Fae tapped her foot nervously, checking her phone every ten seconds.
It wasn’t the location that had her emotionally frayed. She came to Grim Night’s all the time. The music-oriented café and bar was nestled at a major intersection near the Crater District. Well, a major intersection in Grimoire’s terms – lots of foot traffic and bicycles. It was a favorite spot for students from Grimoire University. Grim Night’s put on lots of live shows with local bands, so the type of music and sound was constantly different, running the gamut from acoustic to pop-rock, punk, grunge, and even classical – Grim Night’s owner was very proud of his baby grand piano. There were even a few amateur J-pop and K-pop (Japanese and Korean pop music) groups made up of University students studying in Grimoire from abroad.
Fae wasn’t emotionally frayed because of the time: ten ‘til eleven at night. Fae was a night owl by nature for as long as she could remember.
No, she was nervous because she’d stepped out on a limb into an uncomfortable position.
She’d invited her sister to hang out with her.
How many times had she eyed her phone while hanging out alone or with friends, or while “listening” and “taking notes” in class, thinking of reaching out to Shana and Delilah?
Why had the thought of doing such a seemingly simple thing filled her with such dread?
Tonight, she hadn’t invited Delilah. Delilah had just started high school, tomorrow was Monday and the return from Fall Break, and she was still only fourteen. Staying out until midnight probably wouldn’t fly with Delilah or her parents.
If she was honest with herself, Fae hadn’t expected Shana to accept. She knew Shana was a fan of Falling Stars, the band that was playing at Grim Night’s tonight, but still. Fae’s younger sisters were both quite fond of school. Shana wasn’t just involved in the literature club – she was the club president. So Fae had sent out tonight’s invitation mostly as a symbolic gesture.
Simple and to the point. Not earnest, not in any way providing Shana with any guilt should she say no. It was the perfect “invitation.” She’d never expected the response.
Shana’s overflowing, never-ending enthusiasm was alive and well. Fae couldn’t exactly turn away from that, now could she?
Why do I want to? Fae wondered, clicking her phone to stare at the time again. 10:53. Why am I hoping Shana doesn’t show up?
It wasn’t that Fae disliked her sister. She loved Shana. She’d always been absurdly adorable, even now at seventeen years old. She had this childish energy that Fae had envied when she was younger. It was often annoying now, but in a sort of endearing way that made it impossible for Fae to react negatively to her.
And Shana was full of love. She radiated it, and Fae had nearly forgotten until the surprise “ambush” the other night by her siblings. Talking with Shana for hours had reminded Fae just how amazing her sister was.
So why was she so afraid?
Why was she so sure that the generosity, enthusiasm, and love would run out?
Get a grip, Fae. She silently chided herself, unclenching her fists. She took a deep breath in through her nose, let it out through her mouth, and did it again.
Grim Night’s was filling up fast. Falling Stars was the hottest local band in Grimoire, so it was no surprise. Made up of three sisters – triplets, if you could believe it – they adopted a pop-rock style that was all their own. One sister on drums, one on bass or keyboard depending on the song, and the third on guitar; all three sang. Their songs overflowed with amazing three-part harmonies. Those triplets were amazing at inventing melodies and harmonies and intertwining them, playing off of each other vocally in a vast variety of creative ways.
Fae had a sort of love-hate relationship with Falling Stars. On the one hand, their sound was amazing. It was a wonder they hadn’t gone pro. If it was just their sound, Fae would have sworn it was magic.
On the other hand, their lyrics were… sweet. Like eating too much Halloween candy in one sitting, listening to their songs sometimes made Fae feel sick to her stomach. One of their songs was entitled “Sisters Are Forever.” What kind of saccharine waste of lyrical space was that? Did they really believe all the stuff about love and forgiveness and sisterhood that they sang every night?
Their amazing sound deserved thought-provoking and complex lyrics, not Saturday morning family fun time fluff.
The sound was picking up. It seemed like nearly a hundred people had piled themselves into Grim Night’s. The popularity brought on by Falling Stars was what made it possible to accommodate so many – the owner of Grim Night’s had bought up the buildings surrounding his hole-in-the-wall bar and expanded, turning his place into a nicely sized café and bar with a stage, state-of-the-art sound system, fantastic lighting for dramatic effect, and even a dance floor.
Maybe Shana isn’t coming? Fae thought, internally wishing she didn’t feel so hopeful about the idea. She checked her phone again. 10:57. She shoved the device in her pocket, leaned back, stretched her arms overhead.
“Sorry I’m late!” came the voice of Fae’s sister. Fae felt her heart race, but she did her best to act nonchalant.
Of course she showed up, Fae thought. It was dumb to think she wouldn’t. Shana never fails to show up when she says she will. And why were you hoping she wouldn’t?
It wasn’t that simple, though. Fae wanted to see Shana. And at the same time, she didn’t.
Why do I feel like I have the emotional stability of an adolescent?
“You’re not late,” Fae said. Shana was grinning and out of breath, clearly having run to make it. It was a chilly night, and Shana had dressed for it – long pants and high boots, with a loose white dress under a blue pea coat. And on her head…
Fae stared, her emotions growing more turbulent. It was the hat that Fae had gotten Shana for Christmas… how long ago? Shana was still in middle school then, so it must have been five or six years.
She still has it? Fae wondered in surprise. And she wears it so proudly…
“What’s the matter?” Shana asked. Her head cocked to the side as she stared at Fae with those big, round, earnest eyes.
Fae shook her head. “Nothing,” she said with a shrug. “Wanna go in? Looks like there are still some tables open.”
“Let’s do it!” Shana said excitedly. “Thanks for inviting me. I was so happy when I got your text. I love Falling Stars! I didn’t know you did, too! They’re great, right? They released a new song last week, too. Did you listen to it yet? It’s –”
She can talk so fast, Fae thought as they walked into Grim Night’s and found themselves a table. Such a chatterbox. But… Fae looked at her sister, who was still smiling, talking really fast and changing subjects with astonishing mental agility. Fae couldn’t help but crack a smile at Shana’s enthusiasm.
I don’t hate it.
“They’re starting!” Shana said excitedly, picking up her pad to order.
Grim Night’s was set up as a place to enjoy music and have something good to eat and drink. To facilitate that, rather than have waiters and waitresses wandering around to try and take orders over the sound, and possibly disrupt the musical atmosphere, there were tablets called “Grim Pads” at each table for ordering food and drinks. Shana quickly tapped in her order and then put down the pad, staring ahead at the stage.
Falling Stars launched into their first song, an upbeat, energetic rhythmic piece titled “Shine For You.” Fae couldn’t help tapping her foot at the guitar-and-drum focused opening. It was absurdly catchy, and she caught herself singing the chorus all the time during her day.
But as she finished entering her own order and looked up, she saw a pair that she recognized: Caleb and Chelsea.
“What are they doing here?” Fae asked, pointing towards the couple.
She didn’t have to raise her voice much if she leaned towards Shana. Despite the music, Grim Night’s was smart about their atmosphere. Knowing people would want to socialize and converse, they didn’t crank up the speakers to absurd, ear-bleeding levels like concert halls across the world. They knew that was dumb. The music was completely noticeable and definitely couldn’t be ignored, but if Fae and Shana wanted, they could carry on a complete conversation even as the show hit its loudest and most energetic songs.
“I didn’t invite them, I swear!” Shana replied frantically, waving her hands innocently as she watched Caleb and Chelsea navigate through the crowd. “Look at them. They’re not looking for anyone. They came here on their own.”
Fae watched, and realized Shana was right. Caleb and Chelsea were completely focused on each other, making lovey-dovey eyes as they picked a table. Fae felt herself wanting to gag, so she looked away.
“Why don’t you like Caleb, anyway?” Shana asked. There was that nervous tone that Fae had noticed the other night. It was like Shana was afraid of her sometimes, depending on the topic. Whenever it came to their family, Shana had that look in her eyes.
It looked like how Fae often felt about her sister.
When is she going to snap? When is she going to turn on me? How far can I push my luck before it runs out?
The anxious questions that frequently filled Fae’s mind were reflected in her sister’s eyes. She sighed, scooting her chair closer so she could talk at a volume that was less likely to be overheard.
“I don’t understand him,” Fae said. “He’s so laid-back and carefree, it’s annoying. You’d think a Hunter in his twenties would be more serious.”
“But I’m laid-back and carefree,” Shana said, looking and sounding even more nervous.
“That’s not –” Fae stopped, gathering her thoughts. “It’s different. You’re energetic and bubbly and enthusiastic. Caleb is… chill. Like some beach bum. He doesn’t take anything seriously. And he always seems to be trying to crack a joke, to make himself look like the wittiest and funniest person in the room. You’re not like that. You seem honest, and you don’t try to make yourself look cool. He seems… like a façade.”
Shana pursed her lips. Clearly she was honestly considering Fae’s assessment of them. “I don’t think he seems quite like that,” she said finally. “I mean, he is always trying to crack a joke, and that can be really stupid sometimes. But I don’t think he seems dishonest or like he’s trying to look cool. He seems perfectly confident in who he is. He’s just a little dumb.”
Fae couldn’t help laughing at that simple reply, and her laughter spread to Shana.
Just a little dumb. Fae couldn’t handle it. Coming from her totally honest and sunshiny sister, it was just hilarious. She didn’t disagree, but was surprised to hear Shana say it. She’d thought that Shana idolized Caleb too much to say something like that.
“I invited Delilah to come along,” Shana said after she’d stopped laughing. “I wasn’t going to without asking you, but when I was getting ready to leave, I realized she was getting dressed to go somewhere. I thought she might want to join us, but she didn’t.”
“She was leaving?” Fae asked. That was puzzling. Wasn’t Delilah the goody-goody who studied in the evenings and went to bed early?
“Yeah,” Shana said, looking as puzzled as Fae felt. “I asked her what she was up to, but she just said ‘private lessons.’ If she’s getting tutored somewhere, that’s news to me, though. She usually brags about being able to get top grades without any extra help.”
That sounds like Delilah, Fae thought, nodding. But running off late at night without saying where she was going? That didn't.
Whatever. I’m not in charge. Everyone grows up.
“Sorry for inviting her without asking,” Shana said. She seemed to have taken Fae’s silence as anger.
Fae shook her head. “No, it’s fine,” she said. “I would have liked it if she’d said yes.” Would I really, though?
Their orders arrived. Shana and Fae had both just ordered drinks – a cappuccino for Fae, and hot chocolate in a ridiculously gigantic mug for Shana. Fae hadn’t even known there was a size that big.
She’s such a little kid.
As they sipped their drinks and took in the music, Fae found her gaze drifting over to Caleb and his girlfriend. She realized her initial assessment hadn’t been entirely correct. Well, they were making lovey-dovey eyes at each other, but only as much as any other couple hopelessly in love would.
Fae was surprised to see tension. Chelsea looked as conflicted and anxious as Fae frequently felt. Caleb seemed to be doting on Chelsea, giving her extra attention in a manner that suggested he was desperately trying to make her happy.
So Chelsea’s worried about something. And Caleb, naturally, is trying to make it out to be nothing. I can imagine what he’s saying. “Oh, don’t worry about it, I love you no matter what!” Yeah, as if that helps. He doesn’t realize that love doesn’t just make problems go away. Whatever’s bothering Chelsea can’t be fixed with love. Love’s just happy feelings. Sentiment to try and make people feel better without changing anything. Chelsea’s worried. She’s scared. About what? Who knows? But Caleb doesn’t get what that means. He doesn’t get what she needs.
Fae stopped. What does she need? She was about to think something like “she needs to deal with it herself,” or “she needs to handle it on her own time.”
What did Chelsea actually need?
What did Fae actually need?
I’m fine, Fae instantly thought. Whatever. It’s their problem. Let them deal with it.
Why was she so on edge tonight? She sighed, returning her attention to the music.
She instantly regretted it.
“Sisters Are Forever,” was playing. Shana was animatedly clapping and singing along, her smile as big as a cartoon character’s, her eyes wide and sparkling.
Fae hated this song. And not just because of the stupid lyrics. It was obnoxiously catchy. Fae was already tapping her foot in time with the rhythm, and she instinctively hummed the tune softly. She couldn’t bear the sickly sweet lyrics about love and forgiveness and all that – as if love could fix everything and heal all wounds and bring about world peace – and yet this stupid song was the one she most often found herself singing when she thought no one was around.
Why are stupid songs always so catchy?
As the concert continued, Fae and Shana occasionally talked, but mostly just sat close to each other and took in the music. Shana ended up ordering a second hot chocolate – how had she finished the first one so fast? Fae found herself in a frustrating mental back-and-forth. Music and conversation would pull her in, try to wash her worries and cares away. And it would work, for a moment. But then Fae would snap back to a state of anxiety and nervousness and worry. And back and forth she went, angry at herself for not being able to just stay in one place and enjoy something.
Why couldn’t she be just a little bit more like Shana? Not too much. Looking at her sister, Fae did not want that goofy grin on her face. But maybe, like, one percent more like Shana? She could use a tiny sliver of that emotional stability.
“Ohhhhhh, I love this song!” Shana said excitedly.
The three sisters on stage had rotated their formation. Where their guitarist and lead singer was usually at the front of the stage, she’d stepped aside, playing an acoustic guitar. Her blonde hair was long, all the way down to her waist, and she let it hang loose. As she stood, leaning over her guitar while she picked a melancholy tune, her hair largely obscured her face and her guitar.
Fae had to admit, it looked pretty cool.
Their bassist and keyboardist had taken the singer’s spot. With no instrument in hand, she stood with her hands on the microphone stand, eyes closed as she bobbed to the guitar’s tune, waiting for the time to sing.
Falling Stars was made up of triplets, but they weren’t identical. They each had very similar face shapes and eyes, but their hair came in three separate colors. The guitarist was blonde, while the girl now standing at the mic stand had hair a black color that – well, it was probably the light – looked a dark blue. She wore it deceptively short, swept to one side so that it looked longer and covered over half her face. The drummer, sitting back behind them and gulping from a water bottle, had red hair in a pixie cut spiked up. It suited her – she had a spunky attitude, was always grinning and in frantic motion as she wailed away on the drums. It was a wonder that she could also contribute to the harmonic vocals while drumming with such intensity.
Fae wasn’t sure it was biologically possible for three children from the same parents to have such wildly different hair colors. Hadn’t she learned that genetic-hereditary stuff in high school biology? Maybe some of them dyed their hair.
With that odd thought crossing Fae’s mind, the black-blue-haired girl began to sing.
Looking at her sister, Fae saw that Shana was completely enchanted. It wasn’t surprising. The current singer didn’t normally carry the melody, so her voice didn’t get the spotlight much. But when she did… wow.
She didn’t have a voice suited much to the poppy, upbeat tunes, or at least not to the melody. But on a slow, emotional ballad like this one, her voice was the star of the show. Deeper than her sisters’, she sang with an openness and vulnerability that fit the lyrics she sang. There was a power to her voice, but it wasn’t one that jumped out to the forefront or overpowered other instruments. It ran as an undercurrent, like the bass that she usually played – a great supporting role that you’d never expect to be suited for the center of the stage.
Yet out she sang. Eyes closed, her voice carried throughout Grim Night’s, and all conversation ceased. Her sister played the guitar sparingly, so that there really was very little save for her voice ringing out. It was a sound that came from deep within, washing over the audience, a melodic tide that pulled at all in its grasp, inviting them to come in closer, to fully engage in what they were hearing.
And the lyrics… was this a new song? Shana had mentioned a new one. Fae hadn’t had time to listen to it yet. This must be it. And Fae was as enraptured as the rest of the audience.
Standing at the balance / As leaves start to fall and the chill sinks in
Holding out a candle / A distant light to guide your return
Where have you gone now?
When will you come home?
Hanging on for you
All night long
The singer stepped back, and the guitar grew louder to fill the space her voice had vacated. An interlude, letting the words hang in the air a moment longer, letting Fae and Shana and the rest of the audience grab hold of them and seek after their meaning. And then she stepped forward once more, raising her voice as the guitar faded to the background.
Shining in the moonlight / Seated below a sky of silk thread
Consciousness comes undone / Your heart wavers in a nest full of dread
Don’t let go just yet
Hope rides on the dawn
Light is coming soon
To set you free
Fae couldn’t place it, but something about the words pulled her in. At first glance, it seemed simple, but… there was a mystery there. She could feel it.
Guess I should download this song when I get home, she thought. As the song came to a close, and the applause faded, the blonde guitarist stepped back up to the microphone.
“Thanks for coming out to see us tonight!” she called out, smiling a smile that would dazzle and light up even the darkest of hearts. How were her teeth so white and straight? She looked like a movie star. “This is really our favorite place to play, and you’re always so welcoming. We’ll see you next time. Thanks again!”
With that simple speech, the girls played a short instrumental piece as a farewell, and then left the stage.
“Man, they’re so cool,” Shana said wistfully, staring at the stage in awe.
Fae smiled. “Yeah,” she said simply. She couldn’t deny that much. They had style in spades.
“Wow, it’s already midnight,” Shana said, checking her phone. “Guess we should get going, huh?”
Midnight already? Fae stared at her own phone, and sure enough, it was 12:01. But how? That hadn’t been an hour show… or at least it hadn’t felt like it. Shows by any band that played at Grim Night’s were always thirty minutes or less. Fae had thought it was some kind of rule, though she’d never asked or checked. But Falling Stars had only played six songs. How had that taken up an hour of time?
“Yeah, I guess we should,” Fae said, standing with her sister. Grim Night’s was clearing out surprisingly quickly, too. Then again, mostly mages frequented the place, and they all knew what midnight meant: Hollows. Fae cast a glance where Caleb and Chelsea had been sitting, but the pair was already in motion, nearly running for the door.
“How did it get so late?” Fae could hear Chelsea asked.
“Heck if I know,” Caleb replied. “Aren’t these shows usually half an hour?”
“And they only played, what, six songs?”
“We are so dead for starting patrol late.”
Fae felt a bit of relief at her suspicions being confirmed, but… that just made everything weirder.
However, like every good mage who knew she might end up outside past midnight, Fae had all three of her Talismans on hand. If they got in trouble, they’d be all right. With Hunters roaming the city, they probably needn’t worry, but there was always the chance that a Hollow would slip past their patrols.
“Are you heading straight back to the dorm?” Shana asked as they left the bar.
“Yeah,” Fae said with a nod. “I still have some homework for tomorrow. Do you want me to walk you back? I know you’re not… that great at magic.”
Shana seemed shocked at Fae’s offer, and Fae didn’t blame her. She’d made a point of not getting within a five block radius of the Greyson manor, and now she was offering to walk her sister the whole way there?
“Would you really?” Shana asked excitedly, hope flooding her tone.
Fae nodded. “Sure,” she said, looking away. “It’s no big deal.”
“Thanks, Fae!” Shana grabbed Fae in a hug, startling her. She stood there for several seconds, wrapped up in her sister’s arms, staring wide-eyed at the night sky, struggling with the questions: Do I hug her back? How do I hug her back? Where do I put my arms? How hard should I hug her? How long do I hold it? Should I just stand here? Standing here’s really awkward, though. I should probably hug her back… why does that feel like such an awkward thought, too? What do I… wait, what’s that?
Fae’s eyes had been at work while her mind fretted about the simple act of a hug from her sister. They tracked several shadows moving along the roof of a nearby house. As the shadows began to take in the light, they dropped down from the house to the street, fixing their eyes on the Greyson sisters.
Weavers! Fae pushed Shana away, digging into her pocket for the tablet pen she used as her primary Talisman. “Stay back, Shana!” Fae called out, raising her pen, prepared to fight back as the bulbous, menacing spiders began scuttling towards the pair.
“W-w-what the heck are those?” Shana cried out. “Hollows? Where’s Caleb? What do we do?”
“Just stay behind me,” Fae said, projecting as much strength as she could into her voice.
It wasn’t easy. She’d never fought Hollows before. She knew the theory, and she had practiced plenty of magic, but… seeing them in person set her heart racing, her blood pumping. She thought she could feel her own heartbeat in her brain, pulsing at the inside of her skull. She was sweating, and she worried she might drop her pen as soon as she moved. Meanwhile, the monstrous arachnids were coming closer, and there was no one else around. The streets had cleared alarmingly fast. Fae was the only one standing between these monsters of nightmare and her little sister.
“Felix!” shouted out a girl’s voice. Fae looked around, but she didn’t see the speaker anywhere.
What she did see was more startling than five Weavers coming straight towards her. Not frightening, just… really weird.
It was a cat. Well, a person with a cat face. But his hands were kind of like cat’s paws, and furry, and his feet had the strange anatomy of a cat’s rear legs, looking like they were standing on tiptoe. But the cat-man was running on two legs, and had proportions more like a human than a cat. He wore a frock coat with flared cuffs, tights, and a scarf around his neck. And he held slim, deadly sharp rapiers in either of his cat-paw-hands.
Great Feline Adventures, was the first thought to Fae’s mind. She knew about the show, even if she’d only watched it once or twice. The swordsman (swordcat?) charging the Weavers was straight out of that show.
Except his entire body, and his clothes, were a solid color. A milky orange, he radiated his own light in the midst of the shadows he ran through.
He’s a Summon, Fae realized, staring.
All Summons brought into being through Summoning Magic had that same one-tone glow to them. Altair, Shana’s Summon dog, was completely blue, the same shade of blue, all over. His eyes were a solid black, but it was normal for the eyes to be different. Fae had seen a lot of different Summons in her time, and they all had that same glow and coloration to them…
But she’d never seen a Summon that was a cat-person. Or one that carried swords.
In a flash, the swordcat was on the Weavers, and he made shockingly short work of them. His swords flashed as he danced through the quintet of arachnids, slicing and thrusting, and within a space of four seconds, the five Weavers were crumbling into dust. Surprisingly, the swordcat didn’t pick up the Drops left behind. Instead, he scanned the area, as if looking for more threats, and then, seemingly satisfied, gave the sisters a nod, then leapt up onto the rooftops and beyond, disappearing from view.
“What…” Fae said softly, not having any words for what she’d just seen.
“That was Felix!” Shana said in shock and excitement.
“Who?” Fae asked.
“Felix Feline Felinosis, First Swordmeowster of the Twelfth Circle!” Shana said all of that gibberish with a look and tone that suggested Fae should know exactly what she was talking about. “You know – from Great Feline Adventures! He’s the finest swordmeowster in all the realm, and he commands the Feline Royal Guard!”
“S-swordmeowster?” Fae asked, feeling completely embarrassed just saying such a ridiculous word.
“It’s how the Felines say swordmaster,” Shana said simply.
“Why is his middle name ‘Feline’?”
“Every single one of the noble cats of GFA has ‘Feline’ in their name. But only the royal family has ‘Feline’ as their last name, since it’s their family name. Most of them have ‘Feline’ as their middle name.”
The lore is just as cheesy as I thought it was, Fae thought, groaning internally. “Okay…” she said slowly. “But… who summoned it?”
“Huh?” Shana looked perplexed at the question.
“You saw how he was colored, right? That’s how all Summons look. Just like Altair. So he wasn’t the character from the show – he was a mage’s Summon.”
“So there’s a mage that likes GFA enough to make Summons of the characters…” Shana’s eyes lit up. “So cool!”
Fae turned back to the sight of the Weaver’s Drops. The street was still empty. She didn’t see anyone. But someone had summoned that “swordmeowster.” And Summons couldn’t function very far from their mage.
Who was it that had saved their lives?
And why did they feel the need to pick such an obnoxiously cheesy character to do it with?