The Vishen in all their regal splendor received a gift one day, a surprising thing amongst the tribute they had been paid.
It was no shining jewel, rare incense or idol made of gold, but a single seed in a simple box. Who knew where it had come from or how it had fallen into mortal hands, but it glowed with purpose and magic and intent. To receive such a gift was a delight and it pleased them so.
And it was with much eagerness that they sought to plant it in their heavenly abode, within their courtyard where they could all enjoy the bloom it was sure to become. But the seed would not take though the soil was fertile, the seed would not grow no matter where in the heavens they placed it.
So the gods had a discussion, they came to an agreement. This seed was mortal born and in mortal soil they would have to grow it. It was a beautiful and unique thing, a henna plant with strange properties that would manifest within its leaves. It would mark their hands and color their hair, its flowers would perfume their bodies. It was their tribute and the gods were touched that their earthbound subjects would give such a fine gift.
Brahannu turned to his creatures and called forth a guardian, he pressed the seed to the creature's heart and bid it to travel to the mortal realm, to plant it, guard it and grow it, to keep it untainted by the touch of mortal hands. A son of Prihali, a deva with no name, bearing the shape of a star dusted serpent, a bird-like helm worn proudly over its sightless face. Loyal and dutifully set in its purpose, the plumed asura bowed to obey before it lifted itself into the air and danced off into the night, a shining meteorite leaving a trail of stars in its wake. It would return when the bush had fully grown, spreading its joy among the awaiting gods.
And many nights later, it came to alight in a dense scrubland, in a little grove between the trees and the grass where it buried the seed and watered it with tears, for the serpent was born of the air itself, the sky and the clouds. A gentle breeze stirred up as it curled itself around the sacred plant, head laying on a segment of its own body as it sat to guard and to wait.
But a man had seen the serpent descend from the heavens, a proud and arrogant youth, eaten up from nose to toe with curiosity over why such a guardian would come to a dead, deserted area in the night. He was a heathen, a boy who had never seen the gods and sneered at the old stories of their feats and accomplishments. His elders and betters rolled their eyes, pinning his arrogance down to his youth, for young men were known to believe only in their own strength and would-be heroics.
His name was Raghu and he was a man without purpose, though skilled with blade and bow. A man who dreamed of heroics and glory upon this and every other night as he took a lantern from his abode and hurried away, following the deva's trail of stars.
Far, far out into the deserted wilds he strove, guided by that path of starlight until the brush grew thick around him and the night billowed overhead. Closer and closer he came to the creature's resting place until the stars suddenly stopped and the bushes before him parted to reveal open space and a serpentine form reared like a cobra, plumes shifting and swaying as lamplight glinted off its copper helm.
The deva had seen his light long before he had approached.
He could only stare at it in wonder, his gaze flicking down to the freshly turned earth, the damp patch of soil it surrounded before the softest rumble, the sound of distant thunder, alerted him to the danger he was in. The creature's sightless head was stretched towards him, the noise had come from deep in its throat. His hand flew to his side, groping for his sword though suddenly he was unsure of how to use it.
But the deva merely sighed, stirring another breeze, before a voice like a whisper rose from it.
“Human, why have you come here?”
Raghu could only stare speechlessly at it as it swayed amongst its own winds, plumes twisting, waiting for an answer. He found his voice, but what escaped his lips was not what he himself had expected to hear.
“Why did you come?”
The serpent's head reared back in surprise, tilting slightly to the side, a low, soft laugh escaping it. It was a benevolent creature, so unwilling to shed blood, seeing only a curious mortal who could do it no harm.
“I am guarding a treasure for my masters, I am waiting for it to grow. They wish me to take it back to them.”
If only it had known those words would have meant its own undoing. Raghu's eyes grew wide at the mention of treasure, wondering what sort of god-born gift this creature was waiting to take back. He recalled stories of demons and gods, ones he had only half listened to, deciding that what this pet guarded had to be magical in origin... an artifact of some greater power. Magic? His eyes grew wide at the idea and in that moment he vowed to get close to the serpent, to see what it would grow so that he might take some for himself. Raghu was a greedy man, for all his ambition.
“Allow me to wait with you then, benevolent one.”
The serpent's surprise only grew, though with it bloomed a quiet sort of delight. It had expected to be alone for the growth of the plant, but company was always welcome.
And so the seasons rolled and passed; the seed sprouted and grew and Raghu came to sit by the deva every night, talking to it and telling it of mortal things, listening in turn as it spoke of the gods above, the divines and all they did. And the seed grew and grew and the two of them talked and talked and the sun turned in the sky until the bush was close to flowering. That night, the deva told the man that it would soon depart, for when the plant flowered, its transformation would be complete.
The man nodded sagely, his mind plotting and working as they sat together, leaned against the asura's side. He only half listened as it told him of the home it would soon return to, how it would sing praises of the mortal who had helped it grow this precious gift. He was too busy thinking about the plant and how he would obtain some of it for himself, for its leaves were dark and its energy was strong.
Very magical indeed.
He came up with a plan, one that he would put into action the next night... he left the serpent early, saying he would return with a gift for it, returning to his own home to stoke the fires in his kitchen.
Once more the sun turned in the sky and Raghu walked out into the scrublands, a great feast of food bundled in his arms. He and the deva sat together and ate, and ate and ate until their stomachs were full and every last crumb was gone. But a full belly made the plumed serpent sleepy, the helmet upon its brow wavered as it lay its head down in the grass. Within moments it was sound asleep.
And as it rested Raghu reached out, snapping a branch from the henna plant's stem.
The magic within seemed to surge and pulse, a great wave of it shooting up his arm and throughout his body, making his head pound and the world spin around him. He shut his eyes tightly and swayed on the spot, gasping in pain and surprise.
When he opened his eyes again, fear seized his heart.
The henna plant had crumbled to powder, leaving only a dead and withered stalk behind. The branch in his hand was dried, its leaves gone. But worst of all, his palms and fingers, up to his wrist was a deep reddish brown, stained permanently by the plant's magic.
He began to panic, gazing wildly around. The serpent stirred slightly in its slumbers.
Who knew what possessed him to do what he did next as his hand gripped the bone handle of his blade. Perhaps it was the fear that drove him, perhaps the touch of ill-gotten magic... an inhuman strength had come to him and granted him the power to accomplish such a horrible feat.
For a moment his sword gleamed with the same light that shone off the asura's helm, for a moment it vanished. When it reappeared it was covered with the deva's blood. His arm dripped with it, his nose filled with the smell of it. In an instant he knew he had destroyed something pure and holy, a creature who could snuff his life out like a candle but had never wished him any harm.
And his arms... they burned as if they were aflame.
The serpent let out a shuddering gasp, sliced from breast to belly, lifeblood spilling to be soaked up by the thirsty ground. And Raghu could only stare in horror as it shuddered in the throes of death. He had killed a god, but he felt no pride in his newfound strength.
A final thrash and another shudder threw the deva's helm from its head. The man turned to stare at it, his gaze finding the eyes that had previously been hidden, eyes of the deepest and sharpest blue, ringed with the patterns of eternity. Even as the light fled them, he was struck by fear, for something seemed to leap out from them, rushing at him in fury and pain. In the serpent's final moment, it had locked gazes with the one who had slain it, it had seen Raghu and the stains that covered his arms.
And its spirit had fled, rushing towards the one who had betrayed it, twisting the man in a torrent of emotions.
Agony and grief. The deva's unshed tears and its unending lamentation. It had trusted him, it had shared such secrets with him and he... he had cut its life short, a life it had barely lived. He saw into its heart, he choked on its memories; The gods up in heaven, the lives that the serpent had visited on, every last happiness and joy it had once known from its birth right up until those past few nights, nights that it had treasured in the knowledge that it had made a friend. He felt its joy and sorrows through every phase, all at once, right until his own sword had cut deep into its flesh.
He felt its heartbreaking pain of betrayal, feeling as though his very being was crumbling with the weight of divine anguish.
He screamed. He felt a new emotion twisting inside him, the serpent's anger raking body and soul, mingling with the magic that had flooded him, twisting the deva's furious spirit into his own. It filled his senses, heightened them. The smell of the dead god's blood choked him as he fell to his knees, gasping and retching in the dirt. But even as he looked down at his hands, planted on the spinning, twisting ground, he saw the dark stain of the henna changing.
Shimmering and shifting as his eyes blurred, they resolved themselves into patterns, the elegant shapes of lotuses and stars spreading across both forearms in the dyes of a warrior. He couldn't see his own eyes taking on the same shade of blue as the deva's had been, scelera darkening to a rich azure. His hair lengthened, twisted, thrashing in a faint memory of the serpent's own plumes.
They would be the marks of his curse, the marks of a godslayer, a demon, a betrayer.
Again he cried out in anguish and pain. Knowing, somehow knowing that there was no place in heaven for such a man, no home nor repose for one that had taken the gods for granted, who had taken the life of one of their own. He was halfway between, blackened by magic, not quite a human and not quite a god.
Demon, came the silver whisper. Kalimhara.
Even as he fled into the scrublands, a hopeless malady settled over him. He would always be running from that powerful gaze, from the sight of eternity, the deva's malevolence would pursue him forever and deny him a place amongst the stars.
And so Raghu became Raghuvol, the man into a demon, the demon into a monster. Driven to madness by the curse which erased every last trace of his sanity, he feasted on the souls of men, hounding children in the night for their flesh was the sweetest. His name grew to be feared, the pale white devil ringed with copper, whose cursed hands became knives while he stalked his prey. His hair danced on its own and his arrival was announced by the chime of bloodied copper, if his eyes found you then you would never leave his sights until he had you beneath his blades.
Those he did not devour, he destroyed, coating himself in their blood, a desperate and mindless bid to hide his own henna marked arms from his eyes. As though it would make him forget what he had done and what he had become.
Year after year, village after village fell to his madness and hunger. The cursed soul was soon black with the blood of the innocent, drawing the attention of the startled and horrified Vishen as prayer after prayer begged them for salvation. They came upon him as he razed the holiest of cities to the ground, fed upon the sultan's heart, the sight of his eyes rekindling a memory of a messenger who had never returned to them so many centuries ago.
They could taste his curse upon the breeze as he lunged at their champions, hands once more knives, mind buzzing with fury. In a fierce war between he and they, he was finally captured and his body obliterated, but his twisted soul could not be destroyed. The curse upon him was far too strong for even the gods to vanquish.
A great council was held as they spoke amongst themselves, wondering and fearful. The strength and will inside him was too much, his wicked soul could not be contained for long. It would take a thousand deaths before the curse would be satisfied and that wicked monstrosity to fade.
And it was tearful Prihali who finally suggested that they bind him in mortal bodies so that karma could take him for all the hundreds and thousands that he had killed. A thousand lives to weaken the curse, a thousand deaths to break the spirit and the will. With every new incarnation, Raghuvol would weaken further, Raghuvol would suffer greatly for all the suffering he had caused.
They would have their eyes on him forever, he was blighted, he was marked. Life after life would come and go, wasted and cut short like wheat beneath a scythe. The gods would never forgive him. The gods would never forget.
Such was the punishment for all he had done.
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