“I will stay in the treasury.”
The man said and nodded to the group before taking his leave. Little Vikranth followed his father out of the lounge.
Shazan had tried his best to remain humble, but Vikaros still felt uncomfortable in his presence. They did not talk with each other other than a polite greeting. And for the duration of lunch, and this meeting, the atmosphere between the two of them remained tense.
Kashish, on the other hand, seemed to be in a bright mood after seeing her daughter. To the surprise of everyone, she had openly reprimanded Shazan for not letting her meet her daughter all this time.
He knew it was not him who was stopping Maira; it was her daughter’s decision. But he apologetically nodded to Kashish and promised to let Maira come to Arkaya often.
Him taking a step back eased a lot of tension between them, and she even talked to him on her initiative, asking him about his family, plans for future, and urging him over and over again on treating Maira well.
“Don’t worry,” Kashish smiled at him after her husband and little son left the lounge. “He doesn’t hate you.”
“He doesn’t like me either.” Shazan chuckled and shook his head.
Not that he cared about who liked him and who did not, he still wanted to remain on good terms with Maira’s family.
“Shall we leave?” He asked the King.
“Yes,” The King nodded, and the rest of them did the same.
They left the lounge and went outside the Palace, where their horses were ready and waiting for them.
“We are not fond of driving vehicles on the Island.” The King explained before he could question.
“I love them…” He smiled and went forward to pat the head of a black horse. “What’s her name?”
Maira came up to him and grabbed the reins of the horse. “And she’s mine.” She did not wait for him to say anything. She climbed the horse and directed it to move.
Her family could only shake their heads helplessly. Even after all this time, she was as stubborn as ever.
“We have prepared the red one for you,” Rani-Ma smiled and pointed at the red horse.
“No need…” He smiled and disappeared, before appearing beside the trotting Maya, and climbing it.
He wrapped his arm around Maira’s slim waist and pulled her tight in his chest.
“Shush…” He whispered in her ear and took the reins from her hand. “I take what I like.” He sent those overbearing words reverberating in her mind.
“Let go…” She stopped saying what she wanted to say and lowered her head in anger.
She seemed to have resigned to him as Shazan guided the horse into galloping. The sound of the hooves of their horse echoed in their minds.
“I know I am forceful. And I know that half of the things I do, you dislike them.” He suddenly said to her. “But I am helpless and hopeless. Don’t count on me to ever change.”
“Same. Don’t count on me to ever change too.” She palely smiled and replied.
“I don’t want you to change.” He smiled and planted a kiss on her head. “All I want from you is to accept me.”
“And if I don’t?” She let out a small, but a grim laugh.
“Then, I will keep trying. No matter how long it takes me, I will make you accept me someday.”
She did not say anything and kept her heart and mind in control. By now, she was more or less used to his shamelessness. Part of her knew that he would never cross the line without her permission. And that was the reason why she was not afraid of him.
“Yes?” She answered subconsciously and right away.
“May I take her?” He asked with seriousness.
“Do you need my permission?”
She was uncomfortable with the thought, but she knew what was in her attendant’s heart. Isha was like her little sister, and she knew her well enough to understand that only Shazan could keep that silly girl happy.
“I don’t. But I don’t want to do anything that would upset you.”
“It does upset me.” She nodded. “But you already know it, and still asked me about it.”
Shazan did not say anything more and remained quiet. He knew that Maira was not stupid or someone who would drag her problems in matters of importance.
“I approve of you two together. She loves you. So, treat her well.”
And as he expected, Maira did say those words in the end.
He made Maya slow down a little, allowing the others to catch up to them.
The group entered the southern region after almost an hour, and then they headed straight to the Volcanic crater.
The southern part of Arkaya was different. It looked like a desolate and barren land. The ground was mostly flat, with occasional bumps and hills, but the slope of the volcano was rather rocky and got steeper as they climbed it.
The temperature here was slightly warmer, but it was no way near what a volcano should have. It was still pleasant.
The horses brought them at a platform that the Aryans had constructed in the middle of the volcano. It was carved and made right inside of it, spanning over the diameter of 200 meters, it looked as if it was suspended in the air.
Shazan stepped off the horse and went to the edge platform. He looked down, but the pit seemed bottomless, and it was dark.
“It is nearly 5 kilometers deep.” Queen Izna informed him.
He nodded and turned to look at the spiral staircase set around the inner walls of the volcano, descending deep. The staircase was spacious that it could even accommodate dozens of people on the same step at one time.
“How long did it take the Aryans to make this structure here?” He asked in astonishment.
The King laughed proudly.
“Nearly two centuries, and then another century to perfect the things.” He answered. “Now it can survive earthquakes of high magnitude, and in case of emergency, this place has been built as a shelter for the inhabitants.”
Shazan took his time looking around the large platform and then at the opening nearly a hundred meters top of their heads. It was like a dome, but without a roof.
“How far down is the cave?”
“The staircase leads to it,” Rani-Ma answered him. “It’s only 600 meters down from here.”
He nodded to her and looked at Caius.
The man was busy looking around the platform, and his eyes were filled with admiration for the Aryan architecture.
“Caius,” He smiled at him. “You will be coming with me.”
The man was a little surprised, but he nodded. He came forward and stood by the side of Shazan.
As his Right-Hand man, it was his duty to protect his Lord. Not that Shazan needed his protection, but today, he was not in his prime.
“If anything unexpected happens,” Shazan isolated his voice and whispered to him, “Protect Maira and Isha. The King and the two Queens can take care of themselves. Akash and Kashish can run if things take a bad turn.”
Caius knew that Shazan would have never asked him to protect Maira and Isha if he had been fine. He was worried about his Master, but he nodded.
“My instincts tell me that something dreadful is going to happen.” Shazan smiled at him.
Sure enough, Caius had a bright smile on his face. He was a man who loved battles. The harder the challenges were, the more thrilled he was.
Only Maira frowned when she saw the smile on Caius’ face. She had spent enough time in the Silverstein Palace to know that Caius only smiled that brightly when the danger was imminent. She did not hear what Shazan said to Caius, but she knew it was not something pleasant.
“Isha…” She turned around to look at the girl by her side. “Can you stay here?”
Her words caught the attention of the King and the Queens, but they remained silent and looked at Shazan.
He did not say anything at Maira’s words, which meant that he approved her words.
Isha was reluctant, but she realized that Maira wouldn’t have asked her to stay if it was not dangerous down there. She did not want to burden anyone, and so she nodded with a smile.
“I will stay here and look around these murals.” She gestured to the mythical carving all over the platform.
“Let’s go.” Shazan nodded to Isha, and then said to everyone else.
They descended the stairs without haste. The surroundings got darker as they descended, but the white stairs were still visible before their eyes.
For them, who were all strong Azeros, the lack of light was not a major issue, but Maira was still not as strong as the rest of them. Her sight lowered with each step that she took, and she started feeling uncomfortable.
“Why have we not arranged lights here?”
“It is not a place open to anyone. All the people who are allowed to come here are High-Guards. And the lower the light, the easier it would be for us to defend this place in case of emergencies. There are lights here, but we do not use them.” The King answered her query. “This is where the High-Guards train. The bottom of the volcano is a training ground with a little light, but it is not visible from up here. And yes, it is quite hot down there.”
She was the Aryan princess, but even she had not heard of the Cave or the Training ground before. And this was the first time she had descended these stairs.
The group arrived at a small platform after nearly half an hour. All the High-Guards kneeled to them. They did not say a word, and the place was silent as ever.
Shazan followed the King inside the Cave and surprisedly looked around the walls. There were all sorts of carvings of creatures he had never before seen or heard of. Only the ground they were walking on did not have any such pictures.
The walls held a light inside them that lit the entire cave in a soft red hue. The light was weak, but it was enough for him to see clearly. And what was amazing was that the cylindrical passage was several meters wide.
“The cave was not touched even a bit. These carvings and inscriptions have always been here.” Rani-Ma informed them. “We can’t read these inscriptions, and we don’t know what creatures these are. But they are all over the walls of the cave.”
He nodded to her words and kept looking around the walls. He noticed that all the creatures on the walls had Star-like pupils in their eyes. The feline creatures had slit pupils surrounded by a couple of Star-like pupils, and the insect creatures had only one star-like pupil.
Renesme had once told him about Magical beasts, and she had informed him that all Guardian Beasts had crescents in their eyes. The number of crescents represented their realms of strength, and he concluded that it was the same for these Magical Beasts.
The feline creatures were inherently stronger than the insect creatures, but both of them were weaker than the strange creatures with bird-like wings at their backs.
Shazan tried to read the Inscriptions which were in the language of Amazeros, but it was not the language of Azeros or the language he had learned overnight. However, he could discern some similarities with the inscriptions he had seen on the Flute.
He turned and reached the wall to take a better look at the creatures.
There were not any details about them in the diary of Zihanay, but she had mentioned the armies of Annihilation Beasts. Her Star was hit by waves of Annihilation beasts over time, and finally, it perished. And when she had become the Envoy, she commanded the armies of the Annihilation Beasts that were under her authority.
He traced the carvings with his fingers. The texture felt smooth and silk-like, and he could smell the familiar scent emanating from the tip of his fingers.
“What is this scent?” Maira, who had followed him to the wall, asked curiously in an isolated voice.
For some reason, she did not feel any problem in asking him questions. She had kept quiet when no one else questioned him about it in the Treasury. But now she needed a better answer.
“It is the scent of Life.” He answered her but did not explain himself.
Maira was about to ask more about it, but he smiled at her and pointed at the Insect-like creatures.
“Aren’t they pretty?”
Maira looked at the creature he had pointed at, and her brows furrowed.
“They are hideous… and seem dangerous.”
“If I am not wrong, there will come a time in future when this Planet will face against an army of such creatures.” He informed her.
She asked in disbelief.
“It’s a test,” Shazan answered what he had concluded, “but I don’t know what it means.”
“They are strong?” Maira asked as she looked at the pictures of creatures with dead seriousness.
“They are…” He nodded at her. “The creatures with wings are stronger than the Guardian Beasts of this world.”
“How do you know the strengths of the Guardian Beasts?” Her attention was soon back on him.
“Renesme told me that the Guardian Beasts have crescents in their eyes. The number of crescents represents the realm of the strength of the Beast. All the Guardian Beasts on the Planet have two crescents in their eyes.” He pointed at the creatures with wings. “These creatures are Magical Beasts, but they are not Guardians. However, the difference in strength shouldn’t be much, and since they have three stars in their eyes, I have a feeling that they are stronger.”
Everyone else also heard his words. They could not gauge the strength of the Guardians as they had never seen them before, but everyone believed that the Guardians were the strongest of the creatures on this planet.
“You are only in the Second Realm of the initial phase of Amazeros.” He continued to inform her about things. “There are Seven Realms in the initial phase, and when you pass the initial phase, you enter a phase called Ascendence. There are again seven realms in Ascendence before you can enter the next phase of Amazeros.”
Of the people present, only the King and the two Queens had known the limit of the initial phase. Everyone else was shocked to hear the words, but even the King and his queens were in shock when they heard details about the next stage.
“What comes after Ascendence, and what does Ascendence mean?” Akash couldn’t contain his excitement and asked hurriedly.
Shazan smiled at him.
“You can fly in the Realm of Ascendence…” He did not say anything more than that, but this little detail was enough to make all their hearts beat in excitement.
“You have stepped in it, right?” Queen Izna asked.
She knew that she was in the seventh stage herself, but she was not a match for him. She could not see past his strength, and that made her believe that he was already in the next phase.
“I am not… yet.” He answered her with a polite smile. “Almost there.”
“You can fly?” Maira asked doubtfully.
“I can.” He nodded affirmatively. “But since I have not entered the phase yet, it consumes my strength at a ridiculous rate. I can not sustain the flight for long, and I have not trained it yet.”
The people were surprised to hear his words.
For them, flying was no less than a dream, and now that they knew that it could be achieved if they got stronger, they felt their blood boil in excitement.
However, some of them soon turned serious.
“How many Ascendants are there on Earth?”
It was Caius who asked the question. His brows were tight, and his fists were clenched.
Shazan smiled at him understandingly. He knew what was bothering Caius, but now that he had decided to reveal things to them, he was not going to hide that detail.
“Eight Elders in the Wise Blood Order are Ascendants, there are six known ones in the Myriad Eye, three in the Moon Clan, six in the Day Clan, one in the Aryan Clan, one in the Blackwood tribe of Lycans, nine in the Blood Clan, and there’s one more… but I can not tell you about that person.”
“There’s one in the Aryan Clan?!” Kashish shouted in disbelief.
All of them were shocked to hear his words. Even the King and the Two Queens had not known about this.
“It’s that Elder in the purple cloak that I met last night.”
“Elder Armaaz?” The King frowned and asked. “You sure?”
He could not believe that the ever so quiet and polite Elder Armaaz was in truth an Ascendant.
“I can sense them. They can keep things from others, but not from another Ascendant, or me, a Half-Ascendant.”
“Why do they keep silent about it?”
Caius asked the question that was looming in the minds of others.
“Because that Realm is a realm of Desolation,” Shazan answered with a pale smile. “Earth is a lower world, and it is missing something essential for the growth in the phase of Ascendance. That is why, whoever enters that phase, remains in the first realm of Ascendance.”
Soon, they realized the reason and understood it. Their hearts were suddenly empty and ached. All their excitement drained away, and they were lost in deep thoughts.
Queen Izna was the most disappointed as she was closer to the phase of Ascendance than the rest of them. But she recovered her thoughts and mysteriously smiled at him.
“Is that why none of them have an interest in the affairs of this world?” She asked.
Shazan smiled at her and nodded.
“True… But not all of them have lost hope, just as you have not.” He chuckled. “Indeed, they are looking for ways to leave this planet and enter a new and stronger world.”
“And the wall that we are about to show you is a passage to a new world?”
Her question made them realize why he had decided to reveal things to them.
“Yes… but the world at the other end might be filled with things that would kill us all.”
Everyone turned solemn at his words.
“This passage is the Passage of Annihilation. It is not a dimensional door, but the destruction of us.” He said to them. “There are Seven passages of Annihilation in every world, but they open at their set times. However, this passage was forcefully created by Zihanay when she led people of Water to this world. It was sealed by her, and we must not open the seal.”
Queen Izna nodded to his words. His words were more or less for her, and she understood why.
Shazan smiled when he saw her nod in agreement. She was a smart woman.
“It is not that there are no safe passages to the other worlds…” He said to her. “Each Guardian Beast protects a Passage to another living world, stronger than ours by a level. But the passages are one-way. Once you leave, you can not return. And to enter it, one must pass the test of the Guardian Beast.”
His meaning was clear. If she ever chose to leave, she had to remember that she would lose her family or a part of it.
They were all thinking over his words, and other than Caius, everyone was reluctant at the thought of leaving their home behind.
Suddenly, the ground under their feet trembled. The shockwaves got stronger, and the inscriptions on the walls started blinking in a golden light.
“What’s happening?” Kashish asked worriedly.
Shazan did not answer her and rushed deeper inside the cave. His heart was palpitating in anxiety. And chills were running up his spine.
“Please… Don’t break!” He whispered.
♛ Author’s Note:
I hope you liked the chapter. See ya!
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