Chapter 42: Cornered and Outnumbered
Opening the hatch in the floor unfurled a ladder. They clambered down and the warriors hurriedly led them down a dark, narrow hallway below ground. The bleached stone walls reminded Janet of a medieval dungeon. She felt the chill in the air and wondered where they were being taken. All Janet could see ahead was a doorway’s dim outline at the end of the corridor. Janet’s pace slackened. A growing sense of dread made her want to turn back. There might be a battle raging upstairs in the church, but at least there was light. She had no idea what was lurking in the dark hole of a basement.
Overhead, there was a loud groan and crashing sound, as the hatch was forced open. She looked back over her shoulder and saw shadowy forms coming up behind them. Janet and the rest of her small group sped up, attempting to put some distance between them and their pursuers. They ran through the doorway at the end of the hall, with just enough time to slam the door and throw the weight of their bodies against it, before Mukesh’s men caught up to them. They were surrounded by hundreds of wooden crates. The warriors frantically searched for some heavy enough to barricade the door. Marko helped them stack the heaviest ones against the door.
The door rattled, as Mukesh’s men attempted to force it open. They held their breath for several tense minutes. When the door held, the group took a few moments to catch their breath, perching on short stacks of crates. Janet found the light switch and flicked it on. She looked around and marveled at all the stacks of crates crowded into the large room. Andrea moved to sit next to Marko.
“Why don’t you all just use magic to seal the door shut,” she asked.
“Magic requires a much…deeper form of energy than brute strength. We have to conserve our powers of concentration and well of energy. It’s going to be a long night.”
Seemingly on cue, Mukesh’s men attempted again to ram the door open. The warriors threw their weight against the crates. The attack went on for what felt like an hour and then everything fell silent. Andrea heaved a sigh of relief.
“I’m glad that’s over.”
“What makes you think it’s over,” asked Marko.
“I don’t hear anything.”
“There’s more than one way to launch an attack. We’re going to have to sleep in shifts,” Marko said more to the other men than to Andrea. They nodded their agreement.
“What are you guys talking about…you mean magic? You think they are going to use magic? Then Janet and I will stay up with you Marko. We made a pretty good team up in the church. We almost knocked Mukesh out didn’t we?”
Marko smiled indulgently, “Yes, but you ladies need your rest. It’s obviously not safe for us here. We’ll have to leave as soon as we can safely get away. Why don’t you take Jagathy and find a comfortable place to rest? I will call out for you, if I need you.”
“But I wanna help…”
“Jagathy and Janet need your help more right now. Look at your sister. She can barely keep her eyes open.”
Andrea looked over at Janet and was shocked to see the change that had come over her sister. She was sweating profusely and the mysterious glow from the previous night had returned to her eyes. She swayed and Andrea rushed to her side. Jagathy stood and placed a hand to Janet’s forehead.
“This poor girl is burning up with fever. Why is her neck bandaged? Was she injured recently?”
“Yes, my sister was attacked by a possessed cat.”
“Then she’s probably got cat scratch fever.”
“Is that a real thing?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“It’s not fatal is it?”
“No, but it can linger. She needs her rest. Look around and see if you can find something to make a soft pallet for her on the floor. I’ll sit with her.”
Andrea walked off into the gloom, making her way through a maze of crates and boxes. She lifted a few lids and saw various vases and figurines packed away in straw. In one corner, Andrea discovered a heavy blanket strapped over a tall object. She struggled to unbuckle and remove the old leather straps holding it on. The blanket had served as a cover for so long, it conformed to whatever it was meant to protect. Andrea’s attempt to pull it free had little effect.
She had to climb atop crates stacked on the sides of the mirror, in order to pry the blanket off of its high corners. Andrea tugged on it, until one side and then the other fell away, revealing mirror an ornately carved mahogany frame. Even in that poorly illuminated spot, Andrea noticed the unusual look of the glass which was liquid in appearance. It to her more like the still surface of a pond, than a pane of reflective glass. Andrea suddenly felt compelled to touch it. One hand stretched towards the mirror, but she instinctively hesitated and stopped short of actually touching it.
Jagathy’s voice brought her out of a daze, “Janet desperately needs to lie down. I’m afraid she’s going to pass out. Have you found anything Andrea?”
“Huh…oh, yes I found something.”
Andrea hastily made her way back to them, relieved to move away from the strange mirror. Something about that thing made her uneasy. Andrea folded the blanket in half and helped Jagathy lay her sister out on it, before settling down beside her. Jagathy removed the robe he was wearing and folded it into a makeshift pillow. He lie down nearby. Janet was out like a light and Jagathy appeared to drift off soon after. Andrea was having trouble falling asleep. Her mind was racing a mile a minute, replaying their fight with Mukesh and the blow the three of them had dealt him. Andrea felt exhilarated.
Somewhere, in the recesses of her mind, the faint voice of reason pointed out that she was a little too excited about it. Andrea was almost giddy and that was a bad sign. It felt like she might be starting a manic mood swing. As always, she recognized sensation as potentially dangerous and found it difficult to care. It felt good to be upbeat, after all those days and nights of feeling helpless and hopeless about her situation. She could definitely get used to the whole magic thing.
Lying down helped Andrea’s body relax. The last of her adrenaline slowly burned off and exhaustion set in. She felt her eyelids growing progressively heavy, as she began drifting off. It was in the dark space between sleep and wakefulness that she heard someone whisper her name. Andrea’s eyes snapped open. Janet was sound asleep. Andrea leaned up on her elbows and looked around. Jagathy lay motionless, with his eyes closed. Everyone else appeared to be asleep, except the warrior posted by the door and his attention was directed elsewhere. Andrea lay back and closed her eyes, convinced that she had imagined the whole thing. Sleep returned quickly.
The whisper sounded again and she sat up. After a few moments of straining her ears, Andrea heard it again. Andrea stood and quietly followed the echoing sound, until she came to the tall mirror once more. Rather than her own reflection, Ethan gazed out of the mirror at her.
“Now I know I’m dreaming,” she whispered.
It was comforting to see her old friend. She spent a few happy moments reminiscing about all the good times they’d had together, before the talisman had turned her life upside down. Ethan watched emotions play over her face and smiled. His smile always looked like a smirk to Andrea. Suddenly, she recalled his recent betrayal. Reflexively, she took a step back. Ethan smiled sadly at her, “You don’t trust me. I get it. I’ve let you down, haven’t I? I’m really sorry about that Andrea. I hope you know I wanted to stay with you, but I had to stay with…”
“Charles? Nice try Ethan. I know that he isn’t real. Mukesh already confessed that he was behind it all.”
“I’m talking about Enmerkar.”
“Whose that, another one of Mukesh’s flunkies?”
“I don’t know who this Mukesh person is you keep talking about. Enmerkar is the being who possessed Nadya. I pretty much had to do what he said or he would’ve killed me.”
“I’ve been lied to so much… I don’t believe a word you’re telling me.”
“Don’t be like that Andrea. I said I was sorry. Just like you’ve had to do things you didn’t want to do just to survive, I did what I was told. All that is over with now. I got rid of Enmerkar. I’m free now. We can be together again, just like old times. All you have to do is step into the mirror.”