Scarlet Shadow: Secrets of a Kingdom - Part One
A dark figure watched silently from his vantage point atop the rocks. In the light of the crescent moon, very little could be seen of the undesired guest. The long cloak he wore was waving in the slight breeze. By his side a dagger’s scabbard showed itself for the slightest moment before being hidden in the shadows of his shroud. In his hand he gripped his precious bundle tighter. He winced and loosened his grasp as a pair of long, sharp thorns pierced the package’s canvas and dug into his hand. He continued to watch, not making a sound.
Three forms were huddled close to the long-extinguished blaze. The figure’s gaze ran from one to the other. One was a muscular shadow Uni. His powerful leg muscles tensed while he slept, a sign of an unfortunate dream. The other was a well-built white Aisha. The Aisha was sleeping deeply, even giving off a faint snore once in a while.
The last was one of whom the unwelcome visitor showed great interest in. She was an Acara, well trained as he had been told. Her eyes were still wide as she gazed into the white ashes of the fire. By her side rested a pair of butterfly swords which she toyed with unwittingly. The piercing indigo eyes still shone clearly, even with the faded light. Still, she seemed tired. And slowly, ever so slowly as if to test the intruder, her eyes began to droop. Soon her breathing slowed and she fell into sleep’s grasp.
He scaled down quickly and silently, not wishing to awaken any of the travelers. He unwrapped the bundle, revealing the well-kept treasure. In the canvas lay a vine-covered book. The vines that entwined the tome had impressive defenses, all around covered with thorns. Holding it with the canvas, the intruder dropped the book beside the sleeping Acara.
The thud of the book hitting the ground caused her to stir. Her hand moved up until it barely touched the book. The figure froze as he watched the thorns glow deep purple. The thorns withdrew and the vine withered. The intruder smiled. By morning, the Princess would find the book, and more importantly, read the tale it held...
The kingdom of Areshen was a great and noble land. Its valleys were green and fertile, the mountains surrounding it bringing down rich soil through the rivers. The towns were well-kept and the houses were treasured by those who lived within them. The roads and wells were well-made and there was never any shortage of food. Festivities and feasts were common and those who ruled were fair and just. At least, that was how it was.
The land had once been ruled by a single Lord, King Emros. His reign was prosperous and the people were happy. But then he passed, as all kings do, and his son took the throne. The new king ruled wisely for more than three years, but soon darkness descended. The people, so accustomed to good kings, knew little of the shadows that now prowled their King’s court.
“Reign!” The Acara’s head snapped up from the book she was reading. She scanned her surroundings, sapphire blue eyes not missing a single detail. A blue Techo was running toward her. She stood as he arrived, bent double and gasping for breath as he was.
Reign smiled at her dear brother. When was he to relax? “What is it, Kiel?” she questioned, brushing aside a lock of her snow-white hair.
The Techo stood slowly, putting right the small crown that had been made crooked with his sudden rush. “There’s commotion in the court,” he said finally. “Apparently some Faerie’s come to seek audience with Blake.”
Blake was Kiel’s younger brother and Reign’s twin. Despite this fact, they looked as different as night and day. While both Acaras, Blake’s fur was a dark shadow, while Reign’s was a brilliant white. Blake was strong, taking after their father. He even inherited the agility the Techo possessed, despite lacking the form. His mother’s magic was strong in the Prince at birth and grew beyond measure as he aged.
Reign was a weak child. Her frail body was slim and she was often ill. She inherited mainly her mother’s appearance, a trait common in magic users. However, her power was as limited as her strength. She had little physical energy to start with, and should she choose to use that power to unleash her true magical potential, it would be used up in seconds.
Kiel was the oldest, the first born, and the least favored. His talents with the blade and his agility were enviable by many. His father was proud of his son for this, and often held tournaments to show it off. That changed when Blake came into the picture. Kiel could wield a dagger when he was six; Blake wielded a sword when he was four. Kiel cleared out every target in the archery range; Blake cleared them as well, a bull’s-eye on each. Kiel sprinted through the track in record time; Blake broke that record by minutes. Kiel was the first to see his father when he fell ill; Blake was the one to receive the mark.
Now Blake was King. For unlike other kingdoms, it is not the firstborn who receives the crown, but rather the one chosen. The kingdom’s seal is imprinted clearly on the heir’s wrist by the passing ruler. It was the mark of royalty, the symbol of the King, the emblem of Kreshan; it was the blossom engulfed in flames.
Kiel pretended not to mind. He pretended not to care for the Crest of Kings. But he did. More than anything he wanted to be the King, the ruler. The title was his by right! But, it was not his to take. Blake was a good ruler, probably better than he would ever dream of becoming. Kiel could never live up to Blake’s standards, at least not in his own eyes.
“Come on, then!” Reign exclaimed. Grabbing her brother’s hand, the Princess smiled as they made their way to the throne room.
Blake sat atop his throne, watching the court conduct itself. As always, no one seemed to agree with anyone else. In the middle of the room stood the Faerie. Her silver and black wings framed her form perfectly. The charcoal colored eyes seemed to take in all surroundings. Her long black hair reached down to the floor. She was a Dark Faerie of immeasurable power.
The Acara thought about what the Faerie had stated. She was there to strengthen his rule, or so she said. The Faerie had also warned of an intruder, a traitor among his trusted allies in the court. How this could be, Blake did not know. Still, it was a warning. Whether to believe her or not was a new and argumentative topic, after all. Oh how the King loathed arguments.
The doors opened slowly and everyone around stopped. No one dared disturb the King, no one save for... “Might I enter, Lord Blake?” Reign questioned, bowing slightly. Kiel was just behind her, trying to hide a grin.
Blake perked up immediately, making a quick gesture with his hand. The King cared for his sister more than anyone. To him she was like a ray of sunshine in the otherwise boring and dull responsibility that was the Throne. “Perhaps you can assist me in this matter, Sister,” he stated.
“What seems to be the issue?”
The Faerie raised her eyebrow slightly. The King nodded, allowing her free speech in the throne room. And so she began, “My name is Lady Rayal, and I came here to give warning to all who are willing to listen.” The Lady Rayal locked gazes with the Princess. She was not prepared for what she saw. The girl was powerful, more so than her brother. The gaze was that of pure truth; noble to the very last drop of blood. True, her outward strength was frail, yet deep inside the Faerie knew her magic burned strong, if only not for the limitations her physical body possessed. “There is a traitor in your brother’s inner circle,” the Faerie continued, hiding well the surprise she felt. “And I believe I can help you find the usurper before things get out of hand.”
The sapphire eyes of the Acara seemed to claw at Rayal. They searched her, seeking truth. They gave a warning all their own: Never try to lie to the Princess of Areshen. And yet, the Lady Rayal dared to meet the look head on. The girl faltered, and the clear-cut lie faded into possible truth. “She seems honest,” Reign admitted.
“Seems?” Blake questioned.
“Indeed, Sire,” she replied. “I cannot be certain.”
Blake sat thinking. Reign had always been sure in the past. The fact that she now faltered worried him. Still, if this faerie could help, he’d be glad to receive the warning. For now, at least. “Very well, then,” he stated, turning back to the Lady Rayal. “You are welcome in my Kingdom...” A sly smile slid to the Faerie’s lips, but faded once the rest of the statement was said, “for the moment...”
“This enemy is powerful, Sire,” Rayal said. She was alone with the King and his sister. The girl refused to leave her twin’s side. “And powerful enemies deserve powerful defenses.”
The shadow Acara mulled silently. “These defenses you speak of,” Blake said at last, “I assume you have the means to put them up.”
“No, Sire,” Rayal stated, “but you do.”
“If we do, I am certainly unaware of them,” Reign interjected.
“It is more of an ability to acquire them, My Lady,” Rayal continued. She turned back to Blake. “You, My Lord, have the ability to obtain the Sovereign’s Crystals.”
“The Sovereign’s Crystals?” Blake repeated, astounded. “But, those are only myth, nothing but trinkets from a story!”
“Oh, I assure you, Sire, they are quite existent,” Rayal said, smiling. “They will be the jewels to grace your crown.”
“It is said they are guarded by such magic as that of the Faeries,” Reign hissed. “Surely, whoever this traitor is, he or she cannot be as powerful as you say.”
“On the contrary,” Rayal argued, “the threat is bigger than you can imagine.”
“This is foolishness,” Reign stated. “Those Crystals can’t be real, and should they indeed exist, it would be our ruin to search for them.”
The Faerie pulled something from the pouch that sat securely by her waist. A gleaming black crystal emerged. The light reflected off the cuts perfectly and it shone with a strange light. “This is Darkness,” she said. As she held it out to the King, Rayal gave a warm smile. “It is yours to take, Sire.”
“Don’t!” Reign reached out as if to slap it from the faerie’s hand. Her brother grabbed her arm before she could reach the accursed jewel. Blake released her, his eyes focused on the crystal. He reached out and took it. He smiled a cold, uncaring smile, and a red glint shimmered in his eyes.
“Something’s wrong, Kiel,” Reign said.
“Something’s been wrong for months,” Kiel replied, sighing. “Ever since that faerie appeared, Blake’s been off on this crazy quest of his.”
“I know, but something else is wrong now.” Reign looked up to the sky distractedly. “Where did he say he was now?”
“He already has Darkness, Earth, Fire, Water, and Wind.” Kiel shrugged. “That only leaves Light.”
“We have to find it.” Kiel shot up. Reign had said it so simply, so quietly, that he barely heard it. She looked over to him. “We have to find Light before he does.”
“Why?” the Techo asked. “I mean, what difference would one of those gems make against all the others?”
“The way I understand it is that the Crystals work together,” Reign explained. “Fire attacks, Water heals, Earth defends, Wind gives speed, and Darkness and Light feed the other four with energy. Take out any of the basic four and it’ll still work, but take away the power sources, and you have a problem.”
“The way that Faerie talks, either one of the sources can power all four,” Kiel stated.
“That’s true,” Reign confirmed. “But then why do they still seek Light? There’s still a possibility that the other source can help us.”
“Reign, the kingdom’s in Blake’s hands,” Kiel argued. “I know he’s been acting weird, but aren’t we over-reacting?”
“Look around you,” Reign hissed. “Look at the villages, our people, the land.”
Kiel didn’t need to look; he knew what awaited his gaze should he turn. The villages were in ruins. There had been a drought earlier that year and no crops had been able to survive. The once lush valleys now only had tuffs of yellow grass covering it. The wells were growing muddy for reasons unknown. Snow from the high mountains was melting now and the rivers that ran alongside the kingdom were swelling beyond the safe limits, its water unsafe ever since they had discovered an unknown poison within it. The kingdom had failed within a year of the Faerie’s arrival and Blade did nothing to help the people.
“Any idea where we begin?”
To be continued...