From Behind

Part I: Behind the Wall

A Rocky Landing

A spacecraft resembling a high-tech acorn wobbled drunkenly into the Martian atmosphere. Inside the ship, two Gamma Iridian officers in the guise of human females frantically worked the controls to keep the craft upright. A third woman sat strapped into a passenger seat, her onyx eyes wide with terror. She ran her fingers into the mane of a grand griffin, who sat contentedly chewing on what appeared to be a roast. The unhappy passenger made a face.

“Griffy, you would be disgusted if you knew that hunk of meat was actually a lump of synthesized space algae,” she remarked.

After a dozen stomach-churning spirals, the plasma jets stabilized the craft, which landed at the base of a wind-blasted mountain range covered in dunes of red sand. The passenger looked curiously at her companions.

“Why has your form not shifted?” she inquired. “Surely a human could not survive in this place.”

“We are not human,” the officer appearing to be a petite Asian woman of around forty years of age replied. “We only take on the appearance of humans.”

“Yes, Nyx, I am aware of this,” the passenger sighed. “Your partner in crime was my lover for three hundred years. I know that Gamma Iridians take the form of creatures native to the worlds they infiltrate. I am asking why you have not taken the form of whatever is native to this world.”

“Paraji, please don’t be obtuse, it doesn’t suit you,” the other Gamma Iridian, a tall, powerfully built black woman with striking electric blue eyes admonished.

“I am not being obtuse, Kali. Your kind normally resorts to your true form during space travel. You have not done so.”

“Until reaching this world, we were not in space, we were in a wormhole,” Nyx explained.

“Well, where has this wormhole deposited us? Please, Nyx, do not think that I am ungrateful. Your quick thinking saved us from obliteration when the volcano where the Queen of Unexamined Decisions housed her hidden base roared to life. I would surmise, judging by the plentiful red sand, that we are on Mars, if we are still in the Terran solar system.”

“Readings indicate that you are correct,” Nyx confirmed. “We will attempt a return to Earth after we have checked the ship for damage. We will also need to scout for a fuel source. In the meantime, the food synthesizers can sustain us for up to five years, and you can feed on our blood. Our commanders would have been fools to send an invading force to this rock pile. It appears utterly barren except for bacterial life forms.”

“That may not be true, Nyx,” Kali countered. “Sentient life may be underground. Or, perhaps, it may lie behind this mountain range, cloaked from sensors or prying telescopes.”

“Those pulp stories your daughter so loves to read are fictional adventures, not scientific texts, my dear Kali,” Paraji laughed.

“And there you go again,” Kali expounded. “Are you dizzy from our thrilling escape from Base LUST-69, Paraji? At your advanced age, you should know that many truths are couched in fiction. Mr. Burroughs inasmuch as described John Carter journeying to Mars via a gate. I suggest that we keep an open mind to all possibilities.”

“Paraji, while Kali and I assess the ship, you can attempt to sense sentient life on this world,” Nyx suggested.

“I’ll do my best, Nyx,” Paraji agreed. “I am sincerely sorry. If it were not for me and my irrational desire for revenge, none of us would be in this mess.”

“Captain Abigail Botterill is the one to blame,” Kali countered. “She fueled the flames of your jealousy and used it to her advantage.”

“You are forgiven, Paraji,” Nyx added. “I hope you understand now that Kali treasures you, and whom she loves, I love. I hope we shall get to know each other better once we have escaped from this unfortunate place.”

“Thank you, Nyx. Griffy and I will entertain ourselves while you and Kali take stock of the ship.”

Stranded

“We will not be taking off anytime soon,” Paraji overheard Nyx saying to Kali. “However, there have been previous expeditions by our people to this planet. Scanners are detecting strong iridium readings just beyond that high peak approximately five kilometers west of here. You and I should be able to travel there in a day.”

“I hope that Paraji can be convinced to stay here,” Kali fretted. “She does not excel at obeying orders, particularly from those she resents.”

“She seems to have forgiven you, Kali, and she is trying to forgive me. Let us give her the benefit of the doubt.”

“It might be best if we frame our request to make it sound as if her remaining with the craft is crucial to the success of our mission. She and the griffin must stay here and guard the craft.”

“Yes, this seems logical,” Nyx agreed. “And my dear Kali, please try to remember, my griffin’s name is Pompey. Do not make me have to punish you.”

“He is your griffin now?” Kali demanded playfully. “My darling Nyx, you are terribly possessive at times. Perhaps it is you who needs to be punished.”

Paraji sighed remorsefully as Pompey rested his head in her lap, offering her the last morsel of his synthesized roast. She laughed, wiping away the bloody tear that leaked from her eye.

“Oh no, Dear, you enjoy it,” the Rakshesha offered, scratching the griffin’s head. “I was lost in a memory. I was too demanding of Kali. Our bond was broken long ago. I do not dislike Nyx. She and Kali seem well suited to each other. It is a terribly human trait to grieve for what might have been, and, much though I like to think I am superior to humans for being born to a Rakshasa and a Vetala who possessed the body of his freshly demised nineteen-year-old human lover, I am still altogether too human. But you care nothing of this nonsense, and you are right. We should be meditating and seeing if we can sense sentient life on this forsaken, windy hell-sphere.”

The griffin looked pointedly at Paraji, and she glanced towards the engine room. She looked at the external monitor, noting that the winds had died down.

“You’re right, it wouldn’t hurt to take a look around,” she whispered. “But we must remain close to the ship. Are you a betting man, Pompey? Do you think that you and I might be able to get back into the craft before the lovers have even noticed we’ve gone?”

With the impishness of the girl she had been many millennia ago, Paraji took one of the craft’s control watches and placed it on her wrist. She tapped a sequence of buttons, and the door whooshed open. The Rakshesha and the griffin descended to the surface of the red planet. Paraji tapped a white button with an up arrow, and the door closed. She touched another button on the device.

“Look, Pomps,” she encouraged as the griffin looked curiously at the screen of the watch. “It isn’t dreadful out here right now. It is a mere thirteen degrees Celsius, with winds at approximately thirteen kilometers per hour. That is very temperate. Oh, the air is a bit thin compared to home, but we don’t have to worry about such things. We adapt, my dear fellow! Now, I am not a large lady. I stand but 1.6 meters tall and weigh but forty-three kilograms. Do you suppose I could ride on your back to have a look at that canyon there? I am sensing a surge of energy, and I believe the citizens of this planet may be hiding themselves utilizing cloaking technology.”

The griffin looked into Paraji’s eyes. She sighed.

“Oh, Griffy, don’t be a spoil-sport,” she admonished. “We’re only going to take a short flight, and no, I am not doing this to spite Kali and Nyx. They don’t need us right now, and I most certainly don’t need to be exposed to their amorous energies a moment longer.”

Over the Mountain

Paraji was experiencing what she believed to be the most wonderful day of her long life. Born around 1565 BC to the frightening and arrogant Rakshasa, Prince Lanamaut, and his consort, the Vetala Dipa, the Rakshesha had seen many changes over the centuries. Unlike many of her kind, Paraji was benevolent and preferred to live in peace and solitude. She consumed the food offerings left for the deities by their devotees. Rather than consuming human flesh, she drank limited quantities of blood from willing supplicants in exchange for a boon.

“Do you know, Griffy, I never felt the desire for romantic entanglement until I met Kali?” Paraji revealed. “There was something different and wonderful about her, and I was drawn to that. I suppose that is why I held on so tightly. She was too young and wild for the measured approach to life that I preferred. I loved what she was, but I wanted to keep it to myself. Oh, but one cannot dwell in the past. So, let us switch away from this disastrous train of thought.”

Paraji tapped the controls on the watch several times. After searching momentarily, she gave a happy chirp.

“Oh, I am glad of this feature of the device!” she proclaimed. “Griffy, I have heard many songs in my time, but none is quite so appropriate in the moment as this one. My friend, let us fly over the mountain and see what lies beyond!”

Paraji’s glee was infectious, and the griffin swooped and rose as his companion wove the energies to form an invisible sound chamber that permitted them to feel the warm Martian winds brushing against them as they heard the melody loud and clear.

“Over the mountain, take me across the sky

Something in my vision, something deep inside

Where did I wander, where d'ya think I wandered to?

I've seen life's magic, astral plane I travel through”1

Paraji admired the dunes along the surface of Nectaris Montes. She exclaimed in wonder at the vast lava lake that lay to the west of the mountain range in the Valles Marineris. As Pompey swooped just south of the lake to avoid the geyser of magma that spewed from a burst lava bubble, the song drew to a close.

Don't need no astrology, it's inside of you and me

You don't need a ticket to fly with me, I'm free, yeah1

The Valley Behind

The griffin swooped close to the canyon wall, which cast a great, dark shadow upon the rocky red valley below. The shadow enveloped the griffin and the Rakshesha in pitch blackness which even their adaptable eyes could not penetrate. The whooshing of the void howled around them.

After what seemed the longest twenty seconds of her existence, Paraji beheld a wondrous landscape. Lush vegetation in varying shades of red, orange, yellow, and green grew copiously in a fertile valley where vermillion rivers flowed. Pompey landed near an ancient temple overgrown with muted green vines. Paraji dismounted the griffin and stood gazing in awe at the structure.

“I knew it!” she expounded. “I knew I sensed something. It must be the souls of whoever dwelt here long ago. Pompey, I believe it is my calling to care for this place. Now, you have a decision to make. You may choose to leave me here and return to the ship. Oh, don’t fret! I won’t be alone. I will have the spirits to keep me company. Or, you can remain here with me and help me tend to this place.”

Pompey sat down beside Paraji near the steps of the ancient temple. She scratched his head.

“Yes, I know that Kali and Nyx will be concerned about us. Nyx more about you than about me, I think. Kali probably more about me than about you. It isn’t that I don’t care, but I am tired. I am tired of feeling like the proverbial fifth wheel. I am tired of feeling as if I do not belong anywhere. My father was not the worst of Rakshasas, but he was an arrogant bastard. My mother was not the worst of Vetalas, or of humans, for she retained some of the personality that she possessed before death, but she was vain and craved adulation and power. I never cared for such things. I had no interest in either following or leading. I simply wanted to explore and experience.”

Pompey snapped up a leaf and began to chew on it. Paraji picked one of the leaves and rolled it between her fingers, smelling its fragrance. After a moment, she took a nibble.

“This plant did not originate in this place, but it adapted,” she noted. “Similarly, I did not originate in this place, but I know that I shall adapt. My dear feathered and furry friend, I told you that Kali was my first love. After finding this place, I know that is not true. I care deeply for Kali, and she was the first and only one that I desired, but this place is my one true love. Humans and mystical beings closely related to humans are delusional fools, Pomps. They confuse love and desire. The two attributes can comingle, but they are not the same. Come, my bosom companion, let us explore the grounds of our new home. We will determine what is edible, what is in need of repair, and who our neighbors are.”

Pompey padded alongside Paraji. She placed her hand on the side of his leg and laughed.

“You are correct, Pomps. Out of our little group, I am the one that needed you the most.”

The Gardens of Xelzgpy

At the shore of the vermillion stream, Paraji bent to pick a small pink flower with frilly petals. Smelling and tasting the flower, she remarked in amazement.

“Pompey, this plant is a relative of the yarrow!” she exclaimed. “The one you and I sampled previously had a common Earthly ancestor as well. Long ago, perhaps in the ages of Lemuria or Atlantis, there must have been a relationship between Terrans and the people of Mars.”

The stream led to a clear vermillion pool surrounded by trees and lush plant life. While Paraji cupped her hands to drink from the pool, Pompey plucked a yellow grapelike fruit from a nearby vine with his beak. Paraji laughed as Pompey flapped his wings and shook his head. She picked one of the fruits to taste for herself.

“It’s more of a lemon than a grape,” she noted. “Isn’t this a marvel? I noticed fish swimming in the pool. That may be a source of food for you. It’s funny, but after drinking this water, I have no craving for flesh. As you know, my kind are voracious carnivores. The effect may not last, but for the moment, Paraji the Rakshesha has gone vegetarian.”

Paraji and Pompey explored the gardens, tasting the various fruits and leaves. During the course of their exploration, they discovered ground vines with large indigo fruits that tasted similar to honeydew melon, spiraling Kelly green pods with sweet, dark flesh, a fruit that tasted and looked so much like quince that Paraji wondered if it wasn’t quince, and a honey-flavored yellow leaf that looked like an elephant’s ear.

The sun was setting, but the air remained mild. Both Paraji and Pompey could see in the dark, but Paraji supposed that they should remain close to the temple in case the weather took a bad turn.

“It’s so beautiful here that I never want to go inside, but I’m curious to learn about the civilization that used to be here,” she explained as the pair sat beside the pond. “Pomps, I don’t suppose that wormhole would have brought us here simply because I need this place or even because both you and I need this place. This place needs us! We will heal it, and it will heal us.”

At the same moment, Paraji and Pompey both became aware that they were being watched.

“It’s a someone and not a something,” Paraji thought, and sensed Pompey’s agreement. “It isn’t Kali or Nyx. It’s someone who feels the need to sneak. They know not who they are dealing with! We will catch this stalker out soon enough. Woe betide the one who thinks they can get the drop on a Rakshesha.”

Pompey rose into the air while Paraji vaulted over the bushes, tackling the cloaked humanoid figure lurking there.

“Let’s see who or what you are,” Paraji snarled as she pulled back the spy’s hood.

A crimson-skinned woman with golden hair held up her hands in surrender.

“I am Yosva, High Priestess of the Temple of Xelzgpy,” she revealed telepathically. “I welcome you and your mighty steed to our garden, Redeemer of Worlds.”

Paraji stood, allowing the priestess to rise. She bowed low, marveling at the woman’s impressive height. Yosva was easily two meters tall and powerfully built.

“Please forgive my brutal treatment of you,” Paraji apologized.

“Of course. It was not clear to you if I was friend or foe. I hope you see that I am your friend. Come, there is much for you to learn.”

With Pompey’s promise that he would remain close to the temple, Paraji followed Yosva inside. Pompey rose into the air to chase the light beams of Phobos and Deimos.



Acknowledgments and References

The first two paragraphs of this story were shared with the Rainbow Snippets Facebook group on 9 May 2020. The snippet was identified as being part of a WIP for the https://blog.reedsy.com/creative-writing-prompts/fantasy/write-about-an-animal-species-that-doesn-t-exist-i/ prompt.

Paraji is a combination of the names Parminder and Jyoti and the meaning thereof translates loosely to “the highest light.”

Lanamaut translates loosely to “death-bringer.”

A Rakshesha is a female Rakshasa.

1Over the Mountain copyright 1981 written by Bob Daisley, Lee Kerslake, Ozzy Osbourne, and Randy Rhoads.

https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/resources/887/dunes-in-nectaris-montes/



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