“Grimoire is… dying?”
Caleb stared at Doctor in shock, barely able to ask the question that came forth from his lips.
Doctor remained placid, pushing up his glasses as he nodded. “It has been for a very long time.”
“But why?” Caleb asked.
“In a word?” Doctor asked. “Inevitability. Fate, if you prefer. The Lunar Architects were right, despite all of the Master’s attempts to prove them wrong.”
“The Lunar Architects… they founded Grimoire. You mean they knew from that far back? For that long?”
“Yes.” Doctor sighed, smiling as he gazed out at the wondrous creature before them. “But they left us an avenue of salvation. She will save us.”
“She?” Caleb asked.
“Well, I suppose it isn’t necessarily accurate to ascribe a gender to her,” Doctor said. “She’s the only one we know of her kind. Whether she’s male or female… it’s impossible for us to know, really. She’s unlike any being we’ve ever seen seen. But we call her the White Whale. And when you think of whales, you think of the ocean, and think of ships, and everyone talks about ships as if they were female. So our perception of her as feminine came quite naturally.”
“The White Whale…” Caleb stared out at the enormous white creature, and he started to see it. She was too vast to truly perceive, not from so close, but Caleb could see why someone might call her a whale. She was sleek, smooth, rounded, and were those fins of some sort? Was that a blowhole? But none of that explained… “Why is she connected to the towers? They’re full of prisoners, aren’t they?”
Doctor smirked. “This place is no prison. It can be used as such, and indeed we do use it so, but it’s something much more impressive, much more meaningful. You see, this is the White Whale’s harbor. Her dock, her port, her place of rest before and after a long voyage.” Doctor turned to look at Caleb and nodded sagely. “It’s a lot to take in, and I’m sure you have more questions than you know what to do with.”
“Why are you telling me everything?” Caleb asked. “Why are you so willing to just reveal everything? All of you… you Shadows… you’ve been hiding, keeping all of these things secret, but now you just spill it all to me willingly?”
“Well, I suppose that is the only question that matters,” Doctor said, looking back out across the expanse of the White Whale. “I could tell you all sorts of reasons – true reasons, mind you – like how the Master cares deeply for your family, how he never wanted things to turn out the way they have, but in truth, it’s far more simple. I can tell you all of this freely because you won’t be leaving this place until after the White Whale’s voyage is complete.”
“So I’m still a prisoner,” Caleb said.
“You’re surprisingly nonchalant.”
Caleb smiled. “If you’re so willing to tell me everything, all of that knowledge only gives me more motivation to get out of here, no matter how confident you are that I won’t.”
Doctor smiled, too. “Ah, the invincibility of youth. Well, I certainly won’t be getting in your way.” He spread his hands innocently. “I’m no fighter, you see. The Master recruited me specifically for my mind. And because…” His expression, for the briefest moment, turned grim. “Well. It’s no matter.”
“I thought you were going to tell me everything,” Caleb said.
“All in good time. And at my own pace. Conversations can be exhausting, you see, if they fly here and there without warning or structure. So you’ll have to excuse me for demanding that I control the direction of our dialogue.”
For a long time after that, Doctor was silent, and Caleb echoed that. He stared out at the White Whale, wondering so many things. Doctor had been letting him ask questions, but now he’d made clear he would answer them at his own pace. Caleb had just been lucky with his earlier queries.
But it was easy to be silent, too. Standing here in the mist, looking out across the White Whale, or up at the towers, or all around him at what he could see…
It was so peaceful. So utterly enchanting. Here, it was easy for him to forget his worries. The constant thrumming song of the White Whale seeped into him, calming him, relaxing him. It was as if an otherworldly voice was saying, without words: “Everything’s going to be all right.”
So Caleb didn’t have to worry about…
Caleb stepped back from the rail, blinking his eyes, shaking his head. No. He had much to worry about. “Hold on,” he said. “There’s a weapon, in your underground city. Some kind of weapon designed to destroy the entire Crater District. What’s that all about? If Grimoire’s dying on its own, why do you have a gun pointed to its head?”
Doctor made a little “ah” noise, nodding slightly. “So you do know about that. The Master wasn’t certain you’d discovered it, though he had his suspicions.”
“And?” Caleb asked.
Doctor pushed up his glasses. “It is a mercy,” he said with startling frankness.
“Grimoire’s scheduled demise is a gruesome one,” Doctor said. “And there will be frightening collateral damage. Rosewood Park, Libra Vale, and miles and miles beyond will be swallowed up by a violent surge of destructive power. That must be prevented.”
“So save Grimoire!” Caleb shouted, taking a step towards Doctor. “Prevent that destruction by saving the city, not destroying it on a smaller scale!”
Doctor sighed. “You have no idea how long the Master has attempted to achieve that far nobler outcome. There is no one more powerful, no one more knowledgeable in every form of magic, than the Master. And yet he has found no other solution. Catastrophe is coming, and the only way to stop it is to not give it something to destroy when it arrives.”
“That’s insane,” Caleb said, his voice strained. “You can’t… it doesn’t…”
“It doesn’t have to be that way?” Doctor asked. “If only that were so. But that is why we Shadows have operated from the –” he cleared his throat, “shadows. Because most would react as you have, if they knew the Master’s plan. Even many of the Shadows, the grunts who run around in their silly costumes, don’t know the Master’s true plan. You may have gained some inkling of that with your interactions with them.”
Chase. He talked about being a god, spat nonsense like he wanted to be the second coming of the Radiant King. He said we shouldn’t protect the non-magical folks, but…
No. He has no idea this is what’s planned. He’s on an ego trip, he’s chasing power. Doctor… and I would guess Mister Mathers and the rest of the big-time Shadows, like Anastasia, Bronn… they probably all see it this way, as a mercy, as their own twisted way of saving Grimoire. They’re the heroes of their own horrific story.
“I’m surprised you haven’t asked more about her,” Doctor said, nodding out towards the White Whale. “I know all this other information is overwhelming and, judging by your reaction, horrifying, but, well… she’s really something special.”
“Why is she connected to prison towers?” Caleb asked. Though he was shocked and disgusted by what the Shadows had planned, he couldn’t escape his curiosity. “What does that do for her?”
“These towers weren’t designed as prisons,” Doctor said. “This entire place… it is a place of healing. The White Whale links with every single Post – that’s the proper name for the towers – of her harbor, and sends her own magic up into every room within each Post. That magic heals and restores, even those on the utter brink of death, beyond the skill of any human Healer. Though it cannot delay an age-related death, any wounds, injuries, diseases… those are all completely cured.” Doctor smiled at Caleb. “You were actually quite injured when you were brought here. You took a nasty fall, landed on your hand. Your entire right wrist was a mangled mess. Can’t tell now, can you?”
Caleb held up his right hand, staring at it. He flexed his fingers, rolled his wrist.
He was fine. No scars, no bruises, no pain.
“But… why?” he asked. “Why does this place exist, and work the way it does? And why do you use it as a prison, instead of a place of healing like it should? Think of…” Caleb’s voice caught in his throat.
Marion, if she could have been brought here fast enough, would have lived.
“To fear the darkness is folly. For one to grasp the true nature of the world, one must walk in both darkness and light.” Doctor smiled thinly. “Sometimes we must keep secrets, even if it seems unfair, or even cruel.”
“Why imprison people here?” Caleb asked. “If it’s a secret, why bring people here at all?”
“Ah, I should have explained more clearly,” Doctor said. “It can function as a prison, but we don’t actually use it for that, except in very special cases. The White Whale is too valuable to risk to violent enemies. And, as you’ve undoubtedly noticed, the design of this place isn’t truly conducive to holding prisoners.”
“Wait, then… why did you bring me here? And who else is imprisoned here now?”
“No one but you,” Doctor said. “And you were brought here because you’re important. In truth, your entire family is. You are some of the Chosen Ones.”
Doctor smirked. “You don’t need to simply repeat my statements as questions. You can think for yourself.”
Caleb couldn’t bring himself to say it. Where that statement led… it couldn’t mean…
“You’re picking and choosing who lives and dies.”
Doctor lifted a finger. “You’re starting to understand. And, I can tell from your tone and expression, you think it’s cruel. In truth, I sympathize with your opinion. But once again, we come back to the need to walk in both darkness and light. We try to do the very best we can – we try to do good. And in so doing, we find ourselves walking a thin line, a line that some may call treading into evil itself. But the cruel reality of our dire circumstances cannot be more stark: in order to save some, we must sacrifice others. In time, I believe you will understand. This has not been an easy choice to come to. But if we do not kill Grimoire in our own way, sacrificing some of its inhabitants in the process, then we will face a far greater doom, in which all who call Grimoire home will perish. It’s horrific to reduce human lives to mere numbers, but it’s the simple truth of our circumstance. The math doesn’t lie. We can save some… or we can save none at all.”
Caleb gripped the rail of the viewing platform tight enough for his knuckles to turn white.
“You’re thinking ‘I can’t accept that’,” Doctor said. “I understand. Truly, I do.” He reached into his pocket, and with a clink of metal, tossed something to Caleb. Caleb caught it, staring in shock at his pocket watch Talisman. “As I said, you will not leave this place. Try as you might, you won’t find an exit, even with your unique abilities.”
Caleb checked his watch, opening and closing it. All was in order. He tucked it into his pocket, connecting the chain to his belt.
What do I do? Do I keep talking to this guy, who I don’t even know? Why do I trust every word he says? Something about how he talks… he’s so matter-of-fact. But there’s something behind it all. He’s thought about all of this, for a long time. I’m coming into these revelations and horrible ideas for the first time. He and Mister Mathers and the other Shadows… they’ve gone over it all for years, probably.
But this is what they’ve come up with? This is the conclusions they’ve come to, the grand solution to –
“What’s going to kill Grimoire?” Caleb asked, mulling over that word choice for a moment. It was so strange to talk about the destruction of a city as a death, as if the city itself was its own living thing. “How do you know this destruction is coming, and how do you know that your way is the way to stop it?”
Doctor smiled, a flash of pride in it. “Now you’re asking the right questions. The death of Grimoire isn’t all there is. Much more of this universe will die, in one fell stroke. Most of that destruction will be in the Enchanted Dominion. For Earth, it will be contained to Grimoire. If we complete our plan, however, then only Grimoire will suffer, and only in part. The entire Enchanted Dominion will be spared from the coming death.”
That sense of scale staggered Caleb, but it also added more context to what was happening. Grimoire wasn’t alone in whatever evil was approaching. “So what’s going to cause it?”
“The Doomed Beast,” Doctor said. “It’s one of the Characters spoken of in the Enchanted Dominion’s prophecies, passed down by The Fates. A massive beast, with power beyond anything the universe knows. When it awakes, it will destroy everything in its predetermined path. And its awakening is coming soon. Thankfully, we have found a way to kill the beast. We can lure it to Grimoire, make this its first destination, and then kill it here, stopping it before it destroys anything else.”
“If you have the weapon to kill it, why not take it to the Doomed Beast?” Caleb asked. “Why force it to come here and kill thousands of people along with it?”
“That all comes down to the nature of our weapon, and our lure,” Doctor said. “All will be revealed in time. For now, we should be grateful to the White Whale. She will save most of us from destruction. Why she waits in her harbor for so long, I know not. But –”
Delilah had been listening long enough. That man called Doctor kept saying all these things with such confidence, and Caleb just took it all at face value.
But it was all wrong. And she wouldn’t stand for it.
“I’ve had enough of this!” she cried, stepping out from behind her hiding place. Caleb turned, eyes widening as he saw her.
“Delilah?” he asked, disbelief thick in his tone. “What are you… how did you… weren’t you supposed to be with Shana? What happened?”
“It’s a long story,” Delilah said. “I’ll tell it. But first…” She strode up to the railing of the viewing platform, looking out at the White Whale. She shook her head vigorously, her blonde hair flying all around her. “No. I won’t have it.” She looked up at Doctor. “If you’re a doctor – if you’re so smart – you should have known better a long time ago.”
“What do you –” Doctor started, but both he and Caleb cried out in shock as Delilah hopped up atop the railing, and then leapt over the side.
She landed in a crouch atop the White Whale’s enormous body, and looked upward, fixing her defiant stare on Doctor and Caleb. “You can’t hear her voice, can you?” she asked.
“What do you mean?” Caleb asked.
“She’s crying out in pain,” Delilah said. “This is a prison, but not for people.” She pointed down at the White Whale. “It’s a prison for her.”
As Caleb and Doctor stood silent at that revelation, Delilah placed a hand against the White Whale’s smooth body.
I will save you.
This is why you called me here, isn’t it?
Don’t worry. I’ll make them see. I’ll break you free from your prison.