Before Mona visited the Old City, she had to do something even worse; the brunette had to survive her first day of school as the weird newbie. Against all odds, that had proved to be a piece of cake. Now, she had other things to worry about.
Because no matter how hard they tried, neither Leo nor Mona were able to open the heavy book’s lock. It seemed that they needed the right key for it, seeing as even the equipment that Mona had found in her father’s office did not work on it. Some of them even got damaged when Leo attempted to use more force to break open the lock. Mona came to the conclusion that this book was either very important, or its writer had thought that it would be a good way to mess with people. If the latter was true, then it was most definitely working, as Leo kept getting more and more impatient with it. She could not blame him for that.
“How are we supposed to find the key? It could be anywhere, even outside the city for all we know,” Leo mused, while his frown deepened.
“Well, anywhere but at my place, because I’ve looked everywhere twice,” Mona told him.
“Hmm… Maybe you should look one more time just in case.”
She shook her head. The thought alone filled her with utter despair; she had wasted a whole day on looking for something of which they were not even sure existed.
“I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure it’s not there. Besides, I don’t want my dad to start asking questions. It’s bad enough that I know about it.”
He sighed, leaning back to look at her. “I guess I’ll have to trust you on that one, huh?”
The two of them had decided to meet up at Leo’s place, which happened to be a spare room above Xenophobia, the popular bar where he had first told her about the existence of this book. Sunlight fell through the enormous window in large jets, lighting up all the particles of dust that were in the room in an almost magical way. The large room was decorated simply and it was empty for the most part. There were a few unopened boxes scattered across the room, probably because this place also served as a stockroom, and one closet, an old desk with ditto chair and an unmade bed. Apparently, the leader of the resistence was a grub.
“When did you discover that you could move things with your mind?”
“When I was three,” was the surprisingly blunt response.
Mona looked at him for a moment, but when he made no attempt to look back at her, she started surveying the area instead. It was easy to tell that Leo did not have that many belongings. She could not spot any pictures either, but after that tone of voice she was a little afraid to ask him about his family and past. Mona had no intention of opening old wounds if that was what it was all about.
The brunette teen let out a defeated sigh and slumped back in her seat (Leo was sitting on the floor, trying his hardest to break open the book by sheer force). That was when she seemed to remember something, because she suddenly shot up and cried, “Oh my gosh!”
“My phone’s battery is almost dead,” Mona replied, which earned her a hot glare.
“Thank you for this valuable contribution to the problem.”
Mona put her mobile phone back into her pocket, knowing that Leo had no charger. And even if he had one with him, this room did not seem to have an outlet anywhere.
“No, seriously. Why is it that this always happens right after I visit the Old City? Is it because of the magic over here?”
Leo did not look up from his task and gave a non-commital “Hmph” as an answer.
It made her wonder if he was actually mad at her for asking that personal question or frustrated because of the book. Her question was pretty much answered when Leo suddenly threw the book away from him, towards the closed window. With a loud thud, the book bumped into the wall, before landing face up on the floor. Dust flew up from the floor as a result, before slowly fluttering down somewhere else again.
“Easy there, you’re going to damage the book this way,” Mona warned him. “Why don’t we go outside and look for a sharp rock or something? At least then we know we’ve tried everything.”
“That’s…not even a bad idea,” he admitted, slightly impressed. “Maybe we…whoa!”
Mona looked up at him when he did not finish his sentence. She saw that Leo’s was looking from the book to the wall behind her. She turned and gasped at the sight. Apparently, the book had more secrets hidden on the book cover. Now that the sunlight was falling on the cover, the seal on the front seemed to light up. It reflected an odd-looking outline of something on the adjacent wall.
“That seal… It’s a map!”
“Of what?” Mona asked.
“Follow me. We can hit two birds with one stone.”
Outside, they had no such luck. It felt as though the book did not want to be opened. To add insult to injury, they were lost in the Old City’s woods too, somewhere they were not allowed to be at all. When Mona pointed out that they had been past that same tree three times already, Leo said that she was just seeing things.
“Why didn’t you use any magic during the attack?” Mona suddenly asked.
“Simple. Because the use of magic is strictly forbidden in Tripoleis. It can cost your head. Very few people know that I have the ability anyway and I can’t always use it. Not sure why, but it seems that I can get away with a lot more during full moon.”
“I see… I also don’t get why this city is called Tripoleis, when there’s only two parts of the city.”
“It’s because legend states that there’s a third hidden district somewhere, but it has yet to be found,” Leo replied patiently.
And by the looks of it, they would find the hidden district sooner than their home.
“I suggest you start reading about the city’s history yourself. And look up the Capital City while you’re at it. You will realize that the schools in the New City like to omit a lot of crucial info.”
“Why would I look up stuff when I have you, oh personal encyclopedia?”
Leo rolled his eyes at that, but she could have sworn that the corners of his mouth lifted upwards into the beginning of a smile.
“You know what else I don’t get-” Mona started, but Leo quickly put a hand on her mouth.
She glared hotly at him, but he simply motioned for her to be quiet.
“Someone’s here,” he mouthed to her, before quickly taking her arm and dragging her with him to a more sheltered place behind a huge tree.
They were coming closer and closer and it would not be long before they would be spotted by this person.
Princess Marina gave herself another onceover in the mirror. Upon closer inspection, she realized that it was better if she tucked that stray strand of straightened hair behind her ear. The things one had to keep track of as a princess…and a potencial fiancee of some rich oil sheik. Obviously, she had been against this arranged marriage at first. Of course she knew that their kingdom had money troubles. They were on the edge of bankruptcy but that did not mean that her father could decide to trade her for a few goats and some gold just like that! What was she, a freaking slave? Needless to say, the blonde had thrown several big tantrums. She had cried, she had yelled, she had pleaded. But nothing had helped. Even on the day that she was supposed to meet the mad in question, Marina hid herself in the palace. Unfortunately for her, one of the maids had been assigned to tail her, so they had found her in less than fifteen minutes.
Marina had done the walk of shame back to her bedroom and she had been dolled up by three of the maids, before being forced to join the conversation in the leisure room downstairs.
However, she had to admit that Adam was not exactly lacking on the looks department. Perhaps that was the main reason why she had decided against lashing out at him too upon their first arranged meeting. He turned out to be charming, eloquent and anything but illmannered. Just the other day, Marina had found herself daydreaming away about their future life together. Not that she would ever admit that to anyone.
Today was the meeting that would change the fate of the world...
Leo turned out to be right after all; three other teens of their age, two boys and one girl, appeared close to them out of the blue. They were heading towards their direction. The girl was pretty and had golden blonde curls. One boy was rather tall and had jet black hair. The other one was slightly chubby and had dark blond hair. The chubby boy and the girl kept exchanging glances, but not a word was uttered. Strangely enough, the girl didn’t seem to be dressed for a hike in the woods at all.
When Leo came to the conclusion that they were not a threat, he revealed his presence by calling, “Hold it! What are you doing here?”
It was clear that at least two of them were from the New City. Mona vaguely recognized Elena, the blonde girl with striking blue eyes, from one of her classes. However, she had no idea who the other two people were. The chubby boy looked like a hardcore gamer, what with his simple cartoon T-shirt. The tall guy was dressed like a businessman after a long, drunken night that had gotten out of hand.
“Leo? We’re trying to find our way back home. What about you?” the chubby kid, whose name turned out to be P.J., replied. “Danny here might know a shortcut, so we’re all following him.”
Leo and Mona decided to join them, after Leo finally admitted that they were lost too.
About time too, Mona thought to herself.
“How do you know this P.J.? Can we trust him?” Mona asked Leo softly.
She wondered what those initials stood for.
“Later,” he said quickly when he noticed that Danny was listening in too.
It seemed that Leo didn’t trust that guy either. There was something about his face that made him look like he was guilty of doing something illegal. He had a certain ‘I did it, but I’ll lie if you ask me about it’ expression on his face, if that even made sense. The guy seemed to have an important job too, judging by his formal (albeit dirty) attire.
“So this is what you call a shortcut? I’ll never listen to you again,” Elena muttered angrily.
She had slowed down considerably, probably because her feet were hurting from walking on those five inch heels all day. One could only wonder how she had even ended up here.
“Something tells me that you wouldn’t be the first one,” P.J. whispered, causing Elena to laugh.
Either way, she was right. If they didn’t get back home soon enough…
“No, seriously. I could’ve sworn that there was a…” Danny’s voice faltered at that moment, which made everyone else look at him. “What the hell is that?”
They all followed his line of vision and saw that they had reached an open space in the woods. In the middle of the open space, there was a huge statue of at least ten feet high. It looked like a richly decorated door from this distance. But what would a door be doing there? If it was some sort of monument, then why was it placed over here?
Leo was the first one who started approaching the statue cautiously.
“Be careful! You don’t know what it could do, since this area still counts as the Old City,” Mona whispered warningly. “Perhaps someone from there made it.”
By that she meant someone who knew how to use magic in a positive way. However, what she said was interpreted differently by the others.
“Yeah, it could be hexed for all we know,” Danny called from a safe distance.
Leo swivelled around angrily. “Hey! I take great offence to that.”
Danny’s dark eyes widened slightly when he realized the slip up he had made. “Oh. You’re from…”
“Yes, and he is not the only one,” P.J. replied.
“I see… My bad.”
Now that Leo was standing close enough to inspect the item, he noticed to his great surprise that it was not an ordinary statue, but a gigantic old mirror. When his index finger brushed the surface lightly, getting rid of the dust, he saw a part of his own reflection, staring back at him. That was the last thing he had expected to find here.
“A mirror? What’s this old thing doing here in the middle of nowhere?” he muttered to no one in particular.
After Leo gave the others the okay sign, they approached the mirror hesitantly to inspect it as well. Elena was looking at her own reflection intently. Suddenly, she let out a soft but audible gasp.
“What’s wrong?” Mona asked.
“How strange... I can see myself in the mirror, but I’m somewhere else it seems. I think it’s a huge castle, or maybe a palace,” Elena replied.
The blonde wanted to put her hand against the cool glass, but against all odds it fell straight through the surface, as though the mirror itself was a portal to another place. With a shriek, she pulled her hand back and saw to her relief that it was still intact.
“Wow!” everyone said simultaneously.
“Okay, I did not see that coming,” Elena squeaked, her eyes widened in shock.
She had become very pale and her jaw was practically reaching the ground.
“Hey, if her hand fits through it like that, then maybe our whole body does. Shouldn’t we take a look to see what’s on the other side? Maybe there’s some sort of treasure in there,” P.J. started. “Or a bathroom. Both would be good at the moment.”
“Yeah, good idea!”
Danny was about to jump right into the mirror, but Leo quickly grabbed his upper arm. “Now wait a minute. Has it occured to you that it could be dangerous? I mean, how often do you encounter a mirror that you can step into?”
“Well there’s only one way to find out. And nothing has happened to us since Elena put her hand through it, right?” Danny reasoned. “If you guys are all scaredy cats, then I’ll just go first.”
Before anyone could stop him, Danny had freed himself from Leo’s strong grip and jumped into the mirror.
“Wow. I sure hope he made a soft landing,” P.J. mused.
“Or not. Maybe then he’ll finally learn how to control himself and think things through before making such rash decisions,” Elena added disapprovingly.
“Hey, I heard that,” Danny said sharply. They all turned back towards the mirror and saw that only his head was on this side of the mirror, but the rest of his body was gone. He winked at Elena. “So are you guys coming or what?”
“That depends. What’s on the other side of the mirror?” Mona asked.
“Just a few old ruins. Nothing to be scared of, really. The place is pretty much deserted.”
That did sound safe enough to give it a try. After deciding that it was probably not too dangerous to take a quick peek (and get back as soon as they sensed trouble), the other four teens followed suit. They stepped into the mirror as well and when they got out on the other side, their mouths dropped open.
Danny had been right; ruins were all they could see. The sky was stormy grey and it was quiet all around them.
Silence before the storm…
It felt as though this was what the end of the world looked like. The place was deserted in a way that made them wonder what kind of a great war had taken place here. The air had a strange vibe too. The question was, where were they now?
“I can’t help but think that something terrible must have happened here,” Mona said softly, as a shiver ran down her spine.
She saw how the others nodded in agreement. They must have felt it too.
All of a sudden, they heard a dull thud from the other side of the mirror. As if on cue, the ground started to shake like there was an earthquake going on. Mona, who had entered the mirror last, put her hand against the glass, with the intention of going back. To her great alarm, she noticed that she could not go through it anymore. The portal was closed for some unknown reason.
“Oh no… The entrance is blocked! Now what?”
Little did they know that on the other side, the mirror had fallen. It had broken into a thousand pieces, meaning that they could never go back that way again.
Soon enough, their surroundings started to crumble and collapse on itself just like the mirror had done. Huge cracks appeared in the ground and the shockwaves that came along with it were getting bigger and bigger, making the whole place shudder. The cracks even appeared in the sky, making it look as though everything was made out of glass. Did that mean that they were trapped in a giant snow globe?
“I told you that this was a bad idea!” Leo, who was the only one still standing upright, yelled over the noise that the shockwaves caused.
“No, you said that it could be dangerous, not that it was a bad idea,” Danny corrected him, before he had to jump away in order not to be buried under a huge falling pillar.
“That’s pretty much the same thing- whoa!”
Even Leo fell over now, be it because Elena dragged him with her.
“We’re all gonna die in here, and no one will find our bodies!” P.J. wailed.
By now, the crumbles had changed into all kinds of images, which started to fly around their heads at a high speed. They looked like small televisions, but they seemed to show different places. The teens had to dodge the images a couple of times. They had just gotten used to jumping or rolling away when suddenly, everything around them turned white. There were no doors or windows, or any other kinds of exits. It felt as though they were trapped on a blank piece of paper.
“Now what’s happening?” Danny wondered, his voice laced with fear. “What is this?”
The five of them were startled by the three cloaked figures, who had appeared in front of them out of thin air. All three of them were wearing a white hood, so it was impossible to see their faces. This way, it was hard to distinguish them from the just as white background too. They slowly made their way towards them.
They were trapped and there was no way out of it this time…