The rain hadn’t stopped for three days. That amount of rain was typical for Kyrat during monsoon season, but nevertheless, it was inconvenient for the Royalists. Many of the soldiers had already came down with some form of cold, others in excruciating pain from the severe blisters on their feet due to their worn-down boots. The only exception was Pagan Min and his special army he’d brought with him from Hong Kong. They were well-equipped, well-dressed, and well-prepared. Pagan was young, but he’d spent months, and millions of dollars, preparing for his move to the Himalayan country.
He and Mohan Ghale, the head of the Royalist army, led the others through one of the many vast forests of Kyrat in search of a Nationalist outpost that was supposedly nearby. They managed to keep a steady pace for the most part, but many of Ghale’s soldiers were beginning to feel weak—physically and emotionally.
Stealth was difficult for much of the group. The Royalists struggled to stay quiet in between the sneezes, hacking coughs, and dragging of their sore feet as the ground sloshed beneath them.
“How are you not even the least bit sick,” Mohan whispered to Pagan amongst the sneezes as they advanced down a beaten path. The path, most likely from the Nationalists, indicated that the outpost was close by.
“Oh, I suppose it could be a variety of reasons-”
“Shh! Lower your voice.”
Pagan huffed and rolled his eyes. He loathed being shushed, but he complied.
“Traditional Chinese Medicine, for one. Have you ever heard of it? The immune system, or Wei Qi, can be boosted using TCM by eating such things as Astragalus root, Asian ginseng, and so forth. I also get acupuncture done quite often.”
Mohan looked at Pagan, acknowledging that he was listening, yet didn’t reply.
“Be careful for mud holes,” Mohan said. “They can sometimes be much deeper than they appear.”
“Whatever,” Pagan remarked as he rolled his eyes. He always felt like a child around Mohan. He mused whether Mohan treated his wife Ishwari the same way, who was even younger than Pagan.
As they continued to trek through the forest, they began up a slight hill.
Nearing the top of the hill, Mohan quickly drew his arm out in front of Pagan’s chest.
“Shh! Do you hear that?” Mohan crouched down and attempted to pull Pagan with him.
Yet again with the shushing. He wasn’t even bloody speaking that time. Pagan crinkled his nose, refusing to bend down. He didn’t want to risk getting his pants any muddier than they already were. “Hear what? I can’t hear shite with all of this rain pouring down!”
Before anyone could react, a small group of Nationalists stormed out of the nearby bushes, firing their weapons. Mohan dropped to the ground onto his stomach and covered his head. Bodies fell in every direction. Amidst the pouring rain and gunfire, Pagan bellowed a short cry, followed by a string of Cantonese curses. He tumbled right into a puddle of thick mud, gripping his leg as he went down. More Cantonese words were exclaimed, this time much louder. The shooter was eradicated by Pagan’s army while Pagan wallowed in the slush, still cursing, as he desperately tried to pull himself out to no avail.
Mohan slowly brought his head up and looked around before he dared to stand back up. Pagan’s lieutenant grunted and nodded at Mohan, signaling the all-clear.
As Mohan stood, he noticed dead bodies lying all around. He sighed. He was grateful that most of the bodies were of the Nationalists, but he always mourned losing a fellow soldier. The two Royalists that he noticed right away were Ajmal, a young man in his early 20s, and Aadarsh, a man Mohan grew up with. Ajmal moaned and coughed. He had been shot in the stomach and was losing a great deal of blood. Mohan rushed over to the young man and applied pressure on the wound as he called for a medic. Bright red flooded between his fingers. One of the medics rushed over to give medical attention to Ajmal as another radioed for a truck to take him to the hospital. Mohan, knowing there was nothing more that he could do, stepped away to give the medics room to work. He said a quick prayer to Banashur for Ajmal’s health and soul.
Drawing his attention back to an injured Pagan who had finally been pulled from the mud hole, he called for Rajesh, a medic who had been hiding behind a fodder tree, shaking and scared.
Despite still sitting on the ground, Pagan refused. “No! No, just radio for my medic back at base. I can wait. It’s-” Pagan was briefly interrupted by a burst of pain. “It’s only a flesh wound, I believe,” he said through gritted teeth.
Mohan looked unsure. “Pagan, base is nearly half an hour from here. You shouldn’t wait that long. I assure you that Rajesh is highly qualified.”
Pagan furrowed his brow and panned his eyes slowly to Rajesh, who stared at the ground while discreetly picking his nose. Pagan rolled his eyes. “Call base,” he said to Mohan.
Mohan obliged and radioed to base camp who promptly sent off Pagan’s medic, accompanied by his loyal assistant Gary.
The haughty young man continued to sit on the ground, body slumped and head hung. He began to tremble.
“Are you crying,” Mohan asked.
Pagan’s shaking grew stronger, followed by the sound of heavy laughter. “I can’t fucking believe this,” Pagan exclaimed as the cackling persisted.
Mohan wore a confused expression on his face. “You can’t believe what?”
“The one time I don’t bring my medic along and the one time that I wear a nice pair of pants would be the time that I get shot in the fucking leg and fall in fucking monsoon mud!” Pagan wiped the tears from his eyes which only caused him to laugh harder as he realized his hands, and then face, were also covered in mud.
The stoic older man, unusually amused, attempted cover his laugh with a cough.
“Can you stand,” Mohan asked.
Pagan attempted to push himself up as his lieutenant rushed to his side to help. Mohan and the lieutenant grabbed Pagan’s arms and pulled him off the cold, hard ground. Pagan clenched his teeth in pain and attempted to collect himself.
“I can walk,” Pagan said after a couple deep breaths. “Let’s try to meet them half-way, at least. It’ll cut down on time and you men can get back to work.”
Mohan furrowed his brow, obviously skeptical of the young man’s ambition.
“Are you sure, Pagan? It’s a bit of a walk-”
“Yes, I’m sure. Now come on. We’re losing daylight.”
Mohan agreed reluctantly and called for his men to head out as Pagan did the same for his. They left the remaining medics and soldiers who continued to attend to the wounded as they awaited transportation.
Pagan held to his wound the entire way, but moved with impressive haste. Within 10 minutes into the walk, the pain became almost unbearable. He fell to his knees, panting. Mohan and the lieutenant rushed over to the young man’s side.
“Perhaps I should wait here. It shouldn’t be too much longer.” Pagan winced as he watched the blood seep through his pants.
While waiting, Mohan rambled on about the importance of the Royalists standing up for monarchy and tradition and something about Banashur and Kyra… Pagan soon lost interest. He thanked whatever god or gods out there when the Jeep finally arrived so that he could escape from Mohan. He liked the man, at first, but he grew tired of him rather quickly. They disagreed on practically everything ranging from politics and religion to fashion— not to mention Pagan often found himself lusting after Mohan’s wife. Pagan never considered himself a jealous person; whenever Ishwari was involved, though, any remaining logic was eliminated and he couldn’t keep from hating the man who was fortunate enough to have her.
Mohan helped lift Pagan onto his feet once the Jeep arrived. “You may stay at my homestead. My wife, Ishwari, will take care of you.”
Pagan smiled. He thought of Ishwari. He liked Ishwari. Really liked Ishwari. Not wanting to appear overeager, though, he didn’t accept. “Oh, I’m fine, really!”
“No, I insist. Ishwari would be more than happy to help.”
A shadow fell over Pagan’s face. Despite his interest in Ishwari, he was annoyed that Mohan was volunteering his wife to take care of him without asking her first. He forced a smile. “Well, since you insist. That’s very kind of you, Mohan. Thank you.”
The lieutenant helped Pagan into the Jeep and then climbed in himself. As they commenced to drive off, Pagan huffed. “What took you so bloody long? There’s been a change of plans. Head to Mohan and Ishawri Ghale's home. You can patch me up there.”
“Yes sir,” the driver replied.