Shadows of the Past

Shadows of the Past by Pritesh Patil

The rain was beating down harshly on the city of Mumbai despite it being the month of November. The weather had progressively gotten weirder with every passing day in the past week.
I sat in my apartment slash office above my grandpa’s spice shop in the suburbs watching the raindrops smatter and die against the windowpanes.

My battered speaker bleared ‘November Rain’ by the Guns and Roses in the background while I lounged on my uncomfortable wooden chair, my legs splashed on the scratched table before me. I’d been meaning to get it fixed but the deep gouges left on it by an angry Sphinx weren’t easily repaired. I had sentimental value as well since it had saved me from being skewered like kebab by said Sphinx. But that’s a story for another day.
The weather had been worsening since Samhain, and even seven days later it showed no signs of improving. I was sure there were unsavoury supernatural forces at work but without more information I couldn’t make head or tail of it.
Hey, despite being a wizard I’m just a detective and journalist, not a weatherman. I need information before I can begin solving a problem. Reading patterns in the air and wind currents wasn’t my thing.

Being cooped inside wasn’t agreeing with me, but I wasn’t exactly keen on going out in the pouring rain. The mundanity of the whole thing was despairingly boring. I so longed for an interesting case to turn up. I wouldn’t mind if the rain calmed a little either, I could then go out to investigate whatever was causing the change in the weather. I’d been expecting things to heat up and worsen since He died and they managed to escape with creating a rift for their Old Gods, but the silence has been complete. Dead complete.

It spoke of the calm before the storm and I’d been on edge for quite a while. Even gramps could feel it and I’d noticed that he was preparing in his own way to meet the storm wall when it would arrive. These were dark days. And the events of the past year had proved that they would only be worsening.
Such dark thoughts on a rainy day made weren’t helping my mood at all. I took a sip of coffee when the doorbell rang and I almost jumped out of my seat, sputtering a few drops of the precious liquid on my table in excitement. I wiped it off with a piece of cloth and got up in a hurry.

Adventure beckoned! Excitement called! A new assignment, hopefully!

Hell, I’d be happy with any change from the boredom as long as it wasn’t a creditor come to collect some long forgotten debt.
Hey, as long as they were forgotten, that’s where I like them to be.
I opened the door and I was not dismayed. An appropriate description of my reaction would be that my jaw had hit the floor and I had a hard time getting it to clamp shut again.
There before me stood one of the most beautiful women that I have ever had the pleasure to lay my eyes on. Chastening myself for my lack of professionalism, I somehow managed to close my hanging jaw and asked the woman to come in.

Draped in a little sequin black dress which was wrapped around her tightly, the woman was exuding sensuality to such an extent that it was difficult to concentrate or maintain a proper line of thought. Generally this would have rang all sorts of warning bells that this woman was a succubus and the wards around my door would have gone in overdrive, but since they hadn’t noticed anything untoward yet, I relaxed slightly.
She had a beautiful round face framed by shining curls of beautiful black hair. The kind of luxurious hair through which you would want to run your hands softly. She had hazelnut brown eyes but the thing which struck me most was that despite all her poise and the elegance with which she held herself, her eyes looked like they were barely holding back a flood of tears. A flood which was even now on the verge of breaking. In that moment she looked like a vulnerable young woman and I felt a surge of protectiveness for her. Now that was weird, I usually had better control of my emotions, though beautiful women did make it go awry at times.

“Mister Arquin?” She inquired, her big, round, eyes peering at me.
“The one and only,” I answered with a small bow, trying to go for nonchalant elegance, “Do come in.”
She ventured inside carrying a small silver purse in her arms.
I bade her to take a seat and I took my original position on the other side of the desk. I kept silent and waited for her to begin talking. I’d noticed that waiting most times waiting for people to open up with their troubles on their own works far better than me prodding them. They generally seek me out for a purpose – not always to harm or kill me – and after taking a few moments to compose themselves, they usually begin their tale.
I was happy to see that the woman in front of me was the same. She closed her eyes, visibly steeled herself before opening them again and began speaking.

“Mister Arquin, my name is Tanisha. Tanisha Mehta. A colleague of mine told me about you when he found out about the fix that I was in. He said that you solve problems and help people. Please, please, Mr Arquin, you have to help me…” She said, her voice almost cracking into slight sobs at the end.
“Hold on, Miss Tanisha. Can you please begin at the start and tell me what is plaguing you? The details please.”
She nodded and hugged herself, “They’ve captured her…it’s been two days already…they’ve meant it as punishment for slighting one of theirs…they’ve said that if I’m unable to find her within three days then they will slowly torture and dismember her and send the parts to me as revenge.” She started racking with barely held sobs as she said the last part.

“Okay, hold on. You need to be strong and deal in details if you want me to help you. Can you do that, Tanisha? Can you hold on and fight the despair so that I can help you?” I said in an attempt to soothe her frayed nerves.

She nodded and clutched herself harder, her fingernails biting deep furrows on her arms. “Srishti…my fiancé…she has been missing for the past two days. I got small letter on the evening she went missing with a menacing message on it and I haven’t seen her since. And…and the scary part is that the letter erupted into flames the moment I finished reading it so I can’t even present it as proof to the cops or expect anyone to take me seriously about a letter from the kidnappers which spontaneously combusted”, she rambled.

I nodded for her to continue and she soldiered on shakily, “The letter did not say much beyond the fact that Srishti had been taken as vengeance for my slight and that I had three days to find him and apologize, otherwise she would be tortured and dismembered and I would be gifted the remains. It was signed Ernst Endbringer. Of course, the letter has long turned to ashes and I have no proof to bring against him”
I raised an eyebrow at her, “Do you know our dear Mr Ernst? And how do you think he believes you have slighted him?”
She took a deep breath before speaking, “There’s only one person I know who goes by that name, Mr Arquin. He was a regular at the nightclub which Srishti and I used to frequent. He used to hit on me a lot. A quite good looking and charming fellow actually, but as you can see, I am not into men. I tried to ignore his advances and replied negatively but kindly for the first couple of days. But it got too much after the first few times so when I rejected the advances firmly and told him that I was engaged to Srishti…well, he looked extremely put out and pissed at that. He didn’t say much, he just say her a dirty look, spat out something along the lines of ‘we’ll see for how long’ and left.” She bit her lower lip and continued, “We didn’t think much of that except that it was quite creepy and left. We didn’t even see him for the next few days and hoped that that was that. But it was not to be and this week I find that my love has been abducted by some Ernst, and he is the only one I can think off. I am so scared Mr Arquin…will be really torture her? Can people truly be so cruel and callous?”
She truly looked bereft and broken at that moment and all I could think of was to hug her tightly and tell her that everything would be alright. But real life rarely works out so. This Ernst Endbringer, whoever he was, sounded like one sick creep and he would probably have already tormented Srishti in some way or the other. This had all the hallmarks of a story which wasn’t going to end well. And the bit about the letter burning when read was the part which truly had me worried. That must be why her colleague had told Tanisha to see me. It had occult and supernatural written all over it. I grimaced and tried to give the little comfort to my client that was possible.
“Do not worry, Tanisha,” I said, dropping the formality. “He has given you three days and we still have one whole day to go. I will work to the best of my abilities to make sure that your fiancé is safely returned to you. Now can you tell me what did you do once you got the letter?”
She wiped the solitary tear which was hanging from her eyelashes, “I went to the Trilogy, the club where he’d first seen and approached me. But the strange thing is that no one there could remember the name Ernst, nor could they remember him when I described him. I’ve been there for most of the time and in its vicinity, hoping for a glimpse of him, but to no avail. Finally a friend of mine recommended me to find you and tell you all about it. He said that if anyone could help me, it would be you.”

“Very well, what else can you tell me about it? Describe Ernst for me. And do you know where Srishti was abducted from? Whether it was from your house, or on the way back from work, or anything similar?”
Her lips trembled as she began describing the man who had singlehandedly turned her life upside down and was on the verge of destroying it in the next twenty four hours.

“I have no clue from where she was taken, but if I had to hazard a guess, I would say that it was from somewhere by the club, since she sometimes hit the place early to grab a drink and unwind after a particularly annoying day at work.” She trembled. ”As for that bastard, he was fair skinned, with a slight stubble, a deep voice and a hulked out physique. He had pitch black eyes and a long curved nose. His black hair was sleek and fell to his neck in silky bangs. He was dressed in a black suit, and now I’m sure that for all his good looks, all the black reflected the darkness of his soul,” She said bitterly, her voice shaking with fear, rage, and despair.

I had closed my eyes as she was speaking and tried to visualize the image she had described, trying to conjure up at least a vague image of Ernst. I nodded once she was done speaking. “Do you have any other details which you may have forgotten? Any little detail could be of the utmost importance.”
She nodded negatively, “Can you find her Mr Arquin? Please say you can. Money is of no import, find her and I will pay you whatever fee you demand. You are my last hope. I won’t be able to live with myself if anything were to happen to Srishti…”
“It is not a question of money, Tanisha. I will do my best. Do not give up hope. From what you’ve told me, this person wants you and is going to try and break you through Srishti. You must stay strong, do not give in to the despair. Hold it at bay and I will strive my hardest to reunite you with your love by the morrow”.
“I believe you Mr Arquin. I believe that you can bring this monster to heel. I shall await your call, here is my number and address,” she handed me a card with the details and also gave me a photograph and an envelope, “This is Srishti’s photograph and a copy of the letter which I was sent. I’ve produced it through memory in the hope that you can make use of it. Please find and free her…I will forever be in your debt if you succeed, sir.” She got up and put forth her hand which I gripped in a strong handshake, “Have faith, Ms Tanisha. Sometimes that is all you need”.

She gave a water smile at my words, nodded and left my office swiftly, her beautiful visage now a mere memory.
I looked at the picture she had given me. It showed a young girl, probably in her twenties. She was dressed in an elegant white one piece, holding a wine glass in one hand and staring cutely at the camera. She had dusky skin, wavy black hair, dimpled cheeks, and the kind of legs that go on for miles. Her deep blue eyes twinkled with mischief and mirth in the picture, and she sparkled with life.
‘Woah, now that is one scalding, hot, chick! Imagine those two together in a steamy bath’ sighed a voice in my mind. Ah, Drake was back.

Drake is…well, I really don’t know what he is. I like to think of him as a particularly annoying but extremely smart and completely perverse voice in my head. He likes to call himself my alter ego – a much classier and amazing version of me, in his not at all humble opinion. No one knows of him. Hey, if anyone did, then I’d probably be found in the schizophrenic’s ward in the nearest mental hospital.
‘Ah, your back. I was surprised at your silence during the meeting. Pleasantly so’, I grimaced.
‘I was busy taking in the delicate features and deliciousness of our new client. I advise you to hit her and get some action before you go searching for her fiancé. She looks vulnerable and could do with some good ol’ loving!’ said Drake.

‘We do not hit on clients. And I will certainly not be taking advantage of her vulnerability. I have a job to do, and that’s what I’m going to do. Business as usual’, I retorted.
‘And that is why your dry spell isn’t going to end anytime soon’ He muttered disgruntledly. ‘Well, open up that envelope and let’s see the letter, maybe it’ll give us another clue. Hey, you reckon Tanisha will invite us for a threesome once we find her fiancé?’ He leered at me mentally. I had no idea how one could make a thought appear leery, but Drake somehow managed to do so.
‘I don’t think so, and you’d better get your mind out of the gutter so that we can concentrate on the case at hand,’ I scolded him as I opened the letter.

‘Alright, alright. Jeez, way to be a spoilsport. You know I’m just looking out for you. You’ll explode if you don’t get laid soon. It’s been what? A year already? Or more?’
I ignored his mumbling and read the letter laid out before me. Not an easy task with a deviant muttering and complaining in your head. The letter read:

Dearest Tanisha,
What you will sorely miss has been taken from you. Take it as vengeance for your slight. You have three days to find me and apologize. On the third, I will dismember your love and send her to you…piece by piece. Your time starts now.
Tick-tock…tick-tock…
-Ernst Endbringer
Sect of the Shapeless
Sect of the Shapeless! The name shocked me. I had not expected the Sect to be involved in this, nor had I expected Ernst to be a part of it. The revelation had even knocked Drake speechless, who usually had a sarcastic or inane reply ready to every situation.
Of all the things, this was not one name which I had expected to see in this letter of encounter in this case. This turned up the heat and the stakes had just been raised. The Sect never did anything for such simple reasons – not unless Ernst was working on his own, and for his own desires – but he would not have been permitted to use the name of the Sect for any personal business. Not unless it was of an extremely high order, or if he was a high ranking member. Neither of which bode well.

The Sect of the Shapeless was a part of a greater Order of which I did not know much beyond their existence. I had encountered them only in the previous year with all the business with the dagger and their nefarious plans to bring back the Old Ones and to slay a God. I grimaced and put away that line of thought, it did not have pleasant memories. All it meant was that the enemy was far greater here than what I had previously envisioned. Srishti was in a lot more danger than Tanisha knew. She’d already been a captive of the Sect for two days, and I feared for her sanity and her soul. The only hope I had of retrieving her was if Ernst had gone rogue and the kidnapping hadn’t been on the orders of the Sect. Small hope, but on such small hopes did the world survive and soldier on.
I moved from my office to my lab, which was basically a backroom on the ground floor of my grandpa’s Spice Shop.
‘Send for the Beastmaster?’ asked Drake.
‘No. Not enough time, and this one’s too delicate. Plus he’s still angry at me for last time. Better go with scrying.’
‘Send for the Irregulars?’ He asked.
The Irregulars were a small fleet of animals and birds who helped me with gathering information and similar work in my cases. I’d named them the Irregulars after the famous Baker Street Irregulars from Sherlock Holmes.
I know, not exactly original, but I love the famous detective. Sue me!
‘In the pouring rain? I’d need the help of the Beastmaster to convince them to ditch shelter in the insane weather we’ve been having’.
Drake grimaced at my reply but did not disagree. After the events of last year, I wasn’t exactly Mister Popular in the magical community right now. I’d been blamed for a lot of them, and though I’d ultimately done it to save the world and everyone in it, there had been a lot of mayhem in its wake. Though we’d survived, we’d lost a lot, and I was made a scapegoat for the whole fiasco, even though everyone knew that if not for my actions, we’d all be living in a desolate wasteland as slaves or worse. The curse of the hero, I suppose.
I locked the door to the lab and began putting the ingredients for the scrying process together. I did not know the man Ernst, I did not even have his picture or any of his belongings. All I had was that he belonged to the Sect and the description Tanisha had provided. Luckily I also had a photo of Srishti, and that would hopefully perform as the ace in the hole and be enough for the spell to function.
Of course, she’d probably be hidden under a lot of wards and I’d have to scry through them, without making them go off, and trace her location. Not exactly an easy task with the limited information I had to go by.
Crystal balls are the standard medium for scrying, and a few talented gypsies can glimpse into the future with their aid, though such true talents are extremely rare. Most witches only use Crystal Balls for scrying and that’s how the legend has filtered into popular culture. Though effective, a number of defences have been created to ward against this form of scrying.

Luckily I was one of two people in the world who knew of an alternative form of scrying. The other being my grandfather who had invented the method.
It involved the use of a bowl of water, a two way mirror and a glowstone infused with light, items which weren’t exactly difficult to obtain. Otherwise scrying through wards usually involved an intricate process and the use of materials which weren’t easily found, and even if they were, getting them to work well together was a task in itself. The genius of gramps’ method was that it used physics, elements, and magic in conjunction to pass over wards and find your quarry without being detected.
I selected a smooth glowstone from the many I had stashed in my lab, held it in my arm, drew in some of the ambient magic which was prevalent in the room and infused the stone with it. I placed it in a marble bowl half filled with water and placed a two way mirror over it. Then I took the picture of Srishti, dipped half of it in the bowl, and held it there pinched between my thumb and forefinger.
“Open your paths and show her to me, oh unshackled one,” I chanted and concentrated, trying to project the image of the woman in the air through the medium of water, working with the elements, coaxing them with praise to help me with honeyed words.

You see, all of the elements are alive in their own right, and it is possible to achieve a lot of things easily if they gave you their aid freely. The kind of things which would otherwise require a lot of energy and leave you heaving once you were done. What, you think Moses parted the Red Sea on his own? Hah. He probably had to sing an ode to the greatness of its watery depths before the Element decided to help him. Luckily, my need was much simpler.

After a few minutes of concentration, a picture slowly formed on the calm surface of the water. It showed a ramshackle hut by the sea surrounded by a dense foliage of trees. At first I thought it was Juhu Beach, since the nightclub Tanisha had mentioned frequenting was in that region. But the Beach shown in the water here was cleaner and only sparsely populated and looked to be in the middle of a small forest of sorts, while Juhu Beach was always crowded – no, overcrowded with a sea of Mumbaikars.

The beach in question had to be the stretch of fine sand by Madh Island. A haven for those seeking to lose the humongous crowds at Juhu, only populated by groups of footballers in the mornings, or those looking forward to activities of the illicit kind.
On successfully scrying the location, I took a few vials of potions and simple herbs which could be useful in a number of fixes, grabbed that knife from its hidden place in my lab, strapped it to my belt, left a note for gramps in the kitchen and made to rescue the damsel in distress on my Royal Enfield Thunderbird.
I’d moved onto the sturdier bike after the events of last year where a monster had almost chased me down mauled me on the Western Express Highway. I’d even modified it with a few wards and enchantments for additional protection which had since saved me in a number of scrapes. The Thunderbird was a quite step up from my previous motorcycle, but I still missed my old faithful Yamaha whose battered and broken frame now graced my garage.

I had half a mind to ask one of the Werewolf Rickshaw Cartel to give me a ride to my destination. They were still on good terms with me, mostly because their leader Ali believed my version of last summer’s events, but I didn’t want to ask them for help for every little thing and have them feel that I was behaving like another entitled wizard. They put a lot of stock in values like being independent and standing on your own feet. It was a Werewolf thing, and I couldn’t afford appearing weak. Not now. And anyway my bike would be quicker.
I hopped onto the scarred leather seat, gunned the engine and made for Ernst’s hideout to rescue Srishti. With any luck this would be a quick ‘Enter & Exit’ case without complications. The mention of the Sect of the Shapeless had made me a little nervous but the more I thought about it, the more this looked like the work of a rogue Sect member.
Of course, even if the whole sect was involved in this, I couldn’t leave the girl to their tender mercies. Friends called it my ‘Saving People Thing’. I called it doing the right thing. Yeah, most of the times that had led me to the infirmary. Ah well, can’t help it.
No one said doing the right thing was easy, but it was sure as hell worth it.
My Thunder Bird ate the miles and within half an hour I’d arrived on Marve road. The raindrops were pelting down hard enough to hurt as they splattered and died on me. The sky slowly darkened as clouds gathered over the horizon. Slowly, the foliage of trees and swamps became denser on either side of the road, and I could feel the atmosphere subtly shift and change. There was a menacing note in the sky, the air was rife with it, and the rustling leaves sang of unseen terrors. The unusually loud tip-tap of water dripping from the trees mixed with rusting leaves and howling wind produced an unnatural cacophony of noise, speaking of unseen terrors just lurking beyond what mortal eyes could see.

As the feeling of vileness and wrongness grew stronger, I knew I was getting closer to my destination. This place had seen death. More than that, unnatural beings had walked here, the place reeked of foulness and ruin. Bad things had happened here.
As the shadows deepened and darkened, the trees to my right gave way to a small stretch of beach which ended abruptly by a circular pile of extremely pointed rocks reminiscent of a Dragon’s teeth. And yes, I have seen a Dragon’s wide open maw up close, so I can easily compare the rocks to the winged beast’s teeth. Anyway, I digress.
A ramshackle hut stood tall in the centre of the rocks. The loathsome aura of wrongness seemed to be emanating from the hut. I had reached my destination. As I parked my bike, took my belongings, and stepped on the sand, the beach suddenly flickered before my eyes. It took coalesced and took shape again when I concentrated hard on it.
Illusions tied to the sand to keep away trespassers. Smart. Nefarious deeds were underway here. I didn’t want to walk straight into a trap, but there was no cover for me to hide and approach the hut. Ernst had chosen his hideout well. He would probably have line of sight on me as I walked into whatever trap he’d laid for me. Oh well, nothing for it now.

As I neared the hut, I noticed that the sharp stones were dyed crimson with blood. This was bad. They hadn’t killed Tanisha and used her for a ritual, had they? Steeling myself, I used a gust of air to lift and drop me within the circle of stones. I quickly disabled a few wards which would have been triggered by anyone touching the rocks. I didn’t want any nasty surprise if I had to make a quick getaway and had to touch the rocks in the process.
I was not prepared for what I saw once I entered the hut. Tanisha was strapped to a bed in the centre of the room, a tall man dressed in a crisp black business suit stood by her with a long, curved, ivory knife in his hand. Black hair fell to his shoulders and he was obviously handsome, but his eyes were cold, gleaming with morbid pleasure as he used the knife to carve her skin. She tried to scream, but her mouth was bound in a gag. Her blood dripped and painted her dress.
Ernst prepared to say something when I entered – do villains never learn? But I was too incensed by what I saw to pay heed. I drew a vial from the pockets of my coat and threw it at him. It shattered on hitting him and out poured liquid fire, covering his entire body in flames. Flames hot enough to turn metal to slag licked Ernst, burning him. Not a sound could be heard as he burned. Tanisha watched the whole event with wide eyes, shaking her head in wild gestures. That was unexpected.
After a few moments, the fire died and…
And nothing!
There wasn’t a single burn on Ernst. He stood there before me, large as life and laughed at me, his deep voice buffeting and rocking the small hut.
“Such weak fire does not affect a Devourer, Godslayer”, He smirked at me.
Devourer? He was a freakin’ Devourer? They were demons called forth from the nether who merged with whoever summoned them, draining their life force and taking over their body once their appointed task was done. Ruthless, insane, vile, they were the worst of demons. That’s why Ernst had such leeway among the sect, he was a Devourer now!
“Vengeance will be mine, Godslayer” He said in a screeching voice and opened his mouth impossibly wide, his teeth extending and growing beyond the confines of his mouth, his muscles bulging and blackening. Then, four figures stepped out of the shadows and darted towards me.
“Oh great, more enemies”, I muttered.
“Vengeance shall be ours, Godslayer, Gatebreaker,” They chanted in unison.
Bloody hell, so this was all a ploy to isolate me and get me here so that they could have revenge for me preventing their evil plans and stopping their Gods from returning to this plane the previous summer. Fuck, fuck, fuck!
Ernst the Devourer came towards me at inhumane speeds and only throwing myself to one side the moment I’d seen him take a step saved my skin. And even then it was a matter of inches.

“Die, Gatebreaker, die!” the chants of the four grew louder as attacked me from all sides.

I anticipated their movement and let them charge me, planning to leap over them at the last moment with a gust of wind, but the wind did not answer my call this time.
“The Elements do not work in my presence, Godslayer” said Ernst in a deep, guttural, savage voice. I cursed, ducked, and threw my foot out randomly and managed to catch one of the priests. He tripped and fell, and I ran over him as I tried to evade the swords and long claws of the other three. Nothing beyond dark shadows of those fiends was visible to me. Blood dripped from my shoulder and back, they’d managed to cut me.
They tried the same tactic to corner me again. Ernst looked happy enough to let them do the dirty work for now.
It’s never a good idea to use Liquid Fire in close proximity to yourself, not unless you want to get burned along with your enemy. But desperate times call for desperate measures and since I couldn’t call down the Elements to my aid, this would have to do. Four vials of Liquid Fire went in four different directions as the four sect members tried to corner me. Flames hot enough to turn stone to slag spread and covered the sect members, and they screamed. They screamed like the very fires of hell were upon them and consuming their soul. They screamed with the sound of evil being purged from the natural order of things. They screamed in pain and I screamed in defiance of death as I leaped away, just as one of the fingers of flame was upon my coat. I threw the coat off quickly. I’d added a few tied herbs with the vials this time to enhance their effect, the green fuelling the flames and making them reach even hotter temperatures.
I couldn’t take risks if the Devourer had given them additional protection. Luckily the ploy worked. However instead of being dissuaded, Ernst only smiled and started walking towards me. “I didn’t expect them to win, I only wanted them to tire you. Pathetic minions couldn’t even do that…but they did make you bleed. And blood can be used for the deepest of magic,” He never stopped approaching me as he spoke. Then he did something that shocked me even more. He snapped a finger and the straps around Tanisha vanished.
“You are free to go, Djinn. Attack the old man with your sister and bring him to heel. Burn him to the ground. Burn him”. He gave me a sinister smile as he said this.

What? Djinns? Freakin’ Djinns were after gramps? Tanisha looked at me with tear filled eyes as and mouthed a ‘sorry’, before she bowed low to her master and disappeared in a puff.This was bad. Fuck, I had to beat the demon and get home before gramps was seriously injured.
“Vengeance, it truly is sweet, Godslayer,” and Ernst smiled.
His smile invoked a host of reactions in me. He had messed with family, and that would not do. He wanted vengeance, he wanted to end my family…He had messed with the wrong person.
Black mist descended over my eyes, drums of war rang hard and loud in my ears. The Devourer would die. From the innermost pocket of my shirt, I removed my dagger.

The same Dagger which had out me on this journey, the same dagger which had given me the title of Godslayer.
His eyes sparked in recognition as he saw the weapon. I charged him, dagger aloft in my right hand, and a hint of fear could be seen behind those menacing orbs of his. Battle magic swirled around me, an aura which easily overshadowed his arose by the dagger, and the air around it thrummed with power.
I charged and slashed wildly, letting instincts take over. It is said that in battle, the weapon becomes an extension of yourself. Not here. Not with this cursed blade. On holding this blade, I became an extension of its will and power. And its will only wanted to cause destruction and death. Luckily, this time, I wanted the same result for the creature before me.
I hacked and slashed and jumped over his attacks, pivoted and pirouetted over his slashing claws and biting teeth and shadow magic. Blackness was before my eyes and the flow of energy was seen to me, I could see his connection to the nether and the dead realms. I cut them off with the dagger, pulling him away from his power source. He screamed with each blow, in his rage he got a few strikes on me, but under the rush of adrenalin and the influence of the dagger it was lost on me. He lashed out wildly with shadows and flames and the hut burst apart, but I slashed the dagger downwards and in a circle around me, and the shadows and flames gave way before me.
I hacked and slashed and with a final strike was over him. The dagger took him through the chest and I stabbed him again and again, bashing his chest to a black pulp. As his eyes faded and the cold darkness gave away, he whispered his last words, “Vengeance is still mine, your loving grandpa will be dead by now”.
I cut off his head at those words and the dagger sucked in his soul and all his energy, the cursed blade going stronger and getting a greater hold on me with its use, but right now I couldn’t care less. I doused him in a vial of Liquid Fire and dashed to my bike.
I rode madly in the pouring rain, bursting the Enfield to its limit, taking crazy corners, swerving with speed and riding as fast as I could without a heed to the lights or the other cars on the road. The rain poured hard and I rode harder, not caring that a single mistake could make me slip on the wet roads and lead to a grisly end. I had to save gramps.
The clouds had thickened and the rain wasn’t abetting at all, night was rolling in, I had no idea how long the encounter with the Devourer had taken, but the dark was rising and I had to get home soon.
After a few more minutes of hard riding, I was home. I dashed inside the spice store. The bells jingled as I entered, dripping water inside gramps’ store – something about which he always scolded me a lot. Such random thoughts assaulted my psyche as I went in, hoping that I was in time. Hoping that he wasn’t lost. I was lost in my thoughts and was searching for him around the house when the door to the spice shop opened behind me and in stepped an old man.
“Haven’t I told you not to come inside the spice shop when wet? When will you learn?” He said.
“Ah, grandpa…” I ran and hugged him tight, clutching him hard in relief.

“I’m glad you are well…” I almost sobbed.
“Of course I am well. You really thought two Djinn, however pretty, could get the better of me?” He said, hugging me back.
I didn’t say anything and continued to hug him. He saw my plight and patted my back.
“A sword wielded in vengeance only leads to grief,” he said.
I could almost hear the smile in his voice at those words and held him tighter. Shadows of the past, they were all shadows of the past.

The End

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Image Artist: Facebook

Rome’s Last Song

Rome's Last Song by Pritesh Patil

Thea lounged on a luxurious settee, watching Rome burn through the window. Her lover, Neera, fiddled and danced through the cavernous room, delighting in the screams of agony as the souls of Romans left their mortal shells.

Times were, Thea wondered whether she had fallen in love with a monster. She had been told that madness ran through Neera’s veins. That she had sipped deep from Gaia’s well, bitten into the Old Goddess’s firmament and tasted divine ichor.

Dust to dust,
Ashes to Ashes,
And Earth to Earth.
All of Rome will burn.

Neera sang and fiddled through the cavernous chamber, dancing to the tunes of a dead Goddess. The faster she fiddled, the faster the flames spread. Her lilting voice joined the agonized screams of tormented Roman souls.

Thea approached Neera, hugged her from behind, and slipped a dagger through her breast.

“The time of Divinity has passed, dearest lover. Wait for me in Tartarus.” With that, she let Neera’s body fall to the ground, her eyes wide with shock.

Times were, Thea would’ve smiled at a job well done, but as flames fanned the city, her heart remained cold as ice. The divine assassin had murdered the only woman she’d ever loved.

Without further thought, she stabbed herself in the heart, to rejoin her lover in Tartarus, deep on the bowels of the earth.

Dust to dust,
Ashes to Ashes,
And Earth to Earth.
All of Rome burnt.⁠⁠⁠⁠

Locomotive Breath

Locomotive Breath by Pritesh Patil

“Come on Pa, walk faster, we need to get off the tracks before the train comes,” said Mir.

“Yes, Pa. We’ll get you all patched up and healed once we’re there. The plague won’t get to us, we’ll live,” said Vir, hacking and coughing even as he smiled at the frail figure of his father trudging along on the snaking railroad.

“I’m walking-” cough, “- I’m walking,” their dad muttered feebly.

That’s when they heard the horn of the train, trumpeting loudly as it rolled forth like a juggernaut in the lonely woods, roiling smoke left in its wake.

“Faster, pa, faster,” said the younger son. “The train’s approaching, we need to leave the tracks!”

The elder son did not say anything, he only increased his efforts to pull and push their father sideways, trying to find a clearing to the side where they could hide from the incoming behemoth of smoke, steel and iron.

Alas, there was no such clearing, no hidey-hole to be found.

The gargantuan beast moved closer, ever closer, screeching and screaming as it devoured the tracks.

The family of three looked around wildly, but there was no escape. Death was here. It was everywhere, all pervading, and none could escape its clutches.

And then the Locomotive swept over the three travellers, with Death claiming the last of the villagers trying to flee its ice cold grasp.

Slowly, softly, the noise of the engine and the trumpeting horn of the locomotive receded and faded, moving off to destinations unknown.

…And the ghosts of the three travellers woke once again on the railroad, as they had for the past hundred years. Lost to time, lost to life, lost to death. Eternally riding on the railroad of the in-between, forever forsaken.

They had escaped the clutches of death, but peace was forever lost to these haunted souls, now haunting the forlorn railroad, hapless victims to Locomotive breath.

*****

P.S. – Yes, the title ‘Locomotive Breath’ is a reference to Jethro Tull’s song of the same name. Tip of the hat to all those who got it.

Eyeballs

Eyeballs by Pritesh Patil

Aindrila was an aspiring author, a talented one even, but after her first taste of success, she yearned for even more. But in those days success was hard to come by, and the ones who spent the most money got the most eyeballs. Her writing was pure, her muse was happy, but Aindrila wasn’t content with the slow, steady nature of her success.

“Eyeballs, I want more eyeballs. No, I need more of them!” She screamed in a fit of rage and agony.

And so she made a deal with a demon. No, not any demon, but with the King of Hell himself, Crowley. She was willing to sell her soul, but that wasn’t enough for Crowley.

‘The market is saturated with souls. People are willing to sell souls for a slice of pizza and good fries. Nay, I want something more, something I can use,’ he said in his slick, oily voice.

‘Whatever you want, take it, take it, but give me what I deserve’, said Aindrila, in desperation.

‘Your muse’.

‘Take it!’ Screamed Aindrila, ‘But help me…help me,’ she said softly.

‘Done,’ Crowley smiled. ‘Go home and sleep, you will have what you want when you wake up’.

Aindrila smiled her deranged smile, and ran home gleefully. After all, what was the trading of a mere muse when she was getting so much more in return.

She went home and fell asleep, thoughts and dreams of fame, renown, book signings and movie deals filling her head.

When she woke up the next day, she felt a heavy weight on her. She tried to get up, but the weight only increased, and she felt trapped under some squishy, fleshy substance.

She opened her eyes and she saw that her room was filled to the brim with eyeballs. Squishy, squashy, glassy, eyeballs, whirling here and there, some with blood still on them, staring at her in horror, holding the torment they’d suffered before being pulled from their bodies.

As she suffocated and drowned in those vicious eyeballs staring at her, wishing their anguish upon her, she began laughing. A hopeless sound, full of despair and excruciating terror.

Oh how she laughed…even as she drowned, as she realized that she would become famous after all, but only as a victim when the reporters and cops found her, much like the victims in her stories.

Finally, her laughter turned into a gagging sound as one after another, the eyeballs entered her mouth and choked her to death.

-Fin-

P.S. – I See You’ by Aindrila Roy is available on Amazon.

Wanderer of the Scorching Sands

Wanderer of the Scorching Sands by Pritesh Patil
A Story written by me long ago, in a time much different from this one, in what could have been a different age, though it’s been but 5 years to that pleasantly cool morning. Earlier called ‘The Silent Wanderer’, it’s now been rechristened to ‘Wanderer of the Scorching Sands’.

*****

Wanderer
The Wanderer

The hot sun blazed overhead, searing the skin, and the hot sand burned Rickard’s bare feet. Wrapped in black samurai clothing, he cut a lone figure in the flaming land. On closer look, one would have noticed that his clothing was ripped and blood stained. Feet red with blood, he walked on. Deeming his cloak to be useless – it was torn and provided no protection in the wild wind, flailing away – he threw it off, exposing a muscled and agile torso beneath.

Eyes burning with hate, he walked on, carving a new path along the shifting dunes. Moving towards his destination, he prodded forward on sheer force of will. No end in sight yet with an end in mind, he walked on. After a lengthy march, having walked a hundred leagues, he reached his destination. The cursed village of Dominica was in sight. Cursed because he was born there. Cursed because he had come back alive, leaving a trail of blood in his wake. He had tried to help them once, and he had been rejected. His helping hands had been taken for those of a demon and rejected by the council head of the village.

A hooded figure stood at the gates, approaching him, he whispered, “Good day, Maticus.”

Shocked out of his reverie, he looked at the newcomer and whispered, “Rickard! You return!” slurring his words in his drunken state.

“Yes my friend, I come back to take what is mine. I come to take my due.”

Leaving the gatekeeper behind in shock, he passed within the gates. “Time to rise sleepy heads”, he smiled.
He went straight to the council heads house, passing beneath the light of flickering lamps. Stealthily passing beneath the vision of his guards, Rickard entered the head’s bedroom.

There, the council head was sleeping with two of his concubines unbeknownst to his wife, lying still as a child with face between her breasts. She couldn’t have been more than 15 years of age, while the other one was closer to eighteen. Both were near his daughter’s ages, and his shamelessness enraged Rickard. This was the man who ruled the village, who had made all the villagers go against him, and had rejected his offer of help against the demons who ravaged the region ten years back. Calming himself, he tapped on the wall and said,

“Enjoying yourself Sire?”

Equal parts fear, anger and bewilderment filled the Council-Head’s face, as he searched for the source of the disturbance.

“No, you!” he shouted. “You were supposed to be dead. I sent my best men to do it!”

“Then it is my ghost come to haunt you, your greatness,” mocked Rickard. Then, with one swift strike of his sword, he cut off the lord’s head .

The girls lay paralyzed with shock, at this act. “I do not have the time to castigate you, for you were here not by choice but by this wicked man’s use of force. Leave now, and I will spare you. However, if I see you again tonight, then may God help you.”

Hearing his words, the girls fled and Rickard walked through the house, carving a path of blood, killing all in his path. A blood bath. A blood dance. The red samurai was back to his home town.
The following day, the sun dawned on the village of Dominica in silence. Or rather on what remained of the village. The samurai had done his job, and he went towards the gate.

Exiting the village, he roused Maticus from sleep, “Goodbye my friend, my work here is done.”
“Come back soon, Rickard, you’ll be missed.”
“The dead do not feel, Maticus,” he whispered, too low for his friend to hear, however his expression must have been awry as Maticus looked a bit alarmed. Perhaps he felt that Rickard had too much of drink the last night.
“Goodbye then…” said Maticus, and left to go into the village for his usual round of drinks at the local inn.

As Rickard walked on, he began his incantation, and slowly the village began to glow blue in the distance. A light hue of blue, and suddenly a sharp sound pierced the desert quite.

“No!” wailed the sound, perhaps someone had seen the carnage he had left behind. Perhaps he had missed killing one of the girls later in the night.

“No-” came the wail again, much different from before, wretched, filled with despair, before it was cut short abruptly.

And as many similar cries filled the once silent air, before slowly being consumed in their own horrific fear, Rickard walked on, away from what was once his home. His work was done. The dead do not speak, as out of the remains of all the dead villagers a new creature was born. A terrible Daemon, one which would haunt the world for a long time to come.

“Goodbye Maticus,” the Wanderer whispered to the winds, as a final dying scream rent the world apart.

Of Love & Other Demons

Love

I think I have been in love but once,

And since then though I liked a few folk well,
It’s never been quite the same.

But the word today is so oft overused,
It’s worth grind to dust and bone
Love must be greater than mere touch of lust,

Greater than gifts and mere needs of flesh
For wars were waged and world’s rose and fell for love

For men battled death, and women crossed the realms of unforgiving Hell for love
In books and plays and poems and words can one feel the call of love, through time, beyond death

In tattered letters of loved ones surviving years and years can be felt the smooth caress of love
It’s what makes us more than flesh, blood, bone and ghost

It’s the eternal story that keeps us alive across dead civilizations and dying centuries
Mountains have crumbled and seas have stormed,

Lightning has fallen and long fires have burnt, leaving bodies wrecked and souls shattered,
For love.

I have but felt its soft touch once,
And perhaps I yet do not know what I love you means,

Maybe all it means is do not leave me here, all alone, shivering under freezing winds,
Do not leave me without the warmth of your presence, comforting like crackling hearthfire,

Stay by my side.
I beseech you, stay.

– Pritesh Patil ©

(Inspired by Neil Gaiman’s Dark Sonnet)

Fernweh: A Song of Adventure & Wanderlust

Adventure
Gift yourself,
A lifetime full of adventures
Of mystery, of discovery.
Of moments spent by shimmering seas,
Under the darkling carpet of starlit night
Ride over clouds,
And climb misty mountains
Under the amber sky.

Live a little,
Then live some more.
Leave home behind,
And go on an adventure.

Let the forests sing to you,
And as the night grows cold,
Let the crackling firelight hug you
As you dance to the music of life.

Follow roads unknown,
To lands unseen
Towards experiences new

Let songs unknown
Guide you to home & hearth.

Gift yourself
Some magic, some adventure.

Pritesh Patil.

Knight of Time: Sneak Peek

Knight of Time by Pritesh Patil

Knight of Time:

Gandhi and his followers massacred all who dared stand against them. He drove the colonists out with fire and blood. Hitler was a firm proponent of non-violence and won the Nobel Peace Prize. His work enriched the lives of millions, bringing Europe under a single banner.

Julius Caesar ascended to God-King, as he mutilated Brutus, Cassius and three score people by the Senate. Rome was his to rule for eternity. He burned his descendant Nero in the forum for daring to go against him.

On Halloween, the Dark Lord killed the prophesied Hero, casting his dominion over all the lands, a shadowed pall spreading over land and under sea.

Xerxes and his Persians defeated the Grecians in a fell swoop, bringing peace to a land tormented by the Spartans, freeing the people chained with blood magic and cruel sorcery.

The Titans won the Blood War. Zeus was chained to a mountain. Cursed forever; a legion of vultures would feed on him, yet he would remain undying. Fresh meat for the carrion birds every day. Hera was cast down into the dank depths of Tartarus. Poseidon and Hades were thrown into the world of mortals, cursed with misfortune; their hopes to turn to ash. Kronos ruled supreme.

The Rakshas fled the old holy lands as the Gods of Asia rose to a frenzied madness, slaughtering all in their way. Rivers ran red with blood, foaming as they cascaded into the open seas, cursing the water with the blood of the fallen.

In a place where Space had no meaning, the aspect of Time, Chronos, was pulled from beyond the veil, and cast down on those jagged rocks overlooking a crimson sea, a sea stretching to the horizon and beyond. A land of madness, despair and death. A desecrated land, where even the Unending, Undying, Immortals could die.

And there the Old Ones descended upon Chronos in wild fury, that ancient enemy who had thwarted them at every turn, and they fed…Oh how they fed…

Thus, passed Chronos, Lord of Time, He-Who-Was-Infinite.

****

…And in a land faraway, where Time had stopped, the skies had opened, and the Old Ones returned, victorious, raining hellfire and black-death on the hapless denizens of Gaia.

There, by the shores of the burning sea, by the light of the slowly dying Sun, amidst the agonized screams of falling humanity, the Knight of Time turned back the Clock once again, and the world blinked out of existence, perhaps for the last time.

*****

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