Pandemonium And Witchcraft

Continued from here

“Light up the sky!”, went the order from Karna to his night riders. He needed to take charge, before fear set into his wards.

Swinging to action, several frontline warriors shot up hundreds of arrows high into the sky, lighting up everything underneath. While the arrows burned, the warriors searched for the source of the sorcery underneath. Maybe it was a special weapon from Arjuna? Perhaps Krishna broke his promise under the guise of darkness?

They saw nothing. Just a silent army with their heads still bowed and noses covered.

It all went quiet again, as the Kauravas tried to make sense, in vain.

Nothing happened for a precious few moments.

Suddenly, the animals on the Kaurava side became restless. The men did not hear a thing, but the horses and the elephants surely did. They pricked their ears and tilted their heads ever so slightly. Their legs began to twitch as they showed visible signs of uneasiness. Strangely, the Pandavas’ animals were just fine, exhibiting no sense of agitation. The restlessness grew, as they now began to move around in place. And then, without warning, they went berserk, shrieking, trumpeting, and roaring in distress, and bolted, throwing their masters and mahouts off. Their howls and squeals filled the air.

At that moment, Karna noticed that his men were moving closer to each other, ready to form huddles, a clear sign of fear. He knew he had to do something. But what? What exactly startled the animals? What was at work here?

He was facing a faceless enemy.

The Pandava army receded further back, seeming to give space to someone, or something. Any other time, this would have been a good omen for the Kaurava. They could attack, and push the enemy back. But now, unsure of their own footing, and uncertain of the wide space being created between the fronts, they remained in place. Bereft of their cavalry, they couldn’t advance much anyways. But a strange fear engulfed them, as the distance increased.

Smoke rose from amongst the Pandava camp. Thick, gray smoke. But this was no ordinary smoke. Instead of dissipating, it coagulated into a shape; the shape of a face. Initially, the face resembled a woman, any woman that one can find on the streets of Hastinapura or Indraprastha. The woman’s face smiled, mesmerizing those looking at her. But slowly, the face began to wilt. The hair began to fall off and the eyes became sad. And then, out of nowhere, they turned angry, as her nostrils flared and her mouth opened wide as if to scream, but there was no sound, just a visual.

The sound came a few moments later.

A spine chilling, high pitched shriek that sent the Kaurava army into a collective dread. Some men screamed in fear, others soiled their bottoms. The faint hearted just dropped dead.

Before anyone knew what was going on, the scene replicated itself all around the Kaurava army, with hundreds of such faces forming, and disappearing. The shapes came in various types, of handsome women and little children, of old men and youthful girls. The dreadful shapes into which they morphed also had their own varieties. Some were wild animals, others vicious serpents, and yet others menacing birds of prey. This went on for several minutes, driving fear into the Kaurava camp. Some of the battalions turned back, ready to flee. They did not realize that fleeing, was not an option.

Only death was!

They couldn’t go forward towards the Pandava side, knowing they would be mowed down. They turned sideways, to sneak into the woods and somehow get out alive. Little did they know that lurking in the woods were shadowy figures armed with lances and clubs, maces and daggers, javelins and spears. Long chains tipped with poisonous spikes became fences onto which the deserters impaled themselves. Wild boars and bears, driven to fear by the woodsmen, feasted on others.

It seemed like there was nowhere to go. Captains found it impossible to maintain order. One chieftain finally got his troop to huddle together, forming a human fortress of a thousand men. Yet others shrunk towards the center of the battlefield, hoping to stay on firm and known ground. But increasingly, more and more lieutenants began to rally their troops towards the Maharathis and Athirathis, and the grand sires of the Kaurava clan, hoping to get some respite from this bedlam.

One such division ran towards Dusshasana, seeing his flag flying atop the well lit canopy of his elaborate four-horse chariot. Their captain, aware of the dangers of the night, gave orders to tighten their circle and move in unison towards the Kaurava strongman. Although fearful, the band began to huddle together and move in his direction. They covered a good distance, and were within sights of Dusshasana and his regiment. As they progressed, they grew unworried, confident that strength in larger numbers would ensure safety. And they were wrong!

Out of nowhere, a riderless chariot rode in. Everything was mysterious and eerie about the chariot. There were four steeds. Two of them were certainly horses, black and almost invisible, except for their blazing red eyes. The other two, no-one was sure. Their heads looked like horses, but their stature was decidedly smaller. Their hind quarters were stronger, like they could carry heavier loads for longer periods. The chariot shaft was resting on their backs. The horses frothed at their mouths, while the two other animals dripped blood from theirs. The flaming red reins ran all the way up, but seemed to disappear into the wall the cab. And there was nobody in the cab.

At least nobody visible to the eye.

The band stopped, scared out of their wits seeing this ghost chariot. What was this apparition? And what animals were they? They looked too threatening to be horses. They waited a few moments before the captain made a move, drawing his sword. A couple of others strung arrows to their bows. And they waited.

The captain heard it first. A low growl, like that of an alert dog. He looked around but saw nothing. Scared but brave, he tightened the grip on his hilt. But even in his wildest dreams he couldn’t imagine what he saw next.

From behind the chariot emerged seven large wolves, snarling at the captain and his band. Blood dripped from their mouths, clearly from a fresh kill. The last one dragged the body of a soldier from the rear of the chariot, headless and limbs torn to pieces. The wolves stopped and got ready to attack. It was evident that they were bred and trained for one purpose; to kill or maim.

The sight of these wolves sent shivers down the spines of every soldier in the group. One of the archers, nervous with fear, accidentally released an arrow that fell near the leader of the pack. The wolves went wild with anger, and charged into the huddled troop. Before he could react, the captain’s wrist severed from the rest of his hand, freeing his sword and leaving him howling in pain. Seeing their captain fall, the group began to disband in fear. As if waiting for the opportunity, the pack of wolves broke up themselves, and attacked from other sides. They were soon joined by seven more, bringing up the rear. Within moments, most of the battalion of soldiers and their captain were either dismembered or killed by a rabid pack of fourteen wolves. The few remaining ran for their lives, only to be chased down and hunted, like animals, by animals.

There were a some survivors, and a few others who saw the mayhem. Fear drove deep into their hearts. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the unseen. Fear of the unheard.

And yet, there was no answer to the one question: Whose chariot was it?

The Sorcerer Is Here!

Continued from here

“I will send a messenger for Ghatotkacha. The battle will start any moment now”, said a restless Drishtadyumna, altering his gaze between the fading light and the reformation of the battlefront by the enemy

“No!”, Krishna said emphatically even before his commander finished his sentence. “You cannot introduce Ghatotkacha in the dusky glow of a sunset; he comes only after you see the faintest of stars, when it is dark. Send a word to all torch bearers. In about one Muhurta, all torches are to be put out. It is to be pitch-black on our side. The element of surprise is essential. We have to catch the enemy off guard. We want Karna to be so well into his element that he will have to completely rethink his plans for the night. Our weapon tonight is disruption and turmoil. And what a spectacle it will be”

Drishtadyumna stood amazed at Krishna’s battle tactics. For someone who had always been ridiculed as a flute playing cowherd and a woman chasing rake, this man outthought and outmaneuvered every general on the battlefield, and every scholar off it. All, without ever holding a weapon in anger.

Krishna pulled Drishtadyumna aside and gave more instructions, while he rode off with Arjuna towards the forest. The commanders on both sides were busy reforming the frontlines. This was uncharted territory to everyone. Well, almost everyone. There were only two squads, one on either side, who knew how to fight in the night. The one on the Kaurava side, led by Karna, was trained in the art of night warfare. They knew the frailties of humans, of armed and regimented men. They knew how to exploit those faults and foibles. They knew how to dismantle organized armies under the stealth of darkness. They believed tonight was their night.

They were wrong.

On the other side, was a band of merry men to whom darkness was light. Led by a maverick, wizardry was child’s play to them, and illusion their skill. They could conjure up phantom elephants and phony horses, create illusion of monsters and apparitions of demons. They knew the smells of the night. They could touch the black of the night. They could feel the mystery of the night. They, were the night.

The battle began usually, with some hesitation from both sides, as the horses and the men adjusted to the gradually fading light of the red ball being swallowed up by the dark horizon in the distance. The verve was decidedly slow, as mahouts and charioteers ensured the safety of their animals and riders respectively.

As the brightest stars began to twinkle in the sky, conches blew on the Kaurava side. The frontline slowly receded, gradually replaced by a battalion of men riding strangely fitted chariots. Each chariot had two barrels of oil in the back of the cab. The barrels were protected by thick, reinforced metal and multiple wooden frames so even a fireball arrow would not penetrate them. Through each barrel ran a fortified metal conduit, snaking its way from the side of the chariot, along the columns that supported the canopy. The conduits went up towards the roof of the canopy where they formed a circle. From the circular pipe rose six torches, burning bright and lighting up everything around the chariot. To compensate for the extra weight of the barrels, the cab was built with reinforced black metal and heavy wood, painted black. The horses were doubled, to be able to pull the extra weight of the cab and the barrels full of oil. The horses were black. The archers themselves wore black outfits, and painted their faces with tar. Their arrows and quivers were all black. Black paint was used all over the chariot, making it almost invisible, except for the burning fire atop. On top of the black paint was applied black clay, so that the light from the fire won’t reflect on a neighboring chariot. From a distance, it looked as if circles of fire were floating spookily overhead, approaching at a menacing speed.

As the Pandava army watched with their mouths agape, arrows began to whir past, slicing through the throats of their compatriots. Nobody seemed to know where the darts were flying from. Horsemen began falling off their mounts inexplicably. Some horses bolted, frightened by the approaching fireballs, throwing their riders off and crushing them in the process. Soon, it was chaos among the Pandava battalions. Their leaders, bereft of ideas, began to panic. The Kaurava army began to kill by the hundreds. Their night army was well trained, and well prepared. They had done this several times, and their warriors, seasoned for night fight, scythed through the Pandava army. Karna was smiling. He knew he had the advantage, but didn’t expect a capitulation. He knew the big guns would be hiding tonight, on both sides.

Darkness was not a risk to be exposing one’s maharathis.

Exactly at the appointed time, conches began to blow on the Pandava side. The marauding Kaurava army slowed, unsure of what was happening. What they saw puzzled them. One by one, the torches began to go out on the other side. Before their eyes, all the torches were gone, completely put out. It was pitch black. The Pandava army then stopped moving, staying still where they were, including the horses and the elephants. Noise subsided, slowly and gradually. Within moments, a deathly silence befell the Pandava side. As it happens in battles, when one side falls quiet, the other side follows. The black chariots slowed and stopped. Their own army came to a halt. For a few tense moments, the entire Kurukshetra battlefield went dead. One could hear the wind whisper, the crickets chirp, and the faint moans of dying men in pain. Both sides were unsure what was going to happen next.

It was then that they began to hear. It seemed like distant thunder, but there was not a cloud in sight. It came from Pandava side, there was no doubt about it.

But why did it seem like it was coming from behind the Kauravas? What was it? It wasn’t drums. It wasn’t thunder. It wasn’t the growl of a wild angry beast. What was it? It was getting louder. It was getting nearer. It was jarring. It was unrelenting. It was constant. It was like metal screeching against metal. It was like the distant laugh of a devil; like the terrifying shriek of a witch. What was it?

Before the sound began to make any sense, there was light. A faint glow, almost as if the entire ground behind the Pandavas was lit up with candles. And in an instant, it was gone. Then it started again, this time with a blue hue, and brighter than before. The Kaurava side looked at it in mild amazement. But it went out again. Before they could adjust to the darkness, the sky lit up in an intense, blazing white light, blinding the Kauravas for an instant. They winced, turning their heads away and shielding their eyes. Under the dazzling skies, some of the Kauravas noticed that the entire Pandava army had their heads down, looking at their feet. Clearly they had special instructions for this hour. What the Kauravas did not notice was that their enemies also had their noses covered.

The bewildered Kauravas waited for the next assault on the senses, but nothing happened. Or at least they thought so. The outer extremities smelt it first; a pungent odor reminiscent of vomit, of rotten food and stagnant water. Some of the soldiers began to feel sick in the stomach. But before their bodies reacted, the smell changed to fragrance, of beautiful flowers and fresh gardens; of incense sticks and tasty food. Their stomachs churned, their minds wandered towards food. But once again, before their noses got comfortable, the smell changed again, this time of putrid waste, of burning flesh and dead animals, a sick, damp stench.

This bombardment of senses left the Kaurava soldiers disoriented and unstable. What kind of wizardry was this? Undoubtedly this was sorcery. The leader behind tonight’s assault remained calm. His night riders were unaccustomed to this. He knew this was not a natural phenomenon. One and only one question started to trouble Karna. Who was doing this? Who was behind this? He did not know the answer.

It was him!