“My name is Adelaide.”
With that simple phrase, Caleb saw a change in the girl. Something had shifted within and without, and though she was physically the same…
She was different.
He figured it out as soon as she smiled at him. It was heartfelt and wonderful, and yet…
It was also mischievous. There was a glint in her eyes, something that hadn’t been there before. When he’d been leading her around, accompanying her to this place, she’d been timid, reluctant, afraid.
Now she was shining. She was glowing with a life that hadn’t been there before, as if the Adelaide of before was just a shell searching for its soul.
“I remember who I am,” Adelaide said, wiping the tears from her eyes. She grinned at Caleb. “Thank you.”
“Now you’re really ready to get out of this place, right?” Caleb asked, smiling back at her.
Adelaide nodded, turning her attention to the stairs. Caleb’s discs still shone, marking the return path through the darkness. “Let’s go,” Adelaide said. Hand-in-hand, Caleb and Adelaide climbed back up through the darkness, and out into Mathers Manor.
But the Manor was gone. They stepped through a door and out into a wide, foggy plain.
“What the heck?” Caleb asked, turning around in a circle. The door they’d just come through was gone. Fog obscured so much, he couldn’t see more than the grey grass around him, perhaps fifteen feet in any given direction.
But next to him, Adelaide giggled.
“Playing games,” she said. “The mean old shadow is playing games. He’s probably about to get angry about us finding myself. But I know a trick.”
“A trick?” Caleb asked.
Adelaide nodded. “Just wait until he gets angry. Then we jump.”
But Adelaide didn’t seem interested in explaining more. She was clearly excited, though, so Caleb was ready to go along with it.
“Here it comes…” Adelaide said, quivering with anticipation.
A low rumble coursed through the earth, growing louder as it went. The ground shook, and Caleb saw a break in the fog ahead. Something was coming towards them.
“We gotta jump right before it gets us,” Adelaide said.
It came closer.
There! Caleb and Adelaide jumped, barely avoiding the indescribable thing that barreled towards them. Caleb got his best glimpse of it as he was over it, and his entire body shuddered.
He wouldn’t ever forget that horrifying sight. And yet…
He’d never be able to describe it, either.
At least he’d managed to evade it.
While they were still airborne, the world blurred, vanished. As soon as their feet hit the ground, the world reappeared.
It was not the same place they had jumped from.
Now they were inside a towering cathedral. Multiple balconies yawned out into the darkness above them. Pillars loomed, towering shadows on either side. Hundreds upon hundreds of pews ran from front to back on either side, while Caleb and Adelaide stood in the center aisle, on a black carpet that vanished far ahead into darkness.
Somewhere in the gloom, an organ was playing. It was a faint, high, rolling tune that repeated in on itself over and over.
It felt like a tense, worrisome prelude to something much bigger.
“We did it,” Adelaide said, looking very pleased with herself. “I found out about this place before, and that was the last straw for the shadow to take myself away from me. He doesn’t want anyone finding this place.”
“Why?” Caleb asked, looking around the cathedral. “What is it?”
Adelaide giggled. “Where we were before was my shadow world, a place made to scare me, full of my memories and fears. This place… is the shadow’s shadow world.”
Caleb took a moment to process that. If it was the case…
They could learn all about the shadow here. This was their best ticket to finding a weakness in their mysterious, omnipresent foe.
“Where do we start?” Caleb asked.
Adelaide pulled him to the left, between two pews towards the dark wall on that side. “The main secrets are in the windows,” she said.
The gloom rolled back like a curtain, and Caleb saw, all along the wall, were stained glass windows. The very first one he laid eyes on made him stop in his tracks.
In the center of the window was a man, clearly a stylized rendition of Mister Midnight. Caleb would recognize those eyes anywhere. He was locked in battle against a shadowy foe that reminded Caleb quite a lot of Valgwyn – he had wide, shadowy wings. In each hand he held a long, wicked sickle.
A memory came to Caleb, of the conversation between Valgwyn and Midnight before their battle at the Library of Solitude…
“Have you, perchance, met my brothers?” Valgwyn had asked.
“One of them,” Midnight had said.
“And you survived,” Valgwyn had said, eyebrows lifting ever so slightly.
And then later… “You say you survived fighting one of my brothers?” Valgwyn asked in a pause in the battle. “I find that difficult to believe.”
“Well as you obviously know, I didn’t manage to kill him,” Midnight replied.
“My brothers never let prey escape alive,” Valgwyn said.
Here was the battle that Midnight had alluded to. One of Valgwyn’s brothers – likely the shadow that plagued Adelaide – was here in this window, fighting Midnight.
In the next window, Caleb saw the fight reach its end. The shadow and Midnight, both struck with grievous, bloody wounds, paused in their duel. And then, in the next window…
The shadow left. Midnight was allowed to live, as the shadow made its escape.
After that, Caleb saw the shadow kneeling before three other shadows. One fit the description Maribelle had given of Dullan – a massive, towering figure, carrying a long, wicked scythe. The second was small, and yet…
Caleb found that one far more frightening than his brothers. He seemed to be burning with a fire, a smoky blaze that would never be satisfied, could never be quenched. He leaned upon a long, jagged sword.
Valgwyn was nowhere to be seen, but the fourth shadow…
That was the greatest mystery. Something told Caleb that this shadow wasn’t another brother to the others, but their father. He sat upon a throne that, even depicted in stained glass, made Caleb feel as if he was being sucked into a dark, endless void that went on forever.
Darkness without end.
Night without end.
And the father, seated upon his throne, was an imposing, impossible figure. Somehow, though he was formed entirely of darkness, each part of him was distinct. His crown gleamed with many jewels. His hair fell long and dark about his shoulders. Grave and imperious was his face, an expression of an absolute ruler, one who commanded authority Caleb could never fathom. Rather than the armor his sons wore, his clothes were thin fabrics, and he bore no weapons.
He sent a clear message to Caleb of power.
He needed no armor, nor weapons.
“Caleb?” Adelaide asked, tugging at Caleb’s hand. Caleb let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding, stepped back from a wall he hadn’t realized he was nearly touching.
Magnetic. He drew me in, and I didn’t even notice.
And this is just an artistic rendition of him. If this were me seeing him for real…
I wouldn’t have been able to do anything, would I?
“Caleb?” Adelaide asked again. Caleb looked at her, meeting her eyes, and she sighed, shaking her head. “Don’t look so closely at the papa. Even in the windows, he’s dangerous.”
You could’ve warned me beforehand.
But clearly, Adelaide knew that, too. As she led on to the next window, she giggled softly.
Mischievous little one, aren’t you?
The next window showed the father on his throne again, and Caleb took care not to look directly at him. He raised a hand, with a single finger extended, pointing to something out of frame. The shadow, the one that had lost to Midnight, shrank back in fear, as his body dissolved.
He turned into nothing more than a shadow, a wraith without form. The next windows showed that clearly. He crept through the lonely places of the universe, exiled by his father, forsaken by his brothers. Everywhere he went, he could touch nothing. He could interact with nothing, for he was but a shadow.
He reached Grimoire.
And he found a baby in her crib. A baby with purple and white hair, with blue and green eyes.
The shadow smiled, and touched the baby.
And he became her shadow.
“I’ve seen all of that,” Adelaide said, “but I thought you might want to see it, too. The rest of this place is what I think is important.” She pointed rightward, towards the front of the cathedral, shrouded in darkness. “There are things that way, things he didn’t want me to see. That’s when I really got in trouble. But since you’re here, you’ll make sure we make it, right? You’ll make sure we see everything, right?” She looked up at him. “I’m counting on you, you know.”
Caleb laughed. “Right. I’ll make sure we make it, and that we see everything. Ready?”
Adelaide bobbed her head. “Yup. Let’s go.”
Wherever they went, the darkness slowly peeled back, revealing a little of what lay beyond. Whenever Caleb chanced a look back, he saw that the darkness closed in behind them. They could never see very far in any direction, but they continued down the left side of the cathedral, Adelaide leading the way. Their steps were softened by the carpet, and the faint music of the organ slowly shifted. The high trills gave way to long, low chords that hung in the air until they were nearly gone, before rising once more.
A pair of lamps sputtered to life ahead, flickering purple flames that framed a small doorway. It led into a small room off from the main cathedral. Low ceilings gave it a cloistered, suffocating air. In each corner was a pearlescent marble pillar. On the far side was a tapestry.
Hanging on a rod the pale color of winter moonlight, the tapestry was black, with red lines creating a strange symbol: a square within a square. Caleb felt as if he was staring into a deep, endless pit, as if the ground had collapsed, leaving only an unending drop.
Before the tapestry was a pedestal, and on it was a thick, weathered book. It was too tall for Adelaide to reach, so Caleb began turning the pages, examining the text.
“What’s it say?” Adelaide asked, standing up on tiptoe.
“Mostly nothing,” Caleb said, turning page after page fairly quickly. So much of what had once been written had faded until invisible, and all Caleb was able to read so far were scattered, isolated letters, not even complete words. It was nonsense to him. Finally, he closed the book, staring at the cover. Black as blackest night, with a somehow darker silhouette atop it of a man on a throne. Silvery letters spelled out at the top: The Chronicle of the Lord of Night.
Caleb flipped to the very back, and found one page that wasn’t completely faded. On it were five rectangular boxes. Each had once contained a name, but four of the names were scratched furiously into oblivion. Next to each name was a title: “Lord of Night” was at the top. Below that was “Warlord,” and then “Soultaker.” At the bottom, next to the fourth scratched out name, was the title “Nightbringer.” Finally, in the second to last box, was both a name and a title: “Kaohlad, Devourer.”
So that’s your name, huh? One of these must be Valgwyn, and another Dullan.
But you’ve rejected your brothers and your father, after they rejected you.
You’re all alone.
Caleb was frustrated that that fact brought him some measure of pity. He knew the shadow was a monster, a being that had stolen Adelaide’s body and life, and done so much evil.
He knew that, if Kaohlad wasn’t alone, he’d be wreaking even worse evil.
Caleb sighed, closing the book. He needed to help Adelaide get out of here quickly.
With nothing else to see in the room, Caleb and Adelaide exited back out into the main cathedral. The organ music suddenly swelled, adding in deep, pulsing bass chords that sent a quiver through the stonework. Mid-tones picked up, playing out a haunting tune, and occasional high trills mixed with more deep bass to create an atmosphere of controlled, fearful chaos.
To their left, lamps sprang to life, softly glowing with electricity. They were at the front of the cathedral, and steps led the way up to an altar. Caleb placed his foot on the first step, and the music burst into powerful life. There were sounds like trumpets, and others like flutes. A bell chimed steadily, four short chimes, then one long, powerful one, and then repeated the pattern, again and again.
Lamps lit up all around, their purple glow illuminating the space. To the right was the organ, the organist hidden from view by the massive console. To the left was a pulpit, crushed and crumbled into a bare stony remnant.
Before them was the altar, pale white, sparkling with purple where the light hit it. Atop it were five small stone figures. The center one was the father on his throne, and out on either side were the brothers. But the one on the far left was shattered, a pile of mere dust.
The lights shut off, along with the music, plunging the entire space into total darkness and total silence.
The lights returned, but the music did not. Across the altar, in pale red letters, was written:
A door slammed open, causing both Caleb and Adelaide to jump. It was beyond the altar, a hidden door farther ahead. Through the doorway was solid darkness.
The air filled with the sound of footsteps. Hundreds, thousands, marching in time. The marching quickened, until the air was filled with the sound of many runners.
“Let’s go!” Caleb said, pulling Adelaide with him towards the door beyond the altar. They ran, and the footsteps grew louder, louder. The stone quaked, and Caleb could feel their breaths, the labored panting of runners going as fast as they could, on the back of his neck. They were here, they were upon them. The door was so close!
Caleb and Adelaide jumped, and they vanished through the doorway. Sound, sight, feel, taste, smell…
The whole world was emptiness.
There was a voice. It was faint, hollow, like a brush of air that came and went, vanishing on its way.
Caleb knew that voice, though. And out of the void came a scatter of memories. It all started with one word:
Then he heard his teacher’s voice.
“You’re far too generous with promises, kid.”
And he heard his own voice, and another’s.
“I’ll stay with you, and we’ll find a way out of this place.”
“Will you stay with me even after we get out of here?”
Caleb knew these voices. He knew these conversations. He knew his promises.
“You’re far too generous with promises, kid.”
Wasn’t this place… wasn’t Caleb supposed to be… seeing the fears and past of Kaohlad?
A door. He remembered a door.
Where had it taken him?
Where was he going?
Caleb opened his eyes.
When had he closed them?
He stood on a platform in a vast, bright void. The platform steadily spun in a slow circle, and Caleb realized that was because it was a gear. The whole space was filled with gears, and…
Clock mechanisms surrounded Caleb, filled the space with their size and shapes and endless ticking. Blue sparks of light occasionally shot from one mechanism to another. Clock faces flashed.
On, and on, and on they ticked by.
What… is this place?
Caleb opened his mouth to ask the question, but though he moved his lips, no sound came out.
Darkness returned, and with it, crushing silence.
And in Caleb’s right hand, he felt something. Soft. Warm. Smooth.
Caleb gave it a squeeze, and he felt a gentle squeeze in return.
“Will you stay with me?”
“Even after we get out of here?”
Caleb gave the hand another squeeze.
A gentle squeeze in return.
“I’m counting on you, you know.”
Light, and sound, and all other sensations returned. Caleb’s mind clawed its way out of the murky haze it was in.
Birds were chirping.
Caleb and Adelaide stood in a bright forest, like something out of a fairytale. Beams of light filtered through the branches, sparkling and glittering in the air. Globes of light bobbed through the space, like fairies fluttering through a magical wood.
Flowers bloomed everywhere.
“It’s a nice place, isn’t it?” Adelaide asked.
Caleb smiled. “It is.”
“But we can’t stay here, can we?”
Caleb shook his head. “No. We have to get back.”
Adelaide giggled. “Right. Let’s go.”
They turned, and opened a door, and walked through.
Before them was a long black string, connecting two puppets. The puppet on the right was a facsimile of Adelaide. The one on the right was stark black, with a blood-red grin stretched across its face.
Adelaide held up a pair of scissors, and smiled up at Caleb. “Help me cut it?”
Caleb took her hand, and together they raised the scissors to the string. A faint voice, harsh and angry, cried out for them to stop.
But they didn’t heed the voice. That voice would have no more power over Adelaide.
Together, Caleb and Adelaide cut the string.
String, and puppets, and scissors, disappeared. A sigh of breath filled the air, and then was gone.