Crystal Chronicles: Scarlet Footprints – Prologue

"There is no such thing in this world as an untrustworthy, rogue-filled caravan. And if you buy that, there's a bridge in Shella I'd like to sell to ya…"

It was near the end of the year when the Alfitaria Caravan finally came back to town. Waiting for them at the gates were some truly joyful guards; Sol Racht's men had cut it close this time, and the town had thought that the group would not make it in time. News of the caravan's return spread quickly, and in little time, several Lilties had come to welcome the caravan back home.

The city's chamberlain, Knocfelna, was one of those Lilties. Over the years, he had established a friendship of sorts with the caravan's leader, and he couldn't wait to hear about the adventures Sol Racht had faced this time around. It wasn't too long until the hullabaloo ended; the civilians returned to their homes, feeling safer than ever, while Sol's men went off to report to the king. This gave the two Lilties ample time to talk face-to-face by the crystal in the town's center.

"So, it's about time for that question that you know I'll ask; what the heck happened that delayed your group for so long?" Knocfelna immediately inquired.

"Oh, it was a combination of reasons," Sol Racht responded. "The caravans from Shella and Marr's Pass had gotten early starts, so we had to extend our search for Myrrh to Kilanda and beyond. At one point, half of our men were wounded by a powerful beast, and it took a month before we were in any shape to continue. And, I can't possibly forget that encounter we had with a bunch of bandits…"

"Don't tell me…those Striped Brigands managed to steal some cherry clusters from you again, didn't they?" Knocfelna interrupted.

"Oddly enough, for once, we had no problem with them," the caravan leader replied. "Instead, we ran into a group that called themselves the 'Scarlet Rogues'. We met them a scant two months ago, after a set of circumstances led to us escorting a wealthy man back to his hometown. We had reached the halfway point, when a caravan driving beside us decided to ram into us. We were hit so forcefully that our caravan literally toppled over. And by the time we were prepared to retaliate, it was too late; our client had already been snatched away by one of the members, and beheaded by their red-haired Selkie leader."

"My word!" Knocfelna exclaimed, once again interrupting Sol's story. "They actually killed a man to steal his belongings? At least the Striped Brigands never stooped that low! Why, there's no telling how big a risk all of the other caravans are taking, while such a band is still at large! We should report this immediately!"

"I would not worry about that," Sol Racht replied. "As we were about to retaliate, their leader bent down and pulled out a set of documents from his victim's satchel. He then gave himself up, requesting that we read his papers before making any decisions on his fate. Upon inspecting them, they were revealed to be…well, 'receipts' is the only word that could describe them."

"And why should that convince me that there is nothing to fear of this group?" Knocfelna inquired. "The fact that they slaughtered a merchant is a sign that there is no cause for alarm? You're not making any sense, Sol!"

"The reason we should not worry is because the man was not a provider of materials, scrolls, or even produce. The receipts revealed that we had been tricked into protecting a trader of slaves," Sol answered. "Certainly, a soul who lives his life selling the lives of others for his own gain is a soul tainted with the foulest evil. If any of my men had been in the bandit's position, we would have certainly done the same as he had. Knowing that we were more apt to cause needless slaughter to his friends than to our client, not believing a single truth he could have told, what other choice could he have made?"

"So, somewhere in the world, there's a man with a Robin Hood complex. And, there are at least five other people who are willing to follow his lead, no matter where it takes them. It appears that this world is becoming even stranger with each passing year," the other Lilty said with a smile. "I can only wonder just how a motley-sounding crew like that could have ever come together."

"It's funny that you should say that," the Alfitaria caravan leader uttered. "He escaped by daybreak, but while he was in our custody, the leader decided to regale our group with tales of how his band had formed. I remembered it all, and would gladly tell you about it…do you happen to be free tomorrow at noon?"

"Why not just tell me now? My shift has just ended, and I doubt you have much else to do until the ceremony begins in a few days."

"In that case, you'd best take a seat beside me; this story is quite a long one," Sol replied, sitting on a bench that was placed nearby. When his friend took a seat beside him, the caravan leader began retelling the tale. "While the leader himself had been in a few adventures as a child, the chronicles of the Scarlet Rogues began only a few years ago, on a sunny morning in Tipa…"

Author's Note: Well, here it is; the very first chapter in my very first submission into the Crystal Chronicles section. How exciting! Don't say that An Ordinary Fan (that's me, for the record) doesn't listen to his fans; a FF:CC story was the choice that got the highest number of votes (a whole two) on the poll that was on my user page, so a FF:CC story is what you're going to get! Don't worry; the actual caravan members with severe mental problems that I promised will be showing up in the next chapter, so be sure to stay tuned!