Kiki Kallira has always been a worrier. Did she lock the front door? Is there a terrible reason her mom is late? Recently her anxiety has been getting out of control, but one thing that has always soothed her is drawing. Kiki's sketchbook is full of fanciful doodles of the rich Indian myths and legends her mother has told her over the years.
One day, her sketchbook's calming effect is broken when her mythological characters begin springing to life right out of its pages. Kiki ends up falling into the mystical world she drew, which includes a lot of wonderful discoveries like the band of rebel kids who protect the kingdom, as well as not-so-great ones like the ancient deity bent on total destruction. As the one responsible for creating the evil god, Kiki must overcome her fear and anxiety to save both worldsthe real and the imaginedfrom his wrath. But how can a girl armed with only a pencil defeat something so powerful?
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I sketched out the finer details of the Asura that Ashwini was fighting. He was a dragon demon, like the one the god Indra had defeated in one of the myths, and he was the size of a horse, with enormous black wings, slit nostrils that breathed smoke, a spiky scarlet tongue, and shiny black jewels for scales.
I inked over the pale pencil lines and reached for my box of colored pencils. Sweeping black lines and blocks of rich color transformed the white paper into something alive. Soon, the battle felt so real that I could almost feel the hiss of the Asura’s breath on my face.
My bed gave a jerk beneath me. I jerked, too, startled.
“Hello?” I said foolishly.
Funnily enough, no one answered.
I shrugged it off and went back to my sketch. I gave the Asura’s tail a wicked curve.
I dropped the pencil and snatched my hands back. It had been a quick, sudden burst of pain, like an electric shock. I could have sworn it had come from my sketchbook!
After a moment of hesitation, I put one hand back down on the page, ready to snatch it away if I needed to. Nothing happened. It was just paper. My paper, as much a part of me as my own skin.
I was probably just tired. It had been a while since I’d had more than five or six hours of sleep at night, and while it was definitely more fun to stay up and draw than it was to stay up wondering if I needed to double-check the downstairs windows, I knew I’d be useless at school tomorrow if I didn’t at least try to sleep.
I put my sketchbook and pencils back on my desk, got under my warm, cuddly blanket, and flicked my lamp off.
When I woke up, my desk was in flames and there was a demon in my bedroom.
I had bad dreams just like everybody else, of course, but it seemed a little unfair that this dream involved a demon and a fire. Just one of the two would have been more than enough, thanks.
I stayed calm. I sat up, blinked at the demon, and tried to ignore how real the heat from the flames felt.
The Asura regarded me silently. He was exactly like the one I had drawn before I fell sleep. Black-jewel scales, slit nostrils with curls of smoke, and malevolent eyes. I swallowed. It was fine to be a little scared at this point, right? Even if you knew it wasn’t real?
“Can I help you?” I asked politely.
The Asura narrowed those eyes. “What is this place?” he demanded. His voice was a low snarl.
Tiny beads of sweat formed on the tip of my nose. The room had become hot and smoky.
“This is London,” I said.
“Lun-din,” the Asura repeated, testing the syllables in his mouth. “Not Mysore?”
“No . . .?”
“Then he did it,” the Asura rumbled. Was that wonder in his voice? “Mahishasura has found a way home at last.”
This didn’t sound like good news to me.
“Kiki? What’s all that noise down there?”
The Asura whipped around at the sound of Mum’s voice from her bedroom in the loft above us. As he did, his wickedly sharp tail hit my leg, where blood bloomed immediately.
This was the second time I had said that tonight. I stared at the blood, while the flames from the desk spread to the window curtains, and I felt a sudden, horrible terror.
This wasn’t a dream, was it?
I did not stay calm. Even as my brain rejected the possibility that this was real, my body started to panic. My heart pounded. My curtains were on fire, my desk was on fire, the sketchbook on my desk was on fire.
And the Asura was gone.
I heard a crash from downstairs as the front door slammed open. He had escaped.
Great. There was a demon loose in London.
“What was that?” I could hear Mum shifting in bed. She would be downstairs any minute now. “Was that the door?”
There was literally no way I could answer that honestly, so I lied. “I didn’t hear anything!” I squeaked.
What was I supposed to deal with first? Fire or demon? Demon or fire?
Well, one of the two was still in my house with my mother, so that settled things. Holding my breath and scrunching up my eyes to block out as much smoke as I could, I dragged my blankets off my bed, smacked at the curtains with them, and then threw them over the desk to smother the remaining flames.
Then I turned and ran, barefoot, out of my room, down the stairs, and out of the open front door. I had absolutely no idea what I planned to do when I found the Asura, who was an impressively ferocious dragony demony thing while I was just a kid in her favorite pajamas, but I couldn’t just let him get away, either. After all, I was the one who had somehow set him loose.
Not to mention the fact that he was the only one who could explain to me how he had become so, you know, real.
So I ran down the street and turned the corner. My feet did not approve of the cracked, uneven pavement and my decision to venture forth without shoes, but they would just have to put up with it.
By the time I found the Asura, he was causing quite a stir at the bus stop. The bus had actually stopped, which is more unusual than you would think at a bus stop, and the few people who had been on it had abandoned it because the Asura got on board. He stomped up and down the aisle, puffing smoke and snarling at the driver, who mostly sighed and looked very put-upon.
“It’s way too late for this, mate,” I heard him say. “Save the costume for the West End. Just buy a ticket so we can all go home, yeah?”
“Costume?” the Asura roared. “Costume? Do you not know who I am? I am an Asura! I am a warrior in the great Mahishasura’s army! And I will help him return to this world!”
“Ticket,” the bus driver replied, unmoved, “or get off.”
This couldn’t possibly end well. I had to do something before someone ended up eaten or barbecued or both. I looked around desperately for inspiration, but there wasn’t even a convenient stick lying around that I could hit the Asura with (not that a stick would have done much against a demon, but said stick could have at least had the courtesy to make itself available).
Then, just as I considered falling back on the noble, timeless technique of screaming very loudly, something astonishing happened.
A girl ran past me. With a sword.
She paused before she jumped onto the bus, looked back at me over her shoulder, and winked. Winked.
Then she leaped on board and faced down the Asura. She was barely older than I was, but she was ferocious, all sharp lines and elbows and edges, the sword as much a part of her as her hands. I watched in awe as she looked the demon in the eye and didn’t even tremble.
“You,” the Asura spat the word, punctuated by a puff of smoke, “you’re here. You are relentless.”
The girl smiled, but it was the least friendly smile I had ever seen. “Did you really think I wouldn’t follow you? Go back to Mysore, Asura. Go back and tell your king we won’t let him return to this world.”
The Asura growled and sprang at her. The girl darted out of the way. She dragged the bleating bus driver out of his seat and pushed him out of the bus. The doors hissed shut, cutting us off from both girl and demon.
“Oy!” the bus driver shouted. “I’ll call the police, don’t think I won’t!”
I ignored his shouts, and the flurry of phone-camera flashes, and ran to the bus. I pressed my hands to the glass of the doors, my heart like thunder in my ears. I wanted to help, but I didn’t know how.
All I could do was watch as a demon and a girl fought a battle inside a red London bus.
They moved so fast that sometimes they weren’t much more than a blur. The only way I could make sense of it was by holding individual moments still, like sketches on a page. Her sword met the blade of his tail. His teeth snapped a hair’s breadth from her face. White snakes of his smoke wrapped around them. His scales gleamed too bright in the harsh lights of the bus. And the girl, somehow, held her own against the Asura. More than that, even. She was glorious. She faced him like she had been born to fight demons.
Like she had been born to fight demons.
I stared at her. At the brown skin. At the shiny dark hair cut in a sharp bob below her chin. At the brown eyes that glittered with joy and mischief I had put there. I knew that face. I knew her.
She hadn’t been born, had she? She had come from the same place the Asura had. My sketchbook. I had made her.
The Asura lashed out with the jagged tail I had given him. The girl dodged and danced from seat to aisle to seat, always just out of his reach. The Asura snarled and leaped right over the seats. He swiped a powerful, clawed foreleg at her and knocked her onto the floor. I gasped as he loomed over her, his smoke darkening to crimson as he prepared to breathe fire.
I pounded my fists on the doors. “No!” I shouted. “Stop! Please!”
The sound made the Asura look around. It wasn’t much of a distraction, but it was all the girl needed. She plunged her sword right into the dragon demon’s heart.
The Asura tipped his head back and roared in pain and rage. Then he burst into smoke, which swirled in the air for a moment before it blew away.
Behind me, I heard applause. “That was so cool,” someone said. “How did she do that?”
The girl got to her feet and dusted herself off, then gave her audience a curtsy. Her smile was as bright as her sword.
I backed away from the doors. She opened them and hopped off the bus. “Sorry,” she said unrepentantly to the bus driver. He glowered and stomped past her to get back to his seat.
As the bus trundled away and left the girl and me behind, I saw a plume of black smoke form in the air about halfway down the street. What now?
The girl turned to see what I was staring at. She sighed. “Sometimes,” she said, sounding somewhat annoyed, “their hearts aren’t where they’re supposed to be.”
What was that supposed to—
As the black smoke resolved itself into the shape of the Asura, the one who just moments before had burst into that very same smoke, I realized that she hadn’t killed him, after all. She’d stabbed him in the heart, but his heart had been somewhere else.
My brain could not cope with this.
I expected the Asura to attack us, but as soon as it took shape, it fled on four strong, clawed, scaly legs.
I briefly wondered why he hadn’t used his wings and flown away, but was almost immediately distracted by the girl shouting, “Come on! We can’t let him get away!”
I had a lot of objections to this, but she was already running and I felt it would be rude not to follow.
As I chased after her, she veered abruptly into the front garden of a nearby house and came back an instant later with a bicycle. It was bright and purple, with an enormous wicker basket in front that had one forgotten potato inside.
“We’re not stealing that bicycle!” I protested.
“We’ll bring it back,” she said cheerfully. “Now hurry up and get in!”
“Get in? Where—”
She leaped astride the bicycle and it suddenly became very clear where she expected me to get in.
“Uh, no,” I said at once. “I am absolutely, definitely, 5 million percent not getting into the basket.”
Fifteen seconds later, I was in the wicker basket of the bicycle and we were hurtling down the street.
My arms and legs flailed ungracefully as the girl pedaled furiously behind me, her delighted laughter in my ears. I was making noises, too, but laughter was not a word I would have used to describe them. The Asura was a distant speck ahead of us, but we were catching up.
“You have very nice hair, but it’s quite long!” the girl yelled behind me. “I can’t see past it! You’ll have to tell me which way to steer!”
“YOU’LL HAVE TO TELL ME—”
“Left!” I shrieked as a car zipped past us, honking indignantly. “Now right! No, wait, stay left! Stay left!”
We hit the crest of the hill. The next thing I knew, the girl made a sharp turn into a cobbled side street, and I saw the Asura stop and turn to face us.
As soon as we hit the cobblestones, the bicycle went flying. I tumbled right out of the basket and landed with a painful whump on my bottom, while the girl did a backflip, landed perfectly on her feet, and jumped straight at the Asura.
This time, there was no fight. As she jumped, she wrapped both hands around her sword and raised it high. She slammed into the Asura, his bared teeth barely an inch apart from hers, and drove the sword down over his head and into his back, between the black-jeweled wings.
The Asura roared, a bone-rattling sound that made all the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
But the girl didn’t even flinch. She just opened her mouth, and roared back.
As she yanked the sword out, the Asura burst into smoke.
“That should be permanent,” said the girl, satisfied.
I staggered unsteadily to my feet. My heart was beating so fast, I was pretty sure it was going to burst right out of my chest. Cars passed by on the main road, and music spilled out of a window somewhere above us, but it all felt very far away.
The girl came over to where I stood, shivering in the cold. Or maybe it was the shock. We stared at each other. I tried to speak, but could only get one word out.
Her grin grew bigger. “So,” she said, “you’ve made quite a mess, haven’t you?”