Chelsea raced ahead of everyone, bounding up the stairs with the aid of Enhancement Magic. She reached the catwalk and raced across it to tackle Caleb in a hug. She opened her mouth to speak, a dozen different remarks on her mind, but words wouldn’t come out. All she could do was hold him tight, finding solace in the fact that he was safe, and that they were reunited.
“Now that’s what I call a heartfelt reunion,” said the strange girl who was with Caleb. “I’m touched.”
Chelsea stared, for such sarcasm coming from such a young girl seemed completely out of place.
“I’m glad to see you, too,” Caleb said, laughing as he hugged Chelsea back. He gestured to the girl. “This is Alice. She’s –”
“My sister!” came the cry from Adelaide. She was here on the catwalk now, too, along with Lorelei. Gwen, Will, and Isla arrived shortly after them.
Sister? But Addie said she had a younger sister, and these two look the same age…
Oh, right. Addie should be fifteen years older than she actually is.
But still… aside from similar hairstyles…
These two seem nothing alike.
If anything, Alice is giving me serious Duo vibes. And I don’t like that one bit.
“You’re a pipsqueak,” Alice said, staring at Adelaide. “I didn’t realize your shadow kept you from aging, too.”
“It’s a long story,” Adelaide said. She stepped forward hesitantly, her initial excitement wavering. “You… um… you don’t look happy to see me.”
Alice shrugged, her lips turning up in a mischievous smirk. “I’m withholding judgment for now. Though the ‘innocent little girl’ angle you’re running with is pretty disappointing, I won’t totally give up on you.”
What the heck is this girl? She’s acting all high and mighty and sophisticated, and…
She’s acting like she liked Addie better when she was Duo.
“Mind explaining what’s going on here?” Chelsea asked, directing her question to Caleb. Her elation at being reunited with him was swiftly evaporating in the presence of the newcomer.
“Well, that’s a bit of a long story,” Caleb said. “I’ll just start from the beginning.”
He explained, then, the strange little journey he’d been on. Being taken to the White Whale’s prison below – and all that entailed, as startling as it was – meeting Doctor, Delilah coming back, Alice’s arrival, and then, finally, explaining the weapon in the shaft.
Will was the first to respond to Caleb’s story, holding up his phone:
If you’re the only one who can walk through walls, then how did Isla see the weapon before?
Isla gazed at the shaft. “There was a door,” she said simply.
“Yeah, they didn’t fully seal it until right before all of you guys attacked in the Underground,” Alice said. “Blaise was going in and out of there all the time until then, making tweaks and modifications up until the last minute. No one else was allowed in.”
“So how come you knew about the weapon?” Chelsea asked.
Alice’s grin was devious. “I don’t let people tell me where I can and can’t go,” she said.
Adelaide took a few more steps forward, pouting. “You’re a lot meaner than I remember,” she said.
“You’re a lot smaller than I remember,” Alice replied dryly.
“I understand, though,” Adelaide said, nodding. “It’s all because of Rabbit. If we do something about him, you won’t be mean anymore. Just like what Caleb did for me, saving me from Shadow-man.”
“Our circumstances aren’t the same, dear sister,” Alice said, rolling her eyes. “Unlike you, I’m not, and have never been, possessed or controlled by an outside force. ‘Rabbit’ – though you should remember his name, since he has one – is my dear friend. Besides…” she sneered at Adelaide, “you weren’t completely possessed by your shadow when I killed our parents. And you weren’t at all upset about that.”
A long silence stretched between the sisters, and in that silence, Chelsea’s mind reeled.
Alice killed her own parents?
She looked at Caleb, who could only nod, a grim look in his eyes.
But she’s just…
She’s so young, and she must have been even younger when she…
But she couldn’t. That’s…
“Why?” Chelsea asked, voicing her thoughts in the barest whisper.
Alice scoffed. “Even innocent little Addie knows why,” she said. “Our parents were monsters. They hated and feared Addie, and they only fawned over me because I hid my powers from them. To think that mages could be frightened of magic. Eventually, we were both sick of them. And we’re both better off without them.”
Chelsea looked to Adelaide, who did nothing to dispute Alice’s claims. She stared back at her sister with a steady, piercing gaze.
Alice groaned. “I’ve had enough of all you killjoys,” she said. “Caleb, you know all you need to know. I’m counting on you to stop Blaise’s weapon. Don’t disappoint me.” She started walking, going right past Adelaide without a second glance.
“Where are you going?” Chelsea asked, standing up straight, a silver lighter in each hand.
Alice stopped, tilting her head to look back at Chelsea over her shoulder. “Oh?” she asked, sneering. “Do you have some sort of problem with me?”
“Where are you going?” Chelsea repeated.
“What’s it to you?” Alice asked.
“Chelsea, it’s okay,” Caleb said calmly.
Why are you always so naïve? Always so trusting?
Is it because she’s a little girl? But you heard it straight from her mouth. She killed her parents. You can see how she’s acting, right? She’s going to kill more. The only reason she wants you to stop the weapon is because it suits her twisted worldview.
“She’s going to see Delilah,” Caleb continued. “Right, Alice?”
“Sure am,” Alice said. “I want to see what she’s gonna do with the White Whale. It should be really interesting.”
She’s going to your sister, who you’ve left all alone, and you’re okay with that?
“I’m going, too,” Adelaide said, stepping between Chelsea and Alice. With her back to her sister, Adelaide shot Chelsea a pleading look.
I know she’s your sister, but…
“What, going to follow me around like a little puppy dog?” Alice asked.
“I prefer kitty cats,” Adelaide replied, with such seriousness that it nearly made Chelsea laugh. “And I only just got you back. I don’t want to lose you again.”
“You never lost me before,” Alice said with a sigh. “Fine. Follow me if you want. Like a shadow.”
“I’m not giving into your childish, immature taunts,” Adelaide said, holding her head high. “Let’s go.”
“Oh, this might actually be fun,” Alice said. She started walking, and Adelaide followed.
“You’re just going to let them go?” Chelsea asked, turning to Caleb.
“Yeah,” Caleb said, watching the girls leave with a small smile on his face. “I think… I think there’s some hope, if Addie’s with her.”
“But she’s… she’s going to your sister, Caleb. You left Delilah all alone, and now that monster is going to her.”
“Delilah’s strong,” Caleb said, his voice flooded with pride. “And more than that… I really don’t think Alice will try to hurt her. She’s done horrible things, but… she seems to be more interested in seeing how things go. She wants to have fun. Now that Addie’s with her, I think there’s hope that her fun can be something more innocent. And though she talks a big game…” Caleb shrugged. “I don’t think she kills unless it’s something really serious. Hearing her talk about her parents, I think the situation is one we’ll never fully understand. It’s wrong, but… maybe if I’d been in those girls’ shoes, at that age, with those parents… maybe I’d understand a little more.”
“You’re out of your mind,” Chelsea said, shaking her head.
“Maybe,” Caleb said. “What she’s done is wrong. I’m not denying that. I’m just saying… when you’re young, and scared, and angry, without even parents that you can rely on… making horrible decisions might be a whole lot easier.”
Chelsea stepped back, looking away.
Yeah. I guess I get that.
If I hadn’t had grandma, and Lorelei’s parents…
What would I have done? What kinds of horrible things would I be regretting now?
Chelsea turned away. “Still,” she said, “I don’t think you should be so cavalier about letting her get near your sister.”
“Delilah can understand the White Whale,” Caleb said. “Doctor and I couldn’t, we couldn’t even tell she was saying anything. But Delilah could. And… well, Alice could, too. I think it’s better to have Alice down there with the White Whale, with Delilah and Addie with her, then for her to be out in the wide world, where we don’t know where she’ll go or what she’ll do.”
“You’re reckless, you know that?” Chelsea asked. “You make too many gambles, betting on people to be nice to each other and to do the right thing.”
Caleb laughed softly. “You might be right about that.” He stepped forward, slipped an arm around Chelsea’s waist. “Thanks for coming to rescue me, by the way. I’m really glad to see you.”
Chelsea scoffed. “You didn’t need rescuing, apparently.”
“Well, you never know what could have happened if you hadn’t shown up. And you brought Addie, so… thanks for that, too. I’m glad she can be with her sister again.”
“She brought us,” Chelsea said. “We were a wreck, honestly. But that kid… she pulled us all together.” She looked up at Caleb. “Seems like you’re a good influence on people.”
Caleb grinned. “I’d hope so.” He looked up at the rest of the group. “So? What’s next? Do we know anything about what’s going on in the city? Do we have any plans?”
“Your parents had teamed up with Jacob Crowley last I heard,” Chelsea said, pulling out her phone. “But I don’t have signal down here. I’m not sure what’s happened since then, but they’ve got lots of people patrolling the Festival. We should join them.”
“They teamed up with Mister Crowley?” Caleb asked, staring. “I… wow. That’s… good. Surprising. But good. Yeah, we should join them. I don’t have to be back here until the last day, anyway, and I’m not exactly keen on waiting around down here. I’d starve to death, for one thing. And…” He turned away, staring at the shaft. “I… don’t want to be around that thing. Not until I have to.”
“Well, we’ll leave all the weird stuff to the girls, then,” Lorelei said, joining Caleb and Chelsea. “And they can leave the fighting to us.”
Caleb nodded. “Sounds good to me.”
Lorelei smiled. “It’s good to have you back.”
They walked away, and Caleb had a brief reunion with Will as they went, Caleb talking while Will responded with silent messages on his phone.
Ahead of the entire group, Isla let out a heavy sigh. “Dama, we didn’t get to do anything,” she said, staring at her fox Summon. “Hopefully we can find somewhere we’re actually needed back above ground.”
Gwen laughed. “All’s well that ends well, isn’t it? I’m sure we’ll all have plenty to do shortly.”
When they ascended back to the platform beneath The Gate, the sun had already set, only the faintest of purple light showing from the western mountains.
Now that they were out from underground, though, Chelsea’s phone went nuts. She pulled it out, checking a series of new messages, all from Deirdre.
Pipers – hundreds – Crater District.
Pipers growing. Uncertain of cause.
Underestimated the enemy.
Forget Crater. Regroup Libra District. Forming new plan. We lost. Again.
Chelsea showed the messages to the entire group quickly, then shoved her phone in her pocket. “So do we go to Libra and join the others?” she asked. “Or how do people feel about taking a detour through Crater?” She pulled out her lighters, spinning them in her hands. “I want to see just how bad things have become.”
Caleb nodded. “Let’s go through there first, then,” he said. Together, the entire group looked south, towards their city. Even with tall cliffs and the silent campus of Grimoire University blocking their view, they could see signs of danger. Lights of many unnatural colors glowed faintly over the horizon.
And with them, rising up into the darkening sky, were many plumes of smoke.