“Not here.” Enlil props his arms behind his head.
Clouds blot out the sun, and frigid wind stirs in from the balcony, ruffling the draperies and tossing my sketches of Deven across the chamber. They float to the floor and draw my eye.
A tremor shoots up my spine.
In the Void, Deven’s front bottom teeth had been knocked out. When I saw him in the dungeons, he had all his teeth again.
A shadow fills the doorway. I reel around, and Deven flashes a full smile.
“Marduk,” I say by way of greeting. Enlil bolts out of the bed and scoops up his spear. “Where are Deven and my friends?”
“Your friends are locked in the dungeons. For a moment, I thought you had sensed it was me instead of your beloved.” Marduk sneers, his beady gaze alight. “Your words to him were touching.”
“Marduk,” Enlil barks, “where are the children?”
“I was getting to that,” the demon says. Edimmu enters behind him. The reptilian horror is dappled with burns from Enlil’s earlier attack. She leads in the bhuta trainees, and they crowd together against the far wall. Basma hobbles against Giza, her legs in splints. “I discovered them in a servants’ passageway.”
A boy steps out of line to ogle Enlil, and Edimmu flicks her tongue at him. The child recoils with a stinging mark. Enlil levels his spear at the demon. She drags Giza in front of her as a shield.
“Let us pass,” she says.
“I would heed her.” Marduk is so calm, so ordinary in his harshness.
Nightfall filters into the room, the murkiness made drearier by the storm. Cala readies the urumi, letting the blades slide around me. We function in unison, her thoughts my actions.
The gate of shadows to the under realm shifts and opens. An ugallu’s front paws come forth. The back half of the lion-eagle fills the gate, its wings tucked in. Asag rides atop the beast. My Deven—the real Deven—is draped over the ugallu’s back. At first sight, he is unconscious.
“Is . . . is he . . . ?” I trail off.
“Alive,” Asag grumbles crossly, as though he is willing to fix that.
Enlil re-aims his spear at Marduk. “Irkalla promised his safe return.”
“I did return him.” Marduk tips his head to the side, weighing his reply. “Then I sent him back. We have a tumultuous history, he and I.”
“Liar,” I spit out. “Deven has never wronged you.”
Strangely, snowflakes fall outside. The flurries dance into my chamber on the chilly wind. I would dwell on the astonishing sight if not for Deven still slung over the back of that beast.
“You both wronged me.” Marduk transforms into a tall young woman with a grave expression and delicate features. I have never seen her before. “I wore this appearance when I visited your beloved Deven the night before your wedding. He was quick to follow when I told him I had a surprise at your marriage property.”
Marduk’s claims are illogical, as Deven and I are not intended to wed. The demon’s story, however, is all too familiar for another couple. The woman he is imitating must be Inanna. Cala and I arrive at the same conclusion at the same time.
Marduk is the chameleon demon from the tale.
“The hillside you built your hut upon was my hunting ground. You greedy mortals stole it.”
I doubt we knew our haven in the mountains was favored by a demon. “You’ve gotten your revenge twice. Leave Deven be.”
“You may have him after you let us go,” Edimmu says, her claws around Giza’s throat. “Irkalla is waiting.”
Enlil shoots a lightning bolt in front of them, blackening the floor. “The children stay.”
“We would sooner kill them,” Marduk says, resuming his hideous form.
This has escalated past negotiations. I fear the children and Deven will be caught in the cross fire. We need an army to stop three demons and close the gate . . .
Oh, Cala says. Good idea, Kali.
I hope so.
“Trainees,” I say. Their expectant gazes fasten onto me. “Always be ready.”
I let my call to arms drill in, then channel Cala’s expertise and whip the urumi at the ugallu. The lion-eagle rears back. Asag hangs on as Deven slides to the floor between the beast’s legs.
Giza burns Edimmu and gets away. As the demon shrieks, the six Galers summon winds that slide her into the wall, pinning her and her sadistic tongue. The five Aquifiers call upon the melted snowflakes and pelt her in the snout with water. Though the demon is restrained, the Galers and Aquifiers do not let up, and the four Tremblers buckle the floor in a line around the trainees, creating a barrier.
Enlil grabs the ugallu’s mane and shoves the beast and its demon rider backward into the gate. The ugallu digs in its claws and presses back. As they push against each other, I drag Deven to the opposite wall. Thank the gods, the fall did not seem to harm him.
Marduk looms over us in his squat, ugly physique. Cala reacts fast, and together we strike. The demon leaps away to the balcony, stepping in fresh snow.
My turn, I tell Cala, dropping the urumi.
Using both arms, I fire a heatwave. The tremendous blast opens a huge hole in the wall and throws Marduk outside. Enlil and the ugallu are still in a shoving match, and the trainees are keeping Edimmu pinned. I leave Deven to ensure that Marduk is good and gone, passing through the blazing draperies into the smoke.
Charred stone smolders and steams in whiteout conditions. Marduk is not here. The blast must have hurled him over the edge.
As I revolve to return inside, Marduk swings down from the level above and slams into me, flinging me backward. I slide across the balcony and grasp the ledge.
As I dangle from my left arm, Marduk stomps on my wrist and two of my fingers slip. He lifts his foot to do it again. A heatwave hits him from behind. He staggers away, his back on fire.
I swing a leg to the balcony, and Giza helps me up. Inside, Basma stands vigil over Deven.
“I did well?” Giza asks.
“You both did.”
We start for Basma and Deven. Enlil succeeds in shoving the ugallu and Asag through the gate, but a bearish rabisu leaps out. Enlil smacks it back into the Void with his spear. More rabisus jump into the chamber, snarling. The fire-god fights them off with his spear. Three get past him and prowl for the children.
I redirect from Deven to their aid. Marduk blocks me, the fire on him extinguished, and pushes me hard. I fly into the wall and drop, short of breath.
Basma throws fire at him. He dodges and swipes her and Giza aside. They fall in a pile. The rabisus are nearly to the children. Marduk grabs Deven’s legs to drag him off. I attack from my sitting position on the floor.
Grabbing my inner star, I raise my arms and shove my soul-fire at Marduk. Vivid white flames slam his torso. He howls and soars back against the wall beside the gate. Enlil retreats from the line of fire. The trainees and rabisus flinch from the luminosity. My flames persevere. Rising to my feet, I reach further inside myself.
I am more than I think I am.
I was born to shine.
I can carve my destiny from the sun.
Enlil’s and my parents’ counsel feeds the continuous blast, heat humming off my skin. Cala stands with me, helping me maintain my concentration the same way I held the urumi hilt for her.
We are Inanna, she says. We are Cala and Kalinda. We are one and the same.
Together, we draw from that single glorious star at our core and focus the massive, unbroken flux on Marduk. He changes forms so he looks like Giza. His attempt to weaken us merely adds to our ire. I step sideways, flush with the gate.
“Tell Irkalla this is my domain! You and your kind stay out!”
Siphoning Cala’s fiery temperament into mine, we hurl a greater blast at Marduk. The mighty volley throws the chameleon demon to the gate, and he falls through.
My powers immediately cut off. I bend over, gasping and perspiring.
“Kali!” Enlil shouts.
My heatwave struck the gate and compromised its structure. The doorway to the under realm is caving in.
“Push them through!” Enlil instructs the trainees.
A coordinated gust from the Galers sweeps a rabisu out. The Tremblers lift the floor in a wave, carrying the last of them to the hole. The rabisus slip on a puddle of water that the Aquifiers rushed to their feet. A blast from Giza knocks them into the shadows. Edimmu tries to run. Enlil strikes the demon with his spear, and she flies into the shrinking hole.
The gate becomes smaller. Enlil lifts his spear and jams it into the shriveled gap, collapsing the portal more, and discharges a lightning bolt.
A blinding flash explodes from the spear, shattering the weapon to a shower of sparkling dust and propelling Enlil back. The last of the gate turns to ash and rains to the floor. The unmarked wall appears as if the portal was never there.
I stagger to sit beside Deven. Ashwin and Gemi run into the room. They stay near the door, as astonished by the destruction as they are at the presence of a god. Outside, the wind and snow have ceased. Cala has gone quiet, her presence shrunken.
Are you hurt, Cala?
I’m just resting, she whispers. See to Deven.
He has not woken, his inner light a faint flicker. I pulse my own soul-fire into Deven. After battle, I am often depleted. Cala’s partnership gave me access to a deeper well than I usually possess. I send several more pulses into him. His condition does not improve, nor does he wake.
“Enlil?” I ask, my alarm spreading.
“I am sorry, Kalinda.”
“Why?” I say, not understanding. “I trekked through the under realm for him. He’s home and safe. He just needs a healer and some rest. He’ll be back to himself soon.”
“No healer can repair the damage the Void has done to his mind and soul.”
I touch Deven’s cool skin, still not comprehending. Someone must have the power to help him. Indah is a gifted healer. Enlil just does not know what she is capable of.
Gemi and Ashwin usher the children out. I call after them.
“Indah is in the dungeons. Tell her to come quickly!”
Enlil strolls over to us and lowers to one knee. “Kalinda, nothing can be done. I am not being cruel.”
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com