“What’s a Daylight Bastion?”
The question came from Adelaide, who was staring up at the X-shaped star symbol atop the pillar.
“They’re special fortresses against the living darkness,” Delilah said. “But this one’s in such a poor state. Which probably means…”
“It’s not doing its job?” Alice asked.
Delilah felt a cold chill along her spine. Slowly, she nodded.
“We need to see if we can find the Light Catcher,” she said. “That will show us if the Bastion’s functioning properly or not. And…” She looked around at the many different exits from this central room. “We’ll have to see if there’s anyone here. If it’s abandoned, we won’t be able to do much good.”
“If it’s so important, why would people abandon it?” Alice asked.
“That’s what happened at the Library of Solitude,” Delilah said. “Darkness took over the place and they couldn’t fight it back, so they evacuated.”
Alice scoffed. “Cowards.”
“Let’s go this way,” Adelaide said, pointing to the stairs on the far side of the room.
“Why?” Alice asked.
“Because they go up,” Adelaide said, already starting that way. “And I wanna see if we can find the top.”
“Yeah, now that you mention it…” Delilah said, staring up through the glass ceiling at the Earth floating far off in space, “it’s weird that this room isn’t the highest. And…”
And there was that vision Solla showed me. That room also had a glass ceiling, but it wasn’t anything like this one.
And there was that man…
“Hey, big sis,” Alice called, already halfway to the stairs. “You coming?”
Delilah felt her heart swell a little at the phrase. “Yeah, I’m coming!” She rushed after the girls, climbing the stairs with her.
“So what was the Library of Solitude like when it was taken over by darkness?” Alice asked.
“Not like this,” Delilah said, looking up. Their Summons cast different colored lights through the stairwell, but that wasn’t all. Though the lamps weren’t turned on, there was still silvery light leaking in here and there, softly glowing to illuminate their way. “It was darker than you’d believe, and the living darkness was all over the place, blocking off entire corridors at times. This doesn’t seem like a place that’s been taken over.”
“It’s empty,” Adelaide said, “but it’s not… bad. It feels nice. Kind of lonely, but a happy sort of loneliness, you know?”
Delilah nodded. She could feel it, too.
They reached the top of the stairs, coming out into a two-tiered room that made Delilah stop and stare in wonder.
It was a library.
Nothing so grand as the vast spaces of books in the Library of Solitude, but it was clean and organized, and starlight filtering in through scattered skylights cast beams of silver that fell along the bookshelves just right, lending an ethereal, otherworldly weight to the tomes.
“Come on, there are more stairs!” Adelaide said excitedly, turning the corner and starting up the next staircase.
“Yeah,” Delilah said, turning away from the books with effort. “Let’s keep going.”
They ascended twice more, before coming out into a domed intersection that only had stairs leading down and hallways leading out.
“This is probably the top,” Alice said. “So now where?” She looked up at the smooth, stone ceiling, her eyes slowly fading from black to white.
“Straight ahead!” Adelaide said excitedly, starting forward.
“Who made you the captain?” Alice asked. Nevertheless, she followed after her, and Delilah as well.
“I’m not a captain,” Adelaide said, turning around to walk backwards so she could look at Alice and Delilah. She shoved her hands into her pockets in a clear attempt to imitate her younger sister. “I’m a pirate! Argh!”
“Keep walking like that and you’ll fall,” Alice said. “And then you just might need an eyepatch.”
Adelaide’s eyes lit up excitedly. “Ooh, you mean I can actually be required to wear an eyepatch? I thought they were just a costume thing!”
“Seriously?” Alice sighed, shaking her head.
“Something’s different up ahead,” Delilah said, picking up the pace. She started leading, and the girls and Summons followed.
They passed through a cylindrical hallway, and came out into a domed chamber. A glass ceiling above gave a new view of the Earth, slightly larger than it had been in the first room below.
And the lanterns in here were just like the ones from the Lunar Festival – and the ones from Delilah’s vision – attached to silver thread, spherical and floating.
And they were lit.
They weren’t as bright as the ones all around Grimoire at this time of year, but flickered softly, dimly, as if their energy source was on its very last legs. But there was no doubt about it.
“This is the room Solla showed me,” Delilah said, staring.
“I thought she sent you back in time,” Alice said.
“In the vision, the lanterns were bright,” Delilah said. “So, probably. And this is what it’s like now…”
“Is the Light Catcher thing in here?” Alice asked.
Delilah looked around. The walls were smooth, and there seemed to be no corners, no hidden spaces, no doors or halls branching off.
And then she saw, on the far side of the room, a door. It was so smooth, and so worn, that it very nearly blended into the wall entirely. She led the way over to it and ran her hand along it. It was cold, and her hand came away with thick pearlescent dust, revealing the silver below.
“It’s like the doors we came through, right?” Adelaide asked. “You can use your key here.”
Delilah nodded. She dusted off the keyhole, then pulled forth the crescent moon key, inserted it, and turned.
The door swung inward of its own accord. The girls walked through a narrow tunnel with a low ceiling, but it was short, and they soon reached the other side. There they found themselves in a small, circular chamber.
In the center was a Light Catcher.
The silver-framed mirror was familiar to Delilah, after seeing it at the Library of Solitude. This one was exactly the same. As Delilah examined it, she didn’t find anything out of the ordinary. No cracks, like there had been in the Library of Solitude. And unlike the floors and walls, the Light Catcher had no dust on it at all. It was pristine.
“So it’s okay?” Alice asked. “Kind of a weird mirror, though. It doesn’t reflect us or our Summons.”
“The one in the Library was like that, too,” Delilah said. She stood in front of the mirror, staring at it. “And I don’t know if that’s how it’s supposed to be or not. It didn’t reflect us either, but that one was cracked, so I thought the lack of reflections was because it was damaged.”
“So maybe it’s damaged internally?” Alice suggested.
“It’s hard to say without knowing more,” Delilah said. She sighed.
Do we have to search this Bastion for darkness? Do we have to explore every corner of it?
Didn’t Merric say that darkness infested the Library quietly, carefully? By the time they could actually find it physically within their halls, it was too late.
What do I do? I don’t know enough about the Light Catchers, or the Daylight Bastions. There should be a caretaker or something here, but we haven’t found anyone.
All that reading I did in the Library, but it was all about light and darkness, not about the Bastions and Light Catchers and all the technical things I never thought I’d need to know…
“Oi,” Alice said, poking Delilah in the cheek. “Deep thinker. Come on outta there and share.”
Delilah shook her head.
Pull yourself together. Use what you have, and don’t worry about what you don’t have.
“Okay, we need to see if there’s anyone else here,” she said. “That’s the first thing. Second, if there isn’t anyone here, we need to look at the books around here, at all the materials we can find, and see what we can learn about the Light Catchers. We need to make sure it’s working properly.”
“And if it isn’t?” Alice asked.
“Then darkness is already here,” Delilah said.
“Why don’t we skip looking for somebody?” Adelaide asked. “We could just figure out the answers ourselves, right? We already saw some books, so why don’t we check that out, first? Or we could split up and –”
“No splitting up,” Alice said. “That’s what all the people who die in horror movies do. It’s stupid. We don’t know this place at all, so we stick together.”
Delilah smiled. “Right. We stay together and do our best together.”
“Because we’re sisters!” Adelaide said with a cheer.
Alice smirked, casting a teasing look Adelaide’s way. “Are you sure you remember how to read?”
“Hey!” Adelaide said, balling her hands into fists. “I’m older than you, so of course I can read!”
“Guess we’ll find out,” Alice said. She laughed as Adelaide came after her, racing away as her sister flailed her fists around and yelled at her about how mean she was.
Delilah stood watching for a moment, smiling. She looked back into the room with the Light Catcher for a moment before closing the door. Then she ran after them, calling out “Wait for me!”
They went downstairs, finding their way back to the library they’d found earlier. Once Adelaide calmed down, and Alice stopped teasing her, they started perusing the shelves in earnest.
“Any clue why all of these titles are in English?” Alice asked, running her finger along the spines of books. “You’d think they’d be in a bunch of different languages, right? Since this is a Daylight Bastion, it’s probably protecting the entire Earth.”
“I don’t know,” Delilah said. “But it’s convenient, right?”
Delilah found her first clue among the books, a series titled Bastions, Catchers, and their Proper Function, Care, and Use. But her heart fell a bit as she looked at it.
The series was twenty-four volumes long, and each was as thick – with as small print – as an entire dictionary.
“We’re gonna be here forever,” Adelaide groaned, flopping onto a couch. Her displeased expression turned into a smile, though, and she curled in on herself. “This couch is super comfy.”
“Curling up with a book is always fun,” Delilah said, pulling volumes off of the shelf. She handed one to Adelaide, who took it with great reluctance and a pained expression. Alice took another, plopping down next to Adelaide, and Delilah sat on her other side. “See?” Delilah continued with a smile, scooting inward so she was right up against Adelaide. “Nice and cozy.”
Adelaide giggled, tucking her feet under her thighs and leaning against Delilah’s shoulder. She opened the volume Delilah had handed her and began to read.
“You sure these aren’t too difficult for you?” Alice asked, earning a soft kick from Adelaide.
“I can read just fine.”
“And we don’t need to be totally thorough,” Delilah said. “Look for things primarily about Light Catchers, and read those closely. But the rest we can skip over, at least for now. We just need to know how to tell if a Light Catcher is functioning properly. And if not… how to fix it.”
Soon the trio descended into silence, punctuated only by the turning of pages, the shifting of bodies into more comfortable positions, and the occasional sigh. Adelaide got up twice to switch to a new volume, while Delilah and Alice each traded out for new ones once.
Along the way, despite saying that they could skip over anything unrelated to Light Catchers, Delilah kept getting distracted.
It’s all so interesting!
One thing that kept her interest far more than it should have was the subject of Paladins.
They never talked about Paladins at the Library. But apparently that’s what you call the person in charge of a Daylight Bastion, and they get all kinds of amazing abilities to help them combat the darkness.
So Maribelle was a Paladin.
Wait, no. It would have been her mother, right? Lady Kodoka? Unless she’s dead, but no one seems to think she is – she’s just missing, like Maribelle and Annabelle were.
But then why did Maribelle have abilities that seemed particularly suited for fighting the darkness?
Delilah turned a page.
Oh, here we go: “Sub-Paladins.” So a Paladin can form a pact with someone else, and that person gets special abilities – not on par with a Paladin’s, but still strong – to help them combat the darkness.
So Maribelle and all of her sisters must be Sub-Paladins.
And in the back of her mind, in the midst of all the dry information, Delilah couldn’t help but think:
This is so cool!!!
It reminded her of Great Feline Adventures and the Twelve Circles. The Twelve Circles were special groups of warriors, scholars, and artists who specifically directed their talents towards battling against the overarching evil threat of the series: Chaos. Each Circle had a leader who had the most powers against Chaos – like how Felix Feline Felinosis was the First Swordmeowster of the Twelfth Circle. He had the most power against Chaos, but the other swordmeowsters under him were no slouches – as long as they remained committed to the fight against Chaos. Garland Feline Grenwelt, Felix’s second cousin and most trusted Twelfth Circle swordmeowster, had betrayed Felix in the fourth season of the show, joining forces with Chaos in tragic fashion. By doing so, he had lost all of the powers of Order that had been bestowed upon him for as long as he had faithfully served the Twelfth Circle.
So Felix was a Paladin, and Garland was his Sub-Paladin. But he broke his pact, and lost his Sub-Paladin status and powers.
So Mister Midnight must be the Paladin of Midnight Bridge.
Who’s the Paladin for the Moon?
Shouldn’t they be here now, defending their Bastion and keeping the forces of darkness at bay?
Delilah filed those questions away, finally getting back to the task of learning things about Light Catchers. She already knew about how they could be used to communicate with other Daylight Bastions – as long as one knew how, which this volume didn’t explain in detail – but she didn’t know that they could also be used to look within their home Bastion and check on the locations of all those currently inside the premises.
So if we can figure out how to use that, we can see if we’re really all alone here a lot more easily.
But it was Alice who found the most important information.
“Here we go,” she said, switching places with Adelaide so she could sit between her and Delilah. She dragged her finger along the page as she read aloud. “‘A Light Catcher serves as a warning system, in more ways than one. While its warnings of darkness directly infesting its Bastion are clear and impossible to ignore, if darkness has, for some reason, slipped past its guard and infested the regions under its Bastion’s protection –’ I think for the Moon that would mean Earth, ‘– then its warning systems will be much more subdued. Four small crystals are inserted into the Catcher’s frame, one in each corner. If even one of those goes out, it means that darkness has infested the regions under the Bastion’s protection, somehow subverting the Bastion’s guard. If that happens, it is imperative that the darkness be located in said regions, and a Relay be set within it, so that the Light Catcher can temporarily expand its sphere of influence, destroying that darkness and making its regions safe once more.’”
“You’re a really good reader,” Adelaide said, staring at her sister in awe.
Alice looked away, shutting the book. “Thanks,” she muttered. “Anyway, we should go check those crystals, right?”
Delilah nodded. “Right.”
Back up the stairs they went, and into the room with the Light Catcher. Now Delilah noticed the crystals, one in each corner.
Three of them gleamed bright, beautiful white stars on a silver frame.
But the fourth crystal, in the bottom left corner, was dark.