Esta Brown and the Daughters of Mara
The goddess of desire has taken the one weapon that can save reality.
Now Esta and her friends must get it back.
Abandoning the security of Lama la's protection, they must navigate their way through the Bardo of Becoming into the Human Realm.
But, even here, the laws of cause and effect are crumbling and unpredictable dangers lurk around every corner.
If she's going to save reality, she's going to need all her new-found powers, the help of all her friends... and maybe some of her enemies as well.
Chapter 1. The Multi-Flip
I opened my eyes. A gale kicked ice straight into them. I raised a protective arm and squinted into the darkness.
Sinewy black shapes swooped past, leaving the ugly stench of rotting seaweed behind them. Harry Sparks was six feet to my right, his glowing cane arcing left and right as he swung and sliced through moving shadows.
Simon was crouched up ahead, his back to the wind, head lowered against the blizzard.
I bent into the gale and headed over to him. ‘Are you alright?’ I shouted as the wind howled around us.
He looked up. Nodded.
‘Don’t know. KC just stopped.’
‘Where is she?’
‘Looking for the others.’
Harry’s cane was hardly visible now as he fought whatever dark things were out there.
‘Do you think you can move?’ I shouted.
This time, he shook his head. ‘Karma Chodron said to stay put.’
‘We can’t wait out here. We’ll freeze to death if we're not eaten by something first!’
He shook his head vigorously. ‘You go. I’m staying.’
‘Don’t be an idiot, Simon! It’s not heroic to sit still and die!’
A smudge of blue resolved into Karma Chodron as she Carved out of the storm. She skidded to a stop. Crouched down next to us. ‘Have you seen Sera?’
I shook my head.
‘Can you Carve him out of here?’ she asked, pointing at Simon.
‘Simon. Yes, but not Harry as well,’ I replied.
‘Do what you can!’
‘Wait! What are you doing?’
She stood up again and put her palms together. ‘I have to find the others. Get to the Waymarker any way you can.’ Then she disappeared, leaving Simon and me all alone.
Something screamed. There was the horrible scraping noise of a Rakshasa out there in the shadows.
Simon crawled closer to me. ‘Have you still got my Bell?’
‘Yes. Have you got my Orb?’
He took it from his pocket. Showed me. Looked out into the darkness. ‘What do you think? Should we use them?’
The Bell and the Orb. Magical weapons belonging to two great masters: The murderer Rudra and the noble Padmakara. Simon had originally chosen the Bell and me the Orb. When we brought them together, they sometimes had the power to Flip us over into another reality. Now seemed like as good a time to Flip as any.
Except. Just before we'd stepped out into this madness, we’d swapped round. It had seemed like a good idea at the time; a way to stop everyone trying to speculate about which one of Simon and me were connected to Rudra. Now, though… I took the Bell from my belt. It was still a bit battered from earlier in the dungeons. I'd really only ever seen Simon use it properly. It didn't seem to work for anyone else. ‘What do I do with it?’
'Nothing,' he said. ‘Give it to me.’
I looked at my Orb which he was clutching in his left hand. It was pulsing. Pregnant with energy. I drew the Bell back a touch. It was glowing too. I could feel the heat in it and I suddenly didn’t want to let go. ‘You put the Orb down first.’
‘I don’t think it’s a good idea for one of us to have both.’
‘What if something—'
Scccraaapeee. The unmistakable grinding noise of a Rakshasa dragging its skull cup along the ground. Those things lived here in the Bardo. They were as tall as a tree, had fangs the size of my forearm and, according to Harry at least, they fed on fear and blood.
‘Give it!’ Simon said between his teeth. He reached out. ‘I can save us!’
There was a whisper in my ear: ‘Don’t do it.’
I spun around. No one was there. Just the glowing coal eyes of the Rakshasa twenty feet away.
‘For all the god’s,’ came the voice as if it were speaking an inch from my ear. It was a male voice, one I didn't recognise. ‘Don’t let the boy have it.’
I twisted the other way. ‘Lama la?'
‘Esta?’ Simon breathed. ‘Don’t move. I’ll come to you.’ He reached toward me with the Orb.
I felt warm breath tickle my neck. The salty odour of blood.
Simon brought the Orb to the Bell. There was a metallic tap. The handle became suddenly hot to touch. There was a flash of light. I shut my eyes.
I opened my eyes.
The Rakshasa and the snowstorm were gone. In their place, the late evening sun and the massive steel blade of a bulldozer ploughing the drive of Gatley House.
I had a moment of relief. Human Realm. Simon Flipped us.
Somewhere, in a parallel reality, a fanged beast would be drooling all over us. Whereas here we were about to be flattened by a huge metal machine.
I rolled to one side, face in the gravel. The engine coughed. The blade of the bulldozer came to a juddering halt a couple of feet from me.
‘There!’ a man’s voice shouted. ‘Fell right in front of me—’
A pair of steel capped boots landed in the dirt. My gaze went up. Yellow plastic trousers. Yellow raincoat thing. Breathing apparatus, goggles.
I looked to my side. Simon, face grimy, beautiful blonde hair covered in mud. He held out the Orb. ‘Touch,’ he said.
‘The Bell and the Orb. Touch.’
I thought about the Rakshasa leaning over us. ‘You sure we want to go back?’
Now the owner of the boots and the yellow raincoat was joined by a pair of… sandals? I glanced up. Sandals, white cotton skirt. Even I knew sandals were not army regulation footwear.
‘I’ll take it from here,’ a new, softer voice said.
‘Do it!’ Simon whispered, leaned over and tapped the Bell with the tip of the Orb.
Reality folded over.
And I got a face full of Rakshasa saliva.
The stench was worse than the boy’s toilets at school. I shot to my feet, dragging Simon with me.
‘Which way?’ he screamed.
I sprinted off, a fist full of his shirt in one hand. ‘Any way!’
The Bell became hot again.
We stumbled over broken stones and piles of bricks. Back in Gatley House. We'd Flipped again. I’d rather deal with oddly dressed soldiers than flesh-eating monsters.
‘Ouch!’ Simon cursed as he clattered into something.
The shopping trolley.
I stared at it as Simon scrambled to his feet again. It was the trolley we used to climb up over the fence surrounding Gatley House. I turned it over, wheels upwards.
‘What are you doing?’ Simon asked.
‘Maybe we can climb back up. Get back to Lama la.’
No answer. But it was suddenly cold, and it had become darker as well. I stopped struggling with the trolley. Looked down. No trolley?
We’d Flipped back again.
This was what Harry had meant when he'd said the Bardo was unstable. Reality was on a knife-edge.Turning like a weather vane in a gale. It was impossible to keep up.
In one reality, we were trespassing on radioactive land, in another, we were being attacked by bloodthirsty demons. My Gran would call that being between a rock and a hard place.
Back to demons then. Great.
We were up against the wall of Rigpa Gompa. The side door lay in bits on one side. A way back in.
But the Rakshasa’s giant arm slammed down, blocking it off.
Its other arm made a pendulum movement towards us, dragging its half-skull begging bowl along the ground: Sccrraaape. Two bright red eyes burned through the snow. It opened its enormous jaws.
I squeezed my eyes shut.
‘Open your eyes!’ the voice inside my head said. ‘Face your fears.’
The wind blew snow against my cheeks, but the smell of rotting things was fainter. I popped an eye open.
Simon was beside me, staring up.
I opened my other eye. The Rakshasa, had turned its head away. Thankfully taking the stench with it. ‘Why isn’t it killing us?’ I whispered.
‘I don’t know,’ he whispered back. 'But, I think maybe there’s something even bigger behind it.’
The Rakshasa reared on to its hind legs. Its right arm swung round. Simon dropped to his knees, pulling me down with him as a great claw combed the tips of my hair. It roared at the newcomer, ready to unleash all its power at it. I gritted my teeth, preparing for the impact. But instead, its massive body jerked to one side, its arm flopped upwards and then down like it was attempting a one-armed Mexican wave. There was a blur of yellow above it and the beast keeled over like one of those wooden ducks in a fairground shooting game. Standing over it was the nun, Sera. She had grown to 30 or 40 feet high, her yellow robes rippled in the snow, and she had a smile as wide as a windscreen plastered across her face.
If it had been humanly possible, I would have hugged her.
Karma Chodron appeared out of the mist next to the fallen Rakshasa. Tubten was at her side, hand gripping hers tightly. She looked down at the monster, up at her giant sister, then at us. She pointed into the snowstorm. ‘You’re going the wrong way!’