Ram had never seen a place so quiet. There was no market commotion, no toddlers rushing between his legs, no vendor yelling his rates. All he saw were individuals acting sophisticated and regal while moving around carefully and swiftly, with barely even a faint squeak of their shoes in the puddle. The exchanges take place in a matter of seconds, and he is left blinking in awe and amazement.
His eyes take all the colors that seem to be the only thing familiar in this market. Red, Yellow, Blue – was he in a painting?
He loved markets for their sound, the loud chattering, the merry giggles, the fights and arguments, the bargaining – everything seemed to pique his interest. But the new place he shifted to had nothing familiar or likable. It was eerily quiet and everyone minded their own business. No gossips, no information.
It had been two days since he settled down in the village. He wanted to know his neighbors, his village mates but no one came forth to help him familiarize himself with his surroundings. In some way, he found it relieving too. The city had too many people peering in his life-disrupting his work. Here he could work in peace but he was also used to the noise and found it highly uncomfortable working with just crickets croaking at night.
The next morning, he went on his own tour of the village. The market was a dull location, but the beauty of the village had been stored and kept somewhere else. The riverbank, the waterfalls, and even the common animals seemed to capture his interest.
“We meet again, Mr. Ram,” a young man with a small, confident physique and a wide, annoying smile stated.
Ram groaned exasperatedly. He had literally run into this kid the day he arrived in this village.
“Hey! I haven’t seen you here before. Are you new here?” an elderly, kind man with a big smile and an equally large mustache that can tickle you to death had asked him when he stood in front of an abandoned building like a lost puppy.
Ram, like a perfect gentleman, bent down to receive his blessings, but before he could touch his feet, a strong force struck him and he tumbled down.
This young boy had run into him and fled away without saying anything. Mr. Ram was intrigued by the boy's suspicious yet captivating smile at the road's side.
“Don't worry about him. He is a mischievous child. Never pays attention to anyone.”
The old man was kind enough to show him the way to his house, but the next day he was nowhere to be seen; instead, he discovered that the young, mischievous kid lived across the street with his aunt. Whenever Ram peered out of his window, he would catch the boy staring in his direction. When their gazes meet, the boy’s lips curl upwards in a condescending smirk.
He spotted the child everywhere he went, including the market, and he has now tracked him down in a lonely and isolated forest.
"Are you following me?" he inquired. Ram twitched in annoyance.
“I suppose that should be my question. “How come I keep running into you?” Ram, scowling, inquired.
“ Don't be so hostile. Be courteous to your neighbor.” The youngster maintained his smile, but his eyes had sharpened. He was a normal height for a 15-year-old kid, with a dusky complexion, sweet words, and sparkling eyes - he appeared to be the embodiment of an angel.
Ram ignored the boy and continued on his way hoping to find a place to stop and drink in the beauty of the river in front of him. He sighed when he felt the presence of the boy beside him sitting on a rock with his legs almost touching him.
“My name’s Arth. What’s yours?”
“Oh! Please speak up.”
“Can you hear me?”
“Are you ignoring me?” he asked frowning.
“Could you just stop talking for a while?” Ram glowered at him. He had hoped for a few quiet hours, not a whining child who couldn't seem to keep his mouth shut.
“Whatever. You're already boring.” To Ram's relief, the youngster sulked but then shut up.
Ram closed his eyes, savoring the cold wind that gently pushed his hair away from his face, soothing him in the best way possible. Right now, he wouldn't want to be anywhere else. Even the small boy's humming was comforting and lulled him to sleep.
If the youngster hadn't shaken him hard enough to wake him up, he may have dreamed of a thrilling adventure in which he would emerge victoriously.
“Hey! The sun’s set. We should leave.”
Ram huffed in indignation yet moved his legs to follow Arth back to the village.
“How did you come across our village?” Arth asked trying to make small talk.
“It is beautiful and serene. So I settled here.” Ram gave a vague response.
In amazement, Arth raised an eyebrow and chuckled.
“I assumed you were aware of the remarkable news.” He stated this, his eyes gleaming with enjoyment at Ram's obvious discomfort.
“The Shilla stone,” he prompted.
Ram's brow wrinkled in puzzlement.
“I'm sorry I haven’t heard about it.”
Arth's amusement had faded. As a show of impatience, his lips thinned and his tongue shot out to swipe across his lips.
“Just be truthful. No one comes to this town for any other reason than to obtain the Shilla. After all, it is said that this stone has the power to resurrect the dead.” The youngster came to a halt in his path and looked around to see Ram's reaction.
"Oh, I see."
Arth's eyes narrowed, and a flash of rage flickered in them.
“Liar!” His smile reappeared.
“Watch your words,” Ram warned as he stared at him. You're interrogating a decent man.”
“Ok. Let's end this conversation. And look, we've made it to your house as well.” The smile remained on his face, but the twinkle in his eyes faded.
Ram walked into his house and slammed the door shut without saying anything.
It had been days since he last spoke to the obnoxious youngster. His days were pleasant, and the tranquil atmosphere appeared to establish a habit for his job.
He would sometimes peek across his windows to keep an eye on the mysterious boy, but his eyes never found the target, and he would bite his lips in frustration.
“Miss me?” the unmistaken resounding voice of the boy made his head turn immediately.
He was greeted with the boy’s typical smile which made him appear innocent.
“I have a proposal,” Arth said breaking the painful silence where both of them were glaring at each other. One displaying it freely while the other disguising it behind his grin.
“I can assist you in obtaining the Shilla.” Ram froze in his place.
“Huh? “Haven't I previously shown my disinterest?”
“Oh my God! How would you intend to obtain it if you are so poor at lying? Do you think I haven't noticed the maps and other items on your desk?”
“Did you enter my room? “Did you score through my belongings?” Ram questioned, stunned, and his face gradually became crimson with rage.
“How dare you....without my consent?”
“Ah! Ignore it. You wouldn't be truthful with me. I had no choice but to do it but look at the bright side. You've got a fantastic partner.” Arth took a cautious step back. Self-preservation is required.
“Well, now you know. Yes, I am here for the stone, and I do not require your assistance.” Ram enunciated his words to penetrate the boy's thick skull. Arth was far too self-assured for his own good, and his arrogance was grating.
“Finally. At the very least you accepted. When are we going to go retrieve the stone?” Ram and his remarks were entirely ignored by the boy as he talked.
“Are you hard of hearing?”
“Perhaps we should start moving. It will take some time to get there.”
“Do you know where it is?” Ram inquired, his eyes twitching with anxious eagerness and expectation.
Arth smirked slyly.
“I can take you there.”
Ram hesitated. He wanted to outright reject the boy’s help but he was also desperate enough to let him string along.
When he first heard about the stone, he was in mourning for his mother who succumbed to her disease. He might have completely ignored the rumor if he was in a better situation but his love for his mother made him irrational and even believe such a fallacy.
Ram and Arth had left for their journey by the evening. The joy of finding a new path open left Ram consenting to the boy’s condition and he reluctantly followed him to the woods.
He was well aware that he had made a foolish decision. He shouldn't trust him, but he doesn't have any other choice. He wants the stone before his mother's body deteriorated to the point where it could never be resurrected.
After a few hours of walk in the forest, they seated themselves on the ground, relaxing their limbs.
“How did you figure out where the stone was?” Ram inquired, his head clear of the fog.
“I've always been inquisitive, and let me tell you, curiosity doesn't kill the cat; it just brings you a sack full of gold.” The boy grinned, mirth dancing in his eyes.
“How come you didn't utilize it then?” Ram inquired. Doubts seeped into his thoughts. Perhaps he should not have followed him.
Arth looked at him, leaned forward, and said quietly, as if relaying a secret, "I don't need it. I don't have someone to bring back to life.”
“And how about your parents?” Arth's grin faded somewhat.
“Didn't whoever provided you that piece of information also state they'd been dead for three years? After my parents died, I moved here with my aunt. Curious and alone, because there aren't many people my age around here, I wandered the woods and discovered the Shilla. The villagers were stupid to not believe in the rumor but I did. And here I am with its location right in my hand. Quenched your curiosity?” Arth stood up, dusting his trousers.
“Let's move. We have indeed taken a long break.”
“How come you didn't sell it?” Do you have any idea how much the stone is worth? You may have also aided someone else in obtaining it before me. I've heard that many people have lately relocated to this village.” Ram was anxious to believe the boy. He hoped he could just shut down his reasoning side and follow Arth wherever he led him. But he couldn't do it. He has always been a cautious man, relying on himself for everything. He can't change it for such a mysterious young man.
“Do you still not trust me? Having second thoughts, are you?” Arth laughed. “Truly, many people came here looking for the stone, but those who believed the rumors were tyrants. They desired to fight a battle with an army that would never die. But you were unique. I had been watching you for days, your plans, your life. I understood that you didn't want a conflict, but rather to experience your mother's love again. Losing your parents causes searing stinging anguish in your heart, and the scar left behind never fades. I've suffered that agony and would never wish it on anybody else. Is that enough to earn your trust? I've bared my emotions in front of you, my thoughts uttered out. Is that sufficient?” Arth swallowed down his overpowering emotions. He was trying hard not to weep. He shouldn't be grieving for his parents three years after they died.
Ram locked his gaze on him for a long time. He nodded and continued on his way to the stone.
They came to a halt in front of a huge field with a green expanse and tall poles on each corner.
“Right here, quite close to the stone. We just have to dig it out from this ground. “ As soon as he uttered those words, Ram immediately started digging with his bare hands, removing the soil as much as he can. His nails got scraped, some even bleeding but he couldn’t care. He had the solution to bring back his mother right in front of him and he can’t waste any more time.
After finding no success, he cried out in anguish, tears trickling down his cheeks. He hasn’t been this vulnerable ever.
He looked up at Arth and croaked out, “Boy! Where’s the stone?”
Arth’s gaze was fixated on his tear-stained cheeks as if he was frantically trying to take it all in.
“The stone? Why? It isn’t yours, is it? Very greedy, indeed.” Arth laughed joyfully at the shine disappearing from Ram’s eyes as comprehension dawned on him.
“Was there no stone here from the beginning? Why? Why did you lie?” Ram closed his eyes to hide his tears and his vulnerability from him.
“I wanted it for my mother. Didn't you say you didn't want anyone to go through such agony? “Then why?” he demanded.
Arth merely laughed at his misery.
“The stone belongs to me. My parents created them and died to defend them from people like you. What makes you think I'd give it to you?” Arth screeched.
Ram looked at him in disbelief. Only hollowness appeared to come alive when he chuckled.
“Should have known better, huh? So much for being astute. The stone was created by your parents. But for what purpose? For the tyrants or for the desperate like me? Were they similar to me?”
“Shut up. You dare compare yourself to them? Dare taint their names in front of me? You insolent..” Arth dashed forward, yanked Ram to his feet, and grabbed his collar.
“Find the truth. Maybe they weren’t as holy as you portray them to be.”
“Will you shut up?” Arth asked clenching his teeth to keep himself in control of his emotions.
Ram disregarded his own pain and continued to torment the young boy who had so swiftly won his confidence.
Arth breathed rapidly, his knees trembled and his hands shook. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a dagger. Before Ram could react, the dagger was pushed into his chest.
Ram stood there shocked and in pain.
“You….you…” he mumbled.
“You shouldn’t have provoked me. But no worries. I had intended to kill you from the start. Ridding the world of such greedy filth. Aren’t I a social worker?” Arth chuckled.
“Wait a second. Do not die so soon. I want to give you a parting present.” He shoved Ram to the ground and pulled a gleaming golden box out of his backpack.
“The one you so desperately wanted. Shilla!” his voice boomed in the forest as his cackling intensified.
“Die peacefully” and he stabbed the dagger once again killing him.
He dragged his body to his grave, which he had dug.
“Rest peacefully with mates as greedy as you.” He chuckled looking at the countless graves in front of him.
“The world’s becoming a beautiful place and you are the ornament making it worthwhile to live.”