Gwen lay back on her bed, staring up not at the ceiling, but at…
“What a fascinating contraption,” she muttered, tapping here and there to open and close “apps.” It could do so many amazing things: tell her what time it was in any city in the world, tell her the weather (once again, in any city in the world), search the strange world of the “internet” for just about any piece of information one would want, capture photographs, capture videos, communicate with other people through voice, through text, through video…
And yet, it was so tiny. Such a little device, fitting into the palm of her hand.
Chelsea had shown her the ropes that day during the bus ride to and from Libra Vale, as well as while they explored Libra Vale to find the other branch from the main network of the Underground. It was a surprisingly easy device to use, though it was just so…
“It really would make sense for me to go to bed,” Gwen said, staring at the time at the top of her phone’s glowing screen: just a few minutes after midnight. “And yet…”
And yet I’ve felt remarkably useless since coming to Grimoire. Chelsea and Lorelei go Hunting, and I helped them once, when the Shadows attacked the first night, but…
Otherwise, that’s their world.
I’ve explored a lot of Grimoire, and that’s been delightful. But…
I can’t just be the tourist. I fought with everyone at the Library. And here, I’ve helped with some of the investigations. But…
Gwen sat up suddenly, locking her phone and stuffing it into her pocket.
That was it!
She changed out of her pajamas and into proper clothes for the prelude of winter that played outdoors, but she didn’t leave right away. Instead, she headed down to the first floor of Reiner Manor, and there examined the maps Chelsea had of the Underground.
We know of these two entrances in Grimoire, and now we know that both branch entrances are available, as well. But Adelaide spoke of a third entrance – though that isn’t an exit. And there must be an entrance beneath The Gate, though that’s likely to be the most heavily guarded.
But Chelsea’s mother thought there were more entrances, paths into the Underground that could go unnoticed, would end up unguarded.
Those are the ones I need to seek out. That’s what I can do, while the Hunters go Hunting. I can handle Hollows quite well enough alone, if any slip through the Hunters’ ranks, and it’s only for an hour.
And best of all, the Shadows know nothing about me. They most likely haven’t made me into a target yet, not like Chelsea or Caleb.
Gwen memorized the maps before her, but didn’t take them with her. Chelsea had purposely kept the maps within Reiner Manor at all times. Walking around the city with them would be a guaranteed pathway to arousing suspicion.
Gwen left through the side door, locking up the Manor as Chelsea had taught her. Through the shadows she went, keeping to the dark corners as she slipped away through the night.
The last time I walked through Grimoire like this, hiding in the darkness…
That was a much different time. I was a much different person. And I had much more… violent… goals.
As long as I have light within me, I need not fear the darkness.
But a sinking feeling was within Gwen, one she hadn’t dealt with on her own. When she was with Chelsea, it was more comfortable, but when she was alone…
She found ways to avoid it.
Out here in the dark streets of Grimoire, with the distant sounds of battle all around her, the feeling came rushing to her as a swift, unavoidable ambush.
We didn’t fully defeat our darkness within the shadow world.
We fought it. We confronted it. We escaped, and we found The Light, and we found joy, and peace.
But the darkness hasn’t left. Not fully. Chelsea doesn’t want to face it, either.
After all we went through to vanquish it, why would she?
But what does this mean? Why hasn’t it left us?
And Gwen worried about the other. There had only been one: Chelsea’s doppelganger. Yet both Chelsea and Gwen had been in the same shadow world. Both had faced similar challenges, fears, and internal demons.
Gwen, as she often had since leaving the shadow world, kept looking over her shoulder in the dark places she walked through.
For if Chelsea had a doppelganger, and that shadow could appear in the real world…
Then where was Gwen’s?
A few blocks away from Reiner Manor, Gwen knelt, placing her hand against the cold stone of the street. Her hand pulsed once with white light, and Gwen instantly understood the layout and makeup of the street, the houses, the plants, and what lay beneath, for a few hundred feet in each direction.
She could feel, more than she had when searching for the branch entrances in Rosewood Park and Libra Vale, the yawning emptiness of the Underground. She was at a low point of Grimoire, a valley between hills, and that must be why the Underground was so close, and felt so powerful.
She felt the tunnel, but…
No entrance. This is near the central crossing, though. So far, it matches the maps we have.
A few blocks more, and Gwen pulsed the ground again. There was the Underground, more faint now that she’d ascended a steep staircase.
And there’s a branch off of it there… smaller… but it wasn’t on the maps.
Gwen followed that branch, walking west, until she came to Grimoire’s Grimoires. Kneeling next to the bookshop, she pulsed the ground once again.
And the small branch stops. But what is that? Some sort of… room, I think. And…
They descend deeper. There’s something below the Underground.
That wasn’t on any of the maps.
Gwen stood, staring at the shadows to the west.
There’s another main tunnel there. I wonder if there are more strange rooms?
On Gwen walked. She stopped once at an intersection, watching from the shadows as a trio of Hunters chased a Piper and several Howlers down an alley. Ghostly swords sliced through the air seemingly of their own accord. Golden shackles shot through the air, instantly locking when they contacted a Howler’s legs, dropping the beast to the ground, immobilized.
And then the Hunters and their prey continued on, out of sight.
Gwen came out on Grimoire’s main street and knelt, pulsing the ground.
Ah. One of the major intersections of the Underground. So the question becomes…
Which tunnel should I follow?
Gwen stood, looking around the empty street. It was empty, and then it wasn’t. Hunters and Hollows were constantly crossing the wide, open thoroughfare, but battles never stayed there. Hollows knew they stood no chance against Hunters out in the open, and Hunters knew that Hollows wouldn’t stick to the open places. Summons ran, flew, slithered, and clambered past, their glowing forms followed by their Summoners and other members of the Hunter trios. The songs of Piper Flutes rang out here and there, frantic and hasty, often cutting off before they were able to finish.
But she had to look beyond the fighting.
She had to find any clue of where she should go, and which tunnels she should follow.
There was a planned station at Lunar Plaza. That could be a good place to start.
Despite the Underground’s plans, there wasn’t a known entrance to the existing Underground from the Plaza, a large open square halfway along Grimoire’s main street. Understanding why that station never came to fruition – and in what state it was left when the Underground’s plans were scrapped – would help inform Gwen’s next move.
Lunar Plaza, normally a hub of excitement, noise, and movement during the day, was the quietest part of Grimoire so far here in the middle of the night. Shop entrances stood dark and shadowed, and the four fountains that formed corners of an inner square were silent and dry in anticipation of winter’s freeze. Gwen stepped into the shadows and knelt, pulsing the ground.
The station was built… and was even coming up towards the ground. There are stairs… and then…
That’s strange. Some sort of barrier? I haven’t felt something like that before, and I can’t quite figure out what it is. Metal? Stone? It isn’t magical, but it has… echoes. It once held a great deal of magic, but has slowly faded. Interesting.
But the station wasn’t completed, and there’s no entrance here.
Interesting. I would think the main tunnels would have been completed first, but the main westward branch just… stops. Like it wasn’t –
No. It was completed. But it was blocked. I think.
Gwen hurried west, stopping a block away from Lunar Plaza, pulsing the ground again.
I was right. It was blocked. Intentionally, it seems. And it continues here. So then what were they trying to block?
Gwen stood, but before she continued on, she turned around in a slow circle. Her eyes looked over every shadow, every corner.
So why doesn’t it feel that way?
Gwen shook her head, tugged her hat lower over her cold ears, and continued on.
Stay focused on the task at hand.
A Howler leapt into her path, and for a moment, seemed stunned by surprise. Finding someone all alone, instead of the constant trios of vicious Hunters, must have been too shocking for the Howler to immediately react.
Gwen took advantage of that pause, thrusting her hand forward. A silver needle shot out, attached to silver thread, and it flew at Gwen’s instruction.
The Howler never had a chance. Pierced dozens of times, it gave the weakest of whimpers, and then crumpled to the ground, turning to ash and leaving behind a few Hollow Drops.
I’ll leave those for Hunters to find.
Gwen pulsed two more points, following the curious branching tunnels of the Underground. It was at the third point, a few blocks south from the public library, that she found what she sought.
Another room, and another set of descending stairs. Descending to what? It must be quite deep – I can’t feel the bottom at all.
Two rooms like this so far. What do those stairs lead to? What are the Shadows hiding even deeper beneath Grimoire?
Gwen stood, staring out across Grimson Pond. It wasn’t far from here to the Crater District, and beyond that…
They’ll be guarding that too closely. But I do wish we could find out what’s down there. Most likely, whatever lies beneath The Gate won’t be accessible by any other path. And yet there are still secrets to uncover here.
But before all is done, we will need to attempt going beneath The Gate.
A frigid gust swept across Gwen, and she shivered beneath it, hugging herself briefly for warmth. When she looked up…
Across the pond she saw a shadow.
The moon, nothing more than a thin, pale line in the sky above, cast silver light along the pond.
But the light did not reach the far shore, where the shadow stood.
Gwen stood still, watching carefully, all her senses on high alert.
The shadow didn’t move.
Slowly, Gwen lowered her hand to her side, touching the pouch at her belt where her spool of silver thread was held.
The shadow mimicked that slight movement.
Wind blew across the pond, and the water rippled gently in reply.
Harsh barks and howls broke into the stillness. A quartet of Howlers charged into the open area, with Hunters in hot pursuit. Lights flashed, sounds boomed.
Gwen turned, flung out her hand, and shot out a line of thread. It adhered to a high chimney, and pulled Gwen away from the pond, away from the shadow. She alighted on the roof and took off running, shooting out thread and pulling herself across large gaps when the need arose.
She stayed away from the streets, away from the darkness, keeping to the silver moonlight in high places.
A glance over her shoulder, through her flapping amber curls, caught sight of the shadow.
It wasn’t running. And even in the moonlight, it was pitch-black.
Gwen ran on, her heart pounding, her breaths coming in ragged gasps. She’d gone too far from Reiner Manor – she couldn’t run the entire distance without a rest.
But if she rested, the shadow would…
“The voice told us not to be afraid.”
Chelsea’s words came to Gwen’s mind, and she came to a halt, whipping around to face the shadow.
Don’t be afraid.
She glared defiantly at her shadowy pursuer, who stopped when she stopped, standing always the same distance from her, stock still.
Gwen reached out her arm to the side, and the shadow did the same.
Thrusting her hand forward, Gwen threw a pair of needles, untied to any thread, at the shadow.
The needles flew true. But the shadow did not react.
Gwen caught her breath, held a hand to her chest to quiet her heart. “What are you?” she asked, glaring at the shadow.
The shadow remained silent.
“Why are you following me? I’ve faced the darkness and won.”
Gwen’s heart skipped a beat. She knew that voice, the voice that spoke only into her mind.
But it said no more.
“Why are you –” Gwen started.
But the shadow was gone.
For a long time, Gwen stood on the rooftop, staring at the space the shadow had vacated. The battles between Hunters and Hollows died down. The moon tracked across the sky.
Finally, Gwen made the slow trek back to Reiner Manor. She hadn’t made it more than a few blocks before her cell phone chimed in her pocket: a message from Chelsea.
Where are you? Just got home and you’re gone. Please tell me you’re okay.
Gwen smiled, and choked back a sudden surge of emotion. She quickly typed a reply:
On my way. Talk when I get back?
Chelsea’s reply was swift:
I’ll meet you. Where are you?
Gwen couldn’t help a laugh, and quickly replied with a spot between her current location and Reiner Manor where they could meet each other. Chelsea reached her before she made it to the meeting spot. Their eyes met, and neither said a word, just walked along together, side by side, the silence and company warm and comforting.
Yet Gwen couldn’t completely shut out the darkness. The single question the shadow had asked echoed in her mind, and she worried it spoke true.
Somehow, despite our success in the shadow world…
We haven’t completely won, have we?
But why? And what will it take to finally dispel the darkness that follows us?