Caleb was sinking, but he didn’t drown. Water swirled all about him, a great ocean, endless in all directions. Far, far above him, he could see the faintest glimmers of light, pale and silver.
The light winked out.
Blackness filled the ocean, and the sound of water rushing intensified. Caleb sank, deeper, deeper, deeper.
His feet touched dry land. The water was gone, light slowly faded into being.
He stood in Greyson Manor, in his bedroom, but it hadn’t been like this in a very long time.
This wasn’t the bedroom of an occasional visitor. It was a young boy’s bedroom, And there in the center of the room, sprawled on the floor, was eight year-old Caleb. He had huge, round glasses, and all around him on the floor were papers, books, notebooks, and writing utensils.
“Time Magic,” young Caleb said, grabbing a piece of paper and placing it into a different pile. “A price. And no teachers. But! I can still do it. Maybe. I just need…” He hummed thoughtfully to himself as he shuffled around papers and books, in search of something. Then he held up his hand in triumph, holding a silver pocket watch. “Now! Let’s give it a go.”
The watch gleamed with white light, and Caleb — the present-day Caleb, the one looking at this memory as an observer — watched as young Caleb went through the sudden, blurring appearance of one using Time Magic. It lasted the briefest of moments, and Caleb didn’t actually move. He suddenly came out of it, dropping his Talisman and clutching his stomach, kneeling over the floor until his forehead touched the carpet.
“Oh… I feel… real sick…” He groaned, slowly shaking his head. After a few moments, he sat back, letting out a sigh, and then a grin spread across his face.
“It worked!” he cried triumphantly, pumping a fist in the air. He hopped to his feet, swayed for a moment with dizziness, and then rushed out of the room. Present-Caleb could hear him down the hall: “Mom! Dad! I did it! I can use Time Magic!”
The room vacated, Caleb suddenly saw a woman standing where his younger self had been sitting. She was like a phantom, translucent, and completely blue — her skin, her hair, even her dress. She looked where the younger Caleb had run off, and then shifted her gaze to present-Caleb, locking eyes with him. She smiled at him, but there was a sadness to it, this mysterious melancholy smile. Caleb opened his mouth to speak, to ask her name…
The memory suddenly turned to paint, along with the woman, and both then washed away. The water returned, the great ocean, and Caleb sank deeper, deeper, deeper.
His feet touched dry land. The water receded, and paint came swirling back in, forming a new scene, which then solidified into three-dimensional reality.
He was outside, at the open courtyard of Grimoire Academy next to the gymnasium. Young Caleb was there, a highschooler now, in his volleyball practice uniform carting some balls into the gym. He wore contacts, a change he’d made halfway through middle school when he’d blocked a spike with his face during practice and snapped his glasses frames in half.
He’d also learned to block with his hands instead of his face.
Young Caleb here was a ninth-grader, a young but rising star. And here he was in the midst of practice as school was still letting out, and people were passing by or even through the gym a lot, so practice was lighter than normal. They took things easy, or as easy as they could — it was easy to get carried away. A spike from Caleb’s teammate shot past him, bounced up. Caleb turned, saw it heading towards a girl, and cried for her to watch out.
The raven-haired girl didn’t need the warning. She’d seen the ball ahead of time, and caught it with ease, smiling triumphantly as she held it up.
The girl was Chelsea.
Caleb ran over to her, reaching for the ball. “Thanks,” he said, smiling as best he could. His heart was pounding in his chest, and it wasn’t from exertion. He couldn’t take his eyes off the girl, this beautiful stranger with dark hair and green eyes. He shuffled his feet awkwardly, trying to put his best foot forward, to make a good first impression, but nerves and sudden fascination made that difficult.
“Sure,” Chelsea said, and present-Caleb could see now what he couldn’t see back then, that she was just as embarrassed and nervous as he was. She handed over the ball, then turned to leave.
Caleb held out his hand in greeting, and Chelsea stopped. “I’m Caleb,” he said.
Chelsea hesitated, then took his hand, shook it once. “Chelsea,” she said simply.
“H-hope to see you again soon,” Caleb suddenly blurted out. He and Chelsea stared at each other, both shocked for a moment, and then both turned away and went back to their own business.
Yet as Chelsea walked away, she was smiling.
And staring at Caleb, the phantom woman appeared again, smiling her own melancholy smile.
The scene and the woman turned to paint, washed away, and the ocean came flooding back in. Down, down, down Caleb was dragged, until his feet touched solid ground. The waters receded, the paint came back in, and soon Caleb was watching his tenth-grade self shift his feet awkwardly outside the room for Grimoire Academy’s “Mythological Research” Club, which was really a front for what was internally known as the “Magical Defense” or “Hunters-in-Training” Club.
“You know I’m just leaving as soon as she comes out,” Will said. He was there with Caleb, fiddling with the headphones resting around his neck.
“You don’t have to!” Caleb said, shoving his hands in his pockets.
“You don’t have to be so nervous,” Will said with a shrug. “What am I here for, again?”
“Emotional support,” Caleb muttered. “And if you make me say it again I’m gonna smack you.”
“To do something about my embarrassment, of course! Come on, just stick around. Please?”
“Nope. You’re the one who likes her, not me. So tell her. It’s more embarrassing to have an audience, isn’t it?”
Caleb pursed his lips in frustration. “I’ve already tried to tell her three times.”
“Third time’s the —” Will paused, tapping his chin thoughtfully. “But no, you already used your third time. Well, maybe it’s fourth time’s the charm in your case.”
“I’m seriously gonna smack you.”
Will’s mouth quirked up in the slightest of smirks. “She’s coming out. See you tomorrow.”
“Hey, wait!” Caleb called out, but Will was already halfway down the stairs. And the door of the club room was opening.
Chelsea was here.
Her raven hair was long, halfway down her back, and her green eyes shone with a glint of emotion that Caleb couldn’t recognize, but it made his heart skip a beat.
“Hey,” Chelsea said, letting her club members pass her by while she stood with Caleb in the hall. “What brings you around here this time?”
“I just, uh…” young Caleb said, scratching the back of his neck nervously. “You know, I just thought we could… hang out? Wanna go see a movie or something?”
Chelsea stared at him with that flat, unreadable look she did so well for the span of a dozen frantic heartbeats. Then she smirked. “I’m glad you asked,” she said. “Yeah, let’s go. I don’t even know what’s playing.”
“Yeah, me neither,” Caleb said, elated as he walked with Chelsea. “But that’s kinda fun, right?”
“Sure is,” Chelsea said.
Present-Caleb watched as that strange phantom woman appeared, followed after the pair from a distance. And then…
Young Caleb turned around, staring back down the hall. As if he’d sensed her, and yet…
He didn’t see her. He looked straight at her, but saw nothing.
“What’s up?” Chelsea asked.
“Nothing,” young Caleb said, laughing it off. “Just a weird feeling.”
Paint swirled, the memory washing away. Back in the ocean Caleb was, sinking down, down, down.
Back on solid ground, he watched as paint returned, formed a new scene.
Caleb, Chelsea, Lorelei, and Will walked together through the Rosewood District, filled with stalls, tents, stages, and booths all matching the lunar theme, as well as the year’s Festival theme: flowers. Though it was November, flowers were in full bloom everywhere, one of the great benefits of living in a city with magic. So many colors, so many types, and such a wonderful fragrance wherever they went.
Caleb and Will were ahead of Chelsea and Lorelei, and present-Caleb could see now what happened behind them, what led to the moment he knew was coming. Chelsea was frantically arguing with Lorelei in a hushed whisper, and Lorelei was replying calmly, steadily, though with a mischievous smile on her face.
“It’s time, right?” Lorelei asked. “You know it is, I know it is, he knows it is.”
“So you can’t just leave me!” Chelsea said, gripping Lorelei’s hands tightly. “This is way too much! I can’t do this alone!”
“Doing that alone is kind of the point,” Lorelei said. “Besides, he’ll tell you first.”
“How do you know?”
Lorelei slipped her hands free. “Because I know.” With a light touch, she turned Chelsea by her shoulders and gave her a little shove towards Caleb. Will glanced back, saw what was happening, and he and Lorelei shared a look.
“Hey, I’m gonna go check something else out,” Will said.
“What is it? I’ll come, too,” Caleb said.
“Nope,” Will said, nodding slightly back towards the hesitantly approaching Chelsea. “It’s your time.”
“Hey, wait, hold up, you —” Caleb protested, but Will just smiled and walked away, vanishing into the crowd. Caleb took a breath, let it out, then turned to face Chelsea. He waved as awkwardly as possible, smiling. “So, uh… looks like our friends bailed on us, huh?”
Chelsea shoved her hands in her pockets. “Yeah, sure looks like it,” she said, not meeting Caleb’s gaze.
Caleb’s heart pounded in his chest. There were so many people around, plenty of music and chatter, and yet…
All seemed silent to him, save the beating of his heart.
Despite how nervous he was, he couldn’t take his eyes off of Chelsea.
Present-Caleb heard his past self’s thoughts in his own mind. It’s now or never, Caleb. You should’ve done this weeks ago. Months ago.
At least a year ago, if you’re being honest.
Don’t chicken out, now.
“Let’s go check out Roseway Park,” Caleb said, holding out his hand. Chelsea stared at it, then at his face, eyes wide. For a moment they were frozen like that, not saying a word, not moving.
Suddenly, Caleb started to pull his hand back, nerves and embarrassment taking hold. But just as suddenly, Chelsea grabbed it, held it tight.
“Yeah, let’s go,” she said.
They walked hand-in-hand, oblivious to the crowds, and seeing them like this as an onlooker, present-Caleb found himself smiling, and fighting back laughter.
You both look so hilariously embarrassed, so nervous. What are you afraid of? By this point, you both already know how the other feels.
And even though he knew how the scene would end, he found himself rooting for his younger self.
In the park, after lots of meandering, lots of nonsense chatter, Caleb finally turned to Chelsea, held both her hands, and told her exactly how he felt about her, exactly what he hoped they could be to each other.
Chelsea smiled, that beautiful, genuine smile, and the two embraced.
Five years now since then. We sure have come a long way.
Present-Caleb’s gaze shifted to the left, where the ghostly woman stood by the fountain, watching the two teens.
And again, just as he saw her, the scene faded, paint washing away in a rush of water, a current that tossed and dragged Caleb down, down, down.
His feet touched solid ground, the ocean washed away, and paint splashed across the empty canvas, crafting a new scene: Grimoire at night, under a starry sky and a full moon. Caleb, standing atop the roof of Grimoire’s Grimoires, and next to him…
The friend who would one day betray him, who would join Blaise’s Shadows and fight him twice in Grimoire. But here, at this point in time, he was Caleb’s trainer, preparing him for becoming a Hunter.
At this point in time, Caleb had no idea the darkness lurking beneath the surface.
“Well, Greyson?” Chase asked, checking his watch. “Ten minutes until Hollow Hour. Show me how far you’ve come since last time.”
Caleb stepped to the very edge of the roof, confidence brimming in his dark eyes. A warm summer breeze ruffled his hair. He pulled out his silver pocket watch, and it shone with white light.
Caleb leapt into the air. A shining white disc appeared, and he landed on it, leaping free of that one to a new one, going from disc to disc, forming them just before he landed on them, and dismissing the ones he’d already used behind him. After twelve jumps, he stopped on the latest Mobility disc and looked at Chase, now almost twenty stories below him.
“Not bad, Greyson!” Chase called out. He pulled his scarf from his neck, and it gleamed with light. “Now try catching this!”
He snapped his scarf like a whip, and a portal opened, Conjuring forth a white, spinning sphere. Caleb grinned.
It was a volleyball.
Caleb’s watch shone with light as he cast forth a trio of shining chains. The three caught the volleyball, wrapped around it, and then pulled it up to Caleb. Bouncing it on his hand a few times, Caleb then jumped, pulling his hand back overhead, and then swinging forward, spiking the ball down, down, down towards Chase. Chase, rather than play along, caught the ball in the same portal it had come out of, offering a casual shrug afterwards.
Caleb took only five leaps to get back down to the roof. “So?” he asked, anticipation clear in his eyes.
“You’ve improved so fast,” Chase said, genuine surprise in his voice. “Last week you couldn’t even use magic other than Time Magic.”
“Hey now,” Caleb said, laughing despite himself. “I’ve always had a bit of competence here and there.”
“Yeah, a bit,” Chase said. “But not in Mobility or Containment, and certainly nothing this useful for fighting Hollows. I never gave you even the slightest suggestion of how to manifest them. What made you choose discs and chains?”
“I like jumping,” Caleb said with a shrug. “Discs help with that. And chains… I dunno. They seem cool, I guess. First thing I thought of when it came to Containment Magic.”
Chase laughed. “So carefree,” he said.
“And, well…” Caleb said, hesitating, shuffling his feet. “I thought it would pair up well with Chelsea. I can stay mobile, see the field fully, watch out for stuff for her. And wrap up Hollows so she can blast them freely.”
Chase smirked, and while past-Caleb didn’t see it, present-Caleb could — there was a hint of jealousy in Chase’s eyes, a tinge of darkness when he replied, “Always thinking of her.” He chuckled, though to present-Caleb it sounded bitter. But when he spoke again, there was a well-faked humorous tone. “She’s too good for you, you know that?”
Past-Caleb laughed, oblivious to what was happening beneath the surface in his trainer. “Oh, I know it,” he said. “That’s why I’ve gotta learn fast. I need to be better.”
Hollow Hour began, and Caleb followed Chase into the night, seeking out monsters to destroy. Standing on the roof of Grimoire’s Grimoires was the phantom woman, gleaming blue in the night, watching Caleb with that melancholy smile. The scene washed away, paint swirling as the ocean came flooding in, sweeping Caleb down, down, down.
Paint came whirling back into the world much faster than before, and Caleb’s feet didn’t touch solid ground, the paint never solidified and transformed into an actual scene in motion. One scene, one image, then another, the paint barely stopping long enough for Caleb to make out what was before him. One by one, as Caleb was tossed about by the roiling waters, the images appeared to him…
A great clockwork city, centered around a mile-high clocktower…
A vast field dotted with ruins, populated by strange glowing creatures…
Other sorts of ruins, ruins that seemed familiar to Caleb, but they were deep underwater…
A field of red flowers, with many swords stuck blade-first into the ground…
A smooth, glassy lake, with a silver door standing in its center…
A bridge passing through a great waterfall…
A snowy forest with blue, flowering trees…
And a place that looked oddly like the Court of Time, circular with a small stage in the center, and seven chairs on the far side, and yet the chairs were empty, and all was a reddish brown rather than the dark blue and silver that Caleb knew…
And then Caleb’s feet hit solid ground. The waters washed away, and before him stood the woman, the blue phantom. Though the waters were gone, her hair and dress bobbed and swayed like they were underwater.
Caleb found his voice. “Who are you?” he asked.
The woman just smiled, that same melancholy smile she had in all the memories.
Paint swirled, and created a new scene, and Caleb stared in confusion. He was standing, steady and calm, in the Court of Time. Before him were the chairs, the seven Jurors, and between him and them was the woman. But things were different. The walls were just a dark blue swirl of paint, the ground was just swirling paint, and looking back, Caleb saw that Midnight, Chelsea, Addie, all the rest, they weren’t here.
He looked forward, at the woman, at the Jurors.
The seven Jurors looked as one at the woman. She never took her eyes off of Caleb, her melancholy smile never faded.
Slowly, she nodded. She stepped toward Caleb and reached out, tapping his chest with one finger.
The woman vanished, the Jurors vanished, all vanished, replaced by a white void.
And then water. The ocean came rushing in, grabbed Caleb, yanked him up, up, up. He could breathe, and there was a lightness in his chest, a strength in his heart, in his lungs, like he was so full of air he might burst, overflowing with strength, with life, with —
The lightness, the fullness, was gone. Caleb stood on the small stage in the center of the Court of Time, the solid one, no swirling paint in sight. The Jurors were there, but not the woman. The center Juror held out a hand, and Caleb’s Passport appeared, floating back to him. Caleb snatched it out of the air, but before he opened it to look inside, he turned around.
There were Mister Midnight, Mineria, Ingrid, Chelsea, Addie. They were all here.
He was back.
He opened his Passport, flipped past the first three pages of stamps. Where there had originally followed many empty pages, now all were filled. The first with a stamp, like a clock with three separate circles, nine separate hands. After that were simple words, incomplete phrases. One page simply had “River.” Another said “To be found.” On and on they went like that, Caleb couldn’t make sense of them. On the final page was a stamp, one that stunned Caleb.
It was exactly the image of the cover of his pocket watch.
Caleb looked up.
The Jurors were gone.
As Caleb started to return to his friends, he blinked several times, looking all around. Was it just his imagination, or did everything have the slightest, faintest blue tint to it? The same familiar blue of the River of Time seemed to coat everything like the thinnest, barest filter.
Back with the others, no one said a word as they passed outside the doors. As soon as the doors closed behind them and they stood atop the stairs, Midnight held out his hand. “Passport,” he said. His voice was a surprising sound in the silence, but Caleb complied, handing over his small booklet. Midnight flipped through it, and then stared at the final page. “You did it.” He breathed what sounded like a sigh of relief, and smiled. “You really passed. With more than flying colors, even — colors I never thought I’d see.”
“Okay, but speaking of colors,” Chelsea said, wheeling Caleb around and gripping him hard by the shoulders. She stared at him intently, a look of confusion and worry in her eyes. “Can you explain his eyes? And his hair?”
“Eyes?” Caleb asked. “Hair?”
“Totally cool,” Adelaide said, staring with a smile.
“Can you make me a mirror, kid?” Chelsea asked, handing a few coins to Addie. The girl clinked them around in her hands. In a flash of light, they transformed into a small hand mirror, which Chelsea handed to Caleb.
Heart pounding in his chest, Caleb took a look at himself. And for a long time he stared, not believing what he was seeing.
In the midst of his jet-black hair, a long blue streak had been added. And eyes, eyes he knew so well, eyes that had been a dark brown all his life…
They now glowed with blue light.
The same blue as the River of Time.