Prologue

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Kavali in Andhra Pradesh, India

Thursday, the 3rd of May, 2012

6:15 a.m.

 

The day that changed everything

 

A thousand voices called out to the world’s only Healer in a rhythmic chant. The Buddhist temple’s ancient wooden doors muffled the words, but Shanti recognized the hymn’s cadence. A bhajan, a song intended for the divine.

But I’m human, she thought, padding to the temple’s entrance with bare feet. Don’t they know I’m as mortal as they are?

All of the commotion made her feel self-conscious. In some ways she longed for the early days after her transition, back when most people still recognized her as the young singer who had just begun to blaze her path in Bollywood. Back before international leaders had declared her powers an unprecedented phenomenon. Back before mass media became a part of her everyday life, reporting everything she did to millions of followers worldwide. Whether she liked it or not, she was now the focus of a prophecy that she had never even heard about. Not until the press knocked on her door.

The chants grew louder, amplifying the dull ache in her head which had hounded her ever since she opened her eyes that morning. She leaned against one of the temple’s stone walls, feverish and dizzy. She could tell that something was wrong. The growing pressure in her head was unlike any of her past headaches. She hadn’t felt anything like it since….

“Shanti! Shanti!” The voices of the destitute and dying interrupted her thoughts.

The people out there needed her. Unlike many of them, she could still stand on her own two feet. She could still put one foot in front of the other. So she did.

The jingling of the silver bells around her ankles alerted the orange-robed monks stationed at the temple entrance. As they bowed their heads at her approach, she joined her hands together in greeting. They returned the gesture before scurrying to open the temple doors for her.

Ignoring the pounding in her head, she adjusted the drape of her sari and prepared to face the people who had traveled all this way to put their last few ounces of faith in her.

A ripple went through the crowd as the massive wooden doors creaked open. Shanti suppressed a gasp as she stepped out into the warm morning air. Today’s crowd was larger than ever before, expanding ahead of her as a sea of faces, hands, and bodies reached well beyond the main courtyard. She should have been used to so much sickness and injury by now, but the sight of them all still made her heart ache. They came from all over the world to beseech her for a cure. And the more she cured, the more they came.

The sea of petitioners began at the base of the temple steps, where the most desperate cases lay on handspun blankets or, more often, the dusty ground. There were cripples and invalids, malnourished children with cleft palates, and elderly beggars with twisted limbs. Some had been carried there by desperate loved ones, but many others had made the grueling journey alone. Near the back of the crowd were those who, mercifully, still had the strength to stand. Blind men, barren women, orphans who were ravaged by parasites. A sea of humanity in an endless wave of suffering.

“Shanti! Shanti! Shanti!”

Those who were able raised their hands in a gesture of unity and praise. There wasn’t any pushing or roughness because they knew the Healer would save them all in turn.

As Shanti descended the stone steps, her vision blurred and the chants morphed into a deafening buzz. Dizziness overcame her like a tidal wave, but the sickening feeling gifted her with a new kind of vision. She was overwhelmed with an awareness of all the life around her—people, flowers, insects—they all sparkled like a myriad of stars in her mind’s eye, each as pristine and bright as the last, dazzling and pulsing with life.

Is this how the gods see the world? she wondered, caught in the magic of the moment.

The dizziness passed as suddenly as it had come. As Shanti’s vision shifted back to normal, she found herself standing in the middle of the temple steps. The stone felt colder than usual against her bare feet, meaningless and dead. Whatever revelation had momentarily passed through her was gone. An intense awareness told her all eyes were on her. Had they seen what she had seen? Experienced what she’d felt? No, they couldn’t have. The looks on their faces hadn’t changed while they waited for their touch of divinity. Waited for her.

The children needed her the most, following her with wide eyes and brave smiles. For them, Shanti pushed her headache aside and assembled a smile of her own. She descended the last few steps with cautious deliberateness, shrugging off her nausea as she went. Hands reached out to her, brushing the hem of her sari, while others held out fruit and flowers as offerings. It still baffled her, but she would do her best not to disappoint them.

Her attention fell on a boy without any legs, sitting on a blanket while his useless hands were coiled in front of his meager chest like disfigured talons. His face lit up when he noticed her gazing at him. The crowd fell silent, eager to hear her words and witness her miracles.

“What’s your name?” she asked him.

“Devaj Jayaraman,” he replied, her attention causing a look of pride to wash across his face.

“Namaste, Devaj,” she said. “Did you travel far to come see me today?”

The boy nodded with enthusiasm. “My father carried me on his back for three days. He wants to see if you can give me new hands, so that I can feed myself and help the family.”

Shanti looked at the man who knelt beside Devaj. He weighed little more than his son, and looked close to death himself.

Shanti awakened her power to examine the pair. Her senses opened to the steady beating of their hearts, the flow of blood through their veins, and whatever life was left pulsing through them. Her senses discovered that the father’s lungs were suffocated with toxins.

A coal miner, she deduced. She had seen many others like him, and suspected many more would come.

Devaj and his father looked like they hadn’t eaten well lately. The boy’s atrophied hands and missing legs were defects from birth, though the scars and scabs that covered his stumps were a result from trying to pull himself across the ground without help.

Please let me heal this boy and his father, Shanti prayed. She had delivered such healing hundreds of times before, but each time was a new miracle. She refused to take them for granted.

She channeled her power to ease the father’s cough and heal the scabs hidden beneath the boy’s robe. After that, she focused all of her effort on releasing the boy’s fingers from their paralysis and giving strength to his useless hands, but, as the boy’s fingers unfurled, the feeling which had captured her before washed over her senses again. The pulsing of the Earth beneath her feet became deafening. Sensing every quiver of butterfly wing, every flutter of banyan leaf in the breeze, every single breath of life, she wondered if this was part of her power or something else.

Devaj’s hands grew strong while his feeble chest filled out with flesh, and new legs appeared in place of his stumps as his skin took on a healthy glow. Any trace of weakness vanished from his father as the toxins left his lungs. The result was more than a healing. It was if reality itself had been reshaped, recasting father and son in a perfect mold. Unlike ever before, Shanti’s power spread and expanded without her active involvement. The reshaping of their bodies happened faster than she was able to comprehend with full effect. It was as if she was at the center of a tornado, in the eye of an invisible storm, descending across the courtyard, touching and changing everything alive.

Perfection.

A gasp of awe went through the crowd as the boy and his father went through their miraculous transformations. Onlookers took up their chanting again, their fervent recitative echoing off the temple’s stone walls.

Shanti didn’t hear any of it because her mind was filled with more awareness than she could hope to process while her power expanded. Life stirred, surged, and reshaped itself within the immense aura of her power. Every living thing in the village spoke to her, sung to her, and celebrated the beauty of life with her. Dormant seeds came into full bloom while withered trees were restored to perfect condition. Farmers in their fields and merchants in their shops were cured of blemishes and diseases.

So beautiful, was her last thought before the ground gave way beneath her.

When she came to, she was on her knees while surrounded by thousands of cheering petitioners who were each a picture of perfect health. Flowers and vines now cascaded down the courtyard’s walls as the wind carried a heavy scent of fruit and flowers from the fields surrounding the village. Distant voices called out in awe and surprise.

Devaj was next to her, kneeling with his new strong legs beneath him, while his father uttered the names of various divine beings. Soon everyone around him joined in the prayer and praise, celebrating the Healer with religious fervor.

Please, stop, she wanted to tell them, but she was too horrified to speak. Something had happened today, something so enormous and significant she didn’t even want to consider how the mass media would portray this … this event. The energy force she had felt had more power than any human being should ever possess.

Shanti was afraid for the world.

Next Chapter

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23 thoughts on “Prologue

  1. First off I’d like to say ‘congratulations on your new web serial!’

    I think you have a great idea in your hands and, based on what I read in this prologue, you’re on your way to writing something great. I’m very interested on see how you manage to handle the different Point of View characters, it sounds promising, really.

    You have gained a follower. (~.^)

    ***

    Just some things I noticed: “beyond the boundaries oft he village” -> It should be “of the”

    “The people are sent away”, she added. -> I find that sentence a little weird. “The people have been sent away” sounds better, unless it’s intentional, as in english isn’t Shanti’s first language.

    “But the people not understand. There be… great conflict.” -> If the caveman-like speech is intentional because of a possible language barrier between Shanti and the three heroes, I would suggest making a mention for that. It can work either way, I just found it a little distracting, to be honest.

    The leader didn’t speak, fighting with himself. -> Instead of ‘fighting’ I would use the word ‘struggling’. The difference between both words is very subtle, but ‘fight’ evokes something more physical in nature and, generally speaking, it isn’t used as much when the context is somewhat more abstract, like an internal conflict.

    • Thanks for catching that typo – it’s something Word keeps doing, and I haven’t been able to deactivate autocorrect yet because Microsoft insisted on only letting me download a french language version.

      I really appreciate word substitute suggestions, as well. English isn’t my first language, and if I choose expressions that don’t quite fit, feedback is more than welcome.

      Shanti’s english is intentionally flawed, as I tried to show with this phrase: “I know why you come“, she said, assembling her meagre knowledge of english.” The main characters will have a better grasp of the language. 🙂

      I’m really excited to receive comments and have followers already. I hope to see some discussions once several of the actual chapters have gone live. If readers want more information on specific background events or side characters, I’ll try to incorporate it in future chapters.

      I’m glad you like the banner. It isn’t finished yet – this is the second draft – but I should have the completed version fairly soon.

  2. Woohoo! Congratulations, we got her! Unfurl the “Mission Accomplished” banner.

    Today is a proud day in the long tradition of, as Hedy (Hedley!) Lamar said, stamping out runaway decency in the West. Or East, in this case, but really, what is the East other than the extreme westernmost part of the world?

    That’ll teach you to go around helping people for free. Next time you want to heal people, bitch better enact a copay. You do it for free, it’s heroic and they kill you for it. You make people pay and turn some of them away, then you’re a goddamn untouchable national treasure to the United States of America.

    Next up, we need to deport an illegal alien who has been living in Kansas for around a hundred years. Doesn’t matter how Super he thinks he is.

  3. I agree with Gex up there, it seems a little unusual to execute someone because they have too much power. For one, someone who has that much power might decide that they don’t want to be killed, and stop cooperating with the people making the rules. And man, she was helping people! Were they afraid she’d turn into an Endbringer of love and happiness and butterflies?

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  5. Made a small edit to clarify that what happened wasn’t completely without reason. It doesn’t deliver the most important answers, I’d still like to clear those up a little later in the story. But hopefully it doesn’t give a Grimdark impression anymore.

  6. As announced, I’ve rewritten this whole thing. Just looking at it was painful – was my writing really this awful back in June? Edits of the arc 1 chapters will follow over the course of the next two weeks.

  7. Just started reading this right now. I think it’s a great first start and sets the stage wonderfully. I really liked the description and the suspense building up to the three men confronting Shanti.

    I always like to point out the highlights of the writing which really stood out for me. They are:

    She put on a smile for their sake. It was an easy lie, taking inspiration from the joyful, reverent faces she’d passed along the way. Some of the villagers were still gathered in front of their houses to chant in her name. The spicy scent of countless ointments hung in the air, and her bare feet had crushed countless blossoms that had been scattered in anticipation of her arrival.

    She sensed a cluster of about two dozen at the outer fringes of her aura, and if there were any more just beyond, she wanted to reach them while she still had the chance.

    The feedback she got from people was different. More varied and intense. The blind regained their sight, and more than just a few broke into tears, reaching out to touch her feet with muttered prayers as she passed by. Broken bones mended, missing limbs returned, and the sick were cured.

    Shanti turned away, struggling to keep her feelings out of her face. It would be easier for them if they didn’t try to follow, if they were at a safe distance. Singing, not paying attention.

    The second member of their team used the name of an angel, but lacked the heart to match.

    He was wrapped in white and gold spandex that shimmered in the moonlight. Her senses told her he was as uncomfortable as his armored companion, but much more successful at hiding it.

    He bowed his head, his composure fraying at the edges. His fingers twitched slightly beside his leg, flexing and relaxing alternately.

  8. Any chance you can give me an estimate on when the new prologue will be up? I really want to start reading this serial, but I don’t want to skip stuff.

    • Hi Sean! I… have to admit the new prologue is taking longer than anticipated. We’re having an extreme heat wave where I live, and it’s been sapping my energy and my ability to sleep at night. I’ve considered putting it back up at least temporarily, but… unlike the chapters that follow, it hasn’t been edited yet, and not many readers continued beyond it. 😦

      I’ll check in with my editor tomorrow and think about what to do. Maybe I’ll put it back up with a disclaimer that it hasn’t been edited yet.

  9. So in the old prolouge she was killed?

    Actually a really dumb decision… but who can understand humans. So I am asuming that she won’t have much of a appearance, because she was originally already dead?

    And if I understood right her power isn’t really healing, but feeling live as a form of energy that is than restored to a perfect condition? If that really is the case it could even be possible that she could do the exact opposite^^ Because if you can feel live and restore it why can’t you just destroy it aswell? On my part I don’t think she even ever thought of using her power that way and that’s why she will never discover that she can do it. Just thinking about it makes it really interesting xD

    Oh and till what chapter does the first book go? I will contiue reading here to get into the story and later probably ny your book.^^

    • You’re right, Shanti won’t have much of an appearance, but… I have lots of other characters! 😀
      The first book includes arcs 1-3. The second book (scheduled for release on the 3rd of August) includes arcs 4-7. The books are much more well-edited, though, especially from arc 4 onward. Most of the serial is still first drafts.
      Interesting thoughts on Shanti’s power. 🙂

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