Read an Excerpt from ‘The Star-Touched Stories’

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Roshani Chokshi enchants readers with the release of ‘The Star-Touched Stories.’ Based from the magical setting of her debut series, The Star-Touched Queen, this collection will revisit Bharata, Akaran and the world beyond. 

This collection has three short stories starring familiar characters that we’ve come to love, and new characters that will make readers swoon. Today, we are sharing an excerpt. You can read it below:

 

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DEATH

I stood outside the home, watching as the light beaded and dripped down the length of the Tapestry thread. I waited. There was never any rush. Not for me at least.

The light dangled from the end of the string, clinging and re- luctant. A passing wind stirred the ends of the thread, teasing out strands of memory. The memories plumed into the air, releasing the scent of a life lived in love. One by one, the memories unraveled— a pillow shared by two heads bent close in secrecy, a frayed blanket kept inside an eternally empty cradle, a table that sagged from the weight of uncertain feasts. Happiness stolen from the edges of sorrow.

I stepped over the threshold.

The lights in the hut extinguished. Shadows slipped off the walls to gather around my feet. Inside the hut, someone had propped up a stingy fire. Cinnamon scented the air. Past the dusty vestibule, rows upon rows of bay leaves hung from the ceiling. Strange runes scratched into small animal bones and ivory hairpins lay in carefully constructed patterns. I laughed. Someone had tried to ward me away. But there was no door that didn’t open to me.

At the far corner of the house huddled two people. A man in the arms of a woman. Old age had blessed him, yet for all his gnarled veins and silver-streaked hair, the woman cradled him as if he were a child. He murmured softly into the crook of her neck. I watched them. She wasn’t crying.

The woman looked up . . . and saw me. How refreshing.

“Greetings, Dharma Raja,” said the woman in a clear voice.

I took in the bay leaves and bone pins. “You were expecting me, I take it.”

“Yes,” she said, hanging her head. “I regret that I cannot serve you any food or drink or treat you as a guest in our home.”

“Don’t let it trouble you,” I said, waving my hand. “I am rarely a guest. Merely an inevitable occurrence.”

Her husband did not stir in her arms. His breath had grown soft. While the woman had kept her eyes trained on me, I had taken away his pain, siphoned it bit by bit. I was in a generous mood.

“You have come for him.”

“As I will for you, one day. I could tell you the hour, if you wish it.”

“No.”

I shrugged. “Very well.”

She clutched him tighter. Her hands trembled. I knew she could feel his life unspooling. She may have seen me, but she did not see his life pooling beneath him.

“May I ask something of you, Dharma Raja?” “You may.”

But I need not honor it.

“We always wished to leave this life together.”

“I cannot change your appointed time, even if I wished.”

She closed her eyes. “Then may I request, instead, that you not let him pass to the next life until I may join him there?”

Now this was interesting. I sank backward into the air, and an onyx throne swirled up to meet me. I tilted my head, watching her. “Why? I haven’t weighed your life yet. What if you were far more honorable than your husband in this life? I could pour your soul into the mold of a princess blessed with beauty and intellect, riches and wonders. I could add silver to your heart and fortify you from any heartbreak. I could give you a life worthy of legends.” She shook her head. “I would rather have him.”

“You’d rather have him, and whatever life that entails?” I leaned forward, eyeing the dingy room.

Her eyes flashed. “Yes.”

“He may not even come back as a human. Believe me. I’ve remade emperors into cockroaches and cockroaches into kings. You seem like a reasonably intelligent woman. Would you truly like to keep house for a bug?”

She lifted her chin. “I would be his mate in any form.”

A curious emotion prickled my skin, nudging the back of my thoughts. My hands tightened on the shadow throne. Before I could stop myself, the question flew from me:

“Why? ”

“Because I love him,” said the woman. “I would prefer any life with him than any life without him. Even the deities know love to the point that they will chase their counterpart through thousands of lifetimes. Surely you, oh Dharma Raja, understand how extraor- dinary love can be?”

I knew very well what could come of love. I had seen it. Been cursed by it. Even now, I thought of her. The way she ran away and left a shadow in her place. Love was extraordinary.

Extraordinarily spiteful. Extraordinarily blind. Extraordinarily misleading. “Bold words,” I said.

“They do not move you?”

I shrugged. “You may appeal and supplicate and wheedle as you wish, but I have heard every excuse and plea and sputter, and my heart has never been moved.”

The woman bowed her head. She gathered her husband to her chest. Her wedding bangles clanked together, breaking the silence. When I left, custom dictated that she must remove those wedding ornaments. Widows did not wear such bracelets. I had not consid- ered until now that the sound itself was a thing near death. And that chime—gold against gold—struck me far louder than any keening. In the echoes, I heard something hollow. And lonely.

I dropped the noose. It slid through the man’s skin, noiseless as silk. Life had left him. All that was left was his soul.

You never forget what it’s like to withdraw a soul. It is an un- clasping. Sometimes a soul is tough and hard, surrounded by sin- ews of memories gone brittle with age. Sometimes a soul is soft and bursting like wind-fallen fruit, all bruised tenderness and stale hope. And sometimes a soul is an ethereal shard of light. As if the force of its life is a scorching thing.

This soul belonged to light.

When the woman looked down, she knew that her husband was gone. The thing she cradled was nothing more than meat soon to spoil. Tears slid down her wrinkled cheeks.

“Come now,” I said, standing from the throne. “I have taken hus- bands when their wives still wore the henna from their wedding. I consider you lucky.”

“I beg of you,” she said. “Don’t let him move on without me. He would have asked the same.”

I swung the soul into a satchel and the light faded. I headed for the door, more out of formality than anything else. If I wanted, I could’ve disappeared right then and there.

“Please. What would you do for someone you loved?”

I stopped short. “I can’t say I’ve had the pleasure of that provo- cation.”

“You love no one?” she asked, her eyebrows rising in disbelief. “I love myself. Does that count?”

And then I left.