Evan returned to the Grey Horse Inn in disbelief at how obtuse Bigsbee and Tindolen had been. The demon hunter might have expected it from Bigsbee — His Honor had missed the point and had failed to act on more than one occasion — but Tindolen was smarter than that. To trust in this prophecy so completely seemed ludicrous and irresponsible to Evan. That wasn’t like Tindolen at all.
Worse still, Evan had wasted his time talking with them; going to town hall and looking for Bigsbee had been all for naught too. Even the good fortune of running into His Honor on the street meant nothing now. Part of Evan wondered, Why did I even bother?
But he knew why. There was a chance now, albeit a small one, to locate all of the Elf-gems, remake the Crown of Power, find the royal heir, and oust the dukefs from Andropolis. They would be hard and possibly dangerous tasks, but worth the risks. The first step toward these goals was to safeguard Tindolen’s topaz and keep it out of Jormundan’s hands.
Considering how best to accomplish that objective, Evan decided there was only one option open to him: he would have to stand watch himself since Bigsbee refused to protect the Elf-gem with any of the town guard. The thought was not a pleasant one and he wondered if His Grace had not been right; at the very least, he should have brought Sir Ahlan with him. That would certainly make the chore of standing watch over the gem easier, but Ahlan’s presence might also deter the thief from stealing the Aglari. Evan’s only hope of locating Jormundan was to capture whoever tried to pilfer the Elf-gem and force the burglar to lead the way back to the dark mage’s stronghold.
He sighed and climbed the stairs of the Grey Horse. Resigned to the night ahead of him, Evan entered the inn and stepped into the great hall. James and Iriel were still standing guard and with them were three other people. Straight ahead of Evan, a blond-haired, barefoot boy in a white jacket and trousers sat in the corner, eyes closed. A pair of black shoes rested next to the lad. They looked new and barely worn. Evan wasn’t sure if the boy was asleep or concentrating deeply on some magic rite since he made no motion as Evan entered the hall.
Deeper in the room, two men stood directly in front of the fireplace. They seemed to be arguing. The man to the left of the hearth eyed Evan suspiciously as he approached. He had gray hair at the temples and in his beard. The top of his head was covered with only a few wisps of brown hair. The old man to the right of the fireplace glanced at the cleric. He had dull gray eyes; a hollow, gaunt face made him appear fragile and weak, as if he would topple over in a strong breeze. Lines etched his face. White hair and a long white beard added to his aged appearance.
Evan offered both men a friendly nod and went over to Iriel and James. “I found your uncle. He confirmed what you told me. The gem is real.”
Iriel grimaced. “What is wrong with you humans? You trust so little.”
“Well, the claim is pretty incredible,” said James.
Iriel’s brow furrowed. “You think so?”
James nodded his head. “Absolutely. It may not seem so to elves since you live longer, but for most humans, I think it is hard to believe this gem was made by your gods and given to the elves at the beginning of the world.”
“I don’t see why,” said Iriel, indifferently.
As the bard spoke, the blond-haired boy came over and stared at the gem in the display case. Evan looked at the lad; he appeared disheveled and confused as he intensely stared at the gem.
A flash of light caught the corner of Evan’s eye. Turning toward the light, Evan saw the topaz change color from a bright yellow to its original dark mustard.
“Did you see that?” Evan asked Iriel and James.
“You mean that flash of light from the gem?” responded Iriel.
“Yes,” Evan replied.
“I did. What caused it?” asked James.
“I don’t know.” Iriel glanced nervously at James.
“Good question,” said Evan.
The two men who had been arguing on the other side of the room stopped bickering and approached James and Evan, eyes wide with curiosity.
James rubbed his neck. “Maybe it was a fluke. It looks normal now.” An instant later, the light flared again.
Iriel looked at the boy. He was staring at the gem. “Daniel, are you all right? You look tired.”
Daniel looked up at her and murmured, “It’s the gem. It speaks to me.”
Evan, James, Iriel, and the two other men exchanged glances.
“You can hear it in your head, talking to you?” asked Iriel.
“Yes. I’ve been hearing a voice, but I wasn’t sure what it was saying or where it was coming from … until now,” he replied.
“I thought only elves could hear an Aglari speak to them,” commented James.
Evan narrowed his eyes on the lad. “And how do you know the voice is from the gem?”
Daniel cocked his head to one side. “It told me so.”
“What does it say to you?” asked the balding man.
“It wants me to find its brothers,” said Daniel.
Evan raised an eyebrow. “Brothers? You mean the other stones?”
Daniel paused. “Uh, yes.”
“Does it know where they are?”
“Then how do you find them?” asked James.
“By using it as a guide,” explained Daniel. “It will know when other Aglaril are near.”
Evan noted the use of the elven term but that was the least of the strange happenings here. A human boy should not be able to talk to these magic elven gems. On the other hand, perhaps this is what Tindolen meant about the prophecy. Events were aligning themselves for the prophecy’s fulfillment.
“I don’t think Tindolen is going to let you walk around the kingdom with his gem in your pocket,” observed Evan.
Daniel did not respond.
“Better get a healer,” said the balding man. “The boy’s as crazed as a rabid dog.”
Iriel glowered at the man. “I don’t think so. The Aglaril speak to some elves.”
“But,” James reminded everyone, as he gestured at the boy, “Daniel is not elven.”
“Maybe he’s part elven,” suggested the gaunt old man.
“Perhaps,” said Evan. “Or maybe the gem is talking to Daniel, elven or not, and he is hearing it.”
James nodded. “You mean the same way the Elf-gems were said to speak to elven kings.”
“Sounds like telepathy to me,” said the balding man.
The gaunt man nodded his head, “Yes. Some people have the gift.”
“What makes him so special?” asked the balding man.
“Good question,” said Evan. He turned to Daniel, who was still staring at the topaz. He put a hand on Daniel’s shoulder and gently shook him. Daniel’s eyes flickered and looked up at Evan. “Daniel, I’m Evan Pierce. I’m a priest and demon hunter. If you don’t mind, I’d like to ask you a few questions about how you talk with this gem.”
“All right, I’ll try,” said Daniel, his voice a little rough with fatigue. “But it’s hard to think with the gem’s voice in my head.”
“When did you start hearing the gem?”
“A few days ago, but I couldn’t understand the words.”
“Why not?” asked Evan.
“They sounded too far away.”
“Then how is it that you can hear the gem now?”
“I’ve been meditating and concentrating on the sound.”
“Where did you learn to do that?”
“From my master, Alendil,” said Daniel.
“Your Qua’ril master?” asked Iriel.
“Yes,” replied the teen.
“You studied with the elven grandmaster of martial arts?” asked Evan. “Since when has he accepted human apprentices?”
Daniel shrugged. “I don’t know. At the time, I was living among the elves as one of them; when I turned seven, he let me study with him.”
Iriel’s eyes widened. “Amazing. All young elven children study Qua’ril for a year or two to learn basic self-defense. Alendil personally trains only the most gifted.”
“And why were you living among the elves?” asked Evan.
“Because they rescued me when I was a baby,” Daniel replied.
“Rescued you from where?” Evan pressed.
“The ruins of the village my parents had settled near the Fire Mountains.”
Evan had never heard of anyone settling near the Fire Mountains. “Why was the village in ruins?”
“Goblins had attacked it.”
“How did you survive then?”
“Elven rangers arrived and drove them off before the goblins found me.”
“Did anyone else survive?”
“Not that I know of.”
“And they took you back to Oldarmare?”
“Yes, and cared for me.”
“And so by using these Qua’ril techniques, learned from your master, you’ve managed to attune your mind to that of the gem?” Evan asked to ensure he understood.
Daniel was silent as he considered Evan’s words, then answered, “Yes.”
James whistled, long and low. “I think that’s a first.”
Evan placed his hand on top of his head and pressed down hard, as if to keep his brain from jumping out of his skull. “Incredible,” he said, but what astounded him even more was Daniel’s obvious involvement in Amelidel’s prophecy.
Was he the royal heir? Evan thought about this. No, that’s not possible. He’s too young, and neither Sandra nor Leonard was known to have had children. No, given this turn of events, I’m guessing Daniel is the one to locate the Elf-gems and that’s all. But how does all of this fit into the larger picture?
Evan wasn’t sure. He needed to speak with Tindolen again.
“Are Qua’ril techniques magical?” asked the balding man.
Iriel shook her head. “I don’t think so. Why?”
“Because how else could they yield a magical effect?”
“As I said,” the gaunt man repeated, “some people have the gift. The boy must be naturally telepathic. The Qua’ril techniques and mental disciplines must have triggered his ability.”
The balding man looked at him. “Hmmm. Maybe. We’d have to read his aura to be sure.”
Evan put up a hand. “Stop, all of you. Before we do anything, we need to verify Daniel’s claim of this Elf-gem speaking to him.”
“How do we do that?” asked James.
“Let’s talk to Tindolen,” replied Evan. “It’s his gem. He knows the most about it.”
“I’ll go find him,” said Iriel.
“Good idea,” said Evan.
“I’ll go with you,” said James.