Hopeful By Dingo's Halberd

She blew into her hand, knowing her hot breath would never reach the skin beneath. It was all she could do as her skin frosted beneath the falconer glove; she hated how she had to remove her Yak wool mitten to wear this leather monster. Still, Birendra would be back soon, and once they returned she could remove it.

She scanned the skies for the Laggar Falcon, and shireked to him. Perhaps he would hear and return, perhaps he would not - Birendra, however, was not a timely bird and she doubted he would change that today. Still, his way-ward calls from above annoyed her to no end.

Enjoying yourself?

She sighed, her vapor trailing it's way to the thick white clouds above.

She really couldn't blame him though. She had never seen the mountains, not like he did every day. She often wondered what, to her, the typical scene of jagged snow-capped peaks looked like to him, what distant mountains of marbled brown and grey looked up close. Would the rock be like here? What would grow there, more sparse woodland? And the endless fog that swept itself around the mountains' bottoms only held more uncertainty.

But only Birendra knew the answers to any of it - from here, the mountains always looked the same, and Indra despised that they had grown plain in thier beuaty.

The sky was a faded yellow, what little of it could be seen, and in the far distance was the ever impressive Cho Oyu. The scene reminded Indra of an oil painting she had seen in the village's store, but less remarkable. Indra had never been more than an hour away from the village, in part due to duty but mainly the recalled stories told of those claimed by the endless mists. Only experienced trekkers could go into the beyond. Not that the others minded. The lucky ones though, had brought back stories about different people, and Cho Oyu. How the foreigners flocked to it to make 'instant paintings' to take with them, or to climb it. Still, she had always wanted to see what all the foreigners saw in the mountain, because although an impressive giant, she could not really...

She frowned. She did not like when she used those mythical words. That word. 'Giant'.

It always brought back to her stories told as a little girl; her grandmother would tell her all the wonders of the mountains and the secrets they held. Right now, she recalled that the mountains themselves were massive people in a near eternal slumber, with the mighty Cho Oyu the only one awake to look after them all. "Just incase", Grandmother would say with a cracked smile. But that was back when she was little, before she knew of the world beyond the Himalayas and how 'stable' Grandmother Jana's beliefs were regarded by most of the village. These mountains didn't hold anything great for her. She bitterly realised she had been too hopeful ('wishing for the impossible' - something her late mother often warned her of) and shook her head of the recent thoughts. She lost herself too often up here as it was, among these lifeless chunks of rock and the biting wind. It did not to help anyone imagining what could be or in her case, she thought looking over the humped mountains below, what is not.

Giants, indeed.

Another sigh, and another shirek. Where was that bird?

A larger shriek sounded in reply, and a large grey bird plummeted from the skies above.

Finally, you silly bird.

She held out her arm, and it landed. She gave it a displeased look, and after it's twitching head came to face her, the bird lowered it's head in an appology.

Alright, but don't do it again tomorrow. I mean it!

She put on it's hood and stroked it's underside. He had been able to catch some prey this time, which meant more money for Grandmother's medical supplies.

Good boy. Let's go home.

She readjusted her woolen hat, tightened so it would not blow off in the wind. Indra was about to turn when she noticed something in the sky. Something bright, and moving faster than any bird. Or 'plane'. She began watching as the bright light streaked across the sky above and down somewhere in the distance. It was wonderful, but the sun was still high.

Wasn't it too early for a shooting star?

The sight was beautiful, but Indra forced herself away from the fading smoky trail and hiked back towards the village. Lest she become hopeful.

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It was the voices that woke her, and Indra was furious. She did not have to gather herbs or do her chores until noon, one of the rare days she had been permitted by Grandmother to sleep longer - a break in the routine. She rose from the quilt and, quieting Birendra's concerned hissing, quickly clothed before heading to give whoever it was a suggestion. Or the recieving end of Birendra's refuse bucket if said suggestion was not followed.

She was halfway through a length of thought on what to say depending on whoever it was, when she saw him. In the middle of what appeared to be the entire town, stood a man. Although in plain wear and of a similar tan to most, his was a face she did not recognise.

Now she understood.

Such things usually meant trouble; unless someone from the village formerly introduced strangers to the town during a called meeting, then a stranger could be seen as a Nomadic's Tribe's scout or a representitive from the ever increasing Yuan. Niether were good, but the village had been raided before. Chinese investors were an uncertain - but not unknown - threat. She watched the others around him, blocking him from any possible escape. All the men were standing defensively, asking what his intent was, with some of the town's larger women surrounding them incase the stranger made a run for it. Indra thought they looked like a giant woolen coat surrounding him like that. She looked to him though, and something about him caught her. He opened his mouth, but Indra could not make out the words through the low rumbling of warnings and inqueries. She made her way to the small crowd's outer rim to hear better.

When she was closer, she was finally able to see what about him had intrigued her. She assumed it was his unexpected pressence, but close as she now was, was able to see it was instead his eyes. They seemed odd for a Nepalese man. Any man. A burnt wood colour, but glistening in the sun like melting snow that had strayed into a house, but brighter, and with different colours at times. The man's eyes looked coated in oil, and Indra wondered how he was able to see through the film.

"What are you doing? I am sorry, but I do not understand."

The man's voice was grittier than she expected of a man her own age, and tinged with an unusual accent.

"You do understand, outsider; Why are you here, what business do you have with our village?"

That snarled voice, however, was undenyably that of Mayor Krishna. His tall, hulking frame tried to loom over the stranger, but it appeared the intimidation tactic did not work. Not that it usually did. This stranger didn't appear to really understand the gesture, which made Krishna's face glow hot. Indra found her interest in this young man growing. Something about those eyes...

"As I have said, Sir, I do not understand what it is I am doing wrong. Am I unable to be on this land?"

"Exactly," called seamstress Deuba curtly, "we aren't selling. You're looking for a way into Nepal and it won't be through our village, Yuan!"

"You heard her," chimmed food vedor Sher, "Now go home!"

The man continued to inspect the people quizically, before opening his mouth. His head moved rather slowly, but seemed quick at the same time.

These movements, so odd...

"Then I shall leave. I thank you for your tolerance."

Hearing these words, the villagers looked to themselves and made a silent agreement accompanyed with several nods. They slowly backed away from the man and gathered infront of him, forming a wall between the man and what was thought of as the town centre - a small area between the store and Indra's home, the Medicine House. The man cocked his head from side to side, examining those before him, before turning and walking in a walk that almost resembled how Birendra would scuttle along his perch. Others watched on with uncertainty, but Indra had found something appealing in the man's unusual nature. He was different. Almost like something she had herd in a story...

"Please, stop."

She had spoken the words before really thinking about them, and felt flush when she realised everyone had turned to her. Including the man.

"I want you to stay."

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There had been a hastily called meeting not long after Indra's invite, followed by a grueling four hour discussion. Although Indra never withdrew her invtitation, which by town law was an allowance of visitors, she didn't fight for the stranger either. During most of the questioning she spend her eyes on the strange man and his odd movements. His eyes. In the end, Grandmother Jana had stepped in and used her sway as one of the surviving town's elders. They had decided so long as the stranger promised to be loyal to the village and was under careful supervision, he would be allowed to stay for a while. That night, Grandmother had prattled tales Indra had previously forbidden, by the old tin fireplace near the door. The man seemed eager to learn and she could not bare to begrudge him the rambling tales of an old Medicine Woman, so she too sat and listened.

Indra smiled. Having the man stay also meant he was now Indra's responsibility - he had to stay with her.

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It was morning now, sharp and still, but things seemed different and excitingly foreign. She had not been happy to do her chores in a long while, and found it only fitting to start with the longest first - finding herbs for Grandmother. She could spend more time with the stranger, early. As they gained ground from the chipped stone abodes and the curious whispers, the stranger had even started opening up. He had asked her a manner of strange things, from how the houses were made, to her what were clothes, the trees and even the ice. Although she had been puzzled by his lack of knowledge, she decided to answer everything as best she could. Until finally he asked her something she wondered about herself.

"What are you?"

She had stopped at those words, and played with the jess on her falconer glove, compelled to look away.

"My name is Indra. I am a girl of the village Bahadur, and an amatur falconer. Above us is my Falcon, Birendra."

The falcon screeched above, knowing his name. Vain bird. The pair below waited, and their eyes met. They remained locked and the silence continued - it was not enough.

"I'm someone who loves the mountains, but wishes there was more to them than fog and sparse Imamu herbs. More than even falcons. I want to be able to find something new here, I want to find something, go somewhere..."

The was a pause. He smiled, then began to walk again. No, Stranger, now you.

"What are you, Stranger?"

He turned back to her, smile never wavering.

"I am me, Indra."

It was not a real answer, but for some reason Indra felt he had told her more than she realised. He continued to smile, and she let herself smile back. She moved towards him and took his hand.

It's to guide him. There are hiden rocks everywhere here.

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When they returned to the village it was only noon, and they were carrying a small bundle of Imamu. Grandmother would be happy, as an old woman next door had a bad back that needed ointment. She smiled to her falcon on her arm, to the Stranger, and as they walked into town, another crowd. The smile faded.

"What's the matter, Grandmother? We didn't need a welcoming party."

At the front of the group, stood Grandmother Jana with a solem face and several tokens adorning her robes. The group had similar amulets, but they also held rifles, shovels and various brooms. Indra felt her throat swell. What was happening?

"Indra."

Mayor Krishna stepped forward slowly, and reached an arm out to her. Indra didn't like how softly he spoke - where was the mighty Tiger in his voice now? "Indra, come here."

"Why?"

"This man," Mayor Krishna breathed and seemed to shiver, but not from the cold. "This thing cannot be trusted. Sher and Pal were hunting elk along the eastern slopes when they came across a strange plane wreck in the snow. They went to look, and found this nearby."

Krishna pointed at the ground before the group and Indra gasped. In the snow lay a corspe, dried and in some places burnt.

It was a familiar corpse.

Indra looked to the Stranger, and back to the man in the snow. The same. Except at the same time, different. Indra felt the Stranger loosen from her hand.

"This man, Indra, is a Mekpt. You remember those, dear?" Grandmother Jana's voice seemed frosted. Yes, Indra remembered Mekpt.

"They come from the stars, and they dry the water out of man and animal alike to walk in thier form." A story she had oft been told.

"I did not kill the man. When I exited my ship, he was already dead. I just needed something to blend in until my people came -"

"Indra. Come here."

Indra looked to the group ahead of her, then to the Stranger. If Mekpt's were real, what did this mean? Could this mean that other things from Grandmother's stories were true? She was confused, but she wasn't sure if it was from the situation, realising how hopeful she had been or that there really were things to be hopeful about. Did something new perhaps lay beyond here? She looked to the Stanger, those glistening eyes. She felt at ease; she was sure that he was telling the truth.

And that he was indeed a Mekpt.

"I don't think he's lying though, Mayor. I don't think he killed that man."

"He's more a threat to us than we realised Indra," Grandmother's voice echoed Krishna's cold reservation, "He seems like a nice man, but there are stories of Mekpt that make me feel otherwise. Cannot trust them, dear. We can't have him here. We can't let -"

"No," Indra yelled, "This one is alright! I can feel it. I don't know how, but I feel it."

"Indra, we don't have -"

"Enough!" It was softer, but it seemed Mayor Krishna had awoken the Tiger. "Indra, move away now!"

Mayor Krishna looked to the other villagers, nodded, and they all advanced. They weren't running, but they would be here to kill Stranger in a matter of moments. She could see it in thier cold stares. The Imamu slipped away.

She looked to Stranger, to the village, to a sadly chanting Grandmother Jana and finally back to Stranger. If they killed him, they would be taking something - someone - beuatiful away from the world. Proof that life held new wonders, proof that something lay beyond the known. Proof there was nothing wrong with wanting more.

No, Indra thought, I cannot let this happen.

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She was running, and leading Stranger away from the cracking shots and the squelching footsteps behind them. He was too important to die, and although she would be punished for this, it had to be done. Snow blended into rock, frosted tree into snow, sky into nothing as she ran. Birendra was till attached to the falconer glove screaming his head off, but she had no time to shake him off. The pain from the piercing talons and the running did not matter to Indra. Only the running did.

They reached a cliff, which Indra recognised as Falcon Peak, and she almost collapsed under heaving lungs and blood-raw throat. She looked to where they had came, and could hear voices in the distance, but saw no-one. She looked up to Stranger, who seemed perfectly fine for such a long run.

"Stranger. You have. To go. I'm sorry. It turned out like. This, but I want you...to know you will always...stay with me. You have shown me something..."

She blushed, and rose, pants fading. She walked over to him and kissed him lightly on the cheek.

"...something I'll never forget."

The Stranger seemed not to understand, but smiled at any rate. After the moment was gone, Indra felt something clentching her right arm. Birendra was still anchored there. She quickly plucked some tail feathers from the screeching bird, and held them out to Stranger, as Birendra leaped and fluttered off to a tree. She knew he would forgive her, so it did not bother her.

"Take these, and dry them. Take the winds anywhere you want, Stranger, and keep safe."

He looked over the clump of tail feathers and took them into his hand.

"These will do. Thank you, Indra."

The voices grew closer, and Indra saw running sillohettes. She looked back to Stranger with urgency. He must leave now.

"Indra, girl of the village Bahadur, amatur falconer. I am not from here, but I do know there is more than the mountains, the goats, what you can see. Would you like to come with me? I would like to show you."

So maybe he had understood after all. She bit her lip, and looked over him. Images of embraces by the fire, of stories, of a lifetime of happiness avalanched through her mind. It was so tempting...but...

"I can't. I'm..." She sighed. Her heart felt like it would heave into her raw throat. "I'm needed here." Grandmother was old, and one day Indra would take the mantle of Medicine woman for herself. She could not flee to the city as her parents had done so foolishly before their accident. Dreams were for dreamers. She had been too hopeful as it was.

"I understand."

Indra felt saddened by those words. She was starting to wish she could hear it re-couperated in her voice. Had she perhaps expected more due to his novelty? She had no right to ask such things of such a unique creature anyway. She had to let him go, give other's what she now felt.

The Stranger glowed, and he began to shift. It was pure and white, like a mound of melting ice, and something from which she dare not look away. He was becoming like a growing ice sculpture. The arms became wings, the face a beak, glass-like feathers spurting in every direction. It was a wonderful sight. You were worth saving, Stranger.

Finally, before Indra stood a large grey falcon. He looked exactly like Birendra, who scree'd from a nearby tree at the sight. Indra walked over to this new form, and stroked him. It was a beautiful sight, but why had he chosen to be so large? He was twice the size of his human form. Surely -

"Indra!"

She spun around to face a red-faced Mayor Krishna and the group of villagers from before. She cursed herself for forgetting the direness of the situation.

"Indra, get away from that thing!"

"Then," Indra replied, "Let him go! Don't you see? This is proof of the Old Stories! The Stranger is someone who is of the mountain, like us! A living myth -"

"Enough; Fire!"

As soon as Krishna had growled those words, the rifles had cracked. She spun around, snapping in her ears and bullets whipping past. She prayed that the Stranger would be alright. But he was not there.

From the sky came a tremendous screech that hurt everyone's ears. They all held thier heads in pain, and before Indra knew it, something large wrapped itself around her and lifted her from the ground.

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How far they had traveled she did not know, but she could no longer recognise the ground below them. Infact, she could barely see the ground below them - she had never really thought how thick the endless fog really was.

She watched the passing peaks, and Indra thought of a picture she had once seen: a yellow place with lots of water and rocks, from somewhere called 'Indonesia'. She had imagined the waves so much in the following months, and the few stories that Grandmother Jana had told her about them. Now, she was flying over a white ocean with ghostly waves that crashed against mountains. An endless ocean that went as far as she could see, just for her. It was so magnificent, and she was envious of Birendra for having keep such sight to himself all these years. She wouldn't berate him for being late from now on though. How could she when she now knew why?

She looked up to the Stranger, who focused on the sky ahead. She felt entirely safe, so she did not think he would dry her. When they landed, perhaps he would become the man he was before. She did not know, and it did not really matter; She would stay with him awhile either way.

His tallons softly clenctched on her shoulders, making sure she had not slipped without his notice. Yes. He definatly had been worth saving. She watched the ocean below, and wondered what else lay within it's mists. She would have to find out.

She also wondered about his home.

He would tell her about it.

Indra closed her eyes, and carefully spread her arms. She would return home, eventually, but this time was hers. She let the cool, rustling wind wash over her and into her ears. She imagined she was a falcon, flying high about the Himalayas. She saw the mountians below awaken, reach up to her. She saw the great faded giant Cho Oyu ahead, arm outstreched, beckoning her to him.

She knew she was being hopeful, but saw not reason not to be.

-End-

AN: Apparently they don't like seperations on this site, so I had to use a series of dashes or it all seemed a jumbled mess. This is my first story here, so please, tell me what you think! :P Updated for the second time to read better.