Being back in Grimoire felt surreal.
The Cartographers had dropped Shana, Shias, Kathryn, Rae, and Ben in the middle of Lunar Park. A crescent moon hung in the sky overhead, while street lamps illuminated the stone walkways around the park.
Shana instantly reached into her pocket and pulled out her phone, clicking the lock button so she could look at the day and time.
Saturday. 2:30 AM. They’d headed to the grove on Wednesday.
“We missed half a week of school,” Ben said dejectedly, checking his phone as well.
“Because that’s really what’s important right now,” Kathryn said dryly, punching Ben in the arm.
“We may end up missing more than that,” Shana said. “Our job isn’t done.”
“And it’s the start of a weekend,” Shias said. “So we at least have a buffer of time before school continues, if we hurry.”
“But… aren’t we going to fall way behind?” Rae asked. “I just… I know what we’re doing is important, but… shouldn’t we talk to some adults we can trust? Maybe they could find Maribelle.”
Shana sighed. “I know that makes sense, but…” she said, looking at her friends. “I can’t go that route. I promised Annabelle that I’d be back with her sister. None of you have to continue with this if you don’t want to, but I’m not stopping here.”
“Count me in,” Kathryn said, grinning. “I’ve got straight A’s this semester anyway, I can stand to miss a few days. And besides, this is way more fun than school.”
“And way more dangerous,” Ben said.
“Which adds to the fun factor,” Kathryn said, as if that was the most obvious conclusion.
“What do we do about the children in the grove?” Shias asked.
Shana sighed. “I want to tell the Hunters about them or something, but… what if the Radiant King moves them somewhere else? Or what if he has someone attack them, like he did us, but this time with the intent to harm or even kill, rather than capture? I’m pretty sure he only captured us because of me.”
“That’s what Hunters are trained for, though,” Shias said. “We can tell mom and dad, and they’ll be able to find the best way to handle things.”
“So we just… tell them everything?” Rae asked. “W-will they even believe us?”
“Who would?” Ben asked, earning another punch from Kathryn.
“We can’t have been the first people from Grimoire to go to the Enchanted Dominion,” Kathryn said. “I bet there’s someone else who knows about it.”
“Anyway, we should probably head home,” Shana said, staring up at the dark night sky. “I think… we should at least tell my parents about the grove. And… well, probably everything, honestly.”
“How else do we explain we went missing for three days?” Shias asked.
“I-I guess you’re right,” Rae said, bowing her head sheepishly.
“I’ll tell my parents,” Kathryn said, as the five began walking from the park towards the city proper. “They believe all sorts of stuff. And they’ll just be happy I’m safe, anyway.”
“I’ll leave the truth-telling to you guys,” Ben said. “My parents… if they knew I’d been captured by a giant spider Summon, they’d never let me leave the house alone again. I mean, I don’t know if… you know… I’m going to come with the rest of you to find Maribelle, but…”
“Of course you’re coming,” Kathryn said, shooting a glare Ben’s way. “Right, Benjamin?”
Ben shoved his hands in his pockets and looked away. “Yeah, ‘course I am,” he mumbled.
Shana held up the Locksmith emblem as they walked beneath the street lamps. “Have any of you ever seen this symbol before in Grimoire?” she asked.
“Nope,” Kathryn said. Ben shook his head.
“I’ve never seen it,” Rae said.
“It looks vaguely familiar,” Shias said, giving it his trademark hard, analytical stare. “But I can’t place it. Maybe when I’ve had some sleep. I’ll see what I can find out.”
“Well, I don’t recognize it,” Shana said, puzzling over the emblem. It was intriguing, this iron key with wings in a padlock entwined with vines. She would remember if she’d seen it before.
The Dawn Riders walked across the mall’s parking lot and headed up the western side of Grimoire, through the Rosewood District towards Ben’s house. He was the first to leave the group, but they only had to travel a few more blocks to reach Kathryn’s house.
“Ah, shoot, I don’t have my house key,” Kathryn said, double-checking her pockets. She grinned mischievously. “Guess I’ll just have to climb in through a window.”
“Your parents don’t use Guardian Magic?” Shias asked.
Kathryn snorted. “Like my dad always says: ‘we don’t have any enemies, or anything worth stealing. Why waste the effort?’” She headed around her small house’s side, sidling through the gap between her house and the neighbor’s towards a window. She gave it a hefty push, and it slid upward.
“They don’t even lock the windows?” Rae asked, eyes wide with fear.
Kathryn laughed. “This one’s broken,” she said. “I always come in through here when I forget my key. See you guys tomorrow.” She hopped through the window, sliding it shut behind her.
“That is so unsafe,” Shias said as they made their way north, passing under the Rose Arches that marked the northern edge of the Rosewood District, transitioning into the well-lit Lunar District. Set apart from the rest of Grimoire by its open squares and many street lights, the Lunar District was where many high-class mages made their homes, made clear by the looming, sprawling manors and their fenced-off grounds. Each square of the Lunar District was essentially an intersection surrounded by three manors of varying sizes, and they all had individual names, though Shana never bothered to remember them. Dividing up the different squares, and affording more space to the inhabitants, were long walks that ran under wooden canopies with strings of white lights lending a soft ambiance to the area.
The group passed through five of these walks before reaching the square where Rae lived. “Well, I guess I’ll… see you tomorrow?” Rae asked nervously.
“Of course you will,” Shana said with a grin. “At least, as long as our parents let us out again after vanishing for three days. Text me after you know if your mom’s gonna let you meet up with us, okay?”
Rae nodded, and bid the twins goodnight, and finally it was just Shana and Shias walking the long trek to Greyson Manor. Located the farthest north of any mage family’s manor, it meant Shana and her siblings were in for a long walk to almost anywhere in the city. Shana had come to enjoy that. It gave her more time to spend with others as they walked, and on quiet nights like these, it gave her time and space to think. Walking with Shias was particularly comforting, since he knew her best, and he was also often quiet unless Shana annoyed him, leaving Shana largely in control of whether or not they talked.
“What do you think?” Shana asked.
“About what?” Shias asked.
“About everything,” Shana said. “About the Radiant King, and Annabelle and Maribelle, about the Locksmith, and the Enchanted Dominion. About the Cartographers, about the grove, about how crazy big the universe is like can you even wrap your head around what we just went through?” The dam over Shana’s excitement finally burst, as she felt her head spinning in the wake of all she’d experienced in such a short time. Sure, a lot of it was scary, but… wow.
“It’s so much to take in,” Shias said, his usual placid self, contrasting Shana’s excitable, energetic demeanor. “I guess… the biggest thing for me right now, coming away from all of that, is that I’m worried about you.”
“About me?” Shana asked.
Shias nodded. “The Radiant King wanted you specifically,” he said. “And he called you the Dreamer, and said you contained the Dreamer’s Heart, something really important to him. It seemed like it was even something powerful. And the way we escaped… I just worry that he’s going to send his people after you, like Void, or Neith, or any of the others that we saw. And I’m sure he has more agents that we didn’t see. Unless we deal with him somehow…” Shias paused, hesitance written all over his face.
“Spit it out,” Shana said. “I can take it.”
“Unless we find out how to deal with him, you might be hunted your entire life,” Shias said, staring at his sister with fear in his eyes. “And we couldn’t even touch Neith’s Summon. What if he sends multiple agents after you at once? I know you’re committed to finding Maribelle and saving Annabelle yourself, but I just…” His eyes fell. “I realized in the grove that, for all my training, I can’t protect you.”
Shana sidled over behind her brother and wrapped her arms around him in a hug. “You’re so sweet!” she said happily, swaying back and forth as Shias cringed uncomfortably in her embrace. “But Shias, you can protect me. You’re the one who told me not to go into that grove, to only do recon. I was the one stupid enough to ignore your warnings.” She let go of Shias, turned him around to face her. “I’m going to listen to you more from now on. I know I act on emotions a lot, and I don’t think that’ll ever change. But I know I need you.” She poked him in the forehead. “I need your brain, the way you think through everything, even if I think you overthink things too much, you usually have the right answer, and you can see things no one else can. So don’t get all down because we got captured by a giant spider monster. That never would have happened if I’d just listened to my genius brother in the first place.”
Shias pursed his lips. “I’m not a genius…” he muttered.
“That’s all you have to say?” Shana asked, shaking Shias by the shoulders. “You’re a dork.”
Shias shrugged, stepping free of her grip and turning to continue on the path home. “So are you,” he said. He wasn’t facing her, but Shana could tell from his tone that he was smiling.
“So?” Shana asked as they walked. “What’s the plan?”
“We tell mom and dad whatever we want to tell them,” Shias said. “I’ll let you decide what to tell them. After that… assuming they let us out of their sight ever again… we search for the Locksmith. But more than that, I’m too tired to think through the rest right now.” He stifled a yawn with a hand over his mouth.
“Should we wake Mom and Dad up when we get home?” Shana asked.
Shias chuckled. “They’d be pretty mad at us if we didn’t,” he said.
“But it would be kind of hilarious to just surprise them with us being there in the morning,” Shana said, giggling.
Ultimately, they didn’t need to worry. When they walked through the front doors of Greyson Manor and into the family room, they found their parents sitting up, bleary-eyed but expectant. As they laid eyes on their children, Callum and Deirdre looked stunned, and Shana found herself unable to speak. For several moments, no one said anything, and Shana found tears welling up in her eyes as she saw the same happen to her parents. Shock, relief, disbelief, and joy mingled in Callum and Deirdre’s faces, until suddenly, they were racing across the room, wrapping the twins up in desperate, overjoyed hugs.
“This isn’t a dream, is it?” Callum asked, lifting Shana off of the floor, staring into her face as tears streamed down his.
“I’m really here, Dad,” Shana said, finding herself choking up. It had only been a few days, and with all she’d been through, she hadn’t realized just how much she’d missed her parents.
“Where have you been?” Deirdre asked, shaking Shias by the shoulders. He let himself be jostled like a ragdoll, clearly struggling for words more than Shana.
“It’s a long story,” Shana said, hugging her dad back as he put her down on the floor.
“We just… I just…” Callum said, looking up from Shana to his wife. Deirdre looked back at him, sniffed and wiped at her cheeks, and just nodded.
“Have you heard of the Enchanted Dominion?” Shana asked after things had calmed down enough for the four of them to sit in the family room. Altair was curled up next to Shana, dozing contentedly.
Deirdre nodded. “Of course, in stories…” she started, and her eyes widened. “Are you suggesting it’s real?”
“That’s where we were,” Shias said.
“And Caleb and Fae and Delilah are all still there,” Shana said. “Meister Roderick, the head of the Cartographers, was saying they each have their own… journey, or task, or something? Caleb is going through Time Magic training.”
“Delilah’s with Chelsea,” Shias said. “At some place called the Library of Solitude.”
“Whoa, slow down,” Callum said, his expression betraying his excitement. He studied his children’s faces. “This… everything you’re saying is… it’s true. And you’re remembering things accurately.”
“That’s why I can’t really say what the others are doing,” Shana said. “We didn’t get to see them.”
“So then Dad…” Callum said softly, staring at the carpet in thought.
“What about Grandpa?” Shana asked.
“Your Grandpa Oscar used to always tell us stories about the Enchanted Dominion,” Deirdre said. “He always made them seem like stories, though. Whenever we’d ask if it was real…”
Callum smirked. “He’d just do that smile of his, you know.” He said. “With a twinkle in his eye, and say ‘what do you think?’ After getting the same response every time, I stopped asking and just assumed he was making it up for fun.”
“Well, it’s real,” Shana said. “And, um… sorry for disappearing without saying anything.” She stared at her toes, absently stroking Altair’s ears. “It was all my fault. I thought we’d just be gone for a few hours.”
“Where did you go?” Deirdre asked.
“Up the old hiking trails,” Shias said. “Shana thought she had a lead on the kids who have been going missing, abducted by Pipers.”
“The…” Callum’s jaw dropped. “Wait, did you figure something out? No one’s had even the slightest lead on that for years!”
“We found them,” Shana said. “At least… some of them. We think the rest are in groups like they were, nearby. But it’s really dangerous, so you can’t just go charging in to save them without a plan.”
“We’ll need to know everything that you know,” Deirdre said. “And then we’ll gather who we need and work out a strategy. But that can wait until tomorrow. Shana… you look like there’s something you want to say.”
“I…” Shana started. She shouldn’t be surprised that her mom could see right through her. That had been true for years. “I have to go back.”
She let that statement hang in the air for a moment, feeling like her heart would pound right out of her chest.
“Why?” Deirdre finally asked. It wasn’t a confrontation or accusation. Just a simple request for an explanation.
“I made a promise,” Shana said. “There’s a girl who needs someone to deliver a message to her sister. She told me where to find her, and I said I’d do it.” Her heart ached thinking of Annabelle, small and lonely and captive in the Radiant King’s palace.
There was a beep, and Deirdre checked her phone. “It’s Mina,” she said. “Coming over with Rae.” She looked up at the twins. “I suppose Rae went with you?”
Shana nodded. “And Kathryn and Ben,” she said.
“Your other friends are worried about you,” Callum said. “You really want to leave them again?”
“Not to mention school,” Deirdre said. “I don’t suppose you know when you’ll return?”
Shana shook her head.
“But you’re determined?” Deirdre asked.
Deirdre looked at her husband, and both of their expressions softened as they sighed in unison, the weary sigh of parents who were about to relent to their children, despite wanting to do otherwise.
Shana knew that sigh particularly well.
“We’ll handle the school,” Callum said with a conspiratorial smirk.
“But talk to the rest of your friends,” Deirdre said. “Tell them something, even if it can’t be the truth. Just don’t disappear on them.”
Shana nodded. There was a knock at the door, and Callum went to get it. He returned with Rae and her mother in tow.
Mina Shoto, head of the Appraisal Guild and a member of the Council of Mages, never failed to look elegant. She wore a long purple gown under a black coat, with a white scarf stylishly draped around her shoulders. Her long dark hair hung in spiraling curls, framing a face that embraced age, with each new line or wrinkle worn with pride.
Beside her was her daughter Rae, who didn’t much take after her mother. Her small, mousy face, messy shock of short hair, and struggles with fashion always made her seem very out-of-place next to Mina.
“Callum, Deirdre,” Mina said, her mellifluous voice working a calming effect over all in the room. She placed a hand on Rae’s shoulder, who jumped at the gesture. Despite Mina’s serene calm, Rae looked at her wit’s end, wracked with stress and nervousness. “And Shana, Shias. It’s good to see you’ve returned. Rae has told me everything, at least as well as she can. It seems there is much more to the universe than we ever knew.”
“Did you ever doubt it?” Callum asked, grinning. Mina and Rae sat with the four, with Rae nervously sliding up next to Shana.
“And it appears your daughter intends to go back to this Enchanted Dominion,” Mina said, her calm gaze resting on Shana. “Despite the dangers posed by this Radiant King.”
“Radiant King?” Deirdre asked, eyeing Shana suspiciously.
“We might not have gotten to that part yet…” Shana said sheepishly.
The meeting continued as Shana and Shias explained their trip to the Radiant King’s palace, with Mina occasionally interjecting with what Rae had told her – Rae herself wasn’t offering a single word, seeming shell-shocked by her discussion with her mother. Shana quickly realized that Rae really had told her mother everything. Soon, their entire story was laid bare before the adults in the room.
“Dreamer’s Heart…” Deirdre said softly.
“Well, now we know why you said going after the children would be dangerous,” Callum said. “But we’ll take care of that. As for this Locksmith character…”
Shana produced the Locksmith’s emblem, laying it on the coffee table. Callum picked it up, examining it before passing it along to Deirdre, who then passed it to Mina.
“Can’t say I’ve ever seen that symbol before,” Deirdre said. Callum shook his head in agreement.
“It seems strangely familiar,” Mina said, turning it over and over in her hand. “If I do remember where I’ve seen it, or come across it again, I will be sure to let you know.”
“Anyway, it’s all pretty simple,” Callum said. “Let the adults handle rescuing the kidnapped kids. Meanwhile, you three – and Kathryn and Ben, if they’re allowed and willing – can focus on finding the Locksmith, and getting to Maribelle.”
“Do you really think that’s wise, Callum?” Mina asked. “It’s a large task to put on these children, especially when only one of them has any sort of formal training…”
“It seems to me that this is Shana’s task,” Deirdre said, smiling. “Whether we like it or not, she is determined. And I think she’s learned a lot in her short journey. I trust her, and Shias, and Rae.”
“If it gets too dangerous, just run away,” Callum said with a smirk. “It’s a tried-and-true tactic.”
“Your nonchalance would be disturbing, if it weren’t so very like you,” Mina said, rolling her eyes. “Rae.” Rae looked up at her mother, eyes wide. “Please don’t be so afraid. I know you went through a lot. But you’re safe here. I…” Mina lowered her gaze, sadness crossing her face. “I know you want to go. And I don’t understand why, with how fearful you are, and how you struggle so much to have any confidence in yourself. But your determination to help your friends makes me proud.” She smiled. “I will worry about you. But know that you can always talk to me, about anything, no matter how completely unbelievable it sounds. One of your very greatest traits is your honesty.”
“Thank you,” Rae said softly.
“Now, if we could just get the rest of our kids back,” Callum said, pursing his lips. “Caleb’s getting special training in another world, huh? I never would have guessed. He was always so confident in his abilities, and praised for his Time Magic.”
“But he’s never had a formal teacher,” Deirdre said. “Perhaps he found out that what seems so incredible to all of us here in Grimoire is barely even scratching the surface of what he should be able to do.”
“Man, that gets me excited,” Callum said, grinning. “I can’t wait to see what he’s like when he comes home.”
“You know…” Shana said slowly. “When we find a way into the Enchanted Dominion from here, we can tell you. If you want to go looking for Delilah and Fae.”
“It sounds like they’re exactly where they’re supposed to be,” Deirdre said, her voice filled with regret. “As long as they don’t take too long accomplishing the tasks before them… I’ll do my best not to worry.”
“We both will,” Callum said. “And we’ll both fail. A lot. But at least we know where they are.”
Slowly the conversation died off, and Mina and Rae got up to leave, while Shana and Shias headed to bed. As Callum and Deirdre saw Mina and Rae off, Mina leaned in close to the two Greysons.
“Letting our children be away from Grimoire,” she said softly, “might be a blessing at the moment, with all that’s goin on. I fear…”
“Yeah,” Callum said. He’d had the same fears.
Deirdre nodded. “In these dark times, it’s better our children stay far away from here,” she said.