“We have only faced Spiders, Scorpions, and Ants so far. Shazan says that there are more insect-like creatures, and so we are always on alert. What is terrifying is that the spawn rate is rising. At the start, we only faced a creature every few hours, and now, we face two to three creatures every hour.”
“Are the strong ones appearing more often now?” Ezio asked.
“That’s the troublesome part. We have no idea what is going to come out. Sometimes it’s just the small ones, but the very next hour, it could only be the big ones.” Akash shook his head depressedly. “We thought that we could move the battlefield out of the cave. But the problem we face is that the Beasts seem to have no mind to manipulate. They all attack the first living being they lay their eyes on. Ants do take some time before unleashing their attacks, but it is not enough.”
“Dumb ones with great strength are always troublesome.”
Akash chuckled at Ezio’s words.
“That’s what Sir Gerald said.” He sipped wine from his cup and commented.
“What exactly is the problem?” Maira confusedly asked.
“How can they lure an enemy out when it wouldn’t even give them time?” Keira smiled at her. “The Beasts seem to not care much about their safety, and they are creatures with only one meaning to their existence; Annihilation. Luring them would raise risks even more since they are strong, and they don’t even know if a big one is going to come out or a small one. And they all have mysterious abilities.”
“Exactly,” Akash nodded to her words. “The enemy is unpredictable, inexhaustible, and has a definite goal. Even if it is a small creature, it can not be dealt with by a person alone. Spiders are terrifying, one mistake, and you could be cut to pieces. You can live with a cut by the Spider, but once the telson of Scorpion pierces you, you are dead for sure. And the Ants are an abomination. That acid can destroy your insides if inhaled even a bit, and it would melt you to nothingness if it hits you. Then there are those troublesome abilities. Scorpions are invincible as long as their shields stay up. The Discs give the Spiders near-perfect defense. And though Ants do not have shields, their bodies are the toughest. The only chance you can hurt it is right after it spits acid. And that is a risk in itself.”
There was no smile on Akash’s face as he recalled the abilities of those creatures.
“Shazan refuses to test. He has asked us to do the preparations, but testing would only be their last resort.” He sighed and sank back in his seat.
“What he is taking precaution is against the enemy assembling up,” Ezio answered grimly. “Once you leave the cave to those Creatures and wait outside, you might be giving your enemy the ground to land safely on and prepare. Those abilities, especially the Scorpion’s second Barrier is annoying. It can cage people inside. And once that cage is filled with Acidic smoke…”
Keira felt her heart constrict at the words of Ezio.
“If even a little bit goes wrong, and the enemy gets the time to form a horde, we will lose a lot of lives.” Ezio summarized the problem. “But the way things are going, we would lose lives, but the numbers would stay low. That is why Shazan refuses to go with other plans.”
Akash curiously glanced at Ezio before palely smiling.
“You have not been on the battlefield, and you can still see right through our issues. And more than that, you can understand his reasons which most of the people there don’t understand.” He said in admiration.
“He is my Lord.” Ezio gently smiled.
There was nothing more he had to say.
“Uncle Ezio,” Maira suddenly addressed him. “You have been going to the Volcano every day, hoping that he would allow you to fight with him, but he refuses. Why is that?”
The question was on the mind of everyone, and even on the minds of people inside the cave.
No one doubted the strength of the famous Ezio Ragzar. And that was why they were all confused why Shazan refused to have him on the battlefield.
“That’s right…” Akash nodded to her words and looked at Ezio. “Sir Ezio, others have the same question too, but no one dared to ask him about it. Can you tell us the reason?”
Keira observed the expressions of Ezio and lowered her head. She clenched her fists tightly under the table so no one else would see her agitation.
Ezio lowered his head with a complicated expression on his face. The words hurt him, but even if he desired something else, he would never disobey the order of his Master.
“That’s because Shazan is a coward.”
The words shocked the people present on the table.
Everyone looked at Ilsa who seemed to be calm, but the words she had just spoken contained hints of sadness and fury.
“Lady Ilsa…” Ezio wanted to stop her from saying anything more, but he failed.
“You don’t have to keep it a secret anymore, Uncle.” Ilsa scoffed and folded her arms on her chest. “We both know that the reason he does not want you there is that he does not need your protection. We are only a burden for his Majesty.”
Everyone but Akash was used to her spicy nature, and the Aryan Prince had a disbelieving look on his face at her words.
“Don’t mind her…” Keira shook her head and told Akash.
“You were not there in the Black Forest, Keira,” Ilsa said solemnly. “You only heard the accounts of events from Uncle Ezio and Gerald, but I can tell you that they toned everything down for you to accept.”
Keira clenched her fists tighter. She was not mad at Ilsa for bringing that event back. She had always known that Ezio and Gerald had not told them the whole truth back then. And the unease on Ezio’s face was proof enough.
“It is almost laughable when you said that no person alone can take on those Creatures…” Ilsa looked at Ezio and then laughed lightly. “I am sure if it came down to it, that Monster can take on them by himself.”
A wave of anger flashed in Keira’s heart finally. She glared at Ilsa to warn her to calm down, but the girl was not going to stop until she was finished.
“Don’t look at me like that, Keira.” She glared back and then turned to look back at Ezio. “Tell them, Uncle. Tell her what happened inside the Black Forest.”
“My Lady…” Ezio pleadingly looked at her.
“They need to know and understand why we have to be with him there…” Ilsa palely smiled and lowered her head as her body trembled. “Tell them what happened.”
“What do you mean…” Maira was confused now.
The sudden change in Ilsa’s tone and manners left them all agast. Now everyone understood what she was really mad about. She was worried about him, and she had her reasons.
Only silence remained in the dining room. Everyone looked at Ezio to tell them what Ilsa was talking about, but Ezio had his eyes closed, and his body was slightly trembling in fear.
“Black Forest?” Akash could not hold it anymore and turned to ask Keira.
“They are talking about the War of the Five Tribes,” Keira told him. “I had not gone with Shazan because I was pregnant with Roselyn. He left with Ezio and took Gerald with him in secret. Ilsa was there with her Brother and some more people from the Wise-Blood Order. They were supposed to find out reasons for disturbances, but they were all caught amid a conspiracy and a War.”
“What had happened?”
Maira had heard accounts of the event, but she was not clear about it.
“Myriad Eye…” Keira shook her head and replied to her. “They were the instigators of the War, and were allied to two Tribes.”
“Oh…” Maira understandingly nodded and expectantly looked at Ezio to tell them what Ilsa was talking about. “Uncle…” She called him out.
“Both Gerald and I agreed to not talk about it again…” Ezio opened his hazel eyes and helplessly looked at Ilsa. “He’s scared because he does not want to lose us, Lady Ilsa. And the reason why he does not want me to join him is also that he wants me to stay out here to protect you all in case of the unexpected.”
Ilsa turned her face away at his words. Her brows were furrowed, and her body was still trembling. It was something she was clear about. But not everyone there could understand her fears.
“Uncle Ezio…” Keira frowned and worriedly asked.
“My Apologies for keeping things from you all.” Ezio lowered his head and took his time to say his next words. “What ambushed us that night was not a party with two Ascendants, Lady Keira.” His words were heavy, and it was clear that he was not comfortable recalling that event. “There were nine Ascendants…”
Those four words constricted the hearts of everyone on the table.
“You were ambushed by nine Ascendants?!” Akash horrifiedly asked.
“Mhm…” Ilsa nodded. “We were first ambushed by two from the Tribe that was chasing us out of the Black Forest. Then when Gerald, Ares, and Shazan fought back, trying to earn the time for the rest of the group to escape, seven more appeared.”
“Two were from the Myriad Eye, and the rest of the five were from three other Lycan Tribes. The lack of information was one thing, but we could have never expected the Lycan Clans to have 7 Ascendants. And thankfully, the last clan had stayed out of the war when we stumbled into the fray.”
“But Shazan told us that there is only one Ascendant in the Lycan Tribe.” Akash frowned.
“Yes. That is the only remaining Ascendant Lycan. The Blackwood Tribe was the one that had not entered the war at that time.” Ezio nodded and answered.
“What happened after you were ambushed?” Maira anxiously asked.
“They started killing. The group that had come with us was eliminated. They left Lord Ares, Shazan, and Gerald as they wanted to capture them alive. But Lady Ilsa, I, and Rysar were not going to survive. However…”
Ezio stopped his words and closed his eyes again.
“Gerald was occupied with two Ascendants. Lord Ares was helpless as he was only in the fifth Realm at that time. I too was about to meet my end, but…” He said as a tear slipped from the corner of his eye. “Shazan shielded an attack for me. His chest was pierced, and a fist-wide hole was left there.”
Keira felt her mind go blank the moment she heard those words. Her eyes were shrouded in warm mistiness, and waves of dizziness washed over her.
Ezio glanced at her and lowered his head apologetically.
“The wound was fatal. No one could have survived it…” He continued with heavy words. “But something happened then, and his Aura burst out. I was very clear of his strength. He was in the seventh Realm at that time, but the Aura that burst out of him suppressed everything that surrounded us… It was far greater than I could comprehend. And then he roared… loudly, and majestically. The wound in his chest healed magically, in a matter of seconds. And before we knew it, one Lycan Ascendant lost his head.”
Keira could not understand anything more than that her husband had survived. She was not as curious about the phenomenon as the rest of them, but that did not mean that she had no questions.
“He killed them all?” She asked.
Ezio nodded in reply.
“Huh…” Ilsa scoffed and stood up. “Why are you still keeping the details…” She looked at Keira and grinned with misty eyes. “He did kill them all… But do you want to know how?”
Keira had a bad premonition about what Ilsa about to say. But there was nothing she could do to make Ilsa not say it. She had witnessed his madness too.
“He hunted them like a predator. He toyed with them. He dismembered them, ripped giant wolves apart with bare hands, squeezed the blood out of their hearts. And do you know what he did with the last Ascendant?” Ilsa’s body trembled in fear as she recalled the scene. “He drank his Blood as a Bloodfallen would do, while he held the Heart of his enemy in his hand.”
Ilsa looked at everyone on the table.
“You would know what fear is when you see him in that state. You would not believe that it is him, and when you look in those wine eyes of his, you would all fall on your knees and lower your heads, as we did… Even Gerald was cowering in fear.” She madly laughed. “You know when he looked at me… I felt as if he would kill me next. There were no emotions on his face, but he vanished then. We did not see him for the next hour.”
“Where did he go?” Isha subconsciously asked.
“To hunt…” Ilsa replied with a bright smile. “He killed dozens of Lycan Elites, and eradicated all the Myriad Eye members present inside the Black Forest that night.”
Keira now understood why Ilsa feared him so much. And she was certain that she would have felt the same fear if she had been present there. But what she was confused about was why Ilsa was so worried about him.
“He loses his reasoning in that state?” Keira asked doubtfully.
“No,” Ezio shook his head. “If he did, none of us would have survived at his hands that night. He keeps his rationality in that state, but despite that, he is a different person. He had an insatiable desire for killing, and his methods are viciously terrifying.” He shook his head again and looked at Keira. “He does not need our protection, but once he has entered that state and it wears off… He becomes too weak. He can’t even open his eyes or move an inch of his body. Even his breathing is minimum.”
The words finally managed to make her worried and cleared everything to her. She now understood why Ilsa said that they needed to be there with him. The Princess of Kalstark did not trust others.
Silence returned to the table and lasted for a while.
Each of them had their thoughts, and what they had just come to know was not something they could digest so fast.
“But Ilsa…” Keira finally looked at her. “Wouldn’t we be forcing him in that state if we go there? If anything goes wrong, and he enters that state again…”
“You think that he would not enter that state if we are not there?” Ilsa folded her arms on her chest and glared at her. “You all heard what the Prince said. The battle is already tense, and we do not know what would happen later and for how long it would continue. All I understand is that the number of enemies would keep rising, people will be mentally haggard, mistakes will be made, lives will be lost, and he will be forced in that state again.”
What she said was right. Keira knew it, but there was nothing she could do about it. They had to respect his orders.
“Right now… It is an opportunity for all of us to gain strength.” Ilsa looked around the table and then back at Keira. “As strong as you are, you are not as strong as him.”
The words ached her heart, but she held her breath and shook her head. Her meaning was clear. If they remained weak, they would never be able to stand with him.
“We will stay put and wait for his orders.”
“Enough.” She waved her hand and stopped Ilsa from saying anything more. “Let’s have faith in him.” She added and turned to look at Ezio. “Uncle, how long does he stay in that weak state after…”
“He slept for more than two days,” Ezio answered her. “We escaped the Black Forest at that time.”
Her worries rose. Two days was a long duration.
“Let’s just hope he isn’t forced to enter that state again.” She whispered.
“I am afraid he did enter that state a week ago.”
The sudden words jolted everyone back to attention.
“What?” Ilsa stood up and looked at Akash for an explanation.
“I was not inside the Cave when it happened, so I do not know the exact details. But from what the Elders were talking, and what little Elder Amraaz and father spoke to me… I can conclude that he did enter that state. Father said that his eyes turned to the shade of blood, and his speed was beyond what they could comprehend. He nearly killed the very first Ant by himself.”
“Why would he enter that state?” Keira asked grimly.
“He saved Grandmother’s life. That’s all I was told. And I heard bits of information that said that he healed at a monstrous speed, which means that he suffered an attack.” Akash apologetically told them.
Keira could see that Ilsa was suppressing her anger. She had the same thought on her mind as her.
To them, no life mattered more than his, and they were upset that he risked his life for someone else. But they knew that it was inevitable. Perhaps if they were in his shoes, they might have done the same and saved Queen Izna.
“He wouldn’t have done it if he wasn’t sure of his survival,” Ezio told them, and then he frowned before looking at Akash. “How long was he out for after that?”
“Seven hours,” Akash told him. “He slept for seven hours, and woke up in perfect shape.”
Ezio nodded to him and then looked at Keira.
“We should stay put.” He suggested.
“I know, Uncle,” Keira replied and looked at Ilsa. “Please, Ilsa?”
“Huh…” Ilsa scoffed and sat back on her seat.
“I was given this letter by him. He was the one that sent me here to take rest.” Akash took out a simple piece of paper from his pocket and presented it to Keira. “Please hand this to Miss Ella. It is for her.
Keira was surprised when she heard who the letter was directed to. But before she could accept it, Ilsa had already snatched it from Akash.
A minute passed and Keira observed the complicated expressions on Ilsa’s face. And the little twitch at the corner of her mouth did not miss her.
“What is it about?” She asked.
Ilsa remained silent as she stared at the letter.
It was then that Isha got up from her seat and stood by Ilsa’s side to read it. And then they saw the little girl burst in giggles.
Keira was confused now, and so she walked over and took the letter from Ilsa’s hand.
It was a strange language and a strange script. No matter how hard Keira tried, she could not understand a bit of it. But there was something written at the bottom of the letter that they could read, the reason why Isha had burst into giggles.
“My dear Muscle-Head, it is not a good thing to read the letters that are not yours. But don’t worry, I still love you. Please, don’t make things hard for others, and be obedient to Keira.”
A smile crept on her lips when she read it.
He knew that Ilsa would read it before it reaches Ella.
♛ Author’s Note:
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