Arc III Chapter 1
Shias and Kathryn stood in the spacious family room of Greyson Manor glaring at each other. Between them was Void, held prisoner by Kathryn’s ribbon wands, one of which wrapped around his mouth so he couldn’t speak. After a struggle, the team had managed to overwhelm Void, stealing away his long black cane Talisman and robbing him of his formidable Enhancement Magic, making him an easy prisoner to contain.
Around the pair were Ben, sitting on a couch behind Shias, looking absently away, made nervous and uncomfortable by the sudden argument. And behind Kathryn was Rae, looking even more nervous and uncomfortable, flinching at every raised voice, squeezing her hands tight in her lap.
Looming in the family room was Brutus. The red bear-gorilla-creature stood behind Rae, clearly in a protective stance. If Greyson Manor weren’t a massive mansion, there wouldn’t have been space for Brutus anywhere, but even his bulk could fit comfortably inside the family room, the ceiling of which was three floors up – there were several areas from the second, third, and fourth floors from which to look down on the family room.
“You honestly think you could have handled Void alone?” Kathryn asked, her bright blue eyes flashing like lightning.
“I already had him handled,” Shias said. “There was no need for you to help me. You could have stayed with Shana. She needs you.”
“And she doesn’t need her twin brother?” Kathryn asked. “Do you have any idea how much she relies on you? How much she expects you to always be there, by her side, no matter what?”
“Do you think I took away Void on a whim?” Shias gestured to the captive man between them. “I was trying to protect her.”
“And I wasn’t?” Kathryn’s hands were stark white from squeezing her ribbon wands so tight. “Don’t act like you’re a hero. You abandoned your sister.”
“I made a calculated sacrifice. We couldn’t all go. But as long as she had you –”
“Calculated sacrifice? Is that what you call it? You could have said something. You could have consulted with your team. But you just went off on your own, and expected us to just watch you go? You expected us to believe you could handle him alone?”
“He handled five Royal Guards at the same time alone when we saved Annabelle,” Ben said quietly, not looking up.
“You can stay out of this, Benjamin,” Kathryn snapped. “As for you –” She turned her attention back on Shias, but suddenly was hoisted into the air.
So was Shias. One giant, red-furred hand had lifted Kathryn, while the other had lifted Shias, holding them about ten feet above the floor. Brutus looked from one to the other, his teddy-bear-like face twisted in an angry glare.
“I’m sorry!” Rae shouted frantically, hopping to her feet, waving her hands in a panic. “I d-didn’t tell him to do that. I just, um, well… please stop f-fighting. Kathryn’s not the only one who came to help. We all did. So if you’re mad at her, Shias, you should be mad at all of us. A-and it was hard for all of us to leave Shana. We didn’t want to. But we wanted to help.”
Shias stared at Rae, and suddenly felt as if his vision were clearing for the first time since he’d returned to Grimoire with Void and the others. “I…” he started, but he wasn’t sure what to say. He looked at Kathryn, and saw, as her anger was vanishing from her face, that her eyes were glistening with tears that she was rapidly trying to blink away. And that reminded him of when they’d left, calling out their encouragement to Shana. Kathryn had been all smiles and confidence, but just as she looked away from Shana and went to pass through the door…
She’d been crying.
Shias sighed, staring at the floor, still a distance below. “I’m sorry,” he said softly.
“What was that?” Kathryn asked. “I couldn’t hear you.”
Another sigh, and Shias looked up to meet Kathryn’s eyes. “I’m sorry. I got caught up in worrying about Shana, and I just… I got angry, and didn’t think straight.”
“That’s rare for you,” Kathryn said, her face unreadable. She looked away, pursing her lips. “Apology accepted. Once we find a place for Void, we can figure out how to find Shana and make sure she’s safe.”
Brutus set the pair down again, and then a voice spoke from the second floor, at the top of the stairs overlooking the family room. “I think we can help with your prisoner.”
Shias looked up, startled to see his mother and father watching them from above. “You were home?” he asked.
“Sure were,” Callum said, a crooked grin on his face as he raked a hand through his messy blonde hair. “We couldn’t find the right time to interrupt. Sorry about that.”
“Tell us everything,” Deirdre said, leading the way down the stairs. When the parents arrived in the family room, they sat down, and Shias, with occasional help from his friends, told the entire story. From finding Lock, to the journey with Maribelle across the Final Frontier, to the battle to save Annabelle, to the final encounter in the Hall of Many Ways, and finally the worrisome warnings that Void had shared with the group.
“The next time you get whisked off to the Enchanted Dominion,” Deirdre said, her mouth a thin line just slightly turned up towards an amused smile, “maybe tell your parents first. You’ve been gone for three days, and we had no idea where you’d gone.”
“We made an educated guess that you’d gone back to the Enchanted Dominion,” Callum said, “but it took a lot to smooth things over with all of your parents. Mina took it all right, but Kathryn, Ben… you need to talk to your parents as soon as possible. And you all have a lot of schoolwork to catch up on.”
“So we’ve missed more than a week total so far,” Ben said, staring at his feet. “That’s a lot to make up for.”
“But I’m sure together, the four of you can do it,” Deirdre said. “Now, for this Radiant King and his entourage…” Her gaze grew dark, and she stared past everyone, as if gazing off into the distance at things only she could see. “Well. We shouldn’t speak of things in front of our uninvited guest.” She looked to her husband, who nodded.
“We can keep him temporarily,” Callum said. “And we’ll talk to some of the people we can trust, see that we can find a more permanent solution.” He held up Void’s cane, which Shias had handed to him. “Do you think this is his only Talisman? He could have more hidden away.” At this suggestion, Void suddenly struggled, making displeased noises through the ribbon keeping his mouth shut. Callum nodded to Kathryn, and she let Void speak.
“As if I would ever have hidden Talismans,” Void said, icy voice dripping with disgust. He looked to Shias, who held his pen Talisman in hand. “Everyday objects for wielding magic. What a waste. I, and all of my kin, are gods. We have ascended beyond your pathetic humanity, and our Talismans are noble weapons, items of great value and purpose. My kin and I would never have more than one – mmph!” Void was suddenly cut off as, at a nod from Callum, Kathryn wrapped a ribbon around his mouth once more.
“He’s very helpful, but remarkably arrogant,” Callum said. “Well, I suppose that’s all we need from him for now. Kathryn, if you wouldn’t mind coming with me, I’ll show you where we can store him in the short-term.”
Away went Callum, Kathryn, and Void, though they returned surprisingly fast.
“I didn’t know we had a prison in the house,” Shias said.
“Not a prison,” Callum said with a chuckle. “But the vault has a few rooms that are specially protected.” He laid a hand on Deirdre’s shoulder. “We’ve often joked about using them as holding cells, but this is the first we’ve actually tried it.”
“It’ll hold, at least until we can find out where to store him in the long-term,” Deirdre said. “Now comes the real struggle. Void and his allies couldn’t have come at a worse time.”
“What’s going on?” Kathryn asked.
Shias nodded. “I think we have some idea,” he said, looking at Kathryn. “Remember when we went looking for Lock, just you, me, and Shana? We overheard a strange conversation.”
“That’s right!” Kathryn said, eyes wide in sudden remembrance. Shias was the one who relayed the details of the conversation. He and Shana both had the same incredibly helpful trait: perfect memory. She’d remembered and repeated the conversation in the alley word-for-word to Shias, and now he did the same for his parents.
“But they never gave a name to ‘the Master’?” Deirdre asked. Shias and Kathryn shook their heads. “Well… unfortunately, a lot of that tracks with what we’ve been suspecting and working on for a long time.”
“What’s going on?” Kathryn repeated.
“Grimoire is in danger,” Callum said. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, his fingers steepled together, a grim expression on his face. “There’s long been a growing rift among the mages here, a few factions forming and becoming more and more separate from each other. It’s become worse recently, as we’ve become aware of a shadow over everything. There is a group of mages, none of whom we’ve identified, who are working on something terrible. We haven’t discovered what it is – only whispers, clues, hints here and there. Anyone who’s gotten close to the truth has turned up dead before they could share it with anyone. The worst part is that it all started seventeen years ago.”
“Seventeen years?” Shias asked, surprised at that specific time frame.
“When Marion Reiner was murdered,” Deirdre said.
“Chelsea’s mother,” Shias said, staring at the floor in thought. She had been killed while on patrol as a Hunter with his parents, seventeen years ago, just weeks before he and Shana were born.
“The official word was always that she’d been killed by Hollows,” Callum said. His voice was hollow, haunted by the memory even all these years later. “But we, and a few others, know the truth. She was murdered, killed by a human in the chaos of Hunter patrols and battles with Hollows. And despite our best efforts… we still haven’t discovered who did the deed.”
“She had told us, earlier that night, that she was onto something big,” Deirdre said. “She didn’t want to tell us. She feared for our lives if we knew, but more than that, she said she wanted to know for certain. She didn’t want us chasing rumors and half-truths. But when she ran off to find answers, to chase her latest lead…”
Silence fell on the room. Shias pondered what all this could mean. Mages being murdered by other mages. Secrets being hidden, even at the cost of people’s lives. A mysterious “Master” pulling the strings on some strange, unknown, dangerous operation.
“You said Fredricks, right?” Callum asked. “As in Chase Fredricks, the Hunter who trained Caleb and Chelsea?” Shias nodded. “It doesn’t sound like he knows much, but he may know who ‘the Master’ is. And he’s always been an impressionable kid. If we can get a hold of him… ah, but I wish Caleb or Chelsea were back already. He might trust them, they might be able to get information from him without him realizing what they’re doing.”
“Not Caleb,” Shias said, holding back a laugh. “He’s too honest and too trusting. He couldn’t deceive anyone.”
Deirdre smiled. “All too true.”
“So what do we know?” Shias asked. “And what can we work with?”
Callum frowned. “You know, I think we might have said too much already,” he said. “You kids need to be kids. Go back to school, catch up on your work, get back to normal life. Let the adults handle this. I know you’ve been through a lot, and proved yourself through incredible danger, but things here in the city… they’re more dangerous than you can imagine, and far more sensitive. As it stands now, it’s not an enemy you can fight in the open. This isn’t a fight for you four.”
“You brought Void to us, and he’ll undoubtedly prove to be a valuable source of information,” Deirdre said. “I’m grateful for what you’ve done, and more than that, grateful for your safety. But this isn’t your fight. Please, trust us to work on this.”
“But –” Kathryn started, but she was silenced by a single, steady look from Deirdre.
And then, in the tension of the room, came a sudden, yet familiar, disembodied voice.
“Testing, testing,” came Caleb’s voice. “Hey, are you sure this is working? I thought it was supposed to have video, too.”
“It does to other Daylight Bastions,” came an unfamiliar voice, one of an older man with a professional, matter-of-fact tone. “But contacting other Locations, let alone outside the Dominion, is unprecedented. It seems we can only hope for sound, but that should be enough.”
“But how do you know we’re transmitting to the right place?” Caleb asked.
“Caleb?” Callum asked, the first of the group to get over his disbelief. “Is that you, son?”
“Dad?” Caleb asked.
“Daddy!” came the voices of Delilah, and…
Shias felt a sudden stab in his heart.
Shana. He heard Shana’s voice.
“How is this happening?” Deirdre asked. “Where are you three?”
“I miss you so much!”
Caleb, Delilah, and Shana were all talking over each other, excitement and worry flooding their tones.
“We’re at the Library of Solitude,” Caleb said. “It’s a really, really long story, but apparently Shias is there with you? He should have told you some stuff, though he wouldn’t know that I was here, too. Or Delilah, or Chelsea, or Lorelei…”
“Yeah, there’s a lot of people here,” came Chelsea’s voice. “Let’s just keep it to the Greysons, you guys work out your stuff. We don’t have much time, do we?”
“Not much longer, I’m afraid,” came that man’s voice again.
“What’s going on?” Callum asked. “Did you accomplish your missions and tasks? Are you able to come home yet?”
“We’ve done so much,” Caleb said, and Shias didn’t need any video to know his big brother was grinning from ear-to-ear. “And we will be coming home, very soon, if things work out properly.”
“Wait,” Deirdre said. “I don’t…”
“What’s wrong?” Shana asked. “And wait, isn’t Shias there? And Kathryn, and Rae, and Ben?”
“Yeah,” Shias said, his voice small for a moment, an unexpected lump in his throat. “Yeah, yeah, we’re here.”
“Shias!” Shana said happily. “Oh, I’m just glad you’re safe. I’ve been so worried about all of you.”
“But how did you already succeed at everything?” Kathryn asked. “We just got here half an hour ago.”
“Half an hour?” Shana asked. “It’s been a few days here for us.”
“Time is strange and inconsistent within the Library of Solitude,” came Maribelle’s voice.
“Hold on, hold on,” Deirdre said. “Let’s not all talk over each other. You have a limited time, right?”
“That’s right,” Caleb said.
“Okay. Then listen closely – Grimoire is in terrible danger. If you’re coming home, you need to know that. We know about the Radiance, but it’s more than that. Caleb, Chelsea, Lorelei, we’ll need your help. Shana, Delilah, I hope you two can do your best to stay out of it. Go back to school, catch up on all you’ve missed. And be very careful if you come home. I know you’ve been through a great deal of danger, but… I fear the worst is yet to come. For all of us.”
“So we have a lot to worry about and talk about,” Caleb said. “When we get home, we’ll work through all of it. It shouldn’t take us too long. We just wanted to let you know that we’re safe, and we’ll be home soon. And… mom. Dad. Sorry it took me so long to get home. And sorry I disappeared without warning. I’ll explain everything in detail when I get back, but I promise it was worth it.”
“We’re sure it was,” Callum said, smiling.
“I’m sorry, too,” came Delilah’s voice. She sounded exhausted, but also like she’d matured since Shias last saw her.
“We’ll be home soon,” Shana said.
“You’d better hurry up and get back,” Kathryn said, and Shias saw that she was fighting back tears. “We miss you.”
Shana’s voice came through as a choked up laugh. “Yeah. I miss you, too.”
“We’ll be ready for you,” Deirdre said. “But be careful – even more so once you get back here.”
“You got it,” Caleb said. A bell chimed, and it seemed to come from Caleb’s end. “Ah, we’re out of time. But we’ll see you soon. Most likely. If this works.”
“It’ll work,” came the voice of Maribelle. “Don’t worry.”
And then, as if a presence had suddenly vanished from the room, Caleb and the others were gone.
“Ah, well,” Deirdre said, casually wiping a hand by her eye. Her eyes were wet, but she looked away for only a moment, and that was enough for her to hold back her tears. “They’ll be back soon.”
“So…” Kathryn started, looking at the Greyson parents. “You’re… really keeping us out of things from now on?”
“You have enough to worry about in getting back to your lives,” Callum said. “The three of you need to talk to your parents. And they have the schoolwork you’ve missed, so you need to catch up on that. And you have friends and club members who’ve missed you and have been asking about you. You accomplished your mission, right? You rescued Annabelle, and then Shana completed what she needed to do. You’ve done incredibly well, and I’m unbelievably proud of all of you. But leave what’s next to us. It isn’t your fight.”
“After doing so much on your own,” Deirdre said with a small smile, “you may not realize it, but adults are capable of quite a lot, as well. And we’ll have reinforcements arriving soon in Caleb, Chelsea, and Lorelei.”
“But –” Kathryn started.
“We understand,” Shias said, shooting a quick look at his three friends in the hopes they’d understand. “We’re glad we could help. And I hope you can handle the dangers coming next. Like you said to us… be careful, please.”
Callum laughed. “It’s nice to see our son worrying about us,” he said, nudging Deirdre playfully. “Thanks, Shias. We will. We haven’t made it this far by being reckless.”
“Well…” Deirdre started, giving her husband a sidelong glance.
“Well, okay, but I’ve gotten away with my recklessness because you’ve kept me in check,” he said, laughing.
Shias pulled out his phone, checking the time. 5:32. “Well, I guess the others should be getting back. Mind if I walk with them?”
“Not at all,” Deirdre said. “Just be home in about an hour. We’ll have dinner ready. Don’t go disappearing on us again, okay?”
Shias agreed, and he and the Dawn Riders left, with Rae dismissing Brutus before exiting into Grimoire.
Somehow, the city looked different to Shias. Having been in and out of the city so much so frequently, nothing felt the same anymore. The sky, so blue with fluffy clouds here and there, seemed…
Was it the brightness of the Radiant Palace, of the Winding Stair, of Starlight Spires, that dimmed the light of Earth to his eyes?
Or was it something else? Was it the shadow, the danger, that his parents spoke of? Was the threat to Grimoire manifesting itself physically in the very sky Shias gazed at?
“Hey,” Kathryn said, waving a hand in front of Shias’ face. “You have a plan, right? You’re the leader, after all.”
Shias nodded, walking along on the route to Rae’s house, which was the closest to Greyson Manor. “For now, at least, we can investigate,” he said. “We can gather information, find ways to be as inconspicuous as possible. We aren’t notable like the adults. Especially the rest of you. I’m a Greyson, so it seems like our enemy here at home has their eye on me at least sometimes, but I can work around that. For now, we gather information. We keep our eyes and ears open.”
“We’re not just going back to normal life?” Ben asked, earning a punch in the ribs from Kathryn.
“Of course we aren’t,” Kathryn said. “We did so much before, and that was for a little girl in another world. This is our home at risk. We can’t just sit back and let other people fight our battles for us.”
“You make good points,” Ben said.
“So for now, we just gather information,” Rae said, nodding thoughtfully. Her hair had grown longer than she normally kept it, probably because they’d been on such a whirlwind adventure lately. She usually kept it quite short, but now it was coming down to her shoulders, and Shias thought it suited her nicely. In a way, it fit her slowly-growing confidence since the Dawn Riders had been formed.
“That’s all for now,” Shias said. “I know, and I think the rest of you know… once Shana comes back, she’s not just going to sit back and let other people handle things. She’s going to want to fight. Until then, we do our best to learn things, but I’m sure it won’t stop there. We’ll do everything we can. There’s a fight coming on two fronts: the Radiant King is bringing his forces here, and there are mages working all around us to work danger from within the city. We can at least help with one of those, either preparing to defend the city, or finding a way to head off and eliminate the threat around us before it turns into something terrible.”
“I know what Shana will say,” Kathryn said, laughing. “She’ll say we should accomplish both at the same time. We should save everyone.”
Shias found himself smiling. “Yeah. That’s exactly what she’d say. And that’s exactly what we’ll endeavor to do.” He stopped at a curving turn towards Rae’s home, Shoto Manor. Despite how cheesy it felt to him, he put his hand out, palm down, and Kathryn, Ben, and Rae stacked their hands on top of his. It was silly, but it was exactly what Shana would do at a time like this. He looked at each of his teammates in turn, doing his best to show with his eyes and his smile his confidence and determination.
“Dawn Riders… Let’s save everyone.”