Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Banished Secret: Chapter Six


Aditya sat in a corner, feeling out of place and bored. Abhijith was dancing with a girl whom he remembered having seen once or twice around the campus. Vina was flirting with one of the boys from their class named Aakash and Shyam was nowhere to be found. Everyone else in the room was a stranger to him.

He was wondering if it might be polite to leave and was looking around to see if he can spot Shyam anywhere when a stranger came and sat down on a chair next to him.

Hi,” said the man. “You are Abhijith’s brother, aren’t you?”

Aditya looked at the man. He had never seen him before. He was tall, with a pleasant open face, and pair of very keen eyes.

Yes,” Aditya said. “But how did you know?”

The stranger chuckled. “Easy to spot the resemblance. I’m Savit, by the way. I’m not from the college, I’m a family friend of Shyam. That’s how I met Abhijith.”

Aditya nodded.

You’re a professor? What do you teach?” Savit asked.

Economics,” Aditya replied, nearly suppressing a groan.

I’m a total ignoramus where that is concerned,” Savit grinned. “Just scraped through with pass marks in school.”

Aditya smiled faintly.

You’re not drinking,” Savit observed.

I have to drive home,” Aditya answered.

Hmm… and your parents are on holiday, I heard.”

Not exactly. They have gone to visit our grandparents.”

I see,” Savit said, smiling. “Well, nice talking to you Aditya. Be seeing you around,”

Aditya heaved a sigh of relief as Savit disappeared into the crowd of dancing youngsters. But the sigh turned into a groan as Aakash sat down onto the vacant seat with an ingratiating smile.

"Here you are," a strange girl with a bright smile said as she grabbed hold of Aakash before he even greeted Aditya. With a muttered apology, Aakash went with the girl.

"Enjoying?" Shyam took the seat.

"Would you feel offended if I say no?"

Shyam shrugged. "Not really. Abhijith did warn me you were kinda anti-social."

"I'm not, but I'm not comfortable with people I don't know."

"Come and have dinner then. Buffet is arranged outside. You can go home afterwards."

"Abhijith planning to stay here tonight?"

"I think so. We'll be glad to have you too, you know."

"I think I'll go. I dread having to make small talk to people I don't know."

Shyam laughed. "Well, Saina saved you from Aakash, didn't she? You didn't have to make any small talk."

"Not with him. But there was no one to save me from that Savit guy."

"Savit?"

"He said he was a family friend."

"Oh him! Yea. He's a bore. Come to think of it, he wanted to stay the night too. And so did a couple of others." Shyam frowned. "Abhijith will need to go home. How am I even going to explain that?"

Aditya chuckled. "How fortunate l did not take you up on your invitation!"

"I'm bad at organizing," Shyam grimaced. "I will need to sleep on the couch too. Never mind. You go have your dinner. I shall bring Abhijith too."

"He won't be happy," Aditya muttered.

"No, he won't. I'm hoping he'll..." Shyam's brow cleared. "I got it! I'll come with you two. I just need to throw a few things in a bag. How lucky tomorrow is a holiday!"

"What? But it's your birthday! You can't just leave your guests and go like that!"

"Vina will manage them. She owes me one anyway. And mum and dad won't mind too much. You did meet my parents, didn't you?"

"Yes, when we came in. Haven't seen them since."

"Oh, they'll be around somewhere. They don't enjoy this crowd, but they enjoy parties."

"Well, if you're sure, you're welcome to come with us."

"Thanks big bro." Shyam flashed him a smile.

Friday, May 4, 2018

The Banished Secret: Chapter Five


Arnava stepped into the room cautiously. The room was empty. The entire building was deserted as seemed evident from its dilapidated condition. Yet, he had been told to come here. He pushed open the window, which protested with a creak, but still opened. One of the panes was stuck, and Arnava desisted from using force to open it. The slanting rays of the evening sun filtered in through the half open window. Arnava moved to the other side and pushed aside the moth eaten curtains. The dust made him cough. There was a balcony beyond that had been boarded up.

He wondered who had placed the note on his room and why. Why had he been asked to come here? And by whom? He had burned the note, but still remembered what was written on it. It had directed him to come here at sunset if he wanted to save his brothers from disaster. What disaster? He could not understand. He heard a noise and whipped around, arrow nocked. A hooded and cloaked figure stood just inside the room. He felt a prickle that might have been fear. He had not heard its approach. It? He did not know why he thought of this person as it.

"Who are you?" He demanded, not lowering his bow. "What disaster threatens my brothers?"

"Impatient," the voice sent shivers down his spine. It was like no human voice he'd ever heard. "So impatient you are, yet, some things are revealed only at the appropriate time."

"Then why did you ask me to come?"

"The usurper you have taken into your midst must be killed! You must kill him! Or he will be the death of you all!"

"What usurper?"

"The one named Bhaskara! Kill him! Or he will kill you all!"

He’s our brother!”

He’s death and destruction! He’s not worthy! He must die!”

Arnava released the arrow, fury coursing through him. The arrow passed through the figure and buried itself on the wall. The hood and cloak crumpled to the floor. There was nothing underneath. He lowered his arm and wiped his brow. His heart was hammering. He had no idea what he just faced. But he knew he had to get back to the palace before his father or brothers noticed his absence.

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Banished Secret: Chapter Four


Abhijith moaned in his sleep. He was having a nightmare. He and Aditya were walking on top of a cliff. A giant bird swooped down and took Aditya up in his claws.

"I shall get rid of him for you!" The voice rumbled like thunder.

"No!" He screamed as he woke. He stared around wildly. He sprang out of his bed and ran to his brother's room. He opened the door without knocking.

Aditya was fast asleep, one of his legs dangling from the side of the bed. The bed clothes were in disorder as if he had been tossing and turning. Abhijith frowned. Was Aditya having a nightmare too?

Aditya groaned in his sleep.

Abhijith went to him and shook him. "Wake up, you're having a nightmare!"

Aditya clutched his arm as he opened his eyes. There was a wild look in his eyes which were unfocussed.

"Arnava!"

"Aditya, it’s me, Abhijith."

Aditya's gaze focussed on his face. "Abhijith?"

"Yes, you were having a nightmare."

"Yea… Thanks…. but what are you doing in my room?"

"I had a nightmare. I... I came to check if you were all right."

"I'm fine," Aditya said and was surprised as he was pulled into a hug. Abhijith clung to him fiercely.

"Hey," Aditya’s voice was gentle. "I'm all right, you know."

"It seemed so real,"

"They always do, but they are not. They disappear as soon as we wake."

"I know," Abhijith relaxed, "it's strange that we both should have had nightmares on the same night,"

"Yes. I'm gonna kill mom." Aditya released his brother.

Abhijith chuckled, "She's not even here. What did she do?"

"For not telling me that guzzling ice cream before bed can cause nightmares!" Aditya said in an injured tone.

"You think the ice cream caused our nightmares?"

"What else could it have been?"

"I so enjoyed eating it."

"So did I," Aditya said. "But you know, we did not finish it."

"May be that's why we are having nightmares. Our subconscious could be telling us that we forgot to finish the ice cream!"

"Let's finish it!" Aditya sprang up from the bed.

Abhijith chuckled. "Remember how dad says there's always something that brings out the kid in us?"

"Yea. For me it's ice cream!"

"For me too!" Abhijith laughed as he followed Aditya to the kitchen, all nightmares forgotten.

***


Hi big bro,” chorused the two in unison as they plopped in front of Aditya. Aditya looked up, somewhat bemused, from the book he was reading. Shyam and Vina gave him identical smiles.

Big bro?” he asked. “Where did that come from?”

When we’re in class, we do call you professor,” Shyam replied with a cheeky grin. “But here, I think we should be allowed to call you what we want.”

I’m not foolish enough to argue with your generation,”

Ooh! Gramps!” Vina exclaimed.

Ha ha,” Aditya said in a bored voice. “So, why have the terrible twins chosen to honour me with a visit?”

To invite you to our birthday party,” Shyam replied. “Coming Sunday, evening 6, our place.”

Tomorrow is Sunday,” pointed out Aditya.

Yea, we know. That’s why we’re inviting you today,” Vina grinned.

Afterthought? I should be flattered.”

Come on, big bro,” Vina pouted. “Don’t be like that. You don’t have to bring anything. Just come,”

Aditya sighed. He hated parties. He hated crowds. He preferred books to people. But there was no getting out of this one.

Okay,” he said. “I’ll definitely come.”

No gifts,” Vina said, rising. “And if you really want to bring anything, I’m not at all choosy, anything would be fine.”

I’m picky,” Shyam said. “Just reminding,”

I’ll keep it in mind,” Aditya replied.

He watched as they walked away and shook his head, looking regretfully at the half finished book. The cafeteria at the college was always deserted at this time which was why he preferred to be there. But if he was to go shopping for gifts, there was no way for him to finish his book today.

Shyam didn’t waste any time in calling Abhijith and telling him about inviting Aditya to the party.

"You what?" Abhijith was surprised.

"Invited your brother for our birthday, so be sure to bring him when you come."

Abhijith looked at the phone, wondering if Shyam was pulling his leg. "I was planning to come over early, and help you with all the arrangements."

"Nah, you relax, we have it all under control. You be on time with our professor Aditya."

"Is this some underhanded trick to get on his good side to improve your grades? If so, I must warn you that you're wasting your time."

Shyam laughed. "Don't impute underhanded tricks, Abhijith. Not to your best buddies anyway. Would we do something like that?"

"Without any shame and without any doubt," Abhijith snorted.

"This is just an attempt to have a social contact with your brother."

Yeah, right.” Abhijith scoffed.

I’m serious.”

"My brother hates social occasions. Just thought I'd let you know."

"Why the hell did he become a teacher, then? Not that he's bad at it, but it's hardly the kind of job for an introvert."

"Why don't you ask him?"

Shyam chuckled. "Sounds like you didn't like us inviting him."

Abhijith sighed. "It's not that. It’s just that Aditya is really, really, uncomfortable in social gatherings. He avoids them like the plague. I know the kind of games you guys get up on your birthday. I don't want Aditya embarrassed."

"Oh," Shyam said. "Point noted and taken. Don't worry. We'll see to it that your brother has a good time and nothing else."

"Where's Vina?"

"Gone to invite boyfriend number-I don't know, what is the number right now?"

Abhijith laughed. "You're asking me? She's your sister!"

"Yea, and I do have better things to do than count the number of boyfriends she's had till date."

Abhijith chuckled. "She does run through them, doesn't she?"

"Yes, and she's quite happy doing it. As long as that remains, I don't care. Bye for now, Abhijith. I need to make a few calls,"

"Bye," Abhijith said as he hung up.

Friday, April 13, 2018

The Banished Secret: Chapter Three


They came out of nowhere. Bhaskara frowned as he saw that their faces were covered. They were armed with swords and daggers. And he was unarmed.

His eyes swept the area just as the men closed on him, their strides measured. The temple was deserted at this time in the evening. The sun had already gone down.

They were very near him now.

"Who are you? What do you want?" He asked.

"We are your death!" one of them said even as he lunged at Bhaskara with his sword. Bhaskara caught the blade with one hand. The enchantment on him prevented injury to his palm, but the pain was there. He grimaced but did not relax his grip as his other hand clenched to a fist and slammed into the man's jaw in the same instant. The man's grip on the sword slackened and Bhaskara yanked it from his hand, transferring the hilt to his palm and taking a defensive stance. His attackers hung back a bit, since he was armed now. The owner of the sword snarled and lunged at him and Bhaskara slashed him across the chest.

With a shriek, he went down. One of his fellows bent down and slit his throat with his dagger.

"We don't want noises, here!" He said as he rose.

"Why are you after me?" Bhaskara asked. "Who sent you?"

"Wouldn't you like to know?" another one jeered.

They attacked together, with sword and dagger. Bhaskara had no time even to think as he fended them off with everything he had. But he knew that he would not be able to sustain this for long.

"Hey!" There was a shout and then an arrow pierced the heart of the man on the right flank.

"Run!" One shrieked, as they fled from the arrows.

Bhaskara thrust the sword into the ground and stood with his hand on it, breathing heavily.

"Are you all right?" Arnava sounded anxious as he came running to his brother.

Bhaskara nodded, too winded to speak.

"Who were they? Why were they attacking you?" Arnava asked.

"I have no idea," Bhaskara said as he straightened.

He looked around him. There were five corpses there, including the first man and two had arrows sticking from their bodies.

"Thank you," he said.

"Don't thank me!" Burst out Arnava. "I am sorry I didn't get them all!"

Bhaskara bent down and ripped the cloth covering the dead man's face. He frowned. The man was a total stranger.

"Do you know him?" Arnava asked.

Bhaskara shook his head.

"Let's go home," Arnava spoke, pulling at his arm. "It's getting dark. We shall send some of our guards here to remove the corpses and to examine them. There's nothing we can do here."

They walked away from the temple.

"Kill him! Why did you save him!" A voice echoed in Arnava's head.

"No! He's my brother!"

"He's your death! Kill him before he kills you!"

"No!"

Friday, April 6, 2018

The Banished Secret: Chapter Two



"Life sucks!" Declared Abhijith to his older brother. Aditya lifted his eyebrows but did not answer. Abhijith was normally even tempered and sunny, but he too had bad days.

Abhijith was a handsome young man of around twenty. Though he was lounging on the couch, looking fairly indolent, he did have a good physique. He was tall and loose limbed. His dusky complexion only enhanced the brilliance of his eyes and smile. Aditya too looked much the same as his brother, except that he was at least ten years older and his complexion was molten gold. But apart from that, they looked exactly like the other. Abhijith had rather high cheekbones which apart from skin colour, seemed to be the only thing that set them apart. On his bad days, Abhijith used to remark sourly that their mother loved Aditya so much, she gave birth to his xerox copy ten years later. Except that the settings were off, so the copy came out dark and not quite the same. Rochan and Achla used to laugh at Abhijith's statement. But not Aditya.

Aditya wondered if it was going to be one of those days.

"It really sucks!" Abhijith repeated.

"What happened?" Aditya asked.

"That old professor of yours," Abhijith said moodily. "That Prof Alex. He’s never satisfied. Whatever I do is never enough. The other day he asked me if I was really your brother!"

Aditya chuckled. "He’s like that with everyone. He asked me once if I was really dad's son!" He winked at Abhijith. "It's his style. Don't let it get to you."

"I don't care for his style," Abhijith muttered. "Thank God he's retiring this month!"

"Who's coming to replace him, do you know?"

"No, and I don't see why you should be bothered. You are free of it!"

Aditya laughed. "Do you think only students have it tough?"

"I tend to forget you are a teacher these days," Abhijith moaned. "I don't know why teachers forget all about their own student days as soon as they stand on the other side of the desk!"

"The same reason why parents forget all about their childhood as soon as their first child is born," Aditya replied.

"That’s so true," Abhijith said, grimacing. "Talking of parents, when are dad and mom returning? Do you know?"

Aditya shook his head. "But shouldn't you be concentrating on your assignment for Professor Alex? Granted, he's retiring at the end of the month, but he's certainly going to make your life miserable for the entire month if you don't turn it in on time."

"I know," Abhijith sighed. "I've finished it. Just some fine tuning required."

"What's your plan today?"

"Nothing much. Shyam wants me to go to his place. He and Vina are planning to watch some stupid mytho show."

"And you don't want to?" Aditya looked amused.

Abhijith grimaced. "I don't dig mythos. I don't even know why they hang out with me. We’ve absolutely nothing in common."

A bit too late to gripe on that, don’t you think? The three of you have been inseparable since primary school.”

Yea, but the differences were not so glaring then. Now… it’s as if we can’t agree on anything.”

"Life might be pretty boring if everyone agreed on everything," Aditya remarked.

"Please," Abhijith groaned. "Spare me the platitudes till later in the day."

Aditya laughed as the doorbell rang.“Must be your friends,” Aditya smiled.

I’ll be going then,” Abhijith said, sounding thoroughly disgruntled as he went to open his door.

Ready?” Shyam smiled brightly.

I suppose,”

Come on, sleepy head!” Vina laughed as she dragged him to their car.

Abhijith was feeling bored. Shyam and Vina were waxing eloquent about the actors and the costumes and stuff, but all he could see were a set of people dressed up in too bright clothes and a lot of unnecessary ornaments and too much glitter. He did not like their wigs either, and the dialogues made him yawn.

"Bored?" Shyam leaned against him.

"Oh, don't mind me," he said, yawning again. "You two carry on. You know I don't like this stuff."

Vina turned to look at them and rolled her eyes. "Perhaps we should have asked your brother to come."

"Aditya?" Abhijith chuckled. "He likes this stuff even less than I do!"

"Why don't you try to know the story?" Shyam suggested, his arm snaking around Abhijith’s waist. "You might find it interesting."

"Please," Abhijith said, groaning. "I can't read anything other than thrillers. You know that."

"Imagine this is a thriller, then. It is thrilling enough." Vina smirked.

"Yea, sure!" Abhijith laughed. "If that's a thriller, then I'm Ved Vyas!"

"Impressive!" Shyam laughed too. "So you know Ved Vyas' name!"

"Ha ha!" Abhijith said. "It’s a side effect of hanging around with you two!"

"It's a start!" Vina said, winking. "We'll make a mytho lover of you yet!"

"Why can't you two just take me as I am?" Abhijith asked plaintively, as his friends broke into laughter.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Banished Secret: Chapter One





The man stood before the King, head held high.

I come seeking my destiny,” he said. “I wish to offer my services to you, your majesty.”

The King smiled at the stranger. He was handsome, with a broad forehead, finely moulded lips, an aquiline nose, sharp cheekbones and a firm chin. His moustache was dark, and he had no beard. His hair was wavy and of shoulder-length. His stance was relaxed, yet vigilant, and his body was well muscled and well proportioned with broad shoulders, narrow hips and long limbs. His complexion was golden and his eyes held no fear. A longbow was slung on his shoulder, and a quiver of arrows was on his back. He wore a sword in a plain scabbard, and a dagger was strapped to his leg. He wore no armour, but was dressed plainly, in an angavastra and an uttariya was worn around his torso.

I admire your bravery,” he said. “But you must prove your skills before you can join my army. But before all that, tell me your name.”

My name is Bhaskara,” the man replied. “I’m an orphan and has been brought up by a sage who taught me the lore of the ancients as also warfare and weaponry.”

Bhaskara,” mused the King. “Has the name been given by your adoptive father?”

The man inclined his head in what might have been agreement. “How am I to prove myself?”

You shall fight against the best warrior in my kingdom. My son and heir, Arnava. Be not ashamed if you lose, for, he is the very best warrior in all of Bharatavarsha, and it is said there is no warrior in all fourteen worlds to equal him.”

Let his weapons and skill testify to that,” Bhaskara spoke with an easy confidence that bordered on arrogance.

King Mahakarma chuckled. “I like your confidence. A combat between you and Prince Arnava shall be arranged this week itself. Where do you stay?”

In a house in the West street.”

The King frowned. “That street has only broken down old buildings. No one stays there.”

I found a house that was not in much disrepair, and made it habitable,” Bhaskara shrugged. “I like my privacy.”

I would like to know one thing more,” the King said.

Bhaskara gave an inquiring lift of his eyebrows in response.

You say you are a warrior, well versed in warcraft. Yet, how is it that your body remains unblemished? There are no scars on you that I can see.”

A powerful enchantment has been placed on me by my mother before she died. The sage who brought me up told me that she was an enchantress. The enchantment is protective in nature, and as a result, I cannot be harmed by any weapon forged by man or god or demon.”

The King gasped aloud. Surely, this could not be! He looked at the young man closely. No wonder he looked familiar.

Has the sage told you the name of your mother?” the King asked, trying hard to keep his voice from trembling. His mind was in turmoil. This young man could not be the result of his indiscretion so long ago. Malavika had warned him how it would be, but he had not listened. His lust for her was so strong, that he had forgotten he had a wife and a son.

Bhaskara’s expression turned stony. “I do not see what my mother’s name has to do with anything.”

Was her name Malavika?” the King asked. He had to know. And if this was indeed Malavika’s son, then… the King refused to think further. He prayed he was wrong, and that this stranger was the son of some other enchantress. But how many enchantresses could there be capable of weaving an enchantment that rendered its subject invulnerable to weapons, fire or water?

How do you know that?” Bhaskara’s eyes were hard and glittered with suspicion.

Because I’m your father,” King Mahakarma said. “And you… you are my eldest living son, and as such heir to this Kingdom,” his voice was heavy, but he knew Arnava would not mind. He had never been interested in being King. Sumitra would not mind either. His head was full of art, and music, and he was interested in nothing else. But he was worried about the reaction of his youngest, Maitreya. Maitreya was not ambitious for himself, but he was fiercely loyal to Arnava. If only Mahabala, his eldest had survived the childhood ailment that had foiled the best efforts of all royal physicians… He hated having to do this, but this was his son, and it was not Bhaskara’s fault that his father had been weak and lustful and unfaithful to his wife.

My father?” Bhaskara’s face held incredulity. The entire court was so silent, Mahakarma could hear his own heart beat loudly. Bhaskara looked around, as if searching for an escape route. He had a hunted look, and somehow, that made Mahakarma laugh.

Don’t look as if you’re about to be executed,” he said through chuckles. “You are the heir to the throne, after all.”

There has to be some mistake,” Bhaskara insisted, his voice quivering.

Mahakarma shook his head. “Not unless there are two Malavikas who are enchantresses and who knew an enchantment to make their subject invulnerable.”

Bhaskara looked resigned. “The sage told me he’d never heard of such an enchantment,” he admitted. “He said he knew of no one else who could have cast it.”

I know,” Mahakarma said quietly. “That was why I sought her, but she told me the enchantment would cost her her life.”

Bhaskara’s expression suddenly became vulnerable, as if someone had suddenly stabbed him, and Mahakarma felt a moment’s sorrow. “You mean she gave her life to put this enchantment on me?”

Mahakarma nodded. Neither of them spoke for a moment. Then Mahakarma rose. “Pradhanamantrin, Senapati, Sthapathi, Rajaguru, make arrangements for my son’s stay in the palace, for announcing the arrival of the Yuvaraja to the people, for conducting Pujas at the temple, and for familiarizing him with the kingdom and the army.” he paused. “Come with me, Bhaskara. I must introduce you to your brothers.” For the first time, Mahakarma was grateful that his wife was no more.

Bhaskara stood as if rooted to the spot. Two royal guards were at his side. “Your highness?” One of them prompted gently. He looked at them strangely, and then at the King. Mahakarma gestured for him to follow as he walked out of the audience hall.


Monday, March 19, 2018

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