We plunged into a flurry of shadow smoke. The six of us fell further and further into the murky depths. We slowed to a stop in the center of a world of shifting shadows, with a few beams of light penetrating the dark, like the glow of the sun from a window.
“Whatever you do, don’t let go,” said Kai. “We have to stay together, or we’ll be lost to oblivion.”
“Where are we?” I asked, gazing around in wonder.
“The Shadow Realm,” Kai answered.
“The dimension that connects all dimensions,” Logan murmured. “I’ve read about this place — it’s like the space between dimensions, right?”
Kai nodded. “Users of dark magic often pass through this realm briefly — it’s how we teleport. But the chamber is pretty far, so we can’t just drop through this time.” Kai closed his eyes for a moment, opened them, glanced around, and said, “This way.”
The shadows carried us through the realm like a river current. We passed by windows into other realms — mostly our dimension, but I caught a few glimpses of strange other worlds.
“I don’t like this place,” Joshua muttered. “Too…dark.”
Ruth nodded silently in agreement.
Evelyn winced suddenly, shuddering.
I glanced at her. “You okay?”
She nodded, though she clearly wasn’t.
“Are we almost there, Kai?” I asked.
“Almost.” Kai gazed around the realm, eyeing different windows until one caught his eye. “There.”
The shadows carried us up to the stream of light, gaining more speed the closer we got. We reached the window and were thrown out of the Shadow Realm rather unceremoniously.
“Ow,” Logan mumbled.
“Sorry,” said Kai. “The more people there are, the harder it is to control.”
I stood, stepping out of the shadow we’d emerged from. “Do you know where the key is, Logan?”
He nodded. “Yep, and if Ev would be so kind as to get off me, I’ll be glad to show you.”
Evelyn rolled her eyes and climbed up off of Logan’s lap where she’d been dropped when we traveled out of the Shadow Realm.
“Thank you,” said Logan, standing and brushing himself off. “Over here.”
We walked into the chamber, where the old portal remained. Logan moved over to the base of the portal, where several torn pieces of paper lay in a heap. He glanced up at Joshua and me. “You guys think you can fix this?”
“It’s worth a shot,” I said.
I scooped up the shreds of paper into my palms and extended them to Joshua, who placed his hands on top of mine.
“You know the spell?” Joshua asked.
I nodded. “On the count of three.”
We counted together: “One, two…three.”
And then we said the spell.
Our palms heated up with magical energy. Our hands began to glow; mine blue, his gold. The glows melded together as they grew brighter, creating a warm, vibrant green. The green light became more and more luminous, streaming through the spaces between our fingers.
Finally, the glow subsided. Joshua moved his hands, revealing the fully-mended key.
“It — it worked!” he exclaimed, shaking his head in disbelief.
A wide grin spread across my face. “We did it!” I threw my arms around Joshua in excitement.
He hugged back, laughing incredulously. “I can’t believe it worked!”
I pulled away. “I guess that means you guys have to get back now, huh?”
Ruth shrugged. “I mean, do we have to…?”
Joshua laughed and shook his head. “Our mission is over. People will get worried.”
“Thank you two for your help,” I told the two of them. “I couldn’t have done it without you.”
Ruth grinned. “It was an honor.”
I stood up and gave her a hug.
“I don’t know you two very well,” said Logan. “But you did save our butts back there, so you’re cool.”
“Uh, thanks?” said Joshua.
Evelyn shrugged. “What he said.”
I lifted the key into the air with my telekinesis, then placed it into the portal. The metal ring shuddered and lit up.
“If you ever need help on another mission, don’t hesitate to ask,” said Ruth as she and Joshua stepped up to the portal.
I smiled and nodded. “I won’t.”
“See you later, Storyteller.”
And with that, they stepped into the portal and disappeared.
Once they were safely through, I held out my hand and pulled the key back out. “Probably safest to keep this with us,” I said.
Evelyn nodded in agreement.
“Well,” said Logan with a sigh, “seeing as we’re currently hiding in a mountain while being hunted by a shadow-controlling maniac…what do we do now?”
I shrugged. “I’m not sure.”
Evelyn glanced up. “HQ.”
I tilted my head at her. “Huh?”
“Of course!” Logan exclaimed. “The Author’s Guild Headquarters. We should be safe there for a little while.”
“But what about — ” Evelyn paused, then jerked her head in Kai’s direction.
I raised an eyebrow. “What about him?”
“The Author didn’t want us to go to HQ in the first place because the Dark Alliance could track you there,” she explained. “And he is exactly what they were using to track you.”
“But he’s not on their side anymore,” I said.
“We don’t know that for sure,” Evelyn hissed. “He could easily contact his brother and tell him right where we are.”
“Evelyn, don’t you think that if he wanted to hurt us, he would’ve done it by now?” I asked her.
“It could be a trick. He could be waiting for us to lead him to HQ. It’s the only Guild location they haven’t found yet.”
“I doubt this was all a trick.”
“But how do we know for sure?”
“I trust him, Evelyn,” I said firmly. “There’s good in him, I know it. If there wasn’t, he would’ve taken my magic when he had the chance. He would have let you die.”
Evelyn clenched her jaw and turned her gaze to the ground.
“We can’t just leave him alone,” I told her. “He defied his brother and left his alliance. He has nowhere to go.”
Evelyn huffed, folding her arms. “Fine,” she growled lowly. “He can come with us. But that doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it.”
The corner of my mouth turned up. “Fair enough.”
I glanced at Kai; he was leaning against the wall by the chamber’s entrance, staring anywhere but us. “I’m going to talk to him,” I told Evelyn.
She shrugged in indifference, then drifted over to Logan.
I walked over to Kai, who stiffened as he noticed me approaching. “Hey,” I said softly.
He swallowed dryly. “Hey.”
I cleared my throat. “How are you?”
We stood in silence for a moment.
“So…you going to talk to me, or…?”
Kai tensed. “I — I’m…” He blinked and a few tears escaped his eyes, but he quickly rubbed them away. “Stormi, I’m sorry,” he said through a strained voice. “I was just doing what I thought was right, I never wanted to hurt anyone, I thought I was doing the right thing, I’m sorry — ” He was rushing his words, as if to try and disguise the quaver in his voice.
“Kai, it’s okay,” I told him. “I forgive you.”
“R-really?” he nearly whispered. “Just like…that? I don’t even have to beg for your forgiveness or anything…?”
“Of course not!” I said, chuckling a bit. “We’re about to head to the Authors Guild Headquarters. You don’t have to come if you don’t want to, but if you do…you’re more than welcome to.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“She and I…” Kai cleared his throat nervously. “It’s complicated.”
I figured it best not to ask. “I talked to her already,” I said. “You can come with us if you want to. If Evelyn has a problem with it, I’ll talk to her, okay?”
Kai nodded. “Okay…okay. I — I want to come.”
I smiled. “Great! One more traveling buddy.”
I turned to Logan and Evelyn, who were talking in hushed voices. “You guys about ready?” I asked them.
Logan straightened up. “Yep. The compass should take us most of the way, and Evelyn and I can lead from there.”
“Perfect,” I replied. “Shall we set out then?"
Logan grinned. “We shall.”
The four of us headed out of the chamber, through the tunnel and out onto the side of the mountain. I adjusted my satchel’s strap on my shoulder as I took in the view, breathing in the cool, dry air.
“So,” I said, turning to face Logan, Evelyn, and Kai. “You guys ready for another adventure?”
“Nope,” Logan replied cheerfully.
“Nowhere near,” said Evelyn.
“Not even close,” Kai muttered.
“Me neither,” I said. I turned back toward the edge of the mountain, gazing at the magnificent view and the long path that awaited us. I pulled the compass out of my bag and said, “Knowledge.” The blue symbol of the Authors Guild lit up, and the arrow spun around and pointed into the distance.