lmeighmy: Found Photo. I Do NOT hold the copyright and am only using it for entertainment purposes. (Kunal Khemu)
Some of you might remember my Immortal Watchdogs character, Kalaghata. This short takes place when he was a teen and still coming into his powers. He is an immortal, and he has never (yet) met anyone like himself. He has no mentor, no one to tell him what to expect or to teach him how to control his abilities.

Very early in his life, he suffered unimaginable cruelty, but I haven't been explicit here (don't know that I ever will be, to be honest). In this short, he meets a man, a Greek "traveler," who will have a profound impact on his young life.

Enjoy!

~L



The year was 4007 BC. Kalaghata was not yet a man. At almost 16 years of age, he should have been playing games and wooing girls like other teenaged boys his age. Instead, he wore a chain around his slender ankle, and he was often forced to service the other prisoners who had overactive libidos and a penchant for cruelty.

He didn't know what it was like to be truly happy. By now, he had almost completely forgotten his carefree younger days. Ever since his father had booted him out at the age of twelve, he had struggled to survive against the odds. Afraid, hungry, weak, and with no one to care for him, he'd wandered endlessly, eventually finding himself on the streets of Mehrgarh, stealing whatever food he could to keep from starving (and he knew from experience that there was nothing quite like starving to death and returning to life with that same gnawing hunger, only to starve to death again for lack of any real sustenance—and to suffer through that repeatedly was enough to drive a man insane!). When there was no decent food to steal, he had turned to the bins of refuse sitting in the alleyways of Mehrgarh. The garbage had made him ill at times, but somehow, he had survived each ordeal.

And for what? So he could continue to suffer?

He had no idea why he wouldn't stay dead. Gods only knew how much he wished for oblivion, but every time death took him, he came back with more life and energy than he'd previously possessed. He feared he must be possessed of devils. How else could he explain it? But he didn't feel any different. He just felt hungry. And a sense of profound hopelessness had long since replaced any positive feelings he might have experienced in his young life. He was now homeless, a young man without a family or a home or anyone at all to care. And if he truly was possessed of demons, didn't he deserve this fate?

Eventually, he'd been caught for his crimes of stealing food and was thus thrown into prison. That had been his first taste of slavery. Horrified when grown men had begun to touch him inappropriately, he'd fought back. Over and over, he'd violently fought back, only to be violated anyway.

Then one night, as he lay silently weeping in a corner of his cell, his fellow inmate showed him kindness. The man sharing the tiny space with him called himself a traveler, and he regaled young Kalaghata with stories of adventure, good and bad, in an effort to distract the teen from his troubles for a little while. Kalaghata listened with fascination as the man told him of faraway lands, of pirates on great ships, and of danger and intrigue.

The man called himself Nicolæ, and he claimed to be in prison for stealing. He said his people were poor, as it was hard to find work. This was why they traveled from country to country. They were looking for a place to settle down where they could sustain their growing numbers. In spite of this, Nicolæ asked Kalaghata if he would go with him when he rejoined his people.

Afraid to trust Nicolæ, Kalaghata told him he would think about it, rather than commit to anything definite.

"I have seen how these men treat you, my boy. My people would never treat you in such a manner. My people's ways seem strange to most, but we have a strong faith in God and in family and in common decency. If you go with me when I rejoin my people, they will welcome you with open arms. They will show you nothing but kindness and generosity."

"I — I want to believe you," Kalaghata said quietly. "But how do I know the words you speak are not empty promises?"

"I suppose you cannot. I do not believe either of us will be going anywhere soon. Over time, I will prove it to you through my actions."

"If you can prove to me that your words are true, I will go with you. I have nothing to lose here but my life and soundness of mind."

"That is good, my boy. I promise, you will not regret putting your trust in me," Nicolæ smiled warmly.

"But I do not trust you yet," Kalaghata protested quietly.

"In time, you will. Of this, I have no doubt."

There was a loud clanging of keys in the lock, and the guards let two servant men into the prison. These men pushed carts laden with trays of food, food that tasted as if it had come from the garbage heaps Kalaghata had picked from in the past. He didn't complain as he took the tray offered to him. He pulled it close and inspected its contents. There was a bowl of some kind of stew. Next to the bowl was a small loaf of bread. Mold grew on the bread in small patches, and he scraped it off and took a bite from it, washing it down with a sip of heavily polluted water. He was used to the foul taste, and he didn't even gag.

Nicolæ leaned close and whispered in his ear. "My people are excellent cooks. Throughout the ages, we have learned to make do with little and to make it as rich and delicious as possible. My wife is one of the best cooks in our group. Once you come to live with us, and you try her cooking, you will never wish to eat anything else."
"What country are you originally from?" Kalaghata asked.

Nicolæ's gaze took on a faraway expression as he answered with the ghost of a smile on his full lips. "Graecia, far to the west of here. I come from a marvelous city called Corinthus. It is located in Argolis province."

"How far is that from here?" Kalaghata asked.

"Miles and miles," Nicolæ laughed lightly. "I have not been back to Corinthus in — since I was about your age, I believe."

"Do you ever wish to go back?" Kalaghata asked.

"I suppose, on the rare occasion that I actually miss Corinthus, I might dream of returning someday. But my life is with my people, the travelers. I am happy. I am content. Why go back?"

Kalaghata could understand that. He wasn't sure he would ever want to go back to Damakh. He had some good memories of home from when he had been younger and more naive, but once his powers had begun to manifest, life had slowly become a nightmare as people had begun to grow afraid of him. Some even mocked him, people he had once called friends now cursed his name and made fun of him. He never wanted to go back. He hated Damakh. He was ashamed to admit that he was from such a place of evil intolerance.

As if reading his mind, Nicolæ spoke again. "Where are you from?"

"Somewhere—east of here," Kalaghata said.

"You do not remember, or you do not wish to talk about it?" Nicolæ asked.

"I prefer not talk about it anymore," Kalaghata said, casting his gaze downward. Surprised to find his tray empty, he pushed it away and leaned back against the stone wall.

"Too many bad memories?"

Kalaghata nodded, saying nothing more.

Nicolæ honored his wish not to speak about the past. Instead, he pushed his own tray away and began to sing softly, lulling Kalaghata to sleep as the words of his native tongue floated on the stale air within the tiny cell. Within minutes, Kalaghata fell fast asleep and he dreamed of faraway places where friendly people danced and laughed and welcomed him with open arms.

~*~*~*~

Sometime later, Kalaghata awoke with a start. He sat up quickly and looked around, fully expecting to find some hardened criminal in the cell with him, ready to force him to do things that made him feel filthy and ashamed. Only Nicolæ was there with him, and the man gave him a sympathetic look from where he still remained seated in a far corner of the cell.

Kalaghata checked himself, certain that someone must have molested him during the night, but he felt no different. His hair was matted, but that had become the norm, as had the stench that came with the lack of bathing facilities. He shot Nicolæ a questioning glance, and the man nodded, his expression sincere as he spoke.

"No one has entered the cell, save for the servant who removed our dinner trays. I promise you, I would not let anyone harm you if I could prevent it. As you can see, I am uninjured. There has been no need for me to fight on your behalf."

"You would fight for me?" Kalaghata asked quietly, not sure if he should believe the man. It was obvious from Nicolæ's build that he could defend himself in battle. The man looked as powerful as a seasoned soldier. Still, Kalaghata found it difficult to trust anyone who promised to watch out for him. So many had made like promises, only to turn on him and cause him shame and suffering before the sun had fallen at the end of the day.

"Yes, I would," Nicolæ nodded. "I have a son about your age and a daughter a little bit younger. I would fight to the death for them. You remind me of my son in some ways."

"I do?"

Nicolæ smiled warmly. "Marco is a bright young man. He works hard to make his mother and me proud of him. He is serious, he does not laugh easily, but he is steadfast and loyal. I get the sense that if someone were to earn your trust, you would be steadfast and loyal, as well. I can see you are serious, but I also wonder if you would laugh more easily than Marco does. But I also get the sense that you have a darkness inside of you, a darkness that you fight constantly. Whether it is brought on by your circumstances or by your very nature, I do not know, but that you fight it at all is a good thing. I believe you will grow up to be a good man, Kalaghata. I believe you will have much to offer the world. But first, you have some growing up to do."

"How do you know this?" Kalaghata asked in wonder.

"I pride myself on being a good judge of character," Nicolæ smiled. "And you, my boy, will grow to be a man of great character. My instincts tell me this, and I have learned to pay attention to my instincts. They have never steered me wrong. People will look up to you one day, and they will serve you gladly."

"You think I will be a prince or a king?"

"Not exactly," Nicolæ said thoughtfully. He scratched his coarsely stubbled chin, then he continued. "I believe you will be some kind of ruler, maybe a soldier or a revolutionary. I can't be certain. All I know is that you have the power within you to lead, and if you work toward that end, people will follow you, and they will follow you gladly."

"But how can I?" Kalaghata asked. "I have no money, no status."

"All those things give you are an easier way along the path. You do not need money or status. You can earn both by working hard and being dedicated, but you must know who to swear your allegiance to."

"But — how will I know?"

"Listen to your instincts. If someone seems a bit off, as if their intentions are not fully honorable, no matter how slight the feeling is within you, do not follow them. Choose your friends carefully. Do not let flattering words cause you to do things you know to be wrong. Be a man of courage, of character. Do this, and you will begin to develop a reputation as a man of high quality. Men of high quality can change the world, but it does not happen overnight, so learn patience, be diligent, and make wise decisions."

"I—do not know how."

"If you will let me, I will teach you what I can, but I can only teach you so much. The rest must be up to you."

"If I ever get out of here," Kalaghata frowned. "I do not like it here. I do not like living in fear. I do not like being — being forced —."

Nicolæ put a hand on Kalaghata's shoulder and looked him in the eye. "You will get out of here. I will keep you safe. We will leave together, and I will take you home where you will meet my wife and children, and you will be welcome to stay as long as you wish. I will teach you what I can so that you can be a great man one day." Nicolæ grinned and added, "that is, if you wish it."

"I do not know what I wish," Kalaghata said softly, casting his gaze downward. His long black hair fell forward and hid his face. "All I want is to be free again and to know what it is to have friends. I want to forget what it is like to be so hungry that I will eat the refuse of people who take what they have for granted. I want to forget what it is like to have to steal to survive."

"Never forget, Kalaghata. Remembering will give you sympathy when you see others suffering the same fate that you have. You do not want to lose your compassion for people. It is what sets you apart from those who would use and abuse you."

"I want to forget what they have done to me in here," Kalaghata whispered, unable to look up as shame colored his face.

"I wish you could forget, but I do not believe that is possible. I believe the best you can do is help others who suffer the same abuse. As much as it hurts for you to remember it, you can change the lives of people who will go through the same thing. They need someone, just as you need someone, to tell them it is okay to feel the way they do. It is okay to feel shame. It is okay to feel anger. None of it was your fault. They forced it on you. They abused the situation, and they abused the strength given to them. They should have been protecting you. Instead, they hurt you. If I could change this, I would, but it is impossible. All I can do is help you now and hope that it is enough."

Kalaghata finally met Nicolæ's gaze. His dark eyes filled with tears that spilled over to leave wet streaks on his dark, grimy cheeks. He couldn't speak, so touched was he by the words of kindness this relative stranger had spoken to him. He didn't know how to respond. He was so used to fighting the things people said and did that his first reaction was to push Nicolæ way. But looking into the man's dark, twinkling eyes, he saw nothing but compassion, and he couldn't fight it.

He wiped his eyes and lowered his gaze again, and he found his voice a few moments later.

"I do not know if I am strong enough—or if I am ready for all of this," he said.

"All I ask is that you think about it," Nicolæ said quietly. "I do not expect you to believe my words blindly. I expect you to give them a lot of thought, and I expect you to let my actions speak on my behalf. I want you to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you can trust me. Words will not prove it, but my actions will."

Kalaghata nodded. He had a great deal to think about. He was afraid to hope that things could change for the better, but he wanted to believe. He wanted to have faith, like he'd had before his father had abandoned him far outside of Damakh.

One thing he knew for certain was that under no circumstances could he reveal his powers to anyone. He was alone in the world, and he didn't wish to remain thus. He had to keep his powers secret. When people discovered the truth, they were frightened by it, and that fear caused them to hurt him and drive him away. He wanted to believe that Nicolæ would always care, but that was something he couldn't allow himself to count on. He would keep his secret to himself, and if all went well, he would have a new life with a new family and friends. Maybe he would even find happiness.

February 2016

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