Caleb Greyson leapt from his rooftop perch to the next one over, sprinting across the ceramic tiles. Vaulting a chimney into open air, he let gravity take hold of him. He grinned and reached into his pocket as the cool night air embraced him.
Out came a silver pocket watch. Clicking the top button, it opened, and Caleb held it in front of him, like a shield between himself and the oncoming street below. A pulse of white light burst from the watch’s face, and everything began to slow. Out from the watch flew a dozen shining silver discs, which formed a floating pathway through the air. With time at a crawl around him, Caleb pivoted, landing on his feet on the first of the translucent discs. He dashed ahead, closing the watch as he ran from disc to disc, climbing a wide curving staircase of sorts to perch atop a tall tower. Time resumed its original course, and Caleb heaved a sigh, wiping sweat from his brow.
Green fire flashed in the streets below. Not much farther now. In the flickers of emerald light, two forms appeared and disappeared. One was clearly human.
The other, clearly not.
Caleb opened his watch again and leapt from the tower, slowing time around him once more. The discs flew forth, forming a safe pathway to the low rooftops to the left – a perfect pathway to meet up with his fighting companion. Landing on the first platform, Caleb felt a familiar pressure in his chest that built up the longer he forced time to deviate from its ordinary course.
Time Magic takes a terrible toll.
So he’d been told by multiple masters throughout his youth, as his unique abilities became apparent. Now in his twenties, he was reminded of it every day, as he used those abilities night after night – like clockwork.
Not that he regretted training in Time Magic. He loved it, and being the only living person able to use it was exciting.
Caleb heaved a sigh and let time resume its natural course as he landed on the rooftops and continued along them, on a path parallel to the battle below. Silver moonlight illuminated his way in this neighborhood devoid of streetlights, and as he approached the battle, the green flames added an ethereal tint to the world.
“You’re taking your sweet time!” his companion called.
Caleb laughed. “You said time.”
Finally close enough to join, Caleb leapt into midair once again. He tumbled into a roll as he landed in the street, and then was on his feet and charging into battle.
His companion, Chelsea Reiner, was the source of the green fire. In either hand was a silver lighter, and as she waved them forward in calculated arcs, emerald flames shot forth as orbs, coils, tongues, walls, rolling cascades, and thin, lancing daggers. She moved like a warrior dancer, graceful and powerful. Her dark hair, just shorter than shoulder-length, whipped around with her movements, framing fierce eyes that shone with verdant light.
“Coming on your right!” Caleb called out. Chelsea didn’t say a word, instantly stepping left, keeping the beast that was their target wrapped in flames and cornered.
Vicious and hideous, their target was a Hollow – soulless monsters, they came in many forms, terrorizing the citizens of Grimoire in the deepest hours of the night. This particular Hollow was a Howler, and looked rather like a wolf but hairless, covered in murky skin tattooed with glowing red markings. It had empty black pits for eyes, and its obsidian teeth and claws glittered scarlet whenever it attacked.
“Awfully feisty for a Howler,” Caleb said, eyes flashing as he swung his watch in a wide arc overhead. Chains of white light shot forth, wrapping around the Howler’s legs and muzzle, forcing it to the street as it growled and thrashed.
“Well, now it’s finished,” Chelsea said, grinning as she blasted the beast with green flame. With one final, throaty howl, the wolf-like Hollow turned to ash. Where it had once been was now a large black spot, and in its center, a single crystal fang.
“Aww, only one,” Chelsea said, giving Caleb a pleading look.
Caleb chuckled, rolling his eyes as he twirled his pocket watch, closing it and returning it to his pocket. “Ladies first.”
Chelsea smiled, stepping forward and kissing Caleb on the cheek before sauntering over to her prize. “You’re a sweetheart.”
“An insufferable sweetheart?”
Chelsea shot Caleb a grin. “That’s my favorite kind.” She lifted the crystal fang, twirled it between her fingers, then placed it in a pouch on her belt.
“Think that’s the end?”
Chelsea pulled out her cell phone, eyeing the screen for a moment, then nodded. “One o’ clock. We’re all set. Ready to head home?”
“Definitely. I’m beat.”
They began the walk to their apartments, navigating the narrow, dim streets with comfortable familiarity. Perhaps no one knew the winding labyrinth of Grimoire’s roads and paths better than Caleb and Chelsea.
They passed the gargoyles guarding the gate to Jacob Crowley’s absurdly huge mansion, wreathed in shadow even as the moon shone down on it. They strolled under the Hibidian Arches, and took the Moonstone Bridge across Lunaria Lake. Its placid waters gleamed an otherworldly silver.
Chelsea twined her fingers with Caleb’s and leaned against his arm.
“Have you heard back from your sister yet?” Chelsea asked.
“From Fae?” Caleb asked, and Chelsea nodded. He sighed. “She hasn’t replied yet. I don’t think she’s said or texted a word to me in nearly six months.”
Chelsea bumped her shoulder against his playfully. “Maybe you should pay her a surprise visit.”
“Oh yeah, she’d love that. So much that she’d try to kill me.”
“You know, you two could learn a bit from each other. Fae could use some of your sunshiny optimism. And you could use some of her realism. And, you know, she actually uses more than one Talisman, like most mages.” With that last bit, Chelsea cast a meaningful yet teasing look Caleb’s way.
Caleb chuckled, his hand brushing against his pocket watch. “I’m fine with one. My mom has one, my dad has one, and they’re both totally incredible. I like to think they set the golden standard.” As he found himself smiling at the thought of his parents, Caleb turned and saw Chelsea staring in the distance, a strange look on her face.
I don’t know why she always gets weird when I mention mom and dad, Caleb thought, but didn’t voice it. He’d tried broaching the subject once, and that had been enough for him to leave it alone since.
A chirp from Caleb’s phone caught his attention. He knew that sound – it was his tone for messages on Re-Code, a messaging app with numerous group chat features. The Hunters had their own Re-Code group to stay in contact and check in with each other. When Caleb checked the message from his fellow Hunters, his heart sank.
“Three kids tonight,” he said softly.
Chelsea was looking at the same message on her own phone, and nodded. “Where do those Pipers go?”
“That’s what we’ll need to find out.” Caleb put his phone away, climbing the stairs of the apartment complex. “All our efforts, all our fighting, and still the Pipers slip through our fingers. This can’t keep going on. And I…”
“What is it?” Chelsea asked.
Caleb sighed. “This probably sounds weird, but I feel like there’s something darker at work here. Pipers didn’t use to steal children away. Now they do it all the time.”
“You think someone’s pulling the strings?”
Caleb nodded. “I do.”
“But who could control Hollows? And why would they want to kidnap so many innocent children?”
“I don’t know. But I don’t like it. We need to do better. We protect a lot of people, but if we can’t keep the most defenseless among us safe…” Caleb’s free hand clenched into a fist. “We don’t deserve to be Hunters. We don’t deserve to come out here and brag about how many Hollows we destroyed, if we can’t save a few children.”
Chelsea squeezed his hand. “So let’s investigate. Let’s find a way to keep this from happening. But for tonight…” Chelsea pulled away, for they’d arrived at the floor of their apartments. “Let’s sleep and recover. Tomorrow we’ll take up the hunt again. Do you have any plans during the day tomorrow?”
Caleb shook his head. “Not plans, but…” He thought for a moment. “I think the twins and Delilah are on Fall Break. Maybe I should pay them a visit.”
Chelsea gave him a meaningful look. “Don’t forget about Fae.”
“I’ll see if I can bring some backup to visit her,” Caleb said with a chuckle. “Shana’s good at bringing her guard down.”
“Strategizing. I like it. Just don’t use up all your energy before midnight.”
“I know. You can count on me.”
“Can’t I always?”
Caleb smirked. “Good night.”
“Good night.” Chelsea leaned up, kissed him on the cheek. She cast a teasing glance at him as she walked away. “You insufferable sweetheart.”