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?