Scarlet Shadow - A Thief's Uprising: Part One
“You can chase your shadow as much as you want, but you’ll never catch it. If you try to hit it, you’ll end up hurting yourself instead...” –Cenoal, Sakhmet Guild Master.
The snowy wasteland beyond Happy Valley was a place that seemed more desolate than even the Lost Desert. Snowstorms and blizzards often plagued the strange plains and an avalanche could easily meet the unwary traveler. There were a few fir trees and many small bushes. Now and again, a snowbunny would pop its head out of its hole then back in. Once far enough, you could easily get well and truly lost in the pine woods. After all, those who know the paths are rarely seen, and those who see them rarely get any help whatsoever.
It is in these woods we find four travelers. Two Unis, a Gelert, and a Lupess continue their trek. They know their destination is near, for all four are of the rarely seen. A large castle soon stands before them; its structure would easily have deceived the regular traveler as a small mountain. Its walls spiked up like a jagged cone and the doors were well hidden behind the trees.
The shadow Lupess frowned. The Meridell-Darigan Peace Anniversary was only a couple of days away. So much had happened in the past three or so years. She gazed about her. Terror Mountain was quite different from where she had started her ‘occupation’ years before...
“The Lost Desert?” the red Lupess questioned as the great mass of sand came into view. She was seated on the back of a muscular Uni, high up in the sky. “What are we doing here, Shade?”
“Well, Princess, let’s just say this is one of the ‘safer’ places for you to be right now,” the shadow Uni replied.
“Please stop calling me that,” the Lupess begged.
Shade grunted. “I need to find something else to call you, don’t I? You need to start getting used to some other name. You’re not ‘Princess Crystal’ any more.”
Crystal nodded numbly. How could she forget? Any reflection forced her to see her scarlet pelt. Not so long before, her fur was a light blue. Nervously, she fingered her right cheek, where a small birthmark was etched. She knew it was there and this worried her. “Do you think anyone will notice?” she asked.
“No,” Shade replied. “It’s almost gone. Trust me; even I didn’t see it at first.” The Uni reduced his altitude, landing carefully. A few minutes’ ride brought them to an oasis. Crystal dismounted and took a drink from the sweet water. Shade was just about to take a drink when he shot up.
“Get on!” Shade hissed suddenly. Crystal rose quickly and mounted the Uni, not daring to question him. Without another word, Shade was off. The two were behind one off the large dunes in seconds. “Stay silent,” were the only words the Uni said.
Crystal closed her eyes, listening. Something MUST have set Shade off. Her ears perked up as the sound of thudding hooves echoed into them. As those died down, words were heard clearly. “A few more hours will finally bring us near Kreio’s hideout,” one stated.
“I suppose he’s just sitting on that throne of his, not suspecting a thing,” another chuckled.
“Please,” a third scoffed. “Kreio has spies everywhere. Somehow, he’ll find out.”
“Cenoal, for goodness’ sake,” the first voice replied. “Calm down! Kreio doesn’t know what’s coming.”
“You can never be too careful with Kreio,” the one called Cenoal replied curtly.
Without warning, Crystal was grabbed by her collar. She was hoisted into the air. Instinct took over. The Lupess’ foot came flying at her attacker’s face, knocking him to the ground. She landed gracefully on the sand, tripping the Gelert behind Shade.
Sounds of the scuffle brought out the others at the oasis. At least fifty showed themselves. Crystal unsheathed her butterfly swords. Her eyes darted, searching for a quick exit. Shade was beside her. “Stand down, Scarlet!” he commanded.
The Lupess turned to him. “WHAT?!” she exclaimed, launching a Techo in the air with a kick.
“ENOUGH!” That command was all it took. The strangers stepped back, forming a wall around Crystal and Shade. Shade dipped his head, bowing as a Desert Ruki stepped into the circle, followed by a white Aisha.
Crystal studied the two. The Ruki seemed like just another desert nomad, quick-eyed and sharp. His companion had an air about him that irked Crystal’s curiosity. The Aisha was tall and well-built, but not bulky. He had shoulder-length, chestnut colored hair and his eyes were an icy blue. A scar ran down his forehead, barely scratching his right eye. A saber was thrust into the scabbard and his hand seemed to always stray toward the hilt...
Cenoal studied the Lupess curiously. She was so obviously some duke’s daughter. He allowed himself a smile. Of course, it was only to him the facts were apparent. The other thieves around him wouldn’t know a noble from a beggar besides their heavy purses. Her demeanor, her stance, even her style of combat gave her away.
“She hides it well,” Cenoal thought to himself. The Lupess was clad quite simply. No jewelry; no cloak. Cenoal raised an eyebrow. The desert life practically demanded a cloak. She had long, deep red hair tied in a messy braid. A scabbard was strapped on her back. Her swords shone brightly in the desert sun.
“Steel?” he thought. The Aisha shook his head. No, there was no doubt, the blades were crafted of Turstone Ore. Turstone Ore was quite the same in physique as steel, but much, MUCH stronger. Its high price had driven many a warrior to other sources of metal, but to him the Ore was worth every penny. Cenoal toyed with his saber, feeling a tinge of jealousy. Although his blade was made of the metal, he had never seen such craftsmanship as that of the Lupess’s blades.
“What do you think, Cenoal?” Vrelos asked, breaking the Aisha’s train of thought. The Ruki was getting bothersome with that habit. Not to worry, Kreio, his true master, would soon be rid of him. Cenoal had successfully thrown off suspicion by questioning the security of the ‘secret’ attack.
“She’s no Scarab,” he whispered back to the Ruki. The Aisha knew, of course, that Vrelos would do all he could to prove him wrong.
Vrelos turned on the Lupess. “Who are you and what were you doing spying on the Anubis Clan?” he hissed.
“Who I am shouldn’t concern you,” she replied coolly. “And I wasn’t spying, but now you’ve got me curious.”
“LIES!” Vrelos yelled. “You are a spy from Kreio, seeking to find out about our attack!”
“If I was a spy, I’d be quite pleased with myself,” the Lupess replied, keeping a level tone. “You’re telling me everything!”
Cenoal could tell the Lupess was baiting the Ruki. She was doing a pretty good job at it, too. But, that was only to keep her curiosity satisfied. “Your Uni called you Scarlet,” he said suddenly.
The Uni had kept silent since the beginning. Now, he rose his head. “That is her name,” he stated.
“Shade Meloran?” Cenoal asked simply, nothing betraying his surprise. The presence of the great Uni had completely escaped him. He had been too focused on the Lupess. Cenoal kicked himself mentally.
Shade nodded. “Scarlet is... new,” he continued. “She is not accustomed to the desert life.”
“Well, she seems more than a little accustomed to throwing punches,” Cenoal said, throwing a glace toward a wounded thief.
“He attacked me first,” Scarlet interrupted.
Vrelos coughed to get the attention of those around him. “Shade Meloran, what is a Uni of your stature doing with a pup still wet behind the ears?”
Scarlet’s eyes widened. Cenoal was bewildered as they seemed to grow darker. Shade quickly stepped in front of the Lupess. “As you have already seen,” Shade said, “Scarlet is more experienced than many of the thieves here.”
“True,” Vrelos admitted. He stepped back slightly. Even he had not missed the strange occurrence with the Lupess’s eyes. He coughed once more. “Well, Shade, you know the rules. The spy must be executed.”
“I told you, I am no spy,” Scarlet hissed. “And I suggest you not attempt an execution. It will spell disaster.” The Lupess pointed her blade forward, as if issuing a challenge.
“Allow us to stay with your thieves instead,” Shade bargained. “Scarlet will be quite an addition to your clan.” Shade gave the Lupess a look.
Vrelos rubbed his chin thoughtfully. Cenoal could tell he had already made up his mind. The Ruki was just saving face. “I believe she can be taught much, Sir,” Cenoal finally stated. He regretted it almost immediately afterward. Now all the responsibility was on him. Wonderful.
“Very well, Cenoal,” Vrelos said almost too quickly. The Ruki was relieved to have the Lupess off his hands. “She will be your responsibility...”
Cenoal was scouting ahead of the party on Uniback. Scarlet was with him on Shade. The Lupess hadn’t said a single word since the morning. “So,” Cenoal began, “you come from Meridell, correct?”
“Indeed,” Scarlet replied simply.
“I heard it was beautiful there,” he continued, scanning the horizon.
Scarlet shifted her gaze to the sands underfoot. Cenoal was surprised. A burden unlike any other rested on her shoulders. “It is.”
The Aisha turned from his task and watched the Lupess in silence. “Why did you leave?” he asked finally.
Scarlet bit her lip. “The war forced me out.” The Lupess’ head bolted up at the sound of hooves.
“Stay still and let me do all the talking,” Cenoal commanded as another rider joined the two.
“Ah, my good friends!” the Ixi exclaimed. “Would you two be interested in a few trinkets?” Without warning, the Ixi grabbed a dagger from his belt and trust it at Scarlet. The Lupess was fast, dodging and grabbing the hilt.
Cenoal quickly came between the two. “Enough, Emros!” the Aisha hissed. “She is an ally of the Scarabs!”
The Ixi gave Cenoal a look. “Well, she’s quite a talented ally,” he whispered back, sizing the Lupess up. “What news do you have, Cenoal?”
The Aisha grinned. “They attack tomorrow via the secret entrance.”
The Ixi smiled. “Well done,” he stated. “Lord Kreio will be pleased with your work, Sir.”
Cenoal nodded. “Why do you think he made me Captain?” With that, Cenoal raised his sword, shouting loudly, “I told you, I don’t want to buy anything! Now be off!”
Scarlet watched as the Ixi took off. So the Aisha was a spy. Interesting. “Scarlet!” Cenoal called. The Captain was already some way off.
Scarlet. The princess ran the word over again and again in her mind. It was so like Shade to call her something like that. She shivered lightly. This was to be her first night in the Desert. Shade had made fantastic time from Meridell. She reached around for a cloak that wasn’t there. She pulled a wry face as another gust of freezing wind came at them.
“Cold?” the Aisha asked. Shade had already caught up.
“A little,” she replied, rubbing her hands together.
Cenoal allowed a smile to escape him. “The desert doesn’t take well to those who come unprepared.”
“Well, I’m aware of that now!” Scarlet countered.
More sounds of hooves came and Vrelos was soon beside them. “What’s our status, Cenoal?” he asked.
“Not a single Scarab in sight,” Cenoal replied. “Although, we’ll be having a Scarlet Lupesicle soon enough.” He gestured toward Scarlet.
“Excellent news then!” Vrelos exclaimed. Then the last sentence sank in and he allowed himself a laugh. Scarlet pinned her ears down in annoyance, but kept her peace. “I’ll go see if there are any extra cloaks in our supplies,” Vrelos stated as he rode back to where the Clan was making camp...
To be continued...