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Chapter 20 — Reunions and revelations
Year 63, Kali yuga
Ripunjaya felt something bite his ankle. He tried to brush it away, but vaguely realised he was unable to move. He slowly became aware of the rest of his body, and how weary he was. His entire body ached, it felt like he was being pulled apart limb by limb. Where am I? Am I dreaming? He suddenly recollected the catapults, and the face of Mārthāndan, eyes wide, and his arm reaching out. The battle! Karkōttai! Vivid images of the battlefield came flooding back, and he awoke with a great gasp, and sat up. Pain seared through his body.
He looked down. He lay sprawled in a shallow eddy nestled between large rocks, on the shores of the Veḷlaru. The water swirled red around him with his blood. A small tree branch had skewered his hip, and a wide gash shone crimson on his thigh. Numerous small cuts all over his body oozed blood. He shivered. He felt weak, his legs began to go numb. He slapped himself awake, and splashed some water on his face. He cupped the water in his palms, and drank thirstily.
Ripunjaya took a few deep breaths, and pulled the broken branch out of his hip. Blood poured out of the gaping hole, his head spun, and sight darkened. Pain shot through his body. The branch came away cleanly. He winced. Slowly the pain subsided, and Ripunjaya sat with his eyes closed, his breath slowing. He opened his eyes, looked around. The sun was low in the horizon, bathing the landscape in a dull golden hue. A cold breeze murmured through the trees.
He pulled his cloth belt from his waist, and tied it again around the wound. It stopped the blood a little. He carefully stood up, grunting with the effort. The pain was agonising. He bent over, trying to catch his breath.
“Do not try to walk yet, boy.” a deep, but distinctly familiar voice called.
Ripunjaya snapped his head up. “Malasāra!” The yamadūta was sitting on one of the rocks, legs crossed. Relief flooded Ripunjaya. “Where have you been, dūta?” And then, the relief quickly turned to trepidation. “Why do you appear now? Am I—am I to die of these wounds?”
“I would think not.” Malasāra pointed at the gash. “You are harder to kill than you seem.”
Ripunjaya looked, and the wound oddly seemed smaller than he had first noticed it. It was healing. “What is this? How can this be?” Ripunjaya asked, in disbelief.
Malasāra leaned back on the rock. “I spent the last few months searching for something I now know does not exist—your vidhipatra.” He pulled his goatskin pouch, and held it in his outstretched arm. Ripunjaya suddenly realised how famished he was. He took it, and sure enough, it was filled with the warm gruel he had tasted what seemed like aeons ago. He drank deeply.
Malasāra continued: “I pored through all of Chitragupta’s archives. There is no record of your existence. Just as I surmised—you, your soul, and your body does not obey the rules of this realm.”
“Cannot I be killed?”
“I think these petty mortal weapons can do you no harm. They can cause injury, but little more. I think you would heal, as you are now.”
Ripunjaya looked at his wounds again. The gash had almost disappeared, and his hip had stopped bleeding. He looked back at Malasāra. “What other powers do I have, dūta?”
“I know no more than you do, boy. I did not know about your ability to heal until I witnessed it myself.”
Both remained silent for a moment. Then Ripunjaya asked: “Are you aware of what has happened in the capital?”
“Indeed. I know what transpires in this mortal realm, I have my aides for that purpose. But I cannot interfere in any meaningful way. Rescuing you was in itself a grave transgression.” Malasāra replied, reading Ripunjaya’s mind.
Ripunjaya nodded. “How did you find me?”
“I am able to sense when some great danger befalls you—something I realised only now. I had to give you some of my prāna when I awakened you in that cave. I think that it now bonds us to each other in some manner. I felt something stab me deeply, and sure enough, it is where you were wounded by that branch. This is most strange.”
Ripunjaya’s wound had now almost completely healed. He ran his fingers over the spot, it was a bit sore, but did not hurt anymore. He continued to absently rub his hands over his hip. “We need to find Mārthāndan, dūta. We were to escape to Siththarmalai. I hope Mārthāndan and the rest of army escaped to safety. Where are we now?”
“This is downstream from where Semmaḷvarāyan’s army attacked your forces. Siththarmalai is quite some distance away, in that direction.” Malasāra pointed behind him. “Finding Mārthāndan presents no challenge.”
prāna: The life force