-The dead do love?-
“What kind of name is Tu?” I asked while hunting for non-poisonous plant parts to eat, which I had no knowledge of, in the forest surrounding the dead lands. The others were more concentrated on killing something which ran but I preferred food which offered a far less challenge to be eaten; plus I was a vegetarian by choice, a belief which I would uphold unless I was absolutely dying. Nothing grew on those wretched dead lands except for fish which we were of course forbidden to eat.
“Tu is short for vulture and she thought it was very clever when she first used it. Her real name is very long and old. She wanted to embrace the modern culture.” teased Ruux, while the vulture glared.
I had hoped I would find water to bathe. This was my third day in the same stinking clothes with no bath. If I decided to splash around in the numerous water sources of the graveyard, I would have been dead, lounging around and singing karaoke with all the great souls like me in heaven.
“And her real name is?”
“Don’t you dare vermin.” Threatened Tu after which all conversations ceased and we silently searched for food.
In the silence that ensued I began to wonder; both of them had left me alone the first time we met without much explanation about where I was and how this place worked, to chase those intruders who were hell bent on killing the woman who had given me her memories and perhaps her solar magic after she had died. Now the duo was telling me their past stories and had even offered to harness some of my new power with a ritual so that I could learn to use it. I had refused because as soon as they uttered the word ritual the only thing I could imagine them doing was sacrificing an animal and dancing around a giant bonfire, half naked and drinking blood. This kind of ritual suited their personalities.
Since I didn’t know my way around these parts I trailed them everywhere. While they were trying to be quiet to catch a prey, I didn’t miss any opportunity to crunch leaves, break branches, talk, cough, scratch, breathe…
Finally they had started to snap braches onto my face, glare at me and four times I had ended up stepping in dung. So I just took a break and sat on a small clearing of grass eating the tiny orange colored berries I had collected, after they promised to return back for me when they were done, which I seriously doubted.
I don’t know why they had not asked me to leave, since obviously no one else was allowed on those lands. ‘Curiosity maybe’ I shrugged.
I imagined the people who came to throw away the dead bodies. They must really be under a lot of stress, what with Ruux chasing them away; the efficiency of the task must have greatly increased because of him.
Finishing my meal and saving some for the next day, I wiped my mouth with my sleeve and got up. No sound of their return yet.
I moved towards the side of the clearing where a lemon tree grew and entered the forest, making sure I remembered the landmarks to return.
The stratified foliage of the forest surrounded me with a hush as if keeping a watchful eye on the intruder within. I could feel the soft green and brown carpet of moss under my feet in the muted light passing through the canopy of trees. Blood red and white poppy flowers grew amid the bushes of the orange berries I had had earlier and bright green vines encircled the tree trunks, climbing up in search of more sunlight. A distinct fragrance of flowers in bloom filled the air, something which reminded me of cardamom and jasmine.
Looking up I scanned the trees, spotting a glint of pink I took a step forward.(Click at the forward word for a little side adventure).
Suddenly the jungle sprouted wings, started moving and chirped with laughter; frogs began croaking in a distant pond, birds started tweeting; the thump of hoofs, a flutter of wings, the rustle of leaves, humming of bees, even a spider began weaving a new web between two leaves.
A pink bird was perched on the branch I had spotted earlier. Its feathers resembled the ones I had in my hair. Carefully I stepped towards it but startled by my movement, it flew away. Following it I began to run.
Two white spirals materialized at the end of the trail I had been following after the pink bird got lost. I had no idea where I was and all the landmarks which I had memorized earlier were nowhere to be found. I began to hear my own heartbeat and my palms became clammy with sweat. How would they find me? I was lost.
I now stood at the foot of the two spirals and the sight before me was so hypnotic that for a moment I forgot that I even existed.
A gigantic curtain hung between the two spirals about sixty feet wide, touching the heavens above. It swayed and twirled in a plethora of colors as if the goddess had taken down the northern lights, cut them into thin ribbons and woven them together to form the pulsating curtain of light before me. I felt like a tiny bug standing before it. The smell of charged air and the bone melting temperature were the only things that kept me from touching it.
A faint scraping sound interrupted my silent reverie. I turned my attention to the maze of half collapsed brick walls flanking the colossal monument on either side. Nothing was visible.
Too afraid of what might be lurking inside I didn’t examine further.
Again the panic returned and I waited near the spirals for Ruux and the vulture to find me. Perhaps they could track me down. I had not wandered far from the clearing; had I?
I got the strange feeling as if someone was watching me. I turned my head and scanned the area but I was alone; as alone as one can be in a jungle.
After hours of waiting in the heat I gave up all hope. Maybe they would not come.
“We can go now” shouted Ruux nearby.
Getting up I sighed with relief. Finally!
The sound of rapid shuffling of feet emanated from the walls and as I glanced back I could barely make out the silhouette of a little girl standing on top of one of the walls. With urgency she lifted her arms and flew away and I kept watching with surprise.
Both my companions joined me within minutes.
“What is that thing?” I asked referring to the spirals, as we walked away.
“Later” replied Tu.
I wish I could catch the annoying bird and shake her until she answered all my questions.
“At least tell me your epic love story,” I said to distract her while my mind processed the flying girl.
A good ten minutes passed in silence and I thought she would never speak but finally she began.
“Ages ago we fell in love. The moon used to be dark then and the mortals ignorant. He was an explorer when I first met him in the orchard; tall and lean, walking with a slight limp. I wanted to know him better, so we met again, and again and again. We knew our lives would be empty without each other before the end of the season. So under the watch of the stars one night we held each other’s hands and promised we would forever be together life after life. I could not stop smiling for days after that.”
“He stopped his wanderings and settled with me. We laughed, we fought, argued and loved but we stayed together till we were old and crippled with no teeth. He died first and took birth again. But we had promised each other so after I died I was ready to join him again.”
“But a soul stealer stood ready to snatch away my memories when I came up. I didn’t want to forget him and our love, so instead I seized the body of the vulture circling above. And I found him again as we promised.”
“Then why aren’t you with him?”
“I will be. Story over.” Tu said. Then she flew away leaving Ruux and me alone back in the graveyard.
The constant churning of thoughts in my head made it impossible for me to sleep that night. I tossed and turned and whatever little snatches of sleep I had were peppered by convoluted impossible dreams of birds and trees and the little girl flapping her wings holding me in her claws.
Finally giving up I sat straight.
“You know she found him again. She has found him eight times since then, every time after he took birth again. He had forgotten her in every single reincarnation.” Ruux said. I thought he was asleep!
“He had passed through and had given all his memories to me to me the first time. He forgot all about her, their life, their promise, everything when she went to see him after each rebirth.”
“She lost everything then. She became a different person.”
“She follows him even now. He has a family, new people he loves and promises to love forever, but she still follows, hoping that some day he would remember a love so deep.”
“That is where she went now; to see him.”
I closed my eyes and tried to sleep again, managing to fall in a light daze.
Movement from the bower broke my sleep. Ruux was leaving stealthily. I remained motionless pretending to be asleep.
When everything was quiet again I opened my eyes just a bit to ascertain that he was gone. I got up too and followed the diminishing speck of black bolting away I don’t know where.
He nervously glanced back once I reached close enough to make out his features in the moonlight. There was no place to hide on the flat terrain so I just stood still and prayed he did not see me and miraculously enough he did not. He kept moving forward.
After half an hour of dodging puddles of water and acting like a super secret spy I had shifted to my auto pilot mode when Ruux suddenly stopped in front of one of the cisterns. He glanced back once and jumped in the water while I kept staring at the ripples reflecting the moonlight. Within minutes he climbed back up on the other side and kept moving forward.
I meanwhile pondered over my dilemma; if I jumped I would most definitely die like the golden lady and I couldn’t go back either, I needed to know what he was up to.
I started walking along the ragged brim of the water before me in the direction where he was moving on the other side. Surely this must end somewhere.
A patch of air, ice cold suddenly transpired through me, making me shiver.
“Keep following him and cross over when I tell you to. The water thins out nearby; you will be able to jump over it.” A deep male voice whispered in my ear. I obviously looked around and found no one.
“Who was that?” I whispered hoping no one would answer.
“I am a ghost. You don’t have time to hear my whole life saga. Keep moving. Trust me, I’ll tell you where to go.”
“Why would I trust you? I can’t even see you!”
“You don’t have the gift of sight but you can hear me and you could perceive my presence.”
I raised my eyebrows in confused acknowledgement.
“I don’t want anything from you yet. So trust me and cross here.” The voice said just as the cold air shifted my body to face the water.
It was narrow at that point, yes, but still it was risky. I could die if I missed by an inch. There was no slope easing its way into the water, just a deep crevice from the beginning to the end.
“Jump now. He is getting away. If you lose him you die.”
There was no reason to trust but still I jumped. I had no choice. Everyone was new to me and I could only trust everyone warily until one of them took advantage of my naivety and then, I would have a scale to measure everyone against.
Despite the tight skirt I made it to the other side with a thudding heart and quickly ran in the direction where I had last seen Ruux go.
Soon I found him standing in front of a set of four interconnected cisterns as if he had been waiting for me. He followed them till the end of the last one and turned a sharp right suddenly disappearing in the darkness.
I ran behind and was swallowed by water immediately. He had led me into a trap!
Order of reading the fabler series:
0. prologue then
2. Tu- the vulture
Thank god you finally reached the end!
Thanks for reading. It was a bit long this time but I hope it was worth it.
I would love to listen to your feedbacks and criticism.
And please do read the earlier two stories of the series.I promise they are relatively short.;-)
I almost didn’t make the vulture painting, was so tired.