Excerpt: Stolen Hearts

Mervyn was in his work room, putting the finishing touches on a three-way communication charm, when Evandie descended the basement stairs with loud, stomping steps. She bustled into the room, pausing just inside the “safe zone” around the doorway, and gave the cluttered work room a pinched, disapproving look.

“You have a customer,” she announced, voice stiff and as disapproving as her look. So perhaps it was the customer earning her disapproval and not the state of his work room. “I’ve put him in the salon. I suggest you hurry before he steals something.”

Definitely the customer then.

“Yes, Evandie, I’ll be right there. Bring us a tray of refreshments, please. Tea and some of those cakes,” Mervyn said, waving dismissively at her. He turned back to his charm without waiting to see if she went. Evandie might be a stick in the mud, but she was good about doing what he asked and getting her work done.

Mervyn finished the charm slowly, not willing to rush it and risk screwing up the entire morning’s work to see what had Evandie in such a snit. All told, it was another half an hour before he was tucking the charms away into their black velvet boxes, labeling them neatly and putting them aside for delivery later.

Then he brushed his dusty hands off on his pants and headed for the door. His work rooms were all in the basement, and each work room had a different purpose. Mervyn mostly did health-magic work, but he also played around with communication charms and a handful of other different types of magic. Shutting the work room’s door behind him, Mervyn absently activated the lock charm on the door before heading up the stairs.

He wasn’t entirely presentable, but then he rarely had customers who took offense to that sort of thing, so he wasn’t too worried about it. If this customer was stuffy, he’d just refer them to a different charm master.

The receiving salon was at the front of the house, bathed in early afternoon sunlight by the huge windows that faced the street. Mervyn let himself in quietly, taking in his latest customer and immediately seeing why Evandie disapproved.

The young man was pale, with dark shadows beneath pale eyes. He was dressed in a number of layers, but it seemed to be to combat a chill rather than because he had to wear everything he owned. His fingers twitched and fidgeted, apparently unable to hold still, and he was probably after a health charm.

“Hello, I’m Mervyn,” Mervyn greeted, keeping his voice soft and cheerful as he spoke. “I’m sorry I kept you waiting so long.”

“It’s okay,” the young man said softly, his voice deeper than Mervyn had expected. “Um, my name’s Callisto.”

“What can I do for you, Callisto?” Mervyn asked, pouring tea for them both before sitting down. Callisto didn’t move to take the second cup, so perhaps the jitters in his hands were part of his illness and not nerves?

“I need … can you modify charms?” Callisto asked, obviously nervous. And with good reason—it wasn’t precisely illegal to modify another wizard’s charms, but it was highly frowned upon unless the original wizard was dead. “It—it’s not yours, I know, but there’s nowhere else—” Callisto cut himself off, his lips thinning as he grimaced, his right shoulder jerking up and back for no reason that Mervyn could immediately tell.

Callisto took a deep breath, and Mervyn waited patiently, not willing to make any judgments until he had more details. Still, this was looking to be more complicated than a health charm.

“You—” Callisto glanced towards the front windows, where the curtains were pulled back to show the garden in the front of the house. He dropped his voice, saying quietly, “You have fairy lights.”

“I do,” Mervyn said, a little surprised. Despite the fairy lights, he rarely got any fairies who admitted what they were. Only fairies could see fairy lights; Mervyn had them in front of his house because he’d helped a fairy with a complicated piece of magic a few years ago, and had had—but ignored—the opportunity to bind him.

“You were charmed by another wizard? Not a binding?” Mervyn asked, wondering why a wizard would do that. Charms were as difficult to lay as bindings, but not as restricting. They also couldn’t do the one thing a binding could—give the wizard access to the fairy’s magical energy.

“Yes,” Callisto said, looking even more upset by that.

“May I see it?” Mervyn asked, since that would be easier than asking Callisto to try to explain all the intricacies of the charm to him. It really was strange—why charm, but not bind? Unless the wizard hadn’t known that Callisto was a fairy, which was a possibility since there was no easy way to distinguish a fairy from a wizard, unless one cast a spell.

Callisto nodded, his fingers fumbling at the buttons of the jacket he wore. It took him several minutes to remove all of the layers he was wearing with the way his fingers were shaking, but Mervyn didn’t offer to help, sure that would only make Callisto more tense.

It was a fine chest, when it was finally revealed, but Mervyn was completely distracted from that thought by the square metal panel affixed directly above Callisto’s heart. It was smooth and unmarked, and the skin around it was red and inflamed, meaning it had only recently been put in place.

Mervyn frowned, patting his pockets until he found his spectacles. Putting aside his half-finished tea, he put on his spectacles and stood.

“May I?” Mervyn asked, gesturing to the charm. Callisto gave him a short, jerky nod, and Mervyn stepped forward, completely focused on the panel. The spell had to be on the inside of the panel, since it didn’t show on this side. It also had to be affixed magically, since there was nothing obvious holding it in place, but what was the purpose of it? He’d have to do a transpose spell in order to see the other side of the panel and the spell marks.

“I need to do a transpose spell,” Mervyn said, glancing up and meeting Callisto’s eyes. They were closer than Mervyn had realized, but he tried not to let it ruffle his composure. He’d been close to customers before, without getting flustered. This was no different.

“What does that do?” Callisto asked, one hand straying towards the metal plate slightly before dropping back to the armrest of the chair. “It won’t turn it off, will it?”

“No, it doesn’t change anything,” Mervyn reassured, curious all over again. Callisto wanted it modified, he’d said, not completely removed. “It simply gives me a representation of the other side, so I can see the spell marks for the charm. It doesn’t touch or interfere with the spell at all.”

“Okay,” Callisto said, and Mervyn would be willing to bet Callisto didn’t know much of wizard magic. A transpose spell was simple and oft-used by wizards. But then, Callisto was a fairy, so he had a fairly good reason to avoid wizards.

“Hold on a moment,” Mervyn said, crossing the room to the little writing desk in the corner. Evandie was always complaining about it and how it didn’t belong, but Mervyn liked the accessibility of it; it was much better than having to run downstairs for a notebook.

Unlocking the center drawer, Mervyn pulled out a thick notebook and then shut and relocked the drawer. One of his more clever charms was spelled into this notebook: anything he wrote here was copied into a duplicate notebook he kept in his main work room.

“Who was the wizard who did this?” Mervyn asked, despite knowing it was probably a sore spot. After all, if Callisto trusted the wizard who’d done the charm in the first place, he’d be getting it modified by him. Still, knowing who the wizard was could prove useful in modifying the spell, if Mervyn was familiar with his work.

“I don’t know,” Callisto said, looking even more wretched. His shoulder twitched back and up again, and Callisto shook his head, as though denying something. “I never saw him.”

“Okay, that’s okay,” Mervyn said, more convinced than ever something strange and probably illegal was going on here. Perhaps he could get a read on the wizard based on the spell, though Mervyn had never been that good at picking out a wizard’s signature based on spell marks. “The transpose spell won’t hurt. You shouldn’t feel anything when I cast it. What it will do is give me an image of what’s on the other side of the panel, so I can see the spell work and see what it does and if I can modify it.”

“Okay,” Callisto said, not looking very reassured. Mervyn didn’t really blame him, not after an encounter with an unknown wizard had left him with a strange charm that was possibly causing the physical symptoms Mervyn was seeing. He’d have to get the whole story out of Callisto later, if he could.

“Here goes,” Mervyn said, trying to give Callisto as much warning as he could. Murmuring the words to the transpose spell softly, he frowned at the silvery, flickering image as it coalesced in the air in front of Callisto’s chest. It wasn’t just a metal plate, as Mervyn had originally surmised, but a small, metal contraption the size of his two fists pressed together. It fit neatly, obviously, which meant—

“He took your heart?” Mervyn blurted out, dropping his notebook and losing his hold on the transpose spell at the same time. The image flickered and then disappeared, even as Callisto flinched.

“I don’t know why,” Callisto said, biting his lip briefly. “It—this—” Callisto touched the edge of the metal contraption. “It lets him take my energy, and I can’t—if I take it out, I have no heart and I die.”

“Which is why you need it modified,” Mervyn said faintly, stooping to retrieve his notebook. “God, why would—” Except that was a stupid question. Fairy energy did wonders for wizard spells; it was twice as effective as regular wizard energy, but a wizard could only get it if a fairy was bound to him. Add to that, a wizard could only be bound to a single fairy at a time… and a charm, that wasn’t the same as a binding at all. A charm like this could be used on as many fairies as a wizard wanted, with none of the restrictions of a binding.

“We’ll fix this,” Mervyn said, furious and worried at the same time. It was bad enough many wizards simply forced the binding of a fairy; this was a thousand times worse. If he ever got his hands on the wizard who’d done this, well, he had a few dozen particularly nasty curse charms hidden away that could be put to good use.

“I hope so,” Callisto said, not looking at all confident. Probably because he was missing his heart.

“The first step will be the hardest,” Mervyn mused, pulling one of the nearby chairs closer to where Callisto was still sitting. “We have to keep that—” Mervyn gestured to the heart charm, “—alive, while taking away the wizard’s ability to pull energy from you. To be safe, we should probably completely replace the charm …”

Mervyn jotted down a few notes, frowning thoughtfully. He’d never done a replacement heart charm, though a few of the more practiced surgeon-wizards at the hospital had. He was sure to have at least one reference book to help.

“The wizard who did this may have your actual heart alive. If we can find him—”

“Why would he keep it alive?” Callisto interrupted, his brow furrowing in confusion. “Since I have this?”

“If I read the spell correctly,” Mervyn said, and he’d only gotten a brief look so it was possible he was mistaken, “the wizard needs a … piece of you, to be able to draw energy from you. It could be he took a lock of hair or something, but why bother when he already took your heart? Also, he probably thinks it’s a good bit of insurance for him. Even if I fix this, you’d go searching for him, yes?”

“I hadn’t thought past this,” Callisto said, sinking in his chair a little, and Mervyn actually believed that. In Callisto’s place, he’d be furious, but Callisto was obviously more upset than angry. “Will you be able to fix it?”

“Definitely. Even if I have to copy what he did, you’ll be free of the drain. Though I think I can do it more simply, without any of the energy hooks,” Mervyn added hastily, when he saw a bit of suspicion flash across Callisto’s face. “Since the majority of the spell work he did is to pull energy from you, and my only goal is to simulate your heart.”

“Okay,” Callisto said, looking weary and completely worn out. Obviously the heart part of the charm was working much less efficiently than Callisto’s original heart had. Not surprising, since the only goal for the wizard would be to get as much energy from Callisto as he could without killing him.

“Unfortunately, working out the charm will take a few days,” Mervyn said, leaning back in his seat thoughtfully. He’d also have to get Denzil’s help—there was no way he could perform the operation to replace the heart charm on his own. “I don’t want to rush it and screw something simple up, and I need to consult with someone familiar with fairy anatomy to make sure I’m not overlooking something with your physiology. You can meet him, too. He’s the fairy who gave them the lights out front.”

“Okay,” Callisto said again, not sounding too thrilled about that, but Mervyn did want to give him that reassurance, at least.

“Is it all right if I cast the transpose spell again?” Mervyn asked, shifting to the edge of his seat. “I didn’t get as close a look as I’d liked before I fumbled it.”

“Sure,” Callisto said then winced, his face turning an alarming gray color. “Sorry, wait—” Callisto stammered, one trembling hand pressing against the heart charm in his chest.

Mervyn winced, wondering what—but it was probably the wizard draining some of Callisto’s energy. If he was cruel enough to carve the heart from a fairy’s chest, there was no reason he’d try to ease any pain the transfer caused.

Unsure what to do—relatively sure any words of comfort wouldn’t be comforting—Mervyn sketched out a brief image of what the heart charm had looked like, making small notes on his thoughts for what each curve, ridge, and edge was for.

“Okay, it should be good,” Callisto said, his voice a little shaky. Mervyn nodded, frowning a little as he scrutinized Callisto. Callisto looked even worse than before, and Mervyn hoped the wizard pulling from him wasn’t stupid enough to drain Callisto completely.

“Just hold still,” Mervyn said, as soothingly as he could. He didn’t wait for a reply, just started the transpose spell again. It still took him aback, seeing the heart charm, but Mervyn didn’t let it distract him, focusing instead on fleshing out his sketch and drawing out the spell marks. It was a complicated charm, as Mervyn had expected, and he really didn’t want to think about how the wizard had come up with and refined the spell work functioning in place of Callisto’s heart.

“I can work with this,” Mervyn muttered as he let the transpose spell dissipate. He made a few more notes before flipping to a fresh page and pausing. “Can you tell me what you remember about the casting of it? Anything you can remember may help.”

“I don’t remember much,” Callisto said quietly, pulling together the first of his layers. Mervyn made a note to dig up a warming charm for Callisto and another to ask about the other side-effects he was suffering as a result of the heart charm. Mervyn could probably alleviate most of them with various supplementary charms. “It was … a few nights ago. I was looking for an inn or something to stay in …” Callisto hesitated, but didn’t go into more detail on that point. “I asked someone.”

Mervyn nodded encouragingly, not pressing, but letting Callisto speak at his own pace.

“I went down an alley,” Callisto said, his brow furrowing as he thought. “It was dark, and I remember—I thought the person I’d asked directions of was setting me up to be mugged.”

Mervyn made a note of that—perhaps there was more than one person involved in this. Likely, actually, since it had to be difficult to replace a heart.

“I heard something behind me, and I turned to look,” Callisto said, shaking his head. “Then nothing.”

“Were you hit? Physically or magically?” Mervyn asked, though it sounded like the latter. It never hurt to be thorough, however.

“Magically, I think? There was no pain,” Callisto said. “I don’t remember any, though I don’t think that means much. I don’t remember a lot.”

“Okay,” Mervyn said, making another few notes. “And when you woke up?”

“I was still there, in the alley,” Callisto said, and he clenched his hands into fists, temporarily stilling their trembling. “My chest hurt, but I didn’t understand—not until the first time the wizard pulled my energy.”

“Did he leave anything with you? Could you find the alley again?” Mervyn asked, though it was probably a moot point now. If the wizard had taken that much care to keep hidden, he’d be careful to not leave any clues that pointed to him.

“Nothing I found,” Callisto said, frowning miserably. “I don’t even know how he knew—how he found out that I’m a fairy.”

“You’re new to town,” Mervyn said, his suspicions confirmed when Callisto nodded. He made another note about that—how had the wizard figured it out? “I take it you didn’t cast anything.”

“Not in town,” Callisto said, shaking his head. “It’s … it’s a few days travel from home to here, and I know no one saw me. I was at home; we have special areas that can’t be seen.”

“What spell did you cast?” Mervyn asked, noting that down. If the mystery wizard could both detect fairies without seeing them cast and draw energy from them without a binding … Mervyn didn’t even want to think of the consequences of such power.

“It was … a tracking spell,” Callisto said quietly. He frowned briefly, but finally added, obviously reluctant, “Tracking my brother. He’s been in the city on business, but he was supposed to come home a few weeks ago.”

“A tracking spell—did you embed it in something?” Mervyn asked. That would lend the spell the appearance of a wizard’s charm and suggest Callisto was a wizard, not a fairy.

“Of course,” Callisto said, sounding offended at Mervyn’s insinuation. “I’m not that careless.”

“I was just making sure,” Mervyn said, noting that down. “Do you still have it? Or did you extinguish it?”

“It went out when I found him,” Callisto said, and then he winced, half-raising a hand to his chest before clenching his fingers into a fist and dropping his hand back to his lap. “It was stupid, too. He’s got a lover or something and was too wrapped up in that to write or even realize he was supposed to be home.”

“Would you like me to find him?” Mervyn asked, though he was pretty sure he knew the answer to that. Non-consensual bindings were stupidly viewed as the bound fairy’s fault, when usually they were snatch-and-bind jobs like this.

“No,” Callisto said miserably, staring at his lap. “He was upset I was here in the first place; he’d just be angrier to know what happened.”

“As you wish,” Mervyn said. Perhaps he could get Denzil to help find the brother anyway. “What side effects does the heart charm have?”

“Side effects?” Callisto repeated, obviously thrown by the change in subject.

“The function is to draw energy from you and replace the beating of your heart. How else is it affecting you?” Mervyn asked, trying to not sound overly clinical but pretty sure he failed.

“Oh, um,” Callisto stammered, his pale cheeks gaining the faintest hint of color. “I’m cold?”

“All over or just your extremities?” Mervyn asked, making yet more notes.

“All over,” Callisto said, twisting his fingers together nervously. “It’s worse in my fingers though? And my feet. I think that’s why my fingers shake so much?”

“Could be,” Mervyn said, adding ‘shaky fingers’ to the list. “Any weakness? Shortness of breath?”

“Both, but only if I try to move too much or do a lot,” Callisto said, looking more miserable as Mervyn wrote that down. “It also hurts?”

“A lot or a little?” Mervyn asked, making a note to get a pain-blocking charm for Callisto as well as a warming charm.

“A lot,” Callisto said hesitantly, as though admitting a great weakness.

“Anything else?” Mervyn asked, adding a few reminders to himself about what to look out for when building the replacement charm.

“No,” Callisto said quietly, looking down at his hands.

“Good, good,” Mervyn muttered, taking a moment to collect his thoughts before continuing. “Here’s what I propose. It will take me a few days, minimum, to build the replacement charm, possibly longer if I can’t reach my consultant. In the meantime, I will supply you with charms to ease the cold and pain you’re experiencing. I can also offer you a room here until the replacement charm is in place, unless you prefer to stay somewhere else.”

“I—” Callisto blinked a few times, startled. “What will it cost?”

“Nothing,” Mervyn said firmly, setting down his pen and pulling off his spectacles. “At most, I’d ask you to help me track down the wizard responsible, but this never should have been done to you, and I’m not going to compound the matter by asking you to pay to fix it.”

“But that’s not fair to you, either,” Callisto argued, frowning. “The charm—it’s going to take a lot of work and time—”

“I like a challenge,” Mervyn reassured him. “And I’ll take it out of your attacker’s hide when I find him, so really, don’t worry about it. Shall I have Evandie prepare a room for you? It would be easier to have you here in case I have to make adjustments during the process.”

“If you don’t mind,” Callisto said, and he likely didn’t have anywhere else to go, but Mervyn wasn’t going to press that point.

“I don’t,” Mervyn said firmly. “Do you have your things with you, or shall I send someone to have them fetched?”

“They’re here. The woman who answered the door—Evandie?” Callisto asked, continuing when Mervyn nodded. “She took them to put somewhere while I waited.”

“Easy enough, then,” Mervyn said, pulling back his sleeve and pressing a button on his watch. Evandie had a matching one—it would alert her that he required her presence.

Sure enough, a moment later, Evandie knocked briskly on the door before entering. She didn’t spare Callisto even a glance, just stared at Mervyn with a displeased look. Glancing at the clock on the mantel showed why—it was half-past three, time for Evandie’s usual tea.

“I’m sorry, Evandie, but could you make up a room for Callisto? He’ll be staying with us a week or so,” Mervyn said, ignoring the pinched look that overtook Evandie’s face. She really did not approve of Callisto. “Settle his things, please, and let me know when everything is ready.”

“Yes, sir,” Evandie said crisply, frowning briefly at Callisto before disappearing again.

“Would you like a tour of the house?” Mervyn asked, picking up his notebook and pen and heading back across the room to lock them back up. “You’re welcome to go anywhere you like, though I do ask you stay out of the basement. It’s where I work my spells, and it’s usually dangerous for anyone but me to be down there.”

“Okay,” Callisto said, standing up slowly and pulling his jacket close around him.

“Actually,” Mervyn said, picking up his glasses and tucking them into his front pocket. “Let’s go down there first, and I can get you set up with the heat and pain charms.”

“I won’t object to that,” Callisto said quietly, twisting his fingers together nervously. “Um, thank you, for everything. You’ll have to let me help you in some way—”

“None of that now,” Mervyn chided, gesturing dismissively. He led the way from the room, being careful to tailor his stride to Callisto’s. Callisto moved slowly, probably because of his lack of heart. Mervyn stifled another flash of anger at the wizard who’d done this. He’d fix it, and then he could afford to be distracted by his anger.

“This door leads to the basement,” Mervyn said, somewhat unnecessarily as he opened the door to reveal a set of stares descending to the lower floor. “It’s always unlocked, but like I mentioned before, past a certain point it isn’t safe for anyone but me.”

“Right,” Callisto said, and he sounded exhausted. The tour could wait—certainly the house wasn’t huge, and Callisto could figure everything out on his own later, after he had a chance to rest.

“Follow me,” Mervyn said, starting down the stairs slowly. “The safe zone downstairs is edged in white; please don’t leave the confines of the white lines without my express permission.”

“Okay,” Callisto said softly.

The rest of the walk down the stairs was quiet but for Callisto’s slightly labored breathing. Mervyn didn’t rush him, keeping his own steps slow and measured even as he wracked his brain trying to remember where he’d stored the charms he’d need for Callisto.

The pain-blocking charm was easy; it would be in one of the two health-magic rooms, probably in his emergency kit. The warming spell might be in there as well, but it could also be in the fire-magic room, since it was a heavily modified fire charm.

“I’ll be right back,” Mervyn said distractedly as they reached the bottom of the stairs. He ducked into the room on the far left first, sifting through the bins and boxes of charms and miscellaneous tools before finally finding the pain-blocking charm he’d been thinking of. There were also two others, one stronger and one weaker, that he’d forgotten about. Hesitating a moment, Mervyn finally picked up the strongest—having your heart replaced by a shoddy charm probably rated a high-level pain-blocking charm.

Ducking back out into the hallway, Mervyn was unsurprised to find Callisto sitting on the bottom steps, looking just as awful, if not more so, than he had earlier.

“Pain-blocking charm,” Mervyn said, crossing the peeling, slightly faded white line that bordered the safe area of the basement.

The charm looked fairly innocuous, but Mervyn had never been a big fan of flashy charms that were obvious about the magic they held. The pain-dulling spell was embedded in a cheap, colorful, woven bracelet that simply tied around the wrist.

To Callisto’s credit, he didn’t look dismissive or disbelieving when Mervyn showed him the charm, thought it could be that he was too tired to care about much.

“May I see your arm?” Mervyn requested politely, continuing to speak as Callisto offered his right arm. “This is a high-level pain-blocker. You should still have sensation; it targets the pain and nothing else. Still, you should be careful, since you won’t feel much pain unless you hurt yourself very badly while you wear it. It’s also limited—it will absorb pain up to a certain point, and then the spell is done, so let me know when it wears off.”

“I will,” Callisto said quietly, watching as Mervyn carefully tied the bracelet’s trailing ends together. A quick sigil scrawled in the air and a few murmured spell words activated the spell, and about half the tension melted from Callisto all at once.

Mervyn smiled, pleased, and Callisto smiled back, just a little.

“Are you still feeling any pain?” Mervyn asked, straightening up and letting go of Callisto’s arm.

“Not … hardly any,” Callisto said, gingerly touching his chest where the heart charm rested. “It’s much better.”

“I’ll tweak the next one, if that one runs out before I’m done with your replacement charm,” Mervyn promised, pushing his hair back off his forehead.

“This one works,” Callisto said, shrugging. “You don’t have to go to any extra trouble.”

“It’s no trouble,” Mervyn said absently, only half paying attention to Callisto’s protest. It really wasn’t—he’d have had to make the charm from scratch anyway; tweaking it to handle a little more pain wasn’t that difficult. Not waiting for Callisto’s reply to that, Mervyn headed into the fire work room.

Unfortunately, it was the least organized of his work rooms, since he spent the least amount of time on his fire spells. They weren’t very complicated and the potential for disaster was a little too high. Mervyn liked his little house; he didn’t want to burn it down, as inevitably happened to most of the wizards he knew who played with fire too much.

It was also the smallest work room, and it only took Mervyn fifteen minutes to determine the heating charm wasn’t there. He headed back into the main room, ducking into the second of his health-magic work rooms. A quick search of that room turned up no charm, and Mervyn paused, trying to figure out where he’d left it.

He hadn’t made it that long ago—he’d been experimenting with a new way to finish the charm … which meant he’d probably left it in the main work room rather than putting it away properly.

Callisto was still sitting on the stairs, looking like he was dozing with his eyes open, and Mervyn flashed him a sheepish smile before he headed into the biggest work room. He did most of his spell work in here, unless it was more delicate like fire or communications charms.

The heat spell was sitting on one of the side tables, half-covered by a reference book on water charms. He picked it up, frowning at the girly locket on the necklace. He hadn’t remembered that, but he doubted Callisto would care, so long as it worked. It wasn’t as though it was a permanent charm.

Stepping out of the work room, Mervyn hefted the necklace as he crossed over to where Callisto was sitting at the bottom of the stairs.

“This charm is simpler,” Mervyn said. “And I am sorry about the charm object; I’d been experimenting and it was handy. All you have to do is clasp it around your neck and it will begin working. It can also be taken off without breaking the spell, but only clasp it if you’re wearing it, otherwise the spell will be wasted.”

“Okay,” Callisto said, glancing down at his still-trembling fingers. “Can you? I don’t think I could manage it.”

“Oh, right,” Mervyn said, shaking his head. “Sure, no problem.”

“Thank you,” Callisto said, standing up slowly and resting a hand against the stairway wall for balance. He was slightly shorter than Mervyn, so it was an easy thing to position the necklace around his throat.

“This charm is like the pain-blocking charm,” Mervyn said quietly, fumbling with the tiny clasp on the necklace and trying to not notice how close he was standing to Callisto. “It will run out after a while, so let me know when it no longer works and I’ll get you a fresh charm.”

“I will,” Callisto said then tensed up, his breathing going ragged even as he blindly reached for the wall. Mervyn finally managed to close the clasp, dropping the necklace so the locket fell against Callisto’s collarbone.

“Hey, it’s okay,” Mervyn soothed, hesitating, but in the end giving into the urge and wrapping Callisto in what he hopped was a steadying, reassuring hug.

Callisto didn’t reply, but Mervyn didn’t really expect him to, distracted as he was by the pull of energy. It lasted longer than it had last time, and Mervyn wondered if there was anything he could do to ease it for Callisto—but he probably should focus on the replacement heart charm instead.

“Sorry,” Callisto muttered, pulling away from Mervyn’s grip. He looked even more exhausted than he had before, and Mervyn frowned worriedly.

“Don’t apologize,” Mervyn said, shaking his head and letting Callisto go somewhat reluctantly. “How is the charm working?”

“Oh, um, it’s working well, thank you,” Callisto said, and Mervyn nodded, pleased the new spell end had worked.

“How much energy do you have left for him to take?” Mervyn asked quietly, gesturing for Callisto to head upstairs. “I hate to say it, but I don’t think he’s the type to ration.”

“Right,” Callisto said wanly, moving slowly as he started the climb back upstairs. “I think … half? And it will replenish somewhat, though not as much as if …”

“If you had your own heart,” Mervyn finished when Callisto paused. “Okay.” So he probably had roughly three days to replace the charm before the wizard drained Callisto of energy, given it had taken him three days to get Callisto down to half, though the wizard might cast more freely, the longer he pulled from Callisto, so maybe fewer than three days.

“Is there anything I can do to boost your power production, to gain more time to build the new charm?” Mervyn asked as they reached the halfway point of the staircase.

“No,” Callisto said, shaking his head a little. “It just takes time. Like wizard energy?”

“Right,” Mervyn confirmed, making a note to ask Denzil the same thing. He might know something Callisto didn’t, or be able to give Callisto some of his energy. Mervyn waited until they reached the top of the stairs before he tapped the button on his watch to summon Evandie again, already half-distracted by the work ahead of him.

“Unless you have objections, I’ll let you go rest now and save the tour for later,” Mervyn said, smiling a little at the relief Callisto couldn’t hide.

“I appreciate it,” Callisto said, looking uncomfortable for a second before asking, “Are you sure there’s nothing I can do to repay you?”

“There really isn’t, and please don’t worry about it,” Mervyn said, wondering how he could get that thoroughly across to Callisto. Maybe Denzil could help convince him?

“Evandie,” Mervyn greeted as she appeared from the staircase that led to the upstairs. “Can you bring Callisto to his room and make sure he’s settled? I’ll be downstairs for the rest of the afternoon.”

“Yes, sir,” Evandie said, gesturing for Callisto to follow her. She gave Mervyn a last disapproving look—it wasn’t an encounter with Evandie unless she disapproved of something—and then led the way up the stairs.

Mervyn waited until they were halfway up before heading back down to his work rooms. He had a letter to write and a replacement heart charm to build.

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