The 7 Innocents

John 7:24
'Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.'



Isaiah 64:6
'But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags;'


It was when their problems seemed to wane that they escalated. The Australians all disappeared, and the seminary shut down. They were told to run for their lives. Told if they didn’t, their families would die. Told if they did, their families would still die.
They endeavoured to solve the mystery – one that threatened to destroy them and their families – but soon realised that to end it all, they must first find the Australians. But the closer they came to finding them, the more they began to see they should run and never come back.
The question, of course, is why they didn’t call the police.
The answer is simple.
You can’t avoid being condemned unless you’re innocent.
And these men are not.

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13. Chapter Twelve: The 7 Regroup

 

Gopi took a deep breath before answering the new comers’ questions. They had the paper right in front of them – they should have read it by now. But he could not yell at them. He had to defend his position. He had to defend India.

          I am Gopi. My name is Gopi. I stand for the liberation India… I stand, even while all others fall.

          They will not fall.

          He exhaled and turned to face the specific young man who had asked the question, though many keen eyes were burning into him.

          ‘We still have Vijay because we convinced him we were innocent. We killed his brother to punish him.’

          ‘For suspecting us?’ Another new comer asked.

          ‘No.’ Gopi growled quietly. ‘For killing one of our men.’

          ‘Whoa!’ The first new worker cried. ‘Back up a little. He did what?’

          ‘He killed one of our men.’ Gopi repeated himself.

          But, looking at the young men’s expressions of awe, he knew he was going to have to say it again.

 

Much to the surprise of every-one, there was no difficulty in co-coordinating flights, and eventually finding friends at the airport. Moments after all seven friends were together again, Ramuk came looking for the group. There was great excitement, as the man was something of a long lost friend.

                'I am so happy to see you again!' He continually repeated. 'I thought I'd never see you again!' Ramuk grabbed as much luggage as he could manage and led the friends to his car, his arms completely full. 'I hired a bus.' He pointed out, testifying further to just how excited he was. He repeatedly smiled at his friends, but his eyes showed a desperate longing to keep them, as if he were frightened they would leave at any moment, as they had once before.

                Arjun smiled, relieved that he was finally able to rely on some-one other than himself. 'That is very kind of you.' He sincerely thanked the man.

                Ramuk's smile widened. .'You are very welcome. How long will you be staying?'

                Arjun shifted uncomfortably, as he realised the length of time had never been discussed. So he simply added up what he could afford.

                'Three days?' He asked, hoping he wouldn't disappoint the man. Ramuk's face fell, but he still remained friendly and excited.

                'Then I must make the most of them.' He concluded, piling the luggage into the car. Arjun felt sorry to have disappointed the man, but was glad he still acted much the same.

                Ramuk climbed into the driver's seat, and the friends quickly piled into the bus. Ramuk was a good driver, and Arjun felt quite relaxed speaking to him.

                'How is Australia?' Ramuk asked, suddenly becoming a little shy.

                'It is very good, thank you.' Arjun replied.

                'Yeah, we're all rich now!' Mehmet shouted, making the others laugh.

                Ramuk smiled, and turned to Arjun. 'Is that true?'

                'No, dai.' Arjun corrected. 'I am not even that rich over here.'

                'Arjun!' Mehmet cried. 'You should be richer than all of us!'

                Arjun cringed. He hadn't meant for the others to overhear that remark. Ramuk laughed – sounding a little evil – but said nothing. Eventually, he pulled into a side-street.

                'That is my house.' He said, pointing to a large, clean looking building.

                'Woah.' Mehmet breathed, looking as surprised as the others. 'Are you rich?'

                Ramuk laughed again. 'No. Only blessed.'

                A few chuckled, and Ramuk turned into his driveway. 'Oh!' He suddenly cried. 'I have surprise for you! Guess who else is staying at my house?'

                Arjun tried to remain cheerful, as every-one panicked.

                'Balraj Mukul.' Danny guessed.

                Ramuk chuckled. 'Nope.'

                'Pramaad Veer?' Suneep asked.

                'No. He is studying at BCA, in Australia. Bible College of Australia.'

                'Is that the one in Melbourne or Brisbane?' Arjun asked, trying to remain friendly.

                'Melbourne.' Ramuk answered. 'I believe he is just starting his Ph.D.'

                'Nitin Lal.' Mehmet guessed, with a certain amount of dread.

                'No...' Ramuk chuckled.

                'Vijay Vikash.' Josha offered, full of fear.

                'You will never guess!' Ramuk cried, thoroughly enjoying himself.

                'Dr. Ashwin.' Bikram giggled, moving his head peculiarly.

                'Yes!' Ramuk cried, somewhat shocked that he had guessed. Every-one's faces immediately fell.

                'What brings him to Myanmar?' Arjun asked, faking a smile.

                'You!' Ramuk replied. 'He some-how knew you were coming, and wanted to see you.' Ramuk turned off the engine, and hopped out carelessly. He hadn't notice how much he'd made every-one panic. As soon as he had closed the door, Mehmet began freaking out.

                'Arjun!' He cried. 'This cannot be good! I remember the last time we saw Dr. Ashwin!'

                'How did he know we were coming here?' Danny asked, a little disconnectedly.

                'Maybe he is our enemy.' Chandan suggested.

                'Maybe Ramuk is!' Josha cried.

                The boot opened, and the men quickly scrambled out of the car.

                They managed to avoid seeing Dr. Ashwin for just half-an-hour, but when Ramuk had come looking for them, they knew it was no longer possible to put off. The seven made their way downstairs to Ramuk's lounge, where they had found Dr. Ashwin and his wife.

                'His wife is here!' Chandan whispered to Josha, who nodded happily.

                'And how does it go? If there are women and children, the business is not war.' Josha's words echoed every-one's thoughts, and there was friendly conversation – for a while.

                Eventually, however, Dr. Ashwin remarked, 'it is so good to see you all again.'

                Arjun smiled and asked, 'how did you hear we were coming here?'

                'Balraj Mukul told me.' Dr. Ashwin replied, an unusual light coming into his eyes.

                'Why?' Arjun pressed.

                Dr. Ashwin shrugged. 'He called me up and told me. I had asked him to tell me if ever he found any of you. I fear we did not part well.'

                'No.' Suneep surprisingly spoke. 'We did not.'

                Dr. Ashwin turned to Suneep and looked him up and down. The weather was a little chilly, so the young man was wearing a black beanie. His hair had grown a little long, though by no means covered his neck, and he wore baggy jeans that appeared to be falling down. As was typical, he wore Converse shoes – today they were black – and a trendy, black jacket, presumably over a T-shirt.

                'You know what I love about you, Suneep?' Dr. Ashwin suddenly said.

                Suneep didn't seem too surprised. 'I don't know where to start.' He replied.

                Dr. Ashwin did not appreciate the joke. 'I love the way your fashion represents how you feel. Today I look at you and know if I ask you to write me an essay by next week; you will probably do it the night before. But of course, you will still get a B, or B plus, because you are very bright.

                'But if you wore leather, with your hair spiked, I would know I would never receive the essay, though I might end up with an egged car. And if I ever see you wearing anything decent, then I know you are feeling responsible. Though, there are variants. For example, not tie and Converse shoes usually mean you are trying to be cool or impress some-one. I have never seen you in dress shoes, come to think of it.'

                As Dr. Ashwin's speech progressed, Suneep's face gradually fell. Ramuk quickly panicked, and began to wonder what he'd done. There was an awkward silence, and Ramuk began to laugh nervously. 'Oh-ho!' He cried, standing up and clapping his hands. 'Who would like some chai?'

                No-one replied at first, and Ramuk became more stressed. Arjun finally relieved him by saying, 'I will, thank you.'

                Suddenly, as if it were a chain reaction, every-one distractedly said yes.

                'I'll help.' Mrs. Ashwin said, eagerly rushing out of the room with an equally enthusiastic Ramuk. Once they were gone, Suneep finally spoke.

                'So,' he began, 'you contend that I am easy to read.'

                'No.' Dr. Ashwin replied. 'You are not entirely.'

                'I have been told this before.' Suneep ignored the man. 'Though it was not said as a complement. So thank you, sir. I am very glad you love my fashion sense.'

                Dr. Ashwin smiled, as Suneep's face reflected rage, offence, and even fear.  'You should learn not to talk back to me.'

                Arjun surprised every-one by taking a defensive step forward. 'Sir, you know I respect you, and I do not mean to be disrespectful. But, sir, did you come to meet us to fix our relationship or solidify it as a bad one?'

                Dr. Ashwin's eyes flashed with anger. 'How dare you talk back to me like that!' He snapped.

                'Ah, so you have come to make it worse, I see. Forgive me for interrupting, do continue.'

                Dr. Ashwin leant forward and cried, 'what has gotten into you? Have your friends poisoned you? You know you are being disrespectful!'

                'I speak with all due respect, sir,' came Arjun's reply. He placed emphasis on the word 'due' through body language, doing a sort of bow with a wave of his hand.

                Dr. Ashwin seemed truly upset by this comment. 'What have I done to lose your respect, Arjun?' He asked.

                Arjun shrugged. 'Why have you come here?'

                'I told you, I wanted to see you.'

                'Yes, but why?' Arjun returned, a little harshly.

                Suneep sunk solemnly into his seat with an obvious feeling of relief. He rested his head on his hand – his elbow leaning on the arm of the chair – and stared gloomily at his feet. Dr. Ashwin did not reply to Arjun's question, and there was another awkward silence.

                Ramuk and Mrs. Ashwin obviously felt like they could wait no longer to re-enter the room, and did so timidly. After every-one started sipping their chai (with the exception of Suneep, who dejectedly started at the cup on the table next to him, and did not move) Dr. Ashwin finally answered Arjun's question.

                'I am fascinated.' He confessed. 'And hopeful. I want to start the BSI again, and it occurred to me we had no trouble before the seven of you were together.'

                'You could just as easily blame the Australians.' Mehmet grunted, obviously not seriously suggested the idea.

                Arjun nodded. 'You are right, of course. But why find us again?'

                Doctor Ashwin finally smiled again. 'Well, if you seven caused all our trouble, you seven must be in a lot of trouble. I would like to help.'

                Arjun laughed, though nobody knew why. 'You want to help!' He cried. 'You want to help, and you bite all of our heads off! No, sir,' he continued, becoming serious again, 'I do not think you want to help. I think you are up to something – something bad.'

                The man seemed genuinely hurt yet again. 'That is not a fair assumption.' He said quietly. 'I am sorry for insulting you.'

                'And I you.' Arjun replied, standing up. Turning to Ramuk, he said, 'forgive me, friend. I have work to do. I will retire to my room and finish it there.'

                Ramuk nodded nervously, and Arjun quitted the room. In an instant, the other six men raced out of the room as well. Upon reaching the second story, they were surprised when Arjun handed them each a notebook and a pen, saying, 'I want you to write down everything.'

                Suneep scoffed, finally speaking. 'Arjun! That is risky.'

                Arjun only nodded. 'I know. But, hey, I do not care how you suggest things. Say... if you were rich, you could write 'I grew up in an extremely blessed family'.' He held Suneep's gaze, and the man flinched.

                'Okay.' He finally said in reply. 'Okay, okay.' With this, he rushed quickly to his room. The others reluctantly followed suit.

 

 

            'No, brother!' Danny screamed. 'You will get yourself killed!'

            The gunshots grew louder, and Mehmet kept on running. The main building lit up, and Mehmet realised with horror that it was on fire.

            There were only two thoughts running through his mind as he approached the building. The first was, 'save Arjun', and the second was, 'save Ardi'.

            Coming to the end of the men's dormitories, he suddenly felt himself pulled back by a hand. Turning round, he saw a man in loose white, cotton clothes and assumed it was a Muslim. That was until he saw the boy's face.

            'Arjun!' He hissed. 'What are you doing? You are not giving up are you?' Then, as an afterthought, he added, 'that is a very good idea. Go, escape. Why die?'

            'I am not giving up.' Was the first thing Arjun said in reply. 'But if you run across there, they will see you, and you will be shot, or worse – massacred.'

            Suddenly, a tall figure stepped out of the shadows, and the two jumped.

            'Kannan!' Mehmet cried. 'Do not do that, please!'

            'How are you saving girls?' He asked.

            'Go!' Mehmet panicked. 'There is no use in us all dying.'

            'Nonsense.' Kannan ignored him. 'This is a win-win situation. If I live, I get a wife, and if I die, I break many hearts.'

            Arjun smiled at the man, with a certain amount of admiration in his eyes. Mehmet smiled at Arjun. He always seemed to admire everybody.

            'What is the plane?' Kannan asked.

            'I am going to climb over the wall, and when I get to back-side of the building, I will climb back over. Then I will break the window to the lower level of the library, and work my way up to the girls from there. Then we will all escape the same way.'

            Kannan nodded, while Mehmet stared at the boy in amazement. 'So how were you going to get over the wall?' Kannan asked.

            Arjun pointed to a tree. 'No problems from here. Just getting back over will be hard.'

            'We will all go.' Kannan decided. 'In case the wall is very high.'

            The others nodded, and began scurrying up the tree. Then, carefully, they jumped from the overhanging, bending branch on to the wall. Mehmet was first, and after him Arjun.

            'What are you doing, bhai?' Kannan asked, seeing Arjun remained seated on the wall.

            'It is very high.' Arjun explained.

            Mehmet laughed and put his arms out. 'I will catch you, little brother.'

            Arjun scowled, and readied to jump. When he did not, Kannan sighed and pushed him off. The boy let out a small cry of terror, which was smothered by the sound of a gunshot, and Mehmet awkwardly caught him. Then Kannan jumped down casually, and began walking in the appropriate direction.

Arjun was not happy at being mocked, but thanked Mehmet anyway. Then he squirmed, trying to free himself, and Mehmet laughed. Suddenly, there were screams, making Mehmet jump and drop Arjun. The boy landed on his feet, but only just.

            'Stop messing around!' He cried. 'We have to go!'

            Mehmet nodded, having turned anxious again. Then the two ran over to Kannan.

            'Here,' he said, looking up at the wall, 'I have idea. Mehmet, boost me up, then Arjun. I think I can pull you up.'

            Mehmet nodded, and quickly followed through with the idea. The jump down once on top of the wall was very small, so Arjun had no problems with getting down.

            As Mehmet struggled up and Kannan pulled with all his might, Arjun tried to open the door to the library. Upon finding it was locked, he waited for the noise to soar, and broke a window as planned. The rock hit a metal bookcase, and clattered noisily off it and onto the concrete floor. Arjun only hoped the screams and gunshots had smothered the noise.

            Mehmet fell over the wall and squashed Kannan, but the two wasted no time in rushing over to Arjun. By the time they reached the library, he was nowhere in sight. The two climbed through the window and raced up the spiral staircase.

            '1, 2,' Kannan began whispering.

            'What are you doing?' Mehmet hissed.

            'Counting floors.' Kannan replied. 'Three. The next should be our stop.'

            Sure enough, the staircase suddenly finished, and the two found themselves on the ground floor of the library. The noise outside increased, and Arjun – whom neither had notice yet – took advantage of the opportunity by throwing a chair through the window. His two friends jumped, so he quickly explained.

            'The door was locked.' Then he cringed and jumped down to the second floor of the main building. 'They are not inside yet.' Arjun concluded, as he looked carefully out the main window and saw the terrorist bashing at the padlocked doors. 'But they will be soon.'

             Kannan and Mehmet finally caught up with him, and the group tore up to the third story, where the girls were staying. There were only three rooms and a door that led to the roof, so each man began knocking on their own door. Mehmet took the closest door, Kannan took the one in the middle, and Arjun took the one at the end of the hall. The girls had cleverly locked their doors, and the men had a bit of trouble convincing them to unlock the heavy wooden barriers.

            'It is me!' Kannan cried. 'Kannan!' Then, upon realising they probably had no idea who he was, he added, 'I am here with Mehmet and Arjun. Mehmet you know – Cammie!'

            Mehmet was doing much the same thing. 'It's Mehmet!' He cried. 'The Camel! Open the door, please!'

            Arjun received quite a different response. 'It is me!' He said, as calmly as possible. 'Arjun Mehtar.' The door was instantly unlocked, and he sighed with relief. 'Alyssa and Liberty.' He observed. 'You share a room?'

            Liberty was slightly shorter than Arjun and slightly older as well. Arjun was nearly 20, whereas Liberty was already 20. In contrast to this, Alyssa was a lot shorter then Arjun, and younger as well. She would soon be 18. Apart from these differences, however, the girls could have been sister, in many ways other than just appearance, and both stood apart from any-one in India. For some reason though, neither seemed to stand out in a crowd. They both possessed an unusual ability to simply blend in.

            Mehmet's door opened next, and he beheld two more girls. These girls were an odd pair, and Mehmet self-consciously frowned and said, ‘You share a room?' The girls frowned and nodded.

Kannan's door opened just as he threw himself against it. Because of this, he ran through the door and crash landed on one of the girl's beds.

            'Sisters!' He cried, standing up quickly.

            Mehmet and Arjun stuck their heads in and smiled.

            'Let's go!' Arjun prompted, moving every-one along.

            There was a loud cheer, and every-one froze.

            'They are inside.' Mehmet breathed.

            'Can we make it to the library?' Kannan asked.

            There were footsteps coming up the stairs, and the answer became clear. 'I don't think so.' Mehmet cried, pushing every-one into Liberty and Alyssa's room. He locked the door behind them, and moved over to the window.

            'Mehmet!' Arjun hissed as the footsteps drew nearer. 'What were you thinking? This room faces the front of the building – exactly where they all are! And it's three stories high!'

            'I have an idea.' Alyssa spoke up, in her quiet voice. 'If we go onto the roof, there's a tree a little distance from the edge, on the right side of the building. We can go down that way.'

            'Are you sure?' Mehmet asked.

            'Suneep did it.' Liberty replied, to which Alyssa sighed, as if to say 'you shouldn't have said that'.

            Mehmet nodded and unlocked the door in a flash. Then the group ran to the other end of the halls as the Muslims reached the second story.

            Mehmet struggled to open the door as Arjun distractedly asked, 'why did Suneep do that?'

            Alyssa shook her head and tried to dismiss the topic. 'I don't know.' She was saved by cries of 'some-one is inside!' as the attackers saw the broken glass.

            Mehmet finally opened the door, as a strange though occurred to Arjun.

            'Wait.' He said, frowning. 'If you knew about the tree, why didn't you escape yourselves?'

            Liberty sighed and pointed towards the dining room, at the front of the property. 'Because of that.'

            Arjun looked, and saw several men standing still with binoculars and rifles. They scanned all that was in their view, which included the tree.

            'What about the staircase on the left side?' Mehmet asked.

            'We tried that.' Ardi admitted. 'It's guarded at the bottom. We had to run pretty quick smart.'

            'So unless we can get down...' Arjun reasoned, looking down the back edge of the building, which was an amazing height. '…which we can't, we're stuck.'

            Mehmet noticed a door to the side and asked what was in there.

            'Bathroom slash laundry.' Emma answered.

            Kannan's face lit up, and he said, 'I have an idea.'

            There was banging on the door, and the group froze with fear.

            'They're here.' Grace muttered, terrified.

            'The staircase is on the left side, in the shadows, yes?' Kannan hurried, opening the laundry door. The girls nodded. 'How many men were there?'

            'Five.' Came is very precise answer.

            'With weapons?'

            'And torches – those fire ones.' Liberty confirmed.

            Kannan nodded, and came out with two buckets of water. 'Easy.'

            Mehmet only laughed. 'Kannan!' He cried. 'You will die!'

            Kannan shrugged and smiled again. 'I told you, it is a win-win situation.' The man caught Alyssa whispering to Liberty, and roughly made out what she had said. 'You do know me!' He cried.

            Liberty smiled. 'As she said, she told me you were Kannan. None of us could remember your name.'

Kannan smiled, and for a moment no-one moved.

            The door began to creak, as the number of men running against it increased, and so the group began moving again.

            Kannan rushed forward, and – bending down a lot – kissed Alyssa hastily on the head and ran off. 'Remember me!' He screamed, rushing down the stairs.

            Alyssa shifted awkwardly, but the only one who paid her any attention was Arjun, who glanced at her with an amused fascination.

            'Come on!' Mehmet cried, leading the group after Kannan.

            The group moved quickly, and caught up sufficiently with Kannan to see him splash the guards with what was obviously ice-cold water. He then threw the buckets on two men, and threw himself against another. Amidst all the confusion, he managed to pinch the men's weapons and run off. As he ran, everyone filled with worry, as the guards began chasing him and screaming.

            'Quick.' Arjun said, respecting the man's bravery. 'He is running towards them all to buy us time.'

            The group moved quickly, and was soon over the wall. Kannan, meanwhile, was quickly approaching the dining room and the armed guards.

            The group easily reached Danny, who was still waiting concernedly for his friends.

            'Go!' Mehmet cried, pushing the girls forward. Each scrambled up the ladder, until only the three men were left.

            'Where's Kannan?' Danny asked, filled with worry.

            'Is everyone over?' Mehmet asked.

            Danny nodded uncertainly. 'All those who weren't slaughtered on the way.'

            Mehmet nodded, and forced Arjun over the wall. The boy screamed as he fell off the top. Fortunately for him, Chandan was waiting, and caught him.

            Danny realised Mehmet was staring at something, and followed his gaze. 'Kannan!' He screamed, finally working everything out.

            There were sirens, as the police approached. The Muslims panicked, and began to scatter.

            They haven't noticed him yet.' Mehmet said, referring to the guards.

            The Muslims began waning, until there were only a few left.

            Mehmet took a step forward, just as the guards turned on a modern torch, or a flash-light. The men raised their guns, and the two froze.

            Suddenly, they fell over.

            'Kannan!' Danny cried, as the man scrambled to his feet. The guards also struggled to their feet and then scattered, with the exception of one, who threw Kannan to the floor. Then he too ran off, leaving the BSI clear of Muslims.

            'Kannan?' Danny called out, disconcerted by how motionless he lay.

            The main building was in flames, and lit the place up eerily. Lifeless bodies and weapons were strewn every-where, and the sight was horrific.

            'Kannan!' Danny cried again, rushing over to his friend. As he approached, it became obvious that he had been stabbed. Kannan was breathing heavily, but dared not move.

            Mehmet's face paled, as he realised if he had of just stood still, none of this would have happened. Desperately, he ran over to the man.

            'Kannan!' He shouted, as Danny burst into tears. 'Kannan, you'll be all right!' Mehmet continued, kneeling next to his friend.

            Kannan chuckled as best he could. 'No I won't. You see that? It is too close to my heart.' Laughing carefully he added, 'looks like I die broken-hearted.'

            Danny began sobbing, and muttering words that hardly meant anything. Eventually, Mehmet realised he was speaking Tamil.

            'Do not cry.' Kannan said at last, blood trickling down the side of his mouth. 'I'll see you again one day, in Heaven.' As an afterthought he added, 'do you think this qualifies me for the martyr's crown?'

            Danny only sobbed more.

            'Those aren't very good last words.' Kannan reasoned to himself as his nose began to bleed. 'I should say...' He cried out in pain, making it clear to every-one he had very little time left.

'Why?' Danny sobbed. 'Why you, Kannan? You do not deserve this.'

            Kannan smiled bravely. 'You inspire me.' He breathed, struggling to speak. 'I deserve...' he winced. 'I deserve it. What I don't deserve is God's mercy. Eternal life – I do not deserve. But God give it any-way.'

He smiled, pleased with what he had said, and endeavoured to say nothing further that would ruin their seriousness. He did shift in pain, and gagged. Then, after a horrible pause, he exhaled for a period of time all too long.

            Danny froze.

            'Kannan!' He cried. , rolling his friend over. 'Kannan?' He screamed, becoming more desperate.

            Mehmet's face froze in complete horror, as he realised the man was dead.

            'No!' Danny screamed, weeping bitterly. 'No! Kannan, no! God, no! Please, do not take him from me! Please, amen, amen! Not Kannan! No!' Danny repeated himself several times, each one quieter than the one before, as he cradled his friend's head in his arms and wept unstoppably.

            Mehmet simply watched, filling with terror and guilt, as he realised it was all his fault. He didn’t' pay any attention to the police or anything else. All his brain was able to process was one solitary thought: he had killed Kannan.

 

 

 

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