Scarlet Shadow: Secrets and Reunions - Part Two
Jeran and King Skarl were off before Tor could utter another word. Both were running toward the end of the hall, where the Marble Chamber was located. Jeran made sure to time himself as to show respect to the much slower King Skarl. It took all his willpower not to urge the fat Skeith faster.
Finally, they reached the entrance to the chamber. Two Draik sentries were positioned at the sides of the open doorway. The large doors were opened wide and all could easily see inside. An Acara stood by the window, her back toward them. Her light blue fur was smeared with mud and her clothes were full of tears. Jeran caught sight of a few bruises and cuts, nothing serious, thank goodness. What seemed to be a cloak was now nothing more than just ripped up fabric. Her long, scarlet hair was plaited in a braid and the scabbard of a pair of butterfly swords was strapped to her back, their blades nowhere in sight.
King Skarl took a step forward. Although only a minute sound escaped from the gesture, the Acara’s ear flickered back and she turned toward them. Her beautiful indigo eyes caught the light and the birthmark was seen clearly as ever on her cheek – the sun with eight rays. This was Crystal Turstone, princess of Meridell and long lost heir to the throne.
Jeran watched as father approached daughter. Crystal bent down and embraced her father. Skarl’s voice betrayed the soft side not many had ever seen. “My dear child,” he said, “you have finally returned.”
“I’ve missed you, Father,” Crystal replied. Jeran saw a small tear slide down the Acara’s cheek. He looked up so as to keep his own tears from betraying his happiness.
Jeran could see that the king longed to speak more with the Acara. The Princess let her father go, only to stumble back. A Uni emerged from where the shadows had hidden him, quickly positioning himself beside Crystal so as to give the girl a handhold should she need one.
The king of Meridell knew, without words, that this was a friend of his daughter. “Jeran, would you take Crystal to one of the guest rooms?” Skarl requested. He knew she needed rest. “I shall have her old one cleaned.” The king turned to one of the sentries. “Find this fine Uni a room as well, would you?”
Jeran and Crystal walked through the hallways, the flickering torchlight playing with their shadows. Jeran was at a loss for words. There she was, the young princess who had helped him escape the palace so long ago. And here he was, now a Champion of Meridell. “Meridell has missed you,” he said finally.
“And I’ve missed Meridell,” Crystal replied, a flicker of a smile showing.
“Oh, if only you knew,” Jeran continued. “The whole kingdom wanted to mourn, yet there was no time for it. The war came not too long after you left.”
“Trust me, Jeran,” Crystal said, her gaze turned to the ground, “every day, I would wish to be back within these walls.”
“The Darigan-Meridell Peace Anniversary is tomorrow,” Jeran said after another long pause.
Crystal’s voice was less than convincing. “I can’t wait...”
“Welcome all!” the Eyrie announcer yelled from his place at the platform. The crowds around the grounds were filled with Meridellans and Darigans alike. Their cries filled the air as performers danced, juggled, and played instruments before them. There were many activities planned for the day.
Where the announcer was standing was the place of the nobles. The platform was shaded well and had many seats where the courtiers were enjoying the show. The most important of people were seated in front: Lord Darigan, King Skarl, Sir Jeran, and many others. As the announcer introduced each of them, they stood and gave a bow.
“Now, I am sure you are all excited to begin today’s activities,” the announcer stated finally. Agreement rushed in like the winds in a blizzard. “First, we must have a word from King Skarl.”
As the King took the blow horn, Jeran slipped away quietly. “To many of you here,” Skarl began, “this celebration commemorates the end of a long and tiring war.” More cheers. “To many of my people, myself included, the months pertaining this event reminds us of something else as well.” The cheers began to dwindle. Many of the Meridellans bit their lips, not willing to show their anticipation.
All around, the people of Darigan were beginning to get confused. Even Lord Darigan was puzzled. He looked around. The people were upset. “Whatever happened must have been a tragedy,” he thought to himself.
“A bit over three years ago, Meridell lost someone they cherished,” Skarl continued. Now the tears were evident in his shinning eyes, as in the eyes of his people. “Someone we believed dead...” Within seconds, the tears turned swiftly to tears of joy. The yells and shouts seemed louder than anything on the world as Sir Jeran emerged, leading a beautiful Acara into the middle ring.
As he plugged his ears respectfully with his hands, Darigan studied the Acara. The long, scarlet dress she wore trailed behind her. The long, fiery red hair was let down. Her sparkling indigo eyes were accentuated perfectly by the tiara sitting on her head. There was an air about the girl. She seemed distant, lost in thought, but there was something else. You could sense that she could help heal the many emotional wounds a land possessed. In her eyes lay a love for the land, a love that could never be replaced, a love that would suffer anything for the people. “If the Meridellans thought her lost, their grief would not have surprised anyone,” he thought. He gave her a smile as her gaze passed him. Another was given back.
“Who is that young girl, Skarl?” he asked once the cries had died.
“That is my daughter, Darigan,” Skarl replied. His voice revealed happiness beyond any Darigan had seen in the grumpy old king.
Finally, Jeran led the young princess to the platform and seated her down between Darigan and Skarl. She stood suddenly, taking the blow horn from her father’s grasp. “Please,” she said to the people, “I need to speak with all of you.” Everything went dead silent. Crystal took a deep breath. “You all don’t know how happy I am to be back here,” she continued, “and I wish it was under happier circumstances that I returned.” Crystal paused. She had to do this.
Slowly, the princess held up the scroll she had been holding since her entrance. Everyone gasped. Her hand had been coiled around the scroll’s center so as to hide its most important feature. Tied around the parchment was a long scarlet ribbon. Pinned on was a beautiful Scarab brooch. Two large, red rubies were positioned as the insect’s wings; black gold was what held it all together.
Everyone recognized it. No one had ever been able to give an accurate description of the Scarlet Shadow, but there were a number of things everyone was sure of. Among these facts was that the Shadow always wore a Scarab brooch – the Scarab brooch now in Crystal’s hand.
Crystal handed the scroll to a speechless Jeran. “Please, Jeran, I can’t take any more,” she said, seating herself.
Jeran opened the scroll and began to read:
To the people of Meridell,
I am sure you all know what I have to say is most important. I have entrusted your princess with my brooch, after all. Before you go throwing off everything I say as a lie or a hoax, allow me a few words. You all know I am part of the Veneration thieves’ guild. This thieves’ guild is led by my master, Lord Kanrik, and I am about to betray him and everything I have worked for to tell you this.
Not long ago, a spy of ours infiltrated your palace in order to steal the precious King’s Scepter, a relic we were to sell off later on. You know her quite well, I believe: Lady Lila of the Darkorn family. Needless to say, nothing went right that night. An old master of ours, Galem, attacked us. We were captured and Lila’s cover was close to blown. Thankfully, you people were blind enough not to see her connection with us.
Lord Kanrik and I ran into the palace, but found trying to rescue Lila illogical. The only good thing that became of this was the discovery of your treasure, the King’s Scepter. No, it was not blown to bits as you had told Lila. It was in perfect condition. Lord Kanrik kept the scepter, and a month later you returned Lila to us safe and sound. Everything had worked out perfectly after all. At least, that’s what we thought.
A few days ago, we made our way to a thieves’ stronghold at Terror Mountain’s base for a meeting. The guild masters from every corner of Neopia were there. Much happened, all brought about by the Scepter. A Faerie was upon us in an instant.
She was beautiful, but obviously a Dark Faerie. Her eyes were colored charcoal; her hair was long and shaded a deep black. The robes she wore were styled unlike any I had seen previously. Her blasts of energy were stronger than that of the usual Dark Faerie. I shall go so far as to say they were like flames in themselves.
I escaped, but not without dealing with the thieves I had once trusted, all of whom were now under her control. I don’t know how I did it, but one thing is for certain: while the Faerie’s greedy hands were clawing in my mind, I saw part of her plan as well. She wishes to wage a war large enough to destroy the whole of Neopia, and she plans to start in Meridell. The Faerie will use the guild masters to gain control of their thieves. All their thieves, mind you. Why am I telling you this, you ask? I want the world safe just as much as you do. They offered me all the power I wanted if I joined them, but to me, what is power if you lose everything else?
I write this now as I sit watching this princess of yours. I know the only way for all of you to trust me is if I give her something that means the world to me. So here I tie the scarlet ribbon and pin this precious brooch, hoping you will all believe every word I say.
- Scarlet Shadow
Silence surrounded the congregation like a mist. Not one dared to speak. Crystal’s hands were trembling, but deep down inside, she was relieved. They had believed the letter. Hopefully now, they would...
“Prepare for war!” Skarl yelled suddenly. Everyone around agreed as they ran for the palace to sound the alarm. When no one was looking, Crystal allowed herself a smile. The letter had worked. Now there would be no surprise for Meridell when the battle began...
The knights and generals all gathered in the marble chamber to discuss what was to be done. King Skarl, Lord Darigan, and Jeran were at the head. Crystal had found her way there as well and was now listening intently to the discussions. Arguments were beginning to break out. “The thief never said anything about WHEN this Faerie is to attack!” a general exclaimed. “How are we to prepare if we don’t know how much time we have?”
“We prepare by knowing there is not much time.” The people in the room turned to the entrance. Sitting in a wheelchair was a white Kougra. He was still obviously fit. His strong eyes portrayed one who had seen many battles.
Crystal ran over and hugged him, tears filling her eyes. “Godfather,” she whispered.
Lord Demion patted the princess’ shoulder. “I am glad to see my goddaughter safe,” he responded.
Crystal’s eyes opened. “I won’t be leaving for this war,” she stated. Gazing up into the eyes of Jeran and her father, the Acara’s look seemed to demand their confirmation. Both nodded, neither wishing her lost to them once more.
“I know, Child,” the Kougra replied softly. Then, turning to the rest of the generals in the room, he continued outlaying his plan. “We cannot fight this faerie alone. This is obvious. It is a crippling thought to know that none of us are aware who she is.”
Lord Darigan now spoke. “From what the Shadow tells us, this will be an army of all the thieves in Neopia,” he stated firmly. “I fear not even the armies of Meridell and Darigan combined shall be enough.”
Crystal spoke up, a plan now formed perfectly in her mind. “Then what about the armies of our allies?”
To be continued...