Chelsea saw the other.
How long had it been? Ever since leaving her shadow world in the Library of Solitude, she hadn’t seen anything relating to it.
Yet here she was, face to face with her doppelganger.
She opened her mouth to speak, but…
“Shh,” the other said, holding a finger to her lips. A smile lifted the corner of her mouth.
And then Chelsea woke up.
Her room was dark, and a quick glance at the clock told her why – it was only 3:30 in the morning. Immediately, she turned on the light, looked all around the room.
She was alone. The other was nowhere to be seen.
She took in a deep breath, let it out slowly.
Just a dream. A stupid dream, at that.
I left all of that behind. Why would I dream about it?
She tousled her hair, rubbed her bleary eyes, and got out of bed. Changed out of her pajamas. Opened her curtains. Looked over at the moon, a pale sliver in the sky, working towards the western horizon to make way for the sun.
All was dark and quiet in Reiner Manor.
In the brief breaks between Hunter patrols and investigations and training, she’d been working on cleaning and restoring her childhood home. The first time she’d slept there had been due to sheer exhaustion, but it had stuck. She’d slept in her bedroom from her childhood, of course – the bed was massive, always far more than big enough for Chelsea as a child, and even now she had tons of space.
She hadn’t touched the master bedroom. The doors remained closed.
That was one room she wasn’t sure she’d ever enter again.
Magic had helped keep the house from falling into ruin. But dust seemed to collect no matter what magic was used, and it was unbelievably thick in places. And along the way, Chelsea found herself reorganizing, moving things around, altering the layout and style of the Manor.
When she’d first started, it just hadn’t felt like a home.
It still doesn’t. Not yet. But we’re getting there.
Gwen and Lorelei had been huge helps – Gwen had moved from Frost Manor to here, taking up one of the other bedrooms. Lorelei was over every day, as well, and the cleaning and changing of Reiner Manor had gotten into full swing now that there was a lull in Grimoire. The Shadows hadn’t attacked again. The immediate, obvious threats were dealt with – Duo had been saved, revealed now as little Adelaide, and she stuck to Caleb like glue. That pair spent a lot of their time exploring the town, trying to find Adelaide the perfect place to make her new house.
Why a ten year-old girl needs her own house is beyond me. I guess it has to do with her mysterious Birthright Magic, but I wish she wouldn’t be so secretive.
Shana, Shias, Delilah, and their friends were gone. Two days had passed since they’d left to find Mister Midnight and begin their own journey.
It’s a lot quieter without them.
Chelsea let out a sigh, left her bedroom. Down the hall, she stopped at the circular walkway on the third floor that looked down all the way to the ground floor.
All was quiet and dark.
She knew where one of the fireplaces in the central room on the ground floor was, and clicked her lighter, sending a dart of flame down into it. Flames roared to life, and light danced in the house.
Perhaps it was because Marion had also used Fire Magic, but Chelsea had found out a little secret about Reiner Manor in the days she’d been here: every fireplace was connected. With the right application of Fire Magic, Chelsea could light every single hearth in the house with a single spark.
After that dream, she was especially glad for the light.
Downstairs she went, her first thoughts going to food. She cooked a sparse breakfast – she’d never been much of a chef. She’d spent most of her time and effort training and studying. And she’d always had Lorelei, and Lorelei was an excellent cook.
Chelsea ate in the most open, well-lit room in the Manor, sticking to a bright corner with her back to the wall so she could see everything around her at once. A shadow flickered and vanished, and Chelsea jumped.
I can’t be like this. It was just a dream. The other is gone, forever.
Chelsea felt an icy chill shoot down her spine, and her whole body went rigid.
She’d heard the voice. It was just a single question, a single syllable, but…
It said volumes.
All around the Manor Chelsea went, turning on every light, pulling back every curtain, brightening up every single space except for the master bedroom and the bedroom where Gwen still slept.
Finally, short of breath, she stopped outside her mother’s study, hand against the wall, staring at the floor.
Stop freaking out. Stop it. It’s okay. Everything’s okay. The shadows are gone. You defeated them, you banished them, you escaped that world and you’re back home.
Stop jumping at every shadow. Shadows are just a normal thing in the real world. They aren’t dangerous, not here.
She turned to place her back against the wall, and then slid to a seat on the floor. Across from her was the grand piano, its black surface bright in the light.
Mom always loved having the piano just outside her study. She loved hearing me play, even though I sucked at it. I never did practice enough, thinking lessons were all I needed.
Chelsea made her way to the piano, sat at the bench, rested her fingers on the keys. She smiled.
It’s still set for a little girl with short legs.
She adjusted the bench, placed her fingers on the keys again, and yet…
It’s been seventeen years. And I couldn’t play anything good back then, either.
It just feels nice to sit here like this.
Chelsea pressed down on one key, heard its soft note ring out, hang in the air, and slowly fade. A smile crossed her lips.
I do love that sound.
With a sigh, she turned around, sitting on the bench with her back to the piano. For a moment, even though her feet could easily touch the floor, she kicked her legs back and forth, smiling at memories from her childhood.
It wasn’t the voice again. Just an echo. That echo quickly caused her smile to fade, and Chelsea leaned forward, rested her elbows on her knees, placed her head in her hands.
Stop it. That was just your imagination. No matter how it sounded, no matter how it felt.
Even the first one was an echo. An echo of your fears, an echo of what you went through. Challenges and trials like that don’t just vanish overnight. Fears can come back after long years of dormancy.
You know that better than most.
She stared across the room, at the glittering green fire in the hearth. And, for a moment, it seemed to flash pure white.
That’s right. Remember that place. Remember that voice. What did it say?
“Do not be afraid.”
It’s not such an easy thing to do.
But it’s what I need to do.
Chelsea climbed back up to her room, changed clothes again – long black pants and a dark green tank top. She’d changed her mind about how to spend her early morning, and headed to the Reiner training hall.
It was smaller than the training hall at Greyson Manor – but most Manors were smaller in every way than Greyson Manor, so that was no surprise. There was still plenty of space here, and for just one person all by herself, it was far more than enough space.
Stretches. Push-ups. Chin-ups. Running around the track. Jumping hurdles. Chelsea ran through a series of warm-up exercises, and then went into more complex and strenuous exercises and movements. She wasn’t a physical, close-quarters fighter, and she didn’t move around much in combat, so some got the impression that she wasn’t capable of much if she needed to run, or to deal with a foe up-close.
The Shadows who had attacked her and Lorelei, during the first Hunter patrol after they’d returned from the Library, had found out the hard way that was a foolish assumption.
She had always kept herself fit, because she found it fun to be active, and she enjoyed the results of her hard work. But as she explored more of herself as a fighter, as a Hunter-in-training, and then a full-fledged Hunter in action, she’d discovered more of the merits to fitness and keeping her body as finely honed as possible.
In the midst of a one-handed handstand, the door to the training hall creaked open. Chelsea’s heart skipped a beat, but the auburn-haired, golden-eyed face that poked in brought swift relief.
“Morning,” Chelsea said, dropping out of handstand to stand on her feet. “You’re up early.”
“So are you,” Gwen said. She entered the training hall, clothed in her own workout attire. “From the looks of it, you’ve been up for a while.” Chelsea nodded. “Did you…” Gwen trailed off, then shook her head. “Did you have a dream?”
Chelsea stared at her, and the look they shared said everything.
“The darkness,” Chelsea said softly. Gwen nodded. “They’re just dreams.”
Gwen crossed the hall to stand right in front of Chelsea. “And what if they aren’t?”
Chelsea looked away. “Then…”
“Then we face them,” Gwen said with a small smile. “Together.”
“Right,” Chelsea said, laughing softly. “You know, I wasn’t going to say anything about it.”
“I could tell. That’s why I brought it up. You would have just tried to face it all alone, wouldn’t you?”
Chelsea sighed. “Yeah, probably.”
Gwen smiled. “So? Will you talk about it? And I’ll tell you about mine, and then we can work out, and eat breakfast, and do whatever else we want to help us not be afraid. Okay?”
Chelsea smiled back at her. “Yeah.”
So they talked, for a little bit, and then worked out. Gwen cooked up a delicious breakfast, and they talked and laughed as they ate.
“What’s the plan for today?” Gwen asked.
“I think it might be time to visit one of the neighboring towns,” Chelsea said. “Our searches through Grimoire haven’t gotten us very far at all. We know of three entrances here, but none of them are good choices. So we need to look for a better option. The Grimoire Underground wasn’t just for this city, but went out to the neighboring towns, too. With those towns having a much smaller magical presence – and not experiencing Hollow attacks, like we do here – it’s unlikely the Shadows would think of those places as threatening. And even if they did, the more entrances we find, the better chance we have of getting in safely.”
Gwen nodded. “Because they don’t have the forces to defend every entrance and exit effectively.”
They headed to the ground floor’s library after breakfast, where Chelsea laid out the maps of the Underground that her mother had been able to procure. She pointed, dragging her finger along different long, extending lines off of the main network. “We have two possibilities with each of these,” she said. “But…”
“But entering through either of those would involve a long walk through a straight line,” Gwen said. “If spotted, we’d have nowhere to hide.”
“It would be good at least to find out if there are actual entrances at the end of those two lines,” Chelsea said. “But yeah, I guess those wouldn’t be strong choices for us.”
“Unless we used them as a ploy,” Gwen said, golden eyes flashing. “I can weave plenty of traps. If we can pull their defenders to one or both of these entrances, and then trap them there, it would take them a long time to return to any major fight – they’d have to break free, and then travel the long distance back to the main network.”
Chelsea grinned. “Nice strategy. Once we find out where their main base is within the Underground, that should definitely be a part of our attack plan. We can check out one of the towns today, the other tomorrow.”
“Rosewood Park sounds lovely,” Gwen said. Chelsea smiled, sent out a message to Lorelei and Caleb about their plans and seeing if they wanted to join, and Gwen came over to stare at her phone. “Should I get one of these? They seem tremendously useful.”
Chelsea laughed. “They are, though they’ll only work here on Earth. I can buy you one.”
Caleb replied in the negative – apparently Adelaide had found “the perfect home” and was working on that, insisting that he help her out and see it through to the end. Lorelei said no, too, which surprised Chelsea the most. But she understood Lorelei’s intentions – she really hadn’t had a proper moment with her parents ever since returning from the Library, so now that there was a lull, she wanted to make the most of it.
“Looks like it’s just us,” Chelsea said, going around and locking up Reiner Manor. “If we’re quick, we can catch the morning bus to Rosewood.”
Off they went, to the east side of Grimoire, where a bus station stood just at the edge of the city. Buses ran to both of the neighboring towns once every few hours, and Chelsea and Gwen arrived just in time to catch the first bus of the day.
It wasn’t impossible to walk to Rosewood Park, but it was several hours one-way, and if they wanted time to properly and thoroughly investigate, the bus was their best option. Along the road it went, straight towards the mountains. A smile played across Chelsea’s lips as she leaned over in her seat to look out the front window. She’d never forget the first time she, Lorelei, and Caleb had taken the bus together to Rosewood Park in high school. Caleb had stared ahead at this first stretch of road, gazing at the mountains, asking “How the heck are we gonna drive through there?”
The way the road was, it looked as if the bus was on a collision course with the mountains themselves. But in truth, there was the slightest entrance, and the road found its way through there. The mountains had a narrow gap between them, and soon there were towering cliffs and steep, wooded hills on either side as the bus headed along a narrow, winding path that cut straight through the mountains.
When the cliffs and hills fell away on either side, the view of Rosewood Park was spectacular. Surrounded on all sides by densely forested mountains, the town was like an oasis, especially in winter. For even from this distance, it wasn’t hard at all to see the many gardens that filled the town, giving it its name. Roses of all colors bloomed, and thanks no doubt to magical influence, bloomed even in the harshest of winters. The town overall was fairly quaint, with low, simple houses, a few small, local stores, and some terraced farms on the far hills. It was an idyllic escape from the dense, mazelike layout of Grimoire.
Once off the bus, Chelsea led the way. The Underground entrance, according to maps, should be on the northern edge of town, near the visitor’s center and the grocery store. After a few minutes of searching, Chelsea let out a sigh, sitting own on a large decorative boulder.
“Most likely it’s under several feet of dirt and rock,” she said, tapping the gravel of the parking lot with her foot. She pointed to two pillars that seemed completely out of place. “The entrance to the station would have been there. They built the markers, but I guess they never even got close to excavating.”
Gwen knelt between the pillars, her hand pressed to the ground, glowing softly. “What are you doing?” Chelsea asked.
Gwen smiled. “It isn’t the same as with fabrics and clothing-based materials, but I can understand the composition of things that I touch, to an extent,” she said. She stood, nodding, and pointed past the pillars, to a group of boulders. “There should be some sort of maintenance entrance over there.”
“Divination Magic?” Chelsea asked as they walked.
“I thought I told you before, magic for us Enchanted is different,” she said. “We don’t think of it in terms of classifications, because magic is…” she spread her hands, gesturing as big as she could, “just one gigantic thing, in which many other things are possible. But they are all connected, so dividing them into classifications is short-sighted. It works for Humans, because of the way you connect to and utilize magic, but for me…” she smiled as she held up her hand, glowing softly, “magic is everything, and everywhere. It’s pervasive, impossible, never fully knowable. And all of it is the same, allowing for incredible feats both great and small.”
“Remind me to poke your brain about magic more while you’re still here,” Chelsea said. “I’d like to understand more of what it means to you, and how you make use of it. Something tells me that us humans could do a lot more with it if we understood you Enchanted better.”
“I’d be glad to help in any way I can.”
Around the boulders, they found a few hours of tough, dirty work ahead of them. They needed to clear away several large rocks, a great deal of gravel, and a whole lot of sand, before they found a round metal door in the ground, nestled in the shadow of two boulders.
“It’s sealed,” Chelsea said, feeling across it. “But we know it’s here, and what it’s like. That’s good enough for now. I don’t want to go opening it – might alert the Shadows, and that’s no good for any of us.”
“Should we cover it back up?” Gwen asked.
“Yeah, that seems like the best approach,” Chelsea said, clapping her hands together to brush the dust off of them. She smiled. “And then we can find somewhere for lunch.”
“And to wash up,” Gwen said, reaching over to wipe a knuckle across Chelsea’s nose. “You’re covered in dirt and dust.”
“So are you,” Chelsea said, laughing.
Together they covered the door back up, washed their hands and faces at the visitor’s center, and then went to the center of town, to a favorite café of Chelsea’s that she hadn’t been to in far too long. Its primary dining area was surrounded on all sides by glass, looking out into a beautiful, sprawling rose garden. In the summer, there would have been swarms of multi-colored butterflies, and dozens of hummingbirds flitting here and there. But with the cold creeping in, all that could be seen were flowers.
Even so, it was beautiful.
Fed and refreshed, Chelsea and Gwen started to make their way back to the bus station. Passing through a few gardens on their way, Chelsea smiled at the beauty all around.
Until she didn’t.
Until she saw her.
Through a gap in the rose bushes, there she was, staring back at Chelsea.
The other. Her shadow, her doppelganger. Dressed all in black, with long, cascading curls of dark hair, her mouth turned up in a smile as she and Chelsea’s eyes met.
“No,” Chelsea said, shaking her head. “You’re not here. You’re gone. Forever.”
The other vanished. But a voice spoke into Chelsea’s mind.
Am I really gone?
Gwen gripped Chelsea’s arm, and as the two girls looked at each other, Chelsea knew. Gwen had heard it, too.
A glimpse of raven curls, and Chelsea took off running, Gwen right behind her. There was the other, darting in and out of sight, working her way out of the rose garden, across the street, darting down an alley. Chelsea and Gwen followed, but in the alley, saw no trace of her.
“Where are you?” Chelsea asked, hands clenched into fists.
A voice whispered back.
I’m with you. Always.
Chelsea felt her heart tighten. She turned in a full circle, looking all around her.
But the other was nowhere to be seen.
“This isn’t right,” Chelsea said, gritting her teeth against a flood of emotions. “This isn’t… this can’t…”
“Let’s go back,” Gwen said, placing a trembling hand on Chelsea’s arm. “Let’s find Lorelei, and Caleb, and… anyone else…”
Chelsea shook her head, glaring around her at everything. “No,” she said firmly. “We go back, but we don’t need to go running to anyone. Our work here is done, that’s all. We don’t need to be afraid of memories.”
Together, she and Gwen walked back to the bus station. They were just in time, and took their seats near the back of the bus. Chelsea sat at the window. As the bus rolled away, she looked out the window, hoping to take in the beautiful sights of Rosewood Park.
Instead, her blood ran cold. For her eyes rested on the other, standing at the station. She stared straight at her. A smile crossed her lips. And as Chelsea rolled further away, the other lifted her hand and waved.