Shana slowly opened her eyes.
The rushing velocity and constant, oppressive pressure had abated, and her feet had touched solid ground. But as she looked around her, she could tell she wasn’t back in Grimoire.
“Where are we?” she asked, spotting Shias, Kathryn, Rae, and Ben. All of them were fine, looking around in puzzlement like her.
Shana stood on a small rocky island. A large building with a jumble of clashing architecture took up most of the space, and all around it were clotheslines. Hanging on those lines weren’t clothes or fabric, but paper and parchment, flapping in the breeze.
Up above, the sky was foreign to Shana. There was no sun or clouds to see, just a white veil, with occasional lights – yellow, orange, red, and blue – flickering here and there. All around the island, a green ocean stretched out to the horizon.
“We must still be in the Enchanted Dominion,” Shana said. “I wonder why Annabelle sent us here?”
“Because it’s quite easy for you to get back to Grimoire from here,” said a reedy voice. Shana looked up, and standing on the building’s porch was a small old man with a kind face and white, wispy hair. “Welcome to the Cartographer’s Waystation.”
“The Carto-what-a?” Kathryn asked, staring up at the man.
“You can get us to Grimoire?” Shias asked. Shana had meant to ask, but Kathryn’s inability to grasp the name of their location had her in a giggle fit.
“Indeed I can,” the man said, gesturing to a rocky path leading up to the porch. “Come along. Are some of you, by chance, Greysons?”
“You know about us?” Shana asked, regaining her composure as she rushed up the path. “Have you seen our siblings? Caleb or Delilah or Fae?”
“Fae came through here not all that long ago,” the man said, leading the five kids into the building. Inside, there were many men and women hard at work, and that work seemed to tie directly into the place’s name. Shias always loved maps, so Shana was well aware what cartography was, and every single person in this strange building was rushing around or talking to one another as they worked on drawings that were clearly of a cartographical nature.
“But where did she go?” Shana asked. “Back to Grimoire?”
“Before that,” Shias said, “we should probably introduce ourselves.”
Oh, right, Shana thought. Manners.
The Dawn Riders went around introducing themselves, and the old man smiled at them as he ushered them to a large round table in the corner, out of the way of the busy work. “And I am Meister Roderick,” he said. “I suppose you could say I’m in charge here, though we Cartographers have never been much for hierarchy.” He sat down after the five kids did, and then turned to a passing woman with her hair tied up in a bun. “Jasmine, could you bring us a few maps? I do believe we’ll want the Library of Solitude, Eventide Archive, and…” Roderick mused for a moment. “Midnight Bridge, as well as the path of Goodnight Express. That should do it.”
“Right away, sir,” Jasmine said, rushing off and gathering two other Cartographers to come with her.
“You already know where they all are?” Shana asked.
“Whenever humans come to the Enchanted Dominion, I like to keep an eye on their whereabouts,” Roderick said. “Though ever since Fae came through, I’ve been keeping a closer eye on you Greysons. She seemed quite worried about Caleb and Delilah.”
She’s coming around, Shana thought with a smile. Fae might not show it in front of her family, but she really did care about her siblings.
Jasmine returned with the maps, depositing them in front of Roderick and then leaving. They were fantastically detailed, drawn in a way that they looked three-dimensional, despite being on flat sheets of paper. The first one that Roderick brought to the center of the table was labeled “Eventide Archive.” “This is where Fae and her friends have gone,” Roderick said, pointing. The archive seemed like some sort of cramped, creatively designed library. Dozens and dozens of names were all across the map, and they swayed back and forth, occasionally moving to new locations, as if they were alive. Roderick blew on his hand and then brushed it across the map, and most of the names scattered and vanished, until only one remained: Fae Greyson.
“So she’s here,” Shana said, staring longingly at the name of her sister. “And she’s all right?”
“Oh, quite,” Roderick said with a smile. “Eventide Archive is a very safe Location. You won’t need to worry about her.”
“But why is she there?” Shana asked.
“Sir,” Jasmine said, coming back over to the table. “The opening to Grimoire is closing in seventeen vrems. Next one won’t be until seventy-two three-forty-seven sixty. Thought you’d want to know.”
“Ah, thank you,” Roderick said. “Well, since time is short, I should hurry to show you the whereabouts of the rest of your siblings. Not to worry about Fae, though – she is on an important journey of her own. When she’s found what she’s looking for, she’ll come back, I assure you.”
That worried Shana. Why would Fae leave of her own volition, heading to a completely other world, without telling at least her sister? But Fae wasn’t big on sharing information. Maybe she’d thought about it, but didn’t have the time, or just didn’t know what to say.
“Vrems?” Shias asked.
“A unit of time,” Roderick said. “It’s equal to about twenty-seven seconds in Earth time.” Roderick shifted the maps around, bringing forward a new one. “Now, as for Caleb, he seems to be doing well for himself. Ah, as I thought. He’s on a train.”
“A train?” Shana asked. “To where?”
“Well, he was on Midnight Bridge,” Roderick said, showing them the map. “But now it seems he’s en route to Sunset Square. And Mister Midnight is with him? Curious indeed. I wonder why he thought to take Caleb there…”
“Mister Midnight?” Shana asked.
“He’s a master of Time Magic,” Roderick said. “His training of Caleb must not have gone as planned…”
“And here I thought he’d been kidnapped,” Shana said, pursing her lips. “He could have told us he was going off to do some special training.”
“It probably wasn’t planned at first,” Shias said.
“Indeed, he and Delilah were forced out of Grimoire against their will,” Roderick said. “They were together for some time, but then Caleb went off on his own path, while Delilah and the others continued on together. And they’ve now reached a very surprising Location.” Roderick moved the maps aside, bringing one forward. It was the largest of all, taking up almost the entire table when Roderick smoothed it out. And yet at the top, it read “Library of Solitude: Entrance Hall.”
“This is just a part of the place?” Shias asked, gawking.
“And a very small part,” Roderick said, nodding. “But here is Delilah, as you can see. Along with Chelsea, Lorelei, Isabelle… and it seems Gwen stuck with them. Oh, that’s good. They’ll need her.”
“Why did you say it was surprising for them to be there?” Shana asked.
“Because even us Cartographers can’t go to the Library of Solitude,” Roderick said. “It’s one of a very few Locations known as the Lost Locations. They’ve been lost – detached, you might say – from the rest of the Dominion. No ordinary means can bring anyone to them, and the methods remaining for reaching them are unknown to us. But Isabelle… yes, I believe I may know just who she is. And if I’m right, then this makes a great deal of sense. Though I’ve heard worrying rumors about the Library of late. I hope they’ll be okay.”
“Delilah’s in danger?” Shana asked.
“Maybe,” Roderick said. “I can’t be sure. As I said, I cannot reach the Library, and even the maps we have of it are quite old, unable to be updated unless the Library of Solitude is reconnected to the rest of the Dominion. All I know is what whispers tell, and none of it is good.”
“But we can’t get there to help her,” Shana said, frowning.
“She has Chelsea and Lorelei with her,” Shias offered.
“And we have our own mission to take on, right?” Kathryn asked. “Finding the Locksmith.”
Shana nodded. Annabelle believed the Locksmith was the only way for the Dawn Riders to find Maribelle, in the Last Home on the Final Frontier along the Westward Plains.
“Ah, I know that name,” Roderick said, smiling. “And you believe he’s in Grimoire?”
“That’s what we were told,” Shana said. “You don’t know where he is?”
Roderick smiled with amusement. “He has a special ability that makes him never appear on our maps,” he said. “But if you go looking for him, you only have to watch for his symbol. He always makes his presence known, in his own way, to those who know about him.” Roderick waved to a different Cartographer, a young man with large, thick-framed spectacles. “Can you get me a copy of the Locksmith’s Emblem?” The man rushed off, returning shortly and pressing an item into Roderick’s hand. Roderick placed it on the table, sliding it over to Shana.
“This is how we find him?” Shana asked, staring at the Emblem. It was a small thing, an iron insignia of a key inserted into a padlock about the size of Shana’s palm. The key had little wings on the end, and there were three leafy vines entwined around the padlock. The letter “L” was embossed into the padlock as well.
“If he’s in Grimoire,” Roderick said, “There will be a building with that emblem above its door. Find that, and you’ll find him. All you have to do is ask for the Locksmith, and he’ll let you in.”
“Is there anything else we need to know about him?” Shias asked. “Any code words, personality quirks, that sort of stuff?”
Roderick shook his head. “As long as you find his building and ask for him by name, he’ll know why you’ve come,” he said.
“Like finding a needle in a haystack,” Shana said, turning the Emblem over and over in her hand. “Okay. That’s our mission once we get back.”
“And time is running short,” Roderick said, standing. “Come with me, and I’ll show you the exit to take you back to Grimoire.” As they began to leave, Roderick leaned towards Shana with a knowing smile. “Fae is in good hands. I know it’s natural for family to worry about family, but I don’t think you have any need to worry about her.”
Shana smiled. “Thank you,” she said. And yet, just as Roderick said, it was only natural for Shana to worry.
I just got you back, Fae. Don’t get lost again. And… come home soon? I miss you.
“Lead the way,” Mercury said, gesturing towards a space between two tall stone pillars.
“This is the exit?” Fae asked, looking up at the strange structures. Situated between two burial mounds, they seemed to just be pillars in the middle of nowhere. Looking through, Fae only saw more of the Plains of the Fallen stretching beyond as far as she could see.
“Just like from the Waystation to here,” Mercury said with a grin. “The Enchanted Dominion is weird.”
“Don’t wait around too long, though,” Jupiter said. “Only about…” she checked her watch, “three vrems until the destination changes.”
“Well,” Fae said, still not at all sure about the strange connections within the Dominion, “here goes, I guess.” She patted her bag one more time, checking to be sure that her gifts for Shana and Delilah were still in the front pocket. At Gerick’s camp, Fae just couldn’t resist the wealth of artwork on display, and had to pick up souvenirs for her sisters. Satisfied, she walked between the pillars, and immediately ended up somewhere completely different. Turning around, she only saw a closed wooden door behind her, and no sign of the Plains of the Fallen.
I’m never going to get used to this.
A moment later, Mercury appeared – just popped into existence, like she’d Blinked there rather than walking. Jupiter and Neptune soon followed.
They stood in a small entrance way that led into Eventide Archive, which Fae recognized immediately from her drawing that Gerick had pointed out. It was small, and positively jam-packed with books and bookshelves, creatively integrated into the walls, windows, floors, and other areas of the archive. There weren’t any chairs or benches, only small floor cushions that patrons knelt or sat on.
“Welcome,” said a woman, greeting the girls. She was dressed in a kimono patterned with glistening blue water cascading over silver stones. As she moved, the pattern looked like the water was actually flowing, with a current and wetness that made it seem completely real. The woman herself had flowing dark hair and dark eyes, and seemed very regal to Fae. Along with her high cheekbones and smooth complexion, she carried herself so well, standing tall and never letting her serene smile waver. “I am Selphine Miora, Archivist of Eventide Archive. Is this your first visit?”
“Yes,” Fae said, and she and the sisters went around introducing themselves.
“Well,” Selphine said, “I’m quite glad to make your acquaintance. The first thing I will ask is for you to remove your shoes while you are in here.”
“My shoes?” Fae asked, not sure if she’d heard right.
“Yes,” Selphine said. “It is discourteous to wear shoes within the Archive.”
“Oh, sorry,” Fae said, quickly kicking off her shoes. She stood on the lush green carpet in her socks, wiggling her toes against the softness.
“Most newcomers are unaware of our customs,” Selphine said. “Not to worry. Now Fae, Mercury, Neptune, Jupiter, if you would please follow me.”
“Well, we’re here for you specifically,” Fae said, opening her bag and pulling out her sketchbook. She opened to the drawing of Eventide Archive. “I… I wanted to ask you about my drawings. I heard you met a boy with similar abilities to mine a long time ago, and I hoped you might be able to help me.”
A pained look crossed Selphine’s face. “So you’re…” she started, then bowed her head. “I see. Then we have much to talk about. Let’s find somewhere more private to talk. And… I’m sorry. The journey that awaits you is unlikely to be a pleasant one.”
“So, are you going to tell me where we’re going?” Caleb asked. Their train had been en route to its destination for several hours already, and Midnight had still said nothing.
Midnight sighed, casting a weary gaze out the window. “We’re going to Sunset Square,” he said.
“What’s that?” Caleb asked.
“It’s where Ingrid’s parents live,” Midnight said.
“Why are we going to meet her parents?” Caleb asked. “And if that’s where we’re going, why keep Ingrid back at Midnight Bridge?”
Midnight waved a dismissive hand. “Her parents are just a small part of this trip. And I left her behind because her parents are living piles of refuse. They’re vile and disgusting, and Ingrid deserves better. So I keep her away from them as much as I can.”
Caleb smiled. “You’re quite attached to her.”
Midnight smiled for a moment, then shook his head. “Anyway, we’ll be there in a few hours. Don’t forget your medicine – I think your next dose will come up before we reach Sunset Square.”
“So you’re not going to tell me what the main purpose of the trip is?”
Midnight had a far-off look in his eyes. “Some might say that Sunset Square is the place where everything began.”
“Everything?” Caleb stared wide-eyed.
Midnight chuckled. “Not everything, as in all of creation. I mean everything as in…” He sighed. “You’ll find out for yourself when you see it.”
“You sure do like being cryptic.”
Midnight smirked. “It’s amusing. And it keeps me young. Remember that when you start getting old – having fun is the surest way to age gracefully.”
Caleb laughed. “I can manage that much, I’m sure.” He adjusted his glasses – the fight with Void, and subsequent training with Midnight, had knocked them looser than they’d been before, and they kept sliding down. “Why did you want to bring me with you?”
“There’s something you need to see,” Midnight said. “Once you do… I think you’ll understand why your training is so important.”
“I already understand. I almost died using Time Magic before I started training with you. I know the consequences.”
“Not that,” Midnight said, sighing. “Just leave it alone until you see things for yourself. Then you’ll understand.”
Caleb sighed, looking out the window as stars rolled by. If he had to wait to learn things, at least he had a lovely view until then.
“You should not have come here.”
That voice echoed in Delilah’s mind as the world came back into focus. The white performance room from Millennium Vista was gone, and Delilah now stood in a drab, grey stone area.
“Awfully cheery place,” Chelsea said, looking up at a massive chandelier hanging from the ceiling. Half of it was shattered, and it hung at an angle several stories above them.
Beneath Delilah’s feet were remnants of a carpet, tattered and torn and faded to a point where there was more stone floor than carpet, and the carpet’s original color was indecipherable. The room they were in was nearly the size of Greyson Manor, and yet there wasn’t much here. There were a few desks by the wall, like some sort of reception area. Behind her, the room narrowed as it reached a large set of double doors. Ahead of her, there was an open doorway leading farther into the Library.
“Isabelle?” Lorelei asked.
“What happened?” Isabelle asked, looking around the entrance hall in dismay. “Why is everything broken and torn and dark? Where are the banners and lights? And the people…”
“There used to be a lot of people here?” Delilah asked.
Isabelle nodded. She walked over to one of the reception desks, leaning up and placing her hands on its faded surface. “Mister Randolph used to sit right here and greet me every morning,” she said. She turned and approached the center of the room, gesturing widely with her hands. “Miss Molly had a big snack bar here every afternoon, and she’d let me sneak bits when Mommy wasn’t looking.” Turning round and round, Isabelle’s expression grew more and more pained. “What happened here? Who ruined my home?”
“This seems ominous,” Chelsea said, standing in front of a wall to the left. The group joined her, staring at a strange stain. Chelsea pulled out a lighter, sparking green fire to life that illuminated the wall.
“Oh, no,” Gwen said in a breathless, terrified voice.
Written across the wall in a splashed, messy red scrawl, was a message that made Delilah’s blood run cold:
Solitude is broken
Dreams are shattered
Hope is betrayed
Light is fractured
The fool’s gods are fools
They have failed us all