Chapter 9- The Cloaker

‘He and his men quickly surrounded my immaculate grounds. I remember it irked me at the time how many of my rhododendrons were crushed under their grim boots. I was in a daze as the Dynast advanced, and began pounding on my door.’

‘Laynee just looked utterly confused. She was one of the many that had lost her sweetheart on the battleground. I couldn’t blame her for being slow on the uptake. But when she squinted at the royal crest adorning the soldiers’ armour, it dawned on her that I’d done something either foolish or brave enough for the Dynast to pay me a personal visit.’

‘I’m sure the city was in chaos, plagued with grief and resentment. All I could feel as I got up to answer the door was a heavy silence, brimming with suspense. My heart thudded loudly enough for Laynee to give me a concerned look. I felt sick. I was sure I’d gone pallid.

‘I opened the door and was faced with those mesmerising golden eyes. Eyes that were creased with worry, tiredness, and the responsibility of having to rule thousands in a realm that was too small. Eyes that were bloodshot, and yet startlingly aware. The Dynast stared at me keenly and then shook his head. Whether with admiration or disgust, I couldn’t tell.

‘Then he spoke. “I asked all the other Seers,” he said hoarsely. “None of them had had any inkling of what was about to happen. What makes you so different?”

He was already positioned dangerously at my doorway, so like a good hostess I invited him inside my house. I was reluctant to answer his question, since I had no idea what Seers were supposed to be like, and he would likely have my head if I told him about my Consecration, which was starting to sound like a joke to even myself. As we faced each other, him perched on my favorite armchair and I on a wicker stool, Laynee cast me an anxious glance and conveniently bustled away, mumbling something about making tea.

“Well, your highness,” I hesitated. “I…I’m sorry!” I blurted out. “I didn’t know about the Coterie of Eyes, of the Limit of Auguries, or anything and it could have been a coincidence, the vision-” The Dynast’s eyes darkened to a liquid amber and he pursed his lips in what almost looked to be pity.

I was rambling. I knew it, and Laynee did too. Quietly, she strode into the room and set a tray with a kettle of tea, and cups and saucers for us on the table. She placed a reassuring hand on my shoulder. I looked up into her steely eyes.

“Your Majesty, what is the meaning of this. You barge into my friend’s house, give her no information whatsoever about the reason of your visit, and ask her to divulge her deepest secrets?”

I frowned, confused. I’d never expected sweet, reserved Laynee could be that caustic. What else was she hiding from me?

The Dynast, who was sipping unprompted from a cup of tea, choked on his mouthful. He set his cup down and looked at Laynee as if he were inspecting some newly discovered dangerous animal. Then he braced his hands on his thighs and leaned forward, addressing me.

“You have got quite an interesting friend, Seer,” he bared his teeth in the semblance of a smile. I was wondering what exactly he saw in Laynee-the king was a Cloaker, I was sure now-  when he purred,”There’s more to Laynee Reginsa than meets the eye.”

His words chilled my blood. Laynee’s hand stiffened on my shoulder but she held her chin high. After considering her a moment, the Dynast waved a dismissive hand. “As unfortunate as this is, I am not here for Laynee today. I am here for you, Seer.”

“My name is Valerie,” I snapped, surprising myself. Did the Dynast’s presence make people say things they would live to regret?

“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Valerie.” he said smoothly, extending his hand. Was he masking his ugly personality with a façade of politeness so he could manipulate me?

I shook his hand reluctantly when Laynee snarled. “Enough small talk, sire. State the purpose of your visit,” she commanded coldly.

“I was under the impression I made the rules in the New World, Reginsa,” he said with another malevolent twist of his lips. “But one can never predict for how long, especially with your family involved.”

Laynee’s grip on my shoulder tightened again. I was perturbed at how easily the Dynast could goad her. Of course, that was what Cloakers did; they looked past skin and flesh and bone to the soul beneath. He probably had gleaned all her deepest secrets, her greatest fears, her entire history…

“But if that is what you wish, Reginsa, I will tell you why I am here,” he said, ever the gentleman again.

I was conjuring up a million possibilities for what he was about to say. I was a rogue Seer, and he had come to arrest me, or exile me, or send me to the gallows, or sentence me to a life of polishing aristocrats’ shoes, or…

“Quite simply,” he said, sipping his tea, ” I have come to offer Valerie a job.”

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Off Social Media?!

If you’re a millennial, or simply a denizen of the twenty-first century, social media has most probably pervaded every aspect of your daily life. Gone to a fancy restaurant? Oh, I’ve got to post a picture of that delicious caviar so my followers will know how privileged I am! Meeting friends? Awkward selfies are gonna be a definite addition to my Snapchat story. Sharing minute details of our everyday lives has become a narcissist obsession. One that doesn’t exclude me.

While I may not be actually taking photos of everything I see and do, I find myself actively checking social media every few hours, if not minutes. I’ve become another unfortunate victim of infomania- of course the half hour I’m away from the screen to do some math homework will be the time all my friends respond to my texts! I wouldn’t say I am addicted, but yes, close to it. Social media will always have something new to feast your eyes on. Its offerings are unlimited; but our time is not.

So in honour of one of my New Year’s Resolutions being to spend half an hour per week on social media, I’ve decided to try an experiment. Staying off social media completely for a week. Goodbye, Instagram, WhatsApp, Hangouts and Youtube.

In the beginning, I felt a sort of disconnect with the outside world. I had to realize what I was doing and stop myself from checking notifications on my phone or iPad. It took some serious restraint from caving in and allowing myself to send that one last message, post that one last update, stalk that one last person…After a few days, the storm weathered. I considered how much more time I had on my hands. I could now pursue that Astronomy course I’d always wanted to take, I could work on becoming ambidextrous, I could get things done for Google Code-in, finish my math prep for exams, and go cycling, all with time to spare. I stopped taking photos for others; in fact, I stopped thinking about taking photos to post at all. Whenever I went out, I enjoyed my experience without the poor lighting, windiness, or imperfect ambience spoiling my mood. I stopped living for others; started living for myself. I stopped worrying what others thought of me; stopped allowing my schedule to be dictated by others’ texts. For maybe the first time since I have come across social media, I exercised true free will. If I wanted to do something, it was truly because I desired it, not because I wanted to show off. My life involved different numbers now: the number of things I had learnt, the new people I was exposed to, rather than the number of followers I had on Instagram or the number of likes I’d gotten on that last post.

However, when I did log on to social media after that trial week, there was still that indescribable magic of being able to communicate with your friends when they weren’t physically talking to you. But, the experiment was beneficial in the fact that I wasn’t obsessively checking for updates as I had before.

As the old adage goes, there are two sides to every coin. I may uphold my resolution, or I may give up the moment I get in touch with a special friend. Similarly, social media can be an oppressive addiction, or a useful conduit for communication. I’ll let you decide which side you’d like to land face up.

Haiku

I recently finished a book series called Young Samurai by Chris Bradford. Seven books tell the story of Jack Fletcher, an English boy shipwrecked off the coast of Japan. Jack learns how to adapt to Japanese life as a samurai warlord’s ward, and eventually picks up well-guarded ninja skills as well. Though Young Samurai is a riveting book series, filled with adventure, suspense, and humour, it is the Japanese short form of poetry-haiku, that I will be shedding some light on in this post.

The essence of haiku is capturing nature’s subtle beauty in a cutting, plain manner. Often haiku are written about different seasons.

Here are a few haiku of my own.

 

Winter

Branches sway in wind

Snow cloaking the frozen ground

Bare land everywhere

 

Spring

Flowers bloom from buds

Animals scamper outside

Dew coats morning grass

 

Summer

Hot sun bakes the ground

Creatures look for cool reprieve

Shades of brown and red

 

Autumn

Golden and maroon

Trees wreathed in colorful robes

Leaves blanket the earth

You Are Wanted

You know those days when nothing goes your way? The days when the sun beats down on you, but all you feel is biting cold? The days when you’re cocooned in your own despair and shame, and nothing your loved ones do can help?

You do know these days. And you aren’t alone. Coming in second isn’t losing. Failing once doesn’t mean the world is going to end. That one special person ignoring you doesn’t mean you aren’t loved. That person is just missing out.

Sometimes, you aren’t half of what you claim to be. Most times, you’re much more. And if there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s that you shouldn’t forget you’re worth more than life to someone, somewhere in the world. No one is useless. There are the “uncool”, the underprivileged, the homeless, the sick…whoever you are, you have a purpose. You have the right to live, and to do it on your own terms. Don’t let anyone take that away from you.

It doesn’t matter what you look like- we’re all just skin, bone and flesh moulded in different ways. It doesn’t matter how far you are educated; because clearly an illiterate person with a compassionate heart is far more learned than an unfeeling, snooty scientist. It doesn’t matter what your family history is, because you are your own person. You have the capability to change the world. Whether for the better or the worse, it’s up to you.

So please don’t throw this chance away. Keep breathing. Keep riding the tides of change. Your life isn’t going to be a perpetual cakewalk. But that also means bad times won’t last. There’s this thing called hope. Sometimes we call it “light at the end of the tunnel”, sometimes “the only thing stronger than fear”. Why has the human mind been designed to hope? We are creatures that control our own futures. And a future without goodness, without salvation, without forgiveness, is unimaginable.

Negativity is natural. We have to train ourselves to filter our thoughts, our words, and our actions. We hold our futures, and the futures of others in our hands. We need neither power, nor wealth, to be able to make a difference. Experiences are worth more than material things. Donating to charity puts a person higher on the happiness meter than purchasing a gold-plated toilet.

So invest in others’ satisfaction. Don’t let anyone rule your mind. You are an individual with your own beliefs, values, and heritage, and that’s nobody else’s business. So don’t let them meddle in things that don’t concern them. And take solace in the fact that everything is temporary.

Some will mock you, others will mourn you when you’re gone. Swimming against the current is always harder than going with the flow. The mind is a curious thing, especially in the fact that everyone’s is different. It’s impossible to make everyone happy. So why not begin with only yourself? You are the only one who will always have to live with your decisions. All other naysayers and well-wishers, rewards and setbacks, are immaterial. A will of steel, a considerate disposition, and calculated determination are all you need to overcome all the odds.

So take a stand. Do what you love. Learn to adapt, and to bounce back.

And no matter what, remember you are wanted. 🙂

Broken

Feelings swirling like eddying leaves,

The mask of indifference fooled all.

Tears ran in rivulets down a tired visage

That didn’t stop the pain.

Once, twice, thrice they manipulated

The frail heart that thrummed within

Beating with confused ambition,

An arrow with no destination.

Hours spent in pursuit of kindness,

In pursuit of dreams, and love;

That didn’t stop the pain.

Friends were none,

Family never understood.

Endless waiting, sluggish anticipation,

Cleaved through a life clean and whole.

“Spring will be brighter”

“Tomorrow will be better”

That didn’t stop the pain.

Memories aren’t like time,

They flood unheeded through the gates of

Restraint and willpower.

Forwards and back,

Never in the same direction.

Forgetting is an art,

Forgiveness even finer,

Because what has been done cannot be reversed.

Shadows grow ever longer.

They took the heart in their hands,

Cradling it gently

Then hurled it to the ground,

Where it lay gasping in the grit,

Then they stamped on it

Ever so carefully

So the pain would never dull.

A prolonged torture,

As literal lifelines cackled with knowing mirth

The heart began to build its walls.

Adamant, obstinate, unyielding

Or so it thought, during pleasant diversions.

There were holes, there were weaknesses.

But defence was long overdue.

Walls, lies, sleepless nights,

That didn’t stop the pain.

The Chase

My first stint at a short story!

Air whipped past Jade’s face; the wall was fast closing in. She had to make a split-second decision.

“Left,” she resolved, dodging the sharp corner. After running a few more meters, she slowed and halted. Blood roared in her ears, and she panted with exertion. Silently, she cocked her head, listening for the footfalls of her pursuer. Nothing. She was safe- for a while, at least.

Then she heard a faint patter, growing louder. The other girl was still after her! Jade darted outside and raced for cover behind a nearby tree. She peeked out from behind the trunk and glimpsed Fiona’s straight black hair. It didn’t seem Fiona had noticed Jade, though. Fiona looked to the left, and then the right, and with her quarry nowhere to be seen, her shoulders drooped with disappointment. She stomped back indoors.

Jade heaved a sigh of relief. Then the giggles overcame her. She stifled her laughter and crept indoors after Fiona, silent as a mouse. Fiona, who still hadn’t noticed Jade, was sulking in front of her dressing table, petulantly brushing her hair.

She caught sight of Jade in the mirror, and her eyes widened in confusion and surprise.

Jade was too fast for her.

Before Fiona could even get up from her stool, Jade had tapped her shoulder and skipped out of reach, “Tag! You’re it!” As Fiona lunged for her, Jade sprung away. Both the girls collapsed on the floor, tussling. Then one tickled the other, and they laughed so hard they had to call a 10-second truce to catch their breaths. Then they looked at each other and started laughing again.

Seven-year old twins. No wonder they were a handful!

Late

I zipped up my jacket, looked to my watch.

“Half past five,” it said, snickering.

Cursing, I locked the door and unlocked my car,

“Careful!” I chided, stumbling.

I slammed the door, put my foot down,

Finally! On my way.

But disappointment awaited at the bend,

And I was caught in the fray.

Cars honked irritably, pedestrians shuffled past,

A baby whined somewhere.

Music from a sedan blared,

And I was in despair.

The bottleneck grew ever thicker,

Exhaust clouding the air,

“Five forty-five,” my watch mocked,

“You’ll be lucky if you even get there.”

The light turned green,

I breathed a sigh of relief,

The traffic dispersed reluctantly.

Unfortunately, my reprieve was brief,

For the potholes omnipresent,

Wanted to embrace my tires; long-lost friends.

Dodging them, sweat ran down my face.

Almost there! Time to make amends…

“Five fifty,” my watch reminded mournfully,

“And the meeting starts at six.”

I now breathed easy; only a mile left!

I could make it, before the clock ticked.

A grin spread on my face,

And vanished soon after.

Because I heard a suspicious hissing,

And then a burst of cruel laughter,

Only half a mile left, and-darn it

My tire had been punctured!