Caleb and Adelaide left the shadow world behind, returning to the auditorium in Duo’s playhouse.
They weren’t alone.
While the child Adelaide was at Caleb’s side, holding his hand, across from them was…
The adult body of Adelaide stood before them, smiling the sinister smile Caleb had come to associate with the shadow, Kaohlad.
“What…” Caleb started.
“Do you like it?” Duo asked in her deeper voice. She spread her hands out, looked herself up and down. “I’m quite fond of it. It took a long time to create this shell, but thanks to inhabiting the girl’s body, I was able to make an effective replica.”
“You… how dare you?” Caleb asked, glaring.
“I was banished by my father,” Duo – Kaohlad – said. “I know you saw that much. My body was destroyed, leaving me creeping, crawling through the world. I hungered, and I thirsted, but I could not eat or drink. It took a very long time for me to come up with a new plan. I had always avoided Earth, since it was so far from my home, but when you’re exiled, you tend to keep going farther and farther away until you find a place to rest your weary head. Once I realized there was nowhere else for me to go, it was here in Grimoire that I hatched a new plan. If I didn’t have a body of my own…” Kaohlad grinned wickedly. “I could just find a willing host.”
“Willing?” Caleb asked.
Kaohlad shrugged. “A baby can’t be willing or unwilling. So I got by on a technicality. And once I had my host, I was able to do even more than I first thought. I thought I’d have to live in her body for a brief human lifespan, then die with her. But inside, I realized… there was far more I could do. Although to do that, I had to preserve her true body somehow. I couldn’t kill her. It’s fortuitous that you didn’t rescue her before today. If you had, this body of mine might not hold together.”
“Why are you telling us this?” Caleb asked.
“Games,” Adelaide said, shaking her head. “Not very good games, either.”
Kaohlad smiled. “Yes, one final game. And then, you both die. After all, I can’t very well tell you so much and let you live. But first…” Kaohlad looked over his female body again, and sighed. “Well, it is just a shell. I can’t very well keep walking around in this.” He grinned. “Let me show you my true body – new and improved, better than ever before.”
Kaohlad reached up, plunging two fingers into his forehead. With a sickening motion, he jerked his hand down, tearing open the body Caleb had known as Duo’s. There was no blood, which only made it more disgusting, as if this perfectly convincing human body was just a fleshy bag made up of someone else’s skin, hair, and clothes.
The shell fell to the floor, and Kaohlad was revealed.
He was dressed rather like Valgwyn – black suit, shirt, tie, pants, shoes. He was thinner than Valgwyn, with a slightly sunken appearance to his face. But his eyes burned with intense, lively light, and he stood with a firm, confident posture that made him look much larger and more powerful than his brother.
His hand reached up, slicked some hair back out of his face. A smirk touched his lips. “And now we finally meet, though we will not meet again. Are you prepared to play this final game?”
“No,” Adelaide said, stepping forward. Kaohlad cocked his head to the side, fixing her with a puzzled expression. Adelaide stomped one foot on the floor, glaring at Kaohlad. “Don’t you know where you are? This is my house. I make the rules around here.”
Kaohlad laughed. “Ah, but you see, this house was formed by a Contract. And your frustrating friend was right about one thing, little one – that Contract wasn’t signed by you. It was signed by me. So you see…” He spread his hands wide. “This is my house. And every game played here is only possible through my power.”
Adelaide put a hand to her chin, gazing off in thought. Kaohlad frowned. “What is it?” he asked.
“Well, I just…” Adelaide said, pursing her lips. “The power to control this house is mine. And when you were in my body, you could use my magic, but now that we’re separate, that means all the magic went with me, right?” She tapped the floorboards with her foot and, to Caleb’s surprise, the floorboards responded. Two of them twisted, rising up, intertwining with each other and transforming until they stopped. What were once two wooden planks on the floor were now two spiraling, intertwined bars of metal – one gold, one silver – forming a pedestal atop with a glittering blue jewel rested. Adelaide giggled. “Yup, still got it.” She pointed at Kaohlad. “Which means you don’t. You can make a copy of my body, but it’s not a real body. And you certainly can’t copy my magic.”
Kaohlad stared at her with a look that almost made Caleb laugh. It was so obvious that he hadn’t thought about that, and seeing a ten year-old girl outwit a who-knew-how-old shadowy man-monster was a wonderful sight.
“Then your power isn’t enough to sustain this house!” Kaohlad shouted suddenly. “The Contract allowed me to build this place, allowed that magic to be magnified!”
Adelaide shrugged. “That’s fine with me. I never liked this house, anyway. Too many bad memories.” That last phrase was accompanied by a flash in her eyes, a sudden spark of anger that flickered and then vanished. She looked at Caleb, as if ignoring Kaohlad entirely. “We should probably leave before it all falls apart. I know a shortcut.”
“What about Will?” Caleb asked. “He’s still in here.”
“Oh.” Adelaide stared at her feet for a moment, then grinned. “He’s not the only one. Looks like you had other friends come to try and help you escape, too. I can get everyone out, though.” She turned, and with a dramatic gesture, pointed at Kaohlad. “Your little game in my house, with my powers, is over! I bet you have some other game planned, but we’re not interested in playing.”
“You –” Kaohlad started, but Adelaide snapped her fingers.
The auditorium vanished. Caleb and Adelaide were all alone in a stark white room. In each corner was a door – two red, two white. Adelaide giggled, then snapped her fingers again. Each door opened in turn, and out of each came a person – Will, then Chelsea, then Lorelei, then Claire.
“Wait, you guys came here, too?” Caleb asked, staring at the girls as they looked in surprise at the room.
“Yeah, we found our way in and –” Chelsea started, then stared at Adelaide. “Hold on. That’s… Duo… isn’t it?”
“It’s a long story,” Caleb said. “But her name’s Adelaide, and she’s on our side.”
Adelaide grinned. “Sure am! Nice to meet all of you. Let’s get out of here, then we can trade stories, okay? I’m gonna destroy this whole house, so you should all stick super close to me.”
The adults crowded around the child, and Adelaide, grinning like she was having the most fun time in the world, stomped on the floor, then raised her hand towards the ceiling and snapped her fingers.
The five of them weren’t indoors at all anymore, but now stood on the hills at the edge of the western mountains, overlooking Grimson Bay.
“Okay, so what the heck is going on here?” Chelsea asked.
“I just saved you,” Adelaide said with a giggle. “And now I’m watching my old house collapse into nothing.”
“I don’t see anything,” Caleb said, gazing out across the Bay.
“You wouldn’t,” Adelaide said. She nodded, looking rather pleased with herself. “Okay, it’s all done. And maybe that stupid shadow will be out of our way for a while.”
“I feel like there’s a lot that needs to be explained,” Lorelei said.
So the five of them sat on the cold grass, and Caleb and Adelaide told their story. From how Caleb had fallen into Duo’s trap, to the different games he’d played in the playhouse, and finally the entire tale of his and Adelaide’s journey through the shadow world. Chelsea and Lorelei told how they had discovered an entrance to Duo’s playhouse, and had ended up running in circles through an endless maze until they’d been sent through doors into the room with Caleb and Adelaide.
“So we were completely useless,” Chelsea said with a sigh. She stared at Adelaide, clearly perturbed by the young girl. “You say you pulled this girl out of the shadow world?”
“We got out together,” Caleb said. “Kaohlad had kept her trapped there. The woman we know as Duo was always just a shell around Kaohlad.”
“I guess it’s a good thing you’re the one who found her,” Chelsea said with a wry smile. “I don’t know anyone else who would have tried to save the person who’d tormented their little sister.”
“But I wasn’t the one who –” Adelaide started, and Chelsea waved her off.
“Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m just saying,” she said. Adelaide pouted at her.
“All’s well that ends well, right?” Caleb asked, grinning.
“For now, at least,” Chelsea said. She leaned back, staring up at the sky. “You found one of Valgwyn’s brothers, and he’s here in Grimoire – still here, assuming Adelaide couldn’t kill him inside the playhouse. Valgwyn said he was the weakest of his brothers, so…”
“We’re in trouble as long as he’s around,” Lorelei said.
Chelsea sighed. “We were already in enough trouble,” she said.
“But what are you going to do now, Adelaide?” Claire asked.
Adelaide grinned, leaning into Caleb, hugging his arm. “Caleb promised he’d stay with me!” she said happily. “So we’ll stick together, no matter what!”
Chelsea stared at Caleb. “You did what now?”
Caleb laughed. “Ah, well, you know,” he said, fumbling for words. “I promised I’d stay with her in the shadow world, and she asked if I’d stay with her even after we got out, and I said yes. And she’ll need someone to look after her. She doesn’t have any parents, and the Shadows are probably going to paint a target on her back now that she’s free from them.”
“I have plans for what to do,” Adelaide said. “Don’t think I’ll just be a freeloader. I need to build a new house – my magic is really weak outside of my house, and I don’t have one anymore, so I need a new one. And I need to find my sister.”
“You don’t know where she is?” Caleb asked.
Adelaide shook her head. “All of my memories from after I was put into the shadow world are hazy. Sometimes I could see what Kaohlad saw through the shell that looked like me, and it’s from that that I know my sister was taken by the Boss. But I don’t know exactly when, or where.”
“She’s a hostage,” Lorelei said bitterly.
Adelaide shook her head. “I doubt it. She’s like me – she has special magic that no one else has. No one would be able to keep her locked up anywhere if she didn’t want them to, so that means she’s gotta be working for them willingly. But!” She grinned. “If I can find her and talk to her, I’m sure I can convince her to leave the stupid Shadows behind.”
“And I guess that means you’ll be looking for her sister, too,” Chelsea said, staring at Caleb.
Caleb nodded. “If we can, it’ll weaken the Shadows, and she might be able to tell us more about who’s in charge and what we’re up against.”
Chelsea stared at him intently. “Now say what you really think, because you’re not the kind of person who helps others for strategic reasons.”
Caleb laughed. “She’s Adelaide’s only family left. What more reason do we need? If any of my sisters were serving an organization of terrible people with evil plans, I’d be trying to save them every second of every day. No matter how far gone they were, I wouldn’t give up on them.” He gave Adelaide’s hand a gentle squeeze. “So we’re not gonna give up on her sister, either.”
Chelsea stood up, sighing. “Yeah, that’s just like you.” She smiled. “Well, I wouldn’t have you any other way. Kid, you got any ideas of where to start looking?”
Adelaide pouted. “I have a name, you know,” she said.
“Adelaide,” Chelsea said. “Any ideas of where to start looking?”
“Well, I know three entrances to their secret base,” Adelaide said. “Two of them are terrible ideas, because they’re too closely guarded. The third is… well… it’s a great entrance, and it’s never guarded. But that’s because it isn’t an exit.”
“What do you mean?” Lorelei asked.
“You can go in through it,” Adelaide said, “but you can’t get out. If you enter that way, you can only leave through other exits, and those are mostly guarded.”
“Mostly?” Caleb asked.
Adelaide nodded. “I don’t know everything. But the people who know about the secret base are a really small group, and the base is really big. So there are bound to be entrances that aren’t guarded, because there’s no way they can guard all of them. I just don’t know where any others are.”
“So we’re back where we started,” Chelsea said. “We need to find a good entrance, one we can use to sneak in stealthily and learn all we can without the bad guys ever knowing we were there.”
“Not exactly where we started,” Caleb said. “Duo’s no more, Adelaide’s on our side, and Delilah isn’t being threatened. We’re at a better place than we were, and we can look for a good entrance to the secret base with peace of mind.”
“Ever the optimist,” Chelsea said, holding out a hand. Caleb took it, and she pulled him to his feet. “You know since you made that promise, the girl’s gonna be glued to you for the rest of her life, right?”
Caleb smiled, looking down at Adelaide. “Yeah, I know. But I look at it this way.”
“Hm?” Chelsea asked. Caleb looked up at her, grinning.
“I’ve always wanted more siblings.”