Saturday, March 4, 2017

Once Upon... Ever After - Part 4 of 4



Arnav never knew when he actually crossed the bridge of believing all this was true. Because "this" was stupid. There was a reason fantasy remained in the realms of the myth – just to keep people like him sane. And right now the line had been crossed. Probably it was because of Nandini. Or probably, he really was insane. But from Arnav's point of view, he could do only one of these two things – one, believe that all this crap was actually real. Arnav did not want that. But the other option of believing that all this was a dream was not working out. Arnav was just not waking up from the dream – which left him with only one option. Believe it is real and finish this to its logical end and come out.

Unfortunately for Arnav he did not like the endgame.

But then, if he wanted to finish this thing, all the things that he had seen from the beginning pointed to the end in exactly one way.

Which was why, Arnav wanted to sneak out of the hut without Nandini knowing. Arnav was scared the kid would see him. If Nandini saw him, she would ask him a hundred questions and the kid would know almost immediately that he was lying. Arnav could not afford that. Not now.

Arnav almost smiled to himself as he saw Nandini pulling the branches of the trees and watching Leha intently as Leha was bending the branches, into the shape of a bow. Nandini bent the little branch in her hand and broke the branch and looked glum as Leha laughed melodiously pulling another branch and giving it to the kid.

"How can I get to the Restricted Region?" Arnav asked looking at the old woman.

"Nuren will drop U in his chariot, wizard." The old woman said.

Ever since Arnav spoke about the prophecy, the old woman was also silent. She had a strange gleam in her eyes – one that Arnav did not care to qualify.

"Keep the kid safe and please try to find a way back to our home," Arnav told the old woman. "Her mom will come for her."

"Mo?" The old woman asked confused.

Arnav sighed, shaking his head, not bothering to explain.

In the back of the home, Arnav saw Nuren bring a small chariot driven by what seemed like two beautiful horses. Arnav honestly did not know much about horses. But, both the horses - one with its chestnut brown colour and the other milk white, looked beautiful.

Arnav glanced again at Nandini who was watching Leha and nodded to himself as he walked through the back door towards the chariot and haphazardly got on it.

All through the chariot ride, he was silent. And Nuren looked worried. Arnav did not know why. But it did not matter. Not anymore.

As they neared the border, Arnav nearly gasped. The Dome, as the old lady called it, was transparent and it was cackling and pulsing with strange powerful symbols around it.

Arnav admitted that he did not know much, but getting near the Dome was making Arnav's fingers tingle – and he was almost sure that he could touch the shield and feel something powerful on the other side.

"Stop," Arnav said as he was within walking distance of the Dome.

Nuran stopped the chariot making weird noises to which the horses responded. Any other time, Arnav would have been curious as to what it was. But now, Arnav just did not care.

"Walk away," Arnav said as he was stumbling out of the carriage.

"What?" Nuren asked confused.

"That was plain – no thy, thee or thus," Arnav snapped almost annoyed. "Walk away." Arnav repeated.

"Are you sure..?" Nuren asked confused.

"Dude!" Arnav snapped. "Go!"

Arnav completely ignored the bewildered man and walked towards the Dome, trying to feel it.

He was after all a twin. He was bonded at birth.

"Aarvi?" Arnav called softly as his hands were tingling slightly.

And that was when Arnav gasped and fell down as his eyes were almost watering. Touching the Dome was giving him a headache and a kaleidoscope of images were passing through his head. Images, he just could not control. Arnav gasped, taking in deep breaths as he pushed through and suddenly he could almost feel Aarvi's anguish.

Go away, Arnav. Aarvi's thought sounded in Arnav's mind and it almost sounded like she was inside a tornado.

I tried...

Arnav struggled as he was trying to concentrate on her thoughts, but something dark was swirling around Aarvi, pulling her away. Something, dark, evil and powerful. It was dragging her away and Arnav was afraid because the darkness seemed to be destroying Aarvi.

"Aarvi, focus on me," Arnav said desperately. "I can't hear you."

The book...I got dragged...here...Dark Things....I felt you last time. I tried controlling them.

Saying that took away all of Aarvi's energy as suddenly there was nothing but a shrieking sound all around them.

Besides Arnav already knew what Aarvi was telling him. When he was attacked by the Shades the last time, he had felt something familiar. At that time he did not know it. But now, he realized that it was Aarvi. She had been the one who was trying to pull the Shades away from him.

"Tell the Shades, I have a deal to make," Arnav shouted as he just pushed through the Dome because he suddenly could not feel Aarvi, because for a brief second, she almost disappeared.

Deal? Aarvi's voice sounded suddenly and it sounded like she was hurt. Badly.

And Arnav was terrified wondering how long his sister had been struck with these Shades. The old lady had said that there was power fluctuation in the Dome twice – Arnav had come in through the second time. The first time was when Aarvi had come in. She was obviously reading the book, like he was. And unfortunately for Aarvi, she got caught in the wrong side – outside the Dome.

"Yes, a deal. My life for yours," Arnav said quietly. "When the Shades let you go, find Nandini, Aarvi. She is here and she is waiting for you. An old lady here promised to send you two back...."

Arnav gasped unable to talk, because suddenly all around him was nothing but darkness.

The barely functional Dome had crumbled at the place where Arnav had touched it, as the Shades were now focusing their attention on Arnav.

NO!

Arnav was almost sure he could hear Aarvi's screams as she was trying to pull the Shades back, keeping them away from Arnav, like she had done, the last time.

"Aarvi stop," Arnav said wincing. "The Shades will let you go. The Shades need one Magi for one century. That would be me. And you go back to our world with Nandini."

"NO!"

For the first time, Arnav saw his sister appear before him and he crumbled when the Shades were all around them, ready to attack both.

And Arnav gasped as he actually saw Aarvi through his blurring vision.. Aarvi looked horrible – like she had run a marathon and she was badly bruised and there were dark circles under her eyes making her look like she had aged too soon. She barely had enough energy to even stand up as she looked like she was struggling to focus on Arnav.

And that was when Arnav knew that he had done the right thing in coming here. "Work out the maths, Aarvi. You have a little kid. I am a loner. No one needs me. I am perfect for this."

"I am not going to let you do this," Aarvi said struggling to breathe properly pushing herself up trying to come to Arnav.

"Aarvi, all this could just be a dream," Arnav said with a goofy smile, ignoring the single tear running down Aarvi's tear. "You wake me up back home and tell me what an unimaginably good guy I am."

"NO!" Aarvi shouted pushing herself forward as Arnav turned his attention to Shades.

"Let my sister go," Arnav told the Dark swirling Shades around him.

Aarvi stumbled and fell as she was trying to get to him, as Arnav ignored her

Arnav winced as the Shades turned their attention to him and could feel the Shades – they were dark, vicious beings with absolutely no bodies. They were nothing more than thick cloud of darkness, filled with utter despair, misery, vileness and...pain.

"You need a Magi!" Arnav told the Shades. "I am here. Willing and ready."

"Please don't," Aarvi whimpered but she really could not get up.

And that was when the Shades surrounded Arnav as Arnav felt something far worse than a migraine hit him. His eyes were watering as he felt that he was being torn apart in shreds. He would have screamed, but he just could not. He just did not have the capacity for it.

YOU ARE A WILLING HOST. The Shades told Arnav as Arnav was whimpering and then he just remembered nothing more.

*********

Aarvi screamed hoarsely running towards Arnav. That stupid, imbecile asshole. He was being noble right now. At an age, when he had to live his life, he was dying. Here. For her. Stupid. Stupid, Stupid boy.

Aarvi was screaming as her vision was blurring with tears, and she nearly missed something important happening around her.

A few minutes after Arnav had fallen, it almost looked like everything around them had been snuffed out. The Shades suddenly vanished.

Shrieking and screaming, the dark swirling things, completely vanished from the place.

Aarvi was gasping for breath, as the place was looking remarkably clear. Almost as if the damned things had never even existed and at the same time, the Dome came along so strongly as Aarvi felt something almost powerful run through her as the Dome became very strong. Aarvi could not see it, but strangely she could feel the strengthened Dome.

But Aarvi was not paying attention to it. She was looking at the place where she had last seen Arnav.

Aarvi was shocked because she saw a limp figure lying on the ground where the Shades had been just a second back.

Letting out a hoarse shout, Aarvi shouted as she ran towards her brother. She could not let anything happen to Arnav....That idiot was younger to her by a few minutes. There was no way she was going to let anything happen to him.

"Arnav!" Aarvi shouted as she tried to feel his pulse, her fingers almost numb with fear.

She shook his head, as he remained lifeless. "Breathe, you idiot!" Aarvi shouted angrily, shaking him fiercely.

There it was...A faint pulse...Erratic, but it was still there.

Arnav groaned as Aarvi wept unable to stop herself.

"IDIOT!" She yelled angrily through her tears looking like she was going to slap him.

"I am so sorry for coming back alive!" Arnav gasped taking in huge gulps of air, trying to get up, struggling to concentrate.

******

"It was all part of the prophecy, woman," Arnav said almost in a lisp, trying to look all important and making a really bad job of it. His hands were still twitching and his vision was blurring badly as he was struggling not to wince and his entire body was bruised. And his face was puffed and looked like someone had used it for punching practice. And he was struggling not to collapse.

"If you open your mouth, Arnav, I will kill you," Aarvi said furiously as she was helping Arnav stumble across, away from the Restricted Region. Aarvi was sure the Shades were not going to come back. But she just was being careful. And Aarvi was herself not in better shape. But she was at least mobile.

"How else can I show you how smart I am....?" Arnav demanded as he just fell on the ground, unable to walk. And which was why he missed being hit by a really nasty punch from Aarvi.

And Arnav honestly could not see the punch. He, a judo teacher, could not see his sister coming to punch him. Bad job prospects.

And Arnav knew that the only reason he had not been punched was Aarvi was really not looking to hurt him. She was just frustrated.

"How far away does this old woman live?" Aarvi demanded angrily.

"No idea," Arnav said. "But if we keep walking, we will land up somewhere."

Aarvi snarled angrily. "Most of the times, I just want to kill you." Aarvi really looked like she meant it.

"I didn't plan on dying," Arnav said angrily. "When I heard the prophecy and I figured out that it was you on the other side of the shield, I realized that giving myself up was the only option available."

"What prophecy?" Aarvi asked.

"It spoke of two people being bonded and how they shall both enter the kingdom of might and how one chooses the dark and the other light." Arnav said in a matter of fact tone.

"None of this explains your stupidity." Aarvi said fuming angrily.

"One will pay the price for the other, with a final breath, in the final fight," Arnav said repeating the last line that he had read.

Aarvi frowned as Arnav nodded. "It was the final fight. I was reasonably certain that if one of us sacrifices for the other, the Shades would disappear."

"What sort of idiotic answer is that?" Aarvi asked.

Arnav sighed shaking his head. "The old lady told me that long back, people from here could stop the Shades using their own power. Because their heart was pure." Arnav looked looking distinctly embarrassed.

"So giving yourself up, was what? An act of love? Pure heart?" Aarvi asked wondering why she was feeling exasperated and so ridiculously happy at the same time.

"No, it was an act of pure logic." Arnav said struggling not to look like an idiot.

"Oh God, you are an idiot," Aarvi said unhappily, falling beside Arnav.

"I know," Arnav said proudly, struggling not to wince through his bruises. "I am too unmanageably smart."

Aarvi cussed furiously when they heard hooves coming towards them.

"Should I be worried?" Aarvi asked thumbing at the direction of the horse hooves.

"If you want to get worried, go right ahead," Arnav said generously. "But that would be Doorbell and the rest of the cavalry. Late as usual."

"Doorbell?" Aarvi actually looked horrified. "What is a doorbell?"

"No idea. She just keeps calling me that," Arnav said having the decency to look sheepish.

Arnav and Aarvi turned as they saw Nuran and Doorbell come towards them in different kinds of chariots, armed to the hilt and looking ready for battle.

There seemed to be a lot of other people around them too and all of them seemed armed and they were all on horses.

The entire gang of some fifty people stopped in front of the twins.

And Arnav found Doorbell's expression priceless.

"We could not let thou die," Doorbell breathed in gulps as she got down the chariot looking like she was going to faint, watching the two of them.

"And the Dome..." Doorbell looked at the Dome and smiled. "It is strong and I cannot sense the Shades anymore." Doorbell looked at Arnav with genuine pride. "Thou are a really strong Magi."

"Magi?" Aarvi looked confused. "He just tried to die. Is that what a Magi does?"

Doorbell looked at Aarvi and was confused and Arnav was sure she was going to impale herself with the big bow.

"Who are thou?" Doorbell asked Aarvi finally.

"Thou?" Aarvi asked faintly, looking almost terrified.

"She does this all this time," Arnav nodded at Aarvi, looking glum.

"And lady," Arnav told Leha pointing at the big bow. "If you had removed that, there is a chance you could have reached here, much faster."

"Ignore him. He is always this annoying. Even when he is saving your life," Aarvi told Leha sighing.

And Aarvi was surprised to find that the woman was really muttering something which sounded vaguely like Doorbell.

************

They found Nandini and the old woman playing around the Book.

Nandini turned to see Arnav and Arnav wished he could have recorded the expression on the kid's face. Delight, anguish at the scars, and finally complete happiness when she saw her mother.

"Mummy what happened to you?" Nandini asked looking worried. "Arnav, what happened to you?" Nandini asked unable to stop herself. She was so worried that she forgot that she was not supposed to call Arnav by his name. Her mom got really annoyed with that. "Did you go and fight the Shades all by yourself?" Nandini asked Arnav looking very angry.

"Kid, you should be more surprised at how mom is here," Arnav said as he gave Nandini a tentative hug, completely ignoring Nandini's question.

Nandini snorted. "If we can come here, mummy can also come."

"Somehow I always miss the simple logic," Arnav admitted that Aarvi hugged Nandini tightly and neither were willing to let the other go.

"Arnav, why did you go and fight the Shades all by yourself?" Nandini demanded in a furious voice.

"Mummy found a really big bow, kid," Arnav told Nandini. "I didn't have the time to call you. So I went first. I told the old lady here to bring you when you made your own bow." Arnav said.

"I have bewitched the book. If U place thou hands on it, the book should be able to get U home, Wizard Arnav," The old lady said clearing her throat.

"Wizard?" Aarvi asked confused.

Nandini gasped as she looked at the old lady, almost afraid. "That was top secret!" Nandini muttered loud enough for all to hear. "Mom will scold Arnav for that," She said in a slightly lesser tone.

"I won't," Aarvi said sighing as Arnav rolled his eyes.

"You won't?" Nandini asked Aarvi, looking thrilled. "You know Arnav promised to buy chocolate milkshake for me."

"Traitor!" Arnav looked extremely angry as he looked at Nandini, who closed her mouth looking completely horrified.

"Did you really promise her that, Arnav?" Aarvi asked Arnav mildly as Arnav angrily took Book of Fairy Tales from the bewildered old lady as all of them kept their hands on it.

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