We walked to Salt Lake City. We searched a bit and asked around for people to point us to the nearest library. Eventually we found our way to the Salt Lake City Public Library, and it was the most beautiful building I had ever seen. It was enormous, at least four or five stories tall, and its structural design was unique in that it had round walls that curved outward from the main building like the arm of a spiral galaxy. The outside walls were made mostly of glass, so that from the outside I could see the rows upon rows of books that resided on the many shelves.
“Wow,” I said as we walked inside, which was every bit as amazing as the outside. The winding staircases and curving platforms reminded me painfully of the Library. “This may take a while.”
We began our search through the giant library, wandering through aisles, digging through shelves, looking for the right genres. Eventually, after searching for a while, Evelyn spotted a computer and went to see if she could find the book we needed, leaving me and Logan alone.
We hadn’t spoken to each other since our fight at the lake. I continued to browse the shelves, mostly just to avoid eye contact.
I ignored him.
Stormi, I just want to apologize.
I hesitated, still not replying, but listening curiously.
I’m sorry for what happened back at the lake. I just…I really care about you, and I don’t want you to get hurt. I know you care about us, and that you want to protect us, but you gotta let us help you sometimes. You don’t have to prove anything to us.
I bit my lip, feeling my face turn red.
Logan continued: You don’t believe in yourself. I feel it every time we communicate like this. Every time we join minds. You doubt yourself, and you feel like you have to prove yourself to everyone. And I hate that you feel that way, because you’re more than good enough. You’re…amazing.
There was silence for a moment, then I finally responded. You don’t have to pretend for me, Logan.
What are you talking about? he asked.
I appreciate you trying to spare my feelings, but it’s really okay, I said. You don’t have to pretend to care about me.
I do care about you, Stormi. I just said so, and you can’t lie through a telepathic bond.
I know you do, as a friend, but… Look, there’s someone out there for you, I know it, someone just as funny, sweet, and amazing as you — and one day, you’ll find them.
Stormi… I already have.
I turned around. Logan and I locked eyes, and he smiled at me. I felt the blood rush to my face, and quickly turned back around. I stared blankly at the bookshelves, my heart pounding. Did he really just…?
We — we should find Evelyn, I said, changing the subject. I retreated from the aisle and hurried over to where Evelyn was sitting at the computer desk, keeping my eyes on the ground. “Find anything yet?” I asked her.
“Not so far, but I think I’m close,” she replied. “Did you and Logan make up yet?” She looked between me and Logan. “Don’t tell me you got into another fight.”
“No, we didn’t,” I said. “We just… Never mind, just keep looking.”
Evelyn typed a few keywords into the search bar, then scrolled through the results. “Aha! Greek-to-English Dictionary, second floor, aisle seven, row two.”
“Perfect, let’s go!” I said.
We dashed through the library, following the directions until we reached our destination. We searched the bookshelves until we found the dictionary. Evelyn eagerly pulled it out and thumbed through it, scanning the pages until she found the word we were looking for.
“Agapē,” she read aloud. “An unconditional...”
“Love!” I cried. “That’s what it means!”
“Yeah, sure, just talk right over me.”
I held the compass up and said, “Love.” Almost immediately, the golden symbol of the Agapē Order lit up and the needle pointed south. “Let’s go,” I said.
We left the library and began walking through the city, following the compass south. And it was only a few minutes before Logan started complaining. “So, what, we’re just gonna walk the whole way to the Agapē Order?”
“Well, I can’t teleport us there, since I don’t know exactly where they are,” I said.
“Why don’t we look at the map?” Evelyn suggested.
“Good idea.” I pulled the enchanted map out of my bag and said, “Where do we go?”
The paper shimmered, then one word appeared:
“Zion?” Logan asked. “Like, as in heaven? Or Jerusalem?”
“I have no idea,” I admitted.
“Uh, Stormi?” said Evelyn, pointing to the compass.
I looked down. The compass needle was quivering, flipping back and forth between south and west. “Huh,” I said, confused. “That’s weird.”
The needle continued to tremble, more and more violently…until it froze, pointing south again.
“Well, that was…odd,” I said, slightly unsettled. “Let’s just keep going.”
We followed the compass through the forest. The sunlight filtering through the trees cast a soft green glow on the woods.
“So, you know what Zion is?” I asked Logan.
“Oh, yeah,” he replied. “The thousands of books in the Library included the Bible, so eventually I found it, read it, thought, this Jesus guy sounds pretty darn cool, and here I am. Of course, the fact that my parents are both Christians also had a bit of influence,” he added with a chuckle. “And Ev has pretty much the same story.”
Evelyn nodded in affirmation. “That’s not how I would’ve worded it, but yes — essentially the same story.”
“What about you?” Logan asked. “You a Christian too?”
“Yeah, I am,” I said. “Grew up in a Christian family too.” I sighed. “At least, through all this craziness, we can trust that God’s still on our side.”
Logan grinned. “Yeah. Zion, huh? Kinda a weird clue. I mean, I hope the enchanted map doesn’t expect us to go all the way to Jerusalem, because I’m not sure we can manage that — ”
“Zion!” I shouted suddenly.
Logan and Evelyn glanced at me, looking baffled.
“That’s it — Zion National Park!” I clarified. “That’s where we have to go! Only…we’re at least three-hundred miles from there.”
“Shoot,” said Logan. “Maybe we can catch a cab?”
“This isn’t New York, dimwit,” said Evelyn. “Besides, we’re too far from a road by now.”
I looked up at Logan. “I think teleportation is our only option, Lo,” I told him.
He sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. “You’re right. Just…” He placed a hand on my shoulder. “Be careful, okay Stormcloud?”
I blushed. “I will.”
I took my friends’ hands and closed my eyes. I pictured the hiking trail my family and I had taken there. I pictured the beautiful view from the end of the trail, overlooking the canyon. Blue light flashed behind my eyes, and we were there.
I took a deep breath, taking a moment to regather my energy and take in the surroundings. “Okay,” I said. “Let’s go.”
It took about an hour or two before we made any progress. We hiked through the mountains and cliffs, following the compass’s steady guide. We went past unique rock formations, past rivers and trees. We got so high up that the air grew frigid and the view below spanned several miles. And during it all, I noticed a persistent stinging in my scar that was slowly escalating as we traveled. I decided to ignore it for the time being, though it was a bit troubling.
We traveled all across the park until we finally reached a hollow in the mountain that formed a sort of cave. The area was concealed by a curtain of ivy that hung down from the mountain and spilled over the cave like a waterfall. I pulled the vines aside to see a symbol carved into the rock. A symbol I’d seen so many times on this journey. A symbol that meant hope and salvation. A symbol that matched the one on the compass, which was now glowing at its brightest point yet.
“This is it,” I murmured, gazing underneath the symbol where an oval indent in the rock lay.
I pulled up my sleeve to expose my Story Gauntlet, and pressed it into the indent.
The blue glow from my gauntlet seeped into the carving, tracing the cracks in the stone and illuminating the symbol. The rock face shuddered and groaned, then was split in two. The two stone walls retracted, revealing a short stone tunnel leading deep into the mountain.
We walked down the tunnel in stunned silence, brimming with anticipation. After walking for a few minutes, the tunnel opened up into a torch-lit chamber with nothing inside of it, save for a large metal ring mounted on a stone dais.
“We did it, guys,” I said breathlessly, a huge grin spreading on my face.
“Yes! Team Awesome!” Logan shouted, thrusting out his fist as if awaiting a fist-bump.
Evelyn cocked an eyebrow at him.
“That’s our group name,” he clarified.
“Really?” she asked. “That’s the best you got?”
“What? We’re a team, and we’re awesome. Enough said.”
I shook my head at them as I pulled the scrap of paper Nicholas had given me out of my satchel. I cleared my throat to get their attention and waved the key in front of them.
“Oh, right!” said Logan.
Evelyn rolled her eyes, but grinned. “Put it in, Stormi!”
Filled with excitement, I reached up and used my telekinesis to place the key into the slot above the portal. The paper shuddered, then began to levitate in the center of the slot. Tendrils of blue light reached out from the key and curled around the metal ring, filling the round hole with blue light that swirled like a whirlpool.
“This is it, guys,” I nearly whispered.
We started toward the portal, but I froze when the shadows around it began to shift.
“Wait,” I said, holding out my arms to stop the others. I swallowed dryly as my entire body began to tense up, anticipating the worst. “We’re not alone.”
The shadows rose off the ground and took on all-too-familiar humanoid shapes with glowing purple eyes. They floated forward and blocked our path to the portal.
We whirled around to see a dark-haired, dark-eyed boy walking into the chamber.
We quickly summoned our weapons and braced ourselves for battle, but eased up when we saw that his hands were held above his head in a show of peace.
“Relax, Storytellers. I’m not here to fight,” he told us.
I stepped forward, gripping my sword. “Then what are you here for?”
“I have good news,” Kai said. “I spoke with my brother, and I was able to convince him to make a trade. He wasn’t easily persuaded, but when I threw in the location of the Agapē Order…” Kai glanced at the portal. “…he became much more open-minded.”
I grimaced. We’d led him right to the Order.
“My brother no longer wants you dead,” Kai continued. “He has decided to spare your life, and the lives of your friends, for something in return.”
I eyed Kai warily, unsure of whether or not this was a trap. “And what would that be?” I asked skeptically.
Kai fixed his eyes on me. “Your magic.”
I flinched. “My…magic?”
“It’s simple,” he said. “I’ll take you to my brother, he’ll take your magic, and you three amigos walk away unharmed.” A sudden uneasiness crept upon Kai’s expression, and I caught a glint of fear in his eyes. “That, or…Plan B.”
“You mean, to kill me?” I said dryly.
“Listen, I don’t want to kill you,” Kai said.
“Oh, really?” I scoffed. “The fact you’ve been hunting me the past few days tells me otherwise.”
“Did you not hear me?” Kai snapped. “I changed Kievan’s mind — he wants you alive. Just — just take the deal, please.” Kai’s tone was rising, his voice wavering. “Or I’ll be forced to do something I really don’t want to do.”
“Stormi isn’t going anywhere with you,” Logan hissed, stepping in front of me protectively.
“Yeah — you want her, you’ll have to go through us,” said Evelyn.
Kai stared at the ground. “I really hoped it wouldn’t go like this,” he muttered. He then thrust his hand out toward me, dark smoke swirling in his palm.
Immediately, the scar on my face exploded with a searing pain, like someone was pressing a hot iron against my cheek. I screamed, falling to the ground and clutching the scar.
“Stormi!” Logan cried, dropping down and grabbing my shoulders. “What are you doing to her? Stop it!”
Kai’s eyes were closed, like he couldn’t bear to watch what he was doing to me. He curled his fingers in closer, and the pain intensified. I screamed until my throat was raw. I could hardly breathe, the pain was so overwhelming. My vision began to blur. I couldn’t feel anything except for searing, fiery agony.
“Fine, fine! We’ll do whatever you want, just stop it!” Logan shouted frantically.
Kai dropped his hand. The pain instantly subsided, though it left a stinging feeling in the entire left side of my face. “I tried to warn you,” he said. His voice was weak and shaky, and his tone sounded remorseful. I looked up at him and saw his face was streaked with tears.
“You’re a monster,” Evelyn hissed.
“I’m only doing what I have to, for my family,” Kai shot back, his voice cracking. “This is the only way.”
“If I…” I winced. My throat was raw and scratchy, and my voice trembled as I spoke. “If I give up my magic…do you promise to leave my friends alone?”
Kai looked me dead in the eyes. “I promise.”
“No,” said Logan. “No, no way. Stormi, you’re not gonna — ”
“I have to, Logan.”
“Storm, we don’t know what that will do to you!”
“It doesn’t matter.” I gave him a weak smile. “It’ll be okay.”
I squeezed Logan’s hand, then started toward Kai.
“I don’t think so,” I heard Evelyn say angrily behind me. She thrust her hand out and yanked it back.
Following her motions, an invisible force stopped me mid-step and pulled me behind her.
“You’re not getting Stormi without a fight,” she growled. And quick as lightning, Evelyn summoned her spectral bow and fired an arrow at Kai’s chest.
He tried to dodge, but was too late. The arrow embedded itself in his shoulder, and he cried out in pain, doubling over and clutching his shoulder. He groaned, then shouted, “Veni Umbrae!” and a legion of shadows appeared at his side. “Get them!” he growled. The shadows flew at us, their smoky arms outstretched hungrily.
Still weak from the pain, I held out my hand and tried to summon my weapon. “Arma spectris.” The glowing form of the sword appeared in my hand for a moment, but then it flickered and vanished.
“I got you, Stormcloud,” said Logan, summoning his dagger and standing in front of me.
He slashed through each shadow as they flew at us, vaporizing them on impact.
A pained shout rang out on my right; I whipped my head around to see Evelyn entangled in a flurry of shadows, quickly losing ground.
“Evelyn!” Logan shouted.
Evelyn rapidly locked eyes with Logan, her golden-brown irises holding a message. Logan’s brow furrowed, and he nodded to her.
Then she was lost to the shadows.
“No!” I cried.
More and more shadows surrounded us, forcing us back as Logan barely managed to keep them at bay. We soon found ourselves on the steps leading up to the dais. Logan threw one final blow at the shadows, vaporizing three in one hit, then backed us up onto the dais. We were cornered.
I turned and looked into Logan’s dark green eyes. He placed his hands on my shoulders and gave me his signature grin — only this time, there was a sadness behind it.
“I love you.”
Logan pushed me into the portal.