The sun had fallen, and the sky was littered with dark clouds. The night seemed to have a melancholic feel to it, and he stood outside the crater, overlooking the Arkaya with solemness.
He had not wanted to leave Ella alone with Aaleen, but he had to. He was helpless, and all he could do was trust in the world of the girl he had not known for long. As a man who had always relied on his instincts, he was confident that Aaleen would keep her promise. But he had, after all, left his loved ones in the hands of a stranger with designs, how could he not be depressed?
Shazan felt weak, agonizingly weak.
However, even if he could stop Aaleen, he had no right to. Ella had all the right to decide on her fate. It was something he had to respect, as it was her right as his lover.
All the girls in his life were people he loved and cherished, but most of them held insecurities in their hearts. The only people who had no insecurities were Arianna, Renesme, and Karen. And he knew that they were the source of insecurities that the other girls had.
None of the Maids ever voiced any complaint. They were a family, passing their days happily, but they all felt insecure when the other side of the reality hit them.
A human and an Azeros. It was not right for them to develop feelings for each other. One could stay young for centuries, and the other would grow old and die sooner. One had the strength to protect the other, and the other one could only be protected and feel like a burden.
“I will be the best Maid ever, Master!”
A smile crept on his lips when he recalled the day he had bought Ella from the House of Scarlet Letters. Her enthusiasm was different from that of the other girls. Her charm was different and enchanting. Her words were shy, but they held a resolution that still resounded in his memories.
Shazan had known that he wanted her in his life the moment he had laid eyes on her. It was not just her beauty, but her personality he felt drawn to. The House of Scarlet letters had failed to take away her innocence and mischievousness.
He loved the way she was, and never for a moment in his life had he thought of changing her. And as grateful as Ella was to him for that, it had only made her more insecure.
He knew what she would choose. Aaleen wouldn’t even need to coerce her into anything.
One of the guards standing him approached.
“Another Beast has appeared.” He informed as he presented the wireless device to him.
Shazan took the device and asked for more information from the other end. And after that, he returned it and kept standing there as he had been.
It was not the biggest they had fought today, and there was no need for him to head down there.
While he was gone, five beasts had appeared in four hours. The battles had been hectic, but thankfully, the strongest that appeared only had five protective Discs.
The space inside the cave was not big enough to accommodate all the Guards, Elders, and the rest. And it was decided that Queen Izna, Shazan, and Amraaz would only take part in battles if the creatures have six or more protective discs. And Elders would only interfere if the Creatures had more than three protective Discs.
The Aryan King made such a decision to keep the Elders in control. They had to stop the Elders from hogging all the Beasts, and they had to make sure they had people ready to deal with the unexpected.
Rest was necessary between the battles, or the sharpness of mind would dull, and the risks would rise.
He closed his eyes after the guard went back to his position. His senses spread around the Crater. He could not sense what was happening inside the cave, but he could sense what was happening outside the cave on the small platform.
The Guards present there were all at ease, and some, who had engaged in battles, were resting and eating.
The clouds in the sky rumbled and blinked from time to time, indicating that it would soon start raining.
A droplet landed on his head, and his eyes shot open in alarm.
The assailant was fast, and the attack came from his right side.
He didn’t have much time to think and he replied with the strength he managed to muster in that fraction of time.
Two punches collided with each other, and a muffled boom shook the hearts of the Guards present behind him.
His center of gravity was shaken, and he stumbled back with an aching arm and a devilish grin.
“You have gotten stronger, again…”
The man who had attacked him had a tall stature, covered in a cloak that had a red dragon holding a Heart in its claws marked on it. He did not attack again, and his words contained all his amazement.
“And you seem to have drunk fresh blood not long ago…”
Shazan straightened his back and shook his arm a few times, showing that he was hurt.
“Of course,” The man pulled back the hood and revealed a charming smile on his handsome face. “I didn’t want to come to a battle at not my best.”
Shadows after shadows of people appeared behind him. And when they all had arrived, everyone except for the man bowed to Shazan.
“We greet the Emperor.” They called out in unison.
The words shook the melancholy of the night, and the clouds rumbled to make the scene even more magical to the onlooking Guards.
“I accept the greeting of the Blood Knights.”
Shazan smiled and nodded to them, and he ran his eyes on all of the ones who had come.
It was just what he had asked for. All the thirty-six Blood Knights were here, with fresh blood in their systems, and a craving for battle reflecting in their crimson eyes.
“Gerald…” He then walked over to the man who had attacked him and hugged him.
There were not many people in the world who he would greet in such a manner, and Gerald was one of those few.
“Shazan.” The man did not refuse him and hugged back, and only after they separated did he ask for what was going on.
“You have always been looking into a certain matter, and wanted to know more about it, right?”
Gerald frowned at his words. The excitement in his eyes had a stark contrast with the grimness his expressions were adorned in.
“Mhm,” Shazan nodded. “It turns out that it was indeed all real.”
Shazan explained to him about the Tests of Annihilation that every world must go through. He informed him about the creatures, the cycles of Annihilation.
“Earth has 9999 years left. The countdown has started, and the first test will come when it finishes.”
“I see…” Gerald replied plainly.
He knew that none of them will be staying here. Whatever happens to this world after 9999 years was not their concern.
“When do we get to fight?” He was not pleased with the arrangements of the Aryan King.
“When something stronger than they can handle appears.” Shazan smiled and answered.
“The people and their petty problems. Do they not understand that any unexpected event could end up costing them wasteful deaths.”
As a man who had fought for centuries, he understood that no battle could ever be taken lightly, and there needed to be a strict code in the army if it was to prevail.
“Why not we go down there and make things clear to those Elders?” He grinned and suggested.
“Leave them be.” Shazan shook his head. “You have never been good at matters involving politics. Let them suffer the consequences first, and then they will be more compliant with the situation.”
They had not masked their conversation. Even the Aryan Guards standing behind them heard the words they spoke. Their expressions were troubled, but they also understood that the Elders could become mean at times.
Every Clan had pride of its own, and it would never ask for outside help if it was anything they could deal by themselves.
As much as Shazan disliked the idea of casualties, he understood that they were inevitable. And it was not something he was going to worry over. As long as the people he had to keep safe were safe, he couldn’t care less about other lives.
“The creatures are troublesome…” Gerald seemed lost in the thoughts. “The Spiders are not the creatures anyone can handle by himself. Any idea about the traits of others?”
“We have only faced spiders so far. But all the Insect-like creatures are weak to bright lights. Their eyes can not adapt to it.” He revealed what Aaleen had told him.
“How do you know that?” Gerald frowned and asked. But then he just laughed it off. “Alright, I won’t ask again.”
Shazan palely smiled and then nodded lightly.
“Let’s head inside.”
The clouds rumbled, and the rain started pouring down from them. Soon the sound of millions of droplets crashing on the ground resounded everywhere. It was a melody of nature, the finest of all.
Gerald was amazed at the sight of the massive Platform the Aryans had built inside the Volcano.
There was no roof over their heads, and the rain poured at the center of the platform. The water did not accumulate as it was drained away by the system the Aryans had made inside the Platform. Other than the center of the Platform, the surrounding areas were safe from the water sprinkling from the sky.
“Why did they not build a roof up there?”
One of the Blood Knights asked in curiosity.
“For the novelty…” Gerald laughed lightly. “This place could count among the wonder on the planet.”
“It did take them a couple of centuries to turn it into what it is,” Shazan informed them.
The Aryan Guards were all tensed at the arrival of so many people from the Blood Clan.
There was a unique scent of blood and chill in the surroundings where the Blood Knights stood. Even the bravest of people could not suppress their hearts from palpitating when they looked in those crimson eyes.
Shazan watched in amusement as the Blood Knights tried to engage the High-Guards into conversations. But soon all the Guards were comfortable, and proudly introduced each Mural on the Platform to the Blood Knights.
“Did you succeed in convincing Aryans for the Blood Contract?” Gerald came close to him and talked in an isolated voice.
“I have informed them about it, and they will accept it.” Shazan smiled and nodded.
The two of them stood there silently, watching the lightning blink inside the dark clouds in the sky.
Gerald passed a hip flask to him.
Shazan chuckled as he accepted it and opened it to take a whiff. The smell was appetizing, and he took a sip off it before nodding in appreciation.
“You are getting better and better at making this wine.” He commented. “How many were there in this?”
Gerald was all smiles at the praise and nodded before answering.
“Do you know how hard it is to find Maidens in this age of time?” Gerald sighed. “Could only find 57 Virgins with the right age and blood for this.”
“That’s a lot…” Shazan laughed lightly at his expressions and took another mouthful of the Wine before passing it back to Gerald.
His anxious heart calmed down a little, but he still turned to look back at the Sky and indulged in his problems.
Gerald grabbed two cigarettes and passed one to him. He lit up his and then helped him light up.
Even if these cigarettes were of the finest quality, they were of no help to people who walked the path of Amazeros. Gerald had adopted it as a habit in some century, during cold wars between the Clans.
He always said that even if there was nothing inside these things to calm him down, they still helped him think and feel better. The key was in belief. It could have been anything he could have chosen to believe in, but he chose cigarettes.
The brash smell of smoke engulfed his senses. Shazan disliked it, but he still finished it. Only after he had destroyed the butt with his Aura did Gerald talk again.
“What’s bothering you?” He asked.
“I am weak…” He sighed and answered.
“Are you?” Gerald found his words amusing and started laughing. “If you are weak, then there is no one stronger in the Universe.”
The words worked like a charm on Shazan. All his dark thoughts fleeted away, and he finally smiled from the bottom of his heart.
Gerald had once heard Arianna comfort him with the same words, and he had used them to comfort him now.
“There’s no strength greater than the strength of character,” Gerald nodded appreciatively. “She’s wise for her age. And she’s stronger than you.”
“She is…” Shazan closed his eyes, and his memories with Arianna flashed in his mind. “She is my Life.”
“Now that you are out of your melancholic state, tell me, what are our chances of survival here?”
“That’s a very bright topic to talk about, right?” Shazan rolled his eyes and shook his head. “We can survive, one way or another, with some losses, as long as the Beast isn’t a fully matured One-Star Beast.”
“And if it is? Or even Higher?” Gerald asked with a bright smile.
“You will finally get your wish of Death.”
“Huh…” He grinned, and a crimson glint flashed in his eyes. “This old man has no plans of dying so soon.”
Shazan looked at the old man who looked to be the same age as him. And he didn’t know what to say in reply.
“Want to spar?” He proposed and dashed to the center of the platform. The droplets of rain vaporized as soon as they came in contact with his Aura. “The first one to let a drop touch him will lose. Only Physical.”
Gerald answered with an attack, faster than what the people around them could see through.
Shazan dodged his fist and then blocked the knee that was headed for his chest. He rolled back in the air for several meters before landing on his feet.
The Leader of the Blood Knight was stronger than him in physical strength, the realm of Strength, and experience. The only advantage Shazan had over him was his mental strength, but this duel was not about it. It was a duel of Auras, which meant that it was a duel of the Realms of Strength, an Ascendant against a Half-Ascendant.
Gerald showered Aura-Infused fists and kicks on him, and all he could do was dodge to the best of his ability.
The Guards around them were shocked at the ruthlessness of Gerald. He was sparring as if he was fighting with his life on the line.
It was a one-sided battle as Shazan was pushed around in circles defending himself, and not once had he got the chance to go on the offensive.
The aura around his body rippled at receiving every attack, but it managed to hold on to not allow a drop of rain to touch him.
A kick to his chest sent Shazan flying out of the circle where the rain was. He hit the ground with his back and rolled over to stabilize himself.
Gerald did not chase him this time. He waited for him to enter the circle again.
Shazan took his time at cherishing the rush of blood inside of him. He had a joyful smile on his face, and the look in his eyes suddenly changed. His dark brown eyes looked to have a shade of blood in them. He stepped forward, vanishing from his spot, and appeared over the head of Gerald.
A kick that contained all his physical strength crashed onto the guarding arms of Gerald, sending a muffled boom reverberating on the platform.
The Bloodfallen grinned at the ache in his arms, and then he threw Shazan off him, before going out to attack him. However, he found that there was something wrong inside of his body. An invisible force was messing with his muscle memories and making the blood in his veins feel constricted. He looked grimly at Shazan and tried his best to deal with the little sneaky Aura Shazan had sent inside his body.
Shazan did not waste the chance and appeared behind him, sending a kick crashing down on his back. This time, it was Geralds turn to be thrown out of the circle.
“That’s a dangerous technique…” Gerald stood straight on his feet and smiled as he finally managed to eliminate that aura. “If your Realm was the same as mine, I would have lost.”
“But you can not win against me.” He replied with a confident smile.
“We shall see…”
There are dozens of different fighting methods they could have used if it was an actual battle of lives, but this was a sparring session, and both of them limited themselves on remaining Physical.
They engaged in the battle once more and muffled sounds of fists and kicks hammered against the Hearts of the onlookers.
What the High-Guards and Blood Knights were witnessing seemed unreal to them.
Seeing that there was indeed no way to end the fight like this soon, Gerald decided to exploit an advantage he had over Shazan.
His feet left the ground, and never touched again. He attacked Shazan by flying around, and his speed went up a notch.
No matter how it looked, and no matter how resilient Shazan was. The fact was that he could not continue to battle with only physical strength. And it proved true when Gerald managed to find an opening and landed a kick on his chest.
He was once more sent flying out of the circle, hundreds of meters away, and this time, he nearly tipped off the edge of the Platform.
His aura had managed to keep the rain off, but no matter how it was, it was his loss.
He straightened his clothes and took in deep breaths, stabilizing his blood flow.
“It’s my loss…”
“A draw” Gerald came down from the air and stood on the Platform. “It is a draw.”
“Okay.” Shazan shrugged at his words and walked over to him. “Thanks for helping me prepare my heart for battle.”
“No problem. I learned a few new techniques from you.” He smiled brightly. “Don’t hold it against me if I use them against you.”
Shazan chuckled at his words. And when he got closer to Gerald, he patted on his shoulder before smiling lightly.
“I told you that you can’t win against me.”
Seeing his smug smile, Gerald now regretted settling on a draw, but he then shook his head.
“You are one tricky Monster.”
“That I am…” He nodded.
They both looked at each other, smiled, and then they started laughing.
The platform echoed in their laughter and the dark skies kept pouring its tears.
♛ Author’s Note:
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