|1||Escape To Mt. Akar||Kalsang with the powerful torc, reptilians in pursuit...|
|2||I'm Almost Crowned The Gooey Shooter||Daniel, the protagonist. A case of jittery nerves, gooey goodness...|
|3||I Stand On My Head||A Judo master from World War II era, Yoga...|
|4||We Fly To Nepal||Mystical orbs in Daniel's room, flight to Kathmandu...|
|5||Flea Market Chase||Ride a three-wheeler, chased by Zombies....|
|6||Runaway Coach||A steam-train, a runaway coach, into a waterfall...|
|7||Misty Steps||A cave cabin, steps that disappear...|
|8||Revelations||The secret council, my past is revealed...|
|9||My Training Begins||Mystical caverns, sword lessons, a dying eagle...|
|10||I Pick My Ride||A giant bird...|
|11||I Awaken My Senses||Scorpion test, nature awakens my powers...|
|12||A Quest Awaits Us||The blade possessor is identified, a deep & dark forest...|
|13||We Fly Off To The North Cliff||Faced with a dark warrior, surprise revelations...|
|14||Hiten Serves A Purpose||The forest beast, a bait is offered...|
|15||A Friend Amongst Foes||An unlikely ally...|
|16||We Plan My Capture||I'll be taken...|
|17||I Meet Taroor||Face-to-face with the Adlet chief...|
I looked out the window. It was Jugs announcing his arrival.
“He’s here,” I informed.
Dad chuckled. “Well, he’s on time. I’ll say that.”
We made it outside to find Jugs standing in front of a three-wheeled vehicle—it had a yellow canvas top, open sides, and five-inch tires.
Erica’s eyes widened. “Are you kidding?” She looked at dad and then me. “Seriously? We’re riding in this thing?”
Dad laughed. “Relax, the auto-rickshaw is a tried and tested mode of transportation here.”
Well, this is something, I thought. At least getting in and out would be easy. Plus, the open cabin would surely be airy; no need for air-conditioning.
“This my personal auto-rickshaw—TuTu! She go very fast…at least thirty,” said Jugs enthusiastically.
“What happened to the cab?” I asked.
“I’m off today…so can’t bring cab.”
Meanwhile, Erica had circled the vehicle. “This thing is actually kind of cute,” she said surprisingly...text omitted…
Soon we reached the market which was spread on a hilly area. The parking lot was on the top, at the fourth level, as evident by a marker near the gate. Narrow cobbled steps snaked down to each level, the sides of which were cluttered by a myriad of shops.
Jugs parked TuTu near the entrance. We got down and shook our limbs loose. Sitting in a tight space had its benefits...text omitted…
“Wow, this some market,” I said, eying the expanse of shops below.
“Let’s go,” I said...text omitted…
Some clanged their items creating a cacophony that drew attention. Others tried out-yell the next guy with announcements. A strong aroma of fried cuisine floated in the air..text omitted…
Walking across, I almost bumped into a guy, who was standing at the store entrance.
I quickly gulped some spaghetti and meatballs to ease the hunger pangs. The clock struck five and I hurriedly donned my Yogaudoo outfit. This happened to be one of the few sweat-inspiring sessions that I looked forward to. Unfortunately, it meant aching and bruised muscles later.
Our teacher, Mr. Neogi, was an Army veteran and had served in the fabled Gurkha regiment in India. His unit had seen action during World War II. He had a burly physique and was about five feet and eight inches tall. Though he had thick, muscular shoulders and a broad chest, he carried himself lithely. I would guess his age to be in the lower seventies, but he still seemed as active as a person in his teens.
“Looks can be deceptive, Daniel!” he would say. And in his case, I totally agreed.…text omitted…
Mr. Neogi had created Yogaudoo after his deep and personal study of Judo and Yoga. He felt that most mainstream martial arts emphasized too much on: brute force, power, and rigidity. They didn’t lay much focus on flexibility and suppleness of the body. According to him, Yogaudoo fused yoga and judo to complement each other. One taught self-control, flexibility and proper breathing; the other taught self-defense...text omitted…
Mr. Neogi started working his way down the line, pausing and scrutinizing each of us. His motto was: “If you don’t care about your uniform, then you don’t care about the class ...text omitted…
He smiled. “Well, you’ve to pay the karma.”
John grudgingly stepped out of the line to the sides and started his pushups.…text omitted…
As I held the headstand pose, a pair of shiny white teeth and fluttering eyelashes caught my attention; Sabrina’s contorting eyebrows were trying to grab my attention.
I tried to look the other way but she caught my eye.
“Hey Daniel,” she whispered.
“Do I look slimmer this way?”
“I don’t know but your face sure looks like it’s on fire,” I said uncertainly trying to keep my balance.
“Gosh, you can be so annoying,” she snapped.…text omitted…
We broke into pairs and spread across the mats so that we had sufficient room. I could catch Sabrina and her group from the corner of my eyes, talking and gesturing towards us, engaged in a who’s-the-best argument.
I grinned at John. “We’re being graded. Let’s not get sloppy.”
“You’re going to fail this one,” he sneered.
He advanced menacingly towards me, his arms hanging by his side, and his head lowered.
“Really, let’s see.”
We circled around each other on the mat, arms outstretched, and fingertips barely touching each other. John moved from posture to posture as he tried to gauge my intent with nudges and pushes. I could feel the tension and my heartbeat quickened.
He faked an atemi at my neck. Instead of blocking the strike, I grabbed his arm with my left hand and moved into him. Closing the gap I circled his waist with my right hand and grabbed his gi. Immediately I turned and heaved with both arms. But, I forgot one important thing, to sink my waist. Now, I had no leverage.
It was too late. John sensed my move and pushed me. Next thing I knew, we both crashed onto the mats into a tangled mess of arms and legs.…text omitted…
Present times, somewhere near Atlanta.
“Get down Duke,” I whispered.
I crouched down low with my four-year-old German shepherd, on the left end of our yard at 108 Doves Lane—the residence of Ledroocke’s.
I’d been hiding and waiting for my buddy, John, to blow his cover so that I could nail him with my airsoft gun.
At that instant a question popped up in my mind: “Daniel Ledroocke, are you sure you can do this?”
Failure, I thought, why does it follow me when I don’t need it the most? I know old wisdom and books say, “one learns from failure”. But in my case, the only thing I had gathered was, when it’s time to deliver: I JUMP THE GUN.
Let me explain this with a painful incident from last year…
A distant world in a parallel dimension; a world called Nametesia.
A deafening roar filled the night and echoed off the distant mountain. A lioness, laying her claim on the night. Silence enveloped the forest again. A stout dark figure slowly glided from behind thick bushes. Stopping, he glanced right-and-left, as if worried about something. Or someone.
The bright moonlight clearly revealed his outfit: it was of that of a seasoned warrior, marked by the leather armor he donned, and the curved sword which hung by his waist. A dense bronze shield with golden rolled ends hung on his back. Wide leather straps bound a satchel securely along his chest. Nestled inside it lay its most prized content ever: the precious and powerful golden torc.
The warrior’s name was Kalsang and he was a member of the White Feather society. They were an elite group of battle-hardened warriors, in their mid-thirties, who had taken a solemn oath of protecting the sacred torc from falling into the hands of evil and vile souls. In this effort, they were either willing to take a life or give theirs. Kalsang was the senior of all and their commander.
Kalsang recognized the roar. It was Nima, the white lioness, whose abode was Mt. Akar. He felt reassured, that meant he was headed in the right direction. Wiping the sweat from his brow, he hurried across the narrow path. Memories of the day’s events floated through his mind: The attack at the sacred shrine, his fellow warriors’ death, and the promise given to the council head who’d breathed his last in Kalsang’s bloodied arms.
Kalsang sighed. Clearly, he’d been lucky to escape the assault. But for now, a single thought was steadfast in his mind; the sacred torc had to reach Mt. Akar. He was resolute and nothing could deter him from fulfilling this task.
He paused to take in the smell of moss and pine that lingered in the air. In a moment of silence, he heard the sound of splashing water as it drifted through the air. His memory told him that Swinging Bridge, which spanned over the Toranili Rapids, was not far. Beyond it lay the foothills of Mt. Akar, his final destination. His eyes scanned the horizon, and sure enough, past the pine treetops the mountain was clearly visible; its snow peak shining in the moonlight like a beacon of hope. He further felt assured when he remembered that Nima would be able to pick on the torc vibrations and close in on him.
The wind had picked up now and the ends of his jacket were flapping constantly. Kalsang momentarily stopped to tighten the knots of the strap which bound the precious load on his chest. At that instant, he heard it: the faint drum of hoofbeats behind him that were getting louder by the second. He winced. Not many knew where he was. In that case, it could only mean one thing – Black Scorpions, Zargoan’s elite guards; they had somehow found his trail.
He had no time to lose.
He started running down the path, leaping over bushes, in a desperate bid to close the distance. He barely made out the swish of an arrow before it buried itself into his left thigh. He fell to the ground and a cry escaped his lips. Seconds later a burning sensation engulfed his leg and he felt his muscles start to twitch. He staggered to his feet. His heart was pounding.
A lone thought sprang in his mind: scorpion venom!
He knew the arrowhead had to be laced with scorpion venom. This is how his pursuers liked to slay their victims. First, they would maim them with poisonous arrows and let the venom run its course. Then, when the victim was incapacitated, a quick strike would end his misery forever.
He gritted his teeth and slowly pulled the arrow out. Blood spurted out from the open wound and he let it drain for a few seconds. Swiftly he tied a sash tightly around the wound to prevent the venom from spreading. Scooping a bit of wet mud he plastered it over the wound to stop the bleeding. He steadied himself and observed the surroundings. For now, he couldn’t see any movements around the forest edge. He scrutinized the ground around his feet looking for any telltale sign. A few dark hues marked the spot where the blood had soaked into the ground. Kalsang shrugged. There wasn’t much he could do for now.
He strode forward briskly. He’d just covered a few feet when he caught a glint out of the corner of his eyes. He felt the ground shake and he instinctively did what he had been trained for years. He brought his sword up to meet a steel blade as it sliced through the air and deflected the blow inches from his head. At the same time, he twisted his torso to face his attacker who thundered past him on his horse.
“Where have you been Kalsang?” his attacker hissed as he dismounted from his horse.
“Nowhere of interest to you!”
The attacker pointed his blade at him. “Aaah! We are always interested.”
More horsemen now appeared and surrounded him.
The faint moonlight caught his attackers face and Kalsang recognized him. It was Shadow Face. Kalsang could tell from the black eye-patch and the green scales on the left side of his face. A long snake-like tongue that frequently flickered out further added to his charm. Shadow Face was a reptilian and commanded a group of about twenty such men.
Kalsang realized he was at a disadvantage here.
He remained silent and kept trudging backward with his eyes on Shadow Face. He was now on a gradual slope which turned sharply after a few feet before it continued down further. He gathered that there was about a fifteen-foot drop, which if he took, would take him right to the edge of the bridge. His ploy was to hold off Shadow Face and keep backing slowly until he reached the spot.
“There’s no escape,” smirked Shadow Face. “Give us what we want and you may live.”
“Oh yeah,” Kalsang rolled his eyes. “Like that has happened before.”
Shadow Face curled up his lips and uttered a bloodcurdling scream. The next instant he swung his sword and leaped forward.
Kalsang held his stance and bent backward to dodge the cut. He came back up with an upward thrust. His blade slashed through Shadow Face’s right arm and opened up a deep gash. Blood gushed from the wound and Shadow Face reeled back with hiss holding his arm; his eye glowing red with anger. The grimace on his face turned to a sinister smile and he bought his injured arm up. As Kalsang stared in surprise, the tissue around the wound started to regenerate, and the gash closed up in a few seconds. The wound had healed itself completely.
“You still want to continue this?” mocked Shadow Face.
Shadow Face snarled. “Move all you can…you’ll be still soon.”
Both of them backed off and began to circle each other. Each one was bidding his time as he waited for the perfect moment to strike. Neither wanted to commit first.
Suddenly as if on cue, they both jumped high in the air at the same time.
The night was lit with the sparks as their blades clanged together. Brief flashes of steel flew out as they charged again, and again, each trying to cut through. Neither one gave a chance. Each maneuver was met with a counter-maneuver.
A loud thwack on the shield on his back caused Kalsang roll forward to absorb the blow. He came up to his feet and realized that the fight had carried him to the slope turn which led to the bridge. His aching limbs told him that he didn’t have much time before his body started slowing down. There was only one thing to do.
Summoning all his strength he uttered a loud cry and leaped over the ring of men trying to close in on him. He flew through the air and broke his fall with a roll. As he came up running, he saw that he was right at the drop. Pausing for a second to look back at his would-be assailants, he took a deep breath and jumped over the drop. He came down hard on his back with a force that rattled his bones. Luckily his thick jacket and the heavy shield took the brunt of it. Paddling with his legs and slashing at the undergrowth, he made his way down in a trail of silvery dust.
He reached the bottom and looked up to see Shadow Face and his men looming at the slope edge. Turning towards the trail he could clearly see the Swinging Bride just a few yards away. He sighed with relief as he realized that Shadow Face wouldn’t risk following him onto the bridge. He and his men had no wish to face Narzentor, the horned serpent, whose lair was Toranili Rapids.
“You will be seeing more of us,” snarled Shadow Face. With a yell, he turned around, his men following behind him.
Kalsang turned towards the bridge. He could feel that he had almost reached the end of his road.
His attention was broken by the sound of wind whining and pulling at the swaying bamboo bridge. He stood at the edge and peered over. A sheet of mist created by the crashing waves floated up, and wet his face. Way down below, the roaring water as it plowed through jagged rocks and boulders, created a foaming and swirling pattern that grew and faded The river continued this way, to his right, for about one hundred meters and finally plummeted into a deep gorge.
He surveyed the bridge noting its condition. It seemed quite old and was made of bamboo stems. Long vines were used to string the stems and hold them together. Kalsang became aware that walking on the bridge would be tricky; the bamboo planks were moist and slippery, and the knots holding them, loose in several places.
He unhooked his shield and dropped it to the ground—he needed no unnecessary weight.
Grabbing the slim bamboo handrails he stepped on the bridge. The structure creaked and groaned as he slowly moved forward. He had carried on for a few steps when a vine strand snapped with a splitting sound and whizzed past his right ear, barely missing his face. Kalsang waited a few seconds to compose himself and then moved along, stepping gingerly each time. The wind howled as it picked up. His jacket started flapping around everywhere and the leather straps of the satchel tugged hard under his armpits. He could feel his stomach turn as the bridge started to bob and sway.
Using the handrail he pulled himself along and somehow made to about half-way through the bridge. Suddenly a loud hissing sound caught his attention and he ducked just in time to avoid the tip of a huge tail that slashed through the air nearly clipping the top of his head.
He’d forgotten about Narzentor, the horned serpent; it had awoken from its slumber and was hungry. Toranili Rapids was his lair, and the bridge, his favorite spot to hunt for a meal.
Narzentor was a fearsome serpent, humungous in size, with a length close to fifty feet. His mouth had sharp fangs that could sever a small animal. But it was his tail and horn that were his prized weapons. The long powerful tail had serrated edge and was laced with sharp spikes that protruded out menacingly. Over time Narzentor had perfected the usage of his tail. He would use it either as a smashing whip to sweep his prey off their feet or as a hook, where he would impale his prey with the spiked tail, and then yank them into the cold waters below. The horn on his head had magical powers. It could shoot out an intense blue ray. The blue beam of light on hitting a victim would cause a sudden drop in temperature of the surrounding air. This extreme condensation would cause an ice sheet to form along the body of the victim making it painfully difficult to move any limbs. His swinging tail would take care of the rest.
Narzentor’s tail smashed into the water below, turning it into a churning mass of bubbling liquid. White spray flew up and drenched Kalsang as he crouched low on the bridge and drew out his sword. He moved slowly along the bridge, focused on the end, and not eyeing at the danger below. With the way he was drenched, he dared not lock eyes with Narzentor. It would surely be a fatal move.
Kalsang had a feeling that the fabled tail would be back. This time he waited, and at the last second, when the tip of the tail was almost upon him, he summoned all his strength and leaped high. The moment the huge tail passed under him, he slashed down, fast and deep with his sword. Kalsang almost lost his sword when he jarred his arm as his sword bounced violently off the scales on Narzentor’s tail.
The powerful tail was protected by thick scales. A sword couldn’t cut through it.
Narzentor bellowed in rage.
He spun and raised his spine so that his head was towering above the waves. His neck swayed and his beady eyes gleamed. Suddenly a dazzling blue ray shot out off the top his head and lit bridge. Kalsang managed to evade a direct hit by diving to one side at the very last second. He looked back and winced. Small icicles were slowly forming on the handrail behind him.
Narzentor slid to the deeper end of the river. Kalsang was aware that another attack was imminent. It was just a matter of time.
He crouched low and then started pushing along on his elbows. He hoped that a smaller profile would make it harder for Narzentor to engage.
Narzentor came back with vengeance. In a flurry of strikes, he smashed his tail at the end of the bridge like a battering ram. Straps snapped and came undone. Bamboo splinters flew through the air and whole structure dipped and tilted sideways. Kalsang grabbed onto the handrails with both hands and hung on to prevent his body from sliding off. For a moment he stared incomprehensibly, unable to think, and then it dawned upon him.
Of course! Narzentor was trying to destroy the bridge. It was a matter of time before the flimsy structure shattered and collapsed.
Think, he told himself. Think.
Shore, he thought. He had to somehow get onto the shore. Narzentor was a water serpent and Kalsang knew it wouldn’t follow him onto the dry land.
A wild thought flashed through his mind. What if he hitched a ride on Narzentor’s tail?
Kalsang mulled over the thought. It was insane but not entirely impossible. His leather belt’s buckle could hook onto one of the spikes on Narzentor’s tail and he could hang along and let it swung him around. At the extreme point, he would let go and pray that the centrifugal force had enough momentum to carry him over the river’s breadth onto the shore.
There was no other option at this stage.
He tightened the straps of the satchel and secured it. Kalsang took out his belt and wrapped it around his left hand. There was one last thing remaining: getting back Narzentor’s attention.
Kalsang stood up and raised his sword. He angled the blade such that it caught the moonlight’s reflection. He swiftly directed the reflected beam at the rushing waters below. The flash of light caught Narzentor square in the eyes and he bellowed in rage. A blast of water smashed into Kalsang’s face. He had Narzentor’s attention now.
Kalsang grabbed his belt tightly between his hands and crouched low on the bridge. He took a deep breath and waited.
It wasn’t long before he heard the hiss and picked the blur of movement as Narzentor’s tail swung over and came straight at him. Then the moment he felt the rush of air over his head, he leaped high and away from the bridge. At the same time, he swung the belt with all force at the rapidly moving tail. For a second he felt nothing but cold wet air on his face. But then, a sudden sharp pull which almost dislocated his shoulders, told him that he had done it; he was hooked. A feeling of weightlessness swept over him. He could feel his body being rapidly pulled along the air.
Look for the shoreline, he told himself. He struggled to hold on. He could feel his finger getting numb and his shoulders were on fire.
Through squinted eyes, he saw the edge of the shoreline coming up on his right. He held on and the moment his feet crossed over the shoreline, he let go. The ground rushed up fast and he barely had time to brace for impact when his feet hit the sand shore with a mighty thump. He broke his fall with a forward roll and then just sprawled on the sand to catch his breath.
Kalsang looked up at the night sky and stretched his limbs. His left thigh throbbed with pain and he was banged up but alive. He shakily got up and tried to get his bearings. Suddenly his eyes picked a movement up on the slope. A white silhouette seemed to be headed in his direction. It got closer and Kalsang’s heart trembled with excitement as he recognized it—It was Nima.
For a second he stood there in awe of her. She was indeed a sight to behold: The magnificent size, the broad and powerful face, the intense big eyes that could look into ones’ soul, and her glorious white coat which shimmered in the moonlight. He had heard stories and tales about her, but this time he was seeing her for real.
She stopped a few feet from him and looked at him intently.
Her brows puckered for a moment. “You’re late!”
She then casually turned around and started walking. Kalsang scrambled to catch up with her. She stopped and looked at him as if waiting for a reply.
“I…I was held up,” he stammered.
“I can see it,” she said. “I hope you haven’t lost your precious cargo.”
Kalsang patted the satchel. “Yes, yes it’s intact.”
“Good, we need to take it to the shrine.”
She started walking up the slope and he followed behind. They made their way through a narrow path, laced with sharp rocks. Nima swiftly climbed up the mountain rocks and Kalsang struggled to keep pace with her. He gazed in wonder as she easily bounded over rocks, with no trouble, never losing her footing; she was graceful as a mountain goat.
The adrenalin rush had subsided now. Kalsang was now aware of fatigue and pain slowly creeping into his limbs. The venom had now spread into his blood stream and neurotoxins were affecting his blood cells. Spells of dizziness seem to overtake him. It was apparent that he needed care, and he needed it fast.
Nima sensed his discomfort as they stopped in a small opening beneath the pine trees. She moved her head up, sniffing the moist air, and let out a faint whistle which grew louder as it floated through the air. A few seconds later, a flurry of wings broke the night silence. A dark shape floated in the sky above. It grew larger as it descended and partially blocked the bright moonlight for a few fleeting seconds. Kalsang looked in amazement as the shape took the form of a huge bird that perched itself on the rock next to Nima.
He looked closely at the bird. It had the semblance of a spotted eagle with glossy brown feathers which covered most of the body except for the head and neck that were creamy. The head was broad with dark eyes and sported a long curved beak with sharp edges. He guessed that the bird would be at least eight feet in length with a wingspan of around sixteen feet. A golden sheath covered its enormous talons and strong twines circled around the body and held a saddle on its back on which a lean person with aquiline features sat. The rider was tall with matted hair, toned muscular arms, and donned a cut-off leather vest which was held together at the waist by straps. A pair of leather greaves protected his legs and an eagle-shaped amulet adorned his neck. A long bow was strapped across his back and a belt quiver hung along his right leg.
Nima saw the surprised look on Kalsang’s face.
“This is Shimaar. He is the leader of the Nainee tribe, the last true eagle riders,” she said. “They inhabit the upper slopes of Mt. Akar.”
“How can I be of service Nima?” asked Shimaar.
“Our friend here has been a casualty of Shadow Face. You know what that means.”
Shimaar smiled. “Aaah! I see.”
Shimaar scooped out a clump of white flowers from a leather bag that hung on the side. Nima proceeded to clear the area around the pine tree with her massive paws. Shimaar gestured at Kalsang to lie down on that spot.
As he watched, Nima took the flowers from Shimaar and started rubbing them between her massive paws. Soon a whitish paste emerged and a sweet fragrance filled the air around him, almost pushing him into a slumber. A slight pressure on his right thigh drew his attention back. He looked to see Nima rub the white paste onto his wound. Soon the pain in his thigh was replaced by a soothing sensation which slowly spread across his entire body. The paste seemed to be working.
“This should stall the poison from spreading,” she said. “Shimaar will take you the rest of the way.”
Shimaar gave Kalsang a shoulder and helped drag him to his ride.
“Here we go,” he said. “Brace for it.”
Kalsang grimaced when he felt a stab of pain as Shimaar swung his legs over the saddle.
“Now hold on tight, okay?” he said. “Alazer is usually uncomfortable with strangers.”
Kalsang just nodded and Shimaar swung behind him.
The next moment Shimaar let out a high pitched whistle. Kalsang felt his stomach turn as Alazer took to the sky with a push of her mighty feet. Cold air caressed his face and he could feel his eyes getting heavy. Sleep fueled by exhaustion soon overtook him and he slumped forward.
The last thing he remembered was seeing Nima’s white silhouette, as it moved quickly over rocks beneath him.