Only Alice ate in the dining room on that second night at the mansion. But it was a start, and Josh welcomed the company. After a few hours of learning about conjuration glyphs from Alice in the attic, the two thirteen-year olds had created the beginning of a strong bond. Josh was extremely happy with his progress in glyph writing and friendships.
Alice and Josh developed together over the course of the week, learning from each other and growing closer each day. They found that they had a lot in common when it came to their untimely departure from normal life.
“My parents were pretty upset when they had to send me away,” Josh said, sitting in the attic with Alice.
“Mine too,” Alice replied. “They really hated the Thief. I think they wanted to fight him, but they knew they needed to keep me safe instead. Besides, I don’t think they had any powers at all. They wouldn’t have survived.”
“I hope my parents are all right,” Josh said forlornly. “I miss them. I want to see them again.”
“I feel the same way. But don’t worry. The Thief can’t do anything to them now that you’re gone.”
Josh looked at Alice with hope in his eyes. “How do you know?”
“Well…” She hesitated, seeming unsure whether she should tell him or not. “I know because Luna knows. She knows everything about glyph writers. It’s her job, really. She reads everything and knows everything. You can ask her anything about glyph writing.”
“Why? I don’t get it. You and Check don’t know everything.”
“Well…” Alice sighed. “I don’t…I don’t think I should tell you. It’s a pretty private issue for Luna, so you should get it straight from her mouth.”
Josh’s eyebrows arched with surprise. “Well it must be pretty personal then. I’m shocked you’d refrain from blabbing about something Luna might want kept a secret.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Alice shoved Josh playfully.
“No, really. Before a moment ago, I was certain you’d do anything in your power to humiliate Luna. Now I know you’re just a little softy.”
“Whoa,” Alice snapped. “Watch yourself.”
The relationship Josh shared with Alice quickly grew into something resembling siblings. Josh was an only child, but had always harbored a desire to have a brother or sister. Similarly, Alice had a sister and now desired to have a sibling once again. Neither of them knew when they might see their families again, so forming this bond was just right for them. This friendship certainly helped Josh cope with losing his former life.
By the time Sunday came around, Josh and Alice had become inseparable. The kids had their group session with Lee, and both Luna and Check saw the pair for the first time. Josh and Alice sat on a couch together while the other two sat alone. As the friends poured over a book about glyph traveling, Luna and Check stared at them with disinterest and confusion, respectively.
“What are you guys doing?” Check asked from across the room.
Josh looked up, determined to act as if nothing could be more normal than he and Alice studying together. He wanted Check and Luna to feel like they should be a part of the new friendship.
“We were trying to figure out how to alter a travel glyph to do something else,” Josh replied. Then he went straight back to the book.
“Well, what is it?” Check pressed after a minute. “I might be able to help.”
“No,” Alice said matter-of-factly, “you do enhancements. That has nothing to do with travel.”
“Yes it does. I can enhance the travel glyph.”
Now both Josh and Alice looked up at him. Together they shook their heads and went back to the book. Check frowned before opening his own book and burying himself in it.
“What are you two, in love?” Luna sneered.
Failing to get a rise out of someone was clearly one of Luna’s biggest irritations. She always had something nasty to say about everything with the sole purpose of generating a response full of exasperation. But Josh’s cleverness easily saw through this, so Alice and him merely ignored the older girl. Though it was torture to keep their eyes on the book and not look up at Luna’s infuriated face, the pair did manage to ignore Luna completely until her attention drifted away from them.
The kids sat in the parlor for half an hour before Mr. Tuff came in offering food and drinks. He brought the snacks back a few minutes later and the children finished eating before Lee arrived.
The lean, tan-skinned man sat down on his chair in front of the fireplace and closed his eyes without saying a single word to any of the kids. Josh and Alice closed their book, as did Check. Luna hadn’t been reading a book, choosing instead to motionlessly stew in her anger. Lee took long, deep breaths that seemed to be coming out of the deepest point inside of him. He was wearing his jeans and tee shirt, looking quite normal.
But the silence lingered on and Lee hadn’t stirred in minutes.
“Are you okay, Lee?” Check asked finally. They were all wondering the same thing.
As if he hadn’t fallen asleep for ten minutes without talking, Lee opened his eyes and smiled.
“Oh…,” he said, seeming surprised that he was there. “Um…yes, I’m fine. How are you kids doing? Josh, how’d your first week go?”
“Pretty good, Lee. I’ve learned a lot already.”
“Good, good. I see you’ve made a friend.”
Josh and Alice nodded.
“Good. That’s great.”
“Lee!” Check cried sharply. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yes, yes, Check, don’t worry. I’m fine. You know better than anyone that I’m fine.” Josh wondered about Lee and Check’s relationship. The way Lee talked made it sound like Check was closer than the other three children were with Lee.
“All right. You’d tell me if you weren’t okay, right?” Check sounded positively distressed.
“Yes, Check. Stop worrying about me, please. Now…” Lee paused to look at each kid individually, his eyes scanning for any problems they might have. “So, what have we learned this week? Check?”
Check sat up straight, preparing to announce something he could be proud of in front of Lee. “I learned how to enhance the physical size of things. I read the entire book on dimension enhancements this week. It’s not too hard, so I think I’ve got it down.”
Luna snorted. “Yeah, we’ll see about that.”
“Stop it, Luna,” Lee chided. “Okay, Check, let’s see what you can do.”
“Yes!” Check cheered. He stood up from the couch and looked around the room for something to demonstrate on. Eventually he chose a pillow from his couch. As a normal sized pillow, it looked mighty comfortable. Josh wondered what it would look like after Check was finished with it.
“Luna, you oversee it,” Lee ordered. Then Luna stood up and placed herself right behind Check like a shadow. Check grunted disapprovingly, but began his demonstration anyway.
He laid the pillow on the coffee table in front of his couch, flattened it as much as possible, and then stood up straight. He closed his eyes, thinking for a moment before bending over. Check extended his right index finger, placed it on the soft fabric of the pillow, and began writing in glowing calligraphy. It didn’t take long for Check to complete the glyph. Josh watched enraptured as he always did when a glyph was being drawn, even when he drew his own glyphs. The entire process, the magic of it, the suspense at what will come out of the glyph, the mystery of glyph writing in general, it all blew Josh’s mind, each and every time he witnessed the magic.
When Josh finished the symbol, the moment he withdrew his finger from the surface of the pillow, the glyph activated. The pillow grew. It expanded quickly, like a high-pressure air tank filling a party balloon. The pillow grew and grew until it had pushed all the magazines, books, and candles off the table. Finally, it ceased growing when it was the size of a five-kid beanbag chair. Check stepped back with a satisfied sigh and a beaming smile on his face. He looked at Lee for approval, his eyes nearly popping out of his head to grovel at Lee’s feet.
“Very, very impressive, Check,” Lee said happily. “Luna, did you see any faults in the lines of the glyph?”
Luna was staring at the area where the glyph had been; the glyph’s magic had run its course, so the actual symbol had faded. She stared with scrutiny. Luna obviously wanted to criticize as much as possible.
“Well, I would…” she began.
“Be nice,” Lee interjected.
Luna sighed and turned to look at Lee. Josh’s jaw dropped, for he saw a bit of respect for someone other than herself in Luna’s expression. She obviously respected Lee far more than anyone else she encountered in her sheltered life at the mansion.
“No,” she stated. “Despite an unevenness in the outer prongs, the glyph was written nearly perfectly.”
Check gasped with elation.
“Very good, Check,” Lee said. “And good job on your part, Luna.” The dark-haired girl snorted indignantly before sitting back down in her seat.
Josh wondered about Luna’s place in the mansion. Alice still wouldn’t tell him a thing about Luna’s unique situation. She always had her hair over half of her face and long sleeves on when the climate in the house never got cold. There was something weird about her and Josh wanted to know it. Unfortunately, despite trying to talk to her each day so far, Luna remained a locked safe. Josh wasn’t dumb. He could see that her role among them had something to do with knowing just how to do everything when it came to glyph writing. But as the lesson continued, Luna didn’t have a turn to write a glyph. She merely checked to make sure the others wrote their glyphs correctly.
Alice didn’t really need to show anything new. Conjuration was different from enhancements in the fact that all conjuration glyphs were derived from the writer. There was a general glyph to conjure, and the writer could adjust it to conjure whatever it was that the writer desired. Though it sounded easy the first time it had been explained to Josh, conjuring required a lot of reading. Each thing, each object had its own unique glyph. And each object’s glyph was only microscopically different from the next. Needless to say, Alice did a lot of reading, contracted lots of headaches, and conjured lots of children’s ibuprofen.
After a short demonstration by Alice during which she conjured a deck of cards as a ten-story house, it was Josh’s turn.
“I don’t have a specialization,” Josh said, standing dumbly in the middle of the room. Check had dragged his massive pillow onto the floor to lie upon.
“That’s fine,” Lee assured him. “You’ll figure it out. Let’s just see a glyph you can write. It can be anything, conjuration, enhancement, anything.”
The scowl Check had put on at the threat of his enhancement being upstaged wasn’t lost on Josh, and so he decided to steer clear of enhancements. He didn’t want to conjure anything either. He really wanted to do something unique and unexpected. There were a couple glyphs that he’d practiced with Alice that she couldn’t write. He could summon all the mice or bugs in the house. He could write a glyph that made music. He could even write a glyph that allowed him to see through walls. But Alice had seen all those. He had been working on a group of glyphs alone in his bedroom at night. Alice didn’t have any idea he’d been practicing them. It would be a surprise to her too.
“Okay, I know what I’m going to do,” Josh announced. He picked up his sketch book, tore out a page, and kneeled on the floor to lean on the coffee table.
“You need to use your finger, Josh,” Lee said.
“No, I don’t.” He looked at Luna. “Do you want to watch?” Luna’s eyes narrowed dangerously, but she leaned over to watch his writing.
Josh placed the tip of his pencil on the paper and began writing. He quite enjoyed glyph writing. There was an inherent energy that flowed through his body as he wrote. Each time he wrote a glyph, his heart sped up a little, and his senses became slightly more acute. Even though he had been initially devastated from leaving his home, he found safety and comfort in glyph writing.
When he finished, he showed the paper to Luna for corrections. Luna’s eyes went wide. Her mouth creaked open, but no words came out. He thought she might react like this, so he simply smiled and crumpled the paper up in his hands. He felt the lines of the glyph glowing in the paper ball. Then Josh tossed the paper into the fireplace. As it floated through the air, the paper caught fire brilliantly with orange flames, landed in the fireplace, and went out because there weren’t any logs awaiting it to burn.
Lee gasped. Luna stared, speechless. Check and Alice watched with puzzlement. Nobody quite understood how this had happened. Eventually, Lee spoke.
“Luna,” he said with a weak voice. “Was the glyph written properly?”
Luna took an audible breath. “Um…It was sloppy, but, o-obviously it did the job.”
“Did you read the entire book, Josh?”
“Yes. I thought elements was an interesting topic.”
“That’s awesome, Josh,” Alice cheered. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Josh twisted around to regard his friend. “I wanted to surprise you.”
She smiled wide. “You sure did.”
“Josh, I’m a little shocked,” Lee said. “I’m wondering if you really understand this type of glyph.”
“Sure,” Josh said nonchalantly. “It’s an altered form of conjuration.”
“No, it isn’t, Josh.”
All four of their heads whipped around to stare at Lee. “Yes, it is, Lee,” Luna said strictly. “It’s a form of conjuring. I’ve read that book.”
“I know, Luna. I know what the books say, but they only say it to mask the truth about elemental conjuration. Josh, have you attempted the other elements?”
“Yeah. All of them.”
Lee sharply drew in a breath. “All of them?”
“Okay, well, let’s not go through a whole big lesson now. But allow me to explain to all of you what elements really are.”
Josh took his seat again.
“Elements might be considered a form on conjuring, but they aren’t. They are a form of glyph writing called creation. Conjuration is the act of bringing something inorganic to you. Now, I’m not saying that an apple isn’t organic. You can conjure an apple. But an apple isn’t an element. We only consider the elements to be organic, of the earth. You see, the elements, fire, water, wind, ice, et cetera, are the powerful forces that formed the earth. They can’t be conjured. They can only be created. That’s why they’re called creation glyphs. And only the most gifted of glyph writers can use them.”
“Wow, Lee,” Check said. “That’s pretty heavy.”
“I know, Check. So, Josh, please promise me, you won’t use these glyphs with abandon. These glyphs are important to our ancestry and they are very powerful.”
“Don’t worry about it, Lee,” Josh assured him. “I won’t use them. I promise. You can trust me.”
Lee nodded. “I know I can.”
“All right, kids,” Lee said, standing. “Our time is up today. I’ll see you in a week.”
They all waved good-bye except Check who got up and hugged Lee tightly. “Bye, Lee.”
When their protector shut the door behind him, the kids exploded into an uproar. Even Luna seemed excited to watch Josh create different elements with his glyphs. They spent almost an hour in the parlor while Josh did tricks for them before they decided to disband. During the fun, Josh thought that this might have been a breakthrough, but once the fun ended, everything went back to normal.
“Do you guys want to eat dinner with us tonight?” Josh asked Luna and Check.
“No,” Luna grunted as she hastily left the room.
“No thanks,” Check said more politely, though with no less degree of certainty.
“Awesome,” Josh muttered.
“Oh, who cares?” Alice said cheerfully. “Let’s have a nice dinner together, huh?”
Josh couldn’t help smiling. It was dinnertime, so he and Alice went to the dining room where Mr. Tuff set out a meal for them. They ate until they were full, laughing about Luna’s angry faces, sharing stories from school back in their normal lives, and generally getting along really well. Josh loved being with Alice. She was the best friend he’d ever had.
After they spent three hours sitting in the dining room talking, Josh declared he was ready for bed, and the two of them parted ways for the night. Josh took the main staircase up through the house, but Alice used one of the secret ones that led right to her bedroom door. The main staircase ran up the center of the mansion. Someone waited for him on the third floor.
“Follow me,” Luna snapped as if Josh’s presence was a hassle. She led him down the hallway to her bedroom where she pushed Josh through the door and shut it behind her.
“What’s up, grumpy?” Josh asked.
“That’s all?” Luna said, the edge gone from her voice. “You’ve been trying all week to get in here and now you are and that’s all you have to say?”
Luna’s cordial manner stunned Josh momentarily. “Um…well, you’re not exactly the most hospitable person in the world. I’m a little shocked.”
“Yeah, me too.” She went over to her bed and sat down, her legs hanging off the edge. Luna’s room looked exactly the same as Josh’s, same furniture, and same layout. She wore her pajamas: a pink, long sleeve nightshirt and fluffy slippers.
“So, what did you want to talk to me about?” Josh asked as he turned the desk chair around and sat in it.
“I wanted to tell you something. Believe me, this isn’t easy for me. I’ve spent two years here alone. I’m not really friendly. And I don’t really want to be, frankly. But what I do want is to be prepared to defend myself if something were to ever happen.” Luna still had half her face covered with her long black hair. Josh just wanted swipe his had over her head and see that other green eye, assuming there was an eye there and not some gruesome scar.
“What do you want to tell me?”
“I knew about the elements.”
“What do you mean?”
“I know just about everything. Lee thought he was keeping it from us, but I’ve read that book. And…and when I read these books, I can see the truth in them, even if they are explained in a way to mask the truth from us.”
“So what are you saying? The glyph books are lying to us?”
“No, not really. But some of the glyphs explained are more than they seem. Just like the elements. In the book about elements, they’re considered conjuration. But they aren’t.”
“Okay. So what else is there?”
Luna hesitated. “Um…well, I’m not really sure yet. I haven’t come across anything else.”
“Then why did you want to tell me about it?”
“I just thought you should be prepared.”
“Prepared? Is something going to happen?”
Luna’s eye narrowed and she frowned. “I didn’t say I could see the future.”
Josh grinned. “So, it seems like you’ve just told me a bunch of stuff I already knew. So what you really wanted to do was to get me alone. I might be young, but I’m not dumb.”
Luna shook her head. “You’re so annoying.”
Luna’s eye narrowed again. “I think something bad is going to happen. You’re the one of us able to use the element glyphs. That’s why I wanted you in here.”
Josh’s face became serious, his eyebrows furrowed, his nostrils flaring. “Bad? Like what?”
“I don’t know. But I wanted you to prepare yourself. And when I checked your glyph today, all the hopes you gave me to begin with were made slightly less stable.”
“What?” Josh cried. “I made fire. Isn’t that exciting?”
“Exciting, yes. But you aren’t very good at writing glyphs.”
“I just started. Give me a break.”
Luna stood up, fists on her hips. She arched her eyebrow. “You’re sloppy. Really sloppy. And I don’t know how much time we have before we need to rely on you. So get to working on your writing.”
Josh found something about Luna to be irresistible. He just couldn’t put his finger on it. He barely even knew what to feel in the presence of a girl. He felt like a brother when he was with Alice. But this was different.
“All right, stop staring,” Luna said casually as she hoisted Josh out of the chair. “Get some rest. We’ll talk more some other time. Until then, work on your handwriting.” She shoved Josh out the door. He turned just in time to see what appeared to be a half smile on Luna’s face.