Algernon and Scarlet rode side by side through the forest and thick brush until they reached the highlands called Locera. Yet it was Locera no longer. The once cheerful atmosphere had turned to gloom and a ring of smoke lay heavily over the village and fortress.
“Captain! Ye have returned to us at last!” a knight shouted as he ran towards them.
“Byron!” Algernon shouted back, leaping off his horse. Scarlet was left unattended upon her horse, watching the two men embrace and speak in a tone she could not hear.
“Where be Melinda now?” she heard Algernon say.
“Her army is trying unsuccessfully to scale the east wall, but I am afraid she is nowhere to be found.”
“She must be found,” he said sternly, “and she must be destroyed!”
Scarlet gasped and both men looked up at her. She had been around wars before but she was a nurse, a healer, and not a warrior. Algernon came over to her and helped her down off her steed. She was weak in the knees from the ride and collapsed into his arms. He pulled up her chin with his delicate fingers and looked deep into her emerald eyes.
“Are you afraid?” he asked, sincerely.
“Nay, not any longer,” was all she could say before he pressed his lips to hers.
The kiss only lasted for a moment or two before they were interrupted by a shout in the distance. All three lifted their heads just in time to see a cottage burst into flames. Before she knew what was happening, she was being pulled towards the fortress walls. Algernon had her by one hand and a sword outstretched in the other, ready to strike out at anyone who dared cross their path.
“Byron!” Algernon shouted. “Watch our backs until we have safely reached the tunnel channels! Make sure no one follows us!”
Scarlet was plummeted into darkness, unable to see even the hands in front of her face. It took her eyes many minutes to adjust to the dark, tunnel-like caverns underneath the fortress. Each was lined, intermittently along cobblestone walls, with lit torches, to guide the way. She pulled abruptly on Algernon’s arm and he stopped obediently in his tracks.
“Where are we?” she demanded.
“We are in the tunnel channels of the fortress of Locera. Nothing can penetrate them and we will be safe until we reach out destination.” He spoke without a trace of fear in his voice.
“What exactly is our destination?”
“The tunnels empty out into the great hall. There, ye will be safe until this battle has ended.” Scarlet understood and simply nodded in response.
Upon entering the great hall, awe waved through Scarlet’s mind. She was amazed at how impressive the great hall of Locera was. Unlike the great hall in her own home, Locera did not contain any paintings of women of the house. Algernon broke the silence with his voice echoing through the empty hall.
“Ye shall stay here and you shall be safe.”
Scarlet tried to protest, “But what about you? Ye will not stay here also?!”
“I must fight alongside me army. Melinda and her army must be stopped and eventually destroyed!”
Algernon turned to leave and was quickly stopped by a gentle hand upon his arm. He looked down at Scarlet, tears gleaming in her eyes. Algernon knew the battle he was about to fight could very well leave him dead on the battlefield. If he could look upon her face but once more, twould not have been enough.
“Be still, lady,” he soothed. “I shall return to you. ‘Tis a promise I intend to keep.”
Algernon left then and a shudder came over Scarlet’s body. She was alone in the great hall- alone and scared. The great hall was exactly that- a great hall. There stood a single throne, obviously belonging to Algernon, shrouded in embroidered cloth. Unlike her own home, this great hall was much larger in size and contained many more tables for the knights and their ladies.
She found herself wandering about the hall, touching a trinket here or there. Most of the collectibles were obviously taken from war raids and the like. She began to wonder what she had gotten herself into by coming here with Algernon. Would he treat her with the highest respect, or we treat her as he had once before, like a possession or property?
“Scarlet,” she heard her name being whispered on the wind. “Scarlet.”
“Mother?” she recognized the voice.
“Scarlet, whatever have you done?” An image of Scarlet’s mother appeared at one of the far ends of the great hall. “Whatever have you done, me darlin’?”
“Whatever do you mean, what have I done?! I have done naught!” Scarlet tried to protest.
“Ye have become yer worst fear! Ye have killed and you will kill again!”
“Nay, you are wrong Mother! I have killed no one and never will!”
“Where be yer sister, Lily, then? And yer father? Whatever has become of him? Ye have left them for dead and you shall pay for yer sins!”
Her mother threw out her arm and a ball of lightning shot out at Scarlet. Scarlet was thrown back against a wall, hitting her back before falling to the floor. Shaking her head, she looked up and the figure that stood before her became her mother no longer. The figure was of a woman of surpassing beauty, much like herself, yet her face recalled a sinister smile.
“Who-- who are you? You are not me mother!”
“Aye, that I am not!” The figure extended her arm and another flash of lightning was shot out at Scarlet. This time Scarlet was prepared and easily dodged the death spark.
“What do ye want from me?!” she shouted at the figure.
“What I want from you is that charm around yer neck!”
“But it belonged to me mother!” Scarlet protested.
“And now it will belong to me!” the sorceress said, lunging towards her.
Scarlet was forced down to the floor, trying desperately to save her mother’s heirloom trinket. They fought for some time until Scarlet was able to push the sorceress away and scramble across the hall. A crack to her left told her that the Sorceress was using her powers and had missed. She had to get herself out of there, for next time, she would not miss. She needed to find Algernon, and some form of weapon to protect herself. Footsteps behind her told her that this person remained in close pursuit of her.
Another crack to her right shattered some of the wall and caused Scarlet to jump out of the way of the falling rock. She wished she could scream out but no sound was heard. Her voice was lodged in her throat and she could feel the bile rising in her stomach.
“I said stop!” the voice called from behind her and she stopped, by the hand of an unknown force. “’Tis more like it!”
Scarlet could not move-- she was paralyzed where she stood. She had to break free from her capture and find a way to fight back. She felt a warmth around her body and looked down to see the amulet glowing a brilliant green.
“Give me the amulet!” Melinda cried out, stepping in front of her.
Scarlet took a step back but that did not stop Melinda from throwing another bolt of lightning at her heart. The amulet, in return, cast a green ray of light against that of the bolt. Scarlet was shocked at what she saw but was relieved she was still alive. The amulet had saved her life. She looked up just in time to see Algernon charging from behind Melinda, sword outstretched. Melinda saw where Scarlet was looking and caught a glimpse of the fire in Algernon’s eyes. He meant to kill her and he needed to be stopped. With a flick of her arm, her magic had caught him in a human-sized bubble.
“Well, well, if it isn’t me long lost brother out to save his new whore!” she cackled.
“Long lost brother?” Scarlet questioned. Melinda spun around on her heels to face her, eyes gleaming red.
“Ye dare to question me words?! Once I have that trinket you wear, ye can watch poor Algernon as I finish him off!”
Melinda glared at Scarlet one last time before she threw a bolt of lightning at her body. Both Scarlet and her amulet were caught off guard and she was thrown backward against the wall of the great hall. Another bolt sent Scarlet flailing out of harm’s way. She looked up slowly and caught of glimpse of Algernon, still frozen in his bubble, his sword lay on the floor.
She could hear Melinda’s footsteps behind her. Another flick of her hand and a ball of bright light was formed. The sphere of electricity floated just above the Sorceress’ palm, ready to strike out at Scarlet at any moment.
“Prepare to meet yer family, Scarlet! Prepare to meet them in hell!”
The sphere was thrust towards her with such a force that made Scarlet think quick. In the blink of an eye, Scarlet grabbed the blade and blocked the sphere, causing it to ricochet and fly back towards Melinda. The Sorceress was taken by surprise by the valiant act and was thrown back by the force of her own magic.
Scarlet scrambled to her feet, sword in hand, and slowly crept to where the Sorceress lay. Melinda looked as if she slept, a deep sleep of death. Scarlet bent over the body, hoping she did not hear a heartbeat. Yet Melinda’s eyes suddenly opened and flared red-hot.
As soon as Melinda was on her feet, Scarlet was prepared, a stance she intended to hold on to. The Sorceress charged her, arms outstretched ready to strangle on contact. Scarlet held the blade up just as Melinda leapt at her, causing it to become lodged in her stomach. The Sorceress fell, bone shattering, on the floor of the great hall, the blade slicing through her body. Scarlet looked away as Melinda gurgled on her own blood.