The Author’s Apprentice

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Chapter 7

“Stormi? Stormi! Stormi, wake up!”

When I got up the strength to open my eyes, everything was on fire. I’d somehow been moved to the heart of the Library—or, rather, what was left of it. The bookshelves were alight with purple and orange flames, and book pages shriveled up in the heat until they were nothing but piles of ash. I tried to push myself to my feet, knowing that if I didn’t I would also be consumed by flames, but when I got to my knees my vision went fuzzy and the world began to sway before me.

Before I could fall on my face (again), someone grabbed my elbows to steady me. I blinked a few times to clear my vision, and realized it was Logan. He was speaking to me, but it took a moment for me to fully understand what he was saying—I only caught bits and pieces. “…Being attacked… Umbra Alliance… too many… gotta get out of here, now!”

“Logan…?” I murmured, still dazed.

“Stormi, we have to leave!” he said urgently.

“Get the girl!” a familiar voice hissed over the roar of the flames.

It was the voice I’d possessed in one of my dreams—the mysterious cloaked figure.

I looked around. Logan and Evelyn stood before me, now bearing weapons; Logan gripped a dagger with a blade of blue light, and Evelyn clutched a long silver bow. A leather satchel I hadn’t seen before was slung over her shoulder. When I turned around, I saw the others cornered by fire and what looked like living shadows—ghost-like creatures that were vaguely human in shape and seemed to be made of black smoke. Emily and the Author were swinging their weapons, fighting a wave of living shadows, while Kayla and Bradley were trying to find their way out of the fire.

“We’ll meet you outside the Library!” Bradley shouted to us as he led Kayla out of the blaze. “Go!”

And they disappeared behind the wall of flames.

“Stormi, we gotta go!” Logan urged me.

“But what about them?” I said, pointing to the Author and Emily.

“Get out of here, Stormi!” the Author shouted. “We can’t hold them off forever!”

“I can’t just leave you!” I cried. “This is my fault, I—I have to help!”

“Go, now! Find the Lucian Order! You’ll be safe there!”

“What? Author, please—!”

“Come on, Storm!” Logan grabbed my wrist and pulled me away from the battle, dragging me down a hallway that hadn’t yet been engulfed in flames.

“No!” I cried. Tears filled my eyes, and smoke burned my lungs as I called after them, pulling away from Logan.

“Go!” the Author yelled over the roar of the flames. “Find the Order!”

“Don’t let her get away!”

Three living shadows entered the corridor behind us, and I was forced to leave the Author and Emily behind as the shadows came closer.

Brushing away my tears, I pushed my legs as fast as they would go—but, weighed down by grief and fear, I wasn’t fast enough.

Just as the shadows had caught up to us, Evelyn pulled her bow off her shoulder and took aim. A rod of glowing blue light formed in the bow as she pulled back the string and, quick as lightning, let it fly. The arrow of light pierced one of the shadows in its shoulder and vaporized it.

Another shadow reached out toward Logan and he slashed at it with his dagger, slicing its arm. The shadow shrieked in pain and dissipated.

Which left one more shadow, which reached out toward me, trying to grab me. I felt my chest tighten with fear, and my clenched fists began to heat up. My mind went blank, my instincts kicked in, blue light flashed—

And then everything went dark.

* * *

“Stormcloud?”

Logan’s voice echoed in my head, pounding against my skull. “Quiet…please…” I moaned.

I forced my eyes open, and saw Logan and Evelyn looking down at me with concerned expressions. “What…happened?”

They said nothing, but Logan turned and gazed at something in the distance with a sorrowful look on his face.

Confused, I sat up as much as I could without passing out again, followed his gaze—and then it all came back to me. The side of the mountain where the Library had once been was now no more than a smoking pile of debris. It almost still looked aflame in the glow of the rising sun. The large bronze doors had been blown off their hinges, now dented and covered with ash. The flawless cedar wood that made up the stairs and most of the building had become smoldering chunks of charcoal. Singed book pages floated in the wind, reminding me painfully of all the stories that had been destroyed.

Bradley, Kayla, Emily, and the Author were nowhere to be seen.

Tears filled my eyes, and I couldn’t hold them back as they streamed down my face. Those four had become like family to me. They—they couldn’t be…

Someone placed a hand on my shoulder. I turned to see Logan standing beside me, his eyes misty; Evelyn appeared on my other side.

“I’m so sorry,” I said thickly. “That was your home…and now…” I let out a shaky sigh. “It’s all my fault.”

“How was this your fault?” Logan asked gently.

“I mentally connected with Kai. I…chose to do it. I don’t know why, but I did. I led him right to us.”

“It’s not your fault,” Evelyn assured me. “He probably used some evil trick to make you connect with him.”

I shook my head. “No. It was me. I connected with him telepathically of my own free will.” I put my head in my hands. “I’m so sorry.”

My chest felt heavy with anxiety and guilt, like someone had placed a weight on top of me. I tried to keep my breathing steady. I felt sick to my stomach.

“It’s okay, Storm,” said Logan, wrapping his arm around my shoulders. “We don’t blame you, okay?”

I sniffled and nodded slowly. “What...were those things?” I asked softly. “Were those monsters from Phobos?”

“No,” Evelyn said solemnly. “Those were living shadows. Wielders of dark magic can bring life to shadows and use them to do their bidding.”

I shuddered.

“So, where do we go now?” Logan wondered aloud. “The only base left of the Authors Guild is HQ.”

Evelyn shook her head. “No. We can’t risk leading the Umbra Alliance to HQ.” She turned to me. “Didn’t the Author tell you something before we left? He said we had to find something?”

My eyes widened. “The Lucian Order.”

“But…they’re in hiding, right?” Logan asked. “How are we supposed to find them if they don’t want to be found?”

“It’s our only option,” I said. “We have to try.”

“Wait—maybe this will help,” said Evelyn. She pulled the leather satchel off of her shoulder and held it out to me. “The Author gave me this during the attack,” she said. “He said that it contained everything we would need for our journey—which I didn’t understand until now. I haven’t opened it yet,” Evelyn added. “I thought I should wait for you.”

“Thank you, Evelyn,” I said.

“Here—you open it.” She handed the bag to me.

I took it gratefully, then opened it. Inside were two bound scrolls and a teardrop-shaped dagger. I took out one of the scrolls and saw that under the clasp that bound it, a note was written in smooth, graceful lettering:

Open only in a time of greatest doubt

Slightly confused, I placed the scroll back in the bag and took out the other one. The clasp that bound this scroll was the triangular symbol of the Three Alliances. There was no note warning not to open this one, so I undid the binding and unrolled it. It was a blank piece of parchment.

“Why would he give us this?” I wondered aloud.

“I recognize that,” said Evelyn. “It’s an enchanted map. It’s designed to lead you to a specific location—if you can decipher its clues. These were once used to lead others to secret locations.”

Suddenly, the paper began to glow with blue light. The light curved upon the paper, forming letters in the same wavy letters as the note on the other scroll:

“Where do we go?”

“Where do we go?” I read aloud. As soon as the words were out of my mouth, the paper began to glow again, this time with golden light. When the light faded, four words had been inscribed on the paper:

The Forest of Giants

The Forest of Giants?” Logan read aloud. “What does that mean?”

“Apparently that’s where we have to go next,” I said. “Any ideas?”

We stood there thinking for a moment, racking our brains, when Evelyn cried out, “Sequoia National Park!”

“Of course!” I said. “But the park’s so big—it takes up nearly a fourth of California. Where in the park are we supposed to go?”

“You have to give the map your answer first. Sequoia National Park,” Evelyn said to the scroll.

The paper shimmered, and this time the light inscribed a map of California. The Sequoia National Park was highlighted, and an area in the center of the park was starred.

“Huh,” I said. “You really know your stuff, Evelyn.”

She smiled.

“Oh, yeah,” said Logan. “Just a short nine-hundred-mile walk. No big deal.”

“Why can’t we teleport?” I asked.

“Logan and I haven’t seen Sequoia National Park,” Evelyn explained. “We can’t teleport to a place we haven’t seen.”

“I’ve been,” I told her. “I could try to teleport us there.”

“Are you sure that’s even possible without...I don’t know, dying?” Evelyn asked. “That’s across two states!”

“I’ll give it a shot,” I said. “We don’t exactly have another way to get there.”

“Are you sure about this, Stormcloud?” Logan asked. “It could be dangerous.”

The truth was, I wasn’t sure. My anxiety was acting up—I could feel the tangled ball of fear and shame throbbing in my chest. Anyone with common sense would agree that using powers that required intense focus and mental energy when on the verge of a nervous breakdown was a bad idea.

But I didn’t have much of a choice.

“I’m sure,” I lied.

I grabbed their hands and closed my eyes, concentrating as hard as I could on the image of the area I’d seen on the map. As I had done in my lessons with the Author, I immersed myself in the image that I held in my mind. I imagined being there, then willed it to be true, breaking the barrier between imagination and reality. It took me a while to succeed in my endeavor, but with all the energy I had left in me, I was able to push through. I saw a flash of blue light behind my eyes, and—

We were there.

When I opened my eyes, we were surrounded by trees the size of skyscrapers. The sun barely filtered through their sky-high bristles. I’d been to this park about once or twice before, but the beauty and sheer enormity of the trees caught me off guard every time. The ground was littered with dead needles and giant pinecones, and crowds of tourists bustled around a few yards away, thankfully oblivious to the fact that we had just appeared out of thin air.

I gazed around the park in awe—then the exhaustion washed over me. I swayed and lost my balance, and Logan caught me right before I hit the ground.

“You okay, Storm?” he asked.

“I’m fine,” I said with a blush, though I was anything but. That teleportation had drained nearly all of my energy.

“You gotta stop falling for me like this, it’s dangerous,” he said with a wink.

I blushed even harder. “Oh, be quiet.”

“Now what do we do?” Evelyn asked.

“I’m not sure,” I admitted, gazing around the park for something—anything—to point us in the right direction, but I saw nothing. “Maybe I should ask the scroll again?”

“Or maybe we could check out that tree with a door and a mysterious symbol on it,” Logan spoke up, pointing to a tree.

I followed his gaze and saw that one of the larger sequoias, more on the thick, stout side, did in fact have a door embedded in the bark. And carved into that door was the symbol of the Lucian Order.

“Nice work, Logan!” I said.

“I try,” he said with a lopsided grin.

I hurried over to the tree eagerly and, with Logan and Evelyn looking anxiously over my shoulders, I nervously opened the door. And inside was…

Nothing.

Just the hollow inside of a tree trunk, and nothing more.

“What?” I exclaimed. I examined the inside of the trunk carefully, but once again found nothing. “Why would—?”

“Wait a sec,” said Logan. He closed the door and looked carefully at the wood. “Look at this.” He ran his hand over an oval indentation in the wood, just like the one on the door to the Archives, and pressed his Story Gauntlet against it. Suddenly, blue light came from behind the door, then faded as quickly as it had appeared. We looked at each other, then opened the door again.

And there was something there this time.

There was now a long stone staircase, illuminated only by mysterious floating orbs of yellow light, that led deep underground—so deep that I couldn’t see the end of it.

“Logan, how come you’re the one who keeps figuring things out?” Evelyn said.

“Act more surprised, why don’t ya,” said Logan, frowning indignantly.

“Come on, guys,” I said, starting down the staircase.

We headed down the stairs eagerly, hoping to find something that would help us find the Lucian Order. When we got to the bottom, we entered a room that had been carved out of the earth; tree roots and pebbles peeked out of the packed dirt walls.

The room looked similar to the Author’s study. It was illuminated with a curiously still-lit oil lamp, and a bookshelf filled with scrolls stood to the side. An ornately patterned rug lay on the earthy floor, and a desk and chair with a quill, parchment, and a bottle of ink resided in the center of the room. Curious, I walked up to the desk and saw that there was writing on the parchment. I picked it up and examined the thin, curvy writing up close:

Dear Reader,

If you are reading this, then you are a member of one of the Three Magic Alliances. I wish to tell you all that I have succeeded in sealing the rift between realms, and since gone into hiding with the rest of the Order—the remaining monsters in this realm will stop at nothing to wipe us out.

If you wish to find us, you must follow the clues. I have left a trail that only a magicwielder could follow. Be careful. Make sure you aren’t followed. Seek out Nicholas Waters—he’ll give you what you need to find us. You’ll find him in the smallest of the lands, where the towers glow. If you’re really a member of a Magic Alliance, you’ll be able to find us.

Good luck.

—A

“Who’s A?” Logan asked, looking over my shoulder at the parchment.

“I have no idea,” I said. “But whoever they are, we have to find them.” I scanned the paper again, muttering to myself as I looked for things I might’ve missed. “Follow the clues… So I guess now our job is to find this Nicholas Waters.”

Smallest of the lands, where the towers glow…?” Evelyn murmured, peering the letter. “What does that mean?”

My eyes went wide. “Rhode Island!”

Evelyn and Logan glanced at me with confused expressions

“It’s the smallest state,” I explained. “And the towers that glow—those are lighthouses!”

“Of course!” said Evelyn, smacking her forehead.

“So this Nicholas Waters guy is in Rhode Island?” said Logan.

“He must be,” I said. “Probably somewhere by the bay, since that’s where the lighthouses are.”

I rolled up the letter and stuffed it in the satchel Evelyn had given me. “Oh, I forgot I still had this,” I said, taking off the bag and handing it to Evelyn.

“You keep it,” she said. “The Author would’ve wanted you to have it.”

I forced my tears back and said shakily, “Thanks.”

“Besides,” said Evelyn, trying to lighten the mood, “now you’re the one with the sore shoulder.”

I gave her a weak smile.

“Rhode Island is all the way across the country—how are we gonna get there?” Logan asked.

“We could fly,” I suggested, slinging the satchel back over my shoulder.

“And how are we supposed to pay for three plane tickets to Rhode Island?” Evelyn asked.

I frowned. “Ah, right…”

“I guess we could scrape together what change we have on us?” Logan suggested.

“There’s no way we’d have enough,” said Evelyn. She rifled through her pockets. “I’ve only got a twenty-dollar bill on me.”

“Wait—I have an idea,” I said. “Can I see that?”

Evelyn shrugged and handed me her twenty-dollar bill.

“Do either of you know how to create things out of light?” I asked. “Like Emily did with my story gauntlet?”

“I took a couple lessons from the Author on creation,” said Evelyn. “I think I could do it.”

“Okay, great—can you create duplicates of this bill until we have enough money to buy three plane tickets?”

“That’s genius, Storm!” Logan exclaimed.

“Uh, wouldn’t that be kinda…sorta…illegal?” asked Evelyn.

“There’s no law that says you can’t create money with magic,” said Logan. “Besides, we kind of need it. I have a feeling my savings back in the Library aren’t in good shape.”

“Fair enough,” Evelyn said with a shrug. She stretched her neck, extended her hands, and got to work.

We managed to find an airport that was relatively cheap and allowed kids our age to buy plane tickets. We went through security, grabbed a quick snack from one of the airport restaurants, and walked through the airport to our gate. As we sat down, I caught a glimpse of a familiar dark-haired teen sitting in a row of otherwise empty seats.

I stiffened, then grasped Logan’s wrist tightly.

He jumped in his seat. “Geez, Storm, don’t do that!”

“Look,” I said quietly, pointing to the boy.

“Is that—” Evelyn’s face darkened when she saw him. “Kai,” she growled.

I looked at the clock on the wall. “Five minutes till boarding time,” I said. “We just need to keep our heads down until then.”

Five minutes felt like five hours, waiting anxiously for them to call our zone and hoping beyond hope that Kai didn’t see us. It was the biggest relief of the day when they finally called us on. We rushed over to the door, let them check our tickets, and hurried onto the plane. But before we went through the door, I made the mistake of looking over my shoulder to see if Kai had seen us—and found myself looking straight into those dark, dangerous eyes.

Oh, shoot.

We collapsed onto our plane seats, Evelyn by the window, me next to the aisle, and Logan in between us. Once we were comfortable, Logan’s voice echoed in my mind: You okay, Storm?

I took a shaky breath. I think Kai saw me.

Uneasiness rippled through Logan’s consciousness. Well, that’s okay—I mean, he can’t get on the plane since he doesn’t have a ticket, right?

Yeah… I buckled my seatbelt as the pilot announced the flight and the plane took off. But now he knows where to find us.

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