The question came from Gwen, seated across from Shana at Murphy’s. She took a bite of pizza, her golden eyes glittering with delight.
“That’s what Heart said the Nightmare Queen is,” Shana said. “She said you’d know more.”
Gwen sat back, looking puzzled for a moment. “I do know as much as there is to know about Summons of Enchanted, but…” She nodded then, her expression serious. “It makes quite a bit of sense to make an Enchanted Summon into the Nightmare Queen.”
“What do you mean?” Shana asked.
“The Nightmare Queen is a position appointed by the Crystal King,” Gwen said. “There have been many Nightmare Queens throughout history. When one leaves, a new one is appointed in her place. If an Enchanted Summon was appointed, that means the Crystal King wanted a Queen who would last forever.”
“Forever?” Shana sipped at her soda.
Gwen nodded. “When a Will Wisp bonds with a Human as their Summon, their life is tied to their Human’s. But for Enchanted, it’s different. We’re closer to magic, more infused with it. It isn’t just that we live longer lives – we have more magic than Humans.”
“So you’re stronger?”
Gwen shook her head. “It isn’t about strength. We have… more. But that isn’t the same as being stronger.” She laughed softly. “I’m sorry, I’ve never had to try explaining this to a Human. But because of our differences, because of our connection to magic, any Summon of an Enchanted doesn’t just leave when their summoner does. If an Enchanted bonds with a Will Wisp, then even after the Enchanted leaves, the Summon will continue to live on. Essentially, unless killed by outside forces, an Enchanted Summon is immortal. They will live as long as the universe lives.”
“So she was appointed so that there would never need to be another Nightmare Queen,” Shana said.
“That seems the logical assumption.”
“But she could talk. I’ve never heard of Summons doing that.”
“That’s another effect of being the Summon of an Enchanted,” Gwen said. “Enchanted Summons are infused with a magic that Human Summons never will be. It’s because of that – and, I believe, partially because of their immortality – that they gain other abilities that Human Summons never can. Like, for instance, being able to speak.”
Shana stirred her soda with her straw, watching the ice clink together. “So the Nightmare Queen was appointed that role after her summoner left,” she said. “At least she wasn’t forcibly taken from her summoner.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Gwen said. She took a bite of pizza with a grave expression, a rather amusing combination. “Because of the immortality of Enchanted Summons, the Crystal King expressly forbid us from bonding with Will Wisps. Because though Enchanted Summons live forever, they still have that same bond with their summoner. Being parted from them is a great sorrow, and yet, for Enchanted Summons, it is inevitable. They outlive their summoners, often resigned afterwards to a desolate, grief-stricken existence. To avoid that fate, Enchanted Summons were forbidden.”
“But the Nightmare Queen is one.”
Gwen nodded. “So that leaves us with two possibilities: one, Nocta was appointed before the decree. Two, she was someone’s secret Summon and, when he discovered her, the Crystal King decided to appoint her as Nightmare Queen. I think the second is more likely.”
“Why’s that?” Shana asked.
Gwen smiled. “She asked you to find the ones who can save her, right? I think the most obvious candidate for that role would be her summoner. She wouldn’t ask you to find someone who no longer lives, now would she? And if it was more complicated than that, or more obscure, she would have given you more clues, I think. If she’s infected with Collapse… perhaps she just needs hope. Hope that she won’t be separated from her summoner forever. Hope to know that she isn’t alone.”
“So how do I find her summoner?”
Gwen sighed. “That I don’t know. I’m unfortunately not very well-connected in the Dominion – I don’t have many friends or acquaintances. My knowledge is restricted to knowledge of the universe, of magic, of lore. I know little about people.”
Gwen gazed out the window, a faraway look in her golden eyes. “I was orphaned very young. And in the aftermath of that, I… I lost myself, for a very long time. When I finally did find myself, I took up a life of travel, never staying long in one place. And on top of that, I chose a place to build my home that is completely isolated. There are no other houses or families in the entire Location where I live.” Surprisingly, she smiled. “It was a stroke of fortune that Chelsea, and Lorelei, and your sister came across my path. They’ve become very dear friends. I hope my small amount of information has been helpful to you.”
Shana nodded effusively. “It’s a really helpful start, and I’m sure Shias can figure out something amazing from it! Thank you.”
“You truly value your family, don’t you?” Gwen asked. At Shana’s emphatic nod, she laughed. “I’m glad. And I’m glad the largest threat to your family is no longer present.”
“Yeah… as weird as it is.” Shana laughed. “Caleb’s exactly the kind of guy who would find the truth behind Duo and save her from herself. It’s gonna take some time to adjust to Adelaide, but… she’s a good kid. Feels weird to say that about someone who was an adult just yesterday, though.”
Gwen laughed. “Well, her circumstances are remarkably unique.” She polished off her last slice of pizza, let out a pleased sigh. “Thank you for asking me out here. I really do love this place.” She plucked a spare bit of cheese off of her plate and popped it in her mouth. “Pizza. What a wonderful creation.”
Shana laughed, and the two chatted back and forth as they left Murphy’s, heading to Greyson Manor. Now that Caleb was back and things were relatively peaceful, they were having another joint training session, combining Caleb and Chelsea’s team (now expanded with Gwen and Claire) with the Dawn Riders (now expanded with Delilah). There were even more of them than before, but the Greyson Manor training hall could still accommodate them all.
Despite the challenges before her, and many questions yet to be answered, Shana was in a good mood. Delilah was safe. Caleb was back. And Marcus had recently returned with amazing news – all of the missing children had been safely returned to Grimoire. As Shana walked through the city, she could feel a sense of joy and relief in the air. Families were restored.
So when Shana was in the training hall with her family, she couldn’t avoid a playful attitude. And as she watched the older team work, her attention focused on Caleb and Chelsea.
“Caleb, when I do this, that means I want you to support me on the right.”
“Got it, Chelsea.”
Back and forth Caleb and Chelsea went, and Shana watched and listened more and more closely.
“You’re gonna have permanent forehead wrinkles if you keep staring that hard,” Kathryn said, nudging Shana. “What’s so interesting?”
“Those two,” Shana said, pointing with two fingers at Caleb and Chelsea. “I never noticed it before, but now…”
“Noticed what?” Kathryn asked.
Shana grunted. “Names.”
Kathryn watched for a moment. “Ohhhh, yeah, I get it. Wow, that’s weird. How long have they been together?”
“Too long to be like this,” Shana said, hopping to her feet. “Caleb! Chelsea! How long have you guys been dating again?”
Caleb and Chelsea both looked up at her. “Four years,” Caleb said, grinning. “Why?”
“But then how…” Shana started, then shook her head, hopping down from her perch. “How come you two only call each other by name?”
Caleb and Chelsea both stared, blinking in confusion. “What?” Caleb asked.
“What else would we call each other?” Chelsea asked.
“You know – pet names!” Shana said, hands on her hips. “Isn’t that what couples do? Mom and Dad do it. How are you two still stuck on just each other’s names?”
A short pause, and then Caleb burst out laughing. “You’re awfully concerned about something so silly,” he said.
“It’s important!” Shana said with a huff. “Aren’t you all lovey-dovey and stuff? You ought to have cute nicknames for each other, or something.”
Chelsea joined Caleb in laughing, which only frustrated Shana more.
“Speaking of names,” Shias said, “does the Nightmare Queen have a name?”
“That literally has nothing to do with what we’re talking about right now,” Shana said.
“Yeah, but it just reminded me,” Shias said. “If we know her name, that might give us a clue to help figure out who her summoner is.”
“That is not –” Shana started, but then sighed. “I guess it’s slightly more important than Caleb and Chelsea’s dysfunctional relationship.”
“Dysfunctional?” Chelsea asked, laughing.
“Her name is Nocta,” Shana continued, pouting. “Does that give you any clues?”
“Nocta?” Caleb asked, his sudden interest surprising Shana.
“What is it?” Shana asked.
Caleb pursed his lips in thought, turning his pocket watch over and over in his hand. “It sounds familiar somehow,” he said softly, staring off into space. “Nocta… Nocta…” His eyes lit up. “Like Noctis.”
“Noctis?” Shana asked.
“Mister Midnight’s full name,” Caleb said. “Lancelot Noctis Caliburn Relentes.”
“It’s similar to Nocta,” Shana said. “And Mister Midnight’s an Enchanted, right?”
Caleb nodded. “Summoners name their Summons, right?” he asked.
“That seems like a thin thread to go on,” Chelsea said.
“Well, Shana explained the whole thing to us,” Caleb said. “And the stuff about the Crystal King… Mister Midnight has a lot of anger towards the Crystal King, but he never said why. But if the King took his Summon from him…”
Shana clenched her hands into fists. “I’d be furious,” she said.
“It’s definitely somewhere to start,” Shias said.
“Which means we’re heading back to the Enchanted Dominion,” Kathryn said excitedly. “And a brand new place, too! Sounds like we need to pay Lock another visit.”
“Go right on ahead, you guys,” Chelsea said, turning away and blasting a training dummy with fire. “You’ve had a good training session.”
“But I’m not done complaining about you two,” Shana said, continuing to pout as she stared at Caleb and Chelsea.
“You can always complain about us another time,” Caleb said with a grin. “You’ve got a mission, right? I’d go with you if I could, but, well… just tell Mister Midnight you’re my sister. He’ll help you out.”
Shana felt her heart suddenly sink.
I don’t want to go.
I know I should. I know this is my mission. But how did we get to this so fast? I’m leaving Grimoire again?
I didn’t see Caleb for so long, and now, just when I got back to being with him again, I’m leaving, and he’s staying?
I have Shias. And Delilah. And Kathryn, and Rae, and Ben.
But what about everyone else?
“Shana?” Caleb asked. Shana suddenly realized everyone was staring at her.
“I’m fine,” she said, waving her hands frantically. “Um, uh… see ya later!” She dashed from the training hall before anyone could respond.
Why is my heart beating so fast? Why is it so hard to get a full breath?
Why do I have to leave?
I wanted to go back to the Dominion. But I wanted to explore, go on peaceful adventures.
I don’t want another mission. Or, well, I kind of do, but not now! Not when…
Not when I just got everyone and everything back.
Shana looked up, finding herself in the gardens behind Greyson Manor. Her legs had carried her here without her even thinking.
Right. I always come here when I freak out. Been a long time, but…
I guess old habits die hard.
And of course I’m standing right here.
Shana laughed softly, reaching up to touch the white petals of a flowering tree.
Fae’s favorite. She planted it herself… gosh, how long ago was that? I was still in elementary school. We all planted flowers, but she wanted to plant a whole tree, and she insisted on doing it by herself, and she…
Shana laughed even more at the memory.
She made a total mess of herself. But she did it, all by herself. And the tree keeps on growing, keeps on blooming.
What are you up to out there? What kind of mission are you on?
If I leave Grimoire, can I find you this time? Or am I just going to charge into darkness and danger again?
Of course I won’t find you. I have to go to the Nightmare Citadel. Your journey must be taking you somewhere completely different.
I wish… I wish you would have left a note or something, at least. Sent me a text. Left some kind of sign.
But you just left. Right when we were getting to be friends again. And it sounds like it’s important, and you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be. We both have our missions, important stuff pushed on us for whatever reason…
But why couldn’t our missions be the same? Why do we have to be separated? And now I have to go, and I can take Shias and Delilah, but Caleb has to stay behind.
What are the five of us doing, running around each other, rushing off in different directions without hardly even talking to each other?
Can we ever be together again? All five of us, as a family? No darkness, no danger, no missions, no arguments, just…
The Greysons. Together in Grimoire.
Shana looked at the small patch of bright blue flowers next to Fae’s tree. Kneeling down, she gently pushed some of the large petals aside, revealing the small stone marker she’d made when she’d planted these flowers.
“Go with joy wherever life takes you.”
I loved that quote. You’re the one who told it to me, because you loved it, too. Sitting here in the dirt, planting my flowers while you struggled with your tree…
We were both smiling, then. Both laughing, and getting all messy and wild and ridiculous.
Life’s taking us both to very different places. And I don’t want to go where life’s taking me. Or rather…
I don’t want to go without you.
Shana sat back on the grass, staring at her flowers next to Fae’s tree.
And now I have to go meet some total stranger. Sure, he trained Caleb, but it sounds like he was a harsh teacher.
I didn’t think about it too much in the moment, but now that I’ve been home for a few days…
I still haven’t recovered. I don’t know if I ever will. My heart’s all twisted up in knots, and laughing with everyone, playing, going to school, all that normal stuff… it made it easy to ignore.
“Agh!” Shana shouted, wordless emotion filling the air. She fell back, flopping onto the grass, staring up at…
“How long have you been standing there?” Shana asked, pouting up at her twin.
“Since a few seconds after you came out here,” Shias said. He stepped aside, then lay down next to her in the cold grass. “Lots on your mind.”
Shana nodded. “And I don’t wanna talk about it.”
Shias let out a soft breath of laughter. “You don’t have to. We can just lie here for a while.”
Shana stared up at the sky, at the streaks of white clouds slashing across a field of blue. Her eyes stung, and she let the tears fall.
Fingers crawled across the grass to intertwine with Shana’s.
“Promise you’ll stay with me?” Shana asked. “Even if it gets super scary?”
“Especially if it gets super scary,” Shias said.
“So you’re more likely to leave me alone if it isn’t?” Shana asked.
“That’s not what I meant.”
“Sure sounded like it.”
Shias’ hand gently squeezed Shana’s. “Whatever happens, I’m with you. If it’s really scary and dangerous, or if it’s really easy and fun, I’ll stay with you.”
Shana grinned, reaching up with her free hand to wipe at her face. “Now you sound like a responsible brother.”
“’Go with joy wherever life takes you’,” Shias murmured. “Not as easy as it sounds, huh?”
“It’s easier with a twin brother,” Shana said, squeezing Shias’ hand.
Together they left the garden, rejoining their team: Delilah, Kathryn, Rae, and Ben. Out into Grimoire they went, chatting back and forth on the path to Taro Beyond. They laughed, they smiled, and Shana’s heart lifted just a little.
I was hiding from my pain, or blind to it. Now that I know what’s going on…
Laughter and smiles really are helping.
At Taro Beyond, the same lady from before greeted them and sent them down to Lock’s workshop. There was the mysterious Locksmith, face enshrouded in his welding mask, hammering away at his forge. Despite his hulking frame, there was a gentleness, a delicate touch to how he worked the metal, even when pounding down with his hammer. As the kids arrived, Lock thrust his tongs, holding molten metal, into a basin of water. Steam filled the air with a harsh hiss, and then he pulled the metal out, placing it on a stone ledge. Putting his tools away, Lock turned to greet them.
“So you’re back, are you?” he asked, his deep, friendly voice somewhat muffled through his mask. “The Small Lady told me all about your adventures. I’m glad you saved her, and with her, saved the Library. She’s grateful to you, and happy to be back home.”
Shana’s heart lifted once more at that news.
That whole journey started because of her – because I promised I’d rescue her.
And I did. I shouldn’t forget that. It’s been hard and scary, but I saved Annabelle, and reunited her with her sisters, and restored their home.
If I keep pushing forward, wherever life takes me…
I can help a lot more people, can’t I?
“Where to this time?” Lock asked.
“We were hoping to travel to Midnight Bridge,” Shias said.
“We don’t have to make you laugh again, do we?” Ben asked, eyeing Kathryn cautiously. Clearly he hadn’t forgotten the stunt that had earned them Lock’s help the first time around.
“No, no,” Lock said with a chuckle. “After all you’ve done, I’ll help you anytime, to go anywhere. Midnight Bridge, eh? Tricky place to get to by normal means, but I can get you there in an instant.”
“That’s why we came to you,” Kathryn said with a grin. “Thanks.”
“Won’t be a moment,” Lock said, turning back to his forge. “There’ve been strange folk hanging around this shop. I’ve been thinking about leaving, setting up somewhere else. But so far I’ve been able to keep them away. I have a bit of influence over doors and locks, you see. They’d be able to get in here if they really wanted to, by force, but so far they’re content to just watch. Though if I moved, they wouldn’t be able to tell.” Lock laughed heartily, but there was a slight hesitation in it. “I’m glad I didn’t move yet, for your sakes, but don’t expect to find me here again. If you need my services… well. I’ll stay in Grimoire, one way or another, or in one of those neighboring villages. Just keep an eye out for my symbol next time you need me.”
“Will you be okay?” Shana asked.
Lock laughed, this time without restraint. “I can vanish from here, forge and all, in a jiffy,” he said, raising a massive hand and snapping his fingers, making all of the kids jump at the booming sound. “Not much of a fighter, but I’ve got better skills than fighting. If I don’t want to be gotten to, no one can get to me, that’s what I always say. But I’ll leave before I put the nice lady upstairs through any mischief. I do so hate to see a good shop get ransacked.” He turned to Shana, showing her a jet-black key shaped rather like an owl’s wing. “This should do the trick. As usual, if you want to come back through a door, you’ll have to find it within one hour. But it seems like you’re ready for a longer stay.”
“Most likely,” Shana said. “But thank you. You’ve saved us a lot of time and uncertainty.”
Lock bowed slightly. “That’s what I do.”
They followed him into the next room, where a door waited for them. He unlocked it, swung it open, and ushered the six through.
For a moment, Shana hesitated. The last time she’d done this, she’d been flung into a dream where the Radiant King invaded her Dreamworld. She hadn’t heard his voice in a long time, and she was glad for that, but what if he came to her again?
But when she stepped through the door, she found she needn’t have worried. She passed through a sheet of white light, and stepped out onto black stone. For several moments, her eyes had to adjust. Going from brightness to darkness so quickly wasn’t an easy transition.
“Well, the place lives up to its name,” Kathryn said, squinting into the gloom. “It’s not just a dark night, it’s like there’s a black mist hanging over everything.”
“It isn’t evil, though,” Shias said. His pen was in his hand, softly glowing. “I don’t see anyone. There’s a house on the other side – not sure if anyone’s home, though.”
“You can see that far?” Ben asked, squinting.
“Divination Magic comes in handy,” said Shias.
As Shana’s eyes adjusted, she could see the bridge itself. It was impressive and intimidating, stretching out far to the left and right, while before her it sloped downward, vanishing into the gloom. She also noticed now that there were many metal street lamps around, shedding a strange dark light that didn’t seem to illuminate anything, instead amplifying the mysterious, otherworldly atmosphere of the place. The sky wasn’t pitch-black, as Shana had initially thought, but rather a very deep, dark blue – the blue of midnight.
“Let’s head on over,” Shana said. Her voice sounded hollow in the night. Forward she and her allies walked, their footsteps dull on the stone.
Down they went, then back up, and slowly the gloom seemed to roll back, revealing a wide, circular area on the opposite side of the bridge. In the center was a narrow, vertically-oriented house with a crooked chimney. Along the house’s side was a small garden of glowing blue mushrooms. A rickety stack of wooden crates was on the left, and past the house was a sort of patio, with a bench oriented to provide a wonderful view of the dark void beyond.
Shana led the way to the house. There were soft, warm lights through the windows, so it seemed someone was home. She raised her hand and knocked three times.
“Coming!” came a young female voice. Shortly the door opened, revealing a girl who looked around Delilah’s age. She wore a dark blue bolero jacket over a long black dress. Her hair was a long tumble of raven curls, swept forward over her right shoulder. What really stood out, though, were her eyes.
They were silver.
She stared at the six with wide, curious eyes. “So many guests,” she said. Her eyes fixed on Shana and Shias, flicking back and forth between them. She cocked her head to the side. “You two look… familiar…”
“We’re Caleb’s younger siblings,” Shana said, and pulled Delilah forward. “So is she. And the rest are our friends. We’re here to see Mister Midnight.”
“Caleb sent you?” the girl asked, eyes brightening, mouth widening in a wonderful smile. “You’re his siblings? We’re glad to have you, come right on in! Oh, but –” she paused, looking a bit guilty. “I’m sorry. You came all this way to see Mister Midnight, but he isn’t home.”
“He isn’t?” Shana asked. Now what were they supposed to do?
“Come inside, I’ll tell you all I know,” the girl said. “He embarked on a journey with Princess Maribelle from the Library of Solitude. He wouldn’t tell me much, aside from where they were going.”
“Where was that?” Shana asked.
The girl stared off into the night, silver eyes shining with unknowable emotion. “They went to the Radiant Palace.”