Chelsea and Lorelei wandered the winding, messy streets of a city turned into a wild, impossible labyrinth. All was shockingly quiet.
“You’d think there would be tons of fights breaking out,” Chelsea said, minding her footing as she crossed a bridge made up of rickety window frames and empty china cabinets.
“Everyone’s probably disoriented,” Lorelei said. “And besides – we don’t know how much of this place actually makes sense. It could be there actually are lots of battles going on all around us, but the labyrinth prevents us from hearing or seeing signs of them until we’re close enough.”
“Well, at least it gives us more of a chance,” Chelsea said. “Splitting us up was a big gamble, but… it might just pay off. Although…”
The Radiant King is just too powerful.
How? What kind of Magic was he wielding?
And what are we going to do to defeat him? Even if we can defeat the Shadows and disable the weapon without fighting the King, eventually the labyrinth will have to come down, and the King will have to be defeated.
How do we do that?
“We’ll find a way,” Lorelei said. She reached up, scratching Chelsea’s owl beneath the chin. “We’ve barely seen the King. Every power can be understood. He thinks he’s a god, but he’s just a human like the rest of us. He’s not all-powerful.”
They climbed a set of winding stairs that looped upside-down. When they did, though, it was as if gravity followed the girls, staying beneath their feet, even when they were upside-down relative to where they’d started. Here they reached an intersection. In each direction, the road didn’t go far before branching off elsewhere, giving them precious few clues to work off of.
“That way looks the most inviting,” Chelsea said, nodding to the right-hand path which threaded through a hall with grassy walls that sprouted all sorts of flowers.
“I think we might need to try and work towards the clock,” Lorelei said, watching the sky – which was now only visible through a gap in the street beneath her feet. “It’s likely that’s the center of the labyrinth, and Isla said the center is where we need to go.”
“I wish I’d done more mazes as a kid,” Chelsea said. “Caleb loved them, filled out tons of maze books. But he’s…”
“Somewhere in here with us,” Lorelei said. “And with luck, Will or his parents are with him. We didn’t end up alone. He probably didn’t, either.”
“We need to try to regroup with everyone,” Chelsea said. She pulled out her phone, staring at the screen. But just as she found earlier, she had no cell service. “You know, Isla could have mixed the cell towers into this labyrinth. That would have been much more polite of her.”
“We have to work with what we’ve got, right?” Lorelei asked, a small smile on her face.
“What are you so chipper about?”
Lorelei laughed softly. “Your forehead still scrunches up when you’re frustrated,” she said. “And I’m always happy if I have you with me.” She raised her left, ungloved hand, and clenched her fingers into a fist.
Chelsea chuckled, holding up her own fist, bumping the back of her hand against Lorelei’s. “Back at you,” she said. “So? You’re the clever one. Which way do we go?”
“Straight ahead,” Lorelei said, striding confidently forward.
“Based on what?” Chelsea asked, following after her.
“A hunch,” Lorelei said with a shrug. She pointed ahead. “Also…”
Chelsea looked. There, rounding the intersection, were nearly a dozen masked, hooded Shadows. Alongside several of them were Pipers, Flutes at the ready.
Without another word, Chelsea, her owl, and Lorelei sprang into battle.
Callum Greyson kept slightly ahead of Jacob Crowley as they crossed the jumbled mess of towers, avoiding a drop into thick, thorny rose bushes. Many of the towers were easy to traverse, displaying their tops prominently. Others were on their sides or tilted at odd angles, providing rounded surfaces and uncertain footing.
None of it was a challenge. But considering present company, Callum had to work hard to keep his focus.
How long can we just march around in stony silence? I’m sure this kind of thing is normal for Jacob, but still…
Do I say anything? What do I say? How do I say it?
How do you talk to someone who hates you for something you didn’t do?
Callum cleared his throat, which turned into an unintentional coughing fit. After recovering, he remained silent for several long seconds, hearing only the sounds of his and Jacob’s footsteps, occasional bursts of breath, and the wildly embarrassed beating of his heart.
Way to go, Callum. Fantastic start to things.
He took in a deep breath, then let it out.
Okay. Here goes.
“You know,” he said, struggling with his tone.
Do I talk casual? Cheerful? Serious? Somber?
“I’ve never held any ill will against you,” he continued.
Jacob continued on in silence.
Seriously? You could at least…
Okay, no, fair enough, you’re always difficult to talk to.
Callum opened his mouth to speak, but was shocked when Jacob finally broke the long silence.
“Your son’s a far better Hunter than you ever were,” he said in his usual stern, serious tone.
But Callum couldn’t help laughing. “Oh, I know it,” he said, shaking his head. “He holds Deirdre and I up as some kind of ‘gold standard,’ but he has no idea.” He sighed. “I’m nowhere near as strong, or creative, or…” he paused, growing serious, “…hopeful as he is.” He smiled again as he cast a glance at Jacob. “But it’s every parent’s dream for their children to surpass them, isn’t it?”
Jacob nodded ever so slightly, responding with only a thoughtful “Mm.”
Might as well keep up this topic, right?
“How’s Madeline?” Callum asked. “Is she safe?”
“She is,” Jacob replied. He leapt atop the side of a tilted tower, and then slid down its length, jumping near the bottom to the top of a different tower.
“That’s good,” Callum said, following the Head of the Hunter Guild’s lead. “Fae doesn’t talk to me, or her mother. So I’m glad she and your daughter have always been such close friends. She posts her art online – some of it, anyway – so… I get to keep seeing how amazing she is. And how much she keeps growing.”
The long silence returned, as the two men continued their path across the seemingly endless sea of towers.
I know Grimoire had a ton of old watch towers, but this seems like they’ve multiplied.
Steadily onward they went, the silence stretching wider and wider between them.
“Jacob,” Callum finally said. “I know how you feel towards me. But I also know that you know… I’ve never stopped hunting for her killer.”
“And you’ve never succeeded,” Jacob replied tersely.
Callum bit back a snarky retort. “I know,” he said. “But Marion, she… I would never have… and you… I just…” He stopped himself, letting out a heavy sigh, shaking his head. “I don’t know how long I’ve thought about having this conversation with you, and I still just… have no clue what to say.”
“So don’t,” Jacob said. He stepped over to a crumbling staircase, climbing it up to the top of another tower. From there, he hopped the slight gap to one toppled on its side, crossing it like a long bridge to the next one.
Why can’t we talk about this? I know how much Marion meant to you. And you know how much she meant to me.
And yet you…
You still think I’m…
Maybe I am responsible. Not in the way you think, but…
“I should have gone with her,” Callum said softly. “Even though she told Deirdre and me not to follow her… even though she rushed away so quickly… if I hadn’t hesitated, I could have followed her. If I hadn’t listened to Deirdre, I could have followed her. And every day… I wonder what could have been, if I’d just done what I wanted to do and stayed with her, even when she told us not to.”
Jacob stopped atop the next tower, and Callum came to a stop behind him.
“I’ve never said,” Jacob said slowly, “I’m sorry.”
Callum stared, shocked into silence.
“I jumped to conclusions on hardly any evidence,” Jacob continued. “I did a poor job as an Investigator. And in truth… I was angry that you and Deirdre were being lined up as the next Heads of the Guild, despite feeling I was best suited for the job, and had much more experience. And Marion… died… on the anniversary of my wife’s death. It all happened at the worst time, and I made foolish choices.” He clenched his hand into a fist, and then shoved it in his pocket. “I’ve never liked you, Greyson. I still don’t. But I never should have leveled the kinds of accusations that I did against you. I never should have positioned us as enemies. And I never should have projected my own guilt at failing to protect – or avenge – Marion onto you. I know the weight you carry, for I carry it myself.” He pulled his hand out of his pocket and placed it on the wall of the tower. “I am sorry. Especially because, knowing all that I know, knowing that you aren’t to blame…” He sighed, bowing his head. When next he spoke, his voice was bristling with barely contained rage.
“I still blame you. And for that, I blame myself all the more. I know I am wrong, and yet this anger will not subside.” He looked back at Callum, his dark eyes fierce. “So forgive me, Greyson. And tread lightly.”
He stepped forth, leaping off of the tower to the next one.
Callum stared for several long seconds before finally following.
Just when I thought we were getting somewhere…
Is there anything else I can do or say? Is there any way I can…
But no. If he’s ever to stop hating me, it’s probably going to come down to something completely outside of my control.
So for now…
I just stay the course. Back him up, and work hard to reunite with others.
“Tread lightly,” I guess.
“We have company,” Jacob said. Callum looked up, and saw farther off across the towers were half a dozen cloaked, masked Shadows. They were in a circle, a pair of Pipers with them, and in the center of the circle were dozens of civilians, still stuck in the thrall of the Pipers’ music.
“Just grunts,” Callum said, tugging his glove Talisman on tight. “We’ll handle this easily and save their captives.”
“Indeed,” Jacob said. He pulled out an old-fashioned key, large and ornate and black as the night. It pulsed with white light, and then transformed into a long, round-bladed sword with a looping, key-style hilt. Jacob spun his sword once, and then charged into battle, with Callum following right behind.
Caleb and Will split up as Void tapped his black cane on the ground.
The sound reverberated in the air, and then the air directly over Void’s head split open, turning into a circular black void. It writhed and swirled with rhythmic intensity, and from it surged inky black tendrils.
“Don’t let them touch you!” Caleb called out to Will, blocking one tendril that went for his friend with a Mobility disc as he leapt away from those that pursued him.
Caleb was all about mobility, and he was far from the same handicapped, inexperienced boy that had fought Void on Midnight Bridge what seemed like so long ago. He could easily evade Void’s snaring attack.
But Will wasn’t at all about mobility. He was often told – sometimes even by Caleb – that he had glue on his shoes. He rarely moved much, and even using Enhancement Magic, he wasn’t able to jump far or run fast.
His skill was in his mind, which is what made his usage of Energy Magic so incredible. But in this kind of fight, he needed to be extra careful.
It doesn’t help that I don’t know what type of Magic Void uses for that portal thing. Is it Containment Magic? That would be my first guess, but that could also be a Conjuring portal, and inside could be a Summon that controls the tendril things. Or it could be Energy Magic of its own, or Mobility in a weird inverse sort of way…
And if we can’t figure out what type of Magic he’s using, Will can’t counter him as effectively.
Will was the type of Energy Magic user who was wildly creative. While many Energy wielders – Caleb’s father included – just used pure masses of energy, superheated and launched as projectiles, there were so many other applications for Energy Magic for the creative and inventive.
In a way, everything was energy. And knowing what types of energy to tap into, how to manipulate it and focus it to your own ends, was the true potential of Energy Magic. And when all Magic was itself energy, if Will knew what type of Magic he was up against, he could directly manipulate his foe’s attacks, turning them back on him.
But if he didn’t know – and guessed wrong – then his own attempts would fail and leave him far too vulnerable.
Still, Will has tricks up his sleeve.
And while neither of us has Guardian Magic, I still have ways to protect him.
“Don’t forget about me, boy,” came the confident voice of Neith. Caleb sprang away as Neith leapt at him directly, launching a spinning kick that Caleb just barely evaded. He formed another disc, bouncing himself down and away from a trap of webs that Neith’s spider had woven behind him.
“Nice instincts,” Neith said, smiling.
She seems even more confident than usual. And –
Neith launched off of the rooftop towards Caleb.
Caleb bounced left, then right, keeping mindful of Void’s position, and soon discovering where Neith’s spider Summon was doing its work.
“Will, hang in there!” he shouted, trying to work his way back around towards his friend. Black tendrils were being repelled by Will’s efforts, and Caleb knew he wasn’t helpless, but…
Things aren’t right. Neith wasn’t this fast before. And Void… he seems stronger, too.
“You’re so sharp,” Neith said, chasing Caleb, using walls, floating doors, her Summon’s webbing, and the odd geometry of Isla’s labyrinth to keep herself airborne just like Caleb. “I didn’t think you’d notice so quickly.”
So it doesn’t just seem that way.
Caleb bounced down towards Will, sending a flurry of chains back behind him to repel Neith. The glass-like sound of them shattering made his heart sink, but if he could even just slow her down, that would be enough.
“Don’t give away our secret,” Void said, his icy voice like frigid nails raking through the air.
“Why not?” Neith asked. “They’ll die anyway. Might as well let them know why they’re so outclassed. And we so rarely get to fight together, brother dear.”
It has to do with them being siblings?
“Besides, this one’s too sharp.” Neith’s voice came too close to Caleb for comfort, and he launched himself skyward.
Not fast enough. Neith’s punch clipped his foot, with enough force on its own to send Caleb careening off track, spinning end-over-end through the air.
Caleb gripped his pocket watch tightly, holding it out overhead. It gleamed with brilliant light, and a white chain shot forth, connecting to a Mobility disc. Caleb held on as the chain drew taut, stopping his wild careening, and then began to swing around, pulling Caleb back towards the fight.
I’ve never tried this before, but it’s working great!
Caleb grinned as he came swinging back into battle, letting the chain loose at the right moment to propel him past Neith and down towards the fight on the ground, just in time to bring up a trio of Mobility discs to block Void’s tendrils from battling through Will’s desperate defense. He came to a skidding, Mobility disc-assisted stop next to his friend.
“Looks like they’re not as easy as we’d hoped,” Caleb said, taking the slightest moment to catch his breath.
“Don’t take us lightly just because we’re Enforcers,” Neith said, stopping too, arms folded across her chest, as if she was gloating over defeated foes. “Void and I are special cases.”
“You talk too much,” Void drawled, sighing.
“Your captivity has made you cranky,” Neith shot back. “I like my foes to know why they lost, don’t you?”
“You’re jumping to conclusions a bit too quickly, don’t you think?” Caleb asked.
Neith scoffed. “You see, boys, Void and I were offered positions as Royal Guards. We only turned them down because we wanted more autonomy.”
“There’s no joy in being restricted to the King’s side most of the time,” Void said.
“And furthermore…” Neith started, staring at her brother. He stared back at her, and Caleb stared in surprise at the tender look they shared.
They truly love each other.
They’re our enemies. They’ve done awful things, and will continue to do so if left unchecked.
They’re a brother and a sister who truly love each other.
“You boys know about Covenant Magic, don’t you?” Neith asked.
“I’ve… heard of it,” Caleb said.
“You know more than that,” Will said, his gaze glued warily to Void. The man had stopped his attack, but the void still gaped over his head, so a new attack could come at any moment. “It’s magic involving rules, which allow for more powerful magic within those limits and restrictions.”
“Oh,” Caleb said, smiling. “Right. So wait, what’s that have to do with you guys?”
“We took that to a higher level,” Neith said. “Our Covenant Magic involves our bond as siblings, as family.”
“Proximity,” Void said.
“Don’t spoil the surprise!” Neith said, glaring at her brother.
“I just want to get to the point,” Void said, shrugging. “I’m sick of conversations.”
“Fair enough,” Neith said, though she seemed to pout a little.
I seriously can’t look at these two the same anymore. This is no good. I shouldn’t be sympathizing with them, should I?
“The closer brother and sister are to each other,” Neith said proudly, “the more powerful our magic becomes. You’ve only ever fought us individually, Caleb Greyson. Now you see just how strong we can really be.”
The most amazing kind of magic I could ever think of.
I have got to tell Shana and Shias about that when I see them next. They’ll love it.
Of course, right now…
“We need a new plan,” Caleb said softly. “Either split them up, or find a way to run.”
“Running’s no good for me,” Will said, nodding to Neith. “Not with her around. She’s too fast.”
Caleb took a moment to think, relieved that the siblings had paused their attack. Then an idea formed, and he grinned. “Oh, don’t worry,” he said. “I can give you a really good boost.”
“I’d rather you didn’t,” Will said.
“You can’t already know what I thought of,” Caleb said, frowning.
“I thought of it before you did,” Will replied with a shrug. “And I don’t like it. You know I get motion sickness. And besides, we have no idea where we’re going in here. Moving too fast isn’t ideal to finding our way out of this labyrinth.”
Caleb sighed. “Well, the only other plan I have involves using Time Magic, and I really shouldn’t.”
“No, you shouldn’t.” Will looked at Neith, then back at Void. “What’s the Time Magic plan?”
“It’s a move I’ve never used before, outside of training,” Caleb said, grinning. “I’ve been dying to use it, but I keep running up against different problems and situations… I just haven’t really had the opportunity. But on the plus side, it actually puts the least pressure on me out of all my different Time Magic abilities… as long as I do it right.”
“Are you confident in its safety?” Will asked.
Caleb grinned, bouncing on the balls of his feet. “Would it change your mind either way? I’m dying to give it a try.”
“What do you need to do it right?” Will asked with a sigh.
“To make sure I don’t screw up the rhythm,” Caleb said. “I thought I had a good sense of rhythm, but when it’s the middle of a battle and there’s all kinds of things to focus on… you know how it is.”
“Isn’t it fun watching them try to strategize their way out of this?” Neith asked, smiling at her brother.
“I’d rather just stop them talking,” Void said with a sigh. He seemed resigned to his sister’s style, despite his desires to just fight.
“I want to see what they come up with,” Neith said. “It’s been a bit too easy so far. And you know I like a challenge.”
“I also know how much trouble it’s gotten you in before,” Void said.
“That was one time,” Neith said, glaring. “And it was hundreds of years ago. Can’t you let that one go?”
“You almost got us both killed.”
“As I recall, that was at least half your fault.”
Neith bobbed her head from side to side, thinking. “Thirty percent.”
Void pursed his lips tightly, then shrugged. “Twenty-five. Still mostly you.”
“You’re not stopping me,” Neith said, smiling.
“Because I know you’ll throw a fit,” Void replied. “And you’re insufferable when you do.”
“Oh, you’re really cranky this time,” Neith said, raising an eyebrow. “What on earth did they do to you?”
“Talk,” Void said. “Just endless talking. It’s exhausting.”
“Yes, you always were such an anti-social boy,” Neith said, chuckling.
“You ready?” Will asked, meeting Caleb’s eyes.
Caleb nodded, grinning. “Oh, I’m ready.”
Neith and Void’s sibling squabble had given the two boys all the time they needed to prepare. With Will’s headphones fitted snugly over Caleb’s ears, and a song of his choice playing on repeat, Caleb was more than ready. He tapped his foot to the steady, upbeat rhythm. Out came his pocket watch, and he spun it in a circle in time with the music.
“Oh, they’re ready for us,” Neith said, pouncing in anticipation.
Caleb stepped out between the two siblings. “Are you watching closely?” he asked, continuing to spin his watch in time with the music. “Because you’re about to see a really exciting magic trick. It’s called the Pendulum Step.”