The trek was arduous and cold despite the layers and layers of clothing Sage wore. She wasn’t even sure if Gu Mi knew where she was going. They had been walking for hours in quiet and there was nothing but snow white wasteland for miles. Sage never thought she’d visit Siberia. Now, she knew that she didn’t want to, either.
“Please tell me we’re getting close now,” Sage said through partially chapped lips.
“There’s the treeline. Do you see it?” Sage nodded. “We are getting close, now,” Gu Mi assured Sage. In the distance, the blinding white ice and snow were contrasted by small fir trees. Eventually they arrived at the edge of a forest of tall, snowy evergreens.
Gu Mi looked like she wasn’t struggling with the weather conditions at all. Sage suspected that the heavy parka Gu Mi wore was simply for show.
Another hour passed as they made their way through the forest and it was around that time that the two heard heavy, animal-like breathing and the snapping of twigs. Sage stopped dead in her tracks. Whatever that sound was, it wasn’t human. She slowly turned around and found herself face to face with a Polar Bear.
“Holy shit,” she exclaimed as she stumbled from shock and fell backwards onto the snow. She began to panic, wondering how to escape, praying that she wouldn’t die. The polar bear rared up on it’s hind legs and let out a mighty roar. Sage looked to her right to see Gu Mi completely nonplussed with her arms crossed.
“Oh, knock it off Orion. You’re going to scare the poor girl.” The polar bear began to change slowly into a humanoid form until a haggard old man stood before Sage.
“That was the point, Gu Mi.” Orion was tall, hulking even. His white hair was pulled back into a pony tail. The lines in his face showed the signs of age and were enhanced by the harshness of Siberian winter. His right eye was a piercing blue while his left eye was completely clouded over, a scar stretching from above his eyebrow down to his cheek. His clothes were mostly skins and fur. His accent was Russian.
Gu Mi stood her ground and her resolve was unshakable. “Point made. We need to talk.”
“Move along, vixen. I have nothing to talk about with you or any other warden for that matter. This land is mine and you’re not welcome. Take the girl and go.” Orion turned to leave.
Gu Mi stood her ground with an expressionless face, “I can’t do that.”
“You can and you will.” Orion threatened with a growl from deep inside his chest.
Gu Mi completely ignored his last statement, “Sage, I’d like you to meet Orion, Warden of Northern Eurasia, son of the Ursini.”
Sage, still flat on her rear and in shock, managed to nod in acknowledgement. She thought she’d be used to all the supernatural stuff by now, but there seemed to be a new surprise everyday. Orion threw his arms up in the air, annoyed, “Great. We’re introduced. Pleased to meet you. Now leave.”
“I don’t think the introductions are finished, Orion.” Gu Mi stood her ground.
“Sage was it?” Sage nodded once more.
“Then all formalities have been met. If I have to tell you one more time to leave, the world may have one less Warden and I’ll do with the girl as I see fit.”
“That’s the plan. Well the last part at least. I’ll be keeping my head, thank you very much. I’m sure the last thing you need is me on your bad side.” Gu Mi’s arms were crossed and she tapped her gloved fingers against her arm.
Orion let out a sigh of defeat. He knew exactly what Gu Mi was capable of and while she couldn’t go head to head with him in combat, she fought dirty and he was too old to bother with the idea of wasting his energy on a pointless battle. “Go on then, woman. Explain why you’re here.”
“Sage will be studying the art of battle under your care.”
“Ha! You cannot just waltz into my domain and make demands of me. Who is this girl to me?”
Gu Mi closed a bit of the gap between her and Orion. “I’m glad you asked. Her birth name is Asura. She’s the daughter of Arduinna and the Warden of North America.”
Orion scratched his white beard and peered at Sage. She could have sworn she saw his face soften despite the taught skin and weather worn wrinkles. “I guess this changes things. I thought this girl was dead.”
Gu Mi wore a sideways smirk and raised an eyebrow, “You wouldn’t deny this to the daughter of your beloved, would you?”
“You are walking a thin line, fox. I suggest you mind your tongue.” And just like that, any softness in his face disappeared. Orion turned to Sage, “Are you truly Asura, the daughter of Arduinna?”
Sage, too petrified to respond, turned to Gu Mi who encouraged her to speak with a simple nod. “Th-that is what I’ve been told, sir. I never met my mother and I just learned of my birth name.”
“Sir?” Orion paused and then let out a deep laugh, “I am no sir, daughter of the Dryads. Come, child, my cabin is not too far from here.” Orion turned to leave and Sage followed for a few steps until she realized that Gu Mi wasn’t walking along side her, “Gu Mi?”
“This is where we say our goodbyes for now, Sage.” Gu Mi almost looked as if she would tear up.
Sage cocked her head, “What do you mean? You aren’t coming along?”
Gu Mi stepped towards the stunned girl and placed her hands on her shoulders. “I mean I have given you all the help I can for now. Now it’s up to you to embrace your destiny.”
“So I’m to follow him….alone?” Sage felt unsure, scared and full of apprehension.
Gu Mi rolled her eyes, “His bark is far worse than his bite. You will be fine.”
“Will I see you again?”
“Of course. I’m your ticket back to civilization.”
Sage nodded her head towards Orion who was still walking away, “How long will I be here?”
With a solomn face, Gu Mi bowed her head, “As long as you need to be.”
Sage resigned herself to her fate. She knew that even if she begged, Gu Mi would not take her back. Gu Mi stepped forward and hugged her. “Learn from him. Let him guide you along your current path. You must learn how to fight even if you don’t want to. Our enemies will spare no quarter on you.”
She wanted Gabriel or Ren or her Uncle Mel at that moment. She felt vulnerable and there was no one to hide behind, “Can I…”
“Can you trust him?” Gu Mi seemed to read her mind. She had a knack for that. “Yes, you can. He loved your mother and through that bond, he will protect you. Now go. We will see each other again before you know it.” Gu Mi planted a gentle kiss on Sage’s forehead.
“Will you tell Mel, Gabriel and…”
“Ren? No, I will not tell any of them where you are, only that you’re safe. The less people that know your location, the safer you’ll be. Now go on and catch up to your new mentor. May the spirit of Yggdrassil watch over you.”
“You change your mind, Asura, daughter of the Dryads?” Orion yelled over his shoulder, “Nightfall doesn’t wait for anyone and we still have a bit to go before we reach home.” Sage spared one last glance at Gu Mi before jogging to catch up to Orion. Gu Mi smiled and turned to leave.
Walking in step behind Orion, she offered her name once more, “Sage.”
“What’s that, girl?”
“I don’t know much about this ‘Asura, daughter of the Dryads’ business. But you can call me Sage.”
“Very well, Sage. Come, we’ll have dinner and a rest. Tomorrow you begin your training.”