Shades looked at her ragtag bunch of people who had gathered in this dark, remote bunker to discuss war strategy. Abhor’s menace had reached breaking point and all the sides knew it was now or never. Dawn would either bring peace or infinite darkness and the fate of the human race was now in the hands of seven people.
She was close to despair. She couldn’t imagine what the humans were going through. Their home was under attack and there wasn’t much they could do to stop it; for who could fight a man who knew exactly what was going on in your heart and knew the words to utter that would turn you against yourself?
She watched quietly as everyone discussed attack manoeuvres, how they could possibly hide themselves from Abhor’s mental attack, weapons, infantry positions…on and on they droned. Shades wondered at what stage she could interrupt to tell them that they could have the best strategy in the world but nothing would force out Abhor from his hiding place and therein lay the crux of their problem.
They had been fighting this war close to a hundred years. They had had numerous skirmishes, near annihilations and close saves – all with Abhor’s insatiable army. After making his army, he had promptly gone into hiding, no one was sure why. All of mankind’s dealings had been with the army, never with Abhor, though Shades was sure had Abhor entered the battlefield, all things would have ended there and then.
When she finally asked them what was their plan for drawing out Abhor, the self-appointed chief of armies said that they couldn’t focus on invisible problems. No one had seen Abhor nigh on sixty years. What was the proof he was still around. Shades rolled her eyes hard and walked out of the room. The humans loved to talk. And talk they would into the wee hours of the morning, hashing out their battle plans, reorganizing the board, getting ready. And while they were getting ready, what was she doing? Hoping they’d let her speak. Abomination!
She had been a novelty, ninety-seven years ago. Now, humans tolerated her. Could she blame them? She was the one who had been sent to bring her brother to heel. All she had done was aided his reign of terror to continue. How many souls had been lost to fuel his hatred and envy, she wondered. How many more would he punish before he realized the futility of his quest?
Everyone, she was sure of it. And even then, would he see the error of his ways? She did not think so. There was only one thing that could be done.
Groans of pain, terror and death – all mingled into a single moan of hopelessness. Radio static. Orders screamed. Cries heard and unheard. Blood and gore mingling with the earth. Whoever would inherit this piece of land would only get its charred remains. Did either side know what they were fighting to win? Did they care?
Using the ongoing fight and chaos as cover, Shades stealthily made her way to Abhor’s lair. It hadn’t been easy to find his location. But the gods had been smiling on her at that moment and as her sector of troops charged forward, they went head to head with one of his most trusted generals. And so on the plains of Garudwar, being electrified as if by a mysterious force, her team not only managed to decimate the general’s army but also to capture him alive.
The prisoner had been handed over to Shades and keeping only one woman at her side, Sarla, she had sent the rest of them, newly motivated, back into the slaughterhouse. She didn’t need an audience for what she was going to do next and she most definitely didn’t need an overenthusiastic soldier killing him in a fit of rage or emotion.
Shades had then carefully gone on to inflict torture on the general. What made it harder was she had known he had suffered worse with Abhor. How did you torture someone who had been tortured enough? Simple – you offered him two options – a quick death at your hands or a merciless one at the hands of his master. Before long, the general had been singing like a canary. Once she had everything she needed, she had slit his throat.
Asking her troops to go back to the battlefield had been easy. Asking the same of Sarla had been impossible. Short of tying her to the very chair the general was sitting dead in, Shades didn’t have much of an option than to allow her to tag along.
Sarla had proved extremely resourceful, finding a path cutting through the battlefield to reach where Abhor was last known to have gone underground. Shades had wanted to take the less obvious route of going around but Sarla had overruled her by giving so many reasons, Shades had started to march before she had finished.
Crossing the battlefield, Shades had been able to ignore the cries of help, the groans of despair and the general misery. It was like the very land was throwing up a lament at the mindless destruction. It hadn’t been so easy for Sarla. She had wanted to stop and investigate every noise heard. Only once she saw Shades had no intention of stopping or waiting did she give up her need to help.
Garudwar hadn’t been able to contain the battle and it had spilled out onto the surrounding forests, near the river where some had run to in the hopes of escaping…some were even seen fighting in small copses, around rocks and in small pockets. The order and discipline of both sides of the army had broken an hour into the fight. Now every man was fighting to survive. If only they had paused…to think…why they were fighting…but it was doubtful they would have stopped even then. A madness had descended on those in the field and only blood could satiate it.
Sarla and Shades reached the breach in the hill; a narrow pathway that the general had said would lead directly to where Abhor was hiding. The two women looked at each other. Shades wanted to tell Sarla that if she returned now, she wouldn’t think any less of her. But the woman refused to back down. It was possible the madness and lust of war had descended on Sarla as well. Well if Sarla was doomed, the least Shades could do was be there to protect her in whatever capacity she could.
As soon as they stepped into the breach, a cry like nails scratching a smooth metal surface rose from around them, cowing them. It stopped as abruptly as it began and an eerie silence enveloped them next. Holding her submachine gun at the ready, Sarla whispered, “Looks like someone knows we are here.”
Shades grinned. She let the hundred years of trauma and guilt and exhaustion and tedium fall off from her like shedding skin. Her raiment started to shine and she glided through the breach, Sarla following.
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