She couldn’t see him. He was sure. She softly padded towards the birch tree near him and stopped. From his cramped position, Alhan couldn’t see her face. But he knew that she couldn’t see him either. He could almost sense her apprehension. She sensed something, he realised.
Though she didn’t see anyone, she knew there was someone in the vicinity. Someone unfriendly. His suspicions were confirmed when she stretched her sleek elegant body, craned her slender neck and sniffed the air. And then she directly looked at him. Despite being convinced that he was invisible to her, he almost quivered under the impact of her liquid amber eyes.
They were intense but unseeing; she was looking at a point over his head. But her nose did not lie. She smelled human. She slowly prowled forward, her shoulders hunched and her long hair billowing, sweeping the ground. Her bright gold mane shone in the moonlight and her long bushy tail made a slight whoosh in the quiet forest air as she swished it around. She almost looked like a lioness, except lionesses did not have the face of a beautiful woman.
She stood still for a moment, her beautiful head cocked to her right. A puzzled expression settled over her features. She was obviously wondering about the unusual scent, he thought. He doubted if humans frequented this area often, the Atrodonn were known to relish meat of any kind. They were even more dangerous than wild animals because they were rumoured to be armed with an intelligence that conquered even that of humans--an intelligence which made them cold, calculating and dangerous.
Atrodonn. What an unusual name for a species like her, he thought, as he studied her. He would have preferred lioness itself, but then, as he looked at the slender paws that brushed at her golden hair, he realised it wouldn’t suit her. She did not resemble a lioness anymore than her structure resembled a human being.
His legs cramped and he shifted his feet, shifting the powdered snow coating the ground. She looked sharply in his direction. His bearing, unfortunately, was only sightless, not weightless. It would not do if she bumped into him, and right now, his priority was to be discreet. He had no idea what he was supposed to do now, his orders had been only to wait till she appeared and test if she could glimpse him despite his invisible persona. Apparently, she could not.
She seemed to have decided that all was well in her region of the forest, because she turned around and disappeared behind a grove of converging trees. Alhan approached the trees quietly and silently moved a few branches out of the way.
A clearing lay inside the grove, in the middle of which the ground sank low, and even further, there was a small pond as dark as the night surrounding it. The Atrodonn stood near the edge of the pond, her head bowed as she lapped at the water with her tongue. The moon hung low in the sky, partially surrounded by grey clouds and clearly reflected in the dark waters. A light fog swirled around, giving her a mystical appearance. It was an almost unearthly sight, giving him the feeling that he was in a world beyond.
A tap on his shoulder made him jump. He turned to face his comrade, Deon, who was now staring at the scene before him. He had the same look of awe that, Alhan imagined, was on his own face.
“You scared me,” he started, but Deon raised a hand up, silencing him.
“Is that it? The beast?” he asked, his eyes centred on the Atrodonn.
Alhan didn’t quite like the tone in his friend’s voice but he answered, “Yes, it is.” Deon was entitled to his opinion, he thought. Beautiful and resplendent as she was, she was still deadly.
He sat down on the snow, stretching his boot-clad feet before him. Deon tore his eyes away from her and settled down with him, laying his head against the trunk of a tree behind him.
“What now?” he asked.
Alhan shrugged. He and Deon had been assigned this case just a few days ago, and they had not known about their mission until they’d reached the forest. It was not exactly a big shock that they were being used as guinea pigs to test the new invisibility shield against the Atrodonn; the Agency was known to put its agents through such assignments unbeknownst to them.
“Do you know the Atrodonn was believed to be a legend until a few years ago?” Deon asked.
Alhan nodded. “They were discovered in this part of the Arctic region only five years ago.”
He noticed Deon looking at him amusedly. “What?” he asked.
“You believe that you are still on Earth?” Deon asked him.
Alhan looked at him quizzically. “Of course,” he said. “I read the report.”
Deon shook his head. “The report doesn’t really mention the Atrodonn’s location now, does it? ‘At the ice cold areas…’” he quoted. “You tell me, how many hours it has been since we’ve been here?”
Alhan frowned. “Around 72 hours, maybe?”
“And in those 72 hours, did you even catch a glimpse of sunlight anywhere?” Deon pointed his finger to the dark sky upwards.
“Polar nights.” Alhan countered.
“Birch trees in the polar region? Doesn’t the geography seem a bit skewed to you?”
Alhan looked away. He didn’t want anything to rock his notion of practicality. Everything happened for a reason. He didn’t believe in the unexplained, or the mysterious.
He looked back at the Atrodonn. She had quenched her thirst, and now was lying down on the snow, her body stretched, paws tucked under her chin.
Deon followed his gaze. “My grandmother used to tell me that the Atrodonn can kill you with a single glance.”
Alhan almost laughed. “You mean like the Basilisk?” he asked.
“The Basilisk? You know; the great black serpent with yellow eyes?”
Deon still looked puzzled. Alhan guessed he wasn’t much of a fan of Harry Potter or the European culture.
He explained, “Just another mythological creature.”
Deon didn’t respond.
Alhan looked at the Atrodonn again. He found it difficult to stop staring at her, and it was more than just her beauty that mesmerised him, despite his realistic outlook in life. There was something about her; the description in the report hadn’t done justice to her. If he was a believer, he would have said that she had him under his spell. She was deadly, he knew, it was evident from her stance and grace. Evil always moved with elegance, he had heard. He wondered if Deon’s grandmother was right. He wondered if the Atrodonn could kill with her eyes. He was tempted to reveal himself and test it.
Suddenly, she stood up and circled the edge of the pond slowly. When she was directly beneath a beam of moonlight, he saw it happening.
“Are you seeing what I’m seeing?” Deon whispered at him.
“Yes,” Alhan replied. “What the hell is happening?”
As they continued looking awestruck, they saw the lion-like body disappearing, and in its place came a torso, the four legs replace by two pairs of limbs and the paws became fingers and toes. His lioness was transforming into a very beautiful woman.
“I don’t know. I’ve seen things, a lot of things. But nothing comes even close.” Deon replied.
They watched in amazement as the Atrodonn, now in her female form and wrapped in a golden sheath, sparkling in the moonlight, raised her graceful arms up to the sky.
“From all the movies that I’ve watched so far, a golden light should fall on her from the sky right about now.” Deon remarked.
Nothing happened. Instead, she dropped her arms, and lowered herself into the snow. She lay on her back flat to the ground and clasped her fingers together on her stomach, the gold talons tapping each other continuously. Even from the distance, Alhan could see that her eyes were open.
“She is thinking.” Alhan said softly, more to himself than to Deon.
“What?” Deon asked. “No, the question is, how did she transform like this?”
“The initial reports on Atrodonn don’t mention this, do they?” Alhan questioned.
Deon shook his head. “No, they don’t. I think we are the first ones to witness this.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure. I wouldn’t be as shocked then, would I?” Deon snapped.
Alhan was silent. No one in the Agency other than the top dogs knew about the Atrodonn mission. Hell, he had come to know about it just three days back and that too after he was dropped blindfolded into this wilderness along with Deon. He didn’t even know how he reached here; his last memory was of entering a glass cabin before some men wrapped a cloth around his eyes. If the Agency was this secretive, then it was likely as hell that they would somehow let slip some vital information, such as this bizarre metamorphism.
He fumbled through his pockets and brought out a torch and a file. Flipping the torch on, he once again went through the reports. There was no mention of a metamorphism whatsoever.
“Oh shit,” Deon whispered.
Alhan quickly extinguished the torchlight and looked up. “What?”
“Look,” he said, pointing towards the lake. The Atrodonn was half up, leaning on her elbows and squinting.
She was squinting in their direction.
“Why the hell is she looking here?” Deon asked.
Alhan turned to Deon suddenly. “The invisibility shields were made based on the Agency’s knowledge about the Atrodonn. We are invisible only to her, not to each other.”
Deon frowned. “Yeah, so?”
“But they didn’t know that she could transform herself into a human being, did they?”
“Damn.” Deon muttered as understanding dawned to him. He grabbed the rifle lying next to him and said, “Come on, let’s move before she sees us.”
Alhan slowly shook his head. “Too late.”
Deon looked up to see that the Atrodonn was no longer across the pond. She was at the edge of the clump of trees where they were hiding. Her hair hung forward as her head bowed, her golden claws extended by her sides as she slowly walked towards them. As she grew nearer, Alhan noticed that her eyes were the exact shade of molten gold and there were two sharp, white fangs at the corners of her lips.
“Well, one thing is clear,” he whispered, his eyes fixated on the approaching terrifying beauty. “She is certainly no Basilisk.”
Deon didn’t speak. His hands were on his weapon, ready to shoot.
She stopped about a foot before them.
“Well, hello there.”
She was looking at Alhan, her perfect lips stretched into a smile. Her voice was melodious. He thought she sounded like the ultimate tea party hostess, if you disregard her fangs or the darkness swallowing the trees around. Alhan blinked his eyes, once, twice. He seemed have gone blind to everything else other than the beautiful woman standing before him. He opened his mouth to speak but no voice came out. He tried to feel around for his rifle, but he couldn’t move his hands.
What was happening? He watched as she slid down in front of him and extended her hand.
“Hi, I’m Liah. Pleased to meet?”
When her greeting was unheeded, she affected a disappointed sigh. “Not pleased? I thought so. Tell me, Alhan – Alhan, isn’t it?” She didn’t wait for any answer as she continued on, “Tell me, Alhan, what’s a sweet young boy like you, doing out here alone in the middle of wilderness?”
She leaned close to his ear as she whispered, “Don’t you know that the jungle is a bad, bad place for a boy to be?” Her eyes held a wicked gleam in them.
And that was when Alhan realized that she could see only him. And that was why only he seemed to be affected by her power. He could hear Deon next to him, moving slowly but she seemed oblivious to any movement but his own. Deon’s invisibility shield was working despite her transformation. Then why wasn’t his?
A snap of fingers pulled him out of his thoughts.
“What are you thinking? How did I find you?” She smiled again, a toxic expression on her face. She looked positively chilling. She leaned back and crossed her long golden legs.
“It’s simple, really. I could sense you, I could smell you, I could smell your fear.” She smacked her lips in relish and then cocked her head, looking thoughtful. “But the fear wasn’t much as was the intrigue that I felt.” She suddenly was on him, her hands on his shoulders and her knees dug on his thighs. Her pupils were dilated and her face was close to his. He blinked rapidly to clear the haziness that was settling over him quickly due to her nearness.
“You were intrigued by me, weren’t you?” she whispered huskily. “You wanted to believe that you were in danger, yet you wanted to believe that there was something else beyond magical here, didn’t you?” She licked his chin. “You taste wonderful,” she breathed. “You wanted me to taste you, didn’t you, Alhan? Let me taste you, Alhan. Let me. Let me unleash that wild side inside you, let me show you what passion is…”
Her teeth were bared, and Alhan watched hypnotised as she leaned down to graze the side of his neck. He was losing himself, intoxicated, and with all his logic banished, he wanted to surrender himself into her will, and let himself drown into that void of darkness.
Suddenly, he heard a shot. The next thing he knew, Liah fell off of him to one side, her eyes glazed and her mouth still open, more shock than pain registered on her face. She was bleeding. He thought he glimpsed a shadow of evil still etched on the lovely profile. He shook his head to clear the fogginess from his head.
He heard Deon call out, “Remind me to inform the Agency that the silver bullets do work.”
Deon appeared before him and helped him onto his feet. “Well, this certainly put a halt on her passion, huh?” he asked, rifle in hand.
“Passion? What passion? What are you talking about?”
Deon looked at him strangely. “You don’t remember?”
Deon was silent for a long moment. “Nothing,” he said finally. “She tried to kill you and I got in a lucky shot. You must have blacked out during the time.” He noticed Alhan watching the dead Atrodonn with a strange expression on his face.
Deon pulled at his hand. “Come on, let’s go. I managed to signal the Agency radios and they should be arriving to get us out of this hellhole right now.”
Alhan let Deon drag him away, but he did not take his eyes off the woman behind him.
There was something beyond magical there…