Lightspeed: Edited by John Joseph Adams




A History of Snakes, Part I

Many years ago, in the Age of the Gods, there lived the Seed-Giver Drakka. He had two beautiful daughters, Kadrush and Vina’at. Drakka married both daughters to the Sage Kushir. One day, feeling generously disposed to his wives, Kushir told each of them that they could avail of any boon they desired. Both sisters were overjoyed. Kadrush was the first to ask for her boon and she demanded one thousand serpents as her sons, each fiercer than the other and equally splendid. Goaded by her sister’s demand, Vina’at also asked for serpents as sons, but demanded only two, specifying that they must both be greater than Kadrush’s sons in strength, form, energy, and courage. Kushir gladly granted his wives their requests and sired upon them the sons they desired. “Care well for your sons to be!” he cautioned them, then left to the forest on a task.

A great length of time passed.

Finally, Kadrush gave birth to one thousand eggs and Vina’at birthed two eggs. Their maids kept the eggs separately in steaming vessels as instructed and waited for the eggs to hatch.

Five hundred years passed.

After five hundred years, Kadrush’s eggs hatched and as promised, one thousand sons emerged. But Vina’at’s two eggs remained unhatched.

Unable to tolerate her sister having gained her promised sons without she being similarly blessed, the impatient Vina’at broke upon one of her eggs. She saw that the upper half of his body was fully grown but the lower half was as yet unformed. Enraged, the unborn son opened his eyes and glared at his mother in anger: “Mother, by cracking open my shell before my time, you have doomed me to be thus deformed forever. As punishment for your rash act, I curse you to be the slave of the woman you sought to rival for five hundred years! Only your other son may set you free from that enslavement, but only if you wait another five hundred years until he is fully developed and breaks open his shell of his own accord.”

Having issued this curse, the unformed son of Vina’at rose into the sky and became the phenomenon we now call Arrook, the red sky of dawn, who is also the charioteer of the sun-god and heralds his imminent arrival.

A further five hundred years passed.

And then the second egg cracked open and Vina’at’s second son was born, fully formed and resplendent, a being of incomparable power. This was Grrud, king of birds. As soon as he was birthed, he took flight into the sky to search for the food that had been pre-ordained for him by the Creator, abandoning his mother.

• • • •

Shortly after Grrud’s departure, the two wives of Kushir saw a great horse approaching the sage’s ashram. This was no ordinary horse. A great stallion, this was the jewel of the species, the best of all horsekind, so radiant that even the gods cheered when he arose from the great churning of the ocean which we know as amrit-manthan. This was Cchais himself, supreme among all horses, greatest of his kind, possessed of unsurpassed strength, radiant with divine splendour, and born with all the auspicious marks. He was one of many magnificent things that emerged from the Great Churning. He was king of horses.

The history of the Great Churning begins on the flanks of the Mount Ermun. The great mountain blazes with energy, turning resplendent beneath the rays of the sun when they fall upon its glowing golden peaks. Arrayed with ornaments of burnished gold, frequented by gods and their companions, the peak is unattainable and its base unfathomable to anyone who has committed sins against Auma. Terrible predators roam its slopes; divine herbs illuminate it. This great peak rises to cover even the vaults of swargaloka, the highest heaven. To most beings it is unreachable even in their wildest imaginings. Boundless rivers and scented groves resound with the sweet song of every kind of bird. It has stood aloft through the eons. It was to this same mountain’s bejewelled peak that the most venerable gods once ascended. These great divinities, austere and faithful of oath, assembled and began deliberations on how best to obtain the sacred ambrosia named Trima, elixir of immortality. For once they obtained and consumed the Trima, they would become immortals and therefore immune to the assaults of their enemies, the Urrkh.

It was our great Stone God Vish who advised them on the best method, addressing his words to his fellow member of the holy Trine, the Stone God Bruma: “This is not a task for us gods alone. We must enlist the aid of the Urrkh as well. Together, we must churn the pot of curdled milk until the best of herbs and precious treasures are released, and finally the Trima itself will emerge. This is the only way to obtain the sacred ambrosia.” The “pot” he spoke of was of course the great Sarrga, the vast ocean.

Acting on Bruma’s instructions, the gods went to Mount Mandran. Their goal was to uproot the great mountain and use it as a churning pestle to work the ocean, for it was the only thing that could suffice for the task. Now, Mount Mandran is a great peak among mountains. It rises up 11,000 yojas, which is a length equivalent to 44,000 kruishas, or 99,000 miles! This is only the height of the mountain—its foundation descends many more thousands of yojas into the earth. Moreover the mountain is gargantuan in weight and proportion, with innumerable nets of creepers covering its vast jungles filled with many fierce-fanged beasts of prey. Even the best attempts of the gods failed to uproot it. In desperation, they returned to stand before Vish and Brum with joined palms. “Aid us in uprooting Mount Mandran, great ones. You have but to will it and it will be done.”

“So be it,” said Vish. And on his word, the great Lord of Serpents Tha’nanth unwound his epic coils and rewound himself around the vast bulk and length of Mount Mandran. Exerting a mighty effort, the king of snakes uprooted the mountain with a deafening crash of sound and dragged it behind the congregation of the gods and Urrkh, all the way to the ocean. There they called upon the lord of the ocean, Sarrga, and requested, “We wish to churn your waters, great one. Grant us leave to do so that we may produce Treema.”

Sarrga agreed, saying, “You may do so, but only on condition that I too shall receive a share of the ambrosia.”

Then the gods and Urrkh together went to fetch Arkkun, the great turtle upon whose shell rests the world entire. “Lord Arkkun, none except you can bear the mountain on your back for the purposes of the churning. Pray act as the base.” The king of turtles agreed and using elaborate tools and ingenuity, Stone God Inadran undertook the task of fixing Mount Mandran to the back of the great turtle at the bottom of the ocean. Finally, all was in readiness for the churning to begin.

To extract the elixir of immortality, the gods and Urrkh all joined hands to share in the epic task. With Mandran as the churning rod, Visshki the rope, and Arkkun as the base, they began to churn Sarrga, the pot of curdled milk. The Urrkh and dannivs grasped the head of Visshki, while the gods took hold of his tail. Visshki’s brother Anantha stayed by his lord Vish, and repeatedly raised his brother Visshki’s head as it emerged from the great waters, then hurled it down again with force, to aid the churning. Visshki’s enormous length wound up and down, up and down, until sparks, then flames, then puffs of fire and black smoke began to belch forth from his maw. From this black smoke were created clouds with lightning in their belly and thundershowers raged down upon the gods, refreshing them and washing them clean of their fatigue from time to time. From the top of the spinning mountain, great quantities of flowers were set free by the force of the churning, and these blossoms rained down as well, also refreshing both gods and Urrkh. The churning increased in frenzy. A terrible roar began to issue from the depths of the ocean, like the loudest thunder ever heard. Untold hordes of oceanic creatures and submarine life forms were crushed by the mountain and their habitats destroyed forever. From the whirling mountain Mandran, great trees were snapped loose by the force and fell off, killing the birds that nested in them. The wood of the trees began to catch fire from the friction produced by the churning motion. Wildfires blazed unchecked, adding to the chaos and peril. The animals and predators that dwelled on the mountain were driven out, some scorched by the fires, others flung loose by the churning, and died with terrible screams. All manner of creatures perished. Mount Mandran began to resemble a black thundercloud within which lightning flashed and fires raged. The fires spread everywhere, endangering all living beings on earth.

Inadran saw the danger and used his power as lord of storms to quench the fires with a thunderous downpour. The rain, lightning, fire, and the force of the churning began to squeeze out the juices of countless herbs and the resins of trees caught in the maelstrom, producing a juice with no less potency than the elixir itself. Drinking of this juice, the gods attained immortality. The rest of the juice ran into the ocean and mingled with its milky depths, and from the continued churning, this milky mixture turned into the purest of ghee, which in turn floated up to the surface, redolent of the finest essences.

The gods called out to Brum who was seated and watching the Great Churning. “Great Brum, we are weary with effort. As are the Urrkh and dannivs, daits and both the Nagarajas Anantha and Visshki. Yet the Treema itself has not yet appeared, even after eons of churning. We cannot continue thus forever. We beseech you, entreat Lord Vish to aid us and give us strength to complete the task.”

Brum spoke to Vish: “Vish, only you can help them complete this task. Lend them a portion of your divine strength.”

Vish replied: “They shall have the strength they desire. I grant this energy to all those who have devoted themselves to this task. Now there is only one last phase left to complete: Insert Mandran into the ocean once more and turn it around the other way!”

At Vish’s words, all those participating in the Churning felt themselves rejuvenated and invigorated. They did as Vish said, bending their backs to one mighty effort as they inserted the mountain down into the oceanic depths once more, then turning it around the other way. Now they churned with a new frenzy, and the noise of their effort filled all the three worlds. Once more the maelstrom spun.

And from the depths of the maelstrom there arose the following things of power:

First came the Sun, radiating a hundred thousand rays.

Then came the Moon, whose bright cool light was as tranquil as the sun’s was fierce.

Next came goddess Laksh, clad in pale white.

Following her came the goddess of wine and the white horse, Cchais.

Then came the celestial gem Krusbh which eternally adorns Vish’s chest.

The radiant Sun, Adyata, swift as thought itself, blazed a trail and was followed by Laksh, wine, the moon and Cchais, to land before the gods.

Then from the manthan there rose the resplendent god Dvantri, bearing a white gourd pot in his hand, in which was contained the Treema itself, elixir of immortality, divine ambrosia.

At this extraordinary sight, the dannivs produced a great outcry, saying: “It is ours!” and surged forward to claim Treema for themselves.

But Lord Vish used his power to assume the shape of a beautiful and seductive woman Moniha who bewitched the dannivs with her beauty into giving her the gourd full of Treema. He then gave Treema to the gods. Enraged at this betrayal of their pact, the Urrkh swore a war oath against the gods and prepared for battle.

• • • •

Upon the same shores of the vast body of salty water where they had so recently worked together in perfect coordination to churn the ocean and produce Treema, the daits and dannivs assembled, clad in their strongest armour and armed with their fiercest weapons and shields. Great was their number and terrible their rage. Outnumbered and outmatched, the gods had no hope of victory by ordinary means. But thanks to the duplicity of Vish, they now had possession of the elixir of immortality, the sacred ambrosia, Treema. Even as the Urrkh battered their swords against their shields and worked themselves up into a fury for battle, Vish, still in his beguiling form as Moniha, handed the gourd of Treema to Shaeva who passed it to each of the gods in turn so each one might drink from it and become immortal.

But the Urrkh did not lack for craftiness either. Unnoticed by the gods, a danniv named Raah assumed the form of the god named Bru’ud, who is the celestial body closest to the sun. Disguised as Bru’ud, Raah took the gourd of Treema and began to drink it. But the sun and moon, being celestial bodies themselves and therefore better able to recognize their colleague, saw through Raah’s disguise and knew that this was not their companion planet Bru’ud. They set off a hue and cry, alerting the other gods. Acting with the speed of thought, the great god Vish flung his deadly weapon, the celestial disc, and the discus sliced off the head of Raah before the ambrosia could pass down his throat. However, his head had consumed Treema and therefore became immortal. Severed from its body, that jewel-decorated head gave out thunderous roars of outrage and ever since that day, a perpetual enmity began between Raah and his betrayers, the Sun and Moon. Even today, when his rage becomes too great to control, he swallows one or other, even though they soon reappear as they slip through his severed throat.

When all the gods had drunk of Treema, they turned immortal. And it was not a moment too soon, for the Urrkh were worked up to a frenzy and rushed at the gods with an enormous earth-shaking roar and thundering of feet, hell-bent on revenge.

Then Vish shed his beguiling Moniha avatar and transformed back into his awe-inspiring true form as Vish god. He returned the Urrkh’ roars of rage with a great bellow of his own, drowning out their cries and proclaiming his supremacy. The hearts of the Urrkh quailed at the great war cry of Vish and the sky and ocean blackened on that great field of battle by the shores of the vast ocean which still frothed and seethed from the recent churning. Then upon those ploughed shores there commenced the greatest battle ever waged between the gods and the Urrkh.

The raging of the ocean, the thunder of the skies, the howling of the Urrkh hordes, the battle cry of Vish, the roaring of the gods, all blurred and melded to form one deafening sound. The blackness of the sky dimmed all sight, until the only things visible were the white froth raging on the surface of the wild seas, and on the shore, the gleaming of thousands of raised weapons—swords, axes, tridents, spears, javelins, lances, metal clubs, discs. In the gloamy dimness the armies clashed. Javelins flew through the air, punching through breastplates, penetrating heart and lungs and gristle, severing the spine to emerge with an explosion of blood and gore. Spears pierced flesh and shattered bone to splinters. Swords laid open torsos, severed limbs. Chakras spun through the air, gleaming malevolently as they found their targets, decapitating, maiming. Clubs pounded down, smashing skulls like ripe fruit. Blood spewed from open mouths, through shattered teeth and smashed jaws. Bodies were trampled underfoot, eyes crunched to pulp beneath boot heels. Jewelled earrings, silver nose rings, engraved armour plates, filigreed shields, gold crowns, ruby signets, precious ornaments worth a world’s fortune lay trampled and marred in the muck of the battlefield. Urrkh fell in great numbers, their corpses piled high in red streaked mounds that resembled copper-veined mountains. The cacophony of blood lust rang out, cries of “Slice!” “Kill!” “Chase!” “Throw!” “Cut!” “Attack!” ringing out like an insane battle chant.

Last to enter the field were the great ones Vish and Shadow Vish.

In those ancient days, weapons were celestial devices summoned by the utterance of a mantra. Vish summoned his divine bow which appeared at once, gleaming darkly in his fist. Shadow Vish thought of his danniv-destroying disc, Sradarsh. No sooner had he summoned it than the dark skies, veiled by jet black stormclouds, blazed with a blinding bright light, causing all those engaged in combat to pause and gaze up in surprise and awe. From the peak of the sky, through the crow dark clouds, descended the Sradarsh, radiant as the sun itself, impossible to look at directly, rock steady in its path. Like a device fixed to a rigid pole, it descended, unwavering and blinding in intensity, to hover above Vish the immitigable. A golden discus of a mysterious metal unknown to mortal science, it spun with a speed impossible to measure, its bladed tips spinning rapidly enough to form the semblance of a continuous edge, producing a keening sound like a living being. Axyur, the Imperishable One, received it with an upraised forefinger around whose tip its center spun, empowered by his mighty consciousness. Blazing with his own divine fire, Vish was indistinguishable from the sun-bright Sradarsh. With the strength of a thousand elephants, he unleashed the Sradarsh disc and with a shrill screeching cry of unmistakable delight, the god weapon descended upon the field of battle.

In thousands died the progeny of Deet and Darnu then, unable to counter the power of Vish’s disc. At times it blazed like fire, its celestial energy exploding to send flying outwards the shredded scraps of hundreds of Urrkh bodies. At other times it descended to ground level, spinning underfoot as it travelled along the field, scything enemy bodies and reducing them to mangled pulp. It drank the spilled blood like a vampirical beast, screaming with terrible delight. Everywhere it went, it caused havoc and slaughtered the enemies of the gods in great numbers.

But the Urrkh were powerful as well. Undaunted, a thousand Urrkh rose up, bearing mountains on the palms of their hands which they flung down upon the lines of the gods, crushing them with booming explosions on impact. The world was filled with the crashing of thousands upon thousands of mountains as the Urrkh retaliated with fearsome rage. The earth herself, great and tolerant Artha, began to tremble beneath the force of the impact and waver in her course. And still the Urrkh continued to shower down mountains upon the overwhelmed gods.

Then great Vish plunged deep into the ranks of the Urrkh hordes, mingling with them unnoticed at first. Using his divine bow, he loosed a hail of powerful arrows with tips of unknown golden-hued metal and feathered shafts, like a rainstorm rising up from the ground to the skies. The sky grew dark with the profusion of arrows, released at such blinding speed by the magnificent bow of Vish that they appeared to be issued from an army of archers rather than a single bowman. The arrows struck the mountains still in the hands of the flying Urrkh as well as those peaks still plummeting earthwards, and shattered them with terrible force, reducing each one to fine powdered dust. The dust fell like a benediction upon the laughing gods who applauded their fellow.

Then did the tide turn against the Urrkh. Vish and Shadow Vish in the field used their divine bow and magnificent discus to wreak a terrible toll upon the enemy. The rest of the god forces attacked from high and low, flank and van, until the Urrkh, harried and disordered, knew not where to turn to make a stand. Frustrated and despairing, some burrowed their way into the earth, eating through the soil and stone and roots to bury themselves deep within the body of the planet. Those closer to the shores of the ocean plunged into the salty waters, seeking refuge in the darkest depths. Soon the field was clear of all except the victorious gods.

Producing a mighty cheer of triumph, the gods celebrated their undisputed victory.

Afterwards, they restored things to their natural places. Mount Mandran was hauled back to its original site and set firmly in place. Akupara was released from his task to go back to bearing the universe upon his shelled back. Inadran led the gods in a great celebration that lasted for an untold time and filled the heavens with their gaiety and jubilation. When all was done, the slayer of Bra’al, acting for the gods, handed over the gourd pot containing Treema to Krees, the Crowned One.

• • • •

At the ashram of Kushir, the sisters Kadrush and Vina’at saw the great steed Cchais approach. The celestial stallion had only just then emerged from the Great Churning and its route took it past that site where the wives of Kushir lived. But the great horse’s aura glowed so radiantly, it was not visible in the manner of an ordinary horse. Observing its supernatural brilliance, Kadrush asked her sister, “Sister dearest, what colour is the horse Cchais? Tell me at once!” Vina’at replied graciously, “Blessed sister, there is no question about it. The celestial horse is white from nose tip to tail tip, of course. Why? Do you believe it is another color? Come then, my pretty one, let’s have a wager!” Kadrush said with exaggerated politeness, “My sweet-smiling sister, you are quite wrong. I say the horse has a black tail. But you are the prettiest one, are you not? Don’t spoil your beauty with a sour look. If it’s a wager you wish, I am game for it. I bet you that the one who is mistaken about the horse’s colour will become the other one’s slave. What say?” To which her sibling Vina’at replied at once, “Agreed!” Then as it was late in the day and the light insufficient, both sisters agreed to return the next day to examine the horse by the clear light of day.

Back home, Kadrush was determined to win the wager by any means necessary. She commanded her one thousand sons: “Turn yourself into horse hairs as black as kohl and cover the celestial horse’s tail completely.” When they refused, she urged them again, saying, “If you do not do as I say, I shall lose the bet and become her slave!” But still they would not agree to deceive their aunt. Finally, frustrated with their non-compliance, she cursed her own sons: “You shall all perish in the serpent satra of the Krushan, King Majaya!” This terrible curse resounded as far away as Brahmaloka, where the great Father heard Kadrush’s words and mused on the cruel utterance. But after consultation with the other gods, he agreed to let the curse stand, for the sons of Kadrush had multiplied manifold and were increasing in numbers at an unprecedented rate, and were moreover virulently poisonous in their venom, fearsome creatures, and rapidly exceeding all bounds of his control. They bit anyone they chose, intimidating with their lethal venom and running rampant where they pleased. But, out of his love for all living creatures, he countered the curse by bestowing upon Kadrush’s own husband and the father of these same snakes the knowledge of how to neutralize their venom.

The next morning, driven by their mutual jealousy and each eager to better her sibling, the sisters rose with the rising sun, and set out to view the horse Cchais who had taken shelter in a certain grove. Their route took them first to the ocean. Arriving at the shore, they gazed out upon that vast watery expanse. They saw thousands of species of the waterworld coexisting. There were untold varieties of fish. There were enormous timi, also known as whales. And there were timingila, those creatures that devoured whales. There were sharks, crocodiles, turtles, and also the mythical Mraak. Land creatures hesitated to approach it because of the presence of these awe-inspiring predators. Yet it was also a treasure trove of precious stones, the abode of Vrrun, the beautiful home of the Sea Serpents, mother of all rivers, home to the submarine fire, and hiding place of the Urrkh. Eternal and immeasurable, filled with unimaginable wonders and fearsome reverberations, source of terrible calamities and awash with maelstroms spinning above bottomless abysses. It was also a source of great succour and rich treasures, trove of Treema, producer of quakes and storms, at once both sacred and supreme. Its shoreline changed constantly, altered by its turbulent moods, slapping the land with waves like raised hands, buffeting the earth with powerful forces and washes. Its tides waxing and waning with the shifting moon, it was the resting place of the Praanch, that great Conch belonging to Lord Vish, and an endless supply of pearls. In ancient times, Lord Vish in his avatar as Vra’ah, the boar incarnation, plunged into the depths of the endless ocean and churned up the waters with his furious quest for land, finding it at the very bottom of the waters. However, the seer-mage Attur, despite seeking the same earth for one hundred years, failed to find it. At the beginning of each Yurg, or the Eon which is one part of the Day of Brum, the lotus-naveled Vish falls into meditative sleep, this same milky ocean becomes his bed. Its waters then resemble the tongues of Agnar in the sacrificial ceremony, holy, boundless, immeasurable, and eternal.

The sisters looked upon this great ocean, saw the thousands of rivers that rushed toward it as eagerly as lovers into each other’s embrace. They heard the cries of the untold species that lived and preyed and died within its unplumbed depths. And they flew over the great world of Vrrun and Sarrga and passed to the other side.

Arriving at the grove where Cchais loitered, the sisters Kadrush and Vina’at looked at it in clear daylight. To Vina’at’s dismay there were indeed many black hairs on the white tail of the horse, thus proving Kadrush’s observation to be true. Vina’at grieved even as her sister gloated. Having lost the wager, Vina’at then became her sister’s slave.

• • • •

Meanwhile, Grrud, the second son of Vina’at who broke open his own shell and emerged without his mother’s interference or help, flew through the sky, greatly expanded in size and strength from the fledgling that had come out of the shell. Resplendent as a mass of blazing flame and possessed of fearsome aspect, he appeared as the pure energy of fire itself, striking awe and fear into the hearts of even the powerful gods. Awed at this inexplicable sight, the gods all cried out in alarm and sought out Bhavisu, he of many hues. “O Agnar, a part of thy energy flies through the sky threatening to set ablaze all the worlds. It is enormous in size and too brilliant to behold. Do you seek to destroy us all with this weapon of flame?” Agnar replied reassuringly, “Stone Gods, it is not what you think. That is the mighty Grrud. His brilliance equals my own but he is not of my making.” Awed by the power and appearance of Grrud, the gods and all the great sages then followed Grrud and sang his praises from a distance. “Lord of birds. You are a great force unto yourself. Your aspect is no less fierce than that of Agnar, host of the sacrificial flame. You are no less than a god. Be our supreme protector. You are an ocean of might, you are purity incarnate. Your qualities are beyond number. You possess great ferocity and can perform impossible deeds. You are unconquerable, possessed of full knowledge of all that has been and all that will be. Your heat surpasses that of the sun, you engender all things permanent and transient. Even the sun pales in comparison with your splendour. If you choose to rage, you can destroy all things as the sun does in his outbursts. You fly through the sky unbounded, you soar above the clouds themselves. Surely you can grant all boons and achieve the mightiest feats. You are no less powerful than the great fire of entropy which consumes all matter at the end of each Yurg. O king of birds. We approach you as friends and allies. Be not harsh with us. Do not scorch us with your power, we entreat you.”

Preening with pleasure at this exultation from the gods, Srapun, the beautiful feathered one, controlled his heat and radiance out of consideration for them and continued on his way.

After a great flight across the vast ocean, Grrud came to his mother’s house. Having lost the wager over the horse, Vina’at was enslaved by her sister. She served Kadrush daily, living a life of constant humiliation and despair. Kadrush, proud in her newfound role as mistress and commander, summoned Vina’at imperiously. Vina’at appeared and bowed before her, asking her orders. Kadrush ordered her sister to transport her to the legendary abode of the Sea Serpents at the bottom of the ocean, Ryamkir. Compelled to obey, Vina’at lifted her on her back and carried her to the ocean. At his mother’s request, Grrud carried the sons of Kadrush. Now, Grrud was wont to fly very high and as he rose up into the sky, the snakes upon his back began to suffer the fearsome heat of the sun. Scorched and tormented by the heat, the snakes suffered great pain and fell unconscious.

Seeing the state of her sons, Kadrush cried out to Inadran by his various names. “O Shruk, husband of Shashch, king of the gods, slayer of Bra’al, destroyer of Nra’am. I bow before you. My sons are being burned to death by the heat of the sun. You can save them. Prrundi, you are a destroyer of cities, you can produce a deluge and save them. You are lord of wind, clouds, fire, and lightning. You are thunder and monsoon, the sun and the fire, you are all things wonderful and magnificent. You are Vish, you are the thousand-eyed, you are the last resort of all who hope. You are elixir, drink of the gods. You are muhurata, the crucial instant of auspicious action. You are the tihits, the lunar days. You are sha’arn, the time it takes for a twinkling of an eye, four-fifths of a second, and you are lumsh as well, one-sixth of a sha’arn. You are arkanpa, the brighter half of the moon month, and you are dusk-arkan, the shadow or darker half of the lunar cycle. You are wa’rqt, the daily waxing of the moon, and a fractional measure of time. You are ka’ashth, one-thirtieth of a lumsh. You are trunsim, half of a lumsh. You are time in all its aspects, from the greatest to the most minute. You are the solar year, the changing seasons, the months of the calendar, the nights, and days themselves. You are the earth sublime, its mountains and forests. You are the clear sky with brilliant sun. You are the vast ocean and its billowing energies, the timi whales as well as the timingalas that devour the whales, Marrk. You are justly famous. You are worshipped by the greatest seers, the enlightened seer-mages. You are the drinker of elixir offered at sacrifices. You are He whom Brum-seers worship when they desire anything. Your fame extends to the sacred Scriptures, where you are praised extensively. It is to ensure their pleas reach your ears that the twice-born study the Scriptures diligently.”

At this passionate entreaty by Kadrush, Lord Inadran rode his bay horses across the sky, veiling the sun with a dense blanket of stormclouds. Crackling with lightning, the clouds unleashed a deluge of epic proportions. Thunder crashed and waves upon waves of torrential rain washed across the earth, submerging it in water across its length and breadth. Overwhelmed with delight, the Serpent sons of Kadrush revived and were refreshed by the water and praised the great Vasava for his aid.

Soon after, the beautiful feathered Grrud arrived at an island. This was the place known as Marlay, for its sandalwood trees, surrounded on all sides by endless ocean and filled with the cries and songs of numerous birds. There were rows of wooded groves rich with fruits and blossoms, where well-constructed houses stood by beautiful lotus lakes. Celestials and earthbound frolicked in the flower strewn groves. The island was refreshed by cool scented breezes. Blossoms and petals showered down from the high Marlay trees, and the Serpent sons of Kadrush were charmed by the beauty of the place. They lived there awhile and took great pleasure in its natural beauty. After some time had passed, the pannagas called to Srapun who flew down and folded his great wings, bending his mighty beak low that he might hear their words. “Take us to another beautiful island as charming as this one, Grrud. You must know many such places from your travels across the sky.” Irritated at their abrupt orders, Grrud asked his mother: “Must I obey their every whim?” Vina’at sighed and replied, “Yes, my son. For under the terms of the wager I lost, I am enslaved by my sister, your aunt. And as my son, you are therefore enslaved as well.” Curious, Grrud enquired further and learned for the first time all the details of the lost wager. After he heard the full story, he was unhappy. Appealing to the sons of Kadrush, he asked them, “Tell me one act that I may perform that will appease you forever. No matter how great a deed, I shall perform it, if only you will agree to release my mother and I from this state of slavery.” At this, the sons of Kadrush hissed sibillantly and answered, “Bring us Treema! And you shall be freed from your bond!”

• • • •

Grrud went to his mother and asked for her blessings. “I shall go and fetch Treema and end our enslavement.” Upon which his mother urged him to eat something before he went that he might gain strength for his mission. “What shall I eat, mother?” he asked her dutifully. Vina’at thought awhile, then said, “Far from here, in a remote bay, you shall find the Nishdas, hunters of creatures who dwell in the ocean. Their diet makes them strong and their flesh shall give you strength as well. Eat as many of them as you can, consume them by the thousands, and you will be well nourished for your task. But remember, you must never eat a Brum-seer or kill one. Among all living creatures, a Brum-seer is like fire itself and can never be eaten or killed. Just like fire, a Brum-seer angered can blaze like the sun and destroy you by the tapas heat of his austerities. A Brum-seer is the first to eat at a sacrifice for he is supreme among the varnas, a father and a preceptor.”

Grrud bowed to his mother. “In that case, Maatr, tell me, how do I recognize a Brum-seer from other persons? By what signs is he distinguished?”

Vina’at answered, “My son, a Brum-seer may appear similar to any other mortal being, but if you eat one by accident, when he passes down your throat, it will feel as if you have swallowed a live coal. If you try to swallow him, he will stick like a fish hook. And you will know at once that you have tried to eat a Brum-seer!”

Eager that her son not make any error, Vina’at again repeated her instructions carefully. Grrud listened with attentiveness. When it was time for him to leave, Vina’at pronounced a blessing over him, out of her maternal love: “May the Mrruts, those gods of wind, protect your wings. May Chandra, the moon, protect your back. May Agnar, the lord of fire, protect your head. May Surya, the sun god, protect your entire body. Go now, my son. I shall perform a ceremony to pray for your well-being until the time your return.” Grrud bid goodbye to his mother and spread his wings, soaring up into the sky.

In time, he found the bay where the Nishdas resided and fell upon them like great Kaal itself, the almighty Lord of Death Yarm in the form of Time. His mighty wings beat up a great dust storm that covered the sky, dried up the ocean, and caused even the adjoining mountain ranges to shake. Then, moving stealthily through the twilight of the dust storm, he opened his beak wide. Stampeding in panic from these unusual phenomena, the Nishdas unwittingly ran right into the open beak of Grrud. Just as birds rise from a jungle in thousands when startled and fly up into the sky, thus did the Nishdas run along their only escape route—directly into the maw of the great bird. Grrud scooped them up by the thousands and consumed them, eating their flesh, strengthened by their diet of fish. The slaughter of the Nishdas was relentless.

Then, as was inevitable, a Brum-seer and his wife happened to be among those that fell into Grrud’s beak. Even as they fell, screaming, into his throat, Grrud felt himself scorched as if he had swallowed a live coal. Remembering his mother’s instructions, at once he opened his beak and released the Brum-seer, saying, “O great Brum-seer. You are free to go. I have sworn an oath never to eat a Brum-seer, even if he lives among those who are wrongdoers.”

Relieved, the Brum-seer scurried out of the beak, then paused to look up. “Mighty one, the woman with me is my wife. She is a Nishda but I pray you, spare her as well.”

Grrud said, “Take her then, and go. Hurry before you are both consumed by the energy in my belly for once it touches you, there is no escape.”

Without wasting a moment, the Brum-seer took his Nishda wife by the hand and both escaped from Grrud’s beak.

Grrud spread his wings and took flight once more. Flying to his father’s ashram, he came before Sage Kushir and greeted him with appropriate plaudits. When his father gave him leave to speak, he said, “I am on a mission to steal the Elixir of immortality, Treema. Once I hand it over to the Serpents, my mother shall be freed from her enslavement. Requiring energy for the task, she advised me to eat the Nishdas. I did so, but even after consuming thousands of the fisherfolk, I am still not sated. Great father of mine, pray advise me on what else I can eat that I may grow strong enough to steal the ambrosia.”

Kushir pondered the matter then said, “My son, in ancient times there was a Mraash-seer named Bhavisu. He was prone to losing his temper easily. Bhavisu had a younger brother named Prusap who was also a great ascetic. Both brothers jointly owned certain possessions and properties of value. Prusap wished to have his share of these things to possess independently. He constantly urged his brother to divide their possessions. One day, angered by his brother’s constant demands, Bhavisu told him, ‘Many people foolishly believe that dividing property is the best way. But once it is divided, these same deluded fools are then driven apart. The more they think about wealth and possessions, the more they wish to ensure that they have received their fair share, and obsess over dividing their properties and possessions, while retaining a semblance of friendship. In time, this leads to enmity and selfish greed and eventually, utter ruin. Knowledgeable persons like us should be wiser than to pursue such selfish and deluded goals. Partition can only cause unhappiness and ruin. Prusap, your constant demands have exceeded my patience. Despite all my advice, you are obsessed with acquiring your share of the property. Your bull-headedness is intolerable. On this account, I curse you to become an elephant who constantly pushes his head against a tree, determined to bring it to the ground!’

In retaliation, Prusap said, ‘If that is so, then I curse you to become a turtle that lives in the water and is unable to take any action, no matter how vital!’

Thus, each of them turned into an elephant and a turtle. And until this very day, they continue to maintain their enmity towards one another, feuding and brawling constantly. Look upon this great lake before us. Do you see the large majestic elephant that comes toward us, trumpeting its anger? That is Prusap, transformed by his brother’s curse. And there, responding to the elephant’s challenge, Bhavisu the turtle rises from the bed of the lake to the surface. Watch how the elephant curls his tusk in fury and plunges into the lake to do battle with the turtle, attacking it with his trunks, tusks, tail, and feet. The turtle is no less indignant and agitates the water mightily as it retaliates. These are no ordinary turtle and elephant: Bhavisu the turtle is three yojas tall and ten yojas in girth! While Prusap the elephant is six yojas high and twice that in length! They are both joining together in a battle royale as we speak. Scoop them up and eat them whole and you shall gain all the strength you desire to accomplish your chosen task!”

At his father’s words, Grrud eagerly leaped into the sky, turned in a wheeling flight, and swooped down to grasp hold of the elephant with one enormous claw and the turtle with the other claw. Gaining height again with powerful flaps of his great wings, he flew to the earthly place named Ma’alamb where a grove of celestial trees flourished. These were divine trees, hung with gold and silver fruits and branches of lapis lazuli. Being a bird, he sought only to perch upon a tree branch that he might eat his meal of turtle and elephant. But, buffetted by the gale-intensity of his wings, the magical trees trembled in fear, afraid that Grrud’s immense weight would crack their golden boughs. Grrud was able to understand the concern felt by the divine trees and he had no desire to shake free their magical fruit which were capable of granting any wish by those who ate them. So he went in search of a more suitable perch.

He found a great and ancient fig tree with immense branches, its roots spread far and wide over the course of its historic life. The tree saw and understood Grrud’s need and called out to him: “Great bird, I bid you welcome. Come perch upon my mighty branches which extend for one hundred yojas and eat your meal in peace!” Grrud, enormous as any mountain, descended with a momentous flapping of his wings, bearing his great prey, and perched upon the giant branches that had housed a thousand birds for as many years. But the instant his claws touched the branch, it broke with a loud crack and the entire tree shook.

Instinctively, moving as quickly as thought, Grrud snatched up the bough he had broken and held it in his beak before it could fall to the ground. He saw that the bough had a large number of tiny humanoid creatures hanging from its underside, their heads facing downwards. On closer inspection he realized these were the khilavyas, the austere rishis who had been generated from the body of Brum himself in a great age past. Each of them were the size of a man’s thumb and they preceded the sun’s chariot on his daily journey. Unwilling to let the bough drop and crush the khilavyas to death, Grrud held that great bough in his mighty beak and flew up to the sky again. Unable to find a suitable perch, he flew on for a great distance, often circling for ages in search of a suitable landing spot without finding any. Across countless nations he flew thus, carrying the giant elephant in one claw, the turtle in his other claw, and the giant bough in his beak. But nowhere on earth could he find a place strong enough to bear the combined weight of himself and his burdens.

At last he came to the great mountain Marghax atop whose peak his father Kushir was standing on one leg in a yogic asana. Sage Kushir saw his son and understood his plight at once. He called out to Grrud: “My son! Be careful what you do! The khilavyas drink the energy of the sun to sustain themselves. If angered, they will turn their solar power upon you and burn you instantly!” Having cautioned his son, Kushir then turned his attention to the khilavyas themselves. “Great ascetics, my son Grrud has embarked on a great, noble mission. Pray, grant him your permission to proceed.”

Acknowledging their fellow sage, the khilavyas acceded to Kushir’s well-phrased request and relinquished their hold on the giant branch. Descending on the ground, they travelled on to the Himalayas to seek out another place to complete their austerities.

But Grrud still had a problem. “Father,” he said to Kushir, “advise me where I can drop this branch without harming any Brum-seers. For my mother Vina’at cautioned me never to harm a Brum-seer. Is there a country where no Brum-seers reside where I can go to discard it?”

“Shamulf Grrud,” said his father, using an affectionate epithet for his son, “In a distant land there is a mountain uninhabited by humans. It is remote, inaccessible, and in a place where no man can reach, with caves buried in snowdrifts. Mortal men do not know of its existence even in their imagination. I will communicate its location to you with the power of my mind.”

Thus instructed, Grrud rose up again, carrying the giant branch, giant elephant and giant turtle and using the power of his mind alone, instantly entered the base of the mountain. Thus, he covered a distance of one hundred thousand yojas in the wink of an eye. Seeing the mountain, he let go of the branch with great relief. With a terrible sound, the branch crashed and fell, setting the entire mountain and the surrounding countryside for many hundreds of yojas around to shuddering. Trees shed their fruit, leaves and flowers showered down, and the snowdrifts and glacial ice clinging to the peak and slopes of that mighty mountain were shaken loose and crashed down in a great avalanche. Alighting atop the summit of that same mountain, Grrud finally rested his weary body and feasted on both the elephant and the turtle, eating both with great relish. As soon as he finished, he was filled with immense energy, and was ready to undertake his ambitious mission.

Once again travelling with the speed of thought, he flashed from that mountain peak to the land of the gods to steal the ambrosia of immortality.

But the gods are gods and they saw portents and signs of the impending threat. Inadran’s lightning bolt, that divine thunderbolt, released itself with an ominous sound even without his bidding. Meteors blazed trails across the sky. The various clans of the gods—Sa’avs, Drasus, Arrkas, Dhyasas, Mrruts and their kith and kin—all began attacking one another and fighting for no apparent reason. Things occurred that had never taken place before, even during the war of the gods and Urrkh. Tumultuous winds roared, cloudless skies produced thundering sounds, and even the God of the gods, he who has ever been and shall ever be, rained showers of blood. The flower garlands around the necks of the gods withered and wilted. Swirling dust and grime darkened the glamour of their crowns. The light of the stars was extinguished.

Inadran, who was also the performer of a hundred sacrifices and therefore known as Shatkratu, was disturbed and bewildered, as were his fellow gods. He appealed to the preceptor of the gods, the great sage Brish. “Great Guru, what is the cause of these phenomena? Such portents can only serve to forewarn us of a great enemy’s approach. But I see no one who threatens our well-being.”

Brish replied, “King of the gods, it is through your own negligence that this has occurred. The khilavyas, through the power of their austerities, have created an extraordinary creature. This giant bird, son of Kushir and Vina’at, is powerful and possessed of maya, the power of illusion. He comes here now to steal your precious Treema. Do not underestimate him. This feat is well within his ability. He is capable of doing the impossible.”

Disturbed by his guru’s words, Inadran in his form as Shruk spoke to the other gods, fellow guardians of the sacred elixir. “These portents are signs of the approach of a great and powerful bird. He comes now to steal our Treema. We must prevent him from doing so.”

On Inadran’s instructions, they took up pre-arranged positions around the gourd pot of Treema, weapons in hand. Inadran armed himself with his lightning bolt. Each of the gods was clad in their best armour and armed with their fiercest weapons—discs, balas, tridents, parasus, and every other weapon imaginable. Armed and armoured thus, the army of gods stood there waiting, determined to protect the nectar of immortality at any cost. What army would dare challenge such a divine host, armed as if for a great war, capable of facing even the largest gathering of enemies ever assembled!

The gods were prepared to repulse any foe, however powerful. Undaunted, Grrud arrived at the site where they were protecting the sacred elixir. At the sight of Grrud, the gods began to quail. Some of them sought to surrender their arms as they believed Grrud to be indomitable, and their fellow gods grew furious at them and fights broke out among the gods themselves. In this chaos, Grrud began his assault. The first to bar his way was Warqash, that famous architect of the gods. Determined to guard the elixir with his life, he prepared to fight valiantly. But with a single flick of his claw, Grrud ripped him to shreds, then tore out his innards with his beak and flicked them aside with a beat of his wings. Then Grrud flapped his wings faster and faster, stirring the very earth itself into rising in a maelstrom. So great a quantity of dust churned through the air that nobody could see anything. Moving through this turmoil like an avenging force, Grrud slashed, bit, jabbed, pierced, and tore apart the gods as a raven tears worms from the ground.

Inadran rallied the Mrruk named Vyu, Lord of Wind. “Clear this dust away instantly!” he commanded. Shaken by the great bird’s attack, the god of wind heard Inadran’s command and obeyed. In moments, the dust cleared and all could see one another and Grrud again.

Then Inadran led the gods in an assault on Grrud. Stung and nicked by their weapons and blows, he roared, filling the three worlds with his vehement cry. Beating his great wings, he rose up into the sky above the heads of the gods. The gods attacked him on every side, with every weapon at their disposal, flinging spears, javelins, lances, arrows, cutting with swords, axes, discs, jabbing tridents, striking powerful blows with hammers, iron maces, clubs and weapons of every kind and description. Grrud withstood all their blows without coming to harm. On and on the battle raged, but Vina’at’s son fought on relentlessly, showing no signs of weariness or pain. Even though he was but one, and they were many and immortal, yet it was the gods who grew the worse for wear. For he tore into them with savage ferocity, mangling bodies with his deadly beak and talons, sending entire scores of them scattering with a single flutter of his wings. Immortal though they were, they were not immune to pain or suffering and began to suffer grievous injuries and wounds. Then, unable to bear the assault of the king of birds, the defense line of the gods disintegrated. They began a phased retreat to save their own lives. The saddhyas and earthbound retreated eastwards, the vasus and rudras to the south, the adityas to the west, and the ashwins, who are also called the nasatyas, went north. They did not simply flee but fought every step of the way, rallying any number of times. But it was to no avail. As the field cleared, individual champions began to try their best to hold off the invader so that their fellows might retreat safely. The great Grrud fought in single combat with the brave Kra’and, killing and rending him apart. He battled the bird Nukard and reduced her to feathers, bones, and blood. The valiant Kra’ath was ripped to shreds. The bird Prant fared the same. Lu’uku, Savush, Shimen—also a bird, Rupaj, and Lipula all died fighting valiantly but hopelessly. Like Shaiva at the End of each Yurg, in his final form as Nikpi, wielding his celestial bow, Grrud wreaked havoc in the ranks of the once omnipotent gods.

Finally, the gods routed thoroughly, the battlefield his and his alone, the best of birds went to claim his prize. There lay the gourd pot, only a short distance away, unguarded now and his for the taking. He screeched with joy and flew towards it. To his surprise, as he approached, a great wall of fire sprang up. It covered the world from ground to sky, and raged with violent winds, buffeting the flames in every direction. The entire world seemed to be ablaze and the intensity of the fire was equivalent to the heat and brightness of the sun itself at its prime.

But Grrud was not about to admit defeat. Able to change his form at will, he assumed ninety times ninety mouths and flew down to earth. There, he scooped up the water from countless rivers, filling every one of his beaks, then flew back to the heavenly realm with the speed of thought. Driving the raging firestorm before him by beating his wings to form a perpetual set of bellows, he sprayed the water from his eight thousand one hundred giant beaks at the flames with unimaginable force. That jet of water quenched the fire wall long enough to create a small gap. Instantly, Grrud reduced himself to the size of a fly, and flew through the gap, passing through the wall of fire.

Jetting through the gap in the wall of fire with lightning speed, Grrud approached the gourd pot containing the ambrosia. He saw a disc near the gourd, edged with sharp blades and spinning at frantic speed, blazing with an emanation of terrible heat and blinding light. Any creature attempting to subvert it would be instantly chopped to fine bits. Grrud reduced his body further, to the size of a pin point, and slipped through the spokes in the disc.

Past the disc, he saw two enormous Serpents, standing guard over the Treema. They were not ordinary snakes, for their jewelled scales glittered brightly and their tongues shot lightning bolts as they flicked out of their fanged mouths. Their eyes glinted malevolently and shot out firebolts that would sear anyone that approached. Grrud threw dirt into their eyes, blinding them as well as rendering their firebolts useless. They shot fire and lightning at him but as they were unable to see, he was able to avoid every blast. Then, enraged at being blinded, they began to spit venom like acid and lunged repeatedly. A single strike of those venomous fangs could render him senseless, perhaps even kill him, but Grrud was able to evade those attacks as well. Then, creeping in beneath their hoods, he attacked them viciously. With the eternal enmity of birds towards snakes, he tore into them and shredded their scaled bodies to strips of bloodied meat. Finally, nothing lay between him and the Treema.

Vina’at’s son seized his prize with his beak and flashed up into the sky at the speed of light. So swift was his passage that the gourd pot containing the sacred elixir shattered instantly. But he caught every last drop of ambrosia in his beak, without drinking any of it. He carried it thus to his destination, still as strong and radiant as when he had first set out on his mission.

A shadow came between him and the sun, taking him by surprise.

He looked up and saw Vish hovering before him. Vish joined his palms in the gesture of respectful greeting and said, “I am not here to do battle with you. Rather, I admire your sacrifice. You could have consumed the Treema yourself just now. Instead, you only held it in your beak to carry back home to your cousins, the Serpents. This is a commendable act of self-denial. In return for this great sacrifice, I wish to offer you a boon. Name your desire.”

Grrud replied, “I wish to always be above you. Immortal, free from the decay of age, yet without drinking a single drop of Treema.”

Vish laughed at this and granted Grrud’s wishes. Then Grrud surprised the great Vish by announcing that he wished to confer a boon upon him!

The Dark One, Kru’upsha, smiled mischievously, and asked that Grrud should always be his vaahan, or carrier. Grrud agreed. Vish then emblazoned the effigy of Grrud upon his war flag and showed the bird the banner, saying, “Thus shall you always be above me!” Grrud smiled in response and nodded, acknowledging the greatness of Vish, the infinite one.

But Inadran was not willing to accept his defeat. As Grrud flew on, still carrying the Treema in his beak, Prrundi attacked him with his lightning bolt. Struck by the lightning bolts time and time again, Grrud said to Inadran in an ironic tone: “I feel no pain at your attack nor have I suffered any harm. But because I respect the seer from whose bones your weapon was originally constructed, therefore I shall shed a single feather. You will never be able to find its ends.” Thereupon, Grrud cast off a solitary feather, more beautiful than anything else on earth. Seeing the beauty of that feather, the gods exclaimed and renamed the bird Srapun, One With Beautiful Feathers. Even arrogant Inadran was humbled by this magnanimous gesture. Acknowledging the greatness of Grrud, the Lord of Storms joined his palms in acquiescence and asked Grrud to make him his friend and ally, as he desired to know the limits of Grrud’s strength and abilities. Grrud agreed graciously. “We shall be friends henceforth, Prrundi,” Grrud said, “but as for knowing the limits of my strength, it is not right of me to boast of my own prowess or praise my own qualities. Still, Shatakratu, since you are now my friend and you have asked me this question in friendship, I shall attempt to answer. Hear me, Shruk. On any single feather on my body I can bear the entire world, with all its mountains, forests, oceans, all things that move and those that do not move—you can even add your own weight to it, and I shall bear it all easily, upon that single feather. Therefore judge for yourself the extent of my strength.”

Inadran was grateful to the king of birds. “Thank you for sharing this confidence with me. Now that we are friends I wish to say something to you. If you give this elixir to those who asked for it, they will become immortal and wage war against us gods. As king of the gods, it is my Auma to prevent that from happening. Therefore I request you as a friend now, kindly return Treema to me.”

Grrud was amused by Inadran’s request. “God of a thousand eyes, I cannot return this Treema to you now for it is my sworn mission to fetch it. Yet I resent my cousins the Serpents who demanded this task of me, for they enslaved my mother and caused her to suffer many humiliations. There is still something we can do to prevent their drinking it and benefitting from its magical properties. I shall set down the elixir before them and fulfill my mission. But you may accompany me and pick it up at that exact moment and bring it back! That way, both our purposes will be fulfilled.”

Inadran was pleased at this plan and agreed at once. In return for Grrud’s aid in returning the Treema to the gods, he granted the bird king any boon he desired. Grrud dipped his beak and answered, “Great Shruk, I possess power enough to do anything I please. Yet grant me this one boon: Make the Serpent, the mightiest snakes of the world, my natural food.” Both sealed their pact and Srapun proceeded to his destination, where the Serpents eagerly awaited his return, Inadran following discreetly.

At the sight of Grrud descending from the sky, the Serpents sent up a great hissing in jubilation. Landing with a flourish of his mighty wings, Grrud placed the Treema upon a pallet of kusa grass. At once the Serpents sought to pounce upon and drink thirstily of the elixir of immortality. But Grrud cautioned them, “Surely you must first bathe and purify yourself before partaking of this divine nectar, that it may be most efficacious in its results.” The Serpents paused, realizing the truth in Grrud’s words. Srapun went on, “As you can see, I have accomplished the impossible task you set me. Now fulfill your part of our bargain. Set my mother free this instant.” Happily, the Serpents agreed and freed Vina’at of her enslavement, then went to cleanse and purify themselves before partaking of the ambrosia. The instant their backs were turned, Inadran descended like the lightning bolt that was his trademark, took the Treema, and returned to the heavenly realm. After they had bathed and performed their purification rites, the snakes returned but saw they had been deceived. Out of desperation, they began to lick the elephant grass on which the nectar had been placed, in the hope that there might still be some traces left. But Inadran had used his power to carry away every last droplet and the snakes only succeeded in cutting their tongues on the razor sharp elephant grass. Thus did snakes get their forked tongues and elephant grass become sacred thereafter.

Returning home with his mother, Grrud and Vina’at lived happily in the forest. As decreed by Inadran, snakes became his natural food thereafter and he devoured them in great quantities, sharing them with his fellow birds as well and enjoying great fame. This is his story and all who know it will be eternally graced by the great-souled lord of birds.

Ashok K. Banker

Ashok Banker has appeared in Asimov’s, Lightspeed, Nightmare, Weird Tales, Year’s Best Fantasy and other places. His epic fantasy Burnt Empire Trilogy concluded in 2022 with The Blind King’s Wrath. His crime thriller debut, A Kiss After Dying, is out now. His US picture book debut, Brown Girls Rule, comes out in Fall 2023.