The Quest for Andrios

The day after their rather abrupt arrival in the Viseral Palace of Silone, Norin sighed as he closed the fiftieth book in the royal library.

It was already noon, as was evidenced from the sunlight filtering in through the window, and they still hadn’t even come close to finding out where the Door of Andrios was located.

“Are you sure that’s how she left?” asked Mithra irritably, as she used her magic to seek out the books they wanted. “The Door of Andrios is mythical. No one really knows if it exists.”

Norin nodded thoughtfully. “According to my seekers I sent out last night, the eurin of Sofia hasn’t been anywhere out of this kingdom. Not for more than a kilometre, I’d daresay.”

“Well then, don’t you think we should start canvassing within the kingdom boundary?”

He shook his head. “It’s going to take a long time to scour through twelve thousand acres for a girl we may or may not recognise.”

“Well, she’s the eurin – surely, somebody must’ve seen her.”

Norin pursed his lips, trying not to badmouth in front of a girl. “Can you hear yourself, Surita? If somebody found her, we wouldn’t have to be here!”

Mithra realised what he meant. “Oh right,” she murmured quietly. “Carry on. Oh – I say! Where did you send your seekers?”

“To the other countries across Ahala. Why?”

“Why don’t you send them within Silone? Then, we can be sure of where she went!”

Mithra’s rare show of intelligence was a delight for Norin. He grinned. “Thanks. Yes, that makes sense. Let’s go!”

He walked towards one of the great windows of the library as she dug into his pockets for his seekers. He took out two – one from each – and set them on the window sill; they were the size of his thumb. His friend joined him at the window. He bent forward and commanded in gentle tones, “Search for the girl we seek – Ayesha Sinhala, Eurin un Regnum, Sofia Dynasty, Silone.”

The seekers turned around and flew away. Norin pursed his lips.

“And now,” he declared, “we get back to finding out more about this Door of Andrios.”

 

———————————-

 

In just a few minutes after they resumed their search in the royal library, a maid had arrived to announce that lunch was ready.

After having their fill, they respectfully took their leave from Eura Ansari, but he insisted on coming along and help if necessary. Norin and Mithra didn’t think it’d be a hurdle.

Eura Ansari still looked harassed, but a lot more confident than he had the previous day. The young mages hoped it was a good sign.

Just as the sun began to set, the two little seekers arrived back at the library and sat in front of their master at his side of the long table. He patted them gently on their insectile heads.

“Good seekers, you came back – though a little later than we expected.” Norin closed his eyes and placed his hand on the metallic seekers, covering both at once. With his magic, he willed them to show what they had seen.

The two little seekers had chosen to go in two directions at a time. At first, when one went North, the other went South. They didn’t any traces of Eurin Ayesha. They came back, exchanged reports, and went East and West.

The seeker that went West had no luck at all, but the one that went to the East suddenly felt a sensation and changed course to Northeast. It went on and on, until it arrived at a moor, partway in a high mountain.

Norin gasped and shifted his hand away from the seekers. His eyes were wide with fear and his chest rose up and down as his heart raced. At once, Mithra, sensing the sharp tug in her own chest, leaped to hold her friend’s hand.

“It’s all right, it’s all right,” she whispered quietly in his ear. “It’s all right, it’s all right, it’s all right…”

Eura Ansari got to his feet, too, but he knew he had to be patient for the boy to gather his wits and be able to speak again. He was seated at the same table, but at the far end, desiring not to become a burden to the mages.

At long last, Norin took a deep breath, as instructed by Mithra, and let it out. He calmed enough to be able to speak again.

He turned to Eura Ansari. “Eura, I know exactly where your daughter went. Do you know the Silour Ranges in the Northeast of this kingdom?”

The older man slowly nodded his head. “Yes, I do, of course. No Man’s Land, that one.”

“Exactly. Now, as you know, there is some magic abound there, or so some sources say.”

“Yes. What of it?” The eura still spoke slowly, a feeling of dread creeping up his spine, as if in his heart of hearts, he knew where this was leading.

Norin had recovered by now and squared his shoulders. “Eura Ansari, your daughter, the Eurin un Regnum, has found the legendary Door of Andrios. I don’t believe she’s in this world at all.”

 

Ansari Sinhala had nothing to say except some words that sputtering unintelligibly from his mouth.

“Bu – Wh – H – Whe –”

“If I may, your majesty,” Norin interrupted. “With your leave, Surita and I will arrive there at once to see it and gather intel. Will that be fine?”

The eura nodded helplessly. He had nothing to say. ‘Does she really think we all hate her, so she had to risk her life to get away? Oh, Miva, what did I do? Where did I go wrong in raising her?’ He sighed. ‘Not that I did much of it – that evil-minded second eurana of mine –

“We’re waiting, your majesty,” Mithra’s voice cut through the cloud of his thoughts. He stared at the youngsters and nodded again. “Yes, yes, you have my leave. Just go and do what you need to do. But please, if you feel you need more reinforcements, do not hesitate to let me know – I’m more than willing to send in my entire force to get my daughter back.” He choked back the tears that suddenly threatened to rise to the surface. “Then again, if she doesn’t want to be found –”

“Eura!”

He looked up; it was Norin who had a shocked expression on his face.

The eura gave another sigh. “Sorry, child. It’s just that – Well, I made some poor decisions, which is probably why she ran away. Was there anybody else with her, do you know?”

“She was alone,” replied Norin confidently. “So, you let us leave to find this Door, won’t you?”

“Of course, please go. And come back soon. It’s night-time now and who know what’s roaming outside to ambush you.”

New Kids in the First Year

The next day, the students found their timetables on the noticeboards outside their dormitories, just as the school headgirl had instructed them.

The bell went off at half-past-six in the morning, which was the signal for every one in the school – at least, the students – to wake up and start getting ready for to begin their day. Susie, one of the last girls who arrived the previous evening, found the timetable and informed the rest of the girls. She met Jon outside, having a look himself. Philip and Jack Roberts came out to have a look, too.

“We have assembly at eight o’clock,” read Philip, “and then, roll-call at quarter-to-nine. Classes begin at nine.” He turned to Susie. “Then, why do we need to wake up at half-past-six?”

The girl shrugged. “I suppose it’s the norm here. Anyway, sleep early and you’ll have a lot more time to do a lot of things the next day!”

“Sleep early, yes. But wake early, too? Nah, I couldn’t afford that. I can get ready in the blink of an eye!”

“Boasting again, are we?”

They all turned around to see Robert Thomas coming out of his room.

“Take no notice of him, Susie Jones,” he added, “for, he can exaggerate this roof to the sky!”

Everybody burst out laughing, Susie included.

“That was a great way of putting it, I admit,” said Jon.

“Anyhow,” said Susie, “it’s almost half-past-seven. We need to have our breakfast at eight!”

She bid the others a temporary goodbye and went back inside.

“I wonder who our class head is going to be!” said Carrie Wilton to two other girls who were setting out their clothes while they waited for whoever was using the bathroom to come out.

“Perhaps we won’t be having any,” mused Pauline, one of the girls. “What do you think, Carla?”

“Maybe they’ll ask us to volunteer and then have a vote,” Carla said.

“We’ll just have to wait and see,” said Susie, going up to them. She had been the first student in the dormitory to get ready. She mostly liked having the bathroom before anybody else, even back at home.

Jessica Morton came out of the bathroom and instantly, another girl who had been the nearest, rushed in!

“Poor Janet Mary – she’d been holding her stuff for so long!” remarked Evangeline sympathetically.

“Well, I’m all ready now,” announced Marie, hefting her backpack. It was light, really, though it looked very heavy. She placed it on her bunkbed. “How long till classes start?”

“Not for another hour, at least,” replied Susie, and then, proceeded to repeat the timetable she had memorised from the noticeboard outside.

Nine!” squealed Marie. “Then, why was I asked to wake up and start getting ready three hours early!?”

Susie laughed. “Two and a half, but I get what you’re saying! Jon was complaining of the same thing!”

“Whatever,” Marie rolled her eyes. “There’s a roll-call at quarter-to-nine? Any more during the day?”

Susie thought about it. “No, as far as I could see. Why?”

“We had a roll-call two times every day in our old school, at Little Hearts. It was to make sure that no kid has gone missing in between. We’d know if they had and their parents would be informed.”

“Wow!” All the girls gathered around her.

“Where there any actual cases like that?” asked Carla, her eyes shining.

“Yes, in fact, actually. Two kids. Different days, of course. One boy got lost during a nature walk; he got distracted by a bunch of butterflies that were playing in the garden we were in. It was quite big and had a lot of people. Ever since then, teachers began to be more cautious about bringing us to that park only when less people were around.”

The girls gasped.

“I hope they found him!” said Pauline, the most sensitive of them all.

“Yes, of course. He had realised that his class were no longer with him, so he began to cry, looks like. Some couple took him in and began to entertain him, until our teacher found him. Oh, it was a day, I tell you!”

“What was the second time?”

“She was a rich girl – a girl who came from a rich family. She was kidnapped!”

Another round gasps; louder this time. “How?!”

“In the middle of a busy school day, one of the maids working in the school took the girl away with a piece of chocolate! We’re not told not to take anything from strangers, but she… she was known to us! We didn’t even suspect she could be criminal!”

The girls gaped.

“We saw some pretty bad things there, all right,” said Marie, not too happy by then. “The world can be pretty mean to us. Anyway, the girl was found by one of the guards in the school who thought the maid was acting suspicious. Don’t know what exactly he thought was suspicious. But it was a good thing, none the less.”

“I agree,” said Susie. “Well, let’s hope such things don’t happen to any of us. Like Philomena told us yesterday, we must be in at least groups of three… up to five. Let’s hope we all shall remember that!”

~*~

New classes began at nine in the morning.

The First Years were rounded up by Miss Green after assembly and up to their class. The room was rather small, though too big for a class of twenty students. The roll-call was taken there.

“Now,” said the mistress after. “You’re all fresh young twelve-year-olds, here to learn more than you did before to-day, and become good individuals. I hope you’re ready for some higher levels of all the subjects you’ve done before!”

The students all gave each other nervous glances. Miss Green noticed and smiled.

“That’s not a problem. I shall leave you all to get acquainted with the syllabus in the first week. But from the next week, please promise me you’ll try very hard. The first year is always a giant step from the sixth standard, so there’s no way around it, other than working very hard. I’m sure some of you who have older siblings know of this already.

“But don’t get scared. Whatever you need help with, you have your classmates and dormmates to ask. You can also come to me. We’re all here to help each other grow!”

The children looked at her in awe.

“Now. I shall be teaching you Geography. Your first hour to-day is Maths, so Mr James will be here shortly to start the lesson. Ah – here he is!”

A tall, rather middle-aged man entered the room, his eyes on the twenty students in the class. He had a jolly pleasant smile on his face. “Good morning, students,” he greeted affectionately.

The students at once stood up. “Good morning, Mr James!”

“Good morning, Miss Green,” he tipped his hat.

“Morning, Mr James. The class is all yours. Everybody has been called and accounted for!” Miss Green gave him a pleasant smile and walked away.

Mr James set his books down on the table and turned back to the class. “Now, settle down, please. Good. Now then, tell me what you all did in your last Maths class.”

The children each took turns to stand up and explain everything they had learnt. They each rather liked this middle-aged teacher whose cheery smile never ceased.

Ah, this school isn’t going to be so bad, after all!’ they thought.

~*~

The only people who hadn’t spoken many words among the First Years were Lucy and Lacy Linton, Trent Sawyer, and William Evans.

“Hey!” Angelina went up to where the Lintons were quietly mending some tears in their dresses in the First and Second Years’ common room. “I’ve been wondering… Are you twins?”

Lucy and Lacy looked up, exchanged glances. “Well, you can say we are,” replied the latter with a small smile. “We’re just a few months apart.”

“That’s nice!” remarked Evangeline. “No wonder you’re in the same class!”

“Well, we didn’t want to be separated if we could help it. I think you two feel the same.”

“Yes, yes, we do. So, where are you from?”

“We’re from the Southern Province. This is our first time in a boarding school, but I expect it is so for all of us here. Where are you from, twins?”

“We’re from the Central Province – the same as this one.” Angelina smiled. “We live on the other side.”

“That must be closer to home, eh?”

“Yes, I suppose.”

On the other side of the room, Trent sat reading a book. Janet Mary Swenson crouched down near him and with shining eyes, tried to read its cover. Trent, noticing her from the corner of his eye, turned a little away, to block her vision. At once, Janet Mary moved accordingly.

Trent instantly flared up and jumped to his feet. “Hey, girl, what’s your problem?! Why don’t you just leave me alone!?”

Little Janet Mary, who looked a little too young to be in the First Year at a higher studies school, gave him a sweet smile. “But I want to see what it is! I love books so much!”

Trent made an irritated noise and stamped out of the room, leaving a dismayed Janet Mary.

American Jessica Morton sidled up to her. “Ignore that guy, JM. Come, I discovered the library yesterday, right here in school. I think you’ll love it!”

Janet Mary insisted that it was her first name and that Mary was not her middle name. So, the girls began to call her ‘JM’; she didn’t mind one bit.

Now, she accepted Jessica’s kindness with a small smile and a nod. “Thank you.”

As they left the room, Jessica asked, “Where are you from, pal?”

“I’m from the UK. Though really, you couldn’t tell it from my accent, eh?”

“Well, I’ve never seen a British or heard them, so I wouldn’t know.” She winked.

Back in the room, Amelia Johnson, a Second Year student, stood up. “Anybody object if I turned on the radio?”

They all shook their heads and she turned it on. The radio was tuned to a classical songs channel; she changed it to Russian songs.

“Ooh, I love that one!” said Nina, the little Russian Second Year girl. She and her twin, Antonov, began to nod along to it.

William Evans looked around when the radio started blaring out music, and snorted. ‘Silly little Slavans and their stupid ways. I wish I could go back home to my own room. I don’t owe anything to these idiots!

 

Nicole’s Choice

Nicole wasn’t very impressed with what she was seeing before her.

    But then again, when it came to dates, she never was. Nobody she dated impressed her—neither men nor women. In fact, it seemed like her dating choices weren’t exactly to be trusted.

    So, you may wonder why she was on this date now – with a woman called Samantha Love. At first, when she heard the name, she had to admit it sounded almost romantic. Now, she wondered why. Samantha Love? Who names themselves like that—the descendent of St Valentine? Did St Valentine ever have a descendent? Or, maybe a child of Cupid or Venus. The kind of world Nicole lived in, she wouldn’t have been surprised if the second theory turned out to be true.

    “I went to watch the Winter Olympics last year and it was so exciting!” Samantha was saying. “I met a lot of sportsmen – oh, so hot…”

    She went on and on, perhaps describing each of those sportsmen she supposedly met – Nicole didn’t listen. She just nodded and smiled where necessary and appropriate. She also threw in an occasional “I see” and “Oh!” to add special effects.

    Finally, the shadows started growing longer in the café she sat on her date with Samantha and that prompted her to check her watch. It was six o’clock.

    She cleared her throat and leaned forward. Samantha stopped talking – she had been saying something about meeting the Emperor of Japan – and looked expectantly.

    ‘She literally has no clue I wasn’t even listening!’ thought Nicole. ‘That’s a huge relief.’ Because, she wasn’t usually the type to not listen to people – she did. Just, not during dates. They always ended in disasters, one way or another, so she stopped listening to people on her dates.

    Aloud, she said, “So, I need to leave now, I’m sorry. I need to visit my mother before sundown.”

    Samantha smiled brightly. “Oh yes, sure! I need to be leaving, too!” She stood up. “It was great meeting you! I think we should see each other again!”

    ‘Uh-oh,’ thought Nicole, though she gave a bright smile in return. “Sure thing!” she agreed, though inwardly, she thought, ‘No way, thank you very much. We shouldn’t have met in the first place.’ She stood up, too, and moved from the table.

    “Great!”

    Nicole and Samantha walked together as far as the main road.

    “So. Need a ride back home?” offered Samantha.

    Nicole shook her head politely. “No, thank you. I can go on my own.”

    The other woman nodded. “Great! So, I’ll text you and we can meet up again!”

    What Nicole really wanted to say was, ‘No, that’s all right – I think we should call it.’ But, what she ended up saying was, “I think so, too. Perhaps next week?” As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she began to regret it.

    This seemed to make Samantha even happier, for she suddenly hugged her. Nicole stiffened in shock.

    ‘O…kay!’ She tried not to panic.

    Luckily for Nicole, Samantha left her in a few seconds, waved goodbye, and walked away towards left. Nicole found herself staring at her as she walked away, particularly at her gait and the way her waist moved when she walked—side-to-side with no proper rhythm, which seemed to awaken something inside of the woman that she hadn’t felt in a long time.

    ‘Snap out of it!’ she chided herself. ‘Stop staring at her and leave!

∞∞∞

    “How was the date?”

    Nicole looked up as she entered the cemetery. Her older sister, Andrea, stood at the grave that she came to visit, her husband, Matthew, standing beside her, his arm wrapped in hers and pulled close to him. There was no one else in the vicinity.

    “I told you not to get involved in my love life,” answered Nicole, not very graciously. “I made the decision to take a break from dating. I decide when I start again.”

    Andrea made a show of rolling her eyes as the younger woman approached the grave. “You said that two years ago!” she pointed out. “Timmy was a jerk and the others you’ve dated since… well, they weren’t exactly bright. I get it: you want someone who gets you. I guarantee Samantha is just the woman for you!”

    Nicole frowned and folded her arms across her not-so-big chest. “I’m sorry to say that you’re wrong. Only thing she did there was talk all about herself – how she met this famous person, that famous person –”

    “Well, she does do a lot of charity work.”

    Nicole snorted. “Bet it’s all just for show.”

    Andrea frowned in irritation. “Look, she’s my best friend – my only close friend. You better take those words back.”

    “Well then, newsflash: I make bad dating choices; you make bad friendship choices.”

    Nicole could tell that this made her sister furious.

    But, all Andrea said was, in a calm ice-cold voice, “I hope you didn’t blow that date.”

    Nicole sighed. “I would know if I were listening,” she muttered.

    “So, what did you do?”

    “Nothing. Look, I don’t think she’s into me, okay? In fact, I think she’s into guys.”

    Andrea looked taken aback now, maybe even a little confused. “Come again?”

    “She’s straight, Andrea.”

    “Is that so?” The older woman didn’t sound convinced.

    Nicole didn’t care. She came there to see and talk to her mother and that was what she was going to do. She knelt in front of the grave and bowed her head in silent prayer. She wasn’t particularly religious, but she loved her mother when she was still alive. Every time she came to the cemetery, she hoped her mother would be listening to her.

    Ten minutes later, her face tear-stained, Nicole stood up. She felt an arm around her shoulder and she relaxed into it. No matter how much they fought, Andrea would always love her unconditionally. Having almost zero social life of her own, she was glad of this.

    “I’m so sorry,” she whispered. “She… When we were leaving, she said she’d text me later and fix… fix another date. Maybe I’ll try harder then.”

    Andrea kissed the top of her head. “I know you will.”

∞∞∞

It turned out that Nicole didn’t have to wait a week to meet her date again.

    She was back in the cemetery the next night, looking for a ghoul she knew was making trouble across the town—making unusually strong winds (it was summer season, when the winds weren’t so strong), uprooting random trees and electrical poles, and even scaring the wits out of poor young children by appearing in front of them. Kids below fifteen years were more likely to see spirits, even if they weren’t a mediator like Nicole was.

    Nicole had magic – this she’d known for a long time. She just couldn’t understand how she could be the only one in this side-career.

    “Boo!” a voice said close to her left ear.

    She whipped her head around, pinching her lips so she wouldn’t scream. There, beside the tree she was hiding, stood the last person she expected to see.

    “Samantha, right?” she gasped, calming down. She had been afraid it was another ghost. One angry one was enough to handle for one day, forget about two at once.

    The other woman nodded and sidled to her side. “So, a little bird told me you think I’m always talking about myself.”

    Nicole could feel herself blushing fiercely. “Er – I’m sorry. I’m just not into dating right now. I didn’t want to go yesterday, but Andrea said I should because you were expecting me…” She sighed. “I’m sorry.”

    To her surprise, Samantha smiled, almost knowingly. “I know.”

    Nicole swallowed. “You… you knew?”

    Before anybody could do anything else, a strong gust of wind hit them directly in the face. Nicole almost lost her footing, if not for the hand that grabbed her just in time. She realised it was Samantha.

    “The ghost’s here!” shouted the other woman. “You going to do this now or what?!”

    Nicole wondered how she could see the ghost, but didn’t bother asking just then. There was always time for that later. She nodded once. Samantha let go of her, just as she raised her arms skyward.

    “O, Lord of the Dead,” she chanted, “I beg thee to take the soul unclaimed and ravaging the world of the living! Please, I –”

    Something strong hit her hard in her gut and she lurched forward, an incredible amount of pain raising from her stomach. Her eyesight quickly became blurry and she passed out.

∞∞∞

It had been three years since Nicole awoke next to a person who wasn’t part of her family.

    It was back in twelfth grade and she was attracted to the most popular girl in school, Kyla. They often had sleepovers, which raised in her heart hopes about dating her at some point. But then, school ended and they drifted apart, until, eventually, she felt town for good. She didn’t even leave a contact number behind.

    Nicole’s heart was broken and it stayed that way, until, two years later, she met Timmy, the complete opposite of both Kyle and herself. They’d started dating pretty quickly, but it was only several months later that she had started seeing the signs and how he was really mentally abusing her. He had gradually, very subtly, began to take control of every part of her life, including her friends and family, until, in a year after she graduated college, she had no one to talk to except him. She realised this the day her mother died.

    Fortunately, Andrea had been watching out for her. The moment things got out of control, she had swooped in and removed her little sister from the mess. That was when Nicole knew she’d never ever truly hate her.

    It had been two years since she left Timmy. He hadn’t forced her to sleep with him yet, but he might have, if she had stayed any longer. That thought made her shudder every time.

    Now, the person next to her was a woman—Samantha. And the place they were in seemed more deserted and foggier – certainly not how she remembered the cemetery being. Surely after the angry ghoul had left, things had quietened down?

    ‘No, there’s something wrong,’ her conscience told her. ‘This is not the cemetery – we’re somewhere else.’ She caught herself staring at Samantha’s face: eyes closed, mouth set in a relaxed expression, and her chocolate-brown hair thrown haywire on the ground she lay.

    ‘She’s beautiful,’ thought Nicole. She suddenly realised she had known this fact all along, but had never allowed herself to admit it.

    Just then, she heard a muffled sound and got to her feet, swift as a cheetah. Her eyes darted around, surveying for any attack from anywhere.

    Beside her, Samantha groaned and sat up. She shushed her urgently, before the sound became louder again and she realised it was the sound of footsteps. She instantly grew wary.

    Then, from above them, came an odd battle-cry: “Cheetos!”

    On instinct, Nicole grabbed her companion’s wrist and ducked both out of the way of the rocket swooping down at them. It landed at the exact spot they had been at. The thought of what might’ve happened if she hadn’t moved in time was something Nicole didn’t want to think about.

    “So, we meet again!”

    The ghoul, the woman realised, was a man. A boy, really. But, a strong one, of that she was sure. She’d learned, albeit the very hard way, to never underestimate spirits of young people, especially teenagers: they had both physical and mental stamina to inflict more pain than she ever could.

    “Stay back, Samantha!” she ordered. “I’ll take care of this!”

    “No, wait!” Judging by her voice, Samantha seemed to be recovering quickly. “Let me help you!”

    Nicole rolled her eyes; she didn’t have time for this. “Just do as I say!”

    “Oh,” the other woman sounded bewildered. “If you say so.”

    Now, the woman could concentrate safely on the ghoul. “So! Caused enough havoc on the living already?” she said, tauntingly. “Where have you brought us now? Surely this isn’t Earth?”

    The boy’s face broke into a cruel smile that somehow made her heart do a little dance inside her chest. ‘This is not the time or place to fall in love!’ she chided herself.

    But even she had to admit that the ghoul looked very familiar…

∞∞∞

Suddenly, her eyes widened as she remembered.

    “Timmy?!” she exclaimed. Instantly, she wished she hadn’t said it.

    Dread filled her heart as images and videos of her time with her longest ex filled her mind and body, slowly consuming her soul. She found herself back in Timmy’s apartment, hunched on the sofa the moment she realised that all her old friends had deserted her. How had she let this happen? She was normally the one with many connections and acquaintances. But, seemingly overnight, nobody seemed to care about her to even message her. Only Andrea and her mother ever did and now, she found out that her mother, who had been hospitalised for cancer the previous week, just passed away.

    She turned her foggy gaze towards the kitchen where she could hear Timmy making dinner for them both. She wanted more than ever to talk to him, but when she’d earlier tried to make small talk, he had brushed it aside. It wasn’t the first time he had been doing this and she didn’t dare to wonder why. Could she bring herself to ask him for comfort now?

    She let her gaze wander slowly around the room, until it caught her phone lying silent on the table near her. A crazy idea formed in her mind. Should she do it…?

    The scene suddenly changed and Nicole was back in her room, on her bed, her eyes stinging. She put her hands to her face and realised that she had been crying hard. She somehow knew it was because of what Timmy had done to her – and the realisation that she had just seen the cold body of her mother, who had died a couple hours ago.

    ‘I’m reliving this memory,’ she thought. ‘Why? I thought I’d moved on… it’d been three years, after all…

    Something glowed in front of her and she looked up. Beyond her bed, standing with a bow in a hand and a red-tipped arrow in another, stood a young boy. He wore nothing but a loincloth and a knowing smirk.

    “Here you are, sad and lonely,” he said. His voice was a bit on the squeaky side, like it was on the verge of maturing. “You have two choices, dear Nicole—either admit that you want to be loved again or keep sitting here for the rest of your life.”

    Nicole gulped. Two choices? Really? She couldn’t believe it. It was so easy to pick one. Were choices in life really that easy?

    “I choose to sit here,” she said, her voice calm.

    The boy raised an eyebrow. “Are you sure?”

    She wanted to say “Yes”, she really did. But, something in her mind kept poking her, so that she didn’t say it. Instead, she found herself hesitating. Did she really want a lonely life? She’d love that. But then, an image began to shimmer to her right. When it solidified, she realised it was Samantha, looking around as if searching for something.

    Nicole realised she was searching for her.

    “She cares for you, too,” said the boy. “Surely, you don’t want to abandon her in a place she doesn’t know?”

    “Where is this place?” Nicole growled.

    “The Netherworld.”

    Nicole’s stopped breathing. The Netherworld was the place for dead spirits before they went into their afterlife. Living beings couldn’t survive there! How long had she and Samantha been there—an hour? More?

    “We need to leave now,” she muttered. “Tell me, Cupid, what should I do?” She paused. “You are Cupid, aren’t you?”

    The young boy flashed a giant smile. “Guilty as charged! Now – as to what you can do… Well, you can make the right choice.”

    “Obviously, it’s not the one I chose.”

    The smile was the only answer she got.

    “Great,” she muttered through her teeth. “Fine, I choose Samantha. Now, let us go!”

    Cupid’s smile spread even wider. “Excellent!”

    All of a sudden, the bedroom disappeared and Nicole found herself back with Samantha in the foggy corridor. The other woman’s back was to her and suddenly, she whirled around.

    “Nicole!” she cried and embraced her tightly.

    With a wave of relief, Nicole hugged her back. “Look, I need to tell you something.”

    Samantha pulled her head back. “What?”

    Without thinking further, Nicole leaned forward quickly and pressed her lips to hers. It was warm and delicious, a feeling she had missed for two years.

    She pulled away. “I want to go on that date with you.”

Stuck in Time

It all started when this dude picked my house to die in.

His name is Donald MacDonald, an employee in the marketing department of the famous-than-necessary commercial entertainment-slash-tourism company, Lloyd Tourism & Lifestyle Incorporated.

Elton Queen does not have many tourist spots, a small town that it is. No. But, Elton Queen is definitely famous for the Lloyd Tourism & Lifestyle Incorporated. Nobody knows why. Well, certainly not me.

Then again, I just arrived back in town after a month of touring the country with a couple of friends, so how was I to know? When I was here last, the Lloyd Tourism & Lifestyle Incorporated was not very well known. It had taken only a matter of a month, apparently, for it grow in size and popularity, with a couple branches across the country.

Enough for a death of its employee to become nation-wide news.

“I tell you, I’m not responsible for killing him!” I yelled at the inspector for the thousandth time from my position in the chair at the local police station. “It’s true! I didn’t! When he died, I wasn’t even in town! How he ended up at my house, I don’t know!”

Inspector Markus Jefferson looked bored as he reviewed the notes he took just minutes ago. He finally looked up at me.

“So, how do you explain him being at your house? In plain sight, no less?”

I rolled my eyes. “How many times must I tell you I don’t know!” I nearly screeched. “I. Wasn’t. In. Town!”

“All right, fine.” He picked up his pencil once more. “Can we verify this?”

“Yes!” I sighed in relief. “My friends, Iris White and Maureen Oswald. They were with me the entire time!”

“And you were gone for a month?”

“That’s right.” I was beginning to calm down.

“All right, we’ll verify this. Anything else you want to tell me about it?”

“The dead body? Nope. Nothing at all. All I know you know.”

“Okay. Fine. Thank you for your time, Miss Pavlov. We’ll get in touch as soon as there’s a development.”

“No. Thank you for finally listening to me!” I sighed once again. “The other policeman refused to!” My voice softened. “And Jefferson, you know you can be you now.” I gave him a small but friendly smile. There was hardly anybody around in the police station at the time; just a few others, but minding their own business in other parts of the area.

The inspector smiled back at me tiredly. “I’m sorry, Pavlov.” His voice was soft, as well. “I was just so caught up with everything… Anyway, if you hear anything from… you know, beyond the grave, do let me know. Okay?”

I nodded. He was one of the few people who knew my secret. “I will. I know you’ll believe me.”

“I always do. And you’re always right. Now, go, have some rest.” He paused and looked up. “One piece of advice, though.”

I stood up. “Yes?”

“You should consider staying with somebody else. The person who sneaked into your home to kill MacDonald last night might strike again. Not likely to be at the same spot, but we don’t know what his motive is. It might be that the guy was at the wrong place at the wrong time.” He stared meaningfully at me.

I knew what he was getting at, but I simply shrugged. “I was struck once, so what’s another time?” I was only joking, obviously, but Mark didn’t seem to look at it that way. My laughter dried up as I took in the grim expression on his face.

“I mean it, Pavlov. I want you safe, no matter what happens.”

I nodded, more serious now. “Fine. I’ll ask Iris if I can stay with her. You trust her, don’t you?”

“I do.” He nodded and his face softened. “Thanks for doing this.”

I shrugged. “I want to live longer, you know.”

He chuckled. “Oh, that reminds me. There’s a new visitor in town by the name of…” he paused to recall, “Graff. You might want to check him out. See what you pick up.”

Despite my heart-rate increasing at the mention, I suppressed it enough to maintain my calm composure. “I will, thanks. He’s the only one, right?”

“Right.”

“Okay. I’ll check him out and let you know.”

He held my gaze for a minute longer before turning away. “I’ll see you again. Now go.”

I was certain by then—that there was something in his eyes that I couldn’t quite recognise… something on the lines of fear or frustration… or something else entirely.

I nodded once and walked out of the interrogation room, calmer and much more satisfied than when I had walked in, an hour ago.

I always tell Jefferson the truth. When I lie to him, it’s only about my feelings. No, more like, not mention anything about it at all. For instance, he had no idea how scared I was, when I first entered the station. And I wasn’t about to tell him, or he’d have gone ballistic about everything; there’s no telling what he’d do in such a state of mind. He’s way too protective; although that’s rather comforting, it’s also a little suffocating. There was no need for it. Not for a person like me.

Then again, come to think of it, me getting scared about something is probably scary for regular humans. And I wasn’t a regular human.

Jefferson and I had been friends for five years now, ever since he moved into Elton Queen one summer. We hit it off rather well, although we did have our ups and downs now and then. He became an inspector of the town quite by accident. Nobody knew for sure how, including himself!

I wonder how that guy managed to get in!’ I thought, my blood boiling all over again at the thought of the murder at hand. I hated my privacy intruded in any way.

As I walked weaved my walk through the corridor of people, I took in a deep breath and let it out. I needed to have a clear head right now; no point in exploding like a bomb. More and more officers were entering the station now, some carrying files and folders, some others walkie-talkies.

Jefferson and I had been friends for five years. We had some initial misgivings, but in the end, through means of helping one-another – him with showing around the town and me with Calculus – we became friends within a year and our bond grew closer and stronger through the years. My other friends whom I’d known since childhood, took longer time, but they warmed up to him eventually. In a small town like this one, where everybody knew everybody else, it is difficult to accept a newbie moving in, but that didn’t mean it was uncommon. Well, it wasn’t frequent.

Like I said, I always tell Jefferson the truth. I don’t mention intense feelings to him. And he doesn’t know how scared I really was at the time, how much self-control I had been mustering up to keep my hands from shaking during and after the questioning. And knowing him, I wasn’t going to tell him any time soon.

Except… I had been lying to him.

 

A Choice So Unexpected

Under normal circumstances,

I don’t see how I could’ve met you:

You’re not exactly the type I’d have ever seen myself with.

 

But then, as I spoke to you,

I grew to understand

That you’re really, really just the man I ever wanted.

 

You like a lot of things I liked;

You do a lot of things I don’t know how to do;

You like a lot of things I don’t;

It seems to me that we fit perfectly

Just like a jigsaw puzzle.

 

When we met, I wasn’t even looking

I’d given up on meeting someone of my standards;

The ones before you turned out dull and boring;

The ones after you were bland and uninteresting.

 

You are the one I find very exciting—

At last, here was someone I could build adventures with in my head,

With the chance for a hope to actually fulfil them.

 

I hope together we build a great future –

A force that none can predict or stop –

A team that is strong in unity –

The future that will set a new record.

 

You were probably the person I dreamt of one night:

One without face, but made all of my favourite food,

One who really wanted my happiness,

One I could really see myself spending the rest of my life with,

And grow old with.

 

I had a vision just a few days ago,

Of the future we’d build together, kids we may have.

I think it’s a good sign!

 

Under normal circumstances,

I don’t see how I could’ve met you –

But in the end,

It was you I chose

And it will always be you I will ever choose.

 

Thanks for saying yes to me.

My happiness of finding you is beyond measure.

The Prophecy

Winter is coming…

It wasn’t just a “Game of Thrones” reference – not in the world that Ayesha lived. Ayesha wouldn’t care for the series, anyway. And she wasn’t a fan of reading books in general, let alone try and get through a 9000 or so pages of a novel.

To her, it was real life.

Winter is coming and one will die.

To Ayesha, it was a prophecy foretold by a royal seer the day she was born eighteen years ago. The seer had also predicted the exact date and time of when this would happen.

She looked up at the huge grandfather clock, ticking away like it had no care in the world. Why would it? – it wasn’t alive, therefore, it actually had nothing to care about. She gulped—it was half past eleven. Half an hour more and the prophecy would come true.

Ayesha Sinhala was a young princess of the Sofia Dynasty, which ruled the northern part of Silone in the land of Normania. Silone was the only country she knew, but now, she had resolved that if she had to, she would leave all that she knew behind and start afresh, so everybody she loved would be saved.

They said babies often never remembered their childhoods, but she could remember the scene clearly. The seer, an aged woman with sparkling white, neatly-combed hair, and clothes of a pauper, pointing to her with her gnarled pointing finger, and saying, “Winter is coming and one will die. A royal blood’s decision will seal the fate of the world or doom it for eternity. Only the Door of Andrios will save this day, eighteen years hence!”

Now, Ayesha gulped. That was about the only clear memory she had of her childhood.

Once the seer had made her proclamation, Ayesha didn’t remember what happened, but her mother, the Queen of Silone, told her years later that the woman had dropped unconscious to the floor. She had been taken to the infirmary, where she had slipped into a coma. After three days, upon examination, the head physician who had attended to her declared her dead.

It was my doing,’ the young girl thought now. ‘I was born and that’s why the poor woman saw such a dreadful prophecy and died. I should… I should open the Door and go away, so everything and everybody I love would be better off and their fate will no longer be doomed for eternity.

Ayesha swallowed the lump that was forming in her throat as her gaze went back to the Door of Andrios that stood tall and looming before her in the cave she tracked it down.

The sun wouldn’t be up for another three hours. No one will find me gone until then.

She took a deep breath and let it out. It was quarter to midnight. The Door wouldn’t open until the exact hour of midnight, when night began to turn to day.

The words of the prophecy spoken in the old woman’s frail voice went over and over in her mind as she waited: “Winter is coming and one will die. A royal blood’s decision will seal the fate of the world or doom it for eternity. Only the Door of Andrios will save this day, eighteen years hence!”

She gulped, pushing down the fear that was rising from her stomach. She had waited eighteen years for this; she wasn’t going to back out now. It was the perfect chance—she could do this.

She closed her eyes to focus better on her determined thoughts.

All buzzing and fidgeting outside the cave slowly dulled as her mind quietened. She swallowed slowly and deliberately.

It’s almost time. I can do this. I can save the whole world from being doomed if I can do this. And I will!

The loud gong of the clock striking midnight hit her eardrums and she snapped her eyes opened, a little startled. She blinked, but her focus returned almost immediately.

Ayesha watched as the great Door of Andrios opened slowly, a bright white light spilling onto the floor, its beam widening as it got more room to flow.

When the Door of Andrios opened completely to its extent, just as the gonging ceased, Ayesha stepped forward – one, two, three, four…

And then, she stopped.

The bright white light faded away and there, at the bottom of the Door on the other side, stood a young man.

 

The Missing Head – My NaNoWriMo 2020 story

A sample of my NaNoWriMo 2020 story.

Creativity Overload

I started a new story a few weeks back that I paused around 10,000 words, so I could make it my NaNo 2020 project. But it looks like I’m won’t be able to finish 50,000 words by the end of November. Work, personal life getting upgraded, etc. I’m also doing research to fill the loopholes in my plot.

The name of this story is “The Missing Head”, and it is the first of a series of novels. I don’t know yet how many are going to be there. The entire series is about Asian mythology all brought together in a contemporary European fictional country of Rosenberg. I’m totally 19,365 words in. NaNo-wise, 12,017 words. I feel bad because I can’t boast I got almost 20k words by now…! HAHAHA! That would be cheating!

I haven’t made a cover for this yet, because I won’t be posting it on Wattpad, Inkitt…

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Reviews For My Book!!

Hello!!

Sorry, no piece of prose or poetry to-day! But I’m very, very happy!!!

This latter half of the month of August 2020 had been the greatest for me…….. because I got three five-star reviews for my fantasy adventure book, “The Young Foreigner”!!!

You can read Niranjana’s review on Goodreads here!

You can read Judy Ferrell’s review on Goodreads here!

You can read Judy Ferrell’s review on Amazon.com here!

I really couldn’t believe it!! When they told me they were reading it and were going to leave a review, I was very excited. But when they told me they’d posted their reviews… well, I was very, very nervous! I’ve had rejections before and for just this book. Publishers didn’t want to publish it because it wasn’t for them. And then, I got a form from another; when I saw a space for how much I think my book’s worth in the market is… well, I decided then and there that I couldn’t treat my books and its characters like they’re some non-living thing. I love my stories a lot and I cherish them a lot. But other people’s validation also matters sometimes. It’s not mandatory, for I’ll still love what I create, but we’ll be happy if we get them.

I couldn’t believe when I got my first five-star review. For that matter, I couldn’t believe, when I did a free promotion again this month, that so many people would actually care to buy my book. I’m not in this for the money, though I do appreciate when people buy it. My stories matter more to me. And when I share them with the world, it’s great to see miracles like these reviews!

I have so many people to be thankful for! This month had been very eventful!

Song of the Star

This Darkness inside of me

Eats me up no end

Drives me insane

Till I’ve nothing left within.

 

Then one day,

Along came a Light,

Lighting up my life

Shooing the Darkness

Merely by appearing in my sight.

 

He is the one

Who carries the Light

That extinguishes the fire

Of my Darkness –

He is the one

Who makes me smile,

That leaves me light-hearted –

The Light in the heart of a Star.

 

He makes me want to be happier,

He makes me want to dance in delight,

He is the reason behind my smile,

He makes me want to stay by his side.

 

This Darkness inside of me

Eats me up no end

Drives me insane

Till I’ve nothing left within.

 

But one day,

All of the Darkness was vanquished,

By the light that he carries –

The only Light

That can make this possible,

Merely by appearing in my sight.

 

He is the one

Who carries the Light

That extinguishes the fire

Of my Darkness –

He is the one

Who makes me smile

That leaves me light-hearted –

The Sun in the heart of a Star.