What kept catching Fae’s eye in this vast, crowded city was the graffiti.
It was always the same: four blue letters spelling out “LIFE.” Most of those were crossed out with red X’s. Every now and then she’d see an untouched blue scrawl, though they rarely lasted that way for long.
The police were the ones crossing out the words.
“What’s with that?” Fae asked, pointing to the most recent occurrence of the blue and red graffiti. “Are people opposed to life?”
“It’s complicated,” Mercury said. She stopped at a cart where a woman was passing out small booklets for free. The symbol on the cart was one Fae had seen a lot: a golden sun shining golden light onto a city skyline. It was the flag of Sunset Square, and the official seal of its government operations. Mercury handed the book to Fae. “Check out the first paragraph.”
Fae opened the gold, leather-bound booklet and read:
“Life is the greatest gift given to civilized beings.
Life is sacred. It must be valued and cherished.
To protect life is the greatest calling of all.
To take life from oneself or another is the greatest crime of all.
Let it be known that in Sunset Square, life in all its forms, in all its stages, will always be protected.”
“Wait, so why are they crossing out the word ‘life’ everywhere?” Fae asked, now even more puzzled than before.
“Remember when we were talking about how the people here aren’t too fond of humans?” Jupiter asked in a hushed voice. “There was a war. It was hundreds of years ago, but Enchanted live longer than that. Sunset Square was the main battleground. Enchanted fought against a group of humans calling themselves Eternals.”
“Though these days they’re better known as the Radiance,” Neptune chimed in.
Jupiter nodded. “Because of Sunset Square’s laws, they couldn’t take life. They fought, but, obviously, the advantage went to the Eternals, since they were perfectly fine with killing. A lot of the people of Sunset Square blamed their city’s highest law for the heavy losses they sustained.”
“There have always been some humans in the Enchanted Dominion,” Mercury said. “Lots of them are travelers, but there are some who settle down and live in the different Locations. Sunset Square was the prime place for humans wanting to live somewhere other than Earth until the war. Since then, well…”
“The law still stands,” Neptune said. “The government, and the people, can’t kill. But because of the fear and hate so many people here hold towards humans, there’s a lot of conflict. Humans can’t live or walk around here freely.”
“That’s assuming they know you’re a human,” Mercury said, very quietly. “So don’t go telling anyone you are. And if you see a blue crystal, don’t breathe on it.”
Well, that’s a weirdly specific warning.
“But there are Enchanted who oppose the way humans are treated here,” Mercury said. “The blue ‘LIFE’ you see here and there is a symbol. It’s them saying ‘we want to remind everyone what Sunset Square stands for. Life includes humans, and we need to put aside our fear and pain and treat them as equals like we used to.’ But the government has labeled them as terrorists… ah, it gets way too complicated from here. Anyway, that’s why the police cross the word out.”
“Wouldn’t it be easier to just erase them?” Fae asked. “It’s not that hard to wash away graffiti, especially with magic. Why just cross it out? People can still read it.”
“Sunset Square’s mayor decided erasing it would encourage the so-called ‘terrorists’ to grow in the shadows,” Neptune said. “So he leaves their marks for everyone to see, and then marks over them. It’s like his response to them: ‘I see you and I reject your message, with all the authority of Sunset Square behind me’.”
“So… how long until we reach the Crimson Docks?” Fae asked.
Jupiter laughed. “I feel ya, Fae,” she said. “I don’t want to stay another minute in this place.”
“A few more blocks,” Mercury said, a bounce in her step. “We’re almost there.” She turned around, walking backwards and facing Fae, while Neptune took the lead of the group. “So what’s with you and your brother?”
And things were going so well, too.
After leaving Caleb, Fae had been on edge. Every step, every breath, every time one of the triplets opened their mouth, Fae was certain they were going to bring up Caleb. And they hadn’t, for long enough that Fae had finally started to relax.
“Nothing,” Fae said, looking away.
“She doesn’t want to talk about it,” Jupiter said, whispering far too loud for Fae not to hear. She was terrible at whispering. It reminded Fae of her dad.
That was annoying.
“So leave her alone about it,” Neptune said.
The crowd grew thicker, with Fae and the sisters jostling against plenty of people in a hurry. Even so, Mercury continued to walk backwards. She watched Fae with a curious expression, hands stuffed in her pockets. Fae occasionally looked up to see if she’d stopped, and when she made eye contact, looked away again.
These girls were interesting. She honestly liked spending time with them.
But they didn’t know her. And she didn’t really know them. It only made her miss the few real friends she had in Grimoire more.
How long has it been back home? People keep saying how time is weird here, so how can I know? I should have asked Caleb if he knew… no, if I got him talking, he’d go on forever.
Has it been long enough that the club notices I’m gone?
I wonder how worried Madeline is?
Madeline Crowley was Fae’s best friend. They’d been close ever since middle school, despite Madeline’s father, Jacob Crowley’s, intense disapproval at first. After all, Fae was a Greyson.
And everyone knew Jacob Crowley, head of the Hunter Guild, hated the Greysons.
But he’d softened to Fae – probably at least in part because Fae started to distance herself from her family name. But also because, despite his harsh personality, he dearly loved his only daughter. At least, Fae thought he did, in his own strange, unspoken way.
Why didn’t I tell Madeline I was leaving? I could have at least texted her.
Madeline was the reason Fae hadn’t given up on drawing and animation in high school, when she’d gone through her most intense bouts of depression and self-criticism. Madeline was the reason Fae hadn’t run off to study abroad, instead staying in Grimoire for college – because Madeline called Fae out.
“You just want to run away from everything,” Madeline had said. “You can talk about these great opportunities, or wanting to see the world, but you don’t believe any of that. Deep down, you’re just running away.”
So Fae had stayed. Still, many times, she thought about running away.
In a way, she finally had, to the Enchanted Dominion. Maybe that’s why she hadn’t reached out to Madeline.
No. She would have wanted to come with me, if she knew where I was going and why. She was right about college – I was trying to run away. But here… it’s personal. I need this.
If I’d told her, then she’d be here now, too.
Looking back up and briefly catching Mercury’s gaze again, Fae felt a pang of guilt. These sisters were good to her. They cared about her. And she knew she didn’t stand a chance in this magical world without them.
But she was like an outsider. The triplets were the closest friends and the closest siblings Fae had ever seen or known. Even Shana and Shias, who were practically inseparable, weren’t like this.
And then there was Fae.
I should do better. I should talk to them more. I should be more grateful. I should open up more.
I can trust these girls.
Well, that was always the rub, wasn’t it?
“I know how hard it is to open up to people,” Madeline had said. “I’m glad you showed up when we were kids. If not… well, I don’t think I’d have any real friends. Just the kids of my father’s friends, family connections… but not friends, not really.”
If I just opened up more, if I just stopped holding back and hiding, wouldn’t things be better?
Would I be happier?
“How many siblings do you have?”
Mercury’s voice pulled Fae out of her introspection.
“Four,” Fae said.
“Are you the youngest?”
Fae shook her head. “Caleb’s the oldest, then me. I have a younger brother and two younger sisters.”
“She doesn’t want to talk about it,” Jupiter said, again in that way-too-loud whisper.
“Look,” Neptune said, pointing. Mercury continued walking backwards, though she twisted slightly to take a brief look.
Ahead of them, the busy road widened, heading towards a grand stone archway. “CRIMSON DOCKS” was printed along the top in bold, silver lettering.
“Thank goodness, we made it through without event,” Jupiter said with a sigh that surprised Fae, coming from the most energetic and carefree of the triplets.
“Don’t get too excited,” Mercury said, her eyes back on Fae. “We still have to come back through here when we’re ready to travel to our other destinations.”
“You really don’t need to remind me,” Jupiter said, groaning.
Despite the widening of the street, the crowd steadily thinned the closer they got to the archway. Despite its prominence, it didn’t seem like there was extensive travel between the two Locations. By the time they were about to pass through, they were almost completely alone.
Now that Fae could see past all the people, she was struck by the strangeness of this pathway to a new Location. She had, of course, passed between Locations before – the transition from Cartographer’s Waystation to the Plains of the Fallen, and from there to the Eventide Archive – and it was like walking through an invisible door.
Here, the path from Sunset Square to the Crimson Docks was very clearly a strange and magical portal. The city suddenly stopped – there was no more of Sunset Square beyond the archway. And underneath the silver lettering, the entire open space within the archway shimmered and undulated, like the air itself was a liquid, visible force. It made it impossible to see what was beyond, if there was anything at all – there were lights and shapes, seeming like people, or monsters, buildings, or perhaps vehicles. Everything was blurry and out of focus, impossible to discern.
“Ready?” Mercury said, smiling at Fae.
“We just go through?” Fae asked.
“It’s perfectly safe,” Mercury said, turning on a heel and striding towards the shimmering strangeness. “I’ll go first.”
“I wanna go first!” Jupiter said, racing after Mercury. They both sprinted the last few feet to the archway, disappearing through the weird space in twin ripples across the portal.
Neptune gestured to Fae. “Are you ready? I’ll go with you.”
Fae nodded, walking side-by-side with Neptune.
It’s weird how growing up with so much magic, I can still run into things that are completely strange and brand new.
Fae forced herself not to flinch when she contacted the shimmering portal.
Strangely enough, she didn’t feel anything. Despite its appearance, it didn’t seem to have any mass or texture. It wasn’t any different from walking through air. Her vision blurred for a moment, like her glasses were fogging up, and then it passed.
And she was in a brand new place.
Sunset Square lived up to its name, with all the golden rays of sunset bathing everything in sight. The Crimson Docks didn’t immediately strike Fae the same way.
The portal brought Fae and Neptune out onto the top of a very tall hill – perhaps this was even the first rise of a tall mountain. Down below them sprawled a massive, beautiful city. The descent was packed with so many structures and people, and completely flooded with vibrant colors. There was crimson, sure, but there were so many more blues, purples, yellows, greens, oranges, pinks, golds, and silvers. No building was particularly large – they were all compact and low, three stories tall at the most. Fitted everywhere into the nooks and crannies between buildings, were colorfully patterned tents. Terraces jutted out, with parks and flower gardens and fountains adding a natural tone to the collage of color all around.
And the buildings, though small and compact, came in so many different styles and designs. There were ordinary squarish structures, but also domes, pyramids, cylinders, bowl shapes, crescent moons, arches, and a great deal more. Fae spied a pair of houses connected by a suspended glass bridge, bringing them together in the shape of an H.
Beyond all of this, at the base of the hill, was a vast port in a crescent-shaped bay that reminded Fae of Grimson Bay. The ocean glittered like liquid sapphires, a giant white-yellow sun shining down on it, and such a tremendous variety of boats and ships were coming in and going out that they couldn’t be counted. From small fishing boats, to mid-sized sailboats, to massive triple-masted galleons, every size was accounted for. The style of the entire city was not as technologically advanced as Sunset Square, which was puzzling, considering their immediate proximity to each other, but Fae found it charming. The sound of the crowds here was different from the previous city’s, trading in grainy recorded music and rumbling automobiles for bells, live acoustic performances, and horse-drawn carts.
The sea air that brought all of these sounds and sights to Fae was what made a smile cross her face. She loved the salty scent of the ocean, loved how the wind grew more lively near the sea and seemed to call out to her, to pull her forward with a drive for adventure and exploration.
“There’s a good smile,” Mercury said, grinning at Fae.
“It’s beautiful,” Fae said, taking it all in. Up here, at the top of the city, the space around the archway was an open space, a reprieve from the dense closeness of the rest of the city. It gave her a chance to really breathe, to get a new sense of place and purpose.
She dug into her bag, pulling out the metal candlestick. In the cavity on top, it had the trace Selphine had worked on it.
“Crimson Docks,” Fae read aloud. “Soundingstone Bell Workshop.”
The triplets all looked at each other. “Never heard of it,” Mercury said.
“Same,” Jupiter said, shrugging.
“Sounds like we’ll have to look for it,” Neptune said.
Fae smiled. She looked down across the city, holding the candlestick tightly, letting the sea wind toss her hair. “Sounds good to me.”