the oath of the vayuputras - Page 106

At the mention of the devastating daivi astra, Kartik spoke up for the first time. ‘The astra cannot be used.’

Gopal looked at Kartik, grateful to have at least one member of the Neelkanth’s family on his side.

‘Justice will be done,’ said Kartik. ‘Maa’s blood will be avenged. But not with the Pashupatiastra. It cannot be done with that terrible weapon.’

‘It must not,’ agreed Gopal immediately. ‘The Neelkanth has given his word to the Vayuputras that he will not use the Pashupatiastra.’

‘If that is the case, then we cannot use it,’ said Bhagirath.

Gopal breathed easy, glad to have pulled at least some of them back from the brink. ‘The question remains, how do we give justice to Princess Sati?’

‘By killing them all!’ roared Kali.

‘But is it fair to kill children who had nothing to do with this?’ asked Bhagirath.

‘You are assuming, Prince Bhagirath,’ said Kali, ‘that Meluhans care for their children.’

‘Your Highness,’ said Bhagirath. ‘Please try to understand that children who had nothing to do with this crime should not be punished.’

‘Fine!’ said Kali. ‘We will let their children out.’

‘And non-combatants as well,’ said Kartik.

‘Particularly the women,’ said Bhagirath. ‘We must let them go. But once they are out, we should destroy the entire city.’

‘Is there anyone else you would like to save?’ asked Kali sarcastically. ‘What about the dogs in Devagiri? Should we lead them out too? Maybe the cockroaches as well?’

Bhagirath did not respond. Anything he said would only inflame Kali further.

Kali cursed. ‘All right! Children and non-combatants will be allowed out. Everyone else will remain prisoner in the city. And they will all be killed.’

‘Agreed,’ said Bhagirath. ‘All I’m saying is that we should be fair.’

‘That is not all there is to it, Prince Bhagirath,’ erupted Kartik. ‘The Somras is not to be destroyed. My father had been very clear about that. It is only supposed to be taken out of the equation. We do have to destroy the Somras factory. But we also have to ensure that the knowledge of the Somras is not lost. We have to save the scientists and take them to a secret location. They will be a part of the tribe that my father will leave behind. These people will keep the knowledge of the Somras alive. Today it is Evil, but there may come a time in the future when the Somras may be Good again.’

Gopal nodded. ‘Kartik has spoken wisely.’

‘This means that even if some of these scientists had something to do with my mother’s death,’ said Kartik, ‘we have to set aside our pain and save them. We have to save them for the sake of India’s future.’

Ganesh glared at Kartik with dagger eyes.

‘Set aside our pain?’

Kartik became silent.

Ganesh was breathing heavily, barely able to keep a hold on his emotions. ‘Don’t you feel any anger about maa’s death? Any rage? Any fury?’

‘Dada, what I was trying to say...’

‘You always received maa’s love on a platter, from the day you were born. That’s why you don’t value it!’

‘Dada...’

‘Ask me about the value of a mother’s love... Ask me how much you hanker for it when you don’t have it!’

‘Dada, I loved her too. You know I...’

‘Did you see her body, Kartik?’

‘Dada...’

‘Did you? Have you looked at her body?’

‘Dada, of course, I have...’

‘There are fifty-one wounds on her! I counted them, Kartik! Fifty-one!’

‘I know...’

Furious tears were pouring down Ganesh’s face. ‘Those bastards must have continued hacking at her even after she was dead!’

‘Dada, listen...’

Ganesh’s body was shaking with anger now. ‘Didn’t you feel any rage when you saw your mother’s mutilated body?’

‘Of course I did, dada, but...’

‘But?! What but can there be? She was attacked by many of those Somras-worshipping demons simultaneously! It is our duty to avenge her! Our duty! It is the least we can do for the best mother in the world!’

‘Dada, she was the best mother... But she taught us to always put the world before ourselves.’

Ganesh didn’t say anything. His long floppy nose had stiffened, like it did on the rare occasions when he was enraged.

Kartik spoke softly. ‘Dada, if we were any other family I would give in to my rage... But we are not.’

Ganesh looked away, too livid to even respond.

‘We are the family of the Neelkanth,’ said Kartik. ‘We have a responsibility to the world.’

‘Responsibility to the world?! My parents are my world!’

Kartik fell silent.

Ganesh pointed his finger threateningly towards Kartik. ‘Not one of those Somras-worshipping bastards will get out of here alive.’

‘Dada...’

‘Every single one of them will be killed; even if I have to kill them myself.’

Kartik fell silent.

Gopal sighed as he looked at Kali, Ganesh and Kartik. There was too much anger. He couldn’t figure out a way to save the Somras scientists from Ganesh and Kali’s rage. But at least he had managed to take the conversation away from the dangerous talk of using the Pashupatiastra. And maybe there was still hope that, over the next few hours, he would convince the Neelkanth’s family of the necessity of saving the Somras scientists.

Shiva had been sitting quietly in the icy tomb, holding Sati’s body. His eyes were sunken and expressionless, with no light of hope in them, with no reason to even exist. The blackish-red blotch on his brow was visibly throbbing; he was shivering due to the cold. A single droplet of fluid had escaped from Sati’s good eye, now closed, and ran down her face like a tear. There was an unearthly silence in the room, except for the soft hissing of the cold air being pumped in at regular intervals. A sudden sharp noise startled Shiva, perhaps from the bulls harnessed to the Meluhan cooling system.

He looked around with cold, emotionless eyes. There was nobody in the chamber. He looked down at his dead wife. He pulled her body close and kissed her gently on her forehead. Then he carefully placed her back on the ice.

Caressing her face tenderly, Shiva whispered, ‘Stay here, Sati. I’ll be back soon.’

Shiva jumped off the ice tower and walked up to the door of the inner chamber. As soon as he opened it, Ayurvati stood up. Accompanied by her medical team, she had been tending to Nandi and the other soldiers for the last twenty-four hours.

‘My Lord,’ said Ayurvati, her eyes red and swollen from accumulated misery and lack of sleep.

Shiva ignored her and continued walking. Ayurvati looked at Shiva with foreboding and terror. She had never seen the Neelkanth’s eyes look so hard and remote. He looked like he had gone beyond rage; beyond ruthlessness; beyond insanity.

Shiva opened the main door. He heard voices to his right. He turned to see his commanders in deep discussion. Tara was the first to notice him.

‘Lord Neelkanth,’ said Tara, immediately rising to her feet.

Shiva stared at her blankly for a few seconds, then took a deep breath and spoke evenly. ‘Tara, the Pashupatiastra trunk is in my ship. Bring it here.’