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The SEEN and the UNSEEN -by Apoorva Patrikar (blog: http://fictionworldbyap.blogspot.

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CHAPTER 1 - introduction It was a bright sunny day. Sana was pretty excited after her best GNO with her BFF Aksha. They often spent their night outs watching horror movies, with popcorn, blanket and hot chocolate. They were eagerly waiting to go to college and tell their friends about the horror movies they saw. This was a weekly routine for them. Come for breakfast girls, pack your bags, be quick, Sanas mother called. They quickly packed their stuff, stuffed some food in their mouth and ran towards the door. They were fun loving girls, playful and jumpy. Their college was hardly ten minutes from Sanas house. They preferred cycling their way to college, making it a friendly race. Yes! I win again! Sana squealed as they reached the pavement. But Akshas attention was elsewhere. Sana turned to see what she was gawking at. It was a notice about a weeks camp, a field trip. They both read the notice, looked at each other, and the happy dance started. Within a few seconds, their entire friends gang was there, jumping and sharing their excitement. Taking the permission slips from the teacher made them feel like they were accepting some glorious prize. Okay students get the slips filled at home Kumar sir announced. He was their science professor. The industrial visit was his idea. Now, pay attention in the class, no more chit chats about the trip. Sana whispered softly to Aksha, This means, it is paper-chatting time! Their exhilaration could definitely not be subdued today. Sana, Aksha, Adhiraj, Khushi, Hemant and John called themselves JHAKAS, formed by their initials. Sana went home and got her letter signed. So did the others. And their phone calls had begun. Put the phone down now, go to sleep everyones parents said one by one. So they kept their calls, and started messaging. Giggling and laughing, eventually everyone slept, eagerly waiting for Sunday, their departure day. As Sunday approached, so did their enthusiasm. Finally the day arrived. We can have horror night outs every night for a week! Aksha said to Sana as she sped towards the college bus. Their other friends were already inside; reserving the seats. Adhiraj was late as usual. Aksha had a huge crush on him, but she was nervous to reveal it. Sana helped her keep it a secret. Similarly, John secretly loved Sana, but she had already guessed. John was a happy go lucky guy. Sana also found him attractive. But she didnt want to get too involved. As their journey began, they started singing songs and playing games. Kumar sir and some other professors accompanied them. John often stared at Sanas brown curls. He found them amusing. But just as Sana looked back, he pretended to look somewhere else. Sana found herself enjoying his attention. As they reached

Phargadh, their destination, Sana got up to take her bags when someone called her name and tapped her shoulder. She turned to her other side but didnt find anyone. It scared her for a minute. But she assumed it was probably the scary movies wearing off. She was about to get off her seat when she saw something translucent outside. She went towards the window and stared at nothing. She was so sure she had seen something fly. Suddenly something tickled her scruff and she let out a small scream. Haha! Why are you so scared? Oh its you Aksha! You scared the hell out of me! she gave Aksha a small pat on her back and they moved forward. Sana was assured herself that she was hallucinating.

The JHAKAS gang and other students reached the hotel reception where they were supposed to stay. It was almost evening. Mr. Kumar assigned the students their rooms, in groups of three. Thankfully the students preference for room partners was considered. Sana was sure she and Aksha would be grouped together. Their eagerness grew as Kumar sir gave them their keys. Just before he did that, he told them who their third partner was. They gasped when they heard the name, it was Martika. Martika was a bitchy, annoying and most attention seeking girl. The hatred between her and Sana-Aksha was mutual. Aksha started to oppose Kumar sir when he said Dont argue with me girls. I know none of you are happy with the situation. But were here to enjoy and learn. Keep aside your differences and behave like decent roommates. I do not want any complaints from you. Get that? Yeah As if we can say no, Sana murmured once sir left. Why arent we paired with Khushi? She was our preference. Aksha couldnt stop herself from taunting; We prefer living with humans, not make up boxes she threw at Martika. And I prefer to live with beautiful good looking girls, rather than ugly humans who nobody even knows Martika threw back. This was going to be tough. While they were in the midst of these childish arguments, Sana spotted the three guys of her gang happy together. They were paired as they wished for. They didnt even realize the small war going on. She felt a little jealousy running through her veins. Albeit she had accepted what was given to her, and they left for the room. Sana spoke loud enough for Martika to hear, I wish there are two beds for humans and none for artificial make up factories. Martika would obviously not take it easy, she replied in the most annoying tone, Dear roommate, if I were to bring my entire wardrobe with me, you two would take a lifetime just looking through it. Both of them know this was true, though not literally. They quietly moved to their room to find the biggest disappointment of their trip. There werent three separate beds, it was one huge double bed. The three of them were supposed to snuggle in together! This was highly impossible. After several

tantrums, they decided to leave it for the night and they decided to have some snacks downstairs. All students were roaming about except for these three. But once they reunited with their respective friends, they started feeling amused again. Lets go to the forest tonight Sana heard someone say. No guys, the forest isnt safe at night. Besides its about half an hour from here. Everyone stared at her like she was insane. What are you talking about? John asked her, curiously. He was pretty much confused, just like everyone else. Sana explained, I just denied what you, uhm I dont know who said it, but going to the forest is a bad idea. No one said anything about a forest Sana, what are you mumbling about? Akshas firm response made Sana wonder, she definitely heard that voice. She chucked it off when Kumar sir entered in with the other faculty. Girls and boys will separate after 9 pm. No wandering about on your own. Regular checks will be made in each room, every night. A series of instructions were given to them after which the students were told of the next days schedule. Tomorrow we will be visiting a factory in a nearby village. Breakfast will be served at 8.00 am. By 9.00 we will leave for the factory. After some time, everyone had dinner. The students dispersed thereafter. Sana, what were you saying about the forest? John asked her. Sana felt rather embarrassed that she had spoken about something that didnt happen at all. We all could sneak out and go check it out if you want He offered. She wanted to avoid the topic so she started talking to Hemant about something else altogether. Johns attention obviously shifted to the fact that she was talking with some other guy, but he let the topic go.

CHAPTER 2 the dreaded night Sana and Aksha were dreading the night since they had to share their bed with Martika. To their surprise, when they entered the room, Martika was not there. This gave them some time to relax. Im so tired with all the traveling, yet so excited! Aksha said. Hey lets call Khushi in here and watch a movie. Sana offered. Aksha liked the idea and they went towards the door. Just before Aksha could reach the handle, the door opened in full swing and hit her hard on her nose. You She was about to swear assuming it must be Martika, but to her surprise it was Kumar sir. Im so sorry dear. Does it hurt? Aksha wanted to say it not only hurts, it stings! but she went on with, No sir. Im okay and continued rubbing her nose. Im here for a regular check, sir said and also to inform you about some restrictions. You will not go outside, call anyone else other than your roommates inside, or let anyone other than faculty members or volunteers in. And theres something else too. Kumar sirs voice grew softer, Theres a jungle nearby. But its forbidden to go there. Dont do anything stupid. He then turned and walked away to the next door. Theres something about this jungle, it keeps popping up again and again. Sana said. Their plan about inviting Khushi would obviously not work now. The professors would be on their rounds. Its just the two of us then. Lets begin! They took out their laptop and played a horror movie. The sound was low enough so that it wouldnt pass through the door. The movie started and the girls were missing their popcorn and hot chocolate. They ate wafers instead. It was a movie on ghosts and lost souls. They were so involved in the movie that Aksha accidentally bit her finger once. Her scream was loud but thankfully no one outside heard, they assumed. The next scene started. It was a pitch dark night and all the ghosts were attacking the heros isolated house. The scene was intense. Deadly music was playing. Scary musical wind was blowing. The ghosts in the movie were about to enter the house when Sana and Aksha heard a knock on their door. Their heartbeats sped. Sweat along with fear started to drip. Sana held Akshas hand. They started chanting. Both of them sweating, their hands started to slip, when the door was knocked again. This time, it was louder. Somehow they held their scream. Two seconds later they heard a voice from the door. The voice said, Girls, I know you dont want me inside. But since Im your roommate, and Kumar sir wont let me share a room with my friends, you need to let me in. Right now! Or else Im gonna get you out of this camp! The girls let out a loud sigh. Shes no less than a ghost! Aksha mumbled while giggling. She opened the door and saw the same irritating and annoyed expression she was expecting. What took you so long? Martika demanded. Nothing, we were just watching a movie about YOUR kind of people and your knock scared us Sana explained. Kittens! Shy, scared, good for nothing kittens! she threw back. And please I dont wanna listen to ghost music while I sleep. Put that thing off right now or Im

gonna tell sir that you two are not in bed. You know the consequences of that now, dont you? Shes such a spoilt brat! Sana said. They had no other option but to stop the movie and shut their laptops. The three of them went to sleep. Martika annoyed, Akshas heartbeat still fast and Sana still thinking about the forest. Aksha had the urge to throw Martika off the bed. But considering the fact that she hadnt told sir about their movie yet, she dropped the idea. Each of them closed their eyes and eventually drifted to sleep. Except for Sana. She didnt want to go to the jungle. But somehow after Kumar sirs fair warning, she felt reverse psychology kicking up. She was a kind of person always acting on instincts. She thought of taking Aksha with her. But she looked at her and she was sleeping so peacefully. She hadnt seen her sleeping like that ever since her break-up with her former boyfriend. So she decided to go on her own. She put on her shoes, tip-toed and sneaked out. She took a map with her. It was about half an hours walk. It was a pitch black night, just like the movie. It was just a movie. It was just a movie. Sana kept assuring herself. She checked the map and her GPRS app. She was on the right track. After a few turns, she could finally see the jungle. She felt as if the forest was calling out to her. Sana was in a two-state mind. Whether to go inside or not to. But she wasnt foolish. She knew what happened to over-curious girls in horror movies. She turned back. Just at that instant, she saw a bright light from within the forest. Looks like a human settlement. A small visit wont do any harm Sana thought. She went towards the light coming from a small room. The door was wide open. Hello? Anybody there? Sana called. She heard soft music playing. The music was catchy and rhythmic. She went further in. It led to another door which revealed a big hall. It was decorated. What amused Sana was that all the decorations were translucent. She couldnt guess the material they were made from. It was beautiful and elegant. She wanted to touch it, just to know what it feels like. She extended an arm towards it. Sana was amazed to see the semisolid, semi-liquid, semi-gaseous material. What is this thing? she asked herself. You shouldnt be here. Sana snapped her head back to see where the voice came from. She saw a shadowy figure. Oh Im sorry sir. I just thought Well, actually these decorations are quite fancy. The shadowed figure came closer to her. Sana was a bit shaken. Oh please dont call me sir. Im Dravya. Whats your name? Sana was startled because Dravya was translucent too. Just like the materials inside. She rubbed her eyes assuming it appeared so because she was sleepy. She was right. As she finished rubbing her eyes, she could see Dravya, clearly solid. Just like any other person. Hey. Im Sana. Dravya looked a few years elder than her. He was handsome, perhaps an inch taller than her. His hair matcher hers, brown curls. From his attire, Sana guessed he must be pretty rich. He was wearing a smart tux and had branded shoes.

Sana, I told you, you shouldnt be here. Its not safe. Dont you know about the stories of Phargadh forest? What stories? Sana was more curious than ever. Dravyas voice was low and watchful. You really dont know anything. Do you? Hm. For now, trust me on the fact that this forest is filled with dark secrets. Go back to where you came from. Sana was confused. Before she could ask him anything else, he turned back and went away. Sana reached the door to see him but he was already gone. She turned back to close the party hall door. What she saw, kept her haunted for a minute. The decorations were gone, replaced by spider webs. The fancy lights were gone. The music was gone. All that she could hear was wolves howling. Sana was frozen. Her hallucinations were increasing every damn hour. She was scared to death. As soon as she was back to her senses, she ran back to the hotel. Aksha was peacefully dreaming about Adhiraj when she heard the door knock. Sana please see whos at the door she said, opening her eyes a little, realizing Sana was not beside her. She went towards the door and opened it. It was Sana. Where were you idiot? Aksha asked in a low sleepy voice. Sanaa eyes were red, frightened. She was sweating like crazy and her hair was messy. Sana was almost in tears. She hugged Aksha tightly and started crying. She told her the whole story. Aksha was pretty sure it was just her imagination. But she said, Sana, dont worry. Well get there first thing in the morning and see it ourselves. No way Aksha, Im not going there again. Sana still had a ragged breath. Okay, okay. Just relax now. Remember youre back and safe. Relax... Sana closed her eyes, not sure if she could sleep tonight.

CHAPTER 3 - Tiara

To Sanas relief, the sun was finally up. She could now lose her pretence on sleep and get up. She was still confused whether what she had seen the previous day was real, or was it just a dream. Hey Sana! Good thing youre up! Pack your stuff, were going down for breakfast. Were going to a factory remember? Sana needed a distraction to get back to normal. Aksha was very careful while taking to her, she didnt want her to be scared again, so she asked her softly Are you feeling ok Sana? Sana snapped her head so forcefully that it scared Aksha. How many times should I repeat? Aksha had never seen Sana so angry. Aksha, you need not tell me what I should do, and what not to. Let me live my own life. With that note, Sana banged the bathroom door and went in for a bath. Aksha was left horrified. She had never seen Sana like that. So rude, so angry, talking so disrespectfully. Tears welled in both their eyes. Aksha was standing right where she was, when Sana came out after her bath. Even Sana looked miserable. Im sorry Aksha, I dont know what happened They both gave each other a friendly hug, crying this time. I guess Im just so scared after yesterday, my heads not straight. Your head was never straight!! Aksha giggled through her tears. She was happy their friendship was strong enough to survive silly fights. They went downstairs for breakfast and joined their friends. Im excited to go to this village, Phargadh with you Sana John exclaimed. As he realized the ahemahem sounds and stares that everyone was giving him, he added, I mean Im excited to go with everyone! Sana couldnt resist the small playful smile. The breakfast was so different in taste. I didnt know rural food tastes different! Hemant said, Oh what did you expect? A McDonalds burger?? Khushi was always all about teasing and sarcasm. With all their witty comments and gossips, they boarded the bus. Sana and Aksha sat together as usual. John wanted to sit with Sana today. So he made up a plan. Instead of sitting with Adhiraj, he secretly texted Aksha, Hey Adhiraj is sitting alone. Wanna join him? Ya, ya I know you like him and all! Ive seen the way you look at him. An exchange of seats is all I want. You keep it mum, so will I. Immediately after he texted her, he started looking at her for her reactions. But Aksha was so busy talking to Sana, she didnt even realize her cell vibrating. Uhm Aksha? John interrupted, Can you please give me your cell? My balance is over, and I need to call home. John hoped that this trick would work, and it did. Finally she read his text and nodded in agreement. She was horrified though that John knew the truth, but she made a quick excuse and went to sit beside Adhiraj. Hey Adhiraj Aksha greeted him. He was a little startled at first, but then welcomed her with the cutest smile Aksha had ever seen him wear. Her heart was literally floating in the air, when she turned back and winked at Sana. Sana was laughing at Akshas expressions already. Thats when John broke their eye-to-eye girl gossip. You look really tired Sana, is everything alright? It reminded Sana about that damn night trip again. Her mood instantly fell as she replied with No, nothing. Just didnt sleep well last night. That part was true. However, John was

successful in bringing her mood back to normal in just two minutes. Sana liked the fact that hed chosen to sit with her today. Their bus passed the jungle in a few minutes. It sent chills through Sana. But she avoided seeing outside so that it didnt bother her much. She was talking with John when she suddenly heard Dravyas voice. The same rich guy who shed met in the jungle. She looked everywhere, but couldnt anticipate the direction of his voice. Since she was passing the jungle, she guessed that hed seen her through the window or something. But she ignored the thought successfully. Sana was feeling better now with the daylight, friends and excitement. After some time, the bus reached the village. They got down and were supposed to visit rural houses and a cotton factory. They started off with small houses. It fascinated them as to how cute the small huts were. Though they were small, they were comfortable. The students had questionnaires which they had to fill. The kids of the village were pretty excited too. All students were playing with the kids, enjoying themselves. Sana and Aksha were playful as it is. They were the first ones to join the kids. As they were about to move to the next house, Sana spotted a small girl looking intently at her. SANA S POV: The little girl was staring at all of us, especially me. She was such a cute little doll. Just about 6-7 years old. I walked towards her. Hi sweetie, whats your name? I expected her to give me an innocent smile and tell me her name in her amazingly cute voice. Instead, she said, I dont talk to strangers and looked the other way with her chin up. She looked so cute as she showed me some attitude, I felt like adopting her! Okay, but tell me your name at least Wheres you mom? As soon as I said that, she turned back with something in her eyes. I couldnt make out what it was. Agony? Plead? Tears? Hope? A mixture of something like that. It made me want to hug her. This little stranger was making me feel so attached to her. Just then Kumar sir called, Come on guys. We need to visit the factory. I got up, extremely unwilling to go. As I turned back, I heard her voice, My name is Tiara. I looked back and smiled, Bye Tiara. I said before leaving. Such a perfect name. Tiara meant a crown and she did look like a princess fit to wear her name. I joined the others to the factory and told them all about Tiara. John said sheepishly, I saw you with her, she was really cute. But not as much as he left the sentence trailing, incomplete, but I knew what he would say. Not as much as me. Every time he did something stupid, I smiled. I couldnt believe I was falling for him. He wasnt my type but still special to me. We proceeded to the cotton mill, walking! That was too much! But there wasnt a road wherein a bus could enter. So that was the only option left. We realized wed almost reached there when we could see buds of cotton hover above us. Occasionally one of us would catch it in the air, and blow it on the other. I hadnt thought this factory thing would be cool, but here we were, enjoying ourselves thoroughly! We went inside the mill. After a long interview on

pillow and sofa making, we left the mill. Aksha was so happy here. She liked spending time with Adhiraj. And for a change, he was enjoying her company too. I was happy for her. And for me too! A little space from Aksha let me spend time with John. Khushi was eying us with suspicion. I think shed guessed the whole thing. Moreover, we were going to tell her sooner or later. We were about to get in the bus when I saw her. Tiara. Had she followed us? She came to me and I automatically smiled. She surprised me by saying, Dont be so happy, Ive not come here for you. I stay nearby. I only came here to tell you that that you look like my mom, thats why I told you my name. Please dont tell it to anyone else. I dont want anyone coming and pulling my cheeks saying Tiara is soo cute! My God! I was just in the final years of my teens and here was a kid telling me I looked like her mother! Although I loved her cutely annoyed expression! I promised her what she asked for. I saw her until she walked away. As she approached the wall, I saw a hand pulling her mercilessly dragging her away. This, I couldnt bear. And I started following her and the stranger

CHAPTER 4 the misunderstanding It was a guy dragging her. Tiara did not look aghast, only annoyed. Like she knew him, but didnt want him to take her away. I kept track of how far I was from my bus, but eventually I couldnt tell. I ran until I finally reached him and yanked him away from Tiara. What the hell are you doing? Forcing this kid to come with you? You cant kidnap her. Im reporting to the police. I said, very sternly. All I got from him was a confident smirk. He had a good build, fit for a gangster. What? You think Im gonna let this go? This isnt an empty threat. I took out my cell phone to prove my point. Urgh! That smirk again. What was wrong with this guy? Wasnt he scared? That was it, I couldnt take any more of his super annoying expressions. I started dialling when Tiara spoke. Stop. He isnt kidnapping me. This is Armaan. Hes my neighbour, and my friend. Friend? He looked my age. Why are you forcing her to go then? I asked, unable to interpret anything. All he said was Im not letting Tiara close to any impure souls. And he left. Just like that. Did he just call me an impure soul? There was something in the way he confidently said it, and in his expression that was fierce. Whatever arguments I had in mind, I kept them to myself. He didnt know me at all and the hypocrite had already decided that I have an impure soul. Whatever the case, I could see he cared for Tiara and wasnt as harsh to her as it seemed from the distance. She wasnt hurt. But I had a strangely strong anger build in inside me. I had the urge to twist Armaans neck hard enough for him to die, or strangle him some broad yet pointy object. I wanted to see him down on his knees, begging for life. No! I said to myself. I was becoming a devil. What the hell? One line. One line of his made my worst side come out. I wasnt that monstrous. First the drama in the morning with Aksha and now this. I felt ashamed. I turned back to leave and bam! I was lost. My heartbeat sure picked pace, but it wasnt all that scary as it would have been, if it was dark out here. There werent many people on the road, but there was a small mart. Hopefully theyd give me directions. Excuse me? Can you tell me the way to the cotton factory? I enquired at the counter. I was pretty sure that was a big landmark. I followed his directions and my gut told me I was on the right track. Things slowly started seeming familiar and I spotted my bus. Where were you Sana? Kumar sirs voice sounded heavy and angry. I realized Id slowed down the trip. My JHAKAS group looked really relieved on seeing me, but also worried at the same time. I gave everyone a recap of what happened, except for the part where Id been called an impure soul. John was the only one who burst out into laughter, while others had an angry glare fixed on me. The misunderstanding was clearly amusing to him, but eventually everyone started laughing, including me, easing the tension a little. Kumar sir strictly forbade me from wandering off again, and I was happy he didnt know anything about my night trip to the forest.

Once I got into the bus, I noticed Khushi glaring at me. The glare had nothing to do with my detour of course. I went to sit beside her. Hey, I said. No acknowledgement from her side. This was going to be tough. What is it Khushi? Just say it. You know what this is about Sana, no need to act all innocent. I knew what she meant. I clarified immediately, Look Im not dating John. And neither is Aksha with Adhiraj. Reeeeally? she finally said with a friendly teasing smile, emphasizing on the es. Anyways, it wasnt official. I was glad she finally accepted my say. I didnt want her to feel left out. We didnt want to hide anything from her. We had our activities lined up after lunch. Aksha asked me once we were alone, You look upset about something. Everything okay? She was still careful while talking to me after my outburst this morning. She was my bestie and I couldnt hide this from her. I told her about me being called the impure soul and my reactions to it. She was definitely mad at Armaan, though she didnt even know him. Obviously, I would feel the same way if we exchanged our places, but she was concerned about something else. I didnt know you have a violent streak miss softie She was trying to joke about it, but I could see her unease. I shrugged it off. Our next stop was a scientific research centre tour. It was very interesting. Or maybe it was just me, because everyone else seemed quite bored. I guess I was very satisfied because it was something normal. Given the past few hours of my life, normality was something I was really looking forward to. We left from the science centre and headed back to our hotel. I needed sleep so bad I actually fell asleep in the bus. It wasnt even night time, just about early evening. Akshas voice woke me up. She seemed uncomfortable and confused. What was the matter? Im not sure whether I should tell you this now she was making me extremely curious. Just say it already Aksha. No Im sorry I shouldnt have brought this up she said while slipping her cell into her pocket. Go to sleep. Want me to tell you a bed time story? I was in no mood for her jokes. She was hiding her cell from me? Why? Just tell me Aksha please? I supposed a request and a little emotional blackmail would suffice. And it did. Please Sana, dont get very angry. She seemed like she was bracing herself for something. I searched for it online. For the Phargadh forest. About its stories. I was afraid Ill snap at her, like I had in the morning. However I managed to control my temper which seemed to be rising every second. This is what she was afraid of. When she noticed me taking this cool, she continued. And the stories are not good. They say it is abnormal? I dont know. Something like that. Like its bewitched or something. People who go there dont come back and stuff like that. Similar to Bermuda Triangle. They just disappear. And some stories say that Stop Aksha stop it! I couldnt control my anger now. I was curious. I wanted to know about the forest but I was yelling at Aksha to stop. Why? It just happened. Aksha was taken aback too, but she understood. Im sorry I whispered. She was

my best friend. Why was I acting like that with her? Urgh. I hated myself for this. We quickly changed the topic and moved on to something. Normal. We reached our room and I loved seeing my bed empty. It was so tempting that I climbed on without even removing my footwear. Within seconds I was fast asleep. I must have slept really well because when I opened my eyes, I felt sunrays touching me softly. I was glad for that. Aksha and Martika were still asleep. I smiled, happy that I slept carefree. Here I was, awake, alive and smiling. I liked it. A knock on the door, woke the others up. The volunteers were asking us to get ready for breakfast. Sounded good to me. We were supposed to have an adventure today, starting with rappelling. Where are we going? I asked Kumar sir. He seemed excited about this. On the Firuki mountains he said. I used my GPRS tracking to know its location. It told me that the Firuki mountains were right there, right where I dreaded to go. It was beyond the Phargadh forest. And the only way to reach there was through the forest

CHAPTER 5 phargadh forest I climbed in the bus, believing that the world will spin; I'll fall into some black hole and disappear for life. Thankfully, and to my surprise I reached our rappelling spot- safe, sound and alive. Aksha was uneasy the whole way too. She was concerned about me. Frankly, without her having constantly distract me, this journey would have been damn scary. The rappelling point was a few minutes walk from where our bus was parked. There was a small river, which we were first supposed to cross, midair, with the help of a rope, and guidance of course. Once we crossed it, the other activities followed, but we couldn't see the other end. It was first John's chance for the river crossing and abseiling. He fastened his safety belts and started his adventure. It was chilling yet enthralling to see him up there. I could hardly wait for my turn! "I'm so scared guys, I think I'll puke up there" Khushi whispered. Aksha immediately started telling her about all the enthusiastic details. They were supposed to get Khushi excited, instead it only made her nervous and she ran back into the bus. Aksha and I exchanged looks, and she followed her to convince her. "Miss Khushi please come forward. Its your turn" Kumar sir called. I went stiff for a minute. I couldn't tell him what just happened. It could mean trouble for both Khushi and Aksha. So I decided to lie. "Sir, actually Khushi forgot her purse in the bus so she has gone to get it." He looked more annoyed than I expected him to be. I suppose my group was slowing down the trip a lot of times. "Sir, Khushi and I could exchange places, I'll go first." I suggested. I'd hoped I could make up for my earlier delay. But Kumar sir disapproved at the same instant. Instead, he sent Adhiraj. Couldn't He just send me? Anyways, thankfully in about five minutes, both my girls were back while Kumar sir was busy with the setup for the next student. "Mission accomplished!" Aksha said giving a radiant winner-smile. I quickly gave them an overview. Aksha was a little mad. She wanted to see Adhiraj doing his turn, but she was glad they weren't in any trouble. "Sana, come forward." I was really excited to go, but the moment my name was announced, my anxiety kicked up. Sweat started dripping my forehead. My friends smiled at me, showing they were pretty confident I could make it. This gave me a boost. I moved forward. The guides fastened the security belts around me. The descender was tied on the harness at my waist, which was a friction hitch device. "When you get to the other side of the lake, there will be another guide who will help you get down. There onwards you will climb down a small hill in a similar way." Kumar sir's instructions were clear, straight forward and so low that only I could hear his voice. I clutched the rope with my gloved hands and started moving forward. It was really exhilarating. I dared a peek downwards, knowing I was never afraid of heights. It looked beautiful! In an upside-down way, since I was upside down, but this was going to be a memorable experience. I could tell.

Just like sir had told me, the other guide was standing, ready to put me down. As my equipments moved back for the other students, I moved forward to spot the hill. Sir had asked me to make it downhill, so I started going in that direction. I was hoping Adhiraj will be there, but maybe he was fast and went down the hill already. Well, I was on my own then. The Ground was a little moist. It made getting a grip difficult. My fears came true when I slipped over a pebble making the hill a bumpy slide. It hurt, real bad. But at least I cleared a big patch faster. There were supposed to be other students here but I was alone. Maybe I took a wrong turn somewhere. According to what sir said, to the right there was supposed to be a waterfall. My GPRS tracker said the same. Hoping that the others were there, I took off to the right. It was a relief seeing the waterfall. But alas, no students. However there was one face I knew, the face that I could identify anywhere, the face Id seen on the night that still haunted me. It was Dravya. "I told you Miss Sana. I told you not to come here. I told you about the dark forces. Don't you love yourself enough to stay alive?" Well, Dravya was wrong this time. "I'm not technically in the forest. Just its outskirts. Our group is hiking and trekking and stuff." To My surprise he gave me a bitter laugh. "You Are in the midst of the Phargadh forest Miss Sana." His words sent a chill through me but I didn't believe him. But unfortunately my GPRS tracker agreed with him. It showed me a waterfall right in the center of the forest. No. This cant be, I said to myself. Not again. I wish Aksha was here with me. She could wipe away all my tears without letting me know how bad I was crying. If John was here he'd change my mood within seconds. But I was alone, alone with Dravya. I realized I had to snap back to reality. He sensed my mood and offered me a gentleman smile. I cant change the fact that youve risked your life, but I can definitely help you with the way out. Follow me. Thanks Dravya I said but didnt move. Can I ask you something? I asked. He was in a tux similar to what Id seen him wear last time. How is it that youre in the forest every time Im here? He chuckled. Are you under the impression that Im following you? I didnt have that in mind for sure. I replied, No, I was just curious. Im sure it was a co-incidence, but arent you afraid? You warn me not to come here, but you linger here all along. How come youre not scared then? He gave me another quick chuckle, like he was laughing on some inside joke. Uhm He hesitated for a minute and then replied with I live here. Here as in the forest? What are you, Mowgli? I didnt mean to make it rude. It was more like a snide comment. He didnt seem to mind, so I didnt bother apologizing. We started walking. No, Im definitely not Mowgli he said, still laughing. Im not sure whether youll believe me. He now had a serious tone. Please tell me Dravya. He was making me really curious. He peeked at me analyzing if I was serious and finally gave in. Were the guardians of the forest. Were humans that nobody outside our little world even recognizes. We stay here to save any humans that wander off in the

jungle. We want them safe and happy in their own lives. His voice was so heavy with emotions. He spoke every word distinctly. He looked at me trying to judge whether I was buying it. Somehow I did trust him. Every word that he said, every sentence. His voice and expression said it all. He continued, The humans need to be safe and away from even the knowledge of what exists here. Ignorance is bliss. These dark forces are bad enough. With science and technology, it can go up to heights you cannot even imagine. Some things are better unknown. What is it? Whats the secret of this forest? He looked at me sternly and said, Like I said, its better unknown. Its a secret hidden for the best. Somehow his denial was only half-hearted. It was like he wanted to tell me. I pushed him on the topic a little. Come on please? I promise I wont tell anyone. I tried making a puppy face, and I suppose it worked. Fine Ill tell you. But you have to keep that promise. I agreed. I only stopped when I saw where we were going. Are you crazy Dravya? I screamt out loud. He was walking right towards the waterfall. I was in no picnic mood. He gave me a look that said Can you handle it girl??. I crossed my hands and looked at him a little angrily. He replied, doubtful if I would listen and said Behind the waterfall is a cave that links the jungle to your highway.

CHAPTER 6 the story Dravya helped me through the stones below the waterfall, and finally behind it. I was under the impression that waterfalls only have rocks or hills behind them. But I was wrong. It really was a cave. It was dark, but some light penetrated through the water, making designs on the rocks of the cave. It looked scary, but in a beautiful way. My eyesight took some time to adjust to the surroundings. So you were saying? Dravya still hadnt told me the secret. He took a deep breath and finally started speaking. Okay. Here it is A long time back, at the time of dungeons and magic and castles, there were some people who could switch souls. Imagine, you are in somebody elses body and someone else is in yours. At first, it was a fancy. Initially it was done to make sure everything was orderly or merely for fun. But then, there are two sides of every coin. Some of the evil gained this knowledge and started exercising soul switching for their own selfish purposes. Getting into someone elses body and committing a murder, leaving eye witnesses and then switching back to your own body was a common crime. It was discovered later on however, that the murderers who switched souls, couldnt remain in one body for a long time, until the body accepted the soul fully. Their own bodies would reject the souls, so they had to find and trick other humans in believing that giving their body to this soul was beneficial to them. The word spread worldwide, and most of the souls were destroyed by soul destroyers. At a certain period of time, all the soul destroyers were mysteriously killed, all at the same time simultaneously. We, the guardians have some of their knowledge, but not all. And as for the souls, some of them still exist. Right here in this forest. They are captive here. And we make sure they stay here. But last year, an incident happened and one of them escaped. With all our efforts we managed to smuggle him back, but the threat has been powerful ever since. For a story, this sure was pretty interesting. Given the kind of person I am, I wouldnt have believed in any of this stuff. But there was something. Something that made me believe in it all. Wed reached mid-cave by this point of time. Dravya looked like he was feeling lighter, getting this out of his system. We walked a few minutes in silence. It took me some time to digest this. Seriously, if a soul entered in mine, and I was caught at the crime scene, Id have no proof saying that I was innocent. Can you? I asked him, doubtful if he would answer. Can you switch souls? The question made him uneasy, just like I thought. But the curiosity in me was at its highest by now. I I can, in theory. But were not allowed to. We believe that it will start the riot again. It made sense. How do you do it? I wanted to know more, but he replied with It takes years and years of practice and knowledge. You cant just learn it overnight. Hm. Makes sense, again. The thought of someone entering my body chased me again. Is there a way one can resist a soul from entering in? I was coming to that. He said, his eyes wide and sparkly now. The only thing you need to do, is do not offer resistance. I dont know why, but it works. Well, now that didnt make any sense.

He continued, We guardians can spot a soul even from a distance. But humans cant see it. His voice was the warning type, Be careful. Youll never know if youre with a soul host. If you are, it can get pretty dangerous. The soul may choose you as a host, if it wishes for your body. It makes you do anything, be anyone. It can hypnotize you to believe in anything it wants. As he completed his sentence, he pointed towards something ahead. I could feel my surroundings brighter, windier. Yet, I felt uneasy in my heart. He was pointing towards an opening. I started walking towards it and realized that I was walking alone. I turned back to see that he was standing still. Come on I nudged him forward. He refused. This is where we part. You go to your world, Ill go to mine. He simply turned away and left. He didnt even let me say good bye. I yelled thank you after him, but Im not sure if he heard. I started walking towards the opening. God knows where it would take me. As soon as the cave ended, I saw trees. Huge trees. I made my way through the monstrous leaves and saw my group! Looking back at the way I came, no one would ever have guessed that there is anything beyond the plants. I silently joined my friends from behind. Thank goodness youre here. Where were you? Aksha said, more angry than worried. I shrugged it off with I got lost. Aksha knew I was avoiding the topic and she let go. The last student came abseiling and we started moving forward. No one noticed my detour, again, and I was safe. Thats what mattered. Well have lunch here, under the shade of the trees. Thats how it was in old times Kumar sir informed us. Finally the guides distributed food to us. It was ordinary, except for the taste which was rural-typical. Wed gotten used to that. Where had you been? John asked me silently. I noticed you were gone. Hed observed that. Shit. I was lost was the only excuse I could think of. He wasnt completely convinced, but a cute smile changed his interest. We have the remaining half day off today. What are you planning to do? he asked, impatient. I wasnt really aware of that. And frankly I had no plans of going out anywhere. He offered me in joining me anywhere I wanted to go. It seemed fun, but I didnt feel like going anywhere. I just wanted to snuggle in my warm cozy bed sheet in my room. Do let me know he said again, and this time I grimaced. He suddenly seemed so irritating. Tell me that one more time and Ill have you out of the camp I swear I snapped at him. And I walked away, briskly. What was happening to me, seriously? I had no right to talk to John like that. I had to apologize. I went back to where I was. He was still there, slightly shocked. Similar to what Aksha had been, the first time I snapped at her. Im so sorry I said, putting so many emotions in those three words. Id hoped hell behave exactly like Aksha. Instead he gave me a cold look and said, I dont know who you are anymore. And walked away. I shouldve felt guilty looked down and walk away. But I had changed so much in the past few hours. I held his collar and dragged him near a tree, pinned him to it and glared. Dont you dare talk to me like that I gritted through my teeth. I expected him to throw some

words back at me but he looked scared. Scared like hell. I loosened my grip and he ran away. Towards Aksha. I was sure he told her the entire scenario. Now I felt ashamed, Aksha always confided in me. I wasnt sure how shed react this time. I went towards another tree. A little far away from the others, but within the periphery. Dravyas words were still echoing in my ear. Soul hosts hed said. A series of images started playing in my head. My behavior. I wasnt like this. It was almost like someone was possessing me. And then out of the blue, I pictured Armaan. Tiara thought he was a friend. But their age difference was almost as much as me and her. Hed hypnotized her. Armaan could be a soul host. An evil spirit. He mustve gotten into me when I entered the forest for the first time, without letting me even know about it. It was him all along it was just a theory, but it sounded about right.

CHAPTER 7 Tiara and Armaaan The thought of Tiara being in danger made me even more protective of her than I already was. God knows why. Maybe because Armaan was making her a victim, like hed made me. She was just a child for crying out loud! I decided Id wait till we reached our room. We had the day off anyways. Kumar sir cut my thoughts with Come on people get into the bus, it is time to head back to our hotel. Everyone started moving and wheeling, it made me a little dizzy. Maybe I just had a lot to take in today. Thats when another thought struck me. Where would I sit in the bus? Id blown my chance to sit with John and Aksha was mad at me too. I entered the bus before everybody and made myself comfortable at the back. Okay, maybe not so comfortable, but it was better than facing my friends. I was ashamed of my actions, and I wasnt ready to give any of them any answers. Yet. Aksha eyed me suspiciously when she entered the bus. Thankfully, she thought better than to talk, and let go of the topic. She chose to sit alone, Id thought shed sit with Adhiraj. That just showed me exactly how high her temper was. I felt guilty, again. The trip back was silent and boring. Once we entered the hotel, we walked to our room. To make my day worse, Martika was already there. Uhm, on second thoughts, she just made the day lucky. Aksha would never talk about it with her in the room. Aksha looked disappointed and irritated when she saw her. Somehow staying away from Aksha felt right. I didnt know if this soul thing was contagious, but I didnt want any of the furious-driving evil spirit linger anywhere close to my best friend. It was a cue for me to leave, when Aksha went in the bathroom to change. I tiptoed outside and asked directions for the cotton mill. I didnt know Tiaras residence but Id find the way. It was a small village. People would know her and she sure lived near the mill. I recognized a few kids still playing on the ground. That was easy, one of the kids took me to her house. Tiaras house was a little freaky, frankly. The few shrubs in front of her house were dead already. Theyd burnt in the sun, like nobody had taken care of them in ages. The house looked dusty and worn. Tiara seemed to be too adorable to stay in a place like this. She deserved better. She deserved a palace. Looking at her rural styled yet freaky yet roomy house made me wonder how beautiful it would look if it was actually taken care of. I thanked the kid who bought me here with a chocolate. Luckily I had one in my purse. I rang the bell of the row-house kinda home. It was a middle aged man who answered the door. Yes? he asked. He had hair similar to Tiara, and his eyes. Yep, definitely her father. Can I talk to Tiara sir? I asked. I had no idea what to talk to her, I just needed to see shes safe and away from Armaan. He invited me in. I sat on the floor, avoiding a very rickety fiber cot. I wasnt really tired, but I wanted to sit and relax. Perhaps I was mentally tired. I looked around. Every wall was covered with photographs and a family tree which I guess Tiara must have made at school. Every framed picture had three people in it. Tiara and her parents, I assumed. One of it even had a dog. I got up to take a closer look at one of the photo. She was right. I did have a lot of

resemblance to her mother. Her face cut and stature was similar to mine. Looking at her made me shiver. Unknown emotions started whirling up in me. What was it? What was I feeling? It was strange, so strange I cant even describe it. Agony, guilt, love so many things. Tiaras fathers voice cut my thoughts sharply. Tiara told me that she met someone today. Someone who looked similar to my wife. I thought she was imagining this since she misses her mother so much. But now I see she wasnt. You really look a lot like my wife. All the while he spoke to me, his eyes stayed on his wifes photograph. There was so much longing and love in his eyes. It made his already black eyes turn even more deep, more black. If you dont mind, may I ask you something sir? He nodded and I continued, Where is she now? Your wife? He took a deep breath and then exhaled sharply. I immediately regretted asking that question. She died last year he managed to speak with a choked voice. Im sorry I said, that was all I could do. That explained the condition of the house. Hed probably be sulking all the way, too engrossed to take care of his surroundings. Tiara entered the room breaking the awkward silence. What are you doing here? Seriously, are you spying on me? If you are you better be ready, I can crush you down and fight you and win. I am pretty strong she beamed proudly. It made me smile a little. She seemed like a small fragile rabbit threatening a tiger. I played along anyway, Oh! Im so sorry. I dont mean to meddle in your affairs Tiara. I just needed some company. Can you walk with me? Please? I wished she would. Fine. Just this one time she said keeping her guard up all the time. It felt better that she was so cautious and I hoped she was strong enough. We walked out the door and now I was wondering what to say to her. Stupid me! I hadnt planned on deciding what to talk. I was just so overwhelmed to find her safe and back home. I started talking nonsense with her afterwards, talking about school and her friends. After answering some of my questions she took a long step and stood ahead facing me. What is it Sana? What do you want from me? Youre talking gibberish you know? Yes, I knew that. So I had to get to the point before she got bored and turned away. That guy Armaan. Do you.. uhm.. still remember any of the stuff that happened when I confronted him? She enlarged her cute eyes. Ofcourse, what do you think I have? alzheimers? You made a fool of yourself by assuming that he was kidnapping me. Hes a really nice friend. Even dad says so. Apparently Armaan had also hypnotized her father. Damn, this was going to be tough. Look Tiara. I need you to know something. Stay away from Armaan. Hes not as nice as you think. For the first time, I saw Tiara laugh. She looked like an angel, but this was not funny. Sana, everyone has that impression when they first meet him. But hes really nice. She held my hand and pushed me forward dragging me to his house, to meet him. Boy, this was bad. So bad. Ok, so just in case he was in there, Id confront him. That was for sure. And do what? Punch him? I didnt even know how to fight. Id trained in self defense a long time back, but offense? Urghh I was so messed

up. We stood outside his so called house. Tiara didnt bother ringing the bell. She walked in as if it were her own residence. I followed her, not wanting to be polite to an evil spirit by banging on the door first. He was on the phone with someone. He didnt even realize we were barging in. I shooed Tiara and held her down to get some inside knowledge. I heard him very angry on the line with someone. That is simply absurd! We have to take the girl down. She shouldnt be allowed to roam about like that. I have to start our thing. NOW! he was arguing with someone. The rest of the conversation was mostly hell no or no freaking way!. The only line of his that made me freeze was We have to take the girl down. No force could ever stop me from protecting Tiara. No way I would let her be anywhere near him. He slightly turned in our direction and we hid behind a jute chair. He suddenly kept the phone down and stared somewhere at the back. Behind the place we were hiding. I covered Tiaras mouth even tighter, she couldnt move. I turned to where he was looking and saw a mirror. Crap! Hed seen us through the mirror and came running to where we were. Stop Armaan! Stop right where you are. Dont come closer to her. You might have ruined me and my soul but Im not gonna let you hurt her. Leave her alone you monster! I dont know from where I gathered that much courage to yell at an evil presence, in room confronting him alone. I was so dead. He started glaring at me, confused at first and then tightening his glare. I see was all he said. What are you going to see? You listen to this. Stay the hell away from Tiara you evil spirit. I hoped hed already known that Id guessed what he was. After a long pause, Tiara managed to free herself from my grip and ran straight to Armaan. What the hell? He had so much impact on her. When I looked at her again, she was scared. She looked at her arms where Id caught her. They were slightly red. Im sorry, but come here Tiara. I wont hurt you again. She tucked herself behind Armaan. If I didnt know any better, I wouldve thought Armaan was actually protecting her. I took a step forward. Thats when he came forward too. Not just one step, he came and stood right in front of me. Like Dravya had said, I kept my mind open and didnt resist. Nothing happened. Before I could say anything, he took me by surprise. He punched me in my face and twisted my neck a little. It pained so hard it sent unbearably cold chills throughout by body. It throbbed. And soon, everything went dark.

CHAPTER 8 what is happening? When I started gaining consciousness little by little, I recalled everything that happened. Was I dead or alive? Was I in heaven, hell or earth? I tried opening my eyes but couldnt. My eyelids seemed very heavy. I lay there in silence with my eyes closed for a few minutes, pretty sure now that I was alive. We have to take the girl down Armaan had said. He planned on harming Tiara. No! I wouldnt let him. But where was she? I heard footsteps. I lay there silent, unable to do anything. I might as well pretend Im still unconscious. You cant do this. Look at her. Does she look like shes completely lost herself? a voice said. I hadnt heard Armaans voice much but this wasnt his. It was someone elder than him. However, he replied and I knew it was him from his husky voice. Tia told me that her name was Sana. So now he nicknamed Tiara? How dare he? Id nicknamed him too. I liked calling him Mr. Devil soul. Even better, Id call him Mr. devoul, like devil and soul put together. She didnt harm her. I can see shes not completely gone. But shes impure. We all can see that. This is something beyond our understanding. Ive never seen anything like this before. She could be a threat. I dont think keeping her captive is a good option. Like I said, we might as well take her down. We need to kill her chief. Plus, shes so close to Tia. I cant let her hurt her. I hoped I was dreaming. Mr. devoul wanted to kill me to protect Tiara from me? Was he crazy? Why did he keep calling me impure? The chief spoke now, Armaan, shes mixed. Well figure out what this is but she needs to stay alive. Three of her friends followed her here because they care. If she was really a threat, she wouldnt have them. Souls only hypnotize one person whose body they need. These three really care about her. I dont think shes dangerous. Youre being overprotective about Tia. I needed to bang my ears somewhere. Who had come for me? One would be Aksha of course. Who were the other two? Maybe Khushi was here. John wasnt possible. Who was the third then. Perhaps it was Adhiraj or Hemant. Or maybe, just maybe it could it be Dravya. He always helped me when I was in trouble. It had to be him. The chief continued completely unaware of my inner thoughts, Were guardians. We need to protect all humanity. We have to stop the souls. A doctor does not kill a patient who has HIV. Even though the patient is going to die one day, a doctor treats him. Similarly, we cant just kill her because we know shes going to die. Were not even sure, she might have a chance to live. We need to help her as much as we can. Anyways Armaan, its not safe to talk about any of this in front of her. Whether she is in her senses or not, if she hears any of this, it might too. Its best she doesnt plan anything and remains unaware. Ignorance is bliss for her. I think I was too stunned to even adjust myself to what Id heard. According to the chief I was going to die. Nothing was clear from the vague conversation about what was happening to me. I wasnt even sure if this was a

trick or they were actually telling the truth. I tried to open my eyes and failed again. My brain stopped working and I think I fell asleep. Because the next thing I remember is that I was waking up, not sure if all of that had been a dream. No, it wasnt a dream, I thought. Because if it was, not even in my worst nightmare would I have thought that Armaan was a guardian like Dravya. He looked evil. Too bad he wasnt. I squinted my eyes and adjusted them to the sunlight. I was in a room. I wasnt tied to a rope like I expected. I was on the floor and it was cold. I was shivering, not of anger or fright this time. I walked towards the door that I could see. Armaans chief sounded like a reasonable guy. I could talk to him. The door was closed but it wasnt locked. I opened it and stepped outside. It was kind of a big party hall. The position of the sun told me it was a little after dawn. Armaan was standing there with an old guy. The chief, I guessed. They were having coffee like it was just a normal day. Well, it was, for them. When the chief heard me coming, he turned around and greeted me. With a handshake? It was weird. He had a little-long white beard and he was lean. But not very old. He reminded me of Dumbledore a little. Hello Sana. Thats your name right? he greeted me with a smile. Uhm, yes I said and now I turned to Armaan. He still hadnt looked my way. Like he didnt care. Huh, neither did I. He needed to answer me some questions though. Hey you I asked him straight. Why on earth did you make me unconscious? And wheres Tiara? Shes safe, back where she belongs he said, not bothering to answer my first question. I asked you something else as well I spat back. The chief soon interrupted our sour exchange of words politely. Why dont you have breakfast first? Then we can all sit and talk. Oh and by the way, my name is Clark. And before you ask, Im not superman he joked and winked playfully. You need to learn a lot of things from your chief, especially manners I mumbled really low, hoping he heard it. I think he did because his side glance was sourer than ever. Good. I smirked a little. Clark took us to the other end of the hall. A table was already set there with six chairs. I clearly remembered what Clark had said. Three of my friends were here. Within two seconds I heard Akshas voice squealing my name. I was so happy to see her. I smiled from ear to ear and gave her a tight hug. Thank god youre safe! she exclaimed. Were sorry we followed you. You acted so strange during lunch, even in the bus you ignored me. And you left the room before I could freshen up. How dare you missy?? Thats why we followed you. Are you okay? So thats what had happened. Im fine Aksha I said, while I still wanted her away from this mess. Where are the others? I asked. Ah! Here they come she said and pointed behind me. I turned around to see John! He was here, after what happened at lunch!! John, Im so so- when I saw the person with him, I couldnt complete my sentence. I was completely dumbstruck. It wasnt Dravya, neither was it Khushi. It was Martika. Martika! I couldnt believe it. What are you doing here? I accused, rather than asking. Actually Sana, Aksha replied instead, she was the one who bought us here. Re-pe-at I couldnt believe my eyes or ears. She did notice your strange behaviour, and

when I was in the washroom, she saw you leaving. She called me immediately and we left. On the way we met John, he was following you already. We just bumped into each other. Now I looked at John. Very dramatically he put his hands up and said I only wanted to confront you and ask you whats the deal with you. You were going alone so I thought its the right time to talk to you. I smiled. Thank you guys, Martika, you too. She only nodded rather than telling me how thankful I should be to her, throughout my life. Maybe she wasnt so bad after all. We ate some food and I felt good. I didnt even realize I was starving. Clarks witty comments were enough to lighten up the mood. Mr. devoul was the only one who hadnt smiled even once and kept giving me cold scowls, as usual. It reminded me of what hed said about an impure soul. I wanted to ask them about it, and why they thought I was going to die. But every time I tried, an inner voice told me that I shouldnt. The curiosity was killing me but I wasnt allowing myself to say anything. That had never happened before. When I was in this inner dilemma, I heard Clark and John arguing over something. I didnt even know how the commotion started. All of a sudden, John was up from his seat and asked me, Come on tell me. Dont you wanna know whats gotten into you? I was completely lost with where this conversation started. Now Aksha got up too. John how could you? They told you this could be dangerous. You shouldnt have said anything in front of her. That left me shocked. What just happened? Thats enough John said. Listen Sana, you need to know whats happening. You have a right to know. I felt anger whirling inside me. I wanted to know but I didnt want him to tell me. It was a crazy stir of emotions. Listen, these two here. Theyre guardians. And you have a he stopped mid-sentence and I was shivering, of anger this time. Enough! I growled. I could feel my face turning red. There was a knife on the side plate on the table. John didnt deserve to live. I took the knife and attacked him.

CHAPTER 9 monster in me I missed him by a few inches. The knife didnt plunge the boy in the heart, instead the boys shoulder was bruised. Damn. This guy was getting to my nerves. When I realized what had happened, my anger only ascended. Armaan had punched me away. Armaan, Kumars son. He was so unlike his father. Kumar was helping me but Armaan? Always in my way. That boy was going to die soon. Painfully. The other two girls were now in my way. Stop it Sana! No! Are you crazy! they kept saying. Silly girls. Hardly aware that I wasnt Sana anymore. I looked at one of them and went for her throat. I looked straight in her eyes, to scare her more. But her eyes were familiar. She was someone I knew. Someone close to me. Sana, listen to your heart. Believe in yourself. Youre Sana. Wake up the chief kept saying. He repeated it again. And again. And again. I was feeling distributed. Who was I? It was exhausting. I was sweating. Excruciating pain was taking over me. I managed to open my eyes somehow, I crippled on the ground. John was hurt. His arm was bleeding. Aksha and Martika stood far away from me. Clark and Armaan were by my side. Armaan had pinned me on the ground by one arm. I was so tired that I gave in. Once again I could feel unconsciousness circling me. Once again, things started fading. I was longing to give up all the consciousness I had. I was longing to be numb. This time when I woke up, I was tied in handcuffs and on a chair like I was a criminal. Completely tied. All of them had circled me. Clark, Armaan urghhh, Aksha, John and Martika. Whats your name? Clark asked all worked up. Id never heard him so angry before. You know me Clark I said, confused. Just needed to check. He assured me everything was fine. Why am I a Mummy, all tied up like this? I managed to ask with whatever strength I had left. For the first time in my life, Armaan spoke to me with no bitterness and only concern. I knew for sure the concern was for Tiara, but I was surprised at the no-bitterness part. It was so quiet that his voice had a little echo effect. Weve been thinking a lot about whats happening. Before you go all hyped up again, just keep this in mind- it is afraid of the knowledge you might gain. Now lets begin. Clark, please take over. Huh? What did that mean? Clark got up from his chair and paced around. Okay he started. Just listen to it like its a story okay. A long time ago, there were a bunch of people who were talented. Very talented. They could separate their body and souls. Dont be surprised, its true I think he added the last sentence looking at my expression. Im not surprised Clark. Just tell me this. Is this the story where some souls turned evil, used human bodies for their selfish purposes, and soul destroyers got rid of them until they mysteriously died? All eyes were on me now, taken aback. How do you know this? Aksha was the most curious of them all. I told her of my little trip with Dravya. Dravyas the one who met you at the forest that night right? yes, I said and I turned to Armaan and Clark telling them like they didnt already know. Hes a guardian

too right. He helped me twice out of that forest. They gave me a blank look. Chief, are there any undocumented guardians? Ive never heard of that one before. Clark shook his head. Did he say anything else to you? Uhm no apart from the story he only told me that the best way to resist a soul from entering you is to keep your mind free and relaxed all the time. Its him. I knew it was him Armaan was all worked up now. First Tias mom and now this stupid girl. How dare you call me stupid Armaan? Youve been judging me since the day you met me. Youre moronic! I wished I could get up from that chair and just snap him like a twig. The anger was ascending again. John sat far away from me and he hadnt spoken a word since. His arm was covered in bandages. Reality came dawning on me and I remembered what Id done earlier today. Id attacked him and my best friend too. I didnt want to but I had. I started apologizing. I think it was out of the blue for them cuz they looked really surprised. We must finish what we started Clark said and everyone settled down. Sana remember this every time you feel angry. Calm down and resist foreign forces in your body, mentally. Focus on yourself. On who you are. On whom you love. And on those who love you and care for you. Never ever ever, ever ever resist resisting. Now, you already know about souls and soul hosts. We need to tell you that your soul is impure." He said with a stern look on his face. I spoke before he continued with his next sentence. I had an idea about that. Although at first I thought Armaan was the soul He rolled his eyes and for the first time I saw him smiling genuinely, only a little though. Clark stifled a laugh and continued anyway, First you need to understand the concept. Uptil now, it worked this way. A soul completely enters a body, all at once, so that the body has two souls. Then they gain complete control over their brain, act as they want and then leave their body. But your case is different. The soul in you is only partial. Its not completely in you. Maybe its experimenting something. Even we dont understand this. Stop it Clark, you dare not speak another word or Ill kill you the heat within me was increasing every minute. Dont tell me anything, I dont need to know What was I saying? I wanted to know. Unable to stop the pain in my head, I recalled what Clark had told me. Instead of relaxing my mind, I tried resisting the foreign forces. I tried to calm down and think about my family, friends and Tiara. It took a lot of concentration and patience and strength. Something weird happened within me. I felt like I was overpowering someone else. Someone I couldnt see. Someone already within me. When I managed to peek through my eyes, I was myself again. It was tough, I was very much alert, my will-power strong and my inner guard was up. I had to concentrate but I didnt lose myself this time. I found myself grinning over my little win. "Please continue I said to Clark. When I glanced up, everyone was staring at me. Its a good thing we tied her up Martika said in her high pitched noise. For a second I thought you were going to break those ropes and the cuffs she said with her eyes enlarged. Really? I couldnt believe that. I was concentrating on my inner fight so much that I was unaware how I was acting physically.

You actually tried what I asked you to Clark said amused. Armaans expression was even more tougher and full of disapproval. He wanted me dead. Yes I said to Clark and thanked him. okay then lets continue. That little soul within you is responsible for your monstrous acts. Its not you, its the soul. Remember that. The only reason it makes you angry is that we think it is afraid to let you know anything about itself. Until now, the soul peeked in yours and knows stuff about you. We think that Clark looked doubtful, like he shouldnt have said that. I was getting angry again but I suppressed it like last time. We think that you can know stuff about it too. Thats the only way well know what the soul is experimenting. If you dont do it within time, it might I mean, were not sure but thats what usually happens. A soul host doesnt live long. So that means Im gonna die soon? I asked in a low broken voice. I could see Aksha holding back her tears. She came nearer to me but maintained a safe distance. Thank god. We can only guess Clark said in his deep sad voice. We should kill her right now, if its the same soul, itll go for Tiara again Armaan was so dead once I left this chair. And this wasnt my inner monster, it was me. Why was he so keen on killing me? The soul will take over her and shell be the one responsible for Tiaras death Armaan gritted through his teeth. Ill never hurt her I screamt but it was like he was deaf towards me. Stop that Armaan. Only a part of the soul is within her. If we kill her, the soul will still remain. It makes no sense. Youre only acting like that because Tiaras life is at stake here. I know youre very attached to her. And its not your fault you couldnt save her mother. Really, you tried, but souls are powerful Armaan. Please, think rationally. What?! I squealed, her mother died because of a soul? I hated that. Poor Tiara. I remembered the look on her face when I asked her about her mother the first time I met her. And she talked to me only because I looked like her mom. Tiara "I'm ready to do anything to keep tiara safe" I said, absolutely sure. "But first tell me what happened to her mom? And why is the soul after her? She's just a baby" "I was coming to that part" was Clark's calm reply. Armaan looked like tougher than before. His eyes burnt. "Tiara's mother was a guardian too. And an extremely talented one mind you. She could take down double the souls compared to the others. She was almost as good as our high chief Kshar. That's the reason she was second in line there. Initially we didn't know that souls could interact with others of their kind. It Was Shera, Tiaras mother who discovered it, she had her own ways to negotiate and deal with them. And, when we call ourselves guardians, its not only humans that we protect. There's something else we guard. Its a secret. Even guardians dont know what it contains. But we know that if it is not protected, it might destroy lives. It has the power to abolish the entire human race off the face of earth. The worst part is that some souls know about it. Thats what they are trying to reach. We believe, child, that you can tell us what exactly it contains. Shera died protecting it. It was the same soul who met you in the woods. The one you call Dravya, is a soul we suspect. How did my day

end up like this? I actually believed it. How did I believe that the one who saved me from the forest, was in fact an evil spirit? I reconsidered the blame I had previously put on Armaan. Aksha broke the silence Yes Sana, every time you returned from the forest, you looked miserable and angry. That first night we reached here you were not yourself. Next time you were mad at John when he met you after our hiking. This Dravya even lied to you about resisting souls. She was in fact, right. It was hard to believe. Actually speaking, it wasn't hard to believe, but I didn't want to. We can't be sure I said. "Well Let's make you sure then. Peek into his soul."

CHAPTER 10 hidden secrets My inner anger was at its peak now. The soul really did not want me getting any information. Resisting the soul again seemed too tiring and impossible. The internal fight was unknowingly taking a toll on my physical health. I let go of myself, with a last minute decision regarding what I was going to do. Finally I could take over Sana's body again. She was trying to resist me. She'd been talking to Clark, Sheras colleague. I always silently monitored her from within. This time it had gone too far, she'd gained too much information. After Shera's daughter and Armaan, the chief was the one I would target. I was tied onto the chair. Smart. No doubt I was strong as steel. But as long as I was tied to this weak body, I had physical barriers. I had the perfect plan. They knew who I was now. Never mind though. All I had to do was to pretend like I was Sana. "Guys, I think it's a lot for today. We'll continue this tomorrow. Please untie me, I'm very tired. I wanna sleep." Sometimes it was a headache to talk like today's generation. Good thing I managed it well. Everyone believed me. I was free. I walked along with the girl who Sana was always so attached to. She kept talking to me, full of sympathy, swearing about Dravya i.e. me. I had so many targets lined up, one adding each minute. To avoid spectators, I chose to leave when the other two girls were asleep. I walked to the door wondering if I should kill them now or leave it for later. Their screams would probably wake Armaan and Clark. Clark may have been a talented and skilled chief, but I knew his secret. And that alone was enough to deal with him. I'd get to him once I was finished with Shera's daughter. I went straight to the one human I could trust. Kumar. He had played his part well in getting Sana to me. A part of my soul was in Sana, true. But the other was in Kumar. He had willingly given up his body, lured in by my lies of giving him an eternal life, like mine. However, I liked residing in Kumars body than my other victims body. The one Id used to meet Sana as Dravya. He was long gone at this point of time. Completely taken care of. "Welcome. How did you manage to get out of there? And whats in this sack?" He was curious, but I didn't give him any details. "You've not completed your task efficiently Kumar. You bought the girl to me, but she managed to meet Clark and his student. She is aware of everything that's going on here." He looked aback. I left no chance to abase him. He looked vulnerable. Good. "I'm sorry master. I should have taken care of it." He knelt in his usual style and bowed. I wished I could hurt him, real bad. With shoes, probably a belt, or nails for that matter. But I reconsidered my plan given the fact that half my soul was in him. He was an efficient soul host, yet weak before me. The perfect target host. If I found a few more fools like him, I'd be on the top of the world in no time. I asked him to keep the bag in his car.

"I'm not gonna let go of Sana's body now. It's important that she doesn't find a way out. The time is nearing. Just a few more hours, and the tables will turn." He looked at me, dreading the future. He didn't know anything. But he knew I was up to something deadly. Id asked Kumar to find me Sheras lookalike. That was the only way I could reach her daughter, Tiara. She was otherwise so protected, with her guard always up. Armaan was always around her and hed curbed many of my previous attempts to reach her. Kumar had done a good job with Sana. She looked a lot like Shera, and just like I expected, Tiara talked to her. She never talked to anyone, her extended family, her friends, no one. That made her even more difficult to get. Sana was the perfect bait. I needed to wait for the perfect time, the strongest time, the time when forces of both, the sun and the moon would be in favor. At the stroke between midnight and dawn. But before that, I needed some prerequisites. I couldnt do this alone. Kumar, come here son. He was such a beautifully loyal dog. Since I was going to kill his soul in a few hours, I thought of giving him a brief about what was going on. Despite of his constant begging to tell him what my plan was, Id declined. Tonight Id tell him. Not the part where Id kill him though. We need to go somewhere. Come on. He followed me like a little puppy, not that he was really very different from that. Tonight Ill tell you all about it. About what my plan is. I didnt see him but I was sure his eyes popped out of his face in surprise. Were going to where it is all hidden.

Were approaching the secret Ive been after for so many years. The ultimate power. The secret that the guardians are guarding. But I never knew until today, that they didnt even know what they were looking after. It made me chuckle devilishly. Kumar started driving his Volkswagen. Shera knew it, and her highness, Kshar. Those two were the highest ranking officers of their time. Shera had guarded it well. Shes surrounded it by all kinds of positive energy. It was impossible for an evil soul like me to go anywhere near it. Thats when I targeted Clark. Even more surprise on Kumars face. He didnt know his son Armaan too was on their clan now, and I was going to make sure he didnt learn about it. Id kill him before that. And by killing him, I mean, kill his soul. His body was important. Many many bodies were important. I tricked him into believing that if hed help me, Id bring his dead wife back to life. He loved her so much that he forgot all about his duty. He took me there, agreeing to be my soul host. Through his body, I could easily pass the positive energy protection cloud. Id almost reached the place, when Shera appeared out of nowhere. Man, she was good in her work. From what knowledge I gathered, some other boy was supposed to be there, but in his absence, Shera took over. Such wrong timing the boy had. If it was anyone other than her, I wouldve succeeded that night itself. The boy was none other than Armaan, or Mr. devoul like Sana liked to call him. I actually liked that name. Though it kind of suited me more than him. But no way was I telling Kumar that his son was involved in any of this. He looked at me, silently urging me to continue with the story. I did.

She had really good negotiation skills. She convinced me to leave Clarks body. She had these womanly charms, mixed with her negotiation skills, and bragged me with taking over her body. I did let go of Clark. Only then did I realize that she lied to me. The other boy came after that, to the rescue of his colleagues. Shera instructed him to take Clark out of here, and he obeyed. She put up a good fight, but she was human after all, weak. I managed to get into her. I finally gained access to all her mysteries. I had no idea a soul has so much enigma. I directed Kumar to drive to the city and buy me some doctor gloves and sugar. I checked that the sack was safe in his cars backseat. He was surprised at this combination but obeyed me. Once he got in the car, his curiosity shot right out of his mouth. So what was it? What were the secrets she was hiding? Shera had a husband and a daughter, Tiara. After a year that Tiara was born, she was hospitalized. She was diagnosed with some disease and she lay on the death bed. Shera started her research then. She was already a guardian, so she explored the soul world completely now. Somehow she found some ways to duplicate souls. She experimented it for several days and when she was absolutely sure, she duplicated Tiaras soul. In about two minutes, Tiaras duplicate soul died and her plan failed. The original soul within her was critical. If Tiaras body died, so would her soul. So she duplicated her soul as well. And she planted her other soul in Tiara. Even today, Shera literally lives, within her daughter. But she has been so subtle that no one doubts Tiara to be a soul host. Even the guardians dont see Sheras soul in Tiara. Because shes not active, she only lives to keep Tiara alive. Kumar stopped the car. Digesting what I just said. I asked him to drive right into the forest. I think he was surprised, again, because he expected a drive somewhere far far away. But all the mysteries were right here, right in the forest where we all lived. The souls, and the guardians. As I reached this confidential information Sheras original soul started rejecting me. Then she thought better, and picked up the gun. I was completely inside her body. She kept the gun on her head. If she killed herself, Id die too. This information Id gained from her was too crucial, and apparently more important than her life. She couldnt risk me having this knowledge, knowing what I could do. Thanks to my quick response and thinking, a microsecond before she pulled the trigger, I left her body. Her sacrifice went in vain, though I must admit, she was pretty clever. Exactly in the center of the forest, in the cave behind the waterfall, there is something written on the walls that gives the procedure. I tried doing everything it said, to duplicate my soul. But all I could do is split it. Half of which lives in you Kumar. Once I have Tiara, I can experiment in and out of her. Then Ill know what is missing. But master Kumar said, how will we get Tiara? I mean shes all protected right?. Now I smirked. We already have her, I said Shes, in the sack in your backseat. I sedated and snuck her out on the way to your place.

Chapter 11 Im dead The stroke between midnight and dawn was about to strike. Given that it is the strongest, most powerful time, I had to start at that particular moment. What we need to duplicate a soul, along with will power, some chants and a little blood, is a pentagonal crystal which radiates the mixed energy of the sun and the moon. Shera had hidden that crystal in the cave, which not so unfortunately, I found. I liked her hiding place, so I didnt change it. Take the car straight to the cave Kumar. Thats where we are headed. He still hadnt recovered from all the shocking news Id just given him. A small part of me wondered what hed do if he knew about it earlier. I ordered Kumar to carry the sack. As I entered the cave, I started walking straight towards the wall. It was full of illustrations, which a layman would never have understood. I asked Kumar to unload Tiara out of the sack. He did so obediently. She soon started fluttering her eyelids. I used the newly bought gloves to take out the crystal very carefully from behind an intelligently camouflaged rock. If I wanted to know the way the things worked with Tiara, I had to get a look at Tiaras soul from within. But it was not a very wise plan. What if Shera suddenly became active and threw some stunt like last time? So I thought of something else instead. I was planning to send Kumar in Tiaras body. He had no control over his soul what so ever. Id teach him the techniques, learn stuff from him, and then kill the girl, thus taking care of both their souls. I started chanting the usual lines. It wasnt magical, but it stirred up some energy, some vibrations which strengthened my will and motive. I knew this procedure would make me physically weak temporarily, so Id also arranged for sugar beforehand. A tiny screeching voice broke my concentration. I could feel myself fading away. I felt extremely weak. I ate some sugar too, but there was no improvement. Unable to understand whats happening, I let go of control over Sanas body. A minute wouldnt harm, right? After all Sana was completely unaware of my plans since she had no knowledge of how souls worked. A minute, sixty seconds to be precise. I let Sana be herself again, and decided to rest after informing Kumar the same. I asked him to hide, just so that Sana has no questions about him. Her curiosity would only complicate things. Sanas POV: I was myself again! Lately Id been comparing myself with an alien in my body, but I was me. I remembered Clarks every word very clearly. Hed said things like resist, peek into his soul. And I had actually done that. I never even knew I was actually capable of that. Just like Dravya had been silently monitoring me from within, I did the same to him. He was far too ignorant to believe that a nobody like me could play a trick on him. His over-confidence helped me. I felt like pouring my heart out to someone. I felt so wrong. Dravya had killed Tias mom. The one whod murdered her mother, was within me. It was me, in a way. But this was no time for supernatural stuff and its resulting guilt. You

are Sana. Think of people who love you, and those whom you love. These were words which had motivated me throughout the night and the day till now. I never wouldve thought that this field trip of ours was actually Kumar sirs plan to help Dravya acquire my body. And Armaan was Kumars sirs son?? How on earth was that possible? I heard a screeching voice and ran towards it. There they were, Clark, Armaan and some other guys and women who I was sure, were guardians. They gathered around me, walking in a very threatening way. You found me! I yelped in surprise. I spotted Aksha, Martika and John behind all the guardians. All of them looked puzzled, except for Mr. Devoul who looked absolutely sure about wanting to destroy me right here, right now. Armaan looked at Tiara, his eyes full of concern and protectiveness. And then his eyes shifted towards me again, fierce and wild. He took one step towards me and my heart started racing, out of fear. No! Stop! Its me Sana, not Dravya. All of them looked at me expectantly like I had something else to say. What was I supposed to but? Tell us something only Sana would know? One of the guardians suggested. I started blabbering about all the movies I saw with Aksha, the hot chocolate, the night outs But Armaan cut me off mid-answer, Everything that Sana knows, this so called Dravya knows. Hes peaked into her soul. He made sense actually, but what else could I do to prove the truth. I was sure now that Dravya wasnt his real name, but it didnt matter at the moment. Thankfully, Clarks thoughts were positive, Wait Armaan. He turned towards me. Sana, tell me the last sentence I told you before Dravya took over you? You were resisting him at that time so Im pretty sure, he was blocked out. That was easy. Peek into his soul" youd told me. And I did! I need to talk to you guys about what I know. Its of urgent priority that you hear me out. But Im only talking to the two of you. Since the matter is too confidential. I gestured towards Mr. Devoul and Clark. I was so glad, they finally accepted the truth and walked over with me. They told me that theyd planted a tracker on me and thats how they found me. God knows when they did it, but thank God they did! One minute is up and Dravya is trying to take over me. Im blocking him as much as I can, but I dont know how long I can do that. I didnt know how I scanned his acts this entire time, but I did. And this is the information I gathered-. I told them all about how the thing they were protecting is long since gone from the container it was held in. That it was a powerful pentagonal crystal. And that Dravya was on the hunt for the knowledge of duplicating souls, but all hed managed was splitting it. Even I knew what havoc wouldve been created on earth if evil souls were copy-pasted. However, I skipped the part where Shera had duplicated herself in Tia. It was wrong that shed interfered in life and death matters. Although I was kind of glad she did. Otherwise, I never wouldve met Tia. Plus, she was talented enough to let her soul be hidden from the guardians as well. Why let her efforts go waste? But if this entire drama was a result of dangerous knowledge being shared, I

assumed ignorance was bliss for everyone; especially after knowing that Clark was, in fact, lured in for selfish purposes once. I turned towards Armaan, I know now why youre so protective of Tia. You were supposed to be on the safeguarding duty the day Shera was murdered. And trust me when I say this, Ive seen in Dravyas thoughts how powerfully she fought. She wasnt killed. She sacrificed herself hoping that Dravya, who was within her, would die too. But he escaped. And if you really were on her place that day, Dravya wouldve taken care of you then and there and the entire mission wouldve slipped he would have succeeded in duplicating souls that night itself. For the first time, and probably the last, I saw a tear roll down his cheek. Uhm, correction: make that two, followed by two more. And thats not it Mr. Dev- Oh I mean Armaan, theres something you should know. Both Clark and Armaan snapped their heads up at me. Armaan, your dad. I didnt know he was your dad, he was actually our professor, but he is Dravyas alliance. And even worse, Dravyas gonna kill him after he gets what he wants. I mustve blurted that out pretty fast since I could see it took a few seconds for them to give me a response. Two more tears. If the situation wasnt so critical, I think I wouldve video shooted him crying, just to blackmail him in the future, just for fun. On second thoughts, maybe I wouldnt. He was always rude to me, always a monster. But it was all for Tia, to keep her safe. I didnt even realize when I wiped his tears and assured him everything was going to be okay soon. I silently wished so too. When he looked back at me, I could see a broken Armaan. Somehow, it broke my heart to see him like that. My heart started racing again, and this time it wasnt out of fear. Thats not the only reason I care for Tia. Shes a great kid. And Shera was an amazing person. Good at work, good at everything. I respected her. She was my inspiration. Sometimes I wished she was my mother. He spoke through his sobs. No I definitely wasnt recording this on camera. Plus, I missed my parents too, Akshas mother too. Once we were out of this mess, I hoped wed live a happy carefree life like before. How dare you ruin my plan!! I was threatening myself. Okay, that wasnt good. I thought Id blocked Dravya but apparently he was more powerful than I thought. Armaan go and find your dad. Tell him this to get out of this mess. Dravya will kill him That was me speaking now, obviously. Armaan started to follow my instructions, when Dravya spoke again, Whats the big hurry? Ill make things easier for you. Come here Kumar I called, err I mean Dravya called. He stepped out. He was just as shocked to see his son as a guardian. Why didnt you tell me? he yelled at me, and I felt even more congested. Thats when I realized what was happening. Dravya was taking the other half of his soul back. In a few seconds, I realized that Dravyas entire soul was within me and it was impossible to block him now. But I wasnt giving up, so we were in power with each other. I had two distinct parts at the moment: the seen, and, the unseen. I could read his mind so I knew what he was upto. Armaan save your- but it was too late. Kumar sir was crumpling on the floor. Whats happening? Amraan shouted. Ive crushed your beloved fathers soul from within, hes

dying. And theres nothing you can do about it. Both Clark and Armaan bent over Kumar sir, I never stopped loving you son were his last words and his breathing stopped. If I thought Id seen a tear in Armaans eyes, I was now seeing an ocean of tears. I was shocked as well, and Kumar sir had been a good professor. I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. Armaan got up and went somewhere, but I was vaguely aware of it. I was also vaguely aware of all the hands. The other guardians had got a hold on me. That was the only way to catch Dravya, physically at least. Dravya chuckled, making me look so evil that I saw Martika gasping. Dravya was now silently planning. He wasnt letting me know what he was thinking. Although for a microsecond, his train of thoughts spilt. He was planning to divide his soul again, assuming theyd kill me soon. So at least hell have a backup. Thats when I felt the cave shake with an ear-splitting shuttering sound. NO!!!!! Dravya yelled. I was looking straight into Armaans fiery eyes. Hed destroyed the crystal with the usual guardian weapons. HOW DARE YOU ARMAAN ILL KILL YOU! Dravya said. He took advantage of the distraction and pulled out a knife from one of the guardians that were holding me. I took advantage of this situation and before I could take another step towards Armaan, I gave my brain instructions to plunge it right in my heart, now that Dravyas soul was completely in me. Two times I plunged the knife, just to be sure.

Chapter 12 - the goodbye Dravya was so angry that he wasnt paying attention to me. It was a risk Id taken. He couldve escaped like he did with Shera. But I didnt give him time to think. I stroked my own heart, twice. Or rather, I saw myself plunging my heart twice. Because immediately after I instructed my brain, I left my body I wasnt sure if I could pull this off all by my own. But I did. I couldnt see myself, because I had no body. I had no eyes. I was just a presence, just a soul; a bodiless soul. But still, I could see. I could see everyone surrounding my body and crying in pain. Aksha lost her voice, I hoped it was temporary. She tried waking me up like I was asleep and will open my eyes soon. John held my hand, silently crying. Clark and Martika were crying heavily. All the other guardians were watching with speculation. I tried to speak, to tell them that I was alive I was right here. But I couldnt, probably because I had no physical vocal cords. I could only see and hear stuff. I couldnt touch anything, neither could I speak. I gave up trying to convince them I was here and moved, or rather drifted, to the other way. Armaan was standing still, like a statue in the same pose. He didnt even go near my body. Nevertheless I could see pain in his eyes. Id seen him break down twice today, both times he cried. His eyes silently grieved. But seeing me there, he didnt shed a tear. He felt bad, I could see that, but didnt shed a single tear. I wasnt so important to him I suppose, though, I expected at least one tear. As I drifted nearer to him, his head snapped up. At first I thought he recognized me, but then I saw him taking a defensive position. More offensive, may I add. He took out some bottle from his shoulder bag. From what I assumed, it was a soul-extinguisher or something. Guardians could sense a soul. But they couldnt guess who it is, since souls are not actually tangible. Was he really going to kill me? I might as well have died with Dravya within. You killed two of the people I loved the most in this world he growled, assuming I was Dravya, who managed to escape again. Two people, Shera and his dad. No mention of me anywhere. Clearly my death didnt affect him at all. Both of them were closest to me. And now, when I thought I was about to fall in love for the first time, youre the reason I lost her too With that line he opened the bottle. My instinct said that I should flee, but I stayed. Shocked by his words, and I saw more tears trickling down his face. I felt like crying myself, but obviously, I couldnt. He was ready to run, chase, but became surprised when I didnt move. Why havent you moved? Im gonna kill you! What was he thinking? Talking to Dravya? Asking him why he was so still? Very mature Mr. Devoul. Well, he was smart. He figured Dravya wouldnt stay in one place and wait for him to attack. Youre not Dravya are you? Well, how was I supposed to answer? I couldnt speak. I just passed through him. Right through him, through his heart. I half expected a breeze to flow, guitars to play but none of that happened. He remained sweaty, muddy and bloody, and I still remained, well, a ghost.

But somehow, he felt it. Thats what important, right? Sana he whispered my name, and I felt something. Even if I didnt have a heart at the moment, I still felt it. He smiled, for the first time and my heart stopped. Damn! I kept forgetting I didnt have a heart now, but I had a similar feeling. He turned around to tell everyone, and thats when we both saw the others still crying over my dead body. He soon gathered himself and said, Sana, youre no longer human. While he said that, he looked straight at me. I dont think telling them would be a great idea. Souls turn corrupt when they search for soul hosts. If you did find a willing soul host, trust me, Im willing enough to share mine with you, youd still become immoral one day. I can see what he was saying, all the legends said that souls, one free from their body, lose their characters. Maybe because they wouldnt have a brain to think and heart to listen to. And there was no point giving everyone false hopes that I would return one day. I didnt even know how to host a body. I drove once more through Armaans heart and sped away from the cave. I had to get away from here. I went unnoticed. Until I reached the forest boundary. I knew this is where souls couldnt cross. Since I was a soul now too, it stopped me as well. When I tried again, nothing changed. Well, I gave it a last try, and this time I passed it easily. I turned around and found Armaan walking. So hed controlled this then. Go Sana, go far away where the guardians wont find you. Else, theyll kill you. Youre just like any other soul to them, they wont be able to differentiate. Even if I tell them its you, they wont believe that I feel its you. With no concrete proof, theyll slay you He had concern for me. He wanted me alive, tangible or not. His tears hadnt stopped yet. This was a goodbye from him. He didnt leave, and that satisfied me. I left soon, and he was still standing there. I was wondering what to do with myself, when it struck me. All souls dont turn bad. A secret that I hadnt shared with anyone out there was that Sheras soul lived in Tiara. I could do something like that. I needed to gather some information. But I couldnt research in Phargadh anymore, the guardians would simply kill me. Well, the universe was a huge place. I was sure Id find help somewhere. I was glad to know Tia was safe now, and so were the others. I almost flipped out when I realized Id put my parents through so much. I wished they could handle this loss. I decided to visit them once, before I could start my quest. Damn, I wished I had my GPS at least. Well, I had been successful in stopping an evil spirit at least. Here I was, a free soul. Ready for my quest for knowledge on souls and soul hosts