Many prisons have special accommodations for special criminals. Most of the special prisoners are either highly dangerous or too important to be left among the others. But if one of the ‘criminals’ has not committed any crime except offending the jailor, or all of the ‘criminals’ are held for that same ‘crime’, then it becomes a bit complex to provide luxuries.
I had seen a little bit of Lord Varun’s dimension and there was nothing except wilderness around the path we were traveling. There wasn’t even a sign of a village or any kind of human habitation at all. It was a little bizarre for my taste since I had grown up in the huge, densely populated plains of North India, where an orchard of about 1000 mango trees was the biggest chunk of vegetation that I could have called a ‘forest’. It had been half an hour of walking since I spotted a flat part of the forest floor large enough to lie down. So it was a relief for me when the trees started thinning and we were greeted by a sudden end to the forest.
The land rose and my view was blocked at the crest of a hill about two miles ahead. The forest stretched to our left and right to the foot of mountains on one side and perhaps water at the other. It was as if someone had taken a ruler and had sketched down the line which was the border of the forest. Probably it was exactly the case. Lord Varun was very neat in drawing the boundaries. Ronan was waiting for us near the foot of the hill with that demon girl. The ladies emerged from the forest muttering angrily with their hair full of twigs and leaves. It was amazing that the forest had left so much of its impression on them while Ronan was as fresh as ever. I looked at my clothes and was content that my clothes didn’t look like a result of wrestling with a tree man.
“If it had been a minute longer, the forest would be burning now.” Agnishikha muttered while stamping through the last bushes. Natasha was in a similar mood and I kept my mouth shut while trotting towards Ronan. He was talking with that girl and both of them fell silent on our approach. The girl stole glances at Natasha while trying to hide it without much success. I was certain her 12 year old appearance had to do a lot with it. “What now? How are we moving further?” Agnishikha asked Ronan, trying to straighten her clothes and snag her hair out of the mess it was. He glanced at the demon girl who nodded and turned towards the hill. “Any moment now. Just wait.” Ronan replied without looking at her. Natasha sighed and tried to pry apart her pink hair with telekinesis. The demon looked at us sharply and her eyes widened after knowing who was using the aura. She opened her mouth to say something but was interrupted as a loud rumble sounded and an SUV soared up from the hill’s crest.
We stared in awe as the bright red vehicle bounded towards us. Rocks and shrubs seemed not to matter to its driver who kept rolling the monster over them. With a loud squealing of tires and squelch of freshly dug soil, it lurched to the left and came to a sliding halt pointing towards the direction it had come. The door banged open and a huge belly preceded the fattest man I had ever seen and probably the shortest too. He barely came up to my chest and was as thick as his width. His face was wrinkled with a worried frown with his eyes on Natasha. I seriously needed to talk to her. She wasn’t behaving even a bit like a kid. The lost look on her face hinted her deep in solving calculus problems, as I thought.
“All well, Vaul?” Ronan asked him casually. The fat man nodded absently and replied. “Trista passed her apprenticeship today. She created a glass full of petrol from 14 sugar-canes. She also created a void as big as my closet. Your arrival is awaited.” He ended with a stiff back. Ronan smiled and turned to us. “Please feel free to choose any seat except the shotgun.” The wave of his arm invited us onwards and we dragged ourselves into the vehicle. I shared the rear with no one while Agnishikha, Natasha and the other demon girl settled in the middle. We shot forward just as Ronan slammed his door shut.
Vaul liked to drive off-road and he never wavered from the straight line we were moving on. A hard packed dirt road curved with us to the right bypassing the hills but Vaul leaped straight over them. “Are any of you an Apprentice?” The demon girl asked in an attempt to start a conversation. She was a little hesitant in asking the question and somehow I knew there was a capital “A” in Apprentice. Agnishikha, being full on volatile for strangers, snapped at her. “Apprentice? Whose? In what?” She truly had no idea how to behave with strangers. I sighed heavily. I had tried to get her attention but catching an eye is not easy from behind. Natasha sniffed and replied to the girl. “None of them had ever had a chance to go through it. Tomorrow was going to be their first lesson of apprenticeship.” The girl looked startled to hear the answer from a 12-year-old kid. Natasha really needed to work her character out. The girl fell quiet after that.
I was hardly able to sit straight as the SUV jumped over rocks and trenches and skidded through mud and shallow ponds. Vaul truly had no intention of leaving his straight line. Agnishikha grumbled about not knowing anything and the demon girl stole curious glances at her. I really didn’t like the silence. “I still don’t know your name.” I tried to cheerfully talk to the girl. She slowly turned to face me and replied after studying my face for a moment. “I am Maya. And no need to introduce yourselves. I know it all.” She smirked and turned her back to me. It was truly peculiar the way girls behaved. You could offend them by just looking or you could make their day by smiling at them.
I settled back and tried to divert my mind from what was happening. My life had really turned upside down. Seth, Lisa, Rocky, Liam, Dean Branat and all those people in the veil were probably dead. Or worse. Only because I had refused Lord Varun. It was truly amazing how quickly my mind adjusted to the things going on. A few days ago, going to Atlantis was the biggest of my concerns. It turned to doing good in the Hell Academy and to help my friends when I was in the veil. And now what I wanted most was to escape this prison and try to help gather the lost part of Kalki’s soul. The thought of leaving all this mambo-jumbo never even came close to my mind. It was my life. And leaving the preternatural community was not something I wanted to do. However hard it was to survive or be happy, but It was my life.
“What is an Apprentice, Natasha?” I asked her without giving a thought to what the other people would think. It was not everyday when an adult asked a kid for advice. Maya and Agnishikha both turned to face us and I was clearly able to see Ronan’s eyes at me from the rear view mirror. Surprisingly Vaul kept his full attention on the road.Natasha sighed heavily and shifted to face me slightly. “Every godling has to learn controlling the part of the godlike aura in his body. Everyone has his special talent too, but they learn a complete different sort of ethe… use of aura. It becomes more than a second nature to use aura afterwards for them. Apprenticeship is the first step in that education. All preternatural beings having heavenly aura are eligible to learn it.” She quickly burrowed her head into her chest after speaking and fell silent. She had stopped halfway in speaking that word and seemed flustered by it. It rang something in my head but the word didn’t come into my mind.
Ronan loudly cleared his throat and asked hesitantly. “Um… Akshat? Will you please explain why am I sensing an immortal’s aura inside the vehicle?” His eyes searched questioningly over Natasha and Agnishikha. It was nice to know that he asked me except any of the others. Agnishikha was clearly on edge and his speaking to me drove her off it. “That is because Natasha is an immortal you fool!” Agnishikha’s voice carried all her frustration in one go. Ronan turned in his seat to look at me. His face clearly showed that he thought Agnishikha was joking. Maya was also looking at me waiting to hear some sort of explanation. But when they saw my expression and knew it to be true, their eyes widened to the point of obscuring their whole faces. Maya’s jaw was hanging open and Ronan had his face as white as marble.
At that exact moment Vaul stamped on the break and the car slid to a halt. Slowly he turned completely back and said in a pained voice. “Then I am afraid I cannot take you any further.”