Scarlet Shadow: Secrets and Reunions - Part Three
King Skarl watched as his daughter mounted the Uni. She was to set off with Jeran to the Lost Desert to seek Princess Amira’s help. Many other ambassadors were sent to all the other kingdoms. After a heated argument as to her personal guard, the princess had finally agreed to bring Jeran with her. “Be careful,” the King warned.
“There is no time to be careful, Father,” Crystal responded. “We will return as soon as possible.”
Jeran steadied his Uni. “I’ll bring her back safe, My Lord.”
As the people waved goodbye, the Unis lifted off into the sky. They flew high in the clouds for several moments, the air whispering in their ears. Finally, the congregations went their separate ways. Jeran and his Uni had a difficult time keeping Crystal in sight. “That Shade is quite fast,” Jeran commented to Adriana, Crystal’s old steed.
“Indeed he is, Milord,” she replied. “I can barely keep up!”
The Unis landed on the shifting sands outside the city. There was no welcome party save for Princess Amira’s personal guard. They led Crystal and Jeran to the palace and brought them to the throne room. “Princess Crystal,” Amira greeted. “Welcome to my city.”
“Thank you, Milady,” Crystal said, doing a quick tip of the head. “I am sure you know why I am here.”
“Yes, your message said it all,” Amira replied. “I will give you fifty of my finest men on Uniback to help you with the war. My cousin, Lady Nabile of Qasala, has agreed to give you a hundred more.”
Jeran was about to object. Crystal could sense it. She didn’t blame him. A hundred and fifty was not nearly enough, but she had no time. For all she knew, the reason she really insisted upon going to the Lost Desert was already gone. She held her hand up for Jeran’s silence. “Thank you, Princess Amira,” Crystal said, bowing this time. “Meridell appreciates your help...”
Once outside the palace, Jeran exploded. “A hundred and fifty?! I know that’s a lot when in usual circumstances, but from what that letter stated, that isn’t NEARLY enough!”
“Shush, Jeran,” Crystal warned as she mounted Shade. “We need to go now. I have one more errand I need to finish while we’re here.”
Jeran and Adriana followed Crystal and Shade as they weaved neatly through the many marketplaces and alleyways. Finally, they came to an alley that seemed completely and utterly deserted. “Crystal, where are we going?” Jeran questioned.
Ignoring the inquiry, Crystal continued until they came to a small house. She dismounted. After all, neither she nor Shade wished recognition to dawn upon the Scarabs. Even with the cloak he now wore, Shade was too big a risk to bring in. “Whatever happens, I need your word,” she said, turning first to Jeran, then to Adriana. “You must promise never to speak a word of this place or what is about to happen to anyone. Understand?”
Jeran was puzzled, but he trusted the princess. “You have my word.”
Adriana smiled. “And you have mine as well, Milady.”
“Keep silent and don’t say anything unless I tell you to,” Crystal stated as they entered the small hut. There was nothing inside the house’s walls. Crystal suddenly began to whisper silently, stamping her feet as she did. Jeran couldn’t make heads or tails of what she said. He only caught two names: Crystal Turstone and Scarlet Shadow. The princess moved aside as a panel opened below to reveal a staircase.
Hooded figures rushed out of the small entrance. Jeran reached for his sword, but Crystal’s restraining hand stopped him in time. They were soon surrounded by the Desert Scarabs. The cavern below suddenly filled with sounds of an argument.
Two more hooded figures emerged from the cavern. One was obviously a Shoyru. He kept his hood firmly up. The second dropped his hood. Crystal kept herself from showing the relief she felt. The white Aisha’s icy blue eyes were free of any cursed red marks. He looked the princess up and down. “You know Scarlet Shadow?” he questioned.
“Indeed I do,” Crystal responded, grabbing the brooch she had fastened to her scabbard. She showed it to the Aisha. “Scarlet Shadow gave me this to show as proof that we have met, Lord Cenoal.”
“That brooch,” the Lord of the Scarabs whispered, “how did you-”
“My Lord!” the Shoyru exclaimed, cutting the Guild Master off. “It is a trap! Do you not see? She is attempting to trap you!”
“How on Neopia would I do that?” Crystal hissed.
“By calling him out of the safety of the caverns!” the Shoyru shouted back. It was then Scarlet recognized him. It was Captain Mizzen, the one who had attended the meeting in Cenoal’s stead!
Crystal drew her swords and was upon the Captain in an instant. The two struggled fiercely. The Acara’s sword was close to its target when she felt a strong arm grab her. Cenoal’s saber was at her throat. The Aisha’s grasp was cutting circulation in her arm, forcing the Princess to drop her blade. “What is the meaning of this?!” he shouted.
This time, nothing held Jeran back as he flew at Cenoal. “Let her go!” he yelled. Cenoal was quick. He released Crystal and held up his saber in time. The two were face to face, swords locked.
Crystal’s remaining sword came between those that were locked and her elbows met the warriors’ stomachs. They staggered back. “We aren’t the enemy!” she yelled. Crystal pointed at Mizzen. “He is working for the Lady Betrayal! She has control over him as well as all the other guild masters, including your sister!”
Mizzen took on a look of shattered innocence. “I would never betray you, Milord!”
Cenoal looked at his Captain, then his gaze shifted to Crystal. For a moment, he looked her straight in the eye. His eyes grew wide. His mouth opened slightly. Crystal’s heart froze. “No, Cenoal,” she said silently in her mind. “Please, no. I am not Scarlet. I am NOT Scarlet. Don’t blow my cover, not in front of Jeran!”
Cenoal shut his eyes and bowed his head. “Take this traitor!” Cenoal shouted suddenly, pointing at Mizzen.
The Shoyru was too fast for all of them. He was out the door before anyone could lay a finger on him. “I will be back, Cenoal!” he yelled in his wake. “Lady Betrayal shall return for you!”
Cenoal turned back to the three Meridellans. “What is Shadow’s message for me?”
Crystal smiled. “You are to assist Meridell in whatever way possible, Milord...”
“Crystal, are you telling me you acquired the help of a THIEF?!” Skarl bellowed. Crystal and Jeran had arrived with a well-build young Aisha. Crystal had just explained who he was.
“Yes, Father,” Crystal responded. “There are five hundred more of Cenoal’s men and a hundred and fifty of the Lost Desert’s soldiers on their way by ship. They will reach Meridell in the course of a week.”
“I thought the letter said all the Guild Masters were taken over!” Tor exclaimed.
“Shadow informed me that Cenoal here was the only one not in attendance,” Crystal continued. “Apparently, Shadow isn’t the only one who is unwilling to give up everything for power.”
Skarl shook his head. “Fighting with a thief, against a thief, I suppose next we’ll be fighting FOR a thief?”
“That may have already happened, Milord,” Cenoal concluded.
“Well, we have six hundred and fifty men from the Lost Desert to help with this war,” Skarl finally stated. “Go take your rest, you three. I’m sure you’ll need it in the days to come...”
Crystal was up at midnight. Old habits die hard, they say, especially in a thief. She had made her way to the royal gardens. Even when she was little, Crystal would come here to forget her troubles. Now, it seemed her only escape. She took a deep breath of the cold night air.
The princess walked around for a bit when she spotted another figure in the garden, his back toward her. Tall, well built but not bulky, shoulder-length, chestnut brown hair... Cenoal was staring up at the sky, his icy-blue eyes searching the stars. She turned around. “Avoiding me like the plague now, Princess?” he asked.
“You seemed lost in thought, My Lord,” she replied, not bothering to turn back.
“Please,” Cenoal stated, “I was just thinking of that overly-rambunctious young Lupess I had known so long ago.” He looked back to the Acara. “I guessed you were a noble, but I could never have guessed you were the princess of Meridell.”
Crystal sighed and walked beside him. “Well, your guess was close enough, wasn’t it?”
The Aisha nodded. “Seriously, though,” Cenoal continued, “when did you come back to...” He looked around. “All this?”
“A couple of days ago,” she replied.
Cenoal nodded and began to walk off. “Well, I’ll see you around, Milady...”
Crystal shook her head. “I’m here only to save my home, Cenoal,” she said. “Once that is done, I am to return to the life I know.”
“This is and always will be the life you know,” Cenoal whispered, too quietly for Crystal to hear a word.
“That is the stupidest plan I have EVER heard!”
Jeran grabbed Cenoal’s arm and pulled him back down. “Calm down, Cenoal!” he shushed.
The Tonu General ground his teeth. “I don’t recall being told that THIEVES were going to be included in our war strategies.”
Cenoal shook his head. “The plan IS stupid!” he continued. “I mean, you want to WAIT for them? Wait for a whole WEEK just for a few soldiers?!” Cenoal’s gaze and voice had a chilling air to them. “There needs to be action NOW! Have the castle guarded night and day. Have double sentries, double the training sessions for squires, I don’t know what you people plan to do, but if you’re not going to do anything until the reinforcements arrive, you’re all dead meat!”
“Silence!” Lord Darigan’s strong voice cut through the arguments. Silence reigned. “I realize this young man is a thief, Zireo, but he has a point. We can’t sit here waiting for the reinforcements. That will take forever. We must begin a strategy that will keep everyone safe if it all explodes too soon.”
“First we must evacuate the people who are no longer needed in Meridell,” Crystal interjected. “Women, children, those who are old and sick, as well as many of the nobles in this palace, none of them can fight and we cannot risk them being sucked into a loosing war...” She held up her hand to silence the already-objecting generals. “How can we think of saving all the fighting men if we cannot save the helpless?”
Skarl was surprised. His daughter had been knowledgeable when she had left the palace, but she never had anything to do with war strategies. How could she now stand there making perfect sense with a proposition that no other would support? He coughed lightly to gain everyone’s attention. “We shall do as you say, Crystal, but first we must know where we are to bring them.”
“There’s an island a few days’ sailing south of here,” Cenoal stated suddenly. “They’ll be safe there. There are many freshwater springs and the food can be grown easily.”
Crystal nodded. “That should be sufficient. Now, when can they leave?”
The rain was blinding. Strong winds howled as Crystal and Cenoal saw the people of Meridell onto their ships. Despite the hazards of the storm, all knew it would be far more dangerous to wait. Thankfully, Crystal’s fast-talking had gotten all of the farmers to agree to leave their land. It was no easy task. “McTriss looked like he was going to explode,” Cenoal commented. He had to shout to be heard. “He wanted so much to help defend the land.”
“I’m sure he did,” Crystal replied. “But, the fact remains: he’s almost sixty. We couldn’t allow him to die for nothing.”
Cenoal grinned. “Who is this strange Acara who cares so much? I don’t recall meeting her yet.”
“This Acara is Princess Crystal,” Crystal countered. “Someone you will not see again once this war is over.”
“This war will likely be lost,” Cenoal stated. “You know that, don’t you?”
“No, we will win. Somehow, we’ll win.”
Cenoal gave her a worried look. “Stop fooling yourself with all those speeches of yours, Scarlet,” he said. “We can’t win. There’s no way on this planet we can win. The odds are stacked a million to one.” Cenoal looked at the soaked princess as he ran his fingers through his own dripping hair. “They could attack at any moment and your generals are STILL arguing!”
“I realize that,” Crystal concluded. “I suppose we can’t expect them to get along just like that, huh?” Suddenly, Cenoal ran in front of her. Crystal heard a grunt. “You ok, Cen?”
“Yeah, fine,” the Lord of the Scarabs replied. He drew his cloak over his side as he quickly pulled out the arrow he had intercepted. Crystal had missed the act. “We need to get your soldiers out of here...”
To be continued...