Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Shambala Sect 01


Every mortal in the world was bound to the laws of nature, but none except a certain few—the ones at the top of the Martial Chain, knew the bounds better. Such was the belief rooted in a good deal of lands across the whole world, and nearly all, if not every sensible soul under heaven dreamed of reaching that level, which, in their eyes, could be attained at best through the pursuit of truth with integrity.
Dreaming was one thing, but turning a dream into one’s destiny was another thing entirely. Countless members formed groups, divisions, legions, clades, clans, tribes, sects, kingdoms, empires and everything they could to survive and help themselves get close to the summit of the Martial Way, and that required overcoming a long and arduous path—the end of which, however, always appeared to have stretched to an infinite extent.
It was backbreaking enough for anyone to win over their little world. As for winning over the whole world one lived in, it was beyond the realm of reason. Nevertheless, most people still stated that both pursuits needed enough power; howbeit, when one asked those same people to define 'enough,' they all failed miserably, for no one fitly knew what was enough to conquer themselves, let alone the whole world.
So much of life was uncertain, so much in fact, that it made most people live in ways as if they had no sense of their lifestyles or the tenor of their lives. Some lived for themselves while some others lived for their families, for their clans, their hometowns, or for their kingdoms. Happy one moment and sad the next—too many minds in the world were at a loss unable to make out their role in the world. Many had looked for answers only to fail at some point. In due course, it led the majority of people to stop caring about their purpose of living at all.
Without frills, they began to do whatever they wanted with no lasting, let alone spiffing purpose in their lives. These individuals eventually came to be collectively known as hollows—entities belonging to the lower classes. The class that thrived above the rest was the martial class. Martials were the entities who set their souls on fire by pursuing the Martial Way—the aim of which was to become stronger in body, mind, and spirit and someday unveil all the truths of the world, counting the maker of all. Just being alive was not enough for an average martial, unlike it was for a typical hollow.
A certain purple-haired martial stated a crucial difference between the two classes, which pretty much summed up both the parties in but a few words as viewed through their lens, “A martial gives more to the world than what a hollow takes from it.”
Hollows made a living through undertaking different laborious things from farming to working as slaves; however, to a great extent, they engineered it by breathing in and out. Living in itself was fighting for them who liked to reckon on the end of everything before they took part in it. Life was alright with the end in sight for them like it was for a mortal visiting the death's door as their age neared hundred.
Unlike hollows, martials primarily looked not for the end of things but the experience that the journey of life would bring by itself and bask in it to their best possible extent. Thanks to a lifestyle that respected the invaluableness of life, over time, martials managed to uncover many untold truths that lay dormant in the world. Knowingly or not, they believed all their collective efforts helped them become stronger and perhaps better beings.
Being healthy, wealthy, and influential was what hollows yearned to be, whereas such an aim was just another way of living to the martials. However, lying wasn’t foreign to either, and both worked to increase their receptivity of truth as per their capabilities.
Though the number of martials was quite high in some sections of the world, it wasn't much as compared to the number of hollows at large. When it came to numbers, martials were like big cats, whereas hollows were like every other beast in the woods.
“Hollows exist, and the world will act upon them. Martials just be themselves, and the world will associate with them,” a certain martial worded out his perspective in an attempt to enlighten those he believed were beneath him.
“How you see the world is often how the world sees you. Worry not on where you belong in the world and what you can comprehend and can’t any more than you worry about waking up before going to a good night’s sleep. Just believe and be good in and out to get to God.” Martial Godrick had a few words with the hollows in the backwoods of the past. Unlike most martials, he never differentiated people depending on whether they were hollows or martials. He never treated hollows as if they were beneath martials. In his eyes, every breathing thing was God’s creation, and so, everyone must learn to abase themselves, and it’d help not just them but everyone around to reach greater heights in life. However, his line of thinking meant that martials should lower themselves before hollows and work to strengthen the weak. Naturally, not every heart admired his ways, and in consequence, martials came to be in many characters. Still, there were certain beliefs most of them agreed to.
“Wake up and live without worries.” Martials, as a whole, informed this expression to hollows throughout history; however, sometimes, the easiest actions were the hardest to comprehend much less follow. Many hollows viewed 'awaking' as nothing more than getting up from one's bed and 'living without worries’ as the money-making necessity, which included earning immeasurable wealth and gaining incomprehensible power and control.
Seeing how their efforts were failing, over time, the martials reduced their efforts in refining hollows by degrees; the latter of the two, on the surface, liked being stuck in the past, or maybe they were afraid that the Martial Way would only bring their death sooner thanks to all the onerous trails one would encounter. Leading an easy life seemed like a way better option for a hollow.
Many hollows formed groups, guilds, clans, clades, and whatnot to not only survive but also improve their lifestyles while depending on one another.
On the face of such similar ways, three families had formed a clan they had named themselves as Faceless. These three families were Basha, Basuvu, and Vesta. They held on to one another for many decades—through all struggles—and helped themselves from getting eradicated from the world.

The Faceless Clan was situated on uplands, on a relatively smaller mountain, that was part of a vast mountain range, with the houses, the trees, and the rocks and the soil not sticking out over the other. As much as eyes could desire, there was God-given greenery everywhere, but then there was also the man-made beauty, be it the sculpted stairs that prettified the steep slopes which otherwise would be difficult to climb, or the wooden bridges that joined isolated mountain tops where distinct buildings were raised. The trees that were producing multiple kinds of fruits, on average six to seven different kinds per tree. The water streams flowing down the gentle slopes cut right through the town in numerous arches and eventually joined into a waterfall and crashed into the depths secreted by the fog that often rose and covered the mountain, especially during the night time.

Everything looked so well integrated that at first glance, it wouldn’t be easy to tell if the trees grew after the houses were built, or vice-versa. From afar, it would be hard to tell where a particular house began or ended. Some houses were big and had multiple stories, but the smaller houses generally had bigger balconies and hence better views to the waterfall, the river, the emblazoned street poles with softly glowing crystals anchored at the top, the seemingly zig-zag and never-ending avenues of peach blossoms leading up the mountain, and the neighborhood as a whole. Some balconies were literally made by sculpting the rocky extensions of the mountain, so some of them looked quite wider than even some streets of the town. The walls of different structures stood tall and went well with the rising lands and gave an archaic feel throughout. Despite the different sizes of houses and the different heights they were from the ground level, their similar roof patterns only added to the combined aesthetic feel of the town. Small houses were built on the giant boulders that split the streams, and thin bridges connected them to the neighboring streets. And then there were flattened, open grounds for meetings, competitions, and plays. Cliffs were mainly used by the elders to spend time alone, but they sometimes served as parking spots for flying beasts. The tall windmills and the communal granaries in the West; the watermills, the cliffs, the river, the waterfall, and the roads of peach blossoms in the East; the Herb Garden, the fountains, and the mendicant dens in the North; the Monkey Way, the complex terracing, the caves, the mountains and the valleys in the South; the artificial lake and the dry docks inside the town together enriched the atmosphere to a great degree. All in all, it would be hard for anyone, local or outsider, to point out that some space had been wasted on those uplands, for so excessive was its ambiance and allure.

These uplands were known as Rathe Peaks because sunlight first touched this mountain in that broad mountain range collectively known as Manjaro Mountains, and Helenia was the name of the town somewhat tucked away in the mountains and took shape into what it was on that day.

Helenia was also known as Twig Town because of all the variety of fried and salted meat sold on twigs. Each twig had at least two chunks of meat from the same or different animal stuck to its branches. Thanks to the mountains in the South, there was always a decent supply of wild animals, but fish were the most abundant of all, so much so that even street gutters became their swimming grounds.

Despite being a relatively small town, it had shops that could sell pretty much everything from food to jewelry to weaponry to household items. With the slow and smooth, continuous flute sound coming from afar to soothe souls in the mornings, the tourists pleasantly strolled down the market streets early, and they were greeted by shopkeepers of different belly and shoe sizes. Some were courteous and couthy, but some exaggerated the worth of their merchandise through their adroit yelling.

“The finest silver knives that can slay beasts and shut up brutes, right here!”

“We’ve got snow-creams of winter, and watermelons of summer. Take your pick!”

“Buy anything, and you’ll get my fife for free!”

“It’s never too early for a mug of beer. Our inn has just the booze that brings life to the riders’ bottoms. We have fodder for the horses, too!”

“Come to our sweet shop, madam, and I’ll have you know how sweetness rolls!”

“Taste the twig, sir. Worth only ten faces.”

“Brother, are you attempting to fill your belly just by watching, or what? Buy something already!”

The main places that attracted out-of-towners were the Lake Belt, Melody Square, and Face Park. Lake belt was a minor part of the town where water was trapped, and both residential houses and shopping stores were built on the waters, so the only means of travel inside that belt was on boats or through the short lanes and raised bridges. Melody Square, as the name probably gave away, was a public square near the bank of the river where the wind carried melodies crafted by the local musicians, which helped in easing every nerve in the body, thus halving the misery and melancholy. As for Face Park, that was a story for another day.

Generally, tourists were a rarity in Helenia, and they supremely showed up during important times and occasions. Needless to say, the ongoing day was one such day of the year.

On that auspicious morning, of the year 4218 AD[1], tens of dozens of people—young boys and girls in flower hats, grown-ups in feather hats, and the elderly in leaf hats, with all the hats looking unique in appearance—were gathering at one of the open halls of the Faceless Clan. Three men, each past fifty years in age, occupied respective seats while everybody else stood and gazed at the two young ones standing on the circular, center stage of the hall. One was a seventeen-year-old red-haired girl, Sariyu of the Basuvu family who grabbed the attention of many eyes, and the other was a twenty-four-year-old purple-haired boy, Burton of the Vesta family who also got his share of attention from young girls in the crowd. The combination of warm, lucid purple hair and magnetic blue eyes made him hauntingly handsome.
"I wonder which sect granted permission for us to participate in this time..." Burton wore a cryptic smile on his face, allowing himself a few seconds to gather up his thoughts. "I'm going to become a Martial Child this year and elevate our clan's status to a state better than it ever was." He glanced at Sariyu, who was holding a folded white umbrella—enriched with simple floral designs—in one of her hands. "Then, you will be willing to become my better half, won’t you?"
"I failed for three straight years, but you failed for ten straight years," Sariyu rested the umbrella against her leg and opened her ten fingers and flitted them at him, partially exposing a thin scar that ran across her left wrist. She was wearing loose clothes that hid her form from below the neck and above the shins. "Don't put too many hopes on yourself.” Her words took all the gas out of him. “Having said that, at least this year, we must work together and pass."

"Sorry. Cooperation is the last thing on my mind," Burton exposed his palms to the heavens. “I want to bring glory to our clan all by myself if possible.”
"A fame-hungry freak like you is never going to become a Martial Child much less a clan leader at this rate," Sariyu coughed and then said in a teasing manner, "I will team up with Lirzod if you don't change your ways."
"Pfft, you want to work with that good-for-nothing Dumblord?" Burton didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
"I don't see much wrong with that." Her veracious voice pierced Burton's heart like an arrow shot from a bow, "You deem him as a worthless one, but I don't think you are much better. Ten straight failed years will be a hard thing to beat even for that Dumblord."
"Hmph, don't compare me to him," Burton replied in an irked tone, a drop of displeasure dwelling in his eyes.
As the two young ones prattled, the clansmen in the crowd engaged themselves in heated discussions, too.
"This time, all the three main families are participating,” Syam of Yerram family adjusted his sleeves while seated in a sculpted seat. “Things will surely get heated this time, and we may finally get to decide whether it is good to stay in this clan or not in a few months." He was a stylish man every time except when he stood thanks to his habit of sticking his belly out.
"These coming months might just decide if this clan still deserves my merchant skills to be used for its well being," Allda of Pudota family lit a cigar using the end of a burning rope. His turned-up nose and humpbacked body made him look decades older than his actual age.
More than anyone, the three clan leaders could guess the weight of the event at hand without lending an ear to the words that winds wafted off the crowds.
"This term will decide our clan's very future," the one sitting in the middle, Picazo Basha—a gaunt old man with little white shades to his copper hair—had a determined look as he made eye contact with the crowd. The unceremonious garb on him befitted neither his stature nor the current situation.
"Looks like it, but it's rare to see your son get positive attention from these many people," Sinario Vesta, a dark green-haired man, curled up the corners of his lips. His sinewy physique gave away most of his physical capabilities, but those watching him for the first time, especially the children, got astonished when their eyes witnessed him sipping various wines with saucers in both hands. The cone-shaped, crystalline earring dangling down his right ear seemed more like ice as it subtly shone and took whoever set their eyes on it to snowy lands.
"Well, it does seem to me that the end of our clan is nearing," Kwame Basuvu's lips lightly curled down as he glanced at those in the crowd he thought were not trustworthy. "My concocting business will, for sure, take an unrecoverable dent if the clan weakens further. I must place all my trust in our children." He stroked his long red beard. Despite his old age, his muscle definition wouldn't lose to any young man in an exhibition.
The trilateral stage having three pillars with three intimidating sculptures of masked dragons curling from bottom to the top, and three sculpted figures of men with fractured lion-masks were at the top of the pillars as if they were crushing the dragons’ heads. The sculptures attracted attention quite like the three humans gracing the stage.
"Where is Young Master Lirzod? How long will he take to come?"
"Someone, go and check his place, please. I think he’s probably still sleeping."
“How can Young Master be this irresponsible? Even on an important day like this…”
As murmurs sprang to life, more and more members in the crowds got aggravated by the second. Some didn’t want to stand under the incandescent entity for too long, but all they could do was bide their time as it climbed the skies and cast a brighter light.

Sariyu glanced at one of the maids blended in the crowd, and the blonde maid nodded and left to Lirzod's room without a wait. It took her a few minutes of crossing some bridges and streets, climbing some stairs and ladders, and greeting some elderly men to eventually get to the destination, a wide balcony purely sculpted out of existing mountain rock. Just after climbing her way up there using a ladder, for it was the shortest route from the direction she came from, she reached the room that was facing North. She quickly tried to push the door open, only to become aware that the door, which had the capital letters 'LOL' painted on it, was locked from the inside. She peered through the gaps between the rods of the window, and the nerves in her eyes thickened and reddened as they bulged out a bit. Lirzod was still sleeping under a sheet that was colored red for one-third of it, green in the middle, and white for the last one-third of it. His snore reached her ears and made her twitch.

"When did he lock it from the inside? If anyone sees this, it will bring shame to the main families and will result in a loss of some more face!" Quick tapping sounds spread out from her rhythmic walk. Her mouth opened up for a quick shout but, right away, shut it even faster. If the neighboring housewives were to hear her, they wouldn't just guess on what happened but also try to anticipate quite many things as well. Standing like a pole for a couple of moments, she let her thoughts drift about in an attempt to find the solution.
A few seconds later, her face glowed as she pulled out a tiny scent bottle from under her sleeves. Her hand slipped through the gap between the rods of the window and sprayed the scent and waited as the fragrance diffused throughout the place. "Please, get up. Please..."
The redolence long filled the room. A few more seconds passed, but nothing changed.
When under the impression of failing in her attempt, a couple of whiffs came from within the room.

A young lad with a medium-length shaggy and layered hairstyle lifted the sheet and jumped out of the bed while keeping his eyes shut. "This fragrance, it's definitely Primera..." His nose sniffed out the source of the scent, and his footsteps traced all the way to the window. She squinted her eyes as her fingers grabbed his nose and pulled him closer.

"Wake up, Young Master!" Her voice was quick, yet so light that it was almost not audible.
Lirzod opened his eyes at his own dreamy pace and saw her face through his blurry vision. After a scant rubbing of his eyes, his lips curled up before they moved forward, trying to glue to her cheek, but eventually failed in reaching up to her cheeks. "Who put these bars between us? I shall break them with my nine hearts and fall in your embrace right away."
"Young Master! Today is your meek day[2[, did you forget?" she spoke in an urgent and somewhat exacting tone. "It's also the day when you'll know of your participation in sect tests."
Lirzod's eyes slightly enlarged, and his breath paused, but then his eyes closed.
"Stop dozing like that,” she pulled his nose, forcing his eyes open, “and get to the central hall already! Everyone's waiting for you. If you don’t get there soon, many people will come looking for you, possibly with fruits and vegetables in their hands."
"Yeah, I get it. They want me to have breakfast on time, but..." He stepped back and rubbed his nose before turning his head a little, thereby exposing his cheek. "Give me a kiss if you want me to come out."
"W-What?" Her head involuntarily moved back a bit. "You are..." she didn't have to think much before replying with a stomp on the ground, "I won't."
"There's no one around, and I won't tell anybody."
“No,” her reply flew as fast as a jab.
He furrowed his brows and puffed up his chest. “Are you trying to break our bond by bringing this battle between us? I don’t think Duera is behind this, but some dense chick probably spoiled your mind! If that’s the case, then I shall win this and every other battle that comes in the future.”
“Haha,” her cheeks gained a bit of pink. “I’d like to see you try.”
His chest shrank, and shoulders slumped as he took a step forward, and his hands came out through the gaps in the bars of the window, then caressed her chin. "Please, Primera. It’s been too long since you let me kiss you. If you don’t want that, then at least you can kiss me. You can do this much on a special morning like this."
"That's..." the outer side of her curled-in fingers rubbed against each other as conflicting thoughts whelmed her mind. Her eyes glanced all around but found no traces of peeping shadows. Her heart pounded profoundly at an increasing pace as her body leaned ahead half-heartedly. Her subtle movement prepared her pinkish lips for a kiss. Her shapely chest pressed to the bars on the windows as her lips went between the gaps of the bars straight toward Lirzod’s cheek. “No. I can’t do this.” She stopped. “You can try.”
“Okay,” Lirzod shut his eyes and moved his head ahead as well before sticking his lips out and maneuvered them like a madly-jerking snake's head. “Mm? Where’s the cheek?” a couple of seconds passed as his lips moved in every possible direction and covered all corners of the space they could, yet they touched nothing but the metal bars of the window which tasted nasty, thereby forcing him to open his eyes.
The figure that stood outside the window made his eyes almost pop out of their sockets. Howbeit, his lips still stuck out like a snake. Primera stood behind that figure as she contained herself from making an amused expression. The newly-arrived figure grabbed his lips and stretched them out as far as they could be before letting them go.
His lips turned pinker than they already were, and redness gathered on and around them. "S-Sariyu!” he barked, but his heart fell like a stone and struggled to stay afloat in the juices thriving in his stomach. “W-What are you doing here? Shouldn't you be in the central hall right now?"
“Stop spilling your saliva on me!” she stepped back and put the umbrella away before cleaning her face with a kerchief.

Lizard's stare darted at her cheeks, “Whoa, you’re shining. Did you apply some cream?”

"Do you want a month of pain?" she narrowed her eyes as her hands gained redness from clenching.

"No," he replied right away and also moved his mouth away from the bars.

"Come out in five seconds, or..." Sariyu glanced at Lirzod's pants, and the bulge was as evident as day. "I'll chop someone’s morning wood."

Lirzod's heart skipped a beat as his instinct made his hands cover his private region. "You Sawshin... You are the one girl I don't ever dare to marry."

"Hmph, I've never asked you to marry me. Besides, I’ve seen you in full enough times that I have no interest in pledging my troth with you either," Sariyu picked up the umbrella again to guard herself against the sun and then glanced away as Lirzod stepped out of his room.

“That’s wonderful, but why do I feel some pain in your voice?” he said, with a bit of exaggeration. Under the sunlight, with his back facing the sun, his copper to yellow ombre hair gave off a smooth silky glow and complemented his fair skin, and his gorgeous green eyes still gleamed like garden-fresh mangoes. His naturally falling forward hairstyle covered his ears, and since he combed to the right, whenever a bit of wind blew, a few strands of hair fell on his eyes, but that didn’t block his vision or hide the scar on his face. His loose white cotton shirt and dark green baggy pants waved with the wind, though not as much as the dresses of the two females next to him.

Sariyu gritted her teeth a bit. "Quickly, get to the central hall, or I’ll transfer all that pain to you." She commanded him like he was a small child, but he vehemently shook his head.

“Sorry, but I just woke up.” Lirzod tried to fake out a yawn, but it didn't come off well since a mosquito entered his mouth. He spat it to the side and looked around to see if there were other mosquitoes. “Mornings are when mosquitoes move the slowest, so even right after getting up from bed, my hands can catch up to them with some effort and put them to sleep!" he clapped and put down a mosquito successfully. "But I need some time to get my legs going.” He then gently blew the mosquito off his palm. “Go bite Death from now on.”

“Stop fooling around and get going!” she felt a flash of annoyance. “You can stretch your legs on your way.”

“That’d be against my routine,” Lirzod folded his hands and calmly said. “I like to sit and soak up the sun.”

“But this isn't even Winter. Stop making stupid excuses.”

“How can it be an excuse?” Lirzod shrugged his shoulders. “God gave us the sun in all seasons for a reason.”

His temper was testing her patience. “Why are you bringing God into this? I know you’re doing all this because I don’t like sunlight.”

“You are thinking too much. I just woke up. My brain is running so slow I can barely catch mosquitoes when they’re at their slowest. Just give me three to five minutes, and I’ll be there in no time.”

She narrowed her eyes, “But people are waiting in the hall.”

“Cut me some slack. They can wait another few minutes, right? I’ll apologize when I get there.”

“You think your half-assed apology will cover their lost time?”
“Then, there is only one way. I’ll stand right here,” Lirzod fingered his nose a bit. “Beg the earth to take me there somehow.”

Sariyu’s brows drew together. “I don’t know how to make the earth move, but I know how to move a fool who lives on it!” With a quick couple of steps, she appeared behind him and spanked him, and while at it, her fingers went in for a pinch—all of which made him bolt ahead, squealing like a cat.

“I’m going alright! That hurts and burns!” he continued running away while rubbing his butt. “Morning pinches are the worst!”

“Rub your crusty eyes, and see the light. The earth under our feet doesn’t move, which is why we have to,” Sariyu said and smiled. “Also, I’m not as skilled as Duera to go easy on my pinches, so it’s your fault for forcing me.”

“Whatever you say, Sawshin!” Lirzod stopped and barked from afar. Then he continued his run.

“He doesn’t learn easily, does he?” Sariyu inhaled and exhaled through the mouth.

Primera somewhat chuckled. “He likes to loaf around a bit right after waking up, so he was up in arms for breaking his routine, that’s all, Young Mistress.”

“Then it’s up to us to reshape all the silly bones in his body, starting from today,” she said, while her eyes were watching Lirzod comfortably wind his way through the complex routes of the town.

“Mm,” Primera nodded. “His meek day has come after all. It’s not good for him to continue being imprudent and inane, but I’m sure he’ll change for the better sooner or later.”

Meanwhile, as everyone waited in the central hall, a grape seller was strolling along a neighboring street. A woman from the crowd called out for him. He promptly came to her. "How much is a kilo?"

"Three copper." His voice was weak in volume but not temper. After all, he was yet to sell anything on that day even though it hadn't been long since he hit the roads of the town.

"Three? That’s too high." Her pleasant expression turned into an objectionable one as she inspected the grapes. "These grapes don't even look fresh. Sell a kilo for one copper, and I'll take two kilos.”

"You don't look fresh either," whetted words whirled out of his mouth like a whirlwind, "but I'm still selling to you, am I not?"

Right away, her face turned short on looks. "You vermin!" she hurled the whole bunch of grapes at his face, startling him, but by God's grace, his head moved on its own and dodged his loving fruits. Furthermore, his eyes glanced back out of worry that the grapes would get covered in dirt, much less get spoiled if they crashed into the ground with such force.

But before the grapes touched the ground, a person, who just happened to be coming from that direction, jumped to the side to catch the falling grapes, and in that process, he fell to the ground. However, the grapes landed safely in his hands. The seller joyously walked over to that person.

"You've got good reflexes, sir... whoever you are." When that person handed the grapes over, the seller gave back half of that bunch back. "Take that as thanks, please." Afterward, the seller was full of smiles as he walked away, teasing the woman with his weird eye movements and cocking of the head. After all, he had traveled many miles and reached Helenia as early as he could, and the first woman who called him said his fresh fruits weren’t that fresh, so he couldn’t hold his tongue back. Even now, as he left, he didn’t feel bad about what he did.

The woman was pissed off, and since the seller made himself scarce, her glare now directed toward the person who had helped the grapes seller, but when that person took just a single grape and handed her the remaining grapes, the anger on her face faded away faster than water spilled on a desert sand, and she showered a smile at full tilt. "Thank you, Young Master. He asked three copper for a bunch of grapes. Taking me for a fool…” she chewed on a couple of grapes and then smiled. “But you are really gracious to even help that outsider who didn’t show gratitude even though we sell goods at low prices for them. Even though your age isn’t even half of mine, your heart is..." she was about to hold his hand and give a handshake, but after seeing the big black mole in his palm, she swiftly and subtly withdrew her hand to the back of her head and moved a step away while smiling and bowed, though not by much, but then her eyes slightly enlarged after her gaze met his crotch. Though the bulge wasn’t too pronounced, her gaze was too spot-on to miss that. She immediately stood and hurried back, but her heel hit the inch-tall raised platform and fell back. She cried out, attracting the attention of the crowd, but before she fell, the boy caught her by the arm and lifted her up.

“Are you okay, ma’am?” he asked.

“Ah, my foot!” she cringed from the pain in her foot, but that didn’t last for more than a couple of seconds. “Curse this damned road! I don’t mind if the one who designed this falls here and gets a bone or two broken.”

Seeing how she was all energetic, he just smiled.
The person in front of her was a five-and-half-foot boy, dressed in sleeping attire, who beamed before walking past her and picked up his pace as he walked through the crowd while waving at everyone. His hair was a lovely copper into yellow ombre hair, with yellow being the less dominant. The thin brownish scar across his face extended onto his collars and forearm as well. At first glance, it would look like a burnt scar to anybody, but different people chewed the fat about it at variance. And this person was Lirzod. It was painted all over his face that he had just woken up from sleep thanks to the dry crusting of liquids near his eyes and mouth.

"Today's the day when the clan heads decide on who gets to participate in the sect tests,” an adult man said, smirking, “but it looks like he slept a bit too well.”
“How can he have such wet dreams on the night before such a day?" a person from the crowd murmured.
Some girls covered their eyes but still watched his bulge through the gaps in their fingers. "Kya, what's hiding in his pants?" If not for the adults hinting out, they probably wouldn't have noticed anything.
"Someone’s hiding bananas in their pants, that’s all," an old crow sniggered. "Young Master sure knows how to trick people."
"It's sure nice to be young," an old woman from the crowd mused to herself. “My helpmate long lost his ability to mushroom morning wood.”
"Why is he hiding such a thing in there?” a little girl glanced at the old woman who just spoke, “Does his pants have no pockets? I can't tell."
The old one choked on her own words. "Guh, don't mind these things, little one. Forget them."
"Mhm..." the little girl, though puzzled, nodded positively.
"Is he so careless or so courageous?" another person knitted his brows. "Does he not fear the sect tests?"
"What the heck are you waving at the kid for?" one member of the crowd yelled at the top of his lungs. "Get your butt onto the stage this instant!"
Lirzod could hear their words. I wish this thing would go down, but no amount of squeezing has helped it in the past. What else can I do, huh? As he was pondering, he glanced over his shoulder at the man who just spoke. "Oh, groundnut-store geezer, you came here as well?" 
"My name is Fidelis, you brat!" an old man stood from his seat like a spring and made a fist out of his—to all appearances—what was a smaller hand. "Today is your meek day, so at least start giving some respect for the elders from now on. Start by giving ‘me’ some respect, or I won't sell you anything from my store anymore."
"Haha, got it, sir, but I will be leaving this place soon. What would I visit your store for?" Lirzod replied, “Besides, your humble day[3] has long passed, yet you call me as a brat and many other things. Maybe I should start calling you as humbug-store geezer?” Lirzod covered his mouth and began to giggle, whereas Fidelis looked so angry that he felt like he could walk through a brick wall. Upon seeing the old man’s frustrated face, Lirzod’s laughter intensified as his feet moved and stepped on the stage, and the waving of his arms continued while the smile that could light up a room took shape on his visage. After having enough of it, his stare set on Burton, who stood right beside him. "Big Brother Burton, I don't want to be your nightmare, but I have no other choice, so don't be scared. Got it?"
"All you have is that big mouth. What's there to be scared of?" Burton turned his head away. "And, don't call me brother on purpose. No one likes getting called like that just once in a while. Either call me full-time or not at all."
"But where's the fun in that?" Lirzod giggled.
"If you want fun...” Burton flashed a smile at Lirzod. “Why don't you try and be on the receiving end of my punches for once in public?"
Lirzod raised his hands to his chest and exposed his palms while a thin smile tugged his lips. "I don't think this is an appropriate time for that."
Sariyu just reached the place and stood in between them, making them go silent. She glanced at Burton first before turning to Lirzod, who leaked out a short-lived yawn.
"What are you looking at me for?" Lirzod spoke while his yawn neared its end. "You should look ahead."
"I will look wherever I want to look," she stepped a bit closer, her eyes looking straight into his eyes as she voiced her mind with a whisper that beat a gentle, fresh wind against his face,  “but first, you better calm down the little thunder snake in your pants. There are some children gathered here."
"Thunder snake?" Burton snorted. "It's more like a thunderless snake. Pfft," though he covered his mouth with his hand, he still broke into laughter, and the blood rushed to his ears.
"Someone's jealous here..." Fidelis covered his mouth as his shoulders jerked. Though he couldn’t hear Sariyu’s words, he could pretty much guess what happened from Burton’s words and actions.
Burton’s ear jerked upon catching Fidelis’ words. "That's the last thing I'd be jealous of,” he shoved aside Fidelis’ words and spoke in a barely audible tone, “especially against someone who can’t even control what’s in their pants. Someone like him is a hundred years too early to compare anything with me!"
“Yeah, right, stone-face included,” Lirzod squeezed out a couple of words in a jiffy.
Burton clenched his fist and raised it into the air, but then managed to control his urge to rap his knuckles on Lirzod's head, by a whisker. “Never mind. Giving you any amount of attention is useless.”
"Says someone who has interrupted our conversation," Lirzod said, but Burton didn't look irked anymore. "Who's—"
"Enough chattering, every mother's son and daughter," Kwame stood and spread his arms out, addressing everybody, and his simple action made everyone pay attention straight away. "To all of our clan members and to whoever that visited this town, be it out of respect or out of curiosity, we are thankful for gracing us with your presence." After staring down at his golden-bracelet worn wrists, his eyes then scanned the ones in the crowd who also had similar wear. "Some of us here are rich enough to make sure our children and even grandchildren get to fill their stomachs without a worry in the world for as long as they live, assuming they use their brains of course,” his words garnered some fleeting laughs from the crowd, “but... the world we live in isn't so predictable, or is it?”
Only silence arose as a response.
Kwame continued, "Wealth gives strength which can build or destroy wealth. There are myriad creatures in this world that are far too crooked than all of us. If we stay like our current selves, as the hollows that we are, we won't last longer than a couple of generations, unless we make someone from one of us—a Martial Child!" His attention shifted to the other two leaders beside him before he gestured with his hands, "We three took a big decision today."
"Big decision?" the entire crowd had their full attention turn toward the clan heads. "We've already managed to send our children to the sect tests for most of the years. As if that's not big enough, just what did they prepare for us this time?"
"As befits my meek day." Lirzod grinned from ear to ear.
Picazo and Sinario stood from their seats. "We spent a great deal of effort to procure these three entry cards," Sinario pulled out three cards from his sleeves and looked at the names written on the covers of each of the cards.
"What sect did they manage to get cards for this time?" the entire crowd eyed at those cards, but the distance was too far away, and the cards themselves were small, so most of them wished they had the eyes of an eagle. Like excited apes, they strained their eyes and pulled each other’s collars, trying to get a closer look at those cards.
"Judging by their words, it shouldn't be any lower than three thousand in the whole of the continent!" Syam felt rather excited.
"Haha, that thought in itself makes me proud," Allda blew out smoke through his nostrils, which then ended up being a noseful of a whiff for the ones around him. He later groomed the coats of the two red squirrels that were on both of his thighs and were munching on hazelnuts. "Whether they fail in the first round or not, we can advertise and sell many goods by then."
"Your father seemed to have prepared a nice gift for you," Sariyu sort of exposed her teeth as she glanced sideways at Lirzod.
"My father sure exceeded my imaginations this time," Lirzod placed his arms on his waist, and his eyes sparkled out a tinge of pride.
"Gift or... Curse?" Burton's words reached only his ears as he glanced at Lirzod. "The higher the rank of the sect we participate in, the more terrifying the experience will be. Given it's your first time, you are at a great disadvantage, but you are too thick-skinned to even understand that."
"What's wrong, Burton?" Lirzod raised his eyebrows as his lips stretched out. “Are you perhaps envying my father's love for me?”
"Never in a million years!" Burton secretly pointed his thumb at Sinario. "Our bond is far stronger."
"The sect we managed to get the cards for this year is..." Picazo's hands were on his back as he spoke. The moment his mouth opened, the entire crowd fell silent and paid full attention to him. As the pulses of everyone quickened, Picazo's gaze swept over them for a few seconds, further inflaming their hearts. A corner of Picazo's lips curled up before two words birthed out of his mouth, "Shambala Sect."
Silence inundated the entire hall that very instant and took over everyone's personal space like it always did with graveyards—places where silence ruled, and to further back it up the crowd wore frozen faces like corpses. The clouds above them stopped drifting, turning the skies ever so silent.  People grasped that it wasn't a regular silence; it was everywhere, yet no one could get accustomed to it, for it offered them both despair and hope.
As that instance passed, Lirzod's lips straight away fell flat, followed by his mouth, which opened in some measure. His stare locked on to the clan heads. It wasn't just him. The wonder in everyone's eyes was as palpable as the sun in the skies. For a moment, the revelation took everyone out of the conscious world and drifted their souls into daydreams. It was so unexpected because a declaration of such magnitude was not something they were used to hear, not even in their dreams. Still feeling surreal, they drifted back to the conscious world, all of which happened in a matter of a second or two.
"Did I catch it on the money?" Allda checked his ears. The squirrels on Allda's thighs looked up at him and the other people but couldn't understand why they all appeared frozen in their places. The cigar in his hand neared its end and burnt his finger for a split second before it fell out of his hand, and he rubbed his fingers at the burnt spot followed by the rubbing of the eyes.
"Am I seeing things?" After a couple of glances in every direction, Syam nodded to himself and ended up biting his finger, thinking it was another one of those carrots he often pleasured in chewing every morning. "Ah, no, this isn't one of those morning dreams." Disbelief danced in his eyes as he frowned from the stinging pain in his finger and much more.
"I repeat..." a smile, breaking through its restraints, leaked out of the corners of Picazo's lips, and the two other clan heads had similar guises. "We got the entry cards for the sect test of the Shambala Sect."
"S-Shambala Sect... It’s the sect considered as the number one sect on many continents!" Most people still lived in the past moment when everybody had received a bolt from the blue, but now, after the clan head confirmed it again, everyone's jaw dropped down lower than what an ape could yawn, and no words came out of the mouths of many. Even the crows flying in the vicinity of the hall hit houses and crashed down. The squirrels on Allda's thighs ran down his leg before blitzing to the nearby tree and climbed in an instant. Seeing the reactions of their people, the clan heads themselves were out of words. When one made the impossible happen, it was sure to shock everyone, including oneself.
"A real martial grows through all grounding. Is there a problem?" Picazo's words were heard all across the central hall, but they also managed to soak the hearts of everyone and further made their heartbeats heavier. Picazo raised his fist into the air.
"Eh?" the crowd was all taken aback for a moment. The two other clan heads rose their fists into the air as well. As most people still stared in stupefaction, the three young ones on the stage raised their fists into the air. The sight of the six people in the central hall who spoke with their fists, more than they did with their faces, made the hairs on the skin of everyone in the crowd to stand straight.
For any clan to tower above the rest, it first required to commence. In the eyes of martials, one could always find the end of anything in its beginning, and this day marked a humble beginning for the coming of great things to the Faceless Clan—a clan of hollows, seemingly, for the time being.
[1] AD: After Domainer.
[2]  Meek day: The day when a child turns into a fourteen-year-old soul and from thereon is allowed to explore the world without parental guidance to achieve their goals and dreams but are also expected to respect the will and desires of others while being gentle, kind, and sensible, and through keeping oneself under control in every affair of life. This is a custom predominantly followed in the East.

[3] Humble day: The day when an adult turns into a fifty-six-year-old soul and from thereon is expected to not get lost in the glory of his own accomplishments but instead learn to acknowledge his flaws without degrading himself and be unstinting and unassuming until the end. This is a custom predominantly followed in the East.


Author’s Note:

Hope you’ve enjoyed the chapter.

Daily Dose: Some say that the first of anything is special, that the first step is the hardest to take, that the first love is the hardest to forget, that the first fart unleashed in the bathroom is the hardest to suppress, and the list goes on. If you ask me, I'd say they couldn't be truer. Writing this first chapter was... anything but easy. Now, I know, you, too, have taken one of those firsts by reading this chapter; so it shouldn't be that hard to take another step or two by rating and commenting on the chapter. Make this moment a bit more special, fellow mortals.

'Daily Dose' is actually the name of a newspaper company in the world of Shambala Sect, but I've decided to use the phrase at the end of each chapter to give some gags or nuggets of life. Hopefully, you guys will appreciate them.

Chapter Length: 8100+ words. All the chapters won’t be this long; however, they will be at least 2000 words long.

For now, I may or may not release chapters frequently, but with support, I can release up to 30K+ words/month. Getting a faster release, through support, is in your hands.

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"The Earth below me may crack, the sky above me may collapse, every chapter of mine will still release in time and be 2000+ words longer. To boot, the sun in the skies may no longer shine, the water in the oceans may no longer well up, every reader of mine shall still show perpetual support and be my greatest strength."


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