“You’ve been waiting for me?” Fae asked.
Meister Roderick walked down from his rocky perch, following a path to the low spot by the ocean where Fae and the Star sisters stood. He really was a small man, not even coming up to Fae’s shoulders. “We have indeed,” he said, smiling. “Your connection to the Enchanted Dominion is remarkably strong for one of Earth.”
“Do you know why?” Fae asked. She felt nearly breathless, so close to answers she’d sought for years.
Meister Roderick shook his head sadly. “I apologize, Fae Greyson,” he said. “I can provide you with clues, but I do not have anything close to complete answers. But it is good that you are here, and good that the Star sisters found you. We Cartographers can give you guidance and point you in the right direction, and once you are out there within the Dominion proper, the sisters can keep you safe and on the right road.”
“I…” Fae started, gathering her thoughts. “I have many questions. But I also need to know… two of my siblings are here. I need to know if they’re safe.”
Meister Roderick nodded knowingly. “Of course,” he said, turning towards the Waystation itself. “Come, come. Let us find your siblings and see what we can do for them.”
As they followed Meister Roderick up through the rocks, Fae was able to take in more of the world around her. The Cartographer’s Waystation was truly an island, with ocean stretching out in every direction as far as the eye could see, and no other sign of land. The water was sort of green, and looked more solid than ordinary water. And the sky above… where was the sun? What Fae had thought was just a cloudy day turned out to be the sky itself. Not a cloud in sight, a field of white made up the celestial veil overhead. Occasional lights – yellow, orange, red, and blue – flickered through the white, but what were they? Fae, so captivated by the strange sky, was startled at Neptune’s hands on her shoulders, steering her along the path.
“The ground’s quite uneven here,” Neptune said. “I know everything’s quite strange and interesting, but you’ll have a chance to survey it all when you’ve stopped. Best to focus on keeping your footing right now.”
“Thanks,” Fae said, focusing on the path up to the Waystation.
Their group passed close to several of the clotheslines with maps hanging on them, and Fae got closer looks at them. Some she recognized – there was a map of North America, and one of Grimoire – but many were total anomalies. Many, but not all, were labeled: things like “Moon – Dark Side,” “Io – Western Quadrant,” “Hall of Reflections – Central Courtyard,” “Library of Solitude – Catacombs” and so on.
Winding around a large rock jutting out ahead of them, they came up a set of stairs to a porch and walked through a doorway that didn’t have a door. Inside the Waystation, many men and women were hard at work. Some were slowly drawing fine details on maps, while others were painting in broad strokes. Some hustled to and fro, carrying maps to be dried outside, and carrying in dry maps from outside to be organized. Others were checking written documents that seemed to be changing as they read them – words were appearing and disappearing by the second. The entire area was wide open, with tables everywhere and hardly any chairs at all. The Cartographers worked standing, and all of them were of a smaller stature like Meister Roderick, though none were as old as he was.
“We’re always hard at work here,” Meister Roderick said, ushering the girls out of the doorway just as a Cartographer woman came rushing in with stacks of dried maps in her arms. “You’ll have to excuse the lack of a proper welcome.”
“You’ve done that yourself already,” Fae said, smiling at the sight. Watching as Cartographers navigated the strange interior architecture of the Waystation was fascinating – lofts were here and there, a central spiraling staircase rose up to an open-air balcony, and there were several other balconies and porches around and above that offered perfect spaces for those Cartographers who wanted to work outside.
“Well, have a seat over here,” Meister Roderick said. He led them to a small round table in the corner with chairs around it, and the girls sat down while he wandered off to gather some things.
“What do you think?” Mercury asked, watching Fae expectantly.
“It’s fascinating,” Fae said, continuing to watch the constant hustle and bustle of the Cartographers. They even ate on the job, grabbing sandwiches or donuts and holding them in one hand while painting, drawing, or carrying important items with the other. She spied several grabbing quick powernaps, usually standing while holding onto a wall or leaning on a table, though one young lady was laid out under the busiest workstation, spread out and snoring away with a contented smile on her face.
“The Cartographers are all about work,” Neptune said. “And the work never slows down. The Enchanted Dominion is constantly changing, and it’s their job to report those changes and map out new routes. Individual routes will last for days at best, though more often they’re only reliable for hours, or even minutes or mere seconds.”
“So they never run out of things to map or reasons to map them,” Fae said, smiling. Their work was one that Fae couldn’t quite understand – drawing for the sake of practicality, rather than for creating and imagining – but the fact that they would always have a reason to do it, that they’d always have new things to draw, and that they’d always have people counting on them… that warmed Fae’s heart.
“Here we are,” said Meister Roderick as he returned. He spread out several maps and documents on the table, as well as four plates with sandwiches, which he passed around to each of the girls. “Eat up. You must keep your strength.”
“That’s why we don’t eat before we visit, Meister,” Jupiter said, grinning as she took a huge bite. “You always have the best food.”
Fae had to agree. Assembled between two thick, fluffy slices of a light brown bread, the sandwiches had four slices of different colored cheeses, and three slices of different types of meat. Biting into hers, Fae recognized some flavors – there was cheddar and Colby jack cheese in there, and salami – but there were others that were hard to distinguish in a medley of cheese and meat. Still, it was delicious, so Fae didn’t need to know exactly what was in it.
“So, you’re looking for your siblings?” Meister Roderick asked, taking a seat with the girls. Fae nodded – he’d caught her with her mouth full, so she didn’t reply with words.
“Caleb and Delilah Greyson,” Mercury said. Fae had explained things to her on the walk to her dorm, so she was able to chime in when Fae’s mouth was occupied.
“It appears they’re in separate places,” Meister Roderick said. He spread out several documents layered with notes – mostly names, followed by locations. She spied her sister’s name, with the location “Hollow Island,” and below her were the names of Chelsea and Lorelei, the two Hunters Jacob Crowley had mentioned were missing.
“Hollow Island…” Meister Roderick pulled out a map of said island, spreading it out and running his finger along it. The map flashed with light, rather like a Talisman, and then names appeared. There were seven in the island’s center: Delilah, Chelsea, and Lorelei, along with names Fae didn’t recognize: Isabelle, Gwen, Rothus, and Anastasia. There were several other names in places scattered along the island, but Fae had found what she was looking for.
“They’re in the center, so probably just fine,” Mercury said. “Hey, wait – they’re moving.”
“Seems the ship is leaving,” Meister Roderick said.
“Ship?” Fae asked.
“There’s a ship at the center of Hollow Island,” Meister Roderick explained. “It’s the only way off the island, so it’s a good thing they went there. Only now… let’s see where it’s taking them.”
“The currents around Hollow Island shift and change,” Neptune said. “And the only safe route for the ship is to follow those currents.”
The Enchanted Dominion is constantly changing.
“They’ll land at Wood of the Wisps around 243:54:67,” Meister Roderick said. “You could wait for them to arrive, and then we could send you with guidance so you could retrieve them and bring them back here.”
“What do the numbers mean?” Fae asked blankly. She’d never heard anyone talk about time in such strange values.
“Universal time,” Mercury said, eyes glittering with excitement. “Rather than bother with time zones or different planetary times, in the Enchanted Dominion they use universal time. Bigger numbers, but once you learn how it works, you’ll wonder how you ever got on without it.”
“That’ll be about four hours from now,” Neptune said. “So we’ve got a wait.”
“As for Caleb…” Meister Roderick had to scan through four more pages of names before finding him. “Ah, there we are: Caleb Greyson. He’s… on a train.”
He said that simple statement like it was something astonishing, and the Star sisters reacted in kind.
“Has Caleb been to the Enchanted Dominion before?” Mercury asked.
“I dunno,” Fae said. “What’s so weird about a train?”
“The only trains running through the Enchanted Dominion are part of the Universal Rail System, or URS,” Meister Roderick said. “They’re very complicated trains to board. There are only four stations for boarding throughout the Enchanted Dominion, and a few dozen more total throughout the entire physical universe. Not only that, but to board any URS train, you need to have special clearance, and a hefty amount of chronal.”
“Chronal?” Fae asked.
“It’s a monetary system used only for URS and in the three Chronolytical Locations,” Mercury said. “Time’s Birthing Cry, Time’s Twilight Hour, and Time’s Last Breath. Caleb… is he a time mage?”
Fae nodded. “Yeah, the only one alive,” she said, trying to keep the snark out of her voice. That dubious distinction had been the talk of Grimoire’s magical community ever since Caleb started studying Time Magic. She’d been sick of hearing about it since she was twelve.
“Using Time Magic helps accrue chronal,” Meister Roderick said. “And… my word, it looks as if he boarded from Chronoshin. And he’s en route to Midnight Bridge.”
“You make it sound like things are really crazy and important,” Fae said, “but these words don’t mean anything to me. What’s the big deal about my brother?”
“To get to Chronoshin – that’s Time’s Last Breath – things have to be really dire,” Neptune said. “So him arriving there means that something horrible happened to him. And yet, if he’s on a train now…”
“Then he’s fine,” Jupiter said, her mouth full. She didn’t have Fae’s manners. “But Midnight Bridge is a weird destination.”
“And if he got on that train, he chose that destination,” Meister Roderick said. “Very curious. Well. Your siblings are split up, and unfortunately, unless you want to wait…” he shuffled his papers, running his finger down what looked like a very elaborate and complicated time table, “fourteen years, they are not very close in a physical sense. If you are incredibly fast, you could make it to the Wood of the Wisps and then to Midnight Bridge, but there are twelve different Locations to pass through, and not all of them are safe zones.”
Did he say fourteen years? Seriously?
“So what?” Fae asked. “I have to choose which of my siblings to help out?”
“Well…” Meister Roderick seemed to have picked up on Fae’s frustration, shuffling his maps and files. “They may not both need help. I can see a bit of what they’re dealing with, and help guide your way. As a brief impression, it seems that Delilah and her group are lost, while Caleb seems to be going exactly where he wants to go.”
So what the heck are you doing, Caleb? Fae wondered, but she soon felt like she had an answer. Is the Enchanted Dominion calling out to you like it is to me? Are you looking for answers, too?
Maybe I’m not the only one who needs to be here.
So do I help Delilah? She has two Hunters with her – what could I honestly do to help?
I have my own questions. Isn’t that really why I’m here?
“So what about me?” Fae asked. “You said you have some clues for answers to my questions, right?”
“Yes, of course,” Meister Roderick said, moving things aside to make room for two maps: “City of Anguish” and “Plains of the Fallen”. “These are two locations that should help point you in the right direction.”
“Oh, great,” Jupiter said, leaning back as she rolled her eyes. Her sandwich was already gone, the first of the group to finish eating. “Either Crying Town or a freaking graveyard. Come on, Meister, these can’t be right.”
“The Plains of the Fallen have an artist’s alley of sorts,” Meister Roderick said. “Gerick Irsotz lives there, and he knows more about magical artwork than anyone. And the Gallery of Wounds is within the City of Anguish – Esmerelda may know exactly what’s going on, or at least have a clue of who’s been calling out to young Fae.”
“You’re sure there aren’t any nice places that could be helpful?” Jupiter asked.
Meister Roderick shook his head. “It’s possible, but these are your best starting leads,” he said. “There is always the Crystal Palace and the Seat of the Seven, but you can’t enter there without a Letter of Marque branded by royalty.”
“Well, we’ve been to the other two,” Neptune said. “The Plains of the Fallen is spooky, but it isn’t so bad. And the City of Anguish –”
“Will make you wish you’d never been born,” Jupiter said. “Seriously. Let’s not go there again.”
“I kind of liked it,” Mercury said cheerfully. “Everyone’s super dramatic. It’s kind of like a comedy.”
“You’re nuts,” Jupiter said.
“I think Fae should be the one making the decision,” Neptune said, her one visible eye focusing on Fae.
“I… don’t you three have things you wanted to ask, too?” Fae asked. “I don’t… this is kind of heavy, you know? I’m trying to wrap my mind around things.”
“We’re here for you,” Mercury said, smiling. “Don’t worry about us. We always just explore. Plus, you’ll need us.”
“So… okay,” Fae said, looking to Meister Roderick. “The Wood of the Wisps. Is it safe? Is my sister going to be all right?”
“Oh, there are no dangers there,” Meister Roderick said, smiling. “In fact, I think it’s a place young Delilah needs to go. She’ll be delighted she visited. Really wonderful timing there.”
“What about Midnight Bridge?” Fae asked.
“It isn’t… dangerous, per se,” Meister Roderick said. “But… well, let’s put it this way: if Caleb is going there of his own volition, then he’s likely going to meet with Mister Midnight in order to learn more about Time Magic. It will be dangerous, but it’s a danger that he chose, likely for good reason. And it’s a danger that’s completely avoidable – Mister Midnight will warn him about what he’s getting into before anything begins.”
So basically, Caleb and Delilah are fine, Fae translated. Caleb can handle danger. And Delilah’s going to some happy place. Which means I can focus on my own journey.
Is that really okay? To just put myself first? I asked about Caleb and Delilah. I did my part for them, right? Is it okay for me to do what I want now? That wouldn’t be selfish, would it?
It looks like the places I have to go to are both not too happy. In a way, it’s like I have it worse off than Caleb or Delilah. So it shouldn’t be any harm for me to do my thing.
“Can we take a Cartographer with us?” Fae asked, remembering what the sisters had said. She knew it was a no, but she wanted to know why. “So we can navigate? It sounds like we’ll be going to a number of Locations.”
Meister Roderick shook his head. “Unfortunately, no,” he said. “We Cartographers are bound to the Waystation. We only really have our navigational abilities on this small island – once we leave, we know nothing of the mysteries of the Dominion.” He picked up his files and time tables. “These are the sources of our knowledge, and they cannot update properly outside of the Waystation. However…” He gestured at the maps. “That is why we draw maps. For those we deem worthy, we can bestow maps. We can even look ahead, for a short distance, and give you time tables up to a certain point that will help you navigate for the next few hours. If you’re lucky, we may even be able to manage a full universal day’s worth of perfectly precise predictions. And…” Meister Roderick looked at the three Star sisters, “these three appear to not have told you as much as I had expected.”
“What’s that mean?” Fae asked, looking at Mercury suspiciously. Mercury raised her hands innocently.
“Hey, I thought you should find things out organically,” she said.
“The Star sisters have spent a great deal of time in the Dominion,” Meister Roderick said. “They can serve as navigators through most Locations, and will be able to fill in the blanks that our maps unfortunately leave out – we can only be so detailed, after all. They’ve spent enough time here at the Waystation, and young Neptune even studied with us for a time, so they can help provide direction once you’ve left our safe halls.”
“So… where should I go?” Fae asked, looking to the sisters. “And is there anything else you’ve conveniently left out that I should know right away?”
“Not that I can think of,” Mercury said.
“We’ll do our best to answer your questions,” Neptune said, “and to provide you with insight and guidance. So – where will we go?”
“It’s up to you, chief,” Jupiter said, grinning.
“Between the City of Anguish and the Plains of the Fallen, where would you go?” Fae asked.
“We haven’t met Gerick or Esmerelda,” Mercury admitted, “so it’s hard to say.”
“The Plains of the Fallen is more peaceful,” Neptune said. “There are less distractions. But the City of Anguish has many people, and quite a wealth of knowledge. I’m not sure what’s the best opening call.”
“I can provide you with time tables,” Meister Roderick said. “So you can easily get from the Plains to the City. As long as you don’t spend more than six hours in either Location, you’ll be able to jump directly from one to the other.”
Fae nodded, standing up. “Let’s go for the Plains first,” she said. I’m not a crazy person like you, Caleb. You’d probably go straight for the place that sounded the most dangerous. I’ll start things off easy.
“Sounds good to me,” Mercury said, as the sisters stood up as well. “Meister, thanks for having us again. Hopefully it won’t be quite so long before our next visit.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Meister Roderick said, chuckling. “You have your own adventures to embark on. I’ll look forward to your next visit, but don’t feel obligated.”
“So… where do we go?” Fae asked. “I mean, to leave. Is there a boat?”
“Nope,” Mercury said, leading the group out a side door to a wooden porch. From the side curved a cobblestone path, winding its way down to the beach below. “Follow along. This is super cool.”
“Fae Greyson,” Meister Roderick said, stopping her. “I just want you to know… we’ve heard very much about you. For whatever reason, you’re important to someone here in the Enchanted Dominion. I hope that you find what you’re looking for. But be careful. Not all of us within the Dominion are friendly. Stay on your guard, and keep your wits about you.”
“Thank you,” Fae said, shaking Meister Roderick’s hand. “I’m glad to have met you. And I hope things work out.” She looked back, out across the vast, endless green ocean.
One way or another, she thought. I’m on the very first step of my own journey. Caleb, Delilah, don’t hold this against me. It seems the two of you are here for a reason, too.
I hope we all find what we’re looking for.