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Book Two of Blue Moon Rising Trilogy
Lightning flicked from one cloud to the next, followed by sporadic claps of thunder. The deafening sound drowned the pounding of hoofs galloping through the forest. Another streak lit up the sky, reflecting upon the twisted tip of onyx horn. Nostrils flared as it took in the scent of electrified air. It was nearly home.
Trees thinned out the more the ground curved uphill, and soon stopped altogether at the top overlooking a sumptuous tower-enforced castle in the Realm of Sapphire. It reared in tribute to its nightly run while a thin line of white lightning lit its backside. When the light faded, the dark unicorn had vanished, replaced by a sable-robed figure.
“Your strength is growing, Jenario.” The crimson stone glowed where it hung from a chain around his neck, casting his velvety garments in a soft red hue. “You no longer hold back your desire to be powerful. Continue to do so, and I will see to it that you become the most powerful mage in all the land.”
The familiar voice drew a smile across the man’s face. An illusionist and alchemist, he remembered the day he had severed the horn of a unicorn, hoping to obtain its power. That horn now resided within the red stone carried always around his neck. Although the voice came directly from the stone, it used its host’s lips to speak, with a change of accent every time it did. When the alchemist replied to the horn, his voice lost the harshness of the other’s tone and returned to normal. Mere illusionist he was…no longer.
“There are very few magic-users living in No’va now,” he said with a chortle. “Of those, most are either unknown or lack the skill to become known. Compared to them, I’m already the most powerful.”
He bent to scoop up a few grains of dirt, letting them deplete between his fingertips as he lifted his hand. With a few added words of power, the drizzling dirt multiplied in a whirlwind of spinning dust. Only when he felt the cloud had expanded to his liking did he simply step through and appear in the interior hallway of his home.
After stepping through the portal, he shook off the dust and crinkled his nose at the smell of alcohol. His one companion, Nathaniel, had been drinking again. He could almost taste it in the air. With a heavy sigh, Jenario headed down the hallway.
He paused. Before him stretched the way to his study. A separate passage forked to a stairwell leading to the tower. After a moment’s hesitation, he took the stairs. There, the air was untouched by liquor, a smell he despised. He was growing tired of his companion’s drinking habits. It was hard to concentrate when the air stained everything with that smell, and he made a mental note to put an end to it.
At the top of the stairs, he paused to peer out a window. From this vantage, he could just see the forest briefly outlined against the sky when lightning flashed in the distance. The sound of thunder was faint, suggesting the storm had moved on.
Turning his attention to a door, he pulled a key from a side pocket and slipped it into a lock. A quick turn and the door opened on silent hinges. He stepped into the round room, a canopied bed in its center. On the far side of the room double balcony doors had been left slightly open. A scant breeze sifted through curtains surrounding a still form lying on the top covers of the bed. Slowly, Jenario approached and drew back the fabric.
Soft plumage stirred. Jenario gently moved aside one of the wings to reveal Corrigan sleeping soundly beneath. Russet flesh, specked in light gray markings, much resembled the color of Redwood bark from Crystal Valley, home to a vast majority of his kind. For a half Black Wing, that home was far off, and Jenario remembered why.
“Ah, my friend.”
He placed a hand over the harpy’s forehead and closed his eyes, allowing his mind to link with the Black Wing’s thoughts. Although asleep, Corrigan’s mind was well aware of the presence and thrust a barrier up to block the intrusion. The mage, however, was not about to be put aside. With power from the horn as his guide, he bypassed the mental barrier and slipped into a world where nightmares easily roused.
“Don’t be frightened,” he soothed.
Images faded in and out of Corrigan’s mind. At last, a mist resembling the harpy took shape and approached Jenario’s mental probe. So, too, did the mage project an image of himself for the Black Wing to identify.
“You!” Corrigan screeched so that Jenario held a hand to his temple as a wave of headaches washed over him. “Let me out, or I swear my talons will find your throat!”
Jenario laughed. “Unless you sleepwalk, which I highly don’t recommend, you’re best to stay here.”
“You’re afraid,” the harpy hissed. “You’re afraid Keith might find out. You’re afraid of his growing power.”
“He’s too smart for you,” Corrigan continued. “You didn’t catch him in the past, and you’ll never do so now.”
“Be silent!” a new voice interrupted the flow of thoughts, and Jenario’s mind clouded with the horn switching over. “Still yourself, half-breed! A human has flaws, and Lo-ans’rel know that. Jenario himself cannot hope to catch a full-blooded one, but I can. And when a unicorn wishes something, there’s nothing that can be done to stop it.”
Corrigan’s wings ruffled in attempts to wake, but the spell upon him was too strong, keeping him locked in an endless cycle of emotion and nightmares.
“He will find a way…” And with that, Corrigan said no more.
The horn cackled. “Even Lo-ans’rel cannot fight against the power of a unicorn. But since you so believe he can resist me, I will grant you the ability to see everything that occurs, but only where Jenario goes. And when he finds your friend, then you will see just how weak Lo-ans’rel are compared to me…”
It was evening by the time Keith reached Lexington. The town was how he remembered with tightly packed buildings lining either side of the cobblestone street. Most of the buildings contained shops on the first level, or else displayed stands out front where merchants could set up during the morning hours. Now, those merchants were just beginning to put away their goods for the day. The streets, usually crowded with eager buyers, had long since cleared. Now and then a few children ran by him in play with hoops and dogs yapping at their heels. He smiled, remembering when he had been little under the care of a thief.
He glanced down, the cobblestones barely visible in the waning light. Yet it was not the street itself, but what lay beneath that brought back memories: the underground Thieves’ Guild, supervised by the Master Thief Blackavar. The thief had been a mentor and foster parent after a failed abduction had landed Keith in Lexington when only a boy.
A large wooden structure toward the end of the street caught his eye. It was the platform used in auctioning slaves from Castle Mire, the largest slave compound in the land. Keith thought back to the day he first showed off his magic, stopping food in midair that had been thrown at him while on display as a slave. Now eight years later, Keith stood at the very spot that had been a home away from home, his first magic performance, his first steal as a thief. Hopefully, it would his first victory in regaining trust between humans and his kind, the Lo-ans’rel.
Strange, he thought, to go from believing I’m human to being a completely different race, a Healer and guardian to Nature, with the horn of a unicorn protecting me from…its twin? Keith had not given it much thought since the day the unicorn had approached him with the offer to carry her horn, and revealed a cycle of the moon called the Purification that occurred every thousand years to purify any and all corrupted magic. The exact reason behind the unicorn’s action still puzzled Keith, but with no one to turn to for answers, he had merely pushed the thought out of mind for the time being.
He noticed the neglected planks and nails hanging from splintered wood. A couple of crowbars lay on the ground. When he came close enough, he ran a hand along the wooden beams holding the structure in place.
The town must be taking it down since Castle Mire was destroyed in the fire.
A few guards were beginning to light the lampposts down the streets. They had a ways to go before they reached his location. With the darkening streets, he was certain his appearance seemed more elderly rather than albino. Being with his kind for the past three years had made him comfortable without having people stare at his unusual features: shoulder-length white hair, a pair of matching eyebrows, and pale complexion that made his eyes stand out in a brilliant blue. It was the one thing Healers could not change, the color of their eyes, no matter what form they took, no matter how strong the magic. Keith also retained a slender look with pointed, tufted ears that he kept hidden under illusion to appear human.
Conversation from a merchant’s stand on the far side of the platform drew Keith’s attention. Peering around the corner, he watched a lone merchant draw a late-night traveler. Hoping to get in one last sale before closing down for the night, the merchant spread out his goods. That was when Keith noticed the customer’s hands inching toward a piece of jewelry.
That’s one customer no merchant should call over. Shaking his head, he began walking in the opposite direction when angry shouts made him stop and turn. Not being human allowed his pupils to enlarge to take in more light when he sought the thief’s face: freckles with short, scruffy looking hair. The resemblance to a former companion was too close.
The debate was just heating up when Keith decided to intervene.
“You filthy little thief!” the merchant shouted. “I’ll have ya thrown in the dungeon for that!”
“I ain’t took nothin’!” the young man protested. He swept a hand over the small table in attempts to throw off the merchant’s gaze while he replaced the stolen item. The sound of a heavily jeweled bracelet hit the ground instead.
“Everything all right here?” Keith picked up the bracelet, shook off the dirt, and placed it back on the table. “You dropped this.”
“‘Course he did!” the merchant exclaimed. “He tried to steal it. That’s why it dropped! I had twelve bracelets. Now there’s only eleven.” He pointed an accusing finger. “And he has it! I watched him do it!”
Keith opened his mind so he channel enough energy to hear both their thoughts. There had been twelve, and he was sure when he arrived only eleven were visible. Now as he counted the bracelets, a twelfth one suddenly appeared.
“You must be mistaken. I’m counting twelve.” He gestured to the bracelets. “You should probably put your things away now. It’s far too dark to be selling at this hour.”
“I…I….” the merchant fumbled, then counted the jewelry once more. “I don’t believe it! But just a minute ago I could have sworn—”
“No trouble at all.” Keith stepped away from the stand, pulling the thief with him. When they were out of hearing range, he sighed, “Still working on those bracelets, huh, Toby?”
The thief grinned. “I always said I’d get three bracelets.” He shook his head. “Never was any good without some sort of distraction.”
As a young man himself, Toby barely met Keith’s shoulders. His face retained some of his childhood freckles, and his dimples never faded.
“You look rich,” he said. “Steal those?”
Keith only laughed. “You going back to the guild?”
“‘Course!” Toby motioned for his friend to follow. “This way!”
Keith felt the rush of excitement as they turned down a nearby alley. Though he realized the thieves were not his true family, family they were, and Keith was anxious to see them once again.
“So how’d ya do that?” Toby asked while slipping along a tight passage. “Making that guy believe I ain’t took nothin’?” He held up a bracelet he had managed to swipe from the stand.
“Oh, nothing a little illusion couldn’t handle.” Keith held up two others.
Toby’s eyes grew wide in admiration. “So it’s true! You really are a magic-user!”
Keith laughed. “So I see Lancheshire wasted no time telling stories about me.”
“About how ya could throw guards just by lookin’ at ‘em, even how you took down Castle Mire! Ya should’ve seen Blackavar’s face when he heard. You’re our new Master Mage!”
“Me?” Keith waved the comment aside, though he could not block the memory of his late friend, former Master Mage Medallion. The mage had sacrificed himself to save those in the guild.
“Here.” Keith held out the two bracelets. “You keep them. And you can take credit for the steal as well.”
“What! Really? Thanks! I can’t wait to tell the others!” Toby pocketed the items. “Everyone’s gonna’ be thrilled to know you’re back!”
“Huh. Wonder if anyone’s missed me?” Keith waited while Toby felt along the wall when they reached a dead end. When he found the right spot, he knocked three times.
“Ya kidding me? You were quite the topic of conversation after you disappeared.”
The wall silently slid open, and the two continued through. On the other side, a heap of trash littered the ground. Using his foot to find the lever, Toby pressed until a trapdoor flung open, sending them tumbling down into a pile of feathers. Above them, the trapdoor closed back in place.
Keith plucked feathers from his clothing and laughed. It felt good to be back. He rolled to his feet before helping Toby.
“So where have you been all this time?” Toby asked.
Toby smirked. “Doesn’t count! Us thieves is true family. Ya ready?”
Bright light from within made Keith shield his eyes when the thief pushed the doors open. It was just as he remembered. There was a slightly golden tint to the main chamber, which took on the appearance of a mini town square with its assortment of shops and mini houses along the walls. Candles, mounted around the chamber like lampposts, created the majority of light within the room.
A couple of thieves came over to greet them. One of them Keith recognized.
“Daumier.” Keith dipped his head in greeting.
“It can’t be!” Daumier exclaimed, so that a few others in the background stopped what they were doing to watch. “Keith? The one who was taken from us? The one who destroyed Castle Mire? Our new Master Mage!”
Keith felt his face flush. “Well, Castle Mire was just an accident waiting to happen.”
Daumier embraced the young man in welcome, his sandy-brown hair falling over his eyes. He swiped impatiently at it before turning to Toby. “Hurry and find Blackavar! Our Master Mage has returned!”
Keith shook his head. “Let’s not get too carried away with that title.”
“Ain’t ye kidding me?” A familiar voice drew Keith’s attention to dark haired young man. His attire was all black with pouches strapped over each shoulder. “If it weren’t for ye, Castle Mire would still stand, and we’d still be slaves.”
“And you’d still be the headmaster’s favorite,” Keith teased lightly. “Good to see you again, Lancheshire!”
The thief made a sour face. “Ain’t no headmaster now.”
“Whatever happened to—” but Keith was suddenly swept into another person’s arms like a bear. “Can I breathe a bit?” he gasped as he was released from the sharp-shooter Aldaris.
“Don’t know my own strength sometimes.” Aldaris grinned and adjusted a set of arrows over one shoulder.
“And still have your trusty bow, I see.” Keith nodded to the thief’s weapon of choice. “You sleep with it under your pillow, too?”
More thieves gathered around to welcome him back. Most he recognized. There were some new faces in the crowd, but the greetings were all the same. Keith felt comfortable here. It was the type of place members pickpocketed the streets by day, then shared the spoils by night. Each thief was entitled to his share of steals, and no member stole from each other. As a child, Keith had collected quite a bit of stolen items. He wondered now, after so long, if those items were still where he had left them.
Keith sat at one of the many tables used to display stolen goods. He told how he had caused the destruction of Castle Mire by challenging its headmaster to a dual of magic. It had been the dual that had set the place ablaze. Lancheshire himself had been one of the lucky ones to escape. The two made eye contact while Keith explained his disappearance after the fire, discovering his true family farther north.
Daumier brought drinks for everyone, and a great cheer arose for young man’s return.
“To Keith!” Daumier toasted. “To the end of slavery, and returning to us still in one piece!”
A lone thief clothed in black entered the chamber. Through all the cheering and toasting and congratulations, Keith was the first to notice. When the others saw him, they parted to allow their comrade through. The thief took a low bow, his long sleeves sweeping the floor.
“Me dearest friend, I bid ye welcome back home.”
“Blackavar…” Tears welled in Keith’s eyes as they greeted each other in back-slapping hugs. “I never forgot about you, or the guild.”
The thief smeared away his own tears, then pulled back to study the young man.
“Not bad,” he remarked. “Ye steal those?” He pointed to the silken Lo-ans’rel garments.
“Hmmm…” Although Keith wanted to reveal everything, a warning throbbed in the back of his mind. “I might reveal the secret later on.”
“Better start passing the drinks, then!” Blackavar ordered a member to fetch their best wine. “Ye’ll spill it all after tonight!”
That night, Keith feasted with his friends in the underground guild. Like a long-lost brother, he was welcomed with open arms into their world. Keith’s closest friends gathered around him at one end of the long table, cleared of its goods to make room for the meal. Beside him sat Blackavar, who listened closely to Keith’s many stories. A sip of strong wine was just enough to loosen Keith’s tongue, and he dived into a multitude of slave stories and family history, though he was careful not to reveal too much. The small warning in the back of his thoughts grew stronger when he came close to saying what he should not.
“Ya know,” Toby said in between chewing, “it was a big deal around here when Castle Mire went down. Streets full of people! I ain’t ever seen so many!”
“Easy pickings.” Aldaris grinned, jingling a pouch full of money at his belt.
Blackavar downed the rest of his drink. “There were meetings about all the freed slaves in Lexington. Ye know Master Roland, the Prince of Central Valley Clan?”
At the mention of his name, Keith thought of Glory, Roland’s daughter. He touched the triple necklaces hidden beneath his shirt collar. One of them contained a ring she had worn the day they had met.
He nodded. “I know it well.”
Blackavar continued, “Even he had to step in to calm some of these masters. Was a real mess! Even went as far as investigating Castle Mire.”
Keith poured himself another drink. “Shouldn’t have been a problem. Everything was destroyed, right?”
Lancheshire shook his head. “Not quite. Ye know those documents Shafari kept with our names on it. Apparently a few made it out in one piece.”
“What!” Keith slapped both hands on the table. The urge to find the remaining documents nearly sent his seat tumbling back. “How could that be?”
“Oh, relax!” Daumier intercepted. “All you have to do is change your appearance. Maybe change your name, just in case.”
“He’s right,” Blackavar continued. “Yer name may have been on one of those documents they found. I’d suggest another one until things have cleared.”
Keith waved a hand. “It’s been three years since I’ve set foot in Lexington. I would think my name would be safe by now.”
“Pish posh!” Lancheshire pulled his chair closer and folded his arms across his chest. “With all I’d seen him do in Castle Mire, no one’d be stupid enough to mess with ‘im long!”
Keith smirked. “True. I do have quite a temper at times. As for appearances, well…” He passed a hand through his white curls, and the color instantly darkened to a rich black. “Illusion should be easy enough. Name change too, if I need it.” The black faded to its original color.
“Ye’ve already selected one?” Blackavar inquired.
Keith washed down the rest of his food with leftover wine. “My own family suggested it to me, actually.”
“Spit it out!” Toby coaxed.
Keith set his cup down. “Now, mind you, this might sound a bit strange, but…it’s Wisdom. Master Wisdom.”
There was a hush around the table.
“Ain’t ye a little young to carry a name like that?” Blackavar scrutinized Keith’s pale appearance.
“I don’t know,” Toby said. “Being albino an’ all—I could see ‘im pull it off.”
“Well, he better!” Aldaris slammed a fist on the table, enough to rattle nearby cups and plates. “What with all these ‘masters’ out here trying to turn everyone they see into a slave to fit the profit.” He waved a hand. “Watch out for slave owners. I’m telling ya! They think they own the world, and the world’s full of ‘em!”
Now everyone was speaking at once, trying to argue the point back and forth across the table while Keith and Blackavar exchanged looks.
“That’s enough!” the Master Thief stood so he could be heard. “Me think it’s a perfect opportunity for our Keith. Plus, with his particular magic, he shouldn’t have a bit a trouble. But that reminds me.”
Keith watched Blackavar reach under his bench and pull out two familiar objects. At the sight of them, the young man held his breath.
“I want ye to have these.” Blackavar held them out to Keith. “Stay with us. The guild is not complete without its Master Mage.”
“Medallion’s staff and pendant,” Keith whispered.
He hesitantly reached for the staff while everyone watched. Jeweled wood curved smoothly from midway to tip, and he closed his eyes to the warmth of wood where the magic-user had always held. It was a wonderful feeling, a feeling of closeness and comfort from a dearly loved friend who had given his life to help others. He opened them to the touch of gold medallion slipping between his fingers. Medallion always wore the pendant wherever he went. Yet, somehow Keith could not see himself taking his friend’s place. With a heavy sigh, he handed the treasures back.
Blackavar’s expression clouded.
“Why?” Toby asked.
“It’s just right for ye,” Lancheshire said. “Ye deserve it.”
“Medallion would’ve been proud of you,” Aldaris added. “I mean,” he looked around at the others, “think how silly we’d look trying to wield them. It wouldn’t be right.”
“At least share a few steals with us as our new Master Mage.” Daumier chuckled. “With you on our side, we’ll be the richest guild around.”
“Ain’t that something!” Toby laughed. “But I do believe we’re the only guild around.”
Through all the chattering of excitement, Keith opened his mind to Blackavar to exchange private conversation. As the two spoke mind to mind, time seemed to slow around them. Drink and food passed down the table in slow motion. Laughter dulled. All focus switched to the Master Thief.
I’m sorry, Blackavar, Keith thought. I’d love to accept it, but I didn’t come to stay. There’s been a few issues involving my family, so I need to deal with that first.
Issues? Blackavar questioned. A sly grin spread across his face. Any thieving issues I should be aware of?
Keith smiled. I wish it were that simple. In short, they’re powerful magic-users, just as I am. But that power makes it…a little uncomfortable to be around others. What I’d like to do is fix whatever issues are causing them to stay in seclusion so they can return and be a part of the realms again.
Blackavar’s eyebrows lowered in thought. How powerful is yer family?
Keith hesitated, though in the mind’s time frame, it only took a fraction of a second before he answered. The warning throbbed. Pick your words carefully, it said.
Well, they have some ties to Nature, if that makes any sense. And everything you saw me do at the slave auction, they can do better.
Ties with Nature, eh? Blackavar’s thoughts flickered elsewhere a moment. That reminds me of a story I heard a while back. I was pick-pocketing around in a tavern one day, and this storyteller was regaling some legend about – he called them Healers – but I’d never heard of any such clan. Said it was considered lucky to have one close by because they affected Nature. It meant a good year’s harvest.
Healers? Keith kept the question simple. The warning receded just a bit.
I didn’t linger to hear the rest, but ye just reminded me of it.
Their minds separated. Barely a few moments had passed, giving Keith plenty time to answer to a refill of wine.
“Strange that you should mention them.” The warning at the back of his mind shifted slightly to an optimistic pulse. Now, it said, the moment is right. “My family knew of Healers.”
A few members quieted to listen to the turning conversation. An elderly thief sitting on a corner bench leaned forward in curiosity. His gaze never left Keith.
“So what type of clan are they?” Blackavar inquired, interlacing his fingers upon the table as he listened with interest. “Or is this just another story from tavern folk?”
“Healers are not tavern tales,” the old thief interrupted, and everyone shifted their attention his way. “It’s rare to find someone so young speak of ‘em.” The thief’s voice rattled with age, but he kept going as though the interest renewed his strength. “Legend they may be now, but I remember a time when they existed.” He laughed. “It’s tough to hold onto a story for fifty or sixty years with clear detail, but I remember them just like it was yesterday.”
“You knew them?” Keith inquired.
The thief nodded. “My family used to farm.” He waved a hand. “Would’ve keeled over if they knew what I’d become now! Back then, if you knew one was around, you knew your crops were secure. To get ‘em to come, they’d make this drink.” Here, he hesitated. “Had a funny sort of name. I always just called it Pure Water.”
“Mu-kaj’,” Keith translated in his language. “Was that it?”
The man’s eyes grew wide in recognition. “That’s it! Took three days to make, too! Afterwards, they’d set it outside and wait. Oh, they’d come! But never in their human form. Always a variety of animals. Quite the spectacle, really.”
“Hold on!” Toby exclaimed. “Animals? You mean they were some sort of shape-shifters?”
“So they were magic-users,” Toby concluded.
Keith shook his head. “Magic-users are human. These are not.”
The elder thief’s question broke a sweat upon Keith’s forehead, and he waited for the warning to start pounding again. To his surprise, the thief suddenly laughed while the rest of the members looked at him as though he were mad.
“Okay, I’m lost.” Aldaris scratched his chin. “Was that meant to be a joke? There’s no such thing now. Or if there is, how come we’ve never heard of one?”
“‘Twas long ago, as I said,” was the reply.
“But how would he be one?” Toby pointed to Keith. “I ain’t seen no shifting yet.”
Keith remained silent. All the while, his eyes had not strayed from the old thief. The warning never returned, and as he continued to gaze into the other’s eyes he realized why his heritage was given away.
It’s not just the magic, he thought, remembering the shock when Rusha, leader of the White Wings, understood what he was that fateful day he was brought to Crystal Valley.
“It’s the eyes,” Keith answered. He let his gaze trail over each of them. “A Healer cannot disguise his or her eyes – not by illusion, and most definitely not by shifting.”
“Then you…are a Healer?” Daumier asked, glancing around the table. “But that would make you…”
“A shape-shifter?” Keith finished. A faint aura of blue light surrounded is body, growing smaller as his form changed, then hopped up on the table. When the light faded, a hawk had taken Keith’s original form. A tuft of white feathering upon the head marked the place of his pallid hair while the rest of body resembled the bird’s normal coloration of speckled dark brown and tan.
Loud gasps of surprise echoed around. A few insisted on touching the bird to be sure it was real. There came a squawk when tail feathers were pulled, and Keith fluttered back to his chair. The blue aura returned only until his true form reappeared. He rubbed his backside.
“And yes, it does hurt when you do that,” he warned and took a seat.
“But thought ya said he helped crops?” Toby questioned. “There ain’t no crops here.”
“Healers disappeared many years ago,” the old thief continued. “Maybe you came back to explain why.”
“Is that the family issue ye meant?” Blackavar asked, quieting the excess conversations in the background.
Keith slowly nodded. “Except I didn’t come to explain our absence. I came to find out why we left. Back before I was taken from the guild, I had no idea what I was. But now it’s everything to me. To be a Healer means a great deal of responsibility. I came back mostly to spread the word of my kind again in hopes that they would be accepted. And, if all goes well, maybe they will return.” He glanced over at Blackavar. “That’s another reason why I can’t accept Medallion’s things. If I want to find the answer, I’ll have to travel to get it.”
As more members questioned him concerning his kind, Keith became aware that most were too young to understand what a Healer was. A few wanted to know details while others simply ignored it. A magic-user was a magic-user. After a few more drinks passed around, the conversation gradually shifted elsewhere. As it did, Keith felt the tug of sleep. Eventually, he bid everyone goodnight before making his way to his bedroom.
After all the time spent away from the guild, he still remembered its layout. His room was as though he had never left. All the items he had ever stolen as a child were there. One-of-a-kind gold plates, cups and saucers stacked neatly on shelves next to an array of colorful glass bottles. He had books, clothing, even money, which had been tossed into several baskets around the room.
I’d forgotten I had all this. Keith smiled to himself as he rummaged through the clothing until he found a simple gown to slip on, then climbed under the covers.
When sleep finally came, he dreamed about Medallion. The mage had long blond hair that trailed the back of his crimson robe. He lifted his staff with both hands to lower the outer walls in the main chamber. It was flooding with steaming water. From behind, an aura of golden light winked out. A wave of water came crashing over him…
Keith jerked awake. Blinking several times, he pushed away the hot covers.
Movement in the corner of the room drew his attention. Although still half-asleep, Keith stared through the dim candlelight to make out a thief leaning against the wall, no more than a silhouette.
“Do ye think Shafari knew?”
Keith yawned. “Lanc?”
In response, Lancheshire straightened and strode over to the bed.
“Knew what?” Keith prodded.
“About Healers. About yeself?”
Keith sighed. “I hadn’t really thought about it. Does it bother you that I’m not human?”
“Unless ye eat children for breakfast!” Lancheshire grinned. “No, that part doesn’t. What bothers me is Shafari might have known. Maybe he thought I knew. Should’ve seen his face before ye showed up. I think he was afraid of ye.”
Keith rubbed his temple in thought. “It might explain why he challenged me the way he did. Then again, I got lucky. All the magic I ever knew came from chance. When I went to live with my family, it was they who showed me the rest. But by going to them I also learned a tragic history, and unfortunately I’m a part of it. I don’t know how others will react to my being a Healer. I think the guild took it well because you all know me. But what if I run into someone who hates my kind, especially if it has something to do with what happened back then?”
“Ye shouldn’t let the past hold ye back. Things ain’t ever happen for no reason. Maybe it was meant so ye could heal it. Maybe there was some misunderstanding between us and yer kind. Maybe ye went through slavery to know humans a little better. If that be true, ye’re sure to be a great magic-user in that respect.”
An image of the unicorn Osha slipped into Keith’s thoughts. “I give you something to both protect…and be protected…” Unconsciously, he laid a hand over his heart, feeling the soft thump beating within. That was where her horn lay, protecting her, protecting him…
“I’d like to go home,” he said after a long pause. Reaching down, he pulled the covers back up.
Lancheshire balked. “Didn’t ye just come from there?”
“My first home,” Keith corrected before turning over on his side to get comfortable. “The place where I grew up.”
“Just promise one thing,” he heard. “Promise ye’ll accept the title Master Mage before ye leave. Guild ain’t complete without it, plus would make Blackavar a happy lark. Ye know that.”
Keith peered over his shoulder at the departing thief. “I know.”