I returned the bow, watching his face at all times. His glowing eyes did not hypnotize me, as much as he may have wanted them to. We looked upon each other silently for a while, then he spoke.
"I knew you would come. I knew you could not leave them to their fate. And I wanted you to come. I wanted you to find them, one by one, and have to inflict pain upon them. Pain you would feel for them if you could. But there is pain greater still, brother. And in the end you will feel it before you die. Because as you well know, there is only death now between us." He stepped back into the inky darkness, challenging me without words to follow.
I did. Taking the white staff in my hand, ignoring the pain of my ankle, I strode into the blackness. The doors behind me closed of their own accord, blotting out any light from the hall of the alcoves.
Once inside, the darkness was different. I could see clearly through it, almost as if it were lit in a different color. Indeed, it was lit. Along the walls were old sconces holding torches that burned with a deep purple flame, so deep as to almost be black. But they gave out light of a sort, a negative light that enabled me to see the huge room with ease. I peered around carefully, looking for Belah, searching for my friend and my daughter. The huge black statue on one wall captured my eye. The Black Dragon. The representation of the demonic tyrant king, Narakasura. Belah turned to him for power, more power than he already possessed.
I knew the history of this creature. When alive, he took what he wanted, and made his people live in darkness, not allowing them to light their houses by night. He loved the darkness and the night and was a powerful entity, one who demanded sacrifice of his followers. My heart began to beat more quickly as I considered this facet of the demon. A sacrifice! Who?
As I forced my gaze from the statue, I saw a glint near the floor along one wall. It would have been silver if the light were true, but I recognized it, and hurried over as fast as my ankle allowed. It was Jeff, battered and bruised, and shackled to the wall. I knelt beside him, and he looked up at me.
"Kyrano." he whispered. "Find Tin-Tin. Find her before he.... look out!" His voice rose in volume to warn me of someone behind me. I turned quickly and fell on my back as a swish and slice cut the air where my head had once been.
I was faced with a young woman, Asian, slim and short, dressed in a black silk tunic shot through with gold and silver and matching trousers. Her hair was long and black and plaited down her back. She had extraordinarily long fingernails, pared down to points, painted black and with silver Chinese characters on them. I now knew what had given the engineer such nasty cuts. Her eyes, black and deep, looked down on me with contempt and hatred. I did not understand why.
She sliced her hands through the air again, reaching for my face. I put the rod up between her nails and my flesh, using it as a bo to block her hands. Her hard nails bounced off, scratching the paint but not the metal. She shook her hands as they stung from the contact. I rose slowly to my feet, standing between the woman and Jeff, my eyes never leaving hers.
"Heimana!" Belah called from somewhere. "It is time!" The woman, who I now knew for a fact was the infamous Heimana, turned from me and hurried away. I turned back to Jeff, whose eyes were closed in pain. He took hold of my leg.
"Find Tin-Tin. They are going to... oh, I can't... you can't let them! Hurry, Kyrano! Before they...." His head lolled as he slipped into unconciousness.
The humming, which I had grown accustomed to, increased in tone and pitch, slowly getting higher and higher, and louder and louder, until it resolved itself into words. Ancient words, foul and evil words. Words to conjure a demon with. I sensed movement by the statue. Belah stood before it, before a low dais, his kris, a dragon-shaped dagger said to give men magical powers, held high. Coming from a hidden door were two figures. Heimana and ...... Tin-Tin.
My breath caught in my throat. My daughter was dressed in black, her fine black hair unbound around her shoulders. Heimana had her hands on both of Tin-Tin's arms, guiding her. She seemed to be in a hypnotic trance. Heimana drew her over to the dais and laid her down. I could not move. The spell thrummed through me, pinning me to the floor where I stood. As the words continued, a figure began to coalesce in front of the statue. A black figure, manlike in shape, but with glowing red coals for eyes. The figure became more and more solid with the increase in volume of the words. Tears streamed down my face. What could I do to stop this... abomination? What could I do to save my sweet child?
My hand dropped limply against the leather pouch. I started, and suddenly I was released from my paralysis. I knew what I could, I must do! The demon could not stand the light, the bright white fire would send him back to his hellish domain. Without a conscious thought, I reached into the pouch and pulled out two of the white grenades. With all my might, I threw them at Belah's feet.
They exploded nearly simultaneously, shattering the dark of the room with brilliant blue-white. I pulled out two more and launched them. Again the light pierced the black with painful brightness. Belah covered his eyes, screaming in agony. But that was nothing compared to the howling shriek of the demon. Like the winds of a hurricane in volume, the demon's agony echoed in the great hall. His form disintegrated into black smoke, and a brusque wind, bearing the smell of decay, brushed it away, scattering it to the air.
I moved as quickly as my injured ankle would allow and lifted my Tin-Tin from the dais. I walked her to a nearby wall and sat her down on the floor so I could examine her, looking for injuries. Her eyes opened and met mine. With an unearthly scream, she pushed me back and away, her strength much more than any average woman. I lay on the floor, shocked at her actions. Then I removed the hypospray from my pouch and closed the gap between us. She reached for me, intending to rip and tear my flesh. I grabbed her wrist and emptied the ampule of sedative into her. She crumpled, and I clumsily lifted her across my shoulders. Then I made for the back door of the temple, Belah still shouting, cursing me for his temporary blindness.
The door opened and sunlight streamed in. It silhouetted a figure who stood between us and safety. Heimana.
"You won't be able to blind me, old man," she hissed, as she walked slowly forward, her hands like claws with her long, sharp nails extended to cut and slice. I dropped the rod, fumbled in my weapons pouch and pulled out the red disk. I held it by the rubber squares, clicked the activation button, and threw it at her face. As predicted, she reflexively reached up and grabbed it with both hands before it hit her. Her body jerked convulsively as the voltage in the little disk jolted her into unconsciousness. She slumped to the floor, no longer an obstacle between me and the sunlight. I picked up the rod, and leaning on it as a walking staff, I hobbled outside with my child.
The sun and heat felt good to my battered body, but I could not stop to enjoy it. I needed to get Tin-Tin to Thunderbird 2 then come back for the Tracys. Belah would not stay blinded for long.
I was nearly to the steps going down from the terrace when a weight hit me from behind, bearing me down to the ground. I lost my hold on Tin-Tin and she fell away from me, limp as a rag doll, landing on the stones of the terrace some distance from me. I rolled over, rod still clutched in my hand, my face bloodied from the impact of the fall.
Belah stood over me, squinting, kris in hand.
He lunged, trying to plunge the knife into my heart. I rolled, and he followed, lunging again. I rolled again and kept rolling until, without warning, I fell off the edge of the terrace. The impact knocked the wind out of me, and I tried to rise, using the rod as a lever to bring me to my feet. Belah stood at the edge of the terrace, looking down on me. Our gazes met. His eyes glowed with power and with such a look of hatred that I was hypnotized. Then he smiled, a smile full of evil joy. He flexed his legs, holding his kris point down in his right hand.
"Goodbye, brother," he rasped. And he leapt at me.
Instinctively, my fingers found the activation button on the rod and touched it. The round spikes appeared. The rod was pointed upwards as it had been when I had tried to use it as a lever, both of my hands upon it. Belah, in mid-leap, saw the spikes and his eyes went from filled with hatred to filled with fear. He tried to twist, but it was too late. He fell upon the rod, the momentum of his body carrying him down its length, and forcefully onto my own form. But the kris found a target in my shoulder and I cried out in pain.
Belah and I were face to face, eye to eye. The golden light that shone behind his hypnotic eyes dimmed and faded. He spoke, voice rattling as death approached.
"Y-you may have won th-this battle, b-brother. B-but the w-war is yet to come." His voice lowered to a whisper that only I could hear. Then his head dropped onto mine.
I was aware of the warm blood that seeped from his wound onto my body and the fluid that bubbled up around the kris still stuck in my shoulder. The hot sun beat down on us, and I eventually began to sucuumb to blood loss and lack of air from the bulk of his body crushing my lungs. My eyesight began to blur, and I could no longer hear the fauna of the jungle around me.
Suddenly, something obscured the sun. Something silvery-white framing what looked like a face. I heard sounds that might have been words.
"Over....... he's......blood....... pull...... off...... knife...... Kyrano........ can...... hear?"
Belah's weight was lifted from me. More face-like shapes surrounded me in my blurred vision. I tried to speak, but could not. The hot knife was removed and the pain from that was great enough that I found I could not bear it. My world went black.