Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Once Upon...Ever After - Part 2 of 4


"Mom bought me another book like this, Arnav! It is inside the cupboard."
Nandini's words terrified Arnav badly.
That his sister had bought another Book of Fairy Tales was so unimaginably horrible that Arnav whimpered, pushing himself back.
Only to find a hideous book come and hit him on the nose.
"READ ME!" The Book yelled.
Arnav shouted hoarsely as he thought that the Book had almost throttled him.
Gasping for breath, Arnav pushed himself further back and that was when he opened his eyes and looked around him.
"THOU ARE SURROUNDED, SCOUNDREL!"
Arnav's heart was hammering real bad, from both his nightmare and what he was seeing which was why he said absolutely nothing.
And the "Thou are surrounded" guy was being so loud. For one incongruous minute, Arnav actually thought the Book had really brought on guards to make him read it.
Arnav was gasping for breath as he made a heartening discovery that his nose was pretty much good and not squashed by a homicidal Book.
That was when Arnav's vision cleared and he saw the blade.
Not just one blade - four blades, almost as huge as swords.
And they were all around him.
That should have been the first thing Arnav normally noticed. But then shock acts in different ways. And it also leads people to ignore basic things.
Slowly, as the initial shock had subsided, Arnav saw the person who was holding the huge sword in his hands.
"Dude, what are you wearing?"
In hindsight, that was probably not a great first sentence or the best greeting anyone could give to a person who was having a really big sword in their hands.
But the words were torn out of Arnav's mouth before he could actually even properly think through the question.
The guy before Arnav, who had the sword in his hands, was wearing a really big iron helmet and an iron shield. Arnav just could not see what dress the man was wearing beneath the shield. And the man's leather shoes were so badly worn out and looked ancient that Arnav wondered how the shoe still hung on to the man. And as if his shock for the day was not done, Arnav was incongruously thinking about which costume shop rented such hideous dresses.
"What is really wrong with you guys?" Arnav demanded as he was completely freaked out.
And later when Arnav actually thought about it, he was willing to concede that, that was not a great second sentence either.
"Cheeky Churl," The guy before Arnav said angrily, drawing the sword up.
Arnav blinked again, because finally, the last few gray cells of his brain had started working. Actually his brain was not doing great on the thinking part either. But his brain was functional enough to point out four important facts to him.
1. He was not in his home.
2. He did not remember falling asleep.
3. He did not know how there was such an intolerable sunshine inside his home and why there was suddenly such a dense forest on the left side of the home.
4, He had no idea what cheeky churl meant.
"What?" Arnav asked faintly wondering why his brain was repeating the same four things again and again. Cheeky Churl was not in his home and was having a nightmare about being attacked by a Book and its Guard, in the outskirts of a dense forest.
That was the best summary that his brain could give him when he forced the damned thing to work. God, he was having a bad day. Where was the stupid alarm clock when you actually needed it?
"What is cheeky churl?" Arnav asked finally as he was blinking. His priorities were slightly mixed up. But then he had never seen such a huge sword in his life.
Arnav decided that the guard also apparently did not know the meaning of word, as the guard snarled angrily.
"I want no trouble guys!" Arnav yelled as he realized that the four guards were trying to surround him.
He usually never wasted time on chitchat after the fight had started. But Arnav always tried explaining first. Exactly what he was going to explain was however slightly beyond him. Saying that he was just reading a fairy tale and was having a nightmare really sucked. Arnav instinctively felt that the idiots with the blade would not probably not like that explanation.
And stupidly, the guard with the sword took a swipe at Arnav.
The swipe just infuriated Arnav. A lot.
A pathetically bad attack was not something that Arnav could ignore. Not even in his dreams. Besides when things got physical, Arnav was not completely lost in the woods or the forest...or....never mind.
"Hey!" Arnav shouted angrily. "Someone is going to get hurt with it," Arnav shouted angrily pointing at the sword, looking the fastest way to disarm the guy.
The guard definitely did not know that Arnav was a really good judo teacher, who made his living teaching judo to kids and Arnav occasionally taught elders too. And the swipe from the guard was the last limit as Arnav realized that he really could not talk his way out of this one.
Arnav step sided the man with the sword and as the momentum of the man carried him forward and when the man reached the place where Arnav had been, Arnav hit the man hard on his neck, with the side of his palm.
The man crumpled, wincing in pain as the other guards were watching in shock and Arnav was slightly surprised.
"You should have attacked by now, you idiots," Arnav fumed at the other guards with blades. "When you have numbers, you need to use it." Once a teacher, always a teacher.
The other guards were shocked for a whole second and it was obvious that they could not decide on whether Arnav was being an idiot as a special occasion or whether he was always like this. But then the guards also had their problems. Whatever the problems were, they could not let one guy standing right in their middle attack one of their own and let him walk away with it, no matter how much of an idiot the guy was.
The other guards together attacked Arnav.
The guard on the left attacked him first and Arnav knew that he could not block something with the momentum of the guy. There was every chance that he was going to break his hands if he did that. Arnav bent letting the sword sweep above him as he kicked the man near his attacker hard on the knees as he was getting up. His attacker was moving ahead not able to stop himself as Arnav hit the man on his neck. Or tried to.
These people apparently knew about using the numbers and one of the two guards attacked him at that time as Arnav fell back, trying to avoid being impaled by the blade. But the guard who attacked him first was not incapacitated as he caught Arnav's hands from the back. It was so tight that Arnav could already feel his hands getting numb and the other two guards were coming towards him. The two guards were pretty much looking at him like he was a bug or something and were looking to squash him. The guard whom Arnav had kicked on the knees was on the ground and pretty much saying the same things that the woman was saying just with more emotion and more gruffly.
If those two guards reached him, Arnav knew that he just could not take that punch. It could hurt him, real bad.
Arnav did what he had been taught. He let himself go numb and pushed himself back. The guard was caught unawares as he fell back.
And after that it was a disaster.
Arnav did what he did best and five minutes later, the guards never even knew what happened to them as the three were lying in the ground wincing from pain as Arnav ignored them completely. Two guards were not getting up for the next week, not without giving themselves a severe headache. And the third one was just plain old fashioned unconscious. Arnav expected the guard's arm and head to give him hell on waking up.
Arnav was thinking of studying their swords first, but Arnav remembered that the "cheeky churl" dude was just down, not unconscious.
Arnav turned looking angrily at the first guard and was actually embarrassed. The guard on watching Arnav with terrified eyes and was pushing himself back, hard, almost whimpering and he was scared so badly that Arnav felt almost sorry for the guy. That was notwithstanding the hideous armour the guy wore.
"Take your helmet off," Arnav snapped at the guard. "Or you are going to suffocate!" Arnav said coming forward as the guard pushed himself back even more trying to make sure Arnav did not touch him.
"I am not gonna hurt you, you ass!" Arnav scolded the guard looking completely annoyed, as he studying the guard's feet. The ankle was twisted badly and he was going to know all about it, when he started walking.
"Your attack was just one step short of pathetic," Arnav told the guard, sighing to himself. "And more importantly, spill the beans and talk," Arnav pointed at the shield and looked at the man. "Why the costume and why attack me? I don't even download pirated music, for heaven's sake!" Arnav said looking annoyed, wondering why he was talking about that to a a guy dressed so badly. There was a part of Arnav which was wondering whether the man also had a thing again piracy.
"Thou shall not get away with this," the guard whimpered looking like he was summoning up all his courage to talk.
Arnav snarled dangerously. "One more sentence with thou and you are going to regret it," Arnav said trying to look dangerous. And it was almost impossible - To look dangerous. Because it was practically impossible to get angry at a guy who was dressed so badly and struggling not to get afraid.
But then Arnav had problems of his own. Thou and Thee were strictly forbidden words in Arnav's dictionary. No one could talk to him like that and walk away with it, because one of the worst memories in Arnav's life was his teacher making him read that in English class.
"Chill dude and don't pick up that sword," Arnav said shaking his head, looking irritated as the guard was superciliously trying to pick the sword up from beside him. Did the idiot really think Arnav would not notice that?
Strangely, the man winced really bad at what Arnav had said. Arnav naturally assumed the guy was wincing at his use of words and it really pissed off Arnav. "You have the audacity to wear something like that and you got a thing against slangs?" Arnav demanded angrily.
The guard was breathing unevenly as he had screwed his eyes shut as Arnav had spoken and then a few seconds later the guard opened his eyes because nothing seemed to have happened.
Arnav had no idea what the guard was expecting but the guard was right now looking relieved.
He nearly grinned as he watched Arnav. "Thou magic is failing wizard. Thou spell does not work, anymore. The Queen is coming. She is coming and she is going to execute thou and she would punish thou for the indecent apparel."
Arnav just stopped himself from killing the man.
"Didn't I tell you not to talk like that?" Arnav demanded completely flustered. Translating the word apparel took some time for Arnav, otherwise he would have replied immediately. "Dude, one more word about my shirt, I will seriously do something that you are going to regret," Arnav threatened meaning every single word he had said. People did have the right to dress like this and get on his nerves.
Out of the corner of his eye, Arnav realized that one of the guard was getting up slowly. It would take some time for the guard to completely get up. But Arnav had to remember it.
"The Queen is.." The guard repeated, presumably because he had run out of things to say too.
Arnav sighed, moaning. "Don't man," Arnav was almost pleading with the guard. "I just had a day full of reading 'Once upon a time'," Arnav just stopped himself for mimicking Nandini. "I just cannot do this right now." Arnav tried to look tired and harassed and that came out wrong too.
And that was when Arnav's second set of gray cells started working. "That is probably why I am dreaming of things like this." Arnav was pretty glum, as he studied his surrounding as he continued his monologue. "I actually promised myself that I was going to give myself a solid dose of reality and watch TV, the whole night."
The guard was giving Arnav the same look that Arnav gave his chemistry teacher when the teacher was spouting chemical formulas and Arnav frankly had no idea why. And Arnav was too busy feeling sorry for himself and he realized that there was someone behind him. It was almost too late.
Arnav felt something being brought down, as he rolled himself to the side. And it was honestly not a second too late. In the place where he had been a second back a huge flowerpot crashed breaking into a million pieces. The pieces rained on him and Arnav got up real fast, because experience had taught him that any splinters on the face were very very dangerous.
Arnav got a glimpse of fiery black hair and that was all, when he felt a kick straight to his face.
Arnav was really and truly pissed with himself. He did not notice an attack from the back. God! This was worse than pathetic and did not speak well of his job prospects at all.
Arnav blocked the kick and for a whole second, Arnav caught sight of a gray eyed beautiful woman looking at him, very angrily.
She punched him, as Arnav stepsided the attack and caught the woman's wrist and twisted it hard. The woman stomped his foot, as Arnav struggled to control himself as he rolled the woman back, pushing her hard. The woman fell back and controlled herself, as Arnav moved forward and in a fast move, punched on the stomach of the woman and knowing that she could defend herself and when she was about to, Arnav turned up and hit the woman on her jaw.
The woman was stunned as she caught her jaw falling back and Arnav was fulling expecting the woman to mouth obscenities.
He was partly right.
The woman was being very vocal, just that none of the things she said made sense to Arnav.
"Skamelar!" the woman shouted. "Ronyon!" she said watching Arnav with anger and hatred. And Arnav would have found that highly entertaining, if he had not seen the huge bow the woman had in her shoulder.
"What are you talking about?" Arnav demanded, and then sighed shaking his head and the woman was continuing saying whatever it was that she was saying.
The guard was getting up and Arnav was right. The man's ankle was giving him hell. The guard almost collapsed as he watched Arnav and slowly hobbled as he came before the woman.
"Leha!" The guard told the woman, watching Arnav angrily. "Stay away from the wizard," The guard said almost spitting out the last word. "His verbal magic is weak but his hands are strong."
The woman pushed the guard aside. "No, Nuran," she said coming close watching Arnav, still trying to keep a fearful distance from Arnav. "He has just wielded the most powerful magic I have sensed in quite some time. I sense it from him," the woman said watching Arnav her eyes almost glittering.
"You could be right on that one," the man said still trying to get the woman to safety, trying to hobble as fast as he could and Arnav thought the man was trying to keep the woman safe. Arnav would have told the man that that was completely not necessary. The woman could definitely take care of herself.
The only thing Arnav was worried about was that the woman was going to impale herself with her own bow. The bow was really huge.
And that was when things became stupid. Irrevocably.
"He was asking about the bean," the man told the woman like it was a great secret.
"What?" the woman named Leha asked stunned.
"WHAT?" Arnav asked frankly not capable of thinking. He looked at the two people before him. "Why would I be talking about food with you?" Arnav snarled angrily.
"What food?" the man asked looking confused too.
"Isn't that what I just asked?" Arnav shouted.
The three people stared at each other and none of them doubted the fact that the other two were completely insane. The guard did the only sane thing. He completely ignored Arnav. "He was talking about spilling the beans. And now the wizard is befuddling me," the guard said clutching his head, looking like he was going to throw up.
Arnav groaned struggling not to yell.
"Befuddling?" Arnav demanded wondering whether he had even pronounced the word right. "My teacher does not have a sense of humour or the facility to arrange something like this," Arnav said sounding depressed. "Otherwise I would have thought that this was his attempt to take revenge on me," Arnav finished looking like the end of the earth was near.
"This is getting too stupid!" Arnav yelled getting angry with himself. He whirled looking around. "Where is the stupid alarm clock?" Arnav demanded angrily looking around. "It has to be here somewhere," Arnav looked around trying to see through. "The kid's got to be here," Arnav said fuming angrily. "Nandini!" Arnav shouted looking around. "Wake me up."
It was better when Arnav was kicking the people. At least, they did not look at him like he was an idiot, which was exactly how the man and the woman were looking at him now. The other two guards who were slowly getting up were watching Arnav very fearfully. It was the same look which Arnav's students gave him when he was giving them a demo and called for a volunteer.
And that was when things went from bad to worse.
It looked like both the man and the woman had focused their attention on hearing, and that was when Arnav felt it. Something which felt vaguely like many things trampling. The man and the woman watched each other shocked and gave Arnav a look which scared him far more than their abysmal fighting skills.
"Do I want to know what that is?" Arnav asked almost sure that the answer to that question was no.
"The Shades!" the man said as rapidly he woke up the other men and slung the unconscious man on his shoulder.
Leha the woman, was helping one of the man move as he slung his hands on her shoulder. "We need to leave in haste. The wizard is powerful which is why the Shades sense his magic through the shield."
"You guys can actually pretend that I am standing in front of you and you can talk to me," Arnav told the two people. "I know we started off on the wrong foot," Arnav felt the trampling things coming very close now. "But other than the fact that I sometimes babysit my sister's kid, I am not all that stupid." Arnav said with what he hoped was a winning smile.
"The wizard is a dorbel!" the woman looked at Arnav horrified as they were moving away from there.
"Magic does that to all of them," was the only comment that the man made as they were moving towards the dense forests on their left.
Arnav sighed. He was caught between two options - something huge which was about to trample him and a woman who had problems with doorbells. Arnav decided to go with the doorbell. At least it would not trample him.
He followed the group who were about to enter the forest, when they all watched him horrified.
"Thou shall not follow us!" the woman squeaked pulling out a really mean looking dagger pointing it at him, as she was watching the clearing very worried.
Nuran and his people were already deep inside.
"I won't talk about food and I can usually take care of myself," Arnav told the woman. "And I am really not all that...."
"It is too late!" she hissed angrily as the woman beside him started whimpering.
"Hey, relax!" Arnav muttered to the woman as he was regretting not running inside the forest when he had a chance. And that was when Arnav was really and badly embarrassed. He did not even know why and he wanted to run away from something. That was stupid.
"I am sure that is not a doorbell," Arnav added to the woman as she still looked terrified. Probably she had a phobia of door bells and she was afraid that one was coming right at her.
And that was when Arnav felt it really strong. Something malevolent. It was filled with so much hatred and Arnav was more bothered about why he was feeling it.
"RUN!" Arnav shouted, hoping to keep it short otherwise doorbell woman was going to get confused. His voice shook the woman out of her reverie as the woman turned sharply, almost falling on Arnav.
Arnav had no idea why he did it, but he pulled the woman's dagger from her belt almost sharply. Everything that he had learnt had always taught him that weapons always got you in trouble. More than necessary. But right now, it seemed important.
The malevolence that he had felt was just not a feeling. It was an actual presence. It was something dark and completely wicked. Arnav whimpered as he felt something his head with the force of a sledgehammer.
"STOP!" Arnav yelled but all that came out was something like a whimper as he was on the ground, clutching his head real hard, hoping to shut down the pain. Things were getting real bad and Arnav sensed the presence come really close. Strangely there was a small part of him telling him that he knew this presence.

But Arnav was in no position to make sense of it. The pain in his head was so bad that Arnav was actually praying that he fell unconscious. He weakly thumped on the ground, and that was when he felt a sharp hit somewhere in his body and the blessed darkness mercifully claimed him.

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