“So what now?” Caleb asked. Their group had gathered inside Greyson Manor’s entrance hall.
Callum grinned, eyes gleaming. “We turn this home into a weapon,” he said.
Caleb stared. “Wait… I thought you were just joking about that,” he said. “Like, it was a convenient excuse to allow you to come protect the house.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t joke about this,” Callum said. He had an air of childish excitement about him.
“But it will take time,” Oscar said, laying a hand on his son’s shoulder. “And you don’t actually know how to do it.”
“So you’ll have to show me,” Callum said.
“How long will it take?” Deirdre asked.
“Several hours at least,” Oscar said. He looked to the younger members of the group. “All of you should rest. You’ve been fighting for a long time, and you’ll need your strength for what’s to come.”
“We should just take a nap in the middle of all of this?” Caleb asked.
“We’re isolated from everyone else,” Deirdre said. “Even once Greyson Manor is transformed, we still should expect quite a fight ahead of us if we want to rejoin the rest of the Grimoire Guard.”
“You haven’t been isolated from everyone,” came a familiar voice. The air shimmered, and Isla appeared, with the softly glowing Dama at her side.
“Isla!” Deirdre exclaimed, beaming at the new arrival. “You’ve been with us this whole time?”
Isla nodded, her usual mysterious smile on her face. “And helping, in our own way.” She cast a glance at Dama, who rubbed his head against her leg.
Deirdre stepped forward, wrapping Isla in a hug. “I’m glad you’re with us,” she said.
“Your joy is reciprocated,” Isla said, hugging her back.
“Well Isla, you should probably get some rest with everyone else,” Callum said. “Not much else for anyone to do until we’re ready. And with the rest of the kids gone, there are rooms to spare.”
“What about everyone else?” Chelsea asked. “Mister Crowley, the Guardian Guild… are they going to be okay?”
“We’re in contact,” Deirdre said, gesturing with her phone. “The Radiance are sticking with their King, and Hollow Hour seems to be keeping everyone in their camps. We’ll need to wait that out, and Jacob’s having the main Grimoire Guard rest as well, taking shifts so everyone can get their strength back.”
“Seems like they’re planning something,” Callum said. “We should be ready to back them up when the time comes.”
While Oscar, Callum, and Deirdre set about their mysterious task of turning Greyson Manor into “a weapon,” the rest of the group split up. Chelsea, Lorelei, and Gwen shared Shana’s room, while Isla slept in Delilah’s room. Caleb and Will used Shias’ room, and camped out on the floor.
“It’s like a slumber party,” Caleb said, laughing as he lay on the floor, propped up on an elbow. “But I think I’m too excited to sleep. I wanna know what Dad and Grandpa are cooking up!”
Will tapped out a message on his phone:
You’re such a kid.
“You’re excited, too,” Caleb said, grinning. He sighed. “It feels good to finally rest. We’ve been through so much recently, having a breather is such a relief. And then tomorrow, we’ll start back up. I wonder where we’ll go. They talked about regrouping with everyone else, but I get the feeling a lot can change in a few hours, with how things are unfolding.”
Just make sure you conserve your Time Magic. Even with all that training, it still puts a huge strain on you.
“Yeah, that’s what I’m trying to do.” Caleb grinned. “I took on Neith one-on-one and almost beat her by myself, without ever using Time Magic.”
You’ve gotten a lot stronger in every way. I’m glad your training paid off.
“Me, too.” Caleb watched as Will took off his headphones and glasses and set them on the floor beside him, finally laying his head back on the pillow. “How are you holding up?”
“Fine,” Will said softly, staring at the ceiling. “I was worried about you, but you’re doing really well.”
“You should worry about yourself now and then,” Caleb said.
“Never need to.” Will’s lips quirked up at the edges. “You’re the troublemaker.”
Caleb laughed. “Well, I’ll worry about you. Somebody’s got to.”
Will nodded. “That’s why I never worry about myself.” He closed his eyes. “Good night.”
Caleb smiled. “Good night.” He lay his head on the pillow and was fast asleep.
Caleb opened his eyes and saw a vast, bright void all around him. He was standing on a platform, which spun steadily in a slow circle. Caleb knew why before he looked down.
The platform was a gear.
The entire place was filled with gears, clock hands, and other mechanisms. Blue sparks of light flashed from one mechanism to another. Clock faces gleamed with light.
On and on, they ticked by.
This place again…
What is it?
Caleb opened his mouth to ask the question –
And was awoken by gentle shaking from Will.
“What is it?” he asked, rubbing his bleary eyes.
“Your dad was just going around saying it’s time,” Will said. He stood, walking to a window and pulling back the curtain. The room didn’t brighten in the slightest. “Looks like there isn’t too much damage, at least in the immediate area. And the Hunter chat on Re-Code is pretty quiet. Seems the others held out just fine.”
“Good,” Caleb said, hopping to his feet. “Well?” He looked at Will, grinning. “Let’s go see what they cooked up.”
Caleb wasn’t expecting actual cooking, but that’s what he got when he went downstairs.
“Breakfast is ready,” Callum said, he and Deirdre going around the dining room table, setting out plates, bowls, and silverware, along with platters of food. “Gotta keep your strength up.”
“I thought you were waking us to show us the Manor’s transformation,” Caleb said.
“Is that my son I hear?” Callum asked, eyeing Caleb teasingly. “Because I’m certain he’s an imposter if he isn’t excited for food when he wakes up.”
Caleb frowned, for a moment. But the delightful smells grabbed him, and the sight of food filling the table began its magnetic pull, drawing him to his seat. Will sat to his left, and Chelsea to his right, and soon the table was full of people in the wee early hours of the morning.
“So Void is still secure in his cell,” Callum said as everyone dug in. “We paid him a visit, and he’s not too happy about his would-be rescuers failing.”
“No surprise there,” Chelsea said. “How’s everyone else?”
“All clear from what we’ve heard,” Callum said. “But that’s just on the defensive side of things. In terms of the situation beyond here and the Libra District camp, things are worsening.”
“The Radiance have linked up with the main Shadow force in Crater District,” Deirdre picked up, allowing Callum a chance to eat. “It seems they have five Royal Guards and eleven Enforcers. Twelve if Void ever rejoins them, but we still have him secure in the Vault, so hopefully we can keep it that way. As for Blaise and his most trusted Shadows…”
“They’re a mystery,” Callum said. “They went to Mathers Manor, which we can’t enter without Blaise letting us in, and that’s not going to happen anytime soon. We think it’s likely he has a passage to the Underground, so they might not even be in the Manor anymore. In truth, Blaise could be anywhere.”
“The situation in Crater District hasn’t changed,” Deirdre said. “And they’ve expanded a little bit, spreading south down Main Street.”
“So they’re trying to move closer to us,” Chelsea said. Deirdre nodded.
“And with the Radiance backing them,” Callum said, “that makes it all the easier. We think, combined, the Shadows and Radiance have over five hundred mages in their ranks. Us, with the trustworthy Hunters and the Guardian Guild combined, number barely one hundred.”
“One hundred and five, with our new additions,” Oscar said. “It seems Octavian is assisting with tactical matters, collaborating with Jacob’s aides. And Hestia and her fellow defectors are going to be part of an offensive push later today.”
“So they really trust them,” Gwen said, so softly that only those closest to her – Caleb, Chelsea, and Lorelei – could hear over the scraping of knives and forks and requests for different things to be passed around the table.
“So there’s a big plan in place?” Caleb asked. He’d been silently listening and eating so far, but now that he’d filled and emptied his entire plate twice over, he was able to slow down and participate in the conversation. “We’re going to make a big push?”
Callum nodded. “It’s a three-pronged assault,” he said. “A small portion of our forces are going after Crater District. They’re going to do their very best to look like a much larger force, attacking on all sides in order to keep the main Shadow forces’ attention on them. Jacob is leading the main portion of the Grimoire Guard to The Gate, where they’ll descend into the Cove and see if they can decipher Blaise’s whereabouts. Failing that, they’ll be able to investigate that entire underground city and hopefully find out what else Blaise has up his sleeve.”
“And the third group is us,” Caleb said. “What’s our move?”
“We’re going after the Radiant King,” Callum said.
Silence filled the room for several long seconds.
“Just like that?” Caleb asked. “We fought against Ignis and the Enforcers, but we still haven’t been tested against the rest of the Royal Guard, let alone the King himself.”
“Which is why we’re not under orders to win,” Callum said. “We’re a testing ground. We go up against the King and his best troops, give them everything we’ve got. If we can win, that’s fantastic. But if we can’t, we can get out of there and bring much-needed information to Jacob and the others to better plan for the next battle.”
“We’re outnumbered,” Chelsea said. “And it was everything for Lorelei and I together to fight against Ignis. We can’t expect any of us to be able to go one-on-one with their Guards.”
“What about Marcus?” Caleb asked. “We haven’t seen him in a long time.”
“He’s been hard at work in his own way,” Callum said. “And when I contacted him last night, he said that he was needed elsewhere. Apparently he knows where Delilah is and what she’s up to, and says he needs to assist her.”
“Delilah?” Caleb asked. He smiled.
That’s good, though. I wish Marcus was with us, but if he can help Delilah, that’s even better.
“Dama and I could fix everything,” Isla said, smiling. “We could simply use Total –”
“No,” Deirdre said, holding up a finger, her expression severe. “You’ve used that once before, and once was more than enough. Only as a very, absolute, desperate, very-very-very last final resort do you use that.” She paused for a moment, then added “please.”
Isla pouted slightly, looked down at Dama in her lap. “No one’s any fun, are they?”
Deirdre sighed. “Anyway, we won’t be going alone,” She and Callum both looked at Gwen, and Caleb knew what was coming next.
Evidently, so did Gwen.
“You can’t be serious,” she said, her golden eyes flashing. “You mean for Hestia and the others to join us?”
“That’s what we were hoping,” Callum said.
“They know the Radiance best,” Deirdre said. “And they weren’t lying about anything when they came to join the Grimoire Guard. They truly have left their King behind, and they mean to defeat him if they can.”
“But I –” Gwen started.
“They can help you – and all of us – defeat the real villains here,” Chelsea said.
“And you can stick with us,” Lorelei said. “They don’t have to fight directly alongside you.”
Gwen stared at the table, a complex string of emotions passing across her face. Slowly, she spoke in a soft, strained voice. “Keep them far from me. If they can help, I’ll be grateful. But I will not fight alongside them.”
“Thank you,” Deirdre said. “We’ll organize our teams better on the way, once they’re here. But Chelsea, Gwen, Lorelei, you’ll be one unit. Caleb, Will, you should probably back them up. Jacob did say the five of you should stay together.”
“Meanwhile, the rest of us can join with Hestia’s team,” Oscar said. “No one goes alone.”
Isla cleared her throat, and Deirdre laughed softly. “Dama and I will do our best to stay close to all of you. But promises are valuable and must not be doled out so easily.”
Caleb heard the words of his teacher in his mind: “You’re far too generous with promises, kid.”
And with that, came memories of his dream, and of where he’d first seen that strange, clock-filled void.
“So!” Callum said suddenly, standing up. “Let’s go fire up the Manor, shall we?”
Caleb cast his worries aside. He could think about dreams and visions another time.
A time when I can ask Mister Midnight. It must be a Time Magic thing, right? He’ll know what it’s all about.
I guess I know where I’m going when Grimoire is saved.
They headed through Greyson Manor, up to the top floor, to a central domed room. It was an observatory, with a glass ceiling, and numerous globes, star charts, and other books and materials about the solar system, planets, stars, and so on.
In the center of the room was a raised platform, on which was a large telescope. Stepping onto the platform, Callum and Oscar stood back-to-back, each with their hands on a sort of control console.
I always thought those were just for controlling the telescope.
“The preliminary work’s been done,” Oscar said. “And while this should be perfectly safe, make sure all of you are within this room, with not the slightest hair dangling out into elsewhere. Greyson Manor hasn’t done this since I was a young man, and she feels a bit rusty of late.”
“Ready, Dad?” Callum asked, grinning.
Oscar laughed. “Ready.”
Father and son gripped their separate control consoles, pressing buttons and turning dials in unison with each other. Sounds echoed through the Manor, faint rumbling, creaking, grinding.
Then both men pulled one last lever.
The floor rumbled loudly, quaking hard enough that everyone stumbled. Caleb fell, catching himself with his hands and pushing back up to his feet. Chelsea swayed, gripping a bookshelf for support.
Isla stood still, rocking from side to side as if she was listening to pleasant music, perfectly in tune with the wild rhythm of Greyson Manor.
And then the quaking stopped. The loud rumbling faded, and now there were only faint, occasional creaks and groans. Caleb looked around, but the observatory hadn’t changed, and neither had the immediately adjacent rooms.
“Over here,” Callum said, eyes gleaming, mouth spread in wide grin. He went to the left side of the room, where a short set of stairs led up to a balcony. He stepped out, and the others followed, squeezing onto the small platform.
Greyson Manor was four stories tall, so he’d been accustomed to its height – he and Shias had hung out on the roof more than once, despite being told not to. But now, looking down, Caleb felt a brief spell of vertigo.
Greyson Manor had grown to twice its original height.
Massive legs of wood, glass, metal, and rock jutted out from what must be the basement and vault, now exposed to open air, with dirt and roots still clinging to the sides. There were a dozen legs in all, springing out from all sides, and they swayed and bounced ever so slightly, lending a sense that they were all aboard a ship on calm waters.
Rooms had rearranged themselves, collapsing onto each other, folding outward, bending and turning and warping in surprising ways. Greyson Manor now had arms, four of them – one in each cardinal direction – that were bulky and double-jointed, lined with tubes that looked suspiciously like cannons.
Meanwhile, the top floor had collapsed inward, rising up as well, turning the observatory and its two adjacent rooms into the “head” of sorts, a command center from which to control the Manor, which was now – much to Caleb’s delight – a giant, mobile robot.
“Please tell me why you’ve never done this before,” Caleb said breathlessly.
“The best secrets are the best-kept secrets,” Callum said, grinning. “And I’ve never done it before, either. The last time it transformed was before I was born.”
“I’ve long looked forward to seeing this look in your eyes,” Oscar said, smiling at his son. “And now I can see it in your eyes as well, Caleb.”
Deirdre pulled out her phone, checked it, put it away. “We’ll meet up with Hestia’s group on the way,” she said. She cast a sidelong glance at her husband. “You do know how to drive this thing, right?”
Callum grinned. “Let’s find out.”