Chapter 12: Durga's Prophecy

And we're back to our irregularly scheduled nonsense!

Last time Kelsey and Ren basically just ripped off Indiana Jones for about twenty pages. It wasn't particularly original or interesting, but it was mostly inoffensive outside of several heinous misspellings. If you don't remember, the chapter ended with them discovering the prophecy written in...magical acid (?)...on a rock, so they took pictures of it to bring back to Mr. Kadam. I guess to artificially pad out the page length? I'm not sure why Ren couldn't just read the prophecy and tell Kelsey where they need to go next/what they need to do next, which would have given our protagonists a bit more agency in the plot. As it is, they're basically at the mercy of Mr. Exposition Kadam telling them what to do all the time. This chapter is also completely pointless as the only things that happen in it are 1) a fight scene that happens off screen and 2) the translation of the prophecy that they found last chapter.

This way we get more scenes of them "bonding" though, so I guess we get to know our protagonists a bit better.

Moving on.

I'd also like to issue a correction from the last post--we don't get to meet a new character. I skimmed ahead a couple of pages and saw the word "black panther" and assumed that this was the character that I was thinking of, but it turns out that it was just a coincidental thing that doesn't actually mean anything. So we'll have to wait a little longer to meet (ugh) Kishan.

Chapter Twelve: Durga's Prophecy

Ren tells Kelsey to be careful, as it's now dark and animals are out hunting. I'm not sure why this wasn't a concern before they went into the cave, as it was dark when they went in, but okay. Kelsey says, "I was actually happier walking through the jungle at night because I couldn't see all the scary creatures that I was sure were watching us," which is one of the dumbest things Kelsey has said so far. Wouldn't you want to be able to see where the dangerous animals are when they're watching you, especially directly after being told that they are probably actively hunting you? Like, sure, they might look intimidating but you'd at least know where they were so you could avoid them or even fight them off if it came to it! I do believe that Kelsey would be happy about it, though, because it shows about the level of critical thinking that she's shown thus far, i.e., none at all.

Sure enough, there's something hunting them, probably because Ren brought it up at the beginning of the chapter. I'm not sure why anything would be hunting a human and a giant tiger when there's definitely other animals around in the jungle (since Kelsey and Ren walked by an entire zoo's worth of animals on the way in). Predators usually avoid hunting large, dangerous animals that can severely injure or kill them in favor of hunting smaller, easer, prey. There are a few situations where a predator will hunt or scavenge a human as prey: if the human is killed in self defense, if there is a lack of food in the area and the predator is starving, or if the animal just happens across a meal that's already been killed by something else.

There aren't a ton of species that become habitual man-eaters (which is the actual term for this, funnily enough). Funnily enough, tigers are one of the major man-eating mammal species, but it's still pretty rare, and seems to be a result of dietary discomfort as a result of drinking freshwater that was too salty, which made them more aggressive. Lions, leopards, and jaguars have also been known to become man-eaters, but it's rare enough that Wikipedia has a list of specific leopards that have killed people. Jaguars are even more rare, and it seems to only be as a result of their main prey, capybaras, becoming scarce (which is just another way to say that food scarcity causes it, so thanks for making it confusing, Wikipedia). Leopards apparently get a taste for humans that they scavenge during times of disease when bodies aren't cremated anymore. Is this interesting? No!

The animal hunting them is a black panther, which is basically just a leopard that has melanism (which is functionally the opposite of albinism, and causes excess pigmentation rather than a lack of it). So, while it's more likely that a leopard would decide to hunt a person, it's still very rare. Not to mention that we're still in what is a national park/tourist area, so I doubt if any animals that decided to hunt humans would be around for very long.

This isn't even bringing up the fact that they're also apparently hunting a tiger, which can grow up to an excess of five hundred pounds (ass opposed to the leopard's puny one hundred and seventy).

I think these panthers are also really dumb.

Ren tells her to run off, turns back into a tiger, and goes off into the jungle to fight them off. They're apparently hunting them in a pack or something, which neither leopards nor panthers do, as they're solitary hunters.

Kelsey can hear them fighting in the darkness which is scary, but then it gets quiet. Oh no!

I'd gone about a quarter mile in what I hoped was the right direction when I heard a popping, rustling noise in the bushes and saw a pair of yellow eyes stare at me from the darkness.

"Ren? Is that you?"

Ren's eyes are bright blue, as the book has repeated ad nauseam by this point. Kelsey is dumb.

The panther looks at her for a bit and then decides to jump at her.

The panther's sharp claws were extended and glistened in the moonlight. Transfixed, I stood and watched the snarling cat's claws and gaping maw full of teeth draw closer to my face and neck. I screamed, drew my hands up to protect my head, and waited for claws and teeth to rip my throat out.

You can either stand transfixed at something, or you can react and try to protect yourself. You can't do both.

Of course, Ren shows up just in time to save Kelsey (taking advantage of the weird...literary slow-mo that we just endured). The panther apparently realizes that, hey, this tiger is twice as big as me, why did I even attack it in the first place, and runs off into the jungle. I'm not kidding, it literally says that the panther, "not wanting to face a cat more than twice its size," just now decides to run off.

Ren's looking pretty beat up, and has several scratches on his back and a broken foot. With the fight won, mostly off-screen, they make their way back to the jeep and go to sleep for the rest of the night.

The next scene begins with the sentence, "The sun rose too quickly the car started to get hot." This is garbled nonsense. How did this make it into a published book????

They wake up, and Ren's injuries look like they've been mostly healed overnight.

Which begs the question: what was the point of that last scene? Most of it happened off-screen, so it's not like it was entertaining to read. We had just finished up one of the more engaging action sequences from the last chapter, so it's not like we were starving for something to happen to break up scenes of people talking. And now we've completely removed the consequences of any injuries! If Ren gets hurt in a fight, don't worry! He'll be fine in the next scene!

This is a common problem in a lot of urban fantasy stories, where authors make our characters heal quickly/indestructible, either because it's more cool or because it's easier to write around. The protagonist Iron Druid Chronicles (plug for my friend's spork of that here) also heals injuries extremely quickly because Magic, which ends up removing a lot of tension from any physical conflict that happens.

There are a couple of ways to go about having fast healing as a skill. First, you can go the Deadpool route, where injuries are supposed to be comedic rather than add to any dramatic tension. The actions scenes in both Deadpool movies are supposed to be comedic--Deadpool gets shot and stabbed and even ripped in half at one point, but we're not supposed to be worried for Deadpool's well-being at any point. The dramatic stakes for the protagonist in both movies are not tied into straight-up action scenes, but in danger to others that Deadpool cares about because they have a personal relationship (his love interest in the first movie, and the kid in the second movie). The dramatic stakes are emotional, while physical injuries are not treated seriously in any way.

Conversely, you can go the Dresden Files route, where Harry heals very quickly because Magic, but there's such a constant barrage of action scenes that he doesn't have time to fully heal between action scenes, which means that Harry is just in progressively worse shape as each book goes on (and he does get some injuries that don't ever fully heal, because Drama). I'm not saying that it's handled perfectly in Dresden Files, but it's never very distracting, at least to me. So when you give your protagonist time to recover between action scenes (considering they heal almost fully overnight) there's no tension even if you know they're going to be fine because they're the protagonists.

Since Ren has both plot armor and what amounts to a mutant healing factor, he is unlikely to fail and he won't suffer any long-term consequences. So it's boring.

I'm not even going to get into questioning what kind of a curse 1) bestows immortality and 2) heals any and all injuries almost immediately. Some curse. If I were Lokesh I'd try to get a refund.

Lol remember when the book had an antagonist? Back in the prologue? Good times.

The two of them have an uneventful drive back to Ren's house, and Kelsey greets Mr. Kadam by saying, "Shower. Sleep," which is a big mood.

Just in case you were worried, we get to hear exactly what Kelsey eats for breakfast (which I haven't really mentioned a ton yet, but literally every time Kelsey eats something, we get an overly specific description). She wakes up in the middle of the night and goes out onto her balcony and brushes her hair. Ren walks out to join her, and doesn't even ask if it's okay if he busts into her room, which is pretty in-character for this bastion of respect and morality. It actually scares Kelsey to the point of trying to hide behind her hair, which makes me think that she really doesn't want him there.

He was still barefoot, but had on khaki pants and a sky-blue button-down shirt that matched his eyes. The effect was magnetic [. . .].

So, the outfit worn by every frat boy ever. Hot.

He points out her tangled hair (nice...) and Kelsey changes the subject to his clothes, since he's only worn white before this. It turns out that every time he turns into a tiger and back, whatever clothes he's wearing turn into the white clothes he was wearing when Kelsey first met him. Weird.

What I want to know is, if he takes the white clothes off before he turns into a tiger, do the clothes stay or not? Can Ren create infinite clothes, or is it a fairy gold type of situation where they disappear when he changes into a tiger? I need to know.

Also this only happens so Houck doesn't have to write about a naked guy all the time. This is a YA book, so we must be chaste. Sexually charged handholding and kissing only, you heathens.

Ren then literally grabs the hairbrush out of her hand (again, nice...). When Kelsey rightfully goes, "Um, dude, what?" he responds with, "Relax. You're too edgy." While it's true that "edgy" can also mean "on edge," it just sounds like she's turning into an edgy grim dark Sonic OC or something. Maybe this word has just been ruined for me.

He starts brushing her hair, again without asking permission to touch her hair, the creep. While he's brushing her hair in a...weirdly sexual scene they talk some more. Ren can change into a human as much as he wants as long as it doesn't exceed 24 minutes a day. Kelsey keeps asking questions that give me whiplash, and now she asks what scent he was following back in the maze. Which would have been nice to know, uh, back when it was happening rather than now. I know, editing is hard. It smelled like lotus flowers apparently, which makes sense because the lotus is Durga's favorite flower. This seems to be true.

He starts massaging her shoulders, and it feels good. "From a place of utter tranquility, I slurred [...]" more inane questions. This doesn't seem normal.

Ren circled around to the front of the chair and offered me his hand. I put mine in his and felt tingly, electric sparks shoot down my arm. He grinned and kissed my fingers.

Shocked, I asked, "Did you feel that too?"

The Indian prince winked at me. "Definitely."

Something about the way he said "definitely" made me wonder if we were talking about the same thing.

I only quote that part because seven people have highlighted it. Every time other Kindle users highlight something in this book it's one of the funniest things I've ever read.

Kelsey and Ren go downstairs to meet Mr. Kadam, who has been working tirelessly at translating the prophecy while these two bozos have been flirting. There are two pieces of information that they brought back. The first of these is, "Seek Durga's Prize, Four gifts five sacrifices, One transformation, Beast becomes mortal." I'm not sure why it's taken him twelve hours to translate these as they appear to just...be in Hindi, which he speaks. It is possible that the translation the book gives is Mr. Kadam translating from a different language into Hindi and then into English, so I'll let it slide, even though it's very much not clear.

The monolith had four different poems on the sides. The first of which reads (prepare yourself),

For protection, seek her temple 
And take hold of Durga's blessing. 
Travel west and search Kishkinda 
Where simians rule the ground. 
Gada strike in Hanuman's realm; 
And hunt the branch that's bound. 
Thorny dangers grasp above; 
Dazzling dangers lie below, 
Strangle, ensnare, the ones you love-- 
And trap in brackish undertow. 
Lurid phantoms thwart your route 
And guardians wait to bar your way. 
Beware once they give pursuit 
Or embrace their moldering decay. 
But all of this you can refute 
If serpents find forbidden fruit 
And India's hunger satisfy . . . 
Lest all her people surely die. 

Oof. First off, I like how it starts off without rhyming, and then it starts to rhyme about halfway through, but in a completely incomprehensible rhyming scheme. Let's see: ABCDED ABAB ABAB AABB. Oof. Look, it's fine if it doesn't rhyme because it's being translated into English, but if you have to choose a rhyme scheme at least pick one.

I'm not even going to get started on the syllables. It's not consistent in any way, which makes it kind of hard to read.

Also, can this really even be considered a prophecy? It's not trying to predict the future at all, it's more of a series of instructions on how to find something. Which is nice, because as I've talked about before most prophecies are terrible, but it feels weird calling this a prophecy.

Anyway.

Hanuman is the monkey god, and he rules over Kishkinda. Mr. Kadam thinks that Kishkinda can be found in the ruins of Hampi, which is considerably farther away than Kanheri Cave (which is somewhere between four and twenty hours away by car, depending on if you believe Houck or me).

I'm also not sure why Hanuman is being painted as the ruler of this nightmare realm, when by all accounts Hanuman seems to be regarded in a pretty positive light by pretty much everyone, and seems to embody very virtuous traits like strength, innovation, devotion, and knowledge/wisdom. He can also grow and shrink at will, and is described as being ugly on the outside but very beautiful on the inside. Some antagonist, amirite?


Standing Hanuman, Chola Dynasty, 11th Century, Tamil Nadu, India (Thanks Wikipedia!)

Mr. Kadam says that he thinks that the branch the poem talks about is referring to "forbidden fruit," which is a little weird because the poem mentions forbidden fruit a couple of lines later. Kelsey asks if he's referring to the forbidden fruit in the story of Adam and Eve. Instead of saying, "You know this entire story so far has been about various Asian mythologies, right? Why are you bringing in Christian stories that don't go with anything that's happened so far?" Mr. Kadam goes off on a tangent about how fruit features prominently in the legends of a lot of cultures. Which is probably true, I guess, but it doesn't really answer Kelsey's question. Kelsey says that Americans do the same thing at Thanksgiving with a cornucopia. I'm getting whiplash.

Kelsey asks if India has any stories about fruit, and Mr. Kadam says he's not sure, but it might be a pomegranate. Luckily for you guys, I have access to the vast libraries of Google, which I guess Mr. Kadam doesn't. Jamun fruit (a kind of plum) is called "the fruit of the gods," and Lord Rama (a king and incarnation of the god Vishnu) was said to live off of jamuns during his exile; additionally, the cloud god Megha descended to the earth in the form of a jamun. When the cosmos were split into concentric islands, the center island, Jambuvipa, translates to "land of the jamun trees," which were the size of elephants and created rivers when the fruit fell to the ground. I wouldn't call these "forbidden" fruit, though.

Banana trees also play a role in Hindu mythology. Trees are planted during several religious festivals,  and the fruits are often used as offerings to Vishnu and Shiva. The plant is also believed to be an incarnation of Lakshmi and Parvati, the wives of Vishnu and Shiva. More relevant to this book, worship of these trees also serves as an invocation of Durga, so it would make sense if the prophecy was talking about a banana tree. Also not really forbidden.

There are others, but you get the idea. There's not really a "forbidden fruit" analogue in Hindu mythology.

Kelsey decides to look up some more information about Hanuman while she's in the library. The book she picks up describes Hanuman being unable to determine which medicinal herbs he needed to find, so he just picked up the entire mountain to bring back. This is true. Kelsey's book doesn't explain why, but I did mention that he can grow and shrink at will.

Image from the 1910s.

You'd think that this story would be relevant because we're hearing about it, but no! It doesn't ever come back into the plot, so it's just wasting space.

Kelsey goes back up to her room, and Mr. Kadam meets her up on her balcony. I think about 80% of character interaction has happened on this dang balcony. He doesn't really have anything important to say, but he does compliment our protagonist.

"You're a very brave and courageous young lady. A finer lady I haven't met in a long, long time. I hope Ren sees how lucky he is."

Good to know that Mr. Kadam also ships Relsey. Ken?

He says that he'll be going with them to Hampi because it's so far. Then he tells her to go take a swim for some reason?

So she does. And it's just an excuse for Ren and Kelsey to hang out some more, but since he stays a tiger for almost the entire time it's very one-sided. Also, Houck, your characters are swimming and you don't take advantage of the opportunity to describe your hot male lead shirtless? For shame. He doesn't even show up at the pool, so I think he was just creeping on her from inside.

He does bring her a rose, though, so I guess that's all of the emotional work done on his end.

So Kelsey reads Romeo and Juliet to Ren. Kelsey thinks it's the most romantic story ever, but Ren absolutely hates it, which I think is really funny. It's not for the reason you'd expect (i.e., idiot kids falling in love and screwing over everyone), but he does complain that Romeo is dishonorable for not telling both families that he had secretly married Juliet, and the fact that Romeo made bad decisions throughout the entire play. Which, fair. Although, this is framed more as a "look how protective Ren is over the person he loves" rather than any actual criticism of people who think Romeo and Juliet is about twoo wuv.

 Don't worry, though, he still liked hearing Kelsey read it, because he was really into plays and poetry back when he wasn't an immortal tiger with healing powers. He kisses her hand and leaves the Balcony of Bonding, and then Kelsey goes to sleep for the night, ending the chapter.

Closing Thoughts

Nothing happens in this chapter. Sure, we get the translation of the "prophecy" but, as I've mentioned before, they could have just gotten it in the last chapter. Here, we have an action scene that takes place off-screen, and adds nothing to the plot, character development, or consequences that our characters face. It just happens. I think it would have been better if it was earlier in the story, maybe even before Kelsey knew that the tiger was a dude. That way, we can develop this "bond" between the two of them before we know that the tiger is a sentient human being.

And then we have Hanuman. Hanuman is the closest we're going to get to an antagonist in the story before our big bad Lokesh drunkenly walks in much, much later. Not that Hanuman is even in this story. But there are some evil monkeys to look forward to, so that's something. But it doesn't really make sense that they're going up against Hanuman, who by all accounts seems like a really chill and smart dude.

Remember the text of the "prophecy" though, because unless I'm going crazy I don't think some of it happens.

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