Deirdre read it too, wondering as I did, why there was so little information on the parchment itself. She gently turned it over and over, but found nothing on it that would give any more information. She handed it back to me and I placed it back in the envelope, sealing it as careful as I could. It was still a tedious job. And, if I was honest, it felt like the seal had bent just a little when I opened it, so I was extra careful to avoid bending it any more. I let it out of the bag to cool for just a bit and turned to Deirdre.
"Strange, isn't it?"
She nodded. "What do you think the placement means?"
I did have some thoughts on this. "Placing a gem in the Dark Castle to make students feel bad or something."
Deirdre blinked. "Why do you think that?"
I smiled, slightly proud of my conclusions. "Something similar was talked about in the letter from Bleakfield, it feels like they want to 'test' it on a larger scale."
She paused thoughtfully for a moment. "Sounds logical. So who do you think wrote this?"
I wasn't sure but... "I don't think it's from one person in the castle, it feels more like a letter by consensus."
"The whole castle is in on it?"
"Most of the leading masters, at least. I don't think research like they've been doing is easily done on ones own."
She nodded and voiced my thoughts. "Should we tell someone?"
I sighed. "I have no idea who. It's not like we'd get to see the King that easily. Plus I'm not even sure if a Dark Master would listen to us."
Deirdre appeared to ponder on this. "What if they're doing the same?"
I blinked. "Who?"
"The Dark Masters, it's usually not one side alone that is scheming, plotting or planning."
It was ironic. Positive discrimination is very easy if you grow up in a very one-sided environment and I just realized that I hadn't treated the Dark equally to the Light. A very stupid mistake to make. It did make me wonder, briefly, if the message that I got in the inn was from a Dark practitioner. But it didn't make much sense, yet. Regardless, Deirdre was right, I should consider both sides from the same perspective.
Deirdre smiled and winked. "Glad you think so."
The letter had cooled more than enough to put back into the bag, and we finished all we wanted to eat. There was little else to do but sleep. I put on some more wood on the fire, checked on the horses and put the blankets down. We both laid down next to each other, each wrapped in our own blanket, and softly said our good-nights. It really was nice and quiet here, calming. The only thing missing would be a little stream or something. But I presumed that would be hidden much deeper in the forest.
Sleep came slowly this time.
My thoughts still wondering around the odd letter and all the possible implications. I knew I shouldn't think too much about it, there was nothing I could do yet. I didn't know enough and, possibly, wouldn't even be able to do enough. There was a sad wrongness about all of this though, a wrongness that made me open the first letter.
"Taran, I can almost hear you thinking, let it go... Go to sleep."
Her tone wasn't unkind, far from it. She just called me back to reality. And it worked. With her words most of my thoughts slipped away, interrupted and escaping into the depths of my soul. Giving me peace.
Giving me sleep.
Then there was a sweet voice, thick as honey almost. A voice so gentle and warm that I wasn't sure if it was real or not. A voice that you would follow no matter what you were doing, a voice very hard to resist. And it was calling me. Every word clear as crystal, but soft like light. No darkness in that voice, no ill will...
"Taran... come to me... Get up and follow my voice... You know you want to, it's so nice over here, so sweet and warm, soft and safe."
"Come Taran, it's okay, you can follow my voice. It's all perfectly fine, you don't have to worry about Deirdre. She's safe here, the forest will protect her. Follow my voice, Taran."
"Don't you want to taste me? To feel the honey flow from my lips into yours? The best the forest has to offer and more, everything you want, Taran. It's all there for you, especially for you."
I realized it was not a dream, it wasn't right. Not at all. My body forced me awake, my mind finally clearing itself from the pink fog that the voice was laying on it. I knew I had to speak, to do something to make it stop. Before she started again, pulling me in deeper until I wouldn't be able to resist. Now was the time, now was always the time. A single word escaped from my lip in a sharp breath.