Sarla was leaning over Gauri, feeling panicked. Though she looked okay, there was no way to be sure if Gauri was still Gauri till she woke up. She saw her stirring and felt relieved. “Lemon, how are you feeling my child?”
Gauri felt like she had just finished doing twenty squats in gym class. She groaned and twisted but recoiled seeing dadi hanging over her, thinking it was a…black…shadow…that had engulfed her. “Dadi…” she whispered.
“I’m right here baby girl, right here…what’s happening?”
“I…can I hug you please?”
Sarla burst into tears as she hugged her granddaughter.
“I was so scared dadi…it was as if…as if I was in this smoke, looking for you and I couldn’t find you. I was lost. I kept calling your name but…how long was I out?”
“Not long,” she said, wiping away her tears. “Are you sure you are feeling okay?”
“Apart from the fact that I feel like my body is battered I am perfectly okay.”
“Well at least Abhor didn’t mess with your mind.”
“Abhor? Is that what they called him?”
Sarla nodded. Even in such a condition, Gauri’s inquisitiveness was alive. She sent up a quick prayer. This could only mean that Abhor, as strange as it seemed, hadn’t wanted to harm Gauri. Not in any real way. She tucked away that information for later scrutiny. “Can you get up?”
“I can but I don’t want to. Not yet.”
Sarla sat down cross legged next to her.
“Tell me what happened.”
So Sarla told her about the conversation, about the confrontation she had had with Abhor at Helcynth, about that woman who she had loved all those centuries ago, how Murug had turned into Abhor. There was so much to tell and the words kept falling pell-mell. She wasn’t sure how much of it made sense to Gauri but it definitely made her feel better.
“So what happened at Helcynth after you woke up?”
It had been a similar darkness, explained Sarla, as Gauri had experienced. One minute she had thought they had won and the next she was lost in an indescribable maze. She too had screamed for help and tried to find her way out but the darkness had been infinite. It had been so deep she hadn’t even been certain that she had a physical form. The terror of that realization was what had jolted her out. When she had woken up, Abhor was nowhere to be seen and Sarla was dead.
“He just vanished? You didn’t try to find him?”
“I did but I couldn’t. Once I found my way back to Garudwar, I realized his army had been overpowered. Seeing that scene I knew Abhor had left earth. Everyone thought I had defeated him and rejoiced. I suddenly became the hero they had so desperately needed and wanted. And it was because of that that I didn’t correct them.”
She looked away, as if ashamed. “I was no hero that day Lemon. Sarla was. But I let them believe I had finished Abhor. And now he’s back and I don’t know what he wants.”
“Can’t you ask Mount Kailas for help?”
Sarla snorted. “Sure, let me pick up the phone and ring my father. Why didn’t I think of this before?”
Despite the snarky comment, Gauri laughed and that broke the tension she was feeling in her legs. She found she could not only sit up but she was also starting to feel more energetic. “Why didn’t he kill me?”
“I don’t want to think about it.”
“This is not your fight Gauri.”
“Dadi I am not Sarla.”
“Yes you are not. She had a sub-machine gun. All you have is your sarcasm.”
Gauri opened her mouth to say something then closed it. She shook her head and said, “You know mom always told me my sarcasm was a way of deflecting my real feelings. I always told her that was hogwash. But now I am starting to see she was right.”
Sarla rolled her eyes and got up. It was pointless to get into a verbal debate with her granddaughter. She was too smart to not have the last say. But there was something she could help her figure out. What was that darkness and why hadn’t Abhor killed Gauri?
Back at home, Abhor couldn’t quite believe what had happened at the house. The last time he had seen its effect had been at Helcynth – it hadn’t been pretty. The darkness had thrown at him every groan, every cry of help, Every. Scream. Of. Anguish. at the torture he had inflicted. The clamour of voices had been unbearable. He had thought he would go mad if it didn’t stop when a booming voice, carrying over the cries had said, Repent. If you want this to stop, repent.
And repent he had. Not because he had cared, but because he needed it to stop. And he had done a swell job of selling it. He had put all his powers of persuasion and manipulation to use. He had sworn on his father that he would atone for his sins if the clamour stopped.
It had stopped. And then Abhor had found himself in a jail.
He hadn’t felt that darkness since he had made his escape twenty years ago. He had thought he was free of it. But it had followed him here. But why had it touched the girl? He had always assumed that the darkness had been sent to trap him because his sister hadn’t been able to finish the job.
Abhor shrugged off the question. It wouldn’t serve to dwell. Flexing his fingers, he decided to send his sister a message, just in case she hadn’t taken him seriously. Besides, though this time the fight was personal, it didn’t mean he didn’t long to corrupt a few souls while he was at it.
So he stepped into the street and started to scan anyone who came his way…scan for that one spark of madness and cruelty he knew every human possessed, irrespective of how good they claimed to be. And as soon as he found the spark, he ignited it with a slight touch, sometimes a nudge, sometimes a whisper.
But this time he was careful with how many he chose to convert to his cause. That had been his biggest mistake the last time around. He hadn’t anticipated the depth of hatred humans could possess for other humans. And so his unfiltered conversion had led to chaos and an army he himself couldn’t control. This time, he would have a small but deadly army whose job would only be to bring Shades out of hiding. Time had come to test who was the better warrior – the goddess of night or the god of war.
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