“Explain it to me one more time,” said Gauri as she walked behind dadi who was busily dumping things into an open suitcase.
Sarla almost snapped at Gauri for being a nuisance. Didn’t she realize they…more importantly she…was in danger? Before the angry words could leave her mouth, it occurred to her how confusing all this must be. She had every right to demand answers. Mastering her anger, a no easy feat considering how terrified she was, she stopped her packing and sat down. She could give Lemon five minutes and explain what was going on.
“Abhor can read minds. He’s manipulative and vicious. To counter his effects my…superpower,” she couldn’t help it, she cracked a smile, “is mirroring. So essentially I start to mirror your ugly thoughts. It acts as a powerful deterrent…or at least it used to two hundred years ago.”
“Yeah now it’s all available on social media,” said Gauri. She stayed quiet for some time and then exploded. “You know Abhor sounds like a teenage girl who didn’t win a ‘who’s the prettiest among us all’ contest and is now campaigning to punish the pretty people.”
When that got no response, she asked, “Are you really two hundred years old?”
Sarla rolled her eyes. “Of all the things…yes I am that old. Now can we go back to packing?”
“Where are we going?”
“We aren’t going anywhere. You are going back to your parents and I have to go and revive my old network to see if anyone responds.”
“Err dadi I am sorry to break this to you but they’ll be dead, no? I mean they aren’t immortal like you and the last time I checked no human is immortal. Unless they…I should stop talking.”
“A wise decision.”
“Well the League had decided they’d choose one family member who they felt could keep the network alive. They’d know the history and know to look out for a signal from me if and when the need arose. I have to try. I will need allies. I will need people who at least understand what Abhor…”
Sarla’s voice trailed off as it suddenly hit her how alone she was. Abhor had been hiding and building for the past eighty years and what had she been doing? Twiddling her thumbs and becoming a human. There was no one alive from that war. Even if the League of Loyalists had followed the diktat, would the new league be of any use to her? They had not faced Abhor. They had no clue what he could do. They hadn’t spent years trying to shore up personal defences so Abhor couldn’t manipulate them. They had absolutely no…
“Hey dadi…hello…” Gauri snapped her fingers and shook her grandmother’s shoulder.
“You need to leave…now!”
“If you so much as entertain the idea that I will let you anywhere near Abhor you have…”
“He sent that email to me. I am already involved whether you like it or not. And I do love the protectiveness but…I will not run.”
Sarla huffed out with impatience. Why did her granddaughter have to be as stubborn as she? She had known the decision to get married, have a family would come to bite her someday. She just hadn’t thought she’d come to have so much affection for this adopted family. And if she knew this, Abhor would know it too and would use it against her. But why now? Why today? What had changed? They had been living in relative peace for the past eighty years. Why break it? Surely he had gained everything he wanted when he had successfully escaped Helcynth. What more could he want now?
She turned to look at Gauri who was standing at a respectable distance. So she could feel them too…the walls Shades needed to construct in order to defend herself from Abhor’s onslaught. She hadn’t even realized when she had started to rebuild them. She hadn’t needed them for so long she had assumed it’d take some time; like her powers. But protecting herself was like second nature and that switch got triggered as soon as that email had arrived. “I am still me,” she said quietly.
“Are you? You don’t look like my dadi or sound like her. You are…you are…”
“They used to call me Shades.”
“I wasn’t always the good guy. I did things that you wouldn’t have approved of.”
“Then I don’t want to call you that. Do you have another name?”
Sarla smiled. No one had ever asked her that question. “My name…it was…used to be…is Yamini. I am the goddess of night.”
“Yamini…that’s a pretty name. Why don’t you use it?”
“Because right now I am not a goddess; I am just a grandmother trying to save her Lemon. Now let’s get you underground and to a safe place.”
“This is non-negotiable.”
The bell rang and before she could stop her, Gauri had run to the door, expecting her parents, who had decided to visit after her frantic phone call. But a man stood there instead. The man wasn’t tall but she felt like he was towering over her. Before she could ask who he was, her eyes closed and she gently sank to the floor.
Sarla came running but seeing Abhor she stopped. Her insides were screaming at her to run to protect Lemon but the wall wouldn’t let her move. It was a good thing. The wall worked both ways – it blocked both their powers.
“Do you think I’ll find something to twist inside her?”
“Is this how you greet your big sister Murug?”
“My name is Abhor. It would serve you well to remember that.”
“What do you want?”
“Only to catch up.” He looked around. “You have done well. Where’s your league? Not here to protect you?”
He grew in size and anger. “Do remember I have in my power that who you hold dear. Have a care. It may have been some time but these hands haven’t forgotten the torture they could inflict. You do not need a reminder neither do you need me to subject this poor creature to it, do you?”
Sarla gulped visibly. She could feel her walls wobbling. This wouldn’t do, not at all. She needed to re-centre herself if she had any hope of surviving. “What do you want…Abhor?”
“See now that wasn’t so hard, was it? But I am weary of talking.” He kneeled next to Gauri and stroked her cheek. “Teach her those walls that you do so well, won’t you? I’d love to meet your pet when I come again to visit.”
“Why after so many years?”
Abhor straightened up. She looked visibly shaken, desperate and defeated; exactly as he had envisioned. Mount Kailas had thought she’d be the one to stop him. Well they could try. Victory always tasted sweeter with someone else’s loss. “I am the god of war, sister. What else could I possibly want?”
“This time though, there won’t be an army. Just you and me.”
Perplexed and very, very afraid, Sarla did not say anything. She was only thankful that he seemed uninterested in harming Gauri…right now.
“I will be seeing you sister. Don’t take too much time though. You know how impatient I get.”
And though she knew it was a futile attempt, she pleaded, “What are you planning?”
“Remember everything I said.” With that he turned around and left.
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