Caleb spent three more days at Alexandra’s mansion before Mister Midnight recovered. Over those three days, he realized that this was the first downtime he’d had since collapsing and ending up at Chronoshin. From there he’d gone to Midnight Bridge, and since then he’d been either training or actively involved in some sort of mission or fight.
Now he was able to relax, and it felt… very strange.
Alexandra’s mansion had thousands of books, so Caleb spent some of his time reading, but he often found that he was restless. So he explored a lot, and while Alexandra spent a lot of time at Midnight’s side, Adelaida seemed to have taken a bit of a liking to Caleb, and was perfectly willing to show him around and answer any questions he had. She still had her emotionless, flat expression and attitude, but Caleb noticed subtle changes, including a slight softening in her personality and demeanor.
Mineria also spent a lot of time exploring, so the three of them – Caleb, Adelaida, and Mineria – frequently ended up together. Adelaida showed them many places in the vast mansion, and with every new discovery, Caleb thought he couldn’t possibly be more surprised, only to once again have his expectations shattered.
For one, Alexandra’s mansion was simply massive. Caleb knew something about spacious homes – the Greyson manor wasn’t small by any measure – and yet his large, expensive home could fit into a small corner of Alexandra’s mansion. There were multiple swimming pools, a full-service spa, three separate libraries filled with books and study areas, two grand dining rooms for accommodating guests, three personal dining rooms, two dessert rooms (something Caleb had never heard of before – apparently one couldn’t have both dinner and dessert in the same room), five kitchens, twelve pantries, six lounges with large bars and a wide assortment of drinks, two observatories, three concert halls, twenty-seven practice rooms with a wide variety of instruments, seven art studios, four writing studios, six music studios, an armory (which was locked tight and “not open to guests except in cases of emergency” according to Adelaida), three laboratories, seven optometry labs (Alexandra wasn’t joking about optometry as a hobby of hers), four sitting rooms, three ballrooms, and so much more than Caleb could ever have remembered in a lifetime. The entire top floor of the mansion was an indoor park and garden, with a ceiling made of glass to let sunlight in.
Most interesting to Caleb were the six different gyms. Two were designed for combat training, with a wide assortment of practice weapons and dummies. The other four were more general gyms, with lots of space, weights, benches, and sports gear that Caleb was unfamiliar with. Despite Caleb’s protests, Adelaida insisted that she had to observe him when he decided to train.
It makes sense. I’m Fractured. I guess I could collapse at any moment. I shouldn’t complain.
So Caleb spent much of the second and third days training. He took Midnight’s words to heart about thinking about how he fights, and why he fights that way. He analyzed his different magical abilities, thought of different strategies, and became very much aware of how much he’d relied on Time Magic. Now that he couldn’t use it, and now that he could effectively analyze his skills without the pressures of an actual battle, he was shocked at just how slow he was. No wonder he’d been completely outclassed by Void and Neith. He was confident he could still handle Hollows in his current state, but he also knew that if he was back in Grimoire on patrols, he’d be part of a team.
I wonder how Chelsea’s doing. If she’s gotten Isabelle back to the Library yet, what’s there left to do there? Has she already left and moved onto something new? Is she back in Grimoire? Or are they staying in the Library of Solitude and exploring?
If I can’t get myself back together and figure out how to fight effectively again, Chelsea is going to be so disappointed in me.
In just two days, Caleb felt like he made a lot of progress. Most of that was mental – he was coming to understand himself and his abilities more now than he ever had before. He was still slow, because of exactly what Midnight had told him – he spent too much time thinking. It was going to take weeks, maybe even months of training to develop his new style and turn it into something he was completely comfortable with and could make full use of without so much conscious, agonizingly slow thought.
Chains and platforms were his main abilities – Containment and Mobility Magic. He rather liked his Mobility discs, and he continued to get creative with his applications of them. He could place them anywhere, and they could be either solid, stable objects, or “reflectors” – he could bounce off of them, and he could use them to bounce attacks and people in whatever direction he wanted. He’d even used one as a shield to defend Midnight against Neith.
That’s an application I should practice more. It could come in really handy. Who knew you could use Mobility Magic to protect your friends?
In his two days of training, Caleb fainted five separate times, and all of them were very brief bouts of blacking out and then recovering. If only he could figure out what specifically caused him to be incapacitated, he could adjust his style and his physical exertion to compensate for that and avoid it. But so far, Caleb noticed no pattern. Once, he passed out right at the start of training, before he’d even done anything to exert himself.
At least it’s brief. I only conk out for about three or four seconds.
That’s an eternity in a battle, though.
He also always knew when it was coming, though he couldn’t stop it. Just like against Neith, his vision would blur, and he’d feel like he’d lost all sense of equilibrium. He was falling through the floor, or so he thought, and then… he was fine. He had no perception of actually losing consciousness, almost as if he skipped forward a handful of seconds in time without realizing it.
He took his last dose of medicine for chronial poisoning the day before Midnight recovered. When he had a chance, he asked Alexandra about it.
“Oh, the medicine won’t cure you of your Fracturing,” Alexandra had said. “And the symptoms you notice are all from that, which was a side-effect of your chronial poisoning.”
“So… what has my medicine done for me?” Caleb had asked.
“It’s kept you from experiencing far worse symptoms. Be thankful for that. And consider not pushing yourself so hard. Not everyone needs to be a fighter, dear.”
Caleb knew that. He knew not everyone needed to fight.
But that’s what Caleb was. Sure, he was smart, and he could handle any number of research or personnel jobs for the Council of Mages.
But fighting was what he had always been best at. It was his specialty. The idea that he could drop that, leave that behind, and become something else was simply absurd to him.
Only if there’s no other choice.
It was more than Caleb’s stubbornness to stick to what he knew. It was also the reality of his situation. The Radiance were planning to return to Grimoire. Whatever their plans, it spelled danger for his family and friends. After interacting with two of their members, Caleb knew that if he was going to play a part in stopping the Radiance…
He was going to need to fight.
Caleb had seen in the Brig, for a brief moment, Adelaida conjure a metal staff-like weapon. On the afternoon of the third day, he saw that Adelaida and Andrea were training together in one of the combat gyms. Both had the same weapon, which at first glance appeared to be a simple long, metal staff. But as they started fighting the training dummies, both ladies’ staves morphed and changed. They could fight with them up close as a normal staff, but that wasn’t their preferred style. Both ends of the staff could extend, revealing that there were long, extending and retracting chains inside the metal weapon. They mostly used these for straight-on attacks – the end of the staff acted like a weighted bludgeon at the end of the chain, making for powerful long-range strikes – but they could also use them to wrap up enemies, or even to grab items at a distance and toss them at their targets. Caleb knew about fighting with chains, but, aside from occasionally springing them to life directly from his Talisman, he mostly wasn’t hands-on with them, making his glowing chains burst into being anywhere he wanted without having to touch them at all. Watching Alexandra’s handmaidens wield these double-chained staves with such grace and precision was amazing.
It also gave Caleb an interesting idea.
Back at his training, Caleb tried something he didn’t do very often: changing the physical makeup of his magical chains. It had taken him quite some time when he first started manifesting his Containment Magic as chains to settle on a size and shape, but before then, he was constantly tinkering with size, thickness, and at one point even had spikes on each chain link (but that ended up looking way too tacky). To Caleb’s surprise, he was able to morph and reshape his chains with ease, and he added a new detail to the chains for use in striking his foes – a large, solid weight on the end of them, like the ends of the staff weapons used by Adelaida and Andrea.
Three days passed very quickly, and soon Midnight was up and walking around again. He hadn’t physically injured or damaged himself, so all it took was extensive, forced (he’d wanted to get up on the second day, but Alexandra made it clear to him that she wouldn’t allow it) bedrest.
“You seem to be coming along well,” Midnight said, surprising Caleb in the middle of his training. Caleb hopped down from one of his Mobility discs, dismissing it as he did, and grinned at the sight of his recovered teacher.
“And you seem to be back to normal,” Caleb said. “I’m glad you’re all right.”
Midnight chuckled. “If I was smart, I would have rested before we left for Sunset Square. But, just so you know, I wasn’t planning on getting into any fights here.”
“I know you weren’t. So? What’s the plan?”
“Well, Mineria’s told me all she knows,” Midnight said, his expression grim. “I never cared for the Crystal Family, but hearing about how the Palace was taken is disgusting. And knowing that the Radiance are planning to return to Grimoire is not good by any measure. So I know exactly what we’re going to do.” He gave Caleb a smirk. “You ready to give Time Magic one more go, kid?”
Caleb grinned. “Am I ever.”
Midnight held up a finger. “Just so you know, this will be your last shot. If you for even a second screw things up, or show the slightest possible signs of a second round of chronial poisoning, I’m stopping your training forever. I can still teach you how to fight, that’s no problem. But you only get one more shot at Time Magic. And, being perfectly honest, it may well kill you unless both of us are very careful, and you are very lucky.”
Caleb nodded, undeterred. “I know you won’t let me die,” he said.
Midnight laughed. “All right, place all the pressure on me.” He turned back to the gym’s entrance, looking a bit uncertain. “Say… do you think Alexandra would mind if we just slipped out without telling her?”
“I think you know the answer as well as I do,” Caleb said. He walked over to his teacher, standing next to him and giving him a serious look. “Come on, she’s your sister. At least say goodbye.”
Midnight sighed. “Yeah, fine. Let’s go.”
Alexandra seemed to be expecting their departure, and so she, along with Adelaida, Andrea, and Mineria, gathered with Midnight and Caleb in the main entrance hall to see them off.
“I’ll be taking care of Mineria for now,” Alexandra said, hugging the crystalline messenger close. “She’s become a dear friend in a short time, and she doesn’t have anywhere to go at the moment. Don’t worry, Lance, I’ll keep her safe.”
“I know you will,” Midnight said. “This is probably the safest place in the entire Dominion.”
Alexandra’s expression grew more serious, with a hint of sadness. “Take care of yourself, won’t you, Lance?” she asked. “And you too, Caleb, dear. And… well, I know you came out of necessity and not because you wanted to, but…” she smiled at her brother, “I’m glad you came all the same. I hope you’ll be back soon, and that next time you’ll be here because you actually want to see me.”
Midnight looked embarrassed, turning away and scratching his chin distractedly. “Yeah, I, uh…” he mumbled, for the first time Caleb had seen him struggling for words. He coughed, cleared his throat, and then nodded once. “We’ve got a lot to do, you know? But yeah, sure, I’ll come visit. Eventually. Probably.” He caught Caleb’s eyes for a moment, saw the disapproving look Caleb was giving him, and sighed. He stood up straight, finally looking at his sister. “I’ll come back. And I…” Midnight mumbled something, turning away and walking towards the door.
“What was that?” Alexandra asked.
Midnight stopped with the door half open. Without looking back, he spoke clearly so all could hear. “I said I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to… well, I didn’t mean for a lot of things to happen. I hope you’ll forgive me.”
While Midnight wouldn’t look back, Caleb did, and he saw that Alexandra was smiling, as her eyes shimmered with the onset of tears. “Of course, Lance,” she said. “Forever, for anything, no matter what. We’re family. Don’t you forget that.”
Midnight gave a single nod, and then walked out the door. Caleb offered a final wave, and then followed him out into Sunset Square.
“I see you’ve had a change of heart,” Caleb said.
Midnight had his hands in the pockets of his long coat, and stared up at the sky as he walked. “Let’s just say… I avoided seeing her for a lot of reasons. A lot of complicated reasons. And I didn’t expect her to be so kind about me returning. Even when she scolded me, that was just like old times, really, and she did it because…” Midnight coughed, shook his head. “Anyway.” He cast a sidelong glance at Caleb. “I guess you’re a good influence on me, Greyson.”
Caleb grinned, but he didn’t have anything to say in response.
The walk through Sunset Square felt strange. It hadn’t been all that long, but Caleb felt like he’d been away from the city for months, and there were details he’d completely forgotten. He still saw police officers spray painting over the LIFE graffiti, and saw humans apprehended after taking a crystal test. It was a sad, ugly sight, but Caleb’s mind went back to Lissa and David, the couple from the protected zone that he had talked to. They were kind of like missionaries, Caleb realized, visiting the ugliest places – for humans, anyway – in order to try and change things for the better. Remembering their smiles, their hope, and their unwillingness to give in, gave Caleb a spark of faith in the midst of such ugliness around him.
I don’t know how long it’ll take, but with those two doing their best… this city will change.
Maybe, when all of my own stuff is over, I’ll come back. I don’t know if I can be useful here, but I don’t want things to stay how they are. There are real enemies to fight – not this “human menace” stuff. I hope the people of this city can see that someday soon.
They quickly reached Sunset Station, and Midnight led Caleb away from the crowded main platforms to a plain, unmarked side door. He traced a pattern on the door with his finger, and a soft click sounded within. Midnight opened the door, and Caleb followed him in.
Through the doorway was another, very strange rail platform. It was only one platform, with its own single ticket booth to the right. To the left were the rails, and Caleb noticed that, rather than continuing down a dark tunnel in either direction, the tracks simply vanished into a starry darkness.
“URS Station, I take it?” Caleb asked.
Midnight nodded, leading the way to the ticket booth. “Mister Midnight and one guest for the Goodnight Express,” he said.
The booth operator nodded, retrieving two tickets and handing them over. “Always a pleasure, Mister Midnight,” he said, tipping his cap. “Have a pleasant journey.”
The Goodnight Express came along shortly, nearly silent on the tracks, and Midnight and Caleb boarded, finding their way to an unoccupied cabin and settling in. For several hours on their journey back to Midnight Bridge, neither said anything. Midnight seemed to take a nap, and Caleb, as he had every other time on the URS trains, gawked at the amazing sights out his window.
But something was nagging at Caleb. It took him several hours to figure out what it was, and once he did, he found himself feeling the need to talk to Midnight about it. Considering where they were going – and who they were returning to – now was as good a time as any.
Noticing Midnight stir from his nap, Caleb worked up the courage and opened his mouth. “So Ingrid should be happy to see you back, huh?” he asked.
Midnight nodded, saying nothing. He stared out the window, his mysterious eyes unreadable.
“I was thinking about what you showed me,” Caleb said. “About Ingrid’s past, about her parents, about how the Radiance is looking for her. And I was thinking about how you said she doesn’t know anything about the truth.”
“And?” Midnight asked.
“Don’t you think you should tell her?”
Midnight sighed. “No, I don’t.”
“Because she’s perfectly happy the way things are. You saw glimpses of her past. The truth would terrify her.”
“I also saw the people she thinks are her parents,” Caleb said. “They don’t love or care for her. They’re using her, and the only reason they don’t succeed is because you protect her. But she wants to make them proud, and make them happy, because she thinks they’re her real parents, and she’s trying to be a good daughter. That isn’t right. You want to protect her from them? Tell her the truth. She doesn’t need to go back to them, but she’ll keep thinking she does, until she knows that she owes them nothing.”
“I’d ask you to mind your own business, but I did bring you into all of this,” Midnight said, still staring out the window. “I understand your feelings. But…” He closed his eyes. “Ingrid is a very special person. Have you heard of the different Birthright Magics?” Caleb blinked, silent for several seconds, long enough to get a brief chuckle out of Midnight. “I didn’t think so. From what I’ve seen and heard of humans, they know very little about them, when they know anything at all. It’s odd, considering Time Magic is among them.”
“Wait… Time Magic…” Caleb tried to piece things together. “You’re saying Time Magic is a Birthright Magic? Does that mean you can only use it if you’re born with it?”
Midnight nodded. “That’s right. It still requires extensive training, and carries dangerous risks, but surely you’ve heard of people trying to learn, and not being able to even tap into the slightest bit of Time Magic. That’s because it isn’t their birthright. Every Birthright Magic is exceedingly rare – some have only occurred in one person in all of history, so far. Time Magic, strangely enough, is the most common of Birthright Magics. That’s why you and your mage friends know so much about it, and why you had enough books and records to help you grasp a certain level of the fundamentals.”
Knowing that Caleb could only use Time Magic because of some birthright didn’t really impact him. It was surprising, but it didn’t change things for him. He’d still worked incredibly hard to learn what he had so far. He’d fought for every metaphorical inch of his abilities. What surprised him was that there was such a thing as Birthright Magic at all.
“So what does this have to do with Ingrid?” Caleb asked.
“She’s what those who know about Birthright Magic call an Empath,” Midnight said. “She’s extremely sensitive to the feelings of others. Mostly emotions, but also things like pain and sickness. I kept her away from you as much as I could when you were working through the chronial poisoning, but she insisted on helping you. It was difficult for her – more than it would be for anyone – but…” Midnight smiled. “She’s too compassionate to be deterred by that.” He lifted his hands. “She can feel the emotional state of people around her to a certain extent, but it’s through physical contact that her power really shines. Just by touching someone, she can see their emotions laid bare, more than even that person themselves can. With certain training, Empaths can even use this power to manipulate and control the emotions of others – that’s why the Radiant King turned her into an Eternal, and that’s why he’s tried to find her and bring her back to him. But she hasn’t had that training. Even if she had, well, of course she wouldn’t use it. Maybe in attempts to help people, I don’t know, but I don’t think so. She’s too kind and considerate of others to do something like that. She knows about the extent of her powers that I’ve told you, aside from what she can achieve through training.”
Caleb worked through his surprise that such a kind of magic existed to ask the question at hand. “So what does that have to do with shielding Ingrid from the truth?”
Midnight’s eyes flashed briefly. “Because she is most sensitive to her own emotions. Part of the reason she’s so happy and upbeat so often is because, in her mind, she doesn’t know pain and loss. She doesn’t remember any of her past – even the things I showed you, that I saw when I looked into her memories, are things that her own mind can’t access. While the memories are there, they’re locked away to her. I could unlock them – I could show her the truth laid bare – but knowing what she is… it would break her.”
“Are you sure it would?” Caleb asked.
Midnight finally looked at him, eyes narrowed. “You think I wouldn’t know?”
“I think you’re too afraid to try. I think, with you there – someone she loves, and who loves her in return – she’d be able to handle it. If she’s so sensitive to the emotional states of others, she won’t just feel her tragic past. She’ll also feel the love and care you have for her.”
Midnight looked away, sighing. For a long time he didn’t speak, and Caleb turned to stare out the window, too. They were circling some planet Caleb had never seen or heard of before. Nearly a third of it was a sheer white, frozen tundra, and yet beyond that was blue, and then green. Two moons orbited the strange planet – one frozen white, the other a rocky red – and a reddish sun burned in the distance.
“You’re smarter than I realized,” Midnight finally said. “When you stop chattering away or trying to crack jokes all the time, you show that you have a really good head on your shoulders. You took stock of Ingrid’s powers and what they could mean – both good and bad – so quickly.” He sighed. “Tell you what, Caleb. If you succeed at this final chance of Time Magic training, then I’ll show Ingrid the truth.”
“But you don’t want to show her the truth,” Caleb said, staring at Midnight. “And I thought you did want me to complete my training.”
Midnight smiled. “It’s a reward. I want you to succeed. Now, hopefully you want to succeed even more than the last time.” He leaned forward, meeting Caleb’s eyes with his unnerving, pinprick pupils. “I don’t want you to die, kid. But I also want you to know that you have more potential than I’ve ever seen in a student. Don’t you dare fail me. You got that?”
Caleb grinned. “I got it completely,” he said. “I’ll succeed.”
“You darn well better.” Midnight turned to look out the window again, and Caleb joined him. The rest of their trip passed in silence.