Chapter 3 – Bodark
Aleks turned around to backtrack toward the tracks. It would be an excellent way to confuse the dogs and throw them off his trail. Once he hit the stream again, he could walk in the water so the animals couldn’t follow his scent nor the trackers follow his path.
As he turned, Aleks noticed the old shaman watching him from behind a pile of brush. The old man didn’t seem frightened to have been spotted. He nodded at Aleks and motioned back toward Lake Baikal.
He started to walk toward the old man who shook his head and indicated by bringing his fingers together that should meet farther down the trail. So, Aleks stuck to his plan of backtracking to the stream.
It was nervewracking with the sounds of the dogs growing louder as the guards looking for him got closer. Aleks almost gave up and turned back another way. But the sight of the old man moving parallel to him in the distance gave him courage to continue on.
The young man followed his previous trail back down to the stream. When he arrived, Aleks debated whether to follow it down to the lake or to turn back up toward the old man. But the old man motioned him up in his direction once his feet were back in the cold water. So, he sloshed quietly up in that direction. Pulling himself in behind the old man just as the dogs reached the shoreline where he had crossed before.
The animals and guards didn’t waste any time crossing the stream, and the dogs quickly picked up his old scent and continued to follow his original trail.
Aleks breathed a sigh of relief. He wasn’t sure why. There hadn’t been more than five dogs and a dozen men or so. Nothing Aleks didn’t think he could handle. The only danger was that the men would be spread out farther. There were no boundaries of the halls to keep them clumped close together. While he was busy taking care of one soldier, another could have time to get a shot off in his direction. It was better for him to stay out of sight here in the open.
After a few seconds, the old man nodded in the direction of the lake. Indicating that it was safe to move out from their hiding place.
Aleks could see the fear in the old man’s eyes. He knew that there was something different about the soldier. He had sensed it before. And that feeling had only intensified. Aleks doubted that the old man knew he could blast out energy from his body, but surely he knew that the lad possessed some sort of strange power.
“Fire of the Dragon?” the old man asked as if reading Aleks’ thoughts.
He shrugged and then nodded in agreement as he pondered the thought.
It wasn’t exactly the way he imagined dragon fire. But still, it made sense. Aleks’ could visualize his body shooting out invisible flames of energy in all directions even though it didn’t exactly burn with heat.
The old man pulled out a gourd capped with cork. He popped the top and handed it to Aleks.
“Drink,” he muttered quietly in the twilight.
Aleks sniffed at it and wrinkled his nose at the bitter stench wafting into his nostrils. Wondering for a brief instant if the shaman wanted to poison him. Aleks could tell that he feared this Dark Dragon thing he had mentioned in their previous conversation. He shook his head and handed it back.
The old man refused to take it back by holding out the palm of his right hand and placing his left finger over his lips as they continued to pad quietly in the shallow water of the stream. Careful not to make splashing noises.
“Must drink. Will purify your blood,” he whispered softly. “Moon waxes stronger. Almost full. You were torn apart by the Bodark when you crossed their pack. Hēilóng saved you. Gave you fire. But you still carry the curse of the Bodark in your blood.”
Aleks stopped and stood there in shock. Almost as much as at hearing the old man speak so many words as he did at what the shaman actually said.
“You’re crazy, old man. Bodark are a legend. The stuff of fairy tales.” Aleks finally managed to stammer.
“You no feel bristles under tongue?” the shaman asked sticking his tongue out and pointing to the bottom of it.
Aleks swirled his tongue around in his mouth and realized it was true. That was the strange sensation he had been feeling in his mouth for the past few days but just couldn’t put his finger on it. He had thought it was the effect of the medicines drying his mouth out.
He popped the cork out of the gourd and guzzled as much of the contents down as he could before gagging. Aleks leaned forward and scooped a palmful of water to his mouth. But the old shaman smacked it away lightly.
“No water. Must drink blood.”
“What? Blood? I thought this potion was to keep me from becoming a Bodark.” he hissed angrily.
“Blood not for Bodark. Blood restore energy quickly. Refuel. Release dragon fire make Aleks weak.”
Aleks nodded dumbly. As if he understood what the old man was saying. But honestly, none of it was making any sense. He would have been killed by Bodark. But he had been saved by a dragon. He carried dragon fire he could blast at will but was in danger of turning into a Bodark himself. Could things get any crazier than this on the night he had lost the woman he loved?
“Finish,” the old man commanded. Pointing to the rest of the gourd.
Aleks grimaced but complied. Took a deep breath and drank it on one go. Fortunately, the gourd was small.
He resisted the urge to scoop up another handful of water and began walking again. The old man followed close behind him.
“Must carry fire to the lake,” the old man whispered in a hushed voice.
“No, I have to get on the train and get away from here,” Aleks replied.
The old man shook his head.
“Must pay tribute to Hēilóng. Save you. Else evil comes.”
“Evil is already here. And his name is Dr. Sevastyan.” Aleks shot back.
The old man nodded.
“Army evil. Army destroy lake. Kill Hēilóng. You save lake. You save Hēilóng.”
Aleks mulled that one over in his mind. He didn’t quite understand it, but he had heard rumors that the base had been set up to run some military exercises. Some whispered of a special type of weapon that could destroy entire countries. A bomb that poisoned the land when exploded.
“So, what? Now, you and I fight the entire Russian army by ourselves?” he roared.
The old man cringed and smacked Aleks on the back of the head.
“You fight. Dragon fire. Me no fight. No dragon fire. Me only watch.”
“Oh, great. Thanks for the encouraging show of support. My odds just increased dramatically.” Aleks muttered to himself.
They continued walking for a way when the shaman raised his hand and touched Aleks’ arm. He motioned for Aleks to remain silent and pointed behind them.
“Guards. Dogs. Coming.”
Aleks listened, but couldn’t hear them yet.
“How did they know where we went?” he asked.
The old man shrugged.
“Lucky. Guards guess.”
Aleks shrugged. He felt good. He wanted to use his dragon fire to take them out. But the old man put out his hand.
“Must save energy. Dragon fire burn fast. Refuel slow. Save to stop doctor.”
They continued to move swiftly now. Aleks didn’t worry about making noise. If the guards were on his trail, then the dogs knew he was here. Silent or not.
The old man led him up out of the stream and over a hill. When the reached the top, Aleks realized why. The stream doubled back on itself and followed a torturously long series of curves. By heading down the hill, they were moving straight toward the lake and the train tracks. He could see the lights of the city flickering in the distance.
Then he heard the shrill whistle of the train.
“It’s coming,” Aleks said under his breath and cut down the hill in front of the old man.
He heard the old man’s footsteps pattering along behind him. Suddenly they stopped. Aleks looked back. The old man a few steps behind waving him on.
“Stop train. Destroy doctor. Save lake. Save Hēilóng.”
“And save Natasha,” Aleks retorted hotly. “Nothing else matters without her. Aren’t you coming?”
The old shaman shook his head.
“Strong fire. Blast all. Me stay.”
“Great. Fine. Be that way. I’ll do what I have to do to save Natasha.” Aleks said and took off down the hill leaving the old man behind.
He wanted to blast the old man for leaving in him in the lurch like this. Shame on the old shaman for not wanting to fight. But help or no help, he intended to stop this train. It wasn’t worth it though. Alex needed to conserve his energy. And the guards would be along soon enough. Some of them were cruel enough to do him in if the dogs didn’t attack him first.
Aleks was soon out of breath. Even though he was only running downhill, but still he was out of shape. It had been almost three months since he had trained.
He arrived at the tracks a bit before the train. Aleks could hear it chugging along in his direction. He smiled grimly as he paused to catch his breath. Looking out over the immense size of the lake in the setting sun.
While running along the river, he had thought that the sun had set. The tall trees had blocked the last of the sun’s rays. Casting dark shadows over the two men as they walked. But out here, away from the trees, Aleks could still catch a glimpse of the final rays.
Hues of pink, orange, and purple rimmed the edges of the horizon beyond the lake. It was a stunning sight. Aleks wondered why he had never stopped to pay attention to the beauty around him before today.
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