The Alpha squad landed outside of a majestic pearly-white palace on a brisk morning as the sun rose. Yoshida, Roudan, and Savoi looked at each other, bewildered by their new destination. Shevchenko stood far from them, not willing to make eye contact. Her face was flushed from weeping. Savoi went to embrace her, but she shook her head to decline the invitation. Instead, she hurried by the squad to avoid any conversations regarding her past. The group sullenly followed behind, each prompting the other to engage in any form of consolation for their comrade.
“You guys can stop whispering. I can hear you, and can assure you all that I am well,” Shevchenko sighed aguishly.
Savoi took Shevchenko’s dialogue to mean that she was ready to fully interact, and ran close to hold hands. Shevchenko was in no mood to make nice with her overly affectionate roommate. She shuddered at the feeling of Yoshida’s judgmental eyes piercing the back of her head. Roudan’s perplexed manner made her wish to know Farouk’s whereabouts, so that his awkwardness would diffuse any elements of pity extended towards her.
Once they arrived at the palace gate, no one knew how to enter. The guards could not see them, as they were merely shadows stuck in a memory realm.
Yoshida picked up a small sized pebble to throw at one of the gate attendants.
“Don’t bother. We simply have to wait for Maaz to let us in,” Roudan said as he held Yoshida’s arm.
Yoshida rolled his eyes and muttered, “Where the hell is Maaz? Where the hell are we?”
“South Praiju,” Shevchenko gruffly interjected. “Not that you’d ever paid much attention to him, but he is the grandson of the Maharaja. We are standing in front of the grand palace,” she continued.
“Oh, wow! I read about this place during my tutoring at the Malta estate.” Savoi swooned.
Yoshida scoffed. “Maaz mentioned none of this to me.”
“That’s probably because he didn’t want you to think he entered the academy because of nepotism,” Roudan chuckled. “His father was an Apache pilot who graduated from Calvary.”
“Ah, yes. His father was also inducted into the Alpha squad. Maaz is so proud to have followed on the same path,” Savoi reminiscently chimed in.
Yoshida blinked, confused. He could not remember if Farouk had, in fact, revealed any of this personal information to him.
Suddenly, the gates opened, and cadet Farouk galloped by the group on a bronze mare. They quick-stepped to follow him inside the inner compound of the palace. The far north side housed a stable with over two dozen of the rarest breeds of horses. Shevchenko noticed a calendar pinned to the wall of a stall door.
“Hey guys, look at this. The date is precisely 6 months before the entrance exam,” she said.
Not long after, they heard a familiar voice inside a stall. The group strolled in to see cadet Farouk with a brush in his hands as he spoke to his bronze mare.
“Today is the day, Taha. I am about to embark on a mission that will change my life forever,” he said as he gently brushed Taha’s luscious silver mane. “I can feel the butterflies swelling inside me, but I won’t let that deter me.”
Taha flared his nostrils and bowed into a seated position.
“Don’t you worry, my old friend. Pita-ji is looking down to watch me take this bold endeavor,” Farouk continued.
A beautiful woman dressed in a turquoise and gold saree entered the stall. She glanced at Farouk with a smile as warm as a summer day.
“It is time to go, dear child,” she said.
Farouk looked at the woman, then back at Taha.
“I am almost finished, Janani,” he said with a hint of excitement in his voice.
The woman kissed him on the forehead and blessed him before she departed.
Cadet Farouk dusted off his school uniform, which comprised a black long-sleeved tunic and trouser set made of silk. He walked out of the stall and said to Taha, “Today is my last day to be a boy. After I return from putting in my petition, I will officially have become a man.”
The Alpha squad watched him runoff from the north side of the palace.
Roudan folded his arms and beamed with pride. “I bet this was the day he decided to enlist in the academy.”
The rest of the group nodded in agreement.
~The Waring Robins~