Shana, Delilah, and Caleb were greeted inside the front door of Greyson Manor by a massive group hug from their parents.
“Don’t any of you ever disappear again!” Deirdre said, squeezing her children tight, struggling to form words through her sudden outburst of relief. “I didn’t realize how worried I was!”
“Have any of you had contact with Fae?” Callum asked, pulling away for a moment. “She’s in the Dominion too, isn’t she?”
Shana was stunned by the question, and felt guilty because, with all that had been going on, she’d forgotten that Fae was in the Enchanted Dominion on some quest of her own. It seemed so long since she’d met the Cartographers and they’d told her of the state and whereabouts of her siblings. She was surprised when Caleb spoke up.
“I saw her,” he said. “She never wants to talk to me, and she didn’t then, but even though it was brief… I got the sense that she’s gonna be okay. She was safe, and with friends, at least when I saw her.”
“Well, let’s hope she stays that way,” Callum said. Shana’s eyes were pulled past her parents to the stairs, where Shias was standing, waiting for his turn to greet his family. Their eyes met, and Shana couldn’t contain herself. She raced forward, tackling her twin brother in a hug, sending them both sprawling on the stairs.
“I’m so glad you’re okay!” she cried, squeezing Shias despite his protests. Altair wriggled free from Shana to stand next to Shias, tail wagging as he licked his face.
“I’m glad you’re safe, too,” Shias said, pushing Altair’s face away gently. “I thought it would be a while before you came back.” The two stared at each other, and Shias smiled. “I’m glad you’re back so soon.”
“How long’s it been since you got back?” Shana asked.
“We just arrived this afternoon. Kathryn and the others went home, but they’ll be glad to hear you’re back.”
And then Shana was crying, and she felt somewhat vindicated to see Shias’ eyes wet with tears, even if he held them back.
“Honestly, I’m just glad tomorrow’s Saturday,” Delilah said. “I could use a break before getting back to ordinary life and school stuff.”
“I was worried about you most of all,” Deirdre said, kneeling down and hugging Delilah tight. “I hope Chelsea and Lorelei and Caleb took good care of you.”
“She took care –” Caleb started, with a proud grin, but he stopped at a quick, sharp glance from Delilah.
She still wants to keep her Felines a secret? Shana was surprised, but she wasn’t about to ruin things for Delilah if she still wanted to keep her amazing Summons a secret from her parents. She had her reasons, even if Shana didn’t understand them.
And somehow, Delilah having her own desires brought Shana back to reality, a reality she’d been pondering over and dreading ever since the end of her time in the Dream Forge.
She couldn’t stay in Grimoire with the others, or even go back to “normal” life and school, at least not for long.
“Find me. Find the ones who can save me. Listen for the word… the one word, the one plague that has infested me and my land… and so many others.
Shana had another mission, and she worried about its nature. But after Caleb had come to her in the Library, helped cheer her up and get her out of the depressed funk that she hadn’t realized she was in, she knew she had a few things she needed to do before taking action.
She needed to talk to her friends. She needed to talk to her family.
“Shana?” Deirdre asked. “Are you all right? We’re going to eat dinner, if you’re still hungry.”
Shana blinked, suddenly realizing that everyone – even Shias – was staring at her, waiting.
“Oh! Right!” She hopped to her feet, laughing off her little daydream. “Yeah, I’m starving!”
And that was true. She was totally famished, and she thought that was at least partly emotional – the promise of her parents’ home cooking forced her stomach to make room, because she’d been away for far too long. And though she’d enjoyed some really wonderful food during her journey…
There was nothing like mom and dad’s cooking.
Caleb and the parents were the most talkative ones during dinner, as they discussed much of the danger facing Grimoire and how they should handle it. Shana could tell they at times talked around details, doing their best to keep the younger ones uninvolved, but there was an urgency to their conversation that couldn’t wait for privacy.
Meanwhile, Shana, Shias, and Delilah were mostly silent. And it wasn’t until after dinner, as Callum and Deirdre took over cleaning duties because “you four have been through enough recently – just rest and recover,” that Shana found herself dealing with a great deal of tension.
She looked at Shias, and she instantly knew why.
“Can we talk?” she asked, and Shias nodded. They walked upstairs, to Greyson Manor’s fifth floor, and out onto the large west-facing balcony. It was nearly winter for Grimoire – the first snowfall usually came in mid-November – so the twins brought out a surplus of blankets as they cozied up in the cushioned chairs and couches out on the balcony. Below and beyond them stretched the city of Grimoire, its rising and falling skyline, and beyond that, the low western hills and the last, fiery beams of the sunset.
“Thank you,” Shana said softly. “You and the others saved me. With everything that had to be done at the Library of Solitude, having Void and others of the Radiance follow us might have been more than we could handle.”
“You’re not mad?” Shias asked, and Shana looked at him in surprise. He wasn’t very emotive in his expressions, he never had been, but Shana had picked up on all of his little tics that showed what he was thinking. The slight droop of his left eyebrow, the little tug at the corner of his mouth…
He felt guilty for leaving her behind.
“I’m not mad, I’m not mad!” Shana said, waving her hands in a frantic attempt to smooth things over. “Honestly. That’s not it. I… I understand what you did for me, and I know it was out of love. I’m really glad that you were willing to do so much for me – that you always have been. I just… it was really hard. And I missed you a lot. And now I…” She trailed off, struggling to say what came next.
“There’s more you have to do,” Shias said.
Shana nodded. She told him the entire story – of the fight through the Library, of meeting Heart, of learning about and entering the Dream Forge, and the frightening, painful trial through Nightmares. And, finally, she told him about the giant black owl, and the message it had given her.
“So you need to find people to save her,” Shias said, in full analysis-mode now. “And the only clues you have to go on are the visuals of her world and how she looked, and the word ‘Collapse.’ How a word can be a plague, an infestation, I’m not sure. It’s very little to go on. You’ll need help.”
“But I…” Shana started.
“You’re worried you have to face this alone?” Shias asked, earning a nod from Shana. He thought about that for a moment. “I’m not so sure. You have to find others, so you won’t be alone by the end. And nothing says you have to work on finding them alone.”
“But don’t you have to go back to school and catch up on things?” Shana asked. “And I’m sure you want to help protect the city with the others, instead of going off on a crazy adventure with me.”
A small smile played across Shias’ lips. “You have to catch up on schoolwork, too, you know,” he said. “And you should know there’s no place I’d rather be than by your side, wherever that leads.”
Why had Shana ever doubted it? Why had she been so worried about what would happen, about being separated from her brother again?
“Since you’re home,” Shias continued, “we should probably start the search for clues and information here. Grimoire has plenty of libraries, and there are lots of databases and other resources that we have special access to because of our family.”
Our family. That jogged Shana’s thoughts, and she interrupted Shias to tell him about the window-vision she’d seen in the Dreamworld, of the night that Caleb and the others had been whisked off to the Enchanted Dominion, and the stranger Bronn and his mysterious phone call.
“So him and his master, and whoever else is involved, are very concerned about our family,” Shias said, staring off into the distance, eyes narrowed. “We should share that with Caleb and the parents in the morning. They’re the ones who need to know it most. And it does give more clues about that conversation we overheard in Crescent Avenue.”
Shana looked out towards the darkening hills and sighed. “There’s so much happening all at once.”
Footsteps behind her made Shana turn around, and she was surprised to see Delilah joining them. The blonde girl looked concerned, and Shana got the sense that she’d been listening to their conversation for a while.
“What’s up?” Shana asked.
“Well, I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, I just never found a good place to jump in,” Delilah said, shuffling from one foot to the other. “But I… well… this Bronn guy mentioned Anastasia, right?”
Shana was confused for a moment, but then her eyes widened. Delilah, Chelsea, Lorelei, and Gwen had told the story of their entire adventure when Shana had arrived at the Library of Solitude, and one large detail that Shana hadn’t thought too important was the tale of Anastasia. “She was after Isabelle,” Shana said, scooting over so Delilah could cuddle up under the same blanket with her. “And she was after Piper’s Flutes, which Isabelle gave away through Jormungand. And she said she worked for…”
“Blaise Mathers,” Delilah said, nodding.
“The head of the council?” Shias asked, staring in shock. Delilah nodded. “So if she’s working for him, we can assume Bronn is as well… then…” He shook his head. “We need to talk to the others now, not wait until morning.”
So the three youngest Greysons left the balcony behind, heading downstairs, where they found Caleb and their parents in the lounge, a room that appeared smaller than it was thanks to the abundance of bookshelves and large, cushioned furniture. The fireplace on the far wall had grown dim, casting long shadows across the three already in the room – Caleb, Callum, and Deirdre – who were talking in low voices. At the arrival of the other three, their conversation suddenly halted.
“We have a lot that we need to tell you,” Shias said. “Right away.”
And so they did, relaying all of the details that they could. They recounted the conversation they’d overheard between Bronn and Chase on Crescent Avenue, and the vision Shana had had of Bronn and his phone call, and the multiple encounters Delilah’s group had had with Anastasia, and what little more they had learned of Jormungand, the mysterious scarred man who had coerced Isabelle into making him copies of her flute.
When the three were finished, the older Greysons were silent for a long time. Deirdre got up and added wood to the fire, coaxing it to brighter, more cheerful life, and then turned on a lamp, so they weren’t all sitting around talking about worrisome things in shadowy darkness.
“It defies belief,” Callum finally said in a low voice. He was like Caleb, always the quickest to a smile, yet now his mouth was set in a grim line. “Blaise…”
“He’s a very good and very old friend of ours,” Deirdre said, sitting back down and laying her arm around her husband’s shoulders. “When we were in high school, he was a new Hunter, and he served as a mentor for us as we prepared to be Hunters ourselves. When we began our training, he was the one who trained us, like Chase did for Caleb. Over the years we’ve always been close, and he’s mentored, advised, and supported us every step of the way. To think that he’s…”
“He may not be behind all of this,” Callum said. “There’s Jormungand to consider. And though Anastasia said outright she serves Blaise, maybe there’s someone else above even him. Maybe… I’m sure he… he must have some reason…” Callum shook his head, staring at the floor.
“He’s the head of the entire council,” Shias said. “I can’t imagine there being anyone above him.”
“Let’s just take a moment, put together everything we know so far,” Deirdre said. She placed a notebook on the coffee table in the center of them, and began writing as she spoke. “We know that Anastasia is somehow involved in the theft of the Piper’s Flute from Mina Shoto’s vault, and she played it the night that Caleb and Delilah disappeared. She was after Isabelle, but Chelsea and Lorelei were able to protect her. She claims she’s working for Blaise, though we don’t entirely know why – at least one aspect of his plan involves Isabelle and the flutes that she can make. We also know that Anastasia is part of the same group as Bronn, going by his comments, and that she’s held in high regard. When it comes to the flutes, this group is keeping their plans for them secret from the council, at least in part to keep it from Jacob Crowley, who got the law passed to have all Piper’s Flutes destroyed immediately upon acquisition.” She wrote all of this in shorthand. At the top of the page was “Blaise?” and beneath it were subheadings for Bronn and Anastasia, and she added a few more as she went.
“We know that Chase Fredricks is somehow involved in all of this,” she continued. “He seems to be very low on the totem pole, and it seems he’s being manipulated, at least in part due to his feelings for…” She looked up, her eyes meeting Caleb’s.
Caleb sighed, nodding. “Yeah, he’s always had a thing for Chelsea,” he said. “I didn’t think it was enough for him to be controlled by it, but…” Another sigh. “All of these secrets and conspiracies and shadowy dealings, it’s more than I ever expected from anyone. Maybe I never really knew Chase at all.”
“And it seems like Bronn is Chase’s handler,” Deirdre said, continuing to write. “He also has regular communication with ‘The Master,’ who is likely Blaise, but we need to confirm that. We don’t know much else about him, unfortunately, and none of us have seen his face.”
“You’d think it would be hard to miss a big guy like him,” Caleb said with a chuckle.
“I think I might have seen him before,” Callum said, “but without any of you having seen his face, it’s hard to say. I’ll keep my eyes open. But Anastasia, too… I wouldn’t forget someone with violet eyes. And yet I haven’t seen her before, either.”
“Which means this group is largely built of people who can effectively operate in the shadows,” Deirdre said, drawing lines from Anastasia and Bronn’s name to a circle in which she wrote “Shadows?” “Bronn also mentioned ‘Stride,’ which is likely some kind of code name. Said he’s ‘on Crowley.’ So Jacob’s being watched by this same group, likely because he could easily interfere with their plans. He has control of the Hunter Guild, and that includes the Investigators. And then there’s the mysterious line from Shana’s vision of Bronn: ‘If you say she’s ready, then she is.’ It doesn’t seem he was talking about Anastasia, so we don’t know who this ‘she’ is, but we’ll need to keep our eyes open.”
“And then there’s the Radiance,” Callum said, and Deirdre wrote at the top of the next page “Radiance.” “We have Jormungand, who’s apparently been operating on Earth for some time, and we have Void locked away. We know about the Radiant King, and Bronn mentioned ‘we wait for King to move first.’ That’s probably referring to the Radiant King, but we can’t be entirely sure.”
“It seems very likely that Blaise’s group is in league with the Radiance, then,” Shias said. “Probably not servile to them, but cooperating with them at the least.”
“And we know that both groups have plans for the Lunar Festival,” Caleb said. “That’s a little more than two weeks away.”
“We know about Neith, and some members of the Royal Guard,” Deirdre said, continuing to write. “And Caleb’s notebook from his teacher details more, so we’ll be able to prepare effectively for them.” She stopped writing, tapping her pen against the Blaise page. “It’s the group within Grimoire that we know so little about. But we’ll keep learning. Caleb, keep your eyes open, but don’t try too hard to gather information.”
Callum chuckled. “Yeah, you’re too trusting and too honest. It’s a great trait of yours, but for this, you’re a bit out of your depth.”
“And you three,” Deirdre said, fixing her gaze on the youngest Greysons. “If you learn anything else by accident, please share it with us. But –” she pointed her pen at the trio, “do not go looking for information. Don’t go seeking it out. Focus on school, on getting back to normal. You have so much to catch up on. Leave this to us, please.”
Shana nodded. “We will,” she said, doing her best to display a calm and obedient expression. She had her own mission to handle, on top of schoolwork, it was true. But inside, she desperately wanted to do something for her family and her city. And she was certain that her siblings and her friends felt the same.
The youngest were dismissed, leaving Caleb and the parents to continue the conversation. And it was late, so Shana was perfectly happy to go to bed, to finally collapse into her own bed, the soft comfort she knew so well and had missed so much. Altair snuggled up with her, and she sighed as she sunk into her pillows.
“I want to help them, Altair,” she said softly, stroking the little dog’s tummy. “But I also have my own mission. I know I can trust Caleb and mom and dad, and they’ll have Chelsea and Lorelei and Gwen, too, and I’m sure other friends and people they can trust. I just…”
She sighed. “I don’t want to leave home again.”
There it was, the thought that had been following her ever since being separated from Shias. It wasn’t just her brother. She loved the adventure – at first. But after facing the trials within Nightmares, after being all alone through so much pain… did she really need to keep going through that? And more than that, did she have to keep leaving home, leaving her parents, her friends, her school, her life? Now her home was in danger. Why was she being called out to some other task, some other quest that would take her far away once again?
She didn’t have any answers. And though she wanted to enjoy the time she had at home for now until she was called away again… she couldn’t find it in herself to do so. She just hugged her little dog tight, closed her eyes, and did her best to fall asleep, hoping tomorrow would bring something, anything, to cheer her up and give her courage for what was to come.