Sarla had lost track of time. From the outside, the breach in the mountain had looked finite. The way Abhor’s general had described it, a place you could reach within a few minutes. Now it seemed like they had been on this path for eons and would never find its end. A panic set in her body but before it could take proper control of her, she received a resounding slap on her face.
“I told you to shield yourself,” Shades whisper-yelled.
Sarla wanted to tell her that she couldn’t, not as effectively as Shades, but thought better of it. It wouldn’t do to tell your boss you were basically useless in the field. Sarla reinforced her walls, tried to seal them off like Shades had tried to teach them, and hoped they would hold off at least Abhor’s basic attacks. The only person who could fully throw off his full frontal attack was Shades…but then she had been built to withstand this power; humans were not.
Shades, thanks to her shield, knew it had only been a few minutes since they had entered the breach and it wouldn’t take them more than five to reach the entrance of the lair. But she knew the closer they reached Helcynth, the harder it would get for Sarla. She could already see the tell-tale signs of fatigue and confusion setting in. Under any other circumstance, Shades wouldn’t have hesitated to leave Sarla to her own fate. But the woman had come to mean a lot to her and she couldn’t bear to lose her just yet. So abandoning prudence, she caught hold of Sarla’s hand and they started walking together. While Sarla immediately felt the axis tilt back into focus, Shades did not know that she had unwittingly committed a fatal faux pas.
They reached the curiously unguarded entrance to Helcynth and started to descend the stairs. The air smelt foul and Sarla found herself reeling and sweating with the effort of keeping her stomach settled. Much to her amazement Shades seemed to be having no trouble at all with the stench.
Down and down they went, slipping, skidding and holding onto each other for support. Thankfully, the walls were close, providing a good hold to the two when the floor became too treacherous.
The staircase widened out to a small round hall with three passageways leading into the bowels of Abhor’s lair. “Which one smells the foulest?” breathed Shades into Sarla’s ear.
Sarla sniffed gingerly and gagged at the middle entrance. Shades nodded but before stepping into the narrow corridor, she turned around and planted a firm kiss on Sarla’s lips, thereby sealing both their fates. “Stay behind me, watch my back, don’t be a hero. Your only job is to watch my back. Do you understand?”
Dazed, Sarla nodded. If someone had told her she had been given the kiss of death, she would have perhaps asked for one more.
The stench became unbearable as they made their way through the corridor. Using her mouth to breathe didn’t help either as then Sarla could taste the rottenness of the place. The corridor was narrow and small, the ceiling almost touching their heads. Halfway through, they heard a booming voice, “Who dares enter Helcynth without my permission?”
Shades quickened her pace. The corridor ended with an abrupt drop. Peering around, they saw a narrow staircase on the left leading down to a platform that was well-lit, a little too well, with a hunched over figure sitting on a throne made of glass, gold and earth. The play of fire with these elements made it look like liquid blood, as if Abhor was sitting on a throne made of blood.
Sarla gasped and the figure moved, albeit laboriously.
Shades glared at Sarla, put her finger on her lips and started to descend. Her hackles were up, walls strong, a growing pit of dread in her stomach. The figure was not what she had expected Abhor to look like, even if he hadn’t seen the sun in sixty years. She felt cheated for a moment: cheated of the right to fight a worthy foe. She had thought she would meet the mastermind behind the biggest running war in the history of earth but all she got was a shrivelled old man whose idea of terrorizing was asking in loud voices ‘who was there.’
This figure, the figure the general had conjured and what she had pictured did not go together at all. How could this be? How could this be Murug, the mighty god of war, earth incarnation Abhor, the reason that mankind was at the brink of destruction? Shades felt humiliated looking at the pitiful figure.
It was by accident…and perhaps the self-same gods that had smiled on them before were smiling on them now. Sarla saw the glint in the figure’s eyes. She had enough time to break all the rules Shades had set for her, shout out a warning and stand in front of her to take the brunt of the stealth attack.
Sarla crumpled on the floor as Abhor’s power hit her square in the chest. A shock of breath left Shades’ throat, the only indication she cared. But she quickly looked up to see Abhor, wreathed in flame.
“Be a little more flamboyant my darling. Your moody, broody look of grey and black is so passé.” He looked at the crumpled form beside his sister’s feet. “Don’t worry sister; your pet isn’t dead, yet. But what happens to her next is up to you.”
“Murug do you know why I am here?”
“To tell me why it took you a hundred years to pluck up the courage to meet me face to face? Do you realize all of this could have ended a hundred years ago if only you had got on with what you needed to do?”
“Mount Kailas awaits you,” she whispered and with all her strength threw a ball of electric white light towards him to trap him in his own black thoughts.
Abhor roared with laughter as the light ball whispered past him, not even causing a ripple in the flames. “I am Abhor. Son of the supreme. You. Cannot. Destroy. Me. You don’t have the power.”
Shades heard the soft click-clack of the sub-machine gun powering up. So Sarla was indeed awake and kicking. That’s my girl, she thought with fondness. “That’s where you are wrong Abhor,” she said, moving out of Sarla’s aim. “You proclaim you are His son and yet try to embody His spirit. You forget He is the ultimate destroyer, not you. What can you do but be a fly in the grand scheme of things?”
The insult got to him and he once again gathered himself to unleash his will to dominate onto Shades, leaving his flank vulnerable. It was for a split second, but Shades managed to jump aside and Sarla managed to get in a few good shots before the powerful ball of orange light passed through the empty space where Shades was standing.
Feeling the bullets hit his sides and hips; Abhor was filled with white-hot rage. A human…a human would be the cause of his destruction? Unacceptable! Throwing caution to the wind, Abhor prepared to attack. Before he could unleash the fullness of his power, everything went dark.
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