Delilah stood at the prow of the Dreamtide, the ship that was transporting their group from Hollow Island. They were moving quickly, and sweet spray splashed up now and again, but Delilah didn’t mind.
In her hand was the note left behind by her brother.
You knew you were overdoing it with your Time Magic, didn’t you? Delilah wondered. I love your optimism and easy smile, but you have to learn when to be serious. If you had, you could have avoided this entirely…
Well, he probably would have needed special training eventually. Caleb never did have a teacher for Time Magic, and it was a sticking point with their parents. But Caleb had been so good at Time Magic, had come into it so easily, that mom and dad had let him go for it.
“Deep thoughts?” asked a rough voice that had become familiar to Delilah on this voyage at sea. She turned to the captain of the Dreamtide, Rothus. A burly man, his blue and white shirt had the sleeves cut off entirely because his shoulders and upper arms were simply too large to fit into ordinary clothing. His long white hair and well-trimmed white beard stood out against his heavily tanned skin, as did his eyes, which shone with a pale blue brilliance. Despite towering over little Delilah, she wasn’t the least bit intimidated by him – he was a big softy, and that had been apparent within moments of meeting him at Hollow Island’s port.
“Not really,” Delilah replied. “Just ordinary thoughts.”
“Very focused for such a young one,” Rothus said, placing his large, scar-covered hands on the metal railing. He had a large mouth and chin, meaning that even the small smile on his face was comparatively quite prominent.
“I guess you could say so,” Delilah said, staying with the captain at the railing. She held some of her hair out of her face, turning to look back at the rest of the ship. Chelsea and Lorelei were talking at a table within the ship’s cabin, easy to see through the large windows running along its entire perimeter. Isabelle was sitting on the cabin’s roof, kicking her feet over the edge and giggling every time water splashed up high enough to reach her. Next to her was Gwen, a fellow passenger who seemed to know far more than she let on. They talked now and then, but mostly Gwen watched Isabelle, smiling at the girl and her childish joy.
Gwen was a young woman who seemed like she was some extremely high-class or even royal household. She dressed in a muted red outfit – pants, heeled boots, shirt, and open jacket – with golden buttons, tassels, and trim. Her wavy auburn hair was cut short and seemed to glisten in the light. Along with her golden eyes, she had a magical air about her.
In a storage area below decks was the mysterious Anastasia. Delilah had only seen her for a brief moment before the woman had vanished down below, and she hadn’t come up since.
As Delilah had expected, the Dreamtide was powered by magic. It even had its own sort of auto-pilot function, meaning that Rothus didn’t need to man the helm at all times.
“How well do you know Gwen and Anastasia?” Delilah asked.
“Curious about the others, are ya?” Rothus grinned, turning to look back at Gwen and Isabelle. “Gwen’s a native of the Dominion, like m’self. She likes to help out on the ship from time to time, even though I tell her I don’t need it. She takes care of herself, I say. But it’s no bother. I like her company. She’s a kind lass, and quite smart. You should see if she’s interested in sticking with your group. Seems like you could use a guide.”
“What about Anastasia?” Delilah asked.
“She’s a mystery,” Rothus said, shaking his head. “First met her just a few hours a’fore your group showed up. She doesn’t talk any more than she needs to. Can’t say more’n that.”
“You seem like you know Isabelle a bit, too,” Delilah noted.
Rothus smiled. “That I do,” he said. “Taken her twice. She’s looking for the Library of Solitude. Been there once m’self, but haven’t been able to get her there, unfortunately.” He gestured out at the rolling waves of the ocean. “The tides decide where we go. I’m as much a slave to them as the rest of you. And they haven’t wanted to bring Isabelle back home. It’s a crying shame, if you ask me. She’s a charming girl. Deserves better.”
“Do you know where we’re going yet?” Delilah asked.
“Well, let’s take a look, shall we?” Rothus asked. He led the way to the glass-encased cabin. “Didn’t know anything twenty minutes ago, but if it’s a short trip, we might know by now.”
Inside, Lorelei and Chelsea took interest in their destination as well, so they all crowded around the table as Rothus spread out a sea chart. Despite being paper, the images across it were constantly shifting and updating, like two invisible hands were at work – one drawing, the other erasing.
“Looks like land there,” Chelsea said, pointing as a rocky formation was drawn into existence.
“Aye, but we’re passing it,” Rothus said, scratching his beard. “Good thing, too. You don’t want to visit the Forlorn Peaks.”
“Doesn’t sound like a fun place,” Lorelei said. “So what’s this?” She pointed at a different landmass coming into being near her side of the chart.
“Ah, now that’s a sight for sore eyes,” Rothus said, eyes twinkling. “The Wood of the Wisps. Yes indeed, that’s a fine destination.”
“But what is it?” Delilah asked.
“It’s the home of the Will Wisps,” Rothus said.
“And… what are Will Wisps?” Delilah asked, staring at the captain.
“You’re a Summoner, right?” Gwen asked, entering the cabin with Isabelle in tow. “Then this is one place in the Dominion you don’t want to miss.”
“What do Will Wisps have to do with Summons?” Delilah asked.
Gwen just gave her a mysterious smile, her golden eyes sparkling. “I shouldn’t say more before you see them for yourself,” she said. “Don’t worry. I’ll explain everything once we’re there.”
“It’s good to experience things for yourself first,” Rothus said, nodding in agreement.
“How close is the Wisps place to the Library of Solitude?” Isabelle asked. Her eyes only barely made it up to the top of the table, so she stood on tiptoe to look at the chart.
“Can’t say without a Cartographer,” Rothus said sadly. “And even then, things are always changing in the Dominion. I’m sorry, lass.”
“It’s okay,” Isabelle said, smiling. “I’m glad we get to go somewhere new. And if it’s important for Delilah, then I’m happy to go there with her!”
“Thanks,” Delilah said, not sure when Isabelle had grown attached to her. They’d barely spoken, with the girl spending almost all of her time with Lorelei.
“I’ll come with you,” Gwen said, walking up to stand behind Isabelle, placing her hands on the girl’s shoulders. “I have a few inklings of where we might be able to go next. If we’re smart, careful, and lucky, then we might just manage to get this little one home before you girls have been gone from Grimoire too long.”
“You mean it?” Isabelle asked, staring up at Gwen with big, hopeful eyes.
“It’s a lot of ‘ifs’,” Gwen said, chuckling. “But yes. There’s a chance.”
“I can go home…” Isabelle said softly. Rather than her usual exuberance, she was subdued, her eyes glimmering with a hopeful desperation.
“Well, we should make landfall in another ten minutes or so,” Rothus said, heading for the stairs to the lower areas. “I’ll go let our mystery passenger know.”
“I don’t know about Anastasia,” Chelsea said under her breath. “She seems like she’s hiding.”
“Maybe she’s shy,” Gwen suggested with a shrug. She reminded Delilah a bit of Caleb, the way she was so casual and carefree, quick to smile and believe in others. “We don’t know anything about her.”
“Miss Anastasia says she’ll be debarking at the Wood of the Wisps as well,” Rothus said as he returned.
“Oh, Rothus, you’ll be all alone,” Gwen said with a pout. “Are you sure you’ll be okay?”
“You know the answer to that,” Rothus said, laughing. “I’m never alone, long as I have the Dreamtide and the waves!”
Delilah left as the pair bantered, heading back up to the prow to watch as the Wood of the Wisps came into view.
Will Wisps… whatever they were, Delilah was excited. Supposedly the Enchanted Dominion was where all magic originated from. If the Will Wisps were tied to Summoning, they might be the key to that entire class of magic. They might be the source behind Delilah’s Felines. That was an exciting thought.
“You look happy,” Isabelle said, startling Delilah. The girl had come up to join her without Delilah noticing.
“Yeah, I guess I am,” Delilah said, smiling. “We’re about to see something completely new and amazing. And apparently it isn’t dangerous, either, which is a nice change. Plus, it has to do with my kind of magic.”
“Your magic is super cool,” Isabelle said, grinning. “I like your Felines. They make me feel safe when they’re around.”
Delilah smiled back at her. “They do the same for me,” she said.
Isabelle gasped, pointing ahead of them, and Delilah looked up. On the horizon, the Wood of the Wisps was starting to come into view.
Deep green grass and leaves formed every part of the Location that Delilah could see. It wasn’t a dense, foreboding forest like Hollow Island’s jungle, but spacious and open. Light streamed through the branches, and seemed to be dancing across numerous pastel-colored flowers.
It certainly looked beautiful and inviting. But where were the Will Wisps? Delilah wanted to know what they were. Were they invisible?
“The best part’s coming up,” Rothus said, joining Delilah and Isabelle. Gwen, Lorelei, and Chelsea followed, and the entire group watched the oncoming Wood of the Wisps expectantly.
Suddenly, the sky changed. What had been a white field with lights flashing within it suddenly grew incredibly dark, to a deep blue and purple. Within it, blue and purple and silver lights flickered and faded.
Finally standing out in the open, Anastasia appeared, keeping her distance from the group. She was the oldest of the group, looking to be in her thirties or early forties. Her dark hair, combined with the long coat she wore with the collar popped up, made it hard to see her face clearly, and she was always looking slightly away from the group. Wearing an outfit otherwise rather simple, her shoes stood out – black boots with long stiletto heels. There was something oddly familiar about her appearance, as if Delilah should know who she was.
“So that’s what the night sky looks like,” Lorelei said breathlessly, staring up at it. “It’s beautiful.”
Delilah agreed, but her eyes were fixated on the Wood of the Wisps. The change in lighting had brought the forest to life. Amorphous blobs of light floated in the nighttime darkness, filling the forest with glows of so many colors: blue and green and pink, red and orange and yellow, silver and gold and white and black…
And Delilah realized something.
“They look like Summons,” she said softly, staring as the shore came closer and closer, and the lights grew clearer and clearer. They had that sort of fuzzy look to them, and each was a single distinct color, glowing with a light all its own.
“They do, don’t they?” Gwen asked, smiling as she watched the lights. “Those are the Will Wisps.”
“But what –” Delilah started to ask.
“Time to disembark!” Rothus announced, bringing the Dreamtide in for a soft bump against the grassy shore. Dropping the gangplank, everyone except the captain exited into the Wood of the Wisps.
It was surreal. There was no beach, no real shoreline to speak of. The Wood just… ended, grassy ground stopping suddenly to give way to the green ocean, now dark, almost black, in the strange nighttime light. Standing there in the grass, looking up at Rothus on the Dreamtide, Delilah felt once again the mystical, unearthly nature of the Enchanted Dominion.
It really was a world of magic.
“Well, I’ll bid you ladies goodnight,” Rothus called from the deck, pulling up the gangplank. “Enjoy the sights, and I hope you all find what you’re looking for!”
“Thank you!” Delilah called out, waving as Rothus manned the helm and steered the ship away.
“Hey, where’d Anastasia go?” Chelsea asked, looking around. Delilah looked as well, and she was right – the mysterious woman was nowhere to be found.
“She was just next to me,” Gwen said, staring at the empty spot beside her. “Such a strange one. I hope she doesn’t get lost.”
“Might not mind getting lost in a place this beautiful,” Chelsea said, smiling as she walked a few steps into the Wood of the Wisps.
Isabelle was grinning, twirling as she danced in the beautiful kaleidoscope of colors whirling through the forest. “It’s amazing!” she cried out, laughing.
“It certainly is,” Gwen said with a smile. She started to lead the way ahead through the brilliant forest. “Our destination is an exit on the other side of the Wood. Shouldn’t take us too long to make it there, and that will take us to our next Location. But we can afford to have some fun along the way.”
“So what are the Will Wisps, anyway?” Lorelei asked. She reached out her hand as a bright blue Wisp floated by. As it brushed against her hand, Lorelei’s mouth grew into a wide grin and her eyes sparkled with delight. “Oh, that’s… that’s amazing.”
Delilah stepped towards an orange Wisp and held out her hand carefully. The blob of light twisted, squished inward, and then expanded, before floating over to her. As it brushed against her, Delilah felt…
Oh. Wow. Amazing was right.
Her entire body suddenly felt alive with a warmth and lightness that stunned Delilah. She felt as if she could fly, weightless and free. She was smiling, and then laughing, unbidden and without being able to stop it. Tingles spread through her arm, to her shoulder, to her chest and her legs and her face and…
So many emotions rushed through her. They weren’t her own. Pulsing into her, coming in waves, Delilah felt longing, then joy; desperation, then freedom; sorrow, then elation.
The Wisp was reaching out to her, but these emotions weren’t even that of the Wisp’s. It was trying to talk to her, trying to gauge her own emotions, to understand her. Delilah wanted to understand it as well, reaching back out to the Wisp with her own hopes and feelings and questions.
“Maybe don’t keep that up,” Gwen said, standing next to Delilah and placing a gentle hand on her outstretched arm. “It’s not dangerous, but… well, Wisps have a habit of growing attached. And you already have a few of your own.”
“A few of my…” Delilah pulled her hand back, and watched as the orange Wisp bobbed away. She looked up at Gwen. “What do you mean?”
“You don’t understand yet?” Gwen asked. She smiled. “You’re a Summoner. Where do you think your Summons come from?”
“The Wisps are…” Delilah stared out at the expansive forest, at the hundreds, thousands of Wisps floating through the air. “Every single one of these is a Summon?”
“None of these are Summons yet,” Gwen said. “Every single Summon is a Wisp that’s been called from the Wood by a mage. Each of your Summons was once a Wisp, floating along in this forest, waiting to be called.”
“They’re all waiting to become Summons?” Chelsea asked, leaning against a tree. “That’s all they’re doing here? Floating along, waiting for someone to give them a purpose?”
“That’s right,” Gwen said, looking out at the glowing forest. “They’re called Will Wisps because they desire a will – a purpose. They don’t have purposes of their own. Mages gave them purpose. Why do you think Summons can take so many shapes, or that they always become exactly what their Summoner wants them to be?” Gwen laughed as she petted a golden Wisp that floated by. “Look at how they change their shape so easily. And yet they don’t have a single distinct shape of their own – not here, anyway. They’re waiting for a mage to call them. They’re waiting for someone else’s will to shape them into the form they’ll take for the rest of their lives. They’re waiting for someone to give them a purpose.”
“So all these emotions…” Delilah said, brushing her hand along a silver Wisp that seemed to laugh as if she’d tickled it, folding itself in half, and then flattening out like a disc, before zipping away. “They’re questions. They’re the Wisps asking what they should be. They’re the way the Wisps seek out a form and a purpose.”
“That’s right,” Gwen said. “And mostly, you’ll feel joy when you touch them. They like to be happy.”
“Who doesn’t?” Chelsea asked, chuckling.
“But it’s a deeper happiness,” Gwen said. “Joy, it comes from deep within, and bubbles out like you can’t even contain it. It’s deeper than an emotion – it’s a state of being. Joy is what these Wisps desire most of all. I guess that’s kind of like people, though. How can you truly feel joy unless you’ve found your purpose, your reason for existing? And how can you not feel unexplainable joy when you have found your purpose?”
So all of my Felines… they feel this constantly. Delilah reached out to another Wisp, this one deep blue like Earth’s ocean, and it rippled like water at her touch. And she felt it once more – a longing, a faint breath of joy. And even that tiny bit of joy was enough to make Delilah come alive, like electricity was flowing through her.
This is what it’s like to find your purpose in life? Delilah grinned, feeling excitement, but it was tempered by a longing of her own.
I want to feel like this. So I still… I still don’t know what exactly my purpose is.
“It’s all a nice sentiment,” Chelsea said. “But what about people who haven’t found their purpose in life? Or what about people who have no purpose?”
“Everyone has a purpose,” Gwen said. “Not everyone finds out what it is in their lifetime, which is terribly sad, but everyone has it.”
“So you search,” Lorelei said, smiling. “You don’t give up until you find it. Because once you do, it’s the best thing.”
“So you’ve found yours?” Chelsea asked, casting a skeptical look at her friend.
Lorelei grinned and nodded, her braid bouncing on her shoulder. “I have,” she said. “A long time ago, honestly. Come on. Everyone has one. If you haven’t found yours yet, you will.”
Chelsea suddenly had a strange look on her face, but it was one that Delilah had recently learned to recognize.
It was the way that Chelsea looked at Caleb.
And then Chelsea looked away, her voice tinged with longing. “I hope so,” she said softly.
“But what about all of these?” Delilah asked, gesturing at the endless forest of glowing Wisps. “There are so many. Won’t some of them die without being called?”
Gwen shook her head, a twinkle in her golden eyes. “Oh, no,” she said. “Wisps are the envy of humanity in that regard. They’ll live forever, as long as they’re here. Until they are called, they will never die.”
“Isn’t that kind of bittersweet, then?” Chelsea asked. “Once they find that joy, then the timer starts on their lifespan.”
“A life full of joy is a life well lived,” Gwen said. She let out a long, breathless sigh. “Ah, but we really should get going. It’s a long way yet to our destination, so we’ll spend plenty of time with the Wisps. Just don’t get carried away. It’s easy to get attached, but unless you’re willing to be their Summoner, you don’t want to draw a Wisp to yourself. Enjoy the sights and feelings, but otherwise, let’s just keep moving forward.”
“How do you know so much, anyway?” Isabelle asked, skipping over to join them. She looked up at Gwen with admiration in her big, curious eyes.
“I’ve lived a long time,” Gwen said with a laugh. “And it seems you have, too, little one.”
“I dunno,” Isabelle said with a shrug. “Mommy always says time is difficult.”
Gwen cocked her head, as if a thought had occurred to her. “That phrase sounds oddly familiar…” she said. After a few moments, she shook her head. “Ah, I can’t think of why. It’ll come to me – or it won’t. Anyway, I’m glad to have you along, little one.” She ruffled Isabelle’s hair, and the girl let out an adorable giggle. “Don’t worry. We’ll find your home one way or another. You miss your mommy, don’t you?”
Isabelle nodded. “Very much,” she said.
“We’ll get you back to her,” Delilah said, smiling. “We need to get back home, too, but… well, it seems like you’ve been away from home a lot longer than we have.” She looked to Lorelei and Chelsea hopefully. “Seems like she should take precedence, right?”
Chelsea offered a shrug. “I’m game for anything, honestly,” she said. She shivered as a purple Wisp bumped against her, and then laughed. “I wouldn’t mind spending more time in this world.”
“I think we should put Isabelle first,” Lorelei said with a confident smile.
Good, Delilah thought as their group walked through the magical forest. I want to spend more time in this world. And… well, now Gwen and the Wisps have me thinking about all kinds of stuff. Joy unexplainable… my purpose… I thought I knew what my purpose was. Maybe it’s just because I haven’t succeeded at it yet.
And for that, my Felines and I need to grow stronger. So spending more time in this world can’t be bad at all.
Besides – they’ve found their purpose in me. I’ve got to step up for them.
Far off from the group of girls, Anastasia watched from the shadows.
Her fingers ran over the shards of a Piper’s Flute in her pocket.
When that little girl had played her music at Grimoire’s library and their songs had collided, Anastasia’s flute had shattered.
And she’d ended up on Hollow Island. What a nightmare that had been.
Thankfully, she’d been there before. She knew how to navigate it far better than the foolish children who had been caught up in a massive battle with Hollows.
But still, she hadn’t accomplished her mission. Still, she had to watch carefully and wait for her chance to strike.
Her master needed Isabelle. Only from her could he obtain the True Flute and have the power he needed.
Anastasia had been put to this task. She would not fail him.
As she watched the giggling girls, a grey Wisp brushed against Anastasia’s shoulder. She felt that electric tingle of emotion run through her, and shuddered away even as she found herself smiling uncontrollably.
It wasn’t such a bad feeling.
But she didn’t have time for such fleeting emotions. She had to wait for her chance. She had to be focused.
Before they left the Wood of the Wisps, Isabelle – and her strange power – would be hers.