Adelaide lay back atop her mountain of stuffed animals and pillows, staring at the fluffy clouds above through her skylight.
Building her own house had been such a wonderfully fun thing. And even when Caleb left on his important business, it had still been fun.
But that fun had faded quickly. And Adelaide understood why very clearly.
“It’s no fun doing stuff all by yourself,” she said, hugging a teddy bear larger than she was tightly. She pursed her lips in a pout. “And what’s with him going off to fight the Shadows and leaving me alone? I’m involved in all of that, too. They’re the ones who got me all twisted up, who encouraged the stupid shadow man to do all kinds of bad stuff with my magic. And they’re the ones who –” She paused, then sighed. “No, they’re not responsible for that. And anyway, I don’t care about that. But I do…”
I do wish I had a proper Mama and Papa. Not like the ones I used to have, who called me a monster and never loved me.
I wish I had a Mama and Papa like…
“Like Caleb,” Adelaide said, grinning as she nuzzled her teddy bear’s soft head. “He’d be a great Papa. And we’d have so much fun together, every single day. Oh! And if he was my Papa, then Chelsea would be my Mama, right?” She giggled, kicking her feet against a pile of smaller teddy bears. “She’s so spunky and exciting. I’d never be bored with those two!”
She sat up, looking down the stuffed animal + pillow mountain. “So… when are they gonna come back? Caleb left hours ago, and he said it was just a meeting. What’s taking so long?” She leaned forward, letting momentum carry her into a roll, and tumbled down her giant fluffy mountain, giggling as she went, until she rolled to a stop on the “runway” of mattresses on the floor level. She lay there on her stomach for a while, tracing her finger along the marble tiles of the floor.
“Marble’s boring,” she said softly. She tapped the tile, and the entire floor changed to hardwood. With that change came a change in color, not just to the floor – which became much darker and warm-colored – but to the entire room, as it took on a warmer, more lively appearance compared to the stark white of before. “That’s better.”
She hopped up to pace around the giant main room with her hands stuffed in her pockets. “No one’s told me to go to school yet, either. That’s fun. I get to play all day! But… hmm, if I went to school, I might be able to make more friends. That would be fun, too. I guess I’ll have to ask Caleb about it.” She turned, glaring at her front door with a pout. “So where is he?”
That was the moment that Adelaide remembered she had a cell phone. She wasn’t used to having one yet, and for a moment, she couldn’t remember where she’d put it. It wasn’t in her pocket, and climbing back atop her giant mountain of fluffy cuteness, she didn’t find it there, either.
“Did I leave it by the pool?” Adelaide asked, wandering around the big central pillar of the main room. “Yup!” There it was, sitting by the edge of the pool on the far side. She jumped into the water, changing her clothes into a swimsuit with a thought, and swam across, trying to imitate Caleb’s super-cool swimming speed and utterly failing.
He’s supposed to teach me how to swim like that. When’s he gonna get around to it, if he’s so busy all the time?
On the other side, Adelaide grabbed her phone and called Caleb. Ring after endless ring she waited, until she got his voicemail.
“Well what the heck, Caleb?” Adelaide asked, pouting as she hung up. “Ooh, I have Chelsea’s number. I’ll call her.”
Two rings later, Chelsea answered. “What do you want, kid?” she asked, her voice strained, her tone angry.
She’s so moody.
“Do you know where Caleb is?” Adelaide asked. “He isn’t answering his phone.”
“Where Caleb…” Chelsea started, and Adelaide thought she heard a sob as her voice cut off. A second voice came much softer and muffled, so Adelaide couldn’t quite make it out. “Yeah, well, I’ve been a bit preoccupied, okay?” Chelsea replied to the voice. She sighed. “Look, kid, I don’t… Caleb’s… he’s…” Chelsea struggled for a moment, and the final word came out taut and thin, “… gone.”
Adelaide blinked in surprise. “But… where is he?” she asked softly.
“Heck if I know!” Chelsea shouted. The muffled voice spoke again. “Yeah, yeah, I’m sorry, okay? Look, no one knows. Our whole attack on the Shadows was a disaster, and they… they… they took him. And we don’t know where.”
“Are you crying?” Adelaide asked.
“Are you stupid?” Chelsea shot back.
“Well excuse me,” Adelaide said, rolling her eyes. “I was just gonna say, shouldn’t we go save him, instead of crying about it?”
There was a long pause. “Wait, what?” Chelsea finally asked.
“We – should – go – save – him,” Adelaide said, carefully enunciating each word. She grinned. “Hey, come over to my house. I have a plan, okay?”
“You have a plan?” Chelsea asked.
“Yup, sure do,” Adelaide said. “All kinds of cool stuff at my place. We can save him, as long as you let me help you. Plus, I know all about the Shadows. Didn’t Caleb tell you?”
Chelsea sighed. “I could do without your attitude, kid.”
Adelaide sighed back at her. “You can call me Addie, you know. And you know I have super great Birthright Magic. I can make things you can’t find anywhere else!”
There was a long pause, and then Chelsea sighed again. “You have a point. We’ll be right over.”
Adelaide hung up, and then stared at her wall for a moment.
You can’t just disappear, Caleb. You’re too important to too many people.
How did you let them take you? How did your friends let them take you?
No. Chelsea wouldn’t let anyone take Caleb. Which means something went terribly wrong, right?
What do I do about it?
Adelaide thought very carefully, creating numerous things in front of her and then making them disappear. “That won’t work. That wi– no, never mind. That’s cool, but it’s no good. What can I make? How can I help?”
When the door opened, Adelaide sighed and turned to face Chelsea, Lorelei, Gwen, and Will.
And then she put on her confident face.
Can’t let anyone see I’m worried or… well, anything else.
“So?” Chelsea asked, hands on her hips. “What’s the plan?”
“We’re gonna go save Caleb, obviously!” Adelaide said.
“And how are we going to do that?” Lorelei asked. “Do you have an idea of where to look? We’ve spent a long time looking already, and haven’t turned up any leads.”
“What happened, though?” Adelaide asked. “How did they get him and nobody else?”
Chelsea looked like she worked very hard to bite back a mean response. “The whole attack was a sham,” she said bitterly. “They knew we were coming, and somehow they were able to conceal their entire underground city. And in the end… they only fought us so they could grab Caleb. Once they had him… they all vanished, like they didn’t even care about any of us. And no surprise, since they completely sealed off their city – we couldn’t get in, and neither could the other team, no matter what we tried. It was like the city never existed at all. And with Caleb gone…”
“We decided to try and find him,” Lorelei said, placing a gentle hand on Chelsea’s shoulder. “Any leads you have will be incredibly helpful.”
Will nodded, typing a message out on his phone and holding it out:
We’ve exhausted every option we could think of. You’re our last hope.
Now that Adelaide really looked at the four of them, she could see that they’d been through a lot. There were faint scratches and cuts on each of them, and Chelsea especially had soot stains on her face and clothes. A dark, mottled bruise marked Will’s left cheek.
And they all looked terribly exhausted.
They really have been working hard. And they all look so frightened and hopeless.
If Caleb was here…
Well, that’s the whole point. He isn’t here, which means…
Which means someone needs to step up!
Thankfully, in that moment, Adelaide had an idea. “I know where we can go!” she said. “Actually, I have two ideas. We can go to Blaise’s house, or we can go to The Gate.”
Chelsea sighed, and Adelaide could really see how exhausted she was in that simple sound. The way she lowered her gaze, the way her eyes simply drooped instead of glaring, the ragged sound of her breath… Chelsea was totally frayed, physically and emotionally.
“We can’t get into either of those places,” she said. “Delilah found out a few things about The Gate, but then you – sorry, Duo – came along and kept her from figuring it all out.”
Adelaide held out her hand, and a key materialized. “This is the key to Blaise’s house,” she said. “And I also know the code for The Gate. Blaise might have changed his magical locks, but The Gate’s code can’t be changed. It was set up by the Lunar Architects, and the only reason Blaise and his Shadows got to use it was because they figured it out.”
“Hey, you really do know some useful things,” Chelsea said, raising an impressed eyebrow. “Okay. So? Both of those will be heavily guarded, right? Which one do you think is the best path to Caleb?”
“Blaise’s house won’t be guarded,” Adelaide said. “He’s almost never there, anyway, especially recently. And he doesn’t let anyone else inside his house unless they’re with him, so he wouldn’t leave guards behind. But I’m not too sure about that way. He has a way into one of the Shadows’ lairs, but it isn’t as important as the others. So if they have Caleb, they’ll probably hold him under The Gate. What’s that place called…?” Adelaide pursed her lips in thought for a moment, and then smiled. “Right! The Cove! That’s the big prison they have that’s connected to their lair beneath The Gate. If Caleb’s been taken, then he’s almost definitely there.”
“The Cove?” Lorelei asked. “It’s been beneath The Gate all this time?”
“Most people act like it’s just a myth,” Chelsea said. “And I’ve never seen it or heard any credible account of it. So how do you know?”
“Because I was a slave to a Contracted shadow man who was in Blaise’s inner circle,” Adelaide said, like it was totally obvious. “And because Blaise kind of raised me? Sort of, it’s a little complicated because of the shadow man, but anyway, I got to learn all kinds of stuff while I was possessed.”
Chelsea looked at her with shock, and then sympathy. She looked at the others. “Well? Everyone up for busting into The Cove?”
Will held up his phone:
We’ll need back-up.
“And Caleb’s parents are off on some ‘sensitive’ mission,” Chelsea said with a sigh. “So we can’t ask them.”
And most of the others on our side are Guardians. They need to be ready to defend.
“I don’t see why we shouldn’t just go ourselves,” Gwen said, a steely glint in her golden eyes. “If The Gate is as sensitive as it seems, they won’t guard it with foot soldiers like we fought in the Underground. We won’t have to worry about numbers too much. And with the Lunar Festival starting tomorrow, even their strongest mages will be scattered, preparing for their own offensive.”
Lorelei nodded. “They hurt us really badly,” she said. “Our own offensive was a complete disaster. They won’t expect us to attack again so soon.”
Will tapped out a message on his phone:
Can you blame them? Look at us.
“I think I’m getting my second wind,” Chelsea said with a grin. Adelaide smiled herself when she saw that familiar fire in Chelsea’s green eyes.
“At the eleventh hour, the hero arrives,” said a magnetic voice. Everyone turned at the new sound, and all laid eyes on a woman that Adelaide didn’t recognize. As first impressions went, though, she was super cool in Adelaide’s eyes. With white hair and yet fair, unwrinkled skin, she looked old and young at the same time. The way her hair swept to one side to hide her right eye from view made Adelaide instantly want to copy it with her own hair, and the silver color of her visible left eye set her apart, just like Gwen’s golden eyes or Adelaide’s two-toned eyes. She also dressed really cool, with a long black coat and black boots paired with white shirt, pants, and gloves.
And at her side was the coolest and cutest thing in the whole world! Adelaide marveled at the stranger’s fox Summon, who was a little smaller than a medium-sized dog, and seemed to constantly change colors, from white, to blue, to black, to yellow, and more. And those fluffy tails… sometimes there were three, sometimes seven, sometimes only one, and they kept moving back and forth, adding and subtracting in their hypnotic back-and-forth movements.
“Isla!” Chelsea said, staring. “When did you get in here?”
“I’ve been with you the whole time,” Isla said, laughing softly. Her voice was so pleasant, it immediately made Adelaide smile. “Though it’s no surprise you wouldn’t notice. Our favorite magics allow us to go unnoticed.”
“Illusion Magic,” Lorelei said, nodding. It seemed like she’d been wondering what kind of powers Isla used for a while. “But why have you been following us?”
Isla smiled. “Because it seemed like the most fun thing to do after our catastrophic failure,” she said.
Chelsea looked her up and down, frowning. “You’re not even hurt.”
“It’s not in our nature to sustain wounds or injuries,” Isla said, and her fox Summon nuzzled against her leg. “Isn’t that right, Dama?”
“So you didn’t even fight,” Chelsea said with a glare.
“So quick to accusations,” Isla said. “There are many ways to fight. Not all of them put the fighter in danger.”
“We don’t need to argue about all of this,” Gwen said. “Isla, you’re here to help us, right?”
Isla laughed. “I only ever show myself when I offer aid,” she said. “We’re going to The Cove, correct? I so enjoy that place. Though I’ve only seen the east wing. Everything else was –” she sighed ruefully, “outside even our considerable talents to access. But if our little guide knows how to get inside The Gate, we’ll be able to see all sorts of fun things.”
“This isn’t a field trip,” Chelsea said, grumbling.
“Isla,” Lorelei said, “can you hide all of us with your magic, or can you only use it on yourself?”
Isla held up a finger, a glint in her eye. “Miss Frost asks the right questions. I can conceal all of us, unless there’s fighting to be done. And I do have a special talent for the most desperate of times, but Deirdre always tells me not to use it.” She pouted a little.
Will held up his phone for all to see:
Just concealing us will be a big help.
He then typed a new message and tilted his phone for Chelsea to see, though Adelaide could just barely read it, as well:
We’d be glad to have her, right?
Chelsea seemed to read it over multiple times, and then seemed to start a sigh but hold it back at the last minute. She smiled, though it looked forced to Adelaide. “We’d be glad to have you, Isla.”
“Oh, no need to patronize,” Isla said, waving her hand. She turned her silver eye on Adelaide. “Now then, little one, are you prepared? Or is there anything else you need?” She looked up and around, and smiled. “I’m quite enamored by your home. May I come visit again sometime?”
Adelaide grinned. “Thank you!” she said. “And yes, you may. As for what I need…” She paused, thinking carefully. She couldn’t afford to just go running off without thought. In her home, she could make anything.
But out in the rest of the world, her powers were incredibly limited.
In the end, though, if their destination was The Gate, there wasn’t anything she needed. She changed her clothes with a thought, bundling up for the cold outdoor weather, and nodded. “I’m all set!”
Out they went, Chelsea leading the way. Adelaide smiled as she looked at Chelsea and her friends’ backs. All four had arrived at Adelaide’s with slumped shoulders, exhausted and weak. But now they walked tall, heads held high.
Their energy and confidence had returned.
Hope had returned.
That’s the “Caleb effect.” Running around with no idea where to find him must have felt soul-crushing. But now that everyone has an idea of where to go, it feels all exciting and hopeful and stuff.
Just knowing that we’re getting closer to him is enough.
And I helped everyone get there.
You saved me, Caleb. Now I get to return the favor.
And then, once you’re safe, and all the fighting and stuff is over, maybe then…
Well. I don’t wanna get my hopes up.
But I can’t help hoping.
Besides, you promised.
She smiled even more, as hope swelled in her heart.
Dama brushed against her, and Adelaide stared at the fox Summon.
“Do you want to pet him?” Isla asked, smiling down at Adelaide.
Adelaide nodded. “Can I?”
Isla gestured with one hand. “He says you may.”
Adelaide nearly squealed with delight as Dama turned his head back to look at her with those big, black eyes. When she reached out, he came closer, and ducked his head as she rubbed along his head and down the back of his neck.
“We’re always delighted to bring joy to children and children-at-heart,” Isla said.
“Thank you,” Adelaide said breathlessly.
“Aren’t you supposed to dismiss your Summon out in public?” Chelsea asked.
“Illusion Magic is remarkably convenient for Summoners,” Isla said with a smile.
“Speaking of which, when do you want to start concealing us?” Lorelei asked.
“I already have,” Isla said. “I suppose I should explain the rules – those tend to be important. One: talk freely, touch freely, move freely. Two: use magic, and everyone can see.”
“So we can’t use magic at all?” Chelsea asked.
Will held up his phone in response:
Unless we want to be seen.
“But I’m sort of… always using magic,” Gwen said. “How does that apply to me?”
“Enchanted are so intriguing,” Isla said. “Focused displays break the concealment. Subtle undercurrents keep you safe.”
I don’t always totally get it, but I like how she talks. If I can, I wanna be like her when I grow up.
They walked through Grimoire, and for the most part, Adelaide didn’t pay much attention to their surroundings. When she did…
She found herself a little bit conflicted.
On the one hand, she didn’t have any good memories of this city. Most of her time spent outdoors had been while possessed by the shadow man, under Blaise’s supervision.
And on the other hand… there was a lot she didn’t recognize at all.
I was only stuck as a child for…
Oh. I guess it was a pretty long time. If I was born a couple years before Caleb…
Then it’s been, like, fifteen years since I have any real memories of the city? Everything gets all hazy the farther time goes on, until Caleb came and rescued me.
I don’t think Grimoire’s changed that much, though. I think maybe I just…
I’ve never seen it like this, walking around with friends. Even with Caleb, we just walked enough for me to find a house to make my own, and then I was there the whole time.
This city’s… kind of pretty, isn’t it? All old and stuff, with lots of stone and everything’s all cramped together but it still feels nice and spacious somehow. And there are flowers blooming, even though it’s so cold. And everyone seems so much friendlier than I remember.
I kinda get why Chelsea and Caleb and everyone are so determined to save this place. It’s not just home for them, it’s also…
Just really special, all on its own.