FAMILY REUNION – From The Wordkeepers
by Jash Sen
The Council was relaxing in the smoking room after their sumptuous dinner; most of the diners nursed a goblet of brandy and some had also lit up the odd cigar. All twelve men and women seemed to be in a convivial mood. Looking at them now, it was difﬁcult to imagine that their last topic of discussion had been an assassination plot.
Anrit glanced surreptitiously at the members. The women ﬁrst. Sergeant Durukti was shrivelled, tall and angular with a frown between her eyebrows. She had barely spoken a word all evening, choosing mostly to observe the proceedings, and nod if she agreed with any of the points made. Durukti was not a warrior, like the rest of the Council. Her powers lay in her bitter and morbid words, always spoken to destroy. Hers were the words that killed. She was called upon to break brave warriors when torture of the physical kind failed. She always succeeded.
At the Security Council, Durukti took notes, as she was a quick scribe. She was also the Supremo’s personal secretary, and present at all his meetings.
Himsa was more garrulous. Her shiny red lacquered nails grabbed attention. She was all animal passion, tossing her red mane-like hair back as she laughed her throaty laugh, her eyes appraising Anrit. Himsa’s star was on the rise in Vishasha. She was fearless in battle, a quality much prized by her General. The armies she led fought with an extra ferocity, bringing the Supremo his most stellar victories on Earth. Her eyes seemed hazel until they focussed on something she liked. Liked? No, coveted. Then they turned a tawny yellow and gave her face a manic glow. Whereas Durukti seemed to be decaying, Himsa was terribly alive.
Major Dambha had an outwardly conﬁdent air, the kind that a less astute person than Anrit would have been taken in by. A few lank strands of hair were plastered to his forehead. He was one of the Council’s most valued researchers, with a talent for ferreting out the truth. Anrit wondered if that was a rumour put out by the Major himself. He spoke with a bluster that Anrit saw through easily as acute nervousness—what do you have to hide, Major? Then again, don’t we all have something?
His eyes shifted to Major Bhay’s enormous frame while the latter conversed with Mrityu. He immediately looked away. Now, there was a person that no one wished to cross. Bhay was gigantic, coal black, with scorching yellow eyes. His tiny irises darted maniacally across everyone’s face as he spoke, in a constant silent challenge. Anrit noticed that, like him, the others barely met Bhay’s gaze. He seemed to intimidate everyone by his very presence.
Except Mrityu, who was calmly engaged in conversation with the demon, his skull-like face, emaciated frame and yellow teeth standing out in stark contrast with the appearance of his companion. Yet, his shrivelled form seemed to command respect, even fear, from all those present. Rumour had it that Mrityu wasn’t really one of them. There was an odd dispassionate trait in him and he seemed to look at everyone in the same way, appraisingly, as a potential target to kill, in his cold, unemotional way. Members of the Security Council were no exception. Mrityu was his own master and no one else’s. He was in Vishasha because it suited him.
Anrit felt a chill run down his own spine as Mrityu gazed at him in mid-conversation. Why were they all here? Why was Earth so very important to the Supremo? He had a strong presence there anyway.
He felt a pair of eyes watching him; Nirritti was weaving through the crowd, walking up to him, still in her human form, like himself.
‘The Supremo doesn’t want to play second ﬁddle any more. It’s about legitimacy,’ she whispered in his ear, guessing the direction of his thoughts.
‘I wondered when you’d step up,’ he said dryly, on his guard. Nirritti could be unpredictable, especially in the corridors of power. ‘So you think he wants
‘The Supremo wants to be recognised as the one true lord of humankind, instead of the many existing deities and prophets. This is his age after all. Humans have long put gold and vices above every other priority, just paying lip service to Vishnu all the while. No challenge will be allowed to exist. The Enemy, even if it is a child, is a challenge and needs to be removed from his path.’
‘What about those who don’t accept him?’
‘A miniscule number. Just look at the humans. They all worship the Supremo ﬁrst. Who on Earth cannot be bought today with gold, or land, or power, or fame? The rest will obviously come to heel or be dealt with.’
Anrit took a drink and sipped gingerly. He didn’t like the sound of ‘dealt with’ much. As a rule, he preferred subterfuge, leaving violence to others.
‘What do you think of them after all these years? Quite the family reunion.’ Her voice was as cold as ice.
‘We’ve always had more a successful working relationship than anything else,’ he responded, careful to keep his voice neutral. ‘And anyway, you know that families like ours tend to work and play together. We’re a close-knit bunch; with our interests, we have to be.’
The two of them shifted their gaze to the motley group of Council members that remained. They were huddled together, heads bent in conversation, a clique within a clique—Vyadhi, Jara, Shoke, Trishna and Krodhe. Although vastly different in appearance, personality and skills, they nonetheless shared a certain ambivalent, unisexual appeal. Trishna’s hoarse voice belied her outward femininity, whereas Vyadhi and Jara sported plucked eyebrows and lacquered nails, in addition to obsessively groomed facial hair. They were all members of the elite Third Gender Task Force, a regiment formed of the best eunuch ofﬁcers that Vishasha offered.
Nirritti smiled her icy smile. ‘Pity our nephews and nieces are so fruitless. Imagine what we could have accomplished if there were a few more generations of the family.’
For Vishasha was a rather inbred world. It was the norm for brothers and sisters to marry in Vishasha. While this meant wealth and power multiplied, it also meant that mutations and deformities were common.
On Vishasha, incest was a way of life.
Leaving the Security Council to their post-dinner drinks, General Kokh moved to his inner sanctum, his aide close behind him. The hesitancy in his steps gradually reduced as he approached the chamber. His aide maintained the light hold, however. The automatic doors slid silently open with the General’s muttered command and shut just as noiselessly behind him. His aide released his hold and relaxed his stance as the General strode conﬁdently to his desk and took off the dark glasses.
The chamber consisted of a bed and a large wardrobe with mostly military and a few civilian outﬁts, a sofa for visitors and a large desk with three chairs: a leather swivel one for the General and two smaller ones opposite it for visitors. It was on one of these that his aide sat down, without asking for permission. Vikokh was General Kokh’s twin. Within closed doors, there was a subtle shift in their relationship. Here, Vikokh seemed to exude a greater air of self-assurance.
The General folded his dark glasses and placed them on the desk with the precision of a surgeon: his vision was evidently normal, if not excellent. In the conﬁnes of his high-security disaster-proof and sealed chamber he felt free to let go of the elaborate subterfuge.
‘Pointless pretence. The blindness thing. Why keep it going?’ asked the General, his voice gruff. He spoke in the staccato style he reserved for more informal situations.
Vikokh threw his jacket on the arm of a sofa, hitched up his trousers, and said, ‘You mean, tell them that our true form is that of conjoined twins— invincible when our bodies touch? No thanks, I think we’ll keep that to ourselves. Alliances are shifting sands. Let’s not divulge critical information based on them.’
‘The Supremo’s impatient. Feels we’re not doing a good enough job. It’s been fourteen years—the human should be in our grasp by now. Each passing day is an increased threat to our existence.’
Vikokh was toying with a small ﬂag of Vishasha. He replied crisply, ‘Our agents are on the ﬁeld both on Vishasha and on Earth; the fourth wordkeeper has already fallen; we’ll get the rest as well. It would be useful to know the gender, though. Are you sure your information’s correct? The Seer has said nothing about it?’
The General grunted. ‘A gap-toothed cackle and a date. We’re keeping a close watch on the Sindhu river valley. It’s highly likely that all of the Indian subcontinent and some of China are fertile grounds for our search. But nothing to stop the Enemy from being anywhere else on Earth, or even in Vishasha itself.’
‘A fourteen-year-old moving from Earth to Vishasha? Impossible!’
‘You forget, Vikokh, that it was born with powers that are unheard of on Earth and rare even in Vishasha. Never underestimate the Enemy … or the Seer’s words,’ said the General in a tone that indicated that the discussion was over. ‘Get me that bottle of Al Oudh, will you? I have to meet the Supremo now and I feel quite breathless after one of our interviews—a dash of cologne really helps.’
‘Get it yourself,’ retorted his aide in a shockingly disrespectful voice. He could get away with it.