The Cenoal Chapters: Duties Reclaimed - Part One
Branches snapped and leaves were trampled upon as they charged through the forest. The echoes of pursuit were drawing nearer and becoming much less than echoes. An arrow flew from its bow and Cenoal ducked to avoid it. "They're gaining!" he yelled.
"I can hear that quite well, thank you!" Shade, the shadow Uni he was riding, said between gasps of air.
They charged on and Cenoal looked up into the branches, as though they would give some form of escape. They did. A spear was thrown into the path of the pursuing Unis. They reared in surprise, throwing the riders from their saddles. Cenoal heard shouts of aggravation and smiled. They went forward a few more leagues and it was then that a dark figure jumped from the trees, landing squarely in front of Shade. The Uni dug his hooves in the ground and halted.
Although it was nearing dawn, overhead the branches were thick, and Cenoal couldn't make much of the figure in front of them. He saw something like a quiver attached to his back, but it was much larger than that used to carry arrows. "What is your business here?" the tenor-voiced assailant asked.
"We are here to speak with those who escaped the other kingdoms," Cenoal replied coolly.
"I see. And, how would you know of that?" the figure questioned.
"Some guy by the name of Areki invited us," Shade stated. Even in the dim light, he saw Cenoal's icy blue eyes flash with disapproval.
"So you are from Altador then?" Here the figure dropped his hood, revealing the face of a white Cybunny. Locks of curly black hair fell to his face. He was in his early twenties and had a medium build. His eyes were light brown and looked upon them with suspicion.
"We just came from there, yes," Cenoal replied. "I will say no more until I am before whoever is in charge."
The sounds of hooves were once more thudding down the forest path. The Cybunny whistled and a brown Uni ran to him from where he was hidden behind the trees. Shade gave a start. "Sable!"
Sable stared at Shade for a moment and blinked a few times. "Shade?" he said at last. Sable had been Kanrik's steed and the second-fastest Uni in the Veneration Guild. "Shade, what in Meridell are you doing he-"
"I hate to interrupt," the Cybunny interjected, "but we now have an entire scouting party of mind-controlled, red-eyed minions on our tail, so if you don't mind..." They were off before he could finish his sentence.
Dawn was upon the two riders and their Unis as they rode through the forest and toward the mountains south of Shenkuu. They had lost the scouting party easily enough by splitting up and confusing them. They were now nearing their destination.
The entrance to the hideout was concealed within the sharp rocks of the mountain in which it existed. It was built much like Veneration's hideout in which at one point in time there had been a camp on the outside to throw off suspicion. But now the campsite was empty and all that remained were tents and old fire pits, worn by time and weather. As they rode through the rubble, Cenoal spoke with the Cybunny. "In all the confusion, I never got your name."
The Cybunny smirked. "It's Aelgar," he replied. "And yours?"
"Cenoal," the Aisha replied. "Where have I heard your name before?"
Sable gave a chuckle. "Give it time, Cenoal, it'll hit you."
Cenoal shook his head. "If you're supposed to be someone famous, I doubt I know you." The Aisha looked up at Aelgar. "Unless I stole something from you at one point or other."
Aelgar laughed. "Think harder. I doubt even you would be out of the loop when it came to such things, Cenoal." He tossed a crumpled piece of cloth to Cenoal. The Aisha held up the cloth and stared at the strange symbol. It was a combination of both Meridell and Brightvale's crests with a rusted dagger cutting through it. Such was the crest of the Veneration thieves' guild before Galem Darkhand took its throne.
Cenoal's eyes widened. "Wait, Aelgar Sartone? Lord Riqon's son?" Lord Riqon had once been the Guild Master of both Meridell and Brightvale, or as thieves called it, Veneration. He had a son who showed much prowess as a thief, even going so far as saying it was completely natural for the boy. But then the war came and it was said that Aelgar had gotten his eyes set on a prize far too great...
"My advice? Do not go after mystical orbs owned by insane rulers." Aelgar looked at the ground, the smile fading from his lips. "That was all I told myself during my time in the dungeons of the Citadel."
Cenoal shivered. He remembered going to Darigan Citadel for a meeting with the Guild Master there. The outside was unnerving and sent chills through his body. Surely the dungeon was much worse. "I'm glad you got out."
They reached the entrance and Aelgar placed his arm into the large crack that ran through the wall. A section of the wall faded and a pathway was revealed. Torches lit the way down into the darkness.
"Nice trick with the wall there," Cenoal commented as he dismounted. The corridor was too small for him to be riding.
The Cybunny nodded. "Seradar, the wizard of Brightvale, was one of those who escaped with me," he explained.
"Why would Seradar be imprisoned in Darigan's dungeons?" Cenoal questioned.
"It's a long story," Aelgar responded. At this point, they reached the main gathering room. Cenoal was shocked. There were people from the so many different kingdoms there – those from Darigan Citadel, Brightvale, Roo Island, Krawk Island, Terror Mountain, Tyrannia, Mystery Island, Kiko Lake, even a few from his desert home... He searched the crowd, but found no trace of anyone from Meridell.
"I could smell the smoke from my cell when they burned Meridell's villages," Aelgar stated solemnly. "But I hear a large chunk of the population fought well in the palace and were spared to become those mindless soldiers."
"They burned empty houses," Cenoal said. "If what you say is true, then true disaster was averted... That time, at least."
"How can that be?" Aelgar asked.
"The princess of the land ordered those who could not wield a blade onto ships to sail off to a hideaway," Cenoal explained.
"Then there are more that need to be brought here!" the Cybunny exclaimed.
"We had a ship on our tail with soldiers tasked with destroying the refuge," Cenoal stated, his head bowed. "We tried to stop them, but failed."
Aelgar shook his head. "A shame that is. Meridell has some of the greatest knights and fighters this world knows."
Cenoal stared down at his sword hand. He had thought it fully healed a few weeks back, but now he was experiencing some pain. Perhaps he had pushed it too hard, too soon when he had escaped Altador. In any case, he worried it was as healed as it would ever get now. He would never forget the blow that may well have crippled it – the blow dealt by Meridell's own Champion.
"You're certainly right about that," Cenoal replied. "Now, who exactly is in charge here?"
"The position is currently open, actually," Aelgar said, laughing. "We have a council and quite a number of hopeful leaders, but none of them show any real potential."
"And you?" Cenoal asked. "I mean, you are like a prince to many of these people. Seeing who your father was." He indicated the many thieves in the room, who were surprisingly peaceable and actually helpful. Cenoal still knew them as thieves, however. There were so many little habits that could not go unnoticed by the Aisha.
"Yes, but as you can imagine there's a lot of controversy about thieves right now," Aelgar stated. "You'll likely cause a stir seeing who you are." He looked toward one of the many hallways, this one wider and higher than the rest. "I'll inform the council of your arrival."
Cenoal stared at the large cherry-wood doors and entered without another thought to them. Before him sat fourteen members of the 'council.' No giant tables were in sight and the chairs looked uncomfortable and rickety. It was indeed a strange place to be holding a meeting.
At the end of the room, a lone figure leaned up against the wall, his hood drawn so as to hide his face. Aelgar stood some way off, speaking with a purple Gelert dressed in fine robes and brandishing a glowing staff. So this was Seradar, the mighty Wizard of Brightvale.
Those in the room stared at Cenoal, but the Aisha was unfazed. He gave a quick bow and waited for their first words.
"So you are the legendary Cenoal Swordedge," stated a Tonu, obviously of the Sakhmet Guard. His eyes narrowed. "I spent many a long night chasing the shadows of your thieves."
"Why are you here?" the figure in the corner asked.
Cenoal was not one to beat around the bush. "I was told you needed a leader," he replied simply. Chaos ensued. With the statement, Cenoal achieved his goal. He wanted to know how the people in the room ticked. What made this system work. His gaze traveled around the room and he deemed them a sorry excuse for a council. Apart from perhaps three or four of the twenty in the room, these people seemed unsure; inexperienced. But then a system emerged. The true council was in fact made up of a select few, and the others merely followed suit of their chosen leader. The system was flawed, of course, for it caused more confusion, but it worked. Cenoal coughed to regain attention. "I see that that view may have been mistaken."
"So you are saying that you aren't interested in the position?" the Tonu questioned.
"I'm saying there shouldn't be a position," Cenoal replied.
The figure in the corner now stood straight. He strutted toward Cenoal and looked him in the eye, no longer bowing his head to hide behind his hood. The face of a red Gelert was revealed and he eyed the white Aisha suspiciously. "Who are you to say such a thing?" he asked, his voice resonating authority.
"You know who I am, as do most of the people here," Cenoal replied. "I am the Guild Master of the Desert Scarabs. And I believe that, at this moment, there is no need for a leader."
"And when will one be needed?" the Gelert retorted.
"A leader will be needed when he is needed," Cenoal continued, "and not a moment before."
The Gelert shook his head. "Why are we listening to the ramblings of a traitor?" he questioned. "Azers, you said it yourself that he was nowhere to be found when they attacked."
Azers, a green Lupe, stepped forward. He had been a trouble maker in the Desert Realm for both Scarabs and the Sakhmet Guard. He grinned as he said, "That's true. Here we were being taken over by some powerful curse, and our Guild Master here was nowhere to be seen!"
"Oh please, I was fighting those things as well, Azers," Cenoal hissed.
"But not beside your people!" Azers countered. "Not as a true leader should."
That struck a nerve. "How could I know of the situation in the desert if no one bothered to send me word?" Cenoal asked, a dangerous edge to his steady voice.
"You should have been the one to send word," the Gelert interjected. "You are a leader, which means people expect much of you. You cannot just leave with a few hours' notice and expect everything to be fine."
"That is enough, Alceon," Seradar interceded. "Cenoal is a respected leader of the Scarabs, but he is not perfect. No one is. We will hear what he has to say, for it is said among the Scarabs around us that he did not hesitate to come to Meridell's aid. Now, speak your piece, Cenoal."
Cenoal did not hear much of Seradar's words. All he heard was the Gelert's name. His gaze hardened as he stared at the tall, proud figure before him. His voice did not rise, and his tone did not change, but there was venom as he spoke the word, "Alceon?"
To be continued...