Chelsea found herself in a slightly awkward situation.
Sitting on the couch in Gwen’s house, listening to the lovely piano duet, she’d been doing just fine. Having her owl Summon cuddle up against the back of her head was adorable, if a bit awkward at first. She’d gotten used to it.
But then Delilah had sat down next to her.
The two hadn’t said anything, just sitting there and listening to the music, but after a while, Delilah started to drift off. Eventually, she slid sideways, her head coming to rest on Chelsea’s shoulder as she fell fast asleep.
Out of Caleb’s siblings, Delilah was the one that Chelsea had seen the least often, and shared the least amount of words with. She barely knew the kid.
“Looks like she’s grown attached to you,” Lorelei said, smiling at Delilah.
“I can’t imagine why,” Chelsea said. Despite how awkward she felt, she smiled, too, as she looked at the girl. Her mass of blond curls shielded part of her face, but Delilah’s mouth was visible, slightly open as she breathed softly in through her nose and out through her mouth.
“She’s so capable,” Chelsea said, “it’s easy to forget that she’s only fourteen.”
“I didn’t notice before,” Lorelei said, “but looking at her now, she’s so small.”
Chelsea chuckled at that. “And she’s even had a growth spurt since I first met her,” she said. “But yeah. She’s still just a kid.”
“It’s amazing that she commands three Summons at her age,” Lorelei said. “I haven’t met a single Summoner who has more than two. Most only work with a single Summon.”
“And those Felines are no pushovers, either,” Chelsea said. Delilah shifted in her sleep, leaning more into Chelsea, and Chelsea found that awkwardness growing again. “I didn’t think I made a good pillow.”
“I think she realizes the two of you have something in common,” Lorelei said. “You both love Caleb and think extremely highly of him.”
“You think so?” Chelsea asked.
“Did you see the way her face lit up when Caleb told her he was proud of her?” Lorelei asked. “I don’t know that I’ve ever seen someone so happy.”
Chelsea smiled at the memory.
“I bet she isn’t used to being awake for so long, either,” Lorelei said. “It was almost one in the morning when we were sent to Hollow Island, and so far we’ve been in the Enchanted Dominion for, what? A full day? Maybe more?”
“Caleb’s pocket watch would be handy about now,” Chelsea said wistfully. She’d checked her phone a few times on Hollow Island and in the Wood of the Wisps, but it wasn’t even registering time, stuck ever since they arrived at 12:48 AM.
“He’ll come back,” Lorelei said, smiling. “He did say not to worry about him, didn’t he?”
“Hard not to,” Chelsea said, pursing her lips. “He always was too carefree for his own good, and look where it got him.”
Gwen and Isabelle’s playing slowly faded away, and Gwen turned to face the girls on the couch. Seeing Delilah sleeping against Chelsea’s shoulder, Gwen smiled. “Well, if the rest of you would like to take a nap, feel free,” she said. “I’m going to start putting some clothes together. When you get hungry, let me know.”
Isabelle hopped down from the piano bench and wandered up to Lorelei, placing her hands on Lorelei’s knees, looking up at her with those big, curious eyes. “Can I sleep on you?” she asked.
Chelsea knew Lorelei was screaming with delight internally at how adorable Isabelle’s request was. Ever the external face of calm, Lorelei smiled warmly and nodded, scooting over to make room for the little redhead.
I don’t know how you keep your cool so well, Chelsea thought, watching as Isabelle climbed up to the couch and nestled up against Lorelei, falling asleep shockingly fast. I know you well enough to know that inside you’re going nuts over how cute this is. So how do you look so calm?
“Maybe I’ll drift off, too,” Lorelei said softly, leaning her head back. Chelsea felt her owl shift behind her, crouching down and leaning back so as to provide Chelsea with a nice, feathery pillow.
I don’t know why you chose me, Chelsea thought, leaning back against her owl’s warm stomach, but I am so thankful for you.
Soon, Chelsea drifted off to a dreamless sleep. It was easy, and she was surprised at just how relaxed she was. The scent of lilacs wafting in through the open windows, the warm golden light coming in from the window behind her, the lingering echo of Gwen and Isabelle’s duet, all came together to wash away Chelsea’s stress, anxiety, and worries.
She still wondered after Caleb, and had so many thoughts in her mind of all the things she needed to say to him, but any worries or cares relating to these thoughts were far away.
Finally, Chelsea could rest.
When she awoke an unknown amount of time later, she found she was the first one awake. It was still daylight outside. Delilah was still conked out against her right side, and Chelsea noticed that the girl had been drooling just the slightest bit. Some of it had run down her chin and onto Chelsea’s sleeve, but she just laughed softly, amused at just how utterly contented Delilah was.
And against Chelsea’s left side, there was Lorelei. Sometime while they were all asleep, her friend had drifted sideways until her head rested on Chelsea’s left shoulder. Isabelle was now curled up on the couch, with her head in Lorelei’s lap. Behind her, Chelsea’s owl pillow let out soft little cooing sounds of contented breathing.
Well, I guess I’m not getting up just yet. Chelsea sighed, closing her eyes once more, and slowly she drifted into sleep once again.
The next time she awoke, she heard the sound of Isabelle’s laughter from somewhere outside. Lorelei was gone as well, so the two must be playing together. Delilah stirred, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand before she opened her eyes and sat up. Blinking, she looked around blearily, eventually looking up at Chelsea.
“Hey,” Chelsea said, smiling. “Have a nice nap?”
Delilah nodded, closing her eyes and taking in a deep breath, then letting it out. “How long was I out?” she asked.
“No clue,” Chelsea said. She sat up straighter, raising her arms overhead and stretching. “I don’t see any clocks in here. Either it’s still the same day we arrived, or we slept through the night.”
“You fell asleep, too?” Delilah asked.
“We all did, except Gwen,” Chelsea said. “Unless she took a nap in her bed. She’s been upstairs, said she was working on our clothes.”
Delilah blinked a few more times, then looked down at Chelsea’s sleeve and the stain left from Delilah’s drool. She blushed, eyes widening, and she looked up at Chelsea, clearly about to apologize. Chelsea burst out laughing.
“It’s fine,” she said, shaking her head. “You needed the rest.”
Delilah looked away. “Thanks,” she said softly. “So, um… your owl doesn’t want to leave, huh?”
“Doesn’t seem that way,” Chelsea said, leaning back and looking up. Her owl tilted his head down so that their eyes met. “He’s clingy.”
Delilah giggled. “My Felines were like that early on,” she said. “They still are, kind of. But I guess they’ve… matured? It’s hard to know when they can’t use words and only communicate through thoughts and emotions, but they feel like they’ve grown up and mellowed out a bit.”
“When did you start practicing Summoning Magic?” Chelsea asked. “You surprised us all with how strong you are. We spotted you when we were on our way to the library, and you should’ve seen Caleb’s face. He was so shocked, and proud.”
Delilah blushed again, turning away completely to hide her face. “I was eight when I started reading about it and learning the theory,” she said. “I was ten when I first Summoned Felix. Nekoma and Redding weren’t far behind – I had the whole trio by the end of that year. We started training in the practice room at home, in the middle of the night when no one would notice, or days when I got home early and was the only one around. Eventually, we started going out into Grimoire during the Hollow Hour and tracking down Snifflers. I’d heard plenty about how much of a pain they are from Caleb, but also about how weak they are, so I thought we could handle them. Over time, we kept getting better and stronger. I don’t know when I got it in my head that I could get rid of all of the Snifflers, every night, but when I tried, I found out we really could.”
“You took a huge weight off the rest of us Hunters,” Chelsea said, grinning. “Those Snifflers are a pain. They’re no challenge for us, but we can never ignore them. I’ve seen them get to kids and adults alike, and it takes a really talented healer to get their minds right again. Thanks.”
Delilah nodded, her blonde curls bouncing with the movement. “You’re welcome,” she said. She looked up as the sounds of Isabelle’s laughter came again from outdoors. “That girl’s such a mystery. But she seems so happy and carefree… I really hope we can help her get home.”
Chelsea stretched again, then stood up. “That’s the plan,” she said. “Dunno where we’ll start, but I bet Lorelei’s got an idea or two. And Gwen knows a lot, so she probably has a thought about where to go next.”
Delilah’s stomach growled, and both of the girls laughed. “Gwen said to let her know when we’re hungry,” Chelsea said. “I’ll look for her.”
“Hey, Chelsea?” Delilah asked, and Chelsea looked back at the girl.
“What’s up?” she asked.
“I, um…” Delilah bobbed from side to side as she gathered her thoughts. “I’m glad you and Caleb are together. If… I mean, when we get back to Grimoire, do you think… do you think you and I could hang out now and then?”
Chelsea felt her heart swell, and she nodded. “Sure thing,” she said.
As she turned away from Delilah and climbed up to the second floor, though, she felt a tiny nagging doubt crawl back into her mind.
Caleb and I might not be together much longer. Not if he reacts the way I think he will to all that I have to tell him.
Do I… do I have to tell him everything? I don’t know if I can. And even if I can… does he really need to know?
Chelsea shook her head, looking out from the balcony at Isabelle and Lorelei racing around among the flowers. She let Isabelle’s contagious laughter do its work, and by the time Chelsea had climbed up to the second floor, she was smiling again.
I don’t need to worry about that now, she thought. And maybe Lorelei’s right. Maybe… maybe Caleb can handle it.
Entering Gwen’s work space, she saw the young woman focused on her work, sewing silver buttons onto a dark green jacket. Gwen looked up as Chelsea entered, and Chelsea was once again mystified by her golden eyes. They seemed to glitter and sparkle with their own light.
“I hope you had a nice nap,” Gwen said, smiling.
“We all did,” Chelsea said. “How’s the work coming?”
Gwen stood up straight, stretching her arms overhead. “Oh, it’s gone well,” she said. “I can’t do everything by hand, but I like doing what I can in the time I have.”
“I’ve been meaning to ask… you’re like Isabelle, right?” Chelsea asked. “She can use magic without a Talisman, and can do things with her magic that I’ve never even heard of.”
“She’s an Enchanted,” Gwen said with a nod. “That’s what we call people native to the Enchanted Dominion. I’m one, too. Though, it always feels weird to say that.” She laughed. “It’s like if you introduced yourself as ‘I’m Chelsea, and I’m a human.’ But, yes, magic works differently for us.”
Chelsea laughed at the idea of introducing herself that way. “What do you mean about how magic works?” she asked.
Gwen lifted the last button to be applied to the jacket. Her eyes flashed, and the button shimmered, twirled, and then applied itself to the jacket in an instant. “Magic in the Enchanted Dominion flows through everything,” she said. “It’s a part of everything you see, and it’s a part of every person as well. For those of us born here, magic is second-nature. It’s an innate ability from birth, but the way we use our magic is a trained skill, much like for mages from Earth. But for us, we don’t need an item to help channel our magic – it comes from within us and around us. The best way I’ve heard it described is that, for the Enchanted, our connection with magic is incredibly strong – that’s why, even outside of the Dominion, we can still use the same magic freely. For humans, the connection isn’t as strong, because you weren’t born in magic. It’s… somewhat foreign to you. That’s why you need an item, something nonliving, specially crafted to resonate with magic and help you access and wield it. It’s also why you have magic split up into different categories, like Enchantment or Summoning. For the Enchanted, classifying magic would be impractical – we can do so much more with it than you can.”
“And it seems like Enchanted live for much longer,” Chelsea said. “Is that because of being born in the Dominion, too?”
Gwen nodded. “That’s right,” she said. “Though we’re not all the same. While you can easily average out human lifespans, and can tell how old a human is just by looking at them most of the time, the same can’t be done for Enchanted. And we measure time differently here, using universal time rather than your own – and since time runs differently here and is more malleable than elsewhere, there isn’t a clear conversion formula. I would estimate that I’m about four hundred of your years old, for example. But…” Gwen turned at the sound of Isabelle’s laughter, gazing towards the balcony. “I get the feeling Isabelle is even older than I am. And yet her mind and soul… they have a youth to them that I don’t. I’ve met others like her, who have lived longer despite seeming and acting younger. I’ve also met aged, wrinkled sages who look like they’ve lived for millennia, but are only half my age.”
Chelsea’s mind was spinning. “That’s… so wild,” she said. “I don’t… wow.”
Gwen laughed. “It’s all right,” she said. “It’s a lot to take in, I know. And I’m admittedly not the best person to explain it. I’m no scientist or doctor, but I know a lot about navigating the Dominion, and about clothes and architecture. I’m not the fighter that you girls are, either, though I know some self-defense techniques.” She held up the jacket she’d been working on, a short and thin spring jacket with long sleeves that could be unbuttoned up to the elbow to adjust in warmer or cooler temperatures. “What do you think? I thought this might suit you, but if the color or fit isn’t quite right or to your liking, let me know.”
Chelsea was fine with the color – green was her favorite – and taking off her sweater to try on the jacket, she found the fit tremendously comfortable. She spun around once, letting Gwen see her in it from all angles. “I like it,” she said, smiling. “Thank you.”
Gwen nodded. “It looks good on you,” she said. Just as she did, Chelsea’s stomach growled, and she remembered why she’d come seeking Gwen in the first place.
“You said to find you when we were hungry, right?” she asked.
Gwen smiled. “I’ll get right on it,” she said. “And after we eat, I can show you and the others the outfits I designed and selected for each of you.”
“Sounds great,” Chelsea said, following Gwen downstairs.
Lorelei and Isabelle had come inside, and Lorelei spotted Chelsea, looking over her new jacket approvingly. “I like it,” she said.
“Thanks,” Chelsea said, grinning. Her owl hopped up from the back of the couch, gliding the short distance to Chelsea and her outstretched arm, perching on it and nuzzling his head against her cheek.
“Dinner will be ready in a few minutes!” Gwen called from the kitchen.
“That was fast,” Lorelei said, raising an eyebrow in surprise.
Chelsea smiled. “Magic,” she said simply.
Soon enough, they were eating. It was a sort of stir-fry, with rice and eggs and tons of vegetables. Chelsea loved it, savoring every bite. Isabelle was the life of the group. As usual, she was adorably energetic about everything, and she loved Gwen’s cooking.
“It’s been so long since I sat down and shared a meal with friends,” Gwen said, sitting back from her now empty plate. She sighed contentedly, gazing up at the ceiling. “Thank you so much for this.”
Chelsea almost replied, but there was something in Gwen’s body language, and the way she spoke, that suggested she wasn’t directing her thanks towards the others at the table. It was a strange, serene moment, and Chelsea marveled at the sense of peace that filled the room.
This is exactly what we needed, she thought, smiling as she finished off her food, leaning back into her owl who was perched on the back of her chair.
After a while of just sitting, enjoying each other’s company and being delightfully full from a delicious meal, the girls rose, and Gwen took them upstairs to get them outfitted with brand new clothes.
Chelsea’s green jacket was combined with a grey shirt with a subtle silver flower pattern, dark capris, and short black boots with dark green laces.
“The shirt’s a little tight,” Chelsea said, twisting uncomfortably.
“I can take care of that,” Gwen said, holding out her hand. Chelsea pulled off the shirt and handed it to Gwen, who held it overhead. Her eyes flashed, the shirt pulsed with a white light, and then Gwen handed the shirt back to Chelsea. “Try it now.”
Chelsea pulled the shirt back on and her eyes widened in surprise. “Oh, it’s perfect now,” she said, grinning.
“Your magic is so cool!” Isabelle said happily. She spun around in her new dress, a pale blue piece with a pleated skirt that alternated between white and blue. As she spun, the two colors seemed to meld together in a mesmerizing fashion. The girl had still opted to go without shoes or socks, despite Gwen making some for her.
“The sleeves are a little short,” Delilah said, holding out her arms. Her new outfit consisted of a light green hooded sweatshirt over a white dress with a black belt, dark blue leggings, and black shoes. The sleeves of her sweatshirt were clearly too short, not even coming halfway down her forearms, and Gwen quickly adjusted their length with a little pulse of her magic.
“No problems here,” Lorelei said, smiling. She wore a blue blazer over a white buttoned shirt, with a patterned skirt over black leggings, and black shoes. Her ensemble was completed with a short, red white and blue patterned neck scarf, tied in a neat bow.
Beyond their current outfits, the girls also had several other sets of new clothes, and Gwen had even given them magic bags – bags not much larger than an everyday handbag, but able to store an incredible amount of items. No need for bulky luggage to allow them to carry around everything they needed.
“Thanks, Gwen,” Lorelei said.
“You’re very welcome,” Gwen said with a smile. For her part, she wore much the same outfit as she had before, sticking to her red and gold color choice. It suited her quite well. “Now, as for our next destination, I have a thought.”
“Do you know where my home is?” Isabelle asked, eyes wide and hopeful.
“In… a manner of speaking,” Gwen said, sighing. “The Library of Solitude is, unfortunately, one of a very few Locations known as the Lost Locations. There is no direct way there. The only way to reach the Library is through a very specific song.”
“That’s what mommy said,” Isabelle said. “But I don’t know the song. She said I’d be able to find it, but…”
“I think I know where to get at least a clue,” Gwen said. “There’s a Location called the House of Truth. Like its name suggests, it’s a place to discover the truth of things. There are some dangers, but… well, if we hurry, we can make it to the House of Truth in a few hours. That should provide us everything we need to know to lead us to the full song.”
Isabelle bounced on the balls of her feet. “So are we leaving right away?” she asked.
“I don’t see why not,” Chelsea said, smiling at the little girl. “Does anyone object?”
“I’m ready to go,” Delilah said.
“Let’s do it,” Lorelei said.
Gwen smiled. “All right, then,” she said. “Let’s head out. We’ll be passing through the Starlight Spires to get there. Should be a perfectly peaceful trip.”
“That’s good news,” Lorelei said.
Chelsea smiled. A peaceful trip sounded nice. At the same time, she wouldn’t have worried if there was danger ahead. The time here at Lilac Hill had rejuvenated her, and she felt ready for anything.