The Lady of the Mountain
Once upon a time, the worlds were ending, and Ragini felt it was her fault.
She knew it couldn’t be—How could she cause a war between Gods and Demons that, in turn, triggered a universal upheaval by herself?—but it felt like it. The first battle had begun on the day of her marriage, after all.
Ragini stood in a small chamber made of carved marble. Every surface was polished to a gleam, reflecting the countless clay lamps that lined the walls. Tiny pinpricks of light glowed in an array more dazzling than the night sky.
At the end of the room, sitting serenely on a stone bench with just a tiger pelt over it, was Ragini’s husband, Lord Rudra, the highest of the Gods and Master of Destruction.
The lights of the small chamber bathed him in a soft orange glow as if to give form to the waves of magic emanating from him and through the mountain they stood on now. His usually subdued saffron robes also seemed to gleam.
The sight alone made her feel small and young. Ragini approached, her feet bare and footsteps silent. No one wore shoes in blessed places. She stopped in front of him and pressed her hands together in greeting, even though he didn’t see her.
“My Lord.” She bowed her head and then lifted it slowly. “Rudra.”
Rudra’s eyes were closed, focused in meditation. She took a moment to watch him breathe, deep and steady.
Her husband was timeless, and what was she? An upstart Demon Princess who dared fall in love with the most revered of the known Gods. And who dared to accept his love in return.
Ragini’s hands twisted into the drapery of her sari. Even at a time like this, she was dressed in finery to outshine even the nobility of Heaven. She wanted her armor, but as Lady of the Mountain, she had duties here.
“More refugees have come to Aakaa through your shield,” she said softly. “We are safe here. The skies above our mountain are still, but outside…” She hesitated. “...it’s only worsening.”
“The Underworld and the Heavens have been brought to their knees. And the Mortal realm is falling.” Ragini let go of her sari with a frustrated wringing of her hands. The many glass bangles on her wrists chimed, a sound much too pretty for so dire a time.
“The God King and my fath—the Demon King are leading the forces together. But they are being driven back, closer to our mountain every moment.” She began to pace back and forth in front of Rudra’s statuesque posture. “I am trying to keep everyone calm, Rudra, but with every group of dead and injured soldiers and innocents that arrive…”
Ragini stopped, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath. Her back was to Rudra now. “Your purpose is to watch over all the realms. My purpose, from birth, is to be a warrior. I cannot stay on this mountain, Rudra. If I don’t do something, I fear we won’t have any realms for you to watch over any longer.”
Rudra could hear her. Even in the depths of his meditation, Ragini knew her husband was listening. She also knew that if he moved from here, the shield around Mount Kaashil, the last refuge of the realms, would fall. Only if all seemed lost would Rudra rise, but until then, there were others whose responsibility it was to protect and sustain.
Ragini turned and approached him again. Even sitting on his meditation bench, Rudra was taller than her. She allowed herself to stroke his cheek with the back of her fingers.
“I love you, Rudra. In every lifetime, I have loved you. In every lifetime, I will love you.” She smiled sadly before going up on her toes and kissing the space between his brows. Under her lips, she felt him quiver before his brow relaxed.
She took a few steps back, her gaze lingering on him as if she were trying to memorize every shade of light and shadow on his face. “And I know you love me. You don’t have to say it. You never did.” Her smile almost glowed in its sincerity. Even with his eyes closed, she didn’t want him to see her leaving with a sad look on her face, even as the genuine fear that she would not see him again in this life ran through her.
Finally, she turned completely and left the stone chamber, her legs shaking. Forcing herself to walk down a long hall that led out to the courtyard of their stone palace, Ragini wrapped herself in her magic. The silken finery of her dress gave way to dark gray armor. Her jewelry disappeared and replaced itself with a single necklace tied close to the base of her neck. On the red cord was a large black pearl that shimmered in the alcove of her collar. Her dark hair, usually free in its wild locks, braided itself back into a long rope tied off with red thread.
Her stride lengthened, and she lifted her chin. Gods and Demons did not exist with the same rules as Mortals. No matter what happened today, she would see her husband again in some form or another.
The cloudless sky allowed sunlight to stream over the vast courtyard and gardens. It was a much-needed reprieve for the masses of people who filled up every available space on the palatial grounds. All eyes were on Ragini when she stepped out of an archway and into the main courtyard.
Many bowed their heads and folded their hands together in greeting as she passed, murmuring, “Lady Ragini.” Or “Lady of the Mountain.” Others simply eyed her armor and looked away grimly.
She marched to the end of the courtyard, people parting out of her way. None dared stop the Demon Princess or ask her where she was going. There was only one place to go.
But before she could leave the courtyard by its massive staircase, she saw a host of soldiers coming up the stairs, staggering and stumbling. At the front of the group, carried on a stretcher by two other warriors, was a man in black armor like her own. Ragini felt her heart stop, and she only just kept herself from crying out.
“Ravi!” She gasped and rushed down the stairs to meet the tattered and bloodied company. As she got closer, she could hear his weak heartbeat and feel his life energy. Thank the Elder Demons, her brother was still alive. Ragini took one end of the stretcher made of hastily tied together branches from one of the soldiers and helped carry her elder brother, Ravindra, the rest of the way.
She brought the haggard group to an open space in the courtyard, and they were quickly brought water and supplies by both God and Demon Healers. With the threat the realms were facing, any animosity between the two sides was more than unnecessary. Now, they were working tirelessly to bring aid and comfort to whomever they could.
Ragini knelt by her brother and waved a hand over his helmet. It disappeared, revealing dark hair matted with blood over his forehead. At first, his eyes were dark lines, squinting up at her. His lips moved, trying to make words.
“Wait,” she said and accepted a damp cloth from one of the healers. She began to wipe at Ravindra’s hair and face gingerly. From under the dust and blood of battle, her dear brother emerged, wincing whenever her cloth brushed too close to the bruises on his skin.
A Godly healer approached and offered Ragini a small vial. “My Lady. Soma.”
Ragini looked at the healer and smiled gratefully. “Thank you.” She took the vial and carefully gave Ravindra a few drops to drink.
Soma was a valuable liquid and why the Gods and Demons could live and thrive. It was created from the belief of mortals and harvested by the Underworld and the Heavens. It could heal and give vitality to Gods, Demons, and other spirits of nature. Without it, seemingly immortal beings simply diminished out of time and space.
Ravindra swallowed with difficulty and closed his eyes. Ragini waited. After a moment, some color returned to his cheeks, which had gotten ashy. He took a deeper breath and opened his eyes, revealing a beautiful jewel-like red—the same as Ragini’s own irises.
She placed a hand on his cheek. “Tell me what’s happened.”
“The beasts are getting larger. And the storms more fierce.” Ravindra’s voice rasped. Ragini gave him a few more drops of Soma, then handed the vial away, instructing the healers to use what was left on the most injured soldiers. Since this whole upheaval began, the creation of Soma slowed to a trickle. There was hardly enough to go around now.
Ravindra began again. “Father and the God King are now on the front lines. But we’re being driven back. It won’t be long before they’re at the foot of the mountain.”
Ragini asked how much of the forces were left and grew grim as Ravindra gave her a terribly low estimate. She had to join the fight now and do what she could.
Rudra forgive her.