Delilah rubbed her bleary eyes.
She loved reading, but it was also a frustrating pastime for her, because it tended to make her very sleepy. She’d been fending off the appealing lullaby of dreamland for quite a few hours now.
Sitting here, curled up in a cozy chair in the darkness of the Library of Solitude, was a fantastic way to distract her from the danger truly present in this place. The Library of Solitude wasn’t as safe as it seemed in this massive room filled with bookshelves.
Part of what helped Delilah stay awake, however, wasn’t her desire to keep reading.
It was her worry about Chelsea and Gwen.
The pair had left the study area quite a long time ago. Delilah didn’t have a watch or clock that told the proper time in this world, so she couldn’t be sure how long. But considering that, even in her battle against sleep, she had read an entire five-hundred-page book on Light Catchers and Daylight Bastions, and was nearly three hundred pages into her current book, an in-depth discussion of the various prophecies, myths, and evidence surrounding the Endless Night, Delilah guessed the pair had been gone for half a day, perhaps even longer.
So where did they go? Why hadn’t they returned?
The Library of Solitude, in its current state, was terribly dangerous. Merric had made that very clear, discouraging the girls from exploring.
And yet Chelsea and Gwen had gone off to explore.
It wasn’t particularly surprising to Delilah, from what she’d come to know about Chelsea. She seemed a rather reckless and rebellious sort.
Not that Delilah was one to talk. She’d been sneaking out of the house at midnight to fight monsters every day since she was eleven.
Still, Delilah worried. She’d seen first-hand how powerful Chelsea was on Hollow Island – but that incredible power came with a startling lack of control.
Though she can control herself when she wants to. She didn’t raze the entire forest to the ground when she fought Anastasia.
Delilah would never forget her time on Hollow Island or in the Wood of the Wisps. Both times, she’d seen different sides to Chelsea. While she admired the focused, courageous warrior she’d seen battle Anastasia…
She feared the woman she’d seen on Hollow Island.
The instant Caleb had fallen, Chelsea had filled the entire jungle with fire. And the look in her eyes…
Delilah didn’t know what to call it. Madness? Rage? It was as if something that Chelsea often kept hidden had burst out of her, and she’d let it run rampant for a brief but terrifying moment.
Seeing that side of Chelsea made it incredibly difficult for Delilah to understand how she and Caleb got along so well.
But then she’d also seen the kind, caring side to Chelsea. At Gwen’s home, she’d even fallen asleep on Chelsea’s shoulder, and had a nice, if brief, conversation with her.
Some people have a lot of different sides to them.
She’d for so long been able to easily classify the people she knew. Her parents were loving and kind. Caleb was a fun, optimistic goof – so was Shana. Shias was smart, reserved, and thoughtful. Fae was…
Well. Delilah didn’t like to think about Fae.
But she was used to people having traits that didn’t seem to contradict each other. The only contradictions she really knew were things like her own hobbies – she loved to study and work hard at her schoolwork, and she took that seriously, but she was also completely obsessed with Great Feline Adventures, a franchise that, by all appearances, Delilah should have grown out of when she was six.
But those were tiny contradictions compared to the mystery of Chelsea.
So Delilah was conflicted. She admired and respected Chelsea. She even felt a bit of affection for her, almost like an older sister.
But she was also scared of her. What would cause Chelsea to snap next? What island or building or forest would she burn to the ground if she went crazy again?
Delilah sighed, lowering her book and looking around the study area. Chelsea and Gwen still hadn’t returned, but Lorelei and Isabelle were still in their adorable spot. Lorelei sat in the middle of the couch, holding her book up high, so that Isabelle could lay on the couch with her feet on Lorelei’s lap while she read her book. Despite her cutesy, childish appearance and personality, Isabelle was clearly quite intelligent. She was a lot more engaged with her book than Delilah was with hers, and the volumes were quite similar in length and reading level.
Delilah frowned, looking around the area.
Come to think of it, Merric hasn’t come back yet, either. Where’d he run off to?
He’d barely said a word when he dropped them off in the study area. After pointing out the shelves with relevant subjects to their research, the Library’s caretaker – or whatever his role was, Delilah wasn’t sure – had left, giving some vague parting words along the lines of “I’m going somewhere to do something and I’ll be back sometime.”
He’s a mystery, no matter how much Isabelle likes him. He was ready to give up on this place and send Isabelle away, before he saw that she was determined to stay. He served Isabelle’s family and this place for who knows how long – why would he just give up on them?
Then again, I’ve barely seen the Library. Who knows how bad it really is further in?
Marking her page with a thin strip of cloth – one of many bookmarks that Merric had left behind for them – Delilah put down her book and raised her arms overhead, stretching in her chair.
I’ve been sitting for far too long. I’m all cramped and stiff.
Slowly, Delilah uncurled her legs from under her, feeling every single movement as if she was being stabbed in the legs repeatedly. Finally planting her feet on the floor, she pushed herself up to a standing position.
“You guys okay over there?” she asked. Her voice sounded awfully loud no matter how quietly she spoke in such a big, silent space.
Lorelei looked to Isabelle before answering. Seeing the girl bob her head with a happy nod, she smiled. “We’re fine,” she said.
Delilah nodded. “I’m gonna go for a little walk,” she said. “I shouldn’t be long.”
“Have fun!” Isabelle said with a cheerful wave, not looking away from her book.
Delilah smiled as she turned away. Isabelle could brighten her spirits any day.
That’s who we’re fighting for. This is her home, and she hasn’t lost heart, even seeing the sorry state it’s in.
So where did Chelsea and Gwen go? And Merric? And should I really go looking for them? This place is huge. I’ll get lost in seconds if I’m not careful.
Maybe I could just find an open space to train. I haven’t let the Felines out in a while – they’re probably restless. Do Summons get restless? They never seem to. Maybe I just miss them.
Delilah wandered down the aisle of the circular library room, eyeing the shelves absently as she walked. Eventually the flat floor led to a long set of wide, spacious steps – large enough for chairs and couches to be arranged on each step, as if each new stair was a platform of its own. These stairs led up to the room’s perimeter, a long ring that was high enough to look down and across the entire room – though in the darkness it was hard to make out much detail, aside from the lamps lit at the center, where the girls had been reading.
“Where would they have gone?” Delilah asked in a whisper, looking around at the different hallways branching off from this large room. She was closest to the two halls she already knew – the passage back to the entrance hall, and the path to the Light Catcher that Merric had shown them. There were still ten other hallways that she hadn’t explored.
Too many options. They could have gone anywhere. It would be really stupid to go looking for them.
I can risk being stupid for a little while, right?
She took her keyring out of her pocket. It was a large keyring, so that it had enough space for the four plushies that she kept on hand. Three of them represented the three Summons she let other people see: Felix Feline Felinosis, Nekoma Feline Nyasaria, and Redmond Feline Rickenback. The fourth plushie was another Feline character, and Delilah’s secret Summon: Reginald Feline Meowmont the Third.
This keyring was Delilah’s Talisman. The plushies weren’t – they were just cute toys – but they were important to Delilah, and so she kept them with her most important possession.
Delilah stepped into the first hallway she hadn’t yet explored, and raised her Talisman overhead. Four portals appeared, and out of each came a Feline.
There was Felix, first Swordmeowster of the Twelfth Circle.
Nekoma, Knight Commander of the Royal Guard.
Redmond, Captain of the Catwood Company.
And finally, Delilah’s fourth Summon joined the fray: Reginald Meowmont himself.
Delilah had kept her fourth Summon a secret, because of something that would be quite obvious to a casual observer: Reginald was quite small. While Delilah’s three main Feline Summons stood just over five feet tall, Reginald was even shorter than Delilah, standing at barely three feet in height. It was common knowledge that Summons grew over time and with experience and training, and always started off rather small. All of Delilah’s Felines had started even smaller than Reginald – they had been the size of Altair once, and once upon a time Delilah had been able to cuddle them just like Shana cuddled her little dog.
Reginald was smaller than the other three because Delilah had called him into being last. He still wasn’t, in her mind, “qualified” for active combat training. In truth, Reginald wasn’t even called with a certain combat role in mind. Delilah felt her team of three had strong synergy, and she could have continued on just fine with them alone.
But Reginald was Shana’s favorite character, and Delilah had quite the soft spot for him as well. So he was sort of a “vanity Summon,” as some mages would call it. He existed because Delilah thought he was fun and cute, rather than for any purpose in mind. Delilah even entertained the possibility of, rather than having him join the team as a fourth combat member, training Reginald to be what he was in the show he came from: a butler.
Since they were alone, and there didn’t seem to be a high probability of getting into a fight, Delilah felt fine having Reginald out with the rest of the Felines.
“Sorry that I keep you a secret,” she said, patting Reginald on the head. Each Feline had their own color: Felix was orange, Nekoma was purple, and Redmond was green. Reginald was blue, a deeper blue than Altair, and he was dressed quite like a butler, in a dashing suit and tie. In one paw-hand he carried a cane, which he twirled happily at Delilah’s display of affection. “I just want you to be a surprise, when you’re all grown and ready to do things. Even if I don’t know exactly what I want you to do, yet.”
Reginald stared up at Delilah with big, black eyes, and conveyed to her that he would be whatever she asked him to be. He would fight if that’s what she called him to, and he would serve if that’s what she desired.
It was the same, Delilah had heard and experienced, with all Summons. They lived to be what their Summoner desired. For a long time, Delilah almost felt that was unfair, or unkind.
Then she had traveled through the Wood of the Wisps. She’d discovered where Summons come from, what they start as – Will Wisps – and what their purpose was. As strange as it seemed, they were beings that lived for the sole purpose of being whatever someone else wanted them to be. And when Delilah had felt in them for herself how joyful, had exuberant they were at even the mere thought of finding a Summoner for themselves, she no longer felt it was unfair, especially after hearing Gwen explain it.
Every sentient life form had a calling of their own – something, some role, that they were meant to take on. It was only through fulfilling that calling could a person be truly joyful in life.
“We’re going to look for Chelsea and Gwen,” Delilah explained to her Feline team. “The Library is gigantic, so be careful, and try to stay away from dark corners – if what Merric says is true, the darkness itself can be dangerous. Stay close within sight of me and each other at all times.” She looked down at Reginald and smiled. “You stay right by my side, little one.”
Forward they walked, through a hall that was quite different from the other two Delilah had been down. The passage from the entrance hall to the first library room was a massive archway, and quite short in length. The path that led to the Light Catcher was plain and small, leading them to an equally plain door to the room with the Light Catcher.
This corridor was somewhere in between those two in size, affording quite a lot of space for Delilah and her Felines to roam around. Where the hall to the Light Catcher had been plain stonework, even on the floor, this new passage was carpeted, while the walls and ceilings appeared to be made of marble, as they faintly reflected the light of Delilah’s Summons. Paintings were on the righthand wall – though, as Delilah took a closer look, she realized they were only frames. Whatever canvas had been within had been removed – likely by Merric, in the hopes of preserving them from the dangers that now lurked in these dark halls.
Yet as Delilah walked, she didn’t feel a sense of danger.
There was something mysterious about the Library of Solitude, but it didn’t feel threatening. Even in the gloomy shadows of these empty halls, Delilah felt a sense of wonder.
That’s what this place was. As vast as the Library was, as much as it was a place of learning and knowledge and study, as much as it was a home for Isabelle, it was also specifically designed to keep the forces of darkness from encroaching on the light. And though it had ostensibly failed, it didn’t seem that way to Delilah. There was light in this darkness, and her mind returned to the phrase she’d seen written on the wall near the Light Catcher:
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.
Delilah felt that there was more to that phrase than there seemed. If the darkness was the power of death, and light the power and source of life…
Where did the light come from?
Delilah hadn’t read anything about the phrase in her research so far, though there were occasional mentions of “The Light.” Always both words, and always capitalizing the first letter of each word.
Was it a person? A force? A type of magic? Some supernatural being that Delilah couldn’t even comprehend?
She suspected the latter, since the other options were far too simple to accompany the heavy meaning that phrase seemed to convey.
Whatever it was, Delilah felt that phrase was likely true. Despite Merric’s hopelessness, the Library didn’t feel, to Delilah, like it had lost hope.
“Gwen said the Enchanted Dominion is where all magic comes from, and the place that’s most rich with magic,” Delilah said, running her hand along the smooth marble wall. “And I’m starting to really understand that. This place… it’s like I can feel magic pulsing through it. It’s a building, but it’s… alive, somehow. It has a heartbeat, a pulse.”
Was that the truth of magic? Was it so much bigger than Delilah ever knew, bigger than any of the mages back in Grimoire could fathom?
“It’s more than just a tool, or something we use for our own ends. Magic is big, it’s alive, and it’s coursing through everything.”
What did that mean for Delilah? What would it mean for Grimoire, and for the rest of Earth’s mages, if they came to understand, even a little bit, what magic really was?
Delilah was alerted to a doorway by Felix. His orange form gleamed ahead, and he gestured to what he’d found. It was an intricate door, either stone or metal, with quite a lot of metalwork on its face as a sort of artistic facade. Silver vines crept upward, blooming with golden flowers, while bronze rain drops fell towards the floor. Delilah tried the handle, and it turned easily, allowing her to push open the door.
It led into a small room with shelves of books along all four walls. In the center of the room was a bunkbed with three bunks rather than two, and on either side of the bed were small wooden desks.
“Awfully fancy door for such an ordinary room,” Delilah muttered, looking about the place. “Let’s just keep this in mind. Maybe the books here will be useful down the road.”
They continued down the corridor, where Nekoma showed them the exit into a new, very large hub chamber with many halls branching off from it. It was very similar in size and shape to the room where Delilah had left Lorelei and Isabelle – circular, with many bookshelves formed into aisles, like the spokes of a wheel. There were open spaces here and there with seating and desks, and the center of the “wheel” was the largest of those study areas.
“Great,” Delilah said, frowning as she surveyed her options. “Where do we go now?”
She had some minor Divination Magic, but she’d trained it for use in being aware of her team – their position, their status, things like that. Despite Divination being useful for seeing the truth, Delilah simply hadn’t trained it in any other use that would be helpful here.
So how do I find out the way to go next? And more importantly, how do I do that without losing track of the way back?
Little Reginald, sensing Delilah’s inner struggle, walked over to the entrance to the corridor they’d just left. Raising his cane, he drew an X with it on the side of the entrance. A faint, magical blue line lingered there for a moment, then faded into nothing. But when Delilah gripped her Talisman and focused her Divination Magic on the spot where Reginald had drawn, she saw the X was still there, invisible except to her eyes.
“Brilliant,” Delilah said, smiling as she rubbed Reginald’s ear. “You’re brilliant.”
Redmond’s green form hopped from the top of one bookshelf to the next, quickly traveling to the far side of the room to survey the entrances to the hallways over there. Nekoma went right, while Felix went left. The team was making use of their numbers, trying their best to work together to discern the next path to take.
Delilah stood and listened. She wasn’t listening with her ears, but with her inner self. That was how her Summons communicated with her, and so she listened to their reports, sifting through the information they brought her. Redmond’s far side had two entrances to staircases – one led down, the other led up. The other entrances didn’t seem to show anything immediately – probably, like the corridor Delilah had come from, they were very long, with their secrets tucked away farther in.
“Do we go down, or up?” Delilah asked. She reasoned that Chelsea and Gwen – assuming the pair had gone exploring – would have seen entrances with stairs as far more interesting than empty hallways. If they had come the same way as Delilah – which was tremendously improbable – they would have left this room via one of two staircases.
Did they go up, or did they go down?
“What do you think, Reginald?” Delilah asked, walking around the perimeter to the two passages to staircases. She stood before their ornate stonework, staring at each one in turn.
I really think they’d go up. Who would want to go deeper under this dark place?
Of course, that’s operating under the huge assumption that they even came this way at all.
So, ignoring what Chelsea and Gwen might have done, where do I want to go?
Up. Definitely up.
Delilah took the left path, the one that led to the ascending staircase. Up she traveled, her Felines falling in around her. Nekoma took the lead, the perfect vanguard in case danger came at them from the front. Felix guarded the rear, while Redmond walked alongside Delilah and Reginald, his glowing green bow at the ready. Reginald, for his part, wasn’t helpless – Delilah had made sure he had fighting abilities. But he was definitely the most vulnerable and least experienced of the group. So Delilah kept him by her side.
Despite Delilah’s instincts expecting otherwise, the ascent didn’t seem to lead to light. If anything, the air around them grew darker, despite the glow of four Summons at once. Delilah tried telling herself that it was just her imagination, her subconscious fears preying on her, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that things were growing more perilous the further she climbed.
And then, suddenly, that feeling vanished. The air grew lighter, and her Felines’ glow shined brighter, illuminating farther ahead than before. Not long after that they exited the stairs into a new corridor.
Delilah was shocked to find the two women she sought right in front of her.
Against the wall next to the stairs, Chelsea and Gwen sat side-by-side. They were sleeping, their heads resting against each other. Chelsea’s owl was perched on her shoulders, his feathery body serving as a cushion from the wall, his right wing unfurled to cushion Gwen’s head as well. His soft glow bathed the women in white light. And yet he, too, slept.
“What happened here?” Delilah asked in a whisper, staring at them. “They’re… sleeping? Against a wall? On the floor?” She instinctively threw a hand over her mouth and nose, wondering if there was some kind of poisonous gas in the corridor. But nothing smelled strange. Redmond had been imbued with Divination Magic specifically for detecting and avoiding traps and subtle dangers, and he didn’t sense anything odd in the air.
So then why were Chelsea and Gwen sleeping in a place like this?
Delilah looked down the hall. It was remarkably light, and she could see farther than any other corridor or room before.
Where had the gloom and darkness of the rest of the Library gone? It had even been present on the stairs leading up here, but now, in this one single space, things felt…
Delilah stared at Chelsea and Gwen, marveling at how peaceful they looked.
Did they do this? Did they somehow dispel some of the darkness in the Library? That would explain them being so tired they could fall asleep on the floor. But… how?
Did they figure it out? The secret to reclaiming Isabelle’s home, to reviving the Daylight Bastion, to defeating the Endless Night?
That sounded too good to be true. But the more Delilah thought about it, the more she was sure that the pair had, at the very least, done something in this one corridor. However they’d managed it, they had eliminated some of the darkness. They had brought light to a place where there had been none.
Delilah smiled. She sat down next to Chelsea, while Reginald sat on the other side, next to Gwen. Nekoma stood guard near them, while Redmond watched the stairs, and Felix headed down to the far end of the hall.
“Don’t worry, you guys,” Delilah said softly. “I’ll keep you safe until you wake up. It’s the least I can do.”