Excerpt From Skyserpents – 1

MANY, MANY EONS AGO

The din was unbelievable. Who knew that a churning could produce so much noise? Milky white waves, many feet high, crashed upon the shore with ferocity. No one was injured because every man available had been pulled into the ocean to churn. Pull left, then right.

In the centre stood a long, narrow mountain peak, kissing the heavens. It was now moving clockwise, now anti-clockwise. Slowly, the peak was building up speed. The waves were frothing.

The armies at both ends, innumerable men, pulled at a thick, leathery rope. No, not a rope – an immensely long snake – coiled around the peak with both its ends being pulled in opposite directions, faster and faster. The air was heavy with their gasps, moist with their combined sweat. They were close to exhaustion, but still they pulled. There was no stopping now. The snake had vomited earlier, nearly killing them with its venom, because the churning had made it giddy. They were narrowly saved by the wild looking man on the shore who had calmly drunk all the poison floating on the sea foam and still remained standing. Everyone wondered how he survived, but there wasn’t much time for speculation. They had to get back to the churning. Pull left, then right.

A beautiful woman stood next to the wild man on the shore.  They spoke in quiet tones in spite of the waves crashing around them.

‘Are you certain that this will work? Assigning roles, separating them in this manner?’ asked the man.

‘Without structure, they will not know their responsibilities. They have to help the human race evolve. Both roles are crucial.’

‘I still feel that this interference with Nature is unnecessary. Why give the humans more power than others?’

‘It is not so much an interference as a catalyst. To bring forth new thoughts. To leap ahead and learn to create. A complement to Nature, if you like. The evolved Human spirit. Who knows what wonderful innovations and discoveries it might unveil?’

‘And if this spirit decides to overreach itself? What then?’

‘I shall correct the course. I take that responsibility.’

They stood in silence and watched the milky ocean churn. Pull left, then right.

Hours passed by.

The waves were clumping, separating into stiff white shapes and transparent water. A white horse shape seemed to form first. Its perfectly sculpted form came to life, unfurled its wings and flew to the shore with a neigh. More was yet to come; there could be no slacking in the churn now. Left – and right, left – and right.

A five headed elephant, a tree of gold with silver leaves, a woman bearing an overflowing, ever filling jar of gold, all solidified from the stiffening foam and emerged one by one, granted life by an unknown hand. Faster, faster, left – right!

Finally, when the all the water of the ocean had become the transparent greenish white that we see today, a small pot formed with the remaining white solid, overflowing with an unseen liquid. Then the armies halted. The prize that they had allied and worked so hard for had arrived at last. The nectar of immortality – Amrit.

The woman on the shore seemed to be there all at once, organising everything. Her allure was all overpowering. One look turned their knees to liquid, but on hindsight, no one could accurately describe her. All everyone remembered was that she was the most beautiful woman of they had ever imagined. Each man present had a different description.

The armies took to the shore, organised into an orderly file. No one seemed to question how the pot of Amrit had somehow become the woman’s responsibility, how she had started doling it out from the end the Devs sat at and seemed to slow down as she approached the Asurs. Was she not planning to reach them at all? No one noticed, except one Asur.

Swarbhanu had not allowed the euphoria of the successful mission cloud his goal of immortality. Taking no chances, he disguised himself as a Dev. He would just need to pass himself off as one for a short while.

She was nearly there. He held his breath, not daring to move. The Dev next to him drank and turned into a harsh, bright golden yellow aura, unbearable to look at, powerful and immortal. The woman was next to him now. He closed his eyes and took that all important sip. A warm strength coursed through him. The Dev to his right was drinking the Amrit next, his aura turning into a soothing shimmery silver. Time to make an unobtrusive exit.

He never quite understood how they found out. Who knows how he gave himself away? The two Devs on either side lunged at him, holding him captive. ‘Imposter!’ went up their cry. Before he knew it, the woman turned into a gigantic dark man, furious with his trick. With a sickening feeling in his stomach, he saw the man summon a spinning discus. The Sudarshan Chakra. He took one last look at the two Devs holding him.

‘I shall have my revenge,’ said he. Then the Chakra whirred closer and closer, slicing off his massive head as simply as a knife cutting through a potato. Swarbhanu didn’t see it, but his kinsmen had begun to arm themselves, ready for battle. The deception of the Devs had finally dawned on them.

One person silently watched the chaos with great satisfaction. It was all going exactly as planned. He watched as Swarbhanu’s disembodied head flew past him in a graceful arc and smiled to himself. The stupid Asur had made his ambition too clear too fast. He would not make the same mistake. Success lay in stealth. He had time on his hands.

*

In the cold stillness of the Himalayan night, the sky loomed limitless; an overlord of the meek earth below it. It was cloudy. A rare crack of lightning signaled the approaching thunderstorm. The twin lakes lay still and dark, not a soul in sight. The one on the right, circular, holy, life-giving Mansarovar. To its left, crescent shaped, forbidding, dead Rakshas Tal. Its thick, saline waters were swirling.

A gigantic man emerged from under the water, as if he had just risen from a dip in the Lake.  A putrid smell filled the air. The man was at least sixteen feet tall and proportionately broad. His curly mane of hair hung loose up to waist length, twinkling with droplets that were caught in the entangled curls. His long snout like nose stood out in the dark silhouette made by the moonlight. He was bare chested and wore only a red dhoti. In his folded hands was a bone.

‘Have you understood what is required of you?’

The voice tore the silence into a thousand shreds. It was a clear voice, not especially loud, but the gigantic man in the lake could hear every word as if the speaker was right next to him. Its penetrating clarity was meant just for the listener’s ears. Not even the air stirred.

Our giant spoke. ‘It is an extremely difficult task that you ask for, almost impossible to achieve. My best sorcerers will be testing their limits.’

‘It has to be done if victory has to be ours; he is essential to my plans,’ replied the voice. Its clarity had such a perfection about it that it sounded unnatural.

‘We know nothing about the effects of this … experiment, my Lord. If it can be done at all, he would undergo immense pain. Will he be willing?’

‘Wills are meant for bending. The experiment will be carried out by your sorcerers. We know he cannot die. Whether he will be of any use to us depends on you. Remember this Kali: we cannot win without Swarbhanu.’

The interview was over. Silence regained its hold over the valley. The gigantic silhouette was slowly sinking into the depths of Rakshas Tal. Bit by bit, his form was lost to view, only the huge head remaining towards the end, a worried frown creasing its forehead.

Swarbhanu.

Then that too, disappeared in the depths of the dark waters.

The silence in the valley was unchanged but for the steady patter of rain that had followed the thunderstorm. Only a third hidden person remained, one who had witnessed every word.

This would be worse than the last attempt. Far worse.

*

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