“The key to our victory, he said. Yeah, thanks, no pressure at all, Author.”
My mind was buzzing with all the new information I’d gained as I sat across from Logan in the local froyo place, telling him all about what had happened during today’s lesson.
The Storytellers and I had decided to make our froyo meet-ups biweekly, since, due to my lessons with the Author, we didn’t have much time to hang out together. Evelyn, Kayla, and Bradley hadn’t been able to make it that day—something about training and Emily making them organize the bookshelves—so it ended up being just me venting to Logan, who was able to talk his way out of the work.
Technically I wasn’t supposed to be outside of the Library, but I was starting to get stir-crazy. Logan had snuck me out to the froyo shop, promising to keep me safe. He may have oversold himself a bit (the bicep-flexing was definitely unnecessary, though it made me laugh), but I trusted him.
“Yikes, sounds like a heck of a day,” Logan said.
“Do you really think that I’m supposed to be the person to end the war? The ‘key to our victory’?”
Logan put a hand to his chin. “Well, I think you’re a very powerful Storyteller who, no matter what happens, is gonna do some freaking awesome stuff—and kick some serious butt.”
I laughed. “Thank you, Logan. You’re a really good friend, you know that?”
“Yeah, I know,” he said, flashing a sideways grin and brushing his hair back.
“You dork,” I chuckled.
He winked at me as he took a bite of his frozen yogurt.
I sighed. “I’m just…really confused. Sure, the Umbra Alliance has done some pretty bad things, but if they really were flat-out evil, why would it say in their mission statement that their goal is to create a refuge for anyone who doesn’t belong? I…I don’t know, it just…doesn’t sit right.”
Logan paused, tilting his head thoughtfully. “Well, there’s not much more you can do to figure it out. Right now, I think you should just focus on the task at hand—mastering your powers. Just keep one thing in mind at a time. Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” I said. “Thanks, Logan.”
Logan and I walked back to the Library together. The hike through the forest was peaceful and relaxing. We heard birds in the trees, and spotted a few chipmunks. We didn’t speak much on the walk, but this time together was just as meaningful as any other, if not more. We somehow didn’t need words; we just enjoyed each other’s company.
Once we returned to the Library, we bid each other farewell, and I retreated to my room like the reclusive teen I was. I sat down on my bed and picked up a pencil and a sketchbook from the desk. I placed the pencil’s tip on the blank paper, and my hands just started moving. It had been a while since the last time I had doodled mindlessly. I’d missed it.
While I was drawing, my mind began to wander. I started thinking about everything I had gotten myself into. It had all started with one accidental use of my powers, resulting in me getting kidnapped by a secret society of magic-users, only to escape and find safety with another secret society of magic-users. I’d learned so much already—I now knew how to use telepathy as an extension of myself, how to read other’s minds (although, as the Author said, “reading minds” is an inaccurate term since telepathy is a exclusively a two-way connection, and you can’t connect with someone without giving them access to your thoughts as well)—and I still had so much more to learn. It seemed highly unlikely that someone like me—an average, nerdy, quiet kid who lived inside her own head—would end up doing something like this.
Although…this was the first place I finally felt like I really fit. For so long I’d felt like an outsider, like a puzzle piece trying to fit into a puzzle that wasn’t my own. But in the Authors Guild, learning magic with the Author, spending time with the Storytellers—I finally felt like I belonged. As corny as that sounds, it was true. I finally fit.
* * *
The forest had become familiar now. This dream felt inescapable. The shadows in the stump called to me as they thrashed around in their prison. I stepped toward them, unable to stop myself.
Something strange happened this time. I blinked, and I was suddenly seeing myself from the outside. I blinked again, and I was no longer myself. I was a tall figure in a black cloak. As I walked toward the tree stump, a knife with a pitch-black blade became visible in my hand. I blinked again, and I was no longer viewing myself from the outside—but I was still the figure in the cloak. I gripped the knife as I approached the stump—which had now become just a regular tree stump.
I shouldn’t have been doing this. This was dangerous, and incredibly risky. They warned me, he warned me.
But it was the only way.
I thrust my knife into the flesh of the stump and drew a cut along the center. Black smoke began to spill out of the gash. I began to chant: “Monstra accerso, monstra accerso, monstra accerso!”
As I chanted, more and more smoke flowed out of the stump, coiling together and forming a massive shadow. Red eyes shone in the darkness, fixated on me.
A familiar voice echoed from all around me: Kievan, please! It’s too dangerous!
The next voice was unfamiliar; it was deep, cold and ruthless. It was my voice, but it was not mine. I know what I’m doing! We’re not strong enough on our own. I have to do this, to protect you!
The last sentence echoed loudly in my head as the shadow took the form of a man with tattered feathery wings, horns, and glowing red eyes. The shadow extended its hand toward me. I hesitated a moment, then shook my head. This is the only way.
I looked up at the shadow, who grinned at me as I held out my arm…and took its hand.
An image flashed in my mind: a little boy, tears streaking his face, fear filling his dark eyes. He was too young. My gut clenched as I realized I’d made a mistake. This shouldn’t have happened. I shouldn’t have done it. They tried to warn me. The little boy had begged me. But I did it anyway. Out of pride, and out of fear.
Black smoke filled my vision, but the shadow’s cruel, gleaming red eyes burned behind my eyelids.
Then everything went dark.
* * *
I sat bolt upright in my bed, clutching at my bedsheets. My hand was pressed to my chest, where I could feel my heart pounding against my ribcage. I felt sick with guilt, guilt that wasn’t mine. I hugged my knees, breathing deeply and slowly.
That same nightmare again?
I relaxed a bit.
Dang it, Stormi—
Oh, right—um, not sorry?
I could hear his laughter in my head and frowned. I’m trying my best, leave me alone.
I know, you’re doing great, he replied, still chuckling a bit. But seriously, that’s gotta be, like, the fifth time this week—are you okay?
Physically, yes. Mentally and emotionally…not really. Mainly, I’m just confused. I don’t know what these nightmares mean or why I keep having them, or… My face grew hot. …why I keep mentally connecting to you every time.
Don’t worry about it, I don’t mind. I want to help in any way I can.
I smiled shyly. Thank you, Logan. Just having you here helps. Well, not technically here, but…y’know.
Logan chuckled. Actually, about that…
I heard a knock from outside my door. Logan?
Logan cracked open the door, sticking his curly-haired head inside. “Thought you could use some company.”
I smiled. “Yeah, I could.”
I turned on my lamp, and Logan walked in and sat down on the bed beside me.
“Here.” He handed me a chocolate-chip cookie.
“Wha—where did you get that?” I asked with a laugh.
“I may have…borrowed a couple cookies from the kitchen,” he said, shrugging.
I rolled my eyes. “You’re a dork, you know that?”
Logan snickered. “Yeah, I know.” He bumped his cookie against mine. “Cheers.”
I grinned. “Cheers.”
We took a bite of our cookies simultaneously. We ate them in comfortable silence. I soon forgot the terror of my nightmare; I felt safer with Logan beside me.
“Okay,” I said once we’d finished our cookies, “I think I’m ready to go back to sleep now.”
“Okay,” said Logan, standing up. “Sleep well, Storm.”
“You too, Lo.”
Logan paused, looking taken aback. “Lo?” he asked with a grin.
“Yeah, it’s your nickname,” I told him. “You give everyone else nicknames, so I figured you should be given one yourself.”
“Huh…Lo. I like it, got a nice ring to it.”
I laughed. “I’m glad you like it. Goodnight, Lo.”
Logan left the room, closing the door softly behind him. I settled back into my bed and drifted off to sleep.
* * *
“Today’s lesson will be an introduction to teleportation. Keep your stance wide and back straight—you must keep yourself grounded for this exercise.”
I nodded, spreading my feet out and straightening up.
“Very good. Now, teleportation is a considerably difficult branch of mind magic. In order to transport yourself instantaneously from one place to another, you must picture the place you wish to travel clearly in your mind. Bring to life every detail—make it so it’s like you’re really there. Immerse yourself in the image. Then, will it to be true. Break the barrier between imagination and reality, and push through.
“We’ll start simple. You’ll stand at one end of this room, and teleport yourself to the other end.” The Author gestured to each location as he spoke. “Go ahead.”
I followed the Author’s instructions, standing at the far end of the room. I exhaled deeply and slowly, preparing myself. I took a good look at the other side of the room, then closed my eyes and reconstructed the image in my mind down to every last detail I could remember. I focused on the image, immersing myself in it as the Author had said to do. I felt the barrier he’d spoken of, between imagination and reality. I pushed against it, trying to will myself to the other side of the room. I felt my clenched fists heating up with energy as I did so. But it wasn’t enough.
I collapsed against the wall, breathing heavily. “I couldn’t do it,” I told the Author guiltily.
“That’s okay, Stormi,” said the Author. “You can’t expect to get everything right on the first try. Take a moment to regain your strength, then try again.”
I nodded. After a moment, I closed my eyes and tried once more. And once again, I failed.
“I know you have it in you, Stormi,” the Author told me. “You can do it. Just keep trying.”
I tried a few more times, pushing hard against the seemingly unbreakable barrier. And I began to notice each time, I was able to push a little farther.
One more time, I told myself. One more time, and it will break. Don’t give up now.
I closed my eyes again, once again creating a vivid image of the other side of the room in my head. I clenched my fists as I pushed with everything I had against the barrier. My energy seemed almost spent, but I kept pushing.
Finally, the barrier broke. The magical energy coursing through me was released, and I disappeared and reappeared on the other side of the room quite ungracefully; I nearly lost my balance in the process.
“Well done, Stormi!” the Author exclaimed. “I knew you could do it.”
“Thank you, Author,” I said breathlessly.
“Oh, I think we’re past titles by now,” he said. “Call me Jonathan.”
“Really?” I said. He nodded. “Thank you—Jonathan.”
He smiled at me. “You’re very welcome, Stormi. You’ve come a long way since your first day. You should be very proud of yourself.”
I grinned. “I am.”
Evelyn and Logan were waiting for me outside the Author’s study.
“So, how did teleportation go?” Evelyn asked.
“Did you get anywhere?” Logan asked. “Ha, get it? Get anywhere?” When no one responded, he chuckled to himself. “I know, I’m hilarious.”
Evelyn rolled her eyes. “Dimwit.”
I snickered. “To answer your questions, teleportation went relatively well,” I said. “It took a long time, but I managed to teleport across the room.”
“Nice!” Logan said, giving me a high-five. “How many times?”
I felt my face turn red. “Just once. After, like, ten tries. I had a hard time with this one.”
“Hey, that’s not bad,” Evelyn said. “Teleportation is a difficult branch to master. Just because you aren’t great at it instantly doesn’t mean you can’t do it.”
“Yeah,” said Logan, nudging me with his elbow. “You’ll get it down in no time.”
I laughed lightly. “Whatever you say.”
“Come on, Kayla and Bradley are waiting for us in the heart of the Library,” said Evelyn.
“What are we doing today?” I asked. “More book-organizing chores from Emily?”
“Not exactly. We’re going to introduce you to a game Logan invented known as ‘library race.’”
“Intriguing,” I said with a chuckle.
“Oh, trust me, it’s one of the best games ever invented,” said Logan. “So, one of us picks a random word, and the other three—er, four now—have two minutes to find as many books with that word in the title as possible. Whoever finds the most books wins. It can also be played with a specific theme instead of a word, like space, or cowboys, or space cowboys. You get the gist.”
I grinned. “Sounds like I’m in for quite the afternoon.”
* * *
Logan’s game proved to be quite entertaining, especially when certain players (cough, Kayla and Bradley, cough) got extra competitive and started debates on whether or not a book about wyverns fit within the “dragon” category (“Wyverns are totally different things—they only have two legs, and dragons have four!”).
Running around the Library all evening wore me out, so after dinner, I decided to head straight to bed.
The nightmares hit immediately.
I was back in that same old forest, although this time, it felt darker. Colder. Almost suffocating.
The clawed hands thrashing inside the stump looked more…human, almost. Strangely, it was more unsettling than the monstrous talons had been. The most human-looking hand reached out toward me. Everything in me screamed to stay away from the stump, from the hand, from all of this—but I couldn’t help but take it.
As soon as I made contact, the hand yanked me in. I screamed as it pulled me down, down, down into darkness. Everything was dark. I was nowhere. I heard whispers all around me—short, nonsensical phrases, in a familiar voice:
Where are you?
Have to find it.
Where, where, where?
I’ve got it, just hold on.
Need to find her.
The last two words echoed loudly in my head, banging against my skull. My chest tightened and my stomach clenched. I couldn’t breathe.
I finally recognized the voice. It was him.
He’d found me.
* * *
I jolted awake. My stomach had dropped; it felt like I’d been falling. Almost as soon as I awoke, my door swung open. I squinted at the light.
The Storytellers, the Author, and Emily all flooded into my room.
“What happened?” the Author asked.
“We all heard you call out to us telepathically,” said Evelyn.
“Is everything okay?” Logan asked.
“The dreams,” I murmured. I was trembling so hard I could barely speak. “It was him. It’s always been him.”
“Who?” Logan asked.
I looked Logan in the eyes as I spoke. “Kai.”
“What do you mean, Stormi?” Emily asked gently.
“I connected to him telepathically,” I stammered, rushing my words. “Through dreams. It—it was like I was drawn to him, like I couldn’t help connecting with him—and he—he used it to find me. He knows I’m here—he knows where the Library is. They know—they’re coming.”
Emily and the Author shared worried glances.
I looked up at the Author, my eyes filled with tears. “I’m so sorry,” I whispered.
“It’s okay, Stormi,” said the Author. “It’s okay, it’s not your fault. You’re still getting the hang of your abilities. But right now, we need to get out of here. You’re no longer safe here. They could attack at any—”
And then the Library exploded.