Caleb stared at this shadowy version of Mathers Mansion, wondering why such a place would be here in Duo’s shadow world.
Of course, the why was obvious. And yet Caleb, just like his parents, struggled to believe it.
“I know what this place is,” the girl at his side said. Caleb knelt down next to her, watching her wide eyes survey the entrance hall. “I… came here. There was a man, and he told me my parents were wrong. He told me I wasn’t a monster.”
Caleb nodded. He’d just figured that part out himself. In the “Maze of Chaos,” he’d seen the paintings of Duo given hope by a shadowy man. He turned her away from her parents, brought her into a group that included Bronn, and had her – or rather, her shadow – sign a magical Contract.
The pieces were fitting together.
Why did it have to be this way? Why was the leader of the Council of Mages, the most prominent and powerful mage in Grimoire, their enemy?
How many more people will I find out I can’t trust?
“What do you think of him?” Caleb asked.
The girl stared at the floor. “I…” She shook her head. “I don’t like him anymore. He didn’t want me, he just wanted…” She looked back towards the door, out across the dark gardens.
“The shadow,” Caleb said softly. The girl nodded.
The shadow used you, and Blaise used the shadow. You’ve spent your whole life being pushed and pulled by other forces, manipulated and corrupted.
“I don’t want to be here anymore,” the girl said, turning towards the door. “Can we try one of the other roads?”
Caleb turned with her…
But the door was gone.
There was no exit from the Manor.
“What happened?” the girl asked, clutching Caleb’s hand tightly.
“I think we need to find our way through this place to another exit,” Caleb said, turning back towards the Manor’s interior. “Don’t be afraid. It’s gonna be all right. I’m right here, and I won’t let you go.”
The girl nodded, and Caleb led the way. Mathers Manor had a large entrance hall with three exits from it – one to the left, one to the right, and one straight ahead. From Caleb’s recollection, there was only one way in and out of the Manor – the front door – but if they were locked in here, that meant they’d have to find a new exit, or make one of their own.
Do we go straight ahead? That takes us to the central stairs, so we could go up to the other floors…
Or should we explore each floor thoroughly first? That’s probably the best approach. And…
Caleb looked down at the girl. He hadn’t had to use magic yet so far, but if he did…
I can’t use Time Magic.
His thoughts went back to that day, so long ago, when he had helped Shana and Shias stealthily follow Rae when she carried the Piper’s Flute. At one crossing, he’d used Time Magic, pulling the twins into that world of slowed time with him.
Shias had been fascinated, but Shana had been a bit of a mess afterwards, begging Caleb never to do that to her again.
I was so irresponsible. Now I know what Time Magic is like, and what kind of impact it can have on people…
I can’t do that to others. I certainly can’t do that to a little girl.
I’ll just have to keep my wits about me, and make proper choices for the both of us.
They’d left behind wooden puppets, stage shows, and wild music, but the silence and darkness and loneliness in the Manor created a tension that hadn’t existed before. The only things that moved or made sound were Caleb and the girl as he led her through the left hall. Paintings hung on the walls to the right, but the wall to the left, where there should have been windows, was solid, unadorned stone.
So we can’t count on being able to bust out a window for an improvised escape.
Around the corner they went, into a wide dining room lit by dim blue lamps. Food was laid out on the table, a lavish feast, but Caleb and the girl ignored it, walking past the table and out into the next room, a spacious kitchen lit by a single blue lamp on the ceiling. Its light cast long, dark shadows about the room, and Caleb paused for a moment, surveying the space.
Nothing. Just shadows preying on an overactive imagination.
From the kitchen they entered a lounge, with high bookshelves on every wall, and from there they reached the corner gaming room. The centerpiece was a long pool table, and all around were other types of gaming tables that Caleb had never seen anywhere else – almost as if Blaise Mathers had a miniature casino in his home.
He’d always been fond of games, especially games of chance.
Caleb paused at the pool table, surveying the dark room. Cards were laid out on a table to the left, with chips strewn about, almost as if a game had been started, and then everyone had left in the middle. The pool table was similar – some balls were sunk in pockets, while the rest on the table were spread out haphazardly, and two pool cues were laid along the table, with chalk near the corner.
Does this mean anything, or am I just overthinking things? Are there clues here to help us escape, or tell us a story, or is this just a nonsensically-arranged facsimile of a familiar place?
“He never called me by my name,” the girl suddenly said, bringing Caleb’s attention to her. She looked up at him. “You asked me my name back then, and I didn’t know. Now I remember why it’s so hard to remember. I…” She shook her head. “I don’t remember the last time someone called me by my name. Only the name they made for me, and I don’t like that one.”
So it’s a good thing I didn’t call her that in here. It isn’t her name. And she doesn’t want it.
This isn’t some maze we can just find our way out of. I have to remember Chelsea’s description of the places she and Gwen went through. They had to face their fears. They had to come to terms with things about themselves, deal with their own demons.
What does this girl need to face in order to escape? What secrets does this Manor hold for her? I need to pay attention to her more than the place itself.
“We’ll figure out your name,” Caleb said with a smile. “Just keep an eye out for any clues. Let me know if you ever see or hear anything that you think might be important, no matter how small or silly it is.” The girl bobbed her head in a nod, her hair bouncing with the motion.
On they walked, leaving the gaming room behind for another lounge, this one more for sitting and relaxing, with sparse decorations, and two large fireplaces, each in a corner. To the left, the room opened out into a glass-walled-and-ceilinged porch, which would then lead out into the rear gardens – an exit Caleb had forgotten – but that exit was sealed, as if it had never existed.
“Where do you think we should go?” Caleb asked.
The girl didn’t hesitate for a moment, leading Caleb away from their perimeter trek, through a hall towards the central stairs. But they stopped halfway down the hall, and the girl placed her hand against the right wall.
“There’s a door here,” she said, then pointed at a high painting. “He always did something with that to open it.”
Caleb reached up, feeling around the painting’s frame. For some reason, the painting was completely blank, but not as if it was just untouched canvas – it looked as if a shadow covered the surface, hiding the artwork from view.
Secrets. Everywhere we go, more secrets and mysteries.
Caleb felt a knob on the top corner of the painting and pressed it to a satisfying click. The wall shifted subtly, revealing the faint outline of a door and a small indent on its left side. Caleb touched that, pulled, and the door slid open, revealing a study.
It was an awfully simple room, to be hidden so carefully. An ornate desk sat in the far corner, with a globe atop it to the side, while in the center was spread out a series of papers – maps, Caleb realized.
Maps of Grimoire.
Caleb studied them for a moment, but then pushed that curiosity aside.
The girl was the one he needed to pay attention to. She’d help him sort out what was important.
“He took me in here a lot,” the girl said, taking a seat on a low cushioned stool. “But when he did, he… he didn’t want to talk to me. He wanted to talk to…” She shuddered, shaking her head.
Caleb gave her hand a gentle squeeze. “It’s okay. You don’t have to be afraid.”
The girl stared at her feet. “He wanted to talk to… the shadow.”
A sudden whoosh of air flew through the entire house, violent and swift, and then was gone. Caleb and the girl looked around for a long moment, bewildered by what had happened.
The girl hopped up off the stool and left the study, pulling Caleb along after her. “There was somewhere else,” she said. “Another secret room. “He took me there, but… I never went.”
“What do you…” Caleb started, then looked at the girl. She was staring up at him, a meaningful look on her face.
He took her there, but it was only the shadow who actually went. So she doesn’t actually know what’s in there.
Caleb nodded, and the girl led him out into the large chamber around the central stairs. Past the stairs to the far left corner they walked, and the girl tapped a finger against the corner wall. A painting to the left, a painting to the right, and in between, where two walls formed a corner, two gems: one purest white, the other darkest black.
Caleb tapped where the girl indicated, between the two stones, and immediately felt something different. There was magic there, something powerful protecting whatever lay beyond.
“There’s a code,” the girl said. “It’s easy, though, once you know it.” She held Caleb’s hand, pressed it against the wall, and traced a pattern with his hand, talking as she did so. “Circle ‘round white, circle ‘round black, circle them both, then step back.” They both stepped back at the end, and the wall shimmered, rippled then vanished. Before them now yawned a dark, descending staircase.
This must be… the Vault.
The Vault of the Head of the Council of Mages. What kinds of secrets are stored here?
Down they went, Caleb leading the way. As soon as they entered the darkness, they could see nothing. Caleb held up his watch, made it shine with light, but…
It was just like “the Dark Place” in Duo’s home. He could see the bright white light in his hand, but its light went no further, illuminated nothing else. The girl’s hand squeezed his tightly.
“It’ll be all right,” Caleb said. “Just take the stairs slowly. I’ll mark our path as we go.” Every few paces as they descended, Caleb formed a Mobility disc on the wall to the left or right, or on one of the stairs. They were just markers, but every now and then, when Caleb looked back and saw those glowing discs showing the path upward, he felt reassured.
Light in the darkness, even when it isn’t illuminating anything else, is comforting.
This darkness can hide us. It can block us out.
But it can’t block out light itself.
Down they went, a hundred stairs, then two hundred, then three. How deep underground were they going?
Were they even going underground at all? What magic was involved with making this strange staircase, this oppressive darkness?
Suddenly, both Caleb and the girl stumbled as the ground leveled out. Caleb felt for the bottom step, and then formed a smaller Mobility disc with a different symbol there, to make it clear where their exit began.
“I don’t like not being able to see,” the girl said in the faintest of whispers. Even that sounded harsh and loud against the crushing silence.
“We just have to feel our way around, it’ll –” Caleb started.
But then the lights came on.
Blinded by the sudden brightness, Caleb knelt down, wrapped his arms around the girl protectively, listening and feeling for the slightest movement or danger. Slowly, his eyes adjusted.
It wasn’t very bright at all, he realized. But as he looked back, he saw that the stairs lay still in complete darkness.
The illuminated room was… surprisingly small. A perfect cube, perhaps ten feet high, and ten feet on every side. It was totally empty, save for a small wooden chest in the center of the floor.
“That’s…” the girl started, staring with a mixture of fear and wonder in her eyes.
“You recognize it?” Caleb asked.
The girl nodded. “It’s… I think it’s…” She shook her head. “I’ve only seen it in dreams.”
“What kind of dreams?” Caleb asked.
The girl approached the chest slowly, and Caleb followed. “I see myself,” she said softly. “And the man, and he’s reaching out to me. He touches me, and… takes something.” She pointed at the chest. “And he puts it in there.”
They now stood directly before the chest. The girl knelt down, and Caleb followed suit. Running a finger along the seam, the girl seemed hesitant.
“I think it opens here,” she said softly, fingering the clasp of the lid. She looked at Caleb. “Should I open it?”
Caleb smiled. “I think if you don’t, you’ll be very upset with yourself. Whatever’s in there, if it’s a part of you, you probably want it back.”
The girl stared at the chest. “I…”
She gripped the clasp, pulled it back, opened the lid.
Sudden bright, white light shot out of the chest, slammed into the girl, swirled around her, surrounded her. She was completely enshrouded in the light, and yet her one hand in Caleb’s could be felt. He gave it a gentle squeeze, and felt her squeeze back.
The lights faded, absorbing into the girl, and she stood for a moment silent, eyes fixed on the far wall of the chamber.
Then, slowly, she turned to Caleb. Tears swelled in her eyes, and her mouth turned upwards in a small smile.
“Adelaide,” she said softly, squeezing Caleb’s hand.
“My name is Adelaide.”