A Run in the Dark
Daniel sat up groggily and rubbed his forehead. It ached, as if pummeled. He had been dreaming of Aure traveling somewhere when the gem’s voice came to him.
I go to my brothers, Daniel.
Realizing his mental block to the gem was down, Daniel re-established it and peered at the display case. It was open and empty. Startled, he jumped to his feet and dissolved the barrier in his mind.
Aure, where are you?
With an elf who has promised to help.
An elf? Then Daniel remembered; he had seen someone in the shadows near the doorway. It could have been an elf — the thief Evan had warned about. He must have come back and stolen Aure.
A cold chill went through Daniel. Are you sure? Daniel wondered. I think the elf has stolen you. He may not help you as you expect.
Then help me, Daniel. Help me.
He stood and stared at the empty glass case again. He felt his own emptiness now, as if his best friend had died. He needed to help Aure, but how? Daniel glanced around the great hall and saw James sleeping nearby.
Shaking the bard awake, Daniel cried excitedly, “Aure’s been stolen!”
James’s eyes popped open. “Stolen! By whom?”
“An elf, I think. The one Evan told us about.”
“Where’s Iriel?” James asked. He scanned the room as he stood.
“Over there,” replied Daniel, pointing to the far wall.
James stood up and felt wobbly for a second. He paused as the world around him spun and then slowly settled into place. “Go wake the others,” he said finally. “I’ll wake Iriel. We’ll go after him.”
Daniel ran from the room without a word. As he entered the foyer, the dim glow from the lobby hearth provided light for the lad to see by. On the floor, in front of the fireplace, lay Evan sleeping. Daniel saw the priest’s idle form and jumped nimbly over the body to avoid tripping. Rousing the priest, Daniel helped Evan to stand.
“What happened?” Evan asked, yawning.
“Aure has been stolen.”
“By St. Michael’s sword!” cried Evan. “Wake the other guards, Daniel. We’re going after the thief.”
“James and Iriel are already awake and in the great hall.”
“All right,” said Evan. “We’ll all gather in your sleeping quarters. Go wake Molin and Brashani.”
Daniel nodded and hurried out of the foyer.
Brashani grumbled under his breath when Daniel stirred him from his bed; Molin sat silently, head drooping, arms limp at his side.
“What’s going on?” asked Brashani. His eyes were bloodshot; he vaguely recalled trying to stay awake, waiting for Evan’s call for help.
Before Daniel could answer, Evan stepped into the room, followed by Iriel and James. The elf appeared to be close to tears and James tried to comfort her. Molin’s head came up as Evan and the others entered; he rubbed sleep from his eyes. Brashani ceased his grumbling and realized he had fallen asleep after all.
Evan’s face was grim. Heavy circles lined his eyes and his jaw was set tight. “Tindolen’s gem has been stolen by an elf, according to Daniel, and we need to get it back.”
Iriel began crying. “Uncle is going to be very upset over this and very disappointed in me. I was supposed to ensure nothing happened to it. He’ll send me back to Oldarmare for sure once he finds out.”
James patted her on the back. “It wasn’t your fault,” he said soothingly. “The thief put us all to sleep.”
“And he removed the protective spells on the display case,” said Evan. “But all that is beside the point. Right now, we need to prepare for battle and follow him.”
Iriel nodded and wiped the tears from her eyes.
“Battle?” repeated James. Evan saw fear in his eyes as his brow furrowed.
“That’s the worst-case possibility. It is much more likely that he won’t put up a fight. With six-to-one odds, he’ll probably surrender.”
“But he’s a wizard,” observed Molin. “He could kill most of us with a single spell.”
Evan shook his head. “If he wanted us dead, we would be. And while he may put some of us to sleep again, we should still be able to overpower him.”
Brashani rubbed the grit from the corners of his eyes. “That may be, but if he removed all the wards on the display case, he’s very accomplished as a mage. Don’t underestimate him.”
“Duly noted,” said Evan, as he inclined his head.
James sighed and fastened his whip to his belt. “So how do we find him? We don’t know where he went.”
“Not necessarily true,” said Evan. “I have a strong suspicion. If the thief is the sailor I saw early yesterday afternoon, then he is likely to be running back to the harbor to sail out of Clearbrook.”
“Do we search every ship in the harbor?” asked Iriel, stringing her bow.
“No. Since elves infrequently come to town, I did some checking. I know where his ship is docked.”
“And if the thief isn’t this sailor you saw?” asked Brashani, rubbing his face.
“Whether the thief is that sailor or not, we can trail whoever has the Elf-gem with Daniel’s help.”
Daniel’s face brightened at the sound of his name. “Me?”
“Yes, you can talk with the gem. On the off chance that I’m wrong about where the thief is going, we’ll need to be able to track the Aglari. So tell it that we are coming to rescue it. Hopefully, you can get a direction once you establish contact.”
“Okay.” Reaching out with his mind, Daniel contacted the dark mustard-colored topaz.
Aure, are you all right?
We are coming to rescue you. Send me a signal so we can find you. No response. Please, Aure, you’ve been stolen and we want to return you to Tindolen. Again, nothing. Aure? Why don’t you answer? Daniel paused for a moment and realized what was wrong. You want to find your brothers, don’t you? Send me a signal and once we’ve rescued you, I promise I will help you find them.
How will you keep that promise?
I don’t know, but you have my word as a Qua’ril master that I will.
Daniel gazed up at Evan. “I have a direction.”
Evan and the five people assigned to guard Tindolen’s gem ran out of the Grey Horse Inn and down the street; their feet clomping on the dusty road interrupted the quiet of the night. Daniel was in the lead, wearing his white Qua’ril uniform and running barefoot, his blond hair shining in the pale moonlight. Despite the cold air, Daniel concentrated on Aure’s signal and did not feel the chill.
The others were not as fortunate. “By the Twelve powers, it’s freezing,” complained Brashani, wishing he had taken time for Warmth magic. Still, the cold air did much to help him shake off the last vestiges of sleep.
Just behind Daniel ran Evan, sword in hand. He wanted to go faster, but the cold air made it hard to breathe and made his lungs ache. As he ran, the priest glanced from side to side looking for town guards. He hoped to see some men standing watch and enlist their aid.
Following Evan were James and Iriel. At his hip, James’s whip jostled; he steadied it with one hand as he ran. Iriel had a quiver of arrows slung over her left shoulder and she clutched her long bow in her left hand.
Molin and Brashani trailed last.
“Preparing any spells?” Molin asked Brashani.
“Of course. I’ve got a Flame Disk ready.”
“It creates a disk of flame and ash that explodes on contact. And you? What are you preparing?”
“I was a court mage, if you remember. I had no real need for combat spells.”
“So you don’t know any battle spells?”
“I know one, Electric Touch, but that’s only effective in hand-to-hand combat.”
“Any long-range weapons?” asked Brashani.
“Two daggers in sheaths strapped to my forearms.”
“Good, you might need them.”
“The signal’s getting stronger,” said Daniel.
“Which way are they going?” asked James.
“East,” replied Daniel.
“Toward the harbor,” Evan said, as he sprinted forward.
They crossed the town square and approached the docks. They passed through the gates of the harbor and stopped at the sight of five guards asleep on the ground. Evan examined them quickly; they were unconscious but unharmed otherwise. Iriel looked across the harbor and saw someone moving along one of the piers.
“Father Evan,” she said, “someone is moving up ahead.” She pointed.
Charging past Daniel, Evan replied, “Then maybe we aren’t too late.”
The sailor ran across town as fast as he could; the cold air burned his lungs. He wanted to reach his boat and set sail immediately to avoid capture. All seemed to be going according to plan until he reached the harbor entrance. Five guards stood in the entryway. They wore mail shirts with leather sleeves and leggings.
Fortunately for the seaman, he spotted the guards before they saw or heard him coming, giving him time to slow and crouch in the shadows. The elf rested there for a few minutes, caught his breath, and considered his options. He watched the humans as his breathing slowed. They stood there, occasionally glancing out at the night.
They seem to be looking for something or someone. Or perhaps they have been stationed there.
He grimaced at that thought. That meant the guards wouldn’t be moving any time soon, and somehow the elf didn’t think he could bluff his way past them.
The sailor rubbed his forefinger back and forth across his chin and thought as his frustration mounted like water behind a dam. Time seemed to fly and crawl in the same instant. No doubt, the guards from the Inn would be waking shortly and would discover the theft. If he didn’t act soon, he’d be caught here waiting for these other guards to leave.
He took a deep breath to collect his thoughts and decided he wasn’t going to let a few humans stand in his way. He knew he could not fight them all simultaneously and hope to win, but then he didn’t have to. A few well-placed Sleep spells should eliminate the risk without raising the alarm.
Carefully he prepared himself. When he was ready, the elf cast three Sleep spells so that each spell enveloped at least two of the humans standing watch. The guards toppled over like empty cardboard boxes that were stacked too high. The sailor sprang forward without hesitation and ran down the dock toward his boat. Two more guards were waiting by his ship. He wasted no time and put these men to sleep with a single gesture before he climbed into his vessel and prepared to cast off.
As he ran down the pier to where he had last seen the Ciryaduin that afternoon, Evan caught sight of the boat hovering over the water. Panic filled him. It looked as if the ship was about to leave the harbor. Evan pushed himself harder to close the distance. He needed to get close enough so he could jump aboard; but even as he increased his speed, Evan saw two dark, oblong objects in his way, which forced him to slow down. The sailboat soared into the night sky and vanished into the darkness.
Evan stood on the pier and cursed himself for his stupidity. Why didn’t I wait for the thief down by his boat? It was obvious now that would have been a better plan. He should have guessed, too, that the elf would have some sort of magic at his command. Why didn’t I make provisions to defend against it? He sighed. There was no point in berating himself now. What he needed was a way to follow the thief. He had none.
He looked down at the objects in front of him. Guards. He bent over and gave each man a quick examination to make sure they were not harmed. Only asleep, like the ones at the entrance. Good, at least no one was hurt. Evan woke the guards and then walked back toward Daniel and the others, not really paying attention to his surroundings.
“He got away,” Evan said, flatly.
Iriel looked like she was going to cry again.
Molin’s mouth dropped open.
“I know,” said Daniel. “Aure is still calling for help. What can we do now?”
Evan shrugged. “I don’t know. If there were a shop in town that sold magic items, we might be able to buy or trade for a flying carpet or some sort of tracking device. But there isn’t.”
“Then Aure is lost to us,” said Daniel. He sat down, held his head with both hands, and cried.