Athens Greece, 1985.
In order to fulfill the many treaties among the respected Order of the Ice Saints and the Holy Athenean Sanctuary, and to further prepare for the coming of Hades, his Holiness has decided after much thought, to commend you Camus Gold Aquarius Saint, the tutelage of Hyoga Sergeyevich Sidorov to earn the Cygnus Cloth. We are aware that as of right now you are overseeing the training of young Isaac Harmaajavi; however due to the many attacks both orders have endured during the past seven years, it has become a priority to further secure Lady Athena as well as ensure world peace. We are sure your expertise will bring to the Order a new Bronze Saint. Herby we are enclosing all needed dossiers of your new student as well as his travel itinerary.
May Athena Illuminate your thoughts,
Assistant to Igreas, Io.
The letter was brief and straight forward.
Even so Camus sat down in a little bench at Kathanga airport with a puzzled expression set across his face.
The various dossiers sent by Sanctuary were laying next to him, tightly packed in a yellow envelope that had an ‘overnight express courier’ stamp all across the front. A photograph of the new trainee peeked out shyly from the envelope’s lid and the Aquarius Saint couldn’t help but frown at the sight of the young blond boy who stared at the camera wide eyed, looking rather scared. Setting the letter aside, Camus picked up the photograph taking a closer look . He noticed immediately the distinctive shape of the boy’s eyes: two clear blue orbs forced into accented almond shaped-like sockets. A feature he knew, was common amongst Russian natives who had asian heritage in their blood.
Camus let out a snort of derision and shook his head, placing the photograph back into place while standing up.
“Great.” He uttered, sighing heavily.
Camus didn’t want to get carried away but at twenty five and as one of the top warriors both at Sanctuary and at the Ice Saint quarters, he knew he was in for a potential problem.
Not many weeks ago the Ice Saint Order had respectfully declined Sanctuary’s offer to take Hyoga as a student, under the grounds there was already a new recruit undergoing training. Although Isaac would only take full vows to become part of the Ice Warriors at the moment, it was planned for the future that he would take Camus’ place once he retired as the appointed Aquarius Saint ; thus fulfilling the treaty among the two orders as it had been agreed many decades ago. Everyone at the Order thought this reasoning would put an end to the situation but Sanctuary, backed up by Graude Foundation -a science research foundation based in Japan-, pushed the issue further until all the paperwork -which had already been sent back to Greece- landed on his doorstep a week ago.
According to the files he had read during his fourteen hour trip from the training village to the airport, his new student had recently lost his mother in a shipwreck at the Laptev Sea, close to the Khatanga Gulf, in a location very near the Ice Saint training grounds. Because of it, the kid had been rendered, an orphan. However with this eye-trait of his, he now wondered if Hyoga was at all Son of Sergei, just as his paperwork insisted on presenting him to the world. More over if the child himself knew about it. Adding mixed heritage as the outcome of a probable illicit relationship was too much, especially for the fragile psyche of a kid. Again, Camus stopped his train of thought right there acknowledging for one second that training a kid with such heavy baggage wouldn’t be easy at all. Certainly he would have to grew an extra pair of eyes on his back to keep one on Hyoga at all times.
Above him the sun was almost gray, indicating that the one and only month of summer was coming to an end. As if on cue the wind rose up and the temperature went down a little. Behind him, near the control tower building, several soldiers went back and forth carrying supplies, loading the various military vehicles that Camus and the rest of the Ice Saint committee had parked at the hangar. Every six month or so, the community traveled to the borders of the federal zone to re supply for the coldest months; an excellent opportunity to pick up the new trainee and carry him along with all the canned goods and medicines that were meant not only for the training facilities but also for the villages of Norvidk Bay and the Nenets camp up north.
He lifted up his head placing a hand to partially cover his eyes from the sun, trying to find a sign of the delayed plane that was supposed to arrive an hour ago. Time was of the essence. Finally the plane appeared on sight. It circled the sky above the small airport twice until it landed noisily sending a few loose leaves upwards to the sky. Camus grabbed the documents on the little bench and ran towards the aircraft, standing very, very straight at a safe distance while adopting immediately a cold and distance ‘military stance’. As the plane came to a halt the door opened and his new student, came out first holding the Marshal’s hand. The man walked behind him putting on a hat and a heavy fur coat, while lowering his head to avoid bumping it on the door frame. On his way down the narrow stairs of the plane, both Hyoga and the Marshal clutched their hands around the lapels of their respective coats, noticing immediately the harsh cold air dangling around them. As it always happened, both of them cringed when they noticed Camus wasn’t even wearing a coat, just the uniform granted by the government: a plain navy-blue suit consisting of a regular jacket with shoulder boards, collar embroidery and several insignias sewn on the sleeves as well as on the front; matched by a pair of plain navy-blue trousers. His long hair tucked under his hat as military protocol dictated.
Camus tried to remain stone-faced, even though he always felt a bit annoyed at that gesture. He lowered his eyes so as to not be too blunt. Even when the Ice Saints were considered part of the war engine of the Soviet Union and their funding came partly from the State, he knew better than to show any kind of derision towards a high ranked military officer. The quarrels over ‘who was more powerful’ were frankly a waste of time and the Ice Saints had learned to let the State believe whatever it wanted to believe in order to avoid useless arguments. Once the Marshal was in front of him, Camus saluted him accordingly and the soldier returned the gesture as the Aquarius Saint was, also a high rank member of his Order.
“I hope you had a good flight Marshal Brezhnev?” He asked with a polite tone standing very straight, holding his gaze and diverting his eyes for a second to find the child staring at him intently.
“Yes, yes, of course. Although it’s unbelievably cold out here.” the Marshal pointed out while he handed the kid over to him in a rather sharp way, as if he was handling a package.
Camus noticed Hyoga shaking a bit when he stood at his side, although he could tell it was more due to nervousness than to the cold. According to the file, his birth place wasn’t far from the Khatanga gulf area and even with the year he’d spent in Tokyo he would have to be accustomed to the low temperatures somehow.
“Winter is coming,” he answered in a dry monotonous tone, returning his full attention to the Marshal. “This weather is actually rather mild, but in a few days it’ll turn sour. Believe me.”
The Marshal raised an eyebrow, trying his best not to seem affected by the news. After all he was Russian, not like Camus who was, despite all his years in the country and double citizenship, French. Certainly it would be shameful to admit fear of Mother Russia’s imminent cold to a foreigner; so after once more clutching the furry lapels of his coat he handed in a thin envelope that had the crest of the Soviet Union stamped on the front.
“Here are the permanent Propiskas* and the documents and everything else that was sent from the Ministry of Defense pertaining the child. Custody is yours,” The Marshall added before Camus could say anything else. “I believe you take it from here?”
“Yes, of course.” Camus nodded. The Marshal followed suit nodding as well.
“Very well then. Have a safe trip Aquarius Gold Saint, Camus.”
Both men saluted each other and as the Marshal was heading for the control tower, he turned around heading to the hangar where the last crates of food were being loaded on his truck. He never gave the child and order, but Hyoga began walking behind him, following him closely. The various low rank soldiers, nodded along as he passed them, his student close behind. The soldiers plainly stared at, recognizing his importance as he was going to become a new Ice Saint in the years to come. It was rare for outsiders to have a look at new trainees so Camus let them be, nevertheless hurrying up to his vehicle. Once they were near the parking area and out of sigh he started to take off his jacket and tugged at his tie impatiently Then he removed his hat and his long black hair fell to the sides. Without hesitation he placed the garments he’d taken off on top the truck’s front and started to unbutton his shirt while heading to a small bathroom located on the far back. He expected the child to follow him but after a couple of steps Hyoga turned around and went over to the nearest truck to stand by its side. Before Camus could say anything about it, ‘Crystal’, one of the men belonging to the Ice Saint Party appeared from behind the vehicle. Quickly he took his uniform and went over to hand him a new bundle of clothes for the ride home.
“Tell Hyoga to bring me the clothes.” he ordered him entering the bathroom, hoping that the kid would remember enough of his mother tongue.
The file wasn’t very specific on this detail and he could only imply by the stated nationality that his student knew the language. Camus was aware that Russian children that young could not master their mother tongue, especially those who had spent their last year abroad, speaking apparently only Japanese. Hyoga was there a few seconds later offering the bundle to him: a pair of regular trousers, a sleeveless shirt and fur leg warmers to keep his boots dry from the snow. Camus took the clothes but before he went into one of the stalls to change, he pushed the child in front of one of the urinals.
“You know what to do.” He said with a dry tone, in Russian, putting his theories to the test.
Hyoga looked at the urinal and then back at him, evidently not knowing what to do. For a second there Camus thought he didn’t understand what he was ordering him to do but then, his new student opened his mouth to protest. Camus wouldn’t have it, of course. It was possible that the child hadn’t drink anything during the flight or that he had taken a piss before boarding the plane, but he didn’t want to risk it. A fourteen hour trip awaited them and the further North they went, the harsher the cold would get. It would be unwise to leave the vehicles especially during night time.
“Do it.” Camus ordered, heading to the stall. “I’m not asking you twice.”
“Yes sir.” Hyoga answered in a meek tone but in perfect Russian and Camus locked himself up and changed clothes quickly.
With comfortable clothing and an empty bladder, Camus headed to his truck: an all terrain GAZ Tigr into which the last batch of medicines and canned goods was being loaded, along with the fabrics and some money. He circled the vehicle first, gesturing the kid to follow him and once on the passengers seat, Camus opened the door for Hyoga to climb the steps leading to the seat with ease.
“Put on your seat belt.” He ordered him once more and before he could close the door he heard him answering ‘Hai, Sensei’, as it was accustomed in Japan.
“My name is Gabriel l’vovich Camus.” He corrected the child. “But you may call me Master Camus.”
Hyoga nodded as the door closed in front of him. Camus then made a last turn round around the car, checking that everything was in place for the long trip: the spare tires, the fog lights, the extra tanks of gas, and every little detail that could be crucial when lives were on the line. Finally, feeling satisfied with the inspection, he went to the entrance of the hangar where most of his comrades were sitting to let them know that it was time to go. When he arrived they were telling sour jokes about Moscow prostitutes and Camus couldn’t help but roll his eyes. It was true the North Russian natives were always target for city dwellers’ jokes. Especially down at Capital City, where the intelligence of the Nenets had always been regarded as non-existent or in some favorable anecdotes, rather slow. Still, it was no excuse to engage in what he perceived as childish behaviour. Despite his rural way of living the Northerners were by far self sufficient people, intelligent and completely capable of survival, albeit a bit foreign to modern customs. That, in his book was far more valuable than anything the city or its dwellers could offer.
“It’s time to go,” he announced, cutting Yadne’s, (one of the Nenet’s Ice Warriors) story, short.
“Already?” Yadne asked looking bored. But Camus knew the Ice Warrior well. It was not boredom, but tiredness. “ We arrived less than five hours ago. Galina and the rest are sleeping in the back.”
“Well, wake them up,” he answered trying not to show his own exhaustion. Truth was that he would rather rest a bit before departure but the weather seemed to be against them. “The temperature is dropping and I don’t want to risk the engines getting frozen. Let’s go.”
Yadne began to stand up very, very slowly to Camus’ annoyance, followed by the rest of the party who clearly weren’t so happy to be rushed.
“Come on people,” Camus finally raised his voice “Winter is coming and we’ve only have a couple of hours before the sun goes down.”
He didn’t need to say anything more. Everyone knew the trip would be even harsher by nightfall. In a matter of minutes, the five men who were in the group had spread out across the premises and started yelling out orders in the native tongue to the rest of the party. They also woke the rest of the entourage who were sleeping on the back and protested soundly but nevertheless did as told. Twenty minutes later fifteen military trucks were heading to the exit of the airport. Camus took out the Propiskas and transit permits of both, himself and his new student and showed them to the officer who was at the gate. Once all the documentation was approved he set the gear in motion and headed for the Village near Nordvik Bay. It was going to be a long ride back. Longer than the earlier expedition to the airport as with every mile, the weather started to become increasingly cold and he was sure they would suffer a couple of break downs before reaching their destination. As the village of Khatanga became a far dot in the distance Camus let out a small curse in French, already feeling his buttocks cramping already from the long hours he’d spent sitting. It would have certainly been easier to receive Hyoga at the nearest airport but the supplies for the winter could only be ferried by truck. Past Khatanga, everything was considered federal and military zone. In the end it was easier to pick them up rather than fill out all the forms needed so that all the canned goods and the rest of the supplies would be allowed through the various federal barriers. Camus cursed again under his breath as he steered the wheel to prevent the truck from getting stuck on a ditch. He loved Russia. He considered it to be his homeland more so than France, but there were times when he utterly despised Communism and its ways. It certainly made all things far more complex than they ought to be.
The ride went smoothly. Uneventful even, compared to the trip to the airport where he had to relinquish control of the wheel several times. This time, he only had to do it once. To the youngest of the party; a Nenet woman named Galina whom Yadne had taught how to drive recently and was looking for an opportunity to use her new skills. During all that time Hyoga never attempted to engage in small talk, remaining silent and still most of the time, occasionally ‘drawing’ figures on the windows as the glass started to get covered with a thin layer of ice. For some reason he kept drawing hearts and then patches of simplified grass with clouds above and happy suns. Camus looked at him intently from the passenger’s seat, taking advantage of Hyoga’s childish absent-mindedness, wondering once more what the role of the Groude Foundation actually was in all of this. This part of the dossiers puzzled him and he tried to figure it out the agenda behind the promotion of a kid that, for sheer looks had no business being a Saint. Eight hours later, Hyoga slept soundly in the passenger’s seat, wrapped in a blanket that he had found in the back of the truck. Asking first permission to use it, he had covered himself with it and rapidly dozed off. The Aquarius Saint let him be. Although the round trip from Nordvik to Khatanga had been in all exhausting, it couldn’t be compared at all to the days his student had been traveling. After all, before he was accepted into the Ice Saint Order, he had spend the last two weeks traveling all the way from Greece and coming from the Mediterranean had been no easy trip. It was a daunting journey even for adults so it was only natural the kid would be exhausted. His training would start with the first blizzard and he’d better be well rested and prepared for it.
After a couple of hours the Ice Saint convoy started to come across the first signs of civilization along the road. A most welcomed sight as most of their journey had been accompanied by a bare landscape, monotonously framed by the Dniper River. Picked fences and barb wire showed here and there, stuck to the snow that was starting to cover most of the landscape again. All the scattered inhabitants who were minding their own business turned around to watch them pass as the noise of the heavy truck engines soared along their way. Forty five minutes later the first houses of the settlement known simply as The Village, began to appear and soon, they were driving along its improvised little streets. Camus rubbed his weary eyes, trying his best to pay attention to the road, as several stray reindeers would appear in front of his vehicle. Thirty years ago this part of the tundra had been a virgin land, where the Nenet people would only set foot if their migration route took them by it . This had changed with the rising of the Soviet Union as the government had forced some of the native nomadic tribes to settle, some of them even forced to lend services to the military during the two world wars. Although this ultimatum meant for most of them the end of their nomadic tradition, for the Ice Saints it meant the establishment of a base camp, and a significant funding from the State which no doubt had helped strengthen the Order as a whole. With time, the Nenets of the area, became accustomed to a semi-nomadic life and kept most of their activities and animals close to the camp. For this very reason, the last minutes of the trip seemed like an eternity as the trucks forced its way among peasants and farm animals until the Village finally caved in, opening itself to a beautiful landscape showing the edge of the Soviet world and the beginning of the Laptev Sea.
Camus stretched his arms after turning off the engine and without a second thought jumped off the vehicle, trying to restart circulation in his lower back, silently hoping he wouldn’t have to do this trip again at least for another six months. Beyond him he could see the polar sun almost setting and mentally started to do the math to find out what time it was. They had arrived at Khatanga when the sun was rising at eleven o’clock am and rode along for about seventeen hours non-stop. Camus smiled, if his calculations were correct they had arrived to the reindeer feast that would start it’s preparations at four o’clock. As if rehearsed a herd of reindeers began to crowd around the trucks. The Nenet jumped off the vehicles and started to unload the trucks and with the villagers’ help, all the supplies were carried in no time into the various houses and into the Main Cabin. Hyoga woke up as soon as a reindeer bumped against one side of the truck and he watched curious as the herd swarmed all around the place, pressing his face against the window to have a better look.
Camus was about to tell him to get off the vehicle, when he felt something licking his hand. However before he could pet Dusha, his white Samoyed dog, he was greeted by his teacher: A beautiful thirty nine year old Nenet woman named Slava. She was smiling at him, covered from head to toe in reindeer fur, peacefully ‘holding’ her pregnant belly with both her hands.
“I thought it wasn’t possible,” she said with what intended to be a stern tone. ”But your dog is more stubborn and set on its ways than you.”
Camus pressed his lips, suppressing a smile. Although he would have liked to laugh at his teacher’s remark, he knew better. Slava was not only his teacher, but also the former Aquarius Saint and the head of the Ice Saint Base Camp. Even now when their time as student and teacher was long gone and they were regarded by most of the inhabitants of the community as equals, he always addressed her respectfully as one should a superior, especially when new trainees were around.
“Thank you for taking care of Duscha, Master Slava” He answered with the most respectful tone he could find, grateful, while stroking Duscha’s forehead. “I hope it wasn’t such a burden to you…”
“For crying out loud Gabriel,” She snorted addressing him with his first name and briefly smiling at Duscha. Her eyes then wandering at the herd. “It’s a dog not a reindeer. Besides Isaac did most of the job. You should thank him instead.”
“Where is he?” Camus asked turning around on his axis, trying to find with just one look the whereabouts of his older student, but no sooner had he finished skimming his surroundings that he saw young Isaac, on top of the truck’s roof, helping Hyoga out of the vehicle.
For the looks of it, his new student had been trying to get out of it but couldn’t as one of the animals was pressing his body against the passenger’s door. Isaac of course was trying to scare the reindeer to no avail. Camus shook his head in exasperation. He had told Isaac at least a thousand times to think things through before doing them. While he appreciated his student wasn’t selfish and would always be willing to help other people, he also had proven to be utterly careless and Camus feared one day that carelessness would have a heavy price. So far, although trapped, Hyoga was safe inside the vehicle, whereas Isaac wasn’t, especially with his attempt of freeing the door from the herd. While reindeers weren't usually considered dangerous animals, a well placed hoof could mean certain death. With this in mind Camus took the first step in aiding them, feeling a bit embarrassed, that this was happening in front of his teacher. Slava had noticed this before he did, as she had been staring at the heard for a while now.
“Is that your new student?” She asked him squinting her eyes and he knew that she was already dissecting the new kid.
“Yes.” he answered while he started heading towards his students.
When he approached the first ‘patch’ of reindeers, Duscha ran towards the truck barking its way into the herd and clearing a safe path for them. Although he was relieved both children were safe and sound, he greeted Isaac with an stoic, stern expression. Immediately his student lowered his eyes, letting Hyoga go. The Cygnus Saint to be, ran towards Slava looking rather pale. Surely he was scared on account of the reindeers, not that Camus would blame him. Watching an insurmountable number of deer pushing each other was a shock, especially the first time. But Hyoga looked scared beyond reason, clutching the thick lapels of his fur coat with his small hands, while Isaac -looking rather pleased with himself- patted him on the shoulders trying to calm him down. Slowly Camus stood next to them and laid a hand on Isaac’s shoulder. In a second he felt how his student’s cosmos flickered distressed and when the youngling turned to him, he encountered an icy look of disapproval flashing through his blue eyes. Isaac swallowed and licked his lips several times. Then nodding, he ran towards the other Ice Saints to keep himself busy, followed closely by the Samoyed. Camus smiled briefly; it pleased him to see that even when his student couldn’t fully understand the ‘think before you act’ concept, he could take the hint and leave when his presence was not required. And certainly at this moment, Hyoga did not need to be encouraged in his fears. He would soon stop being a foreigner, just like Camus did many years ago. And just like him he would get used to the reindeers and the never ending herds as well as the harsh weather and life of the tundra and with time, fully become an Ice Saint in his own right.
“Camus?” Slava brought him back to reality.
When he turned around, he saw her staring at Hyoga.
Staring at his coat.
As Camus tugged the collar of Hyoga’s coat, the child turned to see him, panicked and started to shiver once the wind hit his skin. The Aquarius Saint noticed him pressing his lips tight, maybe in an attempt to suppress a pout. It was clear that he wasn’t pleased with what had happened, but there was no other choice. Hyoga would have to endure the cold, as Camus and Isaac had done when they had first arrived to the Base Camp. It was after all, part of the training.
He could feel Slava’s eyes on him and when he turned around he could see her nodding in approval of his actions.
“Get your student ready for The Feast.” She said, turning around, leaving them.
Camus allowed himself to smile then, remembering in a flash his first days at the Village. Before he came to this part of the world, he had never seen a Russian native before. Accustomed only to the Caucasian Nordic-like Russians, the Nenets with their high cheek bones and caramel colored skin with feathers tucked in their thick lustrous black hair were a revelation. Hyoga wouldn’t know it yet, because she was covered head to toe in fur to protect her unborn child, but back then when Camus had met her, she had shown him immediately what a true Ice Saint could do. The Ice Warriors were not only masters in ice control but they could also endure cold like no other warrior in the world, thanks to the usage of their cosmos and Camus was well aware that even pregnant, she was making use of that skill, as she actually wore rather thin garments, only thicker in the areas of the belly.
“Train hard.” he told Hyoga, more as a survival advice than an actual order. “And you won’t feel the cold anymore.”
Hyoga barely nodded, breathing heavily while stroking his bare arms. It was evident that the child was fighting back the tears. Camus gestured him to go help Yarde and the others, snapping him out of his train of thought and making him focus on something else rather than the cold. Immediately, Hyoga ran towards Isaac who greeted him cheerfully and noticing immediately that all coats have been removed, gave him a task to keep him warm. Soon the trucks were driven to the nearest hangar and all the villagers and Ice Saints alike gathered near the shore next to a bonfire. It had been lit a couple of meters away to provide heat for those who weren’t warriors as the cold had started to rise and the fog had started to appear. As expected Hyoga tried to stand near the heat, but Isaac stopped him and kept him at bay. The rest of the party started to approach the herd. The animals pressed onto one another noisily, stamping their hoofs pacing back and forth nervously. Hyoga looked at them then, curious and at the same time anxious and scared. Camus knew he would have figured out what was going to happen next, after all in the last hour all people could talk about was ‘The Feast’, but the food was nowhere to be seen.
The men circled the herd, while the women stayed behind. Camus joined them, grabbing the nearest lasso of one of the nearby sledges. As they drew closer to the animals, the beasts fanned outwards as if they knew their intentions, forming a tight pack circle that surrounded the men instead. The first time that Camus saw this, he thought everything would be over without even having started, but on the contrary as it happened the first time he witnessed it, five or ten reindeers separated from the group, giving them an opportunity to strike. With ease and expertise the Nenets and Camus held the reindeer by the antlers, pushing it down. The task had to be done in pairs, until the beast rested flat on his belly against the ground. Quickly Yarde, who acted as Camus’ partner in the hunt, secured the animal’s legs and without delay tied another rope, this time on its neck while Camus lowered his knot to the same place. They pulled the rope outwards as hard as they possibly could. To this day it surprised the Aquarius Saint the lack of struggle the animal put up against strangulation. It seemed as if the few reindeers left behind in the center were sacrificing themselves for the well being of the herd. Right at that moment, Hyoga let out a short scream. Camus saw him with the corner of his eye, as he grabbed Isaac by the forearm while he gave the last pull to the rope and the animal breathed for the last time; meanwhile around them, the same scene repeated itself. One after another, the nine reindeers fell dead to the ground and he could hear the people whispering, impatiently to get the o.k nod to approach the hunters and start The Feast.
Seconds later some of the villagers spread around the field, approaching the hunters and the dead reindeers that were being gutted and then spread open in the same spot, on top of a woven blanket to keep the meat clean. Isaac and Hyoga approached them as he was cutting his deer open. The knife was exceedingly sharp so the blade went in easily cutting the flesh from the chest to the tail without any problem. Before the animal was completely exposed, Galina and Yarde were fighting over whom would get the tender organs, and once the gap was wide enough they sank their hands into the animal, pulling out parts of the liver and lungs with Camus’ aid who was helping them free their ‘findings’ with his blade. Two more Nenets arrived and without hesitation reached over and sank a steel ladle inside to drink the blood. Slava appeared at that moment, offering the Aquarius Saint a wooden bowl which he promptly filled with the red liquid, pouring a considerable amount in one container for later use, for Yarde and himself. Then he cut several pieces of meat and put them in a plate. As usual Issac dove into the carcass taking in one go, more than he could actually chew, slurping the blood as he sucked on the tender meat. When he sat down finally on a nearby stone, his mouth was bloody. That didn’t stop him from offering the rest of the party a wide smile. Camus looked at him in disapproval. While it was customary to eat while the body was still warm, there was no reason to forget manners. After all, they were all going to eat from the same animal.
Hyoga however seemed to disagree. Camus turned around, finding his student completely frozen, looking pale and disgusted. He gestured at him to come, but Hyoga remained in his spot, licking his lips nervously. Camus exhaled heavily and went over to get him. Surprisingly there was a little bit of struggle, as Hyoga wouldn’t let him touch him with blood-stained hands. Finally after a couple of seconds, Camus managed to get a hold of him and without hesitation dragged Hyoga to the animal. Once there, he cut a rather large piece of meat and offered it to him. His student reached for it hesitantly, while Camus shook the piece of meat urging him to eat it, splattering a few droplets of blood here and there. Naturally the child made a face when he felt a bit of the blood landing on his lips but for Camus it was the last straw. Not only was his student refusing food but the Nenets were starting to stare at them… intently. Some of them even laughing openly and pointing at the kid who wouldn’t eat the meat. He knew they were just having fun on account of Hyoga’s ‘new kid on the block’ status but still, he couldn’t help but take it personal. After all, it was his student they were laughing at and thus at his ability as a teacher.
He grabbed Hyoga brusquely by the wrist, pulling him near and placing the meat between his hands. The meat fell on his palms with a disgusting sound and some of the red pieces fell over to the side as the blood made them slide out of his grasp.
“Eat it.” He said as an ultimatum and Hyoga stared at him and then at the bloody raw meat and then at him again, unsure of what to do. Camus of course, already knew what to say to help him along. “You are not allowed to go into the shelter until you finish it. Did you hear me?”
As expected Hyoga started to eat, swallowing whole pieces of meat as best as he could, instantly suppressing his gag reflex. Camus then stood up, grabbing a portion of raw meat and sat nearby, eating his pieces quickly and finishing his meal with a generous drink of blood. He had to admit that after so many years the Feast still creeped him out a bit but it was a ‘necessary evil’. Beyond the grizzly killings done as a ritual to welcome winter, lay a practical result: the endurance of Cold. The Feast was the key element for his training as all the proteins and vitamins contained within the blood and the meat, aided them developing not only a strong body for harsh weather but also created the perfect condition to develop a strong cosmos. Camus knew his student soon would crave for meat, just as Isaac did nowadays.
But for now Hyoga remained behind. Sitting only accompanied by Isaac, who was still eating even when he had been full a long time ago. Beyond them, all the bones and some pellets were piled up as an offering to the spirits. Camus observed them from the nearest shelter. He could see him rubbing his eyes, breathing heavily while at the same time chewing at a strip of raw meat.
“And now he’s crying.” Camus whispered, shaking his head a little, without taking his eyes off his student.
“All new trainees do, Camus” Slava interjected from the back of the room. She was sitting next to the chimney, with Duscha on her feet. “It’s supposed to happen.”
Camus frowned at the comment a bit annoyed at himself for letting his thoughts out in the open. Nevertheless he turned around to see her with a puzzled expression on his face. As far as he remembered, he never cried or refused to take any of the raw meat he had been given when he had first arrived. And if he ever did, this was news to him.
“Well, You never cried when I picked you up, not even when you said goodbye to you mother, of all people ” His teacher said standing corrected, while letting out a short laugh. “But then again, you always showed little attachment to other people. You shouldn’t worry about Hyoga. He’ll be fine in a couple of days.”
“I’m not worried.” He answered dryly, returning his attention to the window, cursing mentally the ability of his teacher to read him like an open book.
Because of course he was worried, if only a little. Before him, laid the several dossiers sent by Sanctuary spread out on a wooden table and for some, obscure reason, parts of the files were erased, highlighted with black marker or simply nonexistent, especially those regarding Hyoga’s mother. It was as if, somebody wanted to erase every record of Hyoga’s life outside the Graude organization, making him a possession, rather than a person taken under its wing. This puzzled him greatly. It was a fact that the kid’s past didn’t matter anymore, as Camus’ previous life had been rendered inexistent once he became a saint. However the whole situation seemed extremely suspicious and he couldn’t help but to wonder what was going on in Greece. More importantly, within the Sanctuary. Normally they weren’t supposed to accept this kind of candidates. The main purpose was to deliver healthy boys and girls both mentally and physically to serve Athena.
“Then you shouldn’t keep on thinking he isn’t fit.” Slava pressed on to his annoyance making him crook his mouth.
“He isn’t,” he said matter of factly, without even looking at her. And this statement was not a matter of perception. It was the truth.
Outside, his new student had finished eating while Isaac patted him on the shoulder, surely in congratulatiosn for his efforts. Camus then stood up, and headed for the exit and after offering a bow of respect to Slava, he left the room already thinking how he would accomplish the task Sanctuary had appointed to him. As he was preparing himself for the night, he heard both his students entering the shelter and before Isaac could ask him about tomorrow’s plans for training, as he did every night, Camus shut the door soundly. As he headed for the bed in the corner of the small room, he started to recollect himself, shedding all doubts and fears away. The task of obtaining a legitimate Ice Saint Cloth for the Order was his duty and he would see it through no matter what. He was Aquarius Camus after all and he had excelled on everything he had set his mind to. Why would this be any different? He would turn that child into what Sanctuary wanted. Period. As he was doing with Isaac. There was no other possible outcome to the situation.
“Let’s get that Cygnus cloth then…” He muttered, as he stripped off his shirt and hanged it neatly next to his bed, completely confident that everything would turn out for the best.
He would soon discover, how wrong he was.
Author’s Notes: Both the Nenets and The Feast exist to this day. Although I put a name on the ritual, the Nenets do drink the blood and eat the raw meet straight from the recently slaughtered animal in order to survive the cold and usually most of the foreigners visiting are asked to join them in the ritual as the proteins will be good for anyone who wishes to stay and survive the cold. All the places named here also exist. I’ve never traveled to Russia, so I hope my research didn’t betray me in the end.