This unconventional story starts with the epilogue, and then goes backwards from there. At the end, there will be a short section about what happens after the epilogue.
This story starts off in the Forbidden Cities, in a city called Mumbai. Mumbai is the economic capital of India, with a huge population of 18.41 million people.
Here is a quote from Wikipedia:
Upon India's independence in 1947 the city was incorporated into Bombay State. In 1960, following the Samyukta Maharashtra Movement, a new state of Maharashtra was created with Bombay as the capital. Mumbai is the financial, commercial and entertainment capital of India.
This is completely and entirely true. However, since then, Bombay (the English name for the city) has been renamed Mumbai (the real name of the city).
Politics in India
In India, there are two main political parties, like there are in most other democratic parties. There's Congress (the name is misleading, it isn't actually a legislative branch) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Congress is the generally more corrupt party. Mr. Mehra, the villain of the story, is the fictional Prime Minister of the country, coming from the Congress Party.
"Attention, please! All students must report to room E5, I repeat, all students are to report to room E5!"
Riya froze. Turned to dust. Then got whisked away.
Everyone in the halls stared at the empty spot where Riya had once stood. But nobody really cared. The loss of Riya Acharya wasn't much to them. Or so they thought.
Be Prepared to Die
The clatter of marbles on the limestone floor made a loud noise in the eerily silent hallway. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Anjali's parents appeared.
"So, Anjali, what do you have to say for yourself? Sneaking out every night, going off to who knows where in Mumbai?" they said, in Marathi, the local language.
Anjali froze in fright. How could she tell them where she went each night? They would not approve. At all.
Then, as if saved by some force, Anjali got sucked into a light, and was transported away to a warehouse. The warehouse that she snuck off to every night.
"What was that light?"
"Nothing you need to know. And now, it's time for Plan B," a voice said.
"Plan B? What Plan B? I wasn't even aware of a Plan A! And what's wrong with the current situation? Everything is going according to plan, Rita!" Anjali said
"Are you sure? Because I'm pretty sure that I just had to save you from some fierce questioning. And what have I always said?"
"My parents are never to know about this." Anjali sighed, "But now that they know, what do we do?"
"That's why there's a Plan B. You have to move to the Lost Cities."
"Okay, you can stop joking now." Rita was famous for her sarcastic jokes. This should have been one of them.
"The Lost Cities. The place where you are actually from."
"But I was born and raised in Mumbai! I've been here all my life! Now where are you taking me?"
"To the elves."
Once more, Anjali thought it was a joke. "The elves? The Lost Cities? Come on, you don't need to spin up webs."
"I think... I think you will only understand once I show you." And before Anjali could say a word, she got whisked away by a light. For the second time that day.
"What-Where-How-" Anjali was flustered.
"I'm taking you to the Neverseen."
"Yes. The Neverseen."
"Why are you suddenly being so cold to me? You're always so funny and bright."
"None of your business."
"Wait a second. You are cold. Literally. You're making it snow."
Anjali was suddenly pushed through double doors and into a courtroom. All eyes were staring at her. Her hands were quickly pulled to the back, and handcuffed.
"So," a voice boomed, "What have we here?"
"The girl you wanted, sir," Rita whispered, cowering in fear before the Neverseen's famed leader.
"My my, what a girl. Unwittingly working for me, eh?" Anjali then looked closer at the man.
"You're- You are Prime Minister Mehra!" she exclaimed.
"That's right, Anjali. And now you, have failed me, by revealing yourself to your family."
"But I never did that on purpose! They caught me!"
"Which is exactly how you have failed me. Be prepared to die, Anjali Kakade. That's how you pay for your mistakes."
Now is the Time
Headline News: PM Mehra appoints a new, American lawyer, Kira O'Connor.
Anjali was watching the news that day, and wasn't very surprised. PM Mehra had always been fond of Americans, it wouldn't have been long before he hired one for one of his private jobs.
O'Connor seemed good-looking. She had pale peach skin, and blonde hair. She would have been pretty, if it weren't for the cold look in her eye.
Anjali smiled as she watched the TV. His obsession would never end, would it?
O’Connor seemed very shy of media, so as soon as they were done asking her questions, she walked away, to the very edge of the convention center. Anjali followed her movements with hre peripheral vision, just to have the satisfaction of being able to “keep an eye on her.” It was an odd thing that she was used to, stalking people, spying on them, keeping track of them. After all, it was part of her job.
But when Kira O’Connor reached the end of the convention center, in a corner very far from the main entrance, she saw a light shine, and absorb the body of the lawyer.
Immediately a zap shot through her forehead. It was sudden, yes. But could she remember watching the TV at all that day? No.
The one thing she did remember was going down the elevator to the ground floor and going to the club house of her complex. Playing table tennis with her best friend. Swimming in the cooling waters of the pool. But no, not the TV. And especially not the light.
That night, cued by the rise of processions and the honks of cars on the city’s roads, and with as much concentration as she could muster, she tiptoed across the hallway to get to the front door.
Anjali had pretty much memorized the way to the warehouse. It had been at least 6 years that she’d been going there, every single night. Even with all the exams she had to take the next day. Every single night. For 6 whole years.
The realization dawned on the 15 year old with a jerk and a freeze. The adrenaline levels in her blood were soaring, her mind took on a state of panic, her muscles froze even when she willed them to move. It was almost like somebody else had taken control of her.
But nobody had. This was quite normal for Anjali these days. Why, you may ask?
Sleep-deprivation causes a number of illnesses, but for Anjali it was mainly panic attacks. Some happened during the day too. In fact, recently, her parents had witnessed one, and taken her to the doctor.
The doctor had recognized it as sleep-deprivation, and showed the black-circles and her panic attacks as proof.
As her parents turned to look at Anjali, she sighed. Oh well, she was doing it for the good of the country, right?
That night, Anjali was made to go to bed early, and to take tablets to make her sleep. But unknown to her, they were deadly.
But before Anjali could ever ingest the tablets, she heard voices. Whispering in the kitchen. At first she dismissed it as her imagination, or the trees blowing in the wind outside. She tiptoed, like she had done every night for the past 6 years, but this time, towards the kitchen. Not across the hallway.
Overcome by curiosity, she pressed her ear to the door and listened in. One voice was slightly higher pitched than the other, so she assumed it was a man and a woman.
Though the door barely let anything through, she could catch a few important words and phrases.
“Now is the time.”
Her breath caught as she heard the sentence about her. But there was no time to do anything much.
As the conversation ended, the footsteps came towards the door, and Anjali vanished into the night, making her way towards the dreaded warehouse to share about what she had heard. But nobody was there. She had left the peace of her home to come to the eerie silence of a dead warehouse. With a man standing in a center. With a small smirk at Anjali, he left the warehouse. For good.
This was just Anjali’s first encounter with this man. She’d have thousands more in the near future. Unpleasant encounters. And one very, very, very important one too.
Dil Se was her mother’s favorite song. Always was. And it surprised her all the more to be hearing it in this place. The very last place she’d ever expect to hear it. I mean, why would Rita Mehra ever even need to play such a heartbreaking song (it is heartbreaking, knowing what really happens in the end), especially since she was such a carefree girl?
Anywho, why would she need to care about Rita’s choice of song? Rita was Rita and would always be Rita.
“So…” Anjali started.
“Here,” Rita snapped, throwing a stack of paper at her, “you always have to know the insides of government.”
Catching the stack of paper, Anjali grumbled, “But we’re in Mumbai, not Delhi.”
“That’s exactly the point. You’re not in the capital. So you won’t be sighted by Prime Minister Mehra.”
“But isn’t the whole point to gain information about him for Mangatram and Changatram so that the elections won’t be hacked again? That’s what you told me,” she paused, before saying, “...six years ago.”
Silence filled the warehouse.
“I wish, Anjali, I wish.”
The bus to school was crammed with other children of the 8th, 9th, and 10th standards. Anjali’s parents wanted to send her to the best school in Mumbai, which in their minds, just so happened to be Bombay Scottish School. The portion (syllabus) that the were learning was superior to that of other schools, and was bound to get them into great colleges such as IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) Bombay.
The bus ride to school was about an hour, and usually Anjali simply slept it off, gaining as much sleep as possible from the sleep lost the night before. But today, she chose to use the time to contemplate Rita’s words: “I wish, Anjali, I wish.” Was there something more than just spying on PM Mehra’s doings? Was she a part of a… bigger conspiracy? After all, there just had to be a branch of the KND (Kabhi Nahi Dekha (means “never seen” in Hindi)) in Delhi! And why did Mangatram and Changatram need her help? After all, everything they needed to know was in plain sight. I mean, it was literally right in front of them. Her whole job was to scan a person and reveal all their secrets. I mean, couldn’t anybody do that? Why her? Was she special? The thought hit her like a bang. Was… was the fact that she could reveal anyone’s secrets something only she could do?
And here we’ll leave Anjali, contemplating over this thought, while other children her age lived in blissful ignorance.