“Why is the Radiance after Ingrid?” Caleb asked.
“It wasn’t obvious from learning her past?” Midnight asked, picking his way through rubble. The streets of the ruined section of Sunset Square had become more and more clogged the farther they went, so their forward progress had slowed considerably. “She’s an Eternal. The Radiant King, at least in his mind, ‘created’ her. Ingrid isn’t a free human – she’s property, as far as the King is concerned.”
“I got that,” Caleb said, grimacing at the reminder of the disgusting truth. “What I mean is, what use is she to the King? Does she have special abilities? Does he need her for something important? Is he able to force her to do things so her free will doesn’t get in his way?”
Midnight scowled. “I don’t know that much,” he said. “I haven’t asked the King. And if I did get to meet him, asking him questions would be the last thing I’d do.” At Caleb’s curious silence, Midnight shot a glare back at him. “I don’t know everything, kid. And anyway… Ingrid’s not the focus now. We’ve got another of the King’s targets to worry about.”
Caleb nodded. “Mineria. Do you think…” He paused, feeling a pang of guilt. “Do you think me failing against Neith means she’s going to be trying to get at Mineria, too?”
“We both failed, kid,” Midnight said. “And yeah, of course she is. She’ll be calling in more Enforcers and they’ll either try to bargain with the mayor, or formulate their own plan to bust Mineria out. Which means we need to get to her first.”
“Enforcers?” Caleb asked.
“The King’s agents that spend the most time out in the field. Void was one, Neith’s another. The King has different ranks in his organization – though ranks don’t necessarily denote superiority or inferiority, just function. Enforcers are field agents. Guardians are his guardsmen – they’ll never leave the King’s side unless absolutely necessary. Informants gather intelligence. I’m sure he has more than that, but those are the main branches of the Radiance.”
Caleb raised an eyebrow. “You know a lot about them.”
Midnight let out a weary sigh. “Not by choice.”
Caleb bit back a question. Something in the way Midnight said that struck him.
I can’t just ask him directly. I probably can’t ask him at all. I’ll have to let him tell me in his own time.
At first I thought he was just a tough teacher, like a drill sergeant without all the shouting. But…
He’s got a lot going on.
Those layers, those mysteries, about Caleb’s teacher brought to mind Chelsea. There were more than a few times that Chelsea said or did something that implied a lot more meaning than was readily apparent. She held back a lot, Caleb knew that, and he didn’t hold it against her. What struck Caleb about Midnight, and now made him realize something new about Chelsea, was the pain.
Midnight was hurting. He didn’t show it so obviously, but there seemed to be a lot of pain haunting him.
Was it the same for Chelsea? She’d said that her parents deaths didn’t bother her – that she’d been too young to really grow attached.
Was that just a story so that Caleb wouldn’t worry?
Caleb couldn’t imagine being orphaned at all, let alone so young. If he had, how easily would he let others see what kind of pain he was in? Maybe it would hurt too much to even talk about it.
Come to think of it, I had my own pain I didn’t let people know much about. And keeping it a secret nearly got me killed.
Physical pain wasn’t the same as emotional pain, Caleb knew that. But what was it about the cost of using Time Magic that made him not want to tell people about it?
What was it about pain that made people shut themselves off from others? Why did so many people try to hide that they were hurting?
And everyone always compliments me on how I’m so honest.
Chelsea often teased him about it. His parents praised him for it. Even Jacob Crowley, head of the Hunter Guild – and Caleb’s boss – told him “you seem incapable of telling a lie, Caleb. That’s a valuable trait that is far too rare.”
Looks like I have a lot to learn… about myself.
It was something Caleb was realizing a lot ever since winding up at Chronoshin. He thought, if he were to meet the Caleb of not so long ago – the Caleb from before Hollow Island – the two Calebs would be very different already.
“Here we are,” Midnight said. Black, magical tendrils sprang out of the crumbling ground to grab and toss away debris from a blocked off doorway. Surprisingly, this building was still standing – in a manner of speaking.
How tall the place had once been, Caleb couldn’t tell. Clearly the roof, and several upper floors, had collapsed… and somehow landed in such a way that they created a makeshift roof of ruins. Caleb and Midnight had to crouch inside this building, as the current roof was only four feet off the floor, but it was surprisingly sturdy, or at least Caleb thought it looked that way.
“Don’t touch anything,” Midnight said. “Things aren’t as solid as they seem.”
Well, so much for that.
In the center of the building’s main room was a trap door. Midnight traced a pattern on it with his finger, leaving a quickly fading trail of glowing light. With that done, he pulled on its round handle, the hinges creaking as the door swung upward. Caleb peered down into the opening.
“I’m not sure I like the looks of that,” he said.
Darkness loomed below, so thick that Caleb could barely see the first step of the stairs leading down. Cool air rushed upward, sending a chill through him.
“Just go,” Midnight said, nodding to the stairs. “I’ll be right behind you. I need to make sure I lock this up properly.”
Caleb, resigned to his fate, descended the steps one at a time. Once his head vanished through the opening, he really felt spooked, so he pulled out his pocket watch, opening it up and causing it to glow with white light.
The stairs were steep and creaky, but they felt solid despite the noise. Ten steps in all brought Caleb down to a flat, stone floor in some kind of cylindrical tunnel. A flat walkway ran along the left side, while to Caleb’s right, water flowed by at a leisurely pace. He hadn’t heard the water from above, and it was clear why. It was silent in its flow, something that fascinated Caleb. He knelt down to inspect it as Midnight made his way down the stairs.
“What did I say about touching things?” Midnight asked, shutting the trap door behind him.
“I thought that was just for up top,” Caleb said.
“Everywhere,” Midnight said, walking past Caleb. “Curiosity’s not a bad thing, but you get carried away.”
“Why doesn’t the water make any noise?”
Midnight sighed. “Magic, obviously. The entire Enchanted Dominion is alive with magic. Magic courses through every single atom of existence here. And in certain places – you should have realized this by now, since you’ve seen it with your own eyes – things don’t work exactly the way you’d expect. The water here isn’t just silent.”
They hadn’t gone ten paces before Caleb realized what Midnight meant. The river running alongside them flowed towards a waterfall – and then up the waterfall. Even then, it was silent, despite the placid waters shifting to a more foamy, fast-paced flow.
They turned left from there, traveling along the tunnel. Many branches shot off to the left and right, but Midnight ignored them, traveling straight ahead for a long time.
“So Alexandra lives underground?” Caleb asked.
“Of course not,” Midnight said. “This is just one way to reach her. Every other path to her is too likely to be watched. With Neith likely calling in reinforcements, I don’t want them to know where we’re going.”
“They wouldn’t start a fight with us, would they?” Caleb asked. “I mean, not until we actually move to free Mineria, right?”
“That’s not the point. I don’t want them to know where we’re going.”
Caleb frowned at this. They took a left turn, and then a right turn nearly immediately after that, rising up a short flight of stone stairs, then turning right once more. A new river ran alongside them, once again silent, and once again leading to a waterfall flowing upwards.
Maybe it would be called a waterrise. Waterjump. Waterramp?
None of those roll off the tongue, do they?
A realization started to dawn on Caleb. Before, when they tried to evade Neith, Midnight had even said that Neith wouldn’t fight them in the open. They were perfectly safe, and yet they’d tried to shake her pursuit. And now Midnight was leading the way through a secret passage, though their destination hadn’t changed. Neith even knew, now, that Midnight was likely hatching a plan to free Mineria.
So why hide where he was going?
“You don’t want them to know about Alexandra,” Caleb said. Midnight was in front of him, so Caleb couldn’t see his face, but there didn’t seem to be any reaction. “The Radiance knows all about you, and they don’t like you – and you don’t like them, of course – but… they don’t know about your sis–”
“You’re quite the detective,” Midnight said quickly, his wry tone offsetting the speed of his reply. “That’s right. I don’t want them to know about Alexandra.”
Midnight sighed. “Do you need to know everything?”
“No,” Caleb said honestly. “I just want to know you better, and our situation better. If you want me to shut up, I will, but… this seems worth knowing. I know you don’t want to see Alexandra, and I know you say you don’t have the same feelings about family as I do, but you’re also taking steps to protect her. I think that’s admirable.”
“I’m touched by your praise,” Midnight said wryly. “Look, Caleb, there are some things that people just don’t want to talk about. I know that’s hard for a chatterbox like yourself to understand, but try and broaden your horizons a bit.”
I do understand. Chelsea’s got a lot of that. Fae seems to have a lot of it, too. And… well, despite my own opinion of myself, I was the same, keeping things hidden rather than letting it out in the open.
“What’s the plan for freeing Mineria?” Caleb asked, figuring a change of subject would clear the tension in the air.
“Not sure yet,” Midnight replied. “It won’t be easy. Alexandra probably has a few connections and skills that can help us out. Until I know what we’re working with, it’s hard to say. I have an ace up my sleeve, but… well, it’s a dangerous card to play. And it’s only useful for getting me in – not for getting her out.”
“Do you think I’ll be useful?”
Midnight finally looked over his shoulder at Caleb. The white light from Caleb’s watch cast a lot of shadows, so his expression was hard to read, but he seemed surprised. “Time Magic isn’t everything you have,” he said.
“I know that,” Caleb said. “But… well, I’m not nearly as good at my other magical abilities as I thought I was.”
“Not that,” Midnight said, facing forward again. They’d been going straight for a long time, but took a right turn here, rising up a few steps past a reverse-waterfall, and then took a left turn. “You have your wits. You’re smart, even if you usually talk too much to make use of it – though you’re improving at that. Your combat instincts and other natural instincts are strong. And your deductive reasoning skills are, annoyingly, quite accurate. Think of how many truths you’ve deduced for yourself without being told them, just in the time we’ve been in this city.” Midnight shook his head. “Besides, this mission is hopefully not going to be focused on combat. I know your job on Earth was to fight, but you can do more than that.”
Caleb stared at Midnight appraisingly. “Did you just give me, like, a bunch of compliments all at once?”
Midnight grunted. “Don’t act so surprised. I call things the way I see them. And clearly, you’re not as aware of your own qualities as your confidence suggests.”
Caleb smiled. “Thanks.”
Midnight didn’t reply. On they walked, taking two more turns, before Midnight stopped at the bottom of a long set of stairs leading up. At the top was a door, with the faint glow of golden light shining through the cracks.
“This is it,” he said, staring up the stairs with a scowl. “Alexandra’s through there. I know you’ve already seen and experienced quite a number of strange things, but… you’ve never met anyone like Alexandra.” He started climbing.
“You’re not giving me any more than that?” Caleb asked, following up the stairs after him. “How is she different?”
“What do I keep saying, kid?” Midnight asked. “Watch. Listen. Observe. Figure things out for yourself. Do you need me to tell you everything?”
Up they climbed, and Midnight stopped again when they reached the door. His face was a mixture of emotions that Caleb couldn’t read. With a heavy sigh, Midnight lifted his hand to knock.
“Lance? Is that you?”
The voice from within made Caleb jump, and Midnight let out yet another sigh. It was a young woman’s voice, clear and bright, with a musical tone to it that made it sound like the speaker was ready to break into song at any moment.
Midnight, grumbling who-knows-what under his breath, opened the door and stepped into the room beyond, pushing Caleb in front of him.
They’d gone from dark, plain tunnels to a palace, or so Caleb thought. He was no stranger to extravagance, but this place was beyond even the greatest mansion in Grimoire by a fantastic margin. They stood in what must have been an entrance hall, judging by its lack of furnishings and overall style – one of the visible doors led out onto the streets of Sunset Square – but it was large enough to host over a hundred people with ease. Three crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling, shimmering gold in the sunset light that filtered through high windows. It would take nearly a minute to walk from one end of the hall to the other at a brisk pace. White and gold were the colors of the room, creating a bright atmosphere and meshing with the ambiance of Sunset Square quite well.
The entrance hall, of course, seemed rather bare at the moment. Besides Caleb and Mister Midnight, there were only three other people, all women. The woman in the center was flanked by two younger ladies, dressed in identical uniforms: black dresses with gold trim and accents. They seemed identical – both had platinum blonde hair and pale blue eyes, and both were the same height, same figure, and wore the same flat, emotionless expression. Both even had the same faint scar in the same place on the same cheek. The only difference was that the lady – Caleb thought they were probably maids – on the right wore silver-rimmed glasses.
The woman in the center, clearly the lady of the mansion-palace-place, was likely Alexandra, and that became even more likely when Caleb realized Midnight was trying to shield himself from her with Caleb.
Alexandra looked very little like her brother, save for the eyes. Just like Midnight’s her eyes were almost completely white, save for a small black point in the center that, despite its size, seemed all-encompassing, like it would swallow Caleb up if he stared too long. Her complexion was fair, her hair blond and done up in a braided bun. She dressed in a golden hoop dress that hid most of her figure, but despite her fair and posh appearances, Caleb thought she was probably quite fit, like her brother.
Alexandra had one major difference from Midnight that stood out amongst all the others:
She came to greet Caleb and Midnight with a dazzling smile on her face, and even as it faded so that her teeth weren’t showing, she continued to smile in a beautiful and charming way that had Caleb instantly at ease.
“Lance, you brought a guest?” Alexandra asked, stopping a few feet away and looking Caleb up and down appraisingly. “We’ve met before!” She put a finger to her chin. “Though I thought I met your sister first…”
“That hasn’t happened yet,” Midnight said in a deadpan voice.
Alexandra, still smiling, nodded. “Oh, of course, silly me!” She rolled her eyes. “I get mixed up, you see. What’s it called again?”
“Temporal displacement,” Midnight said.
“That’s right! Temporal displacement!” She leaned closer to Caleb, nodding for no apparent reason. “It means that I don’t experience time the same as everyone else. I get very confused about what’s present, what’s past, and what’s future.”
“You can see the future?” Caleb asked.
Alexandra shook her head. “Oh, no, it’s not like that,” she said, laughing gently. “I don’t get to choose what I experience. And I don’t ‘see’ things. I experience them in a different order than everyone else. Or, well…”
“It’s more complicated than that,” Midnight said. “But in simple terms, Alexandra goes through life experiencing things out of order, at least as far as we’re concerned. So she has met you – in the future. And she remembers it.”
“Right, that’s the tricky part!” Alexandra said excitedly. “I don’t always remember things. And when I do, sometimes I don’t remember them properly.” She cast her warm smile Midnight’s way. “Thank you, Lance.”
Caleb stared at Alexandra, then back at Midnight, who was glaring at him, as if to say don’t say anything you’ll regret, kid.
“Lance?” Caleb asked, causing Midnight’s glare to intensify.
“Did you think ‘Mister Midnight’ was my name?” he asked.
Alexandra burst out laughing. “Oh, so silly!” she said. “It’s a title, of course! What kind of parent would name their child ‘Mister’? Though ‘Midnight’ isn’t such a bad name. Perhaps if I have a son, I’ll name him Midnight. ‘Mid’ for short.” She cast a slightly disapproving look at her brother. “Though I see you still insist on calling me ‘Alexandra’.”
Midnight shrugged. “You could use my full first name.”
“But ‘Lancelot’ doesn’t roll off the tongue the same way,” Alexandra said with a sigh. “And ‘Lance’ carries with it the feelings of endearment I hold towards you, brother dearest.”
“I’m touched,” Midnight said. He didn’t at all seem touched.
Lancelot? Caleb almost asked about it, but realized Midnight was annoyed enough as it was. He’d just file that information away for the proper time.
“Hold on a moment,” Alexandra said, leaning in close to Caleb, peering into his eyes. When Caleb, uncomfortable, looked away, Alexandra took hold of his chin gently and turned him back to face her. “Don’t look away.” Caleb obliged for several long, uncomfortable seconds, until Alexandra looked away, now glaring at her brother. “You’ve done it again.”
“Done what?” Midnight asked.
Alexandra took hold of Caleb’s shoulders with both hands and shifted him aside, as if moving a large doll out of the way, and then stepped in close to her brother, who suddenly found something very interesting to look at on the ceiling.
“This is the…” Alexandra started counting on her fingers, “twelfth!”
“Sixth,” Midnight replied, still staring at the ceiling.
“The sixth!” Alexandra said angrily. “Why can’t you stop using that dangerous teaching method?”
“They ask for it,” Midnight said with a shrug. “People want to learn fast. I oblige them.”
“Don’t give me that!” Alexandra whirled on Caleb, pointing in his face. “He doesn’t even know, does he?”
“Know what?” Caleb asked, staring at Alexandra’s outstretched finger until he thought he’d go cross-eyed. “You mean about the poisoning? Mister Midnight gave me medicine.” He cast a glance at his watch. “I have to take another dose in one hour.”
“That medicine isn’t enough,” Alexandra said. Her smile was long gone, and she stared at Caleb sadly. “You haven’t looked in a mirror lately, have you?” She looked to the maid who stood furthest left. “Andrea, a mirror, please.”
Andrea held up her hand. With a pulse of light, a silver hand mirror came into existence, and she handed it to Alexandra, who handed it Caleb. “Look at your eyes,” she said.
Caleb did as instructed. For a moment, he didn’t recognize himself. And it wasn’t because of his eyes.
He knew, in his mind, that Midnight’s training had accelerated time for him – what had been only a few days for everyone else had been nearly six months for Caleb. And Caleb knew, the longer he looked at himself, that he hadn’t really changed that much. But still…
Everyone looks at themselves at least once a day, normally. Mirrors are everywhere, and they’re very useful. So… this is what it’s like to look at yourself for the first time in almost half a year. Weird.
He was still himself. But his face had just the tiniest hint of more and deeper lines. He’d lost a bit of weight, too, and it showed in his face. He’d never been all that large – he struggled to keep weight on, not to lose it – so with just a few pounds lost his face already looked the slightest touch less lively.
I need a feast as soon as possible.
Then there were the marks from fighting. His hair was a mess – he couldn’t resist reaching up and smoothing it out. He had a black mark on his face, likely soot – but from where? And there were a few small, faint bruises – one on his forehead, one on his chin, and another on his neck.
Finally, Caleb stared at his eyes.
At least those looked the same.
But… wait. That couldn’t be right.
Caleb’s eyes were a dark blue flecked with grey. But now, as he leaned in closer to get a better look, something was… off.
What was it?
“He sees, but he doesn’t see,” Midnight said. “It’s too subtle for human eyes.”
Alexandra took the mirror away. “Caleb… that medicine you have can’t fully heal you,” she said. “In fact… you’re lucky to be alive.”
Caleb pursed his lips. “I’ve been told that already,” he said.
“No, I mean…” Alexandra sighed, shaking her head. “You’re not just lucky to have survived the initial burst of poisoning. You’re lucky to be as fit and healthy as you still are. Have you noticed anything… odd, lately?”
Caleb looked at Midnight, who suddenly found something in a far corner – conveniently positioned so he didn’t have to look at Alexandra or Caleb – very interesting.
“Yes,” Caleb said. “I… we got in a fight. There were two moments where my vision blurred. I felt sick to my stomach, and had a bout of vertigo. I didn’t know which way was up. I thought I was falling one way, but I fell the other way. And I… felt my chest tighten up. It was hard to breathe.”
Alexandra nodded solemnly. She handed the mirror back to Andrea, whose hand flashed, followed by the mirror disappearing. “Your eyes are the most obvious external symptom,” Alexandra said. “What was the first outward sign of your poisoning?”
Caleb and Midnight spoke at the same time: “Bleeding from the eyes.”
“Your eyes will never be the same,” Alexandra said. “As for your other symptoms… there was likely some light damage to your inner ear and other organs relating to your equilibrium and balance. Your lungs and diaphragm probably sustained serious damage, as well. If you’re walking and talking now, and as long as you’re taking medicine, your condition shouldn’t worsen. But… you won’t be the same you were. Sudden, unpredictable moments of weakness like you described will, inevitably, happen again.”
“You didn’t say what’s wrong with my eyes,” Caleb said. Somehow the other symptoms just washed over him, as he fixated on the one thing Alexandra hadn’t clearly explained.
“You’ll need new glasses,” Alexandra said. “I may actually be able to fit you with something – Adelaida, do we have any more Westward Glass?”
The second maid nodded, then adjusted her glasses. “Yes, milady,” she said.
“Good,” Alexandra said. “That will help, then. But you still won’t always be able to trust your eyes. Be very mindful of your blood flow. I would recommend against ever allowing yourself to be upside-down – ever. No handstands, no flips, no roller coasters. That will help you feel and function more normally. But still…”
“But what’s wrong with them?” Caleb asked.
“Fracturing,” Midnight said, his voice taut. “It’s not something physical. It’s the magic of your own body. Magic is everywhere and a part of everything. Enchanted and others born in the Dominion have lots of magic within them, but even humans born on Earth have quite a bit. Every one of your cells has magic. And the cells in your eyes, because of your poisoning, have been Fractured. It’s our word for when magic is forcibly torn apart from the cells it’s a part of. That can’t be repaired. The fact that you aren’t blind is…” He sighed, closing his eyes, “nothing short of a miracle. It means we caught it just in time, and that you’re blessed with an uncanny amount of luck. Not all of the magic was torn from the cells in your eyes. But the damage is done. Your eyes will work fine for long stretches, and then suddenly fail you completely. That’s going to stay with you for the rest of your life. With luck – and providing you don’t miss a single dose of your medicine – it won’t get worse than that.”
And there it was. Caleb’s symptoms were laid bare, and he suddenly felt very dizzy. It passed in a moment, but inside – his mind, his soul – he felt sick.
The one thing I’ve always been able to rely on – my body – is falling apart.
I’m only twenty-two. Why is this happening to me?
And if this is because of damage caused by Time Magic…
“Will I ever be able to use Time Magic again?” Caleb asked.
Alexandra stared at him, eyes wide in shock. Past her, Midnight seemed to chuckle, but it was so soft and brief Caleb couldn’t be sure.
“You can’t be serious!” Alexandra said. “I don’t… are you… Lance! What have you done to your student?”
“He takes his training, and his skills, seriously,” Midnight said, grinning. “You’ll be able to use Time Magic again. Heck, if we do things right, you’ll be able to finish your training and be better at Time Magic than you ever were before being poisoned.”
“Lancelot!” Alexandra shouted, hands balled into fists at her side. “How dare you? How dare you do this to a young, promising young man? He has so much to live for.”
“And he’s going to need all the skills he can get to make that living count,” Midnight said. “But we can argue about this another time. You know that’s not why we’re here.”
Alexandra shook her head, pointing at Caleb. “Don’t you take after my brother’s worst tendencies,” she said. “And no, I don’t know why you two are here. I don’t experience or remember everything, after all. All I know is that Caleb will visit me again, without you, though I can’t seem to remember why…”
“We’re here about Mineria,” Caleb said. “Clemson told us that you know about her. We need to free her from the Brig.”
Alexandra’s whole demeanor changed. She seemed to be good at that – quick to anger, quick to joy, quick to sorrow. Her tension and anger and disapproval from just seconds ago was gone, replaced by curiosity and the return of her reassuring smile. “Oh, you’re quite bold, then,” she said. “I was hoping someone would do something for her. We’ve talked before, you know, and she’s very charming. Or is that in the future? Andrea, Adelaida, do either of you know?”
“You met her two revolutions ago,” Andrea said. “You had a lovely conversation in the study that lasted from afternoon tea through to the next revolution’s breakfast.”
Alexandra smiled. “Ah, yes, ‘lovely’ is indeed the word for it,” she said. “Anyway, I do hope you can save her. Though the two of you are unlikely to be enough. Especially,” she stared meaningfully at Caleb, “considering your condition.”
“So you’ll help us?” Caleb asked, smiling.
Alexandra nodded. “Yes, of course I’ll help you! Andrea, Adelaida, prepare us some… oh, whatever it’s time for. We’ll be in the solar.” She grinned mischievously. “We’re going to be planning a prison break.”