The Cenoal Chapters: Duties Reclaimed - Part Six
The winds were strong as they raced against the clock for Shenkuu. The small craft had been stretched to its limit as it was forced to go faster and faster. Every inch of extra canvas was piled onto the sails. Cenoal stood at the helm, his eyes fixed on the setting sun to his left.
"Cen, it's my turn to take the tiller." The Aisha turned to face the Cybunny, his blue eyes full of worry. "Hey," Aelgar said, "we're gonna make it."
"It's already been two days since we left the island," Cenoal stated. "I spent two days unconscious and apparently another whole day underwater. We took three days to get there. That makes a total of eight days. That army will be there by now."
Aelgar sat beside him and took the tiller. "They have Seradar with them and a bunch of knights from Meridell," he said. "I think they can handle holding them off for one more day." The Cybunny paused. "And, from what I heard about that princess, she's pretty good with keeping people safe."
"How was Scarlet anyway?" Cenoal asked. "I haven't seen her in months."
"In a word? Stressed," Aelgar responded. "She seemed out of it when she came to the island. Looked like she was always brooding. She only stayed for the hours it took for most of the people to pack up. Then they left for Shenkuu. You couldn't be moved so Welrin offered to stay to keep an eye on you."
"And you?" Cenoal asked.
"She practically ordered me to stay," the Cybunny replied, smiling. "She's quite bossy, isn't she?"
"You don't know the half of it," Cenoal replied. He yawned. "Well, I'm going to bed. Call me if-"
"If anything interesting happens," Aelgar finished for him.
"Thanks, Aelgar," Cenoal stated as he made his way below deck. As he went, he clenched his sword hand into a fist and sighed as a jolt of pain hit him.
Cenoal awoke in a cold sweat, his breathing heavy. He pushed himself up with his right hand, wincing and falling back as pain shot through it. The Aisha stared angrily at the hand. Welrin, who was standing at the other end of the room, made his way to him. "Are you alright?" he asked.
Cenoal pulled himself up with his left. "I can't fight like this," he stated. "My sword hand pains me when I use it and my other hand is completely useless."
"Oh, I doubt that," Welrin replied.
"No, you don't get it," Cenoal snapped. "I tried using my left when I fought, and I could barely block a blow properly."
Welrin looked at him thoughtfully. "Do you know who I am, young sire?"
"Meridell's herbalist?" Cenoal guessed. "Or its healer?"
The Lenny chuckled. "While both are true, I go by another title," he said. He switched smoothly from a Meridellan dialect to Shenkuuvian one. "Crystal refers to me as Sensei. You know that, correct?"
"I... never took note of it," Cenoal admitted in the same tongue.
Welrin nodded. "Allow me to see your blade?" Cenoal reached for his saber, which was lying under his bunk. He unsheathed it and handed it to the Lenny. Welrin inspected it and swung the sword around in a figure eight, the blade slicing through the air itself. It was about two and a half feet long from hilt to tapering tip, curving back as most Shenkuuvian sabers. The hand guard was short on both ends and the blade was on the thick side. It was a little over two inches in width where it met the hilt, and two and a half inches at its widest. One would expect such a sword to be heavy, but it was forged with Turstone Ore, the rarest metal in the world, and was therefore wieldable by one hand. That is, if said hand were strong enough.
"It's too heavy," Welrin stated simply. "Your right hand is injured and your left is clumsy. Neither can be expected to wield this sword for long." He sheathed the blade. "Tell me, Cenoal. What do you know of Willow Sabers?"
"Next to nothing, I'll admit," Cenoal replied.
Welrin made his way to his bunk and took a sack from underneath. Two handles – sword handles – were sticking out from the top. The sensei pulled a sword from is sheath and offered it to Cenoal for examination. Cenoal was awe-struck. The sword was longer than his saber, but thinner and only an inch wide. The hand guard was circular and the hilt was slightly curved, much like the blade itself. It would have been perfect if not for the weight. "It weighs roughly the same, Sensei," Cenoal commented.
The Lenny took the sword from the Aisha's hand. "That, Cenoal, is because it is made from normal metals," he explained. "If these swords were made of Turstone Ore..."
"They would be lighter," Cenoal finished. "That's genius!" The ship gave a lurch and the two were thrown to the end of the cabin, Cenoal barely missing landing on the blade of the sword. The tilt of the ship caused the untied barrels to roll toward them. Just before they hit them, however, the ship leveled and the barrels came no further. "AELGAR!" the Aisha yelled, picking himself up and helping the Lenny. "What's happening out there?!"
There were hurried footfalls as the Cybunny rushed down the steps to the cabin. "Cenoal, something interesting is happening!!"
At those words, Cenoal gave him a skeptic look, but it faded when he saw the urgency in the Cybunny's face. "Go on, I'll be fine," Welrin stated.
Cenoal raced toward the steps, taking two at a time with the Cybunny by his side. "Aelgar, what happened exactly?"
"I may have nodded off," Aelgar admitted. "When I woke up..."
Cenoal stopped dead in his tracks as he stared at the scene before him. The ground was covered in warriors, most of them wearing black and silver. Scattered among them were the red and gold uniforms of the Shenkuuvian army and the silver with red and blue of Meridellan knights in armor. Arrows were being fired and a number of them had a trail of orange flames behind them. The Sky Ship was racing toward the fray with frightening speed.
Cenoal snapped out of his trance and took action. "We have to go higher!" he exclaimed, already running toward the mast. He adjusted the sails to catch more wind, desperately attempting to gain altitude. "If those arrows get to our sails, we're toast. It wouldn't help anyone if that army knew we were here either."
Aelgar rushed to help the Aisha. "Why don't we just turn around and gain altitude before going further?"
Cenoal shook his head. "That'll take time. We'll slow down if we turn around, and it'll be harder to go higher if we're slower."
"Can't we go around it?" Welrin questioned. He had just come up from below the deck. "Come in where the army is not attacking?"
"The more time we lose, the worse things will get down there," Cenoal stated. "We need to get into the cover of the clouds."
Every second cost them dearly as they drew nearer to the mass of fighters. The ship sailed high into the sky, but not high enough. If anyone would care to look in their direction, they would be spotted easily. "There isn't enough time for this, Cenoal!" Aelgar yelled. "We need to turn around!"
Cenoal looked desperately from the city to Aelgar and realized he was right. There wasn't enough time. The Aisha glanced down and realized they were above the fray. No time to turn back, no time to go higher. "Don't look up," he begged under his breath.
But someone did look up. And that someone dismounted from her Uni and pointed at their ship. The Uni flew off without argument. She gave the Aisha an approving nod and rejoined the battle, disappearing in the shadows of the war.
The Uni did not go unnoticed. As he sped for the ship, a hail of arrows followed. He reached them in time, ducking behind the gunwale and bringing Cenoal down as the arrows followed suit, digging deep into the wood. Some went over, hitting the deck and almost striking the five who were now weighing down the ship. Each of them was now face-down, unable to do anything but hope for no injuries.
There was a pause in the firing and they took this time to scramble, unceremoniously, into the bottom deck. "Why didn't you duck earlier?" the Uni asked once they were safe behind the deck's doors. "Did you WANT to become Aisha cheese?"
"Shade, what're you doing here?!" Cenoal questioned. "You should be out there with Scarlet!"
"Look, you can't go any further," Shade explained. "Seradar and Morning cast a spell over the empire. No ships can fly in, no ships can fly out. And for now, none of those creepy fellows down there can get in either."
"That's perfect!" Cenoal exclaimed. He turned to Welrin and Aelgar. "I don't know how, but you guys have to make sure all the people on our side get behind that barrier as soon as possible!"
"Um, Cenoal, there is a reason we didn't just wait for them to tire themselves out banging on the barrier," Shade stated. "It won't last if everything they've got is attacking it. The troops are there to distract them for as long as they can so that the people in Shenkuu can at least get into the palace's secret dungeons."
Cenoal reached into the hidden pocket in his cloak and pulled out the gem. "They won't have to if I get this in the palace." He stuffed it back in and he and Shade made for the doors to the upper deck. "I need everyone inside that barrier or they'll be stuck outside for five whole years."
"You can count on us, Cen," Aelgar stated. "We'll see you in Shenkuu."
Cenoal nodded grimly and hopped into the saddle. Shade shook his head. "You know, this'll be the second time I face a hailstorm of arrows. The only difference is that this time I'm flying into it..." The Uni charged through the doors and over the gunwale, dodging the arrows expertly as the sped by him.
Cenoal hung on tight, quite aware of the deadly shafts growing nearer and nearer. He shut his eyes, buried his head in Shade's mane, and loosened the reigns. Shade could take it from here. Right now Cenoal's priority was hanging on. They neared the palace quickly as the arrows became distant. They passed through the barrier and no longer did the shafts haunt them. Shade sped in through the windows of the palace, painfully unaware of how ancient they were. He was breathing heavily as Cenoal dismounted.
"You stay here," the Aisha instructed. "I can find my way there easily." And with that he was off, rushing through corridor after corridor as though he had passed them a million times. The map of the palace was etched into his mind, and the severity of the situation forced it up. The room he was never allowed to enter. The hall that led up to it where he would hide for hours just to catch a glimpse of what was inside. The ancient statue that hid him, and the broken spear shaft that had taken his place.
Finally he arrived, throwing open the doors of the forbidden room. Thin golden paper was pressed into the walls in exquisite patterns. Ancient tapestries hung from the ceiling. In the center of it all stood a scepter. It was struck into the floor as though by force, a web of cracks ensuing from where it stood. Cenoal circled it for a moment, forgetting what he was facing before placing the gem atop the scepter. It was small and didn't fit properly, but it did the trick.
The gem glowed brightly, casting shapes around the Aisha as its magic went to work. He could see all that was going on outside the borders of the mountains and to the valleys. Cenoal saw the magical barrier fading and the soldiers behind it looking on nervously. They would be protected. The soldiers outside the barrier were pounding upon it, trying to break the spell. They would find themselves far away from the city, lost in mist that would only fade once they were too far to attack Shenkuu.
The Aisha gave a sigh of relief, knowing that everyone was safe. But then a flash of red and blue caught his attention. He stared and his heart stopped in his chest. An Acara was just outside the barrier, hurt and on the ground, facing the sword of a vengeful Dark Faerie with terror in her indigo eyes. That was the last he would see of Princess Crystal Turstone before the Mists of Ameilor engulfed all that was outside the barrier in mystery and confusion...
Author's Note: Welcome, one and all, to Cenoal's world. Fear not, Scarlet will be returning shortly in Scarlet Shadow: Return to the Throne. =)