Fae, Madeline, Mercury, Jupiter, Neptune, and Gerick convened outside Gerick’s tent under an improvised tarp canopy that kept the rain at bay.
There was a lot to talk about. The first thing, as often went first when there were people meeting for the first time, was introductions. Fae and Madeline were the best of friends, but Madeline had yet to meet any of Fae’s companions, though of course she knew the Star sisters as the band Falling Stars.
And then there was the one that no one here had met, save Madeline – the lavender raven Summon perched on her shoulder.
“This is Raven,” Madeline said, smiling as the Summon trilled softly in greeting. “We just met on the way here.” She looked a little hesitant, and then sighed. “I suppose it makes sense that I should tell all of you about my journey here. After all, I’m going to want to know everything about what you’ve been through so far if I’m going to be of any help in all this.”
“Go for it!” Mercury said. The blonde had instantly taken to Madeline and her Summon, just as she’d instantly taken to Fae. Her enthusiasm was inexhaustible.
And so Madeline began, and Fae found herself more amazed at her best friend of so many years than ever before. And she felt a begrudging gratitude to Caleb, for realizing who Madeline was behind her disguise, and giving her the first clue that allowed her to set off on such a journey.
Madeline’s journey was one that had even Gerick in awe, as she detailed Sunset Square and her saving of a human there, and then her great, exhausting trek up from Titan’s Belt to Titan’s Crown. The Wood of the Wisps was an enchanting reprieve – and where she’d met Raven, though hadn’t realized what the Wisp would turn into at the time.
“If I hadn’t been exhausted and in such a hurry,” Madeline said, “I probably could have figured things out right away. The texture, the way they latch onto people and seek a purpose of their own… but it all ended well, anyway.” She reached up to gently stroke Raven’s chin.
From the Wood of the Wisps, her adventure had turned into a nightmare.
“The Unfathomable Emptiness…” Mercury said softly, her eyes wide.
“And you made it through there alone,” Neptune said. “We only managed to return from that place because we had each other.”
“Well, we actually looked into the Emptiness,” Jupiter said, puffing out her chest.
“That’s not really something to brag about,” Mercury said, bopping her sister on the head, “even if everyone else acts like it is. It just shows how stupid we were.”
After the Unfathomable Emptiness came the Hall of Reflections, and that’s when things started to fit together in Fae’s mind, like many pieces of a puzzle. She pulled out sketchbooks from her bag as Madeline related the last parts of her journey, and started flipping through them – until Madeline mentioned seeing her mother. For those recollections of the reflections of the past, Fae sat completely focused on Madeline’s story, her heart reaching for her friend as she heard the deep swells of emotion in her voice and saw the same in her eyes.
“And then I was here!” Madeline finished, slapping on a smile just as she sounded on the verge of tears. “And you know the rest. I saw someone attacking you, jumped in to save you, and now we’re all together.”
“And somehow you still haven’t slept,” Mercury said, staring at Madeline. “Where do you get all your energy?”
“Probably the same place you do,” Neptune said.
“I can’t sleep yet,” Madeline said. “I need to know everything. I’m sorry if it takes up too much time from your quest, but I can’t allow myself to hold you back due to ignorance.”
“We’ll tell you everything,” Fae said.
“And be glad to tell you!” Mercury said. “After all, having another friend is a really wonderful thing. We’re not about to leave you out of the loop.”
“The problem is where to start,” Jupiter said. “My head’s already spinning just thinking of all we’ve done so far.”
“And there’s a lot left to do,” Neptune said.
“I’ll start,” Fae said. She scribbled out the hastiest of notes on the page she had open, then closed that sketchbook and shuffled through them to a small blue one, opening it to the first page. It was covered in densely layered drawings with a scant few words here and there.
“You’ve been keeping a journal,” Madeline said, smiling.
“You can decipher that?” Jupiter asked, leaning over to look.
“Anyway,” Fae said, feeling embarrassment rising up in her and clinging to her escape, “it all started with Mercury finding me and giving me the first clue about my drawings.”
“Oh, whoa, we’re really starting from the beginning,” Mercury said.
“Because I never told you anything,” Fae said to Madeline.
“Don’t give me that look,” Madeline said, shaking her head. “You can tell me now.”
Fae nodded, diving into things from the very beginning. There was Mercury, and the impossible invitation – to go to a whole other world and find the reason these drawings called out to her. And she’d taken it, first visiting the Cartographer’s Waystation. And there…
“Hey, remember what Meister Roderick said?” Mercury asked. “Something like… they knew about you before you even arrived.”
“Oh, yeah,” Fae said, thinking back on that visit so long ago.
“I remember,” Neptune said with a nod. “He said ‘For whatever reason, you’re important to someone here in the Dominion.’ Though he didn’t seem to know more about it than that.”
Fae murmured thoughtfully as she added a new doodle onto the already crowded first page of her journal.
I can’t forget a detail like that.
From the Cartographer’s Waystation, they’d had two choices, and Fae had chosen the Plains of the Fallen. Across the Plains they’d gone, to meet Gerick, who had served as an important introduction for Fae to the wider mythology of the Enchanted Dominion, explaining to her things like Intangibles, the Nightmare Queen, the Fates, and Collapse.
He’d also pointed her to Selphine Miora at Eventide Archive, and there a great deal of their journey was taken up. Selphine explained the boy who’d come before Fae – Oliver – and his journey to find his own answers to his own drawings. Fae had chronicled that entire journey in as much detail as Selphine had told her.
Then came the Basin of Antiquity, and their meeting in the strange inner sanctuary with Maxwell.
“Maxwell?” Gerick asked suddenly, leaning forward. “That was his name? You’re sure?”
“Yeah,” Fae said, staring back at him in surprise.
Gerick relaxed a bit, sitting back. There was a nostalgic look in his eyes. “Maxwell…” he murmured softly.
“You know him?” Neptune asked, a hint of displeasure in her voice.
“Knew him is more accurate,” Gerick said. “I… we were friends, once. We didn’t part on bad terms at all, just… with how long of lives we Enchanted live, partings simply happen. I tried seeking him out quite some time back, but I couldn’t find even a clue of him. So he’s the Master of the Basin now…” He smiled, shaking his head. “Perhaps there’s no better place for him. I should try to visit him, though. It’s been far too long.”
Reliving their encounter with Maxwell was interesting. Neptune didn’t want to talk about it at all – clearly Maxwell’s prying eyes through his crystal ball still haunted her. But she was the one who carried the locket Maxwell had given the Star sisters, the one that served as the key to the Silver Star Sanctuary that the sisters so fervently sought.
It also contained the only picture the girls knew of from their childhood. And yet that picture also failed to provide many clues, for it was only of the three of them. No parents. No other siblings. No clear details in the background to hint at where they were.
And Maxwell had also given Fae the last of her items that provided clues as to the Intangibles she needed to seek. And as she pulled them from her bag, recounting their natures and importance, the last item that came out was the mirror, and a spike of dismay shot through her heart.
“The Dreamer,” she said suddenly, staring at the mirror. “I can’t believe I…”
“Oh!” Mercury exclaimed. “Your sister!”
Fae nodded. “Shana,” she said softly.
The image in the mirror, for so long always reflecting the world around Fae but never any people, suddenly rippled. And it turned into a new image, one that showed…
“Shana!” Fae cried out, staring.
There was her sister, along with Shias and their three friends. “Shana!” Fae called again, but Shana didn’t turn. “She can’t hear me…”
It was too hard to get clues as to where Shana was. The image was a close-up, and while Shana was walking under bright sunlight, Fae couldn’t make out more than rocky cliffs behind her.
“That’s kinda weird, don’t you think?” Jupiter asked. “We needed the Dreamer’s powers for Nocta, but we never ended up needing the mirror at all.”
“Then we’re probably going to need Shana’s help again at some point,” Neptune said. “We’ll have to keep learning more about the mirror, and about your sister. I’m sure we don’t understand all of its secrets yet.”
“But you’ll see her again,” Mercury said with a smile. “And as part of our quest. That’s encouraging, right?”
Fae nodded, but her heart wasn’t in it.
If I hadn’t been so forgetful… if I hadn’t been so stupid…
I could have talked to Shana about this. And she could have talked to Heart and Nocta, and together we could have solved all of the riddles about this mirror.
Our journey together isn’t over. Probably. It’s hard to say for sure, isn’t it?
She looked up to see Madeline looking at her, and the look in her eyes said exactly what she needed to hear. Fae smiled slightly, nodding, and then looked over her items from the Basin of Antiquity again.
“For some reason, you’re important to someone in the Enchanted Dominion.”
“If there’s a specific person calling out to me with my drawings,” Fae said, “then do you think they could have been the one who prepared these clues?”
“Oh!” Jupiter and Mercury said together. “That makes so much sense!” Mercury continued.
“It would more clearly explain the ones for Collapse and the Broken Vessel,” Neptune said. “Both are slips of paper with messages on them showing the way. And seeing how accurate and helpful the message about Collapse was, they must be coming from a very knowledgeable source.”
“And Maxwell didn’t even know what was in the box for Collapse,” Mercury said, “even though it ended up leading straight to his journal. If he’d known that’s where we needed to go, he would’ve just told us, I think.”
“His journal was written in a way that suggested he didn’t know where it would end up,” Fae said. “So no, I don’t think there’s any chance he left that clue behind for us.”
But she was getting ahead of herself. She got back to the story, with Selphine’s explanations of the different items, and the clues on where to go next. Fae had made her choice, connecting the Intangibles to another of her paths – the Fates.
There were the Crimson Docks, and meeting Roland Soundingstone, where they’d paired the two pieces of the candlestick bell together, completing the item that bore the essence of the Intangible Child’s Innocence.
But Madeline noticed something in Fae’s notebook, drawings she’d elected not to expound on. Graciously, Madeline didn’t press, but that wordless look, the subtle change that Fae recognized, brought Fae’s attention to those small drawings and that brief spell in her adventure
That time in Sunset Square… that’s the longest conversation we’ve had in…
For some reason, two parts of that conversation stuck out to Fae. First was the first question her brother had asked: “You okay?”
Second was his farewell: “I’ll miss you. Take care of yourself. It’s a dangerous city.”
He always was nice like that. I guess.
Why does it rub me the wrong way? Why do I feel so awkward when my family says stuff like that?
As much as I’m glad to be closer to Shana again, even when she says stuff like that…
Fae sighed. There was no use dwelling on it now. Again and again she’d asked herself the same questions, and still she had no answers.
So the story continued, down the Docks, to the boat that took them to the Fates’ Dwelling.
“Oh, let’s not relive our first time there,” Jupiter said with a shiver. “That was way too creepy.”
But they relived it nonetheless, for no details could be left behind. This was proving an important story for Fae, too, as retelling it and going over her thoughts, notes, and memories helped her to better start to understand everything, to better illuminate the mysteries that surrounded her expansive journey.
They’d escaped the Fates and went to the City of Anguish, and the Mourner’s Collection, where they’d found Maxwell’s journal, and now was the time they could talk properly about that part of the journey. Fae had taken extensive notes, and walking through Maxwell’s journey in search of Collapse and the cure for the illness it spawned was, as the first time, entrancing.
A small note in words jotted in Fae’s journal stuck out to her: “Julia Diamond. Starlight Academy.”
Julia had been a bright spot in a dreary city. Fae smiled a bit at the thought that finding Maxwell’s journal hadn’t just helped her, but had helped a total stranger, as well.
From there, they’d had clues about Collapse’s location. But they’d also known the cure for Collapse – hope – and that drove Fae to seek out the Fates once again, now knowing what she could do.
For the candlestick bell provided hope to those who had none.
And back at the Fates’ Dwelling, ringing that bell had saved the Fates, cured their vicious illness, and brought light where there had been such darkness. And the Fates had imparted some worrisome warnings along with helpful advice.
“The Fault Line Dungeon won’t be easy,” Fae said. “Selphine said she could get us in there, but the Fates told us otherwise.”
“The Guardianship has changed, or something like that,” Mercury said. “So Selphine doesn’t have connections anymore.”
“And there’s the book,” Fae said, pulling from her bag the last “gift” the Fates had imparted to her. It was a thick, hardbound book with no lettering on it. The cover and pages were edged in silver, with golden patterns all along the face, spine, and back that were, at least to this group, indecipherable.
And they could decipher nothing more, for there was a latch holding the book closed, with a strange ornate lock upon it.
“We need to find the key,” Fae said. “But they didn’t give us the slightest clue of where to look for it.”
“And only a stupidly vague ‘when the time is right, you will know’ about when to read it,” Mercury said with a sigh.
“They hinted that its importance lies ‘beyond’ our journey,” Neptune said. “I think that means that we won’t have a chance or a reason to read it until we’ve solved most of what we’re currently working on.”
“And then we came back here!” Mercury said.
“So you did,” Gerick said, “and I was quite surprised to see you again. It was a pleasant surprise, though, I assure you.”
“Even though we’ve put you through all kinds of scary stuff?” Mercury asked.
Gerick chuckled. “It’s been frightening, but I wouldn’t trade these experiences for anything,” he said. “It’s been a bit like reliving my younger days, and yet I’ve also learned some marvelous things. I’m glad I could be a part of your journey.”
And so Gerick was able to take up more of the telling along with the girls, as they talked of the Deepgrave, their descent therein, and another ringing of the candlestick bell, this time to save a Dragon. Kairyu had offered them clues as well. Her siblings were the Spiral Dragons, beings that Fae must encounter and learn more about on her journey. And she pointed the way towards the Nightmare Citadel, where Collapse resided.
“We must go on adventures to find where we belong.”
She said that. Mercury said it, too.
I think I’m starting to understand.
And so they’d set off on the Nightmare Road, and recounting that experience was frightening, but also wonderful for Fae. For though she had to remember her struggles, she also was able to remember how Mercury had found her, and how her silly song had saved Fae from her fear and brought them to the end of the Road.
Though, recounting her Nightmare Road journey also brought her back to her vision of Madeline, and of how enticing that vision had been, how she’d longed to stay with Madeline, but…
She’d known it wasn’t real. And she’d known what was important, and that even if it ran counter to what she wanted, she couldn’t fail in her quest.
But she didn’t speak of her vision of Madeline aloud. She could tell her about it later, alone.
And then there was the Nightmare Citadel, and a whole host of new, temporary allies. Two times into the Citadel – broken in the middle by visiting the Library of Solitude and having Chelsea and her owl Summon join their number – and Nocta was saved, Collapse fled, and the next part of their quest clear.
“We need to travel to its place of origin,” Fae said, pulling from her bag a worn, leather bound book. “And we need to read this book that the last man remaining with Collapse gave Shias. He said it was all that we need to know, and urged us to read it and find the truth that he couldn’t.”
“And the place of Collapse’s origin is the Valley of Ruin?” Madeline said. Fae nodded.
“Such a good memory,” Jupiter said, gazing in awe. Madeline smiled politely.
“A place that, the way Maxwell tells it, wasn’t always a ruin,” Gerick said. “And once again, a place that will not be easy to reach.”
“Wait, hold up, we skipped some stuff,” Mercury said, staring at Fae. “You said you’d tell us what Soryu told only you. And Madeline should know about the whole thing with the Sealed Vessel.”
I didn’t skip it. I was just about to get to it.
Fae bit back that retort, though, and continued the story. Just as the Fates had predicted, one of the Spiral Dragons had come to them, meeting them far before they’d expected it. And Fae told of the strange sight she’d seen, when Soryu implied that she’d let down her guard, and yet…
He’d seemed to look at her with hope.
And in the end, he’d just given her more vague guidance. “The greatest answers lie not with one part, but with the whole. If you can decipher the Great Riddle…”
The Great Riddle… what is that? Is that the core of everything? Is that what all of this is working towards, how everything is connected?
Could there really be just a single, simple answer that ties everything together?
And there was something similar from the Spiral Dragon, earlier in the conversation: “Only when you unravel every mystery will you discover the truth. And the truth may not be what you hoped to find.”
“Well, that’s just obvious,” Mercury said with a snort. “The truth often isn’t what we hoped or wanted to hear.”
“But sometimes the things we neither hope for nor desire are the most valuable,” Neptune said.
Kairyu said it differently. “Discovery of the truth is far sweeter than being told the truth.”
Well, I guess that just means finding out things for yourself is better than being told. But “sweeter”… that wasn’t an accident of a word, or at least I don’t think so.
She knows more than she’ll say. If she knows something of what’s ahead of me…
Then perhaps that was her way of saying it won’t all be bad.
“And then there was the Sealed Vessel,” Jupiter said, barely stifling a yawn.
“She called me ‘the True One’,” Fae said with a shudder. “And she was willing to take me by force if I didn’t come willingly.”
“The true what, though?” Mercury asked.
“The True Vessel…?” Gerick asked, seeming half to himself.
“Is that a thing?” Mercury asked.
“I’ve never heard of such a thing,” Gerick said. “But there is both a Broken Vessel, and a Sealed Vessel. None seem to know what the ‘Vessel’ is for, but it seems likely that Broken and Sealed are both states of failure. There was an intention for a Vessel, and it may be that there are two who failed to fulfill the requirements, whatever they may be.”
“So Fae’s the one they’re looking for?” Mercury asked. “But a vessel… that’s something you put stuff inside of. What are they hoping to put inside Fae?”
“Whatever it is, I don’t want it,” Fae said with another shudder. Now she dreaded not only meeting the Sealed Vessel again, but also finding the Broken Vessel in the Fault Line Dungeon.
And why are there so many people who want things from me? There’s the strange being calling out to me with my drawings, the one behind all of this. And there are the Spiral Dragons taking interest in me, and the Fates did, too. And now these Vessels…
What’s so important about me?
“So,” Madeline said, leaning back and stretching her arms. Raven hopped up, hovering overhead for a moment, and then returned to her shoulder when it was free again. “That’s a lot to unpack.”
“We have a clear immediate goal,” Neptune said. “But after that… it’s as tricky as ever.”
“More tricky,” Mercury said. “We know more, but that’s only made things more complicated, with more questions. When we started, it was ‘what’s up with these drawings?’ And now it’s a giant knotted lump of questions that seem to keep inviting more questions to join them.”
“These questions have way too many friends,” Jupiter said.
“We should focus on reaching the Center Locations after destroying Collapse, right?” Madeline asked. “And on the way to one of the one…” she paused to look at the different maps of each Sector, pointing at one, “the Chapel of the Unreturned. We can stop at the Fault Line Dungeon on the way and see what’s going on with the Broken Vessel. And we can just keep thinking about all of these questions and the bigger picture of things as we go.”
“Whoa,” Jupiter said, staring at Madeline.
“What?” Madeline asked, looking slightly nervous at the attention.
“You’re, like, really capable,” Jupiter said. “Why didn’t we invite you from the start?”
“Ah…” Mercury started, holding up a hand and looking guiltily at Fae.
“No, it’s…” Fae said, staring at the grass. “It’s my fault, really.”
“No need to dwell on that,” Madeline said, surprisingly confident in that response. She’d always been shockingly forgiving of Fae, but this was…
Fae stared at her friend, and while she was still the same Madeline…
I didn’t know she could be better, but…
Yeah. What she went through, her crazy journey all alone…
It made her so much better.
“Better” seemed like such a simple word, but Fae couldn’t run to more specific words. “Stronger” fit, but there was more than that. “Happier” fit, but there was more than that.
She was just… better. In every way.
“Oh!” Fae said suddenly, grasping at her sketchbooks. “Sorry, I, uh… I forgot. I had a thought, but then we had to talk about our story, so I didn’t want to get distracted from that, and then, well… yeah. So.” She flipped open the sketchbook she sought and turned to the most recent page. “When you were describing your journey, I realized something. I have a few sketches in scattered books, they’re not marked like the ones for the Fates, the Dragons, and Intangibles. And five of those sketches are –”
“The places I went?” Madeline asked.
Fae nodded, showing each of the sketches in turn: Sunset Square, Titan’s Belt, the Wood of the Wisps, the Unfathomable Emptiness, and the Hall of Reflections.
“So that’s what it looks like,” Madeline said, staring at the sketch of the Unfathomable Emptiness. “Doesn’t look so frightening when it isn’t trying to drag you into its depths.”
“But why?” Fae asked, looking at each of the pictures. “Your journey traced places I’ve drawn, but I’ve only been to one, and the others don’t seem to have any connection to my current adventure.”
“Speaking of being involved with your drawings,” Madeline said, reaching down her shirt and pulling out a faded golden amulet etched with a fiery sun on a golden chain. She removed it from around her neck and handed it to Fae. “Meister Roderick asked me to give that to you. He said he’d noticed you had a sketch of the Orphan of the Dawn, and only just recently realized what it was and how he might be able to help you. Though all he said was that you’d have need of this when you go there.”
“Orphan of the Dawn?” Fae asked. She flipped through her sketchbooks.
“Oh!” Mercury said. “It’s in the green one! I remember seeing it. Though I don’t know much about it – I only passed through once.”
“You three really are fascinating,” Gerick said, staring at the Star sisters. “I don’t know anyone who’s ever been to the Orphan of the Dawn. I thought it was just a myth. And to have just ‘passed through’…” He shook his head, chuckling.
“Do you know what it is?” Fae asked.
“Only the vaguest rumors, which I’m sure all of you are sick of by now,” Gerick said. “It’s a very strange name for a Location – you’d think it would apply to a person, not a place. And yet… I’ve heard conflicting stories. It wouldn’t be worthwhile for me to say anything. Though it may well be that Selphine or Maxwell would be able to shed clearer light on the matter.”
“Well, for now you should just hold onto it,” Mercury said, nodding to the amulet. “We should work on figuring out how to get to the Valley of Ruin, right?”
“And we should hopefully come to a conclusion soon,” Madeline said, yawning dramatically. “Sorry, but I think… I think all the adrenaline and excitement is finally starting to wear off.”
“Well, the start of your journey is simple,” Gerick said with a smile, “and familiar.”
“I bet I know!” Mercury said, raising her hand. “We’re going back to Eventide Archive again, aren’t we?”
“That’s what I would advise,” Gerick said with a nod. “If Selphine can’t help you – though doubtless she can – then you’ll have easy access to Maxwell, someone who’s actually made the journey. Either way, they can show you where to go.”
“Thank goodness that was easy,” Madeline said with another yawn, which Raven mimicked on her shoulder. “Where can I sleep? And I hope I’m not being too imposing, I just… get a little funky when I’m… this tired.” Her head was already nodding as she struggled to stay awake.
“Ooh, no, don’t send her to bed yet!” Jupiter said excitedly. “This is way too much fun!”
“Quit it,” Neptune said.
“Come with me,” Gerick said, standing. “I think Polly has an extra bed in her booth. And she doesn’t sleep all that often anyway, so you shouldn’t be bothered.”
“Thanks, chief,” Madeline said, trying to stand and succeeding on the second try. Fae stood with her, knowing exactly what was coming, and helped Madeline stay on her feet as she followed after Gerick.
“I’m sorry,” she said softly, half to herself.
“Shut up,” Madeline said, rolling her eyes. Fae blinked at her. “You don’t need to apologize to me. Ever. I know how you get, how you get all… like… caught up in stuff. And you forget everything else. I don’t take it personally. So just know…” she flashed an uncharacteristic thumbs-up, “I’ve got your back now. Okay?”
Fae couldn’t help but laugh. “It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen you so tired,” she said.
“I try to avoid it,” Madeline said, stumbling. Fae caught her. “But it’s kinda fun now and then, huh?”
“Uh-huh,” Fae said, shaking her head. “Looks like we’re here. Time to sleep.”
“But I don’t wanna,” Madeline whined, drawing out the last word.
“Sure you do,” Fae said, laughing. “You’ll be too embarrassed about it in the morning if more strangers see you like this.”
“Oh, good point,” Madeline said. She nodded five too many times. “Right. Right. Roger that, captain. Okay.” She saw the bed she was being given for the night and stumbled towards it, just making it in time to collapse onto the downy mattress with an overly loud sigh. “Hey, hey.” She rolled over to look at Fae as she pulled the covers over herself. “You’ll stay, right?”
Fae nodded, coming to sit across from Madeline. “Yeah,” she said.
“You’ll make sure no one makes fun of me?” Madeline asked. Her eyelids were fluttering. “Make sure no one remembers this tomorrow?”
“I’ll remember,” Fae said.
“You’re allowed,” Madeline said, her eyes finally closing completely. “Nobody else.”
“Got it,” Fae said. “No one’ll say a word.”