Arc II Chapter 7: Grim Portents


After all Shana had been through the last few days, she really wished her first full day back in Grimoire had been a school day. She could have used a relaxing return to normalcy.

While she held her promise to Annabelle close in her heart, after a good night’s sleep, Shana found her mind and body felt strained. She’d slept a long, dreamless sleep, and woke up groggy and lethargic shortly before noon, feeling like she could just keep sleeping until Sunday.

“You look like death,” Shias said, sitting across from her at the table. While Shana slowly ate her cereal in her pajamas, Shias sat there reading, already dressed for the day.

“I feel like death,” Shana slurred. Words were hard. She ate more cereal. Altair curled up in her lap, matching her mood. He had a way of doing that – however she felt was frequently reflected in Altair. She often wondered if it was something special to Summons, or if Altair was truly unique and their bond was just that strong.

“Mom and Dad said they’d be home late,” Shias said. He frowned as he looked up from his book. “It’s… kind of weird, isn’t it? I know we already dealt with it for a while, but sitting around the table without Delilah…”

Shana nodded. In a way, she felt like knowing where Delilah was now only made her absence more painful. Before, Shana had hope that she could find her little sister and bring her home. Now, she knew that wasn’t an option. Delilah’s fate – and whenever she finally did come home – was completely out of Shana’s control.

When she finished eating, Shana trudged up the stairs, forcing herself to take a shower and dress herself like a civilized member of society. Water, soap, and clean clothes did a wonder on her mood, but her energy levels still lagged greatly, and she had little motivation to do anything. She plopped herself down on the couch in the living room, starting on Volume 25 of Merchant Princess.

And that did it. Reading. It was a medicine for Shana’s soul. Better than any energy drink, motivational speech, or even a good night’s sleep was the power of imaginative and well-crafted fiction. She’d fallen out of reading Merchant Princess, too, so diving back into an ongoing story of characters that she dearly loved but hadn’t read in a long time felt like visiting old friends after a long journey.

In a way, Shana had been on a long journey. A journey to a strange and magical place stranger than fiction, in a way that might turn many others off from fantasy and fairy tales entirely.

Shana never understood that attitude. Experiencing strange, shocking, and unbelievable things for yourself shouldn’t make fiction less interesting, but all the more believable and exciting. If the real world was wilder than any fantasy tale, well…

That meant anything was possible, didn’t it?

At some point while Shana read, Shias took up the couch opposite her, diving into their shared copy of Volume Nineteen of The Misadventures of Gadrick Gorensell. For several hours they just stayed like that, silent and content. Shana sat against the arm of the couch with a pillow behind her, stretching her legs across the couch, making a little nest for Altair to curl up between them.

In the back of her mind, Shana wondered why she hadn’t heard anything from Rae, Kathryn, or Ben. It was strange that they hadn’t texted or called. Eventually, after she’d nearly finished her book, Shana checked the time – 6:30. The sun was disappearing, with faint golden rays slipping into the living room here and there. Opening up her contacts list, Shana sent out a text to her three friends: When do you want to search for the Locksmith? I’m game anytime.

It was true. Shana had started the day completely drained, but reading had revived her, and she wouldn’t be opposed to staying up late and exploring Grimoire at night.

A chirp from her phone. Kathryn had responded: Same. Let’s go!

Shana giggled. Soon after, Rae and Ben replied, as well. Working with mom, Rae said. No good until tomorrow. Sorry!

Ben replied with: grounded til Wed. sorry

What do you mean grounded? Kathryn swiftly responded. What’d you do?

losing phone can’t txt sorry came Ben’s reply. Kathryn sent a series of displeased emojis.

“How are the others?” Shias asked, having noticed Shana’s giggle fits at Kathryn’s silliness.

“Ben’s grounded until Wednesday,” Shana said. “Rae and Kathryn are fine. Kathryn and I might go out looking for the Locksmith tonight. Do you wanna come?”

“Sure,” Shias said. “Bummer about Ben. What do we do if we find the Locksmith before Wednesday?”

“Ben’ll just miss out,” Shana said, laughing. “That’s what Kathryn would say, anyway. I think we just talk to the Locksmith. We can bring Ben along when he’s ungrounded.”

“What if the Locksmith only makes a one-time offer?” Shias asked. “Annabelle said he could get us to the Enchanted Dominion again, but what if he can only do it the first time we meet him? Then Ben would be stuck back here.”

“Oh,” Shana said blankly, staring at her brother.

Shias sighed. “You didn’t think about that, did you?” he asked.

“Nope,” Shana said, shooting a text to Kathryn: Let’s go exploring! Where do you wanna meet?

How about school? came Kathryn’s reply. It’s a good halfway point.

“I’m meeting Kathryn at the school,” Shana said. “Are you coming?”

Shias stood up. “Sure, let’s go,” he said.

As they got ready, Shana pulled on her hat and felt a pang of loneliness. This hat was the last Christmas gift that Fae had given her – three years ago, the last Christmas she’d given gifts to anyone in the family. Shana wore it every chance she could, loving that Grimoire’s climate involved short summers and long, delightfully cold winters.

I just started getting to know her again, Shana thought, her heart heavy. And now she’s off on some journey of self-discovery, with no clue of when she’ll come back. I can’t… I can’t even text her.

Come home soon, Fae. Please. I miss you.

They locked up and then left Greyson Manor, heading south towards school. As they walked the narrow, winding streets of Grimoire, they kept an eye out for the Locksmith’s symbol on doorways, windows, mailboxes, or signs.

“How big do you think it’ll be on his place?” Shana asked, holding up the Locksmith’s Emblem. “This thing is pretty noticeable, but what if he makes his logo super small on the sign?”

“Then we’ll just have to look really closely,” Shias said. One hand was shoved in his pocket – likely holding onto his pen Talisman, so he could use his Divination Magic to more effectively seek out the Locksmith’s symbol.

Shias had some super cool magic. Shana was happier with her cuter brand of magic – summoning the cutest dog ever – but she had to admit, her twin was pretty cool.

Along the walk to Grimoire Academy, they found no sign of the Locksmith’s symbol. Standing at the base of the hill on which the school was situated, they found Kathryn, hugging her arms close to her body with her hands shoved in the pockets of her coat. She was bouncing on her feet, and her breath misted the air in front of her.

“You didn’t dress warmly enough,” Shana said, giving her friend a big hug. “It’s almost November, you dork.”

“Hey, I was too excited to put on a lot of layers,” Kathryn said, relishing in Shana’s warm embrace. She wriggled her arms free and took hold of Shana’s scarf. Unraveling it halfway, she then wrapped it around her own neck, too, leaving her and Shana sharing one scarf.

“Better?” Shana asked, giggling as she adjusted her end of the scarf.

“Better,” Kathryn said, grinning. “Did you see anything on your way here?”

Shias shook his head. “Nothing,” he said. “This… might be a long search.”

“Well, today’s just the start, then,” Kathryn said, her chipper demeanor not fading for a moment. “Why don’t we stick close, then? I was thinking we could focus on Crescent Avenue, and then when it gets too late we can stop at Renaldo’s before going home.”

“I like it,” Shana said. She and Kathryn led the way, quickly falling into step with each other. This wasn’t the first time they’d shared a scarf.

They walked west, descending and ascending, peering above every door and on every sign in the artificial glow of the street lamps. There was no sign of the Locksmith’s symbol as they rounded a corner onto Crescent Avenue.

One of many “bazaars” in Grimoire, Crescent Avenue was a bustling street that, like the name suggested, curved around like a crescent moon. It was packed with shops, and arranged in an eclectic and exciting way. There were three vertical levels, terraces with outdoor seating and flower beds beyond which sat more shops. It was eight o’clock – prime time for this particular area in Grimoire – and the Avenue was bustling with activity.

“Maybe we should split up,” Shias suggested. “I’ll take the right side, you two take the left?”

“You sure you won’t be lonely?” Kathryn asked teasingly. Shias rolled his eyes, already heading to the right side to explore and investigate.

Shana and Kathryn stuck to the left side, examining a shop on the ground level before climbing the stairs to the second level, and then the third. They struck out again and again, climbing down the stairs and then back up as they moved slowly along the Avenue, repeating the process.

“I guess he isn’t likely to be in such a busy place,” Kathryn said. “If he’s trying to hide, he’d be tucked somewhere out of the way.”

“Unless he’s trying to hide in plain sight,” Shana said. “But why do you think he’s hiding? Roderick said he always makes himself known to people who know his symbol.”

“Yeah, but…” Kathryn shrugged. “He only makes himself known with a specific symbol. And only people who already know that symbol can find him? Maybe he isn’t hiding, but he at least sounds like someone who wants to keep to himself.”

Shana thought about that as they continued the search. What kind of person was the Locksmith? If he doesn’t want to be found, why does he have an immediately recognizable symbol?

Shias was probably mulling over these and a thousand more questions. He was so analytical, so good at considering all the possibilities. What kind of person did he think the Locksmith was?

“Stop for a sec,” Kathryn said, standing near a wall at the entrance to a narrow alley.

“Wha –” Shana started to ask, only to be quietly shushed by Kathryn. For a moment, she just stood there and listened.

Above the sound of the crowd, there was a distinct conversation happening inside the alley. Two men, it sounded like, though they whispered, so Shana couldn’t be entirely sure.

They weren’t very good at whispering, though. They were being really loud.

“The council will never agree to that,” the first man said, his voice gruff and impatient.

“What other options do we have?” asked the second man, his voice higher and nervous.

“We don’t tell anyone.”

“But the Master –”

“Has Anastasia on the job. You know she’s the best.”

“But shouldn’t the council know about the Flute?”

At the mention of a flute by the second man, Shana’s ears perked up more. Could it be the same as the Piper’s Flute that Rae had carefully transported to the Freis, the same Flute that ended up in Mina Shoto’s vault?

“If they find out about it,” the first man said, “there will be an uproar. You know how Crowley feels about the Flutes.”

“Well, how come Anastasia barely sent any word to the Master?” asked the second man.

“Because she’s in the Enchanted Dominion. Do you have any idea how hard it is to get a message out of there?”

Sounding contrite, the second man answered with a feeble “No.”

“Believe me, I’d like to join her, but getting to the Enchanted Dominion isn’t an easy task – and the only way to get anywhere reliably is through the Locksmith. And he isn’t receiving visitors.”

“None at all?”

“Well…” The first man let out an angry hiss of breath. “He said that he has specific guests arriving soon. He’ll only receive them.”

“So why don’t we just force his hand?”

“Because if we make one wrong move, he’ll leave. Don’t you know anything?”

The second man let out a long, despondent sigh. “Apparently not.”

“Obviously. Anyway… we follow the Master’s lead. He’s working on something here at home, too. And whatever it is, he’ll need us for it. Well, maybe not you.”

“He needs me, too!”

“I know. He wouldn’t keep you around if he didn’t. I just don’t like it when you get skittish like this. You’re too soft, Fredricks. Too paranoid.”

“Well, it’s just… I don’t like the disappearing Greysons.”

“What don’t you like about it? It keeps the parents distracted, and with them distracted, we can move more freely.”

“I think it could be more than it seems. What if it’s an act? What if they’re onto us, and the parents are positioning the children to stop us?”

“Like I said – paranoid. Didn’t you hear the twins came back this morning?”

“I did. That could just mean that they finished whatever they were sent to do.”

The first man barked a laugh. “Fredricks, I tell you, your conspiracy theories are rich. The Greysons are good, but they’re not that good. And they aren’t calculating or cunning. They don’t operate in the shadows. They’re too honest for what you’re suggesting. Or… is it about the girl?”

“Shut up, Bronn,” Fredricks said. “Chelsea has nothing to do with this.”

“If you say so. Look, you have your assignment.”

“What assignment?”

Bronn let out another angry hiss of breath. “Are you daft, Fredricks? Taro and Beyond. You watch it, and you let us know if you see anyone go in… and not come back out.”

“That old odds-and-ends store?” Fredricks asked. “What do you mean… not come back out?”

“The Master isn’t interested in giving you further explanation. So – can you do it?”

“Of course I can. Are we done here?”

“Only so long as you remember your place, boy. The Master is worried about your lack of stability. Keep a level head, and you’ll be all right.”

Footsteps sounded, heading farther into the alley. Shana risked peeking in, and…

Nothing. The alley ran from Crescent Avenue out to the other side, exiting into the Lunar District. Bronn and Fredricks had left and turned onto the next street.

“Weird, huh?” Kathryn asked.

“More than weird,” Shana said, shuddering. “Mom and Dad… they’re in danger. Someone’s doing something horrible here in the city and trying to make sure they don’t know about it.”

“Okay, yeah, more than weird,” Kathryn said. “Whoever they were, either them or who they work for are watching you and your brother. Better be more careful from now on.”

They walked on, continuing to look for the Locksmith’s symbol, and finding nothing. Shias had the same results at the end of Crescent Avenue, so Shana and Kathryn told him what they’d overheard. With every word, Shias’ eyes grew wider and wider.

“Fredricks,” Shias said softly. “And he sounded young?”

“Yeah,” Shana said. “Bronn even called him ‘boy.’ There was definitely an age gap.”

“Then he might be Chase,” Shias said.

“Chase…” Shana started, and her eyes widened, too. “You don’t mean the Hunter that trained Caleb?”

“I think so,” Shias said. “I can’t say for sure since I didn’t hear his voice, but I can’t think of any other prominent Fredricks. Chase’s parents aren’t really anyone of note, and he doesn’t have any siblings.”

“But hey, we learned useful stuff, right?” Kathryn asked. “About the Locksmith.”

“He’s expecting someone,” Shias said, nodding. “And he isn’t accepting anyone else.”

“So we won’t be able to see him,” Shana said glumly.

“We don’t know who he’s expecting,” Kathryn said, smiling. “Annabelle specifically referred us to him. Maybe she sent word to him ahead of us, somehow, and he’s waiting for us.”

“That sounds too good to be true,” Shana said.

“Well, anyway…” Shias looked around, scanning the Avenue both ways twice. “I think we should head home. Let’s keep our investigations and explorations to daylight hours. If we’re being watched, then we’re safer in the light.”

“I’ll walk you guys home,” Kathryn offered. She sidled up to Shana, giggling. “Gives me more time with a scarf, too.”

Shana laughed as they started the walk home. Despite what they’d heard, Kathryn had a great attitude that never failed to cheer Shana up.

Still… Shana had to think a lot about what she’d heard. She was focused on her promise to Annabelle and leaving for the Enchanted Dominion once again, but could she really do that when there was danger brewing her in Grimoire? Her parents were some of the best mages alive, but…

Shana found herself thinking back on her conversation with Fae in her dorm room. Fae had talked about how times were changing, and how much of the mage community didn’t like the Greysons. Shana had thought of it as strange more than dangerous, but after what she’d heard… could her parents be in danger?

And if they were, what could Shana do to help them?


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