CHAPTER 26

The howling winds swept against them and stole their voices.

Behind them rose the glorious sun but Fayte could hardly keep his eyes open with what felt like a gale blowing against him. He held up his shield to fend it off but the snow was still pelting him from the front. The cold bit him through to the bones even with all the layers he had on. If this was simply why John didn't want to climb the mountain, Fayte could very well believe him now.

But it is clear he has connections to the Templar Order, he thought, stabbing the thick walking stick into the snow to help steady himself. He refuses to share the name of his family. A rebel Templar perhaps? One that has shamed the family?

It seemed the likeliest reason, but it would not explain why he was commanded to bring John along.

Wilson was having trouble keeping up, he knew because the rope they tied to one another grew tensed. John was leading the way while Fayte was in the middle. Wilson and Preston brought up the rear. He pulled on the rope to signal John to stop. Fayte waited and waited, growing worried until a breath of fire scorched the snow and Wilson and Preston came into view. The priest was bundled thickly with wool and Preston had buried himself in front of Wilson, so it looked as though he had a dragon for a second head.

"Can you manage?" he shouted through the wind.

Wilson grabbed him and pulled him close. "This is not right! The wind should not be this strong!"

"Well I doubt the assassins are behind this!" This is an act of Sera. "Should we stop?"

John was pulling on his rope, urging them to continue.

"Magic beyond the Northern Gate are unfamiliar to us," Wilson said, pushing Fayte forward. "We press on, but take extra care!"

As they trudged on, the bitter cold began to wear on him but Fayte dared not ask Wilson for help. He had trained for such conditions while Wilson spent most of his days studying and practicing the healing arts. He would be struggling a greater deal than him. Wilson had to save his energy for himself.

By late morning the forceful winds died down and soon enough they were in the clear. It was as though the winds gave up and decided to leave them alone. Fayte and Wilson fell onto their backs, exhausted and freezing as both of them fought to keep themselves awake. John tossed them a flask and told them to drink from it.

"Firewine," John said, drinking a mouthful from his own wineskin. "It'll warm ya up."

Faye coughed out the first mouthful.

It was like drinking fire. He had not expected the burning sensation down his throat. The second mouthful went down but it was no more pleasant than the first. When he tried for a third mouthful, John stopped him, warning him that too much would put his body in a burning fever.

"Many a man died from too much firewine," he told them. "But when ye lost and trapped in the cold, ye give hands and legs for just a bit of heat. Sometimes even if it means killing yeself."

As Wilson helped himself to the wine, Fayte surveyed their surroundings. It was a slope of pure white against a sky of blue. The snow had covered the rocky and uneven surface of the mountain, coming up near to his knee whenever Fayte took a step forward. He began to worry about frostbite but John assured him that the firewine took care of that.

They rested and ate and soon they were off again. Since dawn they had been climbing, hoping to make it up to the temple before sunset and spend the night at the temple. The yetis would rouse at sundown and though the intelligent beasts were of peaceful nature, climbers were often advised to avoid them.

"How did the Templars deal with the yetis?" Wilson asked.

"Respect," said John. "The Templars left them alone and the yetis saw no reason ta bother them. Templars are highly revered. Critters can sense their presence, while gryphons and yetis may approach them to make friends."

"Did the Templars ever enter into an alliance with the yetis?"

John scratched his face as he thought. "Nay. The Templars were friends with the gryphon, it's how they travel from their temple to the city. And yetis aren't no friends with them gryphons. Nope."

"You know a great deal about the Templars," Fayte pointed out.

"So?" said the man who had grown unfriendly to him since Fayte drew his sword on him. "You don't see me prying into ye history now do ya?"

"You are welcome to leave us after we return from the temple."

Wilson gave him a disapproving look, but Fayte was sure that greater powers at play here would not allow that. Not unless John had served his purpose on this pilgrimage.

Perhaps he is here to impart his knowledge of the Templars to us? A possibility, but they would not know for sure until they reached the temple.

Preston, on the ground now, uncurled his wings and lifted his head.

"We should keep going," Wilson said to break the tense silence. "Alright, let's go, Preston."

The dragon did not respond, his head snapping from one direction to another, until he was turning in all directions. Fayte and John both rose together and drew their weapons. He held up his shield and kept his sword ready by his side. Clearly Preston sensed something approaching them from all around, friend or foe they did not know.

"See anything?" John called.

A landscape of white snow may sound beautiful in a book, but all that white reflecting the light of the sun made it almost blinding.

"No." Fayte squinted.

It was then when they heard a wailing noise echoing from the distance. A cavernous wail that rumbled from a large beast.

"Huh," John went. "That was a yeti."

Before Fayte could ask why yetis were awake in the day, the snow beneath him erupted and Fayte was flung into the air. He fell back into the snow, buried in it, scrambling to get out just in time to jump away as a mighty force slammed down on where he had landed.

The yeti was at least three times his height, casting a tall shadow that engulfed him as it turned to face him. Its entire body was covered in long white hair. Its shoulders were broad and its arms massive like the trunks of trees. It had no neck that Fayte could see and its eyes were small and black. If it stood still and shut its eyes, you would not see it lest you looked long and hard for it. The yeti wailed and bore its jagged teeth in a mouth large enough to engulf his head.

"We mean you no harm!" Fayte yelled, spreading his arms in a show of peace.

To his right he could hear another yeti wailing, this one in pain, as John pulled his sword from the beast who was now soaked in the red of its blood. Two other yetis lay dead around John with more coming from all around them. When the yeti in front of Fayte saw its dead companions, it turned back to him and snarled.

Kill or be killed. "Forgive me then."

The yeti threw its left fist at him so Fayte spun and shielded himself, cutting the yeti across the chest before its fist collided into his shield and knocked him aside. Blood gushed from the yeti's wound and painted the snow a striking red. It was easier than Fayte had expected. As the yeti fell to its knees and bled to its death, Fayte searched for his friend and found him standing unbothered with Preston in his arms.

The yetis are leaving him alone, he realized, perhaps because Wilson was a servant of Sera. Now he noticed that none of the other yetis came towards him.

They were all headed for John.

"BEGONE!" John screamed, cutting them down one after another, severing their limbs clean before he opened them across the belly. His slashes were brutal and his movements were desperate. Fayte lunged into the fray and helped him, ducking and dodging before countering with stabs and slashes. "Leave me be!"

"There's too many!" Fayte yelled. "It's like the whole mountain is after us!"

John was screaming madly until a screech from the air drew their attention. When the yetis saw the gryphons descending upon them, they wailed and flung their fists to the sky, only to be raked by the razor talons and have their fingers cut off.

Royal gryphons? These were no wild gryphons. "Emily?"

There she was, riding atop a gryphon as it drove a yeti into the ground, clawing it open before taking off into the air again. More gryphons descended and attacked the yetis. Soon there were fire bolts streaking into the snow and erupting into blasts more extravagant than deadly.

"FAYTE!"

He spun around the moment he heard Wilson's voice. The yeti was charging towards him but it was stopped when a strike of fury smashed it down from the sky. Fayte swung his sword and stabbed another yeti, driving it back before a gryphon seized it from behind.

Rinmar. They met eyes for a moment before the gryphon took off, leaving the yeti's back torn open.

"Fayte!" Commander Reyner called, his white fur cloak stained with red and his helmet splattered with blood. "Are you injured?"

"I'm fine," he told the Whiteguard. "Emily should be in the air!"

"My job would be a great deal easier if the Princess was one to listen!" Commander Reyner said. "Behind you!"

Fayte turned around yet before he could take on the yeti, a large man cloaked in green swung a golden blade and sliced apart both the yeti's arm. The Scygard leaped off to another and opened its back from the bottom up. The sunrays danced off his golden armour as he moved, leaving only death in his path.

Commander Reyner shook his head disapprovingly when Fayte looked to him.

"These yetis fall quite easily," Fayte noticed, watching as John and the Scygard killed and chased away the remaining yetis.

"Look at your hand," was the Whiteguard's answer, and Fayte saw that it was swollen and bruised.

He staked his sword into the ground and tried to open his palm. The pain was terrible and worse than he had ever experienced. It was like he could feel every one of his muscles and tendons in his hand across his wrist and arm, each one burning hot and painfully sore.

"These yetis do not fall easily," Commander Reyner told him, waving Wilson over to them. "You just fought harder than you realized."

"Fayte!" Emily yelled, jumping off the gryphon before it even landed properly. She fell face first into the snow, startling her entire escort, only to scurry back onto her feet and kneel next to Fayte. "Your hand, it looks terrible!"

Wilson laughed. "We can all see that, dear Princess. Come on now, move aside and let me have a look."

The bruise was bad and would take weeks to heal on its own. Wilson did what he could and soothed his pain, taking away the burning soreness with it. He noted that the bruising was worse than he liked and Fayte might had torn a muscle or a tendon.

"AH!" Fayte winced and pulled his hand away.

"See?" said Wilson. Preston nodded beside him. "I will see to it in few more days after your body has had its turn to mend it. Then it will be easier and safer for me to fix it without risking further damage."

"You cannot climb like this," Emily said, moving to help Fayte stand but he quickly got up before she could. "You shall join us."

"The climb is part of my pilgrimage," he told her, meeting Rinmar's eyes who had been watching from afar quietly. His Scygard stood behind him like an ominous shadow. "It is not a question of whether I can."

A priestess walked up to Commander Reyner and whispered in his ear before the Whiteguard looked over to John. The yetis were clearly after him and it could only be clearer from the sky. Fayte knew what Commander Reyner was thinking. John was obviously no ordinary character, but that was of lesser concern to him now. No, what bothered Commander Reyner was the fact that John was putting Fayte in danger.

"Are you hurt?" Fayte asked.

John shook his head, his grey clothes now dark with blood and his face splattered with it. He scooped a handful of snow and wiped his face like the cold hardly bothered him.

"The climb is part of your pilgrimage, yes," Commander Reyner said. "Getting ambushed by so many tribes of yetis is not."

"So many tribes?" Emily said, turning to the yetis. "That is unlike their usual behaviour."

They all look the same to me, Fayte thought as he looked at the bodies of the white beasts.

"Attacking in the day is unusual as well," said another.

Sir Percson came up to them from atop his gryphon, a peaceful smile on his face as always.

"You are no friend to the yetis," he said to John. "Why?"

"How would I know?" John answered. "They're beasts! Maybe they're hungry or something. Come on, Fayte, we gotta get on going."

A fire glyph appeared in front of John and stopped him.

"Yetis are intelligent creatures," Commander Reyner said as a wizard stepped up beside him. "They do not strike in the light of day without reason."

It came to Fayte's attention then that John was still wielding his sword. The man was silent and Fayte was sure John knew exactly with the yetis attacked him. However he could not share the reason. Just as he could not share the reason why he had that Templar's sword with him. There was no use trying to force his tongue. First the unnatural gale and then the yetis.

Sera is trying to stop you from reaching the temple, Fayte realized and John appeared to be aware as he still held his sword as though he expected more trouble. He began to wonder if forcing John to travel to the temple was the right move. "Perhaps we should continue this-"

A body fell from the sky.

"Mailer!" Emily screamed as she ran up to the court jester and dug him out. "Mailer! Are you hurt? What happened?"

The court jester now wore a mask with eyes painted as crosses with a frown beneath them.

"Nothing to worry now, nothing to worry!" he laughed, swaying unsteadily after he stood up. "I'm fine! See? I am absolutely…"

They watched as he picked up his marotte… in two pieces.

"OHHH NOOO!!!"