It was a deep, dense forest with tall trees growing thickly together, allowing no sunlight to penetrate through. The jungle, located 250 kms from the North Eastern state of Meghalaya remained undiscovered by civilization. In fact the dark woods were not ideal for human inhabitation as the forest was a habitat for wild animals and other menaces that posed a threat to humans.
But a few tribes still thrived in the outskirts of the jungles. These tribes remained isolated and hidden from civilization. The Angami tribe was one among them, a community of less than hundred men and women, they avoided contact with civilization by choice. Most of the tribes in these regions were descendants of the Naga tribe and worshipped the Cobra God or the Naga.
Sikwasa belonged to the Angami tribe and he was the only one who spoke sparse English and this was the reason why he was chosen for the expedition into the jungle. He was accompanied by two gentlemen, following him closely. Sam, a research analyst on Ancient History and a professor at Trent University in Canada was excited that his theory and research work of 5 years were finally paying off.
Edward, a wealthy businessman, owning a chain of restaurants and spas all over Europe was having trouble keeping up with the other two men. Huffing and puffing, he was cursing himself for deciding to join Sam on this mission. But he knew that if they were successful, then all the trouble would be worth it. He had invested millions of dollars in the research work and to make this quest a reality. They had to be successful; there was no turning back now. Edward prayed fervently that he come out of this alive, but the more they trekked deeper into the jungle, the more his despondency grew.
They were leeches sticking to his legs, the whole jungle was filled up of the blood sucking leeches. But Edward did not dare to stop and remove those leeches. He knew the forest was filled with other dangerous animals and he didn’t want to be left behind.
He removed the whisky bottle from his pocket and took a swig out of it.
Sam looked at him and felt exasperated. He knew that bringing Ed along was a huge mistake but the dingbat was a wealthy guy and Sam needed the money to fund his research.
‘Ed, I don’t think you should be drinking. We need all our wits together for this mission. We need our senses alert, you know the kind of danger we are exposing ourselves to, right?’ Sam warned gently.
‘I know that you nincompoop, I was just trying to soothe my taut nerves.’ replied Ed tersely.
He was thinking that he should have stayed back with his fifth wife and enjoyed his extended honeymoon. But he had insisted that he accompany Sam on the mission. He wanted to see the snake pearl with his own eyes.
To take his mind off the eminent danger, he questioned Sam for the umpteenth time, ‘Sam, are you sure that the Nagamani is hidden in these forests.’
Sam sighed and replied, ‘Ed, I am pretty sure that the Nagamani is preserved in these jungles from thousands of years. And, we will know if I am right in few hours.’
‘How did the Nagamani come to exist? Is there anything in the ancient history about it?’, asked Ed taking another swig from his bottle.
Sam winced but replied to Ed’s query, ‘There are many Nagamanis known to exist even today. Most of them are egg-shaped, semi-translucent and found in a Cobra’s head. Anyone possessing such a Nagamani attains piety and rare good fortune. But the Nagamani that we are seeking here has no definite shape and anyone who comes in possession of this stone is known to attain immortality.’
‘Actually there is nothing much in the books about this stone. But a couple of ancient scriptures talks about a Nagamani which has special powers to resurrect the dead. ‘
‘In an ancient scripture, it is said that King Bhagiratha, a descendant of Surya dynasty and an ardent Shiva devotee, was hunting in these jungles when accidently his arrow speared a male cobra. The male cobra mating with a female serpent was killed immediately. King Bhagiratha was extremely distraught and asked the female serpent’s forgiveness. But the female serpent in her rage was ready to strike him and kill him with her venom. Lord Shiva interceded and decided to save the life of his devotee. To appease the serpent, he resuscitated the Cobra’s life by placing a Nagamani in the Cobra’s head. Until the Nagamani is safe both the Cobras are immortal. ‘
‘That is why it’s impossible to take the Nagamani away from these 2 serpents. Many men have tried before but none have returned back alive’.
Ed looked incredulous and asked ‘Is this real or is it all a fictional tale?’
Sam smiled and said, ’Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.’
They had reached a large cave, the entrance of which was almost hidden by large boulders. Sikwasa who was silent till now, spoke in his broken English, ‘Sikwasa stop. You go. Money.’ He was promised a thousand Rupees for leading the way to the caves.
‘We will give you 2000 Rupees if you take us inside the caves.’ said Ed waving 2 thousand rupee notes in front of him.
Sikwasa was tempted, but he knew that entering the cave was equal to suicide. He remembered his ailing mother and his kids who were dying due to lack of food and nourishment.
‘Sikwasa take you. Money now’, said Sikwasa his hand extended.
Ed threw the money and Sikwasa picked it from the ground. Sam removed a large flashlight from his backpack and the group moved on. A hundred feet away Sikwasa stopped. There was bridge made of vines and below it, there were thousands of snakes, all of different kinds and varieties, moving agitatedly. They were hungry, they could smell human blood.
‘Sikwasa stop here. Good luck’, said Sikwasa with a wave of his hand. He was about to return back when Ed pushed him towards the bridge. Sikwasa lost his balance and toppled over. Immediately his body was covered with snakes, hissing and biting each other to get a piece of the human flesh.
Sam and Ed walked rapidly, but cautiously, on the bridge. After reaching the other side, they saw down and all they could see was a human skeletal form.
Sam and Ed moved forward, crouching low, to avoid the bats on the roof of the caves. They reached a wide space in the cave, and at the other end they could see a beautiful women lying stark naked. She had soft firm breasts and toned stomach that tapered down to round hips. She had an alluring smile on her lips that seemed to call out to the two men.
Ed seemed entranced by her beauty. He could never resist beautiful women and this lady was exquisite. He forgot all about the palpable danger and moved towards her. Sam tried to stop him by clutching his hand but Ed seemed to be under some spell. His eyes were glazed and he moved towards the woman. When he was just a few feet away he extended his hand to touch her.
All Ed could see was a black endless jaw into which he was swallowed whole. The beautiful woman was transformed into a serpent and with a swiftness known only to Cobras, she had opened her mammoth mouth and gobbled up Ed.
Sam was petrified, he was shaking all over. He turned back and tried to run, but his legs were unable to move. He looked down, the male Cobra had coiled itself around his legs and even as Sam opened his mouth to scream, the Cobra opened its hood. Towering over Sam, it struck once and then again and slithered back to his mate.
Hundreds of snakes slinked near Sam and feasted on his body.