Scarlet Shadow: Secrets and Reunions - Part Four
“Bar the gates!” Cenoal yelled as he and Crystal ran inside. The sentries on duty rushed through the pouring rain to the large mechanism, turning it hard as they struggled to lift the drawbridge.
Jeran was there in an instant. His armor was being weighed down by the water. “What’s going on?” he yelled over the howling winds.
“They’re here!” Crystal shouted. “I had to order the soldiers on the ships. It was the only way to prevent disaster!” Just then, a sound like the cracking of wood pierced the air. The sentries on the battlements looked horrified. “Hey up there,” Crystal continued, trying to see through the blinding rain. “What’s happening?”
“My Lady, they... They have a battering ram!”
Cenoal grabbed Crystal’s hand. “How on Neopia did they get it there that fast?!” he wondered out loud as he ushered the princess inside the palace. Jeran was right behind them.
Once inside, Crystal went into immediate action. While running, she issued her orders. “Sentries, go enforce the battlements! Archers, go with them and try to shoot as many down as you can!” The princess burst into the Marble Chamber, where the generals were holding a meeting. Dripping wet and looking as angry as an erupting volcano, the Princess was quite a sight to behold.
“My Lady, I believe we have finally come to a solution as to how we can defend the palace while waiting!” one of the generals said, bustling with pride.
“Too late,” Crystal hissed. “They’re here.” Silence met her statement. The princess immediately took control. “Generals Xosil and Drison, I want you patrolling the battlements with thirty sentries each. Meoin, Retios, go with them and take the squires and archers with you. Jeran, Cenoal, you two are coming with me.”
Jeran and Cenoal ran to catch up with the nimble princess as she weaved through the castle. Cenoal was lagging. Jeran saw why. “Shush, Champion,” Cenoal warned. “I’m not about to be put in the infirmary while all this is going on.”
Crystal reached the doors to the dungeons. “Jeran, you have the keys?” she asked.
“No, but I’ll go fetch them...” Crystal held her hand up once more to indicate that she wanted the Champion right where he was. She grabbed her hair pin and stuck it in the lock. She twisted it this way and that until a click was heard. She pushed the door, but nothing happened.
Annoyed, she stepped back and rammed right into it. The door gave way. Jeran stood there, jaw dropping slightly. Crystal ran in with Cenoal at her heels. The dungeon keeper had heard the noise and was up the long staircase in an instant. “What’s going on here?!”
Crystal pushed past him deeper into the caverns. Jeran gave an apologetic smile. “So sorry about that. Haste is of the utmost importance now...”
Crystal finally reached the part where the floor leveled out. She knew the dungeons would go on much deeper. This floor had two rows of cells on either side. The doors were oak and were very strong. They had small windows, barred. She looked in the first one, then the next, then the next. Finally, she found one she was searching for. “You are of the Veneration Guild, correct?” she asked through the opening.
“Why does it matter to you?” the thief responded.
Crystal reached through the opening and pulled the thief to the bars. She held him in such a way that he saw clearly her indigo eyes. “Do you know me?”
“Scarlet?” the thief rasped. Crystal released him and kicked the door hard. Amazingly, it gave way.
“Go down three levels and free the rest of them,” the princess ordered, seizing the keys from the speechless keeper. “Tell them I said to get inside the castle. Don’t leave the castle walls and don’t you DARE go attacking anyone! Mind you, if you free any others NOT from Veneration, you’ll have me to deal with.” Crystal dropped the keys into the thief’s hands. She also gave him her onyx earrings to show to the guards who questioned his duty.
“My Lady, have you gone completely MAD?!” the keeper shouted, his Grarrl form shaking with anger.
Crystal ignored him and continued searching the floor. Seeing no one from her guild, she continued to the next level. The dungeon keeper, Jeran, and Cenoal followed. “Why is she freeing some and leaving others?” Jeran asked, watching Crystal’s strange actions. “And why does she hold them up to the bars?”
“Should I know the answers?” Cenoal responded, gripping the place where the arrow had pierced.
Jeran sighed, feeling extremely worried for the princess. “I suppose you can’t.” He took a glance at the wound. “We need to get you to-”
“I already told you to shush!” Cenoal replied, ignoring the pain.
Finally, Crystal stopped and turned to them. The thieves she had freed were surrounding her like buzzers to their queen. “Gexian,” she bided, “take the others with you and free the rest of the Veneration thieves. I don’t care how, just do it.” She gave the purple Buzz a cold look. “ONLY Veneration thieves, understand?”
“You betcha, Shadow!” the Buzz exclaimed at the top of his lungs. Crystal winced. She had forgotten that Gexian was one of those who called her Shadow.
It took some time for the fact to sink in. Jeran just stood there, silent, his eyes on the ground. After what seemed like forever, he looked up to face the Acara. “You’re... Scarlet Shadow?” he managed to say.
“Yes,” Crystal replied simply. “I know you must hate me right now, but listen. The thieves of my guild have always seen me as second in command. We have to get as many Veneration thieves out of here as possible. Please, Jeran, I need your help, now more than ever.”
Jeran continued to stare at the ground. Finally, he lifted his head. “You have and always will have my help,” Jeran said.
Cenoal smiled. “Are we going to go find the rest of your guildees or are you two going to stand here doing nothing?” The Desert Scarab’s voice was hoarse.
“Cen, what’s wrong?” Crystal was beside the Aisha in seconds. Cenoal dropped to his knees. Crystal’s eyes widened when she saw the gash. “CEN!”
“Well, aren’t you getting worried,” Cenoal stated, forcing a chuckle. Crystal felt his forehead. He had a fever.
“Are you TRYING to get yourself killed?!” Crystal scolded. She turned to Jeran. “Jeran, could you get this crazy Aisha to the infirmary?”
“No way,” Cenoal protested, standing. “I’m going to help you save this place if it’s the last thing I do.”
“Stupidly brave words, Cen,” Crystal continued. “But, you’re still going off to the infirmary NOW.”
“I don’t think so, Princess,” Cenoal replied. “I was your guild master two years ago; I can be your guild master again. I’m helping, whether you like it or not.”
Crystal gave Cenoal a look. “Not happening!”
Cenoal returned the gaze. “Then allow me as your friend.”
Crystal gave an exasperated sigh. She couldn’t argue. “Fine.”
While supporting Cenoal, the trio sped down staircase after staircase, finding a freed thief at each level already handling the situation. “What floor is this?” Jeran finally asked.
“I don’t know anymore,” Crystal responded, peering inside the cells. Not one was occupied. They ran into another of the Veneration thieves.
“Scarlet, this level’s been secured,” he reported. “I got here a few minutes ago. There’s a huge cell that way, but I can’t see if there’s anyone there. The keys I ‘borrowed’ don’t work either.”
“Excellent work,” Crystal said, rushing to the large door at the end of the level. Indeed, it was quite dark inside. “Hello?” Crystal echoed. “Who’s in here?”
“Why do you care?” a thirst-cracked voice replied. “I am known as a Traitor to you all.”
Silence hung over the level. Jeran stepped forward. Where had he heard that voice before? “I am Sir Jeran, Champion of Meridell,” he said. “The one you spoke with is Princess Crystal Turstone. Who are you?”
“Jeran,” the voice said softly. “I knew a Jeran. What a temper he had, my good friend Jeran. Wanted to beat Princeton to a pulp, that one...”
“VALRIGARD?!” Jeran exclaimed, throwing himself at the huge doors. The ancient wood was meant for this pressure. The Champion’s muscles bulged as he fought against the barrier. “I couldn’t stand to see you in chains on that trial!” he yelled. “I know you aren’t guilty! I know you wouldn’t do anything to hurt the crown!”
The great doors, the ones that had held in numerous adversaries, were no match for Meridell’s Champion. The hinges gave way and the door fell forward. A blue Draik stood in the corner, shielding his eyes from the light of the torch Crystal held up. A smile crossed his lips as he walked to the panting Jeran. He held out a hand. “Thank you, Sir Jeran, Champion of Meridell,” he whispered. Jeran gripped his friend’s hand in a handshake. No more words were exchanged.
“I think this is the last inhabited level,” Cenoal said finally. “We have to get back to the Marble Chamber before all the generals start a riot...”
“CRYSTAL!!” King Skarl bellowed. “What is with you, child?! First you go entail the help of the Lord of the Desert Scarabs, and now you release all the thieves in the dungeon!”
The thieves stood behind Crystal as she faced her father. “Father, these thieves would be more than willing to help us. We are running out of men and the barricade you have set will not last long...”
While the trio was in the dungeons, the army of the Lady Betrayal had broken down the large palace gates. Everyone had now barricaded themselves in the palace. A few Unis had escaped from the stables. Everyone had gathered in the Marble Chamber to hear the princess speak. “Listen, we have enough food here to last a long time,” Crystal formulated. “We cannot allow Meridell Palace to fall. We must hold off everything until the reinforcements arrive...”
“Whoa there, Shadow!” Gexian stated. “I’m NOT risking my life to save this fool! Why should we? He shut us in the dungeon.”
“Guys, I freed you all for this very purpose!” Crystal said. “We all need to work together!”
“I’m thinking something else...” Gexian smiled wickedly, the greed shinning in his eyes. Crystal gasped as a small gleam of red began to grow in the Buzz’s eyes. The others around him gripped their heads, fighting the voice they all heard. Being in a dungeon brings out much in a thief; the thought of Betrayal was soon within their minds. The thieves caught the same curse, their eyes now shimmering as well.
“Oh, that’s a GREAT idea, princess,” Cenoal said as the thieves started to make their way to the nobles.
Crystal wasn’t listening. Her hands erupted into indigo flames, and her eyes glowed. She tore a path through the enraged thieves and led everyone out. The thieves were right on their tail. Crystal stopped and let the flames in her hands die. She couldn’t risk spending too much energy. “Everyone to the battlements!” she yelled, grabbing Shade’s mane and mounting as she had so long before. The youngest of the squires attempted to follow suit on the remaining Unis, the knights assisting them.
Jeran mounted Adriana, pulling Cenoal up in the process. “Hold on tight, Scarab...”
Shade sped up the tower stairs in record time, eager to get on the battlements. Once there, he could see clearly the thieves ramming at the palace doors from the inner courtyard. Shouts echoed in their ears as the freed thieves made their way up the tower and thunder boomed overhead as the storm raged on. Gexian’s voice rang clearly through the air.
“Lady Betrayal, I have them!” he yelled. Cenoal chanced a look back. He and Jeran were at the back of everyone, safeguarding them. He was amazed as the purple Buzz slowly changed appearance. A desert Shoyru grinned evilly at him. Magic had hidden his true form.
“Mizzen!” the Lord of Scarabs exclaimed. While flying, Mizzen grabbed, as if from the shadows themselves, a bow. He held the string back and an arrow appeared. “Jeran, hurry!” the Guild Master urged.
As the arrow sped at Jeran, Adriana charged through the doorway. Crystal, staying behind the door on Shade, slammed the door. The other knights barred it shut. Too late. An arrow protruded from Jeran’s armor. He pulled it out with not so much as a wince. “Well, what now, Crystal?” Jeran asked.
Crystal looked around her at all the soaked, desperate faces. The attack was bad enough and still the storm raged. Everyone was expecting a plan. She looked from her father to Cenoal. The only chance they had was to evacuate. No, she couldn’t let Betrayal win! The door cracked and the hand of a thief reached out. “Vilones,” Crystal hissed, referring to the Uni carrying her Father. “Cenoal told you how to get to the escape island, correct?”
“How can we get lost?” the Uni replied. “Just travel South and slightly West.” More hands began to claw at the boards of the door. The rain pelted the defenders.
“Take my father and lead the squires there,” Crystal commanded. She turned to Cenoal and Jeran. “Those without Unis, I’m so sorry, but I need you to...”
“We understand, Crystal,” Jeran whispered, speaking for the handful of knights and squires.
“If they stay, I stay!” Cenoal protested.
“No, you go with them, Cen!” Crystal said as the thunder sounded louder. Her tone was one no one could disobey. “They’ll be needing you on the island.”
Cenoal dismounted Adriana, who had chosen to stay with Jeran and the rest. He looked up defiantly at the Acara before running into the crowd of Unis. Crystal turned back to the doorway. She blinked away tears. “Go...” The door shattered as the word left her lips. “FLY!”
The Unis lifted off... All but Shade and Adriana. The Champion had no time to argue. Jeran and Crystal let out a cry as the Unis charged at the oncoming thieves. Crystal unsheathed her swords, the indigo glint in her eyes seemed to burn, exposing the bravery in the Acara. They faced off against the attackers, forcing them back. The swelling army was beginning to push the defenders toward the edge of the walls. Many of their comrades fell, finally leaving only the two. Crystal’s eyes began to glow indigo once more and her whole body was engulfed in indigo flames.
The hilt of a saber fell hard upon the princess’ head, knocking her out cold. Cenoal was in front of Shade in seconds. If there was one who could disobey the Princess, it was Cenoal. “Get her out of here!” he yelled over the thunder. Shade needed no second bidding. He was in the sky before the next shaft of lightning emerged.
Jeran dismounted and stood back-to-back with the Guild Master. “You go too, Adriana!” Jeran commanded. The Uni could not object. She flew with much reluctance. Jeran allowed a smile. “Well, one thing’s for sure!”
“And what’s that?” Cenoal asked. The two warriors were against the battlements. There was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.
“We aren’t allowing them the kingdom...” The two grimly gripped their swords as they readied to charge.
Cenoal grinned. “Not while we still draw breath, we’re not!” A shaft of lightning came hurtling toward the tower, illuminating the eager faces of the Champion of Meridell and the Lord of Scarabs as they ran head first into the swarm of shadows and thieves...
To be continued...