Chapter 7

Sara had always been a romantic at heart, never caring so much about the status and riches of a person as much as how good a heart the person had. This was partly due to her upbringing; her parents always stressed more on values and character. For all that, she had never really fallen in love in all her 19 years of life. Although she showed that she didn’t care, underneath, she wished there was someone in her life like some of her friends had. Whenever she was haunted by such thoughts, she consoled herself by saying ‘I still have a whole life ahead of me’. Her friends were always trying to pair her up with some guy or the other, like last week, the waiter in that hotel. True, the guy was pretty handsome, with innocent dark eyes that seemed to pierce through soul and the roughly cut short hair that somehow looked cute on him, and… ‘Uh, Not again!’ She reminded herself. ‘Stop thinking about that guy already’. She sighed; ‘He did look cute though’, she thought with a chuckle, ‘And the cutlets in those hotel were damn good. Well, I’ve got to have them now; I’ll check if Rose is ready and we’ll go there tonight itself’

Rose had been more than ready, and now Sara was wondering what she should wear. ‘It’s just Rose damn it, wear anything, who cares?’ she mumbled, exasperated, then picked up a short black gown. ‘Too much legs’ and the gown went into the heap of other discarded clothes. She finally decided to go with simple red top and jeans, her decision rushed by Rose who was waiting below and had called twice already. She checked her stuff, said goodbye to her parents, apologized to Rose for taking so much time and was on her way to the hotel in a jiffy.

As soon as she entered the hotel, she immediately noticed two things, one that unexpectedly made her heart flutter and other that made her stomach churn. First off, she saw the guy who got her bill last time still on his shift, and seeing him somehow made her feel flustered, not helped by the fact that Rose whispered “There’s your guy” in her ear. Next moment she saw Schmitt and she felt like slapping Rose right in her smirking face when she continued her whisper with “And there’s mine!” Rose had called her boyfriend to meet in the hotel without telling Sara; which made her upset about the whole situation especially since Schmitt was a complete piece of work. She would never understand what Rose saw in that guy. He always leered at her that made her feel self-conscious and uncomfortable. Now she knew why Rose had been so eager to come.

As they took their seats, Rose went and hugged Schmitt tight. He had the devil’s smile on his face as his eyes diverted to meet Sara’s. After seating Rose, he came to Sara with his arms open. Sara’s quipped “I have to wash my hands” and made off leaving Schmitt fuming. Seeing a washbasin nearby, she went inside what seemed like a hastily built cubicle, just besides the main path. There was a mirror in front, in which she saw her reflection after washing her face and exclaimed “Damn Rose. And damn that stupid Schmitt! Damn! Damn!” Just as she finished those words, she heard a chuckle some distance on her side, “Wow, you say ‘damn’ a lot, don’t you? Everything okay?” It was the waiter guy; he was looking at her with genuine concern. She replied, “Yep, I’ll be fine. There’s just this guy….” She trailed off. “The guy in flashy blue shirt? Yeah, he’s been eyeballing women ever since he came. We’re keeping an eye on him. One sign of trouble and he’s out. If he tries anything, just let me know, and I’ll throw him out myself. Cool?” Sara was genuinely surprised. She replied in a positive and excused herself and came back to her seat. As she sat down, she couldn’t wipe the smile off her face, despite herself. “You okay?” Rose chirped with a glint in her eyes. “Sure, let’s order” Sara said and her eyes searched for the guy who had just brought her back from a disastrously moody night. She saw him standing in a corner looking for potential serves, and as their eyes met, she smiled and beckoned him; he was immediately by their table. “I’ll have 2 cutlets please” Sara said, “They’re the best here.” “Yeah, we are proud of our cutlets, best taste in town!” he replied. Then Rose suddenly jerked up and said “I got to go to the washroom. You coming Sara?” As much as she would’ve liked to go with her, seeing how it left her and Schmitt alone at the table, she declined; she didn’t know why. Rose gave a look and left. Schmitt decided to chip in, “Dude, you didn’t even bring the menu card; Go, Fetch” and sent the waiter guy away. Sara didn’t like the way he talked and she said “Talk nicely Schmitt, what’s your problem?” to which Schmitt replied “What? He’s just a waiter Sara. What does it matter how I talk to him? It’s not like he’s going to do anything.” “It’s not about him retorting, it’s about being nice. Why insult someone just because they are doing a job that you look down on with prejudice? He’s also a human and he also has feelings. So be nice.” “Huh? Why are you talking about him as if he’s your boyfriend?” “He’s not, I’m talking about him as a person.” “Right, as if anyone could even imagine going out with that guy. Ha, good luck with getting a girl dude!” Sara didn’t like this turn in the conversation and spoke, enraged, “He’s a much better guy than you, a thousand times better. And yes, if I ever had to choose a boyfriend, I would always choose a guy like him over a guy like you.” “You would choose him over me? HIM? No fucking way. You’re just saying it, but you don’t mean it. You have to be a man to follow through your word. It’s not your cup of tea, my dear. Girls will always fall for guys like me…good looking, rich, educated, who are properly clothed…” Sara lost it at that moment, her anger exploding inside her like a Volcano, ‘Damn you, you piece of shit, I’ll show you’ she thought to herself. And that was also the instant the waiter guy returned with the menu card, and she exclaimed with fire in her eyes “Hey, would you like to go out with me?”

 

Chapter 8

Anudîn sat idle on his throne, staring at the dark reflection of the ceiling on his ice-glass floor. Though his thoughts skimmed over the movements of various creatures within his care and control, his mind was set on something else. An event in past that had sent ripples into the future; the future that was now fast approaching.

He was and has always been dead set against the Deal, yet his vote didn’t count has he wasn’t a hell lord back then. The drakekin do not belong on this plane, simple as that. Why his elder brother decided to go for it was beyond his understanding. Now known as Markerith, his brother had sought control over the inner most circle of hell. And he got his wish, which he brought to fore using the mixed remains of The Blood Dragon and Slasîs to gather and project essence & power of different planes. Ah, the spectacle when he ousted the then Lord! As Markerith conquered the 9th circle, the one which he had before fell into Anudîn lap. And there it has been ever since.

He still remembers seeking out his brother through his mind, right after the debacle with the uprising of drakekin. Markerith was no longer the brother he remembered. He had taken on a fiery visage, everything from his eyes to toes glowed with unnatural heat. ‘Proper Hell Lord’ he had called himself. Anudîn tried to reason with him; the hells didn’t allow the drakekin to find salvation, just like they had now, they will again try to escape, even if they know they won’t survive. It was in their nature. “Brother Markerith, heed my words. Use the essence and open a portal. Let these creatures back onto their home. They do not belong here! Destruction of the mortal world will be the only result of this foolhardy endeavor. The Hells feed on the mortal world. Do not doom us brother. Heed my words!” Markerith had done everything but that. Instead, he chose to jest, “Are you afraid of the creatures, Brother Anudîn? Or have you forgotten that you sit on the Ice Throne by my leave only? Do you not have faith in my plans anymore?” “What more plans, brother? Have you not attained all which you have sought after?” To which Markerith replied “Oh, not yet my dear brother, not yet.” With words and looks that sent chills up Anudîn spine. That was the moment Anudîn decided that he must do something, which was several mils ago. As immortals, their patience was legendary. And so he waited, and waited, until things suddenly started changing in the nether worlds. The magic that was once native to Arda had been sucked out eons ago, yet there was an intangible flow now; somewhere, somehow. Anudîn knew he needed to act, and act fast.

About a century ago, he had learned through his spies that Markerith had smuggled the artifacts on to the surface. Somehow, he had managed to embed the artifact’s combined essence of The Blood Dragon and Drakekin Commander into a mortal soul that would attain power after a lifetime and rebirth. He knew that Markerith would’ve marked the soul, which would journey straight to the fiery pit after the human’s death. Anudîn needed to prevent that, as Hell Lords have absolute control over their dominion and all within. Which meant Markerith would absorb the soul and… Anudîn shuddered to think of the consequences. Is there a limit to greed? If he wouldn’t be stopped in the Hells, and certainly no one on the Surface could stop him, then virtually the entire existence would be at his mercy, unless there was someone more powerful than him, which was very unlikely. Anudîn somehow knew that Markerith’s first move after conquering hells and surface would be to open portals to the Drakekin home land and suck in their essence. Then, the next world, next realm, next plane… He would never stop.

  ***  

Just as he envisioned Markerith conquering known worlds, his new servant Kranch came in with news of the arcane drakekin. She had eaten a human! Kranch seemed unexpectedly upset that it had broken Anudîn’s conditions, so Anudîn had summarily dismissed him. Ah! The Arcane Drakekin. Anudîn always had interest in the ongoing on his subjects, and was particularly amused watching the peculiar activities of this drakekin. It was unlike most others, as if not knowing it was in hell forever. He knew right when it came in his realm that it had rare essence of magic in its veins. It had a mind that remained sharp despite the tumultuous blizzards and scourges. Anudîn acknowledged that it could grow its own energy, another of its arcane ability, and that was what made it so strong in its mind & soul; although he doubted it knew its own strengths. That was one of the reasons he had chosen that particular drakekin. First off, he couldn’t send a mortal as it would break the flow of essence from mortal world to theirs. It was strictly forbidden. But a drakekin? Well, it wasn’t part of this cycle, so there would be no backlash. Next thing was Markerith; Anudîn simply couldn’t send one of his minions on the Surface since Markerith would eventually, if not right away, gain knowledge of that action. Like Anudîn could see to other 7 circles besides his own, Markerith could see ALL of them. And he probably had spies on Surface too. The reason Anudîn asked the drakekin to kill the mortal was because the arcane essence in the drakekin’s body resonated with that present on the mortal’s soul to an extent, since they belonged to the same plane. Anudîn expected the drakekin to simply absorb or shatter some of that essence so that the soul would be weakened. Finally, he expected the drakekin to act reasonably. He held very high faith in the rationale of its mind, having seen it act so intelligently while under his care. To test his theory, he had put on the conditions. A few necessary, some vague, rest utterly useless. He wanted to see how it behaved under these constraints, and wondered how it would test the waters of its freedom. His lips twitched into a slight smile as the soul of the mortal it had killed flowed into his realm. It had found and broken one of his useless conditions, it was growing just as he had expected. Yet he also wondered, seeing how the soul that wasn’t marked to his realm flowed right here. Did the drakekin’s actions on Surface result in similar effects as that of his minions? This was new. What if it kills the mortal and the soul comes to his realm? What would he do then? Could he contest with the power of a weakened soul against the might of Markerith, the Lord of Hells? Maybe, but then a weakened soul won’t help him open and maintain the portal, which meant the drakekin would be stuck here. White mists formed in the air as a sigh escaped his mouth, can’t have it both ways. He had set the wheel turning. Now the fate of all that was known depended on the path the Drakekin shall take.

 

Chapter 9

“Should I just tell him it’s off? Or would it be too cruel of me? He’ll think I’m crazy – ‘first you ask me out then you cancel on me!’”

“Whatever?”

“Oh come on R, are you still pissed because I didn’t come with you to the bathroom back in the hotel? I’m sorry okay, just, please… I need your help.”

taking a deep breath “Alright fine! Tell me, do you like this guy?”

“Well, I don’t not like him. He looks good and is good… but…”

“But should you have asked him out like that? Just because Schmitt got under your skin? Sarr, you really need to get your temper under control – it’s going to be your undoing one day; I keep telling you this but you won’t listen.”

“I know, I know… Okay, how about this? I’ll go out with him, and after some time, you call me with an SOS and I’ll come back home right away!”

“Oldest ruse in the book. Anyway, I’ll do it – if you promise not to bump me off again like you did today.”

“I promise, now what were you going to say earlier?”

smiling devilishly “Let’s put a pin on it. Right now, we need you to look stunning for your faux date”

  ***  

It was entirely Sara’s idea to meet in the park that was midway between the hotel Kelly worked at and her home. From there on, movie, dinner, long walks, everything was on the table since the park was bang in the middle of the town – she had said that logically and partly to irritate Schmitt. But now, she couldn’t much think of anything besides wondering when Rose would bail her out.

She reached the park’s gate a bit late. Once again, she had got lost in her heap of clothes. She blamed Rose for that – there was no need to do all the get-up but Rose has insisted! Well, here she was, all dressed up pretty please for someone she was about to ditch in minutes; someone who hadn’t even dared to show up on time!

Suddenly she saw someone waving at her from inside. Then she saw him. She mentally kicked herself for being stupid enough to imagine him coming here in his waiter attire. Instead, he was wearing a deep blue shirt and a pitch black pant. His hair was short as always but today it shined in the reflected light whose source she couldn’t pin-point. As she got closer she saw his smile – a simple smile that betrayed relief and excitement at the same time. She felt guilty for even thinking of never coming and unknowingly breaking his heart. The closer she got, the weaker her legs seemed. A smile automatically erupted on her lips and she had to will her breath to remain calm.

“Wow, you look so beautiful!” he said with such genuineness that her heart skipped a beat. “I’m glad you came” he continued, and she understood where the relief came from. “That dress suits you perfectly” he said and she made a mental note to hug Rose hard next time she met. “Aren’t you going to say something?” he asked and suddenly she came out of her stupor. Her face seemed to heat up and she quickly replied “I’m sorry, I just… you look good too!” “Thank you” he replied with a confident smile, “now, I don’t mind just standing here staring at each other the whole night, but I guess that’s not how people usually spend their first dates?” Why are his eyes so intense? “Yeah, let’s go somewhere” she replied, trying to avoid his gaze and hiding her shy smile.

He gestured her to walk with him. After several steps, he came to halt in from of a moldy looking bench. “This bench has a special place in my heart” he said. “It represents me at my lowest and darkest period in life, a time where I was stuck in void of psyche” She couldn’t understand a word of it and he seemed to sense that as he uttered, “I know this is not the ideal conversation for a first date but I just… ever since we decided to come to this park, I’ve been debating with myself if I should talk about it or not. But looking at you just now, walking past this place is just not an option. As I said, this bench is special to me and so, I’m sharing this with you” Sara decided to keep quiet and listen, as she felt his words taking a turn towards tragic. As they both sat on the bench, he taking a moment to compose himself and she looked at his face for the first time since they started walking. “I’m an orphan Sara. I’ve lived in an orphanage my whole life. About three years ago, I had to leave. I had to spend the next couple of weeks on this bench itself. I had almost given up. Fortunately, I got a job in the hotel and have been there since. I have very little formal education but I love to read. And whatever life hands me, I try to make the best of it. So yeah, I’m a nobody right now but I like to think that I’m a better nobody than I was when I was crashing here. And that I will be much better nobody in the future. Who knows? Someday, I might become somebody!”

Suddenly Sara understood. He was scared that she may not like him because of his past, because he thought he was a no-one. She gave a warm smile that seemed to ease his anxiety right away. “Kelly, you’re a good guy and that’s enough for me. And you’re not a nobody. You’re –” Suddenly, Sara’s phone started ringing. It was Rose. She cut the call and was about to apologize to Kelly when Rose called again. She picked up the call to Rose hysterically bombarding an emergency. Sara said “Okay” and cut short her rant. Now she looked at Kelly with an apologetic smile. “If your friend is in trouble, you should go” he said, trying to hide his glumness behind a small smile. “No actually, she’s not in trouble. She just…” Sara trailed off. “Oh!” Kelly replied. As much embarrassed Sara felt right now, she was impressed by how quickly Kelly catched on. “Well, I’m glad you decided to stay” he said, this time hiding nothing behind his smile, managing to even show some of his white teeth. “So am I” she said, reflecting his smile.