The Ghost of Meridell: Part One
“‘Because of your greed, you will be cursed!’ the Earth Faerie had told him. But the Krawk king merely laughed at her statement. Being foolish enough to believe there was no one in Meridell as powerful as he, he banished the Earth Faerie and told her that if she dared to return he would have her killed.”
Jeran found it hard to suppress a mischievous grin. He and the other young squires had gathered around the campfire in the castle courtyard to hear one of many stories told by Sir Gavin. Most of the stories were tales of his experiences as a knight; all the adventures he’d had. But sometimes—like tonight—he told stories of old legends that had sprung up among the locals of Meridell.
One thing that the other squires didn’t know was that Jeran had heard this particular story at least a hundred times. He knew what was about to happen.
“It wasn’t until many years later, but the Earth Faerie returned to Meridell. Of course, the king was outraged that anyone would dare defy him like that. Immediately he ordered her death. But before anything of the sort could be done the Faerie spoke. ‘Your reign of tyranny is at an end!’ she declared. ‘No longer will you oppress the people of Meridell! Your greed and selfishness, your wealth and power will do you no good.’
“With that the Faerie held up a gray sphere; power shot forth from it, striking the wicked king dead-on. He let out a cry of surprise, and then it was over. As everyone looked on in shock, the king looked down at himself with dread. He was no longer in the powerful, solid form of a Krawk that he had been a moment ago, but was now the intangible form of a ghost.”
Sir Gavin glanced at Jeran and gave a subtle nod. This was it.
Jeran sprang towards Danner, who’d been seated next to him. “BOO!” the Lupe yelled.
The Wocky squire had been so involved with Sir Gavin’s story that he let out an involuntary scream and jumped back, slamming into the young Xweetok that was on the other side of him.
“Watch it, will you?” the court dancer in training snapped as she pushed him away.
Sir Gavin chuckled as Danner’s blue color flushed red for a moment. “I think that’s enough for one night,” the red Kougra knight said.
None of the squires had a problem with displaying their disappointment. “But Sir Gavin, what happened to the wicked king?” the Xweetok dancer asked.
“Yeah, what does the rest of the legend say?” Danner asked.
“All it really says is that the Earth Faerie sentenced him to live in that ghost form for all of eternity, and then banished him. But to where no one knows. With his rule taken away from him, the king swore he would come back and rule Meridell again. And that’s all I know. Now off with you all, before I get into trouble for keeping you up past your bed time.”
As the squires left, Danner came to walk next to Jeran. “Do you think the legend is real?”
“Of course not; that’s why it’s called a legend,” the Lupe squire said. “And after all... there’s no such things as ghosts.”
On the other side of Meridell, far from the castle, a cloaked figure would’ve begged to differ with Jeran’s statement, if only she’d known it had been spoken.
The damp night air was cold and crisp, and the ground beneath her feet was wet from the rain the night before. She pulled her dark violet cloak tighter around her shoulders to keep the chill away, even though she really didn’t mind it.
The ghost colored Lupess stopped. She took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. Her pale blue eyes surveyed the trees surrounding her. In these woods, she truly felt at home.
She slowly made her way to what appeared to be just another tree, but she knew better. She reached for a low branch on the far left and pulled it down. There was a click and a few seconds later part of the tree trunk slid away, revealing a hidden stairway that led underground.
The Lupess couldn’t help but smile malevolently. Those foolish knights had been searching for this place ever since the organization had been founded more than a hundred years ago.
She quickly slipped inside and the door slid shut behind her. Before her was a long, winding staircase. As she descended down the stairs she couldn’t help but think back, back to her life before this, before she came to work here, before the curse...
Against her will, her mind drifted back to those days, the days when she had been free...
“Will you please hurry up and find a target? I’m starving!”
Krystal pinned her ears in annoyance. That had been the third time in five minutes he had complained, and she was sick of it.
“If you don’t like my methods, Miles,” the ghost Lupess said, “then I’ll be more than happy to let you do this on your own. And I guarantee you won’t last a week.”
The green Wocky hissed at her crossly. As much as he hated to admit it, she was right. Despite the fact that he was older and stronger, Krystal was still the better thief. “Why do you have to pick pockets anyway? Why can’t you just steal from the food stands in the market?”
“Because I don’t like walking around the marketplace. Besides, the food stand merchants are far too vigilant.” Then with a grin she added, “and I like seeing the looks on these well-to-do rich people when they discover half their coins are missing.”
Of course, Krystal had to admit, it was hard waiting for the right target to come walking by. Life on the Darigan Citadel wasn’t easy for young orphans whom fate had dealt a cruel hand.
Some were lucky and found homes with kindhearted folks who’d gladly take them in. But others—like Krystal and her friend Miles—were cast out by society and forced to live on the streets and steal for their survival.
If fate dealt you the first hand, you would be a very friendly, grateful cub indeed. But if fate dealt you the second, you would be a very unfriendly, apprehensive, and downright bitter cub who’d like nothing more than to get back at society for the unkind life they had thrust upon you. This was one of Krystal’s life goals. She’d lived like this for as long as she could remember. With no one to help or take care of her she’d learned the first lesson of being an orphan: Look out for yourself and yourself alone.
So why in the world am I helping Miles? she thought to herself.
Thinking she had heard someone coming, Krystal peeked out of the shrub she was hiding behind. A sly smile spread across the ghost Lupess’ lips as she spotted a richly dressed Cybunny coming down the path. “Bingo.”
Krystal was getting tired of this. Every day it was the same thing: Steal some coins that usually only bought you one thing that would have to last you the rest of the day. Idly, the Lupess began to think about Miles. It had only been a month ago when he left the Citadel. He had claimed that life in Brightvale or even Meridell might be better than it was now.
And at the moment Krystal was thinking the same thing.
So, in the dead of night, the ghost Lupess broke into Lord Darigan’s stables. She looked around at the sleeping Unis until her eyes fell upon a brown Uni; sound asleep at a far stall. Quietly she slipped passed the other stalls and stopped at the brown Uni’s.
Knowing what a light sleeper he was, Krystal decided to stand at his stall door and see how long it would take him to wake up. As it turned out, she didn’t have to wait long. With a start his eyes opened and he found himself staring into Krystal’s pale blue orbs.
“Don’t say a word,” she whispered. “I need your help.”
“What are you doing here?” the Uni snorted.
“I just told you.”
“I don’t care how much help you need. You can’t just go breaking into Lord Darigan’s stables like this! What’s next? His castle maybe?”
“I’ll pay you for your trouble, Rook. Besides... you owe me.”
Rook let out a sigh. He recalled quite clearly how Krystal had helped him get a position in Darigan’s stables. He still didn’t know how she had done it, but the point was that she had. “What do you need?” he asked
The Lupess nodded. “I need you to fly me to Meridell.”
“I really appreciate this Rook,” Krystal whispered as she dismounted the Uni’s broad back.
“Well, now we’re even, and I can go back to bed.”
“I slipped some gold coins into the saddle pocket for your trouble.”
The brown Uni’s eyes softened. He really didn’t know Krystal that well, but he still felt bad for her. After all, she was only a child. “Take care of yourself, kid. The streets of Meridell may not be any kinder to orphans than the Citadel’s.”
A mischievous smile appeared on her face. “I’ll be just fine...”
It had been only about a few weeks since Krystal first set foot on Meridell soil, and so far she had made a good living of it. A lot more noblemen and women walked around with pockets full to bursting with gold and silver coins. And Krystal’s plain, black and silver short-sleeved top and long, dark blue skirt helped to blend her into the crowed. So easy was it to pick pockets that the Lupess was sure all of Meridell must be as naive as a petpet. But then, she had yet to meet everyone in Meridell.
One night, Krystal was sitting in a tree just at the edge of the nearby woods, playing with the necklace that had—as of late—come in to her possession. It was a rather pretty necklace. A tiny purple sphere, surrounded by a black spiral, dangled from a delicate golden chain.
It had been its beauty that had drawn her to it, but if she’d known then what she knew now, she certainly wouldn’t have even thought about taking it. Ever since she’d stolen the miserable thing, she wished with all her might that she could just return it and be done with it.
Suddenly, a flash of movement below interrupted Krystal’s thoughts. She glanced down from her perch to see a cloaked spotted Gelert walking in the direction of an old, long abandoned farmhouse. Underneath her red cloak she was wearing a teal colored blouse with a burgundy skirt, much like Krystal’s except for the color.
To an untrained eye there was nothing unusual about her. But thieves could always spot other thieves. That Gelert was up to something, Krystal knew. “I think it’s time for a game of ‘be my shadow.’”
Krystal jumped from the tree and carefully began to follow. All thieves’ senses are highly attuned to their surroundings; they have to be if they want to live. But this Gelert seemed to take no notice of Krystal. Oh well, never look a gift Uni in the mouth.
The Gelert walked toward the barn, just to the right of the house. Once inside she walked to the far corner and opened a hidden compartment in the floor, and pulled out a small wrapped package. When Krystal saw that the Gelert actually had something she decided she wanted to find out what it was.
Throwing a pebble toward the rafters on the ceiling provided the desired results. The Gelert reacted immediately by placing the package back into the floor panel and ducking behind something.
Krystal reacted just as fast. She dove through the window, raced to the hidden compartment, snatched up the package and ran, all in a matter of seconds.
From her hiding place, the Gelert could only blinked in shock. No one could move that fast! The Gelert raced after Krystal, and what followed was a very interesting game of take and keep.
The package passed from Krystal’s hands to the Gelert’s, then back to Krystal’s. Each time one thief had a hold of it they tried to get away before the other snatched it back. But in the end, Krystal won out, escaping with the small package in hand.
The Gelert knew she was beaten, so she gave up, but not forever. “Go ahead and run, little thief. I’m sure I’ll be seeing you again very soon.”
With a smile, she put the hood of her cloak up and walked off into the night.
The next night, Krystal received a rude awakening from a grumpy red Kyrii dressed in a sandy colored tunic and black cloak. He had silently climbed into the tree she was dozing in and pushed her out.
Being a thief she was naturally a light sleeper, so before even hitting the ground she had woke up and right away saw she was in trouble. Reflexes kicked in and she twisted her body so she would land right on her feet.
The minute she hit the grass she jumped up and took off into the woods. She knew very well she didn’t fall out of that tree, and she really didn’t want to stick around and meet whoever had pushed her.
Unfortunately she was going to meet him anyway, for in front of her stood the Kyrii, cloak blowing in the breeze. “I believe,” he said in an even tone, “you have something that belongs to my master.”
“Oh? Why do you ask?”
“That wasn’t a question.”
Krystal shrugged. “Okay, maybe I do. What of it? Stealers keepers.”
“What an amusing child’s rhyme,” the Kyrii replied with a hint of amusement in his voice. “My master, Raylac, is interested in your skills and wishes to see you.”
“And what if I don’t want to see him?”
“That wasn’t a request.”
“I knew you were going to say that,” the Lupess muttered under her breath. “Fine. Lead me to him.”
The Kyrii nodded and took out a blindfold. “Anyone who is not part of our organization must be blindfolded before being taken to him. Now hold still.”
Though she was blindfolded, the Lupess still knew where she was. She had been in and out of these woods since she first came to Meridell, and it's where she spent all of her time when she wasn't picking pockets.
The smell of the damp night air, even the very sound of leaves crunching beneath her feet allowed her to paint a mental picture of her whereabouts.
Suddenly the Kyrii that was guiding her stopped. "Stand still," he hissed in a gruff voice.
Krystal did as she was told, still allowing the Kyrii to believe that she was completely clueless as to where she was. Her mind followed the sound of his footsteps. He went off somewhere to the left, then stopped. There was a metallic click, then the sound of gears turning, followed by the sound of something sliding away.
The Kyrii took hold of the ghost Lupess' arm again and led her inside. The minute the door slammed shut behind them the Kyrii took off her blindfold. "This way," he said, taking the lead.
He led her down a narrow, winding staircase that seemed to go on forever. Finally they reached the bottom. He then took her down a long, dark corridor that seemed to go on even more into forever than the stairs did.
Feeling bored, Krystal decided to try and strike up a conversation. "This Raylac guy must be pretty important for him to be so well hidden."
Her companion spoke not a word. He didn't even glance in her direction. Frustrated, she tried again. "What's the matter? Wocky got your tongue?"
"Quiet! We're here."
The ghost Lupess looked up at the big black doors that marked the entrance to the central chamber. For the first time in her life, a chill ran up her spine. Suddenly the Kyrii opened the doors, grabbed her by the arm and unceremoniously tossed her inside.
Before she could even yell, the doors were slammed shut behind her. Krystal stood up and brushed off her dark blue skirt. Looking around the dimly lit room she noticed a medley of assorted things lining the walls on both sides. It was clear that most were trophies from fights won, and others were merely items of value.
The room was dominated by a throne that sat in the middle of four stone pillars, whose main purpose was to support the ceiling.
A menacing looking red Eyrie sat atop the throne. He wore a dark brown tunic, a black cloak, and a grayish colored gauntlet on his left hand. This, she knew, must be Raylac.
He looked her up and down with an almost amused look on his face. "You," he began in a voice of disbelief, "are the one who stole from one of my thieves?"
"Maybe. Who wants to know?"
Raylac ignored her question and continued, “The thief you stole from tells me that my... package, was passed through many hands.”
Krystal tried in vain to hide a grin. “You must have either misunderstood her, or she gave you a false report. It passed through the same two pairs of hands... just many times.”
The red Eyrie nodded as if in approval. Suddenly his eye caught a glimmer of light coming from the necklace she was wearing. He stood up and walked closer to her. "What have we here?"
"None of your business!" Krystal snapped.
Raylac looked at her and grinned darkly. "Hand me that necklace,” he said, reaching out his right hand, the sleeve of his dark brown tunic shortening slightly as he did.
"And why should I trust you to give it back?"
The Eyrie chuckled. "My dear child, I have much better things to do than to steal some little girl's jewelry."
"I am not a child."
"Of course not," he replied slightly amused. "Now please, hand it over. I promise to give it back."
Reluctantly she removed the necklace and held it out to Raylac. The moment it left her hand the small circle on the necklace turned from purple to blue and Krystal's form became intangible.
She could still be seen, but you could see right through her. Raylac picked up something and tossed it at her. She didn't even blink as it passed right through as if she were a real ghost.
"Interesting,” he said under his breath. He held out his hand. "You may have it back now."
In a huff Krystal snatched it out of his hand. The very second her fingertips brushed against the necklace the tiny orb turned back to purple and she became normal again.
"So, how did that happen? Surely you weren't born that way."
“I got... greedy.”
With a sigh Krystal explained how she found out about an old king’s treasure that had been hidden somewhere in Meridell. There was some sort of curse that was supposed to be on it but she didn’t believe in that. So she had set out to find it, but when she found the place it was supposed to be, there was nothing there... nothing except an old necklace.
“I thought it was better than nothing, so I took it. Then this happened. So I found out all about the ‘curse’ I could. And apparently I’m stuck like this forever...”
Raylac sat on his throne deep in thought. Finally he said, “I’ll tell you what. In exchange for working for me as a thief I will help you find... a cure for this affliction of yours.”
Krystal’s eyebrow arched. “And why would you do that?”
“Because I know of someone else, a very close friend of mine, in fact, with the same problem.”
“What do I have to do?”
“Oh, the rules are simple. I give you assignments that either involve theft or spy work. Anything you steal belongs to me. In exchange you’ll have food, shelter, and protection from your enemies.”
After a few moments of thinking, Krystal finally agreed.
“Excellent!” Raylac exclaimed. With a snap of his fingers the door opened and the red Kyrii from before stepped into the room. “Take the Lupess down to the thieves’ quarters and have Audrey show her around.”
The Kyrii nodded and led Krystal out of the room, down another corridor, followed by another flight of stairs. Thank Fyora they were shorter this time. Once at the bottom Krystal saw a long, wide hallway with rows of doors lining each side of the walls. “Wait here.”
Krystal rolled her eyes but did as he said and waited. Not long after he left a familiar spotted Gelert walked up to her. “I thought I’d see you again, little thief. I’m Audrey... your new partner.”
Krystal’s mind suddenly snapped back to the present. All those memories had gone through her mind in a matter of seconds. She shook her head. That was two years ago, she thought. I need to think about what’s going on now.
And so, with her focus reverted back to the here and now, the ghost Lupess reached the bottom of the stairs and slowly walked down the long corridor towards the thick black doors that awaited her return.
To be continued...