For Chelsea’s part, she couldn’t leave the Library of Solitude soon enough.
She didn’t dislike the place. It was beautiful, now that light had been returned to the vast halls. And knowing that Isabelle would be staying here was bittersweet. She’d helped the little girl get home at last, but now their inevitable parting was imminent, and Chelsea would miss her dearly.
But she didn’t belong here. Especially now that she knew about the dangers facing Grimoire – her home, her city – she couldn’t stay still. She was antsy, and she knew she was driving Maribelle and Merric crazy with her constant check-ins on their progress with the Library’s private rail system (“Please be patient, it’s been a human lifetime since this system was running properly,” Merric kept saying).
But her home was in danger.
And more than that… she had a lot of things to deal with.
I need to talk to Caleb about everything. But I can’t do it here. I know exactly where to do it, and that place is back in Grimoire.
And then there’s his parents, and the thing they said they have for me from mom. What is it? Can I finally accept it from them?
The entire group continued to sleep in the princess’ bedrooms, but their time was mostly spent in the rail station on the lowest floor, or out in the inner gardens. The gardens were particularly beautiful now that light was returned to the Library. The days in this place were short, and yet the long nights had a starry beauty to them, and even the deepest hours of night were never very dark – though perhaps it seemed that way mostly due to Chelsea being able to compare the current light with the living darkness that had infested the place before.
Chelsea spent some of that time training with her owl, testing his abilities, and seeing what she could do with her fire.
She had things to decipher about her fire, too.
Elemental Magic is strange, as Lorelei and I both discovered. It’s as if it has a mind of its own. How far can we push it? How much control can we ever hope to have over our power?
She was frustrated, and a lot of that frustration had to do with Caleb. Since she had so much to say to him, but wouldn’t talk about it until she was in her planned location… she’d been avoiding him.
“Please give me space, until we get back home,” was the hardest thing she’d had to say to him in a very long time. She knew he was hurt – he wore his emotions on his face plain as day for all to see – and that he’d hoped to spend lots of time with her now that they were reunited, but she also saw understanding. He knew she had a lot on her mind, and a lot to talk to him about, and it was as if he was anchored by her promise to tell him everything soon.
Chelsea didn’t spend her time alone, though. She was with Lorelei and Gwen a lot, and ever since helping Delilah out of her funk, the two of them spent quite a bit of time together, as well. Delilah had a lot to teach her about Summons, and they compared notes again and again.
“I hate to say it, but I can’t wait until he’s mature like your Felines,” Chelsea said with a sigh, pursing her lips and staring up at her rebellious, mischievous owl who was technically either still a newborn, or just barely an infant. Knowing that Delilah’s youngest Summon, the proper and refined Reginald Feline Meowmont the Third, was only two years old, gave Chelsea some hope that her owl would grow up quickly. There was an endearing quality to his mischief, but he was so immature that it often grated on Chelsea, largely because she had to spend nearly every single moment with him, even sleeping. When they’d been active with combat and danger, it had been more bearable. Her owl was great at getting to work when it was time for it.
But now that things had calmed down, Chelsea wasn’t sure how she felt about a magical creature completely dependent on her, following her everywhere, never leaving her side. Delilah and other Summoners could dismiss their Summons to some mysterious magical realm when the occasion called for it.
But Chelsea’s Summon refused to leave. He wouldn’t be dismissed, no matter how much Chelsea argued the point with him. He was obstinate, and it frustrated Chelsea even more knowing that he likely had that personality trait thanks to her.
After all, Summons take after their Summoners.
“I wonder what you should do about it when we get back home,” Delilah said. “Summoners dismiss their Summons mostly because we have to keep magic secret, and it’s a bit difficult to hide large glowing magical creatures otherwise.”
“Hear that?” Chelsea asked, glaring up at the owl perched on her shoulders. “You’re gonna have to cooperate eventually, so I can keep you a secret from non-magical people.”
Still, Chelsea’s owl was obstinate, and his series of hoots said as much. She caught brief impressions in her mind here and there. “So you’ll just hide when I’m around ordinary people?” she asked. “Where? How? And can you really bear that?”
Her owl’s hoots in response revealed only a stubborn refusal to be dismissed, no matter the consequences, and Chelsea groaned in response. “You’re impossible.”
It was the sixth day since reigniting the Dream Forge and saving the Library that Lorelei came to announce that Maribelle and Merric should have the Library’s rail system ready to go by dinner time.
“Let’s hope time’s still faster here than Earth,” Chelsea said in response, tucking away her lighters and wiping sweat from her forehead with a towel. “There’s too much at stake to take so long to get home.” When she saw Lorelei’s pensive expression, she cut the idle chatter. “What’s the matter?”
“It’s Shana,” Lorelei said. “She’s been so distant since she restored the Forge. She’s been asleep nearly twice as much as she’s been awake, and she doesn’t talk much. And when Caleb and all of us talked about going home, Shana didn’t say what her plans were.”
“Why wouldn’t she come back with us?” Chelsea asked. “She did what she needed to do here, and all of her friends are back in Grimoire. She was really excited when we got to talk to them.”
Lorelei gazed off into the distance. “I get the feeling that restoring the Forge was only the start of her journey.”
“What do you mean?” Chelsea tossed aside her towel and put her jacket on, frowning briefly as her owl perched on her shoulders, giving a little hoot.
Read the room, dude.
“Well, she has all of these dreams that tell her things, right?” Lorelei asked. “She’s the Dreamer. The Radiant King wants her for something, so I think her powers, her role, it’s all something bigger even than saving the Library. I think she wants to go home, but she’s been faced with some new task, and she’s conflicted about it.”
“You’ve always been the most insightful person I know,” Chelsea said, walking towards the first ring and the rail station. “You’re probably right. But judging from what I know about her, she’ll talk about things when she’s ready to. Until then… we should just do our best to watch over her, right? Give her hugs, she’s a big hugger.”
Lorelei chuckled. “I guess that’s the best we can do. But if you’re able to talk to Caleb, even for a bit, maybe mention it to him. He seems totally oblivious to her struggles.”
Chelsea sighed. “He’s often oblivious to other’s feelings when it matters most.”
Inside, they went to the station first. It was a beautiful area, built at a level further underground than anywhere else in the Library so that it had the space to allow trains to maneuver freely. While above was a pearlescent ceiling, below, beneath the tracks themselves, was an infinite view into the space surrounding the Library. Stars stretched on for miles and miles, transforming into different shapes, changing colors, fusing with each other in amazing ways. And left to right, the tracks went on farther than the eye could see, vanishing into an unknowable horizon.
Here at the platform was Maribelle, standing up from the base of a pillar and wiping her forehead with the back of her hand. Her hands and face were stained with soot and grease, but judging from Merric’s absence and the lack of open machinery and magical mechanics, the work was finally done.
“It seems to have decided on its own schedule,” Maribelle said, hands on her hips, a wry smile on her face. “It should arrive before the end of the day, though. Don’t worry – once it arrives, the train will stay until it’s sent to its destination.”
“And it can go anywhere?” Chelsea asked.
Maribelle chuckled. “Well… almost anywhere. No transportation system in the entire universe can truly go anywhere. But the Library’s private train can go very nearly anywhere you’d wish to go. It can certainly take you to Grimoire.”
“Have you talked to Shana much lately?” Chelsea asked.
Maribelle sighed, wiping her hands with a rag for a few moments before replying. “I have. She seems lost. She’s been appointed a new task, it seems, and she is uncertain of what to do next.”
“So exactly what you predicted,” Chelsea said, earning a nod from Lorelei.
“I’ve tried helping her, as has Anna, but we’ve had little luck,” Maribelle said, eyes downcast. “She feels dependent on her twin brother and her friends, but she is stronger than she knows. Still, the desire to be near to those held most dear is one I understand quite well. And it’s likely her new task will take her even farther from those she thought she would soon reunite with.”
The three girls headed upstairs to the hub with the bedrooms, and Chelsea peeked into Shana’s room to see the girl was sitting in bed, absently petting Altair, who pouted next to her.
Summons reflect the moods of their Summoner sometimes. And Altair’s as easy to read as Shana is.
So Chelsea moved on from there, finding Caleb not in his room, but just past the bedrooms, out on a wide veranda that overlooked the inner gardens. At the far side of the veranda was Isabelle, playing a lovely, cheerful song on a beautiful grand piano, and Caleb sat back with a smile, listening and enjoying. He looked up in surprise at Chelsea’s arrival, but he didn’t speak at first, and his face said it all. He hadn’t expected her to approach him again until they returned to Grimoire, and he was happy, but uncertain of how to react.
“Have you talked to your sister recently?” Chelsea asked softly, taking a seat next to him.
“Yeah, Delilah and I have had some great conversations since you cheered her up,” Caleb said, grinning.
“Your other sister,” Chelsea said, rolling her eyes.
“Oh. Right.” Caleb sighed, staring out across the gardens. “She doesn’t seem to want to talk. I’ve been waiting for her to leave her room, but she only does to get food and then vanishes back inside.”
“So don’t wait. Her door’s unlocked, go visit her yourself. She needs her big brother.”
Caleb stared at Chelsea, a protest halting on his lips. He nodded. “Right. Got it. I’ll see what I can do.”
And then he was gone, heading off to his sister, leaving Chelsea stretching in a desperate effort to relieve tension that she knew was emotional rather than physical. But Isabelle’s music helped.
I’ve only heard her play mournful songs by herself… songs that brought up bad memories in me. But now that she’s home, she’s so happy, and her music reflects that, too. It’s a wonderful change to see.
Eventually, Isabelle stopped and, turning around, was clearly surprised to see Caleb was gone and Chelsea was here. “Did you like my playing?” she asked, trotting up to Chelsea and hopping right up into her lap.
Chelsea laughed, stroking Isabelle’s hair. “I did, very much,” she said. “Did you enjoy playing?”
Isabelle nodded, with a little “mm-hm.” Her big blue eyes stared up at the sky, the pale silvery-blue of daylight. Her smile faded a little. “You’re all leaving soon, aren’t you?”
Chelsea nodded. “Sorry to say, we are. Your home was in danger – now ours is. We have to do something about that.”
“Can I help?” Isabelle asked, gazing hopefully at Chelsea.
“You need to be here,” Chelsea said. “When you and your sisters are at home, your home stays safe. Don’t worry. We’ll come visit you again. That’s a promise.”
Isabelle held up a hand, sticking out her pinky. “A real promise?” she asked.
Chelsea laughed, hooking her pinky with Isabelle’s. “A real promise.”
“And bring Caleb with you,” Isabelle said. “And Lorelei. And Delilah. And Gwen. I’ll miss all of you!”
Chelsea nodded, smiling. “I sure will. We’ll all come back to see you, don’t worry.” Her owl gave a hoot of agreement, and Isabelle giggled.
Not long after, Chelsea found Caleb walking through the gardens with Shana and Delilah. The three siblings were all talking together, and Shana looked as if she was recovering from a long crying spell, though now she was laughing, hugging little Altair tight.
I won’t bother them. But I’m glad to see Shana’s spirits are lifted. Whatever she’s got to figure out, I hope she can keep that smile.
And soon it was dinner time. The entire group – Chelsea, Lorelei, Gwen, Delilah, Caleb, Shana, Isabelle, Annabelle, Maribelle, and Merric – ate in a lavish dining room one floor below the bedrooms. Between the bedrooms and this grand dining room, Chelsea got the sense that the “Princesses of Solitude” really were royalty. The gigantic Library of Solitude was their home, and it had not just space, but beauty and elegance to it, as well. It was a wondrous castle fit for royalty, and the dinners were fit for royalty, too. Seven courses, and Chelsea, though she could only manage three courses, was happy to see Caleb went through all seven faster than anyone, and still seemed hungry.
He lost weight while he was training, but he’s starting to get it back now that he’s eating properly. Well – properly for him, which means an astronomical amount of calories.
Everyone’s pulling themselves together – just in time for us to head back home, and into new danger.
And sure enough, the private train arrived not long after dinner. Everyone met at the station, with those departing separating from those saying goodbye. Merric took things quite well – despite their time together, he hadn’t really grown close with those who had helped save the Library. Maribelle and Annabelle were sad to see Shana go, but understanding.
Isabelle was just barely holding herself back from being a blubbering, incoherent mess. She barely spoke, only waved frantically, tears streaming down her cheeks.
“We’ll be back sooner than you know,” Caleb said, grinning at the little girl. “Just you wait. We’ll see each other again!”
And then their group was boarding the train. Chelsea sat with Lorelei and Gwen, while Caleb sat with his sisters. The train was wider than it looked from the outside, with tons of seating space. Caleb was the only one with luggage – a single suitcase, mostly filled with clothes – so all six of them had even more space than they would have otherwise, allowing Chelsea to sprawl out, cozying up with Lorelei and Gwen.
“How long do you think it’s been since you were to Grimoire?” Chelsea asked Gwen as the train kicked into motion.
“Centuries,” Gwen said, her golden eyes glittering with light. Chelsea was glad to see her newest friend wasn’t lost in frightful memories of her past, but looked excited at the prospect of going to Chelsea’s home city, a place she hadn’t been in so very long. “I’m sure I’ll barely recognize it.”
“Well, the landscape won’t have changed much,” Chelsea said. “It’s still as hilly and wild as it’s always been. I don’t think there’s any city like it.”
They left the Library of Solitude behind, and out the window amazing sights swirled past. The kaleidoscopic starry sky below the Library faded away, transforming into a series of amazing sights. They were looking out at a vast desert with sparkling red sand, and then through a haunting forest of towering, gargantuan trees, the tops of which they couldn’t even see. They sped through a crowded city filled with spherical, spiraling architecture, and none of the people seemed to pay the train any notice. An ocean of fire flew by, and an undersea trench, and towering red building with many balconies from which hung laundry out to dry.
And then the train slowed. All vision outside blurred beyond recognition for a moment. When they could see outside again, Chelsea smiled.
It had been an awfully long time, but she was finally home again. Out the window to her right rose the forested mountains east of Grimoire, and out the window to her left was the edge of the city itself.
As soon as the six exited the train, it gave a single toot of warning, and then sped away, vanishing in an instant. In the silence that followed, Caleb said what they were likely all thinking.
“So… what now?”
The question seemed to have a simple answer: start working on defending the city.
It had been so long. Chelsea realized there was a lot she wanted to do, and also that she was stunned, paralyzed in a way, after the long, arduous adventure and battle to save the Library, and the rest that followed…
Yet her fight wasn’t over. After all she’d been through, all she’d fought for, there was still more to do.
She was home, but home might not be a safe haven for long.
“Well, before we do anything, we should talk to our families,” Lorelei said. “Let everyone know that we’re home and we’re safe. It’s been…” she pulled out her cell phone, checking the screen, “almost a month since we left. There are a lot of questions we’ll need to answer, especially us three.” She indicated herself, Chelsea, and Caleb, the Hunters of the group.
“Oh,” Caleb said, frowning. “Right. We’ll be in for it from Mister Crowley, I’m sure.”
Jacob Crowley, head of the Hunter Guild, was not a man to be trifled with. He expected clear communication and a strict adherence to the rules. Having three Hunters vanish under his nose – and return only to not be able to provide adequate explanation for themselves without revealing far too much about people and places that should be kept secret – would not be at all acceptable to him.
“And we need to get Gwen settled in,” Chelsea said. “You can stay at my place. It always was too big of an apartment for just me, anyway.”
Gwen smiled. “I’d be happy to.”
“And we should head on home right away,” Delilah said, nodding to Shana. “The sun’s setting.”
Shana’s eyes suddenly lit up. “Oh, if we hurry, we’ll be home for dinner! I gotta call mom and dad!” She whipped out her phone, quickly starting a call with one of her parents.
“You should go with them,” Chelsea said, nudging Caleb. “Your parents will have missed you, too.” At Caleb’s conflicted look, Chelsea sighed. “You and I have a date tomorrow, okay? But not tonight. You need to talk to your parents, Lorelei needs to talk to hers, we all need to get reacquainted with home before we get into anything else. Right?”
Caleb nodded, his smile returning. “Right.” Shana said dinner would be ready when they got home, and the Greyson siblings headed off with a cheerful goodbye.
“We should go with you,” Chelsea said to Lorelei. “Your parents are kind of my parents, too. And I want to see them, anyway. Plus, they’ll be happy to see we’ve made a new friend.”
Lorelei nodded, leading the way into the city. They entered by a side path, past Renaldo’s coffee shop, angling northward through Lunar District and its many manors, and then the Rosewood District and its beautiful parks and flower gardens, many still blooming even in the late fall chill, thanks to magical attention. Then they angled westward, towards Frost Manor, which lay at the very edge of the Rosewood District. Chelsea, Caleb, and Lorelei’s apartments in the Libra District were at the very southwest of Grimoire, while Lorelei’s parents lived nearly at the northeastern edge of “old Grimoire” – Grimoire before the Crater District existed. It would be a long walk yet to get back to their apartments after this visit, but Chelsea didn’t mind.
She’d missed her adoptive parents.
Frost Manor wasn’t quite as grand as Greyson Manor, standing at only three stories, and covering less than a square mile of space, but the Frosts had spacious grounds with beautiful flowering trees, a small lake with a little stone fountain in its center, and lovely statuettes of lions, eagles, princesses, and knights in shining armor. Up the blue stone walk, right before the sky blue front door, were three little stone markers. Each bore a name and a date. To the left was written Samuel, August 14th, five years before Lorelei was born. Right of that one was Katarina, December 2nd, three years before Lorelei was born. And finally, the farthest right, was Dimitri, July 21st, two years before Lorelei was born.
In front of the three markers was a lower, longer stone, and on it was an inscription: “Angels gone before we knew you. May your innocent souls be forever at peace.”
Chelsea remembered asking about them when she was a little girl coming to live with the Frosts for the first time. Lorelei’s mother’s answer had always stuck with her:
“They’re in memory of our three precious children, Lorelei’s precious older siblings. Though we never met them face-to-face, they are a part of this family forever.”
There were other things within and about Frost Manor that echoed the same sentiment, reflected parents and their hopes for more children than they’d had.
Yet as the door opened and Lorelei’s parents greeted the new arrivals, no sign of tragic loss was on their face – only grateful smiles, laughter, tears at the return of their two daughters.
Lorelei’s father, Hans, and Lorelei’s mother, Elsa, were so alike it was at times uncanny. Both had the straight red hair and cool blue eyes they’d passed onto Lorelei, with fair skin and slim builds. Both were kind and compassionate, quick to laughter and quick to tears. They were all over Lorelei and Chelsea, showering them with hugs and proclamations of affection and how much they’d missed them and how glad they were to have them back. The girls were ushered into the Manor along with Gwen, and had a long discussion about their journey, accompanied, as all Frost family discussions were, with a variety of cookies and mugs of rich hot cocoa.
When Chelsea and Lorelei were finished, with occasional input from Gwen, Hans and Elsa were silent for a long time, mulling over the details, collecting their emotions.
“You’ve been through an awful lot,” Elsa finally said, smiling warmly. “I’m so glad you succeeded at helping little Isabelle, and even more glad that you’ve arrived home safely. And that you made a new friend! Welcome, Gwen, and sorry for not properly welcoming you earlier. We were just so –”
“Overwhelmed,” Gwen said, nodding. “I understand. It does my heart well to see Chelsea and Lorelei have such wonderful people looking out for them.”
“Though it’s getting late,” Chelsea said, stretching. “We should probably get going. Lots to do tomorrow, too.”
“Going?” Hans asked. “Going where?”
“Back to our apartments,” Chelsea said, as if the answer was obvious. “We’ve gotta get some sleep eventually.”
“You’re not going back there,” Hans said, chuckling. “Stay here for at least tonight. We have plenty of extra rooms and beds, and you’ll have a nice hot breakfast in the morning. Besides, our home has always been and will always be your home, too.”
Chelsea had thought herself temporarily numb to her stronger emotions after all that had happened, but that simple, loving proclamation had her eyes stinging with tears.
“Gwen, you’re welcome as well,” Elsa said. “In case that wasn’t obvious. Any friend of theirs is a friend of ours.”
“I’d be honored,” Gwen said.
“Mom, Dad,” Lorelei said, tearing up just as Chelsea was, “thank you. I’ve missed you so much.”
“Oh, we have, too!” Elsa said, hopping up from her couch and rushing around the coffee table to tackle her daughter into a hug. “I’m so glad you’re safe! I’ve been so worried, though the Greysons stopped over to tell us you were safe but on some secret mission, oh, I was still so worried!”
“They came by to tell you about us?” Chelsea asked.
“Of course!” Hans said, following Elsa’s lead and tackling Chelsea in a hug. “They’re old friends of ours, after all, and old friends of your mother’s. Naturally they wanted your guardians to know you were safe.”
Chelsea found she couldn’t hold back her tears anymore. All these years, all this hate and resentment towards the Greysons for so long…
And for what? What had it brought her but pain?
They had loved her mother. They looked out for her, even from a distance.
I have so many lies to cast aside. I have so much pain to let go of. And I have so many relationships to mend. I came home mostly to defend it, mostly out of necessity, but…
I’m glad I can make things right, finally, after so long.
Amidst the welcomes of her adoptive parents, Chelsea responded in a small voice.
“I’m glad I’m home.”