Prologue

Next Chapter

 

 

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