Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Bracelet of Fire and the Map of Time

"She was caught trespassing into the lands, Master Centaur Hiran!" The ogre Orham grunted as he dragged a handcuffed and badly bruised human teenager inside the jail cell.

Despite the fact that the human looked tiny before the other magical creatures, her eyes were smoldering with anger as she looked around.

Hiran with his seven feet height, was magnificent and looked every inch like the lord and master of the throne of Zorton – though everyone knew that Hiran had usurped the throne from the beloved King Wezer and his queen, after capturing and banishing the royal couple to the Portal of Darkness. And later, the Centaur had destroyed the entire royal clan – all except the three year old princess.

It had been rumoured that the queen had smuggled the little princess out of the castle, using her Phoenix.

But no one believed in that anymore. No one had seen any relations of the king for the past fifteen years. Besides Phoenixes were mythical beings. Not real

At least that was what everyone believed.

Looking at the blue eyes of the girl, Hiran frowned coming forward, "Who are you?"

"None of your ..." The girl never completed her sentence as something shot straight at her heart.

Hiran's hands were glowing as all the people in the cell stepped back looking horrified. The girl fell back groaning as her already bruised forehead started bleeding.

"Who are you?" Hiran repeated, his hands glowing even more.

"Kira - daughter of Wezen," The girl whimpered trying to catch her breath.

Her words were met with silence as Hiran's eyes went dangerously dark.

Orham came forward as Hiran stopped him and turned his attention to Kira.

"So you have come to know why I killed your parents?" Hiran asked her, smirking.

Kira snarled angrily, her hands trembling, as the shield around her zapped her. Kira winced as she fell down panting and was trying to catch her breath.

Carelessly, Hiran teleported himself, the girl and Orham to his own room inside the fortress.

The girl struggled against the shield and in the process got hurt even more. Hiran laughed seeing her, as his eyes grew vicious. "The shield which I have cast on you, has no counter spell. I am the only one who can open it. And the shield will sap your energy, until you are reduced to nothing. And then you will die!" Hiran told her.

Smirking, Hiran turned his attention to the wall before him. "That is the same shield that I have protected my vault with." He said waving his hands on the wall in front of him.

Kira barely looked like she could focus on anything. But even she did not miss the fact that Hiran's magic was too powerful. And Kira whimpered as she saw a vault appear before Hiran.

"And inside this vault is the Bracelet and the Map, which belonged to your family" Hiran said with a flourish giving Kira a cold smile.

Kira swore viciously and cursed the Centaur. And the shield zapped her again, as she collapsed unceremoniously.

Hiran watched Kira grinning. But Orham seemed a little shocked. "She is too weak. Your shield has already begun to affect her."

Hiran gave a theatrical sigh as he shook his head walking towards the girl.

His cruel eyes were studying the unconscious human. He knew that he could kill the girl, very painfully – just by keeping her inside his shield. That was just the sort of thing the Centaur would do and he really enjoyed doing things like that.

He came forward smiling as he removed the shield around the girl – just to see how bad she really was.

And Hiran never even knew what hit him.

Kira caught his hands and teleported them out of the place so fast that Orham who was nearby, did not even know what had happened.

But the Darkness was strong in Hiran and he was powerful because of it. In the blink of an eye Hiran recovered and broke Kira's teleportation spell.

She fell back hitting her head real hard. Groaning, she got up wincing and realized that they had just teleported outside the jail cell.

Hiran looked vicious as the white hot fire glowed in his hands again. "The only thing more faster than me is the legendary Phoenix. You really think a pathetic creature like you can kidnap me?"

He was about to fire as Kira looked around fervently. Hiran's furious eyes were telling her that she was going to die. And she was going to die, unless ....

That was when there was a sudden rumble behind them.

Hiran was shocked and the fire in his hands were snuffed out, because though he had heard that rumble just once in his life – it still terrified him.

And Hiran was in too much shock to notice Kira's smile.

"Kidnapping you was never part of my plan," Kira said cheekily winking at the Centaur. "My job was to make sure that you left that vault open."

Hiran looked back as he saw a huge bird appear just above the castle. He was horrified to see that it was a Phoenix.

Without any warning, the Phoenix broke the tower of the castle viciously. Numbly, Hiran tried to invoke a charm to stop the bird.

But the Phoenix was too quick. And Hiran could not cope up.

In a flash, the vault and the girl next to Hiran, disappeared from there ...

***

Kira grinned as she sat on the back of Phero - the Phoenix. The wind was rushing through her hair as she made sure that the vault was safe with Phero.

"Little one, that was dangerous," Phero rumbled.

"You always say that," Kira said disdainfully.

She looked back at the fortress which was now a tiny speck. "Hiran is going to regret that he came after our family," Kira said angrily as she was already thinking of how to use the Fire Bracelet and the Time Map.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

"What is with this stain?"



"What is with this stain?" I demanded sighing. The stain looked strange - like a weird bubblegum plastered on the wall.

And right now, I was not too sure that I did not want to know the answer to my own question.

For the past three days, stains and any forms of dirt were freaking me out. Actually, they are beginning to terrify me.

I stopped my examination of the stain on the wall and winced. My back was really killing me.

My snappiness would be understandable if you know that my home is having a spring cleaning - that annual torture where we begin to get our house as a livable place was on. Exactly why our home was considered "unlivable" until then or the purpose of the entire cleaning, is unclear to me. But this has been going on for as long as I can remember.

And so here I was - throwing away junk which I had collected lovingly in the past one year - junk which probably were the most useless things, in the first place....

And for the past three days, I can hardly remember being clean – I have been dusting, cleaning, sweeping and in between, I have been eating and sleeping.

There has never been a time when I have cursed the vacation time. Looks like spring cleaning has done the impossible. It has made me yearn to go back to school. Right now the uncomfortable desk and bench at school sounded so tempting...Yeah, I know. Something is wrong with me. But trust me, if you do the spring cleaning, you would see my point of view.

Anyway, back to the present, it started out with the halls and damn...cleaning the hall alone, took forever. There is still a huge fast-filling carton which I have labeled "No idea what this is", downstairs.

Every single thing that I have seen all over the home and some things I do not even know what it is, goes inside the carton.

And frankly I do not have the guts to check the carton.

And looking at the rate the carton was getting filled up, I decided in horror that the box was probably going to move back inside the house, in some other corner of the house.

Seriously, cleaning sucks.

Which was exactly why watching the stain on the wall was freaking me out.

"Leave that alone, kid!" That was my equally harassed father and right now he was looking like a bandit – carrying a huge mop and cleaning the top of the walls, and covering his face with a cloth which had been white at some point of time, and a shirt which probably a pirate would not want to be caught dead in, and his sweat glistening face as he was struggling not to sigh..I was probably insulting bandits everywhere, by comparing my dad with them.

But right now I was thinking about none of these things. I looked at the stain and back at my dad. The stain was hidden behind the bed and looked really horrible up close. It looked like some mad artist had started scribbling on the wall and given up the effort halfway. I thought I even saw some long dried food particles from the place....Yuck!

The only reason no one had noticed it was that until now it had been hidden behind the bed. That stain had no business being anywhere in the home.

And here was my dad saying things like this looking at the stain like it was the masterpiece of Picasso. Ok, I have no idea how people look at the Picasso's painting. Ok, let me rewind even more. Picasso is an artist right? Or was it someone else. Anyway as I said – details and boring.

"What?" I was confused wondering what my dad was talking about.

"That stain stays." My dad said with one of his "Do as your told" tone. My dad usually does not have that tone. That right is reserved for my mom. It was very surprising to hear that tone from dad to say the least.

More from curiosity and less from the fact that my back was aching, I dropped the broom in my hand and plopped myself on the dirty sofa which I would probably have given a look of disdain any other time. Honestly, the fact that the sofa was dirty did not even register in my head at that time. Besides I was curious.

"What?" I asked daddy again.

Daddy smiled as he dropped his mopper gratefully and slipped in the sofa behind me. And I should probably not add the fact that my dad is a stickler for cleanliness. But spring cleaning does take a toll of you. It makes you forget some things.

"You made that. When you were five," Dad told me without any preamble.

I blinked for some more time.

"I made that stain?" I asked again looking at the weird bubblegum thing. For the life of me, I could not remember doing anything like that. I was not even an artist for heavens sake. Give me science and maths - I can handle that. Art in any form...is beyond me.

"What was I trying to do?" I asked again.

"No idea!" My dad said in a plaintive voice.

"Dad!" I scolded my dad as he was chuckling.

"Do you remember Kiran?" My father asked me.

I just stopped myself from huffing angrily. Of course I remembered the asshole. Seriously, that was the only part of my childhood which I completely want to forget and somehow I could never do that. That idiot was my neighbour was a pain in neck. And someone whom I would not touch with a bargepole. Even now.

"Yeah what about him?" I asked sighing.

"You both used to play together when you were kids," my dad said.

"I know that dad," I said rolling my eyes. I was the one doing the playing. Well, we were not exactly playing. All Kiran used to do was show me his toys in his nauseatingly clean home. His mom used to keep the home so clean and she would never let us play there, properly. Besides, Kiran being who he was, he would just show me his toys and never let me play with it. God, I really hated it. The only reason I played was because there was no one else my age to play with at that time.

As I said, history and ancient history at that. Right now, with my dad being a well known doctor in town, I could probably afford all that things and more. None of that really mattered to me.

"One day his father brought some precious painting and his father was doing the usual," My dad said.

I rolled my eyes. The usual being that his father was probably showing off to the world at large how rich they were and what big assholes they were. But that was hardly surprising. Kiran's father had been the richest businessman in the city and they were such showoffs that now I am actually embarrassed when I think about it.

"So?" I asked.

"I have no idea what got into you," My dad said. "But you came home and you did that." I looked at that stain and then looked at my dad. "You took every single colour that you had at home and even the stuff left over from mom's cooking for that."

"And you did not stop me?" I asked my dad.

My dad looked shocked at the very suggestion. "Why would I? To me that is special," He told me. "Especially because of what you told me after finishing this an hour later."

I still said nothing as my dad continued. "You said that I do not have to worry, because our house also now has a painting. And that I could call all my friends and show them this."

I was silent as I stared at the stain. Words were frankly beyond me.

My dad said it for me. "That was the day I realized that I may not be as rich as that man. But I had something that he did not. He had a house – of brick and mortar. And I had a home full of stains." My dad smiled at the stain again. "Stains which made my house into a home."

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Bits of Paper lying on the....

"You kept this in your shelf?" I asked my mother almost numb with shock as she pulled out the old wrinkled yellow paper carefully.
And the reason for my shock was obvious. The shelf was the place, where my mom said that she kept important things – though she never told me what was inside it. She said she would tell me only when I earned my first month's salary and not a day before.
I genuinely thought until now that, she kept all the important and boring documents in the shelf – the boring documents that other adults generally kept safe.
With trembling hands, I took the almost crumpled paper with the words "Thank you" scribbled on it. The pencil writing was a childish scrawl and now almost invisible.
But I could see the words clearly. Almost as clearly as I could visualize the day I got the note.
"Where else would I keep this, darling?" My mother asked me gently as she pushed aside a strand of hair on my forehead.
"It is just..." I took a deep breath to control myself. "It is just a piece of paper, mom," I said taking a deep breath. "You don't even know what this means."
My mother laughed. "You really think I do not know who wrote that?" She asked me with her twinkling eyes.
I looked confused as my mother smiled. "At the age of ten, my daughter fought with a teacher for her friend, because my daughter believed her friend was right and that the teacher was wrong," My mother told me looking at me with a beautiful smile. "And my daughter even convinced the teacher that she was right." My mother shook her head looking at the paper.
"Mom..." I just could not say anything more than that. I was slightly horrified to find that I was feeling slightly mushy eyes. God, this was getting embarrassing....
My mother held up the paper carefully looking at me with genuine pride. "And that is what she got in return." Mom shook her head. "This paper should not be thrown out. It deserves to be framed." My mom looked at me slightly sheepishly. "I think you would have found it embarrassing. So I did the next best thing. I kept the paper safe with all the other things I found important in my life."
I honestly could not talk as I hugged my mom tightly.

"Baby," My mom told me quietly. "And I am always going to keep this. I am keeping this so that I never forget that my daughter is never afraid to do the right thing. And that, my daughter does not mind fighting against whoever it is on the other side," Mom said with pride. "And I am also keeping it, so that I can show this paper to her, in case, she ever forgets that!"

Monday, March 6, 2017

The First Flower of Spring



"Mother, this needs to stop," Riana said as her hands glowed and an invisible transparent shield appeared around her. Even as she was setting up the shield, Riana knew that this was the wrong thing to do right now. But there was nothing else that Riana could do. She did not have a backup plan. Not this time.

Riana eyed the woman before her. The woman who had been her mother. As Raina studied the tall, imperious woman with a cruel pout on her face, Raina felt a wave of sadness hit her. Riana had come here to the Tower of Terrors all alone. She was the only choice to come to the Towers. She was the only one who had a chance. The others could not even stand up to this woman.

Because the Cold One had been her mother.

Riana struggled not to wince. And no matter how many times she played that sentence in her mind, it hurt.

**********

The Cold One studied the girl and realized that the girl's shield was feeble. Too feeble. The shield could not withstand even a single hit from the her.

The Cold One knew what she was capable of and knew that there was no one in Alternia who could match up to her. Which is why, she hated the words of the young girl, who had the audacity to stand before her. The words of the little one hit a nerve with the Cold One. Mother? Did this foolish child really think she could bring back that woman? It was impossible. She was the Cold One – the one with no heart and she served only the Dark Genii. No one else. The woman who had been this foolish child's mother, was gone. In fact, she never existed. That the girl could even assume to bring that woman back....Almost snarling, the Cold One hit the shield of the girl with all she had.

The girl nearly fell down and the Cold One could see the girl struggle to keep up the shield. But the Cold One knew that young one was not strong enough because the shield was fluctuating real bad.

It was just a matter of time and the girl's shield would fall. And then the girl herself. Smiling coldly, the Cold One increased the ferocity of the attack almost brutally. The girl gasped as she collapsed and the girls hands looked like it was burning.

Suddenly, the Cold One stopped because she had sensed a change. A massive change. Something....something...had changed. Something had just changed radically. She could feel it deep inside her cold heart.

The Cold One gasped. Outside the Tower, the coldness...The cold which was her friend, it was dissipating and it was dissipating at an alarmingly fast rate. And she could feel something warm. For the first time in many years, she could feel the rays of the Sun.

The Cold One shrieked as she saw the young girl and her eyes were glittering with rage. "It was a trap!" She shrieked angrily at the young girl. "A trap to separate me and my master so that you can destroy him." The Cold One felt her power lessen slightly as the Sun increased its power outside the Tower.

They were after all on the far side of the tower so the Sun could not affect her immediately.

The Cold One realized that she needed to move away from this realm, until at least she had regained her strength. And after she was strong enough, she would come back.

She angrily studied the fallen girl and decided that she was going to kill this girl painfully before leaving, as a revenge for what had happened to her master. And she would then come back after making herself more powerful. And she was then going to destroy all the fairies in Alternia.

***********

"Yes mother, it was a trap," Riana said as calmly as she could. She was struggling to stay awake and was slumped against the wall and Riana felt the change in her surroundings too. Though very, very feebly.

Despite the fact that Riana could not completely feel it, Riana cherished what she felt. The continuous cold which was eating her insides since the time she had set foot in Alternia had lessened right now. That was a beautiful feeling and even the fact that Riana was going to die very soon, could not take away that feeling.

Because that meant that Riana's plan had worked.

Riana had been sure that the reason that the Dark Genii was so powerful was because he was able to harness her mother's power to protect himself. The Dark Genii made sure her mother could not use her heart and he used all the powers of her mother's heart to make himself more powerful.

So all Riana had to do was to keep her mother away from the Dark Genii and when the Dark Genii was alone, her people would finish the Genii.

It was been a fairly simple plan and it had worked. Hopefully, with just one casualty. But Riana was honest with herself. She knew that she was the only one who could divert her mother's attention. Despite the fact that her mother could not use her heart, Riana knew that her mother would listen to her. The Cold One had after all been her mother.

And Riana also knew that the price she was going to pay for this was her own life. She expected nothing else.

And her mother had done exactly that.

Riana was already very tired from her travels to the Tower of Terrors which was built right in the middle of Alternia. The Tower was an open insult to the so-called "weaklings", as the Dark Genii called the other fairies of Alternia. The weaklings who could not fight against the combined powers of the Dark Genii and the Cold One, which was the reason the two of them had destroyed so much of Alternia.

Alternia, which was once the ultimate realm of magic was now in a continuous cold winter and had become a home to all the dark creatures from all the realms. All thanks to the Dark Genii and the Cold One.

And the Tower of Terrors was the hub from where the Dark Genii and her mother ruled and unleashed their terror.

And trying to break into the Tower's defences had taken everything from Riana.

The shield which Riana had set up while fighting her mother inside the Tower was set up from her own essence because Riana had no magic left when her mother attacked her at that time.

Her mother while destroying the shield had dealt a death blow to Riana. And Riana at the age of eighteen, was finally going to die. She could not cheat death anymore.

The attack from her mother increased ferociously as Riana saw her mother's cold eyes look viciously at her.

Riana screamed and collapsed as her mother's power hit her so badly that Riana hit the wall on the back and hit the ground like a rag doll. Riana was struggling to breathe and wondered whether she had broken her ribs.

It did not matter. No matter what was broken, she could not use her magic to heal herself anymore. She had nothing left.

And as she fell, the entire Tower was shuddering.

Riana smiled sadly.

The victorious fairies were destroying the Tower.

Those had been Riana's orders. As soon as the Dark Genii was destroyed, the Tower had to go. So that nothing from inside the Tower could escape. Riana realized that that further sealed her fate. And it also sealed her mother's fate.

**********

"Why would you do that?" The Cold One demanded in a furiously cold voice.

"I did it because I wanted you to see the first flower of spring, mother," Riana said in a feeble voice as she was swallowing painfully. "That flower was exactly the way you described it. Watching the first flower of spring grow is one of the most beautiful sights that I have ever seen," Riana told her mother as she remembered her delight at seeing the fragile, small tiny violet coloured flower, outside the realm of Alternia, where she had been exiled.

"The flower looked small and fragile. But it wasn't. It could brave the harsh cold and still bloom," Riana told her mother, trying to smile at her mother.

**********

Hearing her words, suddenly the Cold One stopped attacking the young girl. The Cold One blinked and suddenly she felt something. Her cold heart which could feel nothing for the past fifteen years felt something and it was an emotion that she could not identify.

This story...A memory crashed into the Cold One's mind.

She was reading a story from a book to a young child, "The flower which was the most powerful of them all. The brutal cold of the winter could not stop the flower. The flower grew in a hostile climate and it still bloomed. And the coming of the flower marked the end of the winter. Winter no longer had its sway when the flower grew," She told the child and she was reading from the book written in the ancient language of Alternia.

"How would the first flower of spring look, mother?" The young child had asked her.

There was laughter and a quick hug. "I do not know. But when you find it, will you tell me?"

*********

Riana saw her mother stagger suddenly and realized that her mother's heart which the Dark Genii had taken over, was beginning to feel. For the first time, the mother's heart was feeling something.

And the Tower suddenly started shuddering badly.

"Get out of here!" Riana yelled at her mother. "The Tower is going to be destroyed. If you stay here, you will also die!" Riana yelled again with whatever energy she had left.

That had been the plan all along. But now Riana could not go through with it. Riana still remembered the times before the Dark Genii had come into their lives. Her mother loved her so much.

And it looked like her mother was back to being that woman. Riana could not let her mother die. That was just plain wrong.

And suddenly the Tower shuddered even more.

"GET OUT," Riana screamed as she fell down, wincing from the pain.

Her mother looked horrified at Riana. And for the first time in fifteen years, the mother was not thinking about herself or her master.

The mother was studying her trembling hands and looked at the girl before her. "You set up the last shield using your own essence, didn't you?" Her mother's voice for the first time sounded horrified.

"Nothing else could delay you," Riana said as her vision darkened.

Her mother haphazardly ran towards Riana as the Tower shuddered some more. Outside this room, they could hear the tower collapsing as the barriers of magic inside the Tower were being brutally crushed from outside.

But Riana's mother did not care about that. In fact she did not even notice it. "I am going to heal you," Her mother whispered as she closed her eyes touching her daughter's heart trying to feel the extent of Riana's injuries.

When she had been the Cold One, Riana had always been the one to lead the Rebellion. And it had irritated her. Because no matter how smart she thought she was, she realized that her daughter had always been smarter. Riana always had a back up plan. Just when she thought that she had managed to corner the people from the Rebellion, she would be shocked to find that her daughter had anticipated it. Which was the most important reason, why Riana had always escaped the clutches of the Cold One and the Dark Genii.

Right now, Riana's mother prayed that Riana did something like that now too. She just had to heal her daughter. Then everything else would be fine after that.

At least that was what she thought.

Her mother gasped as she suddenly opened her eyes.

Riana weakly tried to push her mother away, as her mother realized why her daughter had asked her to get out of the Tower. With tears in her eyes, the mother realized that she had her daughter exactly how she had wanted – alone, helpless, without any back up and with absolutely no means of escape.

"Why did you come?" Her mother wailed angrily as she hugged her daughter and she was unable to stop the sobs rack her entire body.

The Tower seemed to be disintegrating and it was about to fall on them.

********

One more hit and Riana knew that it would be too late. She feebly pushed her mother back. "Go," She said.

Her mother's tears fell on her and Riana decided that dying was not a bad thing at all. Because after a long time, Riana felt at peace. She had done what she could, both for the Rebellion and her mother.

*********

The Towers had crumbled. And nothing of it had remained. The Sun had shone through Alternia, dispelling all the other Dark creatures. The place where the Towers lay was nothing but ruins.

The power of both the Dark Genii and the Cold One was gone and so was the winter. The Sun was back and spring was coming up.

In midst of the rejoicing, the fairies noticed a small violet flower right in the middle of the debris.

The flower could not have survived the destruction of the Towers. But it had.

Even more strangely, the flower was found to be under a powerful dark shield around it. The other thing which no fairy could understand was a small sentence in the Ancient language which was found near the flower:

"The First Flower of Spring which marks the end of winter would look exactly like her."

A Train Story - Part 2 of 2



 Ayush laughed. He just could not stop himself as he laughed hard.

He looked at the girl chuckling, as he shook his head. "Somehow you really look like that type of girl." Ayush said shaking his head.

"What type of girl?" She asked.

"'A girl for whom a guy would give his ice cream', type of girl," Ayush said rapidly.

The girl said nothing as Ayush looked excited. "So then, what happened?"

The girl then looked at Ayush a little strangely as Ayush blinked.

"I am sorry, I have asked you so many questions and I do not even know your name," Ayush said sheepishly. He realized that the girl really did not need to tell him anything. They had met exactly twenty minutes back. And by his own admission he was a journalist and he was behaving like a damned nosy reporter.

"Kritika," She said giving Ayush a small smile. If she was aware of Ayush's embarrassment, she gave no indication of it.

"Well Kritika, what happened?" Ayush asked after Kritika closed her laptop and looked at him.

"I brought him the shirt." She nodded to herself. "And that would have been the end of that too."

"Come on lady, you cannot end up becoming someone's girlfriend with that," Ayush told her.

"While buying the shirt, during the small talk, we both realized that we had a passion for traveling," Kritika said with a small smile.

"Traveling?" Ayush asked confused.

"He was a wild life photographer." She said with slight laughter.

Ayush was deflated. A photographer's girl and he had to go and brag to her about his camera. That was impossibly stupid.

"And I loved the road less traveled. I write blogs based on the travels I make." She said.

Ayush nodded as he could almost feel the chemistry between them. It was almost natural for two such people to have met in a bus stand. The ice cream was probably an added bonus.

He then looked at Kritika with twinkling eyes. "Then what happened?"

"Just on the spur of the moment we decided to combine our work. We first went to a temple in South India during Dussehra there." Ayush thought he saw a glassy look in her eyes as she spoke quietly, "I have never seen a more beautiful sight. The temple is dark in the evening and the entire place is lit by lamps. That sight is something which is even more beautiful, when you see it through his lens."

There was a silence as both were lost in their thoughts.

Ayush did not need to be clairvoyant to know what she was thinking. But he could really imagine the girl in the temple. The way she narrated it. He had to admit it would have been a beautiful sight - something that could not be expressed by words.

"Just to the temple alone?" Ayush asked clearing his throat.

"We went to a national park nearby, the next day." She said slowly. "The national park was thirty kilometers from the place where we were staying." Ayush saw a small smile in her face. "I thought he would enjoy going there."

He blinked and frowned as he looked enquiringly at the girl, "He didn't like it?"

"That national park trip was a disaster," Kritika said in an emotionless voice.

"What?" Ayush asked as his dreams were suddenly broken. "What happened?" he asked almost anxiously.

"Suddenly he was not interested in taking pictures of the wild animals or the forests," Kritika said in a low voice. "He seemed to be preoccupied with something else. It took him the entire three day trip in the national park to know what his problem was."

Ayush said nothing as he looked at Kritika.

"My blog hits also went slightly low." She admitted in the same voice.

"What?" Ayush prodded as she fell silent again.

"On the last day of the trip, the matter was resolved. He asked me to marry him." She said abruptly.

"What?" Ayush asked faintly, not sure of what he had heard.

"His own words were that after a very long time, the world on the other side of the lens actually seemed beautiful to him and he wanted to keep it that way." She said.

"We are going to reach Horlin Road in ten minutes, Kritika," Ayush said almost worried. "Please tell me the rest of the story."

"I said yes," she said giving a small chuckle.

"Then what?" Ayush asked impatiently. Obviously she said yes. What else was she going to say?

"The usual," she said with a shrug.

"Oh please," Ayush sighed almost exasperated. "You met him after pouring ice cream on him. He proposed in a national park. What can be usual in these circumstances?"

"Love stories are boring without some obstacles," was the only comment that Kritika made.

"Parents?" Ayush asked glumly.

Kritika nodded. "My parents were against our marriage," She said sighing.

"Then?" Ayush asked a little hesitatingly not sure of what the girl was going to say next.

Kritika sighed, "For a guy with such an exciting profession, he was very traditional in some ways. He wanted our parents to accept our relationship."

"Seriously?" Ayush asked flabbergasted. He could not even imagine such a thing happening in today's times.

"Whenever he was in town, he used to come to Metten to talk to my father," Kritika said in a hoarse voice.

"I am guessing they did not accept?" Ayush said in a dispirited tone.

"They did."

Ayush looked up so suddenly and this time he was sure he had heard something very wrong. "What?" He demanded.

"A year back, my parents were more than willing to bless our marriage." She said getting up. "They told me what I already knew – that no other man could keep me as happy as he could."

Ayush felt the train lurch to a sudden stop and was disoriented.

"Oh," was all, Ayush could manage, feeling a little weak. Then he smiled to himself.

"He called me up to tell me the happy news and he was coming back." Kritika said as she pulled her bag from the luggage compartment and put her laptop inside the bag. It was after that, that she picked up the bouquet of roses.

"That is for him?" Ayush asked pointing at the roses.

"Yes," Kritika said walking in front of him, slinging her bag in the back.

"He likes roses?" Ayushed asked coming behind her, as the other passengers were getting down from the train slowly.

Kritika said nothing as both of them got down the train. But Ayush did not expect her to answer. That was honestly none of his business.

Both walked outside the station as Kritika spotted an auto coming towards them.

"The new Memorial," Kritika told the auto driver.

The auto driver nodded.

Ayush frowned as he realized that that was where he was supposed to go. Wondering whether she had caught the auto for him, he looked at Kritika. "I do not need the auto..."

"The bus in which he was coming back, never made it home." Kritika told Ayush, as the auto started.  

Saturday, March 4, 2017

A Train Story - Part 1 of 2



It was probably her beautiful brown eyes which caught his attention.

Ayush had run out of breath as he had run across the busy local train station and had entered the station at the exact time that the green signal had lit up. The train was just starting when Ayush pulled himself inside the train.

And as Ayush pulled himself inside, he realized that his getting on the train would have been perfect video shot – if this had been a movie. And Ayush really knew that. He was after all a photographer. And a damned good one at that. Which explained the camera at his side. And there was no getting around the fact that he really loved his camera. A lot.

The train was not very full. At this time, it usually was not. The mad rush during the peak office hour was already over and during these mad times, the local trains were actually the saner means of traveling around the city.

That was the precise reason, Ayush had even left his bike at the office and had decided to travel by train.

Catching his breath, Ayush looked around the fairly full local train and carefully put his camera aside as he walked towards the girl in her late twenties.

She was sitting right in the middle of the train and though she had a window seat, she did not look outside the window. She was intending studying the laptop in front of her.

There was something different about her. A slight fragrance of a rose wafted from her. But somehow Ayush got a feeling that the girl was not much of a "rose" kind of girl. From what little Ayush could see from the front of train and her hair being tied in a lazy ponytail and her comfortable purple tops and white leggings, the girl seemed casual. Far too casual. The only thing the scene did not explain, was the smell of the roses.

She was reading from the laptop and Ayush thought he saw an undefinable expression of her face.

She did not even notice him coming as Ayush kept his bag near the seat.

She looked up slightly shaken up as Ayush saw a quick peek at what she was reading.

Memorial to be opened today.

Horlin Road. - Today, a year after the devastating accident of the bus plying between Metten to Kartal, the memorial near the Horlin Railway Station....

The girl looked abruptly at him and Ayush realized that she was reading so intently that she noticed absolutely nothing in her surrounding.

"Is this seat taken?" Ayush asked the girl as he was met by the brightest brown eyes, he had seen for a really long time.

The brown eyes of the girl studied him intently as she shook her head.

Ayush nodded as he again caught his camera and after carefully putting the bag beside him, sat beside her.

Ayush saw her eye at his camera.

"That is a standard 18 megapixel with a CMOS sensor and DIGIC 4+," Ayush said in that extremely nerdy tone which he had cultivated especially for this purpose.

Ayush had figured out that once you pretended to be a nerd, it was the best way to show off. People immediately assumed you were the smartest person in the entire place.

And Ayush hoped that, at least that would really help him impress hot girls.

Unless of course, the girl's reply went something like this. "The camera also comes with a 9-Point AF with 1 centre cross-type AF point." And that too she said all that in a completely dull voice. Though the voice of the girl was melodious.

Ayush was shocked more because that was exactly what the girl said and unfortunately all of that was true. The girl really knew the camera and she definitely knew what she was talking about. Talk of his embarrassing attempts to impress girls. This conversation just iced the cake.

The girl studied his camera and then turned her attention to the shock numbed Ayush who nodded stupidly. "You are of course right," Ayush said praying he did not blush. That was unforgivable.

The girl looked at him with a very small smile on her face. "I guess that is one thing which has never happened before. Even in your imagination." She said turning her attention back to the screen.

Ayush honestly did not know what to say and realized that he had really picked sitting beside the wrong girl.

The girl said nothing as three minutes later, Ayush bravely spoke. "I am sorry." Ayush said with a cute smile, looking slightly sheepish. "I did not mean to..."

"Think nothing of it," The girl said turning her attention back to her screen.

"That article that you are reading was written by my friend," Ayush said thumbing at the screen, after another break of two minutes.

The girl turned her attention to Ayush frowning, "Excuse me?"

"I am a journalist," Ayush said with a smile patting at his camera. "That is where I am going." Ayush said pointing at the girl's screen as he gave another small smile to himself. "It is my first solo photo assignment."

"All the best." the girl said taking a deep breath.

"Where are you going?" Ayush asked immediately before the girl fell silent again.

Ayush did not know it, but he really talked a lot when he was nervous. Like a lot. He was completely incapable of keeping silent when he was nervous. Another unfortunate problem was that Ayush did not know that he was nervous right now.

But that was fairly excusable. No one went to their first assignment in a normal frame of mind.

"I am going to meet my boyfriend." The girl told him.

"Oh," Ayush said struggling not to look unhappy. The good ones were always the ones which were taken. And Ayush realized that he was stupid not to have seen it before. The girl was carrying a small bouquet of red roses. She did not show it obviously, but the smell from the flowers wafted almost all over the train.

The girl looked at him with the same small smile. "You don't have to look like that." She told him. "I am very sure, some girl who does not know the difference between different cameras would definitely like journalists who try to show off."

Ayush sighed. He deserved this. "Not yet met a girl like that." Ayush said dryly.

"You are definitely not going to meet her, starting this way." The girl told him. "A little bit more of subtlety would help." She said.

Ayush was sullen because she said the entire thing without laughing.

"How did your love story start?" Ayush asked. It was a forty-five minute journey. He just could not afford to look like an idiot for all that time. He had to say something slightly smart at least once in that forty five minutes. It was the law of averages.

The girl said nothing.

It was Ayush's turn to study her. "Look I am trying to change the topic and not look like an imbecile. At least for that, you can answer me."

The girl looked out of the window and watched the speeding villages.

"Ice cream." She said after Ayush had almost given up expecting an answer from her.

"What?" Ayush asked confused.

"I spilled my ice cream on him. It was already melting and I was getting into the bus hurriedly. Long story short, I did not eat my ice cream that day. His shirt did."

"A guy fell in love with you, after you let your ice cream melt on him?" Ayush asked blinking. "Then if that happens, I can definitely get some girl to look at me if I try to pretend to be a really smart guy." Ayush said wondering why life was so unfair.

"My love story was helped by the fact that I purchased a new shirt for him." The girl said.

"You purchased a shirt for complete stranger on whose shirt you spilled ice cream?" Ayush asked and now he realized why movies were so bad. Movies were supposed to be based on reality. And if reality was like this, God save all the movies....

And somehow Ayush did not doubt that the girl was telling the truth. The story was stupid enough to actually be true.

The girl shrugged. "I did not know then, but I actually liked him. That was probably why I behaved like that."

"What made you realize that he was a good guy? The stains on his shirt?" Ayush asked sighing.

"The fact that he gave me his ice cream after I spilled mine on his shirt."  

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.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Once Upon... Ever After - Part 3 of 4



"Arnav!"

Arnav was feeling extremely groggy as someone was gently shaking him.

But Arnav's head was pounding so badly and he was feeling nauseous that even the gentle touches of whoever it was, was hurting Arnav. Frankly, the way Arnav was feeling, he was sure that the Evil Queen, was pounding his head with a sledgehammer.

That image somehow scared Arnav so badly as he gasped for breath, pushing himself up. His headache if anything went from bad to worse and he was struggling to control himself when he felt a small hairy thing collide with his chest trembling, calling out his name gently.

The thing was small, and presented no physical danger to Arnav, but it terrified Arnav so badly that he was finding it impossible to breathe.

"Kid?" Arnav asked hoping this was wrong. This was just wrong at all levels. He was having a stupid dream and a killer headache. And right now, he really did not need to see Nandhini so scared, terrified and crying.

Among all the things in the dream, this was the only thing which freaked him out badly.

"Arnav..." Nandini sobbed hugging him some more. Kai was hanging on limply in Nandini's hands and even its features looked glum as Nandini was clutching it tightly. "I am scared! I want to go home. I want mummy," She stammered as she was unwilling to meet Arnav's eyes, as her hands were shaking.

Arnav pushed himself out of the large, crudely made wooden bed, as he was trying to get Nandini to look at him.

Arnav honestly was thinking of doing something really drastic to wake up from the dream. Until now, the dream was just a mild inconvenience and extremely embarrassing. Now watching Nandini crying, this was becoming into a nightmare.

"Kid," Arnav said as Nandhini hugged him even more tightly and sobbed. "What happened?"

The kid just would not stop crying.

"You are the bravest girl I have ever seen." Arnav said pulling up Kai from her little hands. "Remember you could even save Kai from the broken bridge," Arnav said trying to smile as he remembered their own haphazardly made Lego blocks bridge from which Kai had fallen. Nandini had dived into the Lego blocks to get the panda out.

"I saw the Shadow things hurting you," Nandini wept, stuttering mildly as she was hugging Arnav.

"What Shadow things?" Arnav asked struggling not to let anything show on his face. That Nandini had also seen it, was raising serious doubts in Arnav's head. Was the entire thing real? Or is he imagining even Nandini in his own dream?

Arnav resolutely crushed all thought process in that direction as he saw Nandini.

"I woke up and you were talking with some tall woman and big guy," Nandini said still hiccuping as she looked miserable. "I wanted to come near you and then suddenly the Shadow things came. I couldn't see them clearly. They were on the other side of something." Nandini looked at Arnav and was trembling. "When it came near you, you were shouting and clutching your head like it was hurting. I was so scared. I was scared that something bad would happen to you. Like what happened to daddy..." Nandini just could not continue anymore as she burst out crying, hugging Arnav as her little hands were clawing into his back.

But honestly, Arnav felt nothing. As of now, the fact that the kid was holding him was the only thing which was keeping him sane.

"We are going to get out of here real fast." Arnav assured Nandini though he felt no such hope within himself. And "here" happened to be a thatched hut of sorts. He was sitting on the floor with the largest furniture in the room behind him – the large crudely shaped bed. There was a wooden table nearby and it had so many things on it from glass beakers with purple coloured liquids to old scrolls and books, that Arnav's brain frankly even gave up identifying any of that. Arnav also saw that there was a staircase which led to the top of the house and from what he could see, the top of the house had more leather bound books and quite a lot of them too.

"Kid, I am fine," Arnav said trying to smile and frankly that was becoming impossible. "Look," Arnav said pointing at himself. "Perfectly fine and we will go back home very soon and we will have some chocolate milkshake." Arnav said lowering his voice slightly. Arnav could hear footsteps outside and he needed to listen to it.

"Mummy said no chocolate until test is over," Nandini said glumly. Her face still looked tear-faced but she was willing to move on and push through the blind panic she was feeling.

That was far more than Arnav expected from her.

"Do we always listen to mummy?" Arnav asked looking almost annoyed.

Nandini attempted to laugh which came out all wrong. But Arnav was willing to settle for that.

Besides, that was when he heard foot steps from the door.

Arnav thought he saw two huge potatoes walking inside. The image pretty much terrified Arnav as he was struggling to focus better because the last thing he wanted was to be squashed by potatoes.

And that was when a third person walked inside and Arnav found he could see properly.

He suddenly remembered the "Thou are surrounded" guy and all the other things connected with it. And though Arnav could see better, the headache was nowhere close to even becoming manageable. Nandini's hands were trembling against his hands as he clutched it tightly as she stepped behind him almost trying to hide herself from them.

"God, what is it going to take to get out of this dream?" Arnav demanded almost furious with himself.

The Shadow things whatever they were, they had nearly given Arnav a migraine. If even that mind numbing pain could not get him out of this damned nightmare, Arnav was seriously out of ideas about what else he could do.

And then Arnav saw that he could recognize one of the ladies.

"Doorbell!" Arnav muttered to himself, struggling not to sigh.

"Relax wizard," The other woman said as Arnav's vision was still pathetically bad. And that was when Arnav realized that he was really feeling weak. Too weak. At best, he could have pushed himself back, fallen on the bed and hit himself on the head, possibly rendering himself unconscious again. With Nandini here, Arnav was not in a mood to try all that.

"Wizard?" Nandini's head came up from behind Arnav and suddenly all her fear was gone. "Arnav is a wizard?" Nandini looked at Arnav with hurt filled eyes. "Why didn't you tell me you were a wizard, Arnav?" She demanded trying to get angry. "You know I won't tell mummy all this." She looked at Arnav as her eyes became bubbly again. "What magic can you do, Arnav? Please, please, please show me!" Nandini begged.

"I can give myself a headache kid," Arnav said getting annoyed. Once, just once in his life he would like to walk out a situation without completely embarrassing himself.

"Why do you need magic for that?" Nandini asked confused.

Arnav snarled angrily, which Nandini very wisely took as a "keep quiet" sign and nodded docilely, making her look more silly than needed.

"Look, I am running on a very short fuse and I got a kid with me and I need to get back home," Arnav told Doorbell lady and struggled not to get annoyed. "So just start talking and start talking real fast."

"Fuse?" Doorbell lady asked and she was looking very confused. "Is that thee magic instrument?" She asked.

Even Nandini was confused as she looked at Arnav. "They don't seem to know much about magic, Arnav" she said shaking her head at the idiocy of the people in front of her.

Doorbell Lady snorted angrily.

"I know I am going to kill someone today," Arnav muttered hoping no one heard him.

"We saved your life wizard and the life of your child," The Doorbell lady said angrily as she heard Arnav perfectly well. "Would thee have preferred it, if we left thee at the outskirts of the Restricted Region?" The lady asked angrily.

"Who is thee?" Nandini asked looking even more confused.

Arnav wanted to scream on top of his voice and run from the place. He would have even done it. Just that Arnav knew there was absolutely no place he could run to, so he stayed put.

"I have never seen thou before, wizard," an older, wiser voice from beside Doorbell lady told Arnav. This voice was calm, cool and feminine and Arnav turned to watch the woman and was actually, properly shocked.

The Doorbell lady and the older lady were standing side by side and were watching him with very curious expressions on their faces. Though Doorbell was younger of the two, the older lady was far more impressive. Though the old lady's face was wrinkled but her eyes were sparkling with intelligence.

"Are thou from around here?" the old lady asked, eying his shirt.

"Can you say 'you'?" Arnav asked as things were slowly coming into focus.

The beefy guy – Arnav thought his name was Nuran, or something, was looking at him angrily and Arnav's headache did not lessen, but this seemed like the best deal he was going to get right now.

"U?" The old lady tried with a smile.

Arnav sighed. "Too much work!" he said shaking his head. "What was the thing that attacked me?" Arnav asked watching the old lady.

"Do U have a name, wizard?" the woman asked with a lovely smile on her lips. "I ask thou...." the woman shook her head, still smiling. "...U, because when a man risks his life for me, I think I should know his name."

"He is Arnav," Nandini said with a smile, "And he is the most powerful wizard in the world," Nandini said looking at Arnav with genuine pride in her eyes.

Arnav sighed. "I am not an wizard. I just got caught here. And I have no idea where 'here' is. And I am very sure that if I go back to sleep, I will wake up in my own place." Arnav said looking annoyed at Nandini.

"You are not a wizard, Arnav?" Nandini asked looking glum.

Doorbell Lady snorted angrily. "He lies, little one." She said angrily.

"Is that the only expression she is capable of?" Arnav demanded almost whining, as he was thumbing at Doorbell. "Ever since I saw her she has been snorting or trying to bash my head with flowerpots."

Arnav was right. Leha snorted angrily. Again.

"Do not be unfair to her, Wizard Arnav." the old woman said. "Life has been hard on her."

"I like that!" Nandini said clapping her hands. "Wizard Arnav." Her eyes were twinkling and Arnav was sorely tempted to dig a hole and hide under it.

Arnav picked Nandini up and placed her in the only place in the table which did not have any glass jars or anything dangerous on it. "Kiddo, no talking." Arnav said and he was really serious. "This is not our place. And we need to get back. And I have no idea, what this place is. The sooner and better we listen, we can get out of here and go back home."

Nandini opened her mouth when for the first time Arnav was faster. "Otherwise we do not get chocolate milkshake." Arnav said looking very serious.

"That is cheating!" Nandini was aghast. "You promised me that you would get it for me." Nandini actually had the audacity to look hurt.

"That's life!" Arnav said, realizing that making deals with kids was probably the stupidest thing he could ever do. No matter what he did, he still lost.

Nandini said nothing as she looked furiously angry as Arnav turned his attention to the old lady who was actually looking at him with real respect.

"Rewind and talk," Arnav told the old woman trying to ignore the headache and another feeling. An important feeling - when the Shadow things had attacked, Arnav had felt something. Something powerful. It almost felt to Arnav like he should know that feeling. And now that Arnav thought about it, it terrified him. So he did what he usually did. Ignore it, all together.

"We are inside the Dome, wizard," The old lady said. "Many centuries back, the Dark Ones – the Shades, used to destroy our cities and consume all the people who used to live here and turn them into darkness. There was a time when we could stop the Shades with our own power. Because we were pure then. Our hearts were pure and white and the Shades could do nothing to us. But then we grew weaker. So to stop the Shades, we devised the Dome. The Dome was formed as a result of a powerful bit of magic. Centuries back, our queen used her own life essence and set up the Dome and she kept the Shades outside the Dome."

"So what is your problem now?" Arnav asked wondering whether he really wanted to know the end. Reading Once Upon A Time, once in a while was ok. Making it a full time job was just beyond his endurance.

"The Dome grew weak after the death of the Queen, wizard." The old Lady said tiredly. "Our Magis have tried strengthening it, but none of them are powerful. So having no other choice our Magis have done something else. Every century one of our most powerful Magi is sent outside the Dome as sacrifice to the Shades. The Magi gives themselves up to the Shades and the Shades use the power of the Magi and our realm is safe for that century."

Nandini gasped. "What happens to the Magi who is sent out?" She whispered.

Arnav would have clamped Nandini's mouth if he was fast enough. He specifically did not want Nandini to hear that part of the old woman's story. The eyes of the old woman told him that even he did not need to know it, let alone the kid.

"Kid!" Arnav said sharply. "Remember our agreement. No talking."

Nandini looked horrified at Arnav. "The Shades will hurt the Magi outside the Dome." She said as her brown eyes almost grew round as saucers and it honestly looked like her agreement with Arnav was not even worth remembering.

"No, they don't kid," Arnav said struggling to keep his voice calm. "The old lady does not know what happens to the Magi. The Magi goes out of the Dome and rules the Shades. That is how the Magi makes sure the Shades do not hurt the people inside the Dome." Arnav said hoping and praying that Nandini believed him.

"Oh!" Much to Arnav's relief, Nandini actually believed him.

Arnav let Nandini down the table, hoping that she really did not pay attention to the rest of their conversation.

Nandini looked at Arnav and then looked around the place.

But Nandini was still in hearing distance and the old woman mercifully got the hint well. She did not talk about the Magis and the Shades.

"Because of our faulty Dome, in the past there have been instances of portals opening across realms. Other realms. The portals are attracted to people with immense capacity for magic." The old woman told Arnav. "Today morning, we nearly thought that the Dome had broken. We could not find powerful Magis in our realms. So the Dome is faltering. Today morning, there was a power fluctuation in the Dome, twice. I am guessing that is how you came here...." The old woman was speaking.

"Arnav, look!" Nandini interrupted suddenly sounding thrilled as she pulled a thick book from the shelf nearby. "They also have a Fairy Tale Book here. The same as ours." Nandini happily brought the book over to Arnav as the old lady and the two people were speechless.

Arnav honestly did not like the way the three people were even looking as he hastily took the book from Nandini. The damned thing was the reason he was in this trouble. Arnav was almost sure that the book had managed to drag him here. The why's and how's were something that Arnav did not know and frankly he did not even care.

"Kid, no touching anything here." Arnav said as the old woman looked at Nandini with something close to idol worship in her eyes.

"The little one can see the Book of Prophecies. The book has the prophecy about destroying the Shades," The old woman whispered looking almost with awe. "Only the most powerful people in our realm can even see the book. Let alone see the prophecy."

Arnav ignored the woman as he opened the Book. It was exactly, as the one back at home – the stories, the pages, everything. Even the last page.

Bonded they are right,

They shall both enter together, the Kingdom of might,

One will choose the Dark and the other Light,

One shall pay the price for the other, with the final breath, in the final fight.

And suddenly a lot of things were making sense to Arnav. Far too many things.

And Arnav suddenly found everything around him fuzzy as he collapsed on the bed behind him.

"Nandini," Arnav tried smiling hoping his heart did not beat so hard. As it was, he was finding it difficult to breathe.

"Yes, Arnav!" Nandini said as her eyes were twinkling.

"Will you go outside and find me the best wood to make a bow? Take the big guy and the lady with you." Arnav said hoping he did not stutter. His heart was beating so hard that he was finding it impossible to concentrate on what he was saying.

"They won't hurt me?" Nandini asked looking at the huge Nuren, a little fearfully.

"You are the most powerful Magi of the land sweetheart!" Arnav said struggling to put on a smile. "He would not dream of hurting you."

Nandini looked enormously proud of herself as she thought about what Arnav had said and then she smiled. "Are we going to fight the Shades, Arnav?" Nandini asked as her eyes lit up with happiness.

"Yes kid," Arnav said swallowing painfully. "We are."

Nandini took Kai with her as Nuren and Leha walked out and Leha was looking curiously at Arnav. But Arnav looked nowhere near them.

"What is it wizard?" The old woman asked gently as they could still hear Nandini chatter loudly, proclaiming herself as Wizard Nandini.

"I need to get to the outskirts of the Restricted Region," Arnav said swallowing painfully.

"What is it, wizard?" The old woman repeated, looking slightly worried.

"You got yourself a prophecy!" Arnav said dully.  

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.