Threat Level: N/A
Power Type: N/A
“Don’t let the name scare you away,” Kabandha said as Danny floated closer. He was the first of the prisoners to speak to him after making eye contact. Most had only glared at him with contempt or desperation. Even though the demon’s odd sing-songy voice had a comforting feel to it, Danny didn't let his guard down. “The victors write history, and I happened to be caught on the wrong side.”
Danny looked to Maya for clarification, but the blank golden sphere told him nothing.
“What manner of power would I get from you?” Danny asked.
Kabandha’s giant eye looked him up and down. “You’re a cook aren’t you? I can smell it on you.”
“My enemies made my mouth monstrous and stomach deep. I don’t know whether they didn’t care to think or it was an act of cruelty. They gave me short and stubby legs, making hunting near impossible. You keep me fed, and I’ll ensure you’re never caught unaware again.”
Kabandha The Cursed has offered you a contract.
Power for Food.
Life for Companionship.
Do you accept?
Danny had to keep himself from blurting out a yes straight away. He had craved power ever since he hit puberty and all his peers started awakening. They grew strong, but Danny remained weak and helpless. However, the power’s source concerned him. Kabandha was, after all, one of the bad guys. Villains and monsters of the Hindu pantheon and epics surrounded him. Danny worried that using his power would corrupt him. He refused to believe Kabandha just wanted food.
Danny’s mind drew parallels between Ravana and the villain Rakshasa. Rakshasa’s power set involved manifesting spectral arms and heads. Danny suspected the book connected the pair, explaining Kaka’s warning.
Despite how the epics and many inspired TV shows painted him, the King of Lanka wasn’t an evil man. He was human. Ravana kidnapped the protagonist’s wife, Sita, but he had only done so in retaliation. Rama—the supposedly perfect man and avatar of the god of preservation, Vishnu—had stood aside while his brother mutilated Ravana’s sister. She had committed no crime besides romantically pursuing the man. Ravana wanted justice and an apology, but Rama had refused to give it. Even though Rama had let his brother mutilate Ravana’s sister, the demon king ensured no harm came to Sita. He kept her in a lush garden and protected her from his subjects who meant her ill.
Danny believed the story lacked definite protagonists or antagonists. Both characters committed good and evil. However, Hindu worshippers preferred Rama’s viewpoint, since he was the victor. They believed he was good and Ravana—the defeated and decapitated loser—was evil.
“Food for power isn’t enough,” Danny said after some thought. “It’s poorly defined and can mean anything. I need more.”
Kabandha’s giant eye narrowed, staring at Danny. His fists clenched and for a second, Danny worried the demon would try to break free and assault him. Instead, Kabandha smiled.
“What growing stronger by feeding me doesn't feel like a good enough trade? It's simple. You alleviate my starvation and I grow stronger. As a result, you gain power too." He sighed. "Very well. Besides the sensory gifts that come with my eye, I shall grant you my voice and keen ear for sound, too.” Kabandha continued to stare at Danny without blinking, but got no response from him. “How about increased durability to your arms as well?” Kabandha flexed his muscles, showing off the scars that covered the back of his fists and forearms. They appeared to have come from weapons and not claws or fangs. “Giving you the task of feeding me, but no weapons or tools to do so would make me as cruel as the monsters who made me who I am today.”
“I accept your offer,” Danny said after some thought.
“Good.” Kabandha’s ugly mouth curled up into an ugly smile. “I sense a familiar hunger in you. It won’t be easy at first, but we’ll get along swimmingly. Work with me, little one, and you’ll have all the power you could ever want.”
A dark pulse burst from Kabandha. It washed over Danny, and he felt a tingle in his palms and forearms. Surprised, Danny studied his hands, expecting them to swell with muscles. He hoped they wouldn’t grow as hairy as Kabandha’s. Instead, Danny’s palms ripped open, and an invisible force drilled its way up into his arms. A horrified scream ripped from Danny’s lips as pain consumed him once again. It replaced the heavy warmth and the still lingering numbness of before.
If Danny weren’t floating, he was sure his knees would’ve buckled under him. The drilling ceased, but the invisible presence in his arms remained. They continued past his elbows, broke into strands, and appeared to stitch themselves around his upper arms, then shoulders, and spine. The pain faded, and the wounds didn’t bleed. Then his now hollow forearms hummed. They swelled, growing wider, and the veins under his skin throbbed. Next, new muscles stitched over them and as the limb expanded, the skin stretched and cracked.
The pain subsided just as suddenly as it had struck. When Danny finally gained his composure, he studied his palms. Only the endless darkness of space lay within.
Sleep didn’t give Danny the respite he needed. In fact, he wasn’t sure whether it counted as sleep at all. When the black of Void faded, he stood in a forest, of all places. Even though it felt like a dream, Danny was sure it wasn’t one. The trees stood tall and thin, with brown, hairy extensions hanging from the branches. They were unlike anything he had seen before.
The bark had grown in strange swirling patterns, reminding Danny of something out of a Van Gogh painting. Danny had never heard of such a forest before. Somehow, it still managed to feel like home. Birds sang in the branches above, and the sun’s rays peaked through the foliage. Golden shapes and shadows danced around the shrubbery below.
After living a life filled with fear of villain attacks and wondering why he still hadn’t awakened a meta gene, Danny had never figured out what it meant to feel calm and free. Now, surrounded by trees, he felt safe. Danny knew nothing bad would happen to him in the forest. A loud yawn snapped him out of his daze. Danny wasn’t alone. However, he knew not to feel scared. His instincts didn’t force him into a defensive stance.
“Where are we, Kabandha?” Danny asked.
“My home,” he answered, emerging from among the trees. Due to his short stubby legs, the rakshas—a demon of Hind mythology—walked with a penguin-like waddle. “I guess I owe you a whole lot of gratitude, mate. With neighbours like Ravana and his siblings, I thought no one would ever pick me.”
“Mate? I never thought I’d hear a rakshas call someone ‘mate’.” Danny couldn’t help but laugh at how ridiculous the situation seemed. He stood in the middle of a mysterious forest, facing a monster from aeons ago, but he spoke like they were a couple of lads in the pub.
“Oh? Just because of my origins I’m supposed to have an Indian accent?” Kabandha’s voice turned deep, and menace darkened his tone. The trees shook with every word he uttered, and the canopy closed, cutting off the sunlight. “Is that what you expect of me, sonny? Because that’s exactly what I’ll give you. For the record, I prefer asura. Rakshas is a term for a lesser breed of creatures.”
Danny wasn’t sure how to react. His instincts told him the monster would never hurt him. In fact, Kabandha needed Danny now that their lives were intertwined. His curse had turned him into an entity of hunger, and Danny was the only one that could feed him. However, Kabandha’s tone still worried him.