“Fall break is too long!”
The one complaining was Shana Greyson, as she lay back on the couch staring at the ceiling, kicking her feet along with her whining. Lying on Shana’s stomach and staring at the kicking feet was a glowing blue cocker spaniel with black eyes. His head followed the feet back and forth, ears perking up whenever Shana spoke.
“I think you’re the only high school student to ever think that,” said Shias Greyson, sitting in the chair near the couch, his feet propped up on the coffee table while he read a book. “It’s only an extended weekend.”
“But I miss my friends,” Shana whined back. “And we don’t get to do any club activities during break.”
“And all of that will still be there when we go back to school,” Shias said, chuckling. “You should think about taking up a hobby.”
“I have lots of hobbies,” Shana shot back with a pout. “But I was reading all day yesterday. Everything else requires other people.”
Shias smirked. “What do you have four siblings for?”
“But Caleb’s always working, Fae’s off at college and never comes home anyway, and Delilah’s out with mom and dad.” She sat up suddenly, scooping her dog into her arms, eyes sparkling as she stared at Shias. “But my twin brother is here!”
Shias sighed, putting his book down. “It took you that long to realize you’re not here alone?”
Shana pursed her lips. “Don’t make fun of me. It’s mean.”
“I’ll consider it.”
“So? Wanna do something?”
Shias tapped a finger on his chin, and then nodded. “We should train.”
Shana groaned. “Come on, you know I don’t care about that stuff.”
“Well, we were born into it,” Shias countered. “You don’t have to care about it, but you can’t just ignore that you have magic.”
Shana sighed, hugging her dog tight. He didn’t seem to mind. “What’s so wrong about wanting a normal life?”
“Nothing wrong about it. It just might be difficult. Let me list the reasons…” Shias starting ticking off fingers as he talked. “One: your parents are the heads of the most prominent magical family in Grimoire. Two: your older siblings are already making a name for themselves as powerful magic users and, in the case of Caleb, excellent Hunters. Three: you love Altair, and he’s a magical dog, which makes him difficult at best to explain to normal people. Four –”
“Okay, okay, I get it!” Shana groaned and stood up, Altair hopping down to the floor and wagging his stubby tail as he watched Shana. “You’re always so annoying when you get all intellectual and list-heavy.”
Shias shrugged. “So? What do you want to do?”
Shana’s eyes sparkled. “You’re really asking me? Really truly?”
“The offer’s expiring soon.”
“Okay, okay!” Shana waved her hands frantically. “Umm, okay, uh… I know! We should go out!”
“The mall! There are some books I’ve been eyeing, and we did just get our allowance yesterday.”
“It’s nice that we have a few things in common.” Shias stood, heading up the spiral staircase at the edge of the family room. “Since we’re the last out, we’ve got to lock things up.”
“I’ll help!” Shana said excitedly, racing off in the opposite direction.
Shias rolled his eyes and chuckled as he came up to the third floor. She only gets excited about a few uses of magic, he thought. Standing on the balcony area overlooking the family room, he pulled out the pen he always had on hand. It was gold and black, with his name traced in it in silver. Taking off the cap, the end of the pen lit up with a ball of blue light, and Shias traced a pattern through the air. Lights scattered out and about, seeping into the walls and doors and windows of this area of the Greyson manor.
“Locking up” was the term used, but it was a bit more complicated than that. With the Greyson family being so high profile in the magical community, it was important to protect the manor against intruders. So all of the Greyson children had, naturally, been taught the secrets to the Guardian magic protecting the manor. It just took the right application of magical energy and the proper “coding” to bring the shields and safeguards to life, activating them and making the Greyson manor effectively an unassailable fortress.
Shias never got over just how cool that was.
“All locked up!” Shana said happily, meeting Shias at the front door, slipping her shoes on. “Altair, I’ll be back soon. Until then, be patient, okay?” She pulled a metal bookmark from her pocket and held it in the air. A blue and silver portal appeared overhead, and Altair let out a little energetic bark before leaping up and vanishing through the portal.
“Ready?” Shias asked, slipping on his shoes. Shana nodded, and then off they went, out the front door, down the long paved entrance walk, through the iron gate, and out into the city of Grimoire.
Known as “The City of Knowledge,” Grimoire had a flavor all its own. Buildings had an old feel to them, with medieval-styled architecture (updated with modern comforts, of course) and mostly narrow streets, making it a city far better suited for walkers and cyclists than drivers or other sorts of vehicular transportation. There was a trolley that ran through the center of town along the main street, and there were a few roads around the perimeter that served as great ways to get from one side of the city to the other by car, but otherwise, it was all about foot and bike travel. Add to that the fact that Grimoire was full of hills and valleys, and constructed with many narrow roads between homes and businesses, and it meant that the “knowledge” part of The City of Knowledge was sometimes thought of locally as the need to have extensive knowledge of Grimoire’s geography. It wasn’t a large city in square mileage, but the sheer volume of pathways and streets made it dense and complex. It was easy to get lost, and it wasn’t uncommon to see people who had lived there for as long as five years to still walk around with a map of the city in hand.
Grimoire had many hills and valleys throughout it, but a large valley thought to have been formed by a meteor creating a crater on the north edge of the city several hundred years ago formed the flattest and most open area of the city. That was Shias and Shana’s destination. It was the most “modern” area of Grimoire, with a rather expansive three-story shopping mall, an arcade, several individual high-end shops, and a large park that connected to the campus of Grimoire’s university, a sprawling affair at the northernmost edge of Grimoire, coming right up against the cliffs overlooking Grimson Bay.
Making their way through the streets they knew so well, Shias and Shana continually ascended and descended, the many hills made easy by these roads having both ramps and stairs at nearly every slope, allowing for cyclists and pedestrians to take the same paths.
They passed by their high school along the way. Built onto one of the larger hills in Grimoire, Grimoire Academy appeared rather small… but that was the cool thing about it. Because of the lack of flat real estate when it was built, the architects had been particularly clever, creating an entire complex through the hill underground. There were entrances at the base and top of the hill, and Shias and Shana had, through the years, enjoyed getting lost in the corridors webbing throughout the interior of the hill itself.
“Hey, we can hitch a ride,” Shana said, angling to cut down a leftward street.
The bells of the trolley were sounding, and they knew well enough where it would be in relation to them. Shias and Shana took the path out to the main street, and hopped up on the trolley as it went past on its rails, electing to stand on the open section near its front and hold onto the vertical poles for support.
“Perfect timing, too,” Shias said, smiling as they crested a hill and began the long descent to their destination. The view for this portion of the trolley’s journey was spectacular. Grimson Bay glittered in the distance far ahead. To their left and right, they had views over the hills of Grimoire to the mountainous woodland that surrounded the city to its east and west. Below them and beyond was the Crater District with the mall and arcade, and the park and campus beyond it. If you were riding the trolley northward, this was the time to stand up and look forward, and, sure enough, those on the trolley behind Shias and Shana were up out of their seats, peering through the windows or joining them on the open front section.
And so many of them have no clue, Shias thought. It was a strange thought he often had.
It was so strange to think of. With the Greyson family’s proclivity for magic, it was sometimes hard to realize that the majority of Grimoire’s population – and, for that matter, the world’s – had no idea magic even existed. Nearly every day, Shias and Shana’s oldest brother, Caleb, fought as a Hunter against nightmarish monsters called Hollows, protecting the unwitting populace. Because, even weirder than most people not having or knowing of magic, was the fact that they couldn’t even see Hollows. There were vicious monsters roaming the world that could kill them in an instant, and ordinary people couldn’t even see them? It seemed horribly unfair.
And one day I’ll be defending them with Caleb, Shias thought excitedly.
They rode the trolley all the way down, disembarking at the edge of the crater district, walking the path to the mall. While their favorite bookshop in town, Grimoire’s Grimoires, was a great spot, it didn’t pick up many more recent novels, and there was a particular series that both Shias and Shana were currently enamored with.
“There seem to be more and more of these posters every day,” Shana said glumly, as the pair passed a bulletin board at the mall’s entrance. Plastered all over it were missing persons posters. The saddest part? They were all for young kids. The oldest was only eight years old.
“These just went up yesterday,” Shias said, looking over a quartet of new additions. “I don’t recognize them, but… so many missing kids.”
“Where are they all going? It’s kind of scary.”
“More than kind of.”
Passing that sad sight, they made their way to the mall’s second floor where the bookshop Bibliograph resided. A sprawling, open concept format, it had style, but the openness was also the reason why the twins preferred Grimoire’s Grimoires. With so much space afforded to the volumes all around them, Bibliograph lacked the nostalgic, emotional scent of books. It just smelled like antiseptic.
“Here it is!” Shana cheered, holding up her prize. “Volume Nineteen!”
“But they only have one copy,” Shias said disappointingly, staring at the shelf. The long-running Misadventures of Gadrick Gorensell series was one of the twins’ favorites. It followed the (mis)adventures of the fictional Gadrick Gorensell, a magician and trickster who lived his life seeking the fabled Liter of Wisdom. As the title suggested, he could never seem to find it, always getting into trouble and barely getting out of it again.
Volume Nineteen had just released yesterday, and while the shelf clearly had made a lot of space for it, with posters and banners celebrating its release, the copy in Shana’s hands was the very last one, leaving a long stretch of shelving empty.
“Want to ask if they have more that they haven’t put out yet?” Shana asked. “It’s a pretty big release, they might not have had space for every copy they got in at once.”
At the desk, however, they had no luck. The copy in Shana’s hands was indeed their final copy in stock.
“We do have codes for the digital version, though,” said the clerk, pushing forward a display full of large cards with Volume Nineteen’s cover art on them. “Honestly, I’m surprised at how well the print copy is selling in this day and age. I thought digital would have swept the market years ago, especially for kids like you.”
“Nothing like actual paper books,” Shias said simply, as Shana nodded emphatically next to him. He eyed the cards, though. It wasn’t like he couldn’t read digital books. Maybe he’d give it a shot?
“We could read it together,” Shana offered. “Share it, like we used to.”
Shias couldn’t resist the earnest smile and wide-eyed look of excitement from his sister. He smiled back, then nodded.
“Thanks, sis,” he said as they wound their way through the mall.
“Sure thing!” Shana replied, humming along as she carried the bag with Volume Nineteen. “Do you want to stop anywhere else? We have plenty of time.”
Shias nodded. Shana had paid for the book even though they were ostensibly sharing it, so he ought to pay her back somehow. “Anywhere you’re interested in?”
Shana sighed. “I was asking you first.”
Shias laughed. “Well, I want to go where you want to go. I can tell you have something in mind.”
Shana grinned. “Come on!” She raced on ahead, with Shias close behind. She led him, predictably, to the mall’s third floor, and up a wide, open-style winding stair to the roof park. In an L-shape, the roof park had a flower garden, hedge maze, pretzel stand, smoothie bar, and several viewing platforms with the strange, stationary binocular-style viewing machines that you insert a coin in to be able to look around at things far away.
“Looking for Fae again?” Shias asked as he paid the fee for Shana to use one of the viewing platforms on the side facing Grimoire University. Shana swiveled and angled it carefully, leaning in closely.
“Of course!” Shana replied excitedly. “Her room is on the side facing here. And she never comes home, or calls, so I’ve got to try to see her at least in some way.”
“You could always call or visit her,” Shias suggested.
“She’s in college, she’s supposed to be the adult.”
Shias chuckled. “Well, if you show her up, maybe she’ll decide to start acting like an adult.”
Shana pouted as she continued to peer through the binoculars. “I don’t understand what happened. I know, I know, I talk about it all the time, but it’s because it really upsets me. I miss my big sister.”
Shias sighed. “Me, too.”
“She’s on the fourth floor, right?”
“You don’t remember?”
Shias sighed again. “Yeah, fourth floor, east wing. She has a corner room, it’s easy to spot.”
“Oh! I see –” Shana abruptly made a very unpleasant noise of irritation. “Her curtains are closed! It’s such a beautiful day! What the heck is she doing, hiding in a cave? Did she become a cave-dweller since we last saw her? An antisocial hermit? A nocturnal animal?”
“You and I are the only ones who actually go to school in a cave,” Shias replied dryly. “And I doubt she’s a hermit or an animal. Well? Wanna visit her?”
Shana pulled away from the binoculars and made her way briskly towards the pretzel stand across the flower garden. “No,” she said firmly. “If she doesn’t want to see us, then I don’t want to see her.”
“You’re such a child.”
“We’re the same age!”
Shias chuckled. “I’m twenty minutes older than you.”
“That doesn’t even count! You were just pushy as a newborn. I, on the other hand, was the picture of patience.”
“Yes, I can see you’ve maintained that ever since.”
Shias bought two pretzels, and Shana ended up eating all of hers and half of his before leaning back on the bench and sighing in contentment. “Man, those always hit the spot,” she said. “Thanks, by the way.”
“Want a smoothie, too?” Shias asked. “It might be getting a bit cool for it –”
“It’s never too cold for smoothies!” Shana exclaimed, eyes sparkling.
And so Shias bought them both smoothies – hers a mango, peach, kiwi, pineapple, and blueberry one, and his a simple strawberry and banana. They sipped as they wandered through the hedge maze, Shana finishing her smoothie absurdly fast, complaining about brain freeze. Even so, she was quickly eyeing Shias’ smoothie lustfully. He laughed softly, handing it to her, and she drank the two thirds of it that remained.
“You don’t eat enough, Shias,” Shana said, gesturing at him with the empty cup of his (former) smoothie. “You know what dad always said about Caleb and growing boys. And when he was in high school, mom and dad had to buy double the groceries.”
“He also played volleyball and was on the swim club,” Shias said. “I’m just surprised that you eat as much as he used to without gaining any weight.”
“Because I use a lot of energy, obviously,” Shana shot back.
Shias chuckled. He couldn’t quite argue with that – Shana was always full of life and energy. Every word and action and moment was bursting with enthusiasm.
“You could stand to be more energetic,” Shana continued. “You want to be a Hunter like Caleb, after all.”
“You don’t have to be athletic to be a Hunter,” Shias countered.
“But Caleb’s always talking about how fit you have to be, and how he’s running all over the place on patrols and hunts.”
“He’s just one type of Hunter. They’re not all the same.”
Shana eyed him teasingly. “I get it. You want to be a boring Hunter.”
After reaching the center of the hedge maze and then extricating themselves from it, the twins headed out of the mall and walked the way back home, ignoring the trolley and strolling the narrow streets on foot.
“Maybe we should visit Fae,” Shana said as she walked, swinging her arms. “We haven’t seen her since Christmas.”
“We’re on fall break until Monday,” Shias said. “Want to go tomorrow?”
“Yeah! And –” Shana pivoted, pointing an accusing finger in Shias’ face, “don’t you dare call her in advance! I want to surprise her.”
Shias smiled. “I figured you would. I just hope she’s there.”
“If she’s not, we’ll find her!”
“If it wasn’t our sister you were talking about, that would come off as potentially criminal.”
“You overthink things.”
“I’m fine with that.”
“Do you think Delilah would want to come with us?” Shana asked. “She never talks about Fae… I wonder what she thinks about her?”
“Huh. I never noticed that.”
“I thought you noticed everything,” Shana teased.
Shias grumbled wordlessly, then stopped as he noticed something. “Hey, isn’t that Rae?”
Shana looked with him at the girl at the crossroads ahead and nodded. “Looks like it. Hey –!”
Shana started to call out and wave, but Shias put a hand over her mouth and pulled her around the corner.
“What the heck, Shias?” Shana asked in a whisper. “You don’t want to say hi?”
“She looks like she doesn’t want to be seen,” Shias replied just as softly.
Shana pursed her lips as she peeked carefully around the corner, but when she looked back at Shias, there was a begrudging agreement on her face. “Okay. So?”
“So don’t you want to know what she’s up to?”
That lit up Shana’s face. “Ooooh, can we follow her all stealthily and stuff?”
“As long as you take ‘stealthily and stuff’ seriously.”
Shana’s emphatic nod sold Shias on their course of action. Stepping out around the corner, he watched until Rae Shoto ducked down the street to the left. He motioned for Shana to follow and then tread quickly but quietly to the intersection, peering around to the left.
“She looks so obvious,” Shana said softly, watching with him.
Rae was a slight, mousy girl who the twins knew best for her almost crippling shyness and horribly low self-confidence. Watching the girl try to sneak around in broad daylight was almost comical, with her stopping frequently and always slightly crouched, looking around with wide, worried eyes.
Seven intersections later and Rae was still continuing on her strange trek, with no sign of her destination. In her hands was an odd package – a slim box maybe a bit more than a foot long, with a black surface and silver lining. Shias didn’t see boxes like that all too often, so he couldn’t figure out what might be within it – but the way that Rae was hugging it tightly and trying (and failing) to keep it hidden made his curiosity that much stronger.
“Where’s she going?” Shana asked softly, watching their friend.
“Seems like she’s ambling aimlessly,” Shias said, going over his mental map of Grimoire. She’d gone in a spiral outward around the spot where the twins had found her, a redundancy that, coupled with her behavior, made Shias think that Rae was trying to make sure she wasn’t being followed.
She was doing a terrible job of it.
Caught up as he was in following Rae, Shias was completely oblivious to his surroundings. Naturally, so was Shana. Crouching in a narrow alley, Shias moved to lead the way out to continue their pursuit. A sudden noise startled him, but he was too slow. A strong hand smothered his mouth, and he and his sister were pulled back into the alley and out of sight.