Scarlet Shadow: Secrets of a Kingdom - Part Six
All four of the heroes who sat at the council rose quickly, darting toward the three archways that sat at the end of the Council Chamber. The three travelers did the same. They watched in shock and horror as the shores were overrun by darkly-clad attackers. They had come on ships, which were now beached, their passengers climbing down to stand upon the white sands. The homes that had once stood near the shores were being searched, the families who had once resided there were now safely, or so they thought, within the kingdom’s walls.
Psellia the Air Faerie sped inside through one of the arches, bending double and panting after her apparently exhausting flight. She looked up at the expectant faces and quickly told all that had happened.
“The mist this morning was so thick, I was asked for by the fishermen,” she stated. “They were hoping I could cast a spell or two to drive it away so they could see clearer. The guards’ lines of vision on the wall-tops were also affected, so I decided it was for the best that I look into it.”
“Yes, I remember saying goodbye to you when you left,” Jerdana responded. “I looked out an hour or so later and noticed the mist had returned, so I wondered if it was just some really strange weather we were having.”
“It never left,” Psellia continued. “I summoned so many winds that I felt sure I would start some storm or other, but then the mist didn’t thin in the least!”
“How long were you down there?” Jerdana questioned. She stared out the window and noticed it was nearing noon. Kelland’s tale had taken longer than any of them had anticipated, what with all the interruptions the court sometimes had to go through.
“Most of the morning. The rest of it had me running around evacuating the fishing villages, all the while wondering why no alarms had been sounded,” Psellia replied. “Anyways, you won’t believe what happened next. It was maybe three hours after I had first started my spells when I saw strange shapes appearing in front and beside me. I thought I was imagining things, but then...” Psellia indicated her left wing. It looked shriveled and withered on the upper part, even slightly darker. It was nothing in comparison to its counterpart, which shone and even sparkled slightly. “It looked like fire, but it wasn’t. That’s all I can say besides the fact that it was blacker than even Envari’s flames.”
“How in Altador were you able to fly in this condition?” Jerdana asked.
“I used the wind and glided,” Psellia replied, wincing as Jerdana examined the wing further. “Jerdana, please don’t touch it. It hurts dreadfully.”
“Where is Fauna?” Jerdana questioned. “I’m sure she’ll know what herbs to apply.”
“I’ll go look for her,” Siyana responded, already floating in the air and flying through the building’s high-ceilinged halls.
“Try to look for Torakar or Marak as well, Siyana!” Kelland yelled after her. He looked at the confused Cenoal. “Torakar is the land general and Marak takes care of the navy,” Kelland stated. “I’m quite worried for Marak seeing how these ships came through our part of the ocean.”
“Oh, that’s right,” Psellia started again, “I almost forgot. The guards atop the walls hadn’t sounded the alarm because they were under some sort of sleeping spell. I was too busy getting all the families into the city to check on them until later on. It was powerful magic to say the least, but they’ll recover.”
Fauna entered then and immediately began work on the damaged wing, only sparing a moment to send a worried smile to the travelers as a greeting. Psellia winced again as crushed herbs were pressed against her wing. “As for Marak, I can only hope he’s safe. I didn’t see any of his Peophins around while I was trying to clear the mist.”
Torakar burst in, saluting King Altador before he made his report. “I sent fourteen soldiers to gather the farmers in the countryside. Seeing how the attackers haven’t reached that far inland yet, I suppose that’s enough. Right now the rest of my forces are getting ready for the counterattack.”
“I’m afraid that won’t help,” Crystal stated.
Torakar stared at her as though she were a child in a room full of grownups speaking of dolls while they spoke of war. “Altador has a great army, My Lady,” he replied in a matter-of-fact tone. “These attackers have no match for our soldiers in strength, even if they do in number.”
“Not as long as the faerie who did that-” Crystal pointed to Psellia’s wing. “-is there.”
“I’m afraid she’s right,” Cenoal said, backing up Crystal’s statement. “From what I’ve heard from Crystal here, this Faerie is no foe to be played with. And from what I’ve heard from tales of villagers in the Desert, she can overcome the strongest of thieves’ guilds.” Here Cenoal seemed to almost lose his voice.
“I await the orders of my king,” Torakar responded, turning to King Altador.
“Even if this faerie is with them,” Altador responded, “we will fight for our home.”
Crystal nodded, knowing the feeling of determination for your home. “You are a noble people, Altador. I would count it an honor to fight by your side.”
“You have us here as well, Sire,” Shade stated.
Cenoal nodded, smiling. “We would all count it an honor.”
Kelland grinned. “You have your mother’s sense of nobility, Crystal.”
Without further warning, a bright light suddenly filled the room and all had to shield their eyes. A voice was heard as clear as a bell, “They may fight, but you must go at once, Crystal.”
“What are you talking about?” Crystal asked, annoyed by how many blinding lights she seemed to run into on a monthly basis. “Who are you?”
“I am the one to whom your mother made a promise,” the voice continued. “I am the lady Morning, and you must do as I say. Leave Altador and learn what you were meant to learn in the kingdom your ancestors ruled. Do not return until your preparation is complete!”
“Do not let us keep you from it, Crystal,” Jerdana said gently. “You have a role to fill now.”
“I don’t know the way!” Crystal objected.
“You don’t, but your uncle does,” Morning continued, allowing her glow to dim so as to allow those in the room to see her. She was still as stunning as Kelland had described her. “He will lead you.”
Crystal looked at Kelland and shook her head. “He is needed here.”
“You are the one destined to control the power within Light,” Morning stated. “That destiny cannot be hindered.”
Crystal was firm. “My uncle is needed in this kingdom. They are standing against Betrayal despite the danger, and I will not deprive them of a warrior.”
“No, Kelland will go,” Altador stated abruptly. All in the room turned to him.
“What?” Kelland asked, his voice low.
“My good friend,” Altador continued, “I have heard of the Sorcerer’s Stones from you, as I heard of Morning and Betrayal from you. From such tales there is much I have learned and I believe that right now the best course of action is for you to go and bring your niece to your old kingdom.”
“But why?” Kelland asked.
“Because I know that an attack in the scale of which this has now become will be disastrous,” Altador replied. “There is a reason for everything, and a time for everything, and I don’t think that now is the time for you to go to war. Crystal came here as a result of more complicated circumstances than is possible to be coincidence. Now she needs a guide and you are here to help guide her. Do as I say, take her and her companions through the secret passageway of the city and get to your destination as soon as possible.”
Kelland was reluctant, but bowed. “I will do as you say, My King.”
Cenoal, Shade, and Crystal were all following Kelland as quickly as they could through the halls of the building. They came to the last floor, which was far below the ground. They made their way toward the east end of the large room and Kelland yanked on a small crack in the wall, throwing a narrow doorway open. Water began to rush in and the whole room was soon knee-deep in water. “Let’s go!” Kelland yelled as he ran into the hall.
The three continued following as fast as they could, noticing the water rising further and further. They lost all sense of time in the tunnel, only knowing that when Kelland called a halt that they would be resting in waist-deep water, with their backs to the wall and nothing ahead or behind them. They went on like this through the caverns, the light emanating from the glow of strange crystals not unlike the ones Crystal had seen before within the palace of the Lady Cios. The light was limited, however, and although the ground under their feet was smooth from centuries of flowing water being thrust upon it, once in a while a rather resilient piece of stone would still be firmly in its place, causing trips and falls to be frequent.
It must have been at least three days before the roof opened up and they found themselves facing a giant waterfall, its peak likely hundreds of feet in the air. Beside it were large rocks and boulders, all of them smooth from being pounded upon by water. Also, another passage was visible from the glow of the crystals. The passage would lead to a river, seeing how all the water had to be going somewhere besides the building holding the Council Chamber. “At last,” Crystal thought. “At last we are nearing the end of this journey.” She could already imagine the night sky and smell the fresh air. How wrong the poor girl was.
Kelland did not waste time. He climbed the rocks, slippery as they were, and motioned for Cenoal and Crystal to do the same. Shade was able to fly, but the cramped space kept him from carrying anyone on his back. Cenoal had obviously felt the same way as Crystal, seeing how his face fell at the Techo’s words. But, he gritted his teeth and obeyed, much like Crystal did.
Crystal and Cenoal were not adapted to climbing the slippery rocks as Kelland was, so the progress was much slower than the Techo had anticipated. He kept pushing them on and on until finally it seemed they could go no further. They reached a point where the space around them widened slightly and right in the middle of the waterfall there jutted out a large piece of rock. It was also smooth, like the ones they were climbing, but not as eroded as the rest.
And then he jumped. The Techo had not made a sound, nor said a word, but he jumped. He landed safely on the large slab, although Crystal saw that he nearly lost his balance. He then braced himself and jumped again, this time into the large gaping hole that sat at the other side of the waterfall. Shade made his way in as well and then Kelland faced the two shivering and soaking wet figures who had followed him thus far. “Jump!” he ordered.
Cenoal looked at Crystal, then at the slab, then at Kelland. He took a deep breath and jumped. Crystal watched as he landed on the slab, caught his balance, and then jumped again, landing safely on the other side.
Fatigue, dizziness, and her will to live fought against each other as the Acara contemplated giving up. But then she remembered what she was fighting for. She remembered the beautiful fields of Meridell and the good people who had lived there. She remembered her father and Jeran and Lord Riqon. She looked at the slab, mentally prepared herself, and then jumped. For a moment all her cares were gone with the wind and she felt as though she was flying. But then her foot hit the rock and she lost her balance, slipping to fall down to the shallow water below.
Crystal’s thief instinct kicked in and she grabbed the ledge, her nails trying to dig into the stone. She was hanging precariously by one hand, and what’s worse, she was hanging on to the part of the slab nearest the waterfall. The water from higher up had picked up enough momentum to feel like stones. And it was icy cold. She looked below as the light of the crystals illuminated the walls. Would it really end this way?
She heard a grinding sound from above and a hand grabbed her arm. She was quickly hoisted up and she sat there on the rock, stunned. The water was still coming down hard on her, but she barely noticed now. Before the shock of what had just happened sank in, she heard a loud, harsh voice behind her yell, “Jump already, Scarlet!” She got to her feet and without thinking jumped toward the opening, landing safely on the solid rock. Behind her, Cenoal followed.
She was gasping for breath suddenly, realizing that while the water fell on her she had not been breathing. “Thank you,” she managed to say as her teeth chattered.
Cenoal wrung water out of his hair. “One of the things I taught you was to never lose focus,” he stated. “Just because you’re a princess now doesn’t mean you should forget the important things you learned as a thief.”
“Just a few hours more of travelling, you three,” Kelland stated. “It’s all downhill from here, so watch your step.”
The four travelers made their way through a few more winding tunnels and at the end they found themselves facing a long and steep descent into a dark tunnel with absolutely no light whatsoever. “I can light it, if you want?” Crystal offered.
Kelland shook his head. “If you’re talking about using that accursed flame of yours, then the answer is no.”
“How are we supposed to know what we’re getting into?” Shade asked.
“You don’t, but I do,” Kelland responded. “You’ll just have to trust me.” Cenoal, Shade, and Crystal nodded. Kelland continued, “Shade, you have to go first. Stay on your hooves and lean backward. Keep your balance and don’t let anything but your hooves touch the ground. Try not to get tangled in your tail, either. Don’t yell; you might cause a cave in.” Shade looked down at the darkness, seeming unsure. Kelland sighed. “Worse comes to worst, fly.” This seemed to help Shade, for the next moment he slid down the tunnel at a slow pace.
A few minutes passed and Shade could be heard landing with an ‘Oomph!’ Kelland nodded in satisfaction. “You next, Cenoal.” Cenoal slid down as he was told, tilting his body toward the two left on top so as to keep his balance. Moments passed and soon the crunching of Cenoal’s boots on the loose rocks halted, and he was safely on the bottom. Then Crystal knew it was her turn. She gazed at the descent and took a deep breath. “Remember what the Aisha said, Crystal,” Kelland stated. “Keep your focus.”
Crystal nodded, and with that she slid down in the same way Cenoal did. After a moment or two she found herself travelling much faster than she had expected. The descent got steeper and it was difficult to keep her feet at the right angle so as not to allow her to slip. Steeper and steeper the descent became until finally she felt gravity pull her feet from where they touched the earth and she went sprawling into the darkness.
The sheer drop was only a few feet high, but it was enough to knock the wind from Crystal’s lungs. She landed with a thud on the grass and her surroundings were suddenly so bright it caused her eyes to shut. She staggered to her feet. Grass? Light? She breathed in the fresh air as her eyes adjusted to the light from the half moon. She ran over to where Cenoal and Shade sat, enjoying the flow of the river on their tired feet and hooves. Crystal waded to the bank and sat down beside the two. None of them spoke, each far too tired and far too happy to say a word.
They didn’t make camp that night, but rather they made a small fire and all gratefully settled down around it. Kelland, who was oddly not as tired as the others, went out into the nearby woods and found a few mushrooms, which they cooked over the fire with some stream water for a filling, yet unflavored soup. None of them really noticed seeing how hungry they were. After all, most of the food they ate in the tunnels had been from Shade’s saddlebag, which had been half full of soggy biscuits. After the meal, they all fell asleep, despite Kelland’s tired comment that a guard ought to be put up.
The group spent quite some time, in fact almost a week, in this serene place that Kelland said was between two mountains. The Techo informed them that the river flowed through the forest and that the forest was so thick that no one from the other end ever ventured into it much except to scavenge. Finally, after all four had gotten their strength back, they took a few fruits from the wild trees and packed them up. They then went off through the secret trail that Kelland showed them. They reached the outside of the forest within the day and set up camp again right outside where the trees grew.
Cenoal looked around suspiciously. It was his turn to stand guard and he had just heard a strange noise, as though someone were rustling the bushes on purpose. Before he could alert the others, a figure stepped out of the woods. He stared a while at the familiar face. It was the face of a Blue Lutari. A large scar ran along his neck and on his shoulder was the mark of a Scarab. Cenoal sat up immediately. “Areki?” he stated.
“Lord Cenoal,” the Lutari said in a whisper. “So it is you.”
“What are you doing here?” Cenoal questioned. “I heard-”
“That the scarabs had been taken over?” Areki asked, cutting the Lord of Scarabs off. Cenoal nodded. “It is mostly true, but some of us managed to escape.”
Cenoal’s eyes grew wide. “How?”
“I don’t know,” Areki admitted. “There were just some who resisted more, I suppose. When they came, it was like the plague! Ugh, that horrid gleam in everyone’s eyes! Then I felt something clawing at my mind. I wouldn’t let it in; I ran as fast as I could to the nearest exit. I took as many Scarabs as I could and fled.”
“So some can resist her then,” Cenoal concluded.
“There are more, Lord Cenoal,” Areki stated. “I am here right now about to enter Altador to see if there are any thieves or commoners who escaped.”
Cenoal’s spirits fell. “Escaped?”
“Have you not heard, Milord? Altador fell a couple of weeks ago.”
Cenoal shook his head. There was a short pause before he continued, “But how many do you number now? Those who escaped, I mean?”
“There are many of us, Milord,” Areki replied. “Some just need to be called.” He stared at Cenoal a while longer. “They need a leader, Lord Cenoal. You are greatly respected; perhaps you could...” The Lutari trailed off, leaving Cenoal to think about what had been said.
The Aisha looked from Shade, to Kelland, to Crystal. The girl was in capable hands, he knew. She would have no trouble getting to the kingdom of her ancestors. They no longer needed him. “Where are you all gathered?” Cenoal questioned.
“We are gathered in the mountains Northeast of where we are now, just slightly South of Shenkuu.”
Cenoal nodded. “Go find the ones you seek in Altador. I will meet you in the mountains.” With that, Areki bowed and ran off around the mountain toward the city of Altador.
Cenoal took one last look at his friends before turning his back. He was about to run off when a voice called out, “You’re not bringing me?” Cenoal turned back and stared at the shadow Uni.
“No, Shade,” he stated. “Crystal still needs you.”
“No, I don’t.” Crystal opened her eyes, still alert and shining, suggesting that she had not truly been asleep. She stood up slowly and stretched, walking over to where Shade stood.
“Honestly? Were any of you even asleep?” Cenoal asked.
Kelland, who had his back to the three, stated frankly, “Nope.”
“I could get you there faster,” Shade stated.
“I know you can,” Cenoal continued, “but like I said, Crystal needs you.”
“No, I don’t,” Crystal replied again. “I can carry the provisions just fine, and I’m sure we’ll be travelling at an acceptable rate for me to be on foot. Besides, if Shade stays, either Kelland or I will travel on foot. That would keep our pace down to what it would have been without him.”
“You, on the other hand,” Shade said, “are going off on your own. Face it, Cenoal, you need someone to watch your back.”
Cenoal sighed. He took Shade’s bit from where it hung on his saddle and nodded. “Alright, you guys win.” After getting Shade ready, Cenoal mounted. He smiled. “Thank you, Scarlet.” He looked down. “You too, Shade.”
“Hopefully our paths will cross again,” Crystal stated.
“And if they don’t?” Shade questioned.
“Then I wish you two the best,” Crystal replied with a small smile. She watched them as they set off. She continued watching until they were mere specs in the horizon, and when she saw them no more, she sat down. The Acara stared at the ground, wondering what lay in store for her and realizing... She had left her mother’s book with Cenoal.
Author’s Note: More coming soon. =) Sorry, I can’t think of the new title yet, so you guys will have to look out for it. ^^;