Caleb tugged at his bangs. They were long enough that he could pull them down and look at them, and among the dark hair he could tug on was a blue streak.
I like the color. It’s kind of weird as a hair color, but…
It’s fun being different like this.
His physical changes weren’t what bothered him.
What bothered him was everything else that was happening.
“Are you ready or not?” Mister Midnight asked. The pair stood across from each other outside Midnight’s house on Midnight Bridge.
“Yeah, I’m ready,” Caleb said, letting go of his hair and clutching his pocket watch tightly.
“Good luck, Caleb!” Addie called from closer to Midnight’s house, where she along with Chelsea, Ingrid, and Mineria sat at tables, eating lunch and watching.
Caleb couldn’t help but smile. “Thanks,” he said softly.
“First, Locational Time Magic,” Midnight said. He snapped his fingers, and the four members of the “audience” seemed to utterly freeze in place.
And all around Caleb, he saw blue lights. Flashes and pulses, bolts of light streaming from one thing to the next, coursing through the ground, the air, the walls of the house. Silvery light shimmered, like it was filtered through water, playing off of substances in different ways.
“Still look like when you used your own Time Magic?” Midnight asked.
Caleb nodded. “It’s very —” he started, but then the world started to spin. His feet were rooted on solid ground, he could feel it, and yet…
“Caleb,” Midnight said, walking towards him. “Talk to me, kid.”
“The world’s spinning,” Caleb said, struggling to get the words out. He felt nauseous, light-headed, short of breath. He dropped to his knees, struggling for a full breath, staring at the ground that wouldn’t stop swirling, rocking, spinning, twisting.
“It’s not,” Midnight said. His strong hands gripped Caleb by the shoulders. “Look at me.”
Caleb looked up, and saw his teacher twisting and rotating along with the rest of the world. “I-I can’t,” Caleb stammered, looking down.
“The world isn’t spinning,” Midnight said, tilting Caleb’s face up to look at him again. “Talk to me. What you see, what you feel, all of it. I’m not stopping this Time Magic until we figure this out, so you’re going to have to deal with things.”
Caleb started to talk, coming out in halting statements punctuated by gulps of air, by near-nervous breakdowns as he struggled with the world seeming to totally go crazy before his eyes, contrary to the calm statements of his teacher.
“I’m gonna tell you a secret, kid,” Midnight said gently. “I was called out to the Court of Time. I took the trial. I was tested. And I failed.”
Caleb looked up, staring at Midnight despite the spinning world.
His teacher, for the first time, seemed rock solid and steady.
“I didn’t want to talk about it,” Midnight continued. “Didn’t want to say anything to you. I’ve had students who took the trial, too, and two who’ve passed, but none of them went through anything like you. I didn’t think I’d have answers. I hate to say it, but I thought I was out of my league. I was even a little scared of what might happen to you.”
“Scared?” Caleb asked.
Midnight nodded. “But I’m starting to understand a bit,” he said. He tapped Caleb’s glasses. “You’re Fractured. These glasses help you see properly, but there’s a limit to what even Alex— what my sister, can do. But what you describe makes sense to me. I see it sometimes. I saw it when I fought Valgwyn. Remember when I took you to the River of Time so you could be accepted by it?” Caleb nodded. “A lot of this looks an awful lot like that.”
“But then why’s it —” Caleb started, then couldn’t keep staring at Midnight. The world around him was too crazy. He looked down, shut his eyes. “Why’s it all spinning?”
“Because you’re Fractured,” Midnight said. “But it’s not spinning. And it doesn’t have to keep spinning. Do you feel the usual pressure of Time Magic? Do you feel like you’re being crushed by the River?”
“But I’ve been through this in training,” Caleb said, gritting his teeth as a wave of nausea rolled over him.
“Then use this,” Midnight said, taking Caleb’s hand that held his Talisman. “Enter Time-state. I’ll come with you.”
Caleb shuddered, hesitating to go through with it.
I have to try, right? No matter how this feels.
His watch gleamed with light as he stepped into Time-state.
“What…?” Caleb asked softly.
“It’s the same, right?” Midnight asked. “No pressure.”
Caleb opened his eyes, but he couldn’t look at the floor, for it was still spinning. He stared at Midnight, at his dark jacket, an anchor of solidity.
“I don’t understand,” Caleb said.
“Back when the River of Time accepted you,” Midnight said, “it was only partial. The amount of acceptance any Time Mage should get in order to properly use Time Magic. But you’ve gone through a transformation. Think of your initial acceptance as going from being a stranger to an acquaintance. You were recognized, and the River no longer considered you hostile. But you weren’t really all that close. In the trial… you were fully immersed in the River. Embraced as a friend, or perhaps as family.” Midnight shook his head. “I don’t know all the details. The point is, the River of Time no longer holds you at arm’s length, no longer fights your efforts to exist in Time-state, to exist within it and manipulate its flow.”
“But that doesn’t explain why —” Caleb started.
“Let me get to it,” Midnight said. “The River’s accepted you, embraced you. But this is something that almost never happens to anyone. Even my students who passed their trials, they never reached what you have. And going from respected acquaintance to dearly treasured family is a huge leap, one you undertook in what probably felt like hours, or days, or even years, but was closer to a handful of seconds. It’s a lot to take in. A lot to adjust to. And what’s holding you back the most is your own resistance.”
“Resistance?” Caleb asked. “I’m not resisting anything except…” He winced, shook his head. “Can we stop this? I feel like I’m gonna vomit, or pass out, or both. Have for a while.”
“And yet you’re still conscious, and still have all your food in you,” Midnight said. “You are resisting. The body, the mind, their natural reactions to things totally beyond their comprehension. The River of Time is beyond our understanding, at least in totality. We can grasp a part of it, but not the whole. There are other things like that, things even greater that are even harder to fully grasp. Against your will, when faced with the sudden realization of how vast, how impossible, this incredible power that’s embraced you is, you resist. You fight back against it. It’s similar to fear, but not the same. It’s a biological, psychological defense mechanism against what we call paradoxes. Our own logic can’t grasp the full truths of the universe, not alone. That’s what’s happening to you. You’re an optimistic, idealistic kid with a big imagination, but you’re running up against something your brain can’t make sense of, and it’s freaking you out.”
“So what the heck do I do?” Caleb asked, curling himself up into a ball, placing his head against his knees, gasping for breath. It was too much, going on too long, and all of the words made some kind of sense but they didn’t change anything at all.
“Stand,” Midnight said, pulling at Caleb’s arms. “Come on, kid. You’ll never understand this, not fully. But that’s not important.”
Caleb pulled back against Midnight’s touch.
“See, this is conscious resistance,” Midnight said. “Now you know what your brain’s doing unconsciously. You wanna keep that up, or you wanna face up to what’s in front of you?”
Another pull, and Caleb let himself be pulled to his feet, slowly unfolding as he stood. He opened his eyes, but the world was still insane, still spinning and twisting, contracting and expanding, wild and unbelievable.
“What do I do?” Caleb asked, flinching as a wave of nausea passed through him.
“Accept it,” Midnight said. “Accept your own very mortal, very ordinary mind. Accept your inability to understand, that mortal logic and reason can only carry you so far, and it’s not nearly as far as you’d think. And accept that the River of Time is opening itself up to you, embracing you, and letting you into something amazing. Get it?”
“I don’t… have to understand,” Caleb said slowly.
Midnight nodded. “That’s right.”
“I…” Caleb started. He took in a slow, unsteady breath, held it for a beat, let it out.
I want to accept this. To accept that…
I can’t understand. Not entirely. But…
You’re letting me into this. So I’m going to at least try to accept it. To not resist.
Another slow breath, this one steadier, fuller. He breathed out calmly. Closed his eyes.
When have I ever fully understood my Time Magic? It’s crazy and weird and never entirely in my control.
I’ve learned a lot. But there’s still so much more… and some of it, probably a lot of it, I can’t learn.
Caleb opened his eyes.
The world wasn’t spinning anymore. The world wasn’t crazy, he wasn’t turning crazy with the world.
There was a serenity to the way the blue lights pulsed and flashed, a beauty to the silver shimmers. And there was a peace flooding him, a peace he’d never felt when using Time Magic.
There was no pressure at all.
“There you go,” Midnight said, smiling. “Some of it’s still going to take time. You probably have new powers that neither of us know about. And you’re going to come up against new roadblocks, undoubtedly. But this is the right starting point. You ready to go back to the others?”
Caleb nodded, smiling. “I’m ready.”
They exited Time-state together, and Midnight ended the Locational Time Magic. They rejoined the others, eating and talking.
Now they were ready for the trip to come. After they ate, it would be time to head to Eventide Archive.
Fae came in last, slamming the door shut behind her.
The warm, comforting atmosphere of Eventide Archive surrounded her. They’d escaped the darkness, all of them together.
They were safe.
“Mind if I put you down now?” Jupiter asked. On her back, Sonya nodded, and Jupiter found a chair to set Sonya down in. One by one, all of the others girls took off their shoes.
“Where’s Selphine?” Mercury asked, looking around the entrance hall. Every other time, the caretaker of Eventide Archive had been there to greet them almost right away. The place was still quite quiet, as usual, the perfect atmosphere for a library.
“Selphine?” Fae called, stepping to the front of the group and looking around.
“Is that —?” came a distant voice, one that made Fae’s heart skip a beat. Footsteps padded hurriedly on carpet, and around a bookshelf came —
“Shana,” Fae said breathlessly, staring at her sister. At her feet was a small blue dog, wagging his tail excitedly.
“Fae!” Shana cried out. Her eyes went wide, shining with surprise and delight, and she raced towards Fae, tackling her into a hug.
Fae hugged her back, relief flooding through her, a smile touching her lips.
She’s so warm.
Was she always this warm?
“I can’t believe you’re here,” Shana said, her face buried in Fae’s shoulder. “When we came back from the Garden and found out we’d missed you a while ago, I was so frustrated. I’m glad we waited and spent time planning and stuff. If we’d hurried, I might have missed you again.”
“Not that the journey before them is one they can hurry,” came the calm, beautiful voice of Selphine. She joined Shana and Fae, with Shias, Rae, Kathryn, and Ben following after her. Her eyes went to Olivia, and then to Sonya, and she blinked several times. “Well. This is quite the surprise.”
“What is?” Shana asked, pulling back from Fae. She looked around at the group, and as soon as she saw Olivia, her eyes went wide in shock. Slowly her gaze tracked to Sonya, then back to Olivia, and finally to Fae. “Do we, uh… have sisters we didn’t know about?”
“No,” Fae said, almost laughing. She introduced Olivia and Sonya. “Despite how things look… we aren’t sisters. We don’t know anything about why we look the same, so please hold back the million questions you probably have.”
“Okay,” Shana said, looking to Olivia and Sonya again. Her gaze went downward, and she rushed past Fae to Sonya. “You’re hurt!” She knelt at Sonya’s bleeding feet, and Altair came alongside her. Holding her bookmark Talisman in hand, Shana started going over the former Broken Vessel’s wounds with careful Healing Magic.
Always so quick to help others.
“It seems you’ve been through a great deal,” Selphine said.
“That’s an understatement,” Jupiter said.
“We’ve got a lot to talk about,” Neptune said. “But after everything that’s happened…” she looked at her sisters.
Mercury nodded, smiling. “It’d be nice if we could rest for a bit. Especially those two.” She pointed at Olivia and Sonya. “They’ve had it worse than anyone.” She looked at Fae. “Right?”
Fae nodded, looking around the Archive. “It’s… really good to be here,” she said. After so much danger, so much peril, having a chance to rest in this place would be more than welcome.
So they did. Selphine didn’t have a separate room large enough to accommodate both Fae and Shana’s groups, but they were able to find a space in the higher tiers of the Archive, towards the back, where — with some reorganizing of furniture and floor cushions — they were all able to sit together, enjoy the tea and snacks that Selphine provided, and talk about their journeys. Fae ended up in the spotlight, despite her hopes. There was quite a stretch of her journey that only she could fully describe, after all.
“I wanna meet a Dragon,” Shana murmured dreamily after Fae finished. “One of the good ones, of course.”
“So Collapse is finally destroyed,” Selphine said, “thanks to all of you. And we now know, at least in part, what the Vessels were — a sinister plan that I shudder to think of.”
“It’s gross,” Kathryn said, making a face. “Some Dragon wants to pop his soul into your body? And actually tried twice before? Not okay.”
“He’ll still be after you, won’t he?” Shana asked.
“Yeah,” Fae said. That was something she’d been trying not to think about.
“But you need my help for something,” Shana said. “That mirror is tied to me, so… well, maybe we should stick together?”
“But we have completely different places we need to go,” Fae said. “You have to go deal with the Radiant King, while we…”
“Have a ton of places to go,” Mercury said. “All three Core Locations, for starters. We have Dragons to meet, and… well, we’ve got to figure a lot of things out.”
“And I’m the only one in our group who’s a fighter,” Olivia said. “And I… don’t feel as if Sonya or I should be parted from Fae. Not until we fully understand what ties us together.”
“We don’t have to confront the Radiant King alone,” Shias said.
“That’s right,” Selphine said, smiling. “Our other guests should be… ah, they’re finished. Here they come.”
Three adults joined them, and Shana made sure to introduce them. The blonde man with the annoyingly perfect smile and fancy sword and shield was Galahad. The woman with the thick, dark hair tied in a long single braid was Artemis. Her green eyes were fierce, but there was a sadness in them. And the leader of the group, Hestia, had bright eyes and flowing brown curls. While Galahad and Artemis had the physique and bearing of experienced warriors, Hestia seemed rather ordinary, short and curvy.
“We used to serve under the Radiant King,” Hestia said, taking a seat next to Selphine. “But we saw the evil behind his righteous claims, and turned against him. We’re trying to rescue a dear friend from him. But we…”
“We failed,” Artemis said bitterly. “But we managed to escape here, and luck brought us and the Dawn Riders together.”
“So we’ll be fine, now,” Shana said, though her cheerfulness seemed forced. “We were able to take on some of the Radiant King’s toughest fighters before, with Maribelle’s help. Now that his forces are weakened from the battle at Grimoire, we think our chances of success are really high.”
Several sounds came from the far side of the Archive, like a door opening, and footsteps on stone, and then a door closing. Selphine stood, looking quizzically towards the source of the sounds. “More visitors?” she asked softly. “I’ll be right back.” She strode away gracefully, vanishing past a bookshelf.
“It’s kind of crowded enough, don’t you think?” Kathryn asked, chuckling.
“But maybe they can help us, too,” Rae said softly, staring at the floor.
“Hard to believe we’d get that lucky twice in a row,” Ben said. “But it’d be nice.”
“Who’s here?” asked a voice in the distance, and Fae, Shana, and Shias all turned towards the noise. They’d know that voice anywhere. And when he came around the bookshelf…
His glasses were different. His eyes glowed blue. There was a blue streak in his hair.
But there was no mistaking him. Not when he spotted his siblings, and that goofy, trademark grin of his broke out on his face.
Caleb had arrived at Eventide Archive.
Caleb was stunned. And overjoyed.
So many people were here! He’d come to Eventide Archive for his own quest, and suddenly his was intersecting with the quests of others, and he couldn’t contain his glee at the serendipity of it all.
He was also forcing himself to be quiet. Because there were a lot of introductions to go around. He’d met all of Shana’s group, but had only interacted with the former Radiance members for the briefest amount of time. And Fae’s group…
Well, that one was very strange. Caleb had been immediately scolded for asking why there were “three Faes,” and after that he shut up while introductions went around, followed by descriptions of the different groups’ journeys, and finally was able to chime in to explain… well, as much as he could explain of his own journey, starting on the Farthest Shore and ending with his trial at the Court of Time.
By the end of all that, everyone — even the newest arrivals — were fairly exhausted. Caleb could tell how exhausted they all were by the way not even his siblings mentioned his strange physical changes.
Luckily, no one had hugely urgent journeys — even Hestia’s group, despite their determination to hurry to save Athena, agreed that they needed both more planning and proper rest — and all were tired enough before all of that by their separate journeys and struggles. Selphine showed them out of the library’s main chamber and into a resting area, an even quieter zone than the library proper. There were many beds here, and several patrons and librarians were sleeping. Deep blue light suffused the place, creating a calming, relaxing atmosphere. Almost everyone agreed to sleep, including Caleb.
When he awoke, most were still asleep. Padding quietly out of the resting area, Caleb wandered the library proper. He saw Hestia and Artemis talking quietly in a far corner, and Ingrid and Mineria were sitting together reading separate books. When Caleb turned the next corner, he stopped in his tracks.
Madeline was standing in the aisle, coming from the opposite direction. Both of them stared at each other for several moments in awkward, surprised silence. Caleb finally made a move to walk away, but Madeline stopped him.
“Thank you,” she said. “I… wouldn’t have reached Fae without you.”
Caleb smiled. “I’m glad you found her.”
Madeline nodded, walking past him, and Caleb continued to wander, exploring. There were several side paths he found, branching off from the library to different areas. One was a bamboo forest, the bamboo stalks widely spaced, making way for stone paths and flowering bushes. Another was a reflecting pool, still and silent. Midnight was there, sitting alone and staring into the calm waters. Caleb didn’t disturb him.
Back in the library, Caleb saw Shias up and about and went to join him.
“Sounds like you’ve got a serious fight ahead of you,” Caleb said.
“Seems like you’ve already been through some serious stuff,” Shias said, eyeing the blue streak in Caleb’s hair. Caleb laughed. Shias looked away. “I… I think Shana has the serious fight ahead. We can’t really know entirely what the Radiant King will throw at us, but she has to face him alone, Dreamer to Dreamer.”
“Even if you can’t be in the exact same fight as her,” Caleb said, “just you being near makes a big impact for her. Don’t sell yourself short. Just knowing you’re on her side and fighting for the same goals will give her strength.”
Shias smiled, but it faded swiftly. “I’m worried about her,” he said softly. “Not just what’s to come. She’s been —”
“My brothers!” came the energetic cry of Shana, as she came out of nowhere and tackled the boys into a group hug. Altair even jumped up to join in, licking Caleb’s face from Shana’s shoulder. “I’m so glad I have you both together again. Even if it’s not going to last long, I’m just… so glad.”
“It’s good to see you, too,” Caleb said, ruffling Shana’s hair. “You doing okay? You’ve been through a lot.”
“Everybody has,” Shana said, stepping out of the hug. “And we’re all hanging in there. I just wish we could all be working on the same stuff. It feels so weird, like… we all used to do stuff together, all five of us. Not so much recently, but when we were little, we were all inseparable. And now, it’s like… we’re all in the Enchanted Dominion, all on these fantastical adventures, but they’re all different. I wish we could all be on the same adventure. Delilah isn’t even here! It’s so close to feeling like this great reunion, but we’re missing one.”
“We’ll all be together again soon,” Caleb said. “One way or another… I think our journeys are more connected than we might think. You and Fae overlapped, and will again if the mirror she has is anything to go by, right? And we’ve all heard about the Endless Night, we’ve all faced the darkness at different times in different ways…” Caleb shrugged. “It’s a huge universe. There’s so much to see and do, so much that’s important, that it just needs the Greyson kids separated to sort it all out.”
Shana managed to giggle at that. “You make it sound like we’re some special heroes or something,” she said. “I’d like the sound of that, though.” She let out a sigh, then stared up at Caleb’s hair. “So, seriously, you’re not gonna address the new hair? Did you run out of dye?”
Caleb laughed. “It’s all part of the Time Magic stuff,” he said. “I don’t really get the hair and eyes, but I guess it’s a package deal. Does it look weird?”
“Yup,” Shana said with a simple nod, earning another laugh from Caleb. “But I’ll get used to it.” Her eyes shifted to look past Caleb, and she broke out in a smile, waving. “Fae, come on! Greyson family assembly!”
“Whatever that means,” Fae muttered, wandering over to join them. She looked at Shias, then Caleb. “Hey.”
“Hey,” Caleb said. He struggled to manage more than that. Despite all this time and all they’d been through…
Fae still seemed so distant.
“Come on, let’s not be weird or cold like that,” Shana said, bouncing on the balls of her feet. “I missed you guys, and you guys missed me, so the least you could do is act like you missed each other, too.”
Caleb laughed, and to his surprise, Fae chuckled, a small smile flickering across her lips. She sighed, raking a hand through her hair and looking at Shana. “Yeah, okay,” she said. “I’ve… had a lot on my mind lately.”
“I can imagine,” Caleb said. “I thought my adventures were crazy and weird, but…”
Fae nodded. “Yeah.”
“Whatever happens,” Shana said, stepping closer to Fae and gazing at her seriously, “look out for Olivia and Sonya, okay? I want to get to know them, sometime when we actually have the time to get to know each other.”
Fae looked taken aback for a moment, but then nodded. “Yeah. I feel the same.”
Caleb looked up and broke out into a big smile. “Chelsea, come on over!” he said, waving. Chelsea and Addie were awake, Addie playing around with Chelsea’s music player and asking questions about it. At Caleb’s invitation, though, they both headed right over. “This reminds me of something.”
“Of what, of what?” Addie asked, crowding in close to Caleb.
“Everyone in,” Caleb said, getting up close to Shana and Shias. Shana pulled in Fae, and Addie, practically glued to Caleb’s side, pulled in Chelsea. Caleb pulled out his pocket watch. Staring at the silver face for a moment, he smiled, then clicked the top button, opening it.
Inside was a picture. Caleb was in the middle, grinning widely, and Shana to his right, leaning into him and grinning even wider. Chelsea was to his left, a sort of smirk on her lips. In front of them were Fae with a deadpan expression, Shias with a smile, and Delilah front and center, beaming from ear to ear, her mass of blonde curls a huge contrast from everyone else’s dark hair.
“I forgot about that,” Chelsea said, staring. “It must be…”
“Three years, almost,” Caleb said, smiling at the picture.
“I didn’t realize you put it in your watch,” Shana said.
Caleb chuckled. “It’s my Talisman,” he said. “It keeps the picture as safe as possible, and… as close to me as possible, at all times.”
Shana slid her arm around Caleb’s waist and hugged him tight, and Caleb hugged her back. Chelsea rested her chin on Caleb’s shoulder, leaning her head against his.
“You should take a new one!” Addie said, looking up at everyone.
“What?” Shana asked.
“Because, you know…” Addie said, leaning against Caleb. “Like, it’s been three years. Everybody’s different now. And we’ve all made more friends and stuff! Like how Alice is Delilah’s sister now!”
“Wait, what?” Shana asked.
“First I heard it,” Caleb said with a shrug.
“That’s what we decided on the Doomed Beast,” Addie said. “And that’s why Alice stayed with Delilah.”
“But you came back to Caleb,” Shana said, and a smile slowly spread across her face, until she was suddenly blushing, and she hid her face in Caleb’s shoulder. “Yeah, I see now,” she said, giggling.
“Don’t be a goof about it,” Caleb said, nudging Shana with his shoulder, but she wouldn’t pull away, or stop giggling.
“What’s so funny?” Addie asked, pouting.
Shana finally pulled away, taking a few breaths to calm herself. “It’s not funny,” she said. “Just really, really, really, super cute. That’s all.”
“What’s really-really-really-super cute?” Addie asked.
“You are, kiddo,” Chelsea said, ruffling Addie’s hair.
Shana giggled again, then leaned up to whisper to Caleb, “You guys totally look like a cute little family.”
Caleb grinned, saying nothing as his heart melted.
“Anyway, uh, that’s enough closeness for me,” Fae said, pulling away from the group. “It’s good to see everyone, though.”
“Don’t act like it’s goodbye yet,” Shana said, following after her. “I wanna talk about stuff! If it’s just you and me it isn’t so weird and embarrassing, right?”
Slowly, everyone starting splitting off again. There were so many people here together, so many conversations to have, questions to ask, moments to share. Caleb had more time to spend with his brother. Shana got to talk to Fae, and the Star sisters, and Olivia and Sonya. Chelsea and Addie played in the bamboo forest, and Addie and Ingrid read books and listened to music together.
It was peaceful, and full of life, of happiness, of love.
It wouldn’t last. They had their different journeys to return to, battles to fight, mysteries to solve, obstacles to overcome.
But right now, right here, in this place, for as long as it lasted…
This is so close to perfect.