Scarlet Shadow: Secrets of a Kingdom - Part Three
“Ready to leave?” Shade asked, watching the Aisha as he tested the balance of his blade. Truth be told, there was no need to. Cenoal’s sword, although crude in appearance, was perfect for him.
Cenoal nodded. “As ready as I can be, I suppose,” he replied, looking down at his sword hand. It was fully healed now from the beating it took from the Champion of Meridell. As for the other wounds he had sustained at the Palace of Meridell, they were close to being healed as well – still painful, but the pain was beginning to dumb down. Perhaps now he would be able to show the Champion exactly who the better fighter was.
Crystal returned just as Cenoal was securing their baggage on Shade. “You sure you won’t ride?” Shade questioned worriedly.
“Cenoal needs to rest and there’s no need for you to be burdened by another rider,” Crystal replied. “We still have at least a week’s journeying until we reach Altador. That boat ride we took to the outskirts of the Lost Desert helped quite a bit.”
“Leave it to the Lord of Scarabs to figure out a way into his domain,” Shade stated, snorting. He stopped when he saw Cenoal’s fallen look.
“It isn’t my domain any longer, Shade,” he stated, bitterness in his voice. “By the time that ship docked in Scarab Territory, none of the thieves I left there were spared from that curse.”
Shade looked from one to the other. Both the Aisha and the Acara were in foul moods, and he decided to stay out of it. “I’ll scout ahead for a bit,” he stated, going off.
“Well, we got through that desert undetected, didn’t we?” Crystal continued after a few moments. “We got through the pass between those mountains, and all we have to go through now is a few more days of desert and we’ll be in Altador. Seeing how it has quite a powerful magical barrier surrounding it, I doubt the curse has reached that far.”
“I’m guessing you have friends there?” Cenoal stated.
Crystal’s eyes revealed puzzlement. “No, I don’t,” she stated. She looked down, seeming as though she had finished speaking, but then she looked back up. “You’re the second one to question my knowledge of Altador. Why is that?”
“That thing on your cheek,” Cenoal replied, indicating the sun with eight rays on the Acara’s cheek. “You got it when you were in the Veneration, I’m guessing, seeing how I’ve never seen it before.”
“It’s a birthmark,” Crystal explained. “It was difficult to see when I changed form.” She shook her head. “I still don’t see how this is related with Altador.”
“It’s Altador’s crest.” Cenoal stared at her as though that were the most obvious thing in the world. “How could you not know that?”
Crystal stared at him. “Altador?” she said with the same confused look. “Why would I have Altador’s crest on my cheek?”
“How should I know?” Cenoal responded. “Listen, we’ll be in Altador soon enough. Maybe you could ask around about it.”
“About a birthmark?” Crystal asked skeptically. “How would anyone know anything about that? I’ve never even been in Altador!”
Cenoal shrugged. “Maybe your parents have?”
“Cenoal, Altador was found only two and a half years ago,” Crystal replied, rolling her eyes. “I’ve had this thing since birth, remember?”
Cenoal was highly irritated. “You have a better explanation, Princess?” he snapped.
Crystal looked down, teeth grit. “Sorry,” she responded, tension heavy in her voice.
“You’re in a foul mood today, aren’t you?” Cenoal pointed out. “What was in that book?”
“Nothing,” Crystal stated, walking off to end the conversation.
Shade returned just as the Acara left. He watched as she made her way forward, the path to Altador already burned in her mind. “Come on, we’d better catch up,” the Uni stated, kneeling so that Cenoal could get on easier. The Aisha had no choice but to mount and leave the girl to her thoughts.
Kelland watched the city from the window of his personal quarters. Altador stood before him, its beauty gloriously increased now by the rising sun. The mountains to the north and south of the great city were bathed in golden light and the seas to the west were reflecting the beautiful scene that the eastern mountains were painting with the sun between their peaks. The docks were already bustling with the fishermen’s first catches of the day. The farms were beginning to awaken to the sounds of the restless petpets and the call of morning.
The blue Techo was caught up in his own thoughts, barely noticing the sound that came from behind him. Barely. Kelland spun around and grabbed the dagger on the bed stand with one graceful motion, proving that his training as a thief had not been forgotten. He faced the trespasser with eyes full of anger. He knew this was no friend. “What do you want?” he asked, a dangerous edge to his voice.
The intruder was wearing a cloak, the hood pulled up so as to hide all recognizable facial features. Muscular and male were the only things Kelland could confirm in his mind. From head to toe he was clad in black, not a patch of fur or feathers visible. “I only wish to inform you of certain visitors you will be receiving today,” the dark figure replied.
“Whoever they are, I sure hope they’re nothing like you,” Kelland hissed. “Who are you?”
“Who I am does not concern you at the moment,” the figure responded. “Look to the east and await the arrival of the three thieves. They will come in two hours.” Without another word, he disappeared in a cloud of smoke. Kelland coughed heavily for a few minutes, the whole time wondering what it was about the figure that seemed so familiar.
An hour or so brought the thief to the outskirts of the city. He was searching around the eastern mountains. Who was it he was looking for? He waited patiently behind the rocks, still thinking, ever wondering.
Cenoal had a bad feeling about the path they were traveling on. It was as if someone or something was watching them. Apparently, Crystal and Shade had the same feeling. Crystal drew her two swords, looking around cautiously. “Who’s out there?” she questioned.
“You feel it too?” Shade asked in a hushed voice.
“No mistaking it,” Crystal responded quietly. She raised her voice once more. “Come out quietly and you won’t be harmed.”
Kelland took in a quick gasp of air. The girl sounded so much like... No, she couldn’t! It was impossible! His keen ears picked up the sound of another blade being drawn. He had already guessed that there were three on the path, one of which was a Uni. The thief wondered whether revealing his position would cause an undesired reaction.
Kelland shook his head. Had he been a bandit or some other ill-meaning criminal, he could have easily injured both by this time using just the positions revealed by the girl’s voice. Perhaps it was best that he came out before it was they who were harmed. Then again, he did not know how good these travelers were in combat. Maybe they were skilled enough to afford such carelessness.
The Techo stood, immediately recognizing the three who stood five feet in front of him. They had all turned upon hearing movement. “Cenoal,” he greeted. “I have heard much about the youngest guild master to rule the Scarabs.” He glanced at the Uni. “Shade Meloran, an accomplished thief of commendable abilities, it is a pleasure to meet you face to face.” Shade nodded with a confused expression and the Techo moved on. Within his mind, Kelland was almost stunned when his eyes confirmed the last of the travelers. Still, he acted casual with a calm voice, speaking as though to any other. “Lady Crystal Turstone, I believe?”
Crystal looked the Techo up and down, a suspicious look in her eyes. “I feel I should know you,” she stated, “but sadly, I do not. Forgive me, but I must take a guess. Are you the one they call Kelland, the Thief, one of the Council of Altador?”
Kelland chuckled. “Observant,” he continued, “just like your mother.” The Acara’s eyes grew wide and he saw what surprise she was holding back.
“You knew my mother?”
Kelland nodded and gestured for them to follow him. “We will speak in the presence of the Council.”
The Council Chamber had a high ceiling and had three high arches facing the western horizon and the sea. In front of these arches, with the thrones facing the entrance to the chamber sat four of Altador’s now-eleven heroes. King Altador, the Hunter himself, was in attendance. He stood from his seat and bowed to the three guests. Crystal returned his gesture with a bow of her own. Cenoal, after a nudge from Crystal, did likewise. “Welcome to the city of Altador, Lady Turstone, Shade Meloran, and Cenoal Swordedge,” Altador stated, seating himself down and gesturing toward three chairs facing the twelve thrones. Cenoal and Crystal seated themselves. Shade, giving a respectful bow, sat on the floor, finding the chair uncomfortable.
“We are honored to be in this amazing city, Sire,” Crystal responded, noting that on the thrones wherein no one was seated there was the crest of Altador, the sun with eight rays. Even as Kelland had led them through the city, she had seen in almost every street and alley, indeed, even the roads themselves, the crest. She went straight to the point. “I am here to find out what this thing is doing on my cheek, King Altador,” Crystal stated, sliding her fingers over her right cheek. “I mean no disrespect, but the inquiry costs us time, and that is something we have very little of at the moment.”
Kelland chuckled. “You really are like your mother,” he said, taking his seat at the edge of the half-circle. “How much of my sister’s tale do you know already, my dear Niece?”
Cenoal looked puzzled. He turned to Crystal. “Kelland is your uncle?”
Crystal’s expression was of pure bewilderment. “I have no uncle,” she replied, almost coldly.
“You met Kelland only once, and that was when you came to Altador. You were too young to remember anything,” Siyana, the Light Faerie also known as the First to Rise, responded in Kelland’s stead.
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Siyana,” Kelland interjected before the Acara could ask any more questions. “Now, as I was saying, how much of your mother’s tale do you know?”
“Her name was Rain. She was a poor farmer’s daughter,” Crystal replied. “She grew up around the farm and later on in life, a year or so after my father was crowned king and she was made queen, I was born. A few weeks after that, she vanished.”
“So then you do not know anything.” Kelland sighed. “I suppose your father told you all this?”
“Yes, and I believe him,” Crystal concurred with slight annoyance in her voice.
“It is what he knows,” the Thief continued, “at least most of what he knows.”
Cenoal stared at Kelland for a moment longer before pulling out the book from his bag. “You said her name was Rain, Crystal? R-A-I-N?” The Acara nodded and the Aisha continued speaking. “They have very different spellings, but anyone can hear how R-E-I-G-N and R-A-I-N sound alike.”
Crystal’s look of defeat was confusing to say the least, but still she responded, “Yes, but what are you getting at?” Her voice was weak, as though she already knew the reply Cenoal would give.
“You have a lot of magical power, Crystal,” Cenoal continued, “and Kelland here claims to be your uncle. Was your mother strong?”
“If you mean physically, then no, Cenoal, no, she was likely one of the weakest in the kingdom,” Crystal spat the words out as through saying them alone left a bitter taste in her mouth.
“And yet your father’s lineage has nothing close to the natural magical prowess you have. Powerful magic, weak body, and,” Cenoal looked at Kelland, “Techo brother. Crystal, your mother was the Lady Reign of Areshen!”
To be continued...