The Dungeon Captive

Hanuman thumped his staff on the ground and screamed. “Get your hands off me witch!”

“Watch your tongue hermit!” Zakhira raised her arm, palm-facing Hanuman. “That is the queen you are talking to.”

Shiv lowered Zakhira’s arm and gave her a fierce look. He turned to Hanuman “Hanuman what is going on?”

Hanuman hopped on his staff and scoffed. “It is not of your concern.” He looked at Esen and hovered up in the air and spoke before exiting the hole on the roof. “I’ll see you around Shiv.”

“Stupid hermit!” Esen slumped on her throne. “Come here dear.”

Zakhira walked forward and bowed before speaking. “As you requested.” She looked at Shiv and thought for a while thinking of what to address him. Should she call him a brethren, a half-blood, maybe a subject but all of these meant that he possessed some kind of power or ability. She did not observe anything that would justify that title. “I have brought the human.”

Esen urged Shiv to come forward with her hand. “I see you have been busy.” She glanced at his toned body and smiled. “Nigel has done a good job.”

“Thank you Esen.”

“Show your respects human!” Zakhira yelled.

“Control yourself Zakhira.” Esen touched Shiv’s long hair. It had grown long in the time since he had arrived. “Have you learned anything from Nigel?”

“We have been sparring.”

“Show me.” Esen looked over to one her guards. “You over there, fight him!”

The guard on the right stepped forward and bowed in front of Esen. He drew his large sword and swung at Shiv. Shiv dodged and rolled to his left. “What?!”

The guard moved in a flash and appeared behind Shiv he thrust his sword and Shiv sidestepped. “I don’t have any weapons!” Shiv dodged a series of thrusts and slashes until he was pinned up against the wall. The guard moved quickly and thrust his sword once more. Shiv jumped and landed on the blade of the sword. The guard looked up at him, his hood covering any form of expression on his face.  Shiv kicked the guard and he fell on the ground. The blade fell on the ground and Shiv landed on his knees. He looked at the guard and then at Esen. His smile revealed his delight, Nigel’s training had paid off.

“Where are your powers?” Esen asked.

“Didn’t you just see it?”

“What?” Esen looked at Zakhira. “Did you see anything?”

Zakhira shook her head. “No queen, this human has no powers.”

“No powers?”

“Yes.”

“That is impossible!”

“I do have powers, I beat up your trained guard with no weapons or armor.”

“Anyone can learn to fight.” Esen slammed her fist on her throne. She could hear Hanuman’s chuckle reverberating in her head. “This can’t be.” Esen waved her hand at the guard and he returned to his post after retrieving his blade.

“Nigel told me…”

“That oaf does not know anything.” Zakhira turned to Esen. “He is but a human and his kind have no business in our kingdom.”

“You sound like them.”

“It is true! He has no powers! What use is he to us?”

Esen massaged her temples. Zakhira was right, if Shiv cannot use his powers he was completely useless. But the old woman told her...Yes the old woman! “Zakhira.”

“Yes my queen.”

“You have to take him to the old woman on Craven’s peak.”

“The seer?”

“Yes.”

“What will he get from the seer?”

“His powers are hidden and the seer will show him the way.”

“But my queen!”

“Enough!” Esen raised her hand. “Do as you are told or you know what will happen.”

Zakhira frowned. “Yes my queen.” She disappeared into a small room behind the throne.

“The seer?” Shiv asked.

“She is one of the God’s, the power to see all.”

“If she is one of the God’s why will she help us?”

“Not all of the God’s want to hurt us. God’s are selfish, some like to create, others like to destroy.”

“And the seer?”

“Neither, she likes to watch. She had foretold a prophecy long ago and she has spent her whole life watching the event unfold.”

“Have you seen her?”

“Everyone has.”

“What will she tell me?”

“She will tell you many things, but be very careful.”

“Why?”

“You must find out what is the truth and what is a lie.”

“How will I do that?”

“Enough questions, you must get ready.” Esen waved her hand. “Anastacia!” A maid-servant appeared from a room to Esen’s right. The same maid servant that tended to Shiv since his arrival.

“Yes my queen.”

“Shiv needs to prepare for a trip. Make sure all the arrangements are taken care of.”

“Yes my queen.”

“Shiv.” Esen whispered in Shiv’s mind. “No one must know what I am about to tell you.”

Shiv nodded his head.

“After you have talked to the seer, I need you to kill her.”

Shiv turned to Esen with a look on his face that said why?

“She tells people what needs to be said to make the prophecy come to pass.”

“What prophecy?” Shiv asked in his mind.

“The death of us all.”

Shiv nodded his head and walked toward his chambers. He knew what had to be done but he did not understand it, he did not understand why. Many things in this world troubled him and he did not know why they needed him, why they did not just send him back to his home or why they took him in the first place. All he knew was that there is a struggle between the God’s and the half-bloods, that there is a war about to begin. Now he needed to find answers, his heart raced at the thought of discovering the truth. He felt nervous and light-headed. He reached his room and heard a voice.

“Shiv.”

Shiv turned around and looked around. All he saw were torches and shadows there was nothing else. “Who are you?”

Zakhira appeared from the shadows with a sullen look on her face. “What did the queen tell you?”

“You heard it all didn’t you?”

“Not what she said in your head.”

“I…”

“I know you don’t understand why you are here, truthfully I also don’t know why you are here.” Zakhira looked up at Shiv and the look in her eyes, the look of longing, like she wanted something from Shiv, something that had been forcefully taken away from her. “Shiv I need you to come with me.”

“But the trip? The quest…”

“This won’t take a minute.”

Zakhira held Shiv’s hand and led him down the hallways. They climbed down a tower of steps on their right. Through another hallway which was different. It was completely dark and had several iron gates one after the other. “Where are we going?”

“I need to open your eyes.”

“I can’t see a thing!”

“Don’t worry we are almost there.” Zakhira turned to Shiv and he noticed that her eyes were glowing yellow.

“Is that your ability? Glowing eyes?”

“You haven’t seen my ability yet human.”  Zakhira stopped short in front of a large iron gate.

This gate was different from the others, it was not built with bars but by a solid stab with four jewels embedded on all sides. “Were are we?”

“The dungeon.”

Zakhira planted her palm on the gate and recited a short incantation. The solid iron structure disappeared and a long narrow bridge appeared. “Just follow me.”

“Isn’t that what I am doing?”

“Every single step!”

“What?”

Zakhira pointed to the sides of the bridge. Shiv looked over the rails, it was completely dark and he could not see anything. “Where does it go?”

“Nowhere.”

“Nowhere? It has to go somewhere.”

“It is the Abyss of the Damned, anyone who falls over will never go anywhere. There is no escaping it.”

“Why is there something like this here?”

“Whoever falls in will stay there for the rest of their life, slowly being drained of their energy feeding the monster.”

“Monster?” More questions entered his mind and he needed answers, he wished that Zakhira would give him the answers that he was looking for.

Zakhira gripped tight on Shiv’s hand. “There is no time for that. Quickly follow me!”

Shiv followed Zakhira and like she said every step she took. He darted, hopped, skipped and made sure his feet landed on stones with odd symbols that he had never seen before. The scripts looked round, very soft with no sharp edges or lines.

“We are here.” Zakhira recited the same incantation she had previously. Torches burst into flames and lit up the whole area.

Shiv noticed that they were standing in a large floating island. He looked up and it was all empty just like it was below. He took a step forward and kicked on some chains. “Why are there chains?”

“This is a dungeon.”

“Is that the monster?”

“I am no monsssster.” A rough voice hissed.

“Who is there?”

A large snake that seemed to be over five stories high slithered forward into the light. Shiv took a step back teetering close to the edge of the floating island.

“Be careful.” Zakhira pulled Shiv back.

“Is this him my child?”

“Yes father, this is the one that resembles Ryuu.”

The Queen’s Summon

The days passed into weeks and weeks into months. Shiv’s training with Nigel turned his fragile body into a sinewy and agile. He now could move almost as quickly as Nigel. Although Nigel was still much faster and stronger, Shiv’s mind raced, he could calculate movements and thoughts of his sparring partner in a blink of an eye.

Zakhira had avoided Shiv throughout this time always confining herself to her chambers or the dungeon room, always bringing out new golden bracelets with the insignia of Esen for new recruits into the queen’s kingdom.

Shiv unstrapped his body armor and rubbed the sweat of his toned abdomen. The maid-servant looked at the ground, fearing she would gawk at Shiv’s chiseled body.

Shiv handed the damp cloth to the maid-servant and she bowed her head before turning and leaving.

“Shiv!” Nigel slapped Shiv’s back.

Shiv smiled. “That was a good session Nigel.”

“It sure was.” Nigel gave Shiv a large platter filled to the brim with various foods of the region, cured meats, unusual shaped fruits, vegetables and some lentil soup. Nigel tore a piece of bread from his plate before speaking. “In no time you will be ready for the war.”

“The war?”

Nigel poured some wine into two chalices. “The war is coming soon.”

Shiv stopped to think about what Hanuman had told him. The war between the God’s and the half-bloods. In the months that had passed by Shiv noticed many new faces. He imagined they came from the same realm as he did. A woman could conjure up creatures from fallen strands of her hair, a blind man could stun someone if he looked into their eyes. They all had powers of the God’s, they were half-bloods. Shiv however did not show any kind of power. “Why am I here?”

Nigel stopped from tearing the flesh off a large drumstick and looked at Shiv. “To fight with us in the war.”

“I am only human, there is no reason for me to be in this war.”

“You are more than human Shivie boy!” Nigel washed his mouth with some wine. “By now you must know about the God’s and the half-bloods?”

Shiv nodded his head. “The God’s are immensely powerful and the half-bloods are weaker.”

Nigel picked up a purple fruit and squeezed the juice in his mouth. “What the God’s have is control of a large power.”

“Like Hanuman?”

Nigel scowled. “Yes, that hermit can control all plant life.”

Shiv thought of Hanuman for a second, he hadn’t seen his good friend since he started training with Nigel. In fact it had been a long time since he had seen anyone else or stepped outside of the castle.

Nigel continued. “The difference is that while the half-blood’s may have a lesser power as compared to the God’s we have more powers to use.”

“More powers?” Shiv raised his brow.

“Take Esen for example. She has power over the wind, that is the power that she inherited from her mother, but she also has the power of her voice. That power is unique to her.”

“So every half-blood have two abilities?”

“Two maybe more.”

“I don’t have any ability”

“Oh you do Shivie boy you do.”

Shiv frowned. Ever since he was dragged into this kingdom that was all that everyone talked about. Everyone said that he had powers, and even Esen ensured that Nigel and the four-foot tall guards were always around him to protect him. He did not see it however, in his mind he was just a regular human who was at the bottom of the heap in this realm.

“You can see my movements can’t you?”

Shiv looked up at Nigel.

“Ever since the first sparring session, you knew what I was going to do, you could spot an opening and your body moved as if it had a mind of it’s own.”

“Everyone can do that.”

“Not if they are up against someone who is ten times faster and stronger than them. Whenever you come up against me it seems as if we are evenly matched but in reality you are nowhere to my strength or speed.”

“But that is only one ability.” Shiv still did not believe Nigel but he felt happy that somehow he was accepted and he belonged. Where he came from the only person who accepted him, who felt comfortable with him was Hanuman.

“It will come in time Shiv.”

Shiv smiled and ate his lunch. It was a heavy lunch and he would have to work hard with Nigel to burn it off in their afternoon sparring session. When he had finished the maid-servant came in and took the plates away. Now that Shiv had transferred every morsel of food into his stomach he noticed that the plates were golden and they shimmered as the light from the never-setting sun shone into the arena.

Shiv watched as the maid-servant walked away toward the exit. Her scant clothing revealed a sensually curvy figure and Shiv remembered the first time he was in the throne room. Then he noticed that everyone was scantily clad but they did not shiver at the cold wind that blew over them. He thought for a moment and he does not feel that same chill.

“Nigel.”

Nigel laid on the ground with eyes closed. “Yes Shiv?”

“Why isn’t it cold?”

“What?”

“When I first came here I remember freezing even with all of my clothes on.”

“And now you feel comfortable?”

Shiv pondered over what Nigel said. Comfortable. He did not want to admit that he was comfortable. In fact he was very much comfortable, not only content but exceedingly happy. For the first time in his life he was living like a king. He stayed in a large palace, people moving around and serving him, all the food he can eat. His life was definitely more comfortable. “Yes.”

“You have to thank Esen for that.”

“No, you have to thank my father for that.” Zakhira appeared from the tunnel entrance.

“Excuse me?” Shiv asked.

Zakhira pointed at the golden bracelets on Shiv’s wrist. “Those bracelets on your wrists.”

“These?” Shiv rubbed the wavy lines engraved on his bracelet.

“They are keeping you protected from the chill of Esen’s wind.”

“Esen keeps us protected.” Nigel scoffed. “Why are you here anyway? Aren’t you supposed to be with the queen?”

“She sent me here.”

“For what?”

“For him.” Zakhira looked at Shiv. “Come with me.”

“What were?”

“I did not come here to entertain your questions human.”

“He is more powerful than a human.” Nigel sat up and bent his knees.

“Really? Where are his powers then? Is gorging on food for three people one of his powers? I think you already have that covered Nigel.” Zakhira smiled.

Shiv noticed the smile of Zakhira, two deep dimples sat on her cheeks and her teeth were pearly white with one of the lower front tooth slanted to its side. This was the first time that he saw Zakhira smile and he wanted to tell her that she should smile more often because she looked beautiful when she smiled. Shiv hesitated, maybe it was because of his shyness but the truth of the matter was he was scared of Zakhira. Nigel had once told him: ‘To be the queen’s right hand means that you would need to have powers that need to be watched over, there is a reason why the queen does not lose sight of her.’

“He can match me on the battlefield, that is more than enough.”

Zakhira covered her mouth controlling her laughter. “Any one can match you on the battlefield.”

“I want to see you try.”

“Don’t test me nomad.”

“Zakhira lead the way.” Shiv stood up and tugged on Zakhira’s arm.

“Don’t touch me!”

“Isn’t the queen waiting?” Shiv smirked.

Nigel fell on the ground and closed his eyes.

Zakhira looked at Nigel as he snored himself to sleep. “What?!? How can he do that?”

“He had a heavy lunch.” Shiv release his grip on Zakhira’s wrist. It was the first time that he had felt Zakhira’s skin and it was very smooth just like silk. Strangely enough it was very cold as well, like he was touching ice.

Shiv followed Zakhira and watched her sensually move toward the exit. As he walked through the dark tunnel lined up with flaming torches he wondered why the queen had summoned him, more importantly why did she send Zakhira.

Zakhira on the other hand had a different thought.  She wondered why Esen decided to bring a human who resembled Ryuu into their realm. He would serve no purpose and would only restart the war which had been dormant all this time. More importantly this human would only end up dead before the war would even start.

Meanwhile  a lanky figure floated in from the cracked ceiling and into the throne room.

“Hanuman! What are you doint here?”

“It’s so nice to see you again queen.” Hanuman hopped off his staff and bowed before Esen.

“Nice to see you still have manners.” Esen stepped from her throne and walked toward Hanuman. “What do you want?”

“What are you planning Esen?”

“What are you talking about?” Esen’s voice became chalky as it always did when Hanuman came around.

Hanuman paced around Esen. “I see a lot more half-bloods here, more than normal.”

“I am trying to reunite my kind, there should be no reason why we all should be separated.”

Hanuman’s staff followed him as he slowed his pace. “You are not planning to restart the war are you?”

“The wheels of war already started turning, there is no stopping it.”

“What have you done?”

“Nothing that wouldn’t have come. I just made it faster.”

“Is that why you brought Shiv?”

“He will lead us to victory.”

“Has he found his powers yet?”

“Nigel is working on that.”

“He does not know how to use his abilities?”

“He will in time.”

“He will die!” Hanuman’s staff slammed on the jewel-encrusted marble. “I cannot stand idly knowing you will lead my son to his death!”

Esen approached Hanuman and touched his tree-like face. “I would never let anything happen to our son my love.”

None nor some, only one

Tis a fine line,
From here til there,
It’s bold and colorful,
Stirs the emotions in directions none but one.

Tis a fine point,
Sharp as a sword,
Blunt as a hammer,
Strikes the soul in no ways but one.

None nor some,
Only one,
A droplet falls into the the river of all,
Stirs the emotions and strikes the soul in no ways but one.

Child of Esen

Shiv stood in the middle of a large coliseum, the stands that surrounded the oval ground was empty but Shiv marveled at how high they reached. Rows of seats spanned like layered steps toward the sky.

“Get ready.” Nigel stepped onto the dusty ground from a shallow tunnel a hundred meters from Shiv. He wore full battle armor and wielded a large battle-ax.

“Ready for what?”

“Your training!” Nigel’s voice boomed like thunder and turned Shiv’s knees into jelly.

“Training?”

“Grab a weapon.” Nigel struck the blunt tip of his battle-ax on the ground. “Take any weapon.” He pointed at a boxed section on Shiv’s far left.

Shiv walked to the chalked ground and looked at the different weapons. There were swords of all shapes, crescent, straight, narrow, foiled, daggers, staffs with hooked blades. None of which Shiv knew how to use. He ran his fingers at the sharp blades and wondered what Nigel had in store for him. He noticed a particular piece at the end of the row of weapons. It was a pair of gauntlets. The gloves were tipped with two inch spikes and smaller rivets at the back. There was a guard of armor that extended to the forearm and ended with a long crescent blade at the elbows. Shiv thought that he was very good with his fists, often times winning numerous drunken brawls in his village. He didn’t know if Nigel was going to kill him but maybe he had a chance with this.

Nigel scoffed. “That is it?” He picked up the battle-ax and swung it over his shoulder. “You are going to fight me with a pair of gloves?”

“I’m good with my fists.” Shiv slipped on the first gauntlet. He tried to focus himself. He took a couple of deep breath’s and picked up the second gauntlet. Shiv looked at Nigel, it looked like the large man was bored. He really is large!

“No armor?” Nigel’s voice jumped a pitch higher than his normal tone. “You are very gutsy aren’t you?”

Shiv looked at the armor’s stacked on his right. They all looked large and very clunky. He thought that his only chance against Nigel was being nimble, his size would be to his advantage. If he wore any armor then he would lose that advantage.

Without any hesitation Nigel took a step forward and screamed. He threw his arm back indicating he was going to strike.

Nigel’s stomp shook the ground and Shiv found himself on his knee. He looked up and was surprised when Nigel swung the large battle-ax in a quick slash. Shiv crossed his arms and the loud clunking of metal against metal echoed in the empty coliseum. He’s quick!

“Come on Shivie boy!” Nigel jumped back and pulled out a large shield from his back.

Shiv looked at Nigel once more. The shield covered Nigel’s chest and legs until his knees. Shin-guards protected his lower legs and armored boots his feet. There wasn’t any open space on his whole body except for his head. Nigel’s head was covered thoroughly by his read hair which made his eyes tiny and beady. Shiv thought that if Nigel wore a helmet he would have no visibility.

Nigel roared. “Come on!” Running out of patience he leaped into the air and swung his battle-ax.

Shiv saw an opening, behind the shield was a leather vest riveted into an ‘X’. Nigel opened up his guard slightly in mid-air and all Shiv had to do was wait. He relaxed his arms and tightened his fist. Nigel was coming in closer. The moment had to be perfect, just before Nigel would strike his guard would be completely exposed.  Now!

Nigel pulled his shield down and released the grip as it reached his feet. The impact of Shiv’s gauntlet on the shield provided Nigel with a springboard and he somersaulted onto the ground. The smile on his face expressed his delight at a good battle. “You surprise me human.”

One of the two inch spikes on Shiv’s right gauntlet cracked and Nigel’s shield wobbled on the ground. He could not understand how Nigel could move so fast with all of that heavy armor. He knew he would have a hard time carrying the clunky protection let alone move in it so quickly. Shiv thought that his best defense was a good offense. He needed to take the battle to Nigel. Shiv sprinted toward the large behemoth, the dollar buckle on his belt spun around quickly and he landed a straight punch into the leather armor of Nigel surprising him with his quick strike.

“Ooof!” Nigel took a step back and smile. “You really surprise me.” He laughed boisterously.

Shiv looked up at Nigel and then at his gut. The leather armor was unscathed, but he saw something strange a slight green glow. It looked like ripples on a lake after a stone skipped across it. “What?!” He pulled back his fist and looked up at Nigel. Before he could say anything the large backhand slapped across his face and Shiv slid across the coliseum ground on his chest, palms faced down . “Unhh..”

Nigel walked slowly toward Shiv and extended his arm. “Never leave your guard down Shiv…never.”

Shiv pulled himself up and touched the swollen purple spot on his cheek. “Ow!” He could not believe that there was not a single mark on Nigel, it was impossible. He hit him full on. “How? I hit you! How did you?”

Nigel dropped his battle-ax and smirked. He raised his arm and showed a golden bracelet on his arm. “This protects me.”

“What is that?”

“It is a gift from Esen.”

“The queen?”

“Yes the queen.”

Nigel had it on both arms and he thought for a moment. He remembered that everyone in the eternal city had the same bracelet. Shiv looked at the bracelet closer. There were four wavy lines engraved on the bracelet, the same wavy lines that was on the hair clip that Esen gave to him before he met Nigel.

“Anyone who wears this bracelet is protected in the Eternal City.”

“No one can get hurt?”

“Not by ordinary attacks, but it has a limitation.”

“Limitation?”

“It can only protect from weak attacks, it cannot protect from enchanted weapons or powers of God’s and half-bloods.”

“So it protects you all the time?”

“As long as the queen is alive, yes.”

“Which reminds me.”

“Zakhira you can show yourself now.”

Zakhira stepped in from the shadow at the coliseum entrance. “How did you know I was watching?”

“You smell like your father.” Nigel laughed. “You need to take a bath!”

“Hmph!” Zakhira walked slowly onto the coliseum ground toward Nigel. “The queen told me to give this to …”

Shiv stood up and circled Nigel’s large frame wondering who this new woman who he never met was.

“Ry…ry…ryuu!” Zakhira ran frantically toward Shiv and buried her head in his chest breaking into tears.

Shiv looked puzzled. The woman whom Nigel called Zakhira sobbed and he didn’t know what to do. He looked at Nigel but all the giant did was scratch his head.

“Zakhira!” Nigel screamed.

“Ryuu…where? When? Why have you left me all this time?!” Zakhira rubbed her eyes and looked up at Shiv.

“Ryuu?” Zakhira cupped Shiv’s face in her hands and looked into his eyes. “You look different.” Zakhira couldn’t understand what it was. She looked at the young man, the features were exactly identical. Except for his eyes. The eyes of the man she was looking at was different…it was a different color, more importantly it was a different soul. “Who is he?”

Shiv pulled Zakhira’s hands away from his face. “I um…”

” Nigel placed his large hand on Zakhira’s shoulder making sure not to crease her beautiful green satin shawl. “Did you bring it?”

“Ye…yes…” Zakhira pulled a pair of golden bracelets from under her shawl and hesitantly clasped them on Shiv’s wrists. “Father just made them.”

“Good that looks like a perfect fit.”

“So now I am protected?”

“Esen watches over you now Shiv.”

“Shiv?” Zakhira turned to Nigel. “Nigel who is this boy?”

“He is a child of Esen now.”

The Eternal City

A strong chill blew past Shiv and he rubbed his arms. “It’s cold here! Aren’t you freezing?”

Hanuman chuckled, his brown shawl neatly covered his arms. “You will feel better when we reach my home.”

Shiv frowned. They walked out of the large palace into a vast courtyard. It was unlike he had seen before. There were tall leave-less trees and shimmering bushes. As he passed the cracked paved road he noticed that they changed colors: red, blue, orange and even purple.

“What kinds of plants are these?” Shiv reached out a trembling hand to touch the leaves.

“Don’t!” Hanuman pulled Shiv back revealing his wooden arm. “Those are life bushes.”

“Life bushes?”

Shiv noticed a baby bird fall from a nest on a tree above and land on the life bush. The baby bird first grew in size, plump as an orange and quickly in a flash its feather wilted, its beak crooked and its eyes turn dull from a gleaming black. The bird fell on the ground lifeless and stiff, its insides had vanished and only skin and bone remained as if it was sucked out.

“These bushes attract with its shimmering tones and then it sucks the life of anything.”

“Why would anyone keep anything like this in their courtyard.”

“You would be surprised with the creatures in this world Shiv.”

“Where are we?” Shiv rubbed his arms friskly.

“The Eternal City.”

Shiv looked over a winding set of steps. Palace guards who were short in stature but wielded swords twice their size, the same guards that he remembered guarded the throne room of Esen. A large city appeared between fleeting clouds. The wind blew in strongly from behind him and Shiv noticed small tents, two-storey structures and an ominous rain overhead.

“Why is it called the Eternal City?”

“Because perpetuity never finishes.”

Shiv frowned, he felt that Hanuman did not answer his question.

Hanuman patted Shiv’s back. “Your answer will come.”

Shiv smiled and followed Hanuman down the winding steps. He looked around and noticed that everything was cracked, holes emerged where they shouldn’t and an otherwise beautiful construction was destroyed. He remembered in the throne room that the ceiling where the sun shone in was shattered. “Hanuman, why is everything destroyed here?”

Hanuman stopped and looked up at the sky. It was purple-orange, it never changed. He ran his branch-like fingers through his long gray beard. “The war.”

“War?” Shiv asked. “What war?”

Hanuman continued walking toward the city. “A thousand years ago, there was a war between the God’s of this land and the half-bloods.”

“Half-bloods?”

“Esen, Nigel, and the people of this city are all half-bloods.” Hanuman took a deep breath. “The God’s did not think much of the half-bloods, in fact they hated them.”

“Why?”

“Everyone in this land is gifted with some sort of ability. Esen controls the winds, Nigel is a warrior with special abilities. The difference is that when a God mates with another they retain the element of their gift.” Hanuman waved his hand.

“You are a God?”

Hanuman chuckled. “Well I rule over the plants, trees, flowers. Why do you think I always have good weed to smoke?”

Shiv smiled. “I always thought you were a very good gardener.” Shiv thought for a while. Hanuman looked like a tree, with wooden body and leaves covering different parts. Esen and Nigel looked human. “But…”

“Why does Esen and Nigel look human?”

Shiv stared at Hanuman.

“That is when a God mates with a Human, their offs-prings is a half-blood. Human form but with abilities of a God.”

“So the half-bloods are better than the God’s?

“Not exactly. While a half-blood’s form may be more presentable than the God’s their power is much less.”

“Less?”

“The God’s think of the half-blood’s as their inferior because of their power.”

Shiv and Hanuman reached the city center. They were surrounded by stalls which reminded him of a market. Canvass hung low over wooden poles and various fruits, vegetables and meats were sold. Little boys stood in front of their father’s stalls and shouted at the top of their voices. “Fresh produce! A bushel only for half a silver!”

“So everyone here is a half-blood? They all have powers? Gifts?”

“Not everyone I am afraid.” Hanuman tilted his head to the little boy. “When a half-blood mates with a human their off-springs would not have any power.”

“Why don’t half-blood mate with another half-blood? Why a human?”

“Even though God’s and half-blood’s have gifts, abilities it is that same power that they have which makes having off-springs difficult.”

“So that boy is the result of a half-blood and a human?”

Hanuman nodded his head.

“Is that why I’m here?”

“No.”

“I don’t understand.”

Shiv and Hanuman passed the marketplace and reached the double story buildings. Different signs hung from each structure, each sign had a symbol. Some had a hammer, others had crossed swords, bottles and others with combinations. “Are these shops?”

“These are houses.” Hanuman pointed at a sign with a shield and sickle. “Each symbol represents a family and the profession of that family, some are healers, others are warriors, scientists and various other professions.”

Shiv understood this, back home they had a similar classification although very outdated and clearly not applicable in modern times.  He walked further with Hanuman and noticed the same cracked roads, hole ridden structures and even scars on people walking by. “Tell me about the war.”

“The God’s started mating with humans mainly because their population was dwindling and they needed to continue with their line. It was completely unheard of in the beginning and mixing with the humans was frowned upon.”

“Why?”

“Worlds should not be crossed, the humans would not understand and humans having no power of their own were seen as the bottom of the scrap.”

“But humans have intellect, technology, weapons that can destroy. Surely…”

“Peanuts! All of the weapons on earth cannot compare to the power of a single God.”

“How?”

Hanuman smiled. “If I will it, I can destroy all plant life on earth, how will animals survive? How will you grow your herbs? medicine? If all the animals die along with the vegetation how will humans survive?”

Shiv frowned, he understood Hanuman’s point but he could not understand how could they wield so much power.

“That is why there is separation Shiv. But…”

“Something happened?”

“When the first half-blood was born on earth they were thought as witches, monsters, demons because as a child they unknowingly demonstrated their power and they were killed off by the humans.” Hanuman turned at the end of the road onto a long road up a small hill. “When the God’s found out about this, they tracked their off-springs and brought them to this world. They were surprised to see the form of their off-springs and more than that they were surprised with how weak their off-springs were.”

“They were disappointed?”

“Very much so, they did not think that the half-bloods were worthy of their kingdom and were put as slaves.”

“Slaves?” Shiv thought about the Eternal City and the little boy. “They seemed to be free, they have their own will.”

The pair reached the top of the hill and in the immediate distance a large tree which had been hollowed out appeared. “That is when the rebellion started.”

“The war?”

“One of the half-bloods who had immense power which could have rivaled any God led the rest of his people to battle.”

“The battle was in the Eternal City?”

“That is where the battle started, but it continued on until the Kingdom of Heaven.”

“Kingdom of Heaven?”

“The home of the Gods.” Hanuman waved his hand and a bunch of vines moved aside revealing the entrance.

Shiv followed Hanuman inside bending slightly at the entrance. He noticed a very simple furnishing, all made of vines, roots and branches that slowly sprouted from the ground.

“Take a seat.” Hanuman pointed at the makeshift table on his left. He sat across Shiv and pulled out a small joint from under his shawl. “As promised.”

Shiv smiled as Hanuman lit the small joint with his fingers and blew out the flame from his wooden fingers before it grew too large. “Doesn’t that hurt?”

“A little.” Hanuman and Shiv exchanged the joint as they continued taking deep breaths and exhaling smoke. “So where was I? Yes. The half-blood’s over-ran the God’s in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

“I thought the half-bloods where not as strong as the Gods?”

“They weren’t but what they lacked in power they more than made up in numbers. That and the leader of the resistance who was as powerful as any God if not more powerful.”

“More powerful?”

“The God’s were pinned up against a corner, they knew they could have won that last attack from the half-bloods, they were far too powerful.”

“So the God’s won?”

“No, there was a truce.”

“Truce?”

“The God’s made a deal, if the half-bloods would surrender the leader of the rebellion then they would be given their freedom.”

“Why would the God’s do that?”

“There was something that the God’s knew at that time that the half-bloods didn’t”

“What was that?”

“There was another half-blood who had the same power as the rebellion leader. If the war continued then the God’s would fall under the combined power of the half-bloods and it would mean their extinction.”

“What happened to the rebellion leader?”

“Hanuman!” A loud voice boomed from outside which was followed by loud thumping which made the tree shake.

“Someone sounds angry.” Hanuman chuckled. He waved his hands and the vines opened up the entrance.

A large boot thumped into the entrance and the familiar red hair fluttered in the air. “Hanuman! I will get you for what you did.”

Hanuman smiled. “Care for a smoke?”

“No! I want revenge!” Nigel balled up a fist.

“Stop it Nigel.” A melodic voice filled his ears.

“No Esen! He has to pay for what he did.”

“You dare go against my will?”

“No Esen…I….”

“Bring me back Shiv, that is why I sent you….you can settle your wounded pride with Hanuman another time.”

“Yes queen.”

Hanuman turned to Shiv. “Time to go Shiv.”

“I still have so much to ask you….why am I here? Why was I brought here?”

“Let us leave that for another time.”

Shiv stood up and followed Nigel out of the tree house.

Hanuman puffed on the joint one last time and whispered in a low hanging voice. “Not enough time I’m afraid.”

Tower of Esen

Shiv’s body felt numb, he could not feel anything, not his limbs, fingers not even the tight grip that the large red haired man had on him. He tipped his head back and a swirling cloud enveloped him.

His vision was slight and he noticed a dark desolate place but he knew he was moving somewhere, he didn’t know how nor where he was going to. The only thought that entered his head was his mother.

“Snap out of it!” Nigel slapped Shiv sharply across the cheek and Shiv’s head bobbled in the empty abyss.

Shiv didn’t feel that but he knew it should have hurt.  He struggled to say anything except a stammer. His mind raced several thoughts. Where am I? Who is this person? Why is this happening to me?

The most important question was Where am I going? Before Shiv could ask the question a bright warm light appeared on his left. The clouds quickly disappeared into the light as if a vacuum drew them in. Shiv held his breath hoping to keep whatever air in his lungs a little bit longer.

“Ahhhhh!!” The light burned Shiv’s skin and he felt his lungs expand as if they were going to pop. His body swelled and he could hear an empty hiss escaping from his body.

“Breathe!” Nigel screamed. “If you die here Esen is going to be mad and I don’t want her to kill me!” Nigel pounded a flat palm on Shiv’s stomach and Shiv released a gush of air from his mouth. His body slowly returned to its normal size and the escaping pain from his lungs subsided. But his skin still burned, it felt like he was entering the rings of the sun.

“Welcome.” A tall fair woman spoke melodically. “To my lair.” She descended from her throne slowly, allowing the thin, translucent robe flow from behind her.

Nigel landed on the great hall with great ease. His large boots gently landing on the jewelry adorned marble. His fist firmly clenched on Shiv’s shirt as their bodies re-materialized.

“What did you do ?!?” Esen screamed and launched herself to Shiv. Her scream shocked the half clad dancers and fully armored guards. The minstrels with their otherworldly instruments stopped strumming and stepped back into the shadows of magnificent pillars carved to the image of their queen.

Nigel fell on the floor as the supersonic screams of Esen knocked him back. “I told him to breathe!”

“You fool!” Esen knelt beside the unconscious body of Shiv. “I told you to bring him in alive.” She ran a long finger across Shiv’s cheek. “I need him alive.” Esen looked up at the corner entrance guarded by two small men wielding swords twice their size. “Bring in the healer.”

“No need for the healer.” An old man descended from open ceiling which brought perpetual light to the throne room. He crouched on a slight bent of his shiny staff and chuckled.

“You?” Esen shrieked. “How did you get here?”

Hanuman looked up and chuckled.

“Nigel!” Esen screamed. “Get him out of here!”

Nigel pushed his knees against the marble floor and lunged at Hanuman. Hanuman jumped and avoided Nigel’s attack. He landed on his staff and chuckled.

“Stay still!”

Hanuman sidestep hopped to his right while still perched on his staff. Another lunge and Hanuman positioned himself behind Nigel. “Time to sleep.” He pulled out a hand from underneath his brown robe. His fingers were long and crooked, resembling a tree branch with small green leaves at the tips. He touched the back of Nigel’s skull just where he thought the brain stem would be and watched as the large warrior fell flat on the ground creating a small shock-wave throughout the throne room.

Esen opened her mouth but stopped in mid-way as Hanuman appeared directly in front of her. “I’m here to help queen Esen.” He turned to the limp body of Shiv. “Hmmm…let’s see now.” Hanuman stuck his finger at the crooked end of his staff slowly. He looked across Shiv’s body from head to toe. He could see through the layers of clothes and skin. He watched slowly as the organs moved in a synchronized melody. “He is alive.”

“He is alive?” Esen shrieked in delight.

“Just barely.”  Hanuman looked closely at Shiv’s chest. “His breathing is very shallow.” He pulled out his finger from his staff and pressed the tip at Shiv’s chest. “Yes, this is the problem.” A slight smoke escaped from Hanuman’s mouth and slowly entered Shiv’s mouth.

Shiv’s eyes opened abruptly and he gasped loudly before coughing incessantly.

Esen wrapped her arms around Shiv. “My boy.”

“Unhhhh…” Shiv rubbed his chest. He felt strange, his head was very light and his lungs were filled with smoke just like when he would spend a whole afternoon smoking with Hanuman at the side of the road. He looked up and saw Hanuman perched on a large staff. “Hanuman?”

Hanuman chuckled. “Good morning Shiv.”

Shiv looked around, it wasn’t the side of the road near Subash Chowk. He was in a lavish room. Much bigger than he has ever been in his life. Marble tiles, artistically perfect carved statues, jewel encrusted ornaments. He noticed that people he could not recognize were looking at him. Their clothes were very odd, most of them were scantily clad and that seemed to be perfectly normal to them even in the chilling weather.

“Are you ok my boy?” Esen asked with her melodic voice.

Shiv scampered to the nearest pillar behind him. He recognized the voice, moreover he recognized the woman. She wasn’t wearing the dark sunglasses but her translucent skin was unmistakable. It was the woman from the rickshaw. “Wha…wha…?” Shiv’s memory slowly jogged. There was someone else ….some monster. His mind raced and he remembered a large red haired man who pinned him down with a large boot. Shiv moved back a step and felt a large heavy statue behind him. It was very solid and he wondered why there wasn’t any other statues lying around the large room. He turned around and noticed that it was the statue of the large man who attacked him. “What?!? Get away from me!” Shiv jumped on to his feet, the sudden jerk made him dizzy and he wobbled back on the floor.

“Easy now Shiv.” Hanuman spoke calmly. Still perched on his staff he hovered next to Shiv. “He won’t harm you…he is sleeping.”

“Who is that?”

“Oh that is Nigel. Stronger than most, dumber than the rest.” Hanuman chuckled. “You don’t have to worry about him while I’m around.” Hanuman extended his hand to Shiv.

Shiv pulled himself up slowly. “Where are we?”

“We are in the tower of Esen, the queen of the the eternal city.”

“Queen? Eternal city?” Shiv scratched his head. “I’m confused Hanuman.”

“That is to be expected.” Hanuman turned to Esen. “My queen I think I should acquaint our guest to his new surrounding don’t you?”

“Hmph!” Esen floated to her throne. “Do as you wish hermit. Just make sure he is back when Nigel wakes up, I have big plans for the both of them.”

Hanuman chuckled. “Then we have all the time in the world.” He hopped of his staff and stretched his legs. “Care for a stroll Shiv?”

Shiv nodded his head. “Sure.” He leaned close to Hanuman for a whisper. “Do you have anymore of your special mix?”

Hanuman smiled. “Oh you are going to love this one, it is the best one I have!”

The two men laughed boisterously and walked joyously past the two guards and out of the main entrance hidden by thick red curtains.

Strange Beginnings

Shiv crouched on a thin checkered cloth on the dusty ground and took a deep breath from the hand-rolled joint. One more deep drag and he inhaled the medicinal smoke deep into his lungs.

“Pass it over here.” Hanuman picked the edges of the joint with the tips of his fingers and smiled, his eyes were bloodshot red and he took in deep puffs while holding tightly on his long wooden staff. It was a fairly thin staff that seemed to shine at the shaft and bent at the top.

Shiv loosely hung his elbows on his knees and looked around, a well-dressed man walked on the grassy field cautiously avoiding the dung land mines of the cows and opened up a plastic bag of water-soaked lentils and some ripe bananas. A beautiful white cow took notice of the well dressed man and ran off to his direction.

“Your turn.”  Hanuman passed the joint to Shiv.

Shiv took a deep drag and released a slight smoke from his mouth allowing it to bridge to his nose. Shiv like many people from the outskirts of the city was named after some of the old gods and goddesses in their scriptures. There was something different about him though and Shiv knew this, his mother had reminded him so many times over his youth. “You are not like the other children in the village.” Shiv thought that it was the way he looked, he was of a very good height, always a head over most. Shiv had light hair almost blondish, swirling hazel eyes with a dot of gray in the center and a light copper toned skin. He loved wearing his white pin-striped slacks with a nice black belt with a spinning dollar sign.

This however was not the reason why he was different. Shiv realized this when Hanuman asked him why he always clean, especially when he wore white slacks, there was never a speck of dirt on him. Even when Shiv was younger, his mother praised his cleanliness, while the other village children ostracized him after their ears were pinched hard almost bleeding. “It was all Shiv’s idea!” They screamed. In fact all of the little games and pranks in village was masterminded by Shiv but he was always clean.

It had been long time since he had been in the village, the same village that he had grown with his friends, where his mother used to walk on the crooked roads with her head covered by a pink or green cloth carrying a steel basin filled with broken rocks and handful of sand, where he used to drink milk heated over a family clay pot after his grandmother had milked their own cow. He had taken a job as a rickshaw driver in the city, the numerous high-rise buildings, vast amount of cars, trucks and the new train that connected passengers to the next metropolis but it was still dusty! Just like home.

It was in this new city that Shiv’s difference became more obvious. The city where he would spend half of his day smoking some of Hanuman’s chronic as he herded his cows. Shiv took another quick drag on the joint and passed it on to Hanuman. He turned toward the well dressed man. The man wore black slacks and a stripped tie over an ice blue shirt. He had hopped onto his gold-colored Maruti Suzuki SX4 and zoomed down the road spewing some dust in the air. Hanuman loosened the white cloth around his head and wrapped the loose end around his face, covering his mouth.

Shiv looked at the white cow in the field and he swore the cow winked at him. He closed his eyes and looked at the cow once more. The cow had disappeared. “Hanuman what kind of stuff are we smoking?” Shiv asked.

Hanuman chuckled. “Good stuff isn’t it?”

Before Shiv could reply a woman called for his attention.

“Bhaiya I need to go to HUDA City Center.”

Shiv looked up at the woman, she was fair, as white as milk. Her eyes were a crystal blue but she had jet black hair. Her features where sharp but very soft and her voice was very hypnotic as if she was singing a lullaby to a baby.

Shiv pushed his knees up and took a deep breath.  He pulled out his thumb and forefinger. “Two hundred rupees.”

“Two hundred?!? Are you mad?”

“It is a far distance.”

“It is just over there.”

Shiv looked to his right. “Well if it is just over there, you can walk it. Why take a rickshaw?”

The woman folded her arms. “Ok, but we need to get there fast.”

Shiv pumped his legs pushing him into a standing position. “Jump on.”

The woman jumped onto the seat on the rickshaw and wore a large pair of sunglasses as she rested under the canopy.

Shiv smiled at Hanuman amazed at his luck and pushed the red rickshaw onto the road.

“I’ll be waiting here.” Hanuman waved at Shiv and continued smoking his joint.

“Leave some for me!”

“You better hurry back.” Hanuman chuckled.

Shiv stepped on the peddles and steered the rickshaw forward. He gathered speed and he could feel the wind blow into his face. He was amazed at how light the woman was, it was as if she was made out of air. As he moved forward the wind started getting stronger. The trees bent and leaves flew in all directions.

“Strong wind today madam.”

The woman did not reply she just hummed a low tune.

Shiv looked back at the woman and he could not help realize that her skin became fairer. “That is some strong stuff….I need to get more from Hanuman later.”

A truck passed them and it was filled to the brim with dust. Shiv thought that this was going to some construction site somewhere, there was always some digging and building going on. The city was growing and more and more people from the outskirts found jobs in the city just like him.

Maybe it was the wind or that the sand was overflowing from the carriage of the truck but Shiv noticed that the sand poured out from the truck in droves, it seemed like the sand jumped like passengers hopping off a train onto a platform. The wind scattered the sand and created a miniature sandstorm. The woman shrieked but Shiv smiled. The sand came close to him but it did not bother him one bit.

Shiv pulled his passenger through the roundabout and past a row of buildings, commercial complexes that were no more than three stories high, a nearby hotel and a small shopping arcade that was full of cars parked on a dusty lot. He swore that sand from that lot crept through the streets and joined the sandstorm around him.

Maybe it was the effect of the chronic but Shiv noticed the sandstorm did not subside and it only hovered around him. In fact the wind was only present around him. In the distance it was calm and quiet except for the incessant honking of shiny cars.

“Are we near?” The woman asked. Her voice was still sweet but there was a sense of anxiety.

“Nearly there madam.” Shiv replied with a slight smirk in his deep voice.

In the distance not too far from the destination of Shiv and his passenger. A tall round structure stood. It was magnificent with rails connected to it and trains buzzing in every few minutes. On the ground next to another busy roundabout. A burly man sat on a fork of tree branches. He dangled his feet in air. “Do you see them?”

A woman leaned against the tree with her arms hidden a green silk shawl. Her eyes pierced into the distance and she could see every single movement. The sugarcane vendor churning out juice like a machine a hundred meters from them. A motorbike losing balance after an abrupt turn into a rocky intersection two hundred meters from them. The red rickshaw surrounded by a whirling dust storm. “Esen is busy.”

“How far are they?”

“You are very impatient Nigel.”

“Don’t make me come down there!”

“Not far now.”

Nigel jumped from the tree and looked at the distance. “I don’t see anything. Where are they?”

“Are you ready Nigel?”

Nigel snickered. “I always am.”

“Look over there.” Zakhira raised a long finger in the nearby distance. The dust storm approached and inside it was the dull red rickshaw with Shiv and his woman passenger. “Get it over with.” Zakhira turned around and walked toward a nearby patch of grass. She bent down and felt the smooth fiber of the green sprouts against the rich dark soil.

“Are you not going to stay and watch Zakhira? Zakhira?” Nigel turned around and Zakhira was no where to be seen. He chuckled boisterously. “Ah you better be ready.”

Shiv approached the metro station. It was a beautiful beige color and some sharp decorations which stood three stories high. There was gaps in the structure and several pieces were still bare grey. Around the structure were little rickshaws that surrounded the structure like flies around rotten meat. Overhead a train was arriving and it swiftly zipped out of the platform onto a concrete railway.

Shiv had never traveled on the train, he had no reason to do so. But he heard tales from Hanuman. He said that the train was a double-tailed beast with no head. “It is dumber than an ox!”

The woman tapped on Shiv’s shoulder. “Stop here.”

Shiv looked around him and there was an empty corner lot on his left. In fact she had told him to stop exactly at the corner of the intersection still quite a distance from the Metro Station. “Madam?”

“This is far enough.”

Shiv hopped off his seat and arched his back before turning to the woman. He noticed that her complexion was really light as if she was almost transparent. He rubbed his eyes. “Madam we are near the station, don’t you want to go there?”

“No.” The woman graciously stepped down from the passenger seat and ran her fingers through her hair. “This is where we have to be .” She pulled out a small clip from her hair and handed it to Shiv.

It was a clip that had four lines, it was very shiny and glimmered as if they were diamonds. Shiv looked puzzlingly at the clip, it was clearly worth more than two hundred rupees but he could not pawn this easily without arousing suspicion. He wanted cash. He looked up at the woman and she turned translucent.

The woman walked close to Shiv and whispered in his ear. “Esen.”

Shiv pushed her back but his hands went through her and he lost balance, falling hand first on the ground. What is going on?

“Is this your rickshaw?”

Shiv turned around and sat on the ground. He looked up at a large man who was definitely taller than he was. He seemed to be as tall as the trees. His arms where of tree trunks and a bushy red hair flowed all over his body. “Yes. Where do you want to go?” Shiv pushed himself up but fell back on the ground. “Ow!” he noticed that the large boot of the burly man pushed against his chest.

“We are not going anywhere.” Nigel chuckled. “Show me your power!”

Shiv tried to pull the large foot from his chest. This guy is strong!

“Come on!” Nigel screamed.

Shiv repeatedly tried to pull the boot from his chest but he could not budge it an inch.

Nigel pushed his boot deeper and he could feel the ribs of Shiv crack underneath him.

“Nigel!” A voice whispered in the air. It was a sweet voice almost like a lullaby and it calmed Nigel. “Don’t kill him, we need his power.”

Nigel scoffed. “What power? He can hardly get up from my boot. Even Zakhira would have wiggled her way out of this by now.”

“You dare defy me?”

“No Esen…I won’t do that, but why do we need him? I can take down a whole army by myself!”

“Not even you can stand up against this boy when he awakens.”

Nigel spat on the ground. “Is he really that powerful?”

“I have witnessed his latent powers, it is still weak but it will grow when he meets the witch.”

Nigel shook his head and picked up Shiv.

Shiv breathed raggedly, the lack of air had brought him in and out of consciousness. “Unhhh.”

Nigel slapped Shiv. “Wake up Shivie boy!”

Nigel slapped harder and this time it almost cracked Shiv’s neck. The pain brought him fully into consciousness and he took deep breaths. “What? Who? What do you want?”

Nigel pulled Shiv close. “What did that woman say to you?”

“Woman?”

“The woman that gave you this!” Nigel squeezed Shiv’s clenched fist which held the wavy diamond clip. “Tell me!”

“Ess….es…” Shiv swallowed a sour lump in his throat. “Esen. She told me Esen. Shiv looked at the clip in his hand and it started disappearing. He squirmed and screamed but no one paid attention to him. The burly man who held him continued to chuckle. It was so loud that Shiv thought lightning struck him. Shiv tried to kick himself free but he could not feel anything, in fact he felt that he was not moving at all. Shiv looked down at his feet and his feet seemed to disappear. “Help!” Shiv screamed. Shiv waved his hands frantically. “Something is happening to me! Please help!”

“There is no use fighting it.” Nigel pulled tighter on Shiv’s shirt. “You are coming with me now.”

In a matter of moments Shiv and Nigel disappeared. The rickshaw still stood there at the dusty corner facing the large structure of the metro station. Its chipped red paint and rainbow-colored seats served as a reminder that Shiv, the woman and Nigel were not apparitions.