Home > Shattered (The Iron Druid Chronicles #7)(7)

Shattered (The Iron Druid Chronicles #7)(7)
Author: Kevin Hearne

“So we find him and then you can push the raksoyuj out, right, leaving my father intact?”

“If it were that simple, child, I would not have had to call you. I cannot exorcise the raksoyuj without killing your father in the process. And even if we were to sacrifice him for the greater good—which I’m not suggesting—the raksoyuj would simply possess another body, much as I would. Like me, it is a difficult thing to kill. It needs to be bound and contained again or else destroyed on the spiritual level.”

“Can you do either of those things? Because I can’t.”

“I cannot bind him. I may be able to destroy him if conditions are right. We will need help.”

“Whose?”

“We need a Shakti—a divine weapon—to counter this aggressive spirit.”

The garden of sarcasm is watered with impatience, and mine chose that moment to bloom. “Are those on sale somewhere?”

“I do not mean a sword or a spear. I mean a devi. A goddess. I speak of Durga.”

“Not sure how I can help, then. I don’t have her email and she’s not on Twitter.”

“I will take care of contacting her. It’s already begun.” Before I can inquire what she means by that, she continues, “I was hoping you would have some method to find your father.”

I think of asking Orlaith to pull a bloodhound act using the shards as a source, but she’s a sight hound, and after the heavy rains my father’s scent would be near impossible to follow anyway. “Has anyone tried to track him through his cell phone?”

“I pursued that early this morning through an acquaintance on the police force. His cell phone no longer transmits a signal. Perhaps you could ask the elemental to help?”

“That won’t work, unfortunately,” I explain. “Humans are just creatures bereft of identity to elementals—they’re part of the ecosystem. They recognize individual Druids only because we’re bound to them. Kaveri would have no way to distinguish my father from any other man in the area.”

“Divination, perhaps?”

“I can try. I’m not very skilled at it. Atticus didn’t dwell on it very much during my training, and I seriously doubt I would succeed where you had failed.”

“I see. Might you have a way to heal those who are ill, then?”

“Perhaps. Would that help me find my father?”

“Quite possibly. If you expel the rakshasas, he may seek you out.”

“Expel them?”

“Was I not clear? The illness is not viral or bacterial but a direct result of the rakshasas inside the victims. It is a supernatural cause, and medicine will have no effect. But your healing is magical and therefore may be of some use.”

“So each victim has been invaded or inhabited by a rakshasa?”

“Correct. That is why your father is still somewhat limited.”

“But there are already hundreds of victims, you said.”

“Yes. He calls more rakshasas every day. Grows stronger every day.”

“Gods, all those people. How long before you can get Durga involved?”

“I am practicing austerities and making offerings. When she will appear is of course up to her. But I am confident she will come. This raksoyuj is ruining dharma, and the devi will wish to restore balance.”

“She’ll show up in the middle of Thanjavur on a lion and she’ll have extra arms and everything?”

“I imagine she would prefer to manifest out of sight of the general population. We should attempt to draw your father out to a rural area.”

“Fine. Can we go now? Take me to someone sick on the edge of the city. I can’t stand doing nothing.”

Laksha nods. “Yes, we can go.” She pats the folds of fabric draped over each hip and then gives an embarrassed smile at my raised eyebrows. “Still have my knives. It is a nervous thing—I always check before I go out, even though I know they are still there. I need a couple more things.” She grabs sticks of incense and small jars of unguents and two miniature gongs with mallets, and all of those disappear into the folds of her sari. I begin to think she might have pocket dimensions in there.

My clothes aren’t completely dry, but neither are they dripping wet. I shiver at the chill and resign myself to getting cold and wet again, bidding farewell to the robe as a brief interlude of warmth and comfort. Laksha gives me an extra umbrella and we step back into the rain, Orlaith trotting along beside us.

Laksha leads us in silence through the rain. Water pounds our umbrellas and sluices underneath our feet as we follow a sinuous path through the city. We continue on muddy trails along the ridges of rice paddies to a sad collection of hovels that struggle to live up to the name of shelter but completely own the word ramshackle. The people who live here work too hard for too little comfort.

Laksha knocks and a tired, worried woman opens the door, blessing us with a whiff of incense before the rain sweeps it down to the ground. Moans of pain arise from the darkness behind her, only a hint of candlelight ameliorating the gloom. Her eyes take in Laksha and they widen somewhat before she bows and clasps her hands and a stream of musical language bubbles forth from her lips. Laksha responds, gestures briefly to me, and then the woman opens the door wide and steps aside, inviting us to enter.

The modest living area stretches unbroken into the kitchen on the back wall. A battered couch that was once orange hunches against the wall to our left, hoping we won’t notice it, and two doors to our right probably lead to a small bedroom and a smaller bathroom. The moans are coming from one of them.

I ask Orlaith to wait on the floor by the couch, and we follow the woman to the bedroom. A teenage boy writhes there on the sheets, his brow clammy and his breathing labored. Incense battles with the stench of illness, and the storm pounds the roof.

Laksha puts her hand to the boy’s forehead, and he twitches. She holds it there for a few seconds and then moves her hand to the center of his bare chest, over his heart. Nodding, she glances at the rain-spattered window and withdraws. “The storm is good. It dampens the spirit like it would dampen mine. And the noise is annoying. We need to increase both the water and the noise.”

“I understand how noise can be a nuisance, but what does the rain outside have to do with anything?” I ask.

“The rakshasa in this form,” she says, pointing to the boy, “is a thing of the air—or, more properly, the ether. It drowns in water. We need to get him into a bath.” She turns and speaks in Tamil to the woman—presumably the boy’s mother—explaining what needs to be done. Together, we lift the poor thing out of bed and support him as we stagger into the bathroom. He’s wearing a pair of shorts, and we just leave those on as we try to tumble him gently into the tub. He’s so out of it, he can barely function.

Laksha kneels next to the tub and turns on the water. The boy jerks and then spasms intermittently, whimpers once, but his eyes don’t open. The mother and I hover behind, and the helplessness I feel in this situation can be only a fraction of what she must be going through.

While the tub fills, Laksha begins to pull out all the items she stowed in her sari. She has the mother light incense and rests the miniature gongs and mallets on the side of the tub. Her voice rolls out of her in a chant as she removes the lid from a small jar with a sweet-smelling unguent in it—sweet, but so powerful and cloying that it makes me cough. Laksha dips a finger in the paste. While the water rises to cover the boy’s abdomen, she writes on his forehead and continues to chant. That causes a convulsion and elicits a little cry of alarm from the mother. Laksha frowns, as if the boy’s reaction disappoints her. Perhaps she had been expecting something more; regardless, she keeps chanting, then picks up one of the miniature gongs and indicates through gesture that the mother should do the same. They start to bang the crap out of them, and the din is enough to set my teeth on edge.

And that, of course, is the point. The noise, the smells, the rising water—all of it is supposed to force the rakshasa to leave the boy. But this particular rakshasa is strong and doesn’t want to let go. Still, the clamor of gongs and chanting has its effect: The boy shudders, seizes up, and his eyes snap open, except the pupils have rolled up into his head and all we see are the whites. An inchoate roar surges out of his throat, and it’s not merely the sound of a teenage meltdown. His arms, suddenly imbued with strength, grip the sides of the tub, and he attempts to get out. Laksha pushes him back down and flicks a glance at me, suggesting that keeping him in there is now my job. She has a gong to bang and chants to yell. She can’t do it all.

"Granuaile all right? Very loud."

I’m okay. Stay in there no matter what you hear.

"Okay."

Stealing a glance at the mother as I kneel down and set Scáthmhaide aside, I see that she’s crying. I would be too. And I remember that the thing that has my father is much worse than what has the boy. If we can’t handle this rakshasa, how can we hope to prevail against the raksoyuj?

Keeping the boy in there is more challenging than I thought it would be. He fights me actively, and I get slapped as well as splashed. The water level is up to his chest now, and he doesn’t like it at all. Laksha interrupts her chant to explain why he’s suddenly so animated when he was such a dead fish before.

“The rakshasa was attacking his heart chakra and slowly divorcing him from life. We have forced it up into the head. It’s now possessed the boy. It’s here, at the sixth chakra,” she says, pointing at the bindi placed just slightly above the spot between her eyebrows.

We couldn’t very well submerge the boy up to that point. We had annoyed the rakshasa significantly, but it wasn’t sufficient to drive it out.

“See what you can do to heal him now,” Laksha says, but I am unsure how to proceed. I have not done much direct healing of others, and I am cut off from the earth here. Healing his symptoms would not cure him of the possession, in any case. Anything I did to help his body now would simply be undone by the rakshasa as soon as I stopped, and I would have to stop soon without an energy source. I have some stored in the silver end of Scáthmhaide, and I use that in an attempt to relieve him directly. His breathing clears up, but that’s about all. He’s still very much in the grip of the rakshasa. We need something more to address the possession, and I realize it is hanging from my neck. Cold iron is the antithesis of magic, and though Laksha might call it maya, what the rakshasa is doing is still magic, regardless of its flavor.

I remove my necklace and wrap the gold chain around my fist before slapping the cold iron amulet against the boy’s forehead and holding it there. The reaction is immediate and terrifying.

His roar becomes a screech, and his hands lock around my wrist and try to pull it off, but this boy’s weakened body is no match for me. His mother boils over with worry and she begins to scream behind me. Oily smoke belches out of his mouth, nose, and ears, forming a cloud above the boy’s head, and this is what Laksha had been waiting for.

“Yes! It’s leaving him! Once it’s all out, thrust the iron into the middle of the cloud!”

My amulet is not made of an overwhelming amount of iron. I can cast around it, after all, though it always requires extra energy. I’ve tried casting with the amulet off, and it’s far more efficient to do it that way. It’s undeniably a damper on magic, and combined with the noise and smells and the water, it’s enough to break the rakshasa’s hold.

The cloud of greasy vapor slithers above me—toward the mother, who’s blocking the exit and making all kinds of noise—and once it stops billowing from the boy and he slumps back into the bath, Laksha urges me to move. Rising to my feet, I thrust the cold iron into the cloud, and it reacts with a sort of jellyfish ripple, then it curls in on itself, like a spider in water, cold tendrils of it closing around my fist. Abruptly, it gushes toward the floor in front of the toilet—directly to my right—and the vapor solidifies from the ground up into a humanoid form sheathed in black. Then the face appears—a nightmare made flesh, with bloodshot eyes and an obscene red tongue lolling over a gaping maw of sharp teeth. It is the rakshasa’s true form, a portrait of corruption like Dorian Gray, temporarily robbed of its ability to shift or cast illusion by cold iron.

Instinctively, I draw back, but there’s hardly any room to maneuver—the tub is directly behind me. The rakshasa lunges for my face, but a flash of steel darts between us and slides across skin that is quite solid and real, opening a slit that splashes blood onto the floor. The demon clutches its throat and turns those horrible eyes to my left in time to see Laksha drive her knife blade into one of them. It topples backward, its knees buckled by the toilet, and dies, gurgling, in a sitting position—an image that I file under THINGS I NEVER WOULD HAVE SEEN IF I HAD KEPT BARTENDING.

The boy regains consciousness with a gasp and asks for his mother. She rushes to him in relief and shields his view of the room; with an exchange of gestures, Laksha and I silently agree to remove the body. I put my necklace back on but realize I’ll have to leave my staff here for the moment. As we enter the living room, cradling the corpse, it occurs to me that we might be violating some kind of taboo—we may have made ourselves untouchable. I’m not an expert on the caste system or to what extent it’s observed anymore, so I ask Laksha about it.

“Is it all right for us to handle the dead? I mean, are we tainting ourselves somehow in the eyes of others?”

“I think she will overlook it,” Laksha replies, tossing her head back to indicate the mother. “And no one else will see. Which is vital. The sight of a real rakshasa will cause panic and draw the attention of the authorities.”

   
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