(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)
"In the morning," she
said. "Itís not that far away, the morning."
There was something in the sky, circling.
He tilted his head back,
squinting. The sky was the colour of burnished steel, and it was almost
impossible to make out anything in the glare. He could just make out something
with wings. There were at least three of them, and they did not seem to be
"Demon," he said.
"Theyíre just watching."
The demon still had her hand on his thigh, and her fingers clenched slightly.
Not much, just enough to remind him of what her claws could do. "Donít look at
He shook his head and
rubbed his eyes. The yellow stony desert on all sides and the metallic sky
above gave no relief. Only in the distance before them, where a rising line of
eroded brownish-pink cliffs rose like broken teeth, was there any sign of any
change in the topography.
The beast plodded on,
uncaring. Its horned head nodded back and forth above its heavy muscular
shoulders. He had often wondered what the beast thought and dreamed, inside its
human head. Nothing seemed to ever matter to it. He wonder what it had ever
done to become what it was now, and whether it was content. He wondered if it
was being punished or rewarded.
The beast couldnít answer these questions and the demon wouldnít.
"Weíre going up that
way," the demon said. Even in the eye-aching light, her skin glowed red, her
naked body not seeming to feel the heat. "Up into the hills there."
"And when we get there?"
"When we get there, Man,"
she said, her barbed tail swishing, "we shall do what we came to do."
From long experience, he
knew he wouldnít get anything more out of her for the time being. When he
turned back to look at the cliffs they were suddenly much closer. Stones
clicked and clattered away from the beastís hooves.
A shadow fell across the
beastís shoulders and the rock path and as quickly disappeared. He looked up
quickly, but just too late to see anything.
"Donít look up, Man."
There was an edge to the demonís voice. "Keep your head down."
There were times, heíd
learned, when he could defy the demon, but this wasnít one of them. He kept his
eyes fixed on the beastís shoulders while the shadows returned, each time
closer. He thought he could make out noises, just too faint to hear.
As they entered the
hills, the beastís steps grew slower and unsure, and he could feel it deciding
before placing each foot. He looked to the side and saw nothing but sky. They
were travelling along the edge of a cliff so high he could not see the desert
beneath Ė if there was any desert to be seen.
"Isnít it time you told
me what this is about?" he asked the demon.
"Weíll come to a village
in a little bit," she replied. "Itís got an...infestation. Your job, Man, is to
clear it out."
repeated. "What kind of infestation? Ghouls? Vampires?"
"Ghouls or vampires
wouldnít need you to handle them, Man," she snapped with undisguised contempt.
"Youíll know it when you see it."
The path twisted away
from the cliff edge, and he no longer saw the sky.
"That?" he asked, superfluously.
"That," the demon confirmed.
He stared at the gate,
fighting down the urge to reach for the sword. Even the beast hesitated a
moment in its plodding. The structure filled the path before them, like an
open, hungry mouth. From the wooden crosspiece and posts, fanged skulls peered
down at them with empty eye sockets. From beyond the sagging barrier of bone
lashed with sinew, something that might have been smoke stained the air.
"And thereís a village
inside?" he asked at last.
"There was a
village inside," the demon said. "Now thereís, well, letís go in and see."
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