Fae sat in the darkest, most secluded corner of Grim Night’s. It was hard to find dark seclusion when the sun was still up, since Grim Night’s had tons of windows letting in large amounts of natural light, but if Fae was really looking for seclusion, she would have just stayed in her dorm room.
Too many people had been knocking on her door. Too many people had heard about Caleb and Delilah and were offering well wishes and support.
News about the Greysons travels fast, Fae had realized. But it’s not like they actually care. They care about me. That’s all. If I didn’t care, they wouldn’t care. If it weren’t for me, they’d probably be happy that two members of the Greyson family are missing.
Not for the first time, Fae realized just how twisted and broken the magical community in Grimoire was. She’d tried to express to Shana why their parents were so hated among the mages, and why they had so many enemies in Grimoire, but…
In truth, Fae didn’t entirely understand it herself.
She hadn’t distanced herself from her parents because they have enemies. She hadn’t distanced herself from them because of the political turmoil simmering under the surface in Grimoire.
She just didn’t like her parents. Or her older brother.
And she didn’t understand her younger brother.
But those feelings just made the current situation more complicated.
Why am I in such disarray over Caleb disappearing? Fae wondered. Last I checked, I’d be glad if I never saw him again. So…
It’s probably Delilah. She went missing, too, after all. I hope she comes back soon. I hope someone finds her. I hope nothing happened to her. I wonder how Shana’s doing… she must be heartbroken. I should probably text her. Or call her. Or something.
Despite those thoughts, Fae didn’t pull out her phone. She just sat at her table and continued drawing, letting the music of the four-piece acoustic band on stage – Unplugged Rhythm – wash over her.
Most of Fae’s artistic work was done digitally. It was easier to work with, especially for her projects in animation club. And while she still enjoyed it – coloring was especially easier digitally than with paint or pen – there was something tactile and cathartic with paper and pencil. Even better was getting out of her dorm room and to somewhere different. Sure, she was perhaps overly familiar with Grim Night’s, but she didn’t come and draw here very often.
Drawing in public was nerve-wracking. Thankfully, Fae had mastered the art of suppressing her presence. Sitting in this back corner, she was practically invisible. People saw her, sure. But no one paid her any mind. Certainly no one tried to approach her and see what she was doing.
Pushing up her glasses with her right hand, she continued to draw with her left. Her pencil ran along the page, etching lines into the white, empty space. She didn’t have anything particular in mind to draw – she just let her hand flow, bringing to life the feelings and thoughts dwelling in her subconscious. Simple shapes appeared, then blended – circles, squares, and triangles became spheres, cubes, and pyramids – combining as they began to become something recognizable.
Fae often thought there was magic at work when she drew like this. She rarely verbally articulated that opinion – the few times she had, she’d been laughed at. Certainly, magic only worked on a conscious level, channeled through a Talisman. Or so mages would say, over and over.
Fae wasn’t so sure. She felt there was a magic that dwelt within, manifesting itself in subtle, everyday things that didn’t seem much like magic. It wasn’t as explainable as the various “classes” of magic, the ways that mages had, over history, categorized magic into neat little boxes.
Something as special as magic seemed awfully weird to fit into neat little boxes like that. Fae was well-versed in Energy Magic – easily one of the broadest classes. It was frequently used as a combat tool, with energy beams and blasts, pulses and bursts, but, like all of the classes, there was a wealth of flexibility available. And the way Fae used it seemed far outside the bounds of what anyone else did with Energy Magic. How could they fit something so huge into a neat little box?
Now that she thought about it, Fae had told her parents about “drawing magic” when she was a kid. And her mother had smiled at her and said “I agree. There’s a lot of magic in the small things that people don’t realize.”
Wait, why am I thinking about mom? Fae put down her pencil, picked up her eraser, and rubbed away a section of her emerging drawing that wasn’t working. Of course I have good memories of her. Every parent can be nice once in a while. That doesn’t mean much.
Back to drawing. Fae could tell she was in the “drawing magic” mode, because she’d stopped realizing what it was she was drawing. Why had she erased that last part? What had it even been? She couldn’t remember, and as she drew, she didn’t consciously recognize what it was she was drawing. She saw lines and shapes, shading and gradients, but… well. She couldn’t put in conscious focus, or she’d ruin the magic.
“You look troubled,” said a rich, silky voice. Fae knew it before she looked up at the speaker. That refined, elegant tone, mixed with a deep, commanding texture belonged to the current head of the Hunter Guild: Jacob Crowley.
How the man ended up at Grim Night’s in the middle of the day, Fae didn’t know. How – and more importantly, why – he decided to approach Fae was even more puzzling. He appeared to loom over her table – easy to do when you’re six and a half feet tall. Dressed elegantly and entirely in black, save for his blood red tie, Jacob Crowley was an intimidating man. Broad-shouldered, with slicked back hair dark as ink, and a rigid jawline that complemented his narrow, harsh stare, he never came across as inviting or friendly. Even seemingly concerned words, like those he’d announced himself with, didn’t sound like they had much actual concern coming from him.
“Mister Crowley,” Fae said, nodding politely. She had been close friends with Jacob’s daughter, Madeline, since grade school, and they were in animation club in both high school and now college together. She was familiar with Jacob, and being polite was the way to go when dealing with him. “This is a surprise.”
Jacob leaned against the wall casually, though it didn’t come across very casual from a man with such high-class tastes and fashion sense. “I was in the area, and saw you through the window,” he said. “I hope you don’t mind the intrusion. I merely thought I’d see how you were faring, with your brother and sister disappearing.”
Fae kept her expression neutral. She’d never much liked Mister Crowley, despite her friendship with his daughter. The man always came across as out of a different era – he seemed too high-class for modern society, and everything he said sounded carefully planned and orchestrated, like he never said anything truly genuine.
Not to mention, it was well known throughout the entire magical community of Grimoire that Jacob Crowley hated Callum and Deirdre Greyson. They’d become heads of the Hunter Guild despite being twenty years younger than him, and then had gone on from that to take high-ranking positions on the Council of Mages. Twice, they’d achieved positions of power that Jacob coveted before he could. And that animosity seemed to extend to the Greyson children – though Fae, through virtue of being friends with his daughter, had been spared any of that ire. Still, the idea that Jacob Crowley would actually be concerned that Caleb and Delilah Greyson had gone missing was laughable.
“That’s kind of you,” Fae finally said. “But I’m sure you have your best people on it.”
Jacob nodded. “Of course,” he said. “Hunters have gone missing or even been killed before, but it’s a supremely rare occurrence – and has never happened under my watch. To have three of our best Hunters vanish in one night is an atrocity. We will find them soon and see them home safely.”
“Three Hunters?” Fae asked, startled by the number. She’d heard about Caleb… but who else?
“Along with your brother, we also lost Chelsea Reiner and Lorelei Frost,” Jacob said, and for a moment, Fae could actually hear emotion in his voice. He may not show genuine concern about a Greyson, but regarding Caleb’s girlfriend and this other girl – Fae didn’t recognize the name – Jacob was clearly upset. “Greyson, Reiner, and Frost are truly some of our very best – surprising at their age. I won’t spare any expense or resource at my disposal to find them. On that you have my word.”
Fae was completely dumbfounded. What did she say to such seeming sincerity from Jacob Crowley himself? She nodded, probably looking like an idiot. “Thanks,” she mumbled.
Jacob Crowley’s eyes drifted, alighting on Fae’s drawing in progress. “What’s this?” he asked, leaning in for a closer look. As he did, his eyes grew wide. “How did –”
“Fae!” shouted a joyful voice. A girl seemingly appeared out of nowhere, bumping into Jacob Crowley and leaning down onto the table. Her actions seemed energetic and unintentional, but it was awfully conspicuous the way that she bumped Jacob directly away from Fae’s drawing, and then leaned in, her long blonde hair falling in such a way as to further obscure the work in progress from Jacob’s gaze.
But Fae didn’t think about that for much longer. Once she saw the girl’s face, her jaw dropped.
It was the lead singer of Falling Stars.
“How are you?” the girl asked, smiling with those blindingly white teeth. “It’s been so long!”
So long since what? Fae wanted to ask. And how does she know my first name? I don’t know her first or last name!
“It seems I should be going,” Jacob said, rising up and straightening his jacket. He cast a suspicious look the singer’s way, before leaving Grim Night’s.
“What –” Fae started.
“Man, that was a close one,” the blondie said, pulling up a chair and sitting awfully close to Fae. Has she ever heard of personal space? “Sorry to startle you like that. Just can’t have Creepy Crowley getting a good look at this picture of yours.”
“What…” Fae stared at her drawing. It was mostly finished, but it would have to do in this state, since multiple uninvited guests had completely broken Fae out of her zone. “Can we rewind a second? How do you know my name?”
The girl giggled, holding out her hand. “Sorry about that,” she said. “I should introduce myself. My name’s Mercury. Mercury Star.”
Fae took the offered hand. Being named after a planet wasn’t the weirdest thing she’d heard of. The president of the animation club was named Disco, after all. And Fae had dated a guy in high school named Jazz. “That still doesn’t answer my question,” Fae replied.
“Right, right, sorry,” Mercury said. “It’s hard not to know your name, though. You animated some of my favorite shorts! The fan-made Gadrick Gorensell animated short was amazing! And there was Long Nights in Grimoire, and Hiding Place, and my favorite just has to be Across the Starry Veil. You’ve done some incredible work! Your style is fascinating – everything is like a painting in motion. I don’t know how you do it!”
Now Fae was truly dumbfounded. She could count on one hand the number of people who had complimented her personally on any of the shorts she’d animated. That number turned to zero when it came to people who actually knew her because of her works. She was proud of her animation, but to have someone be able to list off four of her shorts in one breath was… well.
Please don’t be blushing, Fae thought desperately. Please don’t be drooling. Please don’t have stars in your eyes. Please don’t let the praise go to your head. Please don-OH MY GOSH I HAVE A SUPERFAN.
“Sorry,” Mercury said, leaning back a bit. “I’ll give you a chance to breathe. Guess you’re not used to so much praise?”
Dang it, she could tell. Fae took in a deep breath, let it out. “N-not really,” she said softly, making sure she could use her voice properly without exploding. “I just, I mean, I um… you really liked them? All of them?”
Mercury leaned in, wide-eyed with excitement. “I did!” she said, smiling. “You have real talent. I was so surprised when I found out you’re just a college student – and you did most of those in high school? You’re amazing!”
Fae could feel her face burning, and was pretty sure, with any more praise, she would melt into a puddle on the floor.
“And hey, we both go to the same school,” Mercury continued. “I see you every now and then, but it’s usually when I’m on the way to class. I’ve been wanting to say hi for so long!”
“Well… now you did…” Fae said, wondering if she’d fallen into an alternate dimension. Do I tell her how much I love her music? she wondered. But then if I talk about it too much, I might let slip how I don’t like most of her lyrics. But that new song is pretty great…
“Anyway, sorry, got that out of the way,” Mercury said, composing herself. “But I didn’t just come in here to go all fangirl on you. I saw Creepy Crowley getting in too close, and when I saw your drawing, well… I can’t let him see that.”
“Why not?” Fae asked. She took a closer look at her drawing. It was some sort of rocky island. Nothing was on the island except a modestly sized building, but it was wildly fantastical. She couldn’t ascribe a single shape to it. Cylinders jutted out here and there, walls sprung up as flat panels and then curved, spiraled, and twisted. Stairs flowed between the outside and interior. Balconies were sloped, the roof was a glass dome, and clotheslines hung about all over the place. But rather than holding clothes, they were holding… paper? Were those maps?
“You don’t know what this is?” Mercury asked, blinking in bewilderment. “But… you drew it.”
“Sometimes I just…” Fae started, wondering what she could say. Did she talk about the magic of drawing? Wouldn’t she sound like a total weirdo? “I… sometimes I draw things without knowing what I’m drawing. I just let things happen. I think of it as… a kind of… well, a kind of magic.”
Mercury smiled. “Hey, you don’t need to be shy about saying the ‘m’ word around me,” she said. Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out a guitar pick. Twirling it in her fingers, it flashed with light a few times.
It’s a Talisman, Fae realized.
Mercury grinned, returning the pick to her pocket. “See?” she asked. “No need to worry. I get it.”
“But… wait, you’re –” Fae stopped herself. The Falling Stars are mages. Okay. That’s not that weird. It’s estimated that around thirty percent of Grimoire’s population are mages, so it’s not that unlikely. And they do have a totally surreal quality to their sound, even if their lyrics could use work. “Do you get like that with your music?” Fae asked. “Like, you just sort of fall into a zone where you’re not really in control, but the art is moving you?”
Mercury nodded. “Absolutely. My sisters and I are firm believers that art is a magic in itself – from writing to drawing to music, whatever it is, the act of creating something from your imagination is magical, don’t you think?”
Fae couldn’t find adequate words to express her relief. I’m not alone, was all she could think of. There’s someone like me.
Mercury had a knowing smile on her face. “Not a lot of people think that way, huh?”
Fae shook her head. Not nearly enough, she thought to herself. She looked back at the strange drawing. “So what about this?” she asked. “Why was it so important you kept Mister Crowley from seeing it?”
Mercury smirked. “It’s a very special place,” she said. “Kind of the special place.” She pointed to the drawing of the strange schizophrenic building hanging maps out to dry. “This is the Cartographer’s Waystation.”
Fae stared at Mercury. “The what?” she asked flatly.
“Not many people have heard of it,” Mercury said. “Fewer still know where it is, or what it even means. And even knowing about it doesn’t guarantee you can find it. But if you can find it, well… it’s the key to the entire Enchanted Dominion.”
“The what?” Fae repeated, completely lost. Cartographer’s Waystation? Enchanted Dominion? What were these strange words coming out of the singer’s mouth?
Mercury had a far-off, nostalgic look in her eyes. “The Enchanted Dominion is the most magical place in all of existence,” she said, her voice filled with emotion. “Most people don’t believe it exists. Those people would be wrong. The Enchanted Dominion is real, and it’s where all of magic comes from.”
“Magic comes from another world?” Fae asked.
Mercury nodded. “Sure does. But that’s not the most important thing to know about it right now. For you, the most important thing to know is this.” She pointed to the drawing of the Cartographer’s Waystation. “My sisters and I can help you find it.”
Fae blinked in confusion. “Why would I want to find it?” she asked.
“That’s simple, really,” Mercury said, smiling. “Your siblings are missing – lots of people already know that. What they don’t know is where they’ve gone. And they won’t soon find them. Because they aren’t in Grimoire anymore. They’re not even on this planet.”
“They’re…” Fae could hardly bring herself to say the words, it sounded so strange: “They’re in the Enchanted Dominion?”
“Sure are,” Mercury said. “And the Cartographer’s Waystation is how you find any person or any place in the entire Dominion.”
Fae leaned back, eyeing the girl skeptically. “How do you know all of this?” she asked. “About my siblings, and about the Enchanted Dominion. Why should I just trust you out of the blue on all this stuff? It sounds insane, if I’m being honest.”
Mercury just smiled, unperturbed by Fae’s challenge. “I’m sure it does,” she said. “But doesn’t drawing or music or any kind of art being magic sound strange to most people?”
“Yeah, but… that’s totally different,” Fae said. “We’re talking a completely different world, like another dimension, where all magic comes from. That’s too huge to not be common knowledge.”
Mercury shrugged. “Believe me if you want,” she said. “And maybe you don’t want to find your siblings. Maybe you think they’ll get back on their own, or someone else will find them instead. And that’s entirely possible. If you’re content with that, we can just leave it there and not talk about the Enchanted Dominion again.” She then leaned in close, tapping Fae’s drawing, her eyes sparkling with challenge. “But look me in the eyes and tell me you don’t want to know where this drawing came from. Tell me you don’t want to know if this place is real.”
Fae stared back at the girl, and for a moment, she couldn’t say anything.
But that only lasted a moment.
“Take me there,” she said, emotions welling up within her. “If this place is real, I want to see it for myself. I want to know why I drew it. And I want to know what you know.”
Mercury smiled back at her, eyes alight with excitement. “Good answer. Get ready, Fae. You’re about to go on the adventure of a lifetime.”