“Callie...I don’t know what to say.” There were tears in her eyes and I was surprised and pleased to see that she was human after all.

Another way to find free books to read here is through collections such as California Digital Library, Getty Research Institute, and Boston Public Library. There are usually several download options if you don't want to read the book online, such as PDF, EPUB, and Kindle. Visit Archive.org's eBooks and Texts. The designation Of this and the presentation Of the material, do not 'mph. the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of concerning the legal status ot arty country, administration, or concerning. Free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fi fths of all other Persons. The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the fi rst Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.

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“I’m just glad to be back,” I said, not knowing what else to say. We ate dinner and then went up to bed. I had never appreciated a soft pillow as much as I did that night. I slept without dreams and woke up the next morning ready for battle.

The others were already gathered downstairs by the time I was dressed and ready. They caught me up over breakfast. Apparently, Uncle Suresh had received confirmation from his people in the field that my parents were indeed being held at the warehouse and that they were still alive. So our rescue mission was a go. I felt an adrenaline rush at the thought that I would see my parents very soon and that I would vanquishing some more demons at the same time. I realized I was beginning to like this. Destroying demons, of course. Rescuing my parents or anyone else I loved...that I could live without. But I couldn’t deny the rush I’d felt when I had destroyed the serpent demon and Rohini.

The next hour or so was spent getting ready for the rescue. I had never seen them all mobilize, so it was a learning experience for me. We went to the weapons room. Aruna, Shiv, Nina, Dev and I would go while Uncle Suresh would stay behind to coordinate. I watched as the others equipped themselves with various weapons: daggers, short swords, and an
urumi
. I wondered why they never used guns and bullets.

“Demons have a different physiology. Gunpowder and bullets can’t really do much damage,” Shiv explained when I asked him.

“But these weapons can?” I asked, still not convinced.

“They’re made of
panchaloha
, and that is lethal to demons.”

Panchaloha
. Five metals. I dug around in my brain for a bit and remembered where I’d heard that term before. It was an alloy of five metals, gold, silver, meteoric iron, zinc and lead, used to make idols of Hindu gods and goddesses.

I made a mental note to do more research on this after my parents were back with me. Right now, we were ready to go. I had my sword, my pendant, my newfound confidence and a general badass attitude. I was good to go.

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We rode in silence as the driver weaved through the already busy streets of Kolkata. Traffic in this city had a life of its own. Huge trucks lumbered by alongside rickety carts pulled by bullocks, while men in bare feet pulled rickshaws laden with matronly women and kids. At the same time public buses drove past, filled to the brim with passengers hanging precariously from the doors. Amidst all this chaos, people, both adult and children, darted in and out, trying to get across the pothole-riddled streets. It was enough to give anybody an ulcer, but as I looked around I saw people just going about their daily business. Of course, this was normal for them. It had been for me too. Now I held on to the headrest of the seat in front of me for dear life. The irony of my situation did not escape me. Here I was, having returned from a trip during which I survived capture by hostile islanders and escaped an imploding temple, all the while fighting off terrible demons, and now I was scared of Kolkata traffic.

We rode for about an hour before the driver slowed down to turn into an alley that led to a part of town where I would never have gone to by myself. The alley opened up into a wider street lined with rundown two-storey houses. Children played outside and vendors sold everything from ice cream to glass bangles. The smell from the overflowing sewers assaulted my nostrils, and when I looked over at Shiv, I could see that he too was trying not to gag. I sat back, trying to breathe only through my mouth, and marveled at the dichotomy that was India. I was being chauffeured in a luxury car around a city where some parts of town had houses with marble foyers and others had open sewers running through them. When I had lived in Calcutta as a child I had never spared a thought to these matters. But now at seventeen, having been away for so long, I saw my city through different eyes. I realized that I still thought of it as my city; it was a part of me, much as Seattle was. I felt Shiv’s hand on my arm.

“How are you holding up?” he asked.

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“I’m okay, Shiv. It’s just the smell, it takes some getting used to.”

The driver finally stopped in front of a large group of warehouses. I glanced at my watch and realized it was only eleven o’clock in the morning, which explained why there were so many men milling about loading and unloading whatever was being stored on the premises. The other car pulled up as we were getting out, and Dev, Nina and Aruna spilled out. We got a few odd glances from the workers, but the driver said something to them and they cleared out promptly. I was glad. We didn’t want any innocent people getting hurt because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

We split up into two groups. Shiv and I went to check out one set of the warehouse buildings, while Dev, Nina and Aruna went to another. It probably wasn’t the best plan but it was efficient since we had a lot of ground to cover. We started at the back of the building first, trying to find windows or doors to look through and also to determine how many points of exit there were in case we had to make a quick getaway. But we had no such luck. The back was nothing but wall, no openings at all.

We walked all around the building looking for any clues but found nothing. We tried the next building and the one after it. All the front doors were locked. But then at the fourth building we tried, the door had a sliding latch but no lock. I slid the latch to the right and opened the door cautiously. It creaked and stuck a little, but I gave it a good pull and it opened wider. We stepped in, allowing our eyes to adjust to the darkness. This one was not empty. My heart was racing as I looked around. There were three chairs and a naked light bulb dangling from the ceiling but nothing else. I walked slowly to the chairs. Disappointment stabbed my heart and my eyes teared up. I turned to Shiv. He looked around one last time, walking along the perimeter. Just as we turned around to step out, a hand was clamped across my mouth. I tried to scream and turn around to see who it was, but before I could react something was thrown over my head and face so that I could see nothing. Someone prodded me from behind and I tried to move forward, but I was disoriented and ended up stumbling on something and falling. Again, I tried to stand up and scream, but then I felt a sharp pain on my head and everything went dark.


<>~~<>~~<>


When I came to, I slowly opened my eyes. At first my mind was a blank, then the memory of what had happened returned and I started to sit up. That’s when I realized I was lying on a bed and that my hands and feet were tied to the bedposts. I was also gagged. I almost choked when I tried to open my mouth to scream for help and inhaled fibres from whatever had been shoved into my mouth. The coughing subsided after some time, during which I felt that my lungs had caught on fire. I had to remain calm, and I had to get out of there. Had they taken Shiv too? What about the others? If not, they would be looking for me. I wriggled my hands and then my feet. It was no use — they were bound too tight. I looked around. I was in a small room, no more than eight by eight feet. Other than the bed I was on, there was also a tiny desk. The room was quite dark, but through a tiny window high up in one corner of the wall a small shaft of light managed to enter. High on the opposite wall a tiny brown house lizard made its way to a vent, disappearing through it a second later. I shivered involuntarily. I hated lizards, and even though this one was gone, I wondered what other creepy crawlies lurked in the shadows. I didn’t dare to open my mouth to scream again, so I tried to loosen the bindings on my wrists and ankles, but I stopped when the skin on them was rubbed raw.

Just then the door opened. Someone entered the room and closed the door. I squinted to see better, but I couldn’t make out who it was. Then the person came closer and I froze. Mr. Burke, my history teacher.
What the hell is he doing here?
My mind searched wildly for something, anything to make sense out of this. I recalled my parents’ bizarre reaction to him at school. Suddenly it all began to make sense. The way they’d stormed out of there, how they warned me to stay away from him. They obviously knew that he was involved.
But how?
I waited for him to say or do something, but he just stood silently, towering over me. I would not give him the satisfaction of seeing how afraid I was at that moment, so I just stared back at him, eyes unwavering. If I could just get my hand free even the slightest bit, I was sure that I could zap him. He smirked, as though he had read my thoughts.

“So, Miss Hansen,” he said. “It seems that you have run out of good fortune.” His demeanor was one of supreme confidence.

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I pulled at my restraints, glaring at him. My words were muffled by the rag in my mouth. He leaned back, watching me struggle, clearly deriving some twisted form of satisfaction. Without warning he reached over and pulled the rag out. I sputtered as I tried to spit out the little pieces of fibre. Then I spat at him, aiming as close as I could to his face. He slapped me hard across the face, the cracking sound of his palm making contact with my skin echoing in the room. Tears stung my eyes as I tasted blood on the inside of my cheek. Still, I would not give him the satisfaction of showing fear. Rage shone dark in his eyes, and as I stubbornly held his gaze, he snarled, raising his hand again. I fought the urge to close my eyes at the pain I knew was coming, but it never did. Instead the door opened and another man stepped in.

“Burke...the masters have summoned you,” the man said, nodding toward me. “They want you to bring her with you.” He looked at me for a moment before averting his eyes and turning around to leave the room. Burke reached over and untied my legs, hauling me roughly to my feet. He held on tightly to my bound arms as he dragged me to the door and out into the dimly lit hallway. The sour smells of urine and stale sweat made me gag. We stopped abruptly in front of a door and Burke opened it. I tried to stay calm and control my breathing, as Aruna had taught me during our yoga sessions. We entered the room, which was larger than the one I was being held in, but just as bare. Two men stood by a small window at one end. They looked up when we came in and I realized they were identical. Shumbh and Nishumbh. Dev hadn’t mentioned they were twins. They were both very tall, well over six feet, their skin a mottled gray. Both of their faces were riddled with scars, and combined with the vertical slits that were their eyes, it was enough to make me go cold with fear. I had no means of defending myself and no idea if Shiv and the others were even alive. I took a deep breath and looked directly at the demons.

“Masters,” Burke said, bowing his head. “As I promised, here she is. The great goddess,” he added mockingly.

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The demon brothers walked closer to us and stopped when they were face to face with me. In such close proximity their putrid breath was nauseating. They walked around me slowly, taking in every part of me, blinking every now and then. Every time the vertical eyelids closed and opened again, I had to resist the urge to shudder. They could not know how terrified I was.

“Cut me loose,” I demanded, my voice scratchy from coughing. I struggled uselessly against Burke’s tight hold, eliciting smiles from the twins.

“She’s feisty, this one,” they said, almost in unison.

“Not like the last few.” Burke smirked as one of the brothers put his hands on either side of my head. The pain came quickly, without warning, excruciating in its intensity. My screams echoed loudly through the room and just when I knew I could not bear it any longer, it stopped as abruptly as it had begun. When I opened my eyes, the tears fell freely. But I was not going to give them any satisfaction.

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“Cut me loose. Let’s see how well you can fight, you cowards.” I spat in their faces, and this time I knew what was coming. That didn’t make it hurt any less. My back arched as the pain sliced through me, leaving me gasping and weak. Then he removed his hands, but I could still feel waves pounding through me. This time it took a lot more to focus my eyes on them. My vision was hazy and I could barely speak.

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I was about to say a few choice words when there was a loud crash and then yelling right outside the room, followed by a loud thud. The door burst open, and to my immense relief Shiv appeared. Aruna, Nina and Dev were right on his heels. The demons sprang into action, but even in the haze of pain, I could tell they were outnumbered. Burke shoved me against the wall and went straight for Aruna. The demon brothers went face to face with Nina and Dev, leaving Shiv free to run over to me and free my hands with his dagger.

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I staggered against him, trying hard to stay upright. There was no time for words. Over Shiv’s shoulder I could see that Dev was in trouble. One of the brothers had his head between his hands and I could tell from the anguish on Dev’s face that he was experiencing the same pain I had felt moments ago. It didn’t last long though, because in a flash Shiv was at his father’s side. He drove the dagger into the demon’s belly, and then there was nothing left of him except a pile of ash. A howl ripped through the room as his brother realized what had happened. In a mad rage he rushed at Dev to finish what his twin had started, but Nina was too quick for him. She plunged her
phurba
dagger into him and he joined his brother as a pile of ash. I turned away just in time to see a group of men run into the room and join in the fight. I raised my hand to use my firepower. I was able to take out two of
them, which was not an easy task since the others were fighting around me and I didn’t want to blow up any of them. Aruna and Shiv were fighting with two others, as were Nina and Dev. I looked around to find Burke, but he had disappeared. I took out a few more, incinerating them with the flames that shot out of my hands. As the smoke died down, I saw that the others had killed their opponents as well. Only the five of us were left.

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