The Thief of Hearts

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Chapter 13

Just after sunset, they positioned themselves. Lorelei, Nola, and Julianna were hiding just within the entrance to the tunnels. “What is he doing?” Nola asked in a whisper.

“He is making a protective circle. It is a method in which a Magus attempts to protect themselves from a demon,” Lorelei answered. “I did not think him strong enough to invoke such a creature.”

“He may not be,” Julianna chimed in. “What would happen if he cannot contain the beast?”

Lorelei in her ever-carefree manner said, “He will be consumed by the demon.”

“Should we stop him now?” Julianna asked.

Lorelei knew the ramifications of allowing him to match power with a demon, but at the same time, she had always wondered what a demon incantation spell looked like. Therefore, instead of saying what she ought to, she said, “Let us wait and see what happens, he will be easier to defeat if his mind is focused on the spell.”

To Nola and Julianna who knew little of magic, they took her advice, slipping back a slight bit to avoid detection.

Quinlan, perched on a small outcropping peaked over the edge and down to where Hamen was creating a smaller circle of salt within the larger. He shook his head in disgust even as the hair on the nape of his neck stood up. The thief had always despised magic, he had seen his good friend and fellow cutpurse consumed by fire when he failed to disarm a magical trap. Ever since then, his resentment to those who dabble with powers they should leave to Ancients had grown. Taking a slow and steady breath to calm his nerves he strung his bow and waited for a chance to either steal the gem or strike down Hamen.

He had not intended to kill anyone, especially a wizard, but thinking back to the poor girl in the cellar, and the nasty trap he had placed in the woods he deemed the death of Hamen as a boon to the world. Wizards were dangerous, he would have to wait for the right moment least he falls victim to some hideous spell.

Slowly he secured the rope about his waist and began to lower himself down. Arietta sat between him and Hamen, and this he considered an extra boon to his surviving the night, hoping if he was discovered or it came to an all-out fight, Hamen may pause before casting magic in the direction of Arietta.

Several minutes went by as Hamen flipped through Stezius’s spell book, trying to discern if he had missed anything. At last, he smiled in contentment, satisfied he had done what he needed to do.

“Arietta, do not approach the circle!” Hamen shouted over the roar of the falls.

“Yes my Love,” She answered.

Hamen walked over to the cylindrical stone and opening the box, he picked up the glowing blue stone. Examining the gem carefully he could have sworn he saw a shadow within the core of the jewel, but as he turned it to and fro Hamen failed to spot the anomaly again, so he shrugged and gently placed the stone down.

A brief burst of energy coursed through the gem and into Hamen as the gem met the stone, Hamen thrilled with the power he was about to receive. In his hurry to gain such power, he rushed back to the inner circle, spinning about to face the gem and begin his spell.

“He has made a fatal mistake!” Lorelei said a little too loud.

“What?” Nola asked.

“His robe knocked away part of the inner circle, the demon he is invoking will be able to reach him,” Lorelei answered as she started forward, “We must stop him now, or he could bring ruin to the entire town!”

Julianna sprung forward, freeing her scimitar as she did.

Hamen shocked at seeing Julianna rushing him with her sword drawn panicked for a mere second. He hastily cast a protective wall of magic about him and the dais. The shimmering wall of magic held firm as Lorelei tried to dispel the shield, as somehow the gem boosted his strength.

“No, stop!” Lorelei screamed, but Julianna had already committed to striking the wall, her blade recoiled and flew from her hand as the magic contained within the barrier entered first her blade and then her fingers.

Lorelei stopped several feet from the wall. “What have I done?”

Hamen smiled and bowed in mock respect for Lorelei. He ignored them all. Nothing was going to stop him now. He began to recite the spell from the book.

Lorelei frantically tried to get his attention to no avail. His eyes fixed on the pages before him, “We must back up, or we may be enveloped by the spell!”

Julianna backed away, as the shimmering sphere of magic hummed with an unearthly howl.

Arietta’s eyes grew wide and frantic as she saw Julianna charging her Love, fear gripping her heart for Hamen. She screamed, “Julianna, leave him alone!”

Quinlan dropped down behind Arietta. He stood no more than twelve feet from her, staying hidden within the shadows he drew back his bow and waited.

As Hamen read from the spell book his heart raced with anticipation, the power emanating from the Heart pulsed with each spoken word. Whomever the magus was that cast her hex against him would not stop him, and she would die for daring to once the incantation stood complete.

Laughter, cold and menacing echoed from the walls and rebounded with a chorus of demonic glee. Arietta looked to Hamen, but he was still busy reading. Then she saw the source of the evil mirth, within the circle of shimmering magic a form took shape. Standing nine feet tall with green scales covering its entire body, muscular arms flexed and its talons opened and closed menacingly.

“Foolish mortal, read on, read on and seal your fate as you free me from my prison!” The demon said wickedly.

“Hamen,” Arietta screamed, “Watch out!”

Green and turquoise tendrils sprang from the demons outstretched talon and encircled Hamen. The fledgling wizard screamed in shock and pain as they closed about his torso. He dropped the spell book, noticing even as he did the broken circle of salt, “NO!” He shouted out as the demon laughed again.

Magic, old and corrupt coursed through Hamen, and to the onlookers, they saw his skeletal frame light up as plain as day. Arietta rushed forward, but Hamen’s wall of protection stopped her progress, knocking her backward until she stumbled and fell.

The demon squeezed Hamen causing him to lose the last shred of concentration, his wall of protection disappeared in a flash. However, the demon stood for the moment contained, half within the gem and half by the salt barrier circling the dais.

Lorelei contemplated her next actions carefully. She was not quite prepared to combat a demon, but who else could? As in answer to her question Julianna had regained her sword and rushed forward, but a quick flick of the demons wrist shot a bolt of red energy into her chest and knocked her back some twenty feet. Landing hard she tumbled dangerously close to the falls, but Nola leaped from her hiding place and grabbed hold of her arm just before she fell into the roaring falls.

Arietta had also regained her feet, and seeing Hamen in agonizing pain, shrieking in agony was too much for her to withstand. She rushed in to grab hold of Hamen and pull him free from the demonic tendrils encasing him. It was complete folly, of course, she could hardly have expected to succeed, but her love compelled her to try. Sweeping through the salt, she made several mistakes at once. The demon turned and laughed in utter glee, “You have freed me!”

Quinlan, pressed against the wall took aim at the demon chest, hoping the beast had a heart where men do. A cold blast pushed him deeper into the cliff face as Arietta crossed the dais circle, his exhale billowed out in a great white puff.

The demon thrust Hamen upwards, slamming him into the ceiling, and releasing him to fall with a loud thud. Arietta stopped in her tracks and screamed as Hamen fell and the tendrils wrapped around her, lifting her from the ground.

“How foolish humans have become in my absence!” The demon laughed and allowed the magic to enter Arietta, she screamed in pain, which only seemed to please the demon more.

Quinlan let an arrow fly. It ran true but bounced off the scaly skin doing no harm. The demon did not even seem to notice. On the far side of the dais Quinlan saw Lorelei moving her hands and chanting, she may be their only hope of surviving this theft turned nightmare.

Lightning crackled from Lorelei’s hand striking the demon in the back, it whirled in anger, causing Arietta to fly about as the tendrils, stretching out from the demon, turned with the beast.

Green ichor burst from the demons wound, and its red eyes focused on Lorelei. The falls began to freeze from the intense cold emanating from the Heart of Silver Falls, making the whole area grow quiet. Nola dragged Julianna away from the brink of the falls, finding it easy at first as the ground froze, but soon enough the ground, slick with the light sheen of ice made her scoot along on her backside. She had to fight from letting go, for the angle of the steep precipice would inevitably cause the unconscious Shield Maiden to slide to her death.

The demon roared in anger, and opening its gaping jaw wide, liquid fire shot forth towards Lorelei. She had anticipated a retaliatory strike and managed to bring her magic to bear, placing a defensive shield between her and the demon.

The fire hit the barrier and hissed as the dripping fluid deflected off the wall of magic. Obscured by the thick fog created by fire and ice Lorelei cast another spell, and as she vanished, she saw Hamen stirring near the dais.

The bitter cold, which awoken Hamen numbed his fingers, and his legs felt as if they were made of lead. He recoiled in fear from the demon, enraged by the attack by Lorelei, but then he saw Arietta. She was clearly in pain and would soon perish from the magic pulsing through her body.

Hamen could not believe everything had gone so wrong, a simple error caused by the interruption from Julianna and the female magus causing him to make a fatal mistake. Breaking the barrier between him and the demon contained within the Heart. “The Heart!”

A slight chance of turning failure into victory crossed Hamen’s mind, he looked up at Arietta, fading fast and crawled toward the gem.

Quinlan made ready to fire another arrow, this one into the gaping wound on the demons back when he saw Hamen crawling towards the gem. He held back from attacking, for his arrow would draw the attention of the demon towards him, and in doing so cause the demon to see Hamen struggling to reach the Heart of Silver Falls. Instead, he waved his arms back and forth, signaling to Lorelei what was happening. As to whether she had seen him or not, he could not tell, for Quinlan had not spied Lorelei since the demon attacked her. The fog had lifted, and she was nowhere to be seen, but he suspected she had used the fog to escape the second assault.

Lorelei, invisible made her way to Julianna and Nola, “You need to get her out of here!”

Nola nearly lets go of Julianna as the disembodied voice spoke, “You scared me half to death,” Nola exclaimed, “Where is Quinlan?”

“He is on the far side of the dais,” Lorelei answered, “I hope he does not try to attack the demon again.”

“Can you defeat the demon?”

“I do not think so, I have already used my most powerful spell and the demon still lives.”

“Then help me get Julianna out of here.”

“I cannot. Live or die I must try to stop this demon,” Lorelei said as she turned once more towards the demon. She considered her options. Lorelei could cast another less powerful spell, but what else did she have at her disposal. She glanced about and saw Julianna’s sword, encased in ice some several feet away. Shaking her head, she drew her sword, the Longsword of Lyona.

Hamen reached up and grasped the Heart of Silver Falls. He felt the magic, cold as the ice surrounding everything, “Demon! Let her go!”

The demon, still searching for the magus who caused him pain, spun about to face Hamen, “Fool, you cannot command me!”

Hamen held the gem between him and the demon, “But I think I can!” He spoke the arcane words and sent his magical bolt pass through the gem and streaking towards the demon. It struck the beast in the chest and burned through his scaled skin.

The demon, instead of attacking outright brought Arietta’s body between him and Hamen, “Cast your spells now, and watch her burn,” The demon laughed. Staring intently at Hamen he continued, “She will burn just like your master, and his servants.”

Hamen, desperate to free Arietta cried out in horror, realizing the demon had been tormenting his dreams. He stood helpless to do anything, for attacking the demon would be the death of Arietta.

The demon laughed, “You hold the Heart, but I control the power within,” The demon closed his talon fist. The blue glow crawled up Hamen arm, and slowly encased the novice wizard. He could feel the tingling force of the magic as it burned his skin.

Knowing his time was short. Hamen smiled at the demon and spoke the final words of the binding spell.

The Heart of Silver Falls dropped to the ground, as Hamen, Arietta, and the Demon were absorbed into the gem.

Quinlan, still waiting to find a clear shot, lowered his bow, “Well I was not expecting that.”

The gem glowed brightly, a mixture of blue, red and green. Then with a suddenness which took Lorelei and Quinlan by surprise, the demon pulled itself from the gem.

The demon had managed to free itself from the Heart, trapping Hamen and Arietta within. Breathing heavily the demon stood up, stretching and flexing its chest and arms, “I am free!”

Quinlan raised his bow and let loose, his arrow plunging into the chest of the beast where Hamen had struck it. It roared in anger and just as it pulled its head back to spit the liquid fire at Quinlan he saw the tip of a sword burst through the chest of the demon.

Glowing in bright gold, the blade hissed as the demon shrieked in anguish.

Quinlan watched as Lorelei twisted the sword, cutting the creature a deathly blow. The demon spun, trying to free itself from the sword still burning so intently.

Lorelei held on to the hilt, but the bulk and strength of the dying demon caused her to go airborne as the sword slipped free of the demon’s chest. She spoke a few quick words and hovered inches from the ground as her levitation spell took effect, inches from the wall.

Quinlan walked over to her as the demon melted into the ice. “I am so happy you joined us.”

Lorelei laughed, “So am I.”

“What happened to Hamen and Arietta?” Quinlan asked.

“I believe they are now trapped within the gem,” Lorelei answered.

“Humph, I guess they both got what they wanted. Hamen now has the power of the Heart, and Arietta is with her lover,” Quinlan mused.

“Are you a thief or a poet?” Lorelei joked.

Quinlan winked, “A little of both.”

Julianna, sore from the battle and possibly a broken rib or two sat with her back to the wall, Nola stayed beside her with a dagger plunged into the ice. She was using the blade to keep from slipping down the steep slope.

“They did it!” Nola exclaimed.

“Yes they did,” Julianna agreed, “Now it is time for the hardest part.”

“What do you mean?”

“Now I have to convince Quinlan to let me take the gem back to Lady Matilda.”

Quinlan and Lorelei walked over to the Heart of Silver Falls, within the gem, they could see two silhouettes, although not bright enough to make out their faces, they could see Hamen and Arietta engaged in a kiss.

Quinlan bent over to pick up the gem, but before he could, Lorelei said, “Be careful, the gem could still be dangerous.”

He hesitated for only a moment before picking up the Heart. While examining the treasure, he heard the distinct sound of cracking ice. “Look out!” He shouted and grabbed hold of Lorelei and jumped towards the back of the dais.

The falls, no longer under the influence of magic succumb to nature, the water above melting the top and now an entire wall of ice slipped from its precarious perch and fell towards the lake. Striking the calm water beneath they could hear the festival goer’s cheer until the massive wave produced from the towering ice rushed towards them. Cheers turned to screams as the people of Silver Falls turned and ran for their lives. The tsunami, which was way too close to run away from, washed through the streets and tumbled a handful of buildings.

With the freeing of the falls, Quinlan had to yell, “Time to go!”

Julianna retrieved her scimitar but did not sheath it, but instead she headed towards Quinlan.

Quinlan smiled, seeing the noble Shield Maiden trying to fulfill her mission. He held the Heart up to the moon, the two lovers, eternally trapped within. He walked over to the edge and looked down. The ice began to melt quickly and the whirlpool, which took the water away, stood directly beneath him.

“Quinlan, I need the Heart. It belongs to Lady Matilda,” Julianna said sternly.

Quinlan looked deeply into Julianna’s eyes, smiling he said, “Actually, I think the Heart of Silver Falls belongs to Silver Falls,” He tossed the gem over the edge. All four of them watched the gem disappear into the whirlpool far below.

Julianna, perplexed by Quinlan’s actions said, “I do not understand. You went through all this trouble, here and in Estroy to steal the gem, and now you just throw it away.”

“Perhaps one day I will tell you why, or maybe you will figure it out on your own,” Quinlan laughed, and Lorelei joined in. Nola upset about the loss of the treasure and Julianna at the failure to regain the gem failed to see any humor in the situation.

“I suggest we get out of here before the waterlogged folks of Silver Falls come looking for someone to blame for their solstice bath,” Quinlan joked.

“I must return to Estroy and inform Lady Matilda of what has transpired,” Julianna said flatly, “I wish all of you well.”

“Now that is a shame,” Quinlan said, “I was growing accustomed to your company.”

Julianna said with a slight smile, “Just be thankful I am not taking you back with me.”

She turned and headed towards the path, but as she reached the landing Quinlan called out, “I was also looking forward to you throttling me!”

She turned and with a big smile and shouted back over the roar of the falls, “I shall save that for our next meeting!” Holding her sore ribs, she turned and walked away.

“I must return to High Keep,” Lorelei announced, “I want to thank you both for a most wonderful adventure.”

Quinlan and Nola laughed at her idea of fun, “It has been a most enjoyable having you along.” Quinlan admitted.

Nola chimed in, “Indeed, you have been a friend to me, and I will miss you.”

Lorelei winked, “We shall meet again, after all, Quinlan has accepted Skylar’s offer of employ after all.”

“Please do not remind me, I have been trying to forget about my momentary lapse of sanity.”

Lorelei chuckled, “You have nothing to fear, once I tell Skylar how well you did battling a demon.”

“And I was just thinking you wizard types were not too bad,” Quinlan jokingly said.

Lorelei smiled in her usual playful spirit and followed the path Julianna had taken.

“I guess it is just you and me now,” Nola said as she wrapped her arm around Quinlan.

“Aye, but from the looks of Silver Falls, I suggest we take the long way down,” Quinlan pointed to the town below, and the various townsfolk trying to swim back to the banks of the lake after being pulled out by the enormous wave.

They made their way over to Quinlan’s rope behind the ruined dais, but before they reached it, Quinlan took notice of Hamen’s pack lying against the wall. Smiling he picked the bag up and glancing inside smiled, “We may longer have the Heart, but these scrolls and Hamen’s coins shall do.”

“Why did you cast the Heart into the falls?” Nola asked.

Quinlan had his reasons, but none he wished to share with Nola, so instead he said, “The Heart of Silver Falls was cursed, and I for one would see to it no one else fell under its spell.”

“For a thief, you certainly care much for others,” Nola stated flatly.

Quinlan laughed, “What good is it to acquire the wealth of the world if in doing so you lose your soul.”

He slung the bag over his shoulder and offered the rope to Nola, “You go first.”

“But I am not very adept at climbing, should you not go first?”

Quinlan winked, “No, I will like the view much better if you go.”

She playfully slapped his arm, “I see defeating a demon has not changed your wicked ways.”

“You did not seem to mind my ways in High Keep if my memory serves me.”

Nola laughed and began the fifty-foot climb to the top of Silver Falls.

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