Aarav was looking at his old clanmates . Mayank was as menacing as ever , Megha had grown taller and ofcourse stronger , Pranay had an eye-patched face , he was looking like a pirate on rampage and Reva , taller , skinnier than the last time , and not to forget even more beautiful.
“Hey , big brother!” Megha said raising her hand .
“You’re finally here . Wait a minute...where’s the fifth one , the other swordsman of your clan?” Commander asked .
“Well...actually...” Pranay said ,“...he’s out on his own searching for Shiba , he said it was his mistake , so out of guilt he just went out. ”
“But that’s dangerous , why didn’t you people stop him?” Commander asked .
“Are we here to discuss about idiots ? Or to plan out a rescue mission?” Reva said , and hearing her tone Aarav could sense the anger in it. She looked at Aarav(Masked) And gave a question marked look.
“Who’s this?” She asked.
“And why is he wearing a mask?” Pranay added.
“This...is A and he’s going to be your companion in the rescue mission. As for the mask , its to keep his identity hidden for safety purposes.”
No , you idiots! Its to avoid facing you people! Aarav thought.
The commander turned to Aarav ,“.. A , meet the Mauryan clan of the mortal world , this is Mayank , the hathi, This is Pranay ,the first knight , this is Megha , the queen and this is Princess Reva , she’s the king.”
Aarav hardened his tone and said, “I’m A , nice to meet you.” He moved his hand for a handshake , first Mayank , rough as ever . Then Pranay , always careless , then Megha , strict and stern . Then his heartbeat fastened as he held his hand out towards Reva . She shook it , and for a moment Aarav thought she recognized him as she looked him in the eye . And suddenly pulled away.
“Why exactly do we need an extra member ?” Megha asked.
“This isn’t going to be a simple mission . We need atleast one skilled person who can come up with an on-spot plan at critical conditions . And ofcourse this is a secret mission.”
“Then shouldn’t it be secret? We don't even know this guy!” Reva said.
Always the rude one, Aarav thought.
He again hardened his voice and said ,“I assure you ,i’m in no intention to do anything that would cause the mission to back down .”
“Oh yeah? What would it even matter to you if the mission goes a waste ? It isn’t as if you’ve come here on your own ! ” Reva argued.
What is her problem ? Aarav thought .
“I ..guess you’re right , i didn’t come here on my own . I will go if you want , but the thing is , the queen has requested me to help in the mission , if you have a problem , you can talk to her highness. ” Aarav replied .
Reva glared and banged her arms on the map table ,
“Lord Commander , i don’t trust this stranger !”
Stranger huh? , Aarav thought.
“I know , i know , but we have no choice , Princess . These are the queen’s orders .” The commander said wiping his forehead.
“Besides..” said Pranay, “...We don’t have a reason not to trust him!”
Aarav wanted to hug his best friend , but he controlled himself.
“What reason do we have to trust him?” Megha asked .
Not you too!, Aarav thought .
“Guys , i guess the queen has made her choice and that’s that. Why don’t we just get on with the planning ?” Mayank said.
When did this bully get so smart? Aarav thought .
“Atleast someone has brains...” Aarav mumbled .
“What did you say?” Reva asked . “And how old are you anyway? 20?”
“I’m 18.” Aarav said.
“Quite a physique for an 18 year old!” Pranay said , looking impressed .
“Uh...I guess we should do what we’re here for ...Shall we?” The commander said. He wasn’t that old , and being Megha’s elder brother , he was quite friendly with the clan members .
“Right ...so , let me start it from the beginning . Listen carefully , our mission is to rescue the seventh incarnation...”
Aarav got irritated ,“Sorry to interrupt , but doesn’t that person have a name?”
“Yeah , right ...“The commander continued ,“...Shiba is her name . So our mission is to rescue Shiba from the place where she has been kept in the Phoenix kingdom , and bring her back , safely. ”
“But how do we know where she is?” Aarav asked.
“According to our predictions , and spy knowledge ...” The commander said,“... the security at a few places has been drastically increased recently. Our guesses are , that she is being kept in these places .”
“It can be a trap , just to lead us to the wrong way...” Megha said.
“That’s right , it could be a mislead . That’s why you’re not the only team going . Several teams have been sent for a thorough intel . We will know soon enough if its a mislead. Now, coming back to the mission , the most important thing is that you people will not be engaging if there is a disturbance from the other end , you will be calling for help. The reinforcements will fight if necessary , mean while you people will rescue the girl. Is it clear?”
Everybody nodded , except Reva , she said ,“What if we don’t get help at time ?”
“You won’t , and i’m sure of it . And that , is where , the new member comes in . A is specialized in sword techniques , he’ll be accompanying your squad for that particular reason itself .” The commander said.
“Just a body guard ...” Reva scoffed .
Why should you always be such a pain ?
Commander ignored her and continued , “Now about the route , you will be going westwards straight through the forest and then after enter the wasteland . Crossing that, you will be in the borders of the Phoenix. Once you reach there , you will receive the intel and you should head to the location of the hideout . If in the way you get caught and even A cannot handle it , then there are safehouses after every 5 streets. You will remain there till the situation cools down , and those places will be your resting places as well.”
“We’re relying on a stranger too much...” Reva taunted .
Aarav ignored her and said ,“Ser , we’re going through wastelands , we can be spotted if as you say its next to the borders...”
“We don't have a choice . You have to travel at night to avoid getting spotted.” The commander replied.
“Pea brain ! Couldn’t even guess that much!” Reva said.
“Will you shut up?” Megha said in a hushing voice to Reva.
“Alright then, any queries , Princess Reva? You were rather more interested in mocking A , instead of listening to me.” He said giving a glarish smile at her. She flushed and her face looked even more beautiful to Aarav when she felt embarrassed.
“So , that’s it i guess. Tomorrow at dawn you will be leaving the kingdom.” He said.
“But , shouldn’t we leave at night ? ” Aarav asked him ,“...i mean , looking at the distance and considering that its a secret mission , we would rather be safe travelling at night rather then exposing ourselves in broad daylight. And once we reach the forest area , we can cover more distance during night and day combined...”
“Lord Commander is the one strategi-...” Reva was about to interrupt when the Commander spoke,
“Perfect! That’s really a very good plan, A. I’m really surprised why i couldn’t think of it. We’ll follow A’s idea. Anyone has a problem?” He said looking at Reva.
“Hmph!” was what Reva could say.
Pranay almost laughed , but looking at Reva glare at him , he swallowed his laughter back.
“So we’ll meet at the back door of the palace at 9 tonight."
He bid them good-bye since he had to report to the queen . The clanmates almost ignored Aarav and started discussing among themselves . Finally fed up , he headed out of the room, but a hand at the shoulder stopped him . He turned to see Pranay giving a stern look.
“Listen...A....” He said,“...I want to see how strong you are , so i want to fight you . Can you come along?”
“Uh...yes, sure” Aarav said hardening his voice.
But my sword...! , he had just remembered that he had not got the third coin yet , just when Reva came walking to him .
“Hey , pea brain, take this...” she said handing him a red coloured pouch tied by a thread.
“What is it?”
“My mother...i mean , the Queen gave me this and said i should hand it over to the person who’s coming with us to the mission. But that doesn’t mean i trust you...”
“As if i care....” He said as he took the pouch.
“What did you say?”
“Nothing...but , you...” He acted as good as he could and pointed his finger at Pranay...“What’s your name again?”
“Yes, Pranay, i would love to have a sword-fight , but i have an errand, so spare me a few hours . Anyways , we’ll have all the time in the world for a sword-fight on the way to the rescue mission.“Aarav said.
“Well, guess you’re right...” Pranay said giving a quizzical look .
“He’s just afraid...” Reva said to Pranay . Aarav ignored her and headed out.
“Did he just ignore me?” He could hear Reva say.
No, i didn’t , i just like to annoy you..., Aarav thought and smiled under the mask.
It was almost an hour since Aarav had left the castle and headed towards the town’s market . He was looking for a particular section , the weaponry .
He could go to the bladesmiths at the palace weaponry , but he wanted to keep it as secret as possible .
He had just one name in his head , a man named Lolark , he was the bladesmith who had forged Master Ashwa’s blade that had slain countless murderers .
He finally reached the Bladesmith’s area . It was large and like a city in itself , people roaming about carrying iron blocks , their bodies blackened by the charcoal of the hearth . Kids running around , women chattering , some men too were standing in groups , and he saw some women with hands as big and strong as any well built man , hitting with a heavy hammer at red-hot iron or putting the red-hot iron in a liquid which gave out a hissing sound and lots of steam. Some were busy making helms , armors , spear heads , maces , shields and saddles.
“Where can i find Lorlark?” Aarav asked a man , who was holding a hammer over his shoulder .
“Lolark? You mean the old man? Get lost boy, he doesn’t take visitors...“He said turning back to go.
“Wait! Atleast tell me where he is...”
“Alright , just go straight and the ugliest and emptiest shop you see is his. You’re wasting your time boy...”
“Thanks alot.” Aarav said and headed straight , and in no time he found the shop. It was closed , or maybe not , he couldn’t tell . Because all the shops were overflowing with customers , while this one was deserted . Rusted swords , shields and maces were hanging from the ceiling .
“Excuse me?” Aarav said.
He was hearing tinkering all around the place , but this shop was a bit too much quite. He tried calling again,
He heard something fall hard , then iron screeching over the hard rock floor . The person spoke , from the darkness of the shop,
“What do you want? Can’t you see , i’m busy! Get lost!”
“I’m here to forge a sword , are you Mister Lolark?”
“Mister you say? I’m pretty hell the person you’re looking for . ” He said and came out . For a moment the iron screeching stopped , then again it started and in a man appeared in front of him , on an old and rusty wheelchair.
A Cripple? How the hell will he forge a sword?