Delilah looked out across Hollow Island from her new perch.
Traveling the rest of the way to the central mountain hadn’t taken long at all after Chelsea laid waste to everything, and now the group was climbing a spiraling path up the rocky slope. Looking out from this high up, Delilah could see farther than ever before, and found that Chelsea’s devastation wasn’t as widespread as it had seemed from the center point of it all.
Hollow Island was huge. This mountain was at the very center, and even only halfway up, Delilah could see to the ocean in all directions. If she had to guess, she’d say Chelsea’s inferno had destroyed about a fifth of the island. There was still a lot of green, and from way up here, without the threat of Hollows and the claustrophobic atmosphere, it seemed quite beautiful.
Delilah looked over. The group had stopped to rest, and Chelsea was sitting next to Caleb’s still blurred, glassy form.
She looked distraught. Delilah had picked up some of Chelsea’s words with Lorelei, and she’d been shocked. She hadn’t realized that Chelsea felt so strongly about Caleb.
To call a single person her “everything” was unimaginable to Delilah. There were far too many important people in her own life. And she was trying to figure out if Chelsea’s attachment to Caleb was closer to love… or obsession.
It didn’t help that she’d barely interacted with Chelsea at all in the two years she and Caleb had dated. Caleb hardly ever brought her home with him – two times in two years, if Delilah remembered correctly. And Delilah was the youngest, and spent a lot of time either studying, doing homework, playing video games, or training. Her free time was spent with the most convenient people in her life – mom, dad, Shana, and Shias. With Fae and Caleb living away from home, even if they were in the same city, Delilah just didn’t have the time to go visit them on her own.
Chelsea had struck her instantly as very emotionally intense. That was the impression she left on Delilah each of the few times they’d interacted.
I never knew just how much, though…
When Caleb had collapsed, Delilah barely had time to register it had happened before Chelsea lit up the entire jungle with emerald fire. It had happened faster than Delilah ever thought possible – one second there was nothing, the next, fire was everywhere. And as Delilah had choked on the smoke rising from burning monsters and foliage, she’d stared at Chelsea, unable to take her eyes off of the fire mage.
Chelsea had been utterly terrifying to look at. She was wrapped in fire herself, and yet the flames didn’t burn her, or her clothing, or her hair. Her eyes had shone like emerald stars, gleaming with rage and desperation.
Scary, but… Delilah stared at Chelsea looking over her brother. She did all of that for Caleb. She may have lost control, but if I’d had a chance to actually react to Caleb falling… if I’d thought he was dead or about to be…
What would I have looked like?
And as Delilah looked across the island, and saw there was so much green left, it wasn’t such a terrifying idea. Knowing that Hollows of a far more vicious variety roamed through the jungle below only cemented Delilah’s opinion.
What Chelsea had done was terrifying. And she hadn’t had enough control.
But, at least in Delilah’s mind, she hadn’t done anything wrong.
The devastation had shaken Isabelle, and Delilah could understand and empathize with the girl. But running had likely ceased to be an option once Caleb collapsed. With so many enemies around them, closing in on such a narrow, confined space…
We wouldn’t have made it out alive. Chelsea saved the day.
Now if only Caleb would wake up.
Delilah wished she’d studied up on Time Magic, just to understand it. Caleb was able to make anything seem okay and non-threatening with that easy smile of his. But Delilah should have known better. Time Magic was dangerous. Everyone said so.
And now my ignorance leaves me unable to do anything to help Caleb. I don’t even know if he’ll ever come back to normal. I don’t even know what’s happening to him.
“Well, I think we should keep moving,” Lorelei said, stepping to the front of the group. She’d ditched her coat, using a bit of Conjuring Magic to send it to a magical room that existed outside of the physical realm. Quite a convenient technique. Delilah knew that Shana had her own expansive magical “library” accessed through Conjuring Magic. Storing books when you ran out of space, or storing clothes when you unexpectedly got zapped to a humid tropical island.
I spent all my time focused on learning and training to fight. I could have spent a little of that time practicing the more practical applications of magic. Now I’m stuck carrying my coat. And my scarf. And my hat. I guess I could have Felix carry them. Wouldn’t that be rude to him, though? My Summons aren’t servants, they’re fighters.
Guess I’ll just have to bear with it.
“We’re almost halfway,” Isabelle said. She was smiling, but she didn’t have the exuberant energy she’d displayed before Chelsea blasted the jungle. “As long as we make it to the top before nightfall, we won’t see any Hollows.”
“What happens if we don’t make it before dark?” Delilah asked.
Isabelle frowned. “Then worse Hollows will show up,” she said. “They live in caves all across the mountain, but they hide the entrances during the daytime. At night, the whole mountain is crawling with them.”
“So we just make sure to reach the top while it’s light out,” Lorelei said. She took Isabelle’s hand, and the girl smiled up at her.
Delilah liked Lorelei. She’d spent even less time with her than she had with Chelsea, but Lorelei had this confident leadership quality about her. She was like a big sister, or a young mother, looking out for those around her, and especially caring for those younger than her. She had a surprising amount of maturity and emotional stability. Delilah was glad she was along.
But where do I fit in here? Delilah wondered. Isabelle tells us where to go. Lorelei helps lead and keep everyone grounded. Chelsea was able to clear out the Hollows and give us a safe path to the mountain. Caleb may be out now, but he saved me at the library. And I’m just…
“I’m proud of you,” Caleb had said. Delilah’s heart had soared at those simple words at the time, but now, she was back to uncertainty.
What had she actually accomplished? How could she be useful?
“You okay?” Chelsea asked. She was carrying Caleb, walking alongside Delilah.
“Huh?” Delilah asked, looking up at her. “What do you mean?”
Chelsea’s expression was sad. “I just… when I exploded back there, you choked on the smoke,” she said. “I never meant to hurt you. Are you feeling okay now?”
Delilah nodded. “I’m fine,” she said. “Lorelei fixed me right up.”
Chelsea smiled briefly. “Yeah, she’s good at that.” Silence passed between them for a while, and the sounds of their footsteps and Isabelle’s humming from up ahead filled the space. “Hey, do you want to carry him for a bit? He hardly weighs anything. Like a bundle of feathers.”
Delilah stared at her brother’s form in Chelsea’s arms. “I, um…” she said, uncertain how to reply. She held up her coat and scarf, balled up in her arms. “My hands are full.”
“I can trade ya,” Chelsea said, smiling. “He’s your brother. You’re probably more worried about him than I am.”
I can see why you’d think that, but… I don’t think anyone cares for Caleb as much as you do.
“It’s okay,” Delilah said. “He… you should look after him.”
Chelsea nodded. “Okay.”
“By the way… thanks. You really saved us back there. Even if it was scary, and dangerous, I honestly don’t think we would have made it out of that alive if you hadn’t torched everything.”
A brief look of surprise flashed across Chelsea’s face, and then vanished. “Well… that’s good.”
Silence again, as the climb continued.
Shana’s the social butterfly, Delilah thought, casting glances again and again at Chelsea. I don’t know what to say. Do I just leave her alone? I mean, silence is fine with me, but I feel like I should get to know her better than I do. I feel like I should reach out to her somehow. Especially now that Caleb’s broken and Chelsea seems emotionally broken because of it.
But what do I do? Shana and Caleb are the ones that cheer people up.
I wonder what Shana’s going through right now. People have to know we’re missing. What time is it back home now? We’ve only been here for… seven hours? Eight? Okay, they probably know by now. Unless time is weird between the worlds. I’ve never been in a whole other dimension, which I’m assuming this is. Maybe it’s only been a few minutes back home. Or maybe it’s been days. Weeks. Maybe it’s been years and they think we’re dead!
…don’t get carried away, Delilah. Let’s just assume that time is the same in both places. That means that Shana and Shias are already awake and at school. Mom and dad would have found out that Caleb’s missing, because Hunters going missing is a huge deal. They would have told Shana and Shias, because they tell all of us basically everything. And they would have noticed I’m missing because I’m not home like I should be.
So they know. And they’re probably freaking out. And if they saw Caleb right now, they’d be freaking out even more.
But what if mom and dad know what to do? They’re the best mages ever. They probably know exactly what’s going on with him and exactly how to fix it.
So we need to get home. And fast.
Caleb… don’t die on me.
And don’t you dare die on Chelsea. She needs you more than anyone. I don’t know much about her or your relationship, but I can see how she feels for you. I don’t really get it, honestly. But you must know, too.
You wouldn’t leave her behind. You wouldn’t leave any of us behind.
I’m going to try my hardest to stop worrying about you. Because you’d just smile, and laugh, and say “don’t worry, Delilah! I’ll be fine in no time!”
I don’t know where you get your insane optimism from…
But I love it. And I wish I could be like that.
So I’ll try. And I’ll try to figure out what I can do, that no one else can. I promise I’ll be useful. I promise I won’t let you down.
“Hey, we’re almost there!” Isabelle called out excitedly.
Delilah’s internal contemplation was broken off by Isabelle’s surprising announcement.
It couldn’t have been long enough, and yet Delilah could already see the top of the mountain. They’d risen hundreds, maybe even thousands of feet – the jungle was so far below them, it made Delilah’s head spin.
“Thank goodness that went smoothly,” Lorelei said, smiling as they turned a corner and began up a steep set of stairs – the final stretch to the top.
“And from the top, getting down is even easier!” Isabelle said. Despite her stature, she climbed the steps with no problem, often taking them two or three at a time, humming to herself as she did. Meanwhile, Delilah’s legs were burning. She didn’t have any skill in Enhancement Magic like the two Hunters, and even they appeared to be struggling. She pushed, refusing to summon Felix to carry or push her.
I can do this much on my own.
…as long as I don’t have to use my legs again for a week.
“The sky hasn’t even changed,” Lorelei noted, staring up at the eerie white expanse above them. “I can’t tell how far we are from night. Is there a sunset?”
“I don’t know what a sunset is,” Isabelle said, “but it’s night when the sky gets dark.”
“Is there some kind of transition?” Lorelei asked. “Are there signs that let you know night is close, or does it just switch instantly?”
“It’s an instant switch!” Isabelle said excitedly. “You know, you remind me of my big sister.”
Lorelei smiled at the girl. “Really? How so?”
“You ask a lot of questions,” Isabelle said, a goofy grin plastered on her face. “It’s fun. And you’re so caring and nice about it, too. Plus, your hair.” Isabelle pointed at Lorelei’s red braid. “It’s just a little bit darker than hers.”
“And a little bit darker than yours,” Lorelei noted, ruffling Isabelle’s bright apple red hair. The girl giggled. “Does your sister have the same hair color as yours?”
“Exactly the same!” Isabelle said. “So do all of my sisters, and mommy. All of our hair is the same color.”
“How many sisters do you have?” Delilah asked.
Isabelle looked back at her. Those big, wide eyes were so full of curiosity and wonderment, and it brought a smile to Delilah’s face. “There used to be five of us,” she said. “But we lost three. My big sister is looking for the lost ones, so I haven’t seen her in a long time.”
“Kind of like all the children who are going missing back home,” Chelsea said grimly.
“Maybe, once we find a way to get back home, we can help find your sisters, too,” Lorelei said. “And you still have to find a way back to your home, too. We can help with that.”
Isabelle rushed up five more steps so she could turn and look back at the group from above them. Her eyes seemed to be sparkling. “Really? You’d do that for me?”
“Sure we would,” Lorelei said, reaching out her hand. Isabelle took it with a smile. “You can count on us.”
“Thank you!” Isabelle cheered, skipping ahead, and Lorelei picked up the pace to keep up with her. Chelsea followed suit, and Delilah screamed internally as she desperately pushed her exhausted legs to speed up.
They reached the top just as Delilah thought she was going to collapse and tumble all the way back down the mountain. She stopped with the others on a wide platform, hands on her knees as she gasped for breath. She longed to sit down, but she didn’t risk it just yet.
If she did sit down, she wasn’t sure she’d be able to stand back up again. And they weren’t at their destination yet.
Caleb was the only one who would need to be carried. Of that, Delilah was determined.
“What’s next?” Lorelei asked, looking to Isabelle for guidance.
Isabelle spun in a circle, grinning as she spread her arms wide. “We jump!” she announced proudly.
Delilah stared at the girl in confusion.
Say what now?
“Can you provide more details?” Chelsea asked, exuding the same skepticism that Delilah felt.
Isabelle frowned. She pointed to the edge of the platform, and the vast opening beyond. “We jump in there,” she said.
Lorelei stepped forward, leaning over the edge to look down. “It’s an awfully long way, Isabelle,” she said.
“Yeah, but falling is really fast,” Isabelle said, pursing her lips in frustration at her companions’ hesitance. “It’s not dangerous.”
“Do you use magic to slow or stop yourself?” Lorelei asked.
“No!” Isabelle said, stamping her foot. “You just jump! Why can’t you just jump?”
“It’s a scary thought,” Lorelei said. Her voice was the perfect one for that line. She could come across as cold when she wanted to, but her usual demeanor was warm and caring, and her voice and tone got that across far better than any words could. She kneeled down and rested a hand on Isabelle’s shoulder. “We’ve never jumped down such a long distance. That’s usually very dangerous.”
Isabelle’s expression softened. “Well… that’s what I do,” she said. “I just jump. I think mommy said… there’s magic in the chute. It protects you, so you don’t get hurt jumping down.”
“And you’re sure that’s what she said?” Chelsea asked. “How many times have you done this?”
“Once,” Isabelle said, sticking her tongue out at Chelsea. “I know it works.”
Chelsea, rather than shooting back at Isabelle, chuckled. “Okay, okay,” she said, shaking her head. “Who’s going first?”
“Me!” Isabelle said, holding up a hand. “It’s super fun! I’ll show you!”
And then the little girl turned around and leapt off the ledge.
“That is a terrifying sight,” Lorelei said. Delilah had noticed how, as Isabelle moved to jump, Lorelei had started to reach out a hand to stop her.
“You’re telling me,” Chelsea said, walking towards the edge of the platform. Delilah followed her and looked out over it.
A wide chute carved through the center of the mountain formed a straight shot down to the bottom, where there was clearly some kind of boat docked on an underground lake. Isabelle was still falling, but in just the few seconds between her jump and Delilah looking, she was already more than halfway down.
“Do people usually fall that fast?” Chelsea asked.
“I don’t know,” Lorelei said. “I’ve never seen anyone skydive without a parachute before.”
For some reason, that got all three of the girls laughing. Soon enough, Isabelle had reached the bottom. There was no splat, no sudden carpet of red. Just a pinprick below them, the little girl was just visible enough for Delilah to be able to tell when she looked up at them and waved, motioning for them to follow.
“I still don’t trust this,” Chelsea said, holding Caleb tighter.
Lorelei sighed, stepping up to the very edge, so that her toes were hanging out over it. “Here goes,” she said. She leaned forward, and both Delilah and Chelsea instinctively moved to grab her.
They were too slow. Lorelei dropped, and Delilah and Chelsea were left to watch breathlessly as she fell.
Seconds seemed like minutes, and then hours. Finally, as Lorelei reached the bottom, Delilah and Chelsea flinched, leaning back. As Delilah opened her eyes, ever so slowly, she saw that, like Isabelle, Lorelei was just fine. Now both of the redheads were waving up at them to follow.
“Wanna go together?” Chelsea asked, looking over at Delilah nervously.
Delilah nodded. “Please,” she said in a small voice.
And then… they were falling.
“Shouldn’t the wind be harsher?” Delilah asked.
“Yeah,” Chelsea said. “This is… really weird.”
“The ground’s still rushing up towards us way too fast.”
“It’s freaking me out.”
“Yep. Super trippy.”
How they could carry out a conversation with such relaxed voices while in a freefall was unclear. Why there was barely any wind was a mystery. Even so, as the ground came perilously close, Delilah shut her eyes, grit her teeth, and flinched away.
Her feet were on solid ground.
There was almost no impact at all. One second she was falling, the next, she was standing.
“Magic is so weird,” Lorelei said, giggling at the new arrivals. She seemed off, like the drop had gotten to her nerves in a big way, and she was giggling uncontrollably to compensate.
Delilah couldn’t blame her.
Magic was super weird.
“See?” Isabelle said, puffing up her chest proudly. “I told you it was safe.”
“You sure did, kid,” Chelsea said. She shifted Caleb to cradle him with just one arm so she could reach out and ruffle Isabelle’s hair. “Maybe I’ll be more trusting next time.”
“Maybe?” Isabelle asked, pouting up at Chelsea, who just laughed at her.
“So… this is our way off Hollow Island,” Delilah said, looking around.
It wasn’t an underground lake – it was the endpoint of an underground river, stretching through a tunnel beyond them. The dock was made of white stone, and was small – maybe fifty people could stand crowded onto it at once. A simple building with large windows served as a sort of check-in station, the only way to the gangplank up to the boat.
The vessel was white, like the stonework, and streamlined, with sweeping curves and beautiful silver tracery all over its hull. With no sails, it looked like a sleek motorboat, but there was no sound of an engine. Delilah had the sneaking suspicion it was powered by magic. At its bow was a statue of a maiden in a flowing dress, her hands to her chest, and her expression one of sad longing.
“Come on, let’s go,” Isabelle urged, tugging on Lorelei’s sleeve and leading the way towards the station.
“I feel like we’re not done being surprised,” Chelsea said as she followed. “If this doesn’t take us directly home… we are in for a seriously trippy adventure.”
Delilah giggled. “Sure seems that way,” she replied.
And a part of her started to hope that they wouldn’t go straight home. Magic was amazing, but for her entire life it had just been a tool, something to use by otherwise ordinary people in an otherwise ordinary world.
Now, Delilah was learning that magic was magic. There was a whole other world infused with it, and it got the little fangirl inside her squealing with delight. All those years of watching Great Feline Adventures, of playing video games and reading books all set in fantastical and wondrous locations, Delilah couldn’t help but wonder where this ship would take her.
If it was back to Grimoire, she’d honestly be rather disappointed.
Her wanderlust hadn’t even begun to be sated.
A whole new world lay before her, and it had the potential to be more amazing than anything ever.
Caleb, you’d better wake up soon, Delilah thought, gazing at her brother’s unconscious form. You wouldn’t want to miss this for anything.
Inside the station, there were three rows of seven chairs each, and a small booth, on which stood a sign with a simple handwritten note:
Captain is out. Be back soon. Boarding then.
‘Preciate your patience.
“He seriously wrote ‘preciate?” Chelsea asked, staring at the sign.
“Guess the opening two letters were too much effort,” Lorelei said. She took a seat, leaning back and closing her eyes. She was still giggling here and there. “I don’t mind a little rest.”
“I guess you’re right,” Chelsea said. She sat down, laying Caleb out along the chairs next to her so that his head rested in her lap. “I’m exhausted.”
“Yeah,” Delilah said, collapsing in a chair next to Chelsea. “I think my legs are gonna fall off.”
“Maybe this will give Caleb enough time to wake up,” Isabelle said, looking at Caleb’s glassy form. “I hope so. He wouldn’t want to miss the boat ride. It’s really exciting.”
Delilah, too, looked at her brother. As she rested her burning, exhausted legs, she thought of the adventure that might still lay ahead. She thought of her siblings, parents, and friends back home, and what must be going through their mind.
And she thought of Caleb, her big brother, and shining beacon of hope in her life. Seeing him so weak, so completely helpless, was unimaginable. And it broke her heart.
“He’d better,” Chelsea said, stroking Caleb’s hair.
Hear that, Caleb? It’s time to wake up. Come on back to us.
If you wait too long, then you’ll miss the whole adventure.
And when you do wake up, you’ll just have to listen to me brag about it.
You wouldn’t want that.