Ayurvati had busied herself in the outer room of the peace conference building, supervising the recovery of Sati’s injured bodyguards. As she attended to the medical infusions being administered to a patient, her eyes strayed towards the locked door of the inner room. Sati’s dead body lay there, with her family mourning quietly behind closed doors. Ayurvati wiped a tear and got back to work. Keeping herself busy was the only way in which she could cope with her grief.
The inner room, where Sati’s body had been kept temporarily, had been built by the Meluhans to fulfil the princess’ last wish of preserving her body till Shiva arrived. Tiny holes had been drilled high in the inner chamber walls with many huge blacksmith’s bellows fitted into them to push in air regularly. A massive wooden circular gear had been constructed outside the peace conference building with twenty bulls harnessed to it. The non-stop circular movement of the beasts made the gear move constantly. This in turn powered the steady squeezing and releasing of the blacksmith bellows, through a system of smaller gears and pulleys, thus pushing in air regularly into the inner room that stored Sati’s body. A screen of jute, cotton and a special cooling material had been hung in front of the bellows. Through a system of pipes and capillaries, water dripped down the screen in a constant stream. The air pushed through the bellows would pass through this screen, and cool down rapidly before flowing into the room. The integrity of the ice tower had been maintained with this classic Meluhan technology, but now the ice within the heart of the tower had begun to gradually melt due to the heat emanating from Shiva’s body and his rapid breathing. This had caused Sati’s corpse to thaw slowly, making her frozen blood melt. A pale, colourless fluid oozed out, appearing almost to weep from her wounds ever so gently.
Shiva sat there, immobile, shivering due to the cold and his grief, stunned into absolute silence, staring into nothingness, holding Sati’s lifeless body in his arms. Despite sitting on ice, Shiva’s brow throbbed desperately, as if a great fire raged within. An angry blackish-red blotch had formed between his brows. He had been sitting thus for many hours. He hadn’t moved. He hadn’t eaten. He had stopped crying. It was almost as if he had chosen to be as lifeless as the love of his life.
Kali sat near the door of the inner room, sobbing loudly, cursing herself for her behaviour during her last meeting with Sati. It was a guilt that she would carry for the rest of her life. Uncontrollable rage was rising within her slowly but steadily. At this point, though, it was still swamped by her grief.
Krittika sat next to the tower of ice, shaking uncontrollably. She had cried till she had no tears left. She kept touching the ice tower every few seconds. Veerbhadra, his eyes swollen red, sat quietly next to her. One arm was around his wife Krittika, drawing as well as giving comfort. But his other arm was stiff, its fist clenched tight. He wanted vengeance. He wanted to torture and annihilate every single person who’d done this to Sati; who had done this to his friend Shiva.
Brahaspati and Tara sat quietly at another end of the room. The former Meluhan chief scientist’s face was soaked with tears. He respected Sati as an icon of the Meluhan way of life. He also knew that Shiva would never be the same again. Ever. Tara kept staring at Shiva as her heart went out to the unfortunate Neelkanth. He was a mere shadow of the confident and friendly man she had met at Pariha.
Kartik and Ganesh sat impassively next to each other on the icy floor, their backs resting against the wall. Their eyes were fixed on the tower, on their father’s paralysed figure on top, holding their mother’s mutilated body. The tears had almost blinded their eyes. The deluge of sorrow had stunned their hearts. They sat quietly, holding hands, desperately trying to make sense of what had happened.
Ganesh thought he saw some movement on top of the ice tower. He looked up to a bewildering sight. His mother seemed to have risen from her body and floated high up in the air. Ganesh moved his gaze back to his father to see another body of his mother, lying still in his father’s arms. Ganesh looked up again at his mother’s apparition, his mouth agape.
Sati flew in a great arc and landed softly in front of Ganesh. Her feet didn’t touch the ground, remaining suspended in the air, just like those of mythical goddesses. She wore a garland of fresh flowers, again like mythical goddesses. But mythical goddesses didn’t bleed. Sati, on the other hand, was bleeding profusely. Ganesh could see her mutilated body as she stood in front of him, her left eye gouged out with a deep cut across her face, leaking blood slowly. The burn scar on her face was flaming red, as though still burning. Her left hand had been sliced through brutally, blood spurting out of the wound in sudden jerks, timed with her heartbeat. There were two massive wounds in her abdomen from which blood was streaming out with the ferocity of a young mountain river. There were several small serrations all across her body, each of them seeping out even more blood. Sati’s right fist was clenched tight, her body shaking with fury. Her right eye was bloodshot, focused directly on Ganesh. Her blood-soaked hair was loose; fluttering, as if a great wind had been assaulting it.
It was a fearsome sight.
‘Avenge me!’ hissed Sati.
Ganesh pulled his hand away from Kartik’s and clenched it tight. He gritted his teeth and whispered within the confines of his mind. I will, maa!
‘Remember how I died!’ snarled Sati.
I will! I will!
‘Promise me! You will remember how I died!’
I promise, maa! I will always remember!
Sati suddenly vanished. Ganesh reached out with his hand, weeping desperately. ‘Maa!’
At exactly the same time as Ganesh, Kartik too saw his mother’s apparition.
Sati’s spirit appeared to escape from her body and hovered for some time before landing in front of Kartik. Her feet were suspended a little above the ground, a garland of fresh flowers around her neck. But unlike the vision that Ganesh had seen, the apparition in front of Kartik was whole and complete.
There was no wound. She looked exactly the way Kartik remembered seeing her last. Tall of stature and bronze-skinned, she wore a beautiful smile which formed dimples on both her cheeks. Her bright blue eyes shone with gentle radiance, her black hair was tied demurely in a bun. Her erect posture and calm expression reminded Kartik of what she’d symbolised: an uncompromising Meluhan who always put the law and the welfare of others before herself.
Kartik burst out crying.
‘My son,’ whispered Sati.
Maa, I will torture everyone! I will kill every single one of them! I will drink their blood! I will burn down this entire city! I will avenge you!
‘No,’ said Sati softly.
A dumbfounded Kartik fell silent.
‘Don’t you remember anything?’
I will remember you forever, maa. And I will make all of Devagiri pay for what they did to you.
Sati’s face became stern.
‘Don’t you remember anything I’ve taught you?’
Kartik remained silent.
‘Vengeance is a waste of time,’ said Sati. ‘I am not important. The only thing that matters is dharma. Do you want to prove your love for me? Do so by doing the right thing. Don’t surrender to anger. Surrender only to dharma.’
‘Forget how I died,’ said Sati. ‘Remember how I lived.’