Don't Go Walking Slow

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Jungles of Southeast Asia, November 1942

It was the dry season in Burma, but it was raining lead. Staccato ricochets against my cover showered me with chips of rock and dirt.

We had gotten pinned down while making a forward advance towards a Japanese-held village. The rest of the platoon was hiding in the brush behind me, taking potshots at the enemy from behind the trees.

The gunfire died down for a moment as the enemy reloaded. Private Hamal takes the chance to run from cover to cover. He slammed his back against my boulder, flashing a forced grin at me, a set of pearly whites in a face of acne and mud.

"Bloody hell, these cunts are ripping us a new one, eh Pal? What happened to the lieutenant?"

I racked back the slide on a fresh magazine before I responded. "The lieutenant got a pungi stick up the arse a second before these fuckers ambushed us. Sergeant Chand is command now."

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, holding my rifle close to my chest. I thought back to the distant snow-capped mountains framing the houses in my village, and found the calm in the firefight. As soon as I had my heartbeat under control, I propped my gun on the rock and set a soldier in my sights, hiding in the window of a broken building. I slowly exhaled, squeezed the trigger, and his shoulder detonated in a shower of viscera. Before I could switch targets the chatter of machine-gun fire made me duck down again.

So the exchange went, shots whizzing back and forth with screams coming from the trees and the buildings as some found their mark. The firefight was petering out as the last enemy soldier was dispatched with the crack of a final shot. I peered from behind the lead-filled boulder, and saw nothing but smoking huts and bloody trails on the ground. The rest of our platoon cautiously broke from cover, Hamal and I joining them.

We marched through the collection of huts in loose formation checking our corners, but we only found dead or dying soldiers. After searching every building, we met in the vague center of the village. Out of our squad of thirty, only twelve were left. Sergeant Chand stepped forward.

"Listen up, men. The sun is setting, and our nearest reinforcements are held down fifteen miles out. What's the situation on radio?"

"Pujari had our last set, and it got fairly buggered when he was downed," said a haggard voice behind me.

Chand set his jaw, the stubble and grime blending together to give his face a dark shadow. "Then we have to bed down here for the night. I don't think we'd make it out before sundown, and we can't radio for help. Do what you can to fortify; take watches in shifts. Clear out the corpses and put them near the edge of town, last we need is a tiger lookin' for an easy meal."

There were a few scattered murmured "yes sirs" as we cleared out in teams of twos and threes. We stripped the bodies of anything we could salvage; Lhosar got the radio sets from Pujari and a Japanese bloke to see if he could mash together something useful. We hauled the bodies out into one big pile and pocketed friendly dog tags, but decided not to burn them.

Volunteering, Chand, Hamal and I got first watch. We sat next to the fire, listening to the wind-blown trees and the humming of insects, tightening our grip on our rifles when we heard a snapping branch or malaria-induced cough.

"How is Lhosar doing on that radio?" I asked.

"He tore it apart proper good,” Chand replied, staring into the fire. “But I don't think there's any hope in him putting it back together again. Couldn't get any useful parts out of the other radio neither, so we're up two scrapheaps and down a radio."

"Don't know why we let him near that thing, fucker can barely manage to keep his own head from fallin' off," Hamal said with a trace of a chuckle.

"Dunno, though you saw what he did with the rental on leave, right? Couple of blokes rode it too hard and burned out the radiator, let Lhosar have a crack at it and an hour later it was running as smooth as ever.”

"True."

We lapsed into silence as the conversation ran dry, the minutes oozing by like molasses. The moon hung full in the night sky and looked down upon us as ants.


The silence was broken by a voice from behind us. "Hey guys? Sergeant? You may wanna take look at this."

Private Mathi waved us over to one of the huts. We looked at each other and waited for the other to make the first move. Chand shrugged and walked to Mathi, slinging his rifle over his shoulder, Hamal and I close behind.

"What is it?" Chand asked.

Mathi guided us to inside of the building, where three other soldiers sat awake. They were investigating an open hatch in the floor of the hut. The thatched mat that once hid the trapdoor was swept aside. They peered into the dark maw with torches, but their faint beams were unable to find the bottom, sweeping over a series of shiny metal rungs bolted to the side of the dirt hole.

"It's probably only a bolthole for officers, I don't see what the fuss is about—"

"There’s light, Sergeant. We think there might be some soldiers down there still."

Chand rubbed his neck. "Alright, alright. Mathi and Hamal, fetch the next watch. Rai," he pointed to one of the soldiers investigating the bolthole, "make sure only we come up.

“Pal," He turned to me." You and I will check it out."

I began to protest, I’m a marksman, not recon, but the look on his face brooked no argument. After adjusting his cap, he grabbed Rai's torch, clamped it between his teeth, and started descending down the ladder. I took a breath, grabbed an offered torch, and followed after him.

Despite the sweltering heat of the night, the air in the shaft was cool and dry, the metal rungs chilling the hands. I became enveloped in the darkness. The only things I could see were the rungs below me and Chand further still illuminated by the torchlight. The butt of my rifle bounced against my legs, becoming almost maddening as we descended, my only relief hearing the thud of Chand's boots as he hit the bottom.

I heard an intake of breath from Chand as I made it to the last rung, and turned around to see what I could only describe as a laboratory by way of antiquarian. A ceiling supported by shoddily-cut jungle lumber. From the ceiling dim lightbulbs flickered and swayed, their power source unknown. A metal table fitted with leather restraints and suspect stains stood center in the room, queer designs and foreign symbols engraved in the metal. Tables held bloodied surgical tools and syringes of unknown fluids next to ancient artefacts and unraveled scrolls written in Oriental scripts. Masks shaped like demons with jutting tusks lined the wall, the fitful light throwing their features into a starkly eerie relief. Incense sticks burned in the corners of the room, giving it a sickly sweet smell. A shabby wooden door was on the far wall, through which we could see another room. As we stood still, we could hear breathing on the other side.

Chand and I held our rifles at the ready, gently pushing open the door and stepping through. The second room was a small barracks of some kind with more of the incense, crowded with cots and boxes stamped with Japanese characters. There were medical textbooks lying open on the cots. They were in Japanese, but even I could tell alterations were made, with diagrams encircling body parts and comments written in the margins.

In the third room, a rancid smell washed over us, causing us to rear back before stopping our noses and continuing. There was no light in this room, so we switched on our torches, motes of dust playing in the torch-beam as we swept them across the mask-covered wall. I heard the breathing again, near the ground, and froze when my light uncovered its origin.

"Chand?"

Within this larger cavern were a score of naked bodies laying upon thatch mats in a circle, their bodies bloated with decomposition and festering decay. I thought they were corpses at first— until I saw a finger twitch. The sound of buzzing flies feasting on gangrenous limbs intermingled with the labored breathing of these almost-corpses to get air through clotted throats and punctured lungs.

Each of the bodies were mutilated: bodily organs removed and stitched to the exterior of the skin, leaking pus and serum. Some with too few limbs or too many, others sewn together in hideous unity. Upon their heads were circlets of occult symbols carved into their temples, shining in shimmering silver and flesh-red, similar symbols to those engraved on the stone walls in between the masks. As my light landed on the one closest to us, it shifted its head and gazed at me with lidless pinpoint-pupil eyes, tongueless jaw agape in a voiceless scream. Its mouth was packed with carnivore teeth, set at sharp angles to each other like trees caught in a landslide.

Chand retched at the sight and smell, but I could only stare aghast into the human eyes of the creature. It reached towards me with a crackling arm possessing too many joints, but Chand pulled me back and slammed the door shut behind us, the sweet smell of incense once more masking the scent of death.

We put our backs to the door and breathed heavily.

"The Lieutenant—the Lieutenant said there might—might be something here." Chand puffed in between breaths.

I turned to look at him. "What?"

"Yeah. With us pushing them back and everything, Command figured the Japanese might be up to something. Recon finding whole villages disappearing overnight, no trace of the natives left. Which—which is why we are even here at all, but I didn't think it would be—this." He gestured to the door.

"What do we do with them?"

He nodded almost unconsciously. "Burn them. We got what we came for."


We all gathered in the pit and drew lots, Singh with the short straw. He clasped his hands in prayer, beseeching Allah for forgiveness, standing over a trail of kerosene leading to the bodies. Someone handed him a match. But as he struck it, we heard the creaking of wood, and snapped our torches to it. A previously unnoticed door was ajar, and a pale-faced Japanese man wearing a filthy lab coat stared at us.

The next few seconds were a whirlwind. I tried to unsling my rifle in time to shoot him. People were shouting, at the man and each other. Ignoring our cries, the man sliced his hand with a kukri. With a hiss of pain he slammed his bloody palm against a symbol on the wall.

A rush of cold wind pitched us backwards, the masks rattling a staccato beat on the stone. Lemon trees sprouted from the walls, fruited, and died in a split-second. The half-corpses began to spasm, mouths foaming, eyes rolling and showing white as a circle of wire beneath them flared silver. Foreign symbols flashed into existence in the air around us, flickering between red, white, and a lightless black, shining in sympathy to the glowing circlets ensconcing the villagers’ heads.

With the toll of a sonorous bell emanating from nowhere, an essence broke free of a mask and darted to one of the bodies, its trailing phantasmal form entering through the mouth. The body spasmed a final time and laid still. A legion of spirits followed, each exiting a mask and entering a new body to the deep-throated tone of the spine-chilling bell.

The wind died down, the Japanese man lay limp, his body now a dessicated husk, his hand still sealed to the wall.

Then the screeching began.

The corpses discarded their last shreds of humanity and became something other. Eyes bulged bloodshot with malice as finger-bones extended claw-like through flesh, skin colored maroon from burst veins, and sharp-fanged mouths erupted from gaping fleshwounds.

“Drop the match, Drop it Singh!”

Their flesh soaked our bullets as they fell upon us like butchers. For every one that was eliminated through sheer volume of fire, three soldiers were eviscerated. Swapping from torch to rifle meant darkness lit only by muzzle flashes, the monsters' movements turned into walking pictures, every frame a new horror. I hastily lined up a shot on one of the creatures, thought of the mountains, and fired. The creature staggered, but charged back into the fray again, its jawless scream deafening. Singh stood shell-shocked as they fell upon him. He finally dropped the match as his hand was severed, lighting the trail of kerosene and filling the room with smoke. A few of the creatures lit ablaze but shrugged off the scorching flame.

In the slaughter, my rifle was torn from my hands and splintered in two. I fell backwards and crawled towards the far side of the room, weaponless and powerless.

One of the monsters holding Chand’s intestines turned towards me, its bloodshot eyes and slavering mouths sizing me up as it advanced slowly my way.

I frantically felt around me for something, anything, and I came to the scientist’s corpse, his ivory-smooth kukri still gripped in his hand. As the monster leapt upon me, I ripped the kukri from his grasp and slashed at the monster.

It made an unearthly cry and reared back, the light slice across its chest burning and spreading, affected flesh crumbling to powder until the creature was a pile of ash.

I abandoned them. As smoke filled the room and the screams died down, I abandoned them, shuffling my way down the corridor, looking for another way out. The bone-claws of the monster had sliced my calf and it burned like fire, but I kept my teeth gritted shut.

The cave complex was larger than I imagined, but I put some distance between the fire and I, in which I hoped the monsters met their end, and found another ladder, ascending upwards. As I emerged to meet the fresh air, I could see the village in the near distance, burning, coloring the night a shade of red. I knelt next to a nearby tree, puffing heavily, my legs shaking with adrenaline. It was only after I had regained my breath that I turned my attention to the knife.

It was a kukri made of ivory, thick at the head but tapering towards the hilt. Inscriptions in some Hindi-adjacent language ran down the center of a curved blade the length of my hand. There was a small red ruby set in the center of the hilt, the handle wrapped in musty leather.

I went to sheathe the blade, but I realized that I couldn’t let go of it, pins and needles running up my arm as I tried to release it from my grip. Even using my other hand, I couldn’t budge the kukri from its position. It was a short-lived distraction from the horrors I had just bore witness to, but a distant, inhuman scream brought me back to reality.

Invigorated by the screech, I quickly trekked in the opposite direction of the village, using my flashlight and the kukri to hack through the jungle. My calf burned as sweat ran into the wound, but I had no time to tend to it. The prickling sensation spread up to my arm, and I had the growing feeling of someone watching me, like a pressure in the back of my skull.

As I hiked, the pressure built in my head, pressing inward with more and more force, becoming claustrophobic, as it felt as though the entire forest had eyes boring into the back of my head. It was too much to bear, and I turned around, looking every which way frantically.

“Who is there? Show yourself!”

Behind me. “Namaste."

There suddenly was a woman, or at least something shaped like a woman. Her long, onyx black hair cascaded down her chest, tantalizingly covering yet accentuating the slopes of her breasts. Her arms were long and muscular, body toned and athletic, and her colors varied from a soft saffron to a crimson red. She walked slowly towards me, and I realized that her feet did not make a sound as she padded across the ground, and I could see the faint backdrop of the jungle through her, as if she were a ghost.

My mind leapt to the shrines kept by the faithful in my village as I studied her, and I felt as though I was in the presence of something that outclassed me in every sense of the word. Almost instinctively my body prostrated itself in front of her.

Nothing. I peeked, and she looked down at me with a hint of amusement. The woman gestured for me to rise with her right hand, her other right hand playing with her hair.

She looking at me with my foreign uniform with curiosity, and rattled off what seemed to be a list of questions in Hindi as I stood. Upon my look of confusion, she seemed to understand I didn’t know her tongue, and thought for a moment. She walked closer, within arm's reach.

She came to a stop in front of me, one set of arms dangling and one folded across her chest. She pointed to me, then at the kukri, then drew one of her hands across the other in a cutting motion.

“Why?”

She shook her head and continued pointing at the kukri. I remember my mother telling stories about those sorry souls that disobeyed the commands of spirits, so I gritted my teeth and sliced my hand.

My blood curled and twisted around the kukri, rippling like water as it gravitated towards the ruby in the pommel. The jewel glowed slightly as the blood pooled around it, soaking up the scarlet liquid. As the blood was absorbed, the ruby dimmed back to its dull sheen.

“Hello, again.” Her voice was soft, but it cut through the night air as if the jungle quietened to hear her.

I turned to her. “You speak Nepali?”

“No, but you speak good Hindi.” She said with a smile, her mouth's movements not quite matching up with the words.

After a night of insanity and bloodshed, questions poured out like a river. “Who are you? What are you. What were those things down there, why do you have a magic kukri—”

She shushed me and made a soothing motion with her hands. "I am Child of Barbarika, Son of Ghatotkach, Son of Bhīma, Pramaada. And you?"

I unconsciously stood straighter as I replied. “Corporal Kiran Pal, Fourth Gorkha Rifles of the British Army, ma’am.”

A beat. “If you wouldn’t mind me asking, Pramaada, what are you doing here?”

“I was the guardian spirit of this forest. Some mage bound me to his kukri after I killed his brother in a duel,” She smiled, her teeth as sharp as her kukri. “And took his wife for the night, but that was just for fun on both our parts.”

“What happened since you were bound to the kukri?”

“I was unable to protect this forest and its people, to fulfill the pact.” She paused, clenching her fists. “Those foreigners,” she pronounced the word with vitriol, “came into the village at night and captured or slaughtered the inhabitants. Used me, my kukri to aid in their experiments upon them. Created the rakshasa, soulless cannibalistic demons.”

“Ah.”

Pramaada stiffened, and looked off in the middle distance. “More are coming.”

“How many?”

“Two hundred, perhaps more. They are going to reinforce the village, though they won’t find anything left to defend, thanks to your efforts. But that will not stop them.”

She looked at me, her green slit-pupil eyes were flecked with gold. “You must defeat them.”

I protested. “I’m a sniper, I stand a hundred meters from my enemy and shoot at them, I don’t take on armies by myself. I would be massacred.”

She slowly walked towards me, and put two hands on my shoulders, her other pair on my hips. It was at this moment I realized how she towered over me, a full head and a half on my height.

“I cannot fight them alone. The binding to the kukri is too strong. It disallows me from working on anything but the kukri. But we cannot allow them to burn homes, experiment on children, cut forests to fuel a rampaging war machine.” She paused, bit her lip, and looked back at me. “Help me to honor the pact again.

“I can work through you. If you give yourself to me willingly, you would be able to use my powers to smite these invaders down.”

I shrugged off her hands and walk a distance away from her and sat on a log. My hands longed to hold a rifle, to feel the stability and comfort in its firm, rigid form. But as it was, my hands clenched on empty air.

Thoughts and memories bubbled up in my head unbidden, of the snarling masks, of Chand’s intestines, the face of the villager. Hamal, Singh, Mathi. I cradled my head in my hands, begging them to leave, but their faces remained, seared into my mind, impassive in their black disdain.

I took a deep breath. Then another. Home and its mountains. I turn to Pramaada. “Where are they coming from?”


I crouched behind the ridge, looking through a set of worn binoculars at the long column of soldiers. Their dawn march through the burnt shell of the village found nothing but the pile of bodies and the last embers of the fire, spread from the tunnels below, where all the defenders of the village—my friends, comrades—had perished. Distressed commanders argued with each other.

At the back of the train were more snarling rakshasa, led by soldiers leashing them with long catch poles of silver wire and iron rod. Another scientist was going up and down the column checking teeth and sigils carved into their flesh, taking note of unique features and growths. My trigger finger itched to make his skull smell of cordite, but I wasn’t able to make that happen, yet.

I mumbled to the kukri. “Are you sure this will work?”

The prickling of nerves intensified, the gem glowing with bloodlust. Pramaada’s voice sounded in my head. “Yes. The possession will be painless, I swear.”

“If it doesn’t work, I will reincarnate and kill you myself,” I steeled myself for the process, the rehearsed words rolling in my head among the snow-peaked mountains. “Pramaada, I open my soul to you, let us do battle as the Devas in their righteous war upon the Asuras.”

“Yessss.” She hissed with barely-concealed pleasure as she appears hovering over my shoulder. She lays a hand over mine holding the kukri, and the prickling sensation is replaced with numbness as her hand disappears within my skin and takes control of the nerves. This numbness quickly spread to the rest of my body as our two essences merged and my consciousness was suppressed underneath her own, the reins in her hands now.

She whispered softly into my her ear as she finished the possession, the last words I hear before I go under. "Would you like me to tell you how we kill them?"

You reach out with all six of your arms, hued in dark maroon, and five duplicates of the kukri materialize in your outstretched hands, shifting and roiling into new martial forms, a mace, sword, shield, bow, and arrow, clad in silver and gold. The first soldier your arrow finds dies without raising his rifle to bear, a gout of blood watering the soil in tribute to Prithvi.

The rest of the soldiers curse in a foreign tongue as they set you in their sights, raining fury and lead upon you. In a dance you have not performed in lifetimes, you spin and twirl through the vapor trails as one would dance around raindrops, the weapons in your hands dealing sweet death. You inhale the valley air, the mace-crushed skull of a lieutenant scattering blood among the fresh dew. You exhale with the flick of a shimmering blade splitting the trigger fingers from the hands of three privates, another flick disemboweling them. You bare your curved sabre-like teeth to sink into the jugular of a captain, blocking a bayonet charge with a glowing shield. They douse your radiant body with clinging flame, and a barehanded strike sends them into a tree with a sickening crunch.

A man shouts a command, and the shambling rakshasa rush forward, their hateful bug-eyes staring unflinchingly into yours as you sink arrow after arrow into the folds of their unnatural bodies, parrying their rotting claws against your shield and beheading two in one swipe while they pile upon you in an unceasing number, weighing and toppling you to the ground, the sticking flames spreading and burning their uncaring flesh in their attempt to smother you. They bite your body with gluttonous desire, gulping down divine blood with dark greed and an unending hunger. You concentrate and empower the flames with the fury of Hiḍimbī, searing the abominable growths. The rakshasa scream in tortuous agony as your flames cleave their parasitic souls from the villagers, sending both back mercifully into the Karmic cycle.

Reveling in the slaughter, covered in the blood and entrails of your enemies, you turn towards the remainder, gorging yourself on the hearts of the foreigners by the dozen, hundred. After an unending yet still unfulfilling feast of gore and flesh, only the doctor remains, standing bewildered ankle-deep in his comrades, his fatigues splattered with their blood. The smell of his fear rises to a climax, and finally to a crescendo as his life is the last taken, the ritual dagger sliding into his stomach with the gentleness of a lover. He slumps to the ground, weeping, dying. Your My job was done.


My sense of self returned to me as my supernumerary arms fold away into nothing and my skin returned to its darker complexion. A wave of exhaustion washed over me and I collapsed to my knees like a marionette without her strings. The blood, sweat, and viscera coating my body grew cool as the morning breeze made its way through the holes of my tattered uniform. Pramaada's kukri finally fell from my grip to the ground with a light thud as I stared into the rising sun.

The flies began to descend onto the banquet in their thousands, my overstimulated brain drowned in the sea of buzzing drones, unable to parse the previous minutes? Hours? In the slaughter it had been impossible to keep track, even in an out-of-body state, leaving nothing but a blood-red smear of time. I wasn't alone, Pramaada wasn't gone, I could still feel the prickling of her presence in the kukri, but I don't think either of us were in the state of mind to talk to each other, her digesting and me processing.

After what felt like an eternity, the droning of the flies and the dull throbbing of contusions and bruises was interrupted by the sound of something large hacking its way through the underbrush behind me. I snapped out of my trance and grabbed Pramaada, stumbling behind a burnt hut as my head spun from such hasty movement.

The last sputtering vestiges of adrenaline I could produce made my body tremble as I peeked between the slats of the scorched wood. As the sound came closer, I began to hear chatter and snippets of conversation, terse and short though it be. It didn't sound Japanese.

Out of the brush emerged troops wearing British army uniforms, though they seemed a motley sort. Three men and two women, one taking point, wearing a strange box-like contraption strapped to her back and a cord leading to a device in her hand which produced varying buzzing and clicking sounds as she swept the area.

"Damn, looks like someone got here first," a man carrying a radio backpack remarked in English.

"Or something,” another man scanning the treeline with a Thompson replied. “How many troops does it take to make this much blood. Jesus.”

The device in the point woman's hand began to chirp in an increasing pitch as she walked closer to me, her arm sweeping smaller arcs until she was pointing directly at my hiding spot. She looked up from the device directly at me.

"That 'something' is hiding behind that hut. James, don't point the gun at them, its a dreadful way to say hello." She spoke English with a faint French accent. Looking at me, she beckoned me closer with the hand holding the detector. I glanced at her companions, who eyed me back with suspicion, but not hostility. I stepped from behind the half-collapsed wall, nervously rubbing the hilt of Pramaada as if to try to summon her back to help me, but the kukri remained stubbornly inert.

The Frenchwoman gave me a once over with the device, stopping as the clicking cascaded into a constant groan when it reached the kukri. She looked at me questioningly.

"That uniform you're wearing is British Army make. What happened to the rest of your squadron?"

I gestured with a limp hand towards the mutated corpses of the rakshasas, my tongue stumbling over my half-forgotten English lessons. "They blind-sided us in the dark. We—we didn't stand a chance."

She nodded wordlessly. Finally she pointed towards the kukri. "May I have it?"

I reflexively tightened my grip around Pramaada, the tips of my fingers prickling. "I can't, I mean, it is not that I can't but, you know—I think—She would want to stay with me."

The Frenchwoman tilted her head slightly, eyes narrowing by a fraction as she pursed her lips. "Alright then, that will do as well." Then, to the radio man, she says, "Radio headquarters, Santo, we found it."

Santo holstered his pistol and unslung the radio pack from his shoulders and began to tinker with the dials. As he held the transceiver to his ear, I saw his sleeve slipping down to reveal a tattoo of a plunger-detonator on the inside of his left wrist, the plunger's handle forming part of a crucifix.

"HQ is asking for your call-sign, signora. Code-phrase today is Tare-Nan-Yoke."

"DC al Fine."

Muttering. “That did it, I’m patched in.”

The Frenchwoman, Fine, turned back to me. "I don't suppose you would want to, ah, relinquish ownership of the knife after we were to evacuate, no? Even though you know what it does?"

I looked around at the field of bodies and viscera, the clouds of flies and birds circling above, and then back down at the kukri, which shivered slightly in my grip. I thought back to the story Pramaada told me, of fire and rakshasas and magic, the faces of Chand, Hamal, Singh, Mathi. "No, I wouldn't."

"Whose war are you willing to fight, eh? Hitler's or ours?"

Without a moment of hesitation, "Ours. Definitely ours."

DC al Fine stretched out her hand towards me. "Welcome to the Allied Occult Initiative, then. You and your blade have been forcefully drafted." She gave me a sad smile.

"Too late to get out now."

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