I spent the entire plane ride stiff as a board. I kept glancing around the plane for any sign of Kai as my heart beat a million miles an hour.
You good, Stormcloud?
I flinched at Logan’s voice in my mind. Oh, yeah, I’m totally fine. Yikes, I really was a terrible liar. Why do you ask?
Because you’re the tensest I’ve ever seen you.
Pshh, me? Tense?
Stormi, your knuckles are white from gripping your armrests.
I quickly put my hands in my lap.
Storm, you don’t have to worry, he told me gently. We lost Kai already. And if we happen to run into him again, we’ll be ready for him. I promise, I won’t let anything bad happen to you. Okay?
I bit my lip. It’s not me that I’m worried about…
After an agonizingly long flight, we landed in Newport, Rhode Island. We got off the plane, stretched our legs, and stepped out of the airport and into the brisk seaside air.
“Alright, now what?” Logan asked.
“If I were you, I’d start running.”
And then the ground dissolved beneath us.
We fell through a pitch black tunnel that felt as cold as the polar ice caps. A feeling like pure fear swirled in my stomach as we plummeted through the darkness. Then, as suddenly as we’d fallen in, we were hurled back out.
Kai appeared before us as we collapsed on the floor of a forest in the middle of nowhere. He drew his black sword and pointed it at us. “Now, don’t do anything stupid, or I’ll be forced to take drastic measures,” he warned. “I only ask to escort Stormi to my brother. Give her up freely, and I’ll let you two go.” He pointed to Evelyn and Logan with his sword tip.
“You gotta get through me first,” Logan growled, stepping in front of me protectively.
Evelyn stepped up beside him. “I think you mean ‘us,’ dimwit.”
My chest tightened up and my stomach clenched with a feeling of panic. What do I do what do I do what do I do—
Kai sighed. “I guess we’re doing this the hard way.” He dissolved his sword into smoke and held his hands out at his sides. Following his motions, the shadows of the trees around us began to shift and float off the ground.
And just like that, an idea popped into my head.
I thrust out my hand and used telekinesis to bend the tree branches down, wrapping them around Kai and pulling him up into the trees above.
“Go!” I shouted, pushing Logan and Evelyn along.
“Nice work, Storm,” Logan said breathlessly as we ran through the forest.
“Don’t thank me yet,” I replied. “Those branches won’t hold him for long.”
Right on cue, Kai reappeared in front of us in a swirl of shadows, aiming his sword at us. I skidded to a stop just in time; the blade nearly pierced me between the eyes. “I told you not to do anything stupid.”
“Stay back!” Logan shouted.
Light curled from Evelyn and Logan’s story gauntlets, shaping weapons in their hands—Logan’s a broad knife, Evelyn’s a silver longbow.
“Give it up, Kai,” said Evelyn.
“Yeah,” I chimed in, “you’re outnumbered three to one.”
“Not exactly.” Kai held out his hands, and the shadows surrounding him rose up off the ground in plumes of black smoke, forming an army of hazy black figures with glowing purple eyes behind him.
“My mistake,” I muttered, my throat going dry.
“Get them,” said Kai, and the disembodied shadows immediately lunged toward us in a torrent of smoke.
I ducked behind Logan and Evelyn as they fended off the shadows. I felt utterly helpless watching them fight with their magical weapons.
I looked down at the gauntlet on my trembling wrist. Don’t just sit here, Stormi, I thought to myself. Magic yourself a weapon!
I shut my eyes tightly, envisioning the simplest weapon I could imagine: a shortsword. Just a blade of blue light with a guard and a grip. Then I willed my vision to come to life.
I opened my eyes, and a bright light shot out of the gauntlet. The light curled into the form of a short blade, just like I’d envisioned. Short, simple, and perfect for vaporizing shadows.
Shaky with fear, I shot to my feet and swung the sword at an approaching shadow. The blade went right through it, vaporizing the shadow instantaneously. Well, that went better than I expected.
“Nice moves, Stormcloud,” said Logan calmly as he slashed through shadow after shadow.
I grinned, gaining confidence. “Not so bad yourself.”
“Hey, you two—less talky, more fighty, huh?” Evelyn snapped as she drew back her bow and let an arrow of light fly.
In mere minutes, we had decimated the shadows so that only Kai remained before us. He gritted his teeth as he materialized his black sword out of dark smoke that emitted from his palm. More shadows appeared out of the darkness behind Kai. “Take care of those two,” he said, pointing to Evelyn and Logan. His dark eyes landed on me. “I’ll deal with her.”
Kai leapt at me, brandishing his sword. Caught off guard, I feebly held up my sword to block the attack and was almost knocked backward when his sword hit mine. As he pushed his blade toward my throat, I grabbed his wrist to try and move his sword, but the moment my fingertips made contact with his skin, I realized something. I felt it in his tense muscles—I saw it in his dark eyes.
“You’re scared,” I said.
He tensed even more and pulled his wrist from my grasp, pushing his blade closer. “I’m not scared.”
“It’s your brother, isn’t it?” I pushed back against his blade and felt his force grow weaker.
“Shut up!” Kai growled.
“It is him,” I realized. “You’re scared of him, aren’t you?”
“You don’t know anything about me!” Kai kicked me in the side, knocking me to the ground.
I clutched at my stomach, out of breath. I pushed myself up to my feet and readied myself to continue fighting—when I saw Logan and Evelyn. They were both completely surrounded by living shadows; it was almost as if every time they cut one down, two more rose up in its place.
Fear created a knot in my stomach—my friends were in danger, and I couldn’t help them. I tensed, my breathing becoming shallow.
No please—not here, not now—
I was completely frozen. Panicked, overwhelmed. I was helpless.
Kai took the opportunity and swung at me. I tried to dodge, but it was too late. I fell back and landed hard on the ground, my left cheek stinging. I reached up to touch it, and when I brought my hand back down, my fingers were coated in red liquid.
Kai pointed his sword at me as I lay defenselessly, pathetically, on the ground. He drew back his blade, preparing to strike. I braced myself for the blow…but it didn’t come.
I looked up at him with fearful eyes, and saw equally fearful eyes staring back at me. We stared at each other for a split second, both frozen, both terrified.
“Stormi!” Logan cried.
I whipped my head around to see him charge Kai with his knife; caught off guard, Kai barely got his sword up to block in time. Logan swept his foot under Kai’s legs and held his knife to Kai’s throat, pinning him to the ground. “Looks like you’ve lost again,” he said, without his usual smug grin.
Kai narrowed his eyes. “This isn’t over.”
And with that, he disappeared in a black portal.
“You okay, Storm?” Logan asked, turning back to me.
“He hesitated,” I mumbled, staring at the spot Kai had just been.
“What?” Evelyn asked.
“He hesitated,” I repeated. “He could’ve killed me right then, but…he didn’t.”
“But he almost did,” said Logan.
“What happened back there?” Evelyn asked. “It was like you just…froze.”
My face flushed with embarrassment. “It was nothing,” I mumbled. “Just a little…nothing. It was nothing.”
Evelyn lifted an eyebrow. “Well, I’m convinced.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Logan said, waving off Evelyn’s comment. “Here—let me see your cheek.”
“I’m fine,” I said, wiping blood off my cheek. “It’s just a scratch.”
Logan laughed a little, then reached up to rub the rest of the blood away. “That’s one big scratch if you ask me,” he said softly.
I could feel my face growing hot.
Evelyn cleared her throat loudly. “I hate to break this up, but we have a job to do.”
“Right,” I said. “We have to find Nicholas Waters.”
“Where do we even start?” Logan asked.
“Well,” I said, pulling A’s letter out of my bag, “the letter says ‘where the towers glow.’ Those are lighthouses, so that’s got to be somewhere by the bay…but where?”
“Well, I don’t know about you guys,” Logan said, “but food helps me think. Plus, I’m starving.”
“Me too, actually,” I said.
Logan and I looked at Evelyn with pleading eyes.
She sighed. “Fine, we’ll get something to eat. But after that, we focus on the mission.”
“Got it,” we said simultaneously.
We settled on a small seafood diner with a view overlooking a rocky beach where a glowing lighthouse stood alone in the mist not too far away. After searching a bit, we found a booth that would fit the three of us and, after scanning the menus, ordered our lunch.
“Food is the best,” said Logan after swallowing a large bite of his cheeseburger.
“Really?” Evelyn asked. “Out of all the authentic seafood dishes here, you choose a cheeseburger?”
“What?” said Logan defensively. “That’s just what I wanted. Don’t judge me.”
Evelyn rolled her eyes.
As I ate, I absently touched my cheek where Kai had struck me. The cut was still fresh, though it was starting to scab up, and it burned strangely.
“Your cheek okay?” Logan asked me.
“Hmm?” I looked up from my food. “Oh, yeah, it’s fine. Just kind of irritated, is all.”
“Alright,” he said reluctantly. “But let me know if it gets worse.”
“What are you, a doctor?” I chuckled.
“You didn’t know?” he joked, grinning. “I’m a bit of a prodigy, if I do say so myself. Graduated med school at age two.”
Evelyn looked at Logan curiously, then back to me. I heard her voice echo in my mind: He totally likes you.
Startled by Evelyn’s comment, my laughter abruptly caught in my throat, and Logan gave me a confused look. Nervous, I coughed, trying to play it cool, then turned back to my food. What are you talking about? I thought back to her. He does not.
Are you kidding? she said. It’s so obvious. He flirts with you practically twenty-four seven. He’s into you.
There’s no way. That’s just how Logan is. He’s definitely not flirting with me.
Yeah, okay, whatever.
I looked over to see Evelyn was smiling. I stared at the lighthouse out the window as I considered the possibility that her words were true. I mean, the smile he’d been giving me recently was slightly different then the usual goofy, mischievous look. This smile was more endearing and affectionate. Could she be right? Could he…? I shook my head. I wasn’t about to let my imagination get the best of me.
I blinked, and the lighthouse came back into focus. I began to wonder what it was like inside of it. Didn’t some people live inside those…?
“The lighthouse!” I exclaimed.
Evelyn and Logan looked at me with confused expressions. “What now?” Logan asked.
“That must be where Nicholas Waters lives!” I said, pointing out the window. “The lighthouse!”
“Of course, that makes perfect sense!” said Evelyn. “We should go there after dinner.”
“What are we gonna do when we find him?” Logan asked.
I shrugged. “I don’t know,” I admitted, “but this is all we have to go on. We have to find the Lucian Order—for the Author.”
When we were done eating, I slung the bag over my shoulder and we headed out of the diner. We hurried along the edge of the rocky beach toward the lighthouse, eager to be one step closer to solving this mystery. We walked around the lighthouse to the entrance. I stepped up to the glossy white door and, trembling with anxiety, I knocked.
After a minute or so, the door cracked open to reveal half a man’s face. He had dark eyes with shadows under them, shaggy dark hair that was slightly disheveled, and a deep bronze complexion. “What do you want?” he growled, eyeing us suspiciously.
“Is Nicholas Waters there?” I asked nervously.
The man hesitated. “What do you want with him?”
“It’s…kind of a long story,” I said.
“I have time,” he said gruffly.
I sighed, looked around to make sure no one was around, then pulled up my sleeve to reveal the silver story gauntlet on my wrist. “We’re looking for the Lucian Order.”
The man’s eyes widened. He thrust out his hand, and a bright stream of golden light shot from his palm.
And then everything went dark.
* * *
I woke to a pounding head and blurry vision. I tried to raise my hand to my head, but I couldn’t. I looked down to see that my wrists were bound in front of me by some kind of glowing ropes. I tried to pull my wrists out of them, but to no avail. And to make matters worse, I noticed my right wrist was bare.
“Looking for something?” a gruff voice asked.
I whipped my head around to see the man from earlier holding my story gauntlet.
“Who are you?” I demanded. “Where are my friends?” I tried contacting Logan telepathically, but got no answer. Fear shot through me.
The man gave no answer to my questions as he knelt down next to me. “Who gave this to you?” he asked.
“Where are my friends?” I asked again.
“Answer me, child,” the man said. “Who gave you this gauntlet?”
I paused for a long moment, then answered. “The Author did.”
“Which one?” he said suspiciously. “I know many Authors.”
“Jonathan Chambers,” I told him.
The man froze, and his eyes went wide. “Jonathan…?”
While he was off-guard, I used my telekinesis to summon my story gauntlet from the man’s hand. It started glowing blue, then flew to my hand. I tried to use telekinesis to bend the ropes away from my hands, but they wouldn’t budge.
The man held his hand out toward me and made a slashing motion. As if an invisible knife had cut through them, the ropes around my wrists snapped and vanished in a flash of light.
“Thanks,” I mumbled, rubbing my wrists and putting my gauntlet back on.
“I’m sorry about that,” he said. “I had to be sure you weren’t an impostor.” He reached out to me, seemingly to help me to my feet. I just stared at him, deciding whether I could trust him or not.
“I understand you have as much reason to distrust me as I have to distrust you, but I really mean you know harm,” he said.
I continued to eye him warily and ignored his hand, getting to my feet on my own. “How do I know you’re not lying?”
“Let me prove it to you.” The man held his hand out so his palm faced my left cheek. His palm began to glow, and a warm, fuzzy feeling seeped into my cheek. When the light faded, I felt my face where the light had touched. Except for a small slit that I assumed was a scar left over, Kai’s cut had completely sealed up.
“How did you…do that?” I asked, bewildered.
To answer my question, the man pulled up his jacket sleeve, revealing a golden tattoo on his bicep. Upon closer inspection, I realized it was the symbol of the Lucian Order.
“You—you’re one of them,” I stammered.
He nodded. “I’m asking you to trust me. I am not your enemy.”
I continued to study him, considering.
The man sighed. “I assume you’re still wondering where your friends are.” I nodded, and the man snapped his fingers. In a flash of golden light, Evelyn and Logan appeared beside me, unconscious and slumped against each other.
I let out a sigh of relief when I saw that they were still breathing. My blocked contact with Logan had me nervous. “How did you do that?” I asked the man.
“They were here all along,” he answered. “Don’t worry—I only put them to sleep, as I did to you.”
“How come I didn’t see them?” I said.
“Trick of the light,” the man said simply, winking.
Logan and Evelyn began to stir, and I rushed over to them. Logan opened his eyes and looked around. “What…where…” When his eyes landed on the man, he shot up and held out his fists, as if to fight him. “You! You kidnapped us!”
“Whoa there, Logan,” I said, grabbing his wrists and pulling his arms down. “Put the guns away. We can trust him.”
“How do you know?” he said suspiciously.
“He healed me,” I told him, pointing to the scar on my cheek.
“He did?” Logan leaned forward to inspect the scar, then eyed the man warily. “How?”
“He’s a member of the Order.”
Logan did a double take. “Wait, what?”
“The Lucian Order?” Evelyn asked. I jumped, not knowing she had gotten up already.
“Indeed,” said the man.
I paused, glancing him over once more, then asked, “Are…are you Nicholas Waters?”
He smiled. “Perceptive as always, Storyteller,” said Nicholas. “Nicholas Waters, at your service. And you three?”
“I’m Stormi,” I said. “And this is Evelyn and Logan.”
They each gave a little wave.
Nicholas smirked. “So, you three seek the Lucian Order?”
“It’s a long quest,” he told us. “Dangerous.” He glanced at us. “I’m not sure three kids like yourselves are up for it.”
“Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence,” Logan muttered.
“Logan, don’t be rude,” Evelyn hissed.
“Oh, you mean like how kidnapping is rude?” Logan shot back.
Evelyn rolled her eyes. “Ignore him. Look, we need to find the Order. It’s our last chance at safety.”
“What about the Libraries?” Nicholas asked. “There are plenty of them. You can take refuge in one.”
“What do you mean?” Logan said. “The Libraries were all destroyed.”
The color drained from Nicholas’s face. “Destroyed…? How?”
“The Umbra Alliance,” Evelyn told him. “They just attacked the one we came from—the last one.”
“Went up in flames,” Logan said mournfully. “There’s nothing left.”
Nicholas inhaled sharply. “Is Jonathan…?”
“We don’t know,” said Evelyn quickly. “Not for sure, but…it didn’t look so good for him the last time we saw him.”
“Our Library was attacked,” said Logan quietly. “Went up in flames. There’s nothing left.”
Nicholas shook his head. “I don’t understand—why would the Umbra Alliance destroy your Libraries? The Authors Guild and the Umbra Alliance are allies.”
Logan stifled a laugh. “I’m sorry, it’s just—no? We’re enemies. They’ve been trying to destroy us ever since we tried to stop them from opening the interdimensional rift.”
Nicholas’s brow furrowed. “Tried to stop them?”
“Yeah,” Logan said slowly. “Why are you making that face?”
“I think you kids have been told the wrong story. The Authors Guild helped the Umbra Alliance open the rift.”
The room went silent. I glanced at Evelyn and Logan; they seemed just as dumbfounded as me.
“Helped?” Logan said finally. “But the Author told us—”
“Oh, I don’t blame Jonathan,” said Nicholas. “He would never lie to his pupils for his own betterment. The Guild members who were at the Event must have fabricated this story as a way to protect their image. Your people always were experts on telling stories.” There was a tinge of bitterness to his voice.
“But—that doesn’t make any sense,” said Evelyn. “Why would we help them?”
“I’m afraid I can’t answer that,” Nicholas said. “I only know what has been passed onto me from Order members that were present at the event.”
Silence fell over the room again.
After a few moments, I spoke up. “Whatever happened, it doesn’t change the fact that there are no more Libraries and we don’t have anywhere to go. The Author told us to find the Lucian Order, right before—” I swallowed the lump in my throat. “Before the Library burned down. We need to find them.”
Nicholas’s expression softened. “Alright. I will help you. Just take this warning—the Order has been wary of both the Authors Guild and the Umbra Alliance since the Event. I knew Jonathan personally, so I know his pupils are no threat—but the Order has no such grounds to trust you.”
I nodded. “We understand.”
“Now, I can’t give you the Order’s exact location.”
Logan groaned, and Evelyn elbowed him.
“But I can point you to the next stop in your journey.” He cleared his throat, then spoke as if reciting a poem: “At the bottom of the lake that’s made to preserve, there lies a tool to help you on your journey—but it is well guarded. Stay strong, and be careful.”
“Huh,” said Logan. “It doesn’t rhyme.”
“In my opinion, making clues rhyme is a waste of time,” said Nicholas.
“You literally just rhymed in that sentence,” Logan pointed out.
“Thank you for your help,” I said gratefully. “Is there any more advice you could offer us?”
Nicholas nodded. “Don’t tell anyone of your mission, for there are those who seek what you do, but with sinister motives. Don’t stay out in the open for too long, and watch your back.”
I nodded. “Got it. Thank you.”
We turned to leave, but Nicholas held out his hand to stop us. “Wait a second.”
He paused, scratching the back of his neck. “You know…it’s getting late. I’ve got a few spare beds—they’re not the most quality mattresses around, but y’know, it’s something—”
The three of us perked up at his offer.
“Now, I’m not saying you can stay here,” he quickly clarified. “It’s too dangerous—too many magicwielders in one place is sure to attract monsters. But…I guess one night wouldn’t hurt.”