The Thief of Hearts

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Chapter 14

Lorelei returned to High Keep quickly, wishing to inform Skylar of their success in vanquishing Hamen, and preventing the liberation of the demon trapped within the gem. She arrived after dark and decided her best choice was to proceed directly to Skylar’s study. The last few years under his tutelage had taught her the wizard cared little for the time of day or night, several times she found him sleeping in the afternoon and working through the night. Sometimes she wondered why he refused to conform to the normal pattern of things, after all, why not sleep at night and work during the day. Once she actually blundered and asked him, his reply made sense in a nonconventional way, “Lorelei, once I near a solution to whatever question or problem I face I feel compelled to pursue it, less it slips away, so the time of day means little to me.” She feigned understanding to drop the matter, but now that she had been involved in a minor adventure she understood the logic behind his philosophy. Lorelei barely slept the night before they were to confront Hamen. She lay awake considering every possible outcome, good and bad, and how to sway them into a victory at any cost. She hated the consequence part of the equation the most, wizards as compelling and insightful as Skylar would think nothing of sacrificing a few for the sake of many, but she placed value on each and every life.

Lorelei sighed and climbed the stairs to Skylar’s chambers slowly, the mission finally completed she felt tired and muddled and wanted nothing more than to crawl into her bed and sleep for a week. She knocked on the door and heard the familiar, “Come in.”

As she opened the door, a single candle flame pierced the darkness. She spied Skylar sitting at his desk, arms resting on his chair, fingers crossed before him. His piercing blue gaze fixed on hers as she approached him.

“It is nice to see you again Lorelei.”

She could not determine whether he meant it or not, for his demeanor seemed one of neutrality. He beckoned to the chair opposite his, she hastened to it and plopped down, exhausted and dreading the thought that she may well end up reciting the entire adventure tonight. Lorelei, wishing to ease the mood asked, “Did you miss me?”

“Surprisingly, yes I did,” Skylar smiled and poured two glasses of wine, sliding one over to his young apprentice, “How was the festival?”

Lorelei took a sip and studied Skylar’s face. His initial question seemed out of sorts, she doubted he cared how the festival went, and she grew somewhat apprehensive, “The festival was vivacious, a lot of dancing and merrymaking.”

“And what about swimming, was there a lot of that as well?”

Lorelei’s heart sank, he already knew about the wave which washed through Silver Falls when the ice broke. She should have known he would already have been informed of the events which transpired. “Not by choice,” She answered, “But after all of their crazy antics, most of the people of Silver Falls required a bath anyway,” She smiled broadly, thinking her joke rather humorous, but her smile faded quickly as she noticed Skylar did not join in.

“Go and get some rest, you look quite worn out,” Skylar said sharply, “Tomorrow we shall discuss the entire trip in length.”

“Yes, Master,” Lorelei took another drink of wine, finishing off the glass and made a hasty retreat before Skylar changed his mind.

As soon as the door closed, Skylar smiled and chuckled to himself. “Best if I keep her guessing as to whether I am mad at her or not.” He rose and walked over to the window, opening the stained glass he breathed in the brisk night air. His eyes grew sad as he looked over the lands, for if he was correct, a great evil was plotting and growing in strength. There remained a flickering hope he had misread the warning signs, but time and again he witnessed the rise of evil and the call to arms to halt it. “One day perhaps, one day the world will live in peace.”

Returning to his desk, he gazed blankly at the pages of the used text. The answers he sought were not to be found there, he would need to see firsthand if his intuition about the hidden danger were real or not. Closing the tome, he stared into the single flame dancing upon the candle, slowly falling into a light trance. Skylar remained that way for some time until the visions slowly came to him. Holding his concentration and searching for some desperate clue as to where to begin his search. Eventually, he conceded defeat. Whatever plotted in the darkness was doing well to keep it veiled, for he remained unable to break the spell of concealment blinding his probing.

Skylar blinked and pushed back from the desk. As his eyes readjusted to the light he turned back to the window, the sun had already begun to climb over the distant horizon. The time to rouse Lorelei was at hand.

Stretching to relieve his stiff muscles he made his way to Lorelei’s chambers, he knocked lightly and proceeded to enter, she still slept. The pile of blankets stirred on the bed as he crossed the threshold, flopping over with a slight groan. He chuckled as he said, “Good morning Lorelei.”

The blankets rumbled quickly as her head finally popped up from beneath, “Good morning Skylar, I mean Master.”

“You no longer need to call me Master Lorelei, after Silver Falls you have earned the right to be called a wizard, and no longer shall you be called an apprentice,” Skylar said in a matter-of-fact manner.

She blinked several times before saying, “I must still be dreaming.”

Skylar laughed aloud, “Come on now, you do not think I would keep you as an apprentice forever did you?”

In her devilish manner, she answered, “A girl can dream can she not.”

Skylar laughed anew, “With your skill and charms you will go far, my little Lorelei.”

“Master, you are cruel to tease me so,” Lorelei frowned, “Did I do such a poor job following your commands in Silver Falls?”

“On the contrary, you exceeded them.” Skylar took a seat and continued “After the three of you had departed I did a little research on the Heart of Silver Falls, and as it turned out. The gem was actually a prison crafted by wizards of old to hold a particularly nasty demon” He smiled and said, “Needless to say I am most interested in your adventure.”

Sitting up in bed, Lorelei almost forgot she slept in only a thin nightshirt. Pulling the blankets about her, she asked, “Do you wish me to tell you now?”

Skylar noticed her lack of proper apparel and smiling ruefully answered, “I think you should get dressed first, and then meet me on the battlements below the tower, we shall break bread there and then you may tell your tale.”

Blushing ever so slightly she smiled and nodded as Skylar left her room. As soon as the door closed, she flung the blankets aside and jumped up, spinning about in glee. “Skylar called me a wizard!”

Finding it impossible to remove the smile from her face she dressed quickly and skipped down the halls of High Keep. And with each guard she passed her happiness increased, for the guards now gave her a slight bow, as was accustom when a wizard passed them by, as an apprentice she had never received the slightest courtesy from the hardened troops, but now they bowed in a show of respect. Her heart stood filled with pride as she opened the final door and found Skylar seated at a table for two. Bread, jellies, and honey, as well as cheese, sat atop the table, Skylar smiled as she sat down.

“If you are not yet over your initial shock and from the smile on your face I would say not. Partake of something to eat and tell me about your final test,” Skylar queried.

She did just as Skylar suggest, going over the entire quest of Silver Falls, concluding with the loss of the gem over the falls.

“So Quinlan tossed the gem into the whirlpool?”

“Yes, quite unusual behavior given his trade, is it not?”

“Perhaps your initial feelings for Quinlan were spot on. He is a man with a noble heart.”

“Or he did it for Julianna,” Lorelei suggested.

Skylar’s right eyebrow rose, “You believe love can conquer one’s own self?”

“Why not, I think love is a power we hardly ever tap into. After all, how many stories of heroes do not include an element of love?” Lorelei gazed out over the countryside, “Many men have quested to find lost loved ones or fought to save them.”

“You make a valid point,” Skylar smiled, “I have taught you well.”

She gave him a sideward glance and with a wry smile said, “Indeed you have, enough so to ask a question if you will allow me.”

“Ask.”

“Why did you actually send me to Silver Falls?”

“Very well I shall tell you. I wanted to learn more about Quinlan.” Skylar admitted and went on, “I am preparing to venture forth from High Keep and wished to know if the man could be trusted. I have found many to put forth a false façade, and the only way to test a man or women’s real character is in the heat of conflict, especially one which contradicts their beliefs.”

“So what would you have done if say, Quinlan kept the gem?”

“I would know Quinlan to be no more than a thief, and thought nothing more of him,” Skylar smiled, “Do you know what he did when I offered him the chance to find anyone in the world, Quinlan sought out two names, Hamen, and Julianna.” Skylar let that sink in for a moment. “Why do think I took an interest in him after that?”

Lorelei thought about it for a moment before answering, “Because giving the opportunity he asked to find the two things he desired most, The Heart of Silver Falls and the heart of Julianna.”

“Exactly,” Skylar smiled and watched a hawk soaring overhead, “My only concern was to determine whether he merely wondered about Julianna to evade capture.”

“So you are going to invite Quinlan along on your next outing?”

A smile crossed over his face, and he answered, “Not only am I going to ask Quinlan, but I plan on offering this Julianna a position as well.”

“Oh, you are crafty Skylar,” Lorelei said, and then a smile grew upon her face as well, “So you and I have something in common, we both think love is a powerful force.”

“The most powerful force in the world, I have seen men and women torn to pieces by love, but I have also seen love give people the power to change the world.” Skylar looked into Lorelei’s eyes, “Have I ever told you about Cole the Tempest?”

“No, you did, however, mention his abilities once or twice.”

“I was there at his last major battle in these lands, he was terrifying to behold,” Skylar shuddered slightly at the memory.

Lorelei had never seen Skylar show any sort of weakness or fear, but something in the way he talked about the old hero named Cole gave her the distinct impression he had known fear.

“Cole the Tempest, his power emanated from his emotions. He could control the elements, earth air wind, and water. I have never seen such unbridled power in my life, and doubt I will ever see it again,” Skylar smiled at Lorelei, “You remind me of him sometimes, for I saw a different sort of magic in you, something beyond the normal crafting ability. Your magic seems to come to life as if you were receiving your power from somewhere other than the innate magic dwelling within everything.”

“I am nothing like Cole the Tempest, he killed thousands!” Lorelei rebuked.

“The number of the innocent who perished was not so high, nor his fault and it seems with each year that passes his tale is distorted further. But his story is for another time, I will tell you this, though, Cole’s love was enough to turn a demon back into a free-living soul again,” Skylar stood up and walked over to the battlement walls, glancing down at the nearby forest. “His was a tale of lost love and heartbreak, but in the end, he did find happiness, and it stood in the arms of Lyona, whose sword you now carry as your own.”

“I will endeavor to use Lyona’s sword for the purpose it was intended,” Lorelei joined him at the wall, “Skylar if I am to be a wizard instead of an apprentice, does this mean I have to leave High Keep?”

“No, you are always welcome here,” Skylar reached out and placed his hand on her cheek. “I have not yet released you from my service, and I do have a mission for you,” He smiled saying, “Come with me, and I will tell you what I need you to do.”

They took two steps before Skylar paused, “What made you say that?”

“Say what?” Lorelei responded.

Skylar turned to face her and said, “You said, you would endeavor to do what the sword was created for.”

“I meant to say I would fell demons whenever possible. Am I mistaken about the power of Lyonas’ enchanted blade?” Lorelei asked.

“Not exactly, the blade will slay a demon, but only in a genuinely traditional way. I believe the combination of the blade in conjunction with the power emanating from The Heart of Silver Falls truly banished the beast. However, I would caution you from feeling overconfident. A sword is a tool just like a spell or any other thing. Never grow depended on a single object or idea, let your mind flow with a thousand possibilities, and seize the one which seems the least likely to fail.”

“I will try Skylar, but I think attempting to do that will take a lifetime to perfect.”

“Indeed, it will,” Skylar smiled and continued walking towards his chambers, “Now as I was saying I have a mission for you.”

“Will it be as exciting as Silver Falls?” Lorelei asked.

“Not quite, the first part of your mission is to go after this Julianna, and bring her here.”

“But why would you send me, could you not just send a messenger?”

“I could, but our chances of convincing her to come with just a message are far less certain then if you ask her in person.”

“I see,” Lorelei said as she closed the chamber doors behind her, “May I ask a favor?”

Skylar took a seat at his desk, motioning to the vacant seat, “You may always ask.”

Lorelei gave him a quick smirk and sat down, “When you summon Quinlan, may I have the pleasure of reuniting them?”

“You are up to something, no doubt you are still hoping for the two to become something more than just compatriots,” Skylar smiled ruefully.

Lorelei smiled broadly, “Who me, I would never presume to do such a thing.”

They both broke into a slight laugh, “Very well,” Skylar lamented, “However if you drive the two apart, and they do not join me I shall increase the number of years of your service to me by tenfold.”

Lorelei gave her devilish grin to Skylar, “Why Skylar if you want me to stay with you forever you need only ask.”

Skylar laughed a genuine, heartfelt mirth he had not felt in such a long time, “I should send you away as soon as I am able, less you ensnare my heart.”

“If you wish me gone so fast, when am I to go after Julianna?” She batted her eyelashes at him and gave him a pouty expression.

“Tomorrow,” Skylar answered.

“So soon, but I just got back.”

Skylar flicked his wrist, and a bottle of wine floated over to his desk. Lorelei followed suit, and two goblets floated over from the table near the door.

Skylar smiled at her, “Things are about to change my dear Lorelei. Soon enough we will wonder why we have no time at all,” His face grew dark with foreboding, “There is never enough time.”

“You are not telling me everything, are you?”

Skylar smiled once again, “Of course not, by now you know I only say what I must.” Pouring the wine he raised his goblet as did Lorelei, “To your journey, may it see a positive outcome.”

They tapped their goblets together and drank, as they lowered their goblets Lorelei placed hers on the desk, rising she added, “You know Skylar, one day you may find solace confiding in someone, and if that day ever comes, I hope you consider me.”

Skylar smiled, “I hope I never have to confide in you, for I would hate to see you troubled, for you are my brightest apprentice, and filled with hope.”

“There is always hope,” Lorelei stated, “It is what makes our endeavors worthwhile.” She smiled and turned to leave, then thought of a silly question. “Where shall I find Julianna?”

“For now, you should travel to Estroy, and seek her at the house of Lady Matilda.”

*

Skylar took another sip and then levitated a bottle of heavy Dwarven Spirits over, pouring a new drink he took a long draft, feeling the liquid burn his throat and nearly making him choke. “How shall I protect you, my little Lorelei?” Filling his glass, he drank down another and went over to the window, gazing out over the fields. The midday sun did little to brighten his day or his mood. “What have I missed, what is hiding out there?” He walked back to his desk and went through the latest messages received from his contacts throughout the lands. Each and every inquiry he sent had been answered the same way. “Nothing to note,” he read aloud, picking up the second he did the same, “Nothing unusual here. That in itself is enough to put me on edge.”

Sighing, Skylar stormed from his chambers and made his way to the map room. Pulling forth diamond dust, he chanted the incantation, “Show me Kaleb of Ardain.”

The map remained blank, “Where are you my friend, I need your sword by my side.”

Disgusted, he said, “Show me the Druid Lukas,” A blue light appeared above Twin Rivers City, nodding he decided he would send his old comrade a message.

“Who else shall I ask for?” Contemplating for a moment, he said, “Show me the magus named Hamen.”

To his surprise and regret, Skylar noticed a red light appear over Silver Falls. “Now how did you manage to survive?”

Lastly, Skylar said, “Show me Alaric of Gilim,” A blue spot appeared above Cragor City, “Now that is interesting, what business would you have among the Dwarves?”

Skylar hastened back to his chambers and wrote two notes, placing each into a small cylindrical tube made of willow. Once the notes were within he went to the window and blew twice into a tiny silver whistle. Within minutes two hawks swooped down and perched on the windowsill.

He gave the first messenger hawk a slice of meat from his untouched midday meal, and as the bird gobbled down the chicken, Skylar secured the first message to its leg. He stared into the bird’s eyes and said, “Take this to Alaric.”

The bird blinked several times as Skylar’s spell gave the bird a mental appearance of the man. Once implanted with the image, the bird cried out and launched back into the air, heading northeast. Skylar did the same with the second hawk, which in turn sprang and headed north.

“Once more I fear the world is about to see sorrow.” Skylar closed the shutters and sat down at his desk. Tapping his finger on the worn oak, he pondered his next move.

“I must discern this evil before it shows itself.” Skylar’s eyebrows furrowed in concentration, “I have too many unanswered questions.” He was about to call out for Lorelei when he stopped himself, she would be making preparations for her trip to Estroy.

Skylar left his chambers then and made his way to the one place he usually felt at home. Within High Keep, the history and knowledge of the last two thousand years were written down and kept in the library, or as the visitors of High Keep called it, “The Great Hall of Knowledge.”

Once within he absentmindedly strolled along the towering bookshelves, glancing over the numerous tomes and scrolls. Shaking his head he passed by row upon row of legend and lore, fact, and hearsay hoping something would draw his attention to his dilemma. Somewhere out there an evil brewed, at first he assumed his intuition was merely calling his attention to the plight of the barbarian clans to the north but as the conflict dwindled the same nagging feeling of impending doom still plagued his mind.

For the remainder of the day and throughout the night Skylar searched in vain for an answer, and it was not until Lorelei came to say goodbye that he decided his time would be best spent elsewhere.

“Wish me luck,” Lorelei said enthusiastically.

Skylar smiled, “You will not need luck, Lorelei. You have the gifts and skill to make an excellent wizard. Plus your ability to see the true nature within people makes you the perfect person for this mission, and much more to come.”

“I am not too certain I can handle your new found praise of me,” Lorelei beamed, “If you continue on this way I may think you care.”

Skylar chuckled, “Lorelei, as I said before, you are by far my most talented apprentice, and I hold nothing but the highest regard for you.”

“Why thank you, and may I say it has been quite an adventure studying under your tutelage,” Lorelei smiled warmly and added with a wink, “Does this mean I can ask one more favor of you?”

“You may always ask.”

Smiling warmly, Lorelei said softly, “When you go on this little adventure you are planning with Quinlan and Julianna, would you please try and have some fun.”

Skylar smiled slightly, “So you wish me to enjoy myself, I will see what I can do. However I would ask the same of you in reverse. Enjoy but do not get into any trouble with your usual mischief.”

“Deal,” Lorelei exclaimed, “I have finally won against you!”

“What do you mean you have won?”

“You agreed to have fun, and I agreed to not get into any of my usual mischief, which means I will need to find new ways to entertain myself.”

Skylar laughed, “Very well, I concede defeat,” Shaking his head he grew quite serious and added, “Stay safe my little Lorelei.”

“Oh stop, or all of your concerns shall have me either checking behind every tree for foes or cry my eyes out over your concern for me.” Lorelei said lightheartedly, and added, “I know you see me as a man sees his daughter but perhaps one day you will see me as I am, a woman who cares for you dearly.”

“Off with you, before I change my mind and lock you away for a decade or so,” Skylar snapped playfully, “As any good father would for your impishness.”

Lorelei swirled around and skipped to the door, “I will see to it Julianna joins your quest.” She shouted as she continued down the hall.

“I am beginning to regret promoting her.”

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