2-year Anniversary Special – Dharamayoddha Chapter 1
The 2-year celebrations continue on! I was going to be posting this little sample earlier but some things came up and so I found myself super-busy. Anyways, here it is as promised, with a little bit of an intro to the project itself.
So last year in August I began writing an urban fantasy novella set in Mumbai, India. The setting is inspired by Indian mythology, and I’m taking specific bits and pieces from the long-form epic sagas Mahabharata and Ramayana, which are two of the most important and primary religious texts in Hinduism.
This project was developed on a whim, primarily because I wanted to try something really different with my writing and wanted to experiment. It took me a couple months but I got a zero draft out by the end of September, and I’m really proud of this since this is my first piece of original writing that I have finished to a (roughly) desired end and have already done a significant editing first pass on.
The goal for the next couple weeks is to hammer out the second edited draft and then send it out to some friends for critique, after which I’ll start work on a spin-off short story for an urban fantasy submission window coming up quite soon.
I promised to post the first chapter of the novella should my comics reading poll for March reach 400 votes and as things stand right, the voting is at 649, which is truly phenomenal. Hope you enjoy this little sampler! Keep in mind that the project is still being edited!
Dharamayoddha: Warrior of Faith
Killing is a messy business, one that I find crude and distasteful in the extreme, especially with a sword. I have seen enough of it to last me a hundred lifetimes, have even done it myself out of necessity. In the long years of my existence, I have often wondered if I can perform my sworn duties without the needless waste of life they entail, even when the blood being spilled is of my enemies and their agents.
My ruminations have yet to yield a satisfactory conclusion.
Swami Aryakeshwar and my gurus tell me that what I do is necessary work, that this is the only way I can fulfil my oaths to the Trimurti. Necessity is the word they use often in their sermons to me. It is a word I have lived by ever since I promised myself to a life of endless wandering, endless conflict, and endless suffering as a warrior of faith, a dharamayoddha.
I am pledged to fight the darkness in the world, and it is a duty I have executed unflinchingly for the last several centuries, nearly as far back as I can now remember.
There was a time when I was not the cold and heartless man I am today, a time when I had a loving family, a life of luxury and abundance. It was a time when it seemed that the world lay at my feet as long as I was still the Rana of Megtigarh, a King in my own right. Life was much simpler for me in those old, forgotten times than it is today.
Complexity is another watchword that I live by these days. Everything I do, everything I see, everything I hear is a web of such complexity that getting out is next to impossible. I am what I am, caught in a trap of my own making for nothing more than the treacherous promises of unearthly power. My penance is my own, or so I would like to think. Except, my family, my friends and the people who once looked at me for their protection and for guidance have all suffered for it already. They have all paid the ultimate price for my unholy ambitions, ambitions unbecoming of a Rana of the Old Rajaputana, a scion of the mighty Chauhan Agnivansha clan.
Here I am, about to add another victory, such as it is, to my long roll of eternal atonement for my treachery and betrayal. I stand once more at a crossroads, like countless times in the past, as I make ready to kill again, to take the life of a heretic, a follower of the dark powers of the nether realms.
I hate killing, but it is the only way by which I can make up for my mistakes, mistakes that very nearly damned my soul and in my failing have cost me everything I once held dear. For someone in my position, killing is the only outlet of frustration and the road to atonement available. It is necessary work, but I find it distasteful and crude all the same. I was once a Rana, and now I’m warrior of faith, a crusader.
My name is Vikram Chauhan, and I am a dharamayoddha, sworn to the eternal service of the Trimurti.
The hot, dry summer night makes my skin itch with its prickly touch, the sweat on my forehead and the back of my neck adding further to my discomfort as I crouch in the dark shadows of the outer wall. It is good that the night is moonless, that my infiltration of this place has so far been undetected. In itself, that is fortunate considering that the grounds and the driveway are thick with guard patrols bearing automatic weapons that should have been the sole provenance of military elites. It is a sign of the power that my enemy for these last few years, thirteen hundred and six to be exact, wields in its unholy quest.
One of the patrols, a team of two men in dull brown fatigues with their automatic shotguns held firmly in their hands, begins to make a pass by my hiding place. Taking them down is going to be no easy thing, as they look alert and ready for any kind of trouble. I should not have expected less from the security detail of Singhania Ambekar, the man I have come to meet. As one of the ringleaders of the Cult of the Fifth Chakra in Mumbai, his guards are no doubt experts, well-trained and well-experienced. Damn the power of these heretics.
No matter. They are merely a minor bump on the road to having my meeting with the bastard Ambekar. They are not going to stop me. I will gladly suffer true damnation before I lose out to these degenerates.
I rise slowly from my place in the shadows, drawing my own weapon from its soft, velveteen leather sheath. The blade of the sword makes no noise as it slips free, the dark steel reflecting no light at all. As the two men come closer, I glance out in the wide, open grounds once more to check that none of the other sentries are looking in our direction. My feet soft and noiseless on the damp rain-soaked grass, I step behind the two guards and raise my sword to strike the killing blow.
Whether by intuition or pure chance, the guard on my right turns instantly to look behind him, his companion following suite. For a long moment that feels like several minutes but is barely even a second long, they gape at me with surprise and shock written on their faces. My sword flashes in a murderous arc, driven by all the strength and speed I can muster. Before they can utter words of alarm, they crumple backwards in the manner of puppets with their strings cut.
A thin line of blood spatters across my face, hot and thick, laced with the stink of the corrupt. I can recognise this particular stench anywhere in the world. The smell makes me cringe and I curse under my breath at the potency of it.
In an attempt to ignore the stench, I shoot one more glance out in the rest of the grounds, making sure that I have not been spotted. Then I bend down to make sure that both the guards are dead. I need not have bothered. Their necks are connected to their torsos by the slimmest fraying threads of flesh, my sword having done its terrible work like a red-hot knife through butter. I drag the two corpses into the shadows, take their weapons, and after making sure that I am still unobserved, begin to make my way around the perimeter wall towards the back of the mansion.
Hriten’s intelligence on Ambekar’s palatial house is hopefully accurate this time around, I think to myself. Time is short already as Ambekar is supposed to be leaving for a cult meeting in less than an hour and I need to have a little chat with him before he does.
Ambekar’s mansion has grounds the size of at least three cricket fields, and getting through them while avoiding the sharp gaze of the patrolling sentries, not to mention the various CCTV posts, is like running a marathon upside down on my hands.
Fortunately, I do not have to kill again for despite all their alertness, the guards are lax with security at the rear end of the mansion grounds. Slipping past the one lone guard through the servant’s entrance is a piece of cake and within minutes I am stalking through the mansion proper, alert for any sign of Ambekar, or a servant I can coerce into leading me to him.
The decadence and frivolous opulence that surrounds me is nauseating. Everything is a mad riot of colour and form, whether it is the paintings on the walls, the frescoes on the ceiling, or the statues in the hallways. It is a deplorable waste of money, and yet so typical of the rich.
I know Ambekar to be an art-hound but where I expected to find examples of art from creators known the world-over, I find only sick, twisted images that venerate the Fifth Chakra in all its debased glory. Asuras rutting with humans while surrounded in their own excrement. Dark and foreboding forest scenes home to yet more asuras hunting mortals like animals. The lower ranks of the Fifth Chakra’s denizens paying their respects to those higher up the demonic food-chain. Berserker asuras tearing apart others of their own kind, caught in a battle-frenzy the likes of which no mortal can even dream of.
It takes a supreme effort of will on my part to nonchalantly walk past such degenerate examples of demonic art. My sword thrums agitatedly in my hands, as the power locked within the blade reacts to the subtle aura around me. It too is unsettled by the surroundings.
This place needs to be burned down to its very foundations. It is far too much of a moral threat. I can feel the mansion’s corrupting influence all around me like smoke tendrils slowly creeping up my body. Thankfully, my psychic shields are able to keep the infernal powers at bay, but I know as well that they will not last long and that time is running out for what I have come here to do.
Less than ten minutes before Ambekar is supposed to leave and I have yet to find him!
I turn a corner on the second floor, and run into a detail of guards coming my way, their side-arms held loosely in their hands, their postures relaxed and their gait unhurried. They clearly are not expecting any trouble this deep in the mansion.
I don’t give them a moment to react. With a cry to the Trimurti, and invoking the power of the sudarshana chakra tattoo on my chest with a whispered word of command, I charge at the two guards. The guard to the right dies first as I thrust my bared sword forward, straight into his belly, and bury the sword to the hilt. As I twist the blade inside him, the guard gurgles incoherently and falls over my sword arm. He grips my sword arm to hold me in place, but I kick at his legs, and he collapses wordlessly to the floor. The man dies with a whimper, his lifeblood leaking out of his stomach along with his guts. Like I said, I find killing to be a crude and messy affair, tasteless in fact.
The second guard is faster than the first. Even as his partner breathes his last, he brings his gun arm up, sighting at me down the length of his .32 semi. He fires off a hail of shots, the sound of their discharge ringing in my ears within the close confines of the hallway. I twist around to avoid the bullets, my speed preternaturally fast thanks to the marks of devotion to the Trimurti that I bear upon my person, and the power of my sudarshana chakra tattoo.
I am not fast enough however. One bullet grazes the left side of my temple, and a second hits me in the shoulder, right where my arm ends. I double up over in agony, the glare I give the second guard sufficiently vengeful enough to have killed him if my eyes had been shooting psychic bullets. I grab the hilt of my sword which is still embedded within the first guard, and pull it out in a shower of blood and bone matter, even as I stand back up.
The second guard parries my first stroke with the length of pistol, only to watch in shock as the blade cuts right through the casing. If I could have, I would have framed the look on his face at the sight of a ruined half-pistol in his hand. A punch aimed at his head and I turn his startled expression into one of pain. I step behind him to repeat my thrust from earlier, the blade sinking through his back first before emerging out through his already-ruined chest.
He is dead before he falls to the floor. Just as I finish wiping the blood off my sword, Singhania Ambekar comes into view, surrounded on both sides by an escort of four more of his thugs. In the instant that their eyes lock with mine, I dive forward to pick up one of the dead guard’s fallen semi-automatic and let loose. The pistol is light in my hands and fits so snugly that I wonder if it was made just for me.
The guys with Ambekar are good. They open fire at me without hesitation. The five of us turn the hallway into a ruined mess of plaster and paint, lead-reinforced iron shots whizzing through the air, hungry for a taste of flesh. The bullets are easy to ignore, but the pain from my previous wounds is slowing me down. That is intolerable. I finally have the bastard in my grasp and I am not letting him out of my sight.
A bullet clips me in the right thigh as I take temporary shelter in the shadow of the statue of a Rakshasa lord, the demon”s haughty and arrogant gaze full on me. This one was no ordinary asura, of that I was sure. His marble form was carved in exquisite detail, swathed in the dark drab colours that the asuras of the Fifth Chakra preferred above all else. My sword twitches once more in its sheath, the power bound to it in stronger conflict to the statue next to me than with anything else in the room.
Another bullet grazes my left shoulder. I have to keep myself from giving voice to a snarl of pain. Yet another whizzes past my forehead and strikes the statue in its groin, a good portion of the marble blown away by the impact. A faintly audible cry of anger releases from the statue, startling me with its near silent intensity. My psychic shield sizzles around me in response, and I realise that I have just avoided a dangerous fate. Recalling one of my previous run-ins with the cultists of the Fifth Chakra, I remember how these bastards sometimes bind the unholy souls of asuras into such earthly representations. I suppress an involuntary shudder at the thought as I remember too a protracted battle against one such construct several years ago.
I clamp down on my wool-gathering and focus back on the matter at hand. Loathe as I am to do it, I have no choice but to invoke the power of my patron god. The air is just too thick with hot lead and these bastards have me pinned down. I chance a glance from behind the ruined statue, only to see one of the guards escorting Ambekar away from the contested hallway.
I whisper a quick prayer to Vishnu the Preserver, entreating the Balancer of Life to grant me a measure of his godly power. My body tingles in response as tiny threads of a god’s power flow into me, bathing my form in a soft, warm glow. Grinning, I charge out, the gun in my hand blasting back at the three guards. The pistol bucks in my hand, spitting shot after shot at them as I empty out the entire magazine.
One of the men goes down instantly, his head blown open by a hail of three shots. His weapon falls from his lifeless hands, clattering impotently on the floor. I close in with the remaining two guards, my sword flashing through the air. The expressions of horror on their faces as they realise they are shooting at me point-blank and are failing to connect are precious ones. If I was one of the debased beings these heretics worshipped, I’d be able to drink in their fear, exult in it, and savour it till the end of eternity. Thankfully, my lineage is mortal. I’m a man like any other, a special one yes, a warrior of the gods themselves, but I am human nonetheless.
I merely take their heads in a brief three-second frenzy of blood, gore and bone. My sword-arm aches with the effort, my injuries catching up with me as I dispatch the third guard. The distraction has cost me dear. The fourth guard has managed to get Ambekar away from me. I curse, vitriolic nonsense that would make even the most typical gutter trash green with envy, then go after the two of them.
“Ambekar, you gods-damned heretic! You are going to die at my hands, worm, and none of your masters are going to be able to save you from my wrath! Face me if you dare, coward.” My bluster fails to work as Ambekar and his remaining protector keep running upwards through the mansion. I follow, hot on their heels. I can hear the rest of the household waking up as the alarm is raised and the guards in the grounds all converge on the mansion itself, intent on defending their master. I need to end this before the situation becomes entirely untenable.
Less than nine minutes later, I catch up to Ambekar and his loyal dog at the entrance to the heretic’s bedroom suite, just as they are about to seal it. With the blessings of the Preserver still on me, it is an easy thing to shoulder-barge my way through the closing doors and come face-to-face with Ambekar. He shrieks, yelling curses and foul epithets as his lone protector brings up his gun to shoot at me. I duck, roll sideways to avoid the blast of fire, and then sweep my sword at his feet. The blade takes him in the right ankle and he howls as he falls down unceremoniously, the leg severed, ending in a bloody stump. Another sweep of the sword, followed by a thrust through his heart, and he is dead, leaving me alone with Ambekar.
“Wha-what do you want?” he asks, his fear and the tension that grips him like a palpable thing in the air. I can almost taste that fear, and it disgusts me with its implications of cowardice, and weakness. I take a few steps forward until I am standing no more than half a hand’s span away from him and look him straight in his dark eyes, eyes wide with fear.
“You, my little friend, are going to do me a rather big favour tonight,” I tell him, holding him by the collar. “You have a meeting tonight with your bastard cultist friends, and I want to get into that meeting. That is all.”
The colour leaves his face completely, and he turns whiter than the best Makrana marble. I never thought it was possible for a man”s eyes to grow as large as his did at that moment. There wasn’t just fear in his eyes anymore, but a dawning horror. Good, that would be the first step accomplished then. He starts mumbling but a sharp slap to his right cheek brings him back to his senses. His eyes watery, he holds up his hands in a pleading gesture. “Please, you cannot ask that of me. What you ask is impossible! You cannot infiltrate the headquarters of the cult like that!”
“I got in to your mansion didn’t I? No less than eight of your best guards are dead, and you are in my clutches. I’d say I’ve already done one impossible task tonight.” I shake him once more, his head lolling briefly back and forth. “Are you going to do it or not, dog filth? Be careful about your answer, for my sword is still hungry for blood.”
His face blanches further as he considers my request. I know already what his answer is. He has no choice but to do what I ask. He is weak, a coward of the highest degree. He is a man who cares about his own self far more than he cares about his cultist friends.
“They will kill me,” he pleads once again, his tone resigned to the realities of his situation. I have him.
I slap him once more. “Wake up to the facts, Ambekar: would you rather die right now at my hands, or maybe later if your treachery is discovered?”
He swallows and nods faintly. The repellent stink of his sweat becomes tainted with another smell, just as foul. I realise with a start that Ambekar has soiled himself. Disgusting. The man is an animal. After several long moments, he slumps in my hands and nods a final time.
“I’ll do it.”
You can find a rough draft sampler of the first 500 words here, if you are so inclined!
Also, I realise that I’ve used two separate spellings of the title in various posts, so please excuse that small oversight. Writing Hindi words in English is a pain at the best of times!
Posted on February 25, 2013, in 2013 Writing Challenge, Original Work and tagged 2012 Writing Challenge, Dharamachakra, Dharamayoddha, Indian Mythology, Mumbai, Novella, Original Work, Project Dharamayoddha, Urban Fantasy, Vikram Chauhan, Work in Progress, Writing. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.