybe the creature that I must defeat is also there. My spirits were lifted and I decided to wash off in the river.
The water was cool and refreshing against my dark skin, it soothed every sore muscle. I scrubbed off every last piece of dirt from my body.
As I reached for my towel I felt a splash of water come down over my head. I quickly spun around to see who or what had done that.
“Makara! You silly little thing, I should’ve known it was you,” I scolded lightly, seeing my old water spirit friend. I hadn’t seen her in a few months, ever since I said I would be leaving soon she hadn’t spoken to me. It was great to see her again, but she didn’t seem too happy to see me.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, my smile fading from my face.
“I’ve been sent here to lead you to the Red Wall Cave, but I am also leading you to defeat the worst enemy you’ve ever faced,” Makara explained, her serpent-like tongue flashing.
“Take me, take me now, I don’t care about the danger,” I said, getting out of the water and putting on a fresh pair of clothes. I gathered up my things and once Makara was ready we started heading North.
We trekked over hard terrain, filled with jagged rocks and steep cliffs we had to climb. Deep gorges with sharp rocks at the bottom and if we were to fall, we’d become kabobs. Some nights there was little food, others we caught plenty of animals to eat. We never ran short of water because Makara is a water spirit.
“We’re almost there!” Makara cried, pointing to an opening in the mountain wall. There was a soft red glow coming from it. No wonder its name is Red Wall Cave, I thought.
“Will we go in?” I asked, slightly nervous.
“Yes, it’s easiest to attack during the afternoon, but we may want to eat first so you have your fuel,”
I nodded, I took out some preserved rabbit that we had caught and cooked at our last camp. We hungrily finished the rabbit.
Nerves were starting to set in as Makara announced that it was time to head into the cave.
“Have your sword ready, you never know what could happen,” Makara warned. I obliged, drawing my sword and holding it at the ready.
We started the walk toward the Red Wall Cave, each step was like a two-hundred pound weight on my feet. Soon we reached the mouth of the cave, my hands were shaking so bad at this point it felt as if I were going to drop my sword. I looked to my side and Makara gave me an encouraging nod. I took a deep breath in and took a step into the cave.
Everything was suddenly tinted with red. The cave looked exactly like it had in my dream, complete with the eerie snoring sound.
A cold breeze started blowing in through the cave, I glanced around and saw several women forming from the mist. Each looking around my age, all having similar facial features.
The woman on the far left had the same soft almond shaped eyes like mine. The woman to the right of her had my pink lips. Then, when my eyes fell on the one to the far right I nearly broke down in tears, it was my mother.
I rushed forward to give her a hug, but since she was made of mist I just ran right through her.
“Oh Dhara dear, look at you, you’re so beautiful,” my mother cried, tears pouring down her cheeks. This started a stream of tears for me as well. Soon every eye in the cave was filled with a tear.
“Mother, I thought I’d never see you again,” I said through my tears.
“Oh honey I would never let that happen, I love you so so much,” my mother whispered. A loud snore interrupted our mother daughter moment, bringing us back to why we were actually here.
“What’s the plan?” I asked, looking at the generations before me. The one in the middle stepped forward and spoke.
“We will need to find where the beast sleeps, it is close to awakening again and if it does it will attack everything we know. We have to fight it and put it back in its cage until the next warrior comes…” she explained. My eyes opened in realization, this is why it had been going on for generations, because the thing was trapped here only for a certain amount of time…
“Let’s do this,” I said, tightening my grip on my sword. Everyone nodded and we moved towards the snoring beast.
The beast was huge, as large as two dump trucks combined. It wasn’t going to be an easy fight, but it was one that we could do together.
My mother started yelling, then my grandmother, then my great grandmother, soon the whole of them were screaming. I realized what they were trying to do and joined in screaming with them. Within minutes we got the beast awake.
“Dhara and Diya go on its left side. Shyla and Jaya go on its right side. Myself and Sana will get it from the front and back,” my mother directed. Everyone got to their assigned places and were soon ready to take it down. The smell coming from the beast was putrid.
Swords were clashing into its skin, screams filled the entire cave. Blood rained down on us as our swords pierced its tough skin.
It was swinging its enormous hands every which way, making it harder for us to get a direct hit. I saw Shyla climbing onto one of the rocks near the middle of the cave, before I could shout something to stop her, she jumped from the ledge right onto the beast's back, making it stagger backwards. She brought her sword down over its head, killing it instantly.
“Run!!” I cried, as the beast began to fall. Everyone rushed out of the way.
We all stood to the side, catching our breath and assessing any injuries gotten in the fight. So far nobody had gotten hurt, other than a few minor scrapes and bruises.
“We did it!” Jaya cheered, hugging everyone in turn. We all moved out of the cave, not wanting to stay there any longer. I wanted to speak to my mother in private because there was a question burning inside of me.
“Mother, could we speak in private please?” I asked quietly, so I didn’t draw the attention of the others. She nodded and we walked a little ways from the crowd.
“Now that we defeated this beast, is it possible I could go back to my family?” I asked, trying to keep the desperation from my voice.
“I’m so sorry dear, but unfortunately you must stay here and wait for the next warrior to come and defeat the beast again,” she said gently, putting a hand on my shoulder. I just now realized that everyone had become solid.
I turned away from her, not bearing to face the reality of never seeing my daughter grow up…