Caleb and Delilah are missing.
Shana almost hadn’t gone to school because of that.
“We’ll handle it,” Deirdre had said. “We already have our best people on it. Don’t worry. We’ll find them soon enough.”
“They probably just went off on some adventure,” Callum had said. “They’ll realize they’ve been gone too long and come home right away.”
Shana still had gone to school. Shias was going, though he was clearly rattled by the news. And if he was going, Shana was going with him. It wasn’t easy paying attention in class. At first, it had been because Shana was emotionally wounded, anxious and sad.
But that depression and anxiety had turned into a fire within her. She’d already been working on something big – now, with two of her siblings mysteriously vanishing, she had even more incentive to bring her plan into motion.
“No club meeting today,” Shana had said to her friends and literature club members during lunch. She’d explained what was going on, they’d understood, and wished her well and hoped her siblings would come home soon.
But then, between sixth and seventh period, Shana had sent out a text to only three members of the club: Urgent meeting in the club room after school. Don’t tell the others.
When eighth period ended and school was officially over, Shana made a beeline for the club room. “Where are you going?” Shias asked, stopping her in the hall. “I thought you didn’t want the club to meet.”
“That was a lie,” Shana said, fire in her eyes. “You and me are meeting with Rae, Kathryn, and Ben.”
“Just those three?” Shias asked, following along as Shana continued. The literature club room was one of the few club rooms with a window to the outside. Most of Grimoire Academy consisted of tunnels through the hill it was built on and into, so only about a fifth of the entire school saw sunlight. Last year, the literature club had been in the tunnels, but Shana had pushed hard for a room with a window and sunlight when she’d become club president. Succeeding at that had been one of her favorite moments at school – she’d stood up for something important to her, refused to back down, and got what she fought for.
“You know… those three are the only other you-know-whats in the club,” Shias mused as they climbed the stairs. Naturally, they couldn’t go around calling people mages in school. Roughly seventy percent of Grimoire Academy’s student body, and half of the teachers, were people with no knowledge of or abilities in magic. “And you told everyone else there was no club meeting today…”
“What’s your point?” Shana asked.
Shias sighed. “What kind of plan are you cooking up?” he asked.
Shana turned around, smiling sweetly. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said.
The cute-sweet act didn’t work. Shias gave her a hard, analytical stare. “What’s going on, Shana?”
Shana shrugged. “Nothing much,” she said. “Just figuring out a way to rescue Caleb and Delilah.”
Shias closed his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose. His brow furrowed tightly in frustration. “Shana,” he said slowly. “What do you mean by that?”
“Exactly what I said.”
“What do you plan to do?”
“Put together a team, decide on a plan, train for it, and see it through.”
“Do you see the problem with your vague idea of a plan?”
Shana folded her arms. “At least look at me when we’re having a debate,” she said. “Stop pinching your nose. You look like you have a migraine.”
Shias groaned, finally opening his eyes. “Shana,” he said sternly. “What can we even do? And what do you mean ‘rescue’? They’re missing – that doesn’t mean that they need rescuing. They could have just gotten lost.”
Shana stared at her brother with half-lidded eyes, expressing her annoyance with his theory. “Lost,” she echoed, shaking her head. “Caleb wouldn’t get lost. If they’re in Grimoire somewhere, they were kidnapped. If they’re not in Grimoire, then why did they leave without saying anything? Our siblings are in trouble, Shias.”
“And how could we get Caleb out of trouble that he can’t get out of himself?” Shias asked. “Chelsea’s missing, too, so she’s probably with them. Two pro Hunters – if they actually are in trouble, and they can’t get themselves out, what can we do?”
“Being pro Hunters doesn’t mean they can do everything,” Shana countered. “You know even better than I do that every magic has weaknesses. If I was going to kidnap Caleb and Chelsea, I’d study their abilities, and then devise a trap or prison that countered all of those abilities.”
“Don’t say magic so loud in school,” Shias urged in a hushed voice. He pulled Shana aside, towards a less trafficked corner. “Okay. I get your theory. And you’re right – in theory. But what do you expect us to do? You barely have any magic, and to my knowledge, it’s the same for Rae, Kathryn, and Ben.”
“But you have been training to be a Hunter,” Shana said, jabbing her finger into Shias’ chest. “You’re kind of a genius. So you’re going to be our tactical leader and training coach.”
“I’m going to be what?” Shias looked like he was experiencing a migraine again.
“We need you,” Shana said firmly. “And you know it.”
“Shana, I just… what…” Shias sighed. “I don’t think there’s anything we can do.”
“You don’t even want to try?”
“I just –”
Shana cut him off. “Our siblings are missing, and you don’t want to do anything.” She glared daggers at him, once again jabbing a finger against his chest. Shias stared back at her, shocked at her show of determination. She held his gaze, willing him to care as much about this as she did.
Shias lowered his gaze and let out a sigh. “I’m in,” he said. A smile tickled the corner of his lips, but only for a moment. “I can’t remember the last time you were genuinely angry with me.”
Shana didn’t know what to say to that, so she just flashed a smile and continued leading the way to the clubroom. “I knew you’d come around,” she said.
Shias chuckled. “Of course you did,” he said. “Once you get an idea in your head, you never let it go. And you always pull me into it.”
Their clubroom was enjoyably spacious. Structured with the main room in front of them, and then a smaller section of the room to the side, they’d arranged the side area as storage. Several bookshelves were stacked and overflowing onto chairs and small desks and even the floor. In the main room, there were three round tables, a chalkboard, one more bookshelf loaded with books for good measure, and a couch by the long window on the opposite side from the door.
Shana found Rae, Kathryn, and Ben already there. Rae was her usual shy, nervous self. She was sitting by the window, staring out into the distance, but she looked up when the twins entered.
Kathryn and Ben were having a rather aggressive game of rock-paper-scissors. Kathryn’s blonde hair was tied back in a ponytail, and her gaze was adorably fierce over such a childish game. She was competitive like that.
Ben was the gangly one of the group. All skin and bones, he constantly exuded energy. Even as he threw out scissors to lose to Kathryn’s rock, he was tapping his foot to some unknown rhythm in his head.
“The leaders are late!” Kathryn called out with dramatic exaggeration. “What took you so long?”
“Sibling chat,” Shana said, pulling up a chair and plopping down at the nearest table.
“W-what’s this all about?” Rae asked, scooting hesitantly up to join her. “I… I noticed you didn’t invite the entire club.”
“Yeah, only us mages,” Kathryn said, staring excitedly at Shana. So she’d noticed, just like Shias had.
Guess I’m not as subtle as I thought. “That’s right,” Shana said with a nod. “And we have important, mage-only stuff to discuss.”
“Like what?” Ben asked, drumming his fingertips on the table. Kathryn smacked his hands to make him stop, but his fingers quickly returned to the table. Kathryn tried again, to the same result. Three more rounds of this back-and-forth, and she finally gave up, glaring at Ben.
“I’ll get right to the point,” Shana said. Like club members normally did when they had an important announcement or a project to pitch, Shana stood up. “I want the five of us to track down and rescue the missing children.”
“I thought you said –” Shias started, but Shana held up a hand to cut him off.
“Not only that,” Shana said. “I also want to save Caleb and Delilah.”
“How are the two problems connected?” Ben asked. He’d pulled out a small notepad and a pen and was writing on it. “The kids who are going missing… that’s because of the Pipers, right? But they only take children, all of them younger than ten years old.”
This was the tricky part. Shana was, at the core of everything, really just going off of her gut instinct. But she had to at least sound like she had logical reasons for these feelings. “Caleb and Delilah went missing overnight,” Shana said. “Last night, there were more Hollows than ever. Apparently that’s how the library got wrecked. Hollows in greater numbers than Grimoire has ever seen, from what my parents said. I think, in order to find out anything about my siblings, we have to start with Hollows. And the Hollows that are notorious for being behind mysterious disappearances are the Pipers.”
“But –” Ben started.
“I’m in,” Rae said, interrupting Ben and shocking everyone else with how confidently she said it. Rae wasn’t one to speak out of turn, and she rarely had such a strong voice. As all eyes went to the small, mousy girl, she shrank back, but her eyes didn’t drop. “My… my dad. He went missing four years ago. Investigators and local police couldn’t find anything, no evidence of what might have happened to him. But…”
“He went missing between midnight and one,” Shias said, nodding. “I remember. You and your parents were all out together, right?”
Rae nodded. “I… there were a lot of sounds in the neighborhood,” she said. “We were near Grim Night’s, so there was plenty of music, and a pretty big crowd. I thought I heard something, just for a moment, like a flute, but I couldn’t be sure. And then… dad was just gone.”
That made things even more clear for Shana. There was no way Rae’s dad, all of the missing kids, and Caleb and Delilah weren’t somehow linked. “So we start with what’s most solid,” she said. “We start with the missing kids. We know the Pipers are taking them, and we know they disappear outside the boundary line around the city. If we can find a way to track them, to see where they’re going, we might find the missing kids. And if we find them, we just might find everyone else – or, at the very least, clues leading to them.”
“And how are we supposed to track a Piper?” Shias asked. “How is this a job for us instead of Hunters?”
Shana was ready for this question. “Hunters are tasked with defending the city,” she said. “That’s their job. They try to pursue Pipers, they do their best to keep them from leaving the city, but if they fail, they can’t waste time trying to track them down. They have a battle unfolding in the city. But we don’t have that responsibility.”
“So we can do what they can’t,” Kathryn said. Her eyes and voice made it clear she was fired up. “I’m in. Kids have been going missing for too long. Think of their parents.” She cast a look of compassion towards Shana and Shias. “Think of their siblings. This has to stop.”
“But why us?” Ben asked, leaning back in his chair. Kathryn smirked at him, and then kicked the legs of his chair out from under him, sending the boy crashing to the floor. As Ben cried out in shock and pain, Kathryn burst out laughing.
“What was that for?” Ben shouted, jumping up and rubbing the back of his head.
“You set yourself up for it,” Kathryn said, sticking out her tongue at him. “It was too tempting.”
Shana chuckled, but kept herself under control. “What were you asking, Ben?” she asked.
“I was asking why us,” Ben repeated, shooting a glare at Kathryn, who continued to laugh unabated. “We’re not exactly trained mages. We know a bit of magic here and there, but we’re not amazing.”
Shana puffed up a bit as she gestured towards her brother. “Shias is training to be a Hunter,” she said proudly. “And he regularly trains with Caleb, who’s known as one of the best. So we have at least one incredibly talented mage in our group.”
“Don’t exaggerate,” Shias said. “I do know my stuff. But it’s not anything more than any of you would if you studied and trained.”
“Ben’s a beast at Blinking,” Kathryn said, grinning.
“Blinking?” Shana asked, wondering what the heck flapping your eyelids had to do with magic.
“With a capital ‘B’,” Shias said. “It’s a standard Mobility Magic technique, a short-range teleport.”
“He can Blink up to two hundred yards!” Kathryn continued, nudging the now self-conscious Ben.
“Two…” Shias started, staring wide-eyed at the skinny boy. “Two hundred? Are you serious? Some of the best Hunters can’t even manage one hundred.”
Ben, cheeks turning red, looked away. “It’s… it’s no big deal,” he said. “I can’t really do much else with magic. I just really like teleporting, so I do it all the time. I got pretty good at that. But I can’t do anything else, really. It’s not that amazing.”
“It could be,” Shias said, and Shana felt excitement grow as she saw “the look” in her twin brother’s eyes. His mind was at work on a problem, devising strategies and thinking ahead. Shana didn’t have to ask him to know that Ben’s intriguing talent had won Shias over. He was definitely part of the team, now.
“I have some moves,” Kathryn said, pairing it with a nonchalant shrug. “I mean, I’d never say I’m great, or even close to Hunter material, but we won’t need amazing combat skills. We just need to be good enough to hold our own if we get into a scrap. Most Hunters work in pairs or trios. With five of us, as long as we get the teamwork down, we can do pretty well, right?”
Rae raised her hand, the way she usually did when she had something to say. “I c-can use Summoning Magic,” she said. “I hope it can be useful.”
“So we’re all on board?” Shana asked, feeling her heart swell with anticipation.
“I don’t know,” Kathryn said, casting a sly glance Ben’s way, “are we?”
Ben sighed, closing his notepad. “Yeah,” he said. “I’m in. As long as Shias is in charge of training and strategies, we’ll be all right.”
Shias didn’t even seem to hear him. Staring intently at the table, he was clearly lost in thought. Shana took it as a good sign.
“All right!” she said, clapping her hands together. “Now all we need to figure out is a training schedule, and a location.”
“We have a training room at home,” Shias said, suddenly paying attention to the conversation again. “And mom and dad don’t usually get home on weekdays until late, so we’d have a few hours a day without anyone asking questions.”
“I can do any day, any time,” Kathryn said.
“I’m set any day, too,” Ben said.
“I h-have to ask mom,” Rae said, “but she’ll probably say yes.”
“Can we start tomorrow?” Shana asked.
“Let’s do it,” Kathryn said. She stood up, walked around the table to Shana, and pulled her into a hug. “We’ll find Caleb and Delilah. Whatever it takes.”
Shana nodded, hugging her blonde friend back. “Right,” she said.
Whatever it takes. That’s exactly what Shana had been thinking before starting this meeting. She hadn’t expected it to go this well.
She shouldn’t have been so worried.
I have the best freaking friends in the world.