The Tavern at the End of the World

Ritosh was being chased by sword-wielding thugs through the streets of Old Delhi. ‘No, not Old Delhi. Not anymore. It’s New Constantinople now,’ he told himself, quelling his treacherous thoughts. Even mentioning that name was an offense worthy of beheading. The world had changed more than he had thought possible in the last few decades, becoming a pale mockery of what it once was, ruled by Daemons – and some humans more vicious than any Daemon could ever hope to be. Not that he cared anymore, he’d long since lost everyone he cared about, and he looked forward to the warm embrace of Death. No, not like this. I won’t give these thugs the satisfaction of beating me, he thought and continued to run.

Ritosh was being chased not because of any crime he’d committed, but for sport. New Constantinople was a cruel, cruel place. But he was a stubborn man, even after all these years. And if the only thing he could take away from the King’s thugs – for he wouldn’t call them Guardians, they did no guarding – was the satisfaction of beating him to a pulp, then so be it. So, he ran, even though he was tired and his frail legs ached with shooting pains, even though his lungs screamed for mercy with every breath he took, even though his willpower was floundering, and all he wished for was the agony to end, for the endless abyss to take him.

Yet, he persisted.

Times were, Ritosh could have taken on the thugs without breaking a sweat. Times were, he wouldn’t have contemplated Death, except for penning poems to her mysteries. Times were, he was immortal, dancing to his own tunes – and at times, those of his lady love – singing, drinking and waltzing through Delhi with a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his eye. Dilwalo ki Dilli. Not anymore though, not anymore.

“We’ve got him cornered now, lads,” shouted one of the thugs. “He’s headed towards the River.”

That is when Ritosh realized his folly. In his haste to escape, he had missed a turn, and now he was heading towards the frothing, icy waters of the Yamuna. He knew it had been a risk, playing the fiddle in the streets of New Constantinople, especially in his bleary state, but age had not quelled his rebellious spirit. He wanted to show his dissatisfaction and contempt for the King, even if all he could do was spread some mirth to the broken and downtrodden through his music.

And look where that has got you, idiot, he scolded himself. But there was no heat in his words. He would do it again and again, just to spite the King and his regime. Wiping strands of silver hair from his face, he turned and faced his pursuers. To his back, the waters of the Yamuna churned and roiled mercilessly, carving through earth and stone. One more step, and even his once-immortal body would be crushed by the frigid currents, propelling him to a cold death.

“You’ve been rebelling against the good King for too long, old man. Didn’t the last lesson stick? Your petty machinations are useless,” sneered the leader of the thugs. He was clad in all white, like the rest of them, but with a red ribbon tied around his arm signifying his rank. 

“I was only playing music to uplift the people’s spirit,” said Ritosh, appealing to their humanity, hoping that he wouldn’t have to endure another beating. But it was for naught.

“Music is forbidden for the common folk; the Royal Decree clearly states so. They’re supposed to be working for the betterment of the good King and his empire, not dancing in the streets, or singing with their filthy voices. Those pleasures are reserved for Royalty, and those they deem worthy. Commoners must only do their jobs and make sure the empire continues to flourish. They do not deserve pleasures,” said the thug, running one finger over the
blade of his sword.

“Fuck you,” spat Ritosh, eyes blazing with rage. He was shivering, but whether it was from the cold or from fear, he did not know. 

“Insulting the Royal Guards, that’s a capital offence. Looks like we’ll have to beat the sedition out of you,” a wicked smile graced the thug’s lips. “Now, I would say that I won’t enjoy this, that it would hurt me more than you, but that would be a  lie.” 

Ritosh closed his eyes tight and grimaced. How could humans turn on one another?
How could they be so willing to subjugate their fellows on the whims of another? How could they preach loyalty to a Daemon who cared naught for them? 

But then, it wasn’t about loyalty, was it? It was about power. It was about dominance.

About stepping on those below them, and revelling in the glory of broken lives. Humans; even after living as one of them for close to a century, he couldn’t understand them. Or maybe he could, maybe with every little bit of immortality that was stripped from him, he was becoming human, like one of them, and that terrified him.
Times were, he wouldn’t even have contemplated what he was about to do next.

“Get him,” shouted the leader, and the white-clad thugs fell on him from all directions, vicious in their savagery.
Ritosh opened his eyes, and spoke a small prayer. Then, he removed a munition from the pocket of his jacket, his last one, and just as he was surrounded, he dropped it in the midst of the thugs and jumped from the cliff, propelled high by the force of the explosion, before falling straight into the glacial waters of the Yamuna, heralded by chunks of flesh and bloody rain.

Times were, Ritosh was immortal, happy.

As he submerged in the waters of the Yamuna and lost his flimsy hold on immortality,
as Death’s warm embrace engulfed him, he felt happy once again, for the first time in a long,
long century.

**********

 

Ritosh awoke on a sandy shore, buffeted by stormwinds and pelting hailstones. Waves crashed against the shore, and he barely managed to roll out of their way and avoid being smashed to smithereens by stranger tides. Huge, undulating waves rose and blanketed the horizon, roiling, churning and attacking the shore with all their menace, scaring Ritosh deep down to his bones. He raised an arm to cover his eyes and peer in the distance as he ran away
from the violent waters, only to discover that he wasn’t old anymore. His hand wasn’t frail, there weren’t any scars on it, and he didn’t feel the pain of living a hundred years with every step he took.

Perhaps he had died, he reckoned. But what happens to a god when he dies, he wondered. 

“Questions later, must escape the raging storm first,” he said out loud, happy to break the sounds of silence, even if it was only with his own voice. He turned away from the violent shores and began running only to crash against a solid form and tumble to the ground. He immediately dusted himself off and scampered to his feet. He fumbled, and took a few wary steps away from the figure standing in front of him. 

The woman – if she could be called one – was clad in unassuming grey robes, but there was a hidden strength, a purpose to her. This is no ordinary woman, Ritosh thought as he tried to take a measure of her. She gave him a warm smile, but it only served to make him more wary as he looked askance at her. His behaviour did nothing to dampen her smile, instead, it only made her grin widen.

“Do not worry, godling. You are safe here,” she replied cheerfully.

“And where is here,” Ritosh asked, unsure how she knew who he was – or had been – a god. Could he still be one even if he had died?

“The Last Inn,” she replied, pointing to a shadowy shape in the distance, illuminated by the moon’s light and a lone lantern hanging in the night air. “Also known as the Tavern at the End of the World. The last house of refuge for the weary and the lost, those who have been lost to life, or those whom life has lost.”

“What am I doing here? How did I get here?” asked a befuddled Ritosh, scratching his head. 

“You are here, dear boy, because we aren’t done with you yet. Your story isn’t over. You will await the end of the world while manning the inn, and when your time comes, we will send you back, to right past wrongs and do your duty to your city.” She put a strong hand on Ritosh’s back and made him walk with her with gentle but firm pats to keep him moving towards the inn.

“And who are ‘we’ exactly?” he asked nonchalantly, or tried to anyway, but the words came out sharp and wheezing. Her pats weren’t helping. 

“Why, me and my sisters, of course,” she said, chuckling as if he had just made a great joke. “I’m Atropos, but today, I do the work of my dear sister, Clotho. We have met before, young one, though then I was known by another name.” Her silver eyes gleamed under the moonbeams as she spoke, shimmering much like her inviting yet deadly silver lips.

She just chuckled at his grim expression and kissed him on the cheeks. “You do not have to be afraid of us, young godling. Your thread lives on…for now,” she finished with a wink.

Ritosh’s eyes widened. He had just been kissed by Fate. “This isn’t going to end well,” he muttered.

“Nonsense, you worry too much, godling,” Atropos answered, her lustrous raven black gleaming in the starlight. That is when he realized the rain was parting before her, and despite the tempest raging around them and the wild gales dancing to wild tunes, she was not only untouched by the elements, they were bowing to her will, parting before. She was a princess – nay, a queen – and they her subjects. 

They reached the inn, the lone lantern flickering at the doorstep, keeping the gloom at bay, and like Atropos, unaffected by the elements. She opened the door and bade him to enter, which he did, grateful to be out of the rain. It was lit by candlelight and by the glow of a fire blazing in the hearth. There was a coziness to the surrounding, and for the first time in a long time, Ritosh felt unafraid. Inside the room, there were many tables, full of people from a variety of places, from a myriad of worlds, all drawn to the Tavern at the End of the World, all with a tale to tell. A bard played a grand medley from besides the fireplace, holding a different instrument in all four pairs of his arms, and the atmosphere of the room changed with each note played by the musician. Some of the folks danced on tabletops, others clinked glasses together and drank deeply the ale, while a large group was gathered at the centre, engrossed in telling each other stories, in living a hundred different lives through the tales they heard. 

All of them stopped whatever they were doing and bowed deeply when Atropos entered the room. She curtsied in return, “Please do not stop on my behalf. Enjoy yourselves. The storm continues to rage unabated, but we within the confines of the inn remain safe.”

They all gave a hearty cheer at her words and returned to their actions, dismissing her as easily as they had been awed by her. Who knew you could get used to being around Fate, Ritosh wondered. His bemused thoughts must have been visible on his face, because Atropos looked at him and gave him an amused wink. Ritosh could only blush in response, unsure how to respond to the living embodiment of Fate.

“Where am I? What is my role here?” Ritosh asked Atropos, as they sat at a table, watching the Bard sing and dance as three dragons barely larger than two palms put together circled around him, breathing small puffs of fire and smoke to keep him on his toes. 

“Never thought I’d use the words cute and dragons in the same sentence,” Ritosh said staring at them.
“The last dragons of Middle-Earth, they found refuge here at the end of the age and the breaking of the world,” Atropos said. A haze came over her argent eyes as she got lost reminiscing.

She pointed to a couple of men, one of whom was playing a violin and staring out of the room, while his companion sat on a comfortable couch, sipping from a glass of amber liquid. “Sherlock and Watson,” she said. “They came here only a century ago, when the world started unravelling. When they came into the world and broke all order. When Chaos was unleashed.”

Atropos glanced towards another weird assortment seated in a corner. Three of them appeared to be humans, one woman, two men. Both the men had towels draped over their shoulders. They were being regaled by a man with two heads. Another was an android with a large head staring at the two-headed man and listening to his anecdotes with a despondent expression. “They came here just before the Vogons zapped their planet,” she said.

A large orangutan was jumping on the shoulders of three guards, while a wizard dressed in purple was being chased by a many-legged trunk between the tables. “Furniture should not be capable of running,” he was yelling. A skeleton dressed in dark robes with a scythe in one arm sat looking at their antics. He was palming his skull-like face.

Atropos gave Ritosh a tight smile. “Denizens of Ankh-Morpork. Not the most tidy folk.”

He saw sitting near the bar, a scruffy-looking man with brown hair and a pilot-jacket sitting with a woman in modest white robes, looking upon each other with the quiet assurance of a love that was deep and had survived much. A robot that resembled a garbage can beep-ed and boop-ed, and Atropos, with a soft smile, muttered, “Those two came here a long time ago, from a Galaxy far, far away.”

A group of three students clad in black robes with a lion emblazoned on their chests stared at the bard and dragons in wonder. The girl with busy hair was trying to take it all in, while the red-haired lad was gulping down flagon upon flagon of the ale. The bespectacled boy was trying to restrain a gigantic man from rushing towards the dragons, trying to talk the man out of wanting to cuddle with those little cuties as he called them. Ritosh stared at her in wonder. All he had read, all he had imagined, it was real. All those books, all those worlds, they existed! Even as a god, he had not known of this. It had been beyond his ken.

“This is Heaven,” Ritosh said awestruck. “How did I get here?” 

Sipping from her glass of whisky, Atropos smiled at him. “Not heaven, dear godling. Merely an inn, albeit a special one. And you got here because the Lord of Dreams does not wish your story to end so soon. You got here because the Fates do not want the world to be lost. You got here because you still have a role to play. Death relinquished her claim on you, for the greater good.”

“What can I do?” said Ritosh in a voice laced with bitterness. “I lost to them. I fucked everything up. In my arrogance, I caused the death of a million people. I am no god, merely a fraud. A pretender.”

“Do not take the weight of the world on your shoulders, godling. Powers greater than you have fallen to their madness. Worlds, dimensions and entire universes have been lost to their rot, to the corruption and decay they have been causing. No more. It is time we took a stand. Battle-lines have been redrawn, young godling. There are great forces at play, and there will be a final reckoning. A time when you will have to do your deed, when you will have a
role to play, and play it you must,” Atropos spoke in a sombre voice, and even the Bard’s song had changed to match her deep tones. The very air was thrumming with power, as the music reached a crescendo, and Atropos’ eyes blazed with light.

“There will come a time when all of us will have to play our parts. To face those who want to bring the universe and time itself to its knees. Fell deeds await.” Suddenly her face cleared, and the music picked up in tempo, the sadness gone. “But that day is not today. That time is not yet come. For now, you rest. For now, you heal and prepare for the end times, even as you run the inn and prepare for the end-times, gathering all those forces here that you can. In the meanwhile, I will be changing the course of Destiny.”

Ritosh was torn. He was happy here, happier than he had ever been in ages, but he wanted to play a role in battling them. He yearned for blood. He yearned for a chance to right his mistakes. To gain the right to look at people in the eye again without feeling ashamed. But a part of him also wanted to stay here, to feel happy for a while, to drink in the mirth of the tavern, and leave his worries at bay. To rest.

“What do I have to do?” Ritosh asked.

Atropos laid a pale finger on the god’s cheeks and smiled. “Nothing yet, young godling,” she said, allaying his fears. “For now, you take care of the inn. You meet your fellows and mingle with them. You rest. You enjoy the hospitality of the Tavern, and take in guests, sheltering them from the coming storm. You take on the mantle of the Innkeeper,” she said, her words blazing with power.
“Is that all?” Ritosh inquired, unsure of where this was going. He would gladly become the innkeeper of such a warm establishment. It felt like home, and deep down in his bones, it felt right. It felt like he was finally complete, after not knowing what he had been missing all these years. But there had to be more to it, it was too good to be true. Watch over a gathering of powers and forces and indulge in revelry with them? He hadn’t been so lucky in all his lives. The Fates had never been so kind to him. 

That is when it struck him. The Fates…

Only now was he able to fathom the depth of Atropos’ request. This was their barracks, their castle, their keep and their home, all rolled into one. This is where the army of the lost, the despairing, the defeated and the hopeless would assemble. This was from where they would launch their final volley in a bid to bring down the agents of Chaos. And he would be instrumental in it. The Innkeeper of the Tavern at the End of the World. It had a nice ring
to it.

“What do you mean?” he asked, unsure if he had understood her correctly.

She lifted her glass of whisky and toasted it to him deftly, her lips curved upwards in a smile equal parts warm and inviting, full of the promise of magic and dreams.

“It means you have come home.”

The End

(Or is it just the beginning?)

**********

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Lights of London

Lights of London

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you, luv”.

The man in the black suit turned towards the dark corner of the London alley.  His movement was calm, unhurried, but his muscles were taut, ready to react at the slightest hint of movement. The streetlight fell at an awkward angle there, and the shadows of the swaying treetops lengthened and shortened hypnotically, almost as if a surreal force was moving them.

But James Bond did not believe in such things. He did not believe in the Supernatural. The only thing he believed in, was himself, his faithful Walther P99. And of course, in the purity of a drink – a medium dry martini with a lemon peel. Shaken, not stirred, to be precise.

So he did what he does best, cocked his gun and pointed at the playful, almost intoxicating dance of shadows.

“Show yourself.”

There was no response, except the whistling of the breeze. James wasn’t one for words, so, he pulled the trigger.

Bang, bang, bang.

Flashes of light lit up the shadows, followed by cracks of thunder.

“I really wouldn’t do that again, if I were you, Jimmy Boy.”

How had he missed? He never missed! Okay, there was that one time in Bombay, but that didn’t count.

Once again, James steadied his arm, took aim, and applied gentle pressure against the trigger, when the voice interrupted him for the third time in the space of a few seconds.

“Don’t get your knickers in a twist, luv. I’m trying to save your life here. Blimey, shooting at a chap’s a good way to make him regret his sudden bout of goodness.”

“What do you mean?” James asked, his voice was steady, not betraying any hint of the confusion and anxiety bubbling underneath the surface. He wondered how the man – for it was definitely a masculine voice – knew his fingers were ready to pull the trigger for the second time. The changes in his actions had been minuscule, yet the man had somehow sensed it. That worried James. He relaxed his fingers on the trigger, but he kept his gun pointed at the shadows.

“If you’re on my side, you’d better show yourself. I don’t do well with assassins and those who hide in the shadows,” James announced, eyes peeled for the slightest hint of movement.

That’s when he felt a hand tap on his shoulder, followed by the same dulcet tones against his ear. “You’re looking in the wrong direction, old boy.”

James whirled around and directed his gun at the long, lanky man who had stepped out from under a tree. How he’d gotten there, James had no idea. He’d scouted the area beforehand. He’d chosen this spot with great care, but for someone to sneak up on him, that made him wary, and more than a little afraid. Either his skills were diminishing, or there was more to this trench-coat clad, blonde-haired, silk-cut smoking Brit standing in front of him. And he did not know which possibility worried him more.

The Brit nonchalantly jumped a step away from James, a smirk dancing on the edges of his lips. He continued speaking as if he hadn’t been interrupted. “As for your aversion against those hiding in the shadows, well, that’s either a case of some deeply entrenched self-loathing, or you’re just a hypocrite. Which is it, Jimmy boy?” He asked, puffing out a circle of smoke. He then sent a smoke -tiger of all things leaping through the circle.

“Who are you?” James demanded, eyes narrowed, gun steady. He was in his element now, ready to react at a moment’s notice. This was no ordinary man before him. But no matter who he was, no matter what silly parlour tricks he used, James wouldn’t let him compromise his mission.

“Thought you’d never ask, J-Boy. I’m the one who steps from the shadows, John bloody Constantine. I’m not the nicest man you’ll ever meet, but I do me best. And right now, I’m doing my best to stop you from dying a premature death.” The man answered with a mocking flourish. “All because I owe that old lady a bloody favour, and she cares for you too much to let you die on a doomed endeavour.” The last part was whispered, but James still caught it, and that’s what made him relax. The tension left his body and he set the gun down. After all, if M had sent him, he couldn’t be all bad, could he?

Later on, when James looked back on the events of that night, he realized he’d been wrong.

Bad was too tame a word to define John Constantine.

*****

“What do you mean save my life?” the Agent asked John. He appeared to be relaxed, but every fibre of his being was ready to react at the slightest threat.

John saw through the façade of confidence, but he elected to ignore it. “You’re after the goons hiding inside the house. Evans and Rosier, two of the terrorist’s men, yeah?”

“They tortured the last remnants of my family. When that was done, they murdered them, desecrated the corpses and left them chained together in a gruesome veneer of life in their front yard. There is no way I am letting them escape. They will pay for their crimes.” James had a haunted look in his eyes. John had seen that look on many faces throughout his ignominious and depressing career. It was common among those who seek vengeance and death – their own. A chance to go out in a blaze of glory to redeem themselves. A lesser man would’ve been broken by it. A lesser man would’ve given up by now, knowing there was no way he could save these men. But since when had John Constantine given a fuck about the odds? He nonchalantly took a puff of his silk cut and stared at 007, his gaze piercing the Agent to his core.

“If you throw that grenade through the window, as you were originally planning, then you’ll be dead before you can say Bob’s your uncle.”

“What do you mean?”

“These aren’t the everyday thugs you can beat into submission, 007. Nor are they the usual spies or terrorists. These are men of a darker bend. Men who have stared into the abyss, and fallen in love with the darkness beneath. They’re known as—”

“Death Eaters, I know,” answered 007 with a wink. “We may not know much about how the other side of England operates, but we know enough. We aren’t as blind as you think we are.”

“And yet, you were going to blast the house with a grenade?” asked John incredulously.

James shrugged. “The easy solutions are the best ones.”

“Well, this easy solution would’ve blown you to smithereens, 007. They’ve warded the place to make all your weaponry impotent or bounce back.”

James raised an eyebrow but shoved the grenade deeper into the folds of his suit. “This doesn’t mean I’m giving up.”

“Wouldn’t expect you to, Agent. Reckon you’d still want your pound of flesh. Well, I’m here to help you get it,” John answered with a smile and a bow.

“What’s in it for you?” James narrowed his eyes. “Surely you wouldn’t take on such a dangerous mission just because you owe M a favour.”

“You wouldn’t believe what I’d do purely for a laugh,” John grinned. “This one’s business and pleasure all mingled into one giant ball of madness. And you aren’t the only one to lose people to Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters,” he whispered the last part through gritted teeth, but it was audible on the night wind.

“So, shall we get on with it?” John asked, bowing low and pointing in the direction of the house they were supposed to be infiltrating.

“Age before beauty, Johnny boy,” James answered with a wink and gestured John to lead the way.

John sighed and nodded. “As you say, guvnor.” Then, he raised his right hand, drew a few arcane symbols in the air, making a circle with them. Then, he punched through their centre.

There was a whoosh of wind as a shockwave fled from the glowing symbols, and the air before John grew hazy, before shattering like frosted glass. The furnished house and posh apartments gave way to a dingy, ramshackle bungalow with a neon sign lit over a drab doorway identifying the place as a pub going by the name of ‘La mort Èmeraude.”

The wards were down.

*****

Evans was sloshed, drooling. A cracked bottle of cheap rum lay upturned by his head, leaking liquid, dripping it into his matted hair. Rosier stood against the bar with a glass of blood red wine in his hand. He was snickering at his partner’s plight. He was using the bartender’s smashed head as a makeshift holder for his bottle of wine. A number of bodies littered the floor. It had been amusing to break them, but their weak bodies could only handle so much. After that, Evans and Rosier had resorted to alcoholic spirits to keep their spirits up. One of them, a young one, had a fiery demeanour. She lay under a tall table, its legs embedded in her stomach. Her dirty blood pooling on the floor.

Rosier had enjoyed her exquisite screams. Almost as much as he’d enjoyed the screams of the man with her. Ah, those dulcet tones, they could always cheer him up. Remembering the last hour brought another smile on his face. Rosier swirled the wine inside his mouth, gulped it in one swallow, and smacked his lips together. This was the good life. He thanked his stars that he had chosen to follow the Dark Lord. Done his bidding, served him well, stabbed those in the back who deserved stabbing, and slowly, but surely, climbed high into his Lord’s Inner Circle.

Now, he could partake of his rewards. It was only just. The world was right again, with mudbloods and muggles screaming under him, and his mighty race leading the world into a new, golden era.

A weird tinkling sound broke Rosier out of his reverie, he chose to ignore it and he returned to his decadent thoughts.

Then, the pub’s door was sent flying inwards, until it came to a crashing halt against the bar. He couldn’t ignore that.

“Halt! Who goes there?” He slurred, drawing his wand out and waving it around blearily. He was clearly inebriated. Alcohol and mudblood blood had a way of going to his head, but he was sure he could take on any muggle who chose to stand against him, no matter how drunk he was. Plus, it increased his pain tolerance and made him fight better. “Show yourself or get ready to die a slow death. No prizes for guessing what I’d prefer,” he chuckled to himself and shot a quick spell at Evans to wake him up. He didn’t want his partner to blame him for keeping all the muggles for himself. Torture, his partner believed, was more fun shared.

*****

“After you, sire.”

“I’m not sure I’m comfortable leaving my back open to you,” James said staring at John, taking in his smug grin. The man was relaxed, behaving as if it was nothing more than an evening stroll by the sea with his smokes. He walked languidly, like a cat, and his eyes held too much mirth and mischief than was proper while walking into what was most definitely a nest of feral rodents – or vipers, in this case.

“That’s the smartest thing you’ve said all night, squire,” John winked.

John Constantine walked ahead, the remnants of the ward-lines flickering and fizzing against the edges of his ochre trench-coat. He took a long drag of his silk cut before the entrance to the pub. “Ready or not, here we come,” he whispered to the night air.

Then, he smashed one boot against the rust-ridden door and sent it flying inside the dingy pub.

*****

“Halt! Who goes there?” A harsh, guttural voice fell on his ears, and James knew he had found his quarry. “Show yourself, or prepare to die a slooooow death. I’d much prefer the latter.”

“Big talk from a man who’s about to beg for mercy very soon,” John said in that nauseatingly arrogant voice of his.

“Oh yeah? You and what army?” slurred the man.

“This army,” John waved a hand behind him toward the shadows, where James was lurking. “Come in, James. Join the party. Don’t be shy.”

James growled at having his hiding spot given away, but he followed the man’s instructions and stepped into the flickering neon light of the pub. What he saw almost made him lose the contents of his stomach, and he had seen the aftermath of bloody battles, wearisome wars and depressing famines. But none of them had made him sick to his stomach like the carnage before him. Calling it a slaughter would be kind. It was obvious that the people here did not have the slightest chance to defend themselves. They had been the everyday Londoners, out for a pint after a hard day, but all they’d found was a tortuous death at the hands of the two bored, hungry and horny Death Eaters. They never stood a fighting chance. Their fates were inevitable when the two wizards decided to stop here, and that made it all the more depressing.

“What a waste of human life,” James muttered, surveying the carnage.

“I agree,” said one of the Death Eaters as he licked his wooden wand, sucking the drops of blood from it. He had a scar below one eye, and a part of his left ear was missing.

“I was talking about you two,” James added as he drew his Walther P99 and pointed it at the wizard.

“Oooh, the muggle has a gun. Whatever shall we do?” asked the second wizard. A black patch covered one of his eyes, and a scarred swastika lay on his forehead. He had white hair flecked with strands of midnight black. “I’m so scared, Rosier. Save me from the nasty muggle.”

Rosier chuckled at his friend’s antics and raised his wand. He was about to say something when John Constantine spoke. And when John Constantine spoke, you listened.

“You shouldn’t worry about James, Evans. You should worry about me,” said John, still puffing on his cigarette. Did they ever get over, James wondered.

“And who are you, prey tell?” smirked Evans, his wand out and pointed at John.

“My name’s John fucking Constantine, and you’re fucked.”

*****

Evans pouted and tapped a finger against his head, miming the action of deep thought. Then, he suddenly straightened and blurted, “Nah, doesn’t ring a bell. Do you know any John Constantine, Rosier?”

“Na, but I know this James Bond fella. Works for the Queen as some sorta spy. He’s related to the muggle-loving Prewitts. Y’know, the ones we got the other day,” Rosier said rubbing the scar below his eye. It had a habit of itching at the most inopportune of times. Cursed thing. “Reckon we should do him in and make it a package deal. Wrap up the whole family together.”

“That sounds delicious, Rosier, much like the muggle. You have the best ideas,” Evans commented, spittle flying from his lips. “Y’think he’s a screamer? I think he’s a screamer.”

“We’ll just have to find out, won’t we?” Rosier smiled, the motion twisting his face into weird shapes, making it look like something out of a horror movie.

That was when John Constantine struck.

Digging a knife out of his coat, he cut the electricity lines. The pub fell into darkness, except for a neon sign over the dead bartender’s head which was fuelled by some other source. Before either of the Death Eaters could react, he closed in on them and stamped on Evans’ foot, making him yelp and drop his wand. John picked it up and broke it in two. Then, he shoved both halves of the wand into its owner’s eye. “Lights out, squire,” he winked at the other Death Eater and before he pushed the blind wizard into his shocked friend.

“Told you lads you should worry about me, didn’t I?” John said, bringing out another of his silk cuts, lighting it up and taking long drags on it as Evans’ screams filled the room.

*****

The muggle stood shocked at his friend’s brutality. Rosier had heard about the infamous James Bond. A name like that carried weight even in supernatural circles, and it had been their job to finish him off with the rest of his family, but he had never heard of John Constantine. And now, he wished it had remained that way. He wished he had never met the man. Never heard of him. There was an aura of casual danger around the government agent, but there was something far more sinister about the man in the trenchcoat who had so casually crippled his friend.

“Episkey,” Rosier muttered, trying to stop his colleague’s eye-sockets from leaking blood. It was the only healing spell he knew, and though it would be of no use in healing his blindness, it was a darn sight better than letting the man flail and bleed to death.

“Control yourself, Evans. We’ll heal you once I deal with these wretches and get you out of here,” Rosier growled, but it was to no avail. His friend continued screeching until he smashed his head against the broken, open skull of the bartender, and he fell to the ground moaning and sniffling in pain. Rosier had made grown men cry and seen sights that would have made the stomach of a lesser person turn, but hearing his friend – and sometime bed-mate – broken and snivelling on the ground broke something inside him.

“If you wanted to heal your friend, you shouldn’t have used the healing spell. Now you’ve closed the nerves, and they’ll never reconnect to the eyeballs, even if you somehow manage to grow them back,” said John Constantine with that terrible grin of his. “Should’ve thought that through, squire.”

Evans’ sniffles and whines filled the air. Rosier had hoped he would be too out of it to hear John’s words, but it had turned out to be a false hope. He felt something wet against his trousers, and then his cloak. He shivered as a horrible stench filled the air. Was it due to fear? Was he afraid? No. He was a Death Eater of the Inner Circle. One of the Dark Lord’s finest, and a torturer more skilled than Lestrange, no matter what the deranged bitch thought. He had taken on the Prewitt twins and taken those fearsome brothers down with contemptible ease. He wouldn’t fall to a muggle and a charlatan. The only reason Evans was a broken, crippled sod was because he hadn’t paid attention to his surroundings. He had gotten complacent. But Rosier wouldn’t make the same mistake. No sire.

“Avada Kedavra,” Rosier screamed, bringing his wand bearing down on the muggle. He continued the same twisting motion and curved his wand into a crucio towards John Constantine. The muggle leapt out of the spell’s way, but his cruciatus struck John straight in the chest. “See how you like that, bitch,” Rosier whispered at the conman and slashed his wand immediately towards the agent in a roar of sectumsempra. The muggle leapt behind an upturned table, but the force of the spell shattered it to smithereens, showering the man in a hurricane of splinters and debris. Rosier didn’t wait, he kept his assault up with the Torture Chain, his prized creation. It consisted of two crucio maximas curving into one another, following the sectumsempra. The spell motions would in turn give way into a quick bone-breaker, which would turn into an organ-liquefier, followed by a lung piercer, which would lead to a blood-boiler, before ending in a flurry of 3 random organ-expelling jinxes, depending on the wand motion. It had brought down many an opponent for Rosier. Each spell was specialized to bring excruciating pain to the victim, but together, the spell-chain could even give the Dark Lord pause.

But the muggle was a different story. He leapt, skipped and jumped out of the way of spells, not staying in one place, like most wizards. He was unafraid, and he was somehow able to judge the trajectory of every spell, moving just so out of the range, letting them whizz past him harmlessly. When he couldn’t move out of the way, he hid behind one of the many tables and corpses, having no qualms of desecrating the dead, like most would.

His spell-chain exhausted, Rosier stood panting, hands on his knees. It was the first time his chain had failed in landing a hit. He was about to retaliate with another quicker spell-burst, willing to bring the nastiness down a notch just to get some hits in, but his opponent hadn’t remained idle. The moment Rosier had stopped to take a few gulps of breath, James had sprung into action. The agent’s gun began firing indiscriminately, and it was only instinct which made Rosier bring up his shield at the last moment. Bang.

Bang.

Bang.

Bang.

Four bullets impacted against his silver shield in a fury of light and sound, but none made it through. Rosier smirked. He had worried needlessly. No matter his speed and agility, in the end, James Bond was a muggle, and his primitive weapons were no match for one of Grindlewald’s elites. He had faced them during the previous war. They hadn’t harmed him then, and they wouldn’t harm him now. He grinned before the chuckles grew into full-blown laughter. John Constantine must be screaming in agony having taken the cruciatus head-on, and soon, 007 would be screaming too.

That’s when he noticed the eerie silence in the room. There was no screaming. In fact, there was no noise at all. Not John’s yells. Not Evans’ sniffles. The sound of silence rang heavy in the room.

He looked around and realized nothing had gone to plan. The muggle stood unscathed, his gun smoking in his hand. The conman lounged on a bar table, that damnable grin still on his face. He even held a glass of ale in his hand, and he had the temerity to mock-salute Rosier with cheers from his place. The bastard.

But that wasn’t the worst thing.

The worst thing was the sounds coming from Evans. Or rather, their absence. He wasn’t screaming or whining or snivelling anymore. And it wasn’t because he had found a miraculous cure of any sort.

No. It was because of the bullet-shaped hole in his head. While Rosier had defended himself easily from the spy’s bullets, in the flashes of light and roar of the gun, he’d missed the final bang from the gun held in Bond’s other hand. It had struck Evans and blown his head off his shoulders. His brains littered the bar, right beside the bartender, who had suffered the same fate at the Death Eater’s wand a few hours ago.

Karma. Poetic Justice. Fate. Whatever one would call it, Rosier did not like it. It left a bad taste in his mouth, reminiscent of his own mortality tinged with the loss of something important. Only in his partner’s death did Rosier realize that he had actually cared deeply for the man, and he had been much more than just a bed-mate to keep the chill away on cold nights. Perhaps…perhaps Rosier had even loved him, as tasteless and horrible as that sounded. And how…how had his crucio not affected Constantine?

Who were these men?

“That, exactly that what you are feeling right now, I want you to remember that feeling for the rest of your short life. I want you to remember it, and I want you to know that it was a simple muggle and his friend who did that to you. Who took away what was most precious to you,” Bond said. His tone was level, but his eyes were grey, like unyielding steel. There was hatred in those eyes. “You took down my cousins, they were the last of my family, now I’ve taken what’s most precious to you.”

Bond’s words hit a nerve and Rosier brought his wand slashing down in a mindless scream. His thoughts were a haze. A red mist had descended upon his vision and all he wanted to do was go berserk and destroy those who had taken away something of his. Something he owned. No one, no one was supposed to harm him. Not anymore, not since he had gotten rid of his hateful father, the man with those roaming hands.

“Die. Diediediediediediedeidie!” Rosier yelled foaming at his mouth as he waved his wand towards the two, the Killing Curse playing again and again in his mind. Flashes of green lit up the room, but none hit their mark. He tried to control his anger and direct the spell. He focussed on the agent and moved his wand in the right motions, but just as he was about to unleash the spell, two cracks sounded in the room, and then he fell to the ground.

“Nice hit there, sport,” John commented. “You kneecapped the sod.”

“Couldn’t let you work whatever nastiness you wanted to on him, Constantine,” James levelled his stare at the conman.

“You haven’t stopped me yet, 007,” Constantine answered, his own words cold as ice.

“I’ll stop you with force if I have to,” James answered. “Taking them down – even killing them – is one thing. But you mean to do something much worse; I can see it in your eyes. I’m not sure I can allow you to do that, John.”

“I don’t need your permission, agent,” John sneered, his eyes flashing dangerously. “I may be here as a favour to M to save your skin, to save you from going up in a cloud of smoke, but I have my own reasons for being here, and I won’t let these bastards get off so easily. Evans was lucky, but I’ll take my pound of flesh from Rosier.”

“What did they do to you, Constantine?” Bond asked, a hint of wariness in his voice, unsure if he truly wanted to know what horrors the Death Eaters had wrought.

 “Evans had a granddaughter. Lily was a precious, gentle young girl, much like the flower. She was like a daughter to me. ‘Twas the happiest day of my life when she found true love and married a man – your namesake – James. I was at the wedding. I blessed them from afar, unwilling to sully the purity of the proceedings with my hell-forsaken presence. Later on, they had a lovely boy by the name of Harry. The very definition of a happy family. Then, one day, the Dark Lord came for them. He tore through their wards like they were butter. These two helped. Evans worked on his own granddaughter and her child before the Voldyfuckingmort gave them the release of death. It was the sign of his ultimate victory. It was the day Britain fell to the dark. And it was the day Voldemort and his pets signed their own death warrants because that’s when the fucking Hellblazer decided to follow their bloody trail and make them pay. Is that reason enough for you, Bond, because if it isn’t, I promise I won’t hesitate to put you down if you get in my way.”

James heard the man, his eyes pinched close. The words weighed heavy on him. To torture your own kin, to put your own family through such hell, to not even spare an innocent kid…no punishment would be enough for these bastards. His cousins had been fighters, warriors. There was always a chance they could die in a conflict for their ideals, but this Harry, he had just been a newborn. He did not deserve such pain.

“Pop open the Gates of Hell and I’ll gladly throw these bastards in for you, Constantine.”

John saw the truth in Bond’s eyes and nodded. Then, he turned his back to the whimpering Rosier and threw his burning silk cut on the Death Eater.

“Sine ut mortui surgere et accipere munus mihi,” with those words, John exited the room. “My work here is done. You’d best come out with me, Bond. They won’t discriminate between you and Rosier.”

James Bond followed Constantine outside. The cool night breeze splashed against him like fresh sea waves, intoxicating, washing off the stench of death, decay and blood which permeated the walls of the pub. Once Bond was outside, Constantine slammed shut the doors of La mort Èmeraude

“Who are you talking about?” James asked, as sounds of something crawling on the ground emanated from inside. They were followed by moaning and crunching sounds before a harrowing scream filled the night. It was the tortured shriek of one who had seen true horror.

“No! No! Not you too, Evans! Noooooooooooooo!”

Then, the voice faded into incoherent screeches and yells.

“What did you do?” asked Bond, trying to keep his centre, trying to keep himself steady, when he was anything but.

“Just gave the Death Eater a taste of his own medicine. Karma came calling for Rosier from beyond the grave, and it was hungry. Once the night is dead, the denizens of La mort Èmeraude will be able to rest easily, their hunger sated.”

“You-you raised the dead?” James asked, shock writ on his face.

“Less raised, more called. They were hanging around the place, angry. I just gave direction to their anger, to their desire for violence, and opened a gate for them to get to their tormentor. ‘Twas better than letting them stay there and become Revenants to haunt the place for eons and hurt innocents who would come down this way.”

To that, James Bond, veteran of countless missions, executioner of numerous villains, one of the only holders of a License to Kill, had nothing to say.

“Shut your gob, squire. It’s unbecoming for one of M’s men,” Constantine winked at him.

“I think M would have more issue with you raising the dead and letting them feast on Death Eaters than my lack of decorum or manners,” James said, dropping his gun in its holder.

“Mansfield probably would. The Dame is a bit of a stickler about rules like that,” Constantine agreed. “But I was talking about Mycroft.” With that, the mage pulled up another of his silk cuts and turned to Bond. “Now, got a light?”

James just stared at the man exasperatedly. Then, he pulled a lighter from his pants and lit Constantine’s cigarette. “I need a drink,” he muttered.

“Perfect,” John replied. “I know a bloody good place just someways from here. Let’s go. My treat. Gotta make use of the cash I grabbed from Dumb and Dumber inside.” He waved a few gold coins at Bond and winked.

James signed and followed the man in resignation, though a wry smile flitted on the agent’s face.

And as the two men walked away under the twinkling lights of London, leaving behind a silence disturbed only by the final throes of a Death Eater, hell blazed through the night-time streets of the city.

A city haunted by its denizens, a city which haunted its denizens.

The End

Note: This is a non-profit piece written as a writing exercise. John Constantine belongs to Vertigo and DC, Death Eaters belong to JK Rowling (though she may not like them), and James Bond belongs to the Fleming Estate, while Mycroft belongs to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Only the plot belongs to me. London, meanwhile, belongs to itself and its inhabitants. This is just a piece of fanfiction written as homage to the legends and the characters they have created, not for profit. Hope you had a good time reading Lights of London. 

Conversations With A Fool

Conversations with a Fool and William Shakespeare

“Hello there, old sport!”

“Erm, are you talking to me?”

“Yes, yes, of course I am talking to you. Who else is here on this godforsaken pier at this godforsaken hour, you godforsaken fool?”

“Hey, there’s no need to be rude you know. Hmph.”

“Oh, do not walk away, good sir. I apologize. My tongue has a habit of running off without thought.”

“So keep it on a leash.”

“Good idea, good sir.”

“Hey, hey, stop! What are you doing? What the hell are you doing?”

“Kweepwing ith ohn a lweash, ash you shaid.”

“Not like that! Get that bloody rope out of your mouth. What in the blazes is wrong with you, man?”

“Huh. Then how did you mean it? You really should explain things better, you know.”

“It was a figure of speech!”

“Huh, you should’ve said so. I thought you are being literal. I’m new to these parts, if you didn’t notice.”

“Yeah, what’s with that attire anyway? The Elizabethan ages called. They want their dresses back.”

“Really?”
“No, not really. I was being facetious. Sheesh, are you thick or something?”

“I told you I’m new here, you greasy ignoramus!”
“So wha–Hey, hey, put that spear away. Hey, I was just joking! Hey!”

“What were you saying?”

“Hey, I was joking. Put that away. Put it away! I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

“Dance. Dance, you stupid starveling, you stock fish!”

“I’m sorry, please. Let me live, please!”

“Will you answer me properly now, you three-inch fool?”

“Yes, yes. I’ll do anything, just please don’t kill me!”

“Good. Good. So, where am I?”

“You’re in Mumbai, man. How drunk were you to not notice which city you landed up in?”

“Mumbai? What is Mumbai? Is it in France?”
“No, it’s in India, man. France is half a world away.”

“What is India?”

“It’s a country. You weren’t joking when you said you’re new here. Are you an alien or something? Haha”

“An alien? Like an alius? I suppose I am a stranger in a brave, new world.”

“Really? What’s your name them?”

“William. William Shakespeare.”

“…”

“Hello, are you okay? Hello? Hey, have you fainted or are you dead? Hey?”

*****

And that, is how I met one Mr. William Shakespeare, and how he moved into this island city, right by the shores of the Arabian Sea.

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

Image Source

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.

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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