Max woke up to the loud engine sounds outside. It sounded as though the whole troop were preparing to move and he wondered what would happen to him and his friends. Max changed into a sports outfit and went outside to take a look. Indeed, the gunmen were packing the tents efficiently and within several minutes, they were done. He walked towards one of the gunmen and asked where they were headed. The gunman looked at him and shrugged before answering that they were headed somewhere in the west where Ashfaq believes there to be a breakthrough discovery. Max thought to himself whether they should follow Ashfaq. Following them might be great as he could share in the glory of discovering what was hidden. However, he was not sure about whether Ashfaq would be willing to share the glory as it would be illogical.
“It’s Max,right?” he turned his head towards the voice at the mention of his name. He saw Ashfaq standing there with his arms folded. He nodded his head, trying to anticipate what would Asfaq say next.
“Care to join us to the west?” Ashfaq asked him.
Max was surprised at his question. Was he really willing to bring kids that he only just met to share his possible discovery of a lifetime? Though it did not really make sense to Max, he quickly nodded his head as to prevent Ashfaq from changing his mind. Furthermore, he would guarantee the safety of his friends with the presence of the heavy gunfire that Ashfaq has.
Max looked at Ashfaq’s attempt at showing him a smile. Without dwelling on it too much, he went back to check on his friends. His friends had all woken up and are chatting amongst themselves. Haley looked at Max as he was entering the camp and asked him what their next step should be. Max gathered his friends in a circle to discuss their future. He told them briefly about what had happened to him when he experienced the strange light from the chair and his interactions with Asfaq that happened moments ago. His friends all looked to him, as if prompting him to make a decision for the whole group as they did not mind any decision he took. He stared at them, kind of expecting this reaction as he had known them for seven years and counting. His friends were the type that would follow him as they are worried about him. They were also the type that would hold nothing back at scolding him if the decision he made was wrong but that only happened once and Max had learnt that lesson the hard way.
Wilheim adjusted his glasses and said, “We do not mind any decision you make Max. We know you chose the one that is safest amongst them all. Just know that you are not in this alone.” He patted Max on the shoulder. With that, they had all packed up their things and were ready to leave, giving Max a surprise as he had yet to share his thoughts yet.
“I figured you would want to join them in their expedition hence I told the rest to pack things up and be ready to leave when you say so.” John said. Max smiled, looked at his friends and motioned them to leave the tent together.
As they exit the tent, one of the gunmen was already waiting for them. Once he saw the group of five approaching, he turned and instructed them to get onto one of the Humvees prepared for them. Max was curious as to where they are headed next. It was an uncomfortable trip as not only did they have to share their seats with some of the gunmen, they had to endure the bumps on the road which would randomly jerk the Humvee.
‘The island is bigger than I expected it to be..’ Max thought to himself. He gazed through the window of the Humvee, trying to take in the beauty of the forest. He saw different kinds of wildlife, each trying to coexist with one another to survive. He then turned to look towards the gunmen. It seemed that they had never caught a break. They looked concentrated, their face void of any emotion. Max wanted to strike a conversation but was met with resistance every time, ruining his plans of seeking answers as to why they were there. After a while, he grew bored and began talking to his friends, killing the time as they were told it was quite a distance.
The journey was interesting to Max as he watched Ashfaq stopping every few kilometers, surveying the island. He was searching for something as he kept investigating the terrain. Max wanted to assist him but was denied. By this point, the heat in his palm had spread throughout his entire hand. He understood that as they travel more to the west, the heat intensifies and spreads from his hand. He kept trying to cool his hands but to no avail. As they travel further, Ashfaq’s reaction gets more elaborate and he kept grinning. It seemed to Max that they were getting closer to their destination. He felt that they were being contained for some reason as they could not disembark everytime they took a quick stop. The reason they were given was that it was to be efficient and by alighting would consume time that could have been saved. Max and his friends were in no position to argue as they were mismatched in terms of firepower. Hence, they had to endure sitting uncomfortably, with the unrelenting heat, praying to reach their destination as quickly as possible.
Max was getting sore as the hour passed. He glanced at his friends who were all wearing the same expressions. They desperately needed to alight to allow their blood to circulate and grant their bodies momentary freedom. They did not have to wait long as when they had to stop for the umpteenth time, the gunmen mentioned them to alight the vehicle. They rejoiced as they stepped down from the vehicle. They had to take a few moments to restart the motor of their legs as the needles were constantly poking.
Max surveyed his surroundings and saw that they were facing a great mountain looming over them. It’s shadow provided them comfort and shelter from the burning rays of the sun. It seemed to span from one end to the other, it was different from its kinds. The mountain seemed to be inviting the group but it lacked an entrance. Ashfaq instructed his men to check if there were any signs of entrance to the mountain. After a few futile attempts, Max overheard Ashfaq wanting to create their own entrance. One of the men ran back to the Humvee parked all the way at the back. Moments later, he came back with a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. Max was slightly impressed by the preparations of Ashfaq, though it was overkill. They retreated a distance before Ashfaq nodded towards the gunman.
Though they expected it, experiencing it first hand was something else. The blast was overwhelming to Max and his friends. They felt it resonate within their bodies, making some of their knees wobble. Trying their best to recover, they shifted their attention towards the impact point. It surprised the whole group as not a single dent was made. The mountain stood there, still in one piece tempting them to try again. The gunman fired again to try and make some kind of progress thinking it was impossible for it to survive a second strike. Once the dust and smoke had settled, they were still in disbelief. The second strike was similar to that of the first. Both did not inflict any damage to the mountain.
Max winced in pain moments after the second strike hit. He grabbed his hands, trying to alleviate the pain in his hands. It came abruptly causing Max to lose his footing. He tried to regain his footing, limping towards a nearby tree. He could not describe it but something deep inside was telling him to withdraw himself and get as far away from the mountain as possible. However, they were too invested to back away now. Max tried to bury the feelings away, enduring the pain and headed towards the mountain. For every step he took forward, the stinging pain intensified. He tried to keep a calm face as he would not want to worry his friends. John and Haley stood beside him, each holding both of his arms to support him. He looked at them and knew instantly that they were aware of his struggles.
“When did you know?” He asked.
John looked at Haley then back at Max. “Since we left the village.”
They had walked until they were facing the mountain at arms length. The pain in his arms had subsided. He did not know what had caused the pain to subside. He began to question the reality of magic.
‘Was magic all but an illusion?’ He thought to himself.
As he was facing the rocks of the mountain, he began to reach out his hands to touch them. The mountain was beckoning him, calling out to him as if welcoming him back. Almost as if he was in a trance, he touched the mountain and said.
The mountain suddenly shook vigorously. It felt as though an earthquake had struck, the deafening noise struck fear in their hearts. Each of them were clueless to the cause. The shakings and the rumblings went on for a minute but to them, it felt as though it would never end. They hugged the ground as best as they could. The relief they felt was indescribable and some slumped back in relief that they had managed to bear through. However, mixed feelings of shock and surprise overtook them as they laid their eyes on the mountain. Greeting them was an entrance of impenetrable darkness. It stood there naturally as if it had always been there. Max stood there as he broke out of his trance.
‘What happened? What did I just say?’ Questions after questions bombarded his mind. He was clueless as to why he had walked towards the mountain and spoke words that he could not comprehend. He saw parts of the mountain retreat to the ground, almost as if it was a door that had opened for Max. A breeze blew past him and it made him nauseous as it carried with him a horrible stench. Part of him was skeptical about the treasure in this mountain while another part was slightly happy that this could be the breakthrough he was desperately hoping for.