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Chapter 18 — Illusions
Year 63, Kali yuga
“Prabhu! My lord Narukša!” Tanvarōka stumbled into the large darkened hall, his small feet pattering on the cold stone floor. He coughed, trying to catch his breath. “It’s Malasāra, prabhu!—Malasāra released a soul free!”
Narukša narrowed his brows, uncertain of the yamadūta’s words. “Malasāra did what?”
Tanvarōka wrung his hands frantically. “Ma—Malasāra—he freed a soul! I saw him myself!”
Narukša’s fist closed around the yellowed manuscript in his hands. He slid it back into the tall shelves. “Where is he?”
“In—in the Mahāraurava canyons!” Tanvarōka panted. “I—we could not stop him, my lord!”
Narukša stormed out of the great library, and apparated onto the vast plains of Narakā, all the various Hells spread out before him. A flurry of confused thoughts gnawed at his mind. Liberating a soul, before its deserved tribulations? What thinks that mindless maggot! Has Malasāra truly lost his mind? Have my torments driven him from sanity? He descended the long, winding slope that led into the Hell of Mahāraurava.
It was strangely quiet, as Narukša reached the darkened bottom of the abyssal canyon, and his confusion redoubled. I hear not the clamorous screams of tortured souls—where are the dūtas? Where are mine mighty serpents? He strode further deeper into the chasm, anger building in his chest. What was Malasāra trying to accomplish? Something soft and clammy squelched under his bare feet, and he looked down. A scaly hide of a serpent glistened brightly through the sandy soil. Narukša bent down, and pulled at the body. It partly came loose, and hung limply in his hands, the rest of its long bulk still buried under the ground. A raurava nāgā! Did Malasāra kill her? How did that lowly leech manage to slay this beast? Anger turned to rage. He let the remains drop from his hands, and trod on, glowering.
Suddenly, a low hiss filled the heavy air, off to the side. Steadily it grew louder, and a black serpent wriggled out of the ground, its green eyes locked onto Narukša. Its hood it slowly spread, and flicked its forked tongue angrily. Narukša eyed the snake warily. This was no raurava serpent—whither comes this grim creature? Narukša swiped at the monster, but the snake advanced, undaunted. It rose further out of the ground, and reared its head with a deafening, prolonged hiss. More serpents rose noiselessly from the ground around Narukša, frightening in their never-ending length. Their raised heads towered even over the tall asurā, all with their obsidian hoods flared. Narukša snarled. One of the snakes lunged forward, its many fangs bared. Narukša stepped to the side, and caught the serpent’s neck with his hands, but even his large hands barely reached around the snake’s limbless girth. It trashed vigourously about as he dug his claws into its soft flesh. The snake spat its acrid venom, and Narukša’s skin blistered. The serpent entwined itself around Narukša, and squeezed. Narukša bellowed, and sunk his claws deeper. With a roaring grunt, he wrenched its sinuous flesh apart. A sickening rupture echoed though the narrow canyon, and the snake ripped in two.
The other snakes sprang forward in a flash. Narukša caught the first, and sliced its great neck apart. Another he bit into its side, and tossed back. Two more he slashed with his claws, and made wide gashes on their bodies that sent the snakes tottering back, but only for a few moments. His spells seemed to have no effect against these fell creatures, and they came at him with ruthless ferocity and violent speed, wave after wave of countless serpents. Narukša found himself swiftly overwhelmed. They coiled themselves around his limbs, their heavy bodies wrapped tighter and tighter. He could move no more, and Narukša toppled to the ground. He wriggled as they wound themselves around his neck until he could breathe no longer.
“Enough, my children.” a lilting female voice floated through the air. The serpents hissed softly, and their sinews relaxed. Narukša turned his neck to the side, searching for the voice.
A slender woman emerged from the shadows, a faint halo illumined her but quickly dissipated into the darkness. Her eyes shone blue in the gloom of Narakā’s perpetual twilight. Her severe gaze bored into Narukša’s mind, and he found it difficult to both look away, or meet her eye.
“Who are you, witch?” Narukša growled. He struggled against the dark coils, but the snakes were unrelenting. “You are in Narakā, these are my Hells! Release me, mayinī, or I shall skin you over the fires of eternity!”
“I think not, oaf.”
Narukša turned. “Malasāra! These are your designs? Have you learned naught from your torments, you worm!”
“Silence, fool! Malasāra exists no more—I am Malāsura, and you shall address me as such!” Malāsura pulled Narukša up by his thick horns, and held his head by the ears. “I am Malāsura, brother of Vakrāsura. Remember that, you witless brute!” he sneered, and sunk his sharp clawed thumbs into Narukša’s eyes. Narukša let out a hideous cry. Malāsura pulled his bloodied fingers out, and Narukša writhed in agony.
“You shall regret that, you filth!” Narukša seethed. “You and this unwise witch of yours! The both of y—”
“Silence!” Malāsura kicked the asura on the jaw, and Narukša’s head slumped, and he fell unconscious. He then turned to the woman, who stood quietly, staring at Narukša and the serpents around him. “Mayinī Ugravī! No small prey—you have outdone yourself! I am in your debt.”
Ugravī kept her eyes on the collapsed asura on the ground. “We are but intruders here.” She ran her fingers over one of the serpents that lay coiled around Narukša and slowly, they all transformed into heavy iron chains. “We should leave, let us not tarry here. Narakā is not somewhere I wish to be, alive or dead.”