Author: Crystal Rose of Pollux PM
Follow up to the episode "Horror in the Heights," contains major spoilers for it. Someone neglected to tell Carl Kolchak that Rakshasas are a vengeful sort; mess with one, you're bound to anger another...Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Horror - C. Kolchak & A. Vincenzo - Words: 16,741 - Reviews: 4 - Favs: 1 - Published: 06-23-11 - Status: Complete - id: 7111951
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Author's note: this oneshot is meant to be a follow-up to the episode "Horror in the Heights" or "The Rakshasa," and, as such, contains major spoilers for that episode. Rakshasas are rarely loners—they have staunch alliances and family ties, so the idea came to mind to have a Rakshasa somehow related to the one in the episode play a role that Carl would have to contend with. I eventually chose a Rakshasi (a female Rakshasa) for the fic. I also made use of Tony's canonical interest in yoga (from "The Youth Killer," but no major spoilers for that). As always, the characters aren't mine (except for the Rakshasi and the yoga instructor), and the story is. The translated quote from the Hanuman Chalisa and the quote from the Hail Mary are public domain. Lastly, if anything looks like a reference or a nod to a Bollywood movie, it probably is.
Carl Kolchak sighed as he stared into the darkness of the parking garage he was in. He looked around with some trepidation, the top of his Mustang up around him to offer some amount of protection—though he knew it wasn't all that useful. She was out there, somewhere, and it would take more than a raised convertible roof to stop her from getting to him.
Carl now pulled the tape recorder from his glove compartment and clicked it on with his trembling hand.
"I really don't know why I'm recording this," he spoke into the machine. "I know for a fact that no one is going to hear of this story, no matter how it's going to end. Other than the monster involved, there is one person who knows the truth—and I wish he didn't even know that. And that's a switch, considering he's usually the first one I want notified of these occurrences, even if he never believes them."
He suppressed a shudder, but kept on going.
"I don't know where Anthony Vincenzo is right now, but as long as he stays away from me, he should be safe. I think the events of tonight should be enough to convince him of that. He's smart and rational, after all—I'm sure he'll have the sense to stay away."
He clenched a fist.
"And all this means one thing—even if I eventually defeat this monster, I've still lost. It was a battle of wills that I thought I was ready to fight; I learned the hard way that I was wrong. I should've realized that last night—actually, I should've realized it in the early hours of that previous morning. Never before did 36 hours seem like a lifetime ago… another place… another world, even—a world which I'm not even sure I could go back to…"
"It all started in the early morning hours of April 15. I, unlike much of the population, was actually sleeping soundly this Tax Day—I'd had the foresight to have my taxes done well in advance. However, my peaceful slumber was rudely interrupted at 3:22 AM by a dream—a dream that was merely a premonition to the nightmare that I was about to face in the waking world."
Carl tossed and turned, beads of sweat popping onto his forehead as a female voice screeched to him in his sleep.
"Carl Kolchak… CARL KOLCHAK!"
The reporter shuddered as a face appeared before him, moonlight illuminating her horrific features—her unkempt hair that was flying everywhere, her fanged teeth, and her blood-red eyes.
"Carl Kolchak, we meet at last. Soon, we will meet in person. And then, I will have my revenge on you for killing my brother! Do you know who I am?"
Carl mumbled, addressing the face.
"No, I think I'd remember a face like yours," he said, still deadpanning, even in his sleep.
"You will not be so smug when we meet, Cark Kolchak. I am the Rakshasi, Chandramukhi! You killed my brother in Roosevelt Heights!"
"Somebody had to," Carl countered, unapologetic now that he knew what the creature wanted. "Your brother shouldn't have been going around eating people!"
Chandramukhi cursed at him.
"You speak so bravely, Carl Kolchak, because you do not realize just how much power a vengeful Rakshasa or Rakshasi has! My brother attempted to devour you merely because you were there. But, I… I will hunt you down and hound you to the very ends of the Earth! I will see your mental will shatter first, and only then will I feast!"
"Look, 'Lady,'" he said, sardonically. "I don't have time for this. I know you Rakshasas like to masquerade as trusted people to your victims—it didn't work for your brother because there isn't anyone I trust!"
That was a lie, of course—the demon's brother had taken the form of Miss Emily, after all. If Carl hadn't been prepared for that possibility, he would've likely met the same fate as the brother's other victims—a grisly end indeed.
Chandramukhi seemed to sense his lie, as well.
"No, Carl Kolchak, there are people you trust. Perhaps there was a time when you did not, but that time has long passed. I know my brother attempted to fool you by making him appear to you as that old woman you work with."
"She won't take kindly to that description," Carl deadpanned.
"And there is one more you trust—one you trust even more than the old woman, isn't there?" Chandramukhi sneered at him.
Carl froze, gritting his teeth.
"There's no one else," he insisted.
"There is," the Rakshasi said, a smirk of triumph on her face. "There is no use in trying to hide your thoughts from me; you cannot hide them from my kind. I know that you trust the man you work for."
"Well, so what?" Carl said. "I saw through your brother's disguise; seeing through yours won't be that difficult."
"Oh, no, Carl Kolchak," Chandramukhi purred. "You have no concept of my power. By the time I am through with you, you will have been driven to madness. You will fall at my feet and beg for me to devour you in order to end your misery. You see, my other goal is to make you completely alone, just as you used to be—for there is no greater madness than that which is brought about by loneliness." Her red eyes blazed. "I should know—look what you have done to me by slaying my brother! Soon, you will know the same madness—and that will be enough to cure my own."
Carl's eyes narrowed.
"Just how do you plan to do that?" he inquired. "Try to turn my colleagues against me? Because I have news for you—most of them already think I'm crazy."
The female demon chuckled.
"Really, Carl Kolchak, you can't expect me to give everything away right now," she said. "All I will tell you is that you will beg to be freed from the mental prison awaiting you. And I will give you a permanent release. Now, listen closely… When dawn comes, and you go to your place of work as you usually do, that boss you trust so much will give you a story to follow up on—and he will give it to you because of its similarity to the incidents caused by my brother in Roosevelt Heights." She chuckled. "Of course, this time, it will be my doing."
"And I'll bet you enjoyed that," he accused.
"Not half as much as I will enjoy devouring you," she said. "You know what they say about revenge…"
A gnarled finger with an inch-long fingernail caressed the reporter's cheek. He shuddered, prompting the Rakshasi to sneer at him.
"It is a dish best served cold."
She bared her fangs and leaned in.
With a shuddering gasp, Carl Kolchak sat bolt upright in his bed, his forehead drenched in a cold sweat as he struggled to catch his breath.
"I didn't put much stock into that dream, even if it was highly unsettling—with the kind of stories I chase after, I'm used to highly unsettling dreams. Still, it was unsettling enough that I didn't get much sleep for the remainder of the night. And when I reported to work in the morning, I was both pleased and relieved that Anthony Vincenzo's first words to me that day were not about a story similar to the Roosevelt Heights case, but a long rant about his taxes instead."
"Look at this! Just look at this!" Tony fumed, throwing down a stack of forms and calculations onto his desk.
"Exactly what am I supposed to be seeing in all of this?" Carl asked, unable to hide his amusement.
"All of these expenses!" Tony answered. "Can you believe they won't let me write off that last trip to New York that I made as a work-related expense? I went there to meet with Abe Marmelstein about the paper!"
"Well, you have to admit that you stayed in New York for five days when your meeting was only for, what…? One hour?" Carl pointed out. "You should've been back the same day—by that evening, even. You probably would've pulled it off if you'd only stayed a couple hours."
"You try going somewhere where you've got family and see if you can stay for 'a couple hours!'"
"Well, that would be kind of difficult for me to try, seeing as though I have no family," Carl pointed out. Unbidden came the memories of the dream—and Chandramukhi's promise that he would be alone. He shook the thought from his head and continued.
"So, Tony… how's that niece of yours?"
Tony responded with a wince, and Carl's eyebrows arched.
"Juvenile Hall again?" he asked.
"No," Tony insisted. "But she's halfway back there—rollerblading past midnight with some punk-haired friend of hers, playing heavy metal music that's loud enough to wake the dead, speaking punk English that you can only understand every tenth word of…" he suddenly trailed off. "Why am I telling you all of this?"
Carl merely shrugged.
"Well, I figured that since you said that you sympathized with your brother-in-law since he has to keep bailing her out like you're always bailing me out when I run afoul of Siska or Rausch or whoever else decides to put me away for just doing my civic duty…"
"And that's another thing!" Tony grumbled, going through the forms on his desk again. "With all the money I spend bailing you out of jail, I should be allowed to list you as a dependent!"
Carl actually burst out laughing at this, prompting Tony to give him a look
"Sorry, Tony, but I think it'd get a bit awkward if I started calling you 'Dad' all the time…"
"Please, don't…" Tony said, as he continued to page through the forms.
Carl shook his head and continued to chuckle as Tony slammed the forms down on his desk again.
"Maybe I should've gotten an accountant to handle all of this," the editor muttered. "Why didn't I?"
"Because you didn't want to spend even more money by hiring one," Carl answered, just barely maintaining a straight face. "I did warn you that you'd be heaping undue stress on yourself by using the long forms…"
"Oh, and I suppose you got yourself an accountant? I didn't see you fretting over the long forms."
Carl laughed again.
"Me, hire an accountant? Oh, come on, Tony—you shouldn't have to ask me that! You know what my income is—you sign those lovely slips of paper that I take to the bank, remember? Do you really think I could hire an accountant? Of course not! I used the short form."
He snapped his fingers to emphasize how easy it had been.
"Carl, the long form is the best way to ensure a proper tax return," Tony informed him.
"Really?" the reporter asked, smiling as an idea came to mind. "Well, then I guess that means that you used the long form for the INS, too, didn't you? Then you can use that return money to give me a raise—I could certainly use it since I won't be getting a proper return…"
"Kolchak…" Tony groaned.
"Okay, okay; we can discuss that later. Oh, and if you need any help mailing these forms out, I'll be happy to lend a hand…"
"No; I'll take care of it. But here's something that you might be interested in," the editor said, reaching for a file on his desk.
Carl's good mood suddenly vanished and was replaced with some amount of nervousness as he glanced at the file.
The reporter didn't meet his editor's gaze, but he did look up.
"You remember that Roosevelt Heights case you were working on some time ago?" Tony asked, surprised by Carl's sudden mood shift. "Something's come up—a similar occurrence in a nearby area; it's that spot in town where all those warehouses are. They found a homeless man who had apparently been staying there… well, what was left of him; you know how it went—you saw the bodies in Roosevelt Heights. Mostly bones…"
The reporter had gone pale, remembering Chandramukhi's warning to him.
"Tony…" he said. "If I remember right, you tossed my original story on the Roosevelt Heights case into the trash. And you also referred to the Rakshasa as, and I quote, 'Bonzo the chimp with fangs.'"
"Yeah, I did," Tony admitted. "But you're the only one I can give this story to; Miss Emily left on vacation—I don't even know where she is right now, but I know she's nowhere within a thousand-mile radius of Chicago. And even if she was here, I could hardly give her a story like this, could I? And Ron couldn't even handle the Ripper case—he'd faint dead away just reading this file! And no one else even wants to touch it—not that I blame them in the slightest; this is the kind of stuff that requires guts of iron to follow up on. And you're the only reporter I know of who fits that description."
"Just my luck," Carl muttered. "I'm sorry, Tony, but I think my guts of iron just rusted over."
"…Are you sure you're okay, Carl?"
"What do you mean?"
"It's not like you to turn down something like this. At first I thought it was how gory the whole thing is, but you took that Roosevelt Heights case by the horns, so it can't be that. Usually, I have to keep you away from stories like these. So why are you turning it down?"
"You won't like it, Tony. You know how called that Roosevelt Heights Rakshasa Bonzo?"
"Well, this is the work of Bonzo's sister."
"Oh, come on, Carl! You can do better than that!" Tony said. "I want you to go out there and get me a coherent story—none of those myths and legends—just cold, hard facts. You've done it before, haven't you?"
The editor sighed. Something was very, very wrong, and, besides that, he couldn't force anyone—not even Carl Kolchak—to take a story this grotesque.
"Alright, Carl," he said. "You don't have to take the story. In fact, I don't even know why I suggested it—it doesn't go at all with the 'positive thinking' aspect that I've been struggling to apply to this paper."
The reporter sighed, but his relief was short-lived as he realized that Chandramukhi was going to find him another way, even if he didn't follow the story. And it also meant that she would continue to attack innocent people. And, to prevent that and stop her, he needed to have as much information as he could.
"I… I would like to take a look at the file, Tony," he said, moving to take it. "Who knows? I might change my mind later."
"I wish you'd make up your mind…" the editor grumbled, handing it over.
"Oh, don't worry about it, Tony; I won't bring it up again unless I decide to write it."
"'Don't worry,' he says," Tony muttered to himself, shaking his head. "Do you realize that every day, I find a new gray hair because of you?"
"Sorry, Tony…" Carl said, with a shrug.
"Look," Tony said, dismissing it. "I don't want to force you to take this story if you don't want to."
"I thought you said you weren't…"
"I know I said that, but I don't want you thinking you have to take this story just because I happened to mention it. I take it all back—I don't want anyone following it."
Ironic—Carl didn't want to take the story when Tony had assigned it to him; now that he was saying he didn't want anyone following it, he wanted to look into it after all. The editor was beginning to wonder if he could ever win…
"Right, Tony; you don't have to worry about it," Carl assured him. "You've got those tax forms to double-check—you know that Uncle Sam would prefer those to be as accurate as possible. I'll just take a look—trust me."
He inwardly flinched at his choice of words, but Tony did notice.
"Carl, are you absolutely sure you're okay?"
"Why do you keep asking me that?" Carl asked.
"Because you're acting even stranger—stranger than what's normal for you," the editor said. "And you keep ducking the question, too."
"What are you talking about?"
"See? There you go!" Tony said. "Carl, what is going on?"
"Can I get back to you on that? I think I just remembered something I forgot; I'll see you later, Tony."
"What are you talking about? Will you stop avoiding the question?" Tony demanded, as Carl headed out the door.
But Carl just waved, wrapping a donut in a napkin and sliding it into his pocket as he made his way out. He paused at the top of the stairs to skim through the file.
It was the same M.O. as the Roosevelt Heights Rakshasa, just as Chandramukhi had promised. But he would have to see to it that her warnings and actions ended with that.
"Looks like it has begun…" he murmured. "I'm not going to tell you to bring on your worst, because I know you will without any persuasion from me."
He headed down the stairs and out the door, heading for where he had parked his Mustang. A familiar voice made him freeze in his tracks—a voice he hadn't heard in nearly three years.
The reporter turned to see the familiar face standing only yards from him.
"Gail?" he asked, stunned enough to be knocked over with a feather.
"Carl!" she gushed. "What are you doing here in Chicago?"
"Well, I work here, now—Vincenzo does, too. What are you doing here…?" Carl trailed off, stopping short of heading towards her. "Ah-ha! Nice try, but it isn't happening!"
"Carl, what are you talking about?" Gail asked, looking puzzled. "I haven't seen you since Las Vegas—"
"Knock it off, Sondra Mooki, or whoever you really are!"
Gail's expression darkened into a twisted smile.
"Very good, Carl Kolchak, but the name is Chandramukhi."
In the blink of an eye, she transformed into a pale-skinned brunette who looked frighteningly attractive.
"That's… not how you appeared in my vision," Carl said.
"Oh, I know," the Rakshasi replied. "The powers of my kind are strongest at night. Fortunately for you, you could possibly overpower me if I attempted to devour you during the day, so I will not even bother to try it right now. Besides, don't you remember my warning? I have plans for you, Carl Kolchak—finishing you off right away would ruin them."
"So, just what do you intend to do?"
"I intend to follow you around, naturally, and take amusement in forcing you to constantly look over your shoulder to see what I am up to. I will also take amusement in seeing what measures to take to try to stop me. And through it all, I will watch as you build a mental prison around yourself; already, the bricks are falling into place before your very eyes. And, come nightfall…"
She trailed off, licking her lips, which prompted Carl to back away, retreating back inside the INS building and holding the door closed.
"Oh, Carl Kolchak, we both know this isn't going to work," the Rakshasi taunted, her voice almost in a sing-song manner. "You know you're going to have to open that door sometime!"
"Yeah? Well, not anytime soon!" he promised.
"Carl, who're you talking to?" Tony asked, coming down the stairs.
"Huh?" The reporter looked back at his editor in surprise. "Oh, I was just talking to a new acquaintance…"
He trailed off as he looked back through the glass door. Chandramukhi had vanished. And Tony was now staring at him with a very dubious expression indeed.
"Carl, I'm going to ask you this one more time, and this time, I want an answer from you. Are you feeling alright?"
"I'm fine, Tony," he lied. "Really…"
Tony didn't look convinced, but he realized that there wasn't much he could do if Carl didn't want to talk.
"Well, if you're sure, can you at least step aside so I can get out the door?"
"…Now? Where are you going?" Carl demanded.
"Oh, for crying out loud, Carl! Do I have to explain every single one of my actions to you? I could ask you right now what on Earth you think you're doing blocking the door in the first place!"
"Ah…" Carl said, realizing the full awkwardness of the moment, as he was still holding the door closed. "There is an explanation for this, Tony—I swear it."
"…Well…?" Tony prompted.
"I was… trying to keep Bonzo's sister out," Carl sighed, leaning his forehead against the door in defeat. He had probably just made the situation worse.
"Carl, you are a reporter—not a bouncer of the bizarre. Now, if you don't mind, I would like to get some French toast from the diner down the street. See, I skipped breakfast again, and I'm beginning to regret it. Does that explanation satisfy you?"
"Oh, but of course," Carl said. "But, uh… Shouldn't you be tending to those forms? I mean… Why don't you go back and go over those, and I'll run out and get you your French toast?"
"Carl, I have had it up to here with those forms!" Tony fumed, raising his hand to his forehead. "I need to get away from them, so, for Heaven's sake, let me out of here!"
"You can't go out there, Tony!"
"Let me guess… Bonzo's sister?"
"Bonzo's sister," the reporter quietly agreed.
"Okay, that's it. Give me the file, Carl."
"What? But, Tony—!"
"Normally, you start seeing the weird stuff halfway through your investigations. You're seeing them now, and you're not even out the door yet! I knew I shouldn't have brought it up!" He pulled the file from Carl's hand. "Carl, I want you to forget that you ever saw this—forget that I ever mentioned anything about this story. Erase it completely from your mind. This file is going into the trash where it belongs! And you need to go home where you belong and get some rest; I don't think I've ever seen you this pale before—I think you really are coming down with something!" He shook his head. "I knew it."
But the reporter shook his head.
"I told you, Tony—I'm fine!"
The editor responded with a mutter that sounded suspiciously like, "Fine, my foot!"
"Okay, Tony, you want the honest truth? I didn't sleep too well last night." Well, that's partly the truth…
"Oh, so that's it?" Tony asked, satisfied. "Well, that explains why you're seeing things out there. You know, I used to have trouble sleeping, too—that was partly why I started that diet and yoga regimen. It works, but you've got to keep at it."
"I thought you couldn't even hold the beginner's pose without getting stuck," Carl recalled.
Tony flinched at the memory.
"Yeah, but that was before I switched yoga instructors; I've got a better one now, and she's the real deal this time—not like that Western copycat I was going to earlier. This one works in a Hindu temple about a half hour from town; she holds the class twice a week at the community center next to the temple."
"Well, as long as you're not getting stuck anymore, she must be doing something right…" Carl trailed off, now fully registering Tony's words. "Uh, Tony, you wouldn't happen to have her business card with you, do you?"
Tony obligingly looked through his wallet.
"I don't think she had one," he said. "No; it's not in here. Oh, that's right—it was all on a flyer. I have it somewhere in my desk…"
Temporarily forgetting about his French toast, Tony headed back upstairs to his office, with Carl right behind him. As the editor began to root through his desk, Carl's gaze shifted back to the file he had placed on his desk by force of habit. The reporter quickly reclaimed the file and replaced it with the donut he had taken earlier, looking nonchalant as Tony let out an "Aha!" of triumph as he found what he had been looking for.
"Here it is," he said, handing the flyer over to Carl.
"'Miss Gauri Priya, Hatha Yoga instructor; classes held every Wednesday and Saturday evenings, Rama Temple Community Center…'" Carl's eyes widened as he read it. "This is perfect! Thanks, Tony!"
He headed out again.
"Carl! Carl, wait! Today's Friday—class isn't until…" Tony trailed off; the reporter was already out of earshot. "…Tomorrow…"
He shook his head, reaching for the file to throw it away, pausing as he couldn't find it, instead finding a donut.
"Tony's mention of the yoga instructor—specifically her location at the temple—proved to be highly serendipitous; the leads I needed to tell me about how to deal with Chandramukhi had been considerably limited until Tony's well-timed words. I still had the blessed arrows and crossbow that I had used to dispatch of Chandramukhi's brother, but I was hoping for finding out another way to deal with her; it just isn't practical to carry around a crossbow and arrows—people tend to ask embarrassing questions.
"Unfortunately, the elderly gentleman who had given me the crossbow and arrows had since passed away, and Lane Merriot, the East Asian art dealer who had told me about the Rakshasas had since closed his doors and moved off—Murphy's Law had seemingly kicked in… until Tony, of all people, gave me a lead.
"Making sure that Chandramukhi was not waiting for me outside, I finally succeeded in leaving the building, heading for the Rama Temple. It was about 11:40 when I arrived, hoping to find this Miss Priya. In yet another case that chalked up another one for good old Irony, it was she who found me as I entered the front hall of the temple, faux pas and all."
"Excuse me, Sir! Excuse me!"
Carl stopped short in the middle of the hall as a woman in her early thirties moved from her position behind the receptionists' desk.
"Sir, you can't wear your shoes in the temple—that's why we have shoe cupboards by the entrance."
"Oh, sorry…" Carl said, hurriedly taking off his shoes and placing them in one of the available spaces.
However, the lady still seemed to be regarding him with disapproval—and the reason soon became clear.
"Photography is also forbidden," she said, staring pointedly at the camera in Carl's hand.
"Oh, this? It's a part of my job—I'm Carl Kolchak of the Independent News Service—"
"I'm sorry; there are no exceptions for the press. You'll have to put the camera away, plain and simple."
"Well, actually, I'm not here to take pictures at all," Carl promised. "I just came to ask a few questions—"
"Hold on…" she said, recalling something. "Independent News Service?"
"Yes, that's right; I—"
"Then you would know a Mr. Anthony Vincenzo, wouldn't you?"
"I sure do; he's my boss…" Carl began, but he trailed off as the realization dawned on him. "You're Miss Gauri Priya?"
At last, her face broke into a smile.
"Mr. Vincenzo has told you about me?"
"Yeah, he sure did," Carl said. He smirked as a thought came to mind. "Tell me… how is old Tony doing in class?"
Miss Priya blinked.
"Well," she said, clearly trying to choose her words carefully. "As you know, it takes a lot of practice to properly reach some of the poses…" She paused as Carl chuckled in amusement, and she sighed. "He gives it an honest try—I'll admit that. I have confidence that, in a few more weeks, he will make some considerable progress."
Carl just shook his head.
"Ah, Tony…" he mused. "Well, like he said, at least he isn't getting stuck anymore."
"Mr. Kolchak," Miss Priya said. "You didn't come all this way to see how Mr. Vincenzo was doing in his classes, did you?"
"No, and I didn't come to sign up, either," Carl admitted. "I have a bit of a dilemma, and I'm hoping to find the solution here in the temple."
"Well, Mr. Kolchak, a place of worship is indeed the best place to find answers to dilemmas of many kinds."
"And you know it'll be safe, too."
"I mean… there are certain things that can't enter the temple, right?"
"Correct," Miss Priya said. "Nothing evil can enter the temple, or even set foot on the temple grounds."
"…Like a Rakshasa?"
"Unless the Rakshasa was pure of heart, there is no way it could come here," she insisted.
"So, wait a minute… Are you saying that a Rakshasa—a flesh-eating demon—can be pure of heart?"
"It has been known to happen," Miss Priya said. "But you would have nothing to fear from a Rakshasa that is pure of heart in the first place—they would not eat flesh."
"That figures…" Carl mused.
"Dare I ask, Mr. Kolchak, why you talk about having a dilemma and then ask me about Rakshasas?"
"You'd better sit down," Carl advised.
After she had done so, Carl told her the whole story, starting back from the Roosevelt Heights case up to Chandramukhi and her quest for revenge.
"Well," Miss Priya said, after he had finished. She was visibly shaken by his story. "You have a very serious dilemma indeed, Mr. Kolchak. But I shall try to help you all I can. As the Rakshasi said, her powers are strongest at night."
She thought for a moment, and then beckoned him over to her desk. There was an apple there, which she handed to him.
"When night falls, eat this."
"It is prasad, Mr. Kolchak; it's been blessed," she explained. "Eating it will offer you some temporary protection from the Rakshasi—for the remainder of the night."
"So an apple a day keeps the demon away…" Carl mused. "But, here's the thing—if she finds that she can't come after me tonight because I've eaten this, she'll just try again another night. In all practicality, the whole apple a day thing just postpones the inevitable clash—I need to find a way to end it."
"You have those blessed arrows; they will undoubtedly do the job."
"Well, is there anything else?" he asked. "Something to stop her from following me during the day? I can't exactly pull out a crossbow in broad daylight. The whole reason I came here is because she said she was tailing me. What's my best weapon if I don't have immediate access to the crossbow? More than that, how do I see through her if she tries to impersonate someone I know, like her brother did? He did a very convincing job, pretending to be my colleague… I was hesitant to finish him off, just in case it really had been Miss Emily."
Miss Priya thought for a moment.
"Do you pray, Mr. Kolchak?" she asked at last.
"Well…" Carl said, glancing up at the pictures of Hindu deities. "I don't think we pray in quite the same—"
"That doesn't matter," she insisted. "Any prayer will be enough to cut through a Rakshasa's maya."
"The power of illusion," she explained. "One of the most famous Rakshasa kings, Ravana, was a master of maya. Are you familiar with the name?"
"Oh, yes. Lane Merriot, that Asian art dealer I mentioned, told me he was the Rakshasa who stopped the sun and the moon—just like a girl I once knew," he said, trying the same joke on Miss Priya that he had used on Merriot.
She didn't take the joke much better than Merriot did; she merely blinked at him.
"This girl you knew had ten heads?" she asked, holding out a copy of the Ramayana, which featured, on the cover, an Archer in battle against a ten-headed Rakshasa.
"…No, I'd say the similarities end there," Carl said, staring at the cover. "So that's the supreme demon king himself, huh?"
"A king, yes, but not supreme; there were more Rakshasa and Asura kings far more powerful and feared than Ravana. In fact, Ravana's own brother—one of those rare, pure-hearted Rakshasas I mentioned earlier—disowned his brother and fought against him without any fear. Disgust at his wicked ways, yes; but not fear, for he sought to serve the Lord."
"How about that? I guess Merriot had his facts mixed up. What's an Asura, by the way?"
"A demon, but unlike a Rakshasa, which lives mainly on the Earth, the Asura lives in the Netherworld," Miss Priya explained. "Anything else you wish to know?"
"The Archer fighting Ravana looks familiar," Carl said.
"He should; you would have seen His image on the artwork outside. He is Lord Rama, to Whom this temple is dedicated. He defeated Ravana."
"So, I'm sensing a theme here—arrows. Are arrows the only way to defeat Rakshasas?"
"No, but considering what you have to work with, just continue using the crossbow against the Rakshasi stalking you," said Miss Priya.
"Yeah, I guess it's too much to hope that Chandramukhi has another sibling who has renounced evil and will try to save me from her…" Carl mused.
"I'm afraid it is a long shot," she said. "Your best bet is to use the power of prayer to cut through the demon's maya and then use the crossbow."
"So, prayer is all I need to unmask her disguises or any other illusions?" Carl asked.
"That's all you need; there is a line from the Hanuman Chalisa—it translates to 'No ghost or evil being will trouble those who pray to His Name.'"
"It's that simple?"
"It is simple, but it is also easy to forget once Rakshasas start attacking with their maya. Rakshasas thrive on trickery, Mr. Kolchak; this one will do everything in her power to make you forget that you can pray and cut through her maya. Please don't forget that."
"I'll be sure to keep that in mind. Anything else I should know?"
"Carrying around religious symbols would not go amiss, either," she said.
"Yes, that's right—I told you about the gentleman, didn't I? Unfortunately, his choice of religious symbol raised quite a few eyebrows."
"Yes—we here at the temple are more conscious that 20th century history has marred that particular sign. That's why we use this instead," Miss Priya said, removing a pendant around her neck.
Carl took a look at it; it was a letter of Devanagiri script, fashioned out of brass.
"And what's this called?"
The reporter gave a nod.
"And the same cross I use against vampires should work just as well as this against the Rakshasi?"
"That's right, but if you would like to borrow this or the Ramayana, you are welcome to do so," Miss Priya said.
"Yes, I think I will hang onto to them for a while," the reporter said, pocketing the Om and carrying the book along with the apple.
"You're also welcome to stay here as long as you like," she added. "You can even go into the main room of the temple, where the people are praying. Just… no photography."
"Right," Carl promised, pocketing the camera. "I think I will take a look around. And thanks for all of your help."
Miss Priya nodded.
"God be with you, Mr. Kolchak."
"Though I had finished up my look around the temple after another hour, I ended up staying there for several more. I knew that Chandramukhi would be waiting to follow me as soon as I was far enough away from the temple's property.
"It normally isn't like me to stay and hide when there is a horror on the streets, but, trust me; it's a whole new—and nerve-wracking—ball game when the demon in question has your number and has every intention of following through on her promise of dealing out a very unpleasant end.
"What finally got me out of the temple was the knowledge that with sundown came the all-too-likely possibility that Chandramukhi was going to take advantage of my seeking sanctuary in the temple and start targeting innocent people just to get me to confront her. And I was right—only she wasn't going after just any ordinary innocent, much to my shock, though it took me long enough to realize it. I still shudder at how close a call it had been.
"It was almost 7:00 in the evening when I returned to the INS, only now becoming aware of just how hungry I was; I hadn't eaten a thing all day. Yes, there had been a cafeteria on the temple grounds, but one whiff of the amount of hot spices they had been using had quickly told me it was more than my stomach could handle.
"It was just about time for sundown when I arrived, so I started eating the blessed apple that Miss Priya had given me. It was a short time later that I noticed the disapproving look from one of my coworkers as I ate."
"What's your problem, Uptight?" Carl asked. "No one ever follows that 'No Food or Drink' sign—not even Tony."
"Speaking of Mr. Vincenzo, I'll bet you thought you were pretty funny, huh?" Ron asked, shaking his head.
"What, are you talking about the donut?" Carl asked, glancing towards Tony's office. He was surprised to see that the lights were off.
Strange, he thought. He usually doesn't leave this early…
"I'm not talking about this morning, Kolchak," Ron said. "I'm talking about that fake phone call you made fifteen minutes ago!"
"What are you talking about, Uptight?"
"It's Updyke. And you mean to tell me that you didn't just call up Mr. Vincenzo fifteen minutes ago?"
"You're crazy! Why would I call him up and then come back here?"
"I walked into his office and saw him talking to you," Ron insisted. "I heard him ask you why you wanted to meet him at some old warehouse—the one where the body had been found this morning, and you apparently talked about how there was something there that 'he absolutely had to see with his own eyes.' How long are you going to wait before you call him up again and tell him it was all some kind of prank?"
"Look, I told you—I didn't call…" Carl trailed off, his eyes widening in horrified realization. "Oh, no…"
Ron blinked in confusion.
"Uptight, listen to me, and listen close," Carl said. "Did you hear the phone actually ring?"
"Just answer the question!" Carl snapped. "You're close enough to Tony's door to hear if his phone rang. Did you hear it ring?"
"Well, maybe I didn't actually hear it ring, but Mr. Vincenzo was talking to someone, and he used your name. Did he call you?"
"No…" Carl said, clenching a fist. "No one called anyone—it was all an illusion. Someone wanted him to think that I was calling."
Ron just scoffed as Carl got up and headed for the door.
"Who'd want to pretend to be you?"
"You don't want to know, Uptight. Believe me, you don't want to know."
Carl didn't bother waiting to hear Ron's reply; there was no time! He headed back down to his Mustang and tore towards the warehouse-filled area that Chandramukhi had been at last night.
And, indeed, Tony Vincenzo was already there, checking his watch and wondering why Carl Kolchak had insisted on meeting with him here and at this hour; it was most unlike him. Carl, like the rest of his employees, knew that Tony preferred meeting in his office; if Carl thought it was this important to meet here, then perhaps Tony should make allowances—even if he had already given several allowances to Carl Kolchak in the past.
The editor grumbled to himself; this wouldn't have happened if he had just kept his mouth shut about the file…
A chill wind suddenly blew through the area, causing the editor to flinch. Where was Carl, anyway? He said he'd be waiting for him here, outside the warehouse. Well, these old warehouses all looked alike—maybe Tony should've double-checked…
The editor gave a start as he heard footsteps heading towards him from down the alley.
"Carl? Is that you?"
"Yeah, Tony; it's me," the approaching figure said.
It was definitely Carl Kolchak's voice, and Tony relaxed slightly, leaning against the plywood fence that separated the warehouse-filled area from the road.
"What did you want to meet me here for?" the editor asked. "You couldn't have come back to the office like you usually…?" Tony trailed off as the figure stepped out of the shadows and into the dim streetlight.
It looked like Carl Kolchak, too, in addition to sounding like him, and yet… The editor couldn't quite put his finger on what didn't seem right, but he couldn't shake the feeling of unease in his gut.
"Is something wrong, Tony?" Carl asked.
The editor didn't answer; he tried to take a step back before remembering that he was up against the fence—the only way out was past Carl.
"Tony, what's the matter with you?" Carl asked, coming closer.
For Tony, the feeling of unease grew with every step that Carl took towards him. He was so focused on the scene in front of him, he didn't even hear the sound of screeching tires coming from behind him, just beyond the fence.
"Carl… Carl, just… just hold it a minute, will you? Stay put for just a second…"
"Tony, I think there's something wrong with you!" Carl said, holding out an arm, as though he was going to place it on the editor's shoulder.
Tony was about to protest, but his words got caught in his throat as he suddenly heard Carl Kolchak's voice frantically calling his name—from behind the fence that he was pressed against.
"Carl?" the editor exclaimed, utterly baffled by this sudden turn of events. "But if you're back there…"
Tony looked back at the Carl Kolchak in front of him as the Carl Kolchak behind the fence knew exactly what to do.
The editor let out an exclamation of surprise as a brass pendant sailed over the fence and into his hands. The Carl Kolchak in front of him suddenly cursed in a language he didn't understand as he beheld the brass Om in the streetlight, and he immediately retreated to the shadows as the real Carl Kolchak clambered over the fence with a cross in his hand, pausing to catch his breath after his sudden acrobatics.
Tony stared at him, stunned. The feeling of unease was gone as he glanced at this Carl Kolchak. But that still left one very important question.
"Carl, who the heck was that?"
"Don't you know?" came the sarcastic reply. "I have an evil twin; his name is Charles Kolchak, and he—"
"Oh, come on!"
"I only said that so that there might be a better chance of you believing the real answer."
"And that would be…?"
"This time, I'm serious! Don't you remember my story from the Roosevelt Heights case—the one you threw out? Harry Starman thought that Rakshasa was me—the Rakshasa had used maya—some magic of illusion—to make himself look like me, and now the sister is doing it, too! There was no call, Tony—she made the illusion of a phone call and my voice to lure you out here, and then she used more maya to make herself look like me so she could get close enough to…" Carl trailed off as he realized just how close he had cut it.
He suppressed a shudder, wiping the sweat from his brow.
"If I'd been just ten seconds late…"
Tony could only stare. He did not want to believe it—it couldn't be possible! And yet… hadn't his instinct told him that the Carl Kolchak he had seen earlier hadn't seemed right?
The real Carl now glanced back at his employer again.
"Are you alright, Tony?"
"Am I alright? Carl, you are the one who looks like he's about to keel over!"
"Oh, don't worry about me," Carl insisted. "You can just rest easy—I'm here now."
"That's what worries me…" Tony grumbled, hoping there wouldn't be a repeat of Carl's weird behavior from earlier that morning. "Oh, and here's this back…"
He held out the brass Om. Carl almost accepted it, but he had a sudden change of thought and paused.
"Actually, can you hold onto that? It belongs to Miss Priya; she lent it to me, so you can give it back to her when you go to your yoga class tomorrow."
"What were you doing with it?" Tony asked, his eyebrows arched. "Carl, please tell me that you didn't pull Miss Priya into this!"
"Tony, relax!" the reporter said. "I told you, she lent it to me, and I don't think I need it. And since you're going to see her tomorrow, anyway, I figured it would make things easier for everyone if you returned that on my behalf. Simple, isn't it?"
"With you, nothing is ever simple," Tony insisted. "You're the kind of guy who, on his day off, would be taking pictures in the park and still manage to capture a crime in progress—or even another one of those monsters you're always chasing after—in the background of your pictures!"
Carl gave an innocent shrug.
"Well, some of us are just magnets for that kind of stuff, aren't we?"
"Believe me, Tony, I wish I knew the answer to that," Carl said. "Come on; let's get out of here before Chandramukhi comes back."
"Chandra… Chan… What?"
"Don't bother trying to say it, Tony; just stay away from it!"
Tony just rolled his eyes and groaned again.
"Now that it was clear that Chandramukhi wasn't pulling any sucker-punches, I knew I had to be more vigilant—and for the both of us, at that. Tony and I had come to the unspoken agreement to never speak of this incident involving the two of me. That also meant that he probably didn't know what to think about his narrow escape—or if he even believed it was a narrow escape. He probably would've dismissed this as a product of his tired mind.
"That left it up to me to make sure that Chandramukhi left us both alone. I knew I wouldn't have to worry that night—Tony had the Om, and I had eaten the blessed apple. But there was no guarantee that Tony was going to take the Om with him to work the next day if he was going to stop off at home before going to class.
"And that's why I ended up staying at the INS the entire day—admittedly with nothing else to do, other than read the Ramayana. As I was reading, it suddenly became clear as to why Chandramukhi was so zealous in her quest for vengeance. Rakshasas apparently have close-knit family ties; Ravana had only gone on the warpath after his sister failed in romancing Rama—losing her nose and ears in the process. So, I suppose I should be grateful that Chandramukhi wasn't coming after me with an entire Rakshasa battalion. Dealing with Chandramukhi alone was already proving to be more than I could handle.
"I guess that must've been why I didn't get any sleep that night, despite the fact that the blessed apple had stopped Chandramukhi from invading my thoughts with those mental messages of hers. I can only hope that Tony got a good night's sleep, at least; it was hard to tell when I came in to work—his expression was unreadable, but he did seem to notice the circles under my eyes.
"He did the same thing he did when I had gone without sleep during the Ryder Bond case—offer me the use of the couch to sleep on, but, once again, I refused. I wanted to be sure the Chandramukhi wasn't going to be stalking around outside. It turned out that she wasn't—it came in on the teletype that two more bodies had been found near where Tony and I had been last night, and Chandramukhi was now apparently resting before her next hunting attempt, with either Tony or me as the prey. I didn't tell Tony about the latest development in the case—I knew he didn't want to talk about it, and I guess I didn't want him to worry, either. Though a part of me was wondering if he would finally begin to believe me if I did tell him, but, as it was, after last night's events, he didn't seem to be upset at the fact that I was reading all day instead of doing any work. Take from that what you will.
"It was only that evening, when Tony left for class, that I took my leave of the INS, too. I did follow a few cars behind Tony—just until I saw him pull into the temple community center parking lot. After that, I headed back into town, stopping off at my apartment to finally pick up the crossbow; I knew that now was the time to do battle—while I knew that Tony would be safe at class. But there was one thing I hadn't counted on—that this whole business was on Tony's mind more than he had let on, and that he was going to end up talking to Miss Priya about it."
"Ah, Mr. Vincenzo!" Miss Priya greeted, as he entered. "You're a bit early this evening…"
"Yeah, I know," Tony said, taking the Om pendant out of his pocket. "Look, did you lend this to one of my reporters yesterday? He wore a seersucker suit and a beaten-up straw hat…"
"You mean Mr. Kolchak?" she asked, slightly surprised. "Yes, I had lent him that, but why is he returning it so soon?"
"Don't ask me; it was all very strange," Tony said, shaking his head. "Last night, there were two of him, and one of them gave me this while the other one ran off at the very sight of it. I tried to give it back to Kolchak, but he told me to give it back to you… Is something wrong, Miss Priya? You're looking as bad as Kolchak was…"
Miss Priya's eyes were wide with worry as she kept her hand over her mouth.
"He doesn't want me to take it back, Mr. Vincenzo," she said. "He only told you that so you could carry it—he knew it would keep the Rakshasi from consuming you."
"So what he said was true?" Tony demanded. "That… that fake Kolchak was going to try to eat me!"
"Shanth, Mr. Vincenzo, shanth!" Miss Priya said, trying to calm him down.
"Kolchak went on about those… demons during the Roosevelt Heights case—about how they were responsible for those bodies! He said…" Tony suddenly froze. "Where's Kolchak now?"
"I don't know," Miss Priya admitted. "But I have a feeling that he might confront the Rakshasi while you are safe here. He doesn't really have much of a choice, but at least he doesn't have to worry about you."
Tony stared at her in disbelief. He had known Miss Priya for a couple months now, having attended her yoga classes, and he had always thought her to be smart and rational. But now she was talking about the same sort of things that Carl usually did—and sounding as serious as he usually was.
"So, what you're saying is he was trying to get me out of the way so that he could run off and chase this thing?" he asked.
Miss Priya sighed.
"I believe Mr. Kolchak only arranged this so that you wouldn't be in any danger. He obviously thinks very highly of you to go to such lengths."
Tony just rolled his eyes.
"So this thing…this…"
"Yeah, that… Carl said that it plays tricks on your mind. Is that… even possible?"
It couldn't be possible! Everything that was rational in the world told him it couldn't be possible, and yet…
"Judge for yourself, Mr. Vincenzo; didn't you say that you saw two of him last night?"
"And Carl is chasing down this thing right now—this thing that'll try to look like a copy of someone he knows?"
"I don't know, Mr. Vincenzo," Miss Priya confessed. "The Rakshasi might try to impersonate someone he knows or trusts, or she might try to use her powers of maya to make him see other illusions. It all depends on what she decides to do. I told him that prayer would be enough to cut through those illusions, but I only hope he remembers that while under attack."
Tony looked concerned at the mention of the word "attack."
"But why does he even have to go after this thing at all, if he knows he's going to be attacked?" he said. "I know I've accused him of having a deathwish before, but this is insanity!"
"You mean, he did not tell you?" Miss Priya asked.
"Tell me what?"
The yoga instructor realized she had said too much.
"If he doesn't want you to know, I don't think I should tell you," she said.
"Look, if there's anyone who has a right to know what's going on regarding Carl Kolchak, it's me—I'm his boss, for crying out loud! This is a story he took because he felt compelled to—even though I told him not to take it just because I had initially assigned it. Even after I told him I changed my mind, he still insisted on following it, and if he's in trouble because of that, I need to know, whether he likes it or not."
"Well, let me just say that he did not feel compelled to take the assignment because he thought you wanted it," she said. "He has to go after the Rakshasi because she is also going after him."
"What?" the editor asked, flatly.
"According to what he told me yesterday, the Rakshasi wishes to consume him to avenge the death of her brother, whom Mr. Kolchak had slain some months ago. According to Mr. Kolchak, she was very specific in wanting to bring him as much suffering as possible; I believe that is why she went after you last night—to inflict more pain on him. Now, with the sun setting, she will be on the prowl again."
"So Kolchak is out there, going mano-a-mano with that thing right now?" Tony demanded.
"I honestly don't know, but based on how he saw to it that you came here, it's quite possible."
Tony let out a sigh, his mind coming to a decision.
"…Miss Priya, I think I'm going to have to skip class tonight."
"Mr. Vincenzo, you can't go out there!" she insisted. "After all that Mr. Kolchak did to ensure your safety—"
"Carl Kolchak needs to realize that I am his boss—not the other way around! I do not have to listen to his every little whim, though it certainly seems like I do enough of that already!"
"Just what do you hope to do out there?" Miss Priya demanded. "The moment you leave the temple's property, you will be vulnerable to the Rakshasi until you come back here or find some other place of worship to take refuge in."
"I'm not hiding," Tony insisted. "I'm finding Carl Kolchak before he gets himself killed!"
Miss Priya sighed, realizing that she couldn't force him to stay.
"God be with you, too, Mr. Vincenzo," she said, as he turned and left.
"Of course, at the time, I had no idea that my ploy to confront Chandramukhi while Tony was at class had gone flying out the window. It was a little after 8:00 PM when I arrived at the same warehouse from last night. This time, there wasn't a soul around—the news of the other two casualties had been enough to keep people away. But even though I couldn't see her, I knew she had to be there—she would've known that I was coming."
"Oh, Chandramukhi!" Carl called, softly, as he made his was through the maze of warehouses. He had the crossbow in his hands as he crept along, ready to fire it. "I'm here—it's just you and me…"
"Are you absolutely certain that we are alone?" Chandramukhi purred in his head. "You see, your dear editor decided to forego his yoga class today and is on his way here, even as we stand here."
"Impossible—I saw him drive all the way there! You'll have to try better than that!"
"But it's the truth!" she chuckled. "I lost the ability to track his thoughts once he went onto the temple's property, but I can read them now that he has left—he is coming here, and he is quite displeased at how you tried to deceive him. But, no matter—this will add to my fun. After all, you will have to determine which Anthony Vincenzo you come across is, in fact, the real one. Let's start with these…"
To Carl's shock, three replica Tonys surrounded him, each one reaching for him.
The reporter knew that he couldn't waste his arrows on these illusions; he whipped out the cross he usually carried from his pocket and swung it at the three ersatz Tonys. One after another, as each replica Tony came into contact with the cross, they vanished.
"Very good, Carl Kolchak. But more is come; I do hope you can keep up…."
The reporter was already in a nervous sweat, but he started to run.
"Where are you?" he fumed.
"Why, you must find me, Carl Kolchak!" she laughed. "If you can, of course…"
So that was her game; she was going to tire him out and keep him running, and then she would pounce when he was too weak to fight back! But what could he do against a demon, being a mere mortal man? He had no choice but to summon up enough adrenaline to hold out until he had a chance to fight back.
He yet out a yell as the ground seemed to split at his feet; he leaped over the growing chasm as gnarled hands started to grab at him from within the fissure, determined to pull him in.
"Get back!" he hissed, brandishing the cross at the hands as they reached for him.
His blood ran cold as another hand reached for him in his peripheral vision—the arm of another fake Tony.
"Carl…" the replica said. "Carl—"
The reporter swung his cross at the fake Tony, causing him to vanish like the others.
"Show yourself, Chandramukhi!" Carl demanded, his frustration already at its peak. "Are you so much of a coward that you fear facing this poor, middle-aged mortal?"
That had been the wrong thing to say. He was instantly surrounded by thirteen Chandramukhis, all in her true Rakshasi form—fangs bared and long-nailed hands reaching for him.
Carl could not hold back the cry of fear welling in his throat. He fired and arrow from the crossbow, which slipped through two of the fake Chandramukhis, causing them to vanish. Growing more desperate, he swung the cross in his hand around in a circle. The fake demons vanished upon being touched, leaving one real one, who sunk her nails into his arm as she leaned in with her open mouth.
Carl desperately swung the cross at her. Its upper tip hit her left cheek, and she screeched in pain, backing off immediately as a burn formed on her face. She retreated into the darkness before Carl could get an opportunity to use the crossbow.
"Miserable wretch!" she shrieked into his mind, causing Carl to flinch at the volume. "I will strike you down and then devour you!"
Carl yelped as a large crate came flying at his direction; he dodged it just in time. It soon became clear that she was using her demon strength to knock him out so that she could attack him without meeting any resistance.
Desperate not to present himself as an easy target, the reporter ran for his life. Crates shattered as he ran, just missing him. His luck eventually ran out—a large wooden splinter from a shattering crate stuck him in the leg, bringing him down from the force of the blow. As he pulled the splinter out, his gaze traveled upward, and he froze at the sight of Chandramukhi standing on the roof directly above him. She raised her hand, reaching for something, and Carl soon saw what it was—there was a high-tension wire running right over their heads.
As Carl desperately reloaded the crossbow, she snapped the wire with her strength, which began to spit deadly sparks as it descended towards him. Carl's face turned to an expression of pure horror—he didn't have time to get himself out of its way…
"I've got you, Carl! I've got you!"
The reporter yelled in fright again as strong hands seized his shoulders and pulled him out of the wire's path just in time. Carl looked around, panic filling his eyes as he saw Tony's face illuminated in the light of the sparks.
"Will you stop with the illusions, already!" Carl yelled, swinging the cross at him.
"Illusion? Carl, wait! I'm the real—OOF!" Tony let out a grunt of pain as Carl swung the cross right into his face. "Carl, get a grip! It's me—it's the real me!"
He held up a hand to his face and flinched as he felt blood coming from a cut on the left side of his face; Carl had hit him with the sharp edge of the metal cross.
The reporter's eyes widened in shock—he had hit this Tony in the same place he had hit Chandramukhi, yet the cross had left a cut, not a burn. And he hadn't vanished, either! Did that mean…?
Carl tentatively touched the blunt part of the cross to the back of Tony's hand. Nothing happened.
"If that doesn't satisfy you, will this?" Tony asked, pulling out the Om pendant from his shirt pocket.
Carl's jaw fell open.
"Tony…!" he exclaimed. "Tony…!"
He grasped his editor's shoulders in sheer relief, but backed off as he fully realized what had just happened.
"You saved my life…" he gasped. "And then I…" He trailed off, horrified, as he looked at the cut on Tony's face. "Oh, Tony, I'm so sorry…"
"Forget it," Tony grumbled. "I got it from a cross—it's probably a blessed wound. It sure hurts like all that is holy…" He winced in pain. "Well, at least you didn't hit me with the crossbow."
Carl also winced.
"Tony, I… I don't know what else I can do but apologize—I thought you were at class. The Rakshasi said that you had left, but I thought it was just a trick…"
"Miss Priya told me everything she knew when I tried to return this pendant to her," Tony said, slipping the Om back into his pocket. "There was no way I was staying after that."
"I'll be having a word with her about her lack of discretion if we ever get out of this…" Carl muttered.
"Don't blame her; she didn't want to tell me—I demanded it from her as your boss. And it's a lucky thing that I did—I showed up just in time. Where would you have been if I hadn't been here to pull you away from that?"
He glared pointedly at the still-sparking wire. Carl also looked, but then both men looked up as they saw a shadow flying.
"Down!" Carl yelled, pulling his editor down with him as Chandramukhi lobbed several canisters in their direction. The canisters sailed overhead.
Carl now grabbed the crossbow he had dropped, but Tony gripped his shoulder again.
"She wasn't aiming at us, Carl—those were gasoline canisters!"
"Hold on, Tony; I think I can get a clear shot this time…" He trailed off as Chandramukhi vanished, and he slammed his fist against the ground in frustration.
"Carl, didn't you hear me? Those gasoline canisters are right by that live wire—the sparks are going to set them off! We need to run!"
"Then, run," Carl said, staring pointedly at his bleeding leg. "I'll see what I can do."
Tony didn't waste any time in helping Carl up and helping him walk away. They had gone several yards when the gas canisters ignited. Flames erupted, snaking towards them along trails of spilled gasoline and oil that had been upset by Chandramukhi as she had thrown them.
"I can't outrun that!" Carl exclaimed.
"I don't think I could, either," Tony said, gritting his teeth. He looked around, relieved to see a low-roofed warehouse next to the plywood fence, and he started to lead Carl towards it. "There—I'll give you a boost onto that roof, and you pull me up. We can make it over the fence that way."
"…You want me to pull you up?"
"Don't start with me, Kolchak. Just do it."
"Okay, okay, I'm sure I can summon up enough adrenaline to do the job. I'm banking on the fact that people find they have increased strength in times of a crisis—"
Carl decided to shut up, throwing the crossbow onto the roof ahead of him and pocketing the cross. He used his uninjured leg to step onto Tony's cupped hands and, with Tony's help, got onto the roof of the warehouse.
"Okay, I'm up," the reporter said. "Now I'll help you…"
Carl trailed off, his eyes widening in horror. There were now five Tonys, all of them with outstretched hands, pleading for help as the fire surrounded them, cutting off any alternate escape route. The flames continued to inch closer and closer to them.
"Carl, what are you waiting for—a written invitation?" they all yelled at once.
"Which one is the real you!" Carl yelled back.
Tony would've gawked at how Carl was looking everywhere else, clearly seeing things that Tony could not. But Tony could see—and hear, and feel—the fire that was almost upon him.
"Carl, there's only one of me here!" he called up.
"No; there're five!"
The sheer panic in his reporter's voice did not escape the editor, but his own situation was dire.
Desperate, Tony climbed onto a large crate to try to use as a boost, only seconds before the fire reached the spot where he had been standing. Now, the flames were beginning to consume the crate he was standing on. He would only have one shot at jumping up.
The editor did indeed jump, his arms sprawled out on the roof. He dug his fingernails into the wood as he tried to pull himself up, but he was fighting a losing battle against gravity, which was tugging his weight back towards the blazing ground.
"Kolchak!" he cried, desperately reaching to him as he continued to slide back. His other arm was practically screaming in anguish from trying to support his weight—he could not hold on for much longer. "KOLCHAK!"
But Carl had backed away in fear—he had seen all five of the Tonys clamber up and reach for him.
"Get back!" he ordered, brandishing the cross again.
Tony saw the fear and horror in Carl's eyes, but he knew he was helpless to aid him—he couldn't even save himself from the fiery fate that was coming nearer and nearer.
It was Tony's turn to yell out in fear as he slid back even further; looking back, he could see the highest of the flames licking at his shoes. His arms were in agony, and his fingers had no feeling in them.
He shut his eyes, uttering the first prayer that came into his mind.
"Hail Mary, full of grace…"
There was a sudden gasp, followed by a clatter as metal hit wood, which was then followed by a horrified voice screaming his name.
Relief came to Tony's arms at last as Carl Kolchak seized them, throwing every ounce of strength he possessed into pulling his editor to the safety of the roof—the prayer Tony had uttered had cut through Chandramukhi's maya.
Thankfully, Carl had enough leverage and adrenaline to manage the Herculean feat. Once he had accomplished it, he collapsed on the roof beside his boss, gasping for breath.
Tony, pale and shaken from his narrow escape, was the first to catch his breath. He wanted to yell—to shout like he had never shouted before—at Carl for what had almost happened to him, but after one look at the state of his employee, Tony realized that he couldn't bring himself to do it. Carl looked close to fainting from exhaustion, while the look on his face was one of mortified horror at what he had almost allowed to happen.
Tony glanced back at the ground—the fire was now working its way up the walls of the warehouse; it wasn't going to hold up for long.
Gathering both the cross and the crossbow for Carl, Tony helped him down the other side of the plywood fence and onto the sidewalk beside the street, once again helping him walk—this time, to where they had parked both of their cars.
"Tony…" Carl rasped, as soon as he could talk again. "Tony, I…"
"Forget it," the editor said. "I know you weren't thinking straight—you were seeing things."
"There were… four more…"
"Yeah, I figured that. If it's any consolation, I don't hold it against you. I don't think I've ever seen you like that before…"
It was no consolation, not even slightly. Carl furiously threw the cross and crossbow onto the passenger seat of the Mustang, and then he gasped as he had to sit down in the driver's seat as his heart started racing again.
"I… I lost, Tony," Carl gasped, as soon as he could talk again. "Everything that Miss Priya said, I forgot… I forgot to pray; if you hadn't, I never would've seen the truth about those illusions." He shuddered, clutching the Mustang's steering wheel to keep himself from slumping over it in his exhaustion. "I thought… I thought I was ready for what the Rakshasi could do…" He shook his head, staring at the flames as sirens rang out from in the distance. "I'm so sorry, Tony." An apology sounded so inadequate. "You nearly died because of me."
"Well," Tony sighed. "You can't be blamed for it—you hadn't counted on watching someone else's back in addition to your own. But it was my choice, and I don't regret making it, Carl—you wouldn't have survived getting hit with that live wire, and you know it."
"Chandramukhi knew you would come," Carl said, shaking his head. "She wanted to make me not trust you… and it worked. I almost let you die. She wasn't trying to turn you against me like I thought… She was trying to turn me against you." He looked back at Tony, his expression unreadable. "She's won."
"What do you mean, 'she's won'?" Tony demanded, his voice rising.
"I didn't want you to be a part of this—why do you think I had waited until I thought you were safe at class on temple property? I knew she'd use you to get to me. She went for my Achilles' heel and it was you, Vincenzo! Well, no more!" Gasps—brought about by the increase in his own anger—punctuated the reporter's sentences. "You're no longer a part of this, Vincenzo! Just stay away from me and let me finish this my own way!"
"Oh, sure, and watch you get yourself killed!" Tony countered. "Get this clear, Kolchak—I assigned you this story. And then I took back the assignment, and you still went after it. But I am your editor—your boss. And if I decide that I want to…" He struggled to find the right words—words that wouldn't reveal that he was, in fact, truly worried for him. "…If I want to supervise how you handle a story, then you just have to deal with it!"
"Is that so?" Carl asked, suddenly starting the Mustang. "Well, then, Vincenzo…" He reached into his pocket and pulled out his press card, which he thrust into Tony's hand. "I quit!"
Without waiting for a reply or even waiting to see the editor's reaction, Carl drove off into the night.
Carl sighed heavily as he looked around the parking garage and spoke back into the tape recorder.
"I hadn't wanted to quit at all, of course—it was something I had said in the heat of the moment to get it through Tony's thick skull that he was better off staying away from me and staying out of it.
"One thing I had said in my outburst was true—that Chandramukhi had been trying to get to me by putting Tony in danger. He really was my Achilles' heel—Miss Emily, too, though, thankfully, she's thousands of miles away from all of this. And it was also true that I had never wanted Tony to get caught up in this. I've brought the man so many trials and tribulations already, but a direct threat to his life was beyond intolerable.
"He's probably furious with me now, but that's nothing new. I'll even bet he's calling me ungrateful, like he did in Seattle—and not without just cause; after all, the man did save my life from that live wire. But I nearly lost him his. I hope he realizes that was my reason for leaving; I don't want to have anyone die on my account—but especially not Anthony Vincenzo.
"And, so, that leaves me here, somewhere in this parking garage, alone… just as Chandramukhi promised. It's not that being alone is anything new to me; I was a loner even after I first met Tony in Las Vegas. It was only after Seattle that… Oh, why am I even reminiscing? I don't know… I guess that's another thing that Chandramukhi was right about—that loneliness does lead to craziness.
"That's why I said that even if I defeat Chandramukhi, she'll still have won. She achieved what she had set out to do—make me completely alone. I hope I defeat her, though—not just to save the world from her, but to see to it that she doesn't achieve her other goal of seeing me beg for this existence to end. I want to live… even though I don't know what this life will be like. I gave up so much just for a chance to defeat her—my home, my career…" He hesitated. "And though it feels incredibly strange to admit it out loud, one of the only friends I've ever known."
He shut his eyes for a moment.
"Even if I'm victorious against Chandramukhi… it won't be worth the cost."
He shut the tape recorder off and placed it in the glove compartment. He stifled a yawn, having gone without sleep for the past night and the latter half of the night before that.
But he knew he couldn't sleep, though—Chandramukhi would be waiting for it. And now that she had achieved her goal of making him alone, there was no reason for her to toy with him anymore—she'd make her final move.
Carl didn't need to worry about being sleepy for long, though—the next voice he heard woke him up almost instantly.
"Carl? Carl, I know you're in here!"
Carl's eyes widened, and he then slammed his hand against the dashboard in utter frustration.
"No!" he fumed.
"Carl, just hear me out!" Tony said, coming to the window.
"Why should I, Vincenzo? I thought I made it very clear that this doesn't concern you!"
Tony stared at him.
"You really have gone off the deep end. Carl, that woman tried to burn me to a crisp—not only does that concern me, it makes it personal! And the fact that I'm here after you ran off like an idiot should tell you something!"
Carl's eyes narrowed.
"Are you even here?" he demanded, aiming the crossbow at him.
Tony did recoil at the sight of the loaded crossbow being aimed at him, but he quickly knew how to verify his identity.
"Hail Mary, full of grace…"
Carl lowered the crossbow, but the look of anger was still on his face.
"Now that we have that out of the way, can you at least lower the roof of your car so we can talk?" Tony asked.
"What's there to talk about?" Carl asked, but he lowered the roof and windows, anyway. "Don't you understand, Vincenzo? I'm the one she wants—the one whose buttons she wants to push. And you're the biggest button of them all! If you are with me, she will kill you just to spite me!"
"Carl, get a grip!"
"Me, get a grip? You're supposed to be the rational one—what are you doing here, anyway?"
"I shouldn't have to answer that, and I won't."
Carl looked away. Yes, he knew the answer. It was the same reason why Tony had told him about his troubled niece, why he had been concerned over Carl's initial reluctance to take the story, and why Chandramukhi had appeared to Tony as Carl—in spite of all of the headaches and gray hairs that Carl gave him and in spite of the wild stories, the fact remained that Carl Kolchak somehow had Tony Vincenzo's trust—even after the narrow escape from the fire.
Carl stared determinedly elsewhere.
"You're going to get yourself killed, Vincenzo."
"You've got one foot in the grave yourself, Kolchak."
"Where exactly does that leave us?" Carl asked, sardonically.
"You tell me," Tony said, tossing Carl's press badge back at him.
Carl caught the badge, staring at it for a moment before pocketing it with a sigh. He still trusted Tony, too; he had never really stopped. He had been so desperate to keep him out of the way of Chandramukhi's wrath. And, of course, Tony was clearly desperate to prevent anything from happening to Carl.
It was almost laughable. Here they were, two stubborn souls too proud and too tenacious to admit that each was worried for the other or to admit that they did indeed trust each other. Even Tony the skeptic, who was seemingly refusing to believe that Chandramukhi was a demon—taking her to be a madwoman instead—knew enough that his employee was in mortal danger, but he would never admit to how much that worried him. And Carl wasn't sure he could voice (even if he had wanted to) how horrifying it had been to nearly lose his employer and friend.
"Where does it leave us, indeed…?" Carl sighed. "She's out there, Tony. She's out there right now. But I'll have to try again."
"You have to try again?" Tony repeated, rolling his eyes. "You aren't keeping me away." He paused. "That is to say… I still need to supervise your handling of this."
"Alright, Tony, alright…" he said, admitting defeat. "Whatever you say, Boss."
"I'd say I'd like to see more of that attitude."
"Don't count on it."
"Don't worry—I won't."
"I do have one more question, though," Carl said. "How did you find me here, even after my headstart?"
Tony shook his head.
"I just asked around if anyone had seen a yellow Mustang being driven by a guy in a seersucker suit and straw hat. Carl, the next time you try to skip town—which had better be never—you might want to try using a less conspicuous getaway car and maybe a disguise."
The reporter actually managed a smile.
"Didn't think of that…" he said. "But the only disguise I have access to at the moment is an orange trenchcoat—not exactly inconspicuous."
"Why am I not surprised?" Tony asked.
The bantering was short-lived; suddenly, one by one, the cars around them started up out of their own accord, their high-beam headlights suddenly lighting up.
"She's here!" Carl exclaimed, shielding his eyes from the light as he started his car. "Tony! Tony, get in!"
The editor didn't need telling twice; without even opening the door, he leaped over the door and into the front passenger seat.
"Here, take this," Carl said, handing Tony the crossbow.
"Carl, do you expect me to use this thing?"
"You could've stayed away, you know…"
"Fine, fine!" Tony said, squinting as the headlights all aimed in their direction. "But how did she find us?"
"She's probably been here the entire time," Carl said, as he pulled out of the parking space. "She must've gotten furious after…" He trailed off, not sure how to phrase that it had been because of him trusting Tony again.
Tony seemed to know what he was getting at.
"Never mind—just drive!"
Carl obeyed, stepping on the accelerator, and not a moment too soon—cars started moving, charging right at them. Carl swerved the Mustang to avoid one collision after another.
Tony suddenly let out a cry as they dodged another head-on collision.
"That was my car!" he yelled in disbelief. "She's hot-wired my car! Oh, mama mia—I can't look…!"
"You'd better look—you're the one with the crossbow!" Carl countered. "Besides, you're insured, aren't you?"
Not to mention, he was doubtful that Tony's car insurance covered demonic possession…
Tony let out a groan as a screech and a crash issued from the direction of his car.
"I'd say that things just got a whole lot more personal…" Carl intoned.
"Just keep driving, Kolchak!" Tony ordered.
"Don't you worry, Tony; that's exactly what I plan to keep…" He trailed off. "Uh-oh…"
"What do you mean by that?" the editor demanded.
"I mean that in the excitement of the last couple of days, I seem to have forgotten to keep an eye on the fuel gauge."
"What?" Tony bellowed.
The men could only stare at the little light illuminating the fuel gauge, which was pointed steadfastly at the "E."
Carl continued to dodge the oncoming cars until he found a parking space to pull into.
"And here's where we abandon ship," Carl said, flinching at the thought of losing his Mustang to Chandramukhi, as well.
But as they exited the car, it was to their horror that they discovered that the oncoming cars were now aiming at them, not the Mustang.
"What now?" Tony yelled.
"The crossbow—give me the crossbow!" Carl said, as he hopped along beside Tony with his uninjured leg.
Tony obligingly handed the crossbow over, but, suddenly, one of the cars came from another direction, catching them both by surprise. Tony quickly shoved Carl out of the way, knowing that he wouldn't be able to escape that quickly himself, and he resorted to diving in the opposite direction to save himself.
"Tony?" Carl called, as the passing car blocked him from his view. "Tony, where are you?"
There was no answer. The cars kept coming at him, and Carl had to roll to dodge them as he continued to call frantically for his boss. Had he been knocked out when diving aside, or had something worse happened?
Carl was soon up against the wall of the garage, three cars coming at him from three directions. How was she controlling them? How did a Rakshasi know how to work a fleet of cars?
The answer came to him as the headlights blinded him. She simply could not know.
He shut his eyes as the engines' roars were upon him, recalling the prayer that his employer had uttered twice that evening.
"Hail Mary, full of grace…"
It all stopped as Carl prayed—the sound of the car engines roaring in his ears, their physical presence, and even the smell of the gasoline. The entire parking garage was plunged into darkness as the demon's illusion faded. The cars hadn't been attacking them at all, and Carl was now willing to bet that his Mustang wasn't really running on empty after all.
His eyes were still adjusting to the darkness, for they had been fooled by the maya. Carl still couldn't see well, and he knew that this would be when Chandramukhi was likely to attack—but attack who?
"TONY!" he cried, hoping that he hadn't already fallen prey to the Rakshasi upon being separated.
Tony got up, sensing his employee's distress. He had been dodging cars, too, and had not been able to catch his breath long enough to reply Carl until now.
"I'm fine, Carl!" he said, looking in the direction of Carl's voice. "I just…" He trailed off as he heard footsteps in another direction. "What the…?"
Hearing him say those words wasn't a good sign, Carl knew. He quickly got up, hopping frantically to where he head heard Tony's voice and halted in his tracks as he saw two Tonys staring each other down.
"Tony…?" he asked, staring from one to the other. "Which one is the real you?"
"What are you talking about?" they both replied. "Which one is the real you?"
The real Carl's mouth was agape. So, he was seeing two of Tony, and Tony was seeing two of him? That meant only one thing—the fake Tony was really Chandramukhi.
"That's right, Carl Kolchak," the Rakshasi whispered in his mind. "But which one is me, and which one is your precious editor? Do you see how close we are standing to each other? I am close enough to grab him and devour him before your very eyes!"
"Nobody move!" Carl ordered, training the crossbow on first one Tony and then the other, repeating this.
The Tonys recoiled—the real one was seeing two Carls aiming crossbows at him and each other, and the other was just acting.
"Carl—" one of them began.
"No!" the reporter hissed. "Not a word from either of you—not until I'm sure I know who's who!"
The real Tony quieted down—he had seen both Carls threaten him and each other.
The real Carl's heart was racing again.
There's an easy way to figure this out, he said to himself. All I need to do is say the Hail Mary again…
"Saying the prayer may reveal my true form," Chandramukhi admitted. "But the split-second you will require to aim your crossbow will be all the time that I need to see to it that your editor will be dead. And don't even think about ordering us to step back from each other so you can say the prayer without any action from me—just as you will fire the crossbow at the first one of us who moves or speaks, so will I immediately slay the real Anthony Vincenzo should you speak or take a step forward."
Carl froze, except for alternating the direction at which he was pointing the crossbow.
Chandramukhi chuckled in his mind again.
"Do you not see, Carl Kolchak, how I have once again exploited your greatest weakness: your loyalty to the editor whom you consider a friend—and yet you have never even told him!"
Carl gritted his teeth. It was true that he hadn't told Tony, but, clearly, Tony had some idea. Wasn't that why he was even here—reciprocating a friendship that each of them was too proud and stubborn to admit even existed?
"What will happen now, Carl Kolchak?" the demon's voice taunted. "I will tell you. We will stay in this stalemate for a long time because I know you will not dare to try to shoot either of us for fear of killing your editor by accident. And, due to your exhaustion from going without sleep for so long, you will eventually falter. And that will be when I shall make my move—a few illusions will cause you to drop your guard, and then I will devour you in front of your editor's very eyes." She chuckled. "At least then, he will finally believe you, no? Perhaps he will even publish those stories he threw out as a tribute to your memory—assuming I decide to spare him. I think I might—just to prolong his suffering."
Carl was now visibly trembling—both Tonys looked concerned at this; the Rakshasi's mimicry was flawless.
And she was right—she had won again. Out of fear for Tony's safety, he couldn't make a move, which would allow Chandramukhi to eventually defeat him.
In despair, Carl first glanced at one Tony, and then the other. The real one would be furious and upset when it happened—perhaps moreso once he realized that it was as Carl had said: that Chandramukhi was exploiting his loyalty to him to win.
He continued to look at the two Tonys in despair as he tried to find some way of figuring out which one was the real Tony. But there appeared to be no difference—even the mark on Tony's face where Carl had hit him with the cross was the same.
Carl suddenly blinked as he realized that the marks on their faces weren't identical after all. The Tony on the left had a cut on his face, while the Tony on the right had a burn.
And then something clicked in Carl's mind.
Before Chandramukhi could have a chance to read his thoughts again, Carl aimed the crossbow at the Tony with the burn and fired.
The Tony with the cut yelled out Carl's name as the arrow found its mark and as the impostor doubled over in pain—for he had seen Carl get hit with the arrow. Tony took a step towards the wounded figure, but quickly backed away with a yell as the imposter reverted to its true form.
"How…?" Chandramukhi hissed, as she sunk to the floor. "How did you know?"
"I really shouldn't give you the satisfaction of knowing," Carl said, as he walked over to the dying demon. "But I had hit both you and Tony with my cross earlier—but it left a burn only on you. I'm willing to bet that since it was a holy object that caused the burn, your dark maya was powerless to cover it up. But the cut that I had given Tony ended up working in your favor since it was in the same place where the burn was on your face—at least, it did work, until I remembered how you got the burn."
"Curse you, Carl Kolchak…" she hissed, as her eyes started to glaze over. She stared at his bleeding leg and suddenly seized it. "At least I shall die with the taste of your blood upon my lips—AIEEE!"
Chandramukhi's words were cut off by her own screech as Tony's foot slammed down on her arm before she could pull Carl's leg towards her. The Rakshasi now cursed him, as well, but Tony didn't say a word; he removed the Om pendant from his pocket and held it out at an arm's length until the writhing Rakshasi moved no longer.
Tony then helped Carl free his leg from the dead demon's grasp. The reporter was shaken, but he was bouncing back fairly quickly.
"Thank you, Tony," he said, glancing at his employer.
Tony just gave a nod.
"Don't mention it," the editor said, but he frowned as Carl started to take pictures of Chandramukhi's still form. "Carl, what are you doing?"
"Evidence, Tony! Evidence!" Carl said. "You'll need pictures when you publish the story I have planned for this!"
"When I publish your—? Hold it right there, Carl!"
"But… but, Tony!" Carl exclaimed, in disbelief. "You can't be denying it this time! You saw it all—you saw her! You saw the double of me!"
"Carl, try to understand—there is no possible way that New York is going to approve of this story!" Tony countered. "Just be glad that we both made it out of this alive."
"You weren't supposed to be a part of this!" Carl yelled, absolutely beside himself with frustration. "You weren't supposed to be involved with the fire, the cars, or her! Do you even realize what she was blackmailing me with back there—that she was using you as a shield to stop me from getting her? She was gloating about how she was going to polish me off in front of you and make you watch!"
Tony frowned—not at Carl, but at the thought of that happening.
"After everything you've seen tonight," Carl went on. "After all of this, at least tell me you believe me when I say that she was a demon!"
Tony glanced at his reporter, and then at Chandramukhi, who certainly did not look human by any stretch of the imagination.
"I don't know what to believe," he said, flatly. "Something happened here—I'll give you that. But as for what exactly happened… I need some time to figure that out for myself."
Carl was about to scream a retort, but his anger began to fade as he realized that if Tony had not truly believed him, he would never have shown up at the warehouses or here. It was just another thing that Tony could not say.
Carl sighed, accepting it, and limped back towards his Mustang. Tony was right about how lucky they had been to make it out of this, at any rate.
The editor once again helped him to the Mustang, also pleased to see that his own car, which had been parked nearby, was still in one piece. And, as Carl had predicted, his Mustang did have enough gasoline to get him home, and then some.
"Looks like you don't have to worry about filing an insurance claim after all," Carl teased.
"And I don't mind—I've had enough of dealing with forms after getting those tax forms out!"
"Next year, use the short form," Carl said, getting into the Mustang. "It works wonders."
He yawned, his sleep deprivation starting to catch up with him, and it did not escape his editor.
"You go home and get a good night's sleep," Tony instructed. "And when you come in tomorrow, we're got something we need to go over."
"Oh?" Carl asked.
"Well, sure. Didn't you ask for a raise yesterday?"
Carl blinked in surprise, but then smirked.
"Exactly how much of an increase are we talking about here?"
"We'll talk," Tony said. "Now get going before I change my mind."
"Yes, Sir," the reporter said, grinning for the first time in quite a while as he pulled out of the parking space. He knew that he could also use the meeting as a chance to try to persuade Tony into letting him write his story about it, too.
And Tony knew very well that Carl would try to persuade him, too. But he didn't mind, he realized, as he headed to his own car. He slipped the Om pendant back into his pocket, aiming to return it to Miss Priya when he next attended class.
He looked back at Chandramukhi one last time before taking a look at the Mustang's retreating taillights.
"Take care, Carl," the editor said, quietly.
He got inside his own car and drove into the night—a night that, at last, would be peaceful for the rest of its duration.