The sun was getting low in the sky when Lilly and Alexia made their way into their room. It was small with three beds taking up the majority of the space. A small chest of drawers stood next to the door, and beside that an old wooden chair collected dust. A worn rug filled the space between the beds, but did nothing to silence the squeaky wooden floor beneath. Alexia curled up on the bed to the right of the door and watched the sun through the window. Glancing to the left, Lilly saw a large book she saw Elania carrying earlier on the bed across from Alexia. Lilly chose the middle bed and rested her elbows on the windowsill, her head in her hands as she watched the first sunset of her life.
Only a quarter of an hour had passed before Elania entered and closed the door behind her, but the room had darkened quickly. Lilly glanced behind her, but she was unaccustomed to seeing in the dark. Alexia did not take her eyes off of the sun as it finally sank behind the mountains beyond. Once the sun disappeared, her breathing quickened and she began to shake with fear. Elania had sat down on her bed and flipped through a page or two when the girl across from her started screaming.
Across the hall, Spencer snored into his pillow. Dexter lay in the same position he had been in when Jonathan came in hours ago. Jonathan sat on the middle bed, his back against the wall, his legs crossed at his ankles. He stared blankly at the closed door across the room. In his hand he flipped a small stone pyramid. The leather cord threaded through it let off a faint scent as he bent it between his fingers. With the exception of Spence’s snores, the room was quiet. Vincent had told them that Sam was away on unexpected business and handed them a handwritten note:
Had to fly, be back by morning. Have a good night’s rest- training starts tomorrow. Sweet dreams. Sam.
Spence seemed to be the only one following Sam’s advice about getting a good night’s rest. The room darkened quickly as the last rays of the sun entered through the single window next to Spence’s bed. Jonathan couldn’t ignore the anxiety brought on by the increasing darkness, but he fought his battle quietly, finally resolving to close his eyes just before the sun disappeared beneath the horizon.
Only seconds passed before a scream ripped through the building. Jonathan’s eyes shot open and he bolted to his feet. Spence sat up in a panic from being woken while in a dead sleep. Dexter hardly moved, only his eyes moved toward the door, his brows shifting downward. Footsteps passed their door, making their way quickly to the girls’ room. Jonathan opened the door and peeked out just in time to see Vincent disappear into the other room. He followed hesitantly, entering the room and the chaos it contained.
Alexia lay on her bed, her knees brought up tight against her chest, held there firmly by her arms. She rocked back and forth, her sobs broken only by an occasional word. “Dark!” she cried, her eyes open but staring blankly into the room. Beside her, Vincent shook her gently and called her name, but the girl continued to scream. Lilly paced across a rug identical to the one in the boys’ room, her hands moving from her hair, to her pockets, to crossed in front of her, to being wrung in desperation. She yelled at Alexia to stop screaming, then yelled at Vincent, asking him what was wrong with her, and then to tell him to make her stop. Elania sat on her bed, a large book open in her lap. She watched the scene before her with a look of disbelief, complete with wide eyes and gaping mouth. She hardly blinked, not wanting to miss a second. Jonathan stood in the doorway but was pushed inward as Spence nudged past him. Jonathan glanced behind him, checking to see if Dexter was trying to come in, but the hallway was empty. Turning back to the fracas, he realized that the last member of their group would not have fit in the packed room even if he wanted to.
Vincent had switched tactics and was shaking Alexia while yelling her name. Frantically he glanced around the room and frowned. He turned and raced out the door, his footsteps fast and heavy as he clambered down the stairs, only to come running back up two at a time, carrying a small lamp into the room. He pulled the old chair next to Alexia’s bed and set it down. Getting down on all fours he searched for an outlet, finally finding one behind the bed. He switched it on and adjusted the shade so the light fell heaviest on Alexia’s face. Kneeling down, Vincent took her face in his hands and called her name calmly until her eyes focused on his. Her shaking and yelling subsided, leaving the room in a tense silence as everyone held their breath, waiting.
Her breathing slowed as she stared at the boy he still held her face in his hands. Slowly, he moved her disheveled hair away from her eyes and tucked it securely behind her ears. Her breaths came slower as he spoke, his words calming her until her eyelids began to get heavy. When She began to drift off, Jonathan went back to the boy’s room, closing the door behind him with both a sigh of relief and a shake of his head. He wasn’t quite sure what he had witnessed, but he had a feeling something had just shifted amongst the Eagles.
Sam’s robes fluttered in the shifting air. He wasted no time; his steps were jogging the second his feet touched ground in Shepherd’s Castle’s main portal room. He sped through the cold stone hallways as quickly as he could, but slow enough that passers by could see the dark gray hue of his robes and move out of the way. Only the oldest Grays wore robes as dark as his, and only the most foolhardy stood between an old Gray and his destination. Sam checked himself and slowed his speed slightly. He was already on the Council’s bad side; plowing through innocents in the heart of HQ would do nothing to help his cause. He stared straight ahead, ignoring the many glances in his direction, slowing only when reaching the antechamber of the High Council.
The room was small, the dark purple wallpaper made it look even smaller. Small benches covered in purple velvet were pushed up against the walls, and large wooden planters held various flowers in full bloom. As he crossed the room, two guards eyed him from their position before the main chamber’s massive doors. Beside them, in a small alcove, an old man sat hunched over a desk. Sam announced himself and handed the man a crumpled piece of paper, then waited as the old man adjusted his spectacles and inspected the note. After a moment, the man looked up and tapped his boney fingers on the desk.
Sam shifted impatiently, wondering when the old man would do his job and inform the council of his arrival instead of… glaring? Sam sighed as he realized the old man was still angry about his last visit to the High Council. “My presence has been requested,” he tried to pacify the grump, but only received a grunt in response. Sam fought his rising frustration and raised his hands, palms forward. “I come in peace?” he offered, but the old man rolled his eyes, his thick glasses magnifying the gesture. The old man sighed and scribbled a short note and tossed it behind him into a small hearth. Sam nodded in thanks and took a seat on the bench opposite the glaring old man.
He waited only a moment before the chamber doors were pulled open. A small woman stepped through the doorway and announced to the mostly empty antechamber that the council would see Samuel Gray. He took a deep breath and followed the woman into the chamber. The guards pulled the doors closed behind him.
The room was huge, its high ceilings intensifying the size even more. Floor to ceiling windows covered one wall, letting in ample lighting through lace curtains. The other three walls were covered in paintings both large and small, and all hung in intricately carved wooden frames. Sam knew the names of most of the figures in the paintings, and had even known a few of them personally. The woman, a Gray he knew only as Nell, led him down the length of the room until the stood before an immense, U-shaped table.
The High Council was seated around the table, their faces all blank masks. Three representatives of White Magic sat one side, three representatives of Black Magic on the other. In between the two sides sat the High Seat, the elected leader of the Council. Sam didn’t recognize the representatives, but he knew Agatha well, and he knew this High Seat was not one to be trifled with. He bowed as Nell took her place against the wall behind the Council. The Servant to the High Council was always a Gray, giving the Council some access into the inner workings of the sect. Once a Gray was chosen for the position, however, they found themselves practically abandoned by their peers.
“Why have you requested an audience with the High Council, Samuel Gray?” the White, an old woman sitting closest to him, got right to the point. Sam wondered if the representatives had heard about his last visit. He cleared his throat before answering.
“My sincerest thanks to you who-“
“Mr. Gray,” a middle aged man opposite of the old White interrupted him, “we haven’t got time for sugar coating, so please, enlighten us with your purpose, or leave.”
Sam’s teeth clicked together as he shut his mouth and glared at the Black representative.
“Kellen, dear,” Agatha said, leaning forward in her chair and plastering a strained smile on her face, “Mr. Gray will need more than a few seconds to speak the apology he is wisely here to give, so if you would be so kind as to give him an opportunity, we can put this whole thing behind us and more forward, yes?”
“Apology?” Sam scoffed. “Apologize for what exactly?”
“For your abhorrent behavior during your last visit, of course.” Agatha’s words were sharp.
“My behavior was a direct result of the High Council’s lack of action regarding a vital matter. Let me remind you that your inaction cost the Grays dearly.”
“And let me remind you, Samuel Gray, that the Council’s inaction was in response to an extensive investigation into practices in which you were a participant that have long since been deemed illegal and immoral. We investigated, we deliberated, and we deemed the evidence insufficient against those charged. We released your fellow Grays, and we are not to blame for what transpired after the fact.”
“On the contrary, the Council is directly responsible for releasing innocent men and women into an agitated crowd without first providing evidence of their innocence. You delivered innocent people into the hands of an angry mob, standing back and watching as the falsely accused were circled, overpowered, and executed in that courtyard.” Sam fought his rising ire as he pointed out the window, reining it in with deep breaths. “You watched them die and did nothing. I will not apologize for demanding justice!”
The room settled into a tense silence. Representatives from both White and Black shuffled papers and glanced around nervously. Agatha tapped her fingers on the table as she studied the man standing before her. After a few moments she sighed. “Mr. Gray and I will speak privately. This meeting is adjourned.”
The six representatives stood and shuffled out, leaving Sam to follow Agatha through a small door hidden behind a huge painting. The room was windowless, lit only by a few candles set in the corners and a small candelabrum atop a massive desk. Papers and books were strewn about the surface of the desk, and more of both formed untidy stacks on the floor along the walls. Agatha removed her traditional red robes, revealing a more modern pink button down shirt and black slacks underneath. She sank into a huge cushioned chair behind the desk and rubbed her eyes. “Why are you here, Sam?”
“I need help.”
Agatha glanced at Sam in mock surprise. “You? The great Samuel Gray? The millennial who accomplishes every task without aid from another? What help could I possibly be to you?”
Sam took a calming breath and decided it would be best to ignore her sarcastic tone and get right to the point.
“I was contacted by twin worlds that I had once thought lost.”
Agatha sighed and rolled her eyes. “Sam, this is nothing new. Worlds break contact and reinitiate all the time.”
“This case is different.” Agatha shook her head, but Sam continued. “They’re dying, but they were able to send six kids through to act as their Eagles. If they are going to find the lost worlds, they need to be trained as quickly as possible because they don’t have much time. I need White and Black tutors to train them individually; I can handle the team training.”
Sam waited for a response, but it was slow in coming, and it wasn’t what he was hoping for. “Some say we should have charged you along side your group of ‘falsely accused’ Grays, as you called them.” Sam blinked in surprise, but his eyes immediately narrowed in anger as she continued. “I fought for you and kept your name off that list, but now I wonder if I was wrong to do so.” He glared and she nodded in reply. “If I were to trust my instinct, I would say these worlds hold a special place in your heart, and I am then forced to wonder why?”
“Because they are dying and need our help!”
“Bah! You have lived long enough and seen enough worlds die that you know this is a lost cause. What is different about these two?”
He knew where she was going with her questions, but he had saved an important detail just for this situation. “They were last listed in Brookfield’s inventory; he acquired them just before he was set upon by a Celtic ambush. His portal was destroyed and the globes disappeared. We feared they were destroyed also.” Agatha scratched her chin impatiently, but did not speak up during his pause, so he continued. “About two hundred years ago, a group of Whites came across a small stash of globes hidden in an old, wooden chest said to have been discovered in the catacombs beneath Paris. Most of the globes were broken, but a few were still living, and we were able to identify them as belonging to Brookfield. I believe the globes were scattered, traded between nations as expensive trinkets, with one man in particular searching for them specifically. I have only heard him referred to as The Magician, but I believe he has the remaining globes from Brookfield’s inventory, and I believe my Eagles and I can find him.”
Agatha’s eyes narrowed at his final words and she watched him for a silent moment. “Your Eagles?”
He chewed his lip as he realized his mistake. Unfortunately, Agatha missed nothing, but he was confident she wasn’t aware of the entire situation, and he wasn’t about to come clean. “I just need a few experienced tutors for the kids.”
“And I need you to authorize my freedom so I can help search for the man who possesses the globes.”
“I need to get out-“
“You aren’t giving me the whole truth, therefore I will not authorize your freedom, however temporary it could be. You will get two tutors, one from each Magic, and it will be up to your Eagles to save their worlds.”
“They won’t stand a chance in the outside without me! I need your authorization!”
“You won’t get it! You have my decision, now get out!”
Furious, Sam left the hidden room and made his way back to the portal room and his hopeless Eagles.