When Caleb finally went to bed, his training with Mister Midnight complete, he thought he’d be restless and unable to really sleep. He was excited and filled with energy at the thought of what he could now do, at the pride of having completed such training and grown so much.
But once his head hit the pillow, Caleb was out like a light. He didn’t dream at all, and when he woke, refreshed and ready to seize the new day…
He discovered that he’d slept for nearly twenty-four hours
What was even more shocking was when he discovered that Midnight was still asleep.
“He’ll probably be out for another day at least,” Ingrid said, smiling brightly as she cooked breakfast. “Time Magic takes a toll, and he was using Time Magic on a scale he’s never taught anyone else to use. Locational Time Magic is… well, I don’t know all the reasons behind why he keeps its secrets to himself. But it exhausts him more than he lets on.”
“Yeah, I noticed that a bit when we were in Sunset Square,” Caleb said, thinking back to the fight with Neith and the Brig rescue mission.
Ingrid sighed. “He has a terrible tendency to overdo things. But at least he knows when he needs to sleep, and doesn’t try to force himself awake when he’s truly worn out.”
Caleb chuckled. “It seems to me he’d be lost without you. You’re right about him tending to overdo things.”
Ingrid served breakfast and sat across from Caleb, but she was more subdued than usual. When she looked up at him, there were hints of tears in her eyes. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed it… I know I pick up things that most don’t, because I’m an Empath. But Mister Midnight, he’s just… he’s so lonely. He tries to hide it, acts like it doesn’t bother him, but I know being assigned here was something he never wanted. He has such a storm of emotions – towards the Crystal King, towards the fool’s gods, towards his sister. But I…” Ingrid smiled, shaking her head. “He’s so happy to have you here. And he’s happy to have me here. There’s a great deal of his past that I don’t know, but I just wanted to ask… even though you’ve graduated from your training, and you have a lot to do, please, Caleb. Please come back here sometimes. I’ll miss you, but more than that, Mister Midnight…”
Caleb smiled. “I will. You can count on it. And it seems I’ll be working with Mister Midnight at least a little bit going forward, until the Radiance is stopped from whatever they’re planning for Grimoire. Besides, I can’t just leave the two of you. You’ve become wonderful friends, and I’d miss you far too much to leave and never return.”
Ingrid let out a heavy sigh of relief, and her smile widened. “Oh, that’s wonderful to hear! I just… I know you’re kind and you’ve grown attached to us and this place, but I also know how short your life can be compared to ours, and how much you have to do, and I –”
Caleb laughed. “I understand. Don’t worry. And I don’t even think I’ll be leaving right away. I…” He looked out the window. “I don’t really know where I’m supposed to go next. There’s the Radiance of course, but do I try to find them, or go to Grimoire to prepare to defend it? And then there are Chelsea, Delilah, and Isabelle and the Library of Solitude… I wonder if they’ve found it yet.” He sighed. “I promised Isabelle I’d get her home. I really let her down. I know Chelsea and Delilah can handle it, and they have Lorelei, too, so they’re ready for anything. But… well, I just don’t know where I’m going to go from here yet. And I can’t imagine how worried my parents and siblings must be back home.”
“You have so many people counting on you,” Ingrid said. “I’m sorry if I sounded selfish.”
Caleb shook his head. “No, not at all. I’m glad to know you and Mister Midnight. Besides, I don’t mind having lots of people counting on me.” He smiled. “The more, the merrier. And needing someone, relying on someone, missing someone, not wanting someone to forget about you or disappear from your life… that’s not selfish at all. That’s how things should be, I think. No one can get by on their own.”
Ingrid smiled at Caleb as she stood up. “Could I… well, see, my powers allow me to feel the emotions of others, but they’re most potent when I’m in physical contact with them. So I was wondering, can I hold your hand?”
Caleb was taken aback for a moment, but then nodded, holding out his hand. “Sure thing.”
Ingrid came around the table to sit next to Caleb. Gently she took his hand in her own, and for a moment, she simply sat holding it.
Then, suddenly, she smiled, a wide, beautiful grin, accompanied by her silver eyes lighting up with joy. “Oh, this is…” she laughed breathlessly. “You’re so… I mean, I thought you were, you seemed to be, but I’m just…” She laughed again, shaking her head, and then let go of Caleb’s hand, her bright silver eyes staring up at him. “You’re so happy. So hopeful. It’s… it’s wonderful.” She smiled at Caleb. “Thank you. I needed that. And I’m glad you’re so happy.”
Caleb laughed. “I’m glad I could help. I know some people who get tired of my… oh, how did he put it?”
“Senseless optimism,” came the gritty voice of Mister Midnight. He rounded the corner into the kitchen, a small smirk on his face.
“You’re awake!” Ingrid said excitedly, hopping to her feet. “How did you sleep?”
Midnight yawned, stretching his arms overhead, arching his back like a cat. “Oh, like a rock,” he said with a heavy sigh. “I needed that. Glad to see you two are doing well. Caleb, how do you feel?”
Caleb grinned. “I feel fantastic!” he said. “Better than I have in a long time. If it weren’t for my Fracturing, I’d say better than ever.”
“Glad to hear it. Is there any breakfast left?”
Ingrid smiled. “Plenty!”
Once everyone had eaten, Midnight led them to the common area, where he sprawled out on a cushioned chair, and Caleb and Ingrid sat on a couch across from him. Midnight opened with a question. “So – what now?”
Caleb sighed. “I was hoping you’d help me figure that out,” he said. “There’s the Radiance, and the Library of Solitude, and Grimoire… I’m not entirely sure where I should go or what I should do. I know I’ve been training partially to fight the Radiance, so if you have plans of how that battle should start, I’m all ears.”
Midnight mused for a moment, staring at the ceiling. “Well, we don’t know much about their plan,” he said. “They’re intending to return to Grimoire during the week of the Lunar Festival, but why? Will all of them return, or just some of them? And knowing they’re going to Grimoire then, should you go there and try to mobilize a force to defend against them, or should you and I try and head them off? We know they’ve taken up residence in the Crystal Palace thanks to Mineria, so it’s likely a lot of them are there. But if we were to go up against them, just you and me, well… we wouldn’t win. We could do damage, we might be able to take a few of them out, but stopping the Radiant King is our primary objective. If we can’t get to him, then there’s no point in fighting. And then there are your friends and the Library of Solitude… and of course there are lots of people who miss you…” Midnight sighed. “I’d say we can rule out going to the Crystal Palace and confronting the fool’s gods directly. You should probably go to Grimoire. Tell your parents, tell your friends, tell anyone who will listen that the Radiant King is coming. I know a lot about their forces, so I can provide you with information that will aid in defending against them. And while you prepare at Grimoire, I can watch their movements and see if I can’t disrupt their plans a little bit here and there, make things easier for you when they arrive.”
“You can’t come with me to Grimoire?” Caleb asked.
Midnight shook his head. “No way. My place is in the Enchanted Dominion. The farther I am from Midnight Bridge, and the longer I’m away, the weaker it will get, and the easier it’ll be for some punk like Void to take my home.”
“And it’s a Daylight Bastion,” Ingrid said. “That means that the Bridge’s safety is even more important than the fight against the fool’s gods.”
Midnight nodded, pointing at Ingrid. “That’s the truth of it. But Caleb, you know a lot of what’s going on. What do you want to do? And what do you think you should do?”
Caleb had been thinking about all of these factors in the back of his mind for a long time, but even so, he hadn’t yet found the answer to that question. Now that he was focusing on it intentionally, things started to come together.
Alexandra said Grimoire’s Lunar Festival is still almost a month away. My training since then didn’t even take up a day on Earth, but then I slept for a day… there’s still time. Should I use that time to prepare?
But I can’t imagine preparing to defend Grimoire without Chelsea. We’ve been a team since we became Hunters. So should I try to find her? But where would she be? If she’s found the Library of Solitude, that’s easy, but I don’t even know if she’s found it – and if she has, how would I get there? And if she hasn’t, she could be anywhere in the Dominion. Would I have enough time to find them?
Preparing on Grimoire should be easy. I tell mom and dad about the Radiance first, and they can tell me who to rely on. We can form a team and a strategy together.
“You want to find your friends first,” Ingrid said. Caleb stared at her, at her silver eyes filled with focus and understanding.
Caleb nodded. “But it isn’t that easy. I have no idea where they could be. They were looking for the Library of Solitude, but…”
Midnight snapped his fingers, eyes lighting up. “I don’t know why I didn’t think of this sooner. Kid, if they’re in the Library of Solitude, we can find out really easily.”
Caleb stared at Midnight. “Wait… what?”
“Oh, that’s right!” Ingrid suddenly said, hopping to her feet. “They’re both Daylight Bastions!”
Midnight nodded. “The Bastions are linked, so we can check in on each other. The Library’s probably the most complicated to access or communicate with, but I have some practice, and I was on good terms with Lady Kodoka before she disappeared, so she taught me a thing or two. Let me show you. If your friends have reached the Library, we’ll find them, I promise you that.”
Caleb followed Midnight and Ingrid to the pillar that stood in the center of Midnight’s narrow house, around which wound a spiral staircase. Midnight traced a pattern on the pillar with his finger, and a section of it rippled like water and then rolled away, revealing a staircase descending further down below the house’s ground floor. It was dark and foreboding, but only until Midnight stepped onto the stairs. Deep blue lamps flickered to life, lighting the way down as Midnight led the way.
“So I got a small gist of things from Alexandra, but what exactly is a Daylight Bastion?” Caleb asked as they descended. The narrow staircase seemed to go on for a shockingly long way.
“She mentioned darkness to you, as in living darkness,” Midnight said. “That evil force is attempting to encroach upon and consume the world of the living every second of every day. Its pathway to the universe is through the Enchanted Dominion, and so the Daylight Bastions were constructed. Each of them is a Location within the Dominion, given special powers and purpose, specifically located so as to cover all avenues of entrance that the darkness might use to invade. While most Locations in the Enchanted Dominion are in motion, the Daylight Bastions are stationary.”
“There’s such a thing as living darkness?” Caleb asked, stunned by the idea. The cramped walls around the staircase suddenly vanished as they descended further, and Caleb stopped, staring out at the majestic place beneath Mister Midnight’s house.
All around him was a vast, crystalline cavern. The ceiling, the walls, the floor far below, all were glittering with rock formations. Blue, black, and purple, they shimmered with a light all their own. Some crystal spires jutted out hundreds of feet, and were wider than the entirety of Greyson Manor. Others were narrow spikes, coated with multi-colored crystal nubs that dripped glittering water to a pool far below. Their light bathed the entire place in a calm, subdued glow.
The staircase descended for another long while, and Caleb spied the floor, hundreds, perhaps thousands of feet below.
“There is indeed such a thing as living darkness,” Midnight said. A little push from Ingrid got Caleb moving again, following after Midnight. “And it never stops trying to destroy and corrupt. That’s what the Daylight Bastions are for. Imbued with light, they stave off the darkness and fight it back so it cannot consume life.”
They stepped out onto the crystal floor, a glittering kaleidoscope of blue, purple, and black that seemed to swirl and change with every step from any of the three who now walked upon it. Ahead of them was a sloping path up to a plateau, and Midnight led the way. “The Daylight Bastions are also given a special item: a Light Catcher,” Midnight said. “They serve as warning systems, and also as a method of storing up light when it isn’t needed so that there’s more available when things grow dire. Here we are.”
At the top of the plateau was a mirror, about as tall as Caleb, in a silver frame. Its reflective surface glittered and glowed with white light, and the reflections of Caleb, Ingrid, and Midnight seemed brighter than they did normally, sort of washed out, as if there was so much light that color and detail couldn’t accurately be seen.
“This is the Light Catcher of Midnight Bridge,” Midnight said, patting the top of the mirror as he walked past it. “Probably the second strongest Light Catcher there is, and as you can see, it’s filled with light. Darkness doesn’t stand a chance of taking over the Bridge. But we’re not here for that. Over here.” Caleb and Ingrid followed, and found Midnight standing at a stone pedestal shaped like an hourglass. The top of it had a depression, in which was a small amount of silvery liquid.
“This is the communication system of the Bastions,” Ingrid said, staring into the liquid excitedly. “It’s called Hikarescence.”
“It has a few different functions, but we should be able to check in and see how things are going,” Midnight said. “The head librarian, Merric, is usually the one who answers. If your friends are there, he’ll know.” He stretched out his hand, palm downward, until it was just an inch from the Hikarescence. A ripple pulsed through it, and the silvery color changed to the image of a darkened room. “Hmm. That’s not normal. Someone should be awake and monitoring it.” Midnight leaned towards the pedestal, raising his voice slightly. “Merric? Are you there? I know you like your naps, but I have an important question for you.” After a long pause with still no reply, Midnight sighed. “All right, let’s see if we can check the condition of the Library. I don’t do this too often, so give me a second to remember how this works.” His palm still over the liquid, Midnight slowly tilted his hand one way, then the other, rotating it occasionally. The image changed with each movement, but continued to show much the same thing: darkened rooms, darkened corridors, darkened gardens.
“There’s no one there,” Ingrid said.
“That’s not right,” Midnight said, frowning. “The Library’s manned by thousands of people.” His eyes flickered, and Caleb thought he saw the briefest flash of alarm on Midnight’s face. “Let me check one more place.” Another rotation, and the image changed to a darkened room with a familiar sight: a Light Catcher. But unlike the Light Catcher here at Midnight Bridge, the Light Catcher of the Library of Solitude had gone dark. Worse still, there was a long crack running from the top right corner to the bottom left.
Ingrid gasped. “But that’s –”
“Really bad,” Midnight finished. “I know. Looks like the Library’s been invaded by darkness. There are a couple of different ways to repair the Catcher and purge the darkness from the Library, but all of them are located in the center.” Midnight tilted his hand to the right and rotated to the left. The liquid rippled, changing to an image of…
Not just any ice, but magical ice that Caleb knew very well.
“That’s Lorelei’s magic,” Caleb said, leaning towards the liquid, staring intently at the ice. He had no sense of how much there was or how far it stretched, because it was all he could see. Until…
There! Caleb knew he’d seen it, and that was confirmed when he saw it again: a flash of green light.
Not just any green, but the green Caleb knew the very best: the green of Chelsea’s fire.
“Can’t you change it to get a better view?” Caleb asked.
“Each room only gets one view, sorry,” Midnight said. “But you say your friends are there?”
Caleb nodded. “That’s Lorelei’s ice, and I can see flashes from Chelsea’s fire,” he said, almost breathless with emotion.
“So they didn’t just make it to the Library, but they figured out where to go to save it,” Midnight said, nodding approvingly. He pulled his hand away, returning the Hikarescence to its silvery state. “All right, Caleb. What do you say we go help them out?”
Caleb stared at Midnight. “We… we can do that? You know how to get there?”
“All of the Bastions are connected,” Ingrid said, smiling. “So that’s really easy.”
“And the nice thing is, we’ll enter just a few floors below them,” Midnight said. He walked to the far side of the plateau, where crystalline stairs led up towards a high alcove, and Caleb and Ingrid followed him. “Caleb, I can’t prepare you for the kind of enemies we’ll fight. The living darkness isn’t something easily overcome, and in the end, it won’t be up to the fighters to save the Library. What I’m trying to say is, we’ll be helping them defend someone. It’ll be a battle of stamina and endurance, the worst kind of fight for you. Are you sure you’re up for that?”
Caleb nodded. “I won’t be alone. And I can figure out how to pace myself somehow. Judging by how worried you are, they’ll need all the help they can get.”
“You have no idea,” Midnight said. He rounded a corner into the alcove, leading the way down a narrow crystal hallway to a small room with a door set against the far wall. “This is our path there.” He turned to Ingrid, and for a moment a look of conflict crossed his face. “You can hold down the fort while I’m gone, right?”
Ingrid beamed, nodding emphatically. “Don’t worry about me. Go help them out.”
Midnight smiled. “We’ll be back before you know it. Ready, Caleb?”
Caleb stared at the door, his hand slipping into his pocket, grasping his pocket watch Talisman. He nodded. “I’m ready.”
Midnight opened the door, revealing a wall of dazzling white light. Without a word, Midnight walked through, vanishing from sight.
Chelsea. Delilah. Isabelle. Lorelei.
I’m coming to you. Just hang on a little bit longer.
Caleb took a deep breath and walked through after Midnight, prepared for the fight of his life.