Casket of Shadows

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Aznor – The Lion man

It was gone. Disappeared. I was somewhere else. Someone had transported me just as I was about to attack. I went down on one knee and at the same time twisted myself around to see all sides and behind. I still gripped my sword and my shield moved with me ensuring I had protection from anything incoming. My adrenaline was still racing through my avatar in survival, warrior mode, but where was the enemy?

“Bravo, bravo, and welcome to my home.”

The voice was heard from my heart-mind, it was clear and warm, and masculine.

“Come, stranger, partake of a drink of elixir with me, and for goodness sake put away your weapon, we have no need for such antique things in this place.”

I followed where the voice appeared to be transmitted from. Now as I calmed a little, I became more aware of my surroundings. I had landed in a place filled with greenery, of short but sturdy trees, bushes and the smell of damp warmth filled my nostrils. Blooms of all the colors of the rainbow seemed to be everywhere and an exquisite but very delicate fragrance slide through the air just below the warm damp. I looked up momentarily and saw the structure of a domed ceiling, high above. This was clear and the night sky was visible through the clear structure between the massive struts and vaulting of the structure. Here this space was holding within, a virtually complete world, or arboretum at the very least.

I pushed some enormous, waxy green leaves to the side so I could keep to the path and now I saw my host. He had his back to me, a very tall humanoid in a full-length white robe. Long white hair cascading over his shoulders and down almost to his golden waistband that held the robe tight into his body. He turned as I stood upright after emerging from the greenery into the open space. Now I could see his face, it was that of a Lyrian lion.

A human face in its basic structure, however, the forehead and the frontal section of the nose was more angular in keeping with a straight snout protruding directly from the third eye zone, yet not at an angle that would make the amazing face to feline, but ensure the human aspect.

His eyes, visible below the heavy brow were bright. His yellow pupils, with flex of hazel and a twinkle of amusement which went well with the almost underlying purr in his voice.

“Ah, there you are. Come don’t be shy. We do not often have guests, so please allow me to enjoy this rare meeting.”

He gestured to a golden tray on which stood a crystal decanter and two goblets. I reached out from my heart-mind and asked permission to scan him. I felt that this was needed as being here on challenges I did not know friend from foe at this juncture. He smiled, bowed slightly, and opened his arms as if to give access to himself physically as well as mentally. Satisfied he meant no harm I walked forward and accepted the goblet, still however taking the one nearest to him rather than the one I would have been led to drinking.

“Thank you, friend. Maybe you can also tell me to whom I have the pleasure of speaking with?”

Formal I know, but I felt it was needed, there was an air of regal presents in the air, hidden below the bubbling book of open friendliness.

“Forgive me, yes, I go by a name. Not used often in our world, but I do possess one. Please call me Aznar. Now, what may I call you? I was aware one was coming, but not who.”

I smiled and nodded. His name reminding me of a lion I had once known, in another place and another time.

“Wise One, Aznor, I go by many names, but mostly I am known as Aisha, although the name I was given when starting this challenge, on this mission, was Nee-Sha-Tar. I am indeed happy to meet you, and for your hospitality.”

I felt him gently probe at my heart-mind and as he had done for me, I allowed him access into the largest part of that which was me. But not the whole. He re-opened his eyes and cocking his head slightly to one side acknowledged the block I had placed, and smiled.

“Welcome Aisha, dragon rider, one who walks with Source. Welcome. Come drink the elixir and let me tell you a little about where you are and about my, our role in this place.”

With a slight flick of the wrist, a movement only caught because I knew to notice such a thing, he manifested two large straight-backed wooden armchairs with crimson padded seats and offered me rest as he to sat.

There was a pause. I could sense he was trying to begin, yet not knowing how much to say, so I allowed the silence as he looked down at his long tapering fingers.

“It was I who teleported you here. When you saw that Araknia was not as you perceived I could not allow you to hurt her. You see, she is the consciousness of our home. Of Arakus.”

He paused again, now looking at me, eye to eye.

“These are strange times in which we now exist, and she protects herself and all who abide here from anything which she perceives as harmful to the gentle order which we have. She is like a mother protecting her young, so please understand once you were aware, I could not allow harm to come to her.”

He waited for my reaction and I simply nodded. Yes, I would have harmed her, yet not in a way in which he was picturing, for I had not sensed darkness in her. However, being on the challenges I was also aware she was my first. Now all I could wonder was if his interference would cause problems in what I was here to do. I knew I had to pass all challenges to be able to enter the obsidian circle and thus complete my mission and be able to go back to Little One and my main business at hand.

“The answer to your thought is No. I stepped in, but it has not been held against you. You still will move forward on your quest. However, as you did pass the first, I am now allowed to aid you a little in knowing what you must do next. If that is your desire?”

I smiled. Like collecting a bonus in a board game, or video game for passing a certain obstacle.

“Thank you, yes, it would help to know a little before I continue, especially as the opportunity is here.”

And so, my host waved his hand and a holographic image screen appeared in front of us.

The projection started with the heavens, I almost gasped when I caught sight of the Milky Way, home to Earth and my home. Now we moved further out and honed in on a nebulous zone, a galaxy with many parts. Many zones both showing signs of nova and birthing of planets within the dusty cloud of color, but also of clusters of already formed planets. To the side was a cluster both of electric blue and red and now we moved closer into this, this must be where we were. Where I was now.

“She is called Arakus, is she not beautiful? We are in what I believe your Earth astronomers call the Dolphinfish, the Tarantula Nebula.”

I felt him smile. Yes, when I had allowed him access, he had obviously seen my connection to Earth, and much of what had happened on my journey. I did not hide that, only my full dragon connection. I knew however that the earthly part of me was not very good at astronomy, even if she loved to look up at the stars.

“Our planet changed as she was caught in the rippling blast from the last supernova and much that was our surface became as you have seen it so far. Not all, for some parts still supported life above ground of many types. Here my clan wished to stay and thus we moved, before the blast to caverns prepared by Araknia below her surface. We re-created our homes and our civilization, yet have also kept these domes as a means to keep connection also with the surface and allow some of our plants to also enjoy this space.”

He coughed as if to clear his throat as emotion welled.

“Over time Arakus was restored with only a portion being left as you see it. Most of my people have returned to the surface and to enjoy the life we always had before. Some of us remained here, and act as ambassadors should any stray onto the planet, or, as in your case, is sent.”

I turned to look at him, and then, I understood. To any passing by, the planet had created a holographic shield that would class it as inhospitable. All they would see was a barren husk, as I had when I first materialized. Indeed, it was possible, like a wolf spider, or trapdoor spider, she had created the protection in a way that there was only ever on entry, one place to land, and here all that was truly on her surface could be held invisible and safe. Similar to the hidden aspects of Arionel and Dragondom that protected the dragons, elementals, and more from the Darkling and any of their agents.

“You have six more challenges.”

He looked at me, his fingers interlinked and his forefingers tapping his bottom lip while his elbows rested on the curved wooden armrests.

“Chose a number and I will open the challenge for you, I will also give you a couple of pointers each time. When each is complete, I’ll bring you back. Remember, we are a peaceful group, you will be going to other realms, but none are dark in nature, they fight to protect, or they fight as warriors. Use only what you need to, but also use your heart to lead you. Alright, now which is it to be to start?”

I closed my eyes and while not really expecting to get an answer to my asking which I should choose first, I did get just that. I saw in my mind’s eye the number five. I had to smile to myself. So, I really was not alone, even here.

I opened my eyes and stared into the yellow eyes of my host, telling him my choice.

“Number five, and so let it be.”

He nodded and stood, walking back over to the tray and pouring himself another elixir. He sipped on it, his back still to me, and started to talk.

“Before you leave, I am allowed to give you only this.” He turned towards me again.

“The one you seek will also seek you.

Look to the sky as well as the land.

First, you must release this from its entrapment.

The space of a safe retreat is within the water,

Yet there, be aware that within the deep

Is the true treasure you seek.

Find this and all will become clear.”

I let those words seep into my consciousness so they would be there should I need to remind myself and then I checked I had everything I felt I may need. I was ready and with a nod, I was transported to another place.

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