I chose salted caramel for my froyo flavor.
Being targeted as I was by magical assassins, I had to stay behind as the Storytellers went out and brought the froyo back to base.
We sat around a table in a lounge area, and Evelyn passed out the froyo.
Logan held up his cup. “Cheers to our new recruit,” he said.
We followed suit and touched our cups together. I laughed, slightly embarrassed by the attention.
“Alright,” said Kayla, placing her hands on the table. “Interview time.” She pointed to me. “Favorite color, go.”
“Really?” said Evelyn. “That’s your first question?”
“What? It’s a classic. You got a better one?”
“In fact, I do—favorite book genre.”
I chuckled. “Well, my favorite book genre is fantasy,” I said, “and my favorite color is turquoise.”
“No, don’t answer Kayla’s basic question,” said Evelyn, shaking her head.
Kayla snickered and shoved Evelyn.
“Why don’t we do the icebreaker game where we each say our name, age, and a few facts about ourselves?” Bradley suggested.
“This isn’t preschool, Brad,” said Kayla, lifting an eyebrow.
Logan shrugged. “I think it’s a good idea.”
Kayla feigned a gasp. “Wow. Logan, agreeing with Bradley. You’re witnessing a rare event, Stormi.”
“Alright, alright, I’ll start,” said Evelyn. “My name is Evelyn Mae. I’m fifteen. Bradley is my foster brother, I’m half-Korean, my favorite book genre is dystopian, and my favorite treat is macarons.”
“Ho ho ho, I’m mature and like ze fancy desserts, oui oui!” said Logan, twirling a fake mustache.
“Shut up,” Evelyn laughed, shoving him. “Just for that, you go next.”
“Fine, then,” he said. “I’m Logan Rodríguez-Forrester, I’m sixteen and a half—”
“Wah, I’m immature and still keep track of half-birthdays,” Evelyn muttered in a baby voice, shooting him a smirk.
“It’s rude to interrupt, Evelyn,” Logan chastised. “Anyways—the first language I learned was Spanish, I’m pretty skilled with a dagger, and I could eat tacos for the rest of my life.”
“Wouldn’t you get sick of them eventually?” I asked.
Logan gave me a look of pretend indignation. “How could anyone get sick of tacos?”
“My turn,” said Kayla. “My name’s Kayla Evans, and I’m seventeen. My family’s from Scotland, I’m the oldest of four siblings, and I’m the best physical fighter on this team.”
“Pff,” Logan snorted, “that’s a bold claim to make, Kay.”
“Oh please,” said Bradley. “I could take you with one arm tied behind my back.”
“Are we just going to ignore the fact that I’ve pinned you in less than three seconds on multiple occasions?” Kayla asked. “Or are you just trying to look tough in front of the new recruit?”
Bradley blushed. “Yeah, anyway—”
The Storytellers snickered.
“My name is Bradley Abara,” Bradley said loudly, shooting looks at the Storytellers. “I’m seventeen. I’m typically the leader on missions, I’m aroace, and, um…I like to draw.”
“Wait, you draw?” Logan asked bewilderedly.
“It’s just a hobby,” Bradley muttered.
“Hey, I like to draw too!” I said.
“No seriously,” said Logan. “You. Bradley. Mr. I’m So Serious And Don’t Have A Single Artistic Bone In My Body. You draw?”
“Sound a little more shocked, why don’t you,” Bradley said, rolling his eyes.
“Shut up, Logan, it’s Stormi’s turn,” said Evelyn.
All the Storyteller’s eyes fixed on me, and I could feel my face getting warm. I wasn’t the biggest fan of attention. “Oh, okay, well… I’m Stormi Griffin, I’m sixteen. I have a little bit of Latino heritage in me, I enjoy creative writing and drawing, and I know how to play the piano.”
“It’s a shame we don’t have a piano in the Library,” said Logan. “If we did, I’m sure you could lay down some serious tunes.”
I laughed, blushing slightly.
We continued to talk and laugh until we were all done with our froyo, at which point we realized it was late and decided to go to bed. We all bid each other goodnight, then headed to our rooms and went to sleep.
* * *
The next day after my lesson with the Author (which was mostly more telepathy practice) I made my way back to my room and practiced my abilities for a bit, floating books and various objects around my room, when I heard a knock on the door. I put the objects down and opened the door to see Logan. I smiled. “Hey Logan.”
“Hey Stormcloud,” said Logan. “D’you wanna walk around the Library with me? It’s pretty big, so I figured I could give you a tour of sorts. That is, if you want to.”
I grinned. “Yeah, sure,” I said. “I’d love to.”
He beamed. “Great! Come on, let’s go!”
I grinned and followed Logan out of the sleeping quarters and into the winding maze that was the Library. Logan showed me the lounges, the training center, the many, many painted hallways, and eventually we found ourselves in the cylindrical room at the heart of the Library.
“I’m always amazed by this room,” I said. “It’s just so…big, and so full of books.”
Logan chuckled. “Yeah, it’s pretty breathtaking.”
I looked at the portal curiously. “So, what’s that portal for?”
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “That thing’s, like, an ancient relic. Us Storytellers used to travel to other worlds and document our experiences there, or the experiences of others—that’s where the name Storyteller comes from. Actually, those documented experiences make up most books.”
“Wait—” I said. “so you’re saying the stories in books, stories about dragons and superheroes and aliens—those are all true?”
Logan nodded. “Sure are. It’s pretty interesting, really. Imagine a bunch of lines, some parallel, a few intersecting. I like to imagine them being multicolored, helps distinguish between them. Those lines represent the different dimensions, and the line in the center is our dimension. The dimensions closest to ours resemble ours the most, and the farther the dimensions are, the more other-worldly and strange they become. For example, most of the modern genres take place in dimensions right alongside ours, while epic fantasies and dystopian stories are farther out.”
“That’s so fascinating,” I said breathlessly. “But why don’t Storytellers do that anymore? What happened?”Logan rubbed the back of his neck. “I don’t know all the details, but…something happened between the Authors Guild and the Umbra Alliance not too long ago. We mostly refer to it as The Event now. Basically, the Umbra Alliance wanted to open a gateway to a distant dimension, a very dangerous one. The Authors Guild tried to stop them...but we were too late. These monsters got loose—we call them monsters, but we’re not really sure what they are—and they killed thousands. Especially magicwielders. We haven’t used these portals since.”
“Oh…wow,” I murmured. “Have you seen the monsters?”
Logan nodded. “Brad, Kay, Ev and I are sent out to hunt any monsters that get too close to base. It’s our job as Storytellers in training.”
I gazed at him with a sort of morbid curiosity. “What are they like?”
“About as scary as you’d expect,” he told me. “They don’t really look like any one thing. Everyone describes them differently. I think they shape-shift to look as scary as possible to each person they encounter.”
I cringed. “Yikes...”
“They’re not so bad though, as long as it’s just one of them. You can always tell where one’s been by the trail of dead plants it leaves behind.”
I shuddered at the description. “That sounds awful... Why would the Umbra Alliance summon these things?”
Logan shrugged. “Some say it was an accident,” he said. “Some say they knew what they were getting into, and just wanted to gain power. They say it was our fault, that we’re somehow to blame because of our interdimensional technology. All we know for sure is that they want to destroy us and all our resources, and they have the upper hand right now.”
“Wow...” I whispered.
Logan sighed. “Hopefully someday we’ll get to be travelers again. I’ve read so much about the multiverse, how the portal was constructed, how interdimensional travel works… I’d give anything to see it in action.”
Logan gazed up at the portal. “I know it’s dangerous, and it’s caused destruction, but…we can’t just give up on adventuring.”
His green eyes sparkled with fascination as he spoke. I could tell he was truly captivated by the subject, and his enchantment was contagious.
He’s so cute when he talks about these things…
Logan gave a start and turned to me, his face red. “What was that?” he asked with a grin.
I blushed. “Oh gosh, did I say that out loud?”
He paused. “No, actually, you didn’t. I just…heard you in my mind.”
“That’s weird,” I said. “I wasn’t trying to speak to you telepathically…”
His eyes widened. “Shoot—I think we formed a telepathic bond,” he said.
“A…what?” I asked nervously.
“A telepathic bond is when two minds are connected at the deepest, most intimate level,” Logan explained, rubbing his neck in embarrassment as he did so. “It happens when two minds welcome each other and sort of just…click.”
“Oh, wow… I’m sorry—I didn’t mean to,” I mumbled. “Maybe the Author can help us break it tomorrow.”
“No, no—let’s keep it,” he said.
I blinked. “Really?”
“Yeah! I mean, one, it’s really cool, and two, you never know when it might come in handy. So let’s keep it for now—unless of course you don’t want to, then we can get rid of it,” he added quickly.
“No, I think we should keep it too,” I said. “You’re right—we never know when we might need it.”
“So…on with the tour?” I asked.
“Oh, right. Sorry for distracting you with my Storyteller history nonsense,” he said with an embarrassed chuckle.
“No, it’s really interesting,” I told him. “I loved hearing about it.”
“Heh, you’re the first,” he said. “You know, if you want to learn more about our history, there’s a place I could take you with practically endless knowledge of it.”
“Really?” I asked, curiosity blossoming within me.
“Yeah. We’re technically not supposed to go there without the Author’s permission, but…what’s one time? Y’know—for knowledge’s sake.”
I grinned. “Oh, yes, of course. The Author wouldn’t want to stand in the way of knowledge.”
“Exactly.” Logan took my hand. “This way.”
Logan led me down the winding halls to the far end of the Library, on the opposite side of the entrance. We stopped at an arched bronze door, similar to the doors at the entrance of the library, but with no handles.
“This is the Archives,” said Logan. “This is where all the ancient information is stored.”
“Whoa…” I murmured. “How do we get in?”
“Watch and learn, Griffin,” he said with a wink.
He held his wrist up to an indent in the center of the door, with swirling lines carved around it to highlight it. It was just big enough for the pendant of a story gauntlet to fit inside of.
“What are you doing back here?”
Logan yanked his wrist away from the door and jumped backward. We turned to see Evelyn standing in the hall beside us, arms crossed and brow furrowed.
Logan laughed nervously. “Evelyn! Heyyyy…! Uh, Stormi and I were just—”
“Sneaking into the Archives without permission?” Evelyn finished.
“Okay, I know how this looks,” Logan said, “but I promise you there’s no nefarious business going on here. I was just showing Stormi around and—”
“Save it, Logan. I know you well enough to know when you’re lying. Although it doesn’t take a detective to figure out that you’re up to something.”
Logan sighed. “Ugh, fine. You caught us.” He paused, straightening up. “Wait a sec, what are you doing back here?”
Evelyn stiffened. “Me? Uhhh, I was just…” She bit her lip, faltering.
“Aha!” Logan pointed an accusing finger at Evelyn, who dropped her eyelids at him wryly. “You’re trying to sneak into the Archives too!”
She rolled her eyes. “Yes, genius. I am. But it’s for a much more important reason than trying to impress the new girl.”
Logan’s face turned red as well. “I am not—and what reason is that exactly?”
“I heard the Author say something…strange.”
Logan lifted his eyebrow. “Yeah, sounds very important.”
“Oh, shut up and let me finish,” Evelyn hissed. “He mentioned something called ‘the Lucian Order,’ and it sounded important, like this whatever-it-is has something to do with the Event. Either way, he talked about it like it was a big deal.” She sighed. “Let’s just keep this between us, okay? Then neither of us gets in trouble with the Author.”
Logan rubbed his chin, pretending to carefully consider the offer. Evelyn rolled her eyes at him.
“Alright,” he said finally, “deal. Let’s do a three-way pinkie promise.”
He extended his hand, and the three of us interlocked our pinkies.
“Let’s go,” he said. He placed the pendant of his story gauntlet into the notch in the door. The swirling carvings glowed blue, I heard a faint click, and the door swung open.
Inside the dark, round room—which was lit only by a few small, glowing orbs of blue light suspended in midair—were hundreds of books, all old and yellowed and falling apart, in the bookshelves carved into the wooden walls.
“Whoa,” I murmured.
“I’ll look for anything related to this so-called ‘Lucian Order,’” said Evelyn, walking toward a bookshelf, “and you two do whatever you were going to do in here.”
Logan grinned at me. “You ready to rifle through some ancient documents?”
“Always,” I responded.
The two of us wandered the room. I gazed over the books and ran my hand along the wooden walls as I did so. I stopped when an intriguing title caught my eye:
The Multiverse: A Comprehensive Guide by C. K. Brooke
I pulled out the book and flipped through it. It included a visual aid, depicting our dimension, dimensions near and similar to ours (also known as alternate realities), and dimensions that were completely otherworldly. It had chapters on each of the primary other-world dimensions, with an overview of the terrain and creatures that lived there.
I paused on the chapter about Phobos, the dark dimension. “Hey Logan, look at this,” I said. “There’s a few pages missing in this book—right in the section about summoning monsters from the dark dimension. Looks like they were ripped out.”
Logan walked over and looked over my shoulder at the book. “Oh, yikes,” he said with a wince.
I glazed over the remaining pages, which described the dimension itself. “This must be the dimension that you were talking about—the one that the Umbra Alliance opened a gateway to.”
“Whoa,” Logan murmured. “Who would take pages on monster summoning, after everything that happened…?”
“Maybe they wanted to get rid of the information, cause they knew it was dangerous?” I mused. “Or maybe…maybe someone wanted to try to control the monsters—to get them to stop killing people. Or…maybe to use them as servants.”
Logan shuddered. “I don’t like the sound of that.”
Evelyn drew our attention from the book and waved us over. She held out the scroll in her hands so we could see the worn symbol that resided in centuries-old ink on the parchment.
It was a golden triangle connecting three circular emblems. In the right corner, there was a blue emblem, with swirling white lines behind a symbol like an open book in the center. In the left corner was a purple emblem with a symbol like an upside-down U—an omega—in front of lines that looked like black flames. And at the top was a golden emblem with patterns of waves and a medical cross amid them.
I stiffened upon seeing the last symbol. It was the very same symbol I’d seen in my dream a couple of days ago, floating above the ashen tree stump. I shuddered at the memory.
“What do you think it means?” Evelyn asked.
“I’m not sure,” I said slowly, studying the symbol, “but I think...I think that’s us—the Authors Guild.” I pointed to the blue circle, then moved my finger to the other side of the triangle. “And the purple circle—that must represent the Umbra Alliance.”
“But what's the third one?” Logan wondered aloud.
“Well, what does the rest of the scroll say?” I asked.
Evelyn unrolled more of the scroll and gazed over it. “I can’t read it,” she said. “It’s in another language… Looks like Latin.”
“I know some Latin,” I said, perking up. “I studied it for school, and kept learning it because I was interested in it.”
Evelyn handed the scroll to me, and I did my best to translate. “Okay…it looks like…mission statements?” I unrolled a bit more and saw each circular symbol from the triangle drawn next to three separate paragraphs. “Look, right here next to the blue circle—it says ‘The Authors Guild’… I can’t make out all of it, but it talks about exploring other worlds, collecting knowledge, that kind of stuff.”
“What about the other ones?” asked Evelyn.
I shifted the scroll a bit to better see the next two paragraphs. “This one, the purple one—it says ‘The Umbra Alliance,’ and says… Huh.”
“What is it?” Logan asked.
“Right here—praetego. Latin for ‘protect,’ or ‘shelter’. It says something along the lines of providing safety, refuge.”
I paused, considering the paragraph. It didn’t quite make sense. They were our enemies, and supposedly they unleashed evil creatures on the world. But here this scroll was, claiming their mission was to protect those who couldn’t protect themselves—that didn’t sound very evil. The Umbra Alliance were the bad guys…right?
“What does the last one say?” Evelyn inquired, jarring me from my thoughts.
“Oh, sorry,” I mumbled. I turned my attention back to the scroll, scanning the final paragraph. “It says ‘The Lucian Order.’”
“That’s what I heard the Author say!” Evelyn exclaimed.
“Their mission statement is about being kind and helping others in any way possible,” I said. “They specifically use the word sana, which means ‘to heal’.”
“That’s a lot to take in,” said Logan.
“Obviously we’ve heard of the Author’s Guild and the Dark Alliance, but…what exactly is the Lucian Order?” Evelyn murmured.
“D’you guys think…” Logan began. “Could it be…a third alliance?”
We all glanced at each other.
“It sure sounds like that’s the case,” I said.
Logan shook his head. “This is huge. This means there are others out there, others with magic—possibly even different, never-before-discovered kinds of magic!”
“If that’s true…then why would the Author keep this from us?” said Evelyn. “This is a big deal—why wouldn’t he tell us about this?”
“I don’t know,” I said, “but I’m sure he has his reasons.”
Logan shrugged. “Why don’t we just ask him?”
Evelyn rolled her eyes. “Because, dimwit, we’re not even supposed to be in here in the first place!”
“That’s correct, Evelyn,” said the Author from behind us. “You’re not.”