The knight in her hand was his, and she was debating if she should put it away after she took it off the board. Her brows were furrowed in deep thought. She could not make sense of why he had made such a move. He had practically gifted her that knight.
Roselyn took a deep breath and put away the knight. She accepted the gift gladly, and then grinned at him as she found herself at an advantage.
Mina and Nina were sitting on either side of her. They were silently cheering for her.
The House of Scarlet Letters trained girls in many areas. They had trained in Chess as well. And they were responsible for teaching Roselyn with strategies and the way to conduct herself in the game.
However, it does not matter how many strategies a person knows if they come up against someone original.
Shazan smiled and castled his King. He was patient. The game was working as he had expected. The key was in giving Roselyn something to think over, and that was why he was baiting her.
After a few moves, he gifted her his first bishop. And in the next few moves, he traded her remaining knight with his bishop.
Roselyn was happy. She was at an advantage, and now that the board was a little less crowded, she could concentrate more.
She attacked now. Her queen unfazed entered his ranks, and none of his remaining pieces could stop her without sacrifices.
But he was not planning on stopping her. He smiled and made his attack as well. His King was left with only a rook to guard the line.
A few more moves were played.
Roselyn gleefully nodded as she killed his remaining knight by moving her bishop. In her haste, she forgot that her bishop was guarding a certain check on board, and his pawn stepped forward on it.
She could not do anything as her king was checked by a pawn. That little pawn was guarded by his queen and rook. One of the two options was to kill that pawn with her queen, but that would end the game in the next move.
Her adorable face paled as she realized what had happened. Her smile vanished and was replaced with solemnness.
She could still play by moving the King a step back, but in five moves, he would checkmate her. And even if she would force him with a piece for piece, he would end the game with his rook and queen, and the only sacrifice he would make would be a rook for a rook. The game could only go on for another eight moves.
She depressedly admitted her loss.
“Cool…” He smiled and got up from his chair without showing any emotions.
“Time for bed.” He picked her up in his embrace.
“You are mean…” She complained and pouted angrily.
“You are stupid.” He chuckled at her.
Roselyn didn’t say anything and lowered her head.
She was an intelligent girl, and she realized that she had lost only because of her haste. And haste is stupidity.
“Is there anyone better at chess than you?” She asked, intending to learn from that person.
“There is.” He nodded at her. “But we don’t play this chess or the other chess that you know of. We play chess called the Emperor’s Chess.”
“What’s that?” She curiously asked.
“It is different. There are two types of pawns, and there are Archbishops and Grand Knights. The board is sixteen by sixteen, and the total pieces on hand of each player are forty-eight. Thirty-two of them are pawns, sixteen of each type, and then two grand knights, two archbishops, two knights, two bishops, two rooks, two princes or princesses, each with different abilities, and finally two queens, an Empress, and the Emperor.”
“Oh…” Her mouth dropped open in surprise, and her mind raced in excitement.
“Can we play that?”
“No.” He smiled at her. “It is too cruel for you to play that at this age.”
She was not happy at his refusal, but she obediently asked for the reason.
“There are two ways to win that chess.” He solemnly smiled. “First is to kill the Emperor, but only the Emperor can kill the other Emperor, and the second way to win the game is by killing off all his family. If you kill the two queens, two princes, and the empress of your opponent, you win.”
Roselyn’s face paled when she heard the words. Even if she had not played it before, she could guess that the easier option was killing off the family of the opponent.
It was an act of cruelty, sheer cruelty. And even if it was just a game, it was a representation of cruel selfishness. It would be a war of psychologies, and the game would, to an extent, influence the minds of players as well.
“Is it fun to play?” She whispered.
“It is not.” He smiled at her and planted a kiss on her cheek. “But it is a game of Emperors, and your father has to learn it.”
“Because even if I don’t want to go to war, someone will bring it to my door.” He smiled and answered. “Life is beautiful, but it could be just as cruel. You can never truly be at peace forever.”
The words were too much for a child, but Roselyn understood. Her mood was depressed.
“But…” He showered little kisses all over her face. “As long as the family is together, nothing can take away our happiness.” He told her the secret.
She readily nodded to his words and tightly wrapped her arms around his neck.
“I am sleepy…” She whispered and yawned cutely.
Shazan kissed the twins goodnight and took Roselyn to the bed.
She was fond of sleeping on his chest, and he felt blessed to have her sleeping so peacefully on top of him.
His mind was fixed on the next day, and eventually, he drifted off to sleep after some time.
And his dream was the same as usual.
In the endless darkness, there were two red cages of light.
“It’s hot out there.”
Ella commented as she looked out at the endless ocean under them. The device showed the outside temperature to be over 30 ℃.
“Don’t worry, the island maintains a temperature just under that of 27 ℃. Even in winters, it does not fall below 20 ℃. The temperature remains stable throughout the year, but it does get humid at times.” Isha smiled and informed her with a little pride.
“Why?” Ella confusedly asked. “How can an island in this part of the Indian Ocean maintain temperature under 27 ℃ in summers, shouldn’t it be a little higher?”
“That is because the Island has preserved its ecology for thousands of years. It is a beautiful place. You will understand when you see it for yourself.”
Shazan smiled and answered her.
They had left the Empire early in the morning and had arrived at the Maldives at five in the evening. The flight was 7 hours long, but the three-hour time difference meant that they would have spent an entire daytime flying. And since then, they had been traveling in this Helicopter for over three hours now.
“We will arrive at the destination in 15 mins.”
Caius’ voice sounded from the intercom.
Ella sighed and smiled. The sun had already fallen, and the sky was getting dark. It was 8:12 pm now.
“15 more minutes!” She said excitedly.
“For you, it will be 30 minutes.” Shazan laughed and told her mysteriously.
“What do you mean?”
“You will arrive at the Helipads with Isha and Caius, but by that time, I and Maira will already be inside the Golden Palace.” He smiled and started to open up a bag.
There was a Gliding-suit inside it. He passed it to Maira and nodded to her.
The girl didn’t say anything at the news. She had already known that he was fond of dramatic entries.
“You don’t need one?” She asked him as her brows furrowed.
She recalled the day he had arrived before her for the first time. He had dropped down from the sky in a suit and his Royal Cloak. She had always been curious about how he had survived the fall. Even for Azeros, falling from thousands of meters meant absolute death.
“No,” He shook his head. “And if you don’t want to wear it, don’t. It will be more fun without that suit.” He said and picked out his cellphone.
Sure enough, his words aroused her curiosity and she put away the gliding-suit.
In the next few minutes, he went through a few messages and then sent a message to Akash.
He looked out the window, and the ring of clouds could be seen now, and inside that ring of clouds was the home of Aryans, the island called Arkaya. Arkaya was a word in the language of Amazeros that meant Paradise.
As they approached the Island, Ella and Isha fixedly looked at it from above and marveled at its size and the never-ending forests. In the middle of the Island were a few hills, with a volcano on the Southern side.
Instead of descending, their helicopter was ascending into the sky, inside the clouds. Soon the Island vanished from their eyes.
“How big is this place?”
“There is a city, and then the Imperial Palace. Almost 75% of the island is forested. There are 27 natural lakes on the Island, and a Volcanic carter in the south, where the training grounds, intelligence, and military bases are.”
Ella kept asking questions and Isha kept answering her with pride. She was proud that she was born here.
“We are here.”
Caius’ voice sounded again from the intercom.
“Time to jump.”
Shazan opened the door of the hovering helicopter and a cool wind brushed their senses.
Maira knew that they didn’t have much time. It was not safe to stay hovering at this height.
She was a brave girl, but as she looked down and saw nothing but mist around her, her heart quickened, and chills ran up her spine.
“Keep your blood flow under control.” He smiled at her and wrapped his arm around her waist.
Before Maira could complain, they were already falling. Terrified, she hugged him tightly as they kept descending faster and faster.
They emerged from the clouds and could now see the Island and the Golden Palace that was shiny magnificently as ever.
“Scared?” He whispered near her ear.
“No,” She replied coldly.
It had not taken her long to get over her fears, and soon she was all focused on what was about to happen next. She wanted to see how he would ensure their safe landing.
Shazan was aware of her intentions. She was one of the girls who was focused on getting better and better, and she wanted to learn anything that would help her get better.
“Pay attention.” He said and his aura flooded out of him.
He formed thin layers of Aura Shields under them, and as they passed through those shields, their speed slowed down. It was a simple technique, but Maira was shocked to the bottom of her heart. The number of shields he could create in a blink of an eye was too ridiculous. He was breaking their descent, and so he had to create shields with calculated precision and distance. And at one second, she had seen over a hundred shields prepared over the distance of a couple of hundred feet. She knew that a dozen feet would be her limit if she tried the same technique.
Her heart was uncomfortable at the reminder of the difference in their strengths.
Maira’s attention was solely focused on his Aura, and as such, she had not realized when they stepped on the ground. She had not even felt a little shaken at touching the ground.
The surprise soon wore off as she realized where they were.
It was her courtyard where she and Isha used to live and grew up. They were by the side of the lake, and at the banks were sleeping several tigers. These lone hunters were all born on this island. And they were used to communal life unlike the wild tigers in the outside world. They looked harmless as they slept, but they were ferocious cats.
The water in the lake was crystal-clear, and even with little light around them, they could see through it.
Her heart quickened as she questioned his intentions. She nervously looked up at him and tried to struggle out of his embrace.
“Don’t struggle.” He warned her and wrapped his arms around her tightly.
It was not the first time he had hugged her forcefully, but this time, he had not kept his heart under control.
Maira could hear his erratic heartbeat. It was a surprise to her, and her own heart started racing in response.
“Let go of me…”
She whispered the words she had said to him many times before.
And his answer was the same as ever.
Feeling her in his embrace was peaceful. He placed his cheek on her head and squeezed her against him.
“I love you, Maira…”
His voice was low, but it was loud in her ears and mind.
It was the first time he had not played with his words and had said it directly to her. She forgot to struggle as her mind reverberated with the words she had heard just now. She felt the warmth, sincerity, and affection in those words. She had heard him say those words to the girls around him, but this time, they were for her.
She felt uncomfortable in her heart, but she could not bring herself to say anything in return or even struggle.
The two of them stayed like that for a few minutes before he laughed lightly.
“Guess how many of them are approaching us…” He said as he loosened her from his embrace.
Maira got back to her senses and concentrated at the approaching Guards. They may have hidden well enough, but there was no way that the Island would have not discovered them as they fell from the sky.
Arkaya was impregnable. There was no way that anything intruding the Island would go unnoticed by the Intelligence department.
“24…” She frowned and answered.
“No,” He shook his head. “There are 24 that you mentioned who are at the Second Realm of Amazeros, then there are 6 that are at the Third Realm of the Amazeros, and then there are two at the Fourth Realm. 32 in total.”
“Why would they come as well?” She was shocked. She could not understand why the Higher-Guards would come as well.
The two of them were soon surrounded by the line of Royal Guards.
“That’s what makes me curious as well,” He answered and frowned. “Something is going on here.”
“Your Highness Shazan…” The eight High-Guards lowered their heads and greeted him first. “Princess Maira!” And then the line of Guards greeted their Princess.
Both of them observed that the Guards were relieved to find that it was they who had intruded the island. Something was going on here.
“I hope that you have not informed The King and the Queens.” He smiled at him and nodded. “The two of us plan on surprising them”
“Don’t worry, Your Highness. We were the first line that came to investigate. The Royalty has not been informed yet.” One of the High-Guards replied.
“Thank you…” He smiled and took a look at all of them. “Is everything okay?”
The two guards at the front hesitated slightly.
“Alright… I get it.” He smiled and waved his hand. “I will ask the King about it.”
“Thank you, Your Highness…”
The Guards nodded to him and then left at the speed that they had come with.
Maira was anxious now. She grabbed on his hand and pulled him to run in the direction of the Palace.
The way to the Palace was not full of surprises, well, not for them. The people who saw them were shocked, some screamed in excitement and called after Maira, but there seemed to be nothing unusual going on. Everyone was busy with their daily tasks or just killing off their free time.
There were certain protocols in the Palace, but Maira was too anxious to abide by them. The Guards did not dare to remind her either when they saw who she was dragging along with her.
“Rani-Ma!” She called out as soon as she entered her Grandmother’s room.
For the men, it was forbidden to come inside the room of the Queens, but Maira had dragged him inside with her.
The women present inside the room looked at them in surprise. For a moment, no one could respond to their sudden appearance. And it wasn’t long before some of the women glared at Maira for bringing him inside the room.
“Maira!” A woman who looked to be in late-forties called out to her with a bright smile. She walked over to her granddaughter ever so gracefully. “How are you?” She asked she hugged her.
Shazan had never seen anyone pull off even the simplest of the Sari so splendidly. He had marveled over it the first time he had seen her, and this time was no different.
“And Your Highness, it is rude of you to still be present inside the room.” The woman turned to look at Shazan and smiled.
“My Apologies, Rani-Ma…” He embarrassedly lowered his head, but he didn’t leave the room.
“So you are finally willing to call me that.” She nodded to herself in happiness and patted on his head. “Thank you for coming.”
“How could I have not come?” He smiled back and answered obediently.
“Rani-Ma…” Maira interrupted their conversation. “What is going on?”
The woman looked at the girl in surprise.
“What do you mean?” She asked curiously.
“Why are the High-Guards on alert?”
The First Queen of Aryans stayed silent after she heard her words. She shook her head after a while and sighed.
“So you two alerted them.” She didn’t look pleased. “Who sneaks inside their home?” She reprimanded them.
Maira felt wronged at being reprimanded. She glanced at him ruefully, but she didn’t blame him for anything.
“Sorry.” She lowered her head and replied.
The queen laughed at her response and then dragged them both out of the room by grabbing their hands.
“Come. You guys must be hungry.”
“Rani-Ma…” Maira was not glad that her grandmother was not telling her things.
“Maira!” Shazan shook his head, telling her to stop asking questions for now.
The woman looked surprised to see that Maira had obediently listened to his order. She had a pleased smile on her lips as she dragged them both with her as if they were little kids.
“Did only the two of you come?”
She asked as they entered the Royal Courtroom.
♛ Author’s Note:
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