Chapter 1 - The battle of Shambala

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.

Toshani gasped. 

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.

She waited.

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.

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