After a grueling battle against Shatanan, Kaya and Myra narrowly avoid a certain death. Myra opens her heart to a shocked Kyra, before Taraksh apprises the two of Rian’s efforts to convince Myra’s father to support them. Will they succeed in winning an ally, or is it just the start of their troubles?
‘Now is the time to know what you are capable of,’ said Deleena as she walked into the room. Kaya sprang to her feet and hugged her grandmother tightly. Myra watched fondly, reminiscing about the times she used to leap at her mother.
‘How are you, grandmother? I’m so sorry I never reached out to you even though Rian told me that he had kept you informed of my whereabouts.’
‘Oh, yes. That boy is the reason why I’m not mad at you. Anyways, enough of pleasantries, tell me about this Shatanan guy that you saw in the forest.’
‘Woah, straight to the point! By the way, we all are okay too, just in case you were wondering,’ mouthed Taraksh, whom Deleena ignored.
‘He was after Myra, and he had his unusual army of walking tree-men who attacked us,’ replied Kaya. And then the three of them spent a few minutes sharing the details of their respective battles.
‘Hmm… Did you notice anything weird or off-putting about him?’
‘Apart from the fact that he was a walking corpse, no,’ added Myra.
Kaya was lost in thought as she recalled the inability of Shatanan’s men to hold her. She asked her grandmother cautiously, ‘Grandma, you said I needed to know what I’m capable of. What were you talking about?’
‘Because, my dear, I have a strong belief that you’re somehow related to him.’
‘What?!’ the three of them chorused in disbelief.
‘Destiny always finds a way of making things happen. When I took you in as a little girl, I knew you were special. However, it is only now that I realize how special you actually are.’
When the bewildered looks on their faces refused to subside, Deleena added, “Kaya, you’re still the peacekeeper, even if your locket isn’t there. Interestingly, you never needed it. The locket was made from the powers of the King and the Queen. I mean the current King and Queen. However, the powers of an inanimate object are far less compared to those of living blood.’
Deleena took a deep breath before continuing, ‘You, my dear, are the daughter of Shatanan and the Queen of SapphireWaves – Deerthana. Shatanan and Deerthana were madly in love with each other. They got secretly married as the two kingdoms were rife with enmity. Everyone thought he was seeing a human or one of his maids, but no one knew about the Queen. The two hoped they could disclose their love once an heir was born, and that the wars would slowly stop. Deerthana then got pregnant and was rather thankful to the Gods that she did. However, once Shatanan realized that she was actually going to give birth to a girl and not a boy, he started avoiding her. Deerthana sensed this and escaped with her daughter. She was never found again.’
‘Well, history just keeps repeating itself, doesn’t it?’ out came Myra’s voice. Only Kaya understood what she was implying.
‘How… How do you know I’m her daughter?’ asked Kaya.
‘Well, it’d be pretty foolish of me if I didn’t know who my own daughter was, wouldn’t it?’
Even Taraksh was left speechless for the first time.
‘You mean – you mean – I…’
‘Yes, I’m Deerthana, and you’re my daughter, not my granddaughter.’
‘This… this is crazy. This doesn’t make any sense.’
‘It makes all sense in the world to me,’ came a cold and drawling voice. Shatanan appeared behind the door and sat down calmly on the bed, as though he were having a chat with friends.
‘Hi, sweetheart! What a nice way to see you again. I had imagined many ways of greeting you. But I must say this wasn’t how I pictured it. You took up a new identity, a new appearance, even as I looked for you all these years.’
‘I didn’t want to be found by someone who would harm my daughter,’ said Deleena through gritted teeth.
‘Our daughter,’ corrected Shatanan as he started walking toward Kaya, who held her ground even as the others took a step forward.
‘My sweet daughter, did you ever try to find out who your father was? Did you ever wonder why he never came to see you? Did you ever think why you had to live with this old hag?’
Kaya gulped nervously as she looked into his father’s piercing eyes. Those eyes were haunting and hypnotizing her in equal measure. She closed her eyes and hissed, ‘Deleena or Deerthana, grandmother or mother, she has always been there for me. She loved me, cared for me, protected me from killers – killers like you.’
‘Oh, and why did she lie to you? So many lies, deceits, so much trickery… How do you know she’s stating the truth this time?’
‘Because – she never tried to use her magic to influence me,’ cried Kaya. ‘All these years, she could have done that. You know that. Yes, she lied, but at least she didn’t try to hypnotize me, the way you’re doing right now to make me change my mind about her.’
The sound of approaching footsteps alerted Shatanan. ‘Well, you see, I was obsessed with finding you and establishing myself as the sole ruler of the two kingdoms. If you don’t agree peacefully, I might have to resort to some harsh measures. I need to kill the current King and Queen to take what is mine.’
And with that, he disappeared.
King Aranyak and Queen Neera were sitting in Aranyak’s private chamber with a handful of their trusted advisors and Rian. They were seated around a large, circular table upon which rested the map of the two kingdoms. Rian had convinced his mother to have a word with Aranyak, who still had serious reservations about Shatanan being alive, but attended the meeting nonetheless.
Rian was discussing some battle strategies with the group, ‘I believe Shatanan has a big army of puppets. I’ve had to deal with them, and I can tell that they aren’t as strong as mortal men. They are weak and totally under his control. If we divide Shatanan’s attention, he won’t be able to concentrate on everything at once. This way, we can bring him down. We have the element of surprise.’
‘How’s this for a surprise?’ came a voice out of thin air. Alarmed, everyone got up from their seats as Shatanan appeared in front of them.
‘You thought I’d actually waste time preparing for a battle? Well, my so-called puppets have already surrounded the palace, and your friends are held captive as we speak. You shall all die in vain unless you relinquish your thrones and,” Shatanan stopped mid-sentence as Aranyak threw a dagger at him, aimed straight at his heart.
‘Hey vizier, don’t you know how to pay obeisance to your King?’ Shatanan laughed mirthlessly as a sword appeared in his arm. He launched it at Aranyak, who deflected the blow with his own sword.
Shatanan launched another attack at the King, only for the Queen to shoot a torrent of water at Shatanan. The scalding water shot through the gaps in his body as several thin branches made way for the water to sweep out. Rian pulled out his blade and, together with Aranyak, started attacking Shatanan.
The other members present in the room ran for their lives, scared of Shatanan’s power. The King and Queen were now defenseless. No sooner had their men ran out, Shatanan’s men encircled them and eliminated them all ruthlessly.
Shatanan howled with laughter as he fought off Aranyak and Rian effortlessly, leaving the two men panting. ‘I’m too strong for you. No, I’m too strong for anyone in this world. All these years, I worked on harnessing my power, molding it to put it to proper use, falling over and over until I mastered it. You can’t defeat me. I shall have my revenge.’
Shatanan nodded at one of his men, who brought in Deleena, Myra, Kaya and Taraksh. Their hands were tied with a sharp rope from which jutted out several spikes that could cut and slice their arms if they tried to act smart. Their legs were also tied with the same rope, leaving just about enough space for them to take one step at a time.
Shatanan snapped his finger, and several decaying vines began ripping the floor open, trapping Aranyak in his place. Aranyak sliced at them with his sword, but the vines did not budge.
Next came Neera, who was engaged in a war of shooting objects with Shatanan, hurling massive boulders at him, trapping him in a tight water globe, which held him for a moment. However, he soon broke out of it as though the globe were made of paper.
One by one, all of them, except Kaya, were trapped in the vines. The floor around them was crumbling, and the palace itself was slowly giving in.
He snapped a finger again, and a chair materialized. He signaled for Kaya to sit.
‘My beloved daughter, I was mistaken about you, so mistaken. I thought you weren’t cut to handle both kingdoms’ power, that a female would be weak and would crumble beneath the might of the concentrated power of land and water. The problem is that you don’t know how to harness it. Your mother denied you of your right to do so, but I’m not so cruel. Join me, and we shall recreate history.’
Kaya kept standing where she was, her eyes defiant.
‘Well, perhaps you need a little nudge. How about your friends? Someone you like in particular?’
He let out a soft whistle, and Rian was set free. Rian charged at Shatanan with his sword, grabbing another one that lay idle on the floor.
Shatanan sat amused, as if a cat were watching a mouse braving to fight. He let him get close, before sending Rian flying into the wall with a wave of his hand. Rian fell down with a sickly thud, but somehow managed to get up.
‘Noooo!’ cried Kaya.
Limping, he made another attempt at getting close to Shatanan, only to be hurled away like a feather in a storm once again.
‘My dear, is that enough for you? Do you accept my terms? I can amuse you if you wish to see your loved ones in pieces.’
As Rian tried getting up a third time, his eyes met Kaya’s. She begged him to stop, but he shook his head in a firm ‘no’ as he began limping, dragging his feet in excruciating pain as blood trickled down his face.
A myriad of emotions flooded over Kaya. She was helpless, frustrated. However, her frustration was slowly transforming into an uncontrollable rage.
As she threw her arms outward, strange things started to happen. The vines all start moving toward her, forming a massive wall behind her. Everyone was set free and shot astonished looks at her. Shatanan’s men too started falling one after the other, being blown away to dust.
Shatanan yelled, ‘You traitor! So, now you’re going to betray your own flesh and blood?’
Kaya eyed Rian before saying, ‘There was a time when I would have minded being called a traitor, but the last few days of my life have taught me that a traitor can be trusted again. I may have your blood, but I also have my mother’s blood, and her upbringing to go with it. You think you’re strong, but your immodesty and arrogance will bring about your doom. Father, it’s still not too late. Please put an end to this madness.’
‘High time you uttered the right words, daughter,’ and with that, Shatanan launched a spear, aimed straight at her heart. Rian jumped in between and tried to deflect it. The spear, however, struck him in the chest, missing his heart by inches.
Kaya’s face contorted with a mixture of agony and fury, and she let out a huge cry that shattered the walls. The window panes were blown to smithereens, too. They remained suspended in the air for a minute before she flung them all at Shatanan, the fragments slicing through him as if his body were made of paper. He was soon reduced to dust.
She then turned to Rian, who could barely breathe. ‘Stay with me, I’m here,’ she whispered in his ear, but he barely seemed alive. She kept her hand on his heart, and could feel his heartbeat slowing down.
Kaya cried as thick teardrops trickled down her cheeks to meet Rian’s. She hugged him tight and kissed him, whispering, ‘You said I was more than your friend, didn’t you? Don’t leave me now, please…’
Rian’s whisper was barely audible, ‘It seems that it only takes a life-death situation for you to love me, assuming that you do love me. Oh God, I’ll be breaking so many hearts.’
Kaya smiled and punched him playfully as Rian revealed that he was only holding his breath to see her reaction. ‘After you killed Shatanan, the spear dislodged on its own and turned to dust too. Still, I was tempted to take my chances, and I’m glad I’ve been rewarded.’
Taraksh helped Myra get up, and he was surprised when Myra pulled his cheeks by holding them between her thumb and forefinger. Taraksh turned crimson red, making her giggle. King Aranyak did something he had never done in his life – he hugged Myra, and the two burst into tears. They freed the others, and left the rubble untouched. They all huddled together at Rian’s cottage near the woods for a good night’s sleep.
The next day, everyone did their bit to help fix the place as best as they could. Queen Neera and King Aranyak used their combined forces to rebuild the Greenwoods castle. For the first time, they flashed genuine smiles at each other.
Queen Neera smiled at Kaya and whispered, ‘Well, if this is what weakness really is, I don’t mind being a weakling, either,’ saying so, she winked at her and conjured corridors and staircases out of thin air.
Deleena was standing in the balcony and gazing out wistfully. Kaya stood near her mother, who had finally let the floodgates open.
‘There was a time when I loved Shatanan. Maybe I still do. He was capable of so much, but his pride led to his downfall. After he was presumed dead, I vowed to never let my past affect your future. I changed my looks, assumed a new identity, and even gave you a new one so no one could could find you. On your sixteenth birthday, I thought it was the right time for you to learn everything. But then the sea creature nearly attacked you, and I lost my resolve yet again. Rian confronted me, and when I disagreed, he decided to break the news to you himself. Of course, nobody but I knew about your parentage. But I could see the honesty, the love for you in the boy’s eyes – a rare trait.’
‘You see, peacekeeping is a nasty business,’ she resumed after a momentary silence. ‘But I’m so very proud of you for having united the two kingdoms – a dream once Shatanan and I shared.’
Kaya saw tears in her mother’s eyes as she continued, ‘I’m so sorry for having kept you in the dark for so long. I was only protecting you.’
Kaya could do nothing but put her palm out and ask, ‘So… no more secrets?’
‘None,’ came Deleena’s reply as Kaya gave in to her mother’s embrace. She looked above at the moon twinkling in the sky, and the stars that glowed in its reflection.
She looked at the others, busy laughing and joking with each other, and she knew that she was tied to them forever – with trust and love. Her peacekeeping job had just become super easy.
…now that you’re here
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