Some People are more easily excited than others. Some are also known to break into hysterics if their pen breaks or one hair falls off their head (Stupid, huh?). Most of the people in the latter category obviously fall into the first too. For example, girls are more prone to breaking into tears on the sight of mice or vermin which is considered stupid; but they handle things like giving birth quite bravely where many men usually faint. But you come across many opportunities in your life when you just want to slap the next person due to their stupidity.
I was staring at Agnishikha’s swollen face and had a strong urge to either kill her or commit suicide. The way she was talking made me think that she only took into the numerical value of the time gap. Obviously 11,986 years was a long time for being trapped, but when you calculate the actual passed time in our world, it comes near to almost 98 years. And for an immortal, that is like no time at all. “Then what is the problem Agnishikha? We can have more time to plan and prepare for the time when we escape.” If we escape. Agnishikha blinked and looked at my face as if looking for the first time. She scanned me for a few second and then continued in the same flat, dead voice. “Are you a child Akshat? Or are you so stupid that you can’t count figures? One year is equal to three days! Don’t you get it?”
I had a strong urge to grab my hair and scream in frustration. I knew that the girl was scared half out of her wits, but this was intolerable. I barely caught myself from shaking her. “That is exactly what I am talking about. One year here is equal to three days in our dimension. So we aren’t losing much time!” I was shouting when I finished. Girls were good to look at, and they were beautiful too. But there was seldom any girl who was beautiful, and had at least an ounce of brain matter in her head. Agnishikha jerked back as if singed by my words and stared at me with her eyes as wide as biscuits. And then to infuriate me further, she assumed a scornful expression. Of all things to do, she stood to loom over me and planted her fists on her hips. “And you are telling me now? When I was scared to death that if we were able to return, nothing could have been done? Couldn’t a boy possess a gram of wits in his head?” She threw up her hands in exasperation and stalked off to her room banging the door behind her.
I was staring at the door with my mouth wide open. What was my fault if her dim brain couldn’t interpret a thing except for the numerals? Was it my fault that she had an empty brain? And of all things, she was accusing me? Girls were truly weird. I decided to leave her alone to sulk. It was quite a while since I had a chance for grooming myself so I trudged towards the shower. It was a nice experience after such a hectic day. I had barely had a chance to brush my teeth when we were summoned to Lord Varun in the morning and the trek through the forest had taken a toll on my hygiene. It was almost dark when I came out from the long soak and knocked at Agnishikha’s door.
She opened it wearing a bright red Kurti and black jeans. It was odd the way globalization had affected the preternatural community. The Hindus used to wear only traditional Indian clothing when interacting with other races. The 20th century brought about a huge change in the lives of our ancestors with the intermingling of different cultures. Many creatures from different pantheons started to explore other cultures and ways of life. Hinduism wasn’t unaffected. We received a lot of foreigners interested to know the Hindu way of life. Similarly, many of our people also went to explore other cultures. The result was a supernatural globalization. Now, the Indian subcontinent housed creatures from the Greek, Christian, Egypt, Cyprus, Celtic and many other pantheons. Few of them joined us, the rest of them wanted to only explore our way. We were certainly affected by their ‘exploration’ too, as we had already started into western culture in the mortal world. The desertion of Gods also didn’t encourage us towards keeping with only our way of life, and slowly and more slowly, we were trapped in the glorious event of modern globalization. It was true that we performed our holy ceremonies in our traditional ways, but our day to day life had a strong impression of western culture.
She stared blandly at my face, quite defiant in admitting her mistake about the time gap. I didn’t goad her to accept my point and said. “Let’s go visit Natasha. I have no idea what are we going to do here. And I definitely need some supplies since I don’t carry my closet in my handbag.” I didn’t wait for her reply and turned to walk away. She stood rooted to her place as if deciding between yelling at me or hitting my head, then slammed the door and briskly trotted up to walk beside me with her nose in air. I still had an impression of a strange kinship with her as I had felt upon our first encounter. I hoped it wasn’t some more complex mumbo-jumbo because I was truly tired of the problems of my life. Last week had been the most hectic thing one could have gone through, and I really didn’t like it.
“Do you have any idea what might have happened to Seth and others?” I asked in an attempt to bring down her temperament. Her expression softened for a moment and then she slumped. “I don’t know. I hate being helpless but that’s what we are. The most we can hope is that somehow they were able to teleport to either side during the collapse.” Her tone clearly suggested she wanted to believe so too. The fact that I had escaped and they could not made me feel the ‘survivor’s guilt’. But wait; wasn’t I trapped in a God’s prison? If they escaped then it meant they had a better fate than mine. I shook my head to clear the thoughts. I had only known them a few hours of my life. But it was as if they constituted a large fraction of me. It would have been nice to have a way to talk with them.
We approached the ground floor, which we knew by the enormous gateway on the front of the tower. It let through the only unaltered fading light and we were finally able to get out of the feeling of being underwater. The dim moonlight cut through the blue haze as a lighthouse does in the night and I instantly noticed Maya talking with a few boys at one of the waiting benches. We approached her and before I could have said anything, Agnishikha said. “Hey Maya. Do you have any idea what are we supposed to do next?” Her voice had a careful tinge in it which showed her caution as well as formality with her. The chatting stopped and all of them looked at us. Maya cleared her throat and introduced us. “Guys, meet our newest arrivals, Agnishikha and Akshat. And you guys meet your classmates Rachel, Kunal, Ileana and Utkarsh. You will be studying with them in the upcoming days.” They smiled and waved at us and I did the same with a nod. Maya continued. “As for what you would be doing, your command lies with the immortals, and you will shortly be joining your formal apprenticeship with them. As for now, you have to visit Ronan at the 8th floor and receive your lodging arrangements.”
I nodded and turned with Agnishikha to go to Ronan. There was no lift in the building and we walked up to the central staircase. The tower must have been made by engineering unknown to mankind because there was not any support to the stairs. The walk took us a short time while we walked in silence. Agnishikha’s demeanor had changed since coming here and I really thought that she was under some kind of pressure. Losing my friends was hard for me and Agnishikha had probably had more than a crush on Rocky. Lord Varun’s reason of destroying the veil was a mystery to me. It could not have been due to my disobedience because our imprisonment was a living proof of that. Had he joined Decain? It was definitely a possibility. But if that was so, we were as good as dead. We came upon a pair of giggling twins who were whispering something in the supply closet at the 8th floor’s landing. They tried to act sober when they noticed us and started towards the stairs. Agnishikha smiled and asked them. “Where can we find Ronan? Would you mind telling us?” They looked startled at being addressed and one of them giggled nervously. The other returned Agnishikha’s smile and told us to go to the third room in the next corridor. We left them as they broke into another bout of giggling and turned right. There were only a few people going about in the tower and it seemed almost deserted. On the third door a bronze plaque read ‘Second Authority – Fourth division’. On another, slightly newer plaque below it there was a single word in capitals ‘RONAN’. Below it, there was something scratched in a little smaller font. ‘The Cannon’. We shared a look and I knocked on the door twice.
“Come in!” The familiar voice of Ronan called us in. The room we stepped into was the perfect cross between bleakness, formality and aggressiveness. Ronan sat in a straight-backed leather chair with a gleaming wood table as a companion. It seemed to be crafted with a single piece of wood. How it was possible, I hadn’t had an idea. “I have been expecting you two for quite a while. I am amazed your curiosity died so quickly at the sight of a soft bed.” He was mocking us and I didn’t feel like being mocked. Before I could have a chance to retaliate, Agnishikha got a chance to release her pent up frustration “I would like to see you chased away by your own people and then being hunted by an immortal as you run towards a place you didn’t know existed, and on top of that if you make a god your enemy and get locked into a freaking prison dimension all in a span of 48 hours, then isn’t it fair to get at least a little sleep?” Amazingly, her shrieking didn’t crack the glass of the windows as she thumped her hand on the table in front of Ronan. His eyes were crinkling with amusement as he carefully brushed the paper plain which Agnishikha had crushed under her fist. She was breathing as hard as a raging bull and I thought better than to say anything.
Ronan eyed her intently and turned to me. “And do you have to say something as well?” His voice didn’t reveal even a hint of his familiarity with me. It was as if he didn’t even know me. I shrugged and said “Nope. I think I share the same feelings as her.” He nodded and then said to Agnishikha. “And that young lady; was the last thing you got to say without punishment. Starting now, I am your senior and you will be punished is you insult me, or any other senior.” He waited to look at us piercingly. I remained quiet and Agnishikha’s mouth was agape with the ineffectiveness of her shouting. Ronan plucked two booklets from his desk and threw them at us. “Here is the basic rules and guidelines’ booklet. You will be following each and every rule with utmost respect. It also contains the workings and history of our prison society so you better look at it too. And even after that if you have some doubts, ask one of your seniors. Any questions?” He finished with a clear note of dismissal.
The newfound alien instinct in me to retaliate at being cornered stirred and I asked impulsively, without giving much thought. “What is the purpose of all this? We aren’t getting out anytime soon. So why do we need to go through this apprenticeship and all this?” I was surprised by the amount of rebellion in my voice. Ronan eyed me with his brows raised. He clearly didn’t expect me to say anything. He sighed and stood up. He went to the window and waved his palm in front of it so that a square patch of underwater blue glass brightened and light permeated the room as if from the window of a sunken ship. “Almost every person here is uneducated in any type of particular skill. When the first immortal were imprisoned here, they devised a course of study to educate the prisoners in the art of survival and utilizing the aura. Their purpose was to find out something to fill the free part of prisoners’ time and to make them useful. They planned on creating an elite force of creatures from everywhere and to escape out of this prison. The first six immortals were all from six different pantheons. They all skimmed the best out of their knowledge and put it all together to create the best kind of training and education a being can receive.” He turned to face us. “We still plan the same with a few side aims as well. We use our study to create an elite force of warriors who are also the best in manipulating aura. As you can see, the population here is too large to survive only as weapons. You can find a lot of beings specialized in the art of creating food and other living necessities out of aura.” He paused to settle comfortably on his chair and continued. “So you must train yourself to be the best you can because we might get the chance to get out any moment now. Or perhaps never. But we are going to emerge as the most proficient army in the known universe.”
We were interrupted by a knock exactly at that time and Ronan called for the person to come in. He was a short, stocky boy with a well chiseled body which Maya had introduced to us. His biceps were as solid as rocks and his shoulders could have rivaled any wrestlers’. His skin was fair to the point of being pale which clashed profoundly with his jet black hair. The most noticeable thing in his face was his eyes – The color of sparkling blue. “You called me, Sir?” He asked Ronan in a casual way. There was a certain mischief in the way he carried himself that emanated an aura of adventure around him. “Yes. You must have heard about these two. Meet Akshat and Agnishikha.” He turned to us and continued. “This is Utkarsh and he will escort you to your cabins in the apprentice section. You may leave.”
Agnishikha opened her mouth as if to say something but stopped mid way and stalked off the room. I shared a confused glance with Utkarsh and we followed her after a brief nod to Ronan. As we came out into the corridor, Agnishikha was muttering imperiously standing to a little side. “We should leave her alone. She has been at boiling point since the morning. BY the way, Nice to meet you.” I said to Utkarsh as we marched to Agnishikha. Utkarsh stole a quick glance at her and furtively increased his face to keep a little ahead. “So, you guys had a little bit of trouble with the slaves, as I have heard. Is that right?” He asked me to break the uncomfortable silence. As with all extra dimensional places, I didn’t need to know his tongue to understand what he was saying. I sighed and replied “Not so much. But yeah, it was a lot confusing at the moment. But that fellow cleared our doubts before they could havr appeared with his offer to carry our heads on plates to Lord Varun.” Utkarsh looked at me as if puzzled. He asked “They actually told you their motives? I was half on my way to their city when I found out what they were planning. I was lucky to escape with all my body parts intact.”
My doubts were cleared instantly about what I had guessed about him. There was a crazy light in his eyes as he talked about how he escaped with the help of his boon granted by Lord Hanuman. Utkarsh definitely had a liking for adrenaline infused adventure, and his enthusiasm about it made me think he was on the verge of craziness too. I kept making idle conversation with him as he led us to the 3rd floor and pointed out the boys’ and the girls’ sections to me and Agnishikha. She stalked off towards the girls’ section and He followed me into the boys’. Just as Agnishikha was turning to go into her section, Utkarsh leapt into the corridor and yelled. “Hey girl!” This brought her attention on him directly and he continued without a single thought. “Please comb your hair next time when you march into official meetings. It looks like the tail of a skunk!”
My mouth was open as I watched him laughing with mirth as he clapped on my back. Agnishikha must have broken through her shock because I heard her cursing a long time before she came on the head of corridor. Just as she was coming up on us with her teeth in a ferocious snarl, she hit a boundary of invisibility and bounced back. At this point Utkarsh was rolling on the floor in laughter and Agnishikha’s cursing grew vile to the point of hurting ears. She saw the futility of her ramblings after a few minutes and stood glaring at me as if it was my fault. “I am going to kill you.” She said in a deadly calm voice and turned to walk back towards the girls’ side.
Utkarsh had somehow managed to stand up and was grinning foolishly at her retreating back. “You, my friend are in big trouble.” I said to him and his grin widened if possible. “Don’t worry man. Girls or Boys can’t go into each others’ sections. So chill out and have fun.” He clasped my shoulder and led us to a small door on the far side of the corridor just like the twenty others. He opened it with a gesture at the lock and we stepped inside. It was a square room with the side width of about 10 feet and there was a bed, a pair of chair and table, a closet and what appeared to be a weapons’ rack as furniture. All was dyed gray, or looked gray in the blue light of the underwater tower. He slumped on the bed and sighed heavily. “You never told me. Did you really refuse heaven to Lord Varun to get here?” He asked me as I sat on the chair. That was definitely something I didn’t wanted to discuss. So I tried to evade the topic. “Yes. He came to us ordering like we were his slaves or something and I didn’t like his manners. What if he is a God? We also have self respect.” I shrugged and turned to him. “How did you end up here? And when?”
A wide smile again broke up on his face. He said “You will have to hear the full story then.” Seeing my nod he continued “I was born in Ireland in a small town. My parents didn’t have any relatives and the local populace despised them for some reason. I didn’t get to play with anyone my age, and so I started wandering off into the woods alone. I felt peculiarly aware of the animals. Once I spotted a little monkey trapped in a thorn bush and I couldn’t get him out. Out of frustration, I commanded the bush to move aside and it did. That was the start of my exploration into my abilities. I told my parents and they seemed very happy. My grandpa too had the same kind of abilities and that was the reason for the hate of townspeople for us.” He smiled deviously and said in a evil voice. “You are generally afraid of things you don’t know about.” With a laugh at my startled look, he continued.
“I continued exploring my abilities in the woods and one such evening when I was lifting a boulder the size of a house with my left hand, a procession of the local priests saw me. I was barely 10 years old and they fled on my sight. I immediately returned to my house but didn’t tell my parents about the incident. As was my habit, I went to sleep in a little storeroom built on the outskirts of the woods. At midnight, I was raised by cries and shouts. I peeked out and was greeted by the sights of two bodies burning on crucifix and my house ablaze. There were about 150 men shouting curses and mumbling prayers there and I wept while I hid. It was morning when I was awoken by my neighbor. She was a kind Indian woman who had come to Ireland for a couple of years with her husband. I was afraid that she was going to burn me too, but she took me to her house and fed me while I cried. The priests had removed the bodies and had deposited them in a lake in the woods.
“The lady helped me hide for a month, then she managed to smuggle me with her when she returned to India. She went all the way in ships so I could hide more easily. With my abilities it was fairly simple. So I came to India and immediately fell in love with Hinduism. I felt a strange bias towards lord Hanuman and devoted myself to his way of life. He met in one of my dreams and blessed me with a boon. That was how I came face to face with a devotee of Lord Varun. It was my bad luck that when I was having a little fun with her, Lord Varun passed by and I ended up here. That’s the soul of the story.” He finished with a glorious bow.
I stared at his smiling face and thought about his terrible past. But wasn’t it too late for witch burnings? I frowned and asked him. “And when did you come here?” As usual, his grin widened and he said dramatically. “I’ve been here for 10 years.” I performed a calculation in my mind. If he was here for 10 years, then it meant the time passed in the living world was… a month? I sighed in relief but his grin grew wicked. “Don’t feel relieved my boy. I am senior to you by 10 years. You might want to start thinking about obeying orders.” I looked at him to see if he was joking. My face grew slack as I noticed his wicked grin. Then he burst out laughing. “You are such a sissy. Come on man. I was just joking. This is going to be your room, and the first in the corridor is the warden’s. Feel free to get your clothes and uniforms from him any time you want. My room is the fourth to your left. Get comfortable and meet me in two hours for your tour & dinner.” With a salute he got up and left the room.
I was certain. He was definitely crazy. It was going to be an interesting stay.