A red moon raised a tide of blood against the rocky shore. It tore away at the edges of the cliffs and beaches from the great ports of Musuri and Arikamedu, all the way to the eastern reaches of the great kingdom of Kamboja. His mind raced through its paces as his lungs screamed for air. This crimson storm had engulfed his dear Madurai! Hopes and dreams swelled towards his arms, but he could not grasp them to defend them against the swirling current. Bubbles floated towards the surface as he struggled to breathe; grasping at his throat, he fought to get to the surface. He was no longer clad in armor, but his sword was still with him.
But it was not metal that made his body so heavy.
Something else was dragging him down.
But not to Madurai.
The mighty spires of a great city rose out of the swelling sea of red. The heavily carved and brightly painted stone towers of a mighty kovil were slowly pulling themselves out of the muck of the abyss. The recognizable form of the Rajendra Chola Madil, the titanic outer walls of the great capital of Gangaikonda, was fast approaching. They powered through like a battle cruiser slicing efficiently through the waves of the ocean, ready to disgorge its bloodthirsty warriors onto a new land.
He had been there so many times! Now, in this accursed aquatic hell, it towered over Madurai as the demonic goliath Kumbhakaran had over Lord Shri Ram during the long- lost glory of the Treta Yuga, thousands of years ago when the gods still walked on Earth. His dear hometown shrunk away under the shadow of the all-consuming behemoth. He slashed at the figures adorning the huge kovil, but the steel could not cut through the stone monster.
Tears rose in Rudran’s eyes, and a thunder called Heartache rumbled in his chest.
His eyes turned into floodgates that spewed forth their contents as his head spun. He was dizzy to the point of vomiting as the images of blood and death spun around him. The arms of Madurai struggled to hold her citizens and he could hear her screaming in agony as she disappeared down the throat of the advancing giant.
From her tanks and wells, blood shot forth instead of water, polluting her streets as she blindly rushed into the gaping maw of the predator.
No words came to his throat and his grip on his sword was almost loosened.
“My lord Vishnu…I beg you…stop this nightmare! Release me from this suffering, please!” Even his prayer felt like the trembling stammer of an old beggar, dying finally of the plague that poisoned his blood.
The only other voice he heard, was one that hovered above him. It was deep, but did not sound cruel. It was merely a knowledgeable one, one that sounded truthful and powerful.
“My friend,” it told him, “you are more at home with us than in your own house. Don’t deceive yourself, my dear man. Please don’t. Come back with me, take my hand. We can become conquering heroes one day once this is finished.”
“We can go to the far east. To Sri Vijaya, where the greatest sailors and fighters once existed. We can be free to travel the world, my dear friend…”
“Why else did you join?”
Rudran struggled and fought fiercely as he attempted to rise from the bed. He cast about wildly, clad in nothing more than his loincloth as he gasped out, bathed in a shower of cold sweat.
“Rudran! Sir, are you alright?”
“Show yourself!” he yelled, suddenly leaping off the bed.
“I heard you scream, Rudran. Are you alright?”
Rudran groaned as he saw the person at the door. “Vishaka…”
He cussed under his breath on forgetting to lock the door. “There’s nothing wrong with me. I just got a bit startled, that’s all.”
“No, tell me.” She pushed him to speak, at which he groaned in anger. “Are you alright? Because this is the fourth night in a row. What’s going on?” He tried his best not to glance up at the kind, motherly face of Lankan beauty who tried to talk to him. But the light from her candle alighted in his eyes, as gently as a compassionate kiss. He could sense the air heating up as he tried to cover his near-nakedness with his sheet, the same heat pulsing through his own body as he attempted to avert his gaze.
He stared at the tiled floor.
A small crack had appeared on the ceramic surface of one of them, but all he could still see was her beautiful reflection within them. His heart wept silently. Yet her angelic warmth enveloped the room, as his ears strained to hear her gentle voice.
“Forget it Vishaka, please…and, look, I’m sorry if I sound rude. But my past is none of your business. If the gods want me to suffer”-he shot her a rather stern, but still haggard look-“let them! I’ve given up, and so should you.”
Another shout came from inside the house.
“Mother! Mother, what’s going on?”
She turned suddenly to see him at the door too. He looked strangely exhausted, sweating just as Rudran had been. “What are you doing out of bed? Please go back to sleep, Jayampati. I can handle things here.”
“Oh, right,” the boy snorted, “the great soldier with night terrors. Look, why don’t you wake up already? It’s already the crack of dawn, plus you’ve just been leeching off us for the past week. If this was my own house, I’d”-
“He’s our guest!” chided his mother. “Rudran,” she continued, changing her tone. “I’ll be having some priests over tomorrow. Why don’t you talk to them about your nightmares? I’m sure they can help you. Anyway, I think it’d be good for you to talk to someone, and there’s nobody better than the bhikkus at the Mahiyangana Temple. You know, you could even talk to me if you want. I know what a soldier’s mind is like, I mean, I’m…married to one…” Her smile waned slowly as she blew out her candle. “Never mind. If you want to sleep in, it’s fine with me. Son, don’t make a fuss. You brought him here, so it’s our responsibility to see to him.”