Shana stood up, arching her back in a stretch.
“I think that about does it,” she said, tossing her rag onto the nearest desk. She looked across the classroom at Kathryn, who had finished cleaning her side and was now practicing handstands on the tiled floor.
Rather than use janitors, Grimoire Academy put more responsibility onto their students, having pairs in each class perform “cleaning duty” at the end of each school day. Today Shana and Kathryn were picked for their class, so they stayed late while Shias, Ben, and Rae went on ahead to start training.
“Easy-peasy,” Kathryn said, grinning. She tucked her knees towards her chest, dropping her feet to the floor and righting herself. “So what should we do next?”
“You don’t want to join the others for training?” Shana asked, picking up her backpack and slinging it over her shoulder.
“Don’t you think we need a break?” Kathryn asked, grabbing her own backpack. “I like training and believe in what we’re doing, but you and I haven’t had any time just to ourselves lately.”
Shana sighed. “Yeah, I guess I’ve been hyper-focused,” she said.
“No sighs,” Kathryn said firmly. “Come on, let’s have some fun! Let’s go shopping! There are some books I’ve been eyeing, and I need better workout clothes for training.”
“Only if you let me pay,” Shana said, grinning. “My treat.”
Kathryn pursed her lips, bobbing her head side to side in thought. “Well…” she said, eyes lighting up. “Fine then. It’s a deal. Let’s go!”
Shana was glad her friend agreed. Kathryn’s family, the Toldales, weren’t very well-off. The friendship between Shana and Kathryn had been surprising to Kathryn’s parents, especially since they came from the old school of Grimoire, with mentalities about family hierarchies and class divides.
Kathryn never showed any indication that the struggling financial situation of her family bothered her. She was an energetic girl who didn’t care much for classes and elitism.
No wonder she and Shana got along so well.
But when Shana could, she liked to help Kathryn out. The Greysons were one of the richest families in Grimoire, and Shana, as a high school student who didn’t have to worry about property or a career until sometime in college, often had more money than she knew what to do with. She had very inexpensive hobbies.
Kathryn and Shana never made a big deal out of it, but it was clear to Shana that they were both aware of their differing financial straits. There just wasn’t any point in bringing it up.
Money got between adults all the time, and Shana could never understand that. She was just glad she could use what she had to help out her friend, even if said friend wasn’t asking for help in the first place.
“Wanna take the trolley?” Kathryn asked, swinging her arms as they walked along the narrow streets of Grimoire. “We’ll probably have to take it at least one way to save time.”
“Sure,” Shana said. “Let’s take it both ways if we can. Then we won’t be in any hurry to get back.”
“You know, I was worried about Rae when this all started,” Kathryn said. “But first she shows off Brutus, which was like, ‘whoa,’ and then she just fits right in with the group. She’s taken really well to training so far.”
“I think she’s happy that Brutus gets to let loose so often now,” Shana said, grinning. “He’s a big Summon – Rae probably can’t keep him out all the time like I can with Altair.”
“Speaking of that little pup,” Kathryn said, bumping her shoulder against Shana’s, “you two have been doing some really cool stuff.”
“Not as cool as the rest of the Dawn Riders,” Shana said, though she smiled. Her plans for what she and Altair could do to support the team had been working out great so far. They weren’t fighters, not even close, but that’s why they were part of a team. Mages who could take down a dozen Hollows all by themselves were pretty cool. But a team with its members interacting with synergy and different skill sets that wouldn’t be nearly as effective alone was way cooler.
“Hey, are you still reading Merchant Princess?” Kathryn asked. She and Shana hopped up onto the trolley as it slowed down, taking their places near the front. “I think Volume Twenty-Five is out now.”
“I have!” Shana said. “I’m only up to Volume Twenty, though.”
“Oh, you have to catch up!” Kathryn said. “It’s getting so good.”
“Does Elaine get through Fever Mire?” Shana asked.
“Do you really want spoilers?” Kathryn asked, casting a sly look Shana’s way. “You know you could read five volumes in, like, a day.”
Shana sighed. “I guess so,” she said. She pulled out her phone, clicking the screen awake just to check if she had new messages.
“Expecting something?” Kathryn asked, leaning in to look at Shana’s phone.
“It’s been four days since Fae invited me to see Falling Stars,” Shana said, frowning. “I’ve texted her a few times since then, but she hasn’t responded to anything.”
“Well, the mall’s not far from her campus, right?” Kathryn asked. “Why don’t we swing by her dorm room and see if she’s around?”
“But what if she’s super busy or something?” Shana asked. She tucked her phone back in her pocket, holding onto the trolley’s rail with a gloved hand as she swung gently from side to side. “Last weekend was the first time we talked to each other since Christmas. Maybe she’s going back into her shell again.”
“Maybe she isn’t,” Kathryn said. “Or maybe she is, and needs her sister to drop by and tell her to ‘cut it out!’” She made a grumpy face and wagged her finger as she said the last part, and Shana laughed.
“Maybe,” she said. She didn’t voice her real fears – what if Fae had gone missing, too? It didn’t seem likely. Shana had seen the Summon version of Felix Feline Felinosis the night that Caleb and Delilah disappeared, and she’d put two and two together. Delilah must have left that night to go fight Hollows without telling anyone. Caleb was fighting Hollows, of course, and Chelsea had also gone missing. The three of them were out fighting monsters. There was a clear connection between the three Shana knew were missing.
But Fae? She’d walked Shana home, and then left to go back to her dorm. As far as Shana knew, Fae wasn’t a fighter. She wouldn’t have gone chasing after monsters and battle.
All of that was using logic and reasoning, a skill of Shias’. Shana understood that, and she was glad to have a twin brother as smart as Shias, but she just couldn’t get past the sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach.
“Any plans for the Lunar Festival?” Kathryn asked.
“That’s coming up really soon, isn’t it?” Shana asked, realizing how time was flying by. It was almost November, and the Lunar Festival was held in Grimoire every year in the third week of November for three days. It was a celebration of the Lunar Architects, a group of explorers and scientists who had discovered the region where Grimoire was eventually built. The Academy always put on a miniature festival of their own during school hours on those three days, but the evenings were free for students to participate in the wider festival across the city.
“We put together a display last year,” Kathryn said, her voice tinged with nostalgia. “That was one of the coolest dioramas I’ve ever seen.”
“Our dream library,” Shana said, nodding as she remembered it. “That was a lot of fun.” She leaned forward, sighing dramatically. “And I haven’t even started planning for this year.”
“We’ll get something together,” Kathryn said, throwing an arm over Shana’s shoulders. “But we have to deal with the grove and your dream first, right?”
Shana nodded. “And find the missing children,” she said. “And Rae’s dad.”
“And your siblings,” Kathryn added.
Shana nodded emphatically. “But,” she said, standing up straight, looking forward with a smile as the trolley came to its turnabout in the Crater District, “first, let’s go have some fun.”
“Right!” Kathryn said, jumping off from the trolley, with Shana following close behind.
They walked along stone paths inset into the grassy lawn that took up the front of the mall, and also served as a prelude to Lunar Park beyond, winding their way around the main entrance and towards a side entrance closer to the clothing departments. Inside, the pair chose a clothing store and started browsing the exercise clothing.
“What do you think of these?” Kathryn asked, holding up a pair of blue capris.
“Do you think they let you move enough?” Shana asked, feeling the material and stretching it experimentally. She shook her head. “They don’t feel as good as they look.”
“Normally I’d go for shorts, but it’s getting cooler,” Kathryn said, wandering the racks of exercise gear. “But I’ve never liked working out in long pants. It feels constricting.”
“Well, we do our training indoors,” Shana said. “I could always turn the heat up.”
Kathryn sighed, leafing through longer exercise and yoga pants. “I guess you’re right,” she said. “But you always wear track pants and a tee shirt.”
Shana smiled. “It’s comfy,” she said.
“If you say so,” Kathryn said. She held up a pair of green shorts. “What do you think?”
“Green?” Shana asked, pursing her lips. “I thought blue was more your color.”
“Only when it matches my eyes,” Kathryn said, putting the shorts back and inspecting the shelves. “It’s hard to find the right shade.”
“Do you like this shirt?” Shana asked, holding up a blue tank top.
Kathryn’s eyes lit up. “Ooh, I do!” she said happily. “Help me find some matching shorts and I’ll try them on.”
It didn’t take much longer after that to get Kathryn squared away with a new workout outfit. With that taken care of, the girls wandered their way up to Bibliograph, making several stops along the way. By the time they reached the book store, they’d each had a soft pretzel, Shana had bought a new jacket, Kathryn had a new keychain, and the girls were in a fit of giggles over Shana nearly choking on a piece of her pretzel, and then accidentally inhaling water through her nose as she took a desperate drink from a water fountain. Shana could still feel a burning sensation in her nostrils, but it was more funny than embarrassing when she was with Kathryn.
“Volume Twenty-Six?” Kathryn asked incredulously as she stared at the bookshelf where Merchant Princess was. “I thought there was just one new volume!”
“Well, I have to get caught up from Twenty,” Shana said. “And I love the feeling of carrying a big stack of books home.”
Kathryn grinned. “Sounds good to me,” she said. “You sure you don’t want me –”
“Don’t even ask,” Shana said, holding up a finger. “Like I said: my treat. You just enjoy yourself.”
“Thanks,” Kathryn said, smiling.
They left Bibliograph with eight books split between two bags, along with the rest of their new purchases. “Time to check on Fae, right?” Kathryn asked.
Shana nodded. “Let’s do it,” she said.
The walk from the mall to Grimoire University was always a lovely trip. Lunar Park was closely tended to and carefully landscaped. Trees of various kinds all had plenty of space to let their roots grow deep and their branches grow tall and wide. Flowers were arranged in beautiful formations filled with dozens of colors and shapes. Stone plaques and monuments were here and there, small and unobtrusive, offering information about the city, the park, and the Lunar Architects.
“Even in the fall, most of the flowers bloom,” Kathryn said, happily sniffing the aromas in the air. “Must be magic.”
“Seems that way,” Shana said, “but I guess they didn’t use the same magic on the trees. Almost all of the leaves are gone.”
“It’s fun when they haven’t cleaned them up yet, though,” Kathryn said, grinning as she ran through a patch of fallen leaves, kicking them up into the air and spinning underneath them.
“Don’t leave me out!” Shana cried, racing after Kathryn and kicking up her own piles of leaves, laughing as they fell all around her, some getting stuck in her hair or on her clothes until she brushed them away.
They continued along until they ran out of leaves, and then climbed a flowering hill. On the other side, there was a short path leading up to the entrance to Fae’s dorm.
“Time to check on the big sis,” Kathryn said, leading the way.
Shana took a deep breath, then let it out slowly. Just calm down, she told herself. Fae’s probably fine. Just going back into her shell a little. No need to assume she’s missing. She’s fine. She’s fine…
Please let her be fine.
They climbed up to Fae’s floor, heading to her door at the corner. The dry-erase board on her door still had the same messages in Fae’s handwriting, though that scribbly, messy handwriting had returned with a different message from the one Fae had erased: “dinner saturday?”
“Who doesn’t even bother to capitalize the first letter of a day of the week?” Kathryn asked, rolling her eyes as she erased the message herself. She stepped back, looking at Shana, and then at the door, nodding as if to say “she’s your sister – go ahead and knock.”
Shana nodded, stepping up to the door and knocking three times.
The wait was unbearable.
And… it just stretched on and on.
“Where… where is she?” Shana asked softly.
“If you’re looking for Fae,” came a voice from behind the two girls, “you won’t find her.”
Shana turned around to face the new arrival, and recognized her. She was one of Fae’s best friends, and her former college roommate: Madeline Crowley.
She didn’t look much like her father, Jacob Crowley. Her shoulder-length hair was light brown and wavy, and her eyes were dark green. Rather than the harsh, angular facial structure of her father, her face had a soft texture to it. Her whole body had a sort of softness to its appearance, making Madeline seem approachable despite the displeased expression on her face. Her eyebrows went up in recognition as Shana turned to face her.
“You’re a Greyson,” Madeline said. Her voice was like silk, carrying a soft sense of mystery through the air. “So… you don’t know yet.” Her eyes fell.
Shana felt her heart skip a beat. “What happened?” she asked.
Madeline’s expression grew pained. “I… she hadn’t been showing up to classes or even to Animation Club,” she said. “After a few days went by, I thought I’d check up on her. Sometimes she skips classes, she gets kind of moody, but she never misses more than a day of Animation Club in a row. But she never answered her door, or her cell. When I told the RA, they got the key to Fae’s room and checked it out. Fae wasn’t there, there’s no note or even much of a sign of things missing. But… she’s gone. And no one I know knows where she is.”
“She’s… missing?” Shana asked softly, struggling to believe it.
Madeline nodded. “But… don’t worry,” she said. “My father, he’s in charge of the Hunters, so he has everyone on it. I know Caleb and Delilah went missing, too, so… I’m really sorry. It must be so hard for you. But he’s spending almost every minute searching. He barely sleeps anymore.”
Shana found her hands shaking, so she gripped the handles of her bags tighter, holding them close against her legs. “I… see,” she said slowly. “I… um… I need to go.” She turned away, heading back the way she’d come, with Kathryn close behind her.
“Be careful,” Madeline called out. “Grimoire seems more dangerous than ever these days.”
Outside the dorm, Shana made it halfway across Lunar Park before Kathryn finally stopped her.
“Hey,” Kathryn said. She took one look at Shana’s eyes, then dropped her bags and pulled her into a hug.
Shana felt like her heart was collapsing until that moment. Kathryn pulling her close was like someone saving her from drowning. Shana let out a breath she hadn’t known she’d been holding, then hugged Kathryn back.
“What are you thinking?” Kathryn asked.
Shana leaned her head more into Kathryn’s shoulder. “We can’t keep training,” she said softly. “We… we have to go. If even Fae’s gone, people are disappearing so fast, and I can’t just sit around.”
She felt Kathryn nod. “Makes sense,” Kathryn said.
“You’re not going to tell me we need more training?” Shana asked, pulling away and looking into Kathryn’s eyes.
Kathryn smiled, offering a shrug. “Seems like you know that,” she said. “But you’re right. It doesn’t look like we have the time for it. Let’s grab the others and get going to save everyone.”
Shana nodded, smiling. “Thank you,” she said.
The girls resumed their walk to Greyson Manor. Shana’s mind raced with every step, every thought and idea turning towards one singular goal: save everyone.