Night descended and the convoy travelled in the darkness of the valley. The cars’ headlamps chased the dark away, but just one small part of it. The mountains on either side of the road sat like giants - curious, strange, and making one feel a sense of incomparable ancient-ness and majesty. They appeared like mysterious warriors guarding some secret and would crush the puny humans to bits under their feet at any moment.
The road got rougher and rougher in the valley, and narrower and narrower till it had turned into a goat path. The convoy was forced to stop.
“Mr Kabir, have you led us to the wrong place?” Tang Yu-Yan alighted and asked.
Kabir shook his head. “I am familiar with every inch of Afghan soil. The place you want to go is the Bamiyan Valley, and this is that place. We are now in the deepest part of the valley. My job is done. Can you pay me the rest of the money now?”
Tang Yu-Yan wrinkled her brows. “Our deal is for you to bring us back safely to White Rock Tribe territory before we pay you the remaining amount of 500,000 US dollars, not now.”
“Half the men I brought have died. Should I not ask for that money in advance?” Kabir’s face darkened.
The White Rock tribesmen surreptitiously raised the muzzles of their guns. Two of them released the safety on their guns and looked prepared to shoot at any moment.
Behind Tang Yu-Yan, the surviving five agents spread out and raised the guns in their hands slightly.
The atmosphere became tense immediately.
At that moment, Xia Lei pushed the car door open and stepped out. He carried the modified sniper rifle in his hands, and a handgun suitable for close combat. He walked slowly to Tang Yu-Yan’s side. He just stood there, not doing anything.
Kabir and the White Rock tribesmen gew nervous at Xia Lei’s appearance. They were not afraid of Tang Yu-Yan and the Bureau 101 agents but Xia Lei was like a combat-god in their eyes. Who would dare be hasty with him around?
All traces of friendliness left Tang Yu-Yan’s face and her voice turned cold. “Mr Kabir, I see you as a friend. We also have the best reputation in this area. Would I stiff you on your 500,000 bill? Is there a need to make it come to this?”
Kabir turned around and slapped the underling with the highest-raised gun. He spoke angrily, “Bastard! Is there something wrong with your head? Put your gun away!”
The White Rock tribesmen put their guns away.
Kabir laughed sheepishly. “My apologies, Mrs Yang. My men don’t understand. We are not the enemy - we are friends.”
Tang Yu-Yan’s expression softened. “That’s good.” She spread the map in her hands and held it out to Kabir. “You can collect payment early too, of course. Bring us to the place marked on the map.”
Kabir took a good look at it and his expression grew sombre. “Why didn’t you tell me that the place you want to go to is this place?”
“I know that there is an ancient tribe there. Take us there and you can get your money earlier,” said Tang Yu-Yan.
“No.” Kabir shook his head hard. “That is White Hun Tribe territory. I will not go there; I advise you against it too.”
Xia Lei watched their exchange. He had been interacting with the Pashtun language for two days already and could understand a little now but he still could not understand their conversation entirely. However, he could tell from Tang Yu-Yan holding the map that she wanted Kabir to take them to the spot marked on the map.
Xia Lei thought quietly to himself, ‘The place marked on the map must be the White Hun Tribe Dad mentioned. Based on Kabir’s reaction, he seems to dread that place very much.’
Tang Yu-Yan spoke again, “Bring us there. I will pay you an additional 500,000 US dollars.”
Hesitation was writ all over Kabir’s face. A million US dollars. This was a huge amount of money to the White Rock Tribe. If he could get this money, then the White Rock Tribe could get more people combat-ready. More importantly, his status within the tribe would get a great boost if he got this money!
However, fear struck his heart as he thought of that ancient tribe and the myths surrounding it. He could not reach a decision.
“What are you afraid of with my husband around? Have you seen the equipment we brought? I will gift them to you if we leave that tribe alive,” said Tang Yu-Yan.
The corners of Kabir’s mouth twitched. “Including that shoulder-mounted surface-to-air missile?”
Tang Yu-Yan nodded. “Of course. Not just that - you can have target-seeking missiles too.”
“Deal.” The additional benefits finally swayed Kabir.
Man died for riches while birds died for food - this expression seemed to apply worldwide.
Ten minutes later, the convoy set off again. Kabir had had two of his men stay behind to watch the cars and he led them personally along the goat path and deeper in.
The path grew narrower and narrower, coiling about the mountains till it became a dangerous little road between cliffs.
Kabir walked right in front and Tang Yu-Yan followed right behind him, with Xia Lei behind her. After him came five Bureau 101 agents and four armed White Rock tribesmen. Twelve of them went forward, scraping through the gap. They felt their way forward and little stones rolled down the cliff, kicked down by the scuffling of feet and making hair-raising knocking sounds.
Xia Lei looked up occasionally at the inky-black sky. He couldn’t help thinking if there was a satellite focused on their area and keeping them under surveillance.
“Mrs Yang, could you tell us why you’re going to the White Hun Tribe?” Kabir asked after a while.
“We have a few experts who are trapped in that area and we want to bring them home,” said Tang Yu-Yan, “This is just a regular mission.”
“How much does your side know?”
“Nothing at all,” said Tang Yu-Yan, “I am a soldier. It is my duty to go on missions.”
Kabir smiled wryly. “You really should find out more about that area. If you know enough, you may not be as brave in going to the White Hun Tribe.”
Xia Lei understood some of what he said and quietly nudged Tang Yu-Yan in the waist before leaning in to her ear and saying in a low voice, “Ask him. We need more information on the White Hun Tribe.”
“I know, I don’t need you to remind me.” Tang Yu-Yan rolled her eyes at Xia Lei. Her ear itched with him talking to her like this.
Xia Lei shrugged and stopped talking. Kabir and Tang Yu-Yan conversing in Pashto was a sort of help in his learning of the language too; the more they talked, he quicker he learnt.
The AE pills had given his left eye powers and he’d thought all along that only his left eye had been changed, but he had a new question to solve with the increase in his learning and grasping of skills. The AE pills had most probably changed his brain, letting him reach a level of genius that was unimaginable.
His body too - before his left eye’s awakening, his body had no ounce of its current great coordination and nimble reflexes. It was difficult to prove this, however, as it was different from his left eye where he could feel it and use it at any time.
As Xia Lei was lost in thought, Tang Yu-Yan went back to the topic of the White Hun Tribe. “Mr Kabir, you said that you are familiar with every inch of Afghan soil, so you must know a lot about the White Hun Tribe. Please tell me.”
Kabir nodded. “The White Hun Tribe is an ancient native pastoral tribe. They once invaded Persia and India and they were the ones who established the Kingdom of Shu*. They worship fire. The tribe we want to go to is also called the Fire-worshipping Tribe. It has at least 1,000 years of history and is extremely mysterious…”
Tang Yu-Yan translated Kabir’s words for Xia Lei in a low voice without interrupting Kabir’s narrative.
Kabir added, “That tribe is in the mountains, disconnected from the world because they maintain their traditions and beliefs. Women rule over everything in that tribe and one woman usually marries several men. The men have no rights to speak of. The people guarding the tribe are also female warriors.”
Tang Yu-Yan translated this for Xia Lei and he could not help saying, “Is this tribe the legendary ‘country of women’? It was described in ‘Journey to the West’ and Tang Sanzang went to the country of women.”
Tang Yu-Yan translated Xia Lei’s words for Kabir and he chuckled, “I have heard of your ‘Journey to the West’. It is an impressive book of folklore. I have not read it and I don’t know of any Tang Sanzang, but if any one named thus had travelled there, then it is likely the same.”
“Huh?” Tang Yu-Yan was too surprised herself to translate.
A scene of Tang Sanzang on his white horse with a group of female demons around him popped up in Xia Lei’s head. The demons surrounded Tang Sangzang and were doing a sexy belly-dance, then touching his body here and there… What Xia Lei wanted to know was - what had Ning Jing and China’s best experts gone to that place to study?
“Heh heh, I don’t want to talk about folktales.” Kabir’s expression grew serious. “What I want to tell you is to not underestimate the women of that tribe. Their combat power is startling and every female warrior is prepared to face death. It will be difficult to escape that land alive once you are viewed as intruders.”
Tang Yu-Yan wrinkled her brows. “What weapons do they use? What are their numbers?”
“Maybe spears. Maybe bow and arrow. Maybe swords and other weapons,” said Kabir, “As for how many - I don’t know.”
“But they are female tribal warriors. What is there to be afraid of?” said Tang Yu-Yan.
Kabir smiled wryly. “Know why I’m so afraid to go to the White Hun Tribe? During invasion of the Soviet Union, a whole battalion of soldiers went to the White Hun Tribe but only one returned. That person is my brother. He became mad soon after his escape and died.”
Tang Yu-Yan translated Kabir’s word for Xia Lei and he was struck by a thought, “Mr Kabir, did your brother tell you why those troops went to the tribes? What did they go there to do?”
Tang Yu-Yan translated and Kabir shook his head. “They carried guns and forced my brother to lead the way. You think those Soviet soldiers would tell my brother any important secrets?”
Tang Yu-Yan translated, then looked at Xia Lei.
Xia Lei, like Tang Yu-Yan, had a sombre expression on his face.
This was a mystery, but what could be confirmed was that something had drawn those soldiers there, and maybe drawn Ning Jing and the Chinese experts too...Previous Chapter Next Chapter
*Kingdom of Shu - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shu_Han
In this chapter the author wrote ‘Tangseng’ 唐僧 which refers to a historical ancient monk who travelled all over China and then went to India in search of Buddhist scriptures. His journey was the inspiration for the legendary novel ‘Journey to the West’.
From the context, I changed all references to Tangseng (also known as Xuanzang) to the fictional character Tang Sanzang.