Fae found herself in a wholly unfamiliar place: a dorm room shared by three sisters.
It had been enough of a shock finding out that the triplets of Falling Stars were college students who went to her school. Discovering that they shared a room was an even bigger shock. Fae had heard of the mythical “triplet rooms,” but she hadn’t thought they were real.
And to share one with your sisters? Fae couldn’t imagine. Then again, sharing a room with anyone was insane enough to her. Her and her former roommate, Madeline Crowley, had both agreed on that fact. Great friends, but terrible roommates, they’d nearly turned to hating each other by the end of their freshman year. Switching to single rooms the following year had swiftly repaired their relationship, and they were back to being the best of friends.
These sisters really do believe all that crap they sing about, Fae realized as she watched Mercury and her sisters laugh and joke around with each other. Fae was seated on Mercury’s bed, and the room was shaped as a sort of crescent moon. Curved walls would normally make something like a dorm room unwieldy, but the girls had somehow happened upon beds with odd shapes, almost like water droplets, that fitted snugly against the walls. Spacious, there was no need for bunkbeds, and the girls even had their own individual desks and work spaces, along with a shared TV and entertainment stand, and foldable cushioned chairs that were currently up against the wall.
Still, with all their similarities, Fae noticed differences when she was able to examine the room for herself. Each of the girl’s beds and desks were color-coded: yellow for Mercury, deep blue for the blue-haired bassist Neptune, and red-orange for the spiky-haired drummer Jupiter.
Mercury was clearly a fan of Great Feline Adventures, judging by the figurines on her desk (some that Fae even recognized as expensive collectibles that Delilah would likely kill to add to her own collection) and shelf overflowing with Blu-ray box sets. Her laptop was even decorated with Feline stickers, but she also had a number of stickers, plushies, and Blu-rays from various anime – all of the bubbly, cutesy aesthetic, naturally.
Neptune’s decorations and belongings matched her on-stage presence – subdued, soulful, and introspective. Her space was neat and orderly, with a laptop, notebooks, a few pencil cases, and a small collection of movies and handheld video games. Several were titles that Fae recognized, and she could relate to the girl’s tastes. Element 17 was a movie Fae must have rewatched a thousand times, Dreams Across a Distant Star was one of Fae’s favorite video games with its engrossing and tear-jerker of a story, and Fae couldn’t ever keep herself from bawling like a baby when she watched episode thirty-four of In Our Final Days. She refused to watch that episode around anyone, because it turned her into a blubbering mess that was way too embarrassing for anyone else to know about.
Jupiter, meanwhile, was like a storm. Her bedsheets and covers were bundled and twisted into a ball and teetering on the edge of her bed – as Fae watched, they dropped to the floor, leaving the girl’s bed completely bare save for two pillows at opposite ends of the mattress. On her desk was a desktop computer decked out with orange lights and some of the highest end gear that Fae had ever seen in a college student’s computer. That sense of Jupiter being a bit of a gearhead and a mess was apparent across the rest of her space: a variety of computer parts jumbled together on one shelf, retro cassette and CD players were in various states of disassembly on another shelf, and posters hung at crooked angles above the desk showed off her favorite bands, all conspicuously highlighting their drummers.
Meanwhile, in the center of the room, the triplets were fooling around on the floor, playing a board game that Fae had declined to participate in. They were always in each other’s personal space, nudging and hugging and grabbing and shoving and ugh, Fae couldn’t handle it.
How are they so happy when there isn’t even space to breathe between them? Fae wondered.
Mercury had promised Fae the adventure of a lifetime. That was cool. Fae was still excited about that. But right now, she was wondering what the holdup was. Why were the girls playing a board game?
“It’s not time yet,” Mercury had said cryptically.
“Yeah, let’s bust out Nono and Friends!” Jupiter had shouted, pulling the ridiculously old board game out of the closet. Fae had played it with her siblings when she was in elementary school. It was way too cutesy and simplistic for Fae now, but the Star triplets were having a blast with it.
“Come on!” Mercury said, pulling Fae to join them on the floor. “Play a few rounds.”
“No thanks,” Fae said, slipping out of Mercury’s grip and plopping down on the girl’s bed. “I’m fine right here.”
“Suit yourself,” Neptune said. “If you feel like jumping in, just say so.”
“How long will it be until we can go?” Fae asked.
“Few hours, at least,” Jupiter said, shuffling the cards and placing them in their spot in the center of the board. “Kick back, relax. Loosen up a bit and we’ll leave before you know it.”
And so Fae had done her best to relax, sitting rigidly on Mercury’s bed, watching the girls devolve into childish silliness, screaming and laughing and arguing and joking and getting way too close seriously how do you stand it have you ever heard of personal space and Fae tried to focus on anything else but their nonsense.
The Cartographer’s Waystation. That’s what she’d drawn, and that’s where the three girls were going to take her. And it resided within a world called the Enchanted Dominion.
Thinking about it was exciting to Fae, in a way. She’d almost asked if Shana could come along – she would be completely in love with an adventure like this – but had decided against it.
Because this journey was personal for Fae, too. It was the road to answers about her drawings. She’d shown Mercury more of the scenes she’d drawn when she was in “drawing magic mode,” and Mercury had recognized them as locations and individuals within the Enchanted Dominion as well: The Hall of Reflections, Wood of the Wisps, the Watcher of Solace, the Deepgrave, Folly’s Stair, Orphan of the Dawn… they were fascinating, mysterious names, that Mercury declined to explain further. “Discovering for yourself is the best way to learn,” she’d said, and Fae could understand that. Just having names to go with her mysterious drawings made them so much more real to her.
Somehow, I’m connected to this Enchanted Dominion, Fae thought. A whole other world has been calling out to me, giving me clues to guide me there. And I want to know why. I know this will help me find Caleb and Delilah, and I’m worried about them and they do need to be found, but…
I want to do this for me. I want to know what this all means.
“So, Fae, are you in any clubs?” Jupiter asked, startling Fae out of her reverie.
“Yeah, I’m in the animation club,” Fae said, looking away as she felt her cheeks grow hot. She’d heard enough from Mercury on the way over to learn that all of the sisters were fans of her animated shorts, and that just got her way too self-conscious.
“That’s perfect!” Jupiter said, grinning. “I love your stuff –”
“Oh, she knows,” Mercury said, matching Jupiter’s grin. “But she gets embarrassed easily, so don’t make a big deal out of it.”
“Says the one who probably made the biggest deal out of it before bringing her here,” Neptune said, rolling her eyes. She moved her cat-shaped piece three spaces and drew a card. “What other hobbies do you have, Fae? What are some of your favorite things – books, movies, whatever?”
“Well…” Fae shifted her feet, still uncertain about responding. An introvert at heart, being thrown into a room with these three girls was a shock in too many ways for her. “I listen to music a lot. I’ve seen you play at Grim Night’s a ton of times.”
“What do you think?” Mercury asked, leaning towards Fae and staring up at her with those big, wide eyes. “Do you like our music?”
You don’t want to hear my completely honest thoughts, Fae thought. “I do,” she said. “Your sound is amazing, and the way you three harmonize is something I’ve never heard anywhere else.” Let’s not talk about those lyrics, though.
“So we’re fans of hers,” Jupiter said, moving her boat-shaped piece two spaces, groaning, and moving back a space. “And she’s fans of ours. This is, like, totally surreal.”
“And things are going to get super strange for Fae once we head to meet the Cartographers,” Mercury said, playing a card that made both of her sisters cry out in anguish, as they handed over all of their cards to her.
“Let’s do our best to give her proper explanations and guidance, shall we?” Neptune asked. “First visits to the Enchanted Dominion can be challenging. And I’m sure Fae has a lot of questions, right?” She looked up to Fae as she asked this, and Fae nodded in response, not knowing what to say.
“It’ll take a long time to get them answered,” Mercury said. “If you want all of them answered, anyway. Those drawings definitely come from magic, but I honestly don’t know anything about how or why that’s happening, or even where you should go to start finding answers.”
“But the Cartographers will probably know at least that much,” Neptune said. “There’s very little they don’t know.”
“The issue is once we leave the Waystation,” Jupiter said, swiping a cookie from the plate Neptune had laid out. It was nearly empty, mostly thanks to the redhead. “See, getting to the Waystation from Earth is pretty simple, if you know what you’re doing. But getting back to the Waystation – or to anywhere else specific in the Dominion once you’ve left the Waystation – is a total crapshoot.”
“The Enchanted Dominion isn’t like Earth,” Mercury said, “in more ways than one.”
“Locations don’t physically connect to each other,” Neptune said. “That’s why they’re specifically classified as Locations, even when they’re very different from each other – they mark specific physical places within the Enchanted Dominion. When you leave one Location, you never know which Location you’ll end up in next.”
“Well, the Gambler’s Crossroads is physically connected to every Location,” Mercury said.
“Yeah, but that place is a literal crapshoot,” Jupiter said, sharing a laugh with her sisters that said this was a sort of inside joke. Fae got a sense of what she meant, though – the name of the Location implied as much.
“Can’t a Cartographer come with us?” Fae asked. “If they know how to navigate the Enchanted Dominion, couldn’t they serve as a guide to accompany us?”
“You can ask when you get there,” Jupiter said, checking the time on her phone. “It’s about time to leave. And while we could explain things, it’s way cooler to hear it from the source.”
They don’t want to tell me much of anything, huh? Fae sighed. Well, as long as we leave soon…
It wasn’t much longer. Neptune won the game, earning the extremely brief ire of her sisters, and without even packing it away, they grabbed a few things and announced it was time to leave.
“Why do you have drumsticks?” Fae asked. Jupiter was twirling her sticks around as they walked through the hallway.
“Take a wild guess,” Jupiter said, grinning as each of her sticks flashed with light for a brief moment.
“Where are we going, anyway?” Fae asked.
“We have to leave from the right spot,” Mercury said. “There are only a few places to get into the Dominion from here. We’re heading to the Bay Overlook.”
“Aww, I wanted to go downtown,” Jupiter said, pouting.
“The Overlook’s less conspicuous,” Neptune said. “And it’s nice up there. A great view, and quiet, too.”
“I feel like you’re subtly urging me to shut up,” Jupiter said.
Neptune looked away suspiciously. “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she said.
Outside of the dorm building, they walked through the grass around to the back, and then over to a simple brick walkway running a winding trail up to the highest location on the cliffs overlooking Grimson Bay.
Fae checked her phone. 11:30. Pretty soon, Hollows would be all over the city. Was it really a good idea to leave so late? Would they make it in time?
“Don’t worry about Hollows,” Neptune said, watching Fae. Her blue hair that was swept to the side so that it covered one of her eyes made her look very mysterious in the moonlight. “There’s a reason they only show up between midnight and one. That’s when the boundary between our world and the Enchanted Dominion is at its weakest, so it’s the easiest time to cross over.”
“So Hollows come from the Enchanted Dominion?” Fae asked.
Neptune nodded. “That’s right.”
“So why only Grimoire?” Fae asked. “I’ve never heard of them appearing anywhere else.”
“There are a few cities around the world where Hollows strike,” Neptune said. “Wherever large magical communities gather, the Enchanted Dominion seems to sense that and hone in on it. All magic comes from there, so when there’s a large concentration of mages, the boundary between our worlds is already weakened.”
“We could enter during the daylight hours,” Mercury said. “But it’s not as easy as midnight. Don’t worry. We’ll make it to our spot and zip away to the Waystation before we even see any Hollows.”
“You’ve done this a lot, huh?” Fae asked.
“Sure have,” Jupiter said. She walked with her hands behind her head, very relaxed and carefree.
“But why?” Fae asked. “Why do you keep going? Do you have any goals in mind, or is it just for fun?”
Neptune’s face fell. “We want answers about things, just like you do,” she said.
“And so far, we’ve found only the smallest of clues,” Mercury said. “But we don’t give up. The only way to find what we need is the Dominion. So we keep searching.”
Fae wondered at what it was that was so important to the Star sisters, but she didn’t press. If they wanted her to know, they’d tell her. Walking at the back of the group, she looked aside as their path took them close to the cliff’s edge, looking out over Grimson Bay as they started to climb to the Overlook.
Grimson Bay was always so beautiful at night. Fae would come out all the time just to watch the water if she didn’t have to worry about the Hollow Hour. Moonlight and starlight glistened on the surprisingly calm, glassy surface. Cliffs curved around either side of the bay, hemming it in with a sort of horseshoe shape. The cliffs eventually dropped and melded into the beach, and there were several walkways that ran down from higher and nearer points to reach the beach below easier. Dotted throughout the bay were rocky formations – arches and spirals, stepping stones and slopes, rings and spikes. There were numerous underwater caverns throughout the interior of the bay, though Fae wasn’t fond of snorkeling or scuba diving, so she’d never seen them for herself. She could see her favorite spot from here, though. Glistening silver in the light, a long line of small rocks, like stepping stones, led out to a tiny island, one of the only spots within the bay where grass grew, and a solitary tree grew up out of it. Looking rather simple and ordinary in the daylight, on clear nights like this, the leaves shone with silver pinpricks of light, like they were filled with stars of their own.
So many visitors to the bay were preoccupied with swimming or fooling around on the beach that Fae could almost always have the spot with the tree to herself. She used to sit there for hours, listening to music and drawing away. It was impractical – it got quite windy that far out – but Fae loved the feel of the air, the sounds of the breeze through the leaves and the water lapping against the edge of the island. She hadn’t been in a long time, and she couldn’t remember why.
It’s so easy to let time slip away, she thought. I didn’t think it had been that long, but… I haven’t been out there in over a year, have I?
Where did all the time go?
Up they climbed, until they reached the Bay Overlook. It seemed awfully high when looking out across Grimson Bay, but turning around to look back at the city of Grimoire, its height was diminished. Grimoire Academy on its hill sat higher than the Overlook, as did several other buildings, and the mountains that surrounded Grimoire towered over them.
Still, this was a strange spot to teleport to another world, Fae thought. There wasn’t much here – a small stone bench sat near the edge of the rocky cliff, and a simple sign marked the location, but that was it.
“Two at a time,” Mercury said, taking a seat on the bench. “Fae, why don’t you come with me? Neptune and Jupiter won’t be far behind.”
“Sure,” Fae said, sitting next to the blonde. The girls were all thin enough that the bench was spacious enough for three, but Fae didn’t mention it. Maybe there was a specific rule of two? Plus, adding a third might force Fae to squeeze into the middle. Personal space was too valuable to risk that.
“Now, when I say so, you need to close your eyes,” Mercury said. She pulled out her guitar pick Talisman and Conjured an acoustic guitar from magical space. “And when I say so again, you’ll open them. I’ll handle getting us through.”
“Midnight’s here in ten seconds,” Jupiter announced.
“Right,” Mercury said. “Fae, close your eyes. This’ll be over in a flash.”
Fae did as she was told, clutching her sketchbook with the precious magic-induced drawings to her chest, and Mercury started to play. She picked individual notes on the strings, forming a sad sort of ballad, ringing out into the silent night. “Music is more magical than people give it credit for,” Mercury said as she played. “It is, in fact, the key that helps connect our worlds. You can get from Earth to the Enchanted Dominion without it, but…”
“That is a terrible idea,” Neptune finished.
“Right,” Mercury said, chuckling. “Music is how we get there peacefully, with no struggles at all. Ah. Looks like it’s time. Just stay calm, Fae, and keep your eyes closed. That’s the best way for first-timers.”
Fae, curious at the hints dropped by Neptune and Mercury, still kept her eyes closed. Mercury’s song was sad, but beautiful, a melody of heartbreak that retained small gasps of hope. It made Fae want to cry, but also made her smile, just a little.
The dark inside of her eyelids suddenly lit up with yellow light. Fae kept her eyes closed against the glare, as more colors melded into the brightness – pink and blue, red and green, purple and silver. Mercury’s song grew louder. Fae felt weightless, and the notes echoed into the space, bouncing around and around, turning in on each other, adding layers and layers to the song played with just a single guitar.
The lights swirled, coalescing into one white light, dimming in brightness until it seemed more like Fae was closing her eyes on a cloudy afternoon. Mercury’s song faded away, and she told Fae to open her eyes.
Fae looked out over a very familiar sight. Cartographer’s Waystation, the drawing she’d made through magic the day Mercury had come to her, was right in front of her, as real as anything she’d ever seen. The strange architecture, with spiraling steps going from indoors to outdoors, walls curving and then straightening, it was all there. Clotheslines all around the rocky island held paper of all different kinds blowing in the wind, each displaying maps of locations far and wide.
“It’s really real,” Fae said, breathless at the sight before her.
“It sure is,” Mercury said. Her guitar was sent back into magical space, and she stood next to Fae, grinning. “Pretty amazing, huh?”
Fae nodded. “You said it,” she said.
A few moments later, Neptune and Jupiter appeared. Neptune had been playing a guitar as well, and she sent it away as they joined Fae and Mercury.
“So, wanna go inside?” Jupiter asked, wrapping an arm around Fae’s shoulders. “Seems about time you met the Cartographers.”
“It is indeed,” came a reedy voice from ahead of them. Looking up, Fae saw, standing on a rocky ledge a bit ahead and above them, a small man with wispy white hair and beady eyes peering at them from behind half-moon spectacles. He had a small smile on his lips as he surveyed the group. “It’s good to see you again, Star sisters.”
“Good to see you, too, Meister Roderick,” Mercury said. “We brought a guest this time.”
“I can see that,” Roderick said, adjusting his spectacles. “And it’s been a long time coming. We’ve been expecting you, Fae Greyson. Welcome to the Waystation, and welcome to the Enchanted Dominion. I’m simply delighted to meet you.”