Chapter 1 – The awakening
Maya woke up amidst the platter of the rain with Luna still nibbling her ear for her morning titbits. She bounded across the floor stripping the covers off while the cockatiel squawked in outrage at being unceremoniously pushed aside.
Her mother opened the door at the exact same moment and smiled. Both of them had choreographed her morning wakes to a thing of perfection. Her mom plonked down her usual mug of hot streaming tea before urging her to get ready for her big day soon.
Maya rushed through her ablutions stopping for a doleful moment to ponder the reflection in the mirror that reminded her of the deep pools of dark-cinnamon swirls that was her father’s eyes’. The dulcet tones of her father rang in her memory as a reminder – “Eighteenth birthdays are special; that’s when you earn the right to the family legacy”.
Pushing aside melancholy thoughts, Maya hurried down the stairs taking two at a time just when her mother called out – “Maya, honey, Har is here”. Har beamed at Maya while trying to hide his birthday surprise behind his arms. Maya had to resist rolling her eyes – she had known that he had procured tickets to Disneyland for days. “Chow down, chomp up – we have to catch the 8:50” sang Har as Maya’s mother gently interjected – “Maya, Har – take the wagon today – Auntie Aks is picking me up”.
Maya shot a “Thank you, Mom” while shovelling down her breakfast of oatmeal & honey. She still hadn’t thanked her mother for the new iMac at her desk as coming of age birthday gift now installed in her room – her mother had already left the house and was even now getting into the aunt Aks’ Pontiac. Rinsing the bowl and grabbing her keys, she ushered Har out of the house while her excitement mounted at being allowed to drive the wagon without her mother’s restraining presence.
Maya smacked Har on the back of his head as he whistled tunelessly along with the songs of the radio. The hour and a half’s journey was peppered with bouts of scenic shrubbery and Har’s erratic whistling. Pulling into the parking lot, Maya stopped to get the ticket while Har trudged along to collect the passes. Maya’s excitement peaked as she remembered her last trip with her father and her side stops at Winnie the Pooh and Aladdin rides. Pushing aside the sudden stab of pain that spiked her heart, she pushed Har in the direction of roller coaster. Har stumbled straight into a sordid boys’ group who shoved him down and jeered while aiming kicks at his ribs and foot.
Rage filled her throat as she made to push the lead boy aside. To her surprise, the boy was already on the ground struggling to get up as if being weighed down by something heavy. Maya became conscious of her throat slowly choking up to the point of breathlessness. She released her breath in a hiss while the boy on the ground seemed to recover; he stumbled for a moment and took to his heels while his companions viewed the entire by play with astonishment. They scattered quickly after casting doubtful glances at each other.
“What was that?” coughed Har while shooting astonished glances at the back of his tormentors. Pulled out of her reverie and suddenly feeling drained; Maya helped him up and ushered him to the nearby drinks stall. The rest of the day proved uneventful unless one counted Har being pulled under in the wave pool.
The trip back was silent as Har slept exhausted by the day’s events and the roughing up in the morning. Maya was jolted out of her contemplation by the blaring honks once she reached the city limits. She jerked Har awake after pulling at his curb. Mouthing quick thanks, she pulled away while Har was still walking up to his door.
The next day dawned bright and sunny. Exhausted by poor sleep, Maya stepped down the stairs after stopping for a quick pat for Luna. Her mother smiled at her as she pushed a mug of hot sweet tea into her hands. Saturday mornings were her favourite time of week as she unwound after a gruelling schedule of 5 day work week.
“How was your day yesterday?”
Maya’s mother paused and hitched an eyebrow at the patently false note in her tone and then let it go.
“What would you like to do today?”
At Maya’s lacklustre expression, she added – “Would you like to visit Aunt Aks?”
Aunt Aks had a way of lighting up the place merely by passing by; the bond forged in shared pain after her father’s demise (Aunt Aks was her father’s younger sister) resulted in a special closeness enjoined only by her parents and Har earlier.
Maya’s mother drove away for groceries and a weekend habit of stopping for neighbourhood gossip while Maya walked between the welcoming blue of Aks’ home. Aks beamed at her.
“How’s my favourite niece?”
Maya rolled her eyes as she answered – “I am your only niece.”
“Doesn’t matter, you would still be my favourite if I had another two dozen”.
Settling down into her plush couch, Maya countered –
“Where is my birthday gift, you slacker?”
Aks’ grin faded. She mutely looked at Maya for a minute before responding –
“All in good time”
Noticing Maya’s keen look, she changed the conversation.
“Have you been practising the Visharadh technique this week?”
She sighed –
“Maya – you know your father wanted you to –“
“Stop, just stop – can we talk of something else?”
Aks sighed again.
“Sure, what is it that you want to talk about? How’s school? How’s Hari? What plans for college?”
“Whoa, there, Sparky. Slow down. Circuit overload. Time out.”
“Fine, then. You tell things at your own pace while I make your favourite chai. Have a cuppa first.”
“Okay” said Maya easily.
Maya spent the better portion of the next hour indulging Aks in her school routines, Har latest goof-up that had resulted in his adoptive mom being pulled in for a warning and finally the inflamed emotions at school and the city at the brutal suppression of Umbrella movement by the authorities.
Aks had patiently sat through her narration as she had for Maya’s entire childhood. It had been Aks who more often than not, been the one to bandage that scraped knee, indulge her in little treats for all of Maya’s academic triumphs, sympathise with her on all of the perceived suppressions of freedom of expression she had suffered at her school and had stood in for her mom, every time a parent was required – all of the PTA meetings, every time she had needed help with a school project and finally now, when Maya had to choose the college to go to in the coming fall.
The rest of the day was spent playing Chinese checkers eating take out pizzas that Aks reheated in the oven.
As the twilight deepened, Maya waved a goodbye and started on the 2km trek to her home.
Maya engrossed on the way back, didn’t notice that the shadows that followed her was not of the buildings besieged by the soft light of the dusk. She heard the startled quickening of breaths behind her as street cat gave a disturbed yowl. The last thing she remembered before the world faded to nothingness was that of a huge hairy hand closing in on her face.
Maya slowly came to; hearing noises of a scuffle and whispered conversations:
“She has to be an empath – can’t you see? A fury would be my guess”
“Why not a quil?”
“You know why, she was able to unleash only when she was mad at you for squelching her friend”
“You really are a bone head – shhhhh – she is coming to”
“Who are you girl? How are you connected to the quil extremis?”
Maya shook her head to clear the ringing in her ears. As her vision cleared, she saw that she was being interrogated by the boys’ coterie she had run into the previous day (/s?) with Har. Dread filled her as she looked around and realised that she seemed to be in an old unfamiliar decrepit building and surrounded by five grimy huge figures around her. As her panic and her anger reached a crescendo in equal parts, she heard five different shrieks of pain as the figure nearest to her began to swirl like a top.
“Stop, we mean you no harm – stop” came the panicked shout of the burliest of figures surrounding her.
As Maya quieted down, four of the boys squatted 10 ft warily outside her reach while the head burlo (as she called him in her mind) approached her.
“Fury – we are the powerless and a part of the Ayukta Samaj. We mean you no harm.”
“What are you talking about?”
The head burlo continued as if he was uninterrupted – “All we were doing was to watch the quil extremis since the time the Ayukta guru sensed her in the vicinity. We wanted to approach her and convince her to re-join the Ayukta Samaj. We followed you as we were curious as to how a fury is so chummy to a quil”
Maya rubbed her head and held up her hand. The head burly silenced, she said – “I have no idea what you are talking about. Are you going to let me go or no? My mother and my aunt would have pulled out all the stops by now searching for me. You would be facing the police by this time tomorrow if you don’t let me go immediately.”
“We mean you no harm. Just answer our questions and you can go your own way. I promise” said the head burlo.
Maya looked around lingering on each of the faces in front of her before finally focussing her attention on the H.B. Each of their faces reflected curiosity, a tiny bit of fear and a placidity at odds with their bulk.
Visibly relaxing, Maya asked cautiously – “What do you want to know? What are the other things you are blabbering about quil and fury. I don’t have any quils to give you and I don’t know what you mean by fury.”
“You are making fun of us, right?” asked the smaller burlo next to the H.B.
“Well, I know the meaning of the word, just not what you mean.” clarified Maya.
“A fury is someone like you. You are a fury.”
“Well, I have heard of the term “Hell hath no fury a woman scorned”. Is that what you mean?”
The burlos looked at each other while the H.B scratched his head before replying – “We don’t understand. What does that mean?”
Maya sighed. Apparently the bulky bodies didn’t mix with a heavy dose of sarcasm.
“It’s a pun. I didn’t understand all the references to a fury so I quoted William Congreve.”
“We still don’t understand.”
“God, you said fury. I am the woman….”
Maya broke off when she saw their blank faces and said wearily – “You know what? Forget it. I don’t understand anything of what you are saying and you don’t understand what I say. For the last time, are you going to let me go or not?”
The burlos once again looked at each other before the H.B who seemed to be the mouthpiece of the group said –
“We’ll drop you back where we picked you up. But this isn’t the last you have heard of us. We’ll speak to you later under more pleasant circumstances. We’ll need to put you under though.’
As Maya stiffened, she felt the lure of same nothingness from previous day as the head burly’s hand came closer.
Chapter 2: “We are the Empaths”
“Maya – honey – wake up. We are all waiting for you to open your eyes dear”
Maya woke up to the concerned faces of her mother and Aks. As her vision cleared, she saw 2 policemen busy taking notes.
“We found you by the roadside missy – what happened? We combed the entire neighbourhood and half of the city yesterday looking for you”
Maya thought quickly and responded – “I was kidnapped by a bunch of boys – never saw their faces clearly – I don’t know why they kidnapped me. They let me go after some time.”
“Where did you get kidnapped from?”
“On the way from Akshara’s home to my house. I really don’t remember what happened after that, until I woke up in some dilapidated building.”
“What did you kidnappers ask you?”
Thinking furiously Maya said – “I was knocked out twice in a day. Everything is fuzzy now. Can I get some rest?”
The constables hawed and hmmed and decided to leave when it was clear they were not going to get anything more out of Maya that day.
Maya’s mother, with a worried glance at her, said she would make some tea and left the room. Aks fussed around patting the cushion and straightening the blanky over Maya.
“What is a quil, Aks?”
“Those boys who kidnapped me kept jabbering about a quil extremis. I think they meant you.”
Seeing Maya’s mother coming with the tea, Aks softly whispered – “Later Maya – not now”
Aks left the room quickly after calling out “Sunny – I will go and catch some sleep in the guest room after the sleepless night from yesterday” to Maya’s mother. Maya did not remember her head touching the pillow.
Maya woke up the next day morning to the sounds of her mother and Aks in an argument.
“Sunny, its ridiculous – you go catch up on your work. I will watch over Maya – I am home anyways”
Maya’s mother quickly came over and brushed her hand over Maya’s forehead.
“Are you ok? How’s your head? Do you want to go see a doc? We had one check you out yesterday when you were unconscious. She said you were fine, just that you seemed to have been drugged in some way. But we can go visit now if you still feel unwell.”
“Jeez, Mom. I am fine. Just a tiny bit of headache left. I know you have your project presentation at work today. Just go. I’ll stay with Aks. Can you ask Har to call me later? I would call him myself but feel a bit tired.”
“I’ll ask Har to drop in, sometime in the afternoon”
Maya watched her mother drive away and turned her attention to Aks. Aks avoided her eyes and busied herself making tea and getting the breakfast ready.
Not the one to be outwitted, Maya trudged upto the kitchen.
“Aks – “
“Maya – I am sure you are burning with questions – please finish your breakfast first and I’ll answer all the questions you have. No holding back – I promise”.
Which was how Maya found herself sitting on the couch facing Aks after finishing her breakfast. Aks has just returned to the hall after bringing a small pocketbook with her.
“What do you know of our family’s origins and history?” began Aks
“Just that you and dad are of Indian extraction while Mom is more of a mixture….”
“That’s where the story begins”
“I am going to narrate a story to you that every Indian child has heard of at least in the passing by – the Mahabharata and the adi parva in particular”
“You mean the story of Kauravas and Pandavas – Dad has told me that story a gazillion times”
“Just a very small portion of it relevant to our discussion – the Adi Parva is where our story begins – the story of Samudramanthana, the churning of the ocean of milk and Kamadenu.”
Kamadhenu, also known as Surabhi, is a divine bovine-goddess who is the mother of all cows. She is a miraculous “cow of plenty” who provides her owner whatever he desires. Kamadenu is a white cow with a female head and torso. Legend has it that she emerged from Samudra manthana (churning of the ocean of milk), alongside Goddess Lakshmi, the source of all prosperity due to churning by the gods and demons to acquire Amrita (ambrosia, elixir of life). As such, she is regarded the offspring of the gods and demons, created when they churned the cosmic milk ocean and then given to the Saptarishi, the seven great seers.”
Maya interjected – “Thanks for the mythology lesson but how does this relate to you and a quil extremis, whatever that is?”
Aks rolled her eyes and said – “Can you let me do this my own way?”
Continuing her earlier narration, Aks said – “Further references to Kamadenu are hazy and interspersed among the various puranas and Upanishads. The story of our family begins when the legend ends.
Our family has always believed that our ancestors’ abilities began sometime in the last millennium from drinking Kamadenu’s milk passed on by the Saptarishis.”
Maya engrossed in the story interjects – “what abilities?”
“We are the empaths.”
“What does that mean?”
“Empaths have the ability to use their anger or serenity to effect a change in the world around them.”
“Maya –listen to me – this is our family legacy – the one every member accepts when they turn 18 – one that is both a boon and a bane – the one I thought you would be spared of”
“With great power comes great responsibility.”
Maya rolled her eyes – “Have you sunk to quoting Spiderman now?”
“That’s enough story for today – relax for the rest of the day.”
“Whoa there. You can’t just leave me hanging like that. What is this boon that is also a bane? Are you just making all this up to keep me engrossed and hence out of trouble?”
“Maya, I am in deadly earnest. You are exhausted from your ordeal. Plus Har is here. I cannot continue this tale in front of him. I saw him crossing the pavement a minute ago. Take rest but don’t leave the house without telling me. There are lots you need to be aware of to protect yourself before you venture out.”
Maya raised an eyebrow while she queried – “Are you grounding me? For what exactly?”
Aks replied “For your own safety” as she went to get the door.
Har sauntered in briskly with a “What’s this I hear about a kidnapping? What happened to the kidnappers?” Ducking a cushion Maya threw at him, he planted himself on the sofa.
Aks called out a “you kids have fun” before she moved on to the laundry piled up.
“I already heard the kidnapping story from your mom btw – lame! So Dungeons & dragons?”
Maya sighed but did not protest.
By the time Sunny came home, both of them were so engrossed in the game that they didn’t notice her entrance until she came closer to Maya and stroked her hair. Even then, Maya impatiently batted it off engrossed in the game. Sunny just smiled and disappeared into her room after a wave to Aks.
Numerous cups of fragrant chai and three successive defeats later, Har grimaced in mock disappointment and said – “I give up, I give up. Fear not my little woman, the best is yet to come. The battle is lost but the war continues. The warrior next to you never gives up.”
“Geez, stop the warrior speak. You sound ridiculous.”
“Fine, you have no finesse, young lady. That’s all I can say.”
Evading the hairbrush aimed at his head, Har grinned and waved before running down the steps.
After waving good bye, Maya sat on her bed absently stroking Luna, while the cockatiel amused herself by biting through Maya’s finger rings, reflecting on the day’s events. Restless, she pushed Luna off and walked to her French window looking at the silent roads bathed in moonlight and silver shadows. Her eyes idly flicked from shadow to shadow musing over her conversation with Aks in the morning when she suddenly stiffened. Five burly figures were creeping by from hedge to hedge while the head burly looked up instinctively and cowered into the nearest shadow when he realised he was being watched.
Maya sank down to her bed thinking furiously. Why were her kidnappers still watching her and her house? She debated whether or not to wake Aks or call the police but decided against either option. She didn’t want to scare her mother at this time of the night. There seemed little harm while the burlies were only watching over her house as they seemed to have been doing the previous nights. Looking through her window again, she found that they were long gone. She sank into a dreamless sleep exhausted.
Maya mother woke her up the next day with a smile and a kiss. Handing her, the usual beverage, Sunny lingered around straightening things on Maya’s dresser and stacking her books. Maya’s eyes followed her around as she drank the hot sweet liquid from her mug, wondering about her mother’s unusual behaviour. Sunny was a stickler for discipline and had brought up Maya to be independent from a very early age. Maya suddenly realised the reason for her altered behaviour. It was guilt.
“Mom, you ok?”
“Seriously, something is bothering you. Spit it out.”
“Its just that I feel sometimes, of late, I have been spending too little time with you. Aks has been wonderful. God, I don’t know what I would have done if not for her, that first year after your father’s demise. It’s just that my work has been challenging of late. I don’t want you to feel neglected in any way.”
“Jeez, Mom. I am not a little kid. I am completely fine. Stop feeling guilty. If there is anything I want, I’ll tell you. Stop worrying.”
Sunny’s shoulders relaxed as the anxiety drained out of her.
“I am glad to hear that. I need to go to work again today but Aks is home to watch over you. I’ll call you later in the afternoon.”
“Ok, Mom” said Maya easily.
An hour later, Maya plonked herself once again in the living room sofa with her morning cereal after watching her mother drive away, while Aks commenced the narrative.
“Kamadenu was famed as the mother of Kapila cows which are fabled to be the mothers of the world. The chief of all demi gods, Indra himself worshipped Kamadenu as:
Namo Devyai Maha Devyai
Surabhyai Cha Namo Namah|
Gavam Bheeja Swaroopaaya
Namaste Jagad Ambike||
“Salutations to the great Goddess,
The One who fulfils devotees’ wishes
The One who lived as a seed in all cows,
Salutations to Her, the Mother of the Universe”
The four legs of the Kamadhenu embody the four Vedas and are considered to be as strong and enduring as the Himalayas. Her horns symbolize the Divine Trinity of Brahma at the tip, Vishnu in the middle part and Shiva at the base of the horn. In her eyes reside the sun and moon Gods. Agni, the God of Fire, and Vayu, the God of Wind, reside in her shoulders.
Kamadenu’s milk is considered by some to behold the miraculous powers of Amrit (divine nectar of immortality) partially as Kamadenu burst forth along side Mahalakshmi, the beloved consort of lord Vishnu and Amrit during the samundra manthan by devas and asuras.
The story of our family’s legacy dates back to an uncertain point in the last millennium when its rumoured that the Saptarishis decided to provide Kamadenu’s milk to a select few of their followers to protect something of great power – these are all hearsay and rumours and we have no authentic sources of information but what we do know is that ever since then we have had two sects with different sources of power – the ones we call क्रोधिन् and प्रशान्त or furies and quils in English.
Furies and Quils both have similar abilities to affect the world in different ways though an experienced quil is always more powerful than a fury.”
“Why is that?”
A fury’s power is sourced from his/her ability to direct their anger/rage/frustration into creating an impact on the world; A quil on the other hand, achieves his or her means to effect a change by maintaining an serene/tranquil state of mind without distractions. Serenity is a much more powerful state of mind and longer lasting while a fury is limited by how long he can stay angry or focussed angry as my guru used to say.
Well, for starters, there are three levels to these powers – prakṛtiśrāvaka (Level 1/beginner); mahāśrāvaka(Level 2); agraśrāvaka(Level 3). Agrasravakas or Level 3’s are extremely rare and an quil level 3 or quil extremis as they call it even rarer. There have been only 3 quil extremis in the past century.
“Are you one of the 3?”
Aks smiled and continued:
I am. Now, the important thing to remember is that almost all of the Level 1 and most of Level 2’s cannot manifest their abilities except after a long and rigorous process of training. After a long training period spanning over years, most empaths gain the abilities to move physical objects in the world merely by willing it when they are sufficiently angry or serene in the reverse. The ability to affect living things is rarer and that of other human beings the rarest of all as it involves interfering in the living being’s (or human’s) will and the motor abilities lodged in the unconscious part of their brain.
Most practitioners obtain the ability to manipulate animal feelings and motor abilities after a decade and a half or two decades of training. The lower the animal is in terms of evolutionary ladder, the easier it’s to manipulate. The abilities can be manifested by a combination of rigorous training and your latent powers based on your ancestry which determines how “pure” or “undiluted” your inherited genes are. The greater your latent powers are, the lesser the training you need. Manipulation of higher thinking beings is more difficult and humans the most difficult of all.
Empaths of level 2 usually need a quarter century of training to gain the ability to influence other unencumbered (or powerless in other words). The purer the bloodline, the less training the empath needs.
“How long does Level 3’s need training?”
Level 3 empaths need training for 5-7 years. The most powerful of them have been rumoured to get by with just 3 years of training.
“What about you, Aks?”
“Your father and I were trained by your grandfather almost from the time we could start talking and walking.”
“Was dad an empath too?”
“Yea, he was a quil like me.”
“Okay, how does the quil thing work exactly?”
“Quils derive their powers by effecting a powerfully serene state of mind. Visharadh technique is what enhances the inherent powers of a quil. The longer the quil is able to remain in this state of mind, the more potent the effect of their abilities are. Level 3 quils are called quil extremis. Both your dad and I are level 3. Our family has some of the purest bloodlines in the ayukta samaj.”
“Ayukta Samaj was established to guard its twin objectives – protect and nourish the empath bloodlines & primarily to guard its माहारहस्य (Great Secret) – the reason it came into being.”
“What is the great secret?”
“I don’t know, you foolish child. That’s why its called the great secret. The Samaj has guarded its secrets for more than millennia. Most of the Samaj doesn’t even know who the top echelons are – the ones who are privy to the माहारहस्य. Most of the samaj spends its time in foolish speculations as to what the माहारहस्य is that would be worth guarding across a millennia and who the top अध्यक्ष(grand masters) are”
“If you and dad are quils, why did those kidnappers think I am a fury? Was it because I pushed them away in anger?”
“What do you mean pushed them away in anger? When did you become a karate champ?”
“Aks – you don’t understand – I didn’t push them away with my hands, they were pushed away when I got angry.”
“Maya – what you are saying should not be possible. The progeny of a quil cannot be a fury. There is a reason, there are two separate bloodlines. A quil and a fury are not allowed to wed; the powers derived by these two factions are the exact antithesis of each other. Legends shrouded in myth and mystery tell us that Kamadenu’s milk produced the first quils in this world whereas furies came into being by Nandini’s (Kamadenu’s daughter’s) milk. Balakanda in Valmiki’s Ramayana tells us how Nandini chased away a entire phalanx of mightiest soldiers of Kousika Maharaja who later on went on to become Saptarishi Vishwamitra.
This is another reason why a Quil extremis is almost always more powerful than a level 3 fury – a quil extremis derives his/her powers of “she who was born alongside of Lakshmi (Goddess of Prosperity) of Samudra Manthan”; the purest bloodline in the history, the mother of Nandini.
As a daughter, granddaughter and niece of quil extremis’; you cannot be a fury. It’s just not possible. You must be mistaken.”
“All I know is that whenever I got angry, those burlos got squashed. On one occasion, they even swirled like tops. Peace and what was it you said… oh yeah, serenity was the furthest thing from my mind at that point of time.”
“Maya – I still cannot accept what you are describing for two reasons – one, I already told you of the bloodlines and its legacy; two – for you to unleash your powers as you described, you need atleast a decade of training if you are anywhere near as powerful as me – your dad was a entire different story altogether – he was the most powerful quil to unleash in this century – it all seems wrong. Tell me one thing – you have been practising the Visharadh technique right? How long can you hold yourself calm while practising the technique?”
“Somewhere close to an hour.”
“There you go – no one of fury bloodline would be able to practice the Visharadh technique – their entire being would rebel against it. Can you try getting angry now and demonstrate to me how you channelled your powers as a fury?”
Maya tried and failed. Mental exhaustion hit her like a block from the events of the past few days and the incredible mythological lesson she has received which she would have written off as pure fiction had she heard it a few days back.
“Sorry Aks, I am too drained to do anything now.”
“Ah, you poor thing. You have had the rough side of things the past couple of days. Let’s continue this conversation once you recoup. There is one thing I want to show you though.” Aks pulled out the pendant from her blouse hanging on a long thin gold chain. “See this pendant? Kamadenu is depicted as a cow with a lady’s face and peacock’s tail. Anyone who wears this pendant with आयुक्त inscribed in the back is a quil.”
Both of them were startled when rough knuckles banged on the door. When Aks opened it, Maya saw the 5 burlos (as she called them to herself) standing behind it.
The head burlo stood on one leg while he muttered – “Er…”
Nonplussed, Aks stared at him waiting for an explanation.
He started again – “Er… Can I come in Madame Quil? I come here bearing a message for you.”
Aks’ face hardened. She wordlessly gestured them in and shut the door.
Maya found her voice – “Aks, these are the burlos… um.. the guys who kidnapped me.”
The head burlo said – “ Er.. we came to explain that too. Madame Quil – you see the grand master in HK asked us to keep an eye on you.. so to speak, so that we will know where you are when we want to give you a message. Your brother and the grandmaster were close chums, you see. It was your brother’s wish that we come to you in our hour of need should the…. Er.. the need arise. We were curious about this girl when we saw her first as we could sense her aura – we thought she might help us in arranging a meeting with you. We already knew she was a fury from our Disneyland…er… meeting.”
Aks’ closed off face betrayed no expression.
The H.B continued in the same vein – “The grandmaster wants to meet you. When he heard about the girl here, he wanted her brought in too.”
“What do you mean brought in?”
“Madame Quil, he just wants to speak to both of you. Can you come to the Samaj HQ in the city?”
Aks slowly and deliberately walked upto the door, wrenched it open and gestured the burlos to leave.
“Leave. Leave right now. Tell your grandmaster to leave my family and me alone.”
Defeated, the burlos walked out. Aks shut the door in their face.
Maya started – “Aks, what did they want? Do you know them?”
“Ignore their visit.”
“Do you want to hear the rest of the story or no?”
“I thought you wanted me to rest.”
“I changed my mind.”
To which Maya curiously responded – “Ok, continue.”
Aks continued: “Ok, we need to test you first to explain away what you described – but that comes later – you are too drained for it today. The important thing for you to understand is that Newton’s third law holds good for your powers too until you learn how to overcome it. How did you feel after you unleashed your powers in the two instances you described?”
“Exactly. Remember that using your powers depletes your energy the same way it would if you were doing that action manually with your hands and legs. What this effectively means is that if you try to do things with your powers that is impossible for you to do without them, you will experience a huge wave of exhaustion. Pushed beyond your limits, your life force will be expelled by the force of your attempt.”
“Does that mean I’ll die?”
“To put it bluntly, yes. Just limit yourself to punching burly boys if the need arises and not try and move mountains. You’ll make out fine.”
“What’s with you and the grandmaster?”
“Maya, stop concerning your pretty head over things beyond you. Keep practising Visharadh technique after you have rested. Let’s have you tested tomorrow. Now come in and have your lunch”
Post a heavy lunch of something called “avial” that Aks insisted was a south Indian dish which consisted of various boiled vegetables floating in a liquid yellow gravy, Maya felt her eyes growing heavy as she settled down for a nap.
She woke up fuzzy after what seemed like many hours later, when she heard the outer door bang.
“What did both of you do today?” called out Maya’s Mom as she came in.
“Ah just lazing around and having aunt- niece fun chit chats.”
Sunny rolled her eyes and went into the kitchen.
Strolling back with a lime juice, Maya’s mother patted her dark curls and asked – “How are you feeling now?”
Sunny couldn’t help anxiously asking back – “Are you sure you don’t want to visit a doc? Or a psychiatrist to deal with the kidnapping trauma? You would be back to your normal self in no time.”
“Mom, I said I am fine. What did you do today?”
“Ah, loads of meetings and catching up with boring paper work. Did Har come by? What did you do the whole day? Did you catch enough sleep? Aks – did she eat enough?”
“Jeez, Mom, I am not a 4 year old. Relax. I am fine. Had enough eats and snooz. Har had a wrestling match ticket. He went to go watch it live. “
“It’s just – it’s a strange experience to go through. Why were you randomly kidnapped and then let go? The police have no clues – I called them.”
Maya thinking quickly responded – “They probably just had the wrong person. Once they realised it, they let me go. Stop obsessing now.”
Sunny opened her mouth uncertainly and closed it again.
Maya noticing her mother’s anxiety asked – “Mom, is there something you are not telling us? What happened?”
Sunny nervously started talking fast scrambling her words – “Its just… you know.. something came up in office…. Bad timing.”
“Mom, what is it?”
“Oh Maya, you know that Yoda Project I kept talking about? It’s finalized and my office has asked me to fly to the Bay Area to get it done.”
“Mom, that’s awesome. Congratulations. When do you need to go and for how long?”
“Maya – you don’t understand. I will need to be away for at least 6-8 months to carry the project to completion and I cannot pull you out as well in the middle of your school year. In any case this is a temporary assignment and HK is our home. I am going to turn it down.”
Maya thought for a minute said carefully – “Mom, you don’t need to do that. I know how important this project has been for your career and for how long you have worked on it. You should go.”
“But, I can’t uproot you like this and neither can I leave you behind.”
Aks who had been listening in to the conversation interrupted – “Sunny, you do know that Maya is always welcome to stay with me. I can look after her for the remainder of the school year. Don’t worry over her. If you need to do this for your career, you should go for it. Don’t let anything hold you back.”
Maya added – “In fact Mom – We’ll skype you frequently and update you on every tiny thing that goes on here. You’ll be so zoned out after all the boring stuff we’ll keep yapping that you’ll thank your stars you are away over my most trying age!”
Sunny smiled – “Aks – that’s a generous offer. I know how good you are with Maya so that’s a load off my mind. Maya honey – Are you absolutely sure? I won’t do anything that you are not 100% ok with.”
“I am sure, Mom.”
To which Sunny replied – “Well in that case, I’ll be flying out by end of this week, Aks – I don’t want to rent out my place, so can you have the cleaning lady in once a week?”
“Of course” demurred Aks.
“Maya – lets make a list of things that you want for moving over to Aks. I’ll leave a set of keys anyways for you, Aks and the cleaning woman to get through – so you can always come back if you miss anything. Thank god for the Chinese New Year school holidays – you’ll be in the entire week. We’ll be able to plan for everything as well as spend time together before I fly out.”
“How come you need to leave so soon, Mom?”
“We are racing against time to get ahead before competition. I need to leave by end of the week – that was the deal – my office would have sent a replacement had I refused but I was the first choice.”
Aks consoled – “Don’t worry Sunny, we’ll get it all sorted before you leave. Even if not, you know I’ll be here to pick up the pieces.”
Sunny smiled for the first time since she entered the house, went over to Aks and gave her a hug.
“You are the best.”
The rest of the week flew by in a blur, packing, wrapping and a lot of guilt charged conversations by Sunny with both Maya and Aks.
Har dropped by on the last day of Sunny’s stay before she flew out to say goodbye.
“Aunt Sunny – I have brought you a going away present.”
Sunny smiled at him before asking – “What would that be?”
Silently but with a wicked grin on his face, he handed her a wrapped package that looked like a book.
Upon opening it, Sunny discovered it to be an album of what seemed like most of Maya’s clumsy moments captured in a single place.
Maya’s face turned red as she looked over her mother’s shoulder at a photo of what looked like a mixture of hazelnut ice cream and mud over her face along with a magnificent black eye. Words failed her, while she started punching Har with every inch of him closest to her.
Laughing, Sunny said “Break it up Maya. Har – thanks for the gift even though Maya doesn’t seem to appreciate it right now.”
Maya punched him for a last time and flounced away while peals of delighted laughter followed her from the other three.
Har hung around helping Sunny to load her bags into Aks’ Pontiac and climbed into the car with Maya and Sunny while Aks prepared to drop Sunny off in the airport.
Har and Maya walked Sunny to her airport counter watching while she checked in her luggage and waving goodbye while she moved on to the security checks.
Har and Maya slowly walked back to where Aks was waiting near her car and climbed in. The silent drive back to the city was broken only when Aks suggested an ice cream which Har enthusiastically seconded. Aks pulled into a Hagen-Daz while glancing at Maya’s drooping countenance
Har and Aks pretended to have an animated conversation about D&D while shooting concerned glances at Maya.
Maya sighed wearily and said – “I am ok, you guys.”
Aks replied – “Good, then finish your double chocolate delight.”
Har whooped and flagged the passing waiter – “Please bring 2 more scoops of raspberry delight topped with chocolate and pista nuts.”
Maya rolled her eyes as she asked – “Don’t you ever puke with too much?”
“I am a growing boy – need plenty of calories to keep up.”
A very relieved Aks leaned back and allowed the conversation to flow.
Chapter 3: The inheritors
After waving a cheery goodbye, Har walked to his favourite game shop while Maya and Aks headed home.
The next week found the aunt and niece involved in clearing out Maya’s home of her possessions and closing up the house for the next few months. Maya was slowly getting used to the idea of living with Aks as well as preparing for her school to reopen after the holidays.
“Maya – I think we’ll have to go to the other end of the city to collect your school stuff today. Let’s get going.”
Both of them spent an enjoyable day after their shopping, catching the latest flick in movies and having a pizza lunch positively swimming in cheese. Walking back from the nearest metro station, Aks seemed lost in contemplation. Maya felt a strange sense of déjà vu walking between the blocks. She stiffened as the saw the same burly shadows creeping up. She turned to shout – “Aks..” and found her limp form being pushed into a car behind. Shocked, she tried to rush to her rescue and was stopped mid way being pulled into the same creeping sense of nothingness.
Maya woke up with a groggy sense of weightlessness and looked around. She realised she was lying half way down on the aisle seat in a small windowless plane and noticed Aks looking at her with concern.
“Aks – Where are we? I mean I can see we are flying somewhere but where?”
“I don’t know child – we’ll have to wait and see. The pilot cabin is locked – can’t see who kidnapped us and where we are headed to.”
“I know who kidnapped us – it’s those burlos – you let them off too easily when they came to your house jabbering about grandmaster and Samaj. I told you they were trouble.”
“How do you know it’s them?”
“I saw their gigantic shadows. Plus no one else has such hairy arms.”
“Ok, this requires thinking over. Maya – I am afraid I know where they are taking us and I don’t like it one bit. I can convince them to let you go though, I think.”
“What are you talking about? Are we… are you in danger?”
“No, no. If these fellows are who I think they are, they need something from me. In fact, contrary to danger, they’ll take great care until the mission is accomplished.”
“What mission? Has it something to do with that Samaj stuff? Why should they resort to kidnapping for that? Why are we.. ahem.. you so important that they need to go to such lengths?”
“Maya – I’ll tell you the whole story later. Keep quiet and allow me to think now.”
Maya maintained a sullen silence until she felt the plane starting to descend.
She tapped Aks on the shoulder. Aks opened her eyes and Maya was surprised to see the twin pools of fathomless deep while she stared into her aunt’s eyes which had hitherto reflected anxiety and worry.
“We are going to land.”
“I feel it child.”
“Were you… were you practising the Visharadh technique? Are you still concentrating now?”
“I am, child. Stay focussed and be ready to obey even the smallest command I give. Don’t argue.”
“But – “
Maya shut up and watched the locked door impatiently willing some one to open it.
When the door opened, Maya adjusted her eyes to focus on the bright light streaming in. She pulled Aks to her feet and marched to the open doors noting the two men standing in the end of the pathway. She noticed additional details; both the men were middle aged, well in their forties clearly of Indian origin. The most striking feature about them were clearly their identical liquid sienna eyes reflecting deep pools of tranquillity which seemed intimately familiar. She would recognise the familiarity in Aks and her father only later in the day.
“Aksharaji, Maya beta – Please follow us. Don’t be alarmed. We mean you no harm. I am sure you have guessed who we are already.”
“Mahasravakas – the question is whether you know who I am” retorted Aks.
“Of course. That’s the reason we had you flown down here. We need your help urgently. Not to put a finer point, it’s of extreme importance that you cooperate with us. Aksharaji, being a quil extremis yourself, you have nothing to fear from us. You know that.”
“I never thought I’ll see the day you traditionalists would speak in anything other than deva basha.”
“Times change Aksharaji. We change or get left behind.”
Maya interjected angrily – “That was a cosy catch up. But I need to know this minute why I was kidnapped once again and flown to an unknown destination. Who are you? I am going to the police this second. I am fed up of random people following me and kidnapping me every now and then.”
Aks gently said – “Maya, these are Level 2 initiates in the Ayukta Samaj.”
“Funnily enough I figured that out myself the minute you mentioned mahasravakas. What do they want from us? Whatever it is, I want no part of it. I just want to get dropped close to the nearest metro.”
Before Aks could reply, the man with the aquiline nose whose hair was liberally sprinkled with grey responded in a gentle voice – “Beta, you are not in Hong Kong any more.”
“Where am I then?”
“You are in India. Close to the birth place of the Samaj. The exact whereabouts can be revealed only if you are an initiate yourself. Your bua (paternal aunt) knows this herself being a level 3. All your questions will be answered by paramguruji. Please be patient for another 30 minutes.”
Maya fumed internally but helplessly allowed herself to be bundled into waiting Qualis (with darkened window) along with Aks. Exactly 30 minutes later, Maya got down from the car only to find herself in the entrance of a cave system. Both the men politely indicated that they should enter the nearest grotto.
Upon entering the first cave, Maya was diverted by the natural stalactite and stalagmite formations in the far edges. Proceeding further Maya was astonished to see a stalagmite in the exact shape and form of a toy truck. Bending to see it more clearly, Maya was spellbound as she realised the dripping water had formed a stalagmite around a faded toy truck.
The older man noticing her diversion asked – “Do you recognise that truck beta?”
Maya shook her head distractedly.
“That was yours when you were about 2 years old. You dropped it here kicking quite a fuss when you father handed you over to another initiate for a brief time.”
“I was here earlier?”
“When you were a child. Both Akshara and your father accompanied you.”
Maya turned to Aks who shrugged her disinterestedness in this line of conversation.
Aks turned to the other guy – “Ok, you brought us here. Lets keep moving.”
He responded quietly – “Aksharaji, you know the rules. Maya.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sakes. Alright, alright. Maya you need to be blindfolded.”
“Rules, rules and rules. These duffers won’t allow us to either proceed or leave this cave otherwise.”
The older man intervened and said “Permit me.” while tying a silken band around Maya’s eyes.
Aks gripped Maya’s hand reassuringly. “I’ve got you.”
The party continued on for another quarter hour taking so many turns that the blindfolded Maya was dizzy by the time it was removed.
Blinking in the sudden dull light, Maya looked around. Maya noticed a stone bed and what looked like a stone seater for 5 or 6 people in one corner of the room. An earthen pot of the kind she had seen earlier used for storing water was on another end of the room along with what seemed to be a meagre collection of clay plates, pitchers and tumblers. Maya marvelled at the gentle lighting that illuminated the room apparently without a source that was simultaneously pleasing to her eyes and provided enough light to read her current detective whodunit had she desired it. The atmosphere which had been distinctly chilly in the stalagmite cave entrance had changed, the air surrounding her seemed to have the exact balance of warmth and bracing wind that she had never before experienced.
Turning back once again, she found her attention arrested by an old old man seated in the stone bed in the lotus posture who she could have sworn was not there a minute earlier when she entered the room. She had found the paramguruji of the mahasravakas.
The PMG (as she called the paramguruji to herself) beckoned to her and Aks. Akshara slightly abashed started with a “Pranam Guruji. I..” when she was gently interrupted by the PMG. Maya noticed that the two level 2’s had disappeared.
“I know everything that’s racing through your mind, child. You must meditate more. Your vision is as yet faulty; you could not sense me hiding in the plain sight.”
Maya wondered whether she had stumbled into a lala land.
The PMG said – “Maya beta, you are not living in a dream. Everything that’s unfolding is in your real life.”
Maya blinked furiously while she thought – “Can he read minds? What is this place? Why is Aks looking like a child caught with a hand in a cookie jar? What, how….”
“I can child. As to why your aunt is looking like a truant child, you’ll understand more when I explain.”
Stunned, Maya was left speechless.
Aks started again – “ Guruji, I am not in the samaj anymore. And Maya doesn’t know anything nor does she belong here. Why were we brought here?”
Listening to her, Maya detected a note of humility and uncertainty that she had never associated with Aks before.
The PMG responded – “Once of the Samaj, always of the Samaj. Akshara, Maya – Please be seated. There are things we need to discuss. Akshara, I have already seen your explanations to Maya about the Samaj so I’ll just pick off where you left.”
Maya sat down besides Aks noticing her meek obedience to the PMG and wondered to herself whether he was messing with their minds again.
“No child. Those of the Samaj don’t interfere with people’s minds frivolously. I cannot however help hearing the thoughts of both of you when you remain unguarded and almost shouting them into the recesses of your mind. Akshara has forgotten herself; on the other hand I am not surprised at you child, you who have never been handed over her rightful legacy.
Now, I know that Akshara has already told you about the beginnings of the Ayukta Samaj and the reason we came into being. The reasons for our being remain unchanged even in this kali yug. The furies and quils of this world were brought into it for a specific reason. But you are not prepared enough to receive the maharahasya. The reason why you are here is because I need both of you to search for scrolls that erstwhile belonged to your family that are now stolen from us.”
Aks gasped – “Master you cannot mean – “
“Unfortunately I do child. The scrolls entrusted to my guruji by your great grandfather have been stolen. You do understand the implications, don’t you?”
“Master you cannot mean someone from the Samaj – “
“I do, my child. Which is why I cannot involve anyone from the Samaj in the search. In any case, the scrolls will call out only to members of your family or gene pool.”
The serenity surrounding the PMG had been seeping into Maya until she felt as if her very bones were filled with its liquid essence. She felt a pleasant lulling sensation that tugged at her eyes and her very heartstrings but however could not help herself from asking – “What scrolls? Aks – what is he talking about?”
The guruji looked at her in mild surprise. He asked Aks – “Is this her first time here? And she is able to counteract the pull of Samadhi?”
He then remarked to himself – “Ah I see, A fury and a quil. A rare find indeed. Aks – you are in luck. Properly trained, your neice cannot be vanquished by almost any of the empaths.”
Aks worriedly remarked – “Master, I wanted to ask that to you….”
The guruji smiled before responding – “Akshara, what do you know of your sister in law’s history and gene pool?”
“Master, she is not fully of Indian origin and definitely not of Samaj bloodline.”
“That’s where I think you are wrong. I think if you dig into her ancestry, you will find a fury a few generations removed. The gene was suppressed until Maya came along. Maya’s father and aunt being powerful empaths, her inherited fury genes are activated as well. We’ll need you both to stay here for a couple of weeks until Maya is suitably trained.”
“But master, Sunny will miss us. She will be calling us everyday to check on Maya. And Maya has school, the school authorities….”
“Akshara, after all these years, have you learnt nothing?”
Aks mouth formed a big O as she pondered over his words.
As if by magic, the 2 men from earlier suddenly emerged behind Maya and Aks.
“Please follow us.”
Maya turned to look at the guruji for one last time and found that he had vanished again.
Blindfolded once more, though for a short time now, Maya was led with Akshara into what looked like a cave home complete with soft rug coverings, pitchers of water and a huge stone bed to the corner covered with yet more rugs and pillows. A small plate of fruits sat in the middle of the room on a wooden table.
“Aks, I demand to know everything now. I am also worried about Mom panicking. Is there any way we can send word to her?”
“No, child. No way to communicate but don’t worry about your Mom. Guruji would have already guided her to forget calling us everyday while assuring her of our safety.”
“AKSHARA – what are you talking about?”
“Did you ever wonder how Guruji could read your mind? Can you think of leaving this cave system now?”
Maya tried to visualise how to leave the cave system and found her mind going fuzzy. She realised a few seconds later that she had actually closed her eyes and drifted off.
“What… What has happened to me?”
“The guruji has guided you to remain here until your training is complete. You will not be able to leave without his permission. It’s the same for me though I won’t drift off to sleep like you do if I try to think of escaping. Guruji would have already telepathically assured your mom of our safety and convinced her not to call until we finish our work here.”
“What are you saying? Are we being mind controlled by a real life Professor X?”
“I always knew Sunny shouldn’t have allowed you to watch that X men nonsense. No, Maya. We are not being mind controlled but entry level initiates like you are guided by master for your own well being until you finish your training.”
“What about you then?”
“The master wants to be assured of my obedience as well as yours. You won’t understand until you actually become a part of Samaj. You don’t know what a rare honour it’s for you even to be in paramguruji’s presence. Other initiates wait for decades before catching a glimpse of him.”
“What am I supposed to do now? BTW, not that you care but I am hungry.”
“Help yourself to some fruits. Fruits are all that you will get here. No meat or cooked food is permitted.”
“Great, I am now a stone age hippie enslaved by a Professor X accompanied by a clueless aunt. Just what I wanted.”
Helping herself to a few bananas, Maya drifted off to sleep in the stone bed while Aks paced the floor.
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