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.Vijay nodded, excited now.‘I don’t know what happened, or how, but clearly the only way to get this archway opened was by going through that cavern.This was another test by the Nine to ensure that their secret was protected.’They entered the second archway.The tunnel they were now in was broad but unfinished.It turned at sharp angles and soon they had no sense which direction they were heading towards.After a while, the passage began sloping upwards then abruptly ended in a small rocky chamber which had a stairway carved into the rock.Cautiously, they moved forward, wary of any surprises, flashing their torches around the chamber, which was bereft of any adornment or carvings.Was this the last stage of their journey to find the secret?With mounting excitement, they made their way up the staircase, uncertain of what they would find at the top.Disappointingly, they emerged into yet another tunnel that was blocked at one end by a sheer wall of rock.‘I’m sick of being underground,’ Colin grumbled.Vijay grimaced.The awareness of being deep below the surface of the earth wasn’t a pleasant sensation.But they had no choice.They had to move on.To their immense surprise, they had barely taken a few steps when the passage came to life with a dim light.They looked at each other, barely able to contain their excitement.Both spoke at the same time.‘This is the passageway Surasen described in his text.’‘This is the passageway that leads from the opening in the hill to the cavern of the Nine.’Both men laughed as they realised how close they were to discovering the secret of the Nine.‘Race you there.Bet I can beat you.’ A rush of adrenalin had revived Vijay’s energy, buoyed by the thought that they were finally within reach of their goal.Both men were-well matched in physical prowess and together burst through an archway that lay at the end of the tunnel.Skidding to a halt, they gazed around, awestruck.They were in an enormous cavern that was lit up by the same soft light that had illuminated the passage.The roof of the cavern soared high above their heads, probably three or four hundred feet above them.The depth of the cavern was immense.It stretched away from them on all sides, in all likelihood running the length of the hill.Whether it was manmade or natural they couldn’t tell, but it took their breath away.But it wasn’t just the dimensions of the cavern that shook them.The secret of the Nine lay before them, revealed in its full glory.They had known about the legend from the Vimana Parva.They also knew about the invisibility shield.But nothing could have prepared them for the sight that now greeted their eyes.It was the same sight that had overawed Surasen when he had stepped into this very cavern 2,300 years ago.Frustration!In the chamber below the stupa, Farooq, Murphy and the LeT men waited.An hour had passed since Vijay and Colin had left them.The time had passed with great difficulty for Farooq, who paced the length of the chamber like a caged tiger, his face dark with anger and tension, unable to come to terms with the fact that he had little control over events.He hated the fact that he had to rely on Vijay and his friends to decode clues, decipher verses and inscriptions and make sense of what had to be done.The presence of Murphy only added to his frustration; it was because Murphy was employed by the people he was partnering with, that he had made peace with him.And now, Vijay and Colin had disappeared.He wasn’t concerned about what might have befallen them.He was worried about how their disappearance would affect the success of his mission.‘Where are they?’ he growled at Shukla.‘They’ll be back,’ he replied warily.He was worried about Vijay and Colin.But he also feared Farooq’s visibly growing irritation.‘If we have patience—‘‘Patience is one thing I can’t have now.You and your friends have been nothing but trouble for me.’ ’‘They may have run up against some difficulty,’ Shukla countered, keeping his voice low lest he inflame the Pakistani.‘Perhaps we should have all gone together.’Farooq didn’t take kindly to what seemed to be a challenge to his decision to send Vijay ahead.‘You think I made a mistake?’ he snarled.‘So now I’m responsible because they’ve disappeared?’‘No, I wasn’t suggesting that,’ Shukla began, sensing Farooq’s rage peaking, backing up a few steps.But it was too late.Farooq had been suppressing his tension, frustration and anger and now, finding an outlet for release, it exploded like a volcano.He rushed at Shukla and repeatedly struck him viciously with the gun, attacking his face and body until the elderly man collapsed under the ferocity of the onslaught.He then aimed the gun at him.For a few moments, silence hung like death over the group as the scientist glowered and stared down the barrel of the gun at the prone scholar.To the rest of the group, it seemed like a miracle when Farooq finally lowered the gun and flung it aside.His rage dissipated, Murphy’s words rang in the Pakistani’s head.If Vijay had fallen prey to a trap laid by the Nine, then he may need Shukla to point him in the right direction.He couldn’t kill him.Not now.Not until he could be absolutely sure that Shukla was dispensable.‘Let’s move,’ Farooq growled.‘If those two have killed themselves in there, that’s their bad luck.And if they haven’t, then we’ll find them and kill them for disobeying my orders.’Two LeT men helped Shukla to his feet and he grimaced with pain.Blood dripped from the cuts on his face and head and stained his clothes.Farooq gestured to his men to follow him and strode through the central archway.45Sitagarha HillFarooq stood before the two archways and squinted at the inscriptions carved above them.More riddles [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]

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