Chelsea stared in astonishment as the key seemingly turned on its own, and the labyrinth around her melted away. Colors and lights swirled all around, blinding her for a moment, and then it faded.
And the world was aglow with a pale brilliance.
Snow was falling, all around, gentle and calm. Much of it had already coated the streets and buildings.
All who had been involved in the clearing battle were still together, but now stood at the far end of Grimoire University’s campus, overlooking Grimson Bay to Chelsea’s right, with Grimoire to her left.
Before her was Blaise Mathers, kneeling in the snowy grass, panting and clutching his cane for support. His black dragon lay in the snow between him and Chelsea, unmoving, while his white dragon still stayed near him, doing its best to protect him.
To her right was Lorelei, and Gwen to her left. Across from them, farther off, was the Radiant King on his strangely small throne. Callum was farther still, lying in the snow, and Deirdre and Desmé tended to him. Jacob stood with Stride, Sieglinde, Anastasia, and Doctor – who still carried Galahad on his back – staring at the King and his Gold Knight. Artemis and Hestia were behind Chelsea, watching everything with wary eyes.
And not far off from all of them was Greyson Manor, still transformed, still defended by Oscar’s Summons, while Nyx remained pinned – undefeated, but unable to escape, either.
One was missing.
He must have done it.
“It’s 7:01,” Lorelei said, letting out a relieved sigh. “He did it.”
“No,” Blaise said, staring with wide eyes at the world around him, at the city beyond, a city which still stood, undamaged.
“All has come to naught,” the Radiant King said, his voice etched with weariness. He reached out towards the Gold Knight. “My Knight. Come with me.”
“Don’t!” Artemis cried out, raising her bow.
“Artemis,” the King said, “your sister is no longer yours. She made her choice. Why fight it?”
“So you would rob her of any future choices?” Hestia asked. “We know how to break her Contract, and we will see it undone.”
“Don’t waste your words with him,” Jacob said. He brandished his sword and charged forward.
The Radiant King let out a tired sigh. He reached out, and the gesture looked almost feeble.
The Gold Knight took his hand.
With a flash of golden light, the pair vanished out of sight.
“So he runs?” Stride asked. He shook his head. “After all that… pathetic.”
“He came with so many,” Desmé said, “and yet in the end, he had only her. He realizes he lost.”
“But how?” Lorelei asked. “He was so powerful…”
“And that power seems limited,” Gwen said, staring at the space where the King had been with a thoughtful look on her face. “For all that power, the way he moved made him look very weak, didn’t it?”
“That’s right,” Lorelei said, a gloved hand to her chin, eyes deep in thought. “Something’s very strange about him.”
“Stranger than you know,” Blaise said. He started to reach out to his white dragon. Chelsea raised her lighters, glaring at him.
A blur of motion, followed by a solid thwack! Blaise fell, unconscious, and his dragons vanished.
There to catch him was the one who’d knocked him out: Anastasia.
“Please,” she said, looking to Chelsea as she cradled Blaise in her arms. “Don’t attack him. I… I know what he did. But if you seek vengeance, seek Jormungand. For Blaise, I…” She sighed, looking down at Blaise. “Please. Allow me this last chance to save him from himself.”
Chelsea gritted her teeth, gripping her lighters so tightly her knuckles turned white.
A voice – an echo from a distant memory – sounded far away in the back of Chelsea’s mind. Three words.
Chelsea let out a heavy sigh and pocketed her lighters. She felt a weight softly slide from her shoulders.
“You’ll have to save him under my supervision,” Jacob said, his steps crunching softly in the fresh snow as he crossed to Anastasia and Blaise. “He must be placed into custody. I’ll need your help in dealing with him.”
Anastasia nodded, a ghost of a smile passing across her face.
Chelsea looked out across the Bay, towards The Gate, just a shadow in the night. She felt hands and talons on her shoulders – Lorelei, Gwen, and her owl.
“Caleb’s not back yet,” Chelsea said softly.
Seven days passed. Adelaide returned near midnight on the final day of the Lunar Festival, bringing news of Delilah, Alice, Marcus, and the wild truth – there was a Daylight Bastion on the Moon!
All of the King’s Enforcers – save Neith and Void, who had vanished – were placed into custody or, in the case of the dead, buried together, their gravesite marked by a single headstone that read: “Grimoire’s lost children, returned to her in the end.” As for the King’s Royal Guards, the only one they found was Nyx, who was eventually exhausted from fighting against Oscar’s Summons and was gently subdued, placed into custody with the very best of Guardian Magic used to reinforce her cell. Titan, Platina, and Ignis all remained unaccounted for.
Blaise’s Shadows were rounded up, placed into custody or, in the case of their dead, were identified and given proper burials and markers. For though they had betrayed their city and their fellow mages, they were still dear friends and family of so many. No one wanted to remember them for their final days of wickedness. His greatest allies – Anastasia, Bronn, Sieglinde, Stride, and Doctor – were given pardon for aiding in the fight, but were asked to remain under the watchful eye of Jacob’s Hunters for a time to ensure they were no longer a threat to the city. Anastasia, Sieglinde, and Doctor agreed. Bronn and Stride refused and departed Grimoire, neither saying where they were going.
There were few loyal Hunters who had fallen in the battle, but those who were each received individual ceremonial services, their graves topped with resplendent medals honoring them for their courage to the very end.
When all that was done, the Lunar Festival was restarted and received a proper week of celebrations. Jacob Crowley, along with Callum and Deirdre Greyson, had stepped up to put together explanations for the non-magical civilians of Grimoire, and also to help stabilize the Council of Mages until a new Head could be decided.
But Chelsea had nothing to do with any of that. For seven days, she wandered with Adelaide, Lorelei, Gwen, and Will through the Underground and the city that Blaise had built. High and low they searched, and dozens of others helped as much as they could in the midst of all else that was happening.
But Caleb was nowhere to be found.
“It must be a Time Magic thing,” Lorelei said.
They were all gathered in Adelaide’s house, sitting in a circle on piles of pillows – Adelaide wasn’t much of a fan of chairs – after a long day of searching.
“But then why wouldn’t he just Time Magic himself back?” Adelaide asked. She was glum, not her usual bundle of energy, and was nearly submerged in pillows, with only her head, shoulders, and arms visible.
“Something like this happened before,” Chelsea said, staring at her feet. “Back on Hollow Island…” She sighed, squeezing pillows so hard she nearly tore them open with her fingers. “And after all his stupid training, he still can’t handle his own magic? What’s wrong with him?”
Will held up his phone, with a message on it, but Chelsea didn’t read it. “I don’t need your rational thinking right now,” she said. “I know it’s still dangerous. It’s always been dangerous, and no matter how much stupid training he went through, it would always stay dangerous. But…”
Silence filled the room. No one much felt like talking.
After a while, Will broke the silence, speaking instead of typing messages on his phone: “Should we go talk to Mister Midnight?”
All eyes turned to him.
“What?” he asked blankly. “We don’t really know anything about Time Magic. So we should talk to someone who does.”
Chelsea’s eyes lit up. “And Mister Midnight gave Caleb a whistle,” she said. “Along with the notebook, he gave him a whistle that would call the Goodnight Express to him, no matter where he was, and take him to Midnight Bridge.”
“Do you know where it is?” Adelaide asked, squirming out of her pile of pillows, scattering them all over the place.
“Yeah,” Chelsea said. “He kept it in the same place, and made sure I knew, just…” She paused, her heart caught in her throat.
“Just in case,” he’d said.
I never even thought about that. What it might mean.
Did you know, Caleb? Did you know something might happen to you, so you made sure I’d have some chance of finding you?
But what if Mister Midnight doesn’t even know? What if…
“What are we waiting for?” Adelaide asked, tackling Chelsea from behind, wrapping her little arms around her shoulders. “Let’s go get the whistle and track down Caleb!”
“Right,” Chelsea said. She hopped to her feet, Adelaide coming with her, squealing in delight as she was lifted off the floor on Chelsea’s back.
Together they left, heading out into the snowy streets of Grimoire, united in the same mission, with a singular clue, a singular hope, now guiding them all.
Mister Midnight stood looking out at the Nightmare Citadel. A hollow wind howled through the bleak landscape, causing his long coat to snap outwards like a cape.
So this is where they forced you to live, and forbade me from visiting.
And no wonder they did. What a horrid, vile place for you to live.
“Ready to go?” Shana asked. She stood on the edge of the platform, one foot already on the arching bridge that led to the Citadel atop its rocky peak. Despite the landscape and the dangers that lay in wait, Shana’s eyes shone with light, with hope, with excited energy.
Midnight suppressed a laugh.
Your sister’s a lot like you, kid.
Not that that’s a bad thing.
“Yeah,” he said, following after her. Shias, Kathryn, Rae, and Ben followed as well. They made their silent way across the bridge, their footsteps hollow, drowned out by the howl of the wind and vast emptiness around them.
It’s no wonder they kept me from visiting you. If I’d seen this place…
I would have fought even harder to free you.
Midnight gritted his teeth.
Did I abandon you?
I tried. I tried to come to you. But that wretched King and his wretched magic barred me from this place.
But was I wrong? Did I give up too easily?
After all you’ve been through, if Shana’s right and you’ve succumbed to Collapse…
I’m probably the last person you want to see.
Before he knew it, they’d arrived at the Citadel. The wind, all of a sudden, went completely still.
Silence ruled the night.
Before them stood a dark, arching doorway, whatever door it had once bore gone, evidence by ruined hinges dangling on the edge.
Inside was darkness. A wispy black mist rolled outward, coiling low to the ground, shrinking back even at the dull grey light of the outdoors.
“Let’s go,” Midnight said.
He stepped forward, cursing the pounding of his heart, cursing the worries in his mind.
You’re the one who taught others not to fear.
“Fae?” Shana asked, her astonished tone loud and shrill in the hollow silence. Midnight looked where she looked, and saw their group wasn’t alone in the Nightmare Citadel. Another doorway stood open to their left, and in its pale light stood five others. In the front was a girl, older than Shana, but with the same dark hair and angular features, though she didn’t have the lively eyes of Shana.
“Shana?” the girl asked, staring, pushing up her wide-framed glasses. “Is it… really you?”
“It is!” Shana said, rushing forward. “Oh, I’m so glad –”
Whatever she was going to say was suddenly drowned out as the wind roared in with force. It buffeted all of them, knocking several to their knees.
Not the wind.
Midnight looked up slowly, narrowing his eyes against the powerful gusts that beat against him.
Before him, in the dark, vast emptiness of the Nightmare Citadel, loomed a great shadow. She was one hundred times bigger than the last time Midnight had seen her, her gaze a hundred times fiercer, the feathers of her body like a tattered cloak, lacking the beautiful sheen Midnight had known.
But he knew, despite all that had changed.
“Nocta…” he said softly, staring.
But the word his Summon spoke back stole all hope from his heart.
Delilah stepped off of the White Whale and onto the stone walkway inside the Moon’s Daylight Bastion. Alice joined her, and then Marcus followed them.
“So what are we up to here, anyway?” Alice asked, following as Marcus took the lead. His staff clacked gently on the stone floor, its ring-shaped bells swaying but not chiming.
“There is much to be done,” Marcus said. “The Bastion must be cleaned and repaired. While it has admirably done its duty of defending against the darkness, my absence has taken its toll.” He stopped partway up the stairs, running his fingers along a crack in the wall.
“And we can help with that?” Delilah asked.
“Oh, I believe so,” Marcus said, smiling gently. He continued upward. “There is also the matter of how the darkness managed to infest Earth. This is possible – that’s why the Relays exist, after all – but it still should not happen. We need to know where our defenses are weak, and work to reinforce them. And more than that, we must look to the other Bastions.”
“What do they have to do with us?” Alice asked.
“The Bastions throughout the Enchanted Dominion are the primary line of defense,” Marcus said. “To make a long story short, darkness should never come to Earth. Not unless every Bastion in the Enchanted Dominion is destroyed, and the Moon the only one left to defend Humanity.”
“But somehow it did,” Delilah said.
Marcus nodded, leading them down a different path from the hub room than the girls had taken when they’d been here alone. He didn’t take stairs, but wandered down winding, curved halls of pearlescent stone. “And we must discern the cause of this breach,” he said. “Which will mean visiting other Bastions, speaking with other Paladins.”
“And I’m excited to go on our grand tour,” Alice said, hands shoved in her pockets, feigning casual disinterest, which only made Delilah fight not to laugh as she saw the excitement apparent in the girls’ eyes. “But what are we going to do? You can probably do all that stuff by yourself, can’t you?”
Marcus pushed open a circular stone door, entering a room that looked rather like a gymnasium, in a way. It was domed, with a skylight that looked out into the starry void, a faint blue line showing the edge of Earth that was visible at the moment. There were various alabaster weapons lined on racks against the wall, and a variety of exercise equipment. There were also numerous books on shelves against the walls, and strange implements such as crescent-shaped hand mirrors, miniature Relays, a variety of ornate keys, pocket watches, and rings inset with pearls and white diamonds.
“I cannot do ‘all that stuff’ by myself,” Marcus said, smiling at the girls. “And so I would like to offer you an invitation. You see… I am the only one left of the many who were charged with defending and maintaining the Moon. Most importantly, I am bereft of my most important allies. And so I need to train new ones.”
Delilah’s heart leapt in her chest. Marcus smiled at her.
“I would like to train the two of you as Earth’s newest Sub-Paladins.”
Caleb floated on his back on the surface of the water. Up above him was a strange sky, misty and blue, with brighter blue bolts of lightning that lanced back and forth through the mist. Occasionally he saw shapes, dark and strange.
He could hear the lapping of the waves, the faint whisper of the wind. There was nothing else, save for a distant, slow, rhythmic sound.
Tick… tick… tick… tick…
How long had he been floating here, carried by the current? Caleb didn’t know. He couldn’t move. His thoughts felt heavy and thick, and he couldn’t make out one idea from another, one memory from the next.
Suddenly, a new sensation. Gentle, but unlike what he’d felt for so long.
His head and shoulders had stopped. There was a soft, solid substance beneath them.
What was that sound? It was a new one, unlike the waves, or the wind, or the
Tick… tick… tick… tick…
that he’d heard so much.
That’s what they were. Footsteps, small and light in the sand, but brisk. Someone was walking quite quickly.
Caleb tried, for the first time in so long, to move.
And he could. Every inch of his body felt so heavy, and there was a strange numbness within him. But he wiggled his fingers and toes, started to raise his legs and plant his feet in the sand, ready to try standing.
The sky above was partially blocked out. Caleb blinked, adjusting to something other than misty blue.
There was a face above him. A face he’d never seen before. It belonged to a girl, or a young woman – her age was a riddle, and Caleb struggled to solve it – with deep blue eyes that were alive with a light of their own. She had soft, pale skin, and strands of blue hair hung loose from beneath her hat.
Yes, the hat. That was stranger than the face. The girl wore a short top hat, and it was black, and didn’t seem to be made of cloth, but rather something more solid. For built into it were many small clocks, their gears showing through transparent faces, their hands ticking away, each to their own rhythm rather than in time with each other.
The girl smiled slightly, and spoke. Her voice was clear and kind, musical in a way that warmed Caleb’s heavy heart.
“Welcome ashore, Caleb Greyson,” she said. She held out her hand. On that wrist she wore a pair of watches, one with a white band, the other with a black band. “Time to get up. You have a long journey ahead of you.”
This Ends Arc III: Defenders of Grimoire
The Story Continues in Arc IV: Grand Tour