I woke up to a bunch of strangers staring at me.
Naturally, my first instinct was to scramble away from them—and I did. What I didn’t realize was that I was now in a bed with its head at the wall, so I ended up hitting my head pretty hard.
Way to make a first impression, Stormi.
I glanced around at the strangers that were standing by the wall, realizing they were the people I’d been spying on—er, I mean, observing—before I’d passed out.
“W-what’s going on?” I asked, rubbing my head in a daze. “What happened?”
“It’s okay, Stormi,” said Emily. She approached the side of the bed, followed by the man I’d seen her with earlier. “You’re safe here. I’ll explain everything in a moment, but first, I need you to tell me what you saw after you passed out.”
My brow furrowed as I tried to remember the strange dream I’d had. “I saw…a boy, talking to a man I couldn’t make out.”
“And what did they say?” Emily asked gently.
I felt sick to my stomach when I remembered what the figure had told the boy. “The man said that I was powerful, and that I would be their downfall. And then…” I swallowed dryly. “He told the boy to kill me.”
The teens winced, exchanging nervous glances.
The man’s expression hardened. “I knew they were willing to go to extremes, but to kill a child...?”
“This is my fault,” said Emily. “I should’ve realized sooner that you were one of us. But I let them find you first. I’m sorry, Stormi. I let you down.”
“Don’t blame yourself, Emily,” said the man. “Besides, she’s safe now. They can’t get to her here.” The man turned to me. Warm brown eyes, like Emily’s, with crinkles at the edges. He looked like he smiled a lot. “Stormi, was it? I am Author Jonathan Chambers, Emily’s father. The Storytellers have taken to calling me ‘the Author’ for short. I really don’t mind either way.”
“Nice to meet you,” I mumbled, still beyond baffled but trying to be polite.
“I’m sure you feel very confused right now,” said the Author.
That’s an understatement, I thought.
“I’ll get right to the point,” he said. “You have magic.”
I offered no response save for a blank stare.
“More specifically, mind magic,” the Author continued. “A type of magic linked to the mind, as the name suggests. People with mind magic have a multitude of abilities, such as telekinesis—the power you’ve demonstrated up to now. Telekinesis is one of the primary abilities, and it’s normal for it to act up around your age.”
“Sorry, but none of this is normal,” I said. I felt dazed; I still wasn’t entirely sure this wasn’t some kind of weird fever dream.
The Author smiled. “I know it’s a lot to take in. But I have good news, too. Everyone in this room has the same powers as you.”
I blinked, looking around at Emily and the four teens. “Really?” I asked. Could it be true? That I wasn’t…alone?
“We’re part of an organization called the Authors Guild,” the Author explained. “We all possess the powers of the mind, although some more than others. I think it’s safe to say you’re the most powerful user of mind magic we’ve seen in a while. Your vision is an indicator of that.”
“Right, the vision,” I said. “What exactly…was that?”
“What you just experienced was the power known as intuition,” he told me. “Intuition is when your brain automatically uses telepathy to provide you with information that could be crucial to your survival.”
My eyes widened as I was reminded. “Speaking of that,” I said, “who were those people I saw? The ones that want me dead?” It surprised me how casually I brought up the fact that there were people who wanted me dead.
“Ah, yes,” said the Author, taking on a somber tone. He looked at Emily, who proceeded to explain.
“They were members of the Umbra Alliance,” said Emily. “An organization similar to ours, except instead of mind magic, they possess dark magic.”
Well, that explained the travel-by-shadow the boy, Kai, had used to capture me.
“They are our enemies,” said the Author. “They see you as a threat to their power, and they will stop at nothing to eliminate any such threat.”
Thanks, Mister Author. That really boosts my mood.
“But don’t worry, Stormi,” said Emily. “You’re safe here in the Library. There’s an illusion spell cast over the entire base that only Guild members can see through.”
“Okay…what about outside the base?” I asked.
The Author and Emily glanced at each other.
“I’m afraid…it’s not safe for you to leave,” said the Author. “Not until you’ve mastered your powers.”
My chest tightened. “What about my family?” I asked anxiously. “Are they just supposed to wonder where I disappeared to?”
“Of course not,” said Emily. “I’ve modified their memories.”
“Nothing major,” she clarified rapidly. “I simply planted the thought that they sent you to summer camp, and you left today.”
I relaxed a little, but not completely. It was a strange thought that my parents, my little sister, had no idea everything I’d been through today. If only I could be living it up at a summer camp right now.
“Don’t worry,” said one of the boys, stepping forward with a friendly smile. It was the one with the beanie, with the sparkling green eyes. He had a tan complexion and wavy copper hair. Tall-ish, about my age. Cute. His demeanor was that of a friendly golden retriever meeting a new dog for the first time. “It’s not so bad here. There’s obviously plenty of books to read, and the beds are pretty comfortable.”
The boy sat on the side of the bed and extended a hand. “I’m Logan, by the way,” he said with a lopsided grin.
“Stormi,” I said, shaking his hand.
“Little flirt,” muttered the redhead girl.
The girl wearing all black snickered.
“Ah, yes, I’ve yet to introduce you to the rest of the circus,” said Logan. “Those bichos raros over there are Bradley, Kayla, and Evelyn.”
He gestured to the older boy, the redhead, and the girl in black respectively.
I studied each of them individually. Bradley was tall, dark, serious. He held himself with an air of dignity and authority. There wasn’t a hair out of place in his cornrows.
Kayla had a proud demeanor, as if daring anyone to challenge her. Her hazel eyes were piercing, and her pale skin was sprinkled with freckles. She leaned against the wall casually.
Evelyn was on the short side. She had hooded, angular eyes; her irises were the color of bronze, an enchanting golden brown. She was reserved, quiet; her shoulders hunched and her long hair fell in front of her face.
“We’re the Storytellers,” Logan continued. “Or, Storytellers-in-training, if you wanna be technical about it.”
“Storytellers…” I repeated curiously. “That’s what that boy called me. A Storyteller. What is that, exactly?”
“It’s a long story,” said the Author. “With lots of complicated history. We’ll get to that in our lessons.”
“Lessons?” I asked.
“Yes,” the Author replied. “I will be teaching you to master your mind magic. We’ll start tomorrow, give you the rest of today to settle in. Logan, would you and the rest of the Storytellers be so kind as to show Stormi to her room?”
“Sure thing, Author,” said Logan. “C’mon, let’s go.” He grabbed my hand and gently pulled me out of the bed.
The Storytellers led me through the winding halls of the vast Library until we reached a hallway with arched doors instead of open entryways, six of which were labeled and decorated uniquely. “These are the sleeping quarters,” said Bradley. “Where you’ll be staying while you take your lessons with the Author.”
“You can have the room next to mine,” said Logan.
Kayla swatted his arm.
“Ow! What was that for?” he demanded. “It was just an offer, Kay.”
She rolled her eyes at him. “You can pick whatever room you want, Stormi,” she told me, shooting a side-eyed glare at Logan. “They’re all pretty similar, honestly.”
“Okay… I guess I’ll take this one?” I said, gesturing to the room on the left side of the hall next to the nearest occupied room.
Evelyn smiled. “You have good taste in neighbors,” she said.
Logan gasped with fake offense. “Choosing Evelyn over me? How could you?” He winked to let me know he was just joking around, and I chuckled.
“Anyway,” Bradley interrupted. “Go ahead and make yourself comfortable.”
“Thanks,” I said.
I opened the door to the room, and whoa. It was like my dream room. Sleek, wooden walls, half of which were bookshelves like the rest of the Library; a canopy bed against one wall with flowy dark-gray curtains; a little chair and table to the side with paper and pens; and a ceiling painted like the night sky.
“We’ll let you get settled,” said Bradley. “If you need anything, let us know.”
“We’re happy to have you as a new member of the Authors Guild,” Evelyn said with a smile.
“Thanks again,” I said. This whole situation was insane, but I decided these people made it better; these were people I could get along with. People I actually felt like I could…fit in with, for once.
The Storytellers waved as they left me to settle in. I waved back and closed the door. I tossed my backpack onto the chair, then plopped onto the bed. It was the coziest bed I’d ever encountered. Yeah, I could get used to this. I sprawled out on the mattress and stared at the starry ceiling.
This was crazy. It was weird enough that I had powers, but now there was a whole society of people with my powers? And a rival society that had other powers? And now I had to learn to master my powers so I could fight them when they tried to kill me?
A yawn escaped me, reminding me just how exhausted I was. My typical bedtime wasn’t for a few hours or so, but I was so mentally, physically, and emotionally drained that I curled up under the covers and went right to sleep.
* * *
I was in a dark, eerie forest. The trees were ashen and brittle, and the grass was patchy and gray. It looked similar to a forest that had been razed by a wildfire. The cold, dry wind sent a shiver down my back.
Before me was a large, black tree stump. A symbol floated above the stump, made of glowing golden strands of light. It depicted a circle with a cross inside it—something like the first-aid symbol—and wavy lines like water. Underneath the symbol, a long gash ran through the center of the stump. Black smoke seeped out of it, shifting and swirling in a rather unsettling way. The smoke formed hands that clawed at the stump and the symbol, as if begging to be let out.
I wanted to back away, frightened by the sight, but it held me transfixed. Whispers echoed from the stump, like the hissing of a snake. I couldn’t make out any words, but I could tell they were calling to me. Beckoning. This stump held many stories, secrets—awful ones, but intriguing all the same. If I just let the spirits out, I could have that knowledge. I could know all the secrets it held.
Before I knew it, my hand was on the stump. One of the smoky claws grabbed my wrist, and an overwhelming searing pain shot through my left cheek, like someone was pressing a hot iron on my face.
* * *
I sat bolt upright in my bed. Sweat beaded my brow, and I clutched at the left side of my face. The burning feeling was quickly fading, so faint it I wasn’t sure it wasn’t just my imagination. I glanced around the room, wondering where I was for a split second before remembering the events of yesterday. At least, I thought it was yesterday. I wasn’t sure what time it was, since there was no natural light, but it felt early still.
I took a few deep breaths, trying to slow my pounding heart, placing a hand over my tightened chest. After I’d calmed myself down, I lay back down and pulled the blankets over me. I felt uncomfortable in the darkness after the dream. That dream felt important, like it was trying to tell me something…or warn me of something. Was this the intuition ability acting up again?
I curled up into a ball as exhaustion overtook me, and I fell back asleep.