The pristine capital city of Shambala was burning. War had been brewing for many months but none, not even the oracle Shrushaw, believed there was a risk of its downfall.
The king of Shambala, Sachihiro was kind, just, and relied too much on the kindness of "neighbors", he thought they would honor the peace agreement.
Sachihero had 2 daughters both beautiful and pure like the moon.
The Elder one was called Revati, she was 21 and recently married to Prince Aditya of Lorna.
The younger one was just 16-year-old Toshani.
Right now, she was shaking with terror as she gazed at the burning city from her balcony.
A strange whistling noise could be heard from far away.
" Arrows!" She thought.
She ducked down immediately as a rain of arrows struck where she was standing moments ago.
She crawled back indoors to avoid getting struck again. Leaning against the door she sobbed as her world crumbled around her.
"Quick Toshani! dress in your darkest clothes, take your bow and arrows, and meet your mother and me in the main hall in one minute." King Sachihero said to her in a worried voice.
"Father... what is happening? I don't..." She stammered before he cut her off.
"Don't argue! there is no time to explain.... the Vatsaya soldiers are near the gates and our guards will not be able to hold them off for much longer, please dear, I beg you - hurry".
There was a tone of desperation in his voice and it chilled her to the core.
"Vatsaya? Why would Vatsaya attack us? Surely there was some mistake. They were allies!"
She clutched the ruby locket in a golden chain. It was a gift from Rudra. The 18-year-old second prince of Vatsaya. He would not betray her.
Or would he?
Her governess approached her.
"Princess, please dress up in this cloak we need to hurry," Maria said.
Maria had been the royal governess for years. She had raised Toshani's elder sister Revati and her since their infancy.
"Maria, what is happening?" Toshani asked in a cracked voice.
"The king of Vatsaya has attacked, my lady. Thankfully, your sister is in Lorna. Otherwise, I shudder to think what would have happened."
Her sister was one of the heirs of Shambala, the mystical kingdom. Kings and princes from all over the world vied for her hand. She eventually chose Prince Aditya of Lorna 6 months ago in a Svayamvaar.
"Maria there is some mistake Vatsaya army would never attack us," Toshani said while changing into a dark cloak.
"And why is that your highness?"
"Prince Rudra loves me. We love each other. He won't betray me."
Maria's eyes grew wide in surprise.
"What! When did this happen?"
Maria was about 40. She had been in service of the royal family for decades and considered both the princesses as her own daughters. If what Toshani said was true it meant there was a greater conspiracy.
"It's a long story Maria but...."
"You are very naive your highness. He just used you." Maria said sadly.
"No! That is not true.... he loves me...." Toshani insisted with all innocence of her youth.
A banging at the door startled them. Maria's eyes grew wide in terror.
"Your highness hide.... just hide somewhere!"
Toshani was transfixed at the spot like a statue. Maria pushed her into a closet and shut the door.
She stood facing the door waiting for the inevitable. There was an as loud bang, the door broke on its hinges, swinging like a dead man on a rope. Toshani kept her hand on her mouth her eyes wide with terror as she observed the proceedings through the crack in the closet door.
A hoard of Vatsaya soldiers entered. She recognized them by the Trident crest on their armors.
"So, it's true. Rudra betrayed me." She thought. A fresh spate of tears sprang in her eyes.
A scream broke her thoughts.
"Tell me where is the princess!"
Maria was being roughly held by her hair.
The Vatsaya soldiers were surrounding her laughing and shouting expletives.
"I don't know.... she ran away." Maria screeched.
"Oh really!" The soldier tore her dress stripping her naked.
Maria cried trying to hide her body while the ruffians jeered.
"Captain she is old, but pretty can we have her." One soldier asked.
"Of course, but make sure she is dead." The captain replied while eying the room.
The soldier grinned and threw Maria on the bed. They were one her like a pack of wolves.
Toshani closed her eyes shaking with terror. That image would haunt her entire life. She sobbed.
"Wait did you hear that noise?" The captain said.
"Nothing apart from the screams of this bitch!" The soldier thrusting into Maria laughed.
"Shut up idiot!" The captain replied.
The man who was probably the captain tiptoed towards the closet.
Toshani cowered in the corner clamping her hand on her mouth.
It was quiet. She peeped out of the crack. The room was suddenly empty. Maria's naked dead body lay on the bed.
Assured that those ruffians had left she slowly opened the closet and stepped out.
The screams and battle sound were still resonating in the castle. Toshani felt someone grab her arms.
"Finally caught you princess." The captain grinned.
He had been hiding beside the closet waiting for her.
"Don't touch me! " She screamed and struck him with her dagger. He twisted her hand behind her.
Her aim failed. He caught her other wrist and the dagger fell with a clatter.
"Not so fast princess. You have to be caught alive!"
"No" she shouted and squirmed against him. He caught her throat pinning her against the wall.
"I can kill you right now if you don't cooperate."
He could feel his fingers tightening on her neck. She struggled to breathe.
"STOP!" A female voice was heard.
He did not get a chance to turn around. His body simply fell, limp.
Toshani held her throat gasping for breath. She looked at the tall slender figure wearing a hood.
"Oracle!" Toshani whispers.
"We don't have much time. Just come along."
The lady who was the oracle of Shambhala grabbed her hand and pulled her away from the room. Neither of them noticed her red ruby pendant lying on the floor.
Toshani gave one last look at dead Maria and followed the Oracle.
They descended the sweeping staircase, their footsteps muffled in the royal purple carpet.
The entrance hall was eerily deserted but for the three figures huddled at the door.
Her mother, dressed in a dark velvet dress, a crown on her head, and a jeweled dagger sheathed at her waist. She was conversing in urgent whispers with King, who was decked out in a full military dress and with the royal bodyguard, Manas, similarly in combat uniform but not as decorated.
"It is not safe my lord, I beg of you to reconsider!" pleaded Manas.
"There is no alternative captain. The back exit is engulfed in smoke and debris, this is the only way out." said the king.
"But sir, it is surely a trap, can't you see this?! you will be playing right into king Tarekdeo's hands if you do this," Manas said, his eyes wide and pleading.
"There is no other way. You and I both know Tarekdeo wants the source. We cannot let him get the princess."
"I have brought the Princess, My lord." The oracle proclaimed.
King turned towards her. He lifted his eyes to his daughter, calling her forward.
"Listen my darling Toshani, we are surrounded and there is no other way out but through here. The castle is slowly burning so we cannot stay inside and fight from within. We must, therefore, flee the grounds--- Do not interrupt me I beg of you darling!" the king raised his voice as it was obvious that Toshani was about to say something.
"Your mother and I will go to the right, Manas and you will go to the left, that way, maybe we will confuse the archers or whoever is lying in wait... but we only get one chance. Do you understand me?" he asked, looking down at his only daughter.
Tears welled in her eyes and she shook my head. Her father grasped her arms and knelt down and said to her "You are the princess of Shambala, you must honor your heritage, your country, and yourself, no matter what happens. Manas and the Oracle will lead you to Lorna. Go to your sister. They will protect you."
She looked up at her father and nodded silently as words failed her. Her mother hugged her tightly. She broke the hug and pressed her palm on top Manas's breastplate and said, "I entrust her safety to you, captain".
"My life for hers, if it comes to that, worry not your highness," said Manas, with a terse bow of his head.
The king looked at Manas and said in a shaking voice, "You know what will happen if she is captured, captain..."
A beam of understanding shot between both men. "I know, sir. I will not let it happen". Manas said tersely.
"We must leave now or else we shall all perish from this smoke" coughed the queen.
"Ready everyone?" The king asked, his hand on the large brass door handle. " Remember, for the honor of Shambala!" he roared before ripping the door open, pulling the queen after him, Manas following quickly pulling Toshani behind him.
It was a crazy scene. The city was burning, people were screaming, and the wind was whipping around Toshani.They had only gone a hundred meters before a scream pierced the night. Toshani stopped, recognizing her mother's cry of anguish. Toshani was unable to move from panic- until she heard a roar. her father roared into the night before silence fell. "Princess we need to move." The Oracle said."My....my parents." She cried."They sacrificed their lives for you. Let it not go to waste your highness." The oracle said."Let go of me..." Toshani screeched but was muffled when a large hand covered her mouth."Princess you must be quiet, or you will get us killed!" said Manas, placing a viselike grip on her arm."They are hurt, captain! I must go back... we must try and save them" Toshani sobbed, trying to pry his grip from her arm."The king knew what he was doing and accepted the danger. My mission is to get you to safety princess... I gave your mother my word" said the captain, as he
6 months earlier -The kingdom of Shambala had a peculiar climate. It had snow-covered mountain peaks, vast grasslands, thick woodlands, and a perfectly sunny coastline.It shared its border with the Vatsaya kingdom in the west, Karoliya in the North, and Anatolia in the east. The south side had the sea. Shambala had important seaports and it was on an incredibly significant trade route. Ships from various places regularly docked at Shambala adding to its prosperity. Some people said it was because of the power of mother goddess Aditi that made Shambala so tranquil and prosperous. Her mysterious source lay somewhere in Shambala.The palace in the capital city of Kushan was in an uproar. Queen Kalita was agitated. The first of the suitor princes was supposed to arrive shortly. It was the tradition in Shambala and several other kingdoms that when a princess had too many suitors or she had not chosen anyone on her own. A svyamvar was organized, were princes or kings from various nations
Prince Rudra yawned as he rode along with his brother Anbir, and the entourage of about 50 soldiers and staff. He was not really interested in the Svayamvaar of princess Revati.He was just 18, too young to participate anyway. His half-brother Anbir was one of the contestants. Rudra had just tagged along to give him company.Anbir's mother the former queen had died years ago. The current queen of Vatsaya and Rudra's mother was Queen Chitralekha."Rudra are you sleepy? We can take a break if you wish." Anbir said.At twenty-two, Anbir stood a good six feet one inch tall, only an inch taller than his dad. His body was lean and muscular from his active life. Hunting, riding, and sword training filled his day, as studies in politics, arithmetic, reading, and writing filled his night.King Tarekdeo doted on Anbir; it is said he deeply loved his former queen Jyoti until a mysterious illness took her away.He was never the same after that. He used to wander alone in the woods, caves, met seve
Rudra and his entourage were now in the capital city of Kushan, the home of the royal family, and therefore the capital of the Shambala Kingdom. Looming marble towers grew from the city's center like white tree trunks into the heavens. The streets were lined with old trees and bright flowers. The finest artists and craftsmen worked along with them in grand shops and houses. Endless gardens sprawled across the city, interspersed with inns, eateries, and tea houses that took the form of gazebos and houses.People walking around looked happy and content. The palace had architecture like no other in the district. Several centuries earlier the royal family of Shambala had shipped in an architect from an overseas city. They wanted something exotic to inspire awe in the population. So instead of the peaks in the roof, it had gold-domed towers. It had an open porch at the front, held up with most ostentatiously detailed pillars, painted in brilliant white and blue. Inside there were no door
"He's not going to be pleased." Malcolm cast a look over the aftermath of their chaos - a splatter of papers and scrolls.Four knocked out Shambala guards were slumped at the entrance. He exhaled deeply, "This was a mistake.""Perhaps we are in the wrong room?" Gopi said."This is the royal archives room and as per my Information this is where the suitors' challenge had been put," Malcolm said."The prince is not going to be happy," Malcolm said moodily."You're being melodramatic." Gopi a commander, was far more at ease."I don't understand why the prince needs the challenges in advance. He is competent enough to win anyway." Gopi continued."Careful! Any word against the prince would be treason." Malcolm had a stern expression.Gopi rolled his eyes. He was apprehensive about their whole stealing the challenge mission right from the beginning. Anbir had got tipped off by some internal source from Shambala that the blueprint of the challenges was stored in the archives.Hence, he sent
"Sure, why not? Shall we have stakes?" she answered cheerily, between sorting out her cards."Stakes? How mercenary," Rudra commented, though it was clear that this was meant to be a joke."Certainly. Perhaps, if I win..." He quieted, thinking before his smile returned. "If I win, I'd like you to tell me more about the challenges.""Are you trying to wriggle out information from me to make your brother win?" She asked."I want him to win so that we can be related and get more opportunities to meet." He gave his most dazzling smile which quickened her heartbeat."But that would be duping. Your brother should win fairly." She spoke."Hmmm, perhaps I should change my stakes. How about if I win you tell me just the first challenge?""It's still unfair." She replied." You just need to tell me what the challenge is. I am not asking for the key to solving it. It's still fair." He insisted.She pondered over a moment."Ok. And if I win...I want you to tell me something about you, which no on
Rudra strode towards the noise which he had heard while playing cards with the princess."Malcolm! What are you doing here?" He asked the Vatsaya guards who were dressed in formals for the party."Prince Rudra! We were just returning from an errand for his highness." Malcolm replied while Gopi rolled his eyes."I think I know what that errand might be," Rudra said wryly.He did not approve of his brother's erratic ways to win the contest. However, Anbir was headstrong and would do whatever he wished."This way he'll get disqualified before the contest commences." Rudra thought.He went back into the party which was wretchedly boring as described by Toshani.At the thought of her, he sought her around in the crowd. She was dancing with someone he did not know, and she had a scowl on her face.He smirked.She was amusing. Though he could not point out why he was so taken with her. It was like being pulled by a magnet. He just watched her glide around the dance floor.He joined his brothe
"Fifteen contestants, fifteen greatest warriors, princes and kings have gathered here to vie for my daughter's hand" King Suchihero paused."It truly an honor. The ancient system of Svyamvaar was established to choose the best man for a princess. There are 5 senses, 5 elements, 5 continents on this blessed Earth. Hence there would be 5 challenges. They will be revealed as we proceed." The first contest was taking place in a hall which was the size of an average auditorium. There was a central stage where the contestants were seated.The highest pavilion, near it, was filled with the royal family. Then the guests, and courtiers.Rudra shifted in his seat. He was not interested in the contest really. He was scanning the pavilion for Toshani.Anbir bristled in anger having to appear for such a childish contest for the foolish king but he restrained himself. As per his father's order, he had to win.The oracle took over from the king as she approached the stage to brief the contestants a