Dare quest the tiger, p.2
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       Dare Quest - The Tiger, p.2
 

           Brian Smith
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one. What about the skin?”

  “A splendid specimen. It’s the biggest tiger I’ve ever seen. It’ll take a special place in my dining hall.”

  While the other elephants arrived by and by Sir Percy and the colonel watched their servants skin the tiger. The magnificent skin was loaded and they all set off again. The rest of the afternoon passed without any important events. Towards dusk a scout reported a nullah that still carried some water not far away. They advanced to the nullah where Sir Percy called a night halt. The elephants all knelt to let their riders climb down from the howdahs and then the mahouts tended to their animals. The elephants consumed huge quantities of leaves and water and servants put up tents and made a large fire in the middle of the camp. Sir Percy and the other members of his hunting party enjoyed a sundowner, a drink to watch the sun go down, and when night fell they all settled down to a barbecue over which they entertained each other with hunting stories.

  A respected member of the party was the raja, that is king, of Karackpore. The raja told the most exciting and indeed frightening tale of all, and he said it was all true.

  “Some years ago,” the raja said and took a sip of tea,” when I was a young prince I was on my way back home after visiting my royal cousins in Sunderbad. Our way home led past the very jungle we are hunting in now and so I decided to have a little hunt of my own before returning to the palace. I bagged a few smaller animals, nothing worth mentioning, when we became aware of a sudden change in the weather. A powerful wind brought dark clouds and it looked like we could expect a violent storm within an hour. It was much too far to go back home so I sent my servants out to see if we could find shelter nearby. One of my men returned soon. He was a gormless fellow, no brains at all, and I should never have listened to him. He told me there was a house not far from here and we could easily get there before the storm broke.”

  “Near here?” Colonel Thompson questioned. “I thought there was nothing but jungle for miles around.”

  “And you are right colonel, but in the jungle there is one building. It is a cursed place though at the time I didn’t know it. You see, we’d spent the day hunting and I didn’t really pay attention to where we were going or I should have realized where that gormless servant was leading us. He led us through the jungle to the building. When I saw it I knew where we were, but it was too late. The storm broke upon us with full force. Lightning struck a tree quite close to us, the rain poured down with such force that we could barely see ten feet, and the wind became so strong that branches were broken from trees and indeed, entire trees came crashing down. It was too dangerous to stay in the jungle so we entered the temple.”

  “Are you seriously telling me there’s a temple hidden away in the jungle here?” Colonel Thompson said. “Why, I’ve been hunting in these parts for years and never heard about any temple.”

  The raja smiled. “And you wouldn’t, my dear fellow. No one here wants to speak about the place. Everyone knows it exists and where it is, but it is said to bring ill fortune to talk about it and no one in their right mind would go near it. But there we were. We had the choice of certain death in a violent storm or of seeking shelter in the ancient temple.”

  “What’s the story behind the temple?” Sir Percy asked.

  “It used to be a thuggee temple,” the raja said. In it the thugs worshipped the Kali, the dark goddess of death who knows no mercy. The thugs were most cruel and dangerous robbers. They pretended to be simple travellers and joined caravans. After travelling with the caravan for a long way the people in the caravan would trust the thugs. Then at a suitable place the thugs murdered the other people in the caravan and took all their things away. Today were are lucky there are no more thugs in India thanks to the efforts of William Sleeman, a pukka hero if there ever was one, and all those who helped him find and fight the thugs. Yet their temple still lies hidden in the jungle. There is only a single entrance, only one way in, and they say that only the followers of Kali and the evil thuggee cult can enter it and come out alive.”

  William Sleeman

  “And yet you’re here with us well and alive,” Colonel Thompson remarked.

  “So I am,” the raja said. “So I am, and yet everything in life has its price.

  Thugs murdering their victim

  A fierce wind howled in through the entrance of the temple on that fateful night. I told myself that all the old stories about the thugs and Kali were just that – stories. Why should I, a prince, be afraid of old tales? So, though we weren’t happy about the place where we had found shelter, we proceeded to make a fire. We sat around the fire, much as we’re sitting here tonight, but we passed the evening meal in an uneasy silence. No one dared mention Kali and the thugs though we all knew where we were. Then we settled down for the night, and what a night it was! While the storm was raging outside the dark hand of unspeakable evil reached out to us from deep within the temple. In there, I tell you, deep in the temple lies the Heart of Darkness. We slept a restless, uneasy sleep. Later at night I awoke, at least I think I woke up, though I’m not sure if it wasn’t an evil dream that took me into the temple where its secrets lie. I opened my eyes. It was completely dark. Can you imagine a darkness so black, so deep that you cannot even see your hand in front of your eyes? There was nothing. And yet I managed to stand up and walk through the dark deeper into the thuggee temple without stumbling over anything on the floor or bumping into a wall. It was the thuggee evil that drew me in and guided me. Before my eyes visions appeared, visions of hands reaching for my neck, reaching to strangle and kill me for Kali. But I was lucky. One of my servants, a good loyal man who had looked after me since I was a baby woke up and made a fire. He saw that I was not in my place. He took a burning stick from the fire and with this torch started looking for me. He found no footprints in the mud at the entrance of the temple so he knew I had gone inside.

  At the heart of the temple is an altar. I was already lying on the altar when this loyal man came running in, shouting my name. Whatever evil spirits that had drawn me in were no match for his loyalty and determination to save me. He shook me and slapped my face until I awoke from the evil dream that had almost seen me dead and we both returned to our campsite. After that we kept a strong fire burning until first light at dawn and then we left as fast as we could, never to return. Until this day I sometimes feel drawn towards that temple of evil and so I always stay far from it. I value my life, you see,” he said with a slight embarrassed chuckle.

  Kali and her victim

  3

  Edward and Anthony hardly had what could be called a good night. From the moment they fell asleep they were haunted by restless images that made them break out into cold sweat. They had been sleeping for some time when Edward woke up. A voice was calling him, an enchanting and beguiling voice, calling him to come into the temple. He stood up mechanically as if he had no will of his own and walked deeper into the temple. It was pitch black, but he had no problem finding his way. Deeper and deeper he went into the Heart of Darkness where the memories of evil thugs still lived on. When he reached the heart of the temple he stood in front of Kali’s altar. The dark hand of death reached for him.

  “You stupid ugly woman,” a voice suddenly yelled. It was Anthony. He beat with his fists against the apparition and went on shouting. Sometimes he hit Edward by mistake as well, so that his brother began to awake and realize that something was terribly wrong.

  The Raja of Karackpore was also disturbed in his dreams. He felt the evil of the thuggee temple calling to him, but there was something else too. His mind wandered through space until it was present in the temple and saw what was going on. He saw Edward going deeper into the temple and he saw the evil hand of death reach for the innocent boy. The raja woke up bathed in sweat.

  “Alarm!” he shouted. “Murder, thugs, alarm!”

  The whole camp was in uproar with everyone grabbing whatever weapon they could find. Several shots were fired into the dark and it was only when fires were lit and no th
ugs could be seen that everyone calmed down again. Everyone that is apart from the raja. He grabbed a burning torch. “Quick, follow me everyone!” he called and started running towards the temple. They charged in through the temple entrance and ran shouting towards Kali’s altar where they arrived not a second too soon. The two brothers were in a desperate struggle with the evil of the temple and in spite of their most heroic efforts things would have gone badly for them if the good raja had not come to their aid.

  The men of the hunting party took a look around the innermost part of the temple. It was a dark sombre room covered in dust, dirt and generations of cobwebs. On the altar were dark stains that might have come from victims long ago.

  “Let’s leave this cursed place,” the raja said. “And you boys better come with us. You’ll tell us everything at the camp.”

  Edward and Anthony glanced at each other. They were very grateful of course for being rescued, but they weren’t very happy all the same. Their narrow brush with death wasn’t their most heroic adventure and they wondered what they could tell the men when they got to the camp. There weren’t many people who believed in magic, let
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