(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)
do not understand what it is you want from me," said the shaman to his visitor.
He turned from the jars and bowls on the table, fingering his boar’s tusk
charm. As long as he had it in his hand, he was safe. The boar’s tusk charm was
ancient and powerful – surely more ancient and powerful than the thing that sat
at the other side of the tent.
"I thought it was clear," said the creature. Its voice was low and harsh, as if
it had not spoken in a long, long time. It raised its hooded shoulders, which
so nearly merged in the shadows, and for a moment it was as if great leathery
wings stirred in the tent.
"I have never had occasion to, ah, interact with one of your kind before," said
the shaman. His wispy white beard wiggled, and his hand stroked the boar’s tusk
charm over and over. "And never is it that I have even thought to hear such a
"There’s a first time for everything." The creature hunched forward, its
glowing red eyes staring into the shaman’s own. "Will you do this thing for me,
"I don’t know how to," confessed the shaman. "I have never thought I would face
a situation like this. And, frankly, I would know something of your motives."
"My motives?" The sibilants in the creature’s speech were so stressed that it
did not speak so much as hissed. "You want my motives, magician? Then sit down
and listen. I shall tell you a little tale."
Never taking his eyes off his visitor, still fingering his tusk, the shaman
pulled a stool with his foot towards him and sat down on the edge of it. The
creature stirred again and settled, as it seemed, further into the shadow. Only
the red eyes glowed.
"Picture, magician, a lovely city in a distant land, a city ruled over by a
benevolent king, where nobody went hungry and everyone had a place to sleep and
clothes to wear. Nobody was rich, perhaps, but nobody was poor.
"And then imagine in that city, in a little house a child was born to a poetess
and an artist – creative, gentle, intelligent people. Maybe they were not the
most perfect parents in the world, being dreamy and forgetful, but they did the
best they could, magician, and no one should ask for more.
"And so the child grew until he was old enough to begin to know his own
identity. Imagine this child’s mind fumbling in the mists of new knowledge.
"And then, imagine that war came to that land, a sudden invasion that laid the
city waste and turned the golden halls into gutted ruins. Imagine the glow of
fires in the sky, night and day, and the ashes falling like rain. Imagine the
few survivors stumbling from the horror of it all, envying those who had not
lived long enough to have to see the end of their world.
"Not everyone died, magician. That was the pity of it. An artist died, cut down
with his brush still in his hand. A poetess, with a verse trembling on the edge
of birth, slaughtered like an animal, and raped before it, so many times that
it was impossible to say if she had lived till the final knife. But the child –
they missed the child. The child did not die.
"And imagine then the child, magician. Accustomed to being looked after, even
if in a sketchy and dreamy way, surrounded by dreams and love, he was thrown
into the midst of fire and smoke and horror.
"And then imagine the child – no longer a child, though, forced to be a man –
crawling for shelter among charred corpses, when on the verge of starvation,
being forced to eat of them – to eat the flesh of his own burnt parents. And
vowing revenge – revenge on all those who had done this, on revenge on all
those who had brought about the end of his world. Can you imagine that?
"Imagine, then, an ancient curse come alive again, a curse that had waited,
undying, for such a thing to come to pass. I see you tremble, magician. Fear
not, I am not going to hurt you. You can even put away that charm. Powerful as
it is, it has no power over me.
"And so that child changed. He changed not at once, but over years, and
centuries, changed even as those who had destroyed his world were destroyed in
their turn, and their destroyers destroyed in theirs. He grew lean and
insubstantial, and at the same time preternaturally strong. He came in the
night to those he could find, and feasted on them, because that was all that
gave his existence any meaning. The thirst for revenge on what he once was –
because it was something he was not.
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