The Journey Within
The Journey Within9 mins 856 9 mins 856
It was an uncharacteristically dark and starless night. Something about its blatant nakedness gave Charu the chills. As the fog descended on the coarse black shore of the lake, it created gigantic ripples in its inky waters. Charu knew instantly that she had made a mistake. A grave one. Her vision was now wholly obscured by the thick fog that had enveloped her and everything in her vicinity. The lake that had a lovely crystalline blue streak slowly turned into a vortex of darkness like a black hole. A sudden blind and directionless sense of fear overpowered her. She somehow resisted the immediate urge to turn and run back to safety. I must not go back, thought Charu with a steely resolve. The seductive curiosity that overpowered reason came back again. She had decided.
The temperature around the lake dropped drastically. Shivering and clamoring, Charu advanced slowly towards the edge, hoping to unravel what lay beneath. She took small baby steps, slowly descending into its bottomless depths, submerging into its icy cold waters. Her mind felt like it was having an infinite number of oars aiding her as she kept diving deeper and deeper. With the water now entering her lungs and draining her completely, Charu gasped for breath furiously as she looked to find the last ounce of strength that would push her further. And just then, a faint ethereal glow emanated from the lake bed, an otherworldly sort of a light source struck her eye. Yes, there it was—the sword. Charu swam with furious intensity towards the magnificent sword that had been dislodged deep into the ground. She was within touching distance when an unknown force held her leg and attempted to stop her. She wriggled with all her might, slowly losing control over her reflexes and senses as consciousness slowly started ebbing from her fatigued body.
Do it for granny and Acchan, a voice beckoned in her head. Instantly, almost like a generator that suddenly sprang to life, a gush of blood ran through her veins, and she could finally see the face of the shadowy figure that was holding her back. Her brain went into a tizzy; she couldn't fathom in her wildest dreams who she was staring at, this incredulously. An ashen face that was alarmingly identical to hers, with deep penetrating hypnotic eyes stared back at her while pulling her down with remarkable strength. She gasped with a ferocious sense of disbelief before passing out completely. If only she had listened.
Earlier that day, Charu had woken up after a sleepless night. It had been a confusing morning filled with more questions than answers. I need to address the elephant in my brain, Charu chuckled. Who is this mysterious hitchhiker who has sabotaged my mind and held me hostage? Why do I hear these voices over and over again? Charu woke up with a tremendous headache. She immediately stepped into the bathroom to wash her face, hoping that the splashes of water would effectively wipe the questions, the trauma, and the tension away. A nervous glance at her own face sent her spiraling down to where she had started; she was back at square one, in the puzzling labyrinth that surrounded her. How could her face look identically similar to someone who lived 80 years ago? The irrefutable fact that her face mirrored Sheryl Varghese right to the minutest of details troubled her. From the unmissable curve at the nose's ridge to the long eyelashes that adorned the pale brown eyes, every feature resembled her own. It was as if she had fallen into the present from a wormhole in the past. What is this mysterious association between Sheryl Verghese and me? Why did Martha Aunty call me Sherry? Why did she react so violently like that and faint? As if she had seen a ghost? It's almost as if Sheryl had always been there, as a part of my consciousness. Lying dormant till now and somehow been brought to life as an individual entity on her own. There has to be some trigger. What was it?
I need to get my act together and trust my instincts, or I shall go insane. Thought Charu. Charu had always trusted her instincts, and they had the tendency to give her strength and courage whenever she was at war with herself. She took a deep breath and proclaimed aloud- the sword. I need to find the sword. The sword is the key to everything. It shall unravel the secret that has remained unearthed for generations. I just know it. I need to check at the museum again. I am sure I shall find something. She suddenly knew what to do.
The information she had found was invaluable and mind-boggling at the same time. By posing as a researcher from the ASI who was completing her research on Fort Kochi's hidden artifacts, Charu had managed to fool a gullible and talkative museum attendant to divulge all the details she required. Mysteriously, the museum had a minor incident a few weeks ago where during the process of renovations, a few artifacts had been "misplaced". A sword of Egyptian origin, in particular, that was missing in the chaos had magically been found in a cordoned-off section of the museum. Two Attendants had apparently been fired on the spot for their negligence. Charu had coaxed him successfully to seeing the sword for herself. In an instant, she had realized that the sword was, in fact, a fake replica as it did not have the mystical blue tinge that had been etched in her photographic memory anymore. The color, in fact, was a brash glossy rip-off that could be spotted easily. But what blew her mind away was the date of the incident. It was the same day that she had arrived at Fort Kochi!! Something was definitely amiss. She knew just the person to call.
Yuvaan was Charu's childhood friend who had stood with her through thick and thin. Though they grew adrift recently focusing on developing their individual careers, she knew in her heart that he was someone who truly understood her mind, her impulses, and her ambition. He was the son of a local corporator around Fort Kochi and had an inherent street smartness about him. He knew the right people at the right places. The perfect man for the job in hand.
Yuvaan listened with bated breath. The turn of events had left him equally bewildered.
“How is that even possible? This is like a thriller cum horror movie with ancient secrets and evil doppelgängers involved.”, joked Yuvaan. Charu gave him a severe stare that wiped the smile off his face completely.
He then spoke animatedly.
“Let's brainstorm like old times. We need to approach this in the same way you tackle those challenging law cases. Build a framework. Establish a pattern, and only then will the hidden be visible for us to see. Let's throw around ideas and see if we reach somewhere. I find Vincent uncle's sudden travel to Egypt the very next day, you come probing about the mysterious hotel to be extremely suspicious. Why would an 80-year-old man with a history of joint and knee problems suddenly leave for a place as far as Egypt? And why Egypt specifically? Maybe that's the clue we are looking for—an Egyptian connection to the hotel or the Verghese lady. That ought to have some significance. No? The second is the photograph in itself. The villa in it, the mysterious map and code scribbled at the back of it. It is almost as if you are being led on. Maybe finding that photograph wasn't a coincidence but a well-orchestrated setup. Maybe you are being watched. You need to be more alert.” Charu nodded in furious agreement. There was a lot of sense in what Yuvaan said.
“Here are the things that have been puzzling me.”, said Charu. “There was something that Vincent uncle said that stayed with me. The lady Sheryl Verghese, who apparently was of royal heritage, desperately wanted a mountain named after her. Why a mountain specifically? It's a peculiar request, no? Isn't a mountain the perfect decoy? The perfect cover to hide something valuable in plain sight. It is ubiquitous and looks harmless. Its location, if found, can definitely shed a lot of light on the missing pieces of this puzzle. There must exist a secret entrance. I have a gut feeling. The second aspect that has my mind in a knot is the sword. When I saw it clearly in the hotel owners' family photograph, it had a strange aura around it. I can never erase it from my memory. The sword had a masterfully crafted ornate cross-guard spread out in the form of a magnificent triangle, almost like a pyramid, with a blue-hued sapphire embedded right at its center. The color had a mystical tonality, like the slow swirling of stars in a cloudless night. A color I had never seen before anywhere. It did not seem like an inheritance or a family heirloom. And it looked nothing like the ones seen in Indian palaces or museums in terms of its make and finish. Also, there is the case of the engraving on the sword matching exactly with the code scribbled on the photograph. The code engraved on it is the cipher, the rosetta stone for unlocking this convoluted mystery. I think it is definitely something that should be pursued.”
Yuvaan listened with rapt attention, trying to process everything he had heard. With a sudden rush of excitement, he proclaimed, “This route mentioned on the map looks familiar. There was a gigantic lake exactly at this route many years ago. My dad used to always talk about it. It has dried up over the years. Maybe the older blueprints can shed some light. My dad is a corporator, and I can use his contacts to get blueprints of the city's architectural plans, the mall, and the museum. We can examine them for any hidden paths that may have been built!!” Buoyed with a sense of purpose, Charu and Yuvaan knew what to do.
Charu redialed her phone for the 17th time but to no avail. Yuvaan just didn’t pick up. Where the hell had he disappeared? How could she control her own excitement? I shall pat myself on the back for the time being. Tired, Charu reached home to get some much-needed rest. It was late in the evening and she knew she would get an earful from her dad.
“You have a message from someone named Yuvaan.”, the nurse who took care of granny whispered. She had appeared from nowhere, taking Charu off guard.
“I’m sorry for startling you. Your granny just managed to get some sleep from the morning. Hence I was being discreet, and I spotted you tiptoeing.”, she said trying to suppress a laugh.
“I would need to leave now to get some medicines for malti Amma. She passed on a thick envelope to charu and walked outside the verandah.”
Unable to contain herself, Charu immediately opened the envelope to see a bunch of blueprints of the city mall. This was it. Would these blueprints serve as much-needed light at the end of this tunnel? All the exhaustion had now evaporated. She read the blueprints over and over again to look for some clue. The older blueprints of the city did showcase the presence of a lake on the route mentioned in the app. This gets more and more interesting, remarked Charu. A sub-level parking marked UG 4 was marked in red by Yuvaan along with a lazily scribbled comment. It read, "proposed but discarded for years due to caving in possibilities." Voila, That was indeed the entrance that she was looking for.