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Most adaptations of the Ramayana ignored Kabandha. He was a minor character that terrorised scholars and holy men, passing through his forest. Danny didn’t remember all the details but recalled the protagonist putting him down. If Kabandha wanted, he could make Danny’s life harder than it already was.

Kabandha laughed. The shadows receded, bathing the forest floor in golden light once again. “You and I are one now,” he said, waddling over and placing a giant hand on Danny’s shoulder.

“What you know, I know too.”

“I apologise, I didn’t mean to offend, Great One—”

Kabandha laughed even harder. “You don’t have to call me that or take on such formalities. I can sense the dis-ingenuity radiating off you.” The rakshas dropped onto his bottom, and a soft tremor spread from where he landed. It came as no surprise that he had an inhuman density about him. “I used to be a musician and a lover of fine things before Indra did this to me for not following his pure and humble standards. I swear you sleep with the wrong Gandharva—” Even though Danny had never studied the subject, he knew Gandharvas were celestial beings known for their singing and dancing capabilities. “—and those hypocrites will make your life a living hell. Opening rifts to earth and impregnating wide-eyed human girls is no big deal for them, but we try to have some fun of our own and suddenly we’re scum.”

“I’m not sure I understand what you’re talking about,” Danny said, still unsure of Kabandha’s history.

“It doesn’t matter.” He sighed. “We might be in the Asura Veda, but we’re no different from the entities in the other books. My friends and I lost whatever game the Great Ones wanted to play and are painted in a worse light than the others. Didn’t Ram forsake his own wife without proof of adultery? Didn’t Krishna convince Arjun to slaughter his family despite his conscientious objections? Speaking of the Pandavs, Yudhishthira had such a gambling problem. He bet not just his property but also his brothers and wife away.” I sensed genuine scorn in Kabandha’s words. “Then they have the gall to call us evil.”

“I guess everyone faces injustices at the hands of those more powerful.” Despite his appearance, the entity didn’t radiate a monstrous vibe. “I’m sorry I made assumptions.”

“It’s alright,” he said. “You have good reason to. Some of my neighbours are mindless monsters. A churel won’t think twice before cutting you open and using your entrails for a blood ritual. Good thing you didn’t pick one of them.” Kabandha shook his torso-head. “Let’s move past this depressing talk. We’re friends now. Together, we’ll do great things.”

“I’m not sure I quite understood our contract—deal, whatever you want to call it.” His giant lips curled upwards as Danny spoke. “I understand you want to be fed, but what is it you desire?”

“I want to feed,” Kabandha told me. “Food, knowledge, power, I want it all. For aeons, I’ve been starving; You’re going to help change that. Look at your palms.”

An almost invisible seam ran across the skin, and Danny felt a new set of muscles underneath. When he tested them, his palms split open, revealing a mouth full of jagged teeth. The hand’s shape distorted as the bones moved to make room for the opening. The teeth inside sat in concentric circles, running deep into his arms. “What is this?”

Danny’s forearms felt stronger inside and out. When he willed it, the mouths exercised a chewing motion and even snapped closed with enough power to sever a digit.

“That’s not all.” The rakshas smiled. “Think, ‘Expel’.”

Danny did as instructed and felt obstructions deep within the two throats. The nerve endings appeared to have rearranged themselves as well. The sensation reminded him of regurgitating fish bones stuck in his throat. A spine-tingling discomfort rattled Danny’s body as the obstructions slid past the teeth and popped out of the hand mouths.

A thin, lumpy tongue poked out of each orifice. They had pushed out the two spheres. Their complexion was several shades darker than Danny’s light-brown skin.Their colour resembled charcoal. Instead of dropping to the floor, they floated in place. Their shape, size, and matte, glassy texture reminded Danny of bowling balls made for children. He felt a connection to them. They seemed to connect to his head. Danny sensed a new set of muscles. When he flexed them, the blackness retreated, settling as a thin line in the back.

“They’re eyes.” Danny gasped, looking into the blue irises and pupils that reminded him of the endless void of space. Pain coursed through Danny’s head as he struggled to comprehend what he saw. There were two sets of conflicting images. He saw the floating eyeballs in the forest. In the second image, Danny saw a mirror image of himself.

“Breathe,” Kabandha said. He waved his hands, and the two eyeballs floated in opposite directions. The two images turned into three. One moved away from the ground, giving Danny a top-down view of the forest. The other eyeball floated past his shoulder, showing everything that lay behind his back. “Don’t fight it. Your head will rip apart.”

Danny closed his eyes, inhaling deeply. As he exhaled, the pain lessened. The three images had reduced to two. “This is strange,” he said as an odd discomfort blossomed in his ears. “It’s going to make me sick.”

“Focus on looking through only one eye at a time. It might be smartest to use the pair in your head. Block out the other two. Think they’re not there. Let them talk to you, instead of looking directly through them.”

Before opening his eyelids, Danny focused on his breathing. His Shotokan Karate sensei started and ended each training session with a short meditation session and deep breathing exercises. Danny used the latter while sparring, too. They helped him remain calm and centre himself. He counted down from thirty, focusing on the space between his eyebrows, willing the two images to go away. Eventually, they obeyed, and the discomfort went with them. The nausea followed seconds later.

He waved his hands, and the two eyeballs floated in opposite directions. One moved upwards towards the canopy and the other down to the forest floor. “Where is the rabbit skirting my trap?” Kabandha asked.

Danny didn’t just know where the little rodent was hiding. He could hear its movements, too. The feeling took some time to get used, too. The auditory stream of information felt weak and muffled. It didn’t come through the eye or the ears in his head. Instead, Danny’s two new mouths felt sensitive to the vibrations in the air.

Kabandha did say he’d give me a keen ear for sound.

Kneeling on the first floor, Danny pressed his hands to the ground. It felt no different from pressing his ear against a door or wall to hear voices on the other side. However, the mouth-hands felt several times more sensitive. Danny heard the rabbit’s tiny heartbeat and other critters burrowing through the soil.

“Sonic waves.” Kabandha waddled towards Danny, and the volume of his heavy feet affecting the ground sent a shock through Danny’s head, forcing him to pull away. “Your new mouths emit and read them.”

“Like a bat?” Danny asked, studying the new orifices. Now that Danny looked harder, the musculature within them was a lot more complex than he previously assumed.

The rakshas nodded. “A bit demeaning to compare my gift to an ordinary bat’s but I guess that’s an apt analogy for your ignorant brain.” He hadn’t lied. The mouths and eyeballs wouldn’t make him super strong, but no explosion or attack would get the drop on him anytime soon. “This is just the beginning, Sameer Sen,” Kabandha said. The name confused Danny. It wasn’t his, but didn’t sound out of place. “I might not be able to give you monstrous strength like Ravanna or the beauty and psychic prowess of his sister, but if you feed me, we can become more powerful than the two of them put together. You could turn sound into a weapon and the eyes into impenetrable shields. The possibilities are endless!”

“And you won’t turn me evil?”

“Evil?” He laughed. “I thought your kind would’ve outgrown the concept by now. No, I won’t. Your world needs good karma, and that’s precisely what you’ll gather.”

Kabhandha promises power in exchange for food.

Global karma in the current dimension is negative.
Balance is required.
Empowerment is complete.
Ending synchronisation.

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J Pal

  • London

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