Chelsea followed Adelaide as she led their group through the streets of Grimoire. Final preparations for the Lunar Festival were underway, with merchandise being laid out, attractions being lit up, and sound systems undergoing final checks.
I love this week, every year.
I wish I had the chance to enjoy it this time. But…
But it wouldn’t be right without Caleb. After all…
After all, our relationship started during the Lunar Festival four years ago.
It isn’t at all right without him.
Lorelei bumped her shoulder against Chelsea’s gently. “We’ll set him free,” she said. “And we’ll take care of the Shadows and the Radiance in time for you two to enjoy the Festival together.”
Chelsea chuckled. “I’ll settle for getting him back. But if we can manage to salvage the Festival while we’re at it, I wouldn’t complain.”
Up ahead, Adelaide was bumping up against Will in a playful manner. “Hey, hey,” she said, staring up at him. “Why do you only talk through your phone?”
Will typed away, held up his phone:
This conversation feels eerily familiar.
“Because!” Adelaide started, pouting up at him. “You won’t give me a real answer! You can talk, right? Your voice works, right?”
You already know it does.
“So, then!” Adelaide stomped her foot, growing more agitated with Will’s evasive responses.
I’m a writer. So I prefer writing.
“You’re a writer?” Adelaide’s curiosity overwhelmed her frustration. “What do you write? Can I read any of it?”
You can buy my books at any bookstore in Grimoire.
“I don’t have any money, though!”
Get a job.
“I’m only ten!”
Once we save Caleb, have him buy them for you. You can read them together, since he has a lot of catching up to do.
“Caleb hasn’t even read all your books?” Adelaide gazed up at Will sadly. “But, but, but, he’s your best friend, isn’t he?”
I’m not so sure anymore…
Chelsea could barely suppress her laughter as Adelaide panicked over Will’s responses. Because of his way of communicating, Will was excellent at hiding sarcasm and his own dry brand of humor – and since Adelaide didn’t know him well at all, Chelsea knew just how much Will was enjoying this.
And that playful interaction helped soften the mood of the whole group. The tension and frustration and exhaustion from failing was starting to leave, giving Chelsea and her friends a new focus.
They left the Lunar Festival behind, taking the winding cliffside “hidden staircase” down to Grimson Bay’s sandy shore, and started treading around the right side towards the end, from which they’d approach The Gate.
“You’re really hiding us?” Chelsea asked, watching Isla in awe.
“I have been ever since we left little Addie’s house,” Isla said with that mysterious smile of hers. “Don’t worry. You aren’t supposed to notice.”
“As long as it works…” Chelsea replied.
“It seemed to,” Lorelei said. “Didn’t you notice?”
Gwen nodded. “No one so much as glanced in our direction,” she said. “And we walked through crowds without anyone trying to make way for us. We were ghosts.”
“Ghosts!” Adelaide said, lifting her hands high in excitement. She turned around, staring at Gwen with wide, shocked eyes. “You mean you can be ghosts even if you’re alive?”
“It’s a metaphor,” Chelsea muttered.
“It’s a special kind of ghost,” Gwen said, golden eyes totally serious. “We can’t be ghosts permanently as long as we’re alive, but we can temporarily take on phantom form, allowing us to pass through the world of the living undetected.”
“Way – coooooool!” Adelaide exclaimed, spinning in a circle. She bumped up against Will and tugged on his sleeve. “Hey, hey, did you know about becoming temporary ghosts?”
Will typed away, then held up his phone:
Are you sure it’s temporary?
“Whoa!” Adelaide shouted. “So scary!” She didn’t seem remotely scared though, judging by her giant grin.
Their group stopped at the edge of the beach, looking out towards The Gate. Several rocky islands – ruins from a bygone age – formed widely space platforms that would be easy to cross with a bit of Enhancement Magic.
“Allow me to handle the crossing,” Isla said. “Or, rather, allow Dama. If you please, dear one.” She gestured to her fox Summon, whose eyes glinted with mischief. He stepped forward, and as he walked into the water, he actually walked atop it, a shimmering, multicolored bridge appearing beneath his feet as he went. Isla hopped atop it and followed after her Summon, gesturing for the others to follow.
Their footsteps on the bridge were soundless, and any water that lapped up above the bridge’s height simply broke away, not touching the bridge or those crossing it. The frigid wind had torn at them while they walked on the bridge, but now only its sound remained, leaving Chelsea and the others to cross in a remarkable stillness.
“Mobility Magic?” Lorelei asked.
“Who can say?” Isla said, spreading her hands as she shrugged. “One can never know when an Illusion Mage is hiding their true abilities.”
I really don’t need you encouraging me to question whether things are real or not right now.
They stepped off onto the platform below The Gate, and that felt real enough to Chelsea. So did the wind as it returned to lash at her face, its stinging chill somehow slightly comforting.
This is Grimoire, every year around this time. It’s so cold it can hurt.
It’s colder than last year, too, for being so early.
But I love it.
“Now it’s my turn!” Adelaide said, climbing up the pedestal. The rest gathered around, watching as she rubbed at what appeared to be dust and dirt on the bottom of the strange stonework. Her rubbing revealed a set of black dots, and as Adelaide touched them, she was able to rearrange them.
What started as a long line that looked rather like Morse code slowly transformed into a spiraling, circular pattern that looked like a very limited attempt at a portrait of someone’s face. With one final movement, as if sticking the nose onto a snowman’s malleable face, Adelaide stepped back.
The pedestal rumbled slightly, and then melted. Heavy, solid stone melted like wax, rolling away like miniature waves, revealing a circular opening to a descending spiral staircase.
“Why don’t they have any guards?” Lorelei asked.
“They’re probably busy going on the attack,” Adelaide said. “They think they beat you up already. Why would they worry about protecting themselves against you?”
“If there are guards, they’ll be farther down,” Gwen said. “Lurking in the darkness, waiting to see just who has arrived.”
“And see they won’t, thanks to Dama and me,” Isla said. She was the first onto the stairs, with Dama close behind. “Stay nearby, friends. It’s easier to hide everyone when we’re close as kin.”
Down they went, leaving sunlight and wind and waves behind, trading them in for darkness and silence. Dama was their only source of light, and Chelsea couldn’t wrap her mind around the fact that light from Isla’s Summon could also be hidden by her Illusion Magic.
I came so naturally to Fire Magic that I didn’t spend much time studying other Classes. And when I did, I focused on what would help me in combat. Even then… Illusion Magic was always so impenetrable. I remember trying to learn it when I wanted to hide the first love letter Caleb gave me…
Wow, I was so much more easily embarrassed back then.
And I still don’t understand Illusion Magic in the slightest.
The stairs went down for several hundreds of feet before suddenly leveling off into a spacious circular room.
Branching off from that room were ten separate corridors, each one vanishing around a corner or descending too quickly to derive any clues as to where they went.
Each one, save one. To the left as they came down the stairs, one of the corridors branching off from this room was wider than the rest. Above its arched entrance was a dangling metal ornament – an anchor. And beyond, down the hall, metal-barred lamps lit the path, which widened near the end as it reached a wall, branching to the left and right.
“That’s the way to The Cove,” Adelaide said, pointing.
“This was way too easy,” Chelsea said.
“That’s because of our new friend,” Gwen said. “We’re grateful for your assistance, Isla. Shall we continue?”
“Let’s,” Isla said, strolling ahead as if she were heading to a picnic. Chelsea followed with the rest, but internally she began to worry and fret.
This had been too easy. And it made some logical sense – why would the Shadows worry about protecting their base so much when they’d just defeated their opponents? It was the perfect time for a counterstrike – and indeed, they were supposed to begin their own attack at the Lunar Festival’s beginning, so it was likely many of them were gone enacting that plan.
But everyone? Not even a single guard at the bottom of the stairs? They were heading into the legendary Cove, the magical prison that was said to house the most dangerous criminals in Grimoire because there was nowhere else that could house them. It was the magic-trapper, the place where no magic availed any who attempted to escape.
And yet Chelsea and her allies were practically waltzing in, without a care in the world. Was this the power of Illusion Magic? Isla was a member of the Council of Mages, and thus one of the most powerful mages in Grimoire. It was certainly possible she was able to facilitate this.
But Chelsea couldn’t shake off the sinking suspicion that they were walking into a trap.
Not much point saying so, though. We need to be here. We need to save Caleb. There’s no turning back from this.
Caleb stared down at his sister, kneeling atop the White Whale. The defiant glare in her eyes was a look he’d never seen before.
Delilah was serious. More serious than she’d ever been.
“What do you mean, this place is a prison for the White Whale?” Doctor asked, his calm façade fraying at the edges. He pushed up his glasses. “Young lady, what in the world do you think you’re saying?”
“The truth,” Delilah said. “She’s in pain, and this is her prison. I’m going to get her out of here.”
“You can’t!” Doctor shouted. “She’s our only hope for survival!”
“Delilah,” Caleb said. “You have a plan, don’t you?”
Delilah nodded. “And I’m not turning away from it.”
Caleb smiled. “Okay. What do you need from me?”
“You can’t do this!” Doctor cried. “This is –”
The new voice was that of a young girl, and its tone was dry and sarcastic. Caleb and Doctor turned at the new arrival. Rounding one of the towers, she was around the same height as Delilah, and looked younger – right around Adelaide’s age, Caleb thought. She had dark hair that was shorn nearly to the skin on the left side, while the right side was thick and messy, hanging down almost shoulder-length.
Her hairstyle’s kind of like Addie’s, too…
The girl wore a black buttoned shirt under a white waistcoat. The shirt had the top three buttons undone, and the white tie around the neck was very loose and askew. Her black pants were tucked into low white boots with silver laces. Her left ear, the one visible thanks to her short hair on that side, bore two small metal earrings, simple loops of unadorned metal, one white, one black.
What stuck out to Caleb the most were the girl’s eyes. They seemed to be at one moment pure black, like staring into a bottomless void. Then the next moment they were stark white, like looking across an endless expanse of snow.
And the smile she wore on her face was something more suited to a more mature individual, one that was simultaneously amused and mocking, with a subtlety beyond the girl’s age.
“You –” Doctor started, and Caleb felt a trickle of horror run through him at the stark fear in Doctor’s voice. And that fear brought a memory to Caleb’s mind.
There was one who was among the Shadows that we never had a name for. Bronn just called her “her” on the phone with Blaise. And he seemed to be worried, or even afraid, at the idea of “her” being let loose.
Could he have been talking about… this girl?
She’s so young. But…
There’s something very unnerving about her.
“Hello, Doctor,” the girl said, cocking her head to the side, eyeing him with a sudden – and, to Caleb’s eyes, fake – expression of innocence. “Don’t look so startled. I’m not gonna hurt you.” Her unnerving smile returned. “Not unless it suits me.”
“How did you get free?” Doctor asked.
The girl pursed her lips, furrowed her brow. “I wasn’t aware I was a prisoner. No one told me I wasn’t allowed to come out and play. Though they might have tried.” She smiled, showing her teeth, “I just might not have let them finish their sentence.”
“Who are you?” Caleb asked.
The girl looked at Caleb, her eyes flicking from black to white then back to black and settling there. “I came here for you,” she said. “You have a very interesting ability, and I need it for something. But first…” She walked past him, leaping over the rail and dropping down next to Delilah. Caleb rushed to the rail, gripping it tight with one hand while his other held his pocket watch.
The girl stood next to Delilah, staring down at her while Delilah stayed kneeling, one hand against the skin of the White Whale. For several tense seconds, no one moved or made a sound. Then the new girl shoved her hands in her pockets and gave Delilah an approving nod. “You can hear her voice too, then?”
Delilah nodded back at her. “Yes.”
“Yeah,” the girl said with a sigh, looking up at Caleb and Doctor. “They can’t understand.”
“Then you know she’s in pain?” Delilah asked. “Can you help me free her?”
The girl bobbed her head from side to side, then chuckled. “Not sure,” she said. “If it suits me, I might. I have something else to take care of, first.” She cast a sidelong glance at Delilah. “But why do you want to set her free? What’s her pain to you?”
“It’s not just her pain,” Delilah said, “though that’s horrible enough. She needs to be reunited with –”
“The Doomed Beast, yeah,” the girl finished. “But what’s it to you?”
“She called out to me.”
The girl raised an eyebrow. “You mean outside of this place, don’t you?” she asked.
Delilah nodded. “I was much farther away, but she… she brought me here. She asked for my help.”
“And you just help someone because they ask for it?” The girl smirked. “You’re awfully generous.” She tilted her head back, looking up at Caleb again. Her eyes changed to white. “Hey, you wanna go for a little trip?”
“Where to?” Caleb asked.
The girl flexed her legs, and –
It took Caleb longer to process what happened than it did for the girl to return to the viewing platform where Caleb stood. There had been a flash of light, and the girl had blurred, shooting upward with grace that belied the speed she moved at.
But that flash…
“You’re a Summoner,” Caleb murmured.
The girl raised an eyebrow. “You sure you didn’t cheat with Time Magic to see that?” she asked. Caleb shook his head, and she replied with a low whistle. “Sharp eyes. Well, don’t go telling too many people.” She leaned out over the rail. “Hey girl, what’s your name?”
“Delilah,” Delilah replied.
The girl smiled. “Cute. I’m Alice. Don’t run off, okay? Even if I don’t help you, I’m curious about what you’re gonna do.” She turned to Doctor, smirked, and stepped towards him. He stepped back, lifting his hands in a pleading gesture. Alice burst out laughing. “You’re too much fun, Doc. Come on, Caleb. If you help me out with something, you can see your friends.”
Caleb stared at the departing Alice, and then looked out over the rail at Delilah. “You gonna be okay?” he asked.
Delilah pulled out her keychain Talisman, and four Felines sprang to life, surrounding their Summoner. “We’ll be just fine,” she said with a smile.
Caleb smiled back at her, nodded to Doctor, and then left, following Alice.
I can “see” my friends. Does that mean I can leave? Does that mean they’re here, too?
If Alice’s name is such a normal one, why do the Shadows not call her by a name at all? Why are they so afraid of her? Doctor looked terrified just by her getting close to him.
She’s a Summoner. I could figure that much out, but I couldn’t manage to get a proper look at her Summon. Is that what’s so frightening about her?
“You think too loud,” Alice said, climbing staircase after staircase.
“I… what?” Caleb asked, utterly taken aback.
“You – think – too – loud,” Alice repeated, much more slowly.
“What’s so funny?”
“I’ve never heard anyone say that before,” Caleb said.
Alice shrugged. “Hey, I’m not wrong about you, am I? You can walk through walls and other solid things, right?”
Caleb blinked, surprised that she could know such a thing. “Yes,” he said. “Is that why you need me?”
Alice nodded. “You don’t like these Shadow guys, right?” she asked. “See, I kind of liked them – or at least I liked Blaise, he’s interesting – but I’ve finally gotten sick of them. They’re sort of fun to toy with, but I thought what could really make things fun is if I go out with a bang. So I want to totally dismantle their superweapon. Blowing up part of Grimoire’s so… boring. And they’ll be more fun panicking and freaking out over my ‘betrayal’ than they will be celebrating their victory.”
“You’re all about fun, huh?” Caleb asked.
“Duh,” Alice replied. “Who isn’t? If you’re not having fun, what’s the point?”
Something about the girl’s desire for fun tickled a feeling in the back of Caleb’s mind, but he couldn’t quite place it.
“So?” Alice asked. “You wanna stop the superweapon, right? Save your beloved city from destruction and all that?”
Caleb nodded. “Of course.”
Alice chuckled. “Then we’ll make a great – temporary – team. Hey, here’s the way out.”
They hadn’t been climbing nearly as long as Caleb expected, but now Alice led him to a wall. An actual wall, in a place where Caleb had never been able to see walls, just the many narrow towers. Now they stood, with the mist parting on either side of them, before a stark white wall, in which was embedded a silver door.
“That was too easy,” Caleb said.
“Did Doc say you wouldn’t be able to escape?” Alice asked. “He’s probably right. Finding the door’s impossible, unless someone who already knows where it is shows you, and they can’t know unless someone showed them, or they were conscious when they came from the other side. Well, now you know. Come on.”
Alice opened the door, and they passed through from the coolness of the White Whale’s prison to a dark, warm stone chamber. Opposite them was a metal open-faced lift, leading up a shaft that Caleb couldn’t see the top of.
“We’re only going halfway up,” Alice said, boarding the lift and placing a hand against the lever inside. “Come on, it won’t take long.” Caleb boarded, and Alice pushed the lever, spurring the lift into an ascent. It was loud and bumpy, but Caleb got the sense that it was stable.
If it wasn’t, why use a hazardous lift in such an important place?
“Say, Caleb,” Alice said. “Have you ever killed anyone?”
Caleb stared at the blurry wall as they zipped upward for several seconds, shocked at the question. Slowly, he shook his head. “No,” he said, his mouth suddenly very dry.
Alice sighed. “Then you wouldn’t understand. I could try to explain, though. Why I want to destroy the superweapon, I mean. Well, in a nutshell… killing a whole bunch of people who might as well be nameless and faceless to you because they’re just a giant crowd is such a bore. Where’s the fun in that? Where’s the game? Where’s the excitement? There isn’t any. Killing, it’s… it shouldn’t be so impersonal. You gotta know the people you kill, or you gotta at least be able to see them up close, learn their name or something about them before the end. Does that make sense?”
In the midst of Caleb’s horror at a little girl spouting such grotesqueries, a lightbulb went off in his mind.
“You…” Caleb started slowly, “killed your parents. Didn’t you?”
Alice stared up at him, eyes stark white, wide with surprise. “How’d you figure that out? Are you a genius or something? Prodigy detective?”
“Do you have a sister?” Caleb asked.
“Ohhhh!” Alice exclaimed, even more impressed. “You’re totally brilliant! How’d you figure that out? That’s amazing!”
This is insane. She’s just a kid. How is she like this?
But given that she killed her own parents…
Maybe it isn’t so surprising. She would have been much younger when she did that, too.
Something like that…
It would twist the soul, wouldn’t it?
“Your sister was possessed,” Caleb said. “But she isn’t anymore. She’s safe and healthy and back to her own senses.”
Alice leaned back against the edge of the lift, her excitement waning. “Really? But she was so interesting as Duo. She was fun. She even brought people to play with me.” She let out a heavy sigh. “You’re a total goody two-shoes meddler, just like they say. But then again…” Her eyes turned black and seemed to sparkle slightly. “This is unpredictable. It’s different. Maybe it’ll be exciting, after all. Who knows?” She looked up. “Oh, looks like we’re here.” She hit the lever, and the lift came to a screeching stop. Before them was a narrow stone corridor, lit sparsely by caged lanterns.
“You might be surprised by what you find,” Alice said, offering Caleb a smirk as she passed him to lead the way.
She was right. The corridor wasn’t very long, and when it opened up at the end, Caleb stared in shock.
“It’s the… underground city,” he said, gaping. “But we couldn’t find it. Its entrances were gone, and…”
“Intriguing, isn’t it?” Alice asked.
They stood at the top layer, the top tier, of the underground city, and it was as massive as Isla had described. The distance from this side to the opposite must have been at least a mile, and it was all astounding, but…
It was also empty.
“Where is everyone?” Caleb asked.
“All gone, no doubt,” Alice said. “It’s time for the Lunar Festival to start. It’s only me and Doc, and maybe a few others, down here.” She continued on ahead, towards the metal catwalk directly before them. “Come on, the weapon’s in here.”
Caleb followed, gawking at the cylindrical shaft that loomed in the center of the underground city. It was featureless as far as he could see, and went up through the ceiling, and down…
Caleb stared down. All the way past the seventh tier below, even past the under-construction eighth, there was…
“You’ve never seen a bottomless pit before, huh?” Alice asked.
“No, can’t say I have,” Caleb said. He’d seen different kinds of emptiness in his Enchanted Dominion travels, but this…
It was unsettling. This was Earth. It was a planet he knew all about, a planet that made sense, that didn’t do crazy things like this, didn’t play tricks with his perception like the Enchanted Dominion, the “World of Magic,” did. If he was staring at a “bottomless” pit, it shouldn’t be bottomless. He should be able to see the planet’s core, or out to the sky on the other side of the world. Not just…
Here it was, on planet Earth: a bottomless pit, into which a massive shaft descended, beyond where the eye could see.
“Come on, come on,” Alice said, tapping her shoe against the metal. “You said you’d help me. Don’t dawdle.”
She has an impressive vocabulary for her age.
The silly thought struck Caleb in the midst of all of this wonder, all of this fear, all of this uncertainty, and he suppressed a laugh.
No matter where I go or what I face, I can’t quite shake my sense of humor, huh?
The trek across the catwalk took a much longer time than it at first seemed it would, and that time helped Caleb to truly grasp the magnificent scale of this place, and of his destination.
Every step, the shaft loomed larger and the empty expanse around him felt more pervasive.
Every step, he felt like he was crossing into another world. And he wasn’t at all sure what he would find there.
Finally, they stood before the shaft’s wall. There was no door, no window, no seam. It was completely sealed.
“You can get us through here, right?” Alice asked, knocking her knuckles against the stone.
“I’ve never…” Caleb started, turning his watch over and over in his hand, “I’ve never tried it with a passenger. And the only time I tried something different with passengers, the side effects on them were… unpleasant.”
“Sounds fun,” Alice said, grinning. “Come on, let’s go! I want to experience something no one else has, and I can’t explain everything without being in there with you.”
I guess… I have to try.
Come to think of it, Mister Midnight Phase Stepped with me, Adelaida, and Mineria back at The Brig. None of us came away with any unpleasant side effects, aside from a startling sense of disorientation, but that was just from seeming to teleport without warning.
“Okay,” Caleb said, holding out his hand. “Let’s give it a try.”
“Yay!” Alice cheered, taking Caleb’s hand and seeming for all the world like just an excited little girl.
Caleb focused his mind, turned his watch over once in his hand, and then stepped forward.
Time stopped. As soon as it did, Caleb started counting internally, keeping his mind on his own limits. He looked at Alice, who held his hand, and she was completely unmoving. But when he pulled her, even gently, she moved as if completely weightless.
That makes things easy.
And Mister Midnight did say… something like “when you warp time, you break the rules of reality, and reality warps with you.”
Caleb lifted Alice, holding her protectively in his arms, and then stepped through the stone wall of the shaft. For two whole steps, all was completely dark.
And then he emerged into light.
Caleb ended his Phase Step, setting Alice on the floor beside him. She gasped as time resumed its flow, and then jumped up and down twice, grinning from ear to ear. “That was totally amazing!” she said, squealing as she did a little dance. “Wow! We have got to do that again!”
“We’ll have to when we leave,” Caleb murmured absently. His mind was focused on what was before him.
A pulsating, gelatinous mass filled the shaft. Only the barest space was available around the perimeter, where a metal catwalk allowed for standing and walking, but otherwise…
The shaft was very full.
The inconsistent mass pulsed and twisted, expanded and contracted, all the while changing colors from blue to red to black to white. Every now and then, pieces of it would look like body parts – eyes, fingers, toes, ears, mouths – but those would fade so quickly Caleb couldn’t be sure what he was seeing was really there. Things seemed to float inside it, but then they seemed to swirl on the surface, and then there seemed to be nothing at all.
“What…” Caleb started, but he couldn’t finish his question. He couldn’t think of what to ask, where to start.
“The ‘what’ isn’t very important,” Alice said with shocking nonchalance. “But if you’re curious, I have no idea.”
“The point is,” Alice continued, “it’s going to shoot up through this shaft, burst out into Crater District, and destroy everything in its path. And you want to stop that. And I do, too. Kind of. Enough to help you, anyway.”
“How do we stop it?” Caleb asked.
“With your fancy phasing power,” Alice said. She stretched out her hand, placing it against the contorting mass. “Watch here. This, and three other spots around this walk, don’t move at all. They don’t change, no matter how much the rest of the weapon changes.”
Caleb had to stare for a long time to see what she was talking about, but once he did, he could clearly see the other spots without Alice indicating them to him. While the weapon continued to twist and writhe, there were four lumps that remained the same, unmoving, not even changing color with the rest of the weapon.
“Inside each of these is a Talisman,” Alice said. “You remove the Talismans, and the weapon is completely crippled, its magic gone. It can’t do anything.”
“It’s powered by Talismans?” Caleb asked. “I thought only humans used them.”
“Weird, right?” Alice said, staring up the shaft at the endless bulk of the superweapon. “But that’s how it works. Thing is –” she rapped her knuckles against the lump, and it resounded as if she was knocking on stone, “nothing can bust these open. You can’t disarm the weapon. Or at least, that’s how it was designed. But you’ve got a super special skill that lets you do what the designer thought was impossible.”
“Someone designed this?” Caleb asked.
Alice nodded. “It was Blaise, of course,” she said. “Dunno how, though. He’s too secretive. But anyway, disarming it’s easy now that you’re around.”
“So I just –” Caleb started, reaching out. Alice smacked his hand away.
“Sorry!” she said, giggling in a sort of embarrassed tone. Her eyes flickered from black to white and back again multiple times in quick succession. “I forgot one thing. If you remove the Talismans too early, the weapon explodes here, and sends an explosion up through the shaft that’s more destructive than what would happen otherwise.”
You should have said that right away!
“So when’s the right time?” Caleb asked.
“Seven PM, on the final night of the Lunar Festival,” Alice said.
That makes sense. It’s horrifying, but it makes sense.
That’s when the main event occurs, the closing ceremonies. And it all takes place in Crater District, on a huge stage, with seating enough for the entire city.
That’s when the most possible people will be in the same place. That’s the best time for the weapon to fire.
“When’s the weapon set to go off?” Caleb asked.
“Seven-oh-one, the same night,” Alice said. “So you’d better be quick.”
“Nobody else can even get in here, can they?” Caleb asked, looking up and then down at the vast height and depth.
“Blaise can,” Alice said. “Dunno how. He’s got secret entrances to everything. But even he can’t disarm the weapon. And he doesn’t think anyone can.”
“So how did you know I could?” Caleb asked.
Alice grinned. “I’m pretty secretive myself, when I wanna be,” she said. “But I’ll give you a hint: I have a special friend who tells me special secrets.”
Fine. Keep your secrets.
“Is there anything else I should know?” Caleb asked.
“Nope,” Alice said. “Just make sure you’re here at the right time, and you’re quick. Though being fast should be easier for you than anyone, Mister Time Mage.” She walked around the catwalk to the opposite side from where they entered, and held her hand out. “Come on, let’s get outta here. You’ll get to see your friends now, if you’re quick enough.”
Caleb followed, took her hand and Phase Stepped through the shaft. Out on the other side, he placed Alice on the catwalk, and then followed as she led the way forward.
“You’re curious how you couldn’t get into this city when your teams attacked the Underground, aren’t you?” Alice asked.
“That’s one of the big mysteries,” Caleb said.
Though currently, there are way too many big mysteries.
“It’s a special city, I’ll tell you that much,” Alice said. “Some people might say it’s alive. Though I guess that depends on your perspective. But the point is…” Alice smirked over her shoulder, “it gets to decide who enters and who leaves. And it can change its mind whenever it wants.”
Caleb was about to ask more, but then Alice stopped, leaning out over the railing and pointing down. “Check out the view,” she said. “A sight for sore eyes, I’d say.”
Caleb looked down with her, and his heart leapt in his chest. Way down, on the third tier below, he saw a group of people he’d know anywhere, from any distance.
Chelsea, Lorelei, Will, and Gwen were there. And it seemed like Isla and…
“Addie,” Caleb said softly.
Alice looked at him, then looked down. “Oh,” she said softly. “You mean…” She was silent for a moment, then chuckled. “My sister’s down there, huh? Well. I guess this is an exciting day for us both.”