Lorelei opened her eyes.
It was an effort. Her eyelids were so heavy, and her mind so foggy. Her whole body felt weak, heavy, numb. There was a dull ache in her right forearm.
But she kept her eyes open. This was the sixth time, at least of the times she remembered, that she’d opened her eyes. Every other time, she hadn’t been able to keep them open.
The ceiling was white, the lights soft. All was dim. The clock on the far wall read half-past twelve, though if it was noon or midnight, Lorelei didn’t know yet.
“How —” she started, then winced. Her mouth was so dry, her lips chapped, her throat so sore. “How long have I been out?”
“Two days,” came the soft voice of Will.
Lorelei turned her head, and saw Will sitting beside her. The window beside him was mostly shaded, but through a gap in the curtains she saw the thick darkness of night outside. So it was half-past midnight, then. Will looked up from his laptop to meet Lorelei’s gaze.
“What about Gwen?” Lorelei asked.
“Next room over,” Will said, nodding towards the wall at the head of the bed. “She woke up once, briefly, but she’s doing okay. Just very weak. She lost a lot of blood.”
Lorelei nodded shallowly, the simple movement difficult. “Two days…” she said softly. She took in a breath, inhaling slowly as deeply as she could before letting it out. She couldn’t take a very deep breath, but it didn’t hurt to breathe, and she didn’t feel the bitter chill she’d expected.
So I’ve recovered from Ice Magic overuse, at least.
“Your parents have been by as much as they can,” Will said. “Visiting Gwen, too.” Lorelei smiled at that.
Looking around a bit more, Lorelei saw more clearly where she’d expected she was: Grimoire’s hospital. It was a special wing used for Hunters, its rooms denoted by the red diagonal band across the door. The dull ache in her right arm turned out to be the insertion point of an IV drip. White blankets covered her body, and it looked like she had several extra blankets. She felt quite warm.
“You had a lot of ice on your body,” Will said. “And you were shivering constantly for the first ten hours. No matter what we did, you couldn’t get warm.”
“I’m warm now,” Lorelei said. She thought she saw the smallest of smiles ghost across Will’s lips. Something soft, fluffy, warm nudged at her left hand, and she paused, surprised. She moved her fingers, and felt the fur of some sort of…
There was a brief rustling, and then up from the covers came a small creature, with the black eyes and telltale single-tone glow of a Summon. Dark, almost ultraviolet, purple, the little Summon had a body about the size of Lorelei’s palm, but also had a long fluffy tail like a squirrel’s, and bunny-like ears, the left one perking up while the right one drooped down halfway up.
“He’s mine,” Will said, sounding a bit embarrassed. “I… Summoned him for the first time not long after you collapsed. He’s been staying with you when I wasn’t able to be here.”
“He’s a firrin,” Lorelei said, smiling as she stroked the Summon’s long ears.
Will looked surprised. “You’ve… been reading my books,” he said.
“Of course,” Lorelei said. “And eagerly awaiting the newest one.” She laughed, even though it hurt a little, as the firrin nudged against her palm, whistling softly. “Is this one Trevain? Or Marco?”
“Trevain,” Will said. “He’s my favorite.”
“You Summoned him… just for my sake?” Lorelei asked.
“I, ah…” Will started, glancing at the floor. “I’ve been thinking about a Summon for a long time. Especially after you came back and I heard from you and the others about the Wood of the Wisps. But… I guess you could say that’s true. I just… didn’t want you to be alone.”
Lorelei wished Trevain was bigger so she could hide her blush in his fur, but Will was clearly too embarrassed to look at her, so he didn’t notice.
“Thank you,” Lorelei said, smiling as she continued to pet Trevain. For a while, they didn’t talk further, and before Lorelei knew it, she’d drifted off to sleep again.
When next she woke, it was two-thirty in the morning. Will was still there, his fingers typing away on his laptop providing a steady, soothing sort of rhythm. Lorelei smiled as she felt Trevain, nestled against her neck, his tail draped over her shoulder.
“Sorry about that,” she said, and Will looked up. “Drifted off there, huh?”
“It’s fine,” Will said. “Orders for both you and Gwen from the doctor, and reinforced by Mister Crowley and Oscar: ‘Eat a lot, drink a lot, sleep a lot.’ Both of you need to recover first and foremost.”
“I think I’ve had enough sleeping for a while,” Lorelei said. She felt around and found the controls for her bed, raising the back so she could sit up. The table next to her had a plastic cup and a pitcher of water, and she poured herself a cup and drank slowly, readjusting to the feel of swallowing after two days of sleep. When the cup was empty, she filled it again, drained it, and then sat back. “Can you tell me what’s going on? All of it, as much as you know.”
“Kaohlad’s dead,” Will said. “On that front, we succeeded. But…”
“The days are still short and dark,” Lorelei said. She saw Will nod in her peripheral vision.
“Energy’s returned to Grimoire,” Will continued. “The dozens that were in comas have woken up and are back to their regular lives. Crops are growing again. Despite how the sky looks, we did make a difference. Things did change. Just not as much as we’d hoped.” He tapped on his laptop’s screen a few times, then nodded. “The library is the mystery, now. We retraced our steps and found that the path down to where we fought Kaohlad does connect to the library, just like we saw. No one knew — the library’s always had complex tunnels, and while they used to be fully mapped, that was centuries ago. No one bothered to take good care of or reproduce those maps, since the underground tunnels were used less and less as time went on. We found many other paths going deeper, but we haven’t explored too heavily going down. After that flood of darkness, we’re not risking an expedition until we’re well-prepared.”
“Was the darkness still where we left it?” Lorelei asked.
Will shook his head. “It receded,” he said. “We don’t know how far down, but Oscar and I, with a few other Hunters, went halfway down the way we came, and we didn’t see it.”
“Lying in wait for the right opportunity,” Lorelei said. Will nodded his agreement.
With a lull in the conversation, Lorelei ordered food, which came remarkably promptly. Eating was slow, but she was so glad for the taste of food, and the strength it returned to her. A nurse came in and checked on her, and then a doctor a bit after, and everything seemed to check out.
“You should be able to go home to rest in proper comfort in the afternoon,” the doctor said with a smile.
“And Gwen?” Lorelei asked.
“She’ll need a longer stay,” the doctor said, “but she’s well on the mend. Resilient, that one. You needn’t worry about her.”
The doctor left, and Lorelei sighed. The clock on the wall read five thirty-seven.
“Feel free to rest,” Will said. “Don’t push yourself. After that fight, we all need to recover.”
“What’s it like for you?” Lorelei asked. “When you overuse your magic, I mean.”
“I get lightheaded, dizzy,” Will said. “The biggest tell for me is my grip strength just vanishes. It gets really hard to hold my Talisman and write properly.”
“It’s different for everyone,” Lorelei said. “Say, do you ever feel like… your magic isn’t just a power you wield? As if… there’s some other being inside of you, or surrounding you, that’s a part of your magic?”
Will stared at the wall, eyes deep in thought. After a long silence, he shook his head. “I’ve never felt anything like that,” he said. “Why?”
“I… think I’m on the verge of a breakthrough in understanding Elemental Magic,” Lorelei said. “I’ve had that sort of feeling, like there was someone inside of me, or watching over me, ever since I’ve used Ice Magic, ever since I was a child. And I’ve noticed when I manipulate existing moisture, rather than drawing on my own power, it feels wrong. Like there’s pushback, both from what I’m manipulating, and by… something, or someone, on my end. But I never really had any proof. Not until we fought Kaohlad. When I was pushing things too far, when I was overdoing it, I was getting way too close to what happened at the Library of Solitude — totally freezing. But a… person appeared. He didn’t have a face, not really, just eyes. But he was the same color as my ice, and he reached out to me. When I took his hand… I got strength back. The ice encroaching on me and in me receded. He gave me an extension, let me fight longer.”
Will’s face was hard to read as usual, but his silence and faraway gaze made it clear he was contemplating what Lorelei had said. “This has never happened before?” he finally asked. “You’ve never seen that person before the fight?”
Lorelei shook her head. Trevain burrowed under the covers, nestling against her side, and she petted him gratefully. “I’ve always… felt his presence. But I never really knew. I never had any proof until now.”
“What do you think it means?” Will asked.
“I’m not sure,” Lorelei said. “But… I know we have a lot to explore and investigate already, but I want to do research on this, too. I think, considering we know of a world of magic beyond our own… when I have the chance, I should go back to the Enchanted Dominion. The Cartographers might know something, and if they don’t, the Library of Solitude is the biggest library in the entire universe. It’s bound to hold some answers.”
Will nodded. “If…” he started, hesitating. “Whenever it is you decide to go, do you think I could come with you?”
Lorelei realized then, as if for the first time…
Will had never been to the Enchanted Dominion.
Of course he hadn’t. She knew that. But it was easy to forget. He was so close to Caleb, so close to their group, and he’d been told all of their stories about the Dominion, so when the subject came up among them, Will kept up easily, as if he’d been there with them.
But he hadn’t.
“I won’t leave you behind,” Lorelei said with a nod. She smiled. “There’s so much that you’ll want to see. So much that will completely amaze you.”
“I’m counting on it,” Will said.
“Gwen’ll come, too,” Lorelei said. “We jumped in the deep end for our first real fight together, but the three of us make a good team.” Will nodded.
Conversation lulled, but the silence was soothing. Just having Will there, having little Trevain cozied up to her, helped Lorelei feel safe, and warm, and ready to heal.
Despite all she wanted to do, she knew she wasn’t ready. She was weak, drained, and it would take time to recover. Using Healing Magic on oneself was never recommended because of the doubling effect it had on draining one’s energy, but that drain didn’t take effect if Healing Magic was just used for a “check-up.” Thanks to that, Lorelei had excellent understanding of her own body, its strengths and weaknesses, its limitations, and its current condition.
She wasn’t wounded, injured, or sick, yet she was still in no shape to go traipsing around Grimoire in detective mode.
So I’ll rest. And make sure that Gwen rests.
With time, we’ll both be ready soon enough.
She did end up going home that afternoon, though when she left with her parents at half-past one, it was dark as midnight outside. She’d visited Gwen before leaving, and found the auburn-haired Enchanted fast asleep, but looking to be sleeping peacefully. There was more color in her cheeks than when Lorelei had last seen her, and that was heartening.
What wasn’t heartening was the sky. The darkness.
Is this… the start of the Endless Night?
What’s going on in the Enchanted Dominion? Did something terrible happen to Chelsea and everyone else? Did they…
Did they fail?
But Lorelei couldn’t hold those despairing thoughts for long. She couldn’t believe that Chelsea had actually failed, first of all. And secondly, whatever the truth was…
She would find it out soon enough.
I’ll rest, recover, heal. So will Gwen. Then we’ll investigate Grimoire. Find out whatever we can, whatever secrets need to be unearthed.
And then it’s onward to the Enchanted Dominion. To discover the truth about Elemental Magic, but also…
To discover the truth about the darkness. About the Endless Night. To make sure everyone’s okay, and if not…
To give them all the support we can.
When the sun finally did rise, ashen and grey, it was nearly four o’ clock. The sky was filled with strange, ominous clouds, dark and stormy but swirling unnaturally, tinged with eerie yellows and purples. Lightning flashed a few times, but no thunder rolled, and no rains fell.
We killed Kaohlad, one of the Sons of Night.
But the darkness is stronger than ever. It lies right under our feet, here in Grimoire. But it’s also out there, along with the other Sons of Night, and the Lord of Night.
Rather than going back to her apartment, Lorelei stayed with her parents at Frost Manor. That was where she could truly rest, eating a lot, drinking a lot, and sleeping a lot, just as the doctor ordered. Will was gracious enough to do some research for her and bring books and articles over for her to read, giving her a head start on her search for the truth to the mystery behind Elemental Magic.
Gwen was discharged three days after Lorelei, joining her at Frost Manor. They shared a room, moving another bed into Lorelei’s bedroom. Gwen was weak, and she slept for at least four hours at a time, waking for only an hour or two before sleeping once more. But when she was awake, she was lucid and talkative, putting her head together with Lorelei’s and Will’s.
And she had some fascinating knowledge to share.
“The Endless Night will touch the Enchanted Dominion hardest,” she explained one afternoon, “and soonest. The Dominion is foretold to take the brunt of the darkness, resisting long and hard before finally giving way. Only then will the Endless Night properly expand to the Human realm. What we’re experiencing now, at least according to the prophecy, are the early omens, the warnings, the signs. The Endless Night is coming. But it has not come yet. We should still have time.”
“But that means Chelsea and the others are seeing worse effects?” Lorelei asked.
Gwen nodded. “That’s most likely,” she said. “Though it may be hard for them to notice. Every Location has a different day and night cycle, and many — like the Library of Solitude — already have much longer nights than days.”
On the subject of Elemental Magic, Gwen again proved knowledgeable. “I’ve heard of such a phenomenon,” she said when told of the phantom Lorelei had seen. “It’s something that connects, I think, with what Ignis said to Lorelei when they fought.”
Lorelei’s eyes widened as she remembered. “ ‘The Elemental chooses the Elementalist.’ And he talked about the Fire ‘choosing’ her and him.”
Gwen nodded. “My knowledge of Elemental Magic is limited,” she said, “and different compared to yours, since we Enchanted rarely talk about Magic in terms of separate ‘classes.’ But the talk I’ve seen of the Elements focuses on how no one can control multiple Elements. Fire, Ice, Water, Lightning, Stone, Wood, Wind, Metal… any who controls an Element controls only one, never more.”
“The wording he used,” Lorelei said. “ ‘Elemental.’ Could that be the phantom I saw, the one who’s with me and a part of my ice? Is that what they look like?”
“I don’t know what they’re supposed to look like,” Gwen said, “but considering the facts we have, I think that’s a very sound conclusion.”
“There’s still so much more to know,” Lorelei said. “But this is a huge start compared to what I expected. Thank you.”
Gwen smiled, though there was a sadness in her eyes. “I’m glad to be of help,” she said. “As for finding out more, the Library of Solitude is very likely the best place to start.”
After three days of rest and recovery at home, both Lorelei and Gwen were cleared for active duty. And, despite her never taking the test to become a Hunter, Gwen was awarded the title of Honorary Hunter, in recognition of all she’d done for Grimoire and alongside other Hunters.
“You deserve it,” Lorelei said as she walked with Gwen and Will towards Grimoire’s library. “You’ve basically been a Hunter ever since coming to Grimoire with the rest of us.”
“But I’ve also caused trouble for you,” Gwen said with a frown. “And the first time I came to this city…”
“Was a very long time ago,” Lorelei said. “More importantly, that’s your past. It’s a different you than the Gwen here, right now. Same goes for when your darkness took over. That could happen to any of us. We all fail sometimes, Gwen. We all do things we shouldn’t, give into temptations, sometimes. What’s important is that you came back, and who you are now, the decisions you make now.”
Gwen nodded. “I’ll do my best to live up to the title,” she said.
In Grimoire’s public library, the trio made their way down into the first of the underground tunnels, the same tunnel Lorelei had so long ago taken with Caleb and Chelsea to meet Isabelle for the first time.
They soon reached a new door, and a new staircase going down. This one only descended two stories before exiting into a stone, arching corridor wide enough for a dozen to walk abreast, yet so long that it was clearly a tremendously wide corridor, and not just a big chamber all its own. There were numerous Hunters and Investigators everywhere they went, taking notes and relaying information, examining every corner of the place.
Lorelei, Gwen, and Will were here with a specific task, given to them by Grace Fields, an Investigator and aide to Jacob Crowley. She was in charge of Cove security, but was excellent at juggling a wide array of tasks and situations, so she’d also been taking point on investigations into the tunnels beneath the library.
Her request went straight to the trio because of Lorelei and Gwen in particular, and their experience with the living darkness in the Library of Solitude, though Will was included thanks to his participation in the fight against Kaohlad and the flight from the flood of darkness.
“Here we go,” Lorelei said, stopping at an archway that led out from the wide corridor into a small, domed chamber. This was what Grace had tasked them with investigating.
Lorelei stopped inside the chamber, staring at the stone pedestal in the center. On it was carved a crescent moon around the letter G, the symbol of the Lunar Architects, founders of Grimoire. Beneath that was a quote, one Lorelei had heard before, attributed to the Architects’ leader, Grimwold Garcia:
“To fear the darkness is folly. For one to grasp the true nature of the world, one must walk in both darkness and light.”
Beneath that quote was a pair of round depressions in the stone. The one on the left contained a pearl, and the one on the right a sphere of obsidian.
Lorelei stared, pondering what she was seeing, what Grace thought contained far more than was immediately apparent.
The main thing that struck Lorelei now, before she began investigating, was the seeming contradiction at play. These tunnels, constructed under the oldest standing building in Grimoire, constructed by the Lunar Architects themselves, founders of Grimoire…
Also housed the living darkness?