“Are we there yet?” Chelsea asked.
“You can plainly see for yourself that we aren’t,” Lorelei said. “Just like the last fifteen times you asked. Which must mean we’re getting close.”
“Close isn’t good enough,” Chelsea said, kicking her feet as the girls started along a new bridge. This one had glass for its walls and ceiling, tinted in an intriguing way that reflected and played with the light of the starry sky outside, casting a variety of colors across the glass that shifted depending on how one looked at it.
Delilah, for her part, wasn’t much distracted by the glass. She was growing to like Chelsea more now that she was seeing this immature side of her, the Chelsea who constantly asked “are we there yet?” like a little kid on an overly long car ride. She couldn’t help giggling every time Chelsea asked, even if it did occasionally earn a sour look from Chelsea.
“Two more bridges should get us to Millennium Crossing,” Gwen said. “That takes us right to the front door.”
“How are we on time?” Lorelei asked.
Gwen checked her watch. “We still have a few hours,” she said, smiling. “We’ve been quicker than expected.”
“Thank goodness for that,” Chelsea said with a groan.
“I thought you were excited about exploring and doing lots of neat things,” Isabelle said. Her left hand held Lorelei’s right, and she swung it forward and back occasionally, dragging Lorelei’s hand with hers.
“That was you,” Chelsea said, tilting her head back to look up at the stars while she walked.
“No, I’m pretty sure it was you,” Isabelle said, giggling.
“Are you talking back to me?” Chelsea asked, casting a grumpy look over her shoulder.
“No,” Isabelle said, smiling as she did so, clearly fighting to hold back laughter.
“Oh really?” Chelsea asked, tilting her head so that only her eyes were showing to Isabelle. From Delilah’s position, she could see what Chelsea was trying to hide from the girl – she was smiling.
“Hey, look!” Isabelle exclaimed, suddenly pointing past Chelsea. “See? We’re almost there!”
“Gwen already –” Chelsea started to say, but she shut up when she looked where Isabelle was pointing.
“Wow,” Delilah said softly, staring with the rest of the group.
“You could say that again,” Lorelei said breathlessly.
“Wow,” Chelsea obliged, grinning.
They’d just passed a glistening blue tower that shimmered from several waterfalls that ran down its outer walls, collecting into a pool at its base to recycle back up to the top. That was quite a sight, but now that they’d passed it, they could see Millennium Vista more clearly.
Thinking of it as a mountain more than a building seemed appropriate to Delilah now that they were this close. Millennium Crossing, the largest bridge in sight by far and decked out with silvery lights and marble statues, wasn’t far away, and beyond that loomed the impossibly huge tower known as Millennium Vista. Millions of windows dotted its pearlescent walls, and more balconies than Delilah could ever have counted sprouted here and there, with a variety of decorations, designs, and purposes – from gardens to fountains, outdoor libraries to cushioned sitting areas, and so many more, they took Delilah’s breath away. She had to crane her neck up to see the top, even though the girls were at least a mile away.
“What’s in there?” she asked. “Why build something so gigantic?”
“Just about everything is in there,” Gwen said, now taking the lead as they continued on, leaving their current bridge and walking a short path through numerous stalls and outdoor shops towards Millennium Crossing. “There are restaurants, amusement parks, theaters, zoos, stores, boutiques, arcades, laboratories… multiple cities could fit inside those walls. The second largest library in the Enchanted Dominion is in there, and that’s only because there are three of them, separated by category: a general audiences library, a research and scholarly library, and a music library. Each is larger in its own right than any other dedicated repository of knowledge in the universe.”
“But there’s a larger library than any of those three individually?” Lorelei asked.
Gwen smiled. “Of course,” she said, her eyes resting on little Isabelle. “Our destination is the largest library in the universe: The Library of Solitude.”
“Your home’s pretty big, huh, kid?” Chelsea asked.
Isabelle grinned. “It’s gigantic!” she said happily, stretching her arms out wide. “And it’s my favorite place ever!”
“How did you end up leaving in the first place?” Lorelei asked. “You’ve been gone for a long time, so it’s okay if you don’t remember.”
Isabelle bowed her head. “We all left together,” she said. “Mommy, me, and my sister. We were going to work together to find the others. Most of my sisters… they left. We don’t know where they are. Mommy thought she knew, so she took me and Maribelle to find them. But we were separated. There was…” Isabelle shuddered. “A lot of darkness. I couldn’t see anything. And no matter how loud I shouted, no one called back. I was all alone. Mommy had told me I could find her again using the special flute… but I couldn’t remember the song. Ever since then, I’ve been trying to get back. And even if I get back home, I don’t know if anyone will be there.”
From what Delilah had been able to gather from what Caleb, Chelsea, and Lorelei had said about Isabelle, and how Isabelle talked about herself, the girl had been lost ages ago – possibly long before Delilah, or even her parents, were born. Delilah had been separated from her family for only a few days, and even then, she wasn’t alone. But Isabelle…
“We’ll help you find them,” Delilah said. “If they aren’t there, we’ll keep looking with you. Until you’re with the rest of your family, we won’t leave you.”
Isabelle looked up at Delilah with surprised, hopeful eyes. “Really truly?” she asked. “You’ll stay with me?”
“We sure will,” Lorelei said, smiling. “We can’t just leave you at your home if you’re there alone, can we?”
“Whatever happened to your family, we’ll figure it out,” Chelsea said, ruffling Isabelle’s hair. “So don’t worry.” She sighed, and it had a melancholy sound to it. “You won’t be alone ever again.”
“I…” Isabelle started, but then she shook her head. Her eyes were glistening with tears. She stared at her feet, smiling, and spoke in a small voice. “Thank you so much.”
“Gwen, you said there’s a music library,” Delilah said, staring at Millennium Vista, looming ever closer as the girls started walking again. “Do you think it might have some key to help Isabelle remember the song to get her home?”
“That sounds like a good place to start,” Gwen said. “We’ll have time to explore and research a little bit, but the library is vast – there’s far too much to see in the time we have.”
“Let’s make the most of it,” Chelsea said.
“Come on, you,” Lorelei said, kneeling down and picking up Isabelle, sitting the girl on her shoulders. “Let me know if you see anything important, okay?”
Isabelle grinned from ear to ear, her eyes wide and sparkling with delight. “I sure will!” she said, nodding emphatically. In one hand she fiddled with Lorelei’s braid, twisting and turning it over in her fingers.
The crowds on Millennium Crossing were surprisingly easy to navigate, despite the vast amount of people. As wide as a six-lane highway, the Crossing was designed with a dozen lanes for people to travel along. Not a single lane was stalled, moving along at a brisk pace that ushered the girls closer and closer to the mountainous tower that filled the space ahead of them.
“I just can’t get over how peaceful it is here,” Delilah said, smiling. “Even in a huge crowd, it isn’t all that loud.”
“Certainly a nice change of pace from most cities,” Chelsea said. “Even Grimoire gets pretty hectic sometimes.”
“We’re almost there!” Isabelle announced, pointing ahead of them. The main doorway of Millennium Vista was more of a massive castle gate. Two stories tall and just as wide as Millennium Crossing, the gate was close enough for Delilah to start to see inside at the entrance hall. The pearlescent, glimmering motif of Millennium Vista continued indoors. As the girls entered, Delilah felt rather like an ant entering the cavern of some massive beast of impossible proportions.
The entrance hall was like its own town. The six lanes – three entering, three exiting – of Millennium Crossing broke away, allowing more free movement in an open circular space filled with open-air shops that were clearly of a permanent nature. Unlike the occasional outdoor stalls and shops throughout Starlight Spires, which were often made of wood and canvas and easy to tear down and move elsewhere if the shopkeeper desired, the open-air shops of Millennium Vista’s atrium were built of stone and had professional-looking engraved placards bolted onto their main posts.
“This is just the prelude,” Gwen said, smiling at the girls as they marveled at the sights. “Millennium Vista’s atrium is its own perpetual marketplace, open all day, every day. It serves as a taste, a teaser, of what the capital spire of the city has in store. Each shop here has a much larger, more official room of its own in the upper floors. If you do buy anything, or even just browse, you’ll be given a card that points the way to the shop’s primary establishment.”
“Smart business,” Lorelei said, nodding. The motion bounced Isabelle, who was resting her arms on top of Lorelei’s head.
“So where do we go?” Delilah asked. She was short, and envied Isabelle’s place atop Lorelei’s shoulders. With the constant crowds, she could barely see ten feet ahead of her, and without organized lanes, she was at the mercy of her companions and where they chose to go.
“Originally, we would have headed to the lower floors,” Gwen said, leading them past several different hat shops: Get Ahead, Tip of the Hat, Got You Covered… they all had rather silly names like that, and Delilah kept trying to read the placards as she walked past. “With the time we have, we could have popped in to see a movie, or a play, or an opera. But the bottom floor is where a set of three doors are, each one traveling to a different Location in the Enchanted Dominion – and of course, each of those three Locations is constantly changing. But if we’re heading to the music library first, we’ll need to head up. Chelsea, do you see the lift over there?”
Gwen addressed Chelsea because she was at the front of the group, and she popped up on tiptoe to look where Gwen pointed. “Yeah, I see,” she said. “Anthology-something-or-other?”
“Right,” Gwen said. “That’s where we’re going.”
Chelsea led the way, and soon the girls had navigated through the crowd and ended up at the lift. The sign over its door grating read “Anthologies, Archives, and Anecdotes.” Holding the door open was a young man in a tuxedo, with a brass badge on his left breast pocket that said “Lift Attendant – Bradley.”
“Which floor, ladies?” Bradley asked, sliding the door open and lifting a hand to the control panel. As she stepped in, Delilah marveled at the interior. The lift was large enough for the five girls as well as two dozen others that they joined inside, and the panel with all of the buttons for different floors… was staggering. There were several thousand small buttons along the control panel, and they weren’t even numbered in any order that Delilah could discern. 500 came after 12 and before 63A, while lonely little 1 was stuck in the middle of the mass of buttons. There were six buttons that were glowing, presumably because they’d been selected: 23F, 98, 2134, and 456O.
“The music library, please,” Gwen said.
Bradley nodded, pressing the button for 317H. Why that was the floor for the music library, Delilah might never find out. The good thing was that Bradley knew. Soon after he selected their floor, Bradley closed the door and pulled a lever, and the lift began to rise. Despite looking like it had come out of the 1920s, the lift ascended silently and smoothly. Delilah wouldn’t have known they were going up if it weren’t for the slight pressure when they began, and occasionally passing by floors that they could see through the lift’s door grate.
Gwen ushered the girls to the right side of the lift, making room just before they came to a stop at floor 23F. Two men ushered an elderly woman through the door, doting on her in a way that made Delilah think that she was the men’s grandmother.
Next was 98. Delilah got a good look at the entrance to the floor, since half of the crowd in the lift got off here. It appeared to be a book parlor, like the one the girls had stopped in on the way here, only several times larger, with multiple lofts and enough seating for dozens of people.
And then they were on their way again, rising up and up and up, for far longer than their first two stops. No one new boarded, and then they were at 317H. Bradley pulled a lever to stop, slid the door open, and the girls exited.
“You weren’t kidding about the size of these libraries, huh?” Chelsea asked, immediately craning her neck upwards as she entered the music library.
Delilah was staggered, so much so that she didn’t even make it all the way off the lift. Lorelei had to tug on her sleeve to get her the rest of the way out.
“You said this wasn’t even the largest library in the universe?” Delilah asked, staring wide-eyed.
“Right,” Gwen said, smiling. “Though there’s only one that’s bigger. Well? Impressed, aren’t you?”
“You can say that again,” Delilah muttered, taking slow steps along the black, starry carpet and turning around in a circle, trying to take everything in and failing.
The music library was at least ten stories tall, and sprawled out to such an extent that Delilah would not have been at all surprised if the floor space was measured in square miles rather than square feet. Book shelves were here, there, and everywhere, of varying sizes and shapes. Most weren’t tremendously large, and it was clear why – many were built out of retired grand pianos, neatly arranging books and musical scores along shelves within the strange, asymmetrical shape. Many other bookshelves were built out of several retired instruments, showing casings of guitars, cellos, accordions, and more.
“You’re saying this is nothing but music?” Delilah asked, gawking at the sights.
“It’s not all musical scores and recordings,” Gwen said. “There are also books on music theory, music instruction, music history, cultural music, regional music, biographies of musicians and composers… every piece of music, and everything you’d ever want to know about music or those involved with music, can be found here.”
“Everything?” Chelsea asked.
“Or so they claim,” Gwen said, chuckling. “I’ve certainly never attempted to test that. It could take lifetimes to read everything here – and I’m talking about lifetimes of Enchanted, not short human ones.”
Isabelle hopped down from Lorelei’s shoulders and raced out into the center of the circular space they were in, spinning in a circle and staring up and around at everything. “Where do we start?” she asked. “Or… should I just play something?” There were dozens of pianos, guitars, drums, and woodwind and brass instruments all around them. A sign near the entrance made it clear that the instruments were available for anyone to play, and indeed, Delilah could hear quite a bit of music coming from many different directions. The library was so vast, she saw far fewer musicians than she heard.
“I’d suggest splitting up,” Chelsea said, “but we don’t have any way to contact each other. And I’m pretty sure some of us would get lost in here easily.”
“Do we start on this floor, or take the stairs?” Lorelei asked. Before them was a path to a larger open space on this floor, but four sets of carpeted stairs around them led up to different levels.
“I guess we just start here,” Gwen said, smiling reassuringly. “We just do our best in the time we have. Let’s look at the signs as we go, see if anything jumps out at us.”
“Excuse me,” came a voice from Delilah’s right. She turned, seeing the speaker standing halfway down the stairs, his expression hopeful. He was tall, and looked about Caleb’s age. He wore a white shirt under a black waistcoat, and black pants and shoes. Folded up in his breast pocket was a pair of glasses with silver frames. He smiled nervously, running a hand through his blonde hair. “I… I think you’re who I’m looking for.”
He wasn’t looking at Delilah. His eyes were locked on Isabelle.
“What do you want with her?” Lorelei asked, stepping in front of Isabelle protectively.
“I’m sorry,” the man said, holding his hands up. “I don’t mean to startle you. It’s just… well, I’m not very good with people. Please, let me, um…” The man shook his head, laughing nervously. He took a seat on the stairs. “I’ll just stay right here. I mean you no harm. I just… is her name Isabelle?”
“That’s me,” Isabelle said, poking her head out from behind Lorelei. “How did you know?”
“I…” the man paused, rubbing two fingers back and forth across his lips, like he was trying to physically bring words to his mouth. “Sorry. Not good with… anyway. If you’re Isabelle, then I have a message for you.”
“A message?” Isabelle asked, her eyes sparkling with curiosity.
The man smiled, nodding. “Yes,” he said. “It’s from your mother.”