The Lost God-Warriors of Dhujapur
Women and men run beneath the legs of thirty-foot god-warrior statues, in fear and horror, to hide away in the center of the city. There, they might live a few moments longer, while the black demons’ tusks tear through their neighbors. They haven’t spare breath for prayers to the sandstone likenesses of lion-headed Randhitra and Bhudyavi the six-armed archer and their three score of brothers and sisters.
Only Rajeev runs forward, his chin barely up to the bellies of terrified adults flooding past, rushing their children away to strongholds that offer no refuge. Why do they bother to flee? There is nothing to do but beg protection at the feet of the god-warrior figures, hope that wherever they may be now, the saviors of legend might hear the people’s prayers and return home.
“Someday, a child will find the lost god-warriors,” Rajeev’s mother told him every night as she folded a cotton blanket under his chin, “for only children can see the dream world with awake eyes.”
And every night Rajeev forced a smile and carefully said nothing as his mother recounted the myths of the god-warriors. Or were they ancient scriptures? Or perhaps bedtime stories, meant to do nothing more than amuse drowsy babes?
Rajeev’s neighbor, a boy just a few years older than he, shrieks his throat raw as he sprints past. How much worse his fear would be if he knew just how close the demons were to his heels. The beasts, each a different jumble of leopard claws and crocodile teeth and bull hooves, share only the midnight black of their fur and the devilish orange of their serpent-slit pupils.
Rajeev’s uncle, running in a blind panic, knocks him to the hard dirt. His uncle always said the god-warriors were nothing more than mortal men whose tales grew tall over the centuries. He ignores the statues in the race to hide himself. He has no faith that true god-warriors ever lived.
Rajeev’s schoolteacher snatches his wrist and yanks him to his feet. She taught that the god-warriors were banished to the lightless depths of the coldest sea for their pride. She doesn’t believe the god-warriors can help them now. She drags Rajeev away from the statues. He twists from her grip and runs.
“Nature is where the dancing fire of life is strongest,” Rajeev’s mother told him every day, as she led him by the hand through blazing green forests and alongside meditative rivers. “But only children, so recently reborn from heaven’s realm, are able to see the spirits who live here.”
Rajeev would only nod, hoping she wouldn’t ask so he wouldn’t have to lie. But she always asked.
“Can you see them? Can you see the spirits and the godlings?”
Rajeev would nod again, because he didn’t want to disappoint her.
“The god-warriors wait on the highest peak of the mountains for children to come find them. Maybe it will be you who brings them back to us.”
Rajeev could not ever nod or smile at this, the muscles of his stomach were always clenched too tightly.
Rajeev scrambles up the base of Pranjura’s statue, demons snapping at his ankles. From this height, he sees his mother, standing motionless as neighbors streak past and demons bear down on her. She calls his name, a cry of anguish loud enough to be heard even over the stampede of feet and shouts of fear. Rajeev must turn his eyes away from hers, tears of shame clouding his vision as he looks up at Pranjura. The god-warrior, her eagle wings spread to take flight, gazes into the distant hills, as if he were beneath her notice.
Now, surely Rajeev’s mother will realize that her son is without spirit sight. In her last moment of life before the demons gouge out her intestines, no doubt she will finally see what a simpleton and a fool he is, screaming and crying for the god-warriors to return to their city, pounding the edge of his fist against Pranjura’s sandstone calf until the stone cracks. And the crack spreads. And a shell of stone falls away, revealing brown skin beneath.
And Pranjura steps forward, her sword cutting down the first demon as an unholy screech of terror leaves its lips. Pranjura’s brothers and sisters shed their coverings in great explosions of rock and dust. The thousand beasts recoil like a wave, trampling over each other in their attempts to escape.
Rajeev sits in the sandstone rubble and laughs and thanks the high gods. His mother stands untouched, mouth and eyes wide with disbelief.
Rajeev was never able to find spirits in any tree or stream. His imagination went no further than seeing the god-warriors in the faces of their own statues.
But his mother will never have to know that.