The three of us jumped nearly a foot in the air.
We whirled around to face the Author, who stood behind us with his arms crossed and a disapproving look on his face.
“You know you’re not allowed in the Archives without my permission,” he said.
“It’s my fault,” Logan said before Evelyn or I could respond. “I was giving Stormi a tour, and I wanted to show her the Archives. I’m sorry.”
“No, it’s my fault,” said Evelyn. “I heard you talking about something called the Lucian Order, and I got curious. Either way, it wasn’t Stormi’s fault.”
“Yeah, we’re to blame, not her,” Logan agreed.
I blushed. I’d only known them for a few days, and they were defending me.
“You should have asked me before you came in here,” said the Author, “but I understand why you did. Especially you, Evelyn… I think it’s time I explain some things to you. Come with me.”
As we followed the Author to his study, I whispered to Logan and Evelyn, “Thank you for sticking up for me back there. You didn’t have to do that.”
“Are you kidding?” Logan replied. “You’re a part of the team now, of course we’d stick up for you.”
“Yeah, Storytellers look out for each other,” Evelyn added.
“Thanks, guys,” I said softly.
The Author sat down at his desk, and the three of us stood before him, staring guiltily at the ground.
“You three shouldn’t have disobeyed my wishes,” the Author began, “but I knew it would only be a matter of time before we found ourselves here.”
He paused a moment, took a deep breath, then spoke. “There is indeed a third alliance of magicwielders out there.”
The three of us glanced at each other with wide eyes.
The Author took out a scroll and rolled it out across his desk. The same triangular symbol that we’d discovered in the Archives was inscribed in the center of the otherwise blank parchment. The Author placed his hand on the scroll. A soft blue light spread across the scroll, and glowing images rose up from it. The light shifted to a golden hue as it formed figures in hooded cloaks, holding orbs of yellow light in their hands.
"The Lucian Order was a group of powerful magicwielders who had mastered what we call 'light magic'," the Author began. "They were healers, teachers, and protectors. They served as a sort of mediator for all magicwielders, regulating the use of magic and overall keeping the peace."
“Why are you talking about them in the past tense?” Logan asked. “Are they…?”
"They're alive," the Author assured us. "But... After the Event, they suffered many casualties at the hands of the monsters. They went into hiding to protect what remained of their people."
"Are they our allies?" Evelyn asked softly.
The Author sighed heavily. “That’s where things get complicated. The Lucian Order distanced themselves from both us and the Umbra Alliance after the event. We haven’t heard from them since they went underground.”
“Why didn’t you tell us about this before?” asked Evelyn.
“I didn’t want to put you in danger,” said the Author. “Weakened as they are, the Lucian Order are easy targets for monster attacks—so the less people that know about them, the less chance of them being discovered. Just you knowing they exist puts you at risk, which is why I never told you. I couldn’t willingly put any of you in harm’s way.”
Logan shook his head. “Yikes… Do Kay and Brad know?”
“Yes, actually, they found out in a similar way to you three,” the Author told us.
“They snuck into the Archives?” Evelyn asked. “I mean, I believe Kayla would do it, but Bradley—?”
“Well, Kayla wanted to sneak in without permission,” said the Author, “but Bradley insisted on asking me first. I allowed them in, and they happened to stumble across the same scroll you did. They asked me what it meant, and I couldn’t keep the truth from them.”
The room went quiet as we processed the information that was just relayed to us.
After a few moments, the Author sighed. “It’s late,” he said. “You three should get some sleep.”
Logan yawned. “Good idea.”
We stood and began to head out of the study, but I paused in the doorway. “I’m sorry for sneaking into the Archives without your permission,” I told the Author.
He smiled. “It’s quite alright, Stormi. It’s part of a Storyteller’s nature to be curious. I can’t ask you to deny your true nature, now can I?”
“Just do me one favor—next time, be sure to obtain whatever permissions are needed before following your curiosity, alright?”
I chuckled. “Yes, sir.”
* * *
I was back in the forest. The smoky hands coming out of the tree stump seemed more agitated this time, writhing and clawing at anything within reach. The symbol above them—a symbol I now recognized as the Lucian Order’s emblem—was trembling under the strain of keeping the shadows contained.
The whispers were louder this time. No words could be understood, but I was certain they were calling my name.
Stormi. Stormi. Stormi.
I tried to resist, I tried to walk the other way, but I couldn’t. My legs moved against my will, bringing me toward the stump. On its own accord, my arm stretched out in front of me.
I touched the stump.
The shadowy hands latched on to my arm, and a searing pain shot through me.
A series of images flashed through my mind. A dark outline with glowing yellow eyes. A little black-haired boy crying at a bedside. A girl in a cloak walking into a glowing blue circle.
I heard voices, indistinct and distant:
“Please don’t go, Ebby…”
“It’s too dangerous, Kievan!”
“What choice do we have?”
“The brother you once knew is gone. He is no longer in control.
* * *
I woke up screaming. My head was throbbing, and my face felt like it was on fire. I hugged a pillow and tried to steady my breathing, blinking tears out of my eyes.
Hearing Logan’s voice in my mind put me a bit more at ease.
Sorry, Logan, did I wake you up?
No, you didn’t… okay, yeah, you did. It’s hard to lie through a telepathic bond. But you don’t have to apologize. I heard you scream—are you okay?
I blushed. Sorry—
Hey, what did I just say about apologizing?
I chuckled. Okay, okay… I had a nightmare. But it wasn’t just some random nightmare. I’ve had this one before—my first night at the Library. I know it means something…I just don’t know what.
I’m sure you’ll figure it out, he told me. I mean, you’re, like, super smart. You’ll get to the bottom of it.
I smiled. Thanks, Logan.
Of course. Sleep well.
You too. Goodnight.
* * *
“Concentrate, Stormi. Find the hidden thought.”
I gritted my teeth in focus. The Author had me doing a training exercise; I was levitating five books in a circle around me while searching his mind for a thought.
The Author’s mind was nearly empty. He had cleared all his thoughts except for one, which I had been tasked to find.
This was a lesson on energy regulation—I had to use the minimum amount of energy into using telekinesis so I could focus most of my energy on using telepathy. It made sense in theory—but as they say, easier said than done.
I squeezed my eyes shut, searching in the darkness of the Author’s enigmatic mind. I looked and listened hard as I could for any trace of a thought.
And then, I heard it. A faint, distant whisper.
Ca... us... is...
I quickly turned my focus to the whisper, and it steadily became louder.
Cani... upus... liaris...
I furrowed my brow in concentration. Almost there...
Canis... lupus... miliaris. Canis lupus familiaris. Canis lupus familiaris.
My eyes snapped open. "Canis lupus familiaris!"
"Correct," the Author said with a grin. "Excellent work, Stormi."
"Wait a second—canis lupus familiaris... Isn't that the scientific name for a dog?"
"A border collie, to be exact," he clarified. "A personal favorite breed of mine. Quite intelligent."
I laughed. "I should've guessed you were a dog person."
I put the books down, and the Author and I sat down on the rug. "You've done great work today, Stormi."
“Thank you, Author,” I said. “Um, if you don’t mind, I have a few questions regarding the...Event.”
The Author tilted his head. Something told me this was a bit of a sensitive subject for him. After a few beats of silence, he responded, "Go ahead."
I cleared my throat. “Okay, well… Why did the Umbra Alliance open the gateway to Phobos?”The Author paused. “What have you been told of the Event?”
“Logan told me that the Umbra Alliance opened the rift between our world and Phobos,” I said, “and ended up letting monsters into our world—but he didn’t know why.”
“I’m afraid that’s a question I can’t answer,” the Author said. “It happened a long time ago, I believe a decade or so. I wasn’t there when it happened. All I know is that it happened, and we are all the worse for it. Many think that they were searching for otherworldly sources of power, and they had planned to use the monsters as such—but we cannot be sure.”
“About the monsters,” I said, “what exactly are they? What do they want—and why are they after magicwielders in particular?”
The Author’s face turned dark. “The monsters are creatures of chaos and torment. There are many different types of monsters, but they all share the same goal: to spread their destruction as far and wide as they can. They wish to destroy our universe—and the magicwielders are the only thing standing in their way.”
“Then why aren’t we working together with the Umbra Alliance?” I asked. “To get rid of the monsters once and for all?”
The Author gave me a sympathetic smile. “I wish it were that simple. But the Umbra Alliance and the Authors Guild cannot be allies. Their foolishness and pride have caused irreparable damage to the Magic Alliances. They are simply unworthy of trust.”
I looked down at the carpet. “I’m sorry,” I mumbled.
The Author placed a hand gently on my shoulder. “There is no need to apologize, Stormi. I admire your kind heart. I just don’t want your kindness to be taken advantage of. You need to understand how much harm the Umbra Alliance has caused. They’ve destroyed every single one of our Libraries except for this one, and they continue to seek us out. I don’t want you to put yourself in danger.”