The Amulet Keepers

The Amulet Keepers

A Story by A.L.
"

Five amulets. Four Elementals. Three protagonists. Two friends destined to die. One epic battle that blurs the lines between good and evil. The world isn't just black and white after all.

"

Author’s Note 

Many people ask me where my ideas come from. Where did you get this idea? That’s so cool, who is that character based off of? What’s your inspiration? 

My inspiration comes from many things, including dreams, sights, and music. This particular story happened to come into mind when I had a conversation with a friend. We spent about an hour taking turns writing alternative paragraphs and forming a story. Although it left many questions unanswered, the story was the basis for this story right now: 

Seconds later the room explodes sending splintered wood and broken glass in every direction. The small boy stands in the rubble holding a black pendant inscribed cursed runes.

Me: still standing there because I was protected by an enchantment.“Excuse me you just lost my page.”

The boy releases a screech that could only be that of a moth, summoning an army of massive moths that would arrive in minutes. 

The girl searched for her bookmark on the floor, oblivious to the impending doom, soon to arrive

The moths arrived, their giant appendages reaching and grabbing out for the girl through broken holes in the roof, it was only a matter of time before she would be consumed. But then there was a tremendous flash of light that the moths were drawn to.

The girl reappeared mere yards away from the giant insects, in her hand a white amulet not unlike the boys. Her face was drawn in anger. 

The boy still stood, unfazed by the girl's unimpressive feat of magic. He flicked his hands and the ground split before him revealing a ravine that dropped into an endless abyss, Tartarus. 

The girl rolled her eyes. This was such a cliché and she was already running late. With a snap of her fingers she closed the gap on the ground, only a scar remained on the earth, as a remnant of the gaping hole that had been there moments before. 

The boy reopened the gap not caring that it was a cliché, knowing that clichés were used for a reason, because they were effective. 

The girl checked the time and frowned. If she was late they wouldn’t be happy with her. Holding the amulet towards the sky she called a beam of light down upon her and disappeared. 

The boy grimaced holding his black amulet in the palm of his hand knowing that he would defeat this girl that had caused him much agony. 

The girl, miles and miles away, held not a care in the world for the boy who had inconvenienced her. He had made her forget her book. 

The boy walked over to the table that held the book and tossed her book into the hearth disintegrating the book on contact, it was his way of saying thank you after a bit of torment. 

The girl, at her important meeting, somehow knew there would be no retrieval of her book. While it saddened her, she was still happy she wasn’t dead... yet

The boy could sense the girl's presence, very distant and faint, but he had a clue to where she might have been going, all he had to do was read the cover of that book and things became much clearer. The girl left her meeting, withdrawing the amulet once again from her pocket. The object had both blessed and cursed her. She inspected the runes, runes she could not understand. What did they mean? She intended to find out. 

The runes of the boy's amulet illuminated the vacant and utterly destroyed house. The girl's amulet looked uncannily similar to his. she must be doing something to her amulet now. He had to find this girl and he knew that their amulets were the answer. 

The girl, still far away, clutched her amulet tightly. It had begun to glow, a sign the boy was using his and trying to find her. She fled from the previous place she had been and began searching frantically for somewhere else to hide. This couldn’t happen again. 

After minutes of searching through the girls home he finally found the spell book that contained the spell he needed to find her. The boy spouted magic saying while slowly closing in on the girls position. 

The girl knew she was trapped, she could feel the boy's consciousness surround her. From memory, she cried out a spell of protection hoping that it would once again trick the boy when he arrived. The boy was clever and suspected that she would see her amulet light up alerting her that he was close so he decided to appear at a distance to avoid any close range spells. 

The girl, still under her spell of protection, knew the boy would be arriving shortly. What she didn’t know was what he wanted from her and her amulet. 

The boy appeared in the distance and set his eyes on the girl. He could see her frantically spouting spells to protect herself from the boy. He began walking towards the girl with only one thing in mind, revenge. 

The girl spotted the boy approaching. She could not run anymore, the boy would follow. So she waited, heart racing in anticipation for whatever death or torture awaited her. She had imagined life ending differently, but the fates were cruel. 

As the boy approached he saw the girl standing there defenseless. It would be no fun to kill her without a fight l, but things didn’t always go his way. He stood about 10 yards away from her, his eyes locked on hers waiting for her first move. 

She stared back at the boy with equal fervor. He wanted a fight, and a fight she would refuse to give him, she should die with defiance 

“Fight you coward” he screamed “FIGHT” tears now trailed from his eyes and dropped into the sand. “Just fight” he whimpered. 

The girl glanced at the boy with pity, for she had no idea why he wanted her dead. She crossed her arms, and turned her face away. 

“FINE THEN! I’m dead anyways they’ll kill me if I don’t kill you. I don’t have the guts to do it and I never will.” The boy tears off his amulet forming an abyss at his feet. He threw the amulet with all of his might into the sand dunes and jumped into the abyss, his eyes closed plummeting to his death. He tried to think of happy thoughts to end on, not every story had a happy ending. He guessed he wouldn't either.

 The girl watched in admiration as the boy jumped into the abyss. Without a second thought, she closed her eyes and searched for the boy. His thoughts were undetectable. He was gone.

Suddenly, abruptly, the girl woke up somewhere else in an entirely different world.

 The boy felt his body disappear and was standing somewhere very different from the world he had just been in. He looked down at his body which he had felt disappear, but had now reformed in this new environment. 5 men stood around him all wearing black robes. “That was an outcome we had not anticipated”they said in unison. The boy stood in silence. He realized that he was standing in a dark black room that gradually turned grey and then into a beautiful white. On the white half there were 5 women standing in a circle around an unknown figure, but the boy could tell who was at the center of that circle. It was the girl. 

The girl was not surprised to see the boy here. But she did not know how her sisters would react to the boys presence 

The boy stood awestruck. What was this place and who were these people? 

“Welcome to the land of the dead.” The girl said with a smile. “Sir, you’ve been a real inconvenience to us. I was on my break.” She laughed, jiggling the white amulet on her neck. 

“You talk about this place like you’ve been here before. Please correct me if I’m mistaken but you can’t die more than once, right?”

“You are correct in that matter.”

“Ok, but if you’ve been here before you must have died , right? And when we were in the world of the living you seemed very alive.”

“I’m not alive or dead.” The girl sighed. “I’m neither.”

“Is she always like this because if that’s the case I want to die again.”

The girl's friends just laughed. The girl smiled, “you’d understand if you were me.”

“Well that’s the problem, I’m not you, soooo can anyone explain to me what’s going on.”

“I’m fine.” The girl assured him. “ This is my job, the transportation of magical from life to death.”

“Does everyone get a second chance?” 

“No. Only some.” 

“You’re the expert on these things, what should I choose?” 

“Doesn’t matter to me. Just make your choice soon because I’m hungry.”

“I get to have the same job as you, can I still die?”

“No, you’re considered immortal in the real world. Only when someone takes your spot will you die.”

“If I get this job will you die, because I was really looking forward to annoying you for all eternity?”

“I’ll live, one of my sisters will pass on.” She beckoned to one of the girls 

“Good luck” he says to the girl, “but it seems like I’m taking your spot. Oh this is going to be fun, being annoying is a specialty I have and you, my good friend that I once tried to kill, are going to love me.”

That is the extent to which the conversation went. I know that although the plot of that and the plot of my story do not entirely align, the short version above was my basis for writing. One of the reasons I actually put it here was so others could see that ideas don’t just come from nowhere. I also needed a convenient spot to put this so I could reference it in the future. And below, at no cost to you, I have attached my handwritten rune chart that took me a good twenty minutes. I changed some of the runes around, but enjoy. 

Chapter 1

Bruno

There was a knock on his door and the boy immediately scrambled to his feet. They were here already? He glanced at the clock on the wall, it’s hands moving slowly as if time had slowed down entirely, leaving the world in slow motion. The knocks came again. 

He hadn’t been expecting the men for another hour, and he had hoped he would have more time to say goodbye. It was too late for him, but it wasn’t too late for the others. 

The boy bent down and grabbed a piece of parchment off the table. On the parchment was a handwritten message, the print sloppy and rushed. The boy tied the message around the leg of a crow perched precariously on the window sill. Then he shoved a small, round object in the envelope and shooed the bird away. The crow let out a loud screech and flew off into the clouds. The boy could only hope his message would reach his confidants on time. 

“Open up, boy!” There was banging from the door downstairs. The boy was glad his sister was at the market. She would not be pleased to find him missing, but she would know where he had ended up. After all, he hadn’t been super secretive about his magic. And there was his mistake. 

“Bruno, open this door or so help me…” The rest of the shout was muffled by voices. Bruno froze. Maybe he wasn’t so lucky after all. His sister had returned from the market early. 

Bruno made sure the lock on his door was secure. It would be moments before the men downstairs got into the house. He rummaged through the rolls of parchment on his desk, searching frantically for the round stone that had changed his life. 

Bruno’s fingers finally grasped the round object and brought it into the candle light. A round, obsidian stone framed in metal hung from a chain, spinning in circles from momentum. The delicate stone was the single cause of Bruno’s problems, but it was too late to turn back now. He had accepted the responsibility when his fingers first touched the stone several years ago. 

There was a crash from downstairs as the doors gave in to the brute strength of the men. Bruno blew out his candle, plunging himself into darkness. Then he opened the window with a small creak. Bruno pulled his satchel close to his chest as he climbed onto the window sill. 

Then he jumped. Just as expected, Bruno fell for only a moment before he felt coldness from the stone around his neck. Then he stopped falling and began to lower to the ground slowly. 

The second his feet touched the ground, Bruno ran. His feet pounded on the rocky pavement. He hoped his sister could stall the men long enough for him to escape, but inside Bruno knew that the chance of that happening was slim. His sister despised him. 

It was no surprise when Bruno heard the screech of the tires down the road. The men had discovered his disappearance. Bruno wished he could use the amulet again, but he knew it would only help the men find him faster. Luckily enough, Bruno knew his way around the city well enough. He had lived there his entire life, and most of the time he was in hiding so he knew the back roads. 

Still, the legs of a teen boy were not enough to outrun the monsters that carried the men. 

Just as Bruno was about to turn right into one of the alleyways, a big van cut him off. On the side of the van was a handprint. In the hand, each finger contained a different color on the tip. One black, one white, one silver, one gold, and one bronze. The palm of the hand showed a singular, blue eye. The creepy sign was enough to show Bruno that he had no chance of escape. 

He slowed to a walk as men climbed out of the vans, some holding guns, others holding nets, and still others holding sticks. They all wore black suits and sunglasses, despite the sinking sun. 

People were beginning to peer from their windows. Bruno knew that the men would not hesitate for anything, especially not some lousy villagers. They would take him, whether he fought or not. Bruno wasn’t quite sure what to do. 

He could give himself in, and face maybe a slightly less horrible punishment. Or he could go in with a fight - possibly escaping - but also risking unknowable torture if he was caught. 

Bruno decided it was better to at least have a chance of fighting. He would surrender immediately if they shot at him. After all, he was better alive than dead. Besides, the men wanted him alive, so they would aim to injure only. Hopefully. 

The black amulet was gripped tightly in his palm. Bruno closed his eyes, earning whispers from the men. Then without hesitation, heat and color exploded from the amulet. 

Some of the men fell over blind. Others screamed as they felt as though they were burning alive. Yet none of this actually harmed the men … Bruno couldn’t bare to actually murder someone. And that was another mistake. 

In the chaos, some of the men in suits had managed to fire some shots. Bruno’s amulet protected him from the effects of the blast, but not from the bullets that were headed straight towards him. He felt something prick his ankle right above his shoe. Bruno reached down to grab for it but a wave of dizziness knocked him over. 

Bruno laid on the ground, helpless as the tranquilizer paralyzed him and the men recovered from his trick. His heart thumped wildly in his chest. This was the end. 

He felt rough hands grab him and a mask was fit over his face. He inhaled the sedative as the men grabbed him and carried him to one of the vans. They threw him into a cage and locked the door tight. Bruno could do nothing as thick hands reached through the bars and stole the black amulet from him. It felt as if his soul were being torn away. 


Bruno

Bruno woke again a few hours later, his head heavy and mind groggy. He tried to move, only to find his arms and legs restrained to a table. A strap was fitted around his forehead and under his hair so he couldn’t move. Bruno didn’t struggle. 

All around him was pure whiteness. He didn’t like the color, it reminded him of the opposite of his amulet. The jewel he had worn around his neck for the past seven years. Bruno felt naked. 

A machine beside him whirred and purred, Bruno felt himself be raised into a sitting position. The strap around his head retracted into the back of the chair, but Bruno was still very much restrained by the remaining straps on the chair. 

“Hello, Bruno.” It was a woman’s voice, sickly sweet like bitter honey. 

Bruno didn’t respond, and instead he shut his eyes. He would not look at this woman. He knew what was going on and who she was. And Bruno knew that any advantage he had now would be lost the moment his eyelids opened. 

“It’s impolite to ignore your hostess.” The voice prodded. Bruno felt nails dance across his arms. The woman was right beside him. “Come now, Bruno, I won’t hurt you.” 

Bruno wisely kept silent and ignored the scent of the woman beside him. Her perfume made him drowsy and almost careless enough to open his eyes. Bruno resorted to breathing through his mouth. The woman made a tutting noise with her tongue. 

“Bruno, dear, I just want to help you. Think of all we can accomplish together. With your power, your … magic.” Bruno could sense a smirk on the woman’s voice. 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Bruno lied. 

The woman tutted again. “How dare you! You should never lie to an adult, Bruno. What did your parents ever teach you?” She sighed, and Bruno caught another whiff of her perfume. He barely caught himself, almost opening his eyes. “First you don’t look at your hostess when she’s speaking. Then you lie. Maybe … just maybe … I’ll forgive you if you take a peek. Just one little…” 

“No!” Bruno screeched from his chair. The woman went silent. Bruno had made yet another grave mistake, and he would pay dearly. “Never. I wouldn’t want my eyes to fall out after witnessing your ugliness.” The words slipped from his lips and Bruno wished he could take them back. 

The woman laughed, but there was no humor in it. She was angry, very angry. “But my dear, how would you know of my ‘ugliness’ if you yourself have never witnessed it?” 

Don’t answer, Bruno thought to himself, clenching his eyelids shut. Don’t give her an excuse. 

“Bruno, I know what you’re thinking.” The woman was circling him, but Bruno kept his eyes shut. One look and everything he had worked towards would be gone. Down the drain. “You don’t trust me. The others have told you about me. They told you I’m bad. I’m not, Bruno, I’m the good guy. Just trust me. Open your eyes.” 

Bruno did not obey, but he felt his willpower draining. He would have to open his eyes eventually, and if he didn’t he knew the woman would wait. She would neglect to feed him and he would be all but dead. Bruno couldn’t win. 

“You’re right.” Bruno began. “I don’t trust you. But not because of things I’ve heard. I don’t trust you because you broke into my house, chased me, and sedated me.” 

The woman sighed again. Bruno could tell he was getting nowhere with this argument. “We need you, Bruno. We’re so close to finishing our project, extremely close. You know how many lives we can save. We just need you to help us so we can get the final participant.” 

“Why do you need my help?” Bruno was about to give up, but he figured he might be able to weasel some information out of the woman before he was gone. “Use someone else.” 

“I was hoping you would ask.” The woman was still pacing, Bruno could hear the swishing of a skirt and her fake laughter. “We know that you sent out the last amulet. We know that you know where it is. Just tell us where you sent the carrier crow.” 

Bruno shook his head. The crow’s location would remain secret. He couldn’t betray the others. No, he would not tell the woman anything. And he knew there was no denying sending the crow. Instead, Bruno inhaled. “I won’t tell you where I sent the crow, but I will open my eyes if …” He paused as the woman’s breathing became shallow. “If you promise to keep me alive and not torture me or the others. You have to promise.” 

“Deal.” The woman said. Bruno felt his pulse become faster. He sent a silent plea to the others that would receive his message. Please, please, let this be a good one. 

Then Bruno opened his eyes. 

Just as he had expected, the woman was wearing glasses with a lens that swirled colors of black and white into a vortex. It was nearly impossible to see anything else, his eyes immediately focused on her glasses. His head became foggy. Fight it, Bruno told himself. 

But he couldn’t. Bruno was fighting a wildfire with a spoon full of water. His power was no match for hers. “You promised.” He mumbled as his vision went blurry. 

“Did I?” The woman’s laughter was true this time. “I only said ‘deal’ not ‘I promise’. You’re losing your touch, my dear.” Bruno cursed. 

“You may have won the battle, but you haven’t won the war.” He told her. 

The woman shook her head. “You have much to learn, Bruno.” 

And with that, Bruno’s willpower drained away, leaving him a husk of a person. 

The woman smiled brightly. It was time for the test. “Bruno, fetch the cuffs on the table at the far side of the room and fasten them tightly around your wrists.” 

The straps on the chair retracted and the thing called Bruno stood up slowly. With careful steps, he crossed the tiny lab room and grabbed two metal cuffs off the table. Each one clicked as he placed them around his wrists. Then he looked up at his master. “Orders?” Bruno asked. 


Gabriel

Several hours away, an exhausted crow flopped onto the window cill of a bakery in the center of a town. It cawed once before it heard footsteps climb the wooden steps. The door to the bedroom opened and soft hands gathered the crow. 

A tiny old woman scooped up the crow and untied the letter around its leg. She nearly dropped the poor creature when she recognized the handwriting. 

“Gabe!” The old woman called. “Gabriel get up here this instant!” 

The woman placed the crow on the wooden dresser. It hopped around for a bit, finding a jewelry box to perch on so it could sleep. More footsteps could be heard making their way up the steps. A middle aged man entered the room. 

“A letter, for you.” She pressed the letters into his hand and left. “I’ll take care of the customers.” She dusted off her apron and stomped down the steps. 

The man flipped over the envelope. It was addressed to him. Gabe opened the envelope and pulled out a piece of dusty parchment. He read the letter once, then twice, and even a third time. Then he dumped the contents of the envelope onto the dresser. 

A white stone and chain fell onto the dresser with a thud. He weighed the stone in his palm. 

His orders were clear. The stone was to be given to the next worthy person he saw. Gabe opened one of the drawers, digging through the socks and underwear. 

And there - at the bottom - was a tiny cloth case. Gabe opened the case and dumped the contents into his palm. A pair of glasses laid in his hand, and he placed them on his nose. Instantly, the colors of the world shifted. This was risky business. But Bruno was in danger. 

That boy should’ve known what was coming for him. Messing with things didn’t come with an easy price. That was partially why Gabe felt so attached to the teen. 

He tucked the stone into his pocket where he could feel it. Tomorrow, he would begin his search. Tomorrow, he would follow the orders of his friend - a teen boy with extraordinary power. He could only hope his mother wouldn’t find out. 

“Gabriel!” A shriek from downstairs. Gabe smiled to himself. His mother would have no clue. 

The man turned to the sleeping crow on his mother’s jewelry box. “Master Bruno is in trouble, isn’t he?” He asked the bird. He knew the crow would not converse back. 

Gabe shook his head with pity. 

“Hopefully, Master Bruno can stay safe until I find the one.” Gabe told the crow. It cawed in agreement and Gabe smiled sadly. “He’s a tough nut, that boy.” 

And with that, Gabe walked out of the room and down the stairs to the shop. 

Chapter 2

Megan

To anyone who simply looked into the Coconut Cafe on Charles Street, it would appear that school had just let out and students were buying coffee to drink while they worked on homework. While this was the case for most days, today was not one of them. 

In the back of the cafe, Mr. Perry - the shop owner - scrambled frantically around searching for the box of straws that had shipped in the day before. 

A teen girl stood at the counter, a book tucked under her arm and a wallet held in her hand. She appeared normal - with brown hair bordering one a deep red and hazel eyes. She looked tired, but many students waiting in the line for food also had similar appearances. It was exam week after all. And no one had taken on as much work as the girl had. 

The girl tapped her foot impatiently. Of all days to get stuck waiting, it had to be today. 

“Be back in a second, Meg!” Mr. Perry called from the back. “I’ll be back in a second.” There was a crash that let the girl - Megan - know that Mr. Perry would not be back soon. 

“I’ll just take a seat. You can bring me my usual when everyone else is done.” Megan called back. She stepped out of the line, bringing a sigh of relief to the people waiting behind her. Like Megan, many of the other students were frequents to the cafe and knew that Mr. Perry loved to talk to anyone who was willing. And Megan was almost always willing. 

Megan didn’t have many friends. Although she appeared normal, Megan was a very introverted person and preferred to be alone. Mr. Perry was one of the only people she could confide in - and he also liked to provide her with free treats on days when she was feeling terrible.

She took a seat near the back of the store at a tiny booth. The seat had an indent from where she normally sat. Most days, Mr. Perry would sit across from her and chat. Occasionally, Megan would bring along another visitor. Most times the visitor would only be there to help Megan study or work on a project. 

Megan pulled out her book and began to read. She was so engrossed in the book she actually jumped when Mr. Perry sat down across from her. “Ma is manning the counter for a bit.” 

Mr. Perry handed Megan her steaming drink. She always ordered a hot chocolate with whipped cream and sprinkles - no matter what the weather. The drink always reminded her of her father before he had gotten that stupid job at the bank. 

Megan took a sip, sighing happily. Then she looked up to thank Mr. Perry and noticed he was sporting a new pair of glasses. “Nice shades.” She pointed out. 

Mr. Perry blushed. “Ma says my vision has been getting worse.” Megan frowned. Mr. Perry lived and worked with his mother. But he wasn’t super old, so she had assumed his eyesight would be fine … 

Megan also noticed the way Mr. Perry seemed extra unfocused. Normally, their conversations were very focused and Mr. Perry kept his gaze on the table. Today he seemed distracted, his eyes flitting around the room and his head turning every time the doorbell jingled. 

“Are you okay?” Megan asked the man. “You seem nervous.” 

“Nervous?” Mr. Perry chuckled - very nervously if Megan was correct. “Me? Never? Hey, Meg, do you mind if I cut our conversation a little short today? I have business to attend to.” 

“Are you sure?” Megan set her cup on the table. Mr. Perry glanced at the door, and then at his watch. “You said your mother was working her shift, which means we have another hour or so before you have to leave. Are you sure you’re okay?” 

“I’m fine.” Mr. Perry checked his watch again. “Listen, Ma said I need to work a little more from now on … her back and stuff. Well, bye!” The man hurried off. 

Megan frowned. Mr. Perry was almost never like that. Sure, he was a bit dim at times. And he did seem to have trouble focusing most days. But she had never seen him as restless as she had today. Was everything alright? 

She peeked around the corner of the booth, but Mr. Perry seemed to have disappeared. 

Megan knew that she should stay put, or maybe leave and return tomorrow. But her curiosity got the best of her. Megan sat her book on the bench and stood, then she crept to the counter. She knew there was a staircase near the storage room, and she assumed it led upstairs to the actual house. Megan had seen Mr. Perry run up before. 

She was about to run up the steps when she heard voices inside the storage room. The door was closed, but Megan pressed her ear up against it. 

“Take off those ridiculous glasses, Gabriel.” Mr. Perry’s mom shouted. 

“Ma, you know I need these. Master Bruno told me…” Mr. Perry - who was known as Gabe to some - protested weakly. 

“I don’t care what that boy told you. Take off those glasses. Why are you even wearing them?” Mr. Perry’s mom snapped. Megan could hear things moving, as if Mr. Perry’s mother was throwing things at the wall. 

“Ma, please. Master Bruno is in danger. He said I would have to find the one and give them this stone.” There was a moment of silence before Mr. Perry’s panicked voice broke through. “Where did it go?! The stone was in my pocket just a minute ago! Ma, I need to find it. If that fell into the wrong hands …” 

“Gabriel Perry get to work this instant. I don’t care what the boy told you. Our store will collapse if you don’t keep up your work effort, you hear me?” Mr. Perry must’ve nodded because Mrs. Perry seemed a lot calmer. 

“May I go check for the stone?” Mr. Perry asked. “I think I may have found the one.” 

“Check for that silly rock quickly. Then see if you can dispose of it. I don’t want another day of this silly nonsense.” 

“Yes, Ma.” 

“Good, now get back to work.” 

Megan backed away from the door just as the knob turned. 

She raced back to her seat, earning disgusted looks from other students. Just before she sat down, Megan noticed some sunlight reflecting something off the seat across from her. 

Megan bent down. It was a tiny white stone, the edges silver. It was attached to a chain. 

Mr. Perry had been talking about a stone with his mother - was this that stone? It seemed likely. Mr. Perry hurried over to her seat, his glasses noticeably absent. 

“What’s this?” Megan held up the chain. Mr. Perry paled. 

“Give it here, Meg. It’s nothing that concerns you.” Mr. Perry was angry - something Megan had never seen before. “Give it.” 

“What is it?” Megan asked again, scooting backwards into the booth. 

“It’s a toy.” Mr. Perry lied unconvincingly. “I want it back.” 

Megan tossed it from hand to hand. Mr. Perry tried to snatch it from her, but Megan was too quick. It landed in her palm. “Tell me the truth, Gabe. What is this?” 

People were beginning to stare. Mr. Perry looked like he was about to cry. 

That’s when the door opened, but the bells didn’t jingle. Mrs. Perry called from the back of the store. “Gabe, can you oil the bells again?” 

Mr. Perry straightened, his breathing became rapid. 

The newcomer was a boy, someone who Megan had never seen before. He had dark hair but pale gray eyes. But what really startled Megan was the black stone that hung limply around his neck and the blank stare in his eyes. 

“Master Bruno!” Mr. Perry cried. “You’ve escaped!” Ah, so this was the legendary Bruno. 

Mr. Perry ran to give Bruno a hug, but the boy raised his hand. A blast of pure black … stuff…? shot from his palm and into Mr. Perry’s chest. The man collapsed on the floor, writhing in pain until he fell unconscious. 

“Stop thumping around!” Mrs. Perry called from the back. 

Megan froze. The boy's gaze had landed on her and the stone in her hands. 

He took a step towards her. The entire cafe was silent. Megan noticed that he was wearing a black suit, but it seemed several sizes too big for him. 

Megan opened her palm as if to offer the stone to the boy. Bruno did not move. 

His voice was almost robotic. “I don’t want the stone.” 

“What do you want?” Megan asked, mad that her voice was shaking so much. 

The boy smiled, revealing white teeth. “You.” 

Me?” Megan asked in disbelief. Who was she kidding? Megan was no hero … no witch or wizard. She was just an ordinary girl. 

“I see why Gabriel gave you the stone. You have a strong aura, young lady.” Bruno ignored her question, his pale eyes not straying from her chest. One of the other students reached for her phone, but Bruno raised his palm and shot the phone out of her hand. Everyone froze. 

“Mr. Perry didn’t give me the stone.” Megan argued. “He dropped it and I picked it up.” 

Bruno considered this. “Doesn’t matter. She will be most pleased as long as I return with something.” It seemed as though Bruno was talking to himself. “Place the chain over your head.” 

“What? Why?” Megan scrambled backwards even further, curling herself into a protective ball. Bruno made his way towards her, eyes not moving at all. Megan felt very uncomfortable. What was going on here? 

“You heard me, place the chain over your head.” Bruno ordered, a hint of steel in his voice. 

“No.” Megan said defiantly. For a second, she thought she saw something flicker, the boy's eyes moved slightly to the left and his expression turned to one of fear. But then it was gone, replaced with steely reserve. 

Bruno reached out and grabbed the stone from Megan. Then he grabbed her arm, grip like iron. “Let go!” Megan screeched, but Bruno kept a tight hold on her. 

Bruno held Megan tightly with one hand while draping the chain over her head with the other. The second the chain fell limp around her neck, Megan’s body began to flail. She felt filled with unimaginable warmth. 

Visions flashed through her head. A volcano. A cave. Five stones. Voices. Hands. Megan tried to move but she couldn’t. 

When the cafe returned to view, Megan was feeling quite dizzy. She realized she was on the floor and tried to stand. A hand reached out and she grabbed it, thankful for the extra help. But when she saw who the arm was attached to she stumbled back. “You.” She hissed. 

“Me.” The boy laughed, but the sound was forced. “Master Bruno. Although I am no master anymore. I have a new master now. One I serve without question.” 

The words that escaped Bruno’s lips seemed forced. It seemed to pain him to speak. 

Megan felt the stone around her neck grow warm. It felt like a breeze, one she gratefully clung to for it provided her energy. “You’re not Bruno.” Megan said with a note of recognition. 

It seemed as though Bruno could be seen in a new light. Most of the people in the cafe appeared gray or duller than before. Bruno seemed the same way, but she saw inside of him a faint glow. Someone else was controlling the body, not Bruno. Whoever Bruno was, it wasn’t this boy. 

Mr. Perry groaned on the floor. Hopefully he would wake up soon and … 

Bruno shot the guy with another blast of black magic or whatever. So much for help. 

Megan felt weak and tired, her limbs felt heavy - despite the stone providing her energy. She decided that even if the stone was giving her energy, it had caused enough problems as it was. She gripped the chain and prepared to pull it over her head. 

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” Bruno laughed. “You accepted the stone, whether I forced you to or not. Now come with me and we’ll meet our new master.” 

Our?” Megan scoffed. “Are you under the impression that I’m going anywhere with you? Because I would never go anywhere with a murderer like you. So you might as well just go tell your ‘master’ that I’m staying here.” 

Bruno frowned. The students in the cafe took advantage of the standoff to begin to gather their stuff. Bruno ignored this entirely, his eyes focused only on Megan.

“You will come by will or force.” He said simply. Megan shook her head. 

Bruno raised his hands towards his chest. He pointed the palms towards each other and a ball of blackness appeared in his grip. The - was it magic? - spun wildly. Megan raised her arms protectively in anticipation, knowing fully that she would not be able to stop the magic ball. 

Bruno thrust his arms outwards, launching the weird magic ball towards Megan. She expected it to hit her, but instead the ball rebounded an inch from her arms. It flew towards Bruno, who ducked and the ball crashed through the window. Mrs. Perry was yelling from the back, but Bruno paid her no mind. 

“How …” The boy seemed confused, something Megan took pride in. The glow inside him was growing weaker. 

“Leave. Me. Alone.” Megan spat through gritted teeth. She was tired of these games. Megan gathered her belongings - including her now cold chocolate - and stood to head for the door. Bruno stood in her way, and when Megan tried to step around him he moved in front of her. “Get out of my way.” She hissed at him. 

Bruno didn’t move. “Come with me.” He pleaded, and Megan saw a flicker of fear in his eyes. She was confused, but Megan thought she knew what was going on. 

Bruno was imprisoned inside himself. Megan could see the real Bruno trying to escape from his prison inside his body. Something - or someone - was forcing him to stay hidden. “I can help you.” Megan whispered. “I understand.” 

Or at least, Megan thought she understood. Bruno made no move. Megan blinked, and whatever color filter had been placed over he before was gone. But she knew that Bruno was fighting himself. Deciding that the boy would accept her help, Megan placed her hands on his shaking shoulders. The amulet grew warm, as if it knew what she was going to do. 

Megan let the amulet take control. The warmth spread through her body and she closed her eyes. Finally, several minutes later, she stumbled backwards. The warmth faded at once. 

The boy was lying on the ground, writhing in pain. Megan took a step backwards. 

All of the sudden, the boy became still. Megan thought he was dead. But then his eyes opened, and immediately focused on Megan. “Help me.” His voice was raw. 

The cafe had emptied out, and Mr. Perry was only just beginning to stir. 

Megan had no other choice, so she strolled over to Bruno and took his outstretched hand and helped him to his feet. Bruno brushed off his shirt and tucked black jewel around his neck into his shirt. “I believe we haven’t been properly introduced.” He smiled warmly. 

Megan was sure this was an act. Okay, she wasn’t completely sure, but she was confused. Had she actually been able to help Bruno break out of his prison? Or had she helped whatever was holding him in defeat him. Megan stayed silent and stared at the floor, which was covered in shards of glass. 

“It’s fine.” Bruno said. “It’s really me this time. What’s your name?” 

Megan didn’t answer, because Mr. Perry did it for her. “Meg, what is going on here? And who is that?” Mr. Perry asked. 

“Meg, is it?” Bruno turned to her. Megan frowned at Mr. Perry, who was climbing to his feet. 

“Megan.” She whispered. “Why doesn’t Mr. Perry recognize you? He did earlier.” 

“Oh, Megan.” Bruno sighed. “I have so many answers for you. Of course, we’ll need to begin your training. I’m sorry I forced the amulet onto you, but you’ll make a lovely addition to my team …” Megan pushed Bruno out of the way, ending his sentence. She picked up her book. 

“I meant what I said earlier. I’m not going anywhere with you - possessed or not.” Megan told him, making her way through the debris towards the door. 

“I’m sorry I forced you into this.” Bruno sounded genuine, but Megan still didn’t trust him. “I have so much to tell you. About me. About the amulet. About everything. I promise that you’ll be safe, the men in black suits won’t be able to find you …” 

“Meg, you didn’t tell me you were in a relationship.” Mr. Perry climbed into one of the booths. “Let me tell you, they don’t work out for you. Don’t let this … this boy break your heart.” 

Megan shot a glare at Mr. Perry, but he just shrugged. “I’ve been through plenty of break ups myself …” Megan turned towards Bruno as Mr. Perry rambled on about his love life. The boy seemed just as confused and angry as she was. 

“I didn’t want this.” Bruno gestured to the shop around him, ignoring Mr. Perry. “I didn’t want any of this.” 

“Go away and never show your face to me again.” Megan could feel tears welling up in her eyes. She couldn’t remember the last time she had been this scared - this confused. She liked it when the world was normal and it made sense. 

“You can’t just leave.” Bruno protested. “Not now. I need you. We need you.” 

“Find someone else.” She spit, trying to pull the amulet over her head. But instead of it coming off, the amulet began to shrink. The chain grew tighter and tighter, and soon Megan couldn’t breath. She began to panic, clawing at the chain wrapped around her neck. 

In a moment, the pressure was released and Megan sucked in grateful breaths. Bruno stood over her, a worried expression plastered on his face. 

“You can only take off the amulet if you have the intent of putting it back on eventually. It has bonded to you.” Bruno explained. Megan felt panicky, as if the world she once knew was dissolving into chaos. She scrambled to her feet. 

“Stay away.” She whispered, and ropes appeared out of nowhere, fastening themselves to Bruno. She ran, as fast as her legs could carry her. 

Chapter 3

Bruno

“Wait!” Bruno called after the girl, struggling to release the ropes she had formed. It was her first day with the amulet, right? She must’ve been extremely powerful to overcome his protection spells and still have energy left. 

Bruno felt the amulet grow cold and the ropes around him snapped. He lunged for the door, but it was too late. Megan was gone, and Bruno ended up tripping and falling. 

He contemplated lying on the ground for a few moments, but someone pulled him to his feet. It was Gabriel. “Rough week?” Bruno couldn’t help but feel a sense of relief. He kept a grip on Gabriel, but it appeared as though he was only steadying himself. Really, Bruno was searching Gabriel’s mind. All memories of Bruno had vanished. Had he done that? Bruno felt a vague sense that he had been the one to wipe them. 

“Yes.” Bruno answered absentmindedly. “Very rough.” 

“Gabriel what is going on out …” Mrs. Perry entered the cafe and dropped her cup of coffee. The cafe was a mess - tables overturned, shattered glass coating the floor. 

Bruno felt obligated to help the Perrys clean, as he had been the main cause of the mess. 

He raised his arms and concentrated. The black amulet was warm against his chest. The debris littered around the store seemed to glow darkly, as if the shadows were magnified. Then each object reassembled itself and returned to its rightful place. Mrs. Perry and Gabriel stared at him in shock. Mrs. Perry was the first to break out of it. “Gabriel, you said that boy was in danger. But he’s perfectly fine.”

“Ma, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Who is this kid?” Gabriel responded. 

“It’s that Master Bruno boy you’re obsessed with.” She cried. 

Gabriel shook his head. Bruno interjected. “Ma’m, sir, if you could please look straight at me and I’ll explain everything.” Both heads turned and Bruno seized the opportunity. The amulet let out a final gasp of magic and Mrs. Perry and Gabriel blinked several times. 

“Ma’m, sir, are you insane?” Bruno spoke out, breaking both people out of their confused state. “There was a robbery at your store, and both of you just stood here. Everyone is gone now, but you’re still here gaping like fish.” 

“Gabriel, call the police!” Mrs. Perry ordered. Gabriel scrambled to do her bidding. Bruno nodded and stepped outside. 

He whistled once, and a large black crow flew down from the sky and perched on his arm. 

“Go find a place to stay. I’ll be gone a long time.” Bruno told the bird sadly. It cawed once - letting Bruno know that it understood - before flying off. 

Then the boy heard a screech of tires. A van pulled around the corner. Bruno froze. How had they … 

Bruno glanced down at the cuffs on his wrists. He tried to peel them off, but to no avail. 

The men in the black suits could track his magic as long as he wore those blasted bracelets. And that meant he couldn’t find that girl - Megan - to tell her anything. He needed these bracelets off … and now! It seemed as though the only person who could help Bruno was Megan. 

But she was gone. She had run away, which was probably for the best. Maybe Megan could trick the amulet into getting destroyed - but then again, he hadn’t. 

And if Bruno couldn’t defeat the men in black suits and the woman with the weird glasses, how was Megan supposed to. She might have been strong back at the cafe, but that didn’t mean she was educated. Besides, he couldn’t bring himself to believe that she had freed him. 

The only thing left to do was run. Which is exactly what Bruno did. Luckily, the van that had pulled around the corner had not spotted him yet. He ran the direction Megan had gone. 

Bruno felt a sense of deja vu. Only yesterday he had run from the same men, only to be led into a trap that resulted in him surrendering. Or was it yesterday? Bruno had no way of knowing. He hoped his sister was safe, despite all she had done to him. 

Bruno’s feet hit the pavement in a fast tempo. He had no way of knowing which way Megan had gone, but he did know that she was his only hope for removing the metal cuffs. 

He hoped that he had lost the vans, but with the trackers in his bracelets, he knew it wouldn’t keep them at bay for long. Bruno had arrived in a small neighborhood, each of the houses looked identical. He refrained from calling for Megan. That would draw way too much attention to himself, not to mention probably scare the girl away too. Hopefully she was close by … 

Megan

Unbeknownst to Bruno, Megan was not as far away as he previously thought. Truth be told, Bruno had made his way into Megan’s yard. But she didn’t know that. Not yet. 

The second she left the cafe, Megan couldn’t help but feel kind of bad that she had left Mr. Perry and his mother in the store alone with Bruno. But she had been so terrified of herself and of the jewel that she had around her neck. 

Megan felt extremely guilty for leaving Bruno, but she needed a breath of fresh air. 

She turned around the corner and ran straight home, figuring her father and mother wouldn’t mind if she was out of breath or slightly late. When she’d heard the screech of the tires, Megan wasn’t quite sure what to do. But she kept running and hoped Bruno wouldn’t follow her. There had to be some way to trick the amulet into letting her take it off.  

Megan had arrived home, exhausted, scared, and panting. Her father was in the kitchen, preparing supper. “You’re late.” He noted. 

This was a rare occasion. Megan’s parents barely ever cooked. Most times, they weren’t even home. Megan’s father was a banker in the city and her mother was a model for one of the fashion companies. Her father was short and had a slight bulge around his stomach, with pale skin and a mop of shaggy brown hair. 

Megan’s mother was home less than her father. But when she was at the house with Megan, she kept all her makeup on as if expecting the press to burst in at any moment. She had gorgeous red curls and eyes that sparkled. Her mother strutted into the kitchen a moment later, wearing a scarlet gown and gloves that stretched to her elbows. “How does this look, darling?” Her mother didn’t notice her existence. 

“Lovely, honey.” Megan’s father replied, without turning around. “Meg, you didn’t answer my question. Where were you?” 

Megan’s last name was Burke. Anyone who lived in the city knew Burke’s Banking Bureau was famous for its expensive yet extraordinary services. Since Mr. Burke ran the bank, he often got much profit from their clients and used it not on Megan, but on himself for fine clothing. So Megan rarely got new clothing, and it was no surprise when her mother sneered at her outfit, skipping Megan’s turn to talk. 

“Seriously, child, must you wear that?” Mrs. Burke averted her gaze. “It’s hideous.” 

Megan looked down at her clothing. It wasn’t that bad. She was wearing a t-shirt from her school’s honors class field trip and a pair of jeans about two inches too short. Her sneakers were more brown than gray at this point, and her hair was wild from running. 

“I need new clothes, and I’ve been telling father that for a month.” Megan sighed, sitting at the table. “As for where I was, I went to the cafe like always. But there was a long line and a robbery and …” Both of her parents stopped what they were doing and turned to stare at her. Both of them gaped at their daughter and blurted questions at the same time. 

“Why were you at that cafe during a robbery?” Her father asked, and he curled his lips with the word about the cafe. 

“You went out wearing that?” Her mother coughed in disgust. 

Megan felt tears creep to her eyes. “I didn’t try to be there during a robbery, it just happened.” To tell the truth, Megan had no idea that Bruno had pawned the incident off as a robbery to Mr. Perry. But she could assume he would, and she hoped that’s what he had done. “And I already told you, I have no other clothes.” 

Her mother seemed to accept this, but her father’s face was turning red. “You went to the Coconut Cafe?” 

“Yes.” Megan frowned. “What’s wrong with …” 

“What’s wrong with the … what’s wrong with the Coconut Cafe?” Her father wheezed. “The owner. The food. That place has no profit for the bank. If it weren’t for Mrs. Perry’s age, we would’ve ended the agreement a long time back.” 

“Mr. Perry and his mother try their best.” Megan protested. 

“Their best isn’t good enough.” Her father shouted. Mrs. Burke slid off the table where she had been perched, and strutted away. “And neither is yours apparently.” 

Megan was confused until her father pulled an envelope out of his pocket. “Your grade report came today. Let’s see, a 100 in Literature. A 100 in Geography. A 100 in World History. A 100 in Zoology. And what’s this? A 99 in Calculus?” 

Keep in mind, Megan was a sophomore at this point in time. Calculus was a very advanced class for someone her age. And a 99 was actually rounded down, as she had a 99.49 in that class. 

But for a man like Mr. Burke, a 99 wasn’t enough. “No dinner.” He announced. “For you. No more trips to that stupid cafe. Go to your room and study harder.” It was like Mr. Burke didn’t know his daughter spent six hours studying every night. But, then again, he was never home. 

Megan hurried to her room, dropping to the floor. She somehow managed to pull the amulet off and fling it across the room. She let tears drip down her face. 

Then Megan made an amazing decision. She went and picked up the amulet, holding it in her hand. 

The amulet was about the size of strawberry, though much skinnier and less tasty. The white stone was surrounded by a metal casing on the sides, which was engraved with runes Megan couldn’t read or understand. She intended to eventually find out what the markings meant. The amulet seemed to grow warm with her touch, like a little hamster that liked its owner. Megan giggled. The doorbell rang downstairs. Odd. 

“Megan!” Her father called. “It’s for you.” 


Bruno

Bruno stepped inside the Burke’s house, amazed by it. He had never thought Megan would be this rich, judging by her clothes. 

But then again, it wasn’t as surprising after he met her father. Mr. Burke was about as friendly as a momma grizzly bear with two cubs. Bruno should know, he had a good friend that happened to be a momma grizzly bear. 

“May I speak to Megan please?” Bruno asked when the door was opened. 

The man that opened the door looked very confused. He didn’t notice the drip of sauce sliding down his very expensive suit. “Megan? Why do you want her? How did you know she lived here? Are you her boyfriend?” Bruno heard someone else yelling in the background. 

Bruno blinked, thinking fast. “Uh, no. I’m not her boyfriend. I’m actually here so we can work on our project for school. It’s a model of a solar system.” Bruno conjured a bag behind him, and filled it with markers and styrofoam balls. Then he showed it to Mr. Burke, who nodded. “As for how I knew where she lived…” 

“I told him so we could finish the project. It’s due tomorrow.” Megan appeared behind Mr. Burke. Her eyes were slightly red, as if she had been crying. 

Bruno sent a grateful look towards Megan. She nodded, but shook her head to warn him not to say anymore. Mr. Burke didn’t notice, as he had just found the sauce on his suit. He stormed away, leaving the door open for Bruno. 

“We can work in my room.” Megan said loudly. “Will you bring us food, father?” 

Mr. Burke looked up, expression dark. Then he saw Bruno and smiled sweetly. “Food will be ready soon.” 

Bruno looked between them, but Megan had already begun climbing the steps. Bruno followed suit, leaving Mr. Burke behind and grumbling. Megan led Bruno to her room, plopping down on the soft carpet. 

Bruno noticed that she had more … stuff … than most people, but none of it looked used. 

The carpet was soft and the room was big, but it looked like no one had lived there. The bed and desk were the only things that looked used. There were books everywhere - but not the kind you would read, more textbooks than actual books. 

“So, what do you want?” Megan asked, staring at her feet rather than Bruno. 

The boy stopped to think for a second. What did he want? Obviously, he needed Megan to go with him. She needed to learn the history and powers of the amulet, and how to control it. If Bruno wanted to stand a chance against that woman … 

“Megan, if you just come with me for one day, I’ll show you everything.” Bruno started, but Mr. Burke slammed open the door and shoved a plate of food towards Megan and Bruno. 

Then he slammed the door again and left. Bruno noticed Megan was on the verge of tears again. “What’s all this about, you and your father?” He saw tears slipping down her face. “Are you … Are you okay?” 

“No!” Megan said suddenly. “I’m not okay. My dad hates me because I got less than perfect in a subject way too hard for me. My mom is telling me I’m ugly. And I have you, forcing me to accept this stupid necklace and telling me I have a job to do.” She was crying for sure now. 

“I’m sorry.” Bruno said stupidly. He felt responsible for all of this misery. 

“I just don’t understand.” Megan whimpered. “Why me? Why any of this? I don’t understand what you want from me, or what the amulet does, or what any of this means.” 

“I know I may sound redundant, but if you come with me, it’ll help. I’ll keep you safe and I’ll teach you everything you need to know.” Bruno explained with a sigh, not touching the food. Although his stomach was growling, this food was Megan’s, not his. Besides, the food would not be nutritious enough for him. He needed his own special food. 

Megan shook her head, ignoring the food as well. “No, I’m not going anywhere with anyone. In all the books I’ve read, they make it sound easy to leave their families - no matter how terrible. But I can’t just leave my parents.” 

Bruno tried a different approach. “Do you remember how I first burst into that cafe? Do you remember what I looked like, how I tried to attack you?” 

Megan nodded. “How could I forget?” 

“Well, there are certain people who did that to me. I can’t tell you who, not here and not now. They want me dead, and now they want you dead too. If you stay here with your parents, there’s a chance that they’ll rat you out. And then you’ll be in the wrong hands. You don’t want that, do you?” 

“Well, no.” Megan sighed. “But I can’t just drop out of school. I can’t just leave everything I know to go live with some boy I barely know so I can save the world with a magic rock.” 

“I don’t expect you to.” Bruno answered calmly. “But I’m just letting you know, there are people who want you dead. There are people who do anything to steal that amulet from you, and you have to protect it.” 

Megan nodded, only once. “When do we leave?” 

“Now, if possible.” Bruno said. “I can help you pack.” 

“I’m already packed.” Megan said, pulling a bag out from under her bed. It was bulging with more stuff. “I’ve kept this bag for five years in case I needed to run away.” 

“Do you have the amulet?” Bruno asked her. Megan nodded, showing him the white stone. It was identical to his - except for the color. He revealed his own black stone, hidden away. Megan smiled shyly. “Good, now we’re going to…” 

His sentence was cut off when the doorbell rang. Megan paled. “No one else was supposed to show up. I mean, even you weren’t supposed to show up.” 

Bruno took a step towards the windows. He peeled aside the gray curtains, looked outside, and immediately ran to the door and locked it. His face was pale and his voice was shaky. “They found us.” Bruno began to tremble, despite his best efforts to remain calm. 

The men in black suits had good reason to be frightening to Bruno. They had captured him, sedated him, and their leader had hypnotized him. He had perfectly good reason to be scared, but he didn’t want to break down in front of Megan. She was supposed to trust him, think he was strong and fierce. But his facade had crumbled. They were both teens - children really. 

“We’ll find a way out.” Megan told him. Bruno realized he had shrunk against the wall and immediately straightened. He nodded once, not trusting himself to talk. 

“My amulet is drained at the moment, but we can use yours.” He explained when his voice had stopped shaking. “Hold it up so it catches the light, and then let it grow cold …” He stopped when Megan frowned. 

“My amulet grows warm, not cold.” She whispered. 

Bruno shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. Let it grow warm then, and focus. Grab my arm, and try to focus on the picture you’ll see.” 

Megan nodded, setting her feet. She held up her amulet, tilting it towards the window. Sunlight streamed in through the crack in the curtains. Bruno could hear the men downstairs, talking to Mr. Burke. 

Megan clenched his arm tightly as footsteps proceeded up the steps. Bruno focused on the one safe place they could go. 

The door burst open, revealing a surprised woman with fancy glasses. She clicked a button on the side, and Bruno reached out to cover Megan’s eyes as he shut his own. He felt something breeze past him. He felt something sharp stick in his arm. 

But the floor dissolved beneath him and Bruno let out a sigh of relief. Megan had whisked them away in the nick of time. 


Back at the home of the Burkes, a woman pulled off her glasses. She inspected the carpet of the girl’s bedroom carefully. 

“They escaped.” She whispered ruefully. But she only found one of the knives she had thrown. The other one had embedded itself in that boy’s arm. “Lieutenant, check the radar immediately and plot the point of Dagger #2.” 

Then the woman stood up and smiled. “We have everything we need. Operation Bring-Back-Summer is a go.” Then she picked up her dagger and tucked it in her pocket along with her glasses. The boy and the girl didn’t stand a chance. Not against her. Everyone would thank her one day. Just not today. Not until she had cleaned her bloody hands. 


 Chapter 4

Megan

Megan felt herself plummet towards the ground. A scream escaped her lips, and she felt like she had left her stomach in the sky. 

Her body hit the ground hard, and Megan groaned in pain. She tested each of her limbs - finding them in perfect working order, except for the pain she felt. But that would go away eventually. Bruno, however, was not so good. 

Megan didn’t see her surroundings at first, she saw only Bruno lying on the ground a few feet away. There was blood, and Megan went into autopilot mode. 

In the process of protecting Megan’s mind from the woman with the glasses, Bruno had covered her face. His extended arm had posed as a target for one of the woman’s silver knives. Bruno was unconscious at the moment, but it could’ve been the fall too. 

The knife was embedded in Bruno’s left bicep, but not deep. In fact, the blade seemed to be an inch long. It also seemed to be falling out. 

Ignoring everything Megan had learned about first aid and knife wounds, she removed the knife and ripped off a part of her t-shirt. She tied it around his arm - the bleeding would hopefully be stanched. Bruno stirred. 

“Where are we?” Megan asked him as soon as his pale eyes fluttered open. 

Bruno took a look around, and Megan followed his gaze. They were in a forest, the trees stood tall around them. Each one was stretching towards the sky, and their branches waved in the wind. Megan inhaled a scent of fresh air. 

A look of shock registered on Bruno’s face when he noticed his arm. 

“Where are we?” Megan repeated. 

“Not too far from where we need to be. I guess my concentration broke, which gave you an unclear picture of our location. No worries.” Bruno explained, sitting up and glaring at his bandage. “I also have real wound supplies at the place we’re going. Did you save the knife?” 

Megan nodded, pointing to the rock that she had placed the weapon on. “The blade is short, so I kept it because it seemed odd.” 

Bruno frowned as he picked up the knife with his right hand. He wiped the blood off the blade with his shirt, before inspecting the weapon closer. “I don’t understand why the blade is so short. She obviously didn’t want me dead, but injuring me wouldn’t help because she knows I have supplies and magic.” He trailed off, leaving Megan to hear only the chirping birds. 

The wind whipped the hair on Megan’s head around, forming a red-brown blur. Bruno laughed as she pushed her hair aside. “The weather’s perfect too.” 

Bruno ignored Megan’s confused look. “The trees will like this. We won’t even have to pay today.” 

“What are you talking about?” Megan asked him. 

“You’ll see.” Bruno grinned widely. Then he stood up and whistled once, a sharp sound. Megan covered her ears as the whistle continued. 

Even the trees seemed to bend over. And then Megan noticed something. 

The trees actually were bending over. Bruno turned to look at Megan, who had leapt to her feet. One of the larger trees bent down, its trunk curving as it offered a thick branch to Bruno. The boy climbed on, and Megan had no choice but to follow. 

Bruno’s injured arm made it hard for him to hold on as the tree’s branch rose, so he gripped Megan’s arm tightly. Higher and higher they went as the tree seemed to offer them to the sky as a gift. The ground grew further away and the wind increased. Megan screamed. 

A dark shadow passed overhead and Mean screamed again. It was something she hoped never to see in her entire life. 

“Dragon!” Megan shrieked. 

“Yes, yes.” Bruno rolled his eyes. “Hurry. Old Freda here ain’t got all day. She has hatchlings that need her attention.” 

“You have a friend that’s a dragon.” Megan’s voice was very high pitched. 

The dragon was hovering right next to the branch now. Her scales were a magnificent green like the tree leaves, and she snorted. A voice filled Megan’s head, deep and ancient. I wouldn’t call us friends, child. I would call us acquaintances. The Amulet Keeper still owes me a sack full of gold. 

“Sorry, Freda.” Bruno shrugged. “But we don’t have time. This is Megan, and she’s one of us.” 

Freda blinked, understanding filling her knowledgeable eyes. One of … you? You found the last one?  

“It’s a long story.” Bruno sighed. “You know where to take us, and then the next time we meet I promise I’ll have your gold.” The dragon huffed again, her wings flapping wildly. The wind was blowing harder, if that was possible. She shifted over, and Bruno jumped off the branch and landed on the dragon’s back. 

If you don’t bring me the gold next time, boy, I will burn you to a crisp. That’s a promise. Freda snorted again, steam rising from her nose. Bruno shrugged. 

“Hurry up, Megan. We don’t have all day.” Bruno beckoned for Megan to follow him. 

“There’s no way I’m riding on the back of a dragon.” Megan shook her head fiercely. “No way.” She scooted back on the branch. Bruno sighed, and whispered something to the dragon. 

Freda lifted her wing, knocking the branch. The tree fought back, trying to hit the mother dragon. The movement and the wind were too much for Megan, and she slid off the end of the branch. There was a moment of free falling before Megan landed softly on the dragon’s back. 

“Over here.” Bruno called to her as Freda began to fly towards the west. Megan followed the sound of his voice. 

Freda was a smaller dragon, even though she was about as big as a bus. Megan was able to crawl across her great back and into a dip between the wings. It was small, but shaped like a seat. Bruno was already there, holding his wounded arm close to his side. “We’ll be there soon.” 

Megan surely hoped so. Riding a dragon wasn’t all Bruno had made it out to be. Freda was silent for the majority of the ride, but Bruno was talking and Megan was pretty sure they were having a conversation without her. But that was perfectly fine, as Megan needed some time to think. It had been a while since she had been alone long enough to think. 

Just as a secret, Megan had only come on this trip with Bruno because she had thought the whole ordeal had been a dream. She figured she was asleep, and the sooner she woke up the better. But this was life - it wasn’t a dream.

Megan wished she had lied and said she had never seen Bruno before. She wished she hadn’t let him into her house. And most of all, she wished that she had just given Mr. Perry the amulet back. 

Freda’s great wings flapped as they travelled, and Megan began to feel tears sting her eyes. 

She didn’t want any of this. Sure, magic and dragons were cool in books, where Megan could safely imagine them from her own room. 

But in real life, magic was a lot messier. 

Finally, as the sun touched the clouds, Freda set down at the edge of a large lake. The water was still, and the sky looked like a large mural. Freda took a long swig of lake water before taking off into the sky again. 

Bruno smiled at Megan, who was still stumbling around trying to get a feeling back in her legs. “We’re here.” 

Megan looked confused. “We’re where exactly?” 

Bruno just smiled again and shook his head. “Follow me, madam.” 

Then he stepped on foot into the water. Then another. He began trudging through the lake, the water growing higher and higher until he was up to his neck. “C’mon, Megan.” 

Megan sighed ruefully, regretting that she had even gotten up this morning. Then she stepped into the water too. It was cold, but it didn’t feel like water normally did. Megan took another step. The water looked like it was there, but it wasn’t. 

When Megan finally got to the part where Bruno was - with the water up to her neck - he ducked under and disappeared. Megan reached out to where he had been a moment before, but he wasn’t there. Megan decided that Bruno really needed to explain things to her the moment that they got there - wherever they were going. 

So without hesitation, Megan ducked under the water and felt her body disappear. 

Bruno

Bruno wasn’t expecting Megan to be so easily persuaded. She had made a big fuss at the cafe and when he tried to get her to leave home. But now she was doing things like jumping into a lake without question. 

Then Bruno realized why - he was a bit slow, but then again, he didn’t share Megan’s thoughts. She thought this was fake, so she was playing along. A good coping defense. 

Maybe Freda had been right. Bruno’s conversation had gone somewhat like this: 

Bruno: I kind of forced this upon her. The men captured me, and they got control of me. I went to the cafe where she was at, and for some reason she was holding the amulet. I forced her to accept it because she had an aura. 

Freda: Little one, you must evade capture. 

Bruno: (after rolling his eyes) Thank you, ancient one. I know to avoid capture. But surely you must know a way to ‘unaccept’ the amulet. 

Freda: No, there is no way. The amulet is the girl’s until she dies - or surrenders it. But if she surrenders it, she follows. For example, if the girl were to surrender the amulet to the men who you speak of, they would have control over her as well - like a puppet. 

Bruno: I should’ve never stayed with my sister. I should’ve known she would turn me. 

Freda: The past is past, little one. Should we include the girl in on this conversation? She seems lonely. You will have to explain everything to her. The men, the woman, and the magic. 

Bruno: I know, I know. But now is not the time. 

Freda: (in a reprimanding tone) Little one, you won’t have much time. I have been watching the stars. I have seen things that I never wished upon you. Great trials lie ahead. 

After that, Bruno remained silent, waiting for the great dragon to elaborate. She did not. 

So now, Bruno was standing in an entry hall. The walls were made of dark stone. Megan appeared beside him, and Bruno winced as she grabbed his arm to steady herself. 

“This way.” He whispered, his quiet voice echoing through the halls. 

He had suspected they would not be alone when they entered, but he had not expected everyone to be there. 

“Where are we?” Megan breathed. 

“This, my dear, is a castle.” Bruno informed her. “You see, there are three other amulets. One is bronze, one is silver, and one is gold. Each one has an owner. 

“About two years ago, all of us met in one place - the lake. We decided we needed a headquarters, or something like the men in the black suits had. So we made a portal in the lake that leads here - our castle. In terms of size, it takes up about one square centimeter. The location is unknown. But this castle is our safe place. 

“I’d like to introduce you to the other three amulet keepers first. Then, we’ll find you a room. This castle can hold as many people as it needs to - it can grow to accommodate them - or shrink depending on how much space is needed. After we find your room, I’ll show you the study and answer the questions burning in your mind.” Bruno stopped walking, not even realizing that he had led Megan to the doors to the dining room. 

“One question first.” Megan paused, wringing her fingers. “Will they like me?” 

“I’m sure they will.” Bruno answered with a smile. But Megan’s question had sort of unnerved him. When was the last time he had worried about something as simple as people liking him? It had been an extremely long time … 

Ten year old Bruno stood on the doorstep of the last home in the neighborhood. This was his last chance before he had to walk two miles to the next city. His sister was away, she wouldn’t be back for another month. At least, not until she heard the news. 

Bruno knocked on the door, the wood making an odd hollow noise. He heard several locks click, and shivered. It was raining - and little Bruno was soaked to the bone. 

The door creaked open, revealing an old woman, her back bent over. “Who is it?” She called weakly, looking over Bruno’s head. Then she looked down and saw him. “I’m sorry, I’m not in the mood for cookies or popcorn today.” 

Tiny Bruno felt a tear slip down his cheek. Or maybe it was the rain. 

“Ma’m, I’m not selling anything today. My parents … my home …” Bruno choked, his voice catching. The old woman was the first person to listen to him. “It’s in flames. I need a phone to call my sister and tell her.” 

Bruno’s home and parents had been the source of a terrible fire. The cause was deemed unknown, but Bruno had heard the radiator making weird noises. He was sure it was a simple mechanical error. But that didn’t mean anything could be replaced. His home, his parents, his clothes, his books … all gone. 

The woman stepped aside and let Bruno use the phone. He called his sister and told her. She said she would hurry back to town as soon as she could and hung up. 

Bruno felt alone. Little did he know, his sister would think he was the cause of the fire. She would blame all of her problems on him. Good old Cynthia, never considering the fact that she hadn’t been the only one to lose parents in the fire. Of course, she would care for Bruno. She was old enough. 

But that night wasn’t only the night of the fire. It was the night he was given the amulet. 

He didn’t accept it then. 

The old woman had arrived as soon as his sister hung up the phone. She had handed him something - a special black amulet. Bruno pulled it around his neck and looked in the mirror hanging on the wall. He was handsome, she told him. 

So when Bruno marched down the street that night, he forgot he was an orphan. His only concern was looking the most handsome he could be. 

“You good there?” Megan was staring at Bruno with a concerned look on her face. “Earth to Bruno?” The boy blinked once. He had never told anyone besides the old woman he was an orphan. His parents were dead, and he pretended he had two loving parents instead. Even Gabriel had no idea. So he ignored Megan’s question. 

“Let’s go meet some friends.” Bruno smiled. 

Henry

The second Bruno stepped in the door with his new friend, Henry thought he had died. 

Okay, maybe he was overexaggerating a bit. The girl wasn’t that beautiful or anything. She wasn’t even attractive at all. But Henry saw her aura and Bruno’s combined, and he knew that if anyone was going to stop those evil men, it was the pair of them. 

Bruno seemed tired, something Henry had never seen from the older boy before. He blinked once as to wash off his aura filter, and Bruno seemed even paler. 

The older boy was wearing a vest and shirt combination, normal pants and sneakers. He seemed like a mix of a few decades ago and today’s time. Bruno’s dark hair was messy and his pale eyes were rimmed with shadows. 

The girl was wearing a ripped and torn t-shirt, as well as short jeans. She had wavy, crazy hair that seemed either dark red or dark brown. It was hard to tell, and she had hazel eyes. But most of all, Henry noted that she looked confused.  

He glanced down at his own outfit, and realized that if this girl was truly new to all this magic, of course it would be confusing. He was wearing dark robes, and his amulet was shown proudly on his chest. Henry remembered when he had gotten his amulet. It had been not long ago - Henry was the youngest one there. 

Bruno smiled at the three others gathered in the room. Henry and the two other people were sitting at the table, a dinner on the wood before them. 

“This is Megan Burke, she’s our new comrade.” Bruno announced. 

Henry gaped. He had assumed that Megan had the amulet because Bruno wouldn’t just bring some random girl in. But he hadn’t expected her to have accepted the amulet already. 

Megan gave a shy wave. The others at the table stood to greet her. 

First was Leo. He and Henry were about the same age, but Leo was older by about four months. He had chestnut brown hair, which matched perfectly with his warm, brown eyes. Leo’s amulet was the golden one, and he made a point to always wear warm colors. “Good day, ma’m. I’m Leo.” He smiled at Megan, who blushed. 

The second was the only other girl. Her name was Imogene, and she was only one month younger than Bruno (he liked to rub it in her face that he was older). Imogene was the owner of the silver amulet, so she normally wore gray, black, or white. She had jet black hair and bright blue eyes. “I’m Imogene.” She smiled at Megan too. “And it’s good to finally have some common sense here other than me.” She rolled her eyes at the boys. 

Henry stood up and seized his chance to introduce himself. He flattened his golden hair nervously, and his eyes were wide when he looked at Megan. “I’m Henry, nice to meet you.” His bronze amulet lay beside him on the table. 

“I’m Megan.” She said, face bright red. “Is that food?” Her eyes widened at the dishes on the table. Henry sat down. 

“It’s food alright. Hungry?” Before he could even hand her an extra plate, Megan became a monster, tearing into the food. Bruno looked terrified. Henry just laughed, and so did Imogene and Leo. Bruno seemed a bit relieved, but still terrified. 

Megan had soon devoured most of the food on the table. Imogene was suppressing a giggle. 

“Thanks. It was amazing.” Megan burped. 

“No problemo.” Henry smiled. 

“You know, Megan, we can make more food if you need it. I’m sure Bruno will teach you how.” Imogene giggled freely now. 

Megan’s eyes got wider. “We can magic food? Like, it’ll just poof onto the table!” 

Imogene nodded and Megan squealed. Henry laughed. 

“I hope Bruno tells me that sooner than later.” Megan sighed. “But first I have to learn about the men in black suits and the woman with the funky glasses and the amulet.” 

“He hasn’t told you about that yet?” Imogene sent a glare at Bruno. 

“We’re going right now.” Bruno answered, grabbing Megan’s arm. 

“Bye!” Megan called as Bruno dragged her away. Henry barely had time to wave before Bruno dragged her out the door. 

 Chapter 5 

Megan

“I wasn’t done talking to Henry and Imogene.” Megan protested as Bruno dragged her down the halls. 

“You’ll have plenty of time to talk to them later.” Bruno sighed. “Look, right now you need to be educated and dressed in better clothing. Then we’ll talk, and tomorrow I’ll see if I can arrange anything between us. But we’re all busy.” 

“Doesn’t seem busy.” Megan snorted. “They were just having dinner.” 

“And if I wasn’t back by dinner like they expected me, they would’ve been very busy.” Bruno stopped and looked at Megan. “Look, I know you are excited to have new friends, but we have work. Being magical isn’t all it’s made out to be.” 

“I’ve noticed.” Megan snapped. “I was just excited to actually meet people that liked me.” 

“Sorry.” Bruno rubbed his temple. “It’s been a long day for me. After being hypnotized, stabbed, chased, and everything else. I’m just tired.” 

“I’m sorry too.” Megan sighed. “It’s been an adventure for me as well.” 

Bruno smiled sadly. “Well this is your room. It’ll change to accomodate you.” He had stopped in front of two french doors made of wood. 

“Thanks, Bruno, for everything.” Megan opened the doors. “Now go fix your arm.” 

“Meet you out here in half an hour.” Bruno promised. 

Megan nodded and disappeared inside the room. 

It was massive compared to her old room. The floor was a polished wood, and the curtains were made of silky gray material. The carpet was made of something soft and fluffy. The bed had piles of blankets. The closet was ginormous, and the bathroom was more like a pool than anything. Megan peeked out the window to find whatever she best wanted to see at the moment. A beach, a forest, a cliff, even a cityscape. 

She showered quickly and inspected the closet. There were only dresses and tunics - nothing that really reflected with her style. She chose a random tunic. 

Bruno was waiting when she opened the door. She had grabbed her amulet and worn it proudly over her tunic. Megan felt strong - ready to face the facts. Bruno could explain everything and she would do all she could to help. 

“You ready?” Bruno asked. 

Megan nodded. She thought that if she spoke, she would lose the will to continue on. Bruno smiled. “My study is this way. And if you work hard enough, the castle will make you your own study.” Megan nodded again, still not trusting her voice as Bruno led her down the hallway to the left. She was ready. 

Bruno’s study wasn’t as grand as Megan had been expecting. 

She had been expecting to see a giant room with white walls, and the walls covered in bookshelves. She had been hoping for a few cauldrons, maybe some dummies for magic spell casting practice, or even a broom or something. But the reality was disappointing. 

Bruno’s study was kind of small. There was a spiral staircase in the corner that led to a door (it was Bruno’s room entrance). There was a big wooden desk on the far side of the room with a big, fluffy chair. The desk was covered in papers, quills, ink, and normal pens. There were bookshelves, but none of them were near as tall as Megan had thought they would be. The volumes were dusty and old. There were a few random other things. A globe. A cauldron (empty). A few bat skeletons hanging from the ceiling. There were two windows as well. 

Bruno clapped his hands once, and the ceiling was illuminated. It looked like a giant ball of fire had been placed there. The bat skeletons wiggled a bit. 

Bruno opened the windows, which were showing a view of a forest. The second they were opened, a large black bird came flying in. On its leg was a piece of twine and a small roll of parchment. Bruno held out his arm and the bird sat on it. Bruno smiled. 

“Megan, this is my carrier crow, Timothy John Ripples the fourth.” Bruno laughed as the crow cawed. Bruno removed the parchment from its leg tenderly. 

Megan raised an eyebrow but didn’t question. Timothy cawed again, pecking Bruno’s hand as the boy made his way towards the desk. He opened the letter with his free hand and shook the other until Timothy jumped off and took a perch on a swing near Bruno’s room door. 

“Who is the letter from?” Megan asked, trying not to sound nosy. 

“No one.” Bruno shrugged. “No one important, at least. It’s from my sister, actually. She threatened me a few times. No big deal.” 

Megan nodded, but she was still confused. She took a seat on one of the couches. “So, when do we start this whole magic learning thing.” Bruno sighed and strolled over from his desk. He took a seat on the couch across from her. 

“That’s the thing … we have a few things to go over first.” Bruno explained. “For one, the amulet. Now, amulets are extremely precious objects. We don’t know exactly where we came from, but Imogene did some extensive research. We now have reason to believe where the amulets originated. About 100 years ago, rumor has it that there were seven brothers born to a king in a far away land on an island that is now gone. Each son was different in his own way, but one thing they all shared was a birthday. The queen had given birth to seven sons, probably because of some spell from someone she had helped in the past. Anyways, the king needed to decide which son was to become king.”

“What does this have to do with anything?” Megan whined. Bruno glared at her. 

“These seven sons all wanted to be king - and for good reasons. First of all, their father was dying. Each one had something they wished to do with the kingdom - whether it be war, peace, growth, wealth, and so on. Also, the neighboring kingdom had promised a very lovely princess to whoever the next ruler of this kingdom was.” Bruno continued. “So, naturally, the king heard all the opinions of all of his sons. Each one had good reasons and explanations. 

“The test was left to the princess. Since she would be marrying whoever was king, the two actual kings decided to let her pick her husband. She was given an hour with every prince to decide who was the best. 

“Each prince tried their hardest to win her heart. One offered her wealth. One offered her land. One offered her children. One offered her peace. One offered her war. One offered her whatever she wanted. And the other one offered her an execution. 

“The princess took a look at all the princes. She decided on one, the one who had offered her whatever she wanted. To the five who had offered her the rest (the only brother excluded was the one who offered her an execution), she made them sorcerers. The father soon died and the brother who had married the princess took over. 

“However, his brother (execution one) was very jealous. He believed that he should be the rightful king. So he slit both the queen and king’s throats and took over. The kingdom fell into chaos. The other five brothers left. Their own brother - the ruthless king - searched for them. Rather than be found, each one performed a spell. They removed their magic and formed five stones - one gold, one silver, one bronze, one black, and one white. Then they threw themselves off a cliff. The island sank to the bottom of the ocean without a good king holding it up. That’s how the amulets came to be.” Bruno finished. Megan was silent for a minute. 

“So… my amulet is supposedly the magic of some prince from a century ago?” Megan asked finally, her voice tinted with confusion. 

“Yup, pretty much.” Bruno sighed. 

“Earlier you said something about accepting the amulet. But how does that work?” 

“Well, as I said that each amulet is the magic of the sorcerers, that has something to do with the amulet's acceptance too.” Bruno explained. “The sorcerors didn’t want their magic to go to waste - that’s why they formed the amulets. But they needed to ensure their brother didn’t have a way to get the amulets and harness their power. Needless to say, they had been magicians for about a year at that point. They knew about something called an Aura. Auras are basically the amount of potential magic you can use, but it shows up around you. I’ll teach about AuraVision later. 

“Essentially, everyone has an Aura, and how bright it is depends on how much magic you can possibly use. The sorcerors knew their brother had a very small Aura, so they designed the amulets to only work for people who had auras of a certain size. Your Aura, for example, is a pretty big one. Anyways, the amulet and you must ‘accept’ each other. For the amulet to accept you, it has to sense your Aura, and catch a glimpse of your mind to ensure you aren’t evil. But for you to accept the amulet, you must place it over your head a) knowing that magic is real and b) with someone else standing over you that owns an amulet as well. Otherwise, the bonding will not be complete and the amulet’s new owner could die.” Bruno concluded, seeming tired. “Anything else?” 

“The men in the black suits … who are they?” Megan asked. 

Bruno sighed. “I was hoping you wouldn’t ask, but very well. You see, the brother that sunk the island actually had about four wives. He had two children with each of them, so eight descendants. All eight of them and their mothers escaped the island before it sank. I said that the story was a rumor, but parts of it were true. There were seven brothers. One of them did slaughter the other. But the part about the amulets is only speculated, we don’t know for sure. 

“But that’s besides the point. Anyways, all eight of those children got married and had kids. Those kids had kids, and their kids kids had kids. It went on for the century. Somewhere along the line, a bunch of them had about eight kids each. Anyways, all of the men in black are descendants of that first king - his name was Igor. The woman’s name is Vivian. 

“Unbeknownst to the second king, the princess had snuck into town the night prior to their marriage. She became pregnant with a village boy’s daughter. The new king was aware, and when the princess gave birth, her daughter was ordered to be cast away. She was sent off on a boat, to the despair of the princess. But apparently, someone somewhere found the boat and took in the child. They adopted her and named her Cordelia -  which meant from the sea. Cordelia eventually got married and had kids. Like the murderer's brother, her family grew and grew until Vivian was born. 

“Vivian fell in love with one of the men in black suits, his name was Pablo. Vivian and Pablo became a couple, but then Pablo let it slip what his job was. Vivian realized she had an interesting family history too. They put it together and BAM! Vivian realized that her very great-step-grandfather had cast out her very great-grandmother. She was furious, and instantly joined with the men in black suits. Pablo was killed by one of the amulet keepers later on. She was even more angry, and became focused on finding all of the amulets. I don’t know what she hopes to gain, but she wants us dead. Me especially, since I’ve escaped her before.” Bruno yawned once, tucking his legs into his chest. 

Megan sat on the couch, wide eyed. “Is this all true?
“I would assume so.” Bruno mumbled. “Tomorrow, I’ll find you some books on spells. Then we’ll start your education. But I need to talk with Henry, Imogene, and Leo - without you.” 

Megan nodded, trying not to feel hurt. “I’ll just be going now.” She said sadly. Bruno nodded absentmindedly. “And Bruno,” She added. “I don’t regret accepting the amulet. It’s not a dream - I know that now. But I will find a way to help.” 

Megan left the room, but she was feeling uncertain. Bruno was hiding things. 

She’d seen a drawing taped to his wall. Several dozen rings. A sword. And one brooch. All with gems of different colors. The poster had been labelled, Magical Items Left. Some had been crossed off, of course. But the brooch had been circled. And the name Vivian was beside it. 

Bruno

The second Megan left his room, Bruno relaxed. He did feel guilty about not telling Megan half of the things he should have. The rings, the brooch. And how much power Vivian actually had. 

Bruno held his amulet in his hands. He had just told Megan about acceptance of the amulet. It had been four years since he had taken the amulet and accepted its power. He remembered the night vividly. 

The wind blew fiercely against the house. His sister, Cynthia, had left for college again. She was confident Bruno could handle himself. But she wouldn’t be pleased if this storm destroyed the house. 

Bruno shivered in his tiny bedroom. The wind was seeping through the cracks in the windows. The rain beat relentlessly on the roof, pounding and asking to be let in. Bruno jumped as the crack of thunder could be heard in the distance. There must have been a lot of lightning, because the thunder continued. Until Bruno realized it wasn’t thunder. It was someone knocking. 

Bruno - being the young boy he was at the time - jumped to the conclusion that Cynthia had returned early. So he flung open the door without even checking to see who it was. 

The person was not Cynthia. He or she was wearing a dark cloak and a hood. They were soaked to the bone, but Bruno hesitated before opening the door any further. “Who … who are you?” He asked the mysterious figure. 

“Let me in, please.” The figure begged. Bruno was slightly confused. The voice had sounded young and female. “I promise I won’t hurt you.” 

Bruno didn’t know what else to do, so he opened the door. The figure threw back her hood. It was a girl his age, with dark hair and bright blue eyes. Her face was pale and gaunt, she definitely had not been eating super well. She seemed skinny too, and frail. 

“Would you like anything?” Bruno asked her. His sister had taught him to be polite. 

The girl nodded. “Do you have food?” 

Bruno nodded. He didn’t have much left, but the stores were closed for the night. He took her cloak from her and hung it up. Then he lead her to the kitchen and made her a sandwich. “I’m Bruno.” 

“Imogene.” The girl said. “And I actually do have a reason for being here.” 

She sat down on her sandwich. Bruno had let her sit at the counter, and he was across from her. She sat something on the counter. It was a silver stone. Bruno gasped. 

“I … I have one of those too.” Bruno said. “Give me one minute.” He bolted back the . 

Bruno didn’t want Cynthia to know that the old woman had given him an amulet. So the second their mobile home had arrived in the ashes of their old house Bruno had hidden it. There was a trunk that the baker had provided for them, and Bruno had put it under his bed. Now, it was home to several blankets and an amulet. 

He opened it and removed the amulet and then ran back out to the kitchen. 

“This is my amulet.” Bruno shoved his amulet at Imogene, who was patiently waiting. “Mine is a different color though.” 

Imogene nodded. “I’ve been trying to find you. I saw a newspaper article or something about an old woman who I knew had that necklace. I tried to find her, but she died and there was an article about how her family couldn’t find one of her things. Somehow, I found out she gave it to you, and I had to find you.” 

Bruno took his amulet back from Imogene. “So you stalked me?” 

Imogene shrugged innocently. “Not really. Well, kind of I guess. But I need to know what these amulets mean. Mine does magic sometimes.” 

“Magic?” 

Imogene nodded. “Simple things. I was given the amulet by my father. He told me magic was real, and he showed me. Then I put on the amulet as he breathed his last breath. And it’s mine now” 

“Magic is … real?” Bruno gasped. 

“The amulet can help you. If you accept it, that is.” Imogene smiled. “We have all we need. Put the amulet over your head.” 

Bruno nodded once, biting his tongue. 

Should he accept the amulet? He would have magic. 

Or should he decline and kick Imogene out? He would be free to continue life. 

Bruno took the amulet and held it up, letting the light glint off the jewel. He put the chain over his head. Bruno fell to the ground, overcome by visions. And when he sat up, Imogene smiled at him.  

Bruno sat back against the couch, feeling warm but also tired. 

He hoped (selfishlessly) that he never had to see Vivian’s disgusting face again. He hoped that someone else - maybe the people with the rings - would fight her for him. And he hoped that if he was forced to fight Vivian that she would kill him. 

The rings had magic. The swords (there were two identical ones) had magic. And the brooch had the most magic of them all. 

Bruno sighed and stood up. A good night’s sleep would help him relax. 

He could face Vivian. He was stronger than her. 

So Bruno buried himself into the blankets of his bed. And then he cried himself to sleep. 

Leo

Leo knocked on the door repeatedly. “No one is there.” He told Imogene and Henry. 

“Seriously? Bruno said he and Megan would be in there all evening.” Imogene sighed. 

“Megan’s cool.” Henry commented, blushing. Leo rolled his eyes. “But I’m with you guys. Bruno promised us a meeting. And here we are, knocking on his door. He won’t answer.” 

Imogene rolled her eyes, but not at Henry. “I guess he’s not up for company tonight.”

“He’s had a long day.” Leo said, feeling the need to defend his friend. 

Leo gripped his golden amulet tightly. It had become a habit for him to rub the stone with his fingers. It felt calming to feel the grooves of the words beneath his finger tips. 

Imogene sighed. “It’s not too late, and we have another day or so before we should get back to work. Maybe tomorrow we can help Bruno teach Megan.” Leo nodded, but his mind was other places. He was fourteen now, and he was being forced to act like an adult. Henry was even younger than he was. 

Imogene hurried along the corridor, and Leo kept pace with her. “What can we even do? If Vivian and the Descendants of Igor can overtake Bruno, then they can capture any of us. Bruno is the strongest, and he fell into their trap.” There seemed to be no hope for anyone. 

Imogene stopped and turned to face Leo. “Do you remember about a week ago, when Timothy first brought Bruno that letter? It told him that his sister would be in danger - and that’s why he left to stay with her. Remember? Bruno was already weak when they captured him. Cynthia probably turned him in, so he wasn’t expecting it. Besides, Megan freed him. How, I have no idea. But we have hope. They can’t take on all of us.” 

Leo shook his head. “Imogene, if they can take Bruno at any time, they can take us all. Look at us, we’re children! Henry and I are young, we’ve barely lived. You’re older, but your amulet doesn’t seem to trust you. Megan’s new to all of this. And Bruno seems changed. He’s scared.” 

Imogene put her hands on Leo’s shoulders. Henry stood beside them silently. “Things have changed on both sides, I know. But you and Henry are getting stronger. My amulet is starting to work better - it just misses my father. Bruno may have changed, but he’s still Bruno. And Megan, well I think she might be the answer to all of this. Did you see her aura?” 

Leo nodded. Henry stepped in. “When I saw Bruno and Megan’s auras combined, I thought that there was nothing in the world that could stop the pair of them.” His voice was quiet. 

Imogene paused for a moment. “I’ve always thought of myself as a hero.” She whispered. “I always thought of myself as the main character of this world, as the most important. But I’m beginning to see that the three of us are different. Even together, our auras are a fraction of what Bruno’s and Megan’s are. If anyone can stop Vivian and the Descendants, it’s Megan and Bruno.” 

“Then let’s get some sleep.” Leo suggested. “I know it’s early, but tomorrow we can wake up early. Let’s make a big breakfast, and then we can start teaching Megan.” The others nodded. 

“Goodnight then.” Imogene smiled, releasing Leo. Then she walked away, leaving Leo and Henry alone. Henry was shivering, and Leo noticed there was a cool draft in the corridor that he hadn’t noticed. Henry wasn’t shivering from the cold though. 

“I’m scared.” He said, his voice low. Leo wrapped the smaller boy in a hug. “If something scared Bruno, then it has perfect reason to scare us. And yet we’re throwing a feast.” 

Leo felt the warmth of Henry, and he knew that this boy was like a brother to him. 

“The thing about fear is that everyone is scared of something. We all have different experiences, different pasts. Bruno’s past may make him scared of Vivian. But that doesn’t mean we have to be scared of her too. In fact, the less we panic the less harm she can do.” Leo said. 

“We have a hope.” Henry said, more to himself than to Leo. 

“We do have a hope.” Leo assured him. “But more than that we have each other.” 

“That’s more than I could ever hope for.” Henry smiled. “Goodnight, Leo.” 

“Goodnight, Henry.” And with that, the two boys went separate ways to their private rooms. 

Chapter 6 

Megan

“Bruno!!!” It was Imogene. Megan’s eyes widened as the doors to the dining room burst open. Bruno paused, bacon halfway to his mouth. 

“Yes?” He quickly shoved the bacon in his mouth. 

Megan had woken up about an hour ago. She had changed, showered again, and stepped out of her door to collide with Henry. After a minute and a half of Henry apologizing to her, he finally agreed to take her to the dining room for breakfast. She had arrived to find a feast and a hungry Bruno already eating. Leo was there as well, Imogene was the only one missing. Henry explained that every morning she did some check thing where she left the castle and searched the area around the lake for anything new or mysterious.

Imogene’s dark hair was covered in sticks and leaves, and her cheek had a gash on it. She was very, very angry. “Bruno, do have some sort of tracking device on you?” 

Bruno looked down at himself. “Not that I know of…” His gaze passed the cut on his arm. And then it fell to the metal cuffs on his wrists. Megan hadn’t noticed them before. Bruno froze and Imogene crossed her arms. Henry and Leo shared a look. 

“You have tracker cuffs on and you didn’t notice!!” Imogene practically yelled. 

“Well, to be fair I was hypnotized when I put them on.” Bruno protested, grabbing another piece of bacon. 

“When I went to check the lake, I was nearly ambushed by about two hundred men. They all fired at me at once, and one did hit me. I don’t know what it is, but it hurts.” Imogene took a seat at the table. “At least take off the cuffs then. And heal your arm while you're at it.” 

“Yes, ma’m.” Bruno waved his amulet over the cut and it disappeared. Then he called over Henry and Leo, who each laid a hand on the cuffs. They snapped open a minute later. 

Imogene showed off her arm, where a tiny blue dot was embedded in the skin. Bruno frowned at it, but didn’t say anything. There were a few moments of silence, and Megan was pretty sure Bruno and Imogene were having a secret conversation. 

She didn’t push, but it seemed like she was the fifth wheel. Even though Henry and Leo weren’t dating, Imogene and Bruno weren’t together. Megan thought, at least. 

Imogene continued to glare at Bruno, who shovelled food into his face without a care. 

They ate in silence for a bit, before Henry and Leo erupted in a fit of giggles. Imogene dismissed them, and they returned a few minutes later with a large box. 

Megan watched as a curtain descended on half of the room beside the table, where the room had been empty. Leo and Henry hurried behind the curtain. “To keep Leo and Henry entertained, Bruno and I let them do a magic show each morning with weird tricks they find in the library.” Imogene told Megan, who nodded. 

The curtain parted, revealing Henry wearing an ill-fitting suit (the sleeves were too long) and holding a stick. “I am Mister Sherman Cheeks of … (um) … West Carolina. And today, I am very mad because my son is leaving home without my permission.” 

Leo strutted into view, wearing a suit that fit similar to Henry’s. “I am Mister Fransico Cheeks of West Carolina as well. And today, I am leaving home to find a wife.” 

“But son, surely you love your father more than any woman.” Henry sighed dramatically. 

“No, father, the women are much more attractive than you.” Leo pretended to spit. 

“I don’t want a son like you.” 

“I don’t want a father like you!” 

“Very well.” Henry smiled darkly and waved his stick. But Megan caught sight of the amulet in his other hand and knew that this magic would be real - just not from the fake wand. 

There was a bright flash, and both Henry and Leo were bowing now. Imogene frowned. “What spell was this?” 

“It breaks the bond between a family. Mother, daughter, Grandfather, grandson. I don’t know - the book said it was used for sons and daughters who wished to leave their families and parents who wished to disown them.” Leo shrugged, pulling off his suit. “It was weird words, so Henry thought it would be fun to memorize it.” 

Still on the stage, Henry was waving a cardboard sign in the air that was covered in runes Megan couldn’t understand. Bruno was writing them on a napkin. 

Megan had no idea why, of course. She thought magic came on instinct and that her amulet would just do it for her. 

But apparently, sometimes you needed spells. Too bad Megan couldn’t understand anything that was written. Imogene was writing it down too - or up rather. She was scribbling in the air with her finger, and fiery words were appearing above her head. Henry dropped the sign and shed his suit. Megan, Bruno, and Imogene all clapped. 

“Still not sure how that spell will be useful, but thanks anyways.” Imogene ruffled Leo’s hair in a sisterly way. Megan knew Bruno was the eldest, but Imogene was in charge here. 

“I thought you could do magic on instinct without spells.” Megan frowned. “I freed Bruno without a spell, and teleported us away. I thought your amulet just had to grow warm and then you had to focus the energy on whatever task you were doing.” Megan said, hoping someone would explain magic to her. Or at least, explain things better than Bruno had. 

Imogene just smiled. “Try to lift the goblet off the table.” She pointed at one of the glasses. 

Megan waited for her amulet to grow warm, but it remained lifeless around her neck. 

Imogene explained what was going on. “Your amulet may work without spells at first, but that’s just because it hasn’t adjusted to you yet and it also hasn’t exhausted much energy in magic yet. But after a day or so after Acceptance, the amulet will be able to read your mind. Right now, it knows that you aren’t in dire need to lift the goblet, so it won’t do the spell.” 

Megan raised her eyebrows, and Imogene continued. 

“Let me phrase it this way. The amulet is the home of the energy used for magic. Everyone in the world has magic because everyone has an Aura. However, it takes an extreme amount of energy to perform magic. It takes more energy to perform a task without a spell. So when you first Accept the amulet, it will have tons of energy because it probably hasn’t been used in a while. While the amulet adjusts to you, it grows closer to your mind. Soon, the amulet can see when you need magic, or when you just want it. 

“Your amulet sensed you didn’t need to lift the goblet. So if you were to use a spell, the amulet would understand that you weren’t just thinking about it and actually would provide the energy. I know it doesn’t make much sense now, but as you get to know your amulet it will.” Imogene told Megan. “But for now, you should focus on learning the runic alphabet and simple spells. Things that Henry and Leo show you every day for breakfast aren’t super important. In fact, I think that I’ve only ever used one of their spells.” 

“Can you … make a spell?” Megan asked, feeling very uneducated. 

Imogene shrugged. “It’s possible, but highly unlikely that it will work. Only certain word combinations will work.” 

“Maybe it’s best if Megan learns what the runic alphabet actually is first.” Bruno suggested, finally tossing his plate into the air where it disappeared with a snap. “Also, Megan, you need to keep in mind that these spells are all silent. No talking.” 

Imogene nodded. “Here, I have an idea. Leo, you can come with me and we’ll try to find out what’s going on with this little blue dot. Bruno, Henry, and Megan can go to the library and start Megan’s training. Then, we can meet up at lunch and switch around a bit. I also need to take care of the men outside the lake.” She shot a glare at Bruno. 

“Let’s go.” Bruno said, standing up and ignoring Imogene. “The library is this way.” 

Bruno stood up, and Megan and Henry followed. Megan kept pace with Bruno as they walked, and Henry trotted along and made pathetic attempts at conversation. 

Leo went the opposite direction with Imogene. 

The library was huge, so when Bruno threw open the doors Megan felt at home. There were several comfortable looking chairs, several charts and graphs and illustrations, and rows upon rows upon rows of books. It felt like there was a copy of every single novel. The ceilings were extremely high, lit by lanterns filled with yellow flames. There were some desks and tables with jars of quills and bottles of ink. There were pens, markers, and highlighters. To help you reach your book, there were little white baskets like a hot air balloon basket that would float magically to your desired novel or volume. 

At the back of the room there was a small desk with an office chair, turned around to face the wall. There were sounds of snores and Bruno rolled his eyes. “This is Trixie. She’s supposed to be our librarian - managing books, ordering new ones, keeping everything dusted. But instead she takes advantage of our food and takes naps all the time.” Bruno whispered.

Megan giggled as Bruno snuck up behind the chair. Henry followed, putting a finger to his lips. They nodded at each other and Henry put his hands to his mouth as Bruno ducked behind the desk. 

There was a sudden, terrible sound that came from Henry and a bright light that came from Bruno. The older boy made shadows and flashes of orange, yellow, and red dance across the room, making it appear as though it was one fire. Henry wailed like a banshee, and began to shriek. “Fire! Fire! One of the lanterns fell! Fire in the castle!” 

The office chair spun around and Bruno made it seem like the books were burning and the fire was spreading. A harmless smoke began to filter in. 

Henry pretended like he was on fire and Megan watched as fake flames curled around his limbs. “Help!” He called, trying hard not to smile. But soon all the fire faded away, and the smoke dissipated, and Henry’s shrieks ceased. 

A tiny figure was standing on the desk, covering her large ears and eyes as she shivered uncontrollably. Bruno leaned really close to her as Henry got in her face. 

“There’s no fire, Trixie!” Henry yelled. “It was a joke!” 

The tiny figure opened her eyes and uncovered her ears. Megan caught a glimpse of what she actually looked like. Trixie had vivid red hair that hung in curls by her ears. Her skin was flushed pink from embarrassment, and she had golden eyes. She was about two feet tall at the most, and she was wearing a tutu and tank top - both neon pink. But what intrigued Megan was the tiny pair of glittery wings jutting out of her back. 

“Trixie is a sprite.” Bruno looked at Megan, his pale eyes gleaming. “She’s afraid of fire more than anything else.” 

“Master Bruno was unkind to make fun of Trixie.” The sprite had tears welling up in her yellow eyes. “Trixie knows Master Bruno does not like her because she is a sprite. He thinks Trixie is trouble.” Trixie was crying freely now. 

Henry rolled his eyes. “Get over it. Maybe if you actually kept the library clean we wouldn’t feel the need to bully you.” 

Megan felt sorry as the sprite burst into tears again. “Isn’t that a bit harsh?” 

The sprite looked at Megan, her tears stopped. “Who is you? Trixie has not seen this girl before. Is she wife?” Trixie looked expectantly at Bruno. 

“No!” Bruno cried out. “She’s no one’s wife. Besides, it isn’t in your job description to know these things. But this is Megan, and she is one of your master’s as well. Now make sure the library is clean, we’ll be using it for the next few days.” 

Trixie stuck out her tongue at Bruno. “Master Megan.” She mumbled under her breath. 

Henry turned to Megan. “She may seem sweet and abused at first, but trust me, she’s a brat. Bruno and I will probably pay for that prank. Sprites are known for being mischievous, but Trixie enjoys practical jokes, as long as they’re on other people. My shampoo has turned my hair green. Spaghetti that tries to strangle you. Scorpions in my bed.” He shuddered. 

Bruno added onto the list. “The bat skeletons on my ceiling are coming to life. A flood on the entire first floor of the castle. A window that won’t stay shut. Food poisoning.” 

The boys continued to list pranks as they grabbed books off the shelves. 

Trixie took to sulking in a corner with a feather duster and shooting looks that could kill out of the corner of her eyes. Just when Henry was describing an experience with a particularly spiky cactus, Bruno threw his books down on one of the tables with a big thump, dust floating everywhere. Bruno snarled at Trixie, who was still brushing the dust off a volume titled Please and Thank You: A Way Not to Die. But she left the dust covering some of the words so that it read Please Die instead.

“You need to learn the alphabet first.” Bruno told her. 

“I know the alphabet backwards!” Henry called out from the bookshelf where he was inspecting something called Prank Spells to ruin a Relationship. “Z, Y, X, W, V, U, T…” 

“Thank you, Henry.” Bruno shouted back, a smile on his face. “But I meant the runic alphabet - not the English one.” He blew the remaining dust off of one of the thicker books, and right into Megan’s face. She coughed as the dust swarmed around her face and glared at Bruno. 

“S, R, Q, P, O, N, M…” Henry sang, now looking at a book called Spells, Hypnotism, and You. “L, K, J, I, H, G, F, E, D, C, B, A! Done!” 

Bruno rolled his eyes, ignoring Henry’s antics. “Anyways, the runic alphabet is what we write our spells in. All you have to do is memorize the spellings, and picture them and then the spell should work. Like the spell earlier, it said ‘break the family bond’.” 

“Seems … complicated.” Megan sighed. 

“Not really.” Bruno held up a chart. “It takes about a week to memorize. And then you only have to remember what the spell says.” He shrugged like it was easy. 

It wasn’t easy. 

Megan tried to read the charts. She worked on exercises with Bruno, reading sentences and writing words. 

Megan tried to read Henry’s jokes and fill out his worksheets. 

But it was much harder than she had thought. Some of the letters looked like numbers or other letters. Others looked like only vague shapes. It certainly wasn’t going to be easy. 

Not to mention, some of them were so similar Megan was sure she would not be able to memorize them. The “L” was a fancy “M”, and the “T” just looked like a glorified “Q”. 

By lunch time, Megan had exhausted her brain in hopes that she could memorize a simple alphabet. But it was too hard - after all, Bruno had said it could take a week or longer. The only problem was they didn’t have a week to spare. 

Because Imogene and Leo didn’t turn up for lunch. 

Imogene

One Hour Earlier 

Imogene sighed as Leo picked at her arm with a pair of tweezers. He had been working relentlessly for hours, and she wasn’t exactly eager to have a fourteen year old picking around her skin for that long. But she held still nonetheless. 

She wished that Bruno had been there the past week. She wished he hadn’t gone to see Cynthia. And most of all, she wished he had been there when she checked the lake. 

Her arm throbbed more than she cared to admit. 

But more than that, her pride was wounded. Imogene was supposed to be the strong one, the anchor that held everyone else down. 

Now she was the cause of their panic. And Bruno wasn’t doing much to help. 

Bruno and Imogene had known each other longer than anyone else in the castle. So when he returned from the cafe with Megan, he seemed preoccupied. 

At first Imogene suspected Bruno was holding back his … feelings from her. She thought maybe Megan had awakened something inside her old friend, something that was new for him. But it wasn’t Megan. Bruno didn’t like her any special way. 

No, it was Vivian. It had to be. 

Imogene remembered her very first encounter with Vivian. 

It had been one month since Bruno and Imogene first met. They had been living in Bruno’s house for that whole time. They alternated staying home and going shopping. Cynthia would return in about a week, and Imogene would remain hidden in the house - or in the trees outside because the weather was warm. 

Bruno and Imogene were preparing for her stay. They had begun nailing boards to the tree outside. If Cynthia asked, Bruno would say it was his private tree house. 

Imogene and Bruno stored food, blankets, water, books, and anything else Imogene would need. Although she would be hidden from society for a while and her only contact would be Bruno, Imogene was excited for the change. It was like a secret mission. 

Secrets were abundant with Imogene and Bruno. They practiced magic every day when the blinds were drawn and it was too bright outside to notice any flashes from inside the house. 

They had learned that their first day - after Bruno performed his first bit of magic. They neighbors had come over and asked if they were okay, and Bruno had to pretend it had been a minor fire. The neighbors had kept an annoyingly close watch on the house after that. 

Imogene had nicked a book from her father’s library that had all the basic spells. Her and Bruno learned by the candle light every night, and practiced during the day. Life was perfect. 

Soon, Imogene and Bruno could start fires, lift things in the air, and even grow their own food in a tenth of the time using magic. Imogene was prepared to live in the tree house for the month Cynthia was home, she would have Bruno to count on after all. 

Two weeks into Cynthia’s stay, all was going as planned. 

Bruno was bringing Imogene food every day to replace her quickly depleting stores. Cynthia had not questioned the tree house at all. 

But one day, Bruno did not arrive in the tree house. Imogene kept careful watch by the windows, but he didn’t return. Of course, Imogene couldn’t exactly go ask Cynthia where Bruno had gone. So she waited. The next day, a woman arrived on the property, Bruno in hand. 

The woman was holding Bruno tightly around the arm. He was wriggling, trying to free himself. 

Then Imogene heard something in her head. It was a spell her and Bruno had learned, speaking into each other’s minds. This woman is a fraud. Bruno told Imogene. She captured me. Help. 

Imogene nodded and launched a fire spell at the woman. Her dress erupted in flames and Bruno scurried away. The woman disappeared in a flash of light as Bruno climbed the ladder to the tree house. “Thanks.” He smiled shyly. 

“No problem.” Imogene smiled back. The woman wouldn’t bother them again, so they paid her no mind. But that was a very big mistake. 

“Imogene.” It was Leo, and Imogene jumped. 

“Sorry, just spaced out for a moment.” She apologized. 

“A moment? You were out cold for twenty minutes!” Leo exclaimed, but Imogene’s focus was somewhere else. The lake. It was calling for her. 

The trees were calling her name. The water. The grass. “Come with me, Leo.” Imogene said. But Leo shook his head. “You’re insane. Crazy, I tell you.” Except, Leo followed Imogene anyways. She led him through the corridors and to the front room where they teleported to the lake. Imogene could hear the cries growing louder. 

“Grab her!” Someone yelled. Then the world went dark. 

When Imogene and Leo woke again, they shared a look. But their faces were emotionless and their will was bent. 

A woman’s laugh echoed around them. “Two down, three to go.” The pair was gone.

Chapter 7

Henry

“Imogene wouldn’t have left the castle without us knowing. And she certainly wouldn’t have taken Leo with her.” Bruno was on his fifth lap around the library. Henry had counted. 

Henry was very confused. Megan didn’t seem super worried, but Bruno still hadn’t really explained to her that despite Imogene being an independent person, she never ever left the castle without telling anyone. 

Normally, Henry and Leo were hidden in the castle like some sort of quarantine was going on. Imogene checked the lake every day, and sometimes Bruno joined her. 

But Leo and Henry rarely left the castle - with the exception of an occasional trip to a local farmer’s market or a one day vacation to the Realm of Monsters (which Imogene had banned all further trips after Henry had accidently killed a troll by tickling it). 

Now Imogene had disappeared, and apparently she had taken Leo with her. They were nowhere to be seen. 

Bruno took an extremely quick trip to the lake to see if they were there, but the area was empty and the Descendants had gone home. Henry cried a bit at first, but he saw Megan watching and stopped abruptly. 

“The men in black suits had to have taken her.” Henry repeated to Bruno for a sixth time. “Maybe that little blue dot on her arm possessed her or something.” 

Bruno shook his head. “I’ve read up on hypnotism. It’s impossible.” 

“Or maybe someone broke into the castle. They know our location after all.” Henry shrugged, offering up more ideas. 

Bruno shook his head again, on his sixth lap. “If they broke into the castle, they would’ve come looking for us too. They know Megan has magic, and I’m their prime target because I escaped before. Besides, the castle is impenetrable to anyone who doesn’t have an amulet. And even now, if Imogene and Leo come back hypnotized, the borders will sense Vivian’s control of them and not let them in.” 

“Maybe it wasn’t any of these things.” Megan was studying the rune charts still, writing things down in a notebook with a green cover that Bruno had found for her. “Maybe Imogene knew someone was out there, and she brought Leo with her for protection.” 

“Maybe…” Bruno sighed as if considering the possibility. 

Megan looked up, and if she were a cartoon character a lightbulb would have appeared above her head. “Imogene is smart, I can tell and I haven’t known her for long. What if the little blue dot wasn’t a tracker - because they obviously already know where we are. So maybe instead, the dot actually was a way into Imogene’s mind. Vivian could’ve talked to her or tricked her into thinking they had a hostage or something. Then, Imogene would’ve gone to check - and because last time she had to fight, she would’ve taken Leo with her. Imogene probably was either in a hurry or too occupied with other thoughts that she forgot to let someone know that she was going. And Vivian probably figured instead of forcing them into the castle right away, she now has bait for us.” 

Bruno stroked his chin. “That might actually be what happened.” 

“So what now?” Henry asked, flipping through one of the ancient books he had found earlier. “It doesn’t help us to know what happened to them. We need to know what’s next.” 

Bruno thought for a minute. “I say we stay here and continue life as normal as possible - but we hide in the castle and don’t leave. Vivian will try to draw us out, and we can’t play into her plan. We need to stay safe.” 

Henry frowned. “But … but everything you’ve ever told us has been not to hide. To confront our enemies. We’ll never save Leo and Imogene if we hide in our castle all day.” 

Bruno froze. “We don’t need to save them. Imogene and Leo can fend for themselves.” 

Henry glared. “Do you hear yourself, Bruno? You’re suggesting we leave Imogene and Leo in the hands of Vivian - who wants us dead. Just because you’re too scared…” 

“I’m not scared!” Bruno shouted, but Henry knew it was a lie. “I’m just cautious.” 

“They’re the same thing with you!” Henry yelled back. “Ever since you came back from the cafe, you’ve been different. I used to see you as a hero, as my role model. But now, you want to leave my best friend in the clutches of the very people who want us dead. When you came back from being hypnotized, I realized that now, you’re too scared. You finally met someone more powerful than you, and your pride can’t take it, can it?” 

Bruno and Henry were both standing, and Megan stood in the corner and watched with fear. Bruno was insulting the younger boy. “Just because you don’t understand doesn’t mean I’m ‘scared’. You just want your playmate back because your immature mind has never handled loneliness before.” 

“You only want to ignore everything. You want to pretend some of this never happened, don’t you. Well guess what, we all have amulets and magic. I’m ‘young and immature’ and Megan has no experience whatsoever. That means you’re our leader.” Henry screamed. 

“I am the leader and I say we stay put.” Bruno shot back. 

“Coward!” 

“Child!” 

“Bully!” 

“You just miss your boyfriend and your prank partner.” 

“He’s not my boyfriend. And just because you don’t feel love or happiness doesn’t mean the rest of us are emotionless too!” 

“You love-crazed child!” The entire room - maybe even the world - held its breath as Bruno continued ranting. Henry was beginning to cry. “You’re fourteen but you act like you’re eleven. You think a lot of things, and none of them are right. You think you can win Megan’s heart, I can see it in your actions. Well she doesn’t like you. No one does, and I know that Leo only put up with you out of pity. Your tiny brain doesn’t comprehend the problems we’re facing. Vivian isn’t some villain you can beat up with a complex plan and magic spell. She’s real and she’s powerful. And a simple, stupid, obnoxious boy like you could never defeat her. Ever. You’re just the sidekick, some random boy who doesn’t matter to the plot besides maybe the death that makes someone cry. You are nothing - do you hear me? Nothing compared to me.” 

The world was frozen as a tear leaked out of Henry’s eye. He blinked once to see if the older boy would apologize. He didn’t. Henry ran. He ran and ran out of the library. 

He ran to the entry hall where he grabbed his coat and shoved his amulet in his pocket. It was time to destroy some things, in a place only he could find again. 

Bruno

Bruno stared wide eyed at Megan. His heart was thumping wildly in his chest and his throat felt raw. Bruno turned to look at the spot where his friend had stood a moment ago. “Henry!” He called out. “Henry I didn’t mean it!” 

But his blonde friend was gone, he had fled. 

Bruno fell to his knees and buried his head in his hands. 

“Don’t go after him yet.” Megan was standing above Bruno, and she sounded disgusted. 

“Why not? He’s my friend.” Bruno asked, wiping his eyes with his robe sleeve. 

Megan snorted. “If that’s how you treat your friends, I’m starting to wish I didn’t come.” Bruno sensed a hint of bitterness in her voice. 

“Look, I’m sorry…” Bruno began. 

“Don’t apologize to me.” Megan sighed. She sat down beside Bruno. “Look, you said a ton of terrible stuff to Henry. I don’t know where he went, but he’ll be gone for a while.” 

Bruno paled. “What if Henry left?” He began to cry. Megan’s brow wrinkled. “I couldn’t live with myself if Henry died because of me.” 

“Actually, you just told him he would end up with some random death, so…” Megan said. 

“Not helping.” Bruno muttered. “I just get so worked up when people call me a coward. Henry’s right. Vivian did change me. She made me a coward, and I’m so scared. I’m supposed to be strong for the team, the leader is supposed to make the decisions and, well, lead. But I’m too weak to do any of that.” 

Megan shook her head. “When I look at you, I don’t see a weak little boy. I see a teen who has seen things even adults will never see. You’ve faced so many challenges, Bruno, and you’re wise. You care for us, you’re like … like a big brother that I never had.” 

Bruno laughed. “A big brother? Would you like a big sister?” 

She paused for a second, lost in thought. Megan shook her head. “Nope. I’m fine being an only child.” 

“You know, I did mean some of what I said about Henry.” Bruno shrugged, a smile on his lips. Megan looked shocked. “I said he likes you, and he does.” 

Megan laughed. “Well, we’ll see about that. I’ll put him down as him option … if we live through the next few days that is.” Her comment dropped the mood back to its somber state before Megan had lifted Bruno’s spirits. “You interrupted my pep talk.” 

“Sorry not sorry.” Bruno shrugged. “I guess I need to go find Henry.” 

Megan nodded as Bruno stood. “And while you’re at it, make some dinner. We’re all starving.” Bruno just laughed. 

Bruno

Bruno searched the entire castle for Henry to no avail. The boy was gone. 

Megan assured him that Henry would be back by morning, but Bruno wasn’t so sure. He made a small dinner for the two of them that they ate in awkward silence. 

“He’ll be fine.” Megan mumbled as the pair stared at each other. “Henry will be back tomorrow. Until then, we should stay here until he returns. Otherwise, he might come back to an empty castle.” 

“That’s the thing.” Bruno sighed, pushing his still full plate away. “I think I know where Henry went, and I don’t think he’ll be coming back anytime soon.” 

“Where exactly did he go?” Megan frowned. 

“About a year or so ago - maybe less than that - Imogene would take Henry and Leo on mini ‘field trips’ to keep them occupied. Their last trip was to a place we call the Realm of Monsters. Henry and Leo enjoyed the trip, but Henry ended up in a fight with some troll. The troll thought all magicians were bad since he’d had a bad encounter with one before. He started to attack Henry, and of course Henry fought back. It ended up with a dead troll and a threat for us never to return to the Realm of Monsters.” Bruno summarized. 

“You think Henry went back to the Realm?” Megan asked. 

“I know he did.” Bruno sighed again. “Henry really enjoyed the trip - besides the troll attack. He and Leo always planned to return one day.” 

“So do we go and find him?” Megan grabbed Bruno’s plate and tossed it in the air like Imogene had earlier, and it disappeared. Megan had finally begun to memorize the alphabet charts, but her mind was also preoccupied with Henry, Leo, and Imogene’s disappearances. 

Bruno shook his head. “I agree with what you said earlier. We wait a bit - maybe until tomorrow morning. If Henry isn’t back by then, we can go to the Realm.” 

Megan nodded in agreement. “I’m going back to my room to study the runes if you need me.” Then she stood up and left Bruno alone at the table. He sat there for a minute, collecting his thoughts and deeply regretting what he had said to Henry. 

When he finally stood, Bruno felt refreshed and more alive than he had been in weeks. 

Ever since Vivian had hypnotized him, Bruno had felt distant from life and everyone else. He had felt like there was a wall between them and him, because he had been through so much more. It felt like there was a cloud around his head that made him different from the rest. He had blamed this on his hypnotism and that he was still recovering, but Bruno thought that maybe it was something else. 

He seemed to get angry more easily now, and frustrated faster. Part of him wondered if Megan had freed all of him. Was some of him still in the chains held by Vivian? Bruno dismissed the thought. Megan’s magic had been super strong that day, so all of him would have to be free. Besides, none of him was trying to get him to kill himself or anything. 

Bruno visited the library and after chastising Trixie, selected the book he had seen Henry looking at earlier. Spells, Hypnotism, and You was a thick novel that Bruno heaved onto a desk. 

He flipped open the cover and pulled out a notebook. He began to read. 

The lights in the library dimmed. Trixie flew to her tiny hole filled with fabric on the top shelf, and began to shuffle things around loudly. 

Bruno couldn’t concentrate for long. The book’s language was ancient and flowery, as if someone had used a thesaurus for every single word. Hypnotism is nay an effortless exploit. Gobs of soothsayers have solicited the act with no avail. Scores of magic must be readily attainable for the feat to even occur. No mediocre magician could accomplish such an act, they must be grand.  

He shut the book, having only covered ten of the thick pages. Not only was the language hard, but the information was dry and vague, like most introductions are. 

Bruno felt like he had been in the library for days, and he had learned absolutely nothing. He decided that he would cover two more pages before he went to bed, his whole team was relying on him. 

At some point in time, Bruno must have fallen asleep. He awoke quickly and suddenly from a terrible nightmare. The eyes in his dream were spinning wheels of black and white. 

These dreams had haunted Bruno every time he slipped into waking or sleeping visions. There was always a face, laughing, and then the eyes. They got closer and closer and Bruno would wake up screaming. 

This time, luckily, we woke up silently but drenched in sweat. Of course, he had somehow smeared the ink on his notes so the past few hours had been a total waste. 

At least he hadn’t woken up in front of someone. That would’ve been hard to explain. Sorry, I keep having nightmares about that time I got hypnotized. But don’t worry, I’m perfectly fine, nothing to worry about

Imogene would probably make him eat a whole bunch of her “medicinal foods”. Leo would shrug and consult a book. Henry would probably make a joke about it. And Megan… 

Bruno had only known Megan for two days now. But it felt like she had been living in the castle since Imogene and Bruno had first built it. Megan fit in with the others perfectly, and Bruno was kind of glad that she had been the one to accept the white amulet. 

It reminded Bruno that he should probably check up on Gabriel at some point in time, but the man would no longer remember him. 

Bruno sighed once, and then yawn. He walked out of the library and towards his room. 

Hopefully, Henry would be back by the next morning. Hopefully, Imogene and Leo were okay wherever they were. And hopefully, Bruno could face his fears and defeat Vivian. 

Because the fate of the world depended on it. 

Henry

Henry arrived at the entrance to the Realm of Monsters about two hours after he departed from the hotel. 

Technically, he was able to teleport directly to the entrance, but he feared the Gatekeeper would sense the magic and attack him immediately. And when the Gatekeeper attacked, there were never any identifiable bodies. 

Henry was beginning to wish he hadn’t run off so impulsively. 

The Realm of Monsters might have been fun to visit, but at the time he had Imogene and Leo to look after him, and Bruno was always a backup. Now, Megan and Bruno might not find his location and if he got into trouble, there would be no escape. 

Henry was pretty sure Bruno hadn’t meant what he’d said. But the words had stung and they’d left a mark on the younger boy. 

Henry might have acted like a jokesters, constantly fooling around and being funny. Except, he hadn’t exactly grown up that way. In fact, Henry’s childhood had been filled with loss. It seemed to be a theme for the people with amulets. 

When Henry was five, his parents gave birth to triplets - two girls and a boy. He thought his family would finally be perfect - and it was for a good amount of time. 

However, when Henry was eight, his mother contracted a serious illness. His entire life had been happy - too good to be true. And then it seemed like the entire world was falling apart. Henry’s mother was given a year to live, and she passed away in six months. 

Henry’s father struggled to support the family. The triplets were demanding, and Henry realized his father needed as much help as possible. He helped around the house and took over everything his mother had done before. Henry wanted to drop out of school, but his father insisted he stay enrolled so he could get a job the second he graduated. 

Things didn’t get better for the Snider family. One of the triplets was infected with the same illness as Mrs. Snider. The one male triplet passed away, leaving his family in despair. 

Henry turned to jokes to cope, he wanted to ignore his entire life. His father could barely make enough money to feed them, and Henry wanted to pretend everything was normal. He joined the school band, participated in extracurricular activities, and made jokes about everything. But it didn’t erase the burning pain Henry felt. 

When Megan had first shown up, Henry realized that deep inside her, Megan reminded him of his mother. He saw his mother inside Megan in her polite ways and reddish hair. 

Now, Henry was alone. He had no jokes left. 

Henry arrived about five miles from the entrance to the Realm. He then hiked to the actual entrance and sat for a moment to catch his breath. 

Henry’s bronze amulet dangled from his neck. He rubbed the stone, which flooded him with a tingling feeling that Henry had first felt only two years ago. He remembered the exact day the amulet had been given to him. 

“The neighbor boy is weird.” Henry protested to his father, something he hated to do. 

“It doesn’t matter. I need you out of the house so Janice and Luella can sleep and so I can get some work done. My boss is going to lay me off soon if I don’t pick up the slack…” Mr. Snider’s voice trailed off as it normally did when he talked to Henry. After Mrs. Snider had died, her husband talked to her son about things he often didn’t understand. 

Henry sighed and nodded. His father had been encouraging him to meet the new neighbors for a week now. They had a son his age, but Henry felt as though no one could relate to his pain. After all, the neighbor kid had two parents that were both very much alive. 

Henry put on his shoes and coat and crossed the street. He knocked on the door twice before a kind woman answered it. She had graying hair and warm eyes, and she smelled like she had been baking. 

“I’m Henry Snider.” Henry said. “My father told me to come welcome you to the neighborhood. You see, we saw you had a son my age and…” The woman’s smile turned into a pitying frown as she opened the door further to reveal a flour covered apron. 

“So you are the Sniders.” The woman poo-pooed. “I wasn’t sure. But I heard about your mother, and I must say I am very sorry. If you need anything, anything at all, just come over and ask. I’m Mrs. Winters, by the way.” She held out her hand, but immediately withdrew when she noticed the snow falling from the sky. Henry had just noticed it as well. “Oh, come in dear. No sense freezing to death.” 

“Thank you so much, Mrs. Winters.” Henry smiled and blushed. It had been so long since he’d had a mother figure. Mrs. Winters grabbed him and pulled him into a hug - which was a bit strange for Henry. But she was warm, and smelled like cinnamon, and it had been so long since Henry had felt a motherly embrace. Mrs. Winters let go of Henry and smiled. “Your house is very nice.” Henry added, trying to be polite. 

“Thank you, dear.” Mrs. Winters smiled, her cheeks pink. “Here, I just finished making some cookies. I’ll go grab some for you.” 

Before Henry could object, Mrs. Winters was gone. He heard her calling upstairs for her son. 

A few minutes later, a boy with average brown hair and a face full of freckles popped into the room. He looked to be the same age as Henry. “The name’s Leo.” The boy said. 

“Henry. Henry Sniders.” Henry said, feeling weird to be sitting on a strangers couch. 

Leo frowned. “I … I heard about your mother. And your brother. I’m so sorry. And I know that words can never replace a loved one so…” 

“It’s fine.” Henry said automatically. He was so used to be people apologizing to him. 

“I brought the cookies!” Mrs. Winters cheered as she entered the room. Then she noticed Henry’s expression and sat down next to him. “Is there anything we can do?” 

Henry wanted os badly to ask them to leave him alone or to ask where the bathroom was or to even burst out of the room and run home. But he refrained, and instead shook his head and grabbed a cookie of the platter. Leo and Mrs. Winters shared a look, and the woman got up and left. 

“Here, I have something to show you.” Leo whispered fiercely, and stood quickly. 

Henry followed, only because he didn’t know what else to do. 

Leo led Henry to his room and shut the door, locking it tight. “You seem like a trustworthy person, Henry. And I need someone trustworthy. You see, about a year ago, my one aunt gave me this necklace in her will. Before she died, however she let me hold it and play with it. And it … it - this is going to sound ridiculous - it did magic.” 

Henry shrugged. He didn’t care if this neighbor boy was obsessed with magic and stupid child things. He would leave and never return, hopefully soon. 

“I could spend all day explaining, but I have something better.” Leo was searching through a drawer now. “I found a matching necklace online on a black market thing - don’t ask. I bought it secretly and kept it until I found someone to give it to.” 

From his drawer, Leo removed to necklaces - one golden and one bronze. He handed the bronze one to Henry. “Put it on.” 

Henry shook his head and clutched the amulet tightly. Leo nodded. “Please?” 

“Fine.” Henry groaned. He put the necklace on and passed out. Ten minutes later, he was awake in an ambulance for having an allergic reaction to a cookie. Henry and Leo never shared what really happened, and they became good friends

Henry shook himself out of the daydream. The amulet had been through a lot with him. 

The entrance to the Realm of Monsters just ahead, glowing with violet light. Henry had missed the weird light of the Realm, the way it made him look. The color made him feel like Leo was right beside him. 

Leo’s family had been so welcoming to Henry. His father had soon let him spend as much time as he wanted across the street. Mrs. Winters made half of Henry’s meals. Leo was the brother he had lost - but better if that was possible. Leo had given Henry the amulet, and he had changed his life forever. 

Henry inhaled deeply. The Realm of Monsters was the only thing he had left. 

Leo and Imogene were gone. 

His father and sisters assumed him dead. 

Bruno despised him. Megan would never love him. 

But somewhere in the Realm was something Henry had hidden, something that might help bring Leo and Imogene back. 

And it happened to be in the depths of the Realm. 

Right where the trolls lived. 


Chapter 8 

Megan

“So, how far is this Realm of Monsters place from the castle?” Megan asked as her and Bruno ate a small breakfast. 

Her bag was packed and sitting on the chair beside her. She had brought her rune charts - though she wasn’t sure how much time she would have to consult them in the midst of a battle should one occur. Bruno promised her amulet would help her if she desperately needed it, but Megan wasn’t so sure. Her amulet hadn’t warmed up at all during her stay at the castle. It felt terrible to be ignored by a rock. 

“We’ll use magic get there.” Bruno answered, grabbing his 20th piece of bacon. “The Gatekeeper can sense magic, but he won’t bother us.” 

“You’re going to be fat.” Megan laughed as Bruno went back for more bacon. He had showed her how the kitchen made food by itself if you wanted it to, and Megan had made a very large breakfast - only to find Bruno liked bacon more than anything else in the world. 

Bruno shrugged. “Fat people are harder to kidnap.” 

Megan rolled her eyes. Bruno was going to bulge out of his outfit soon. 

The older boy had explained that the monsters in the Realm hated magical people more than normal humans, so they both dressed in t-shirts and human clothing. 

After breakfast was cleaned up, Bruno gripped Megan’s arm and they disappeared, reappearing near a large stone formation on a cliff. The wind was ferocious, it seemed determined to rip Megan’s clothing off her body. 

The wind had a salty scent, the ocean was just beside the cliff. Megan thought she saw the shadow of a dragon passing above, but she was scared to mention it to Bruno and have him call it down. If the dragon was down here, maybe the Gatekeeper would think they were magical and not let them in. And then they would never save Henry. 

“Hurry up, Megan!” Bruno called. Megan left her spot by the cliff. 

“Where exactly are we?” Megan asked when she caught up to Bruno, who was entering the edge of a forest. 

“That’s the Sapphire Sea over there.” Bruno answered. “We’re on a tiny island called Mors Terra - or Land of Death in a rough Lation translation. About 200 miles to the East is an island called the Five-Point Island, because it has five neighboring kingdoms of other magical people. But their people are a lot different, they are a whole different breed. Five-Point is a place we visited only once before we discovered they were torn by war. Half of the island is demolished at this time.” 

“That didn’t help me at all.” Megan sighed. 

“It doesn’t matter. We’re at the entrance now.” Bruno beckoned to a large, rock formation - the one Megan had seen when they first arrived. It was shaped almost like a … bed? 

“Is that a bed?” Megan asked, before realization dawned on her. “Is this where the legend of monsters under kid’s beds comes from?” The purple glow was coming from under the rock. 

Bruno nodded. “Most likely. Not many humans have been on this island and lived, though, so it probably was a story passed down through magicians and eventually to humans.” 

They were getting very close to the rock now, and Megan could see a mysterious figure pacing in the violet glow. The area had an odd scent. If scales and talons had a smell, Megan was sure that the air around her would be that scent. It could make some odd candles. 

“So, exactly what kind of beasts are in the Realm of Monsters?” Megan asked casually. 

Bruno thought for a moment. “Well, I’ve mentioned trolls before. But there are also gnomes, goblins, werewolves, imps, manticores, Elementals, and of course, the Ancient Ones.” 

Megan blinked and slowly turned away. So much danger - all to get Henry. 

“Now, when I approach the Gatekeeper we might have some trouble with him. Be prepared to launch a spell at any time if needed.” Bruno warned. 

“Spells? I don’t know any spells!” Megan cried, but Bruno had already walked straight up to the figure. As Megan approached, the figure became larger and she could actually see what it looked like. 

The Gatekeeper appeared to be female, but Megan couldn’t be sure. “Who dares attempt entrance to ze Realm of Monsters?” The figure purred. 

Her voice was low and deep, definitely feminine. 

Bruno bowed low before the Gatekeeper and Megan copied him, though she kept a watchful eye on the Gatekeeper. She didn’t like to think that at any time the Gatekeeper could attack. She wasn’t sure how powerful the Gatekeeper was - or if she was even human. 

“Oh, Gatekeeper, we wish entrance to the Realm of Monsters.” Bruno said majestically. 

The Gatekeeper made a sound that sounded like a snort. “I have figured zat much, but who exactly dares to speak to me?” The Gatekeeper had an accent that made her voice sound sharp like a blade, and she made each word sound short and seperate. 

Bruno thought for a moment, and Megan wasn’t sure what he would say. Would he pretend to be a mere human? Or would he go for the truth? 

“Perhaps you have heard of me.” Bruno tried. The Gatekeeper tilted her head. 

The Gatekeeper was wearing long, indigo robes that fell around her like puddles. A hood cast shadows over her face, so it was impossible to tell what she looked like. “I have not zeen you before.” The Gatekeeper answered. “But I assume you are either mortal or magician, in which case your entrance will be near impossible.” 

“Why?” Megan couldn’t help but asking. Bruno shot her a glare. “You guys could open up this place for tourists. I know several websites that would give the entrance alone five stars.” 

The Gatekeeper threw back her hood, making Megan gasp. The female figure looked human. She had long, white hair that cascaded down her sides in curls. Her skin was pale like snow, and her eyes were a mysterious purple. Her ears were pointed. “You think humans would like to see this?” The Gatekeeper hissed, pulling her hood up once again. “I may not live in ze Realm with zee ozer Monsters, but I am still a freak.” 

Megan shook her head, trying to cover. “No, no. Obviously, you haven’t been around humans in a while. They - we - like monsters and magical things now. We dress up as them for Halloween, and we make movies about them …” 

“Gatekeeper, if you could please…” Bruno interjected, a note of pleading in his voice. 

“Silence.” The Gatekeeper held her hand in front of Bruno’s mouth. “I wish to hear ze girl.” Then she turned to Megan. “You say zey have made movies? And books? Do any mention … elves?” 

“Are you an elf?” Megan gasped, an idea popping into her head. “I’ve heard so much about elves. They wear tights, and have pointy toes. Most of them have blue skin, and vivid hair colors. And many of them are super funny, though not very smart.” 

Megan shot a look at Bruno that she hoped he would get a message from. 

“Oh, uh, yeah.” Bruno said quickly. “Elves have this little song that all of them sing as they make cookies - because that’s the only suitable job for an elf.” 

The Gatekeeper was fuming now. “Pointy toes? Blue skin? Stupid? Cookies? What a mess! Elves are amazing, we’re smart and talented and have better things to do than make those senseless cookies.” 

“So,” Megan suggested. “Maybe you can open your island to the public, make a little theme park, and you can show people what elves are really like.” 

The Gatekeeper sighed. “I don’t needs to do zat.” 

Bruno and Megan shared a look. 

“Look, kids, ze truth is simple. One little boy, I assume a friend of yours, came through here abouts an hour ago. Said not to let anyone follow him, and I agreed. I’d find him quickly, zo. There is nowhere safe for magicians in ze Realm anymore.” The Gatekeeper smiled from under her hood and Megan thanked her. 

Henry was in danger. 

Megan and Bruno took a step into the violet light. 

Henry

Henry knew he had made a grave mistake by asking the Gatekeeper to hold the next people to come and not let them pass. He knew that eventually, he would probably end up in danger and no one would be able to rescue him. Besides, that was if Bruno and Megan actually managed to follow him. 

He travelled in the odd landscape, wondering if it was poisonous or something. Henry was seriously considering moving to this place - it wasn’t like he had many belongings. He could find a rock or something and live under it . 

Most of the Realm was made of rocks - large ones like the ones outside the entrance. Henry hadn’t seen much life this far into his journey. The clouds hung ominously over him, each one as black as night. There were shrieks of creatures, and sometimes an occasional call or tune meant to lure in prey. Henry ignored it all. 

The rocks hurt his feet. After about an hour of hiking, Henry was hopelessly lost and also really confused. He swore that the Realm had grown since the last time he had been there. 

Henry had only studied some of the beasts that he knew were hidden in the Realm. Imogene and Bruno had tried to teach Leo and Henry at the same time as the older kids were learning the information. Imogene eventually gave up and Bruno became focused on other things, so Leo and Henry had been promised an education at a later date. The education had never came, so Henry knew minimal information about the things that lived in the Realm. 

A tingling sensation filled his body, and Henry knew it was the amulet. The stone sensed something he was unaware of. 

Henry’s pulse quickened and the noises around him seemed to grow louder as if trying to drown out the sounds of his thoughts. There were the strangled cries of creatures dying as other monsters ate them. There were the shrieks of the harpies, the howls of the werewolves, and the sickening songs of the Beguilers. Henry wanted to cover his ears. 

Maybe going to the Realm of Monsters wasn’t such a great idea after all. 

Henry knew that the trolls were dangerous, and that was about the extent of his knowledge of the Realm. He could identify monsters, but not fight them. 

Henry decided to avoid all contact, and placed a hiding spell over himself. He pictured the words in his head - the words that would make him both invisible and silent … to most, of course. 

The spell meant hide me, silence me

Henry could only hope that the spells would work, and that he would be concealed from all the creatures. 

Henry felt slightly more reassured. What if his spell hadn’t worked? 

The sky was growing darker, which could only mean that night was coming. Yet it felt like Henry had only spent an hour in the Realm, and he had entered about noon. 

Henry stood up, not realizing that he had been sitting. The ground was covered in a slimy, mucus like substance that stuck to Henry. Then it dawned on him that maybe he hadn’t been so safe after all. Wasn’t there a monster that … 

“You look lost.” It was a feminine voice, very pretty and nauseating. When Henry looked to find where the voice was coming from, he could not find the source. 

He didn’t dare speak for the fear of losing his advantage - although it wasn’t a very good advantage because it seemed like the voice could see him, even though he couldn’t see where it was coming from. 

“Don’t worry yourself over what I look like.” The voice giggled. “After all, they always say don’t judge a book by its cover.” 

Henry was on full alert now, although his brain seemed to be forgetting anything useful from the past few years. He couldn’t remember any of the monsters that lived in the Realm now, or even if magic was real. 

Then Henry opened his eyes (again, he hadn’t realized he’d closed them) to find the exact same landscape that he had been in a moment ago. But there were little white specks floating from his chest towards a large rock that obscured his view. Henry reached out to try to grab one of the specks. When he touched it, he remembered a spell from the previous year. 

The white specks were his memories. “Hey, give those back!” Henry cried, but no sound escaped his lips because of the silence spell. He quickly released the spell. 

“Now, now, little Henry. I was simply trying to help. I see now that your friends aren’t coming, they have almost forgotten about you. Oh Henry, what a pity. You know, those aren’t true friends. In fact, I could show you what a true friend is. I could be your friend, Henry. I could take care of you.” The voice explained casually. Henry liked the sound of the voice. 

“I’d like a friend.” Henry whispered, still searching for the owner of the voice. 

“I can be that friend, only I’m afraid you won’t exactly like me.” The voice sighed. 

“I’ll definitely like you.” Henry nodded his head vigorously. He desperately wanted to catch a glimpse of the owner of the voice. 

The voice sounded pleased. “Of course.” 

A shadow stepped out from behind the rocks and approached Henry. He strained to get a look. The shadow got closer, and Henry could make out the details of its face. He immediately recoiled. 

The voice’s owner was not what Henry had been expecting. He could smell her now, the scent of Mrs. Winters cookies overwhelmed him. The figure was ugly. Her skin was raw with blisters and her dress was in tatters. She carried a sharp knife. 

Henry tried to take a step back, but his legs were stuck. He looked down and discovered that while the voice had put him in a trance, the creature - which he now recognized as a Beguiler - had trapped him. Cobweb like strings were entwined around the entirety of his body, and had creeped their way up his neck, heading for his mouth. 

Henry struggled, trying to think of a spell, but the Beguiler held all of his magical memories in an orb in her hand. The strings wrapped around his mouth, and then the rest of his face. Within minutes, Henry was only a large cocoon. 

The Beguiler began to hum - which sounded like hissing. “The trolls will love their new present.” And she began to drag him away. 

Leo

Far, far away, one of two two children woke up, each one wearing a pair of metal cuffs around their wrists. One was male, one was female. The boy sat up and rubbed his head. 

“Awake already, are we?” A woman’s voice called. The boy blinked twice before he realized that there was no light in the room. The voice seemed to echo in his head, and the boy was unsure what to do. There were no direct orders from the woman. 

“Orders?” The boy asked politely, trying to fulfill his only purpose. 

“Wake up for a moment.” The woman said. 

The world came crashing back to him and the lights flickered on. The boy had a name, a life, and a purpose besides listening to the woman. 

“Let me go!” The boy called Leo shouted as he attempted to look at his surroundings. There were no windows, only bright white walls and a row of silver bars between two cells. There were no windows, and there appeared to be a dead girl beside him. 

Leo registered that the girl was not dead, only asleep. Her name was Imogene. 

The woman across form him only laughed. Leo strained to get a look at her, because he knew she was Vivian and Bruno had never provided an apt description of her. 

Vivian had straight, dark hair, and her eyes were hidden by a pair of sunglasses. There were no swirls on them at the moment, but Leo had no doubt that Vivian had hypnotized him and that he was subject to her orders. 

“Now, now.” Vivian tutted. “That’s not how you should treat your hostess.”

“You can’t hurt me.” Leo hissed. He knew that the only thing left to do was stall and hope that maybe Bruno, Megan, and Henry would come save them. But he wouldn’t count on it. With Imogene gone, Bruno would be in charge, and Bruno was different now. 

The woman laughed. “You really think so? It’s flattering, really, that you think I am such an … innocent woman.” 

Leo strained to remember things that Bruno had told him, but Vivian clearly still had a hold on his mind. She wanted him to cave, to give in. Leo didn’t know what to say. “I wouldn’t say innocent. But I know you once made a deal with Bruno. You wouldn’t hurt us.” 

Leo was simply grasping at straws, but apparently, he had struck truth because Vivian’s expression shifted. “We didn’t make a deal because I chose my words wisely.” 

Leo smirked. “But you can’t hurt us, because whether you like it or not, you need us.” 

Vivian smirked back. “Ah, but you forget a major point - Bruno will come to save you, I know he will. He will bring the other boy and the girl, and he will play right into our hands. But you don’t have to be alive for Bruno to come.” 

Leo sat silently, glaring at Vivian. “You wouldn’t have hypnotized me if you wanted me dead. You would’ve killed me on the spot.” 

“Ooh, so smart are you?” Vivian smiled, her red lipstick staining her teeth like blood. 

Leo remained quiet now, there was no way to pry into Vivian’s mind or facade. 

“I had the privilege of meeting your aunt once. Remarkable woman, really. Pity she’s not still alive. I think she and I would have made great friends.” Vivian sighed dramatically. “You’re her much more worthless nephew. Honestly, I think you might be the weakest of the five. I mean, we have Imogene here, the planner. Bruno is the leader. I think the other girl, Megan is it? She’ll be your secret weapon. And Henry’s the helpless romantic, although I would prefer him. He tells good jokes on occasion. But what are you, Leo? What makes you special?” 

Leo tried to shut out the voice. But her words had an effect. Who was Leo compared to the others? In a way, he was the fifth wheel. He was … nothing. 

“I am…” Leo stuttered, trying to think of anything that proved he was worth something. “I’m … I’m” Vivian’s terrible laughter rang out through the cell as Bruno tried so hard to think of something that proved he had a worth. 

“Exactly, boy.” Vivian stood, striding towards the cell in her lovely white dress. “You have nothing compared to the others. But I can help you, if you help me, of course.” 

“I would never help you.” Leo spat. “I would never help someone so…” 

“Evil?” Vivian gripped the cell bars tightly. Leo stood abruptly, so he was standing face to face with the woman. “This world is cruel, isn’t it? I am viewed as evil, just because I have a certain hobby that some disagree with. My past is a complicated one, isn’t it? But does that mean I’m evil? What if I told you that your aunt once murdered someone. But that doesn’t mean she’s evil, now does it?” 

“That’s different.” Leo protested. “She was a wonderful woman who did many other very good deeds to make up for the murder.” 

Vivian shrugged. “I’ve done good things. I was once a married woman. I helped a bankrupt business back to its feet. I’ve taken two orphaned children into my care. Yet you view me as a villain. 

“The world can’t be separated between black and white, good and bad, Leo. Look at yourself. You once made friends with a neighbor boy so you could use him as a partner in magic. You followed Imogene out of the castle, and led yourself to capture. There are so many shades of gray between the ends of the spectrum. But at the end of the day, we all end up somewhere, all remembered for one simple act.” 

“Where are you going with this?”  Leo asked in confusion. 

“Oh, Leo, don’t you see? I am showing you the world in a new light. You have no worth, but I can give you one. Right now, you might see me as a villain. But if we change the way people think, maybe I’m the hero after all. Besides, all I’m asking is for you to help me with a small project in return for something to be remember by. That’s more than your friends have offered, isn’t it? A good deal, if I say so myself.” 

Leo glared at Vivian through the bars of the jail. “I don’t care about your offers.” But he wasn’t quite so sure. Vivian had made mistakes, but she was also offering more than his friends had ever offered him. Still, he shook his head. The woman was controlling his thoughts, she had to be. He would never betray his friends. “Thanks for the offer, but I politely decline.” 

Sleep.” Vivian whispered, grinning broadly. Leo crumpled to the floor like a puppet with his strings cut. “I did give you a choice, I really did hope to have a sentient partner for once. But this will do, because after all, there wasn’t really another option, was there?” 

Vivian laughed, as she knew that no one could hear her. “Wake, and await orders.” 

Leo sat up abruptly, and his eyes were blank. Imogene remained asleep on the floor. “Come, we have a mission for you.” She opened the cell and her new pet followed her without question or second thoughts. 


Chapter 9 

Megan

“I don’t like it here.” Megan shivered. She wished she had thought to bring a jacket or something, the Realm was a lot colder than she had been expecting. 

Bruno shrugged. “I’ve seen worse. Most of the monsters in here should ignore us anyways, since they prefer prey that’s alone. Just remember that everything in here is meant to kill you, and you’ll be fine.” 

“The monsters should ignore us.” Megan muttered. “I haven’t seen any sign of Henry.” 

“Obviously.” Bruno sighed. “He probably doesn’t want to be attacked, so it’s likely that he has done well to hide his tracks. We could also be going the wrong way.” 

“So we have no plan whatsoever.” Megan said. “We just search random areas until we find Henry, and hope that he’s not dead by the time we find him.” The ‘plan’ sounded pretty hopeless to Megan. 

“Pretty much.” Bruno shrugged again. It felt like they had been in the Realm for about an hour, but there was no way to tell. 

They had made the difficult trek into the Realm in good time so far, though Megan was getting jumpier by the moment. The pale light made it difficult to see, and the sounds from the Realm weren’t exactly comforting. 

There was always the worry of whether or not something was going to jump out and attack them. Not to mention, Bruno wasn’t exactly being helpful either. 

Several times, Megan found herself drifting off to the distant sounds of singing and warbling, and she noticed Bruno was struggling as well. They seemed to be moving slower, and Megan found it more difficult to breath the deeper they went. 

Soon, Megan found it too hard to stand up any longer. Her stomach growled as she lowered herself onto one of the deep, purple stones that lined their path. Bruno stopped and took a seat across from her, burying his head in his hands. Megan felt dizzy, so she removed her canteen from her bag and took a sip, grateful for the clarity it gave her. “Drink.” She said. 

Bruno obliged, pulling out his own canteen. He took a sip, and his expression cleared. “Megan, it’s the air. I’m pretty sure it’s poisonous, designed to keep humans and magicians out. Which means if we don’t get to Henry soon…” He didn’t have to finish the sentence. 

“So why did water help?” Megan asked him. 

“This isn’t any water. The water from our castle is water in its purest form, meant to enhance our abilities and Auras. It’s special water.” Bruno explained. “In the Realm, it might not make us stronger but it will work against the poison in the air.” 

Megan nodded, taking another swig and then tucking the canteen in her bag. “Let’s go find …” Before she could finish her sentence, there was a sound neither of them had heard in the Realm before. It was a terrible sound that reminded Megan of nails on a chalkboard, crying children, a dying cat, and an out of tune clarinet all in one. 

Megan covered her ears, and soon the sound stopped. Bruno frowned. “That’s the laughter of a troll. They must have found some good prey.” 

“Henry.” Megan shared a look with Bruno and they both began to run. 

It wasn’t hard, because both Megan and Bruno were smart enough to follow the laughter. As it turned out, Henry wasn’t far at all. 

They climbed a tall ridge, and peered over the side. The sight was terrifying. 

There was a boy tied to a table with thing, white strings. He was propped up, so his head was slumped to the side and his blonde hair obscured his face. At his feet was a certain bronze amulet. And beside him was a large fire, a pot, and several very hungry trolls. 

Bruno

Bruno couldn’t bear to see Henry all tied up. The boy was still a child (so was Bruno, but he preferred not to think about that), and he didn’t deserve to get eaten by trolls. Bruno was about to spring up from behind his hiding spot of a rock, but Megan grabbed his shirt and held him down. “If you go down there, the trolls will kill you. There’s six of them and one of you.” 

“You and Henry are gere too.” Bruno pointed out. 

“Henry’s unconscious and I don’t know any spells, much less the runic alphabet.” Megan hissed. “They’ll skin you alive and then I have to rescue Henry all by myself.” 

Bruno snorted, but kept his eyes fixed on Henry as he scanned the area for a plan. 

Henry was still tied to the board, and the strings were probably very thick or strong by magical means. There was a fire roaring beside him, the flames a deep, scarlet red. In the Realm, that meant they were hot enough for cooking. Above the flames was a pot floating by magic, and something inside it was bubbling and releasing a rancid stench. 

And then there were the trolls. Each was about eight feet tall, their skin the color of clay. Some were marked with ink based on their rankings within their mini tribe. The leader was the biggest, and he had two large horns jutting out of his head. This signified his age and power among the other trolls. Each one was wearing a rather greasy set of ripped pants, and each one carried a large club. The leader of the pack - also known as the Dominus - which meant boss in Latin. The Dominus laid on the ground, lounging with his club and a spear as well. 

Then Bruno spotted a shape on the crest of a hill across from his. It was a beautiful woman, a woman who for some odd reason reminded him of his mother. But it couldn’t be, his mother was gone. 

Megan followed his gaze and turned back to gape at him. “It’s … ugly!” 

“Ugly?” Bruno asked, turning to look at the woman again. She was scanning the hills around the troll circle. Her hair was a lovely dark shade like Bruno’s, braided down her side. Her bright eyes tracked every movement of the trolls. And her dress was a pure white, that seemed to shine like a beacon in the dark. “She looks like my mother.” 

Megan looked between Bruno and the woman, her expression one disgust. “I’m glad to say you didn’t inherit her looks then.” 

“She looks just like me!” Bruno cried. Megan shushed him. 

“Can’t you see it, Bruno?” She asked him. “That old hag is not your mother, and if she is, I want to know how she managed to seduce your father.” 

Bruno glared at Megan. She must be going insane from the air. He had thought his mother had left him several years ago, but here she was, young as ever. It had to be her, Bruno remembered that she looked almost exactly like the figure on the other side of the hill. 

Megan slapped him across the cheek. “Ow!” Bruno was furious, until he happened to look at the woman across the valley. 

Except, she wasn’t exactly a woman. Bruno realized it was a Beguiler. She was ugly, and she looked nothing like his mother. He rubbed his injured cheek, sending a thankful look to Megan, who was ignoring him. 

Apparently, Bruno’s cry of alarm had been loud though. The woman was now staring directly at them. “We have visitors!” She screeched. 

Bruno cursed and jumped up. With no advantage of surprise, he had no chance against the trolls. He hoped that maybe if he freed Henry he could wake the boy up for some help. Bruno let out a war cry and charged into battle. 

It had been two months since Bruno had last fought like this. 

His amulet grew frigid, anticipating the incoming battle. Bruno let the Slash spell form in his mind, slicing a gash in a near troll. He had been aiming for Henry. 

Bruno heard a screech and a guttural cry. It seemed that Megan had tackled the Beguiler problem by herself. He couldn’t stop to look, however, there were many trolls that still needed fighting. 

The Dominus was standing, but he took a step backwards as if to watch the fight rather than participate. One of the trolls was in the process of lifting Henry to prepare him for cooking. Bruno launched a Cut spell at the troll, forming a nasty gash in its leg. When the troll stopped to look, Bruno shot a Trip spell (courtesy of Leo and Henry) at the creature, it toppled into the scarlet flames, where its face melted and it screamed before turning to ash. 

Bruno ducked, narrowly avoiding the club of the troll he had cut earlier. Henry was still tied to the board, now laying sideways. He hoped Megan would finish her fight soon so that she could drag Henry out of danger and free him. 

Bruno shot a Slam spell at the injured troll, shoving it into the hill where it made a small dent and dropped to the ground, still alive. 

Not one book in the library at the castle contained a killing spell - at least, not the ones Bruno had read. He had never needed one before, but now it seemed a killing spell would be the most helpful. 

He hit two of the other trolls with Cut spells, their disgusting amethyst blood spilling onto the ground. Neither one seemed affected. He hit the weakened troll near the hill with a Stretch spell, which pulled on its limbs. Troll anatomy caused the troll to promptly swell and pop, spraying Bruno with the purple blood. He wiped it from his eyes and continued fighting. 

Bruno managed to fire a off the particularly challenging Disintegrate spell only once before he realize it drained much of his magic. There were three trolls left. 

Bruno tried another approach, using the Tickle spell. It had no affect. 

There was a quick lull in the battle as the Beguiler let out a pain filled shriek before spiraling into the unknown darkness of the Realm. During the lull, Bruno took the opportunity to get a sip of water, dropping his bag behind a boulder. He also took a moment to clutch his amulet and let it grow even colder. The amulet was ready to fire off spells for him. 

Bruno jumped out from behind his boulder, scaring one of the trolls. The amulet sent out a blast of black light, and the uninjured troll disappeared. 

With only two trolls left, Bruno was feeling kind of good about himself. The injured one launched a blow at Bruno’s feet, and the magician leaped just in time. His amulet was still gathering strength for another light blast, so Bruno simply launched a Paralyze spell. 

Of course, with the troll’s size the spell only made it stumble. Bruno took the chance to grab one of the discarded troll clubs. He slammed it down with as much force as he could muster on the remaining troll. It growled, but with its skull smashed, the troll lasted another few seconds. The Dominus realized it was alone and let out a snarl of fury. 

Bruno smiled, until he felt something sharp hit his shoulder. In the moment it took Bruno to register the troll’s missing spear and the searing pain in his shoulder were connected, the troll ran at Bruno. He ducked and rolled out of the way, hitting his injured shoulder on a rock. Bruno bit the inside of his cheek in pain. The Dominus seemed to be the one laughing now. Bruno’s amulet launched another orb of black light, and it his the Dominus square in the chest. The troll fell over backwards, still not dead. 

Bruno was running out of spells to use. He decided on the Jelly-Body spell Leo and Henry had taught him. The troll immediately deflated like a popped balloon, turning to mush. He was glad the boys had used it on a rat and not each other. 

He turned to smile at Megan, but she was hiding behind the boulder and repacking his stuff. “See if you can cut Henry out.” Megan tossed Bruno a dull knife, one he supposed belonged to the Beguiler. “Nice job, by the way. Six trolls is a lot for a simple magician like you.” Bruno rolled his eyes at being called “simple”. 

“Not to bad yourself.” He grabbed the knife and made his way towards Henry. The strings had begun to creep over Henry’s face once again. 

Bruno reached out to cut Henry out, but the second his knife touched the strings the sprang onto him too. The white strands began to climb up Bruno, up his arm, across his torse, and spreading across his body like white food coloring. 

“Uh, some help here?!” Bruno called frantically to Megan, who turned and paled. 

“What do I do?” She asked, her voice high. The strands were cocooning Bruno, and they had torn off his amulet and thrown it to the ground. She reached for the knife, but Bruno shook his head. 

“Use magic. A cut spell.” Bruno said instead. 

“What if I hurt you?” 

“Trust the amulet.” Megan closed her eyes, and Bruno could feel the sticky strings spreading up his neck like a vine. 

There was a flash of bright light, and Bruno’s shoulder screamed in pain. 

Henry

Henry wasn’t sure where he was. He had seen the world through something that had seemed almost like a dream. After all, it had to be a dream. Megan and Bruno wouldn’t have come for him, would they? 

Henry watched a scene of battle unfold. Megan fought of a Beguiler while Bruno took on six trolls. All the while, a limp and unconscious Henry was tied to a board. 

Henry felt a tight sensation on his chest, and his neck was slightly sore. 

In the part of the battle when a troll dropped him, Henry felt like the wind was knocked out of him. And when Bruno had tried to cut him out, Henry’s chest tightened again. 

He woke up on the ground, shivering for reasons he wasn’t completely sure of. 

“He’s awake.” He heard someone say. “Do you have the water?” 

Henry opened his eyes and realized that the sun was high above in the sky. He blinked twice, feeling the warm sunlight on his skin. 

Henry felt something cold touch his lips, so he grabbed it and freezing water trickled down his throat, giving his mind a sense of clarity. Henry let himself lay on the ground a few more minutes before sitting up. 

His vision cleared and Megan and Bruno were towering above him with identical worried looks. “Better?” Megan asked him. 

Henry noticed that Bruno was paler than normal, and there was blood on his shirt. 

Henry sat up, propping himself up on a nearby tree. They were still at the entrance to the Realm, and there was a wooden board beside Henry. “What happened?” He groaned, rubbing his throbbing head. 

“Well, it’s kind of a long story…” Megan shot a look at Bruno, who shook his head. Megan sighed and told Henry what had happened since he left the castle. 

Henry was silent as Megan told of her and Bruno’s journey through the Realm. He felt guilty about telling the Gatekeeper to ignore them, and he felt really embarrassed when Megan got to the part in which he was just tied to a board. Megan finished by explaining how her and Bruno had lifted the board with magic and carried him out of the Realm. 

Henry drank some more and ate some of the food they provided. “I’m so sorry.” He rasped, his voice was very dry. 

“Now that you’re awake, we can get you home.” Bruno smiled sadly. “The Gatekeeper healed your cuts and made us some protective enchantments. “ He waved to the hooded figure nearby. She nodded once. 

“Wait, did you say cuts?” Henry asked, taking another swig of water to alleviate the pain in his sore throat. 

Megan nodded, tears welling up in her eyes. “When the strings came off of you, I think they were barbed. They left tiny, jagged cuts all over you and Bruno’s arm. They wouldn’t heal with Bruno’s magic either.” 

Now that Megan mentioned it, Henry felt sore all over and when he glanced down at his skin there were little white lines everywhere. He hoped they would heal eventually. 

“Megan, could you … give us a moment?” Bruno was shuffling from side to side and Megan walked away to discuss something with the Gatekeeper. Bruno turned to Henry, blushing. “I’m so sorry, Henry. I didn’t mean a word I said back in the library. I was just frustrated and upset and…” 

Henry saw that Bruno - a boy who seemed to never show emotion - was on the verge of tears. He quickly piped up to interrupt Bruno. “It’s fine.” He repeated it. “It’s fine.” 

“No, it’s not.” Brno continued, waving off Henry’s comment. “I didn’t mean any of what I said, Henry. You’re like my little brother, I would never ever want you to die. And you’re right I’m ... “ He took a breath, as if preparing himself for the impossible. For Bruno, the next few sentences were nearly impossible. “I am afraid of Vivian. Ever since she hypnotized me, I haven’t felt safe. There’s something she’s hiding. Something we’re missing, because it makes her more powerful than any person should be. Her Aura isn’t even that big. 

“I lived in ignorance until I was captured, I thought I was the most magical person on Earth, I thought I could protect you. And now, Leo and Imogene are gone, you’re injured, and Megan barely knows any magic. I can’t protect you. I’ve failed.” Bruno seemed exhausted. 

Henry couldn’t blame him. When the two boys first met, Henry thought Bruno was the strongest person ever. But now, he was discovering that even his hero had faults - especially concerning his pride. Bruno was a person who couldn’t bear failure, and he thought that by not being the best at something he had failed everything. 

Henry smiled. “It’s okay to be scared. What matters now is how you handle it. Will you continue running and hiding? Or will you face your fear like I know you can, and save the world?” Henry stuck out his hand, which seemed pretty pathetic considering he was still lying on the ground. Bruno smiled and grabbed Henry’s hand, hosting the smaller boy to his feet. Megan waved goodbye to the Gatekeeper. 

Bruno rolled his eyes and quickly made a comment to Henry. “You make me sound like the only hope the world has left, but that’s not true. You and Megan can save everyone too.” 

Henry positively beamed with praise. 

Megan joined the two boys, the Gatekeeper turned back to her spot at the entrance to the Realm of Monsters. 

Bruno and Megan gathered their stuff, Henry helped them a little bit as well. They then joined hands and appeared again at the edge of the lake. Henry swam out to the middle, his friends close behind. 

When they arrived in the castle, Henry felt once again like he was home. 

Megan shooed him off to bed for more rest so his body could heal, and later Bruno brought him warm soup and some cookies. 

The castle was his home. Not his own house. Not the Winters’ house. 

The only things missing from his home were Leo and Imogene. 


Chapter 10 

Imogene

Imogene was furious with herself when she woke up. She was blindfolded and her limbs were tied down. Her silver amulet was nowhere around her, she would’ve been able to sense it. 

Luckily enough, Imogene’s captors had been ignorant enough to leave her without a gag. Her mouth was free, and she gladly used it, swearing, cursing, and calling out several words that would normally earn her a dark glare from Bruno. 

But this was a different situation. 

Imogene could not quite remember the details of her previous encounters with the men in black suits or with Vivian. Her mind was fuzzy, and she knew why. 

Imogene remained quiet, listening for movement that would clue her in one where exactly she was, but the room was silent. If it even was a room, Imogene wasn’t completely sure. Her body felt numb, like it had been detached from her mind. To be honest, Imogene kind of liked the feeling … 

No. She couldn’t think that way, not if she wanted to make it out alive. 

Although Imogene’s amulet was missing, it wasn’t the source of all of her magic. She could still perform simple acts, like scan the surrounding area for consciousness. 

Her mind was blank, and Imogene knew that Leo was nowhere around. 

A sinking feeling surfaced in her stomach, and part of Imogene wondered if Vivian had been able to persuade Leo to join her cause. Imogene knew Leo wouldn’t go without putting up a fight, but if Vivian had manipulated him… 

Imogene pushed the thought away. Leo had to be on her side still. Even if Vivian managed to hypnotize him, she would never be able to do a thorough enough job that every single fiber of Leo would be gone. For that, Vivian would need all of the amulets in addition to her brooch. 

Wait! The thought struck Imogene like a bolt of lightning. That was a memory about Vivian! I… You remember her! There was a voice in her head, a tiny one that was cheering along with her. Imogene smiled to herself. Vivian has a nice, large brooch that enables her to… 

The thought disappeared like a leaf on the wind. Inner voice don’t disappoint me now! Imogene thought to herself helplessly. But her memories of Vivian did not return. 

Instead, something slammed open to her side, and something sharp and small punctured her skin. Imogene slept - in and out of consciousness - for what felt like forever until she finally awoke for good. 

Her eyes were still blindfold, but she could feel hands hovering beside her ears. Her hands were cuffed to what felt like a table, the metal was cold against her skin. 

The blindfold was peeled off her face, and Imogene had to blink to adjust to the light. 

When her vision adjusted, Imogene struggled to no avail. The bonds only succeeded in cutting deep slices into her wrists and she had to be tied back with a piece of silver rope. There were two people behind her, Imogene could tell. But she could see neither. She could only see one person - a person that sent hot panic through her veins. “Leo.” 

Imogene’s voice was filled with hatred and loathing that the boy probably had never heard before. He smiled wickedly, his grin looking like it could drip from his mouth. 

Leo was wearing a black suit, just like the ones the Men normally wore. Imogene spit at him, but Leo did not move at all. He sat there smiling until finally, he seemed to “wake” and beginning the interrogation. 

“Hello, Imogene.” Leo said politely, his voice almost robotic. The normal warmth that was carried in Leo’s voice was gone now, replaced with steely resolve and emotionless tone. 

“Hello, Leo.” Imogene snarled back. The blood dripped from her wrists to the table. 

Leo watched the blood intently, and Imogene swore she could see him lick his lips. She shuddered in disgust. “My Master wishes to offer you a deal.” He said, still smiling. 

“Tell your master she can talk to me herself.” Imogene growled. “Besides, I doubt your ‘master’ even cares about your well being. Have you ever met her? Can you tell me who your master is?” Imogene hoped that maybe Leo would spill something vital. He didn’t. 

“My Master is a kind woman who offers help to those in need. Warmth to the cold. Love to the hated. Glory to the forgotten. She can help you too.” Leo repeated. 

“I don’t need any help.” Imogene rolled her eyes. “So may I go home now?” 

Leo’s creepy grin turned into an ugly frown. “My Master is not pleased with those who turn down her gifts. She suggests that you reconsider your decision so she doesn’t have to punish you.” 

“Punish me?” Imogene laughed. Leo’s frown deepened. “Punish me how?” 

“My Master says her ways are secret, but she would like you to know that those who turn down her gifts are rarely heard from again. My Master is very wise, I suggest you listen.” 

“I have reconsidered and my final choice is to not take the deal you Master offers.” 

Leo smiled again, something that unnerved Imogene. “But you have not yet heard the deal. My Master will make you a bargain. You join forces with her, which is a simple task. In return, she will give you what your heart has always longed for.” 

“And that is?” Imogene’s palms were sweating now. Vivian couldn’t possibly know… 

“Acceptance by those who seem to ignore you.” Leo stated. Imogene started to shake, her blood dripping onto the table faster now. “You seek love from a boy who has a heart of stone. You seek praise from your mother who is dead and your stepmother who despises you. You seek motherhood of two boys, both magical.” Leo paused to let this sink in. “And my Master can give you all of that.” 

Imogene’s eyes glazed over, but she was not hypnotized. Somehow, Vivian had seen into her mind and taken what Imogene so greatly desired. She was crying, but Imogene knew deep down that Vivian could not fulfill her promises. 

“I decline your master’s deal.” Imogene said, a tear slipping down her cheek. 

Leo’s face was blank. “My Master is coming.” 

The door opened again and a woman stood across from Imogene. The younger girl stared at the table where she could not see the glasses of a woman who wanted her dead. 

“I know your heart.” Vivian said. “I know what you want. Besides your acceptance, you never wish harm on anyone you know. I have seen your desire to protect both Leo and Henry. I know that you fear anyone’s blood on your hands.” 

Imogene’s heartbeat sped up, and she knew what was coming. 

Leo squirmed in his chair, a scream escaping his lips. Imogene realized the woman had removed her glasses, it was safe to look. Leo’s face was pale, and a trickle of blood leaked down his lips and onto his chin. The screaming stopped for a moment, and Leo fell limp against the chair, giggling all the way. 

Imogene’s mind was split. She knew Leo’s pain might continue, but she couldn’t give herself in to Vivian either. 

Imogene clenched her eyes shut and tried to ignore everything going on.  Leo’s screaming continued on and off for a whole hour, and Imogene felt terrible. But she knew that Vivian would not kill her new servant boy. She only hoped the real Leo would forgive her. 

When the hour was up, Vivian left with Leo, who was giggling still as she dragged him along the floor. Vivian gave the guards orders as she left, and a message to Imogene. 

“Tomorrow, this will resume. You will see that no one can refuse that my deals and get away with it.” And with that, Imogene closed her eyes and wished that Leo had not felt any of it. She wished that Bruno would find her, and save her. 

Most of all, Imogene wished that this was all a dream. 

But she had forgotten that nightmares were dreams too. 

Megan

The next few days at the castle were pretty laid back, in Megan’s opinion. Their schedule was the same every day, and both Henry and Megan were growing bored quick. 

Each day, they woke up as early as possible to see if they could be Bruno to breakfast, but it seemed like the older boy never slept. They all made something small and ate quickly before rushing off to their various jobs. 

Henry no longer performed his shows every morning, but instead took up research in the library. Bruno would sneak off to his room and not reappear until lunch. And Megan devoted her mornings to learning the runes and basic spells. Megan and Henry also worked to find spells that would be more effective against their enemies. 

They would then meet up at lunch, which was normally sandwiches or something random. 

After lunch, Bruno would disappear again. Megan and Henry discovered a garden in the back of the castle. There, they were free to practice spells, and the open space was a good thing because Megan’s magic often resulted in destruction or injury. Neither of them wer quite sure why, and they couldn’t find time to confront Bruno. 

Dinner was the most fun, as Bruno allowed Henry and Megan to alter their identities with a potion he had concocted. Then, the three teens would teleport to a tiny cottage at the edge of a small town. Bruno had a car hidden there (Megan was surprised he had a license to drive) and they would find a tiny restaurant and have a peaceful dinner. Then they would return the car to the cottage (Bruno explained that it had once been home to a kind old woman). 

After dinner, Henry and Megan finished up their practice and normally found something fun to do, and it normally concerned exploring the castle. They discovered a pool, a hot tub, a volleyball court, and a weird coffin thing in a wine cellar that Bruno refused to let them touch. 

It was the same schedule every single day, and by the second week Megan was getting tired of it. She confronted Bruno after breakfast on the tenth day and told him that they needed to act soon. 

Bruno sighed. “I’ve been working out a plan, it’s just taking longer than I expected.” 

“We can help you.” Megan tried. She was tired of being forced to sit and research things all day. She had committed the runes to memory and was learning spells extremely fast. “Just tell us what we need to do.” 

Bruno sighed again, turning away. Megan knew it was a slim chance that Bruno would let them do anything, he was focused on completing his plan alone. 

But what Bruno did surprised Megan. “Well, I kind of have an assignment for all three of us. I know you and Henry have been preparing spells and stuff, and I have a good use for them now.” 

“Talking about me?” Henry popped out from beside the door. Bruno rolled his eyes. 

“Yes. I have a project for us.” Bruno explained. “Obviously, we can’t defeat the Men and Vivian all by ourselves. She has the brooch - it’s too powerful.” Megan didn’t understand what was so special about the brooch, but there were more pressing matters at the moment. “I’ve heard rumors - I’ve been tracking them for the past week - of some Elementals around the country I was hoping we could recruit some of them.” 

“Wait.” Megan realized. “Didn’t you say these Elemental things lived in the Realm?” 

Henry stepped in. “Some do, and by the way I wouldn’t call them things to their faces. Elementals are kind of like us, in a way. They’re normal at first, but the gain magic from markings. Elementals are given certain tattoo markings that let them control elements.” 

“Exactly.” Bruno continued from Henry’s introduction to the Elementals. “There are six known elements, although you’ve probably only been told four. Fire, water, air, earth, light, and darkness are all elements. I’ve found a trail of four Elementals, all relatively young considering their life span. Each Elemental will control a different element, and I’m hoping one of them can tell us where to find a shadow or light Elemental. We can persuade them to help us, because Vivian is after their magic too.” 

“Great.” Megan smiled warmly. “I’ll fetch my cloak.” She disappeared out of the dining room, but she ducked behind the door. 

Just as she had hoped, Henry and Bruno began a conversation a few minutes later. “I hope you realize that Megan still has no idea what we’re facing.” Henry whispered, and Megan couldn’t help but nod in agreement, even though the couldn’t see her. 

“The less she knows the better. Until we’re ready to face Vivian, she can’t know about the brooch, the swords, or the rings. If she knew everything she would be so terrified…” 

Bruno’s voice had trailed off, and Henry sighed loudly. 

“It would scare her more knowing that you’re hiding things from her.” Henry argued. 

“Listen, Henry.” Bruno sighed. “Just think for a moment everything we haven’t told her. She’s just beginning to learn magic, and you expect me to drop the bombs on her. She doesn’t need to know what the Ancient One told us. She doesn’t need to know about the brooch.” 

“What happens if one of us gets captured? Or both of us? Or Megan?” Henry asked. “She won’t know what Vivian really wants. She won’t know the truth.” 

“I told her what Vivian wants.” Bruno said angrily. 

“Only parts of it though. You didn’t tell her about the …” Henry didn’t get to finish his sentence. Megan had accidentally sneezed in the hallway, and Bruno had silenced Henry. 

Megan performed the summoning spell quickly, making her cloak come to her. 

She stood up and acted formal when Bruno opened the door. “I didn’t want to barge in.” Megan said sweetly. 

“It’s fine.” Henry said, shooting a glare at Bruno. “Where’s the first Elemental?” 

Bruno pulled a piece of paper from his pocket. “I decided we should check with the water one first. It’s a girl, and normally water Elementals are more adaptive. Once we persuade her, we should be able to persuade the others.” 

“Great, let’s go.” Megan smiled, hoping she wasn’t acting too weird. 

There was no further argument and the three grabbed hands and disappeared at once. 

Bruno

The salty wind reminded Bruno too much of the Realm. 

The rational part of him reasoned this was an entirely different part of the planet and he would be safe. That part also told him to tell Megan about all he had tried to keep secret from her. 

The irrational part of Bruno demanded that he disappear almost immediately. Who knew if Vivian could track his movements? He wouldn’t put it past her, and the thought had Bruno constantly looking over his shoulder. The irrational part also told him that Megan was fine and that ignorance was bliss. 

Mostly, Bruno wondered why an Elemental had decided to live so close to a beach. 

To be fair, the beach was about three blocks away. Bruno’s research had found him an address to a beach house in one of the richer areas of the country. Supposedly, the girl had lived here for about a year (she moved a lot, and Bruno had trouble finding her records.) 

Bruno had searched through every school system, credit card company, and bank information in the city - using magic of course - and found almost nothing. 

The girl’s name was Beatrice Clarke, and Bruno had discovered that she was a good student for the most part. Her school had enrolled her in phycology appointments, labelling her as “emotionally unstable” and “prone to hallucinations, most regarding monsters or an unnamed woman”. This Clarke girl also disappeared from time to time, and no one had a clue where she went. 

Bruno had concluded that this girl was an Elemental, and he had only ever met one so he wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. 

They found the house relatively easily. 

There was a house in the dead center of the street that was painted a bright banana cream color, and the walls were decorated with ocean waves. Bruno climbed the steps to the door, ignoring the peeling white paint that sat on the railings. He knocked once on the aquamarine door, wondering why anyone would want such a ferocious color. 

The girl who opened the door definitely wasn’t an Elemental. 

The girl frowned the moment she saw Henry, Megan, and Bruno standing on the steps. But besides that, Bruno couldn’t sense a large Aura and the way the girl sneered suggested that she definitely wasn’t expecting visitors. Not that Beatrice would be expecting them either. 

Bruno cleared his throat. “May we talk to Beatrice please?” 

“She’s not here.” The girl said quickly, and went to slam the door. Bruno stopped the door with his foot. “Beatrice doesn’t live here.” The girl repeated. 

“Yes, she does.” Bruno shot back, beginning to panic. “We’re here to help her.” 

“That’s what the last people who came said. And they nearly kidnapped her. So go away, you aren’t getting Beatrice.” The girl slammed the door against Bruno’s foot again and he winced, but didn’t move. Beatrice was the key to all of this. 

“Listen, we aren’t the men in the black suits. We’re here to help Beatrice, and to hide her from them.” Bruno didn’t point out that Beatrice would probably be forced to fight the Men anyways. The girl opened the door a little further. “Please, we’re only trying to help. We know about her … her magic.” 

The girl paled. “I meant what I said earlier. Beatrice isn’t here. But if you really do want to find her, she’s at the beach. What should I tell my parents when she doesn’t come back?” 

Bruno scanned the ground and grabbed a small pebble. He performed a spell Bruno and Henry had taught him a few years prior. 

It had seemed like a useless spell until now. The stone lit up with a pale glow that faded in a second, Bruno handed the stone to the girl, who took it cautiously. 

“In twenty minutes, have your parents look at the stone. It’ll flash once and whoever sees it will forget your sister exists.” He said. 

The girl nodded and shut the door. Bruno and the others made their way to the beach. 

Megan discarded her cloak - probably a good idea. They took turns in one of the alleyways magically changing into bathing suits as to appear more normal on the beach. 

The sand was warm under Bruno’s toes and he couldn’t recall the last time he had been on a beach. Cold waves lapped at his feet as they strolled casually along, Henry and Megan picking up seashells. The ocean was far colder than he had expected, but then again, it wasn’t beach season yet. 

It was a rather overcast day, and it made the beach empty. It was easy to spot the girl, and he knew she was an Elemental without a doubt. 

As they approached, Bruno realized how the Beatrice’s family knew about the Men already. She didn’t make an effort to contain her magic. The girl was sitting in the waves, but when the bigger ones came closer they parted around her, leaving the girl relatively dry. 

“Hello.” Bruno greeted her when the girl finally saw them. Her eyes narrowed. 

Beatrice didn’t look a day over twelve, which meant Henry wouldn’t be the youngest anymore. Bruno could tell Henry would be happy. 

Beatrice had sandy blonde hair and a deep tan, probably because of her life at the beach. Her eyes were an icy teal color that seemed to search every inch of Bruno for danger, and her rosy cheeks made her look angry rather than innocent. 

“Who are you?” The girl stood abruptly, glaring at the three others. 

“I’m Megan. This is Henry and Bruno.” Megan introduced them, and her voice sounded soft and reassuring. Beatrice seemed to relax a bit. “You must be Beatrice.” 

“How do you know my name?” Beatrice asked. 

“I’ve heard of your magic.” Megan said softly. “That you’re an Elemental.” 

“How could you tell?” Beatrice breathed. 

“We’re magical too.” Megan explained, though it didn’t really answer the question. Beatrice looked reassured, and she pointed to a tiny marking on her ankle, barely visible. 

“I got this mark when I was six years old.” Beatrice whispered “I was trying surfing when something came up and tickled my ankle. I ran out of the water and on my ankle was the ink stuff. I didn’t wash it off and it dried pretty fast. Then I felt something in my chest, and then it started to pour.” 

Bruno nodded. This sounded like all the other stories he had heard about Elementals. “May I see the mark closer?” When Beatrice nodded, Bruno bent down to take a look. 

The inking was teal like Beatrice’s eyes. There was a raindrop, very small and barely visible. Under it was the word water in runes. Bruno stood up, smiling at Beatrice. “That’s genuine. So, I have a proposal for you. Would you like to go on an adventure?” 

Beatrice straightened up. “You want me to help you defeat the men in black suits, don’t you? I’ve always wanted to go on an adventure. Count me in!” She pumped her tiny fist in the air. Bruno sighed. The girl was a little too excited for this, was she aware that she could possibly die during this? 

“It’s not exactly an adventure.” Henry stepped in. “We still have to find some more …” 

“Ooh a super hero team, how exciting!” Beatrice exclaimed. No one laughed. “I’m just kidding, I’m not that weird.” 

Everyone laughed nervously. Beatrice waved an arm, and some of the ocean water floated up and surrounded her body. In a moment, Beatrice was wearing a casual pair of jeans and a t-shirt. “I’m ready.” Beatrice smiled brightly. 

Bruno smiled back. Megan and Henry grabbed Beatrice’s hands, and Bruno wondered why Beatrice seemed so … laid back and okay with this. They were literally taking her away from her home. But the girl didn’t seem to mind. Bruno joined the circle and they disappeared. Bruno decided that it was time to start fighting back. So on their way through the lake, he removed the castle’s teleporting protections. They needed to be able to get inside, and fast. 

And this was a terrible mistake. 


Chapter 11

Leo

Leo felt no pity for the weak girl at his feet. His lips curled into a sneer as he glanced down at the body, shivering in the corner. She was weak, weaker than anyone he had ever met. And Leo had gladly told her his feelings. 

It had been about a two weeks since he had met his Master, and he was enjoying every moment of it. Well, almost every moment of it. 

The girl had refused his Master, which meant that his Master was very upset. Every night, she seemed to get more and more distraught. Leo waited patiently on her hand an foot like the obedient servant he was supposed to be. 

One of his favorite parts of the day was the hour he got to spend torturing the girl. 

The first few days, his Master had come with him to Containment. She showed him how to unlock the door for just him, so the girl could not escape. She showed him her favorite kind of magic, how to use it, and even gave him a fancy golden necklace so he could do magic too. 

The first few days, Leo could not remember what happened after he entered the cell. His Master said his old life was stilling trying to fight for control of him. Disgusting. 

After the first few days, however, Leo was allowed to go down to Containment alone. He would walk the endless hallway, pasting the groaning prisoners, and find the cell that held the weak girl. 

They had their own little routine, although part of it changed daily. 

Leo would enter the cell and the girl would glare at him from her ball in the corner. Leo would ask if she wanted to except the Master’s deal yet, and she would refuse. 

Leo would spend the next hour doing special torture methods from his Master. One day it was a serum he forced the girl to drink, and it made her scream. The next day he got to drag a knife down her cheek, her arms, and then his own body. Once, he was even allowed to use a little electrical device that made weird noises. 

Day after day, the girl grew weaker. The circles under her eyes grew, and scabs formed on her pale skin. Leo was also in charge of feeding her and providing her water. 

After the fun, Leo would ask again if she was ready to accept the deal. Sometimes, the girl was unconscious and she couldn’t answer. Most days, she refused to speak and covered her head with her skinny arms. Leo liked seeing her in pain. The weak must pay, he thought. 

Leo strolled down to Containment, humming a song he had heard his Master sing. The guards nodded once and let him through. 

The hallways were white and bland. Everything about his Master had to be clean and neat. No use having things dirty. Master had even given Leo a new outfit - a fancy suit that seemed to match his golden necklace. He cherished the gift. 

As always, the other prisoners banged on the glass, screaming, crying, and occasional speaking in languages he didn’t understand. Leo ignored them all. 

He performed the necessary spell and stepped into the girl’s cell. 

Her head rose, and it seemed to take a great deal of effort out of her. “Please, go away.” Her voice was tired and weak, just like her. Pathetic.

But then, then she said something that Leo had never heard her say before. “Please, if you won’t leave, then remember.” The girl sat up, her eyes red and puffy. “Remember who you truly are, Leo.” 

Leo spit at the disgusting piece of filth. What junk was she spewing now? “Yeah, yeah, whatever. It’s time for today’s …” 

“Do you remember when we first met? You and Henry were at school, Henry was your best friend. You guys were sitting at lunch, and then all of the sudden there was a fire drill. You weren’t sure what it was, so you ran outside. And you realized that it wasn’t something normal, it was Vivian and her Men, who you had never seen before. And Bruno and I showed up, because we were tracking them.” The girl’s eyes were sparkling, and what she was saying sounded familiar … 

“Shut up!” Leo roared. “Shut up with your stupid lies. I’m not falling for that.” 

But the girl did not stop, she kept talking. “Do you remember when we made the castle? It was your idea for the expansion charm, and at first Bruno and I weren’t sure it would work. So you and Henry consulted my spellbook, and you performed the first real spell out of any of us.” The girl sighed. “I wish we were still that family. I wish you knew what I was saying.” 

Leo glared at the girl. She was wasting time. The girl then looked straight at Leo. “I know you’re in there somewhere, the real Leo. You can’t erase a person. No matter how much frosting put on,” 

Something clicked inside of Leo. “There’s still a cookie at the bottom.” He finished, his eyes wide. Leo’s knees buckled, and he began to weep. 

“I’m so sorry. I’m sorry, Imogene, could you ever forgive me?” Leo snuggled into Imogene’s side, and the girl gladly welcomed him. Leo felt her shift, and Imogene held up a silver amulet that she had hidden in her shirt. “How?” 

“I always kept a spare fake with me.” Imogene whispered soothingly. “I knew if I wished hard enough, it might work. It might bring you back.” 

“I’m back.” Leo said, his voice thick. “I’m back.” 

“Not for long.” A voice called from the door. Vivian stepped inside the tiny cell, holding something small behind her back. 

Imogene was not quick enough, and Vivian spotted her silver amulet, and snatched it out of her grasp with her free hand. “That’s enough magic for you, my dear. Come now, Leo. We have to get my servant back.” 

Leo didn’t respond, he covered his head and eyes, crying into Imogene’s side. The girl wrapped an arm protectively around him, but Vivian simply laughed. 

“So Imogene was successful in helping you recover, I presume.” Vivian’s laugh was a terrible thing that Leo couldn’t forget. He wanted to run, he wanted to hide. But most of all, he was beginning to see what Bruno was so afraid of. 

Someone grabbed Leo’s shirt collar and dragged him away. It was Vivian. 

He clawed at the sleek walls and clean floors, but to no avail. Imogene lunged for him, but Vivian kicked her in the chest and continued dragging Leo. 

He struggled, screamed, cried, and even began shouting random words that he hoped would maybe be a spell. Nothing happened, and Leo finally gave up. But instead of dragging him towards her study, Vivian loaded them into an elevator and pressed the down button. 

The bottom floor was the laboratory. And apparently, the lab was in need of some new test subjects.
Leo didn’t see Vivian’s smirk as she walked away. 

He was 100% expendable. 

Henry

They fed Beatrice dinner, and Henry was surprised by how much food the girl could swallow. Bruno had somehow bypassed the lake security, and Henry wasn’t sure how but he didn’t want to mention it. 

After dinner was over, Bruno went off to sulk in his room - no doubt locating the next Elemental. 

Henry and Megan showed Beatrice around the castle, which she greatly enjoyed. The castle seemed to take especially well to the girl, and her room was apparently perfect for her. They each changed in their own rooms and met in the garden. 

Beatrice showed them a bit of her magic, and Henry showed her a bit of his. Megan sat in the corner with a book and watched. 

Beatrice was a natural - courtesy of having six years to train with her element. 

A fountain and pond had appeared in the center of the garden the second Beatrice had entered, as if sensing her presence. Beatrice showed Henry how she could make the water into whatever she wanted, how she could walk on it, and several other tricks that would prove useful in many situations. 

Bruno entered the garden when the sun was setting and informed them that the next day they would be finding the Earth Elemental. It was a boy, and that was all Bruno said. 

The next day, Bruno, Megan, and Henry all set off for a village somewhere far away. Beatrice promised to behave when they let her stay behind. Bruno wanted to slip a sedative into her drink, but Megan persuade him otherwise. Bruno caved and let Beatrice into the library, telling her to research other magical folk. Trixie was not amused when Bruno locked the door. 

“Where exactly are we?” Megan asked, wrapping her cloak tighter around her. 

Her red-brown hair was crusted with ice, and Henry felt his whole body tremble with shivers. Bruno was the only one who seemed unaffected. 

“There’s a village of Cryos down this mountain and in the valley. The boy lives here, why I have no idea. His name is Emmett, and that’s the extent of my knowledge.” Bruno explained as they began to hike downwards. 

Henry had no idea where they were either, but it was cold and the snow seemed to come down in sheets. The cloak he had found in his closet did little to keep him warm. 

Through the snow, he could see a tiny bit of light, most likely from the village. 

Henry wondered why anyone would want to live somewhere this cold. He shivered again, wishing he had thought to bring a warmer outfit. 

The village got closer and when they were what seemed to be the outskirts of town, they stepped through something that felt kind of like a bubble. Gone was the frigid wind and temperature, and the blizzard had disappeared as well. Henry glanced up and saw that there actually was a bubble, and the storm raged on outside of it. 

“That’s better.” Megan said, raking her fingers through her hair to get rid of the snow. “Why didn’t we just appear in here?” 

“Two reasons.” Bruno said, shaking the snow out of his own hair. “One, the bubble makes it impossible to magically appear inside. Two, when I teleport somewhere for the first time, it’s almost never entirely accurate.” 

The air, while warmer, still had a sharp chill to it. Henry kept is cloak on. 

Then Henry saw the people. 

He had never seen a Cryo in real life before, and now he was in a village full of them. It was amazing, and Henry smiled to himself. 

Cryos - also known as Cryokinetics - had ice magic. In a way, they were like Elementals because they had markings and could control an “element”. But Cryos were born with their magic, it was an extremely recessive trait that had almost been breeded out of existence. They were born with teal marks on their foreheads that designated them as Cryos. In the same respect, Electrokinetics could control lightning and were birthed into magic. 

Cryos could control ice, which explained their odd living environment. 

Each Cryo had a teal snowflake on their forehead in the dead center. They all had similar looks as well, pale hair that was almost white and bright blue eyes. Not all of them looked like that, but Henry could tell most of them came from the same family. 

One of them saw the group, gave them a strange look, and walked over. “What are you doing here, travellers?” It was a man, and he looked kind of old. 

“We’re not travellers.” Bruno said, sticking out a hand. “My name is Bruno. This is Megan and Henry. We’re Amulet Keepers, and we seek the boy called Emmett.” The man did not shake Bruno’s hand, so he withdrew it. 

The man frowned. “You look rather young to be Amulet Keepers. Last I heard, they were all adults.” 

“They died, courtesy of a certain group you may have heard of.” Bruno said vaguely. 

“I suppose you’re referring to the Men, yes, we’ve heard of them. They came about a month ago and raided the village. Emmett, luckily, was at a boarding school tour that day.” The man said, frowning deeper. “The entire village has attempted to hide his presence, yet you have found us. How so?”

“I researched in depth.” Bruno answered. “And yes, I was talking about the Men. You say they came for Emmett? I’m surprised they have not returned.” 

The man shrugged. “We told them Emmett was killed and showed them a body of a boy that died about a week before. They believed it, and they left. We didn’t dare attack, lest we make the Men angry at all Cryos in general.” 

Bruno nodded. “We are here to take Emmett with us. We’d like to destroy the Men, and I’ve been trying to recruit one of each Elemental, and Emmett was the Earth Elemental I discovered. Where exactly is he?” Bruno asked, sharing a look with Henry and Megan. It seemed that Emmett had already had encounters with the Men. 

The man sighed. “He’s in the cellar of my sister’s house. My name is Emery, and as you can tell, we’re al Cryos here. Biggest Cryo establishment in the Western Hemisphere. We’re up in Northern lands, if you couldn’t tell.” 

“I assumed as much.” Bruno sighed, and Emery smiled. “Let’s go find Emmett.” 

Megan

Megan wanted to leave the moment she stepped through the door of the shack, but she felt it would be impolite and might cost them their visit. So Megan held her breath and tried to ignore the scent that made her gag. 

Emery had conveniently forgot to mention the fact that his sister worked as a butcher. 

In the Northern Lands, either there wasn’t much normal meat (chicken, beef, pork) or maybe magical people preferred to not eat animals like that. Instead of cows and pigs in the butcher shop, there were elk, reindeer, bears, and another creature Megan couldn’t remember. 

Nevertheless, the smell was disgusting. So was Emery’s sister - not that Megan would say it to her face. 

Emery’s sister - who introduced herself as Lena through a series of grunts - was not a pretty woman. She was very large, her arms were as thick as logs and her stomach had trouble fitting behind the counter. Her hair was ratty, tucked behind a greasy bandana. Her face was covered in sores, and the only part of her skin that wasn’t covered in grime was the snowflake on her forehead. Her hands seemed to be permanently stained red. 

“May we visit Emmett?” Emery asked her. Lena nodded, and Megan was more than happy to escape from the smell and from Lena’s ominous appearance. 

Emery lead them down a staircase in the back. The door was covered by a large tapestry. 

“Who’s there?” A voice called when they began to creep down the steps. 

“It’s Uncle Emery and some visitors. They’re Amulet Keepers, and they’re here to see you.” Emery shouted as they emerged in the basement. 

The cellar was kind of like a den, and the temperature was rather cold. There was a couch against one wall and a bed against another. A boy was sitting in the corner, reading a book. He glanced up at them with startling green eyes. “These are Amulet Keepers?” 

Emmett seemed about fifteen, but it was clear that he was younger than Bruno. Emmett kept a wary eye on the three as Emery glanced between them, the tension rising. 

“Oh, whoops, I hear Lena calling.” Emery said nervously before hurrying up the stairs. Lena had not called. They stood in silence, waiting for Emmett to do something. He sighed, and sat down his book. 

“What do you want?” He sounded tired, and Megan knew he probably was. 

“So you are an Elemental, right?” Bruno asked, getting straight down to business. 

“You’re an Amulet Keeper, right?” Emmett responded sourly. Megan decided she needed to step in, even though she didn’t know much.

“We’re Amulet Keepers.” Megan answered, stepping between the two boys. “I’m Megan, and this is Bruno and Henry. We have two other friends as well, and they’re also Amulet Keepers. There’s also a Water Elemental back at our place.” 

“Where are your friends?” Emmett kept his stern gaze on Bruno and his frown. 

“They’re unwell at the moment.” Megan said vaguely. “I’ll give you details if you give me some.” 

Emmett raised his eyebrows. “Good, I wondered if you would catch on. Normally, the Men aren’t intelligent enough to figure out my trick. You’re obviously not the Men, which means I am free to talk. You were correct, of course. I assume you know that I am an Earth Elemental.” Emmett waited until Megan nodded in surprise. “Good.” 

“So you obviously know the Men, then?” Megan probed. 

Emmett nodded. “I met them the day I became an Elemental.” He seemed to only then notice that all of them were standing. “Come, sit. I have a story and snacks.” 

“Snacks!” Henry positively beamed as the three took a seat on the couch, Bruno still sulking. Emmett brought them some chips and sat on the table across from them. “Thanks.” Henry said, his mouth full. 

Emmett smiled, but his smile quickly faded. “I guess I became an Elemental when I was about ten. I used to live in the biggest city on the continent, but that was before I got my magic. My parents were kind people, and they took me hiking a lot to get fresh air since it was hard to come by in the city. I’ll spare you the details, but on our hike I got seperated. It seemed like the trees cut off my parents when I stopped to tie my shoe. I didn’t know where to go, and all of the sudden there were howls and stuff. One of the trees whacked me in the shoulder and hit me so far I landed on the ground about thirty yards away, my head hit the ground too. I blacked out for a bit, and the next thing I knew there were first aid people around me. 

“I thought they were trying to help, but one of them - a woman - had glasses that made my head mushy so I closed my eyes and faked passing out. My parents had found me and they were extremely worried, but the woman - well - I guess she killed them. My shoulder throbbed and the trees seemed to sense by anger. One of them whacked the woman and I blacked out again out of pain. When I woke up, I was here. Emery had happened to be hiking the woods that day looking for potion ingredients. He found me, saw the mark, and brought me here.” 

Emmett finished, sitting quietly. Megan felt bad that Vivian had killed his parents, but curiosity won her over and Megan asked if she could see his marking. 

Emmett rolled up his sleeve, revealing a leaf in green ink and under it were the runes spelling Earth. Megan smiled to herself as Emmett covered the mark. “So, what exactly are you guys here for? I haven’t had an actual visitor in two years.” 

Bruno shot Megan a look, clearly unwilling to explain to Emmett. Henry took over. “When Megan said our friends were unwell, she meant that Vivian - the woman - and the Men have them. Leo and Imogene were our other two Amulet Keepers. Beatrice is our Water Elemental back at out castle. We’re trying to get our friends back and maybe destroy Vivian once and for all.” 

Emmett looked thoughtful and then shook his head. “Nah, it was great meeting you, but I’ll stay here, thanks. I prefer being alive to being dead.” 

Megan looked at Henry and Bruno, who shrugged. They had been expecting everyone to just come with them, but Megan realized that expectation had been foolish. She thought about she herself had been hesitant to come with Bruno. 

Megan inhaled. They didn’t have much of a choice, they needed Emmett. “What here is so great that’s worth living for?” 

Emmett stared at her, his green eyes fixed on her hazel ones. Then he turned and stared wistfully at a picture on the wall. “I’ve always wondered if my parents were still alive.” Emmett’s voice was quiet, and Megan decided not to point out that his response wasn’t an answer. Instead, she kept quiet. “I’ve always wondered if maybe the Men kept them alive.” 

“It’s a possibility.” Henry said, a thoughtful look on his face. Megan was surprised to see that Henry was being serious for once. “I know Leo and Imogene are still alive.” 

“How?” Bruno asked him. 

Henry shrugged. “Leo’s my best friend, I would know if there was something wrong.” 

Emmett sighed. “But my parents were mortal, normal people. And even if the Men had kept them alive, the only reason would be leverage and now Vivian thinks I’m dead, so she might as well just kill them.” 

“We can save them.” Megan said, her voice strong and unwavering despite the turmoil she felt inside of her. “We can save everyone, but we need your help.” 

Emmett looked up and smiled at her, sadness hidden behind the tough mask he often wore. “Deal.” Emmett stood, and Bruno smiled encouragingly at Megan, who blushed. She only hoped that all of this work was worth it. 


Chapter 12 

Imogene

Imogene could close her eyes, but she would have rather been able to close her ears. 

Since Leo had disappeared from her schedule, Imogene was forced to endure tortures from Vivian. The woman seemed devoted to destroying every ounce of fiber Imogene had left. 

What was worse than the pain was the question of what had happened to Leo. Last Imogene had seen, Vivian had dragged him away and he had disappeared. She tried to persuade the guards - they gave her food and water now that Leo was gone - to give her information on his whereabouts, but the guards ignored her. 

Imogene wondered if perhaps she was the most guarded prisoner in the dungeon, which she had heard get called Containment. 

Her days were long and boring, and generally consisted of sleeping to drift away from the pain, eavesdropping, attempting magic without a proper amulet, and daydreaming. Sleeping was the easiest way to ignore the soreness in her muscles and the aching of her entire body. Eavesdropping got her almost nowhere, since the glass prevented a lot of sound from getting through. Magic was useless here, especially now that Vivian had spent hours putting up extra precautions. Daydreaming often took dark turns as she realized her new reality was absolutely nothing. She had no escape, and a slim chance of living. 

Vivian seemed to be growing tired of Imogene’s antics, each day her tone was more and more desperate for Imogene to join her. 

Imogene knew why Vivian was attempting to hypnotize her. She had read a book on it not long after Bruno’s disappearance. Most likely, Vivian would only be able to keep a hold on three people on a time. Any more than that, and her victims would become sentient enough to question their orders. If Vivian really wanted Imogene to work with her, she needed the girl to be willing instead of wasting her talent on servants. 

On the third day without Leo, Imogene heard Vivian striding down the hall to her cell. 

Her thin white dress didn’t protect her from the chill she felt as the footsteps approached. Imogene kept quiet and pretended to be asleep. Maybe Vivian would leave. 

“Wake up, my darling!” The voice was abnormally cheery. Imogene opened her eyes slowly, pretending she had been asleep. Vivian had (graciously) provided a ratty blanket and pillow for Imogene so she could actually sleep. “Today we have something new.” 

Imogene groaned. That couldn’t mean anything … 

She stopped as she saw a pair of legs behind Vivian. The woman smiled, revealing glinting white teeth. A figure stepped aside, his head hung low. Vivian pushed him in front of her, and Leo didn’t make any noise or expression to show he saw Imogene. 

“It’s been a rough few days downstairs for the boy.” Vivian smirked. “So I brought him up here for two reasons. One, so he can recharge because our testing resumes tomorrow. Two, because I hope this will convince you to join me. The sooner you agree, the sooner I stop using Leo as my little guinea pig. I’ll be back in an hour, and if you try anything, you’ll die. You two are expendable to me.” Vivian left without a word, and Leo dropped to his knees.

Imogene’s eyes widened as she took in his wounds. 

Bruises and scratches coated Leo’s face. His shirt collar was stained with blood, and so were several other parts of the fabric. On his wrists were two metal cuffs, preventing him from doing magic. Leo seemed cold and empty. He didn’t speak. 

Imogene sat up and Leo crawled over to her. He laid his head on her lap and shivered uncontrollably. A tear dripped down Imogene’s cheek. 

It took twenty minutes for Leo to calm down enough to stop shivering. His eyes were empty as he stared blankly at Imogene. Her stomach felt queasy. What had Vivian been doing to him? Leo was not the same boy he had been. 

“Leo?” Imogene whispered, wishing she could console him in a better way. But the room was empty except for the two magicians, the blanket, and the pillow. 

“It didn’t hurt.” Leo said defensively, and Imogene was mildly taken aback. 

“What?” 

“They’re trying to find a way to make a prison like our castle at home.” 

“But you said something about …” 

“They’re trying to send me there. In a Realm, but I keep getting lost.” 

“They’re doing what?” 

Leo stared straight at Imogene, clearly grasping for a way to say what he was thinking. “They’re trying to find a place - another Realm - to imprison magical people. They want it to have no words so we can’t do spells. Once they find it, they’re putting me there to see if I can get back.” He waited for her to comment. 

Imogene gaped. “There’s no way. You can’t create a Realm. Bruno tried, I tried. When we made the castle we wanted to make a Realm but there’s no way.” 

“They’re no making a Realm, they’re finding one.” Leo whispered. 

“That’s the same thing!” Imogene cried. “It doesn’t exist! A world with no words?” 

Leo nodded once, his eyelids dropping. “I wou;dn’t believe it either if I hadn’t seen it. They’re getting closer to finally sending me. They call it the Silent Realm.” 

Imogene tried to find something to say or some way to escape. But she knew that there was nothing she could do. Vivian would not allow them to escape, and Bruno, Megan, and Henry wouldn’t be able to rescue them in time. More tears dripped down Imogene’s face as she struggled to find a way to say goodbye. She was sure that she wouldn’t here from Leo again. 

Leo shook his head, seeming more awake than before. “Don’t cry for me. Don’t say goodbye. I want to think I’ll get through this.” 

“But you won’t!” Imogene cried. “They won’t stop until they discover the Silent Realm and by then, they won’t care about your life. Leo, we have to do something. We have to try and escape or …” 

Leo pressed a finger to her lips, his own eyes glistening. “We can’t escape, and you know that. I’ve accepted it, and I barely persuaded Vivian to let me come up here.” 

“Why?” Imogene breathed. “Why come here if you know I can’t help you?” 

Leo smiled sadly. “Because when this is all over, I want you to come and find me. I’ll be waiting.” 

Imogene shook her head, grabbing Leo’s hand and wrapping it with her own. “Please, there’s got to be something I can do.” Something clicked inside Imogene’s head. She exhaled shakily. “Vivian said if I joined her, she’d stop experimenting on you. I just have to join her side, and you will live.” 

Leo shook his head vigorously. “Imogene, you know we can’t rely on Vivian’s promises. There’s nothing you can do but wait and find me when you’ve saved the world. Vivian was right, I am nothing compared to the rest of you. But you, you’re something.” 

“Leo,” Imogene wept. “You’re not nothing. You’re amazing, you’re talented, you’re funny. But you’re also my friend.” 

Vivian’s footsteps were coming down the hallway and Imogene wiped up her tears with her sleeve. Leo hugged her tightly, and Imogene wished that his tiny heart could beat longer than it should. She wished that she could trade places with him. 

Vivian opened the cell and pried Leo away from Imogene with a smirk. 

Leo turned to Imogene, his face blank again. Before Vivian could completely close the door, Leo called out a final message to Imogene. “They can take my voice but they can’t take my ability to love.” Vivian shoved a hand over his mouth. 

Imogene watched from her cell, trying to memorize every detail of Leo possible. His chesnut hair, his warm brown eyes, and his smile. 

We’ll meet again. We’ll meet again. We’ll meet again. Imogene began to chant the phrase to herself, thinking that maybe it would come true if she thought it enough times. But deep down, Imogene knew that Leo would not be in control of his own fate anymore, nor could she do anything to help him … except maybe do the exact thing he ordered her not to do. 

Vivian came back later that day to ask about Imogene’s choice. 

And Imogene’s heart dropped into her stomach as she agreed to help the evil woman in order to save one of her only friends. 

Bruno

Bruno felt something like a pang of loss in his stomach the moment they set foot in the bustling city. A car sped by them, and a squeal of tires could be heard not far away. Bruno decided to focus on more pressing matters than the jittery feeling. 

The previous night, the three and Emmett - Bruno had a bad feeling about him - had returned to the castle later than expected. Beatrice was patiently waiting. 

The young Elemental had prepared them dinner, which the excepted gratefully. Emmett was introduced to Beatrice, and vice versa. After that, the others proceeded to the garden to test out Emmett’s ability. 

Bruno hurried off to his study before anyone could stop him. He wanted to be alone. 

He wasn’t sure what was going on, but his mind was full and Bruno had no one to vent to he. He decided to write everything else on a roll of parchment and then tied it to Timothy’s leg before letting the bird fly away. He asked the bird to dispose of the parchment. 

Now, they were in the middle of the biggest city in the country. Henry and Megan had been less conspicuous than Bruno and had worn clothes that looked normal. Bruno had forgotten that cloaks weren’t needed in the city and attempted to dispose of it multiple times but always saw someone watching so he couldn’t send it back. 

Beatrice and Emmett were back at the castle, hopefully behaving and maybe practicing their magic. They needed every ounce of talent they good get. 

“So, are both of the other Elementals here?” Henry asked, checking his reflection in a window of a store. He had chosen dark sunglasses that were way too big for him, causing the boy to look slightly like a bug. Megan rolled her eyes at Henry. 

Bruno couldn’t help but notice that Megan’s hair seemed even brighter than normal, and there were tiny freckles dotting her nose. He shook his head, reminding himself that he had better things to think about. Instead, he distracted himself by answering Henry’s question. “The Elementals are both here, yes. So you know how fire relies on air to live? Well, for every fire Elemental created, there has to be an air Elemental - kind of like their soulmate in a way - or they die. That’s why the one of the more rare Elemental powers is fire. If my research is correct, the two are actually cousins.” 

Megan signaled for Henry to stop as he almost got ran over by a car. The driver made an obscene gesture, and Henry closed his eyes to curse them before Megan slapped him. 

Megan turned to Bruno. “Anything else? Last time, you gave us names.” 

Bruno shook his head. “We’re out of luck this time. Since fire Elementals are so rare, most of them decide to stay hidden. I found no records of either of them.” 

“Great!” Henry said exburently. “Does that mean we get to wonder the city and aimlessly drift in an out of stores while impulse buying random merchandise?” 

Bruno blinked and Megan raised her eyebrows. Henry blushed. “Never mind.” 

“I have an address.” Bruno rolled his eyes. Henry sighed. 

“Lead the way, Map Dude.” Henry began smiling again, and Bruno was glad to see some of his upbeat personality had returned. 

Bruno lead the way around seven blocks and into an elevator at an apartment complex. Megan had to stop Henry from pressing every single button in the elevator. Apparently, it had been some time since Henry had been out in public like that, even though they went out to eat every night for a weak. (Henry defended himself by saying local fast foods joints didn’t have elevators, and Megan snapped back by saying that Henry was like a cat.) 

The room number was 404 and Henry knocked once. No one answered. “Maybe they’re out?” Henry suggested with a shrug. “Maybe they can recognize fancy magic people and think we’re part of Vivian’s clan.” 

A lady in the hallway locking her door sent Henry a weird look and he was then banned from talking around normal people. Bruno knocked again. 

There was a click and the peephole on the door opened slightly, revealing an amber colored eye. “Who are you?” The voice was feminine, but deep as if the girl were trying to pass as a man. 

“Listen, we know you’re Elementals. We’re not with the Men, if you know who they are. We’re here to help you.” Bruno sighed, tried of explaining this over and over again. 

There was a flurry of movement and a moment of silence before the amber eye returned. 

“I don’t know if I should trust you.” She said tentatively. 

“You can trust us.” Megan said with a smile. She glanced around the hallway and then quickly held up her pearly amulet. The amber eye disappeared a lock on the door clicked. The door swung open and the three hurried in. The door shut behind them. 

“Sorry.” A girl said, locking the door. 

She had bright red hair and amber eyes. She was wearing a yellow sundress, and Bruno thought that she looked to be about Megan’s age. The girl blushed. “Sorry again. My brother is a bit overprotective. Ever since we had an encounter with that terrible woman…” 

“Brother?” Henry burst, staring a Bruno. Bruno shook his head, signaling that it wasn’t the time. 

“She means me.” A boy said, and Bruno spotted him lounging on the couch a few yards away. He looked like he was the same age as the girl, but they were very different looking. The boy had pale blonde hair and ice blue eyes. “And she’s also lying. She’s way more overprotective of me than I am of her.” 

The girl’s blush became more defined. “I know they’re trustworthy, they have amulets. Or at least, the girl does. And the other two aren’t old enough to be Men.” 

The boy shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. I’m Gale, and this is my twin sister, Seraphina. I call her Sera for short. Anyways, we can start packing our bags immediately. We’ve always been prepared for a moment like this.” 

Bruno blinked once and Megan held out her hands as Gale stood, ready to get his belongings. 

“You don’t have to go yet.” Megan said. 

“Yes, we do.” Seraphina argued, eyes bright. “You see, Gale and I move apartments every week. That’s the average amount of time it takes for the Men to find us. They kind of want me really bad, since I’m a fire Elemental.” 

Megan glanced at Bruno. He shrugged. “This just means we don’t have to repeat the story to Emmett and Beatrice later.” 

Megan nodded and sighed. Seraphina stopped packing (dropping some clothes in the process). “There are others?” She asked, sounding amazed. She gasped when Bruno nodded. “How many?” 

“There are two other Elementals - water and earth (we can’t find dark or light) - and two other Amulet Keepers currently being held by Vivian and the Men.” Bruno explained. 

Seraphina nodded to herself. “Great. Gale, come help me pack. It’ll take us about five minutes to pack.” She said, and it truly was a sight to behold. Bruno watched in amazement as Gale and Seraphina bolted back and forth, filling a trash bag with stuff to leave behind, laying a key on the table, and gathering as many things as they could and throwing them into a large satchel. True to their word, it took them about five minutes to gather everything. 

“Let’s go!” Gale said, a smile on his face. “I can’t wait!” 

Seraphina rolled her eyes, but she looked excited as well. They all joined hands and Bruno took them to the castle. 

None of them noticed the door swing open as they whirled away, so no one saw the man enter and close the door behind him. He then lit a match, and dropped it to the floor. The apartment was in flames yet a moment later. The man returned to his boss and informed her that the deed was done. 

The woman smiled to herself. Two days and she would launch the attack she had always been wanting to do. Two days. 

Leo

Leo wished that the men would hurry up and finish their machine. His body was filled with adrenaline and he wished he had found a way out of this. 

Leo ran through scenarios in his head, wishing he had asked Imogene to kill him or maybe attacked one of the guards so they had no choice but to kill him. Being dead would be a lot better than being lost in a Realm that didn’t even exist. 

Four men and women dressed in lab coats were working around a weird looking machine that kind of resembled a spaceship box. What Leo hated the most were the wires. 

He had just been with Imogene that morning, but he felt like it had been ages since he had last seen any of his friends. Would Imogene be able to tell everyone else what happened to him? Or would she die too before she would be able to reach the others? He didn’t know. 

“Ready for test number 46.” One of the woman said, addressing a man with a camera. 

Leo hated the cameras as well. They always taped the machine whenever they used it, Leo assumed it was a way to send a progress report to Vivian, but he hoped she didn’t actually watched them. Leo didn’t want anyone to see how weak he was. 

At the moment, he was restrained to a chair as he was any time he was not strapped to the machine. He had been given small meals and occasional drinks to keep him alive. 

Two of the men made their way over to Leo and untied him. They grabbed his arms, but Leo didn’t try to struggle. If this surprised the men, they didn’t let it show. But he was done fighting a losing battle. 

They strapped him to the machine and Leo braced himself as the tiny wires poke his skin likes snakes searching for food. 

“Operations check.” Someone said, and Leo couldn’t see who it was. 

His stomach was churning, and Leo closed his eyes, angling his face away so the camera couldn’t see what was happening. He felt the metal around him grow hot. He felt the sting from the wires as they injected him with either chemicals or potions. He held still anyways. 

The metal got hotter and there was. So. Much. Pain. Leo clenched his teeth. 

His heart pounded. 

His thoughts raced as he tried to focus on the faces of his friends. 

An image kept appearing in his head, a golden amulet. The amulet in the picture cracked, and a golden mist poured out of it. It swirled around Leo and then he felt like he was floating. Away, away, away. He felt like a kite. 

Leo soared through the air into nothingness. Away, away, away. 

The world around him turned white. The floating away stopped, and Leo dangled in the empty space, drifting slowly towards the bright light. 

Far, far, very, very far away, a certain golden amulet began to pulse. It felt its owner drifting further and further away. The wizard that had enchanted it had made it impossible to disown the amulet. The amulet would remain obedient to its master until the master died. 

A woman picked up the amulet from her desk and sat it on a pedestal. She locked the case, not noticing the pulsing of the amulet. She smiled to herself. 

They had found the legendary Realm of Silence and created an entrance to it in her testing lab. Now, she could send anyone she wanted there. For now, her workers would focus on bringing that bratty boy back. She had everything she wanted - everything was coming together. 


Chapter 13

Megan

The garden was beautiful in the moonlight. Megan couldn’t help but admire the way the moon reflected off the fountain. 

By the time they had returned the the castle, Beatrice and Emmett had prepared a large meal in the garden. Seraphina and Gale shared their story of how they had become Elementals while everyone had a picnic in the lush grass. 

Gale had become an Elemental first. He was four when it happened (super young, according to Bruno). 

Their parents had a fight, and their father took Gale with him during his business trip across the country. During the flight, their plane crashed (due to technological issues) and there was only one survivor - Gale. He claimed the wind had cushioned his fall for the most part, after his father had thrown him out the window. No one knew how he had managed to survive. There was a silver marking of a cloud on Gale’s knee - the only thing he had broken - with the runes spelling air. 

Gale was sent home to his family, and several years later, when the twins were nine, Seraphina earned her mark. 

Their mother was a tired woman, and Seraphina took over the responsibility of preparing meals. One day, she was making dinner in the oven when someone rang the doorbell. She stopped to answer, forgetting about the meal. The next thing she knew, the kitchen was on fire. Seraphina said she screamed once and the fire rushed back. She swatted at it, and the fire left a small mark on her palm. The orange markings of a flame were visible, with the runes spelling fire below it. 

Both twins couldn’t describe how their mother died, but it was mysterious. 

Everyone talked and laughed before Bruno suggested they all practice their magic (or in the case of Emmett, Seraphina, and Gale - show it off). 

The group each took seperate parts of the garden, which expanded at their will and provided their needs. Soon, Megan sat out to watch the others perform. She wasn’t too good at magic and wasn’t too eager to try it with other people - besides Henry, of course. Who knew who she would blow up next? 

Beatrice seemed pretty good for being the youngest there. She worked with the pond water, obviously happy to be able to practice without fear of discovery. The water seemed alive as it bent to her will, making shapes and spheres. Megan went to join her. 

“What else can you do?” Megan asked the girl. She had seen Beatrice form clothes out of water before, and she was curious to learn more about Elementals. 

Beatrice smiled. “I talked to Emmett a bit, and he said the bad guys are really scary. So I decided I would try making the water more … weapons? I don’t know, but I don’t think water likes being told to kill people.” 

She smiled sweetly and Megan was taken aback. “You don’t have to kill…” 

Beatrice cut her off. “I don’t have to, but sometimes you have to fight fire with fire. Besides, the water here needs to trust me like the water back home.” 

Megan remembered something Bruno had told her and Henry before they met Beatrice. He had said something about school records. Something about Beatrice being emotionally unstable and prone to hallucinations. “Did you ever see a doctor or something?” Megan asked cautiously, afraid she would scare the girl away. 

Beatrice laughed, tossing a sphere of water between her hands. “I did see a psychologist at school a few times, but that was because other students saw me use my magic. I often lashed out at bullies, and with the water nearby, well, it was hard to control it. And hallucinations on my records were caused when I tried to tell people the truth about the time there was an intruder. They wouldn’t believe me.” 

Megan wasn’t sure exactly what to say. She smiled politely and excused herself, making her way towards Emmett instead. He wasn’t quite as good as the others, but Megan knew he was trying his hardest. 

Sweat formed in beads on his forehead as the ground below his feet cracked. He caught sight of Megan and waved her over. “Trying out something new. The Cryos were strict.” 

Megan smiled and nodded. “You’re probably still better than me, though.” 

Emmett waved it off. “You’ve had what, a week and a half to practice? It took me a month to realize I wasn’t going insane, but I guess being with Emery and Lena helped.” 

Megan nodded again. “I’ll never be as good as Henry and Bruno. Have you seen the way Bruno’s magic works? When I fought him at the cafe the first day we met, he knocked someone out with a single blast of magic.” 

Megan felt a tad bit guilty she hadn’t follow up on Mr. Perry, but she guessed he was probably fine. 

Emmett just laughed. “You fought Bruno at a cafe and won?” 

“I wouldn’t call it winning.” Megan sighed, glimpsing Bruno and Henry in another corner tossing a ball of black magic to each other. “He was hypnotized, and I freed him.” 

Emmett stopped what he was doing and stared a Megan. “You freed him?” 

Megan shrugged, turning her attention back to Emmett. “Yeah, so what? Bruno’s still way more powerful than me…” 

“To free someone from hypnotism caused by magic - which I assume it was - it takes an immense amount of magic. Like, I’m talking that anyone with a normal Aura will be drained immediately, no magic left. Unless, of course, they’re the one who hypnotized the victim in the first place. But hypnotizing Bruno would be no easy feat.” Emmett said, a hint of awe in his voice. “Emery told me all of this, and he let me use his library.” He added when he saw Megan’s face. Megan simply blushed and looked away. 

“You must be exaggerating.” She said. 

Emmett shook his head. “I’m not. Henry told me about Auras earlier to clarify some things, and the way he describes your Aura, it must be exceptionally good.” 

Megan shook her head, still in denial. She wasn’t sure what to say, so she got up and left. 

She went back to her spot in the gazebo and watched Seraphina and Gale practice their magic. Seraphina was making spirals of flames appear, and Gale seemed the best out of anyone. Megan knew he’d been an Elemental for eleven years, so she supposed he had a lot of practice. 

“Are you okay?” Megan turned to see Bruno standing behind her. Henry was talking with Beatrice across the garden, and that left Bruno and Megan alone. He took a seat. 

“Oh, yeah, I’m fine.” Megan shrugged, not making eye contact with him.

“No, no you’re not.” Bruno sighed. “I can tell. So what’s really going on?” 

Megan sighed too. “It’s just that I’m so terrible at all of this.” Bruno tried to say something, but she continued. “I know you’re going to say something about my Aura or the fact that I’ve had a week or so to learn. I know that I can get better, bu that’s not the problem. We need our magic now, not in a month when I can actually use magic. When I practiced with Henry, I just ended up destroying things. I can’t master magic fast enough.” 

Bruno was silent for a moment. “I have something I’ve always wanted to try.” His voice was low. “Ever since I found your amulet, before I found an owner for it, I always imagined trying something.” 

Megan looked at Bruno, curiosity coursing through her. 

“You know how there are five amulets, right? There’s gold, silver, and bronze. But then there’s also black and white, and I’ve always wondered why. If someone was going for opposites, they could have done yellow and purple or green and red or something.” Bruno sat his amulet on the railing of the gazebo. “And then I realized all of the other opposites make brown when mixed, but black and white make gray. So I was wondering … would you duel me?” Bruno looked up at Megan and she didn’t know what he was asking. 

“A duel?” Megan asked. 

Henry laughed from behind them, and Megan spun around. She had not been expecting someone to have overheard them. “Seriously, Bruno? A duel?” 

“What’s a duel?” Megan repeated, still confused and not happy about it. 

Henry looked at Megan. “A duel between two magicians is where both of you send out a bit of your magic - no spells are needed - and you force them against each other. In theory, the more powerful magician’s magic should break the other’s, generally causing some sort of desired affect on the weaker person.” Henry shrugged. “Leo and I tried a few times.” 

Bruno nodded. “You’ve seen Megan and I’s Auras. How evenly matched do you think they are?” 

“Pretty close. I couldn’t say for sure though.” Henry answered, and Megan felt sweaty. 

“I don’t want to duel. What if … what if I lose?” Megan whispered. 

Bruno and Henry laughed. Bruno answered her question. “Don’t worry, I’ll keep my ‘affect’ to a minimum. Like, thirty second paralyzation or something. Whatever I first think of - and trust me, the energy it takes to kill is too much.” 

Henry smiled encouragingly. “I lost a bunch of times to Leo, and it was fine. Except the time he made me grow horns …” Megan glared at him. “I’m normal enough now.” 

Bruno rolled his eyes. “It’s not like anything bad will happen. And there’s the slim chance you could beat me, but I mean, you won’t die. I’m not in a murderous mood right now, but Henry might change that. So come over here.” 

Megan sighed and followed Bruno, leaving Henry in the gazebo to interpret what Bruno had said. They stopped in the center of the garden where lots of tiny stones made a large circle. The Elementals scattered around the garden stopped their own magic and sat with Henry in the gazebo, as if anticipating something big. 

Bruno walked to the far side and then faced Megan. His black amulet was visible in the dim light, reflecting the moon. Megan made sure her own amulet was ready. 

Her stone was growing warm now. It was ready for the fight. 

Bruno instructed her from the far side of the circle. “Henry will count down from three. Then, thrust out your hands so the palms are facing me. The amulet should provide the energy you need, so don’t panic. Some bursts of energy should leave your palm and meet the magic from mine in the air. Then all you have to do is force your magic against mine and whoever is stronger will win the duel.” 

Henry called out from the gazebo. Megan prepared herself. “Three, two, one, go!” 

Megan was quick, almost as fast as Bruno. She was startled when blinding white light shot from her palms and collided with the darkness from Bruno. 

Then something clicked in her brain. Something amazing happened. 

Instead of the magic rebounding or even collapsing, their magic fused. Both Bruno and Megan gasped, though the sound was inaudible over a crackling sound that could be heard coming from the magic bolt. 

Because the light had fused, it looked like a two-sided stick - one end black as night and the other white was pearl. Megan felt her amulet grow extremely warm to the point it felt like her skin was being melted off. Sweat beaded on her forehead and she watched as Bruno began to sweat to. 

But more than anything, Megan wanted to prove to herself that she was something. So she fought against Bruno’s magic, despite the fact that it was fused with hers. 

Evidently, Bruno was doing the exact same thing. 

There was a burst of gray light and Megan stumbled backwards. Her and Bruno were connected still by a single ray of magic. But around them, the world seemed to fall away. 

Megan wasn’t concerned about winning anymore. She wanted to get out of this duel alive. She struggled to remove her hand from the magic, but it was stuck. The gray light seemed to always be moving. 

WIth one final tug, Megan’s hand separated from the magic, and both her and Bruno took a step backwards. In the middle of the circle were two, identical spheres of magic. 

One was black. One was white. 

The spheres began to float towards Megan and Bruno, but Megan tried to avoid hers. It had to be wrong. It couldn’t be right. 

The black sphere floated towards her. The white one floated towards Bruno. 

The older boy seemed to be in a daze. He reached out his hand, but recoiled when he saw Megan’s expression. The spheres floated towards the pair still, and finally, the black one reached Megan. It touched her chest and she felt a burning pain in her palm. 

Megan made eye contact with Bruno one final time before the world crashed back into reality. Both Megan and Bruno stumbled backwards, clutching their heads. 

And then the world went dark. 

Bruno

Bruno groaned. His head throbbed and he wished he was still asleep. Part of him wanted to stay in the tiny corner of his world that was perfect. The other part wanted to wake up and figure out what had happened. 

“They’re stirring. Someone fetch Henry.” A voice called above him. Bruno blinked once and opened his eyes. 

He was laying on the ground, his limbs sprawled out beside him. Everything hurt. 

“Wha-what happened?” He sat up and rubbed his head as his vision cleared. 

Bruno was still on the stone circle in the garden. Megan lay not far away, still unconscious but feebly stirring. Her hair seemed even more red in the … was that the sunrise? Bruno propped himself up and rubbed his eyes sleepily. 

Around him were two people he didn’t recognize at first. Gale and Beatrice were staring over him. Beatrice turned and sighed as Gale sent her a look. She sat by Megan instead. 

“It’s been a rough night, pal.” Gale sighed. “We figured we’ll let Henry explain. But I want to clear something up first. You didn’t go and - uh - I don’t know, make out or anything?” Gale seemed extremely uncomfortable, and Bruno was confused. 

“What? No, what are you talking about?” He asked. 

Henry came bursting onto the lawn, circles rimming his eyes and his robes fluttering behind him. “You’re awake!” He cried, wrapping Bruno in a hug. “We thought you’d died!” 

“Can someone please explain what’s going on?” Megan asked from across the circle. 

She was sitting up now, with help from Beatrice. Bruno caught her eye and shook his head. He didn’t know what had happened during their duel, but it needed to be kept a secret. 

Henry sat on the ground, almost crumpling as he did. “From our perspective, there wasn’t a duel. You simply stared at each other for a second and then fell over. It was the worst duel I’ve ever seen. Anyways, we tried everything to wake you. For a while, Seraphina couldn’t find pulses and we panicked. I used half of Imogene’s potion storage to try to wake you up, but it didn’t work. Gale and Beatrice finally convinced me to sleep and took a shift watching. Emmett and Seraphina are in the library looking for spells. What happened?” 

“Nothing.” Bruno said quickly, sending Henry a look that meant ‘I’ll tell you later.’ Henry nodded and winked, then he stood up. 

“Let’s get the two sleepyheads something to eat!” He cried out, and Beatrice and Gale scurried inside. Henry followed them, but Bruno looked at Megan, who had hung back. She was inspecting her palm. 

Bruno looked at his own palm and was amazed. There was a bit of it that looked paler than normal. It almost looked like there was a misshapen scar on his palm. 

“Do you have one too? A mark?” Megan asked quietly. “What just happened?” 

Bruno thought for a second. His heart was racing, because for once he didn’t know what had happened. He couldn’t exactly consult a book, how would he find what he was looking for? “I do have a mark. As for what happened, I wonder if our Auras are equally matched. It’s never happened before.” 

Megan nodded to herself, rubbing her palm and staring into space. Bruno stood up and offered Megan a hand to get up as well. 

“Hurry up!” Henry cried, walking back out into the garden. “Your food will be cold and I don’t want to see my hard work going to waste!” Then, as Megan and Bruno got closer, Henry shifted his voice to a whisper. “You guys will tell me what actually happened later, right?” 

“Of course.” Megan answered softly. “Now what’s for breakfast.” 

Henry smiled and lead them to breakfast. The dining hall seemed fuller than ever, with more than five people. Beatrice and Henry had done one of the mini shows that Leo had once done. The spell was one could close anything. Doors, windows, Realm entrances, and either your enemies lips. If Henry was sad about Leo not doing the show, he didn’t show it. 

Emmett had cook up most of Imogene’s potions. Seraphina had given up and instead taken to the library to search for spells. Gale and Megan talked about learning magic quickly for a while. Bruno kept silent. 

When the meal was over, the group dispersed. 

Beatrice and Seraphina wanted to see if they could duel like Bruno and Megan had - they weren’t sure how water and fire would react with each other. 

Seraphina forbid Gale from a lot of things, which Bruno understood. Her life was connected to her brother’s in a way. If Gale died, it would be likely Seraphina could die too. Since fire Elementals needed air Elementals, each one was connected to another. 

Emmett disappeared, and Bruno wasn’t sure where. Possibly to finish replenishing Imogene’s potions. Maybe to sulk in his room. Bruno wasn’t sure. 

Instead, Bruno dragged Henry and Megan to his study. 

Timothy was sitting on his desk, an envelope on his leg. Henry and Megan took a seat on the couch and Henry began flipping through the hypnotism book. 

Bruno unrolled the letter and read it silently. Cynthia had responded. 

Dearest Bruno, 

I am very disappointed in your choice to run away yet again. Anyways, I have decided to sell the house. Your belongings cannot be carried by this disgusting bird, so I left them at the burn site of our first house. There, you will find them scattered among the rubble. The city did not approve the rebuilding of our old house. 

But then again, this is our third house. I do believe that the first one burnt by natural means. But the second one, I have a feeling you had something to do with it. I won’t press because I feel that is most disrespectful, but I would like some answers. 

I wish you would’ve stayed for the men to at least come see you, Bruno. I don’t know why you ran the way you did, but I know something must have frightened you. I don’t know if I should trust you or not. Despite all of our fights, you’re still my brother and I love you. Apart from that, I just wanted to let you know I will be resuming my education at college. I hope you are well. 

By the way, I recently saw your face on the news, suspected for destroying a cafe in the city. I really do hope that wasn’t you, Bruno. 

And, I kind of found something in the attic. I packed it without a thought previously, but while I was cleaning up the place, I found it. I think mother would’ve wanted you to have it, so I sent it with the letter. Best wishes, Bruno. For my sake, I hope we never see each other again. 

Hugs and Kisses, 

Cynthia 

Bruno wiped his eyes and turned to Megan and Henry, but not before emptying the envelope. Inside, there was a tinier envelope, addressed to him as well. He opened it and began to read. 

My baby boy, Bruno, 

I hope eventually you will find this letter. I know your father and Cynthia mean well, but they have a habit of  disposing of my stuff. Hazard of being an artist I guess. 

I know Cynthia and your father are very close.  Cynthia also has lots of friends. But between you and me, I think most of them don’t actually care for her. That’s beside the point thought, let’s talk about you. Oh, Bruno, you’re just like me. 

The moment you were born, I knew that you were going to grow up like I did. Let’s face it, neither of us really have any friends  We’re both incredibly artistic. We even look similar! 

Bruno, I know you that you rarely have someone to confide in. Cynthia has your father. You have me. 

There are some things that you will never understand. I hope that you will start being more like Cynthia and your father - or at least, the selfish part of me does. I love you for who you are, Bruno. But I wish that you were a bit more like your sister. It could save your life. 

I don’t know if you will ever read this. I don’t know if you’ll find what I enclosed. If you find this, I’m sure that I’m probably either dead or dying. And there’s the possibility then that  you know  about something called magic. Magic is real, Bruno. And it’s everywhere. I  just wanted you to know that it’s real in case of an emergency - and you can find help at the old woman at the end of the street. 

I love you , Bruno. And for that reason, I hope that this letter never comes into your hands. 

Love, 

Mother 

Bruno wanted to cry, but he held back. His mother had known about magic, and she had told him to go to the old woman’s house. She knew about the amulet, didn’t she? 

Bruno emptied this envelope. There was a blank piece of parchment. Bruno flipped it over, finding his mother’s handwriting in miniscule letters on the back. I am always here for you. Bruno cautiously touched the piece of parchment with his right, pointer finger. It began to glow, so he removed his finger and sat it on the desk. Bruno would figure that mystery out later. 

“So, that’s what happened.” Henry gasped from the couch. Apparently, Bruno had been daydreaming and missed Megan recall the events of the duel. “What does it mean?” 

“We don’t know.” Bruno said from the desk. “But I do know I haven’t been completely honest with either of you.” He took a breath, and he couldn’t believe he was doing this.

“First of all, Megan, I need to go over something with you. There’s brooches, and swords, and rings that all have magic as well. Sometimes, when dragons or sprites are dying, they give up their magic to form rings and swords. The magic is infused in those items, enabling anyone with an Aura to use them.” Bruno explained.
“And Vivian has the brooch.” Megan nodded towards the poster on the wall. Bruno silently cursed. He had forgotten to take that down. “What else?” 

Bruno sighed. He didn’t want to do this. “It’s not a lie as much as some information I’ve withheld. It’s been a day now since I got the message, so don’t freak out.” He took a breath. “Leo is as good as dead and Imogene is working with Vivian. 

“She sent me a message telepathically yesterday. Vivian was using Leo as her servant but then Imogene broke him free. Vivian used him as a test subject, but I guess a little while ago they’re experiment worked. Leo’s in a new Realm, a Realm that has no words so he can’t escape. And to try and help him, Imogene started working with Vivian. We’re as good as dead.” 

The room was silently. Megan teared up. And Henry? Henry seemed to splinter into a million different pieces. 

Chapter 14

Henry

Henry’s entire world shattered when the words “Leo is as good as dead” escaped Bruno’s lips. He didn’t even here the rest of what Bruno said because he felt broken. 

A sob rose in his throat and his eyes felt like they were going to burst. 

Henry felt like everything had been ripped out of him and stuffed back inside him in a random order. Everything was wrong. The entire world had gone awry. 

“Henry?” Henry didn’t know who called his name. He didn’t care who called his name. In fact, he didn’t care about anything. He sank into the couch cushions, falling, falling, falling. It felt like a dream. Was he asleep? 

No, he couldn’t be asleep. He could feel someone touching his arm, asking him if he was okay. Begging him to wake back up, to talk to them. 

Henry was feeling so many emotions. He felt confused. He felt angry. He felt betrayed. But most of all, a wave of grief washed over him. Henry wanted to curl up in a ball and never come out. He wanted to hide. 

“Go away.” He croaked. There were voices around him, he could only distinguish two. 

Down, down, down, Henry spiraled. 

Finally, when Henry could sink no lower, he opened his eyes, wiped the tears from his cheeks, and sat up. 

Bruno was looking at him, very worried. Megan’s eyes were red and puffy like she had been crying. Henry wanted to yell. Megan hadn’t even known Leo that long, she shouldn’t be crying. “Go away!” He shouted again as Bruno tried to reach out for him. 

“I’m so sorry, Henry.” Bruno tried, but it wasn’t enough. 

Henry remembered the sinking feeling he had been experiencing the past few days. It made him feel like he wanted to puke, like something was wrong. And something had been wrong. Leo had been in grave danger. “You should’ve done something!” Henry shouted. “You should’ve went after Imogene and Leo. You should’ve never come back from Vivian.” 

“Henry, please.” Megan begged, more tears spilling from her eyes. 

“No!” Henry screeched. “Shut up! You didn’t even know Leo, you can’t cry for him.” 

Megan looked hurt, and she started crying even harder. She laid her head on Bruno’s shoulder, covering her eyes with her hand as her body was racked with sobs. 

Henry’s eyes narrowed. Bruno and Megan seemed closer now. 

And they were the sole fault of Leo’s death. 

You.” He hissed. “You knew all along, didn’t you.” Megan kept crying but Bruno was staring at Henry. “You were the ones to send him there, weren’t you. Megan is one of the Men, isn’t she. She’s just a spy. She tricked Leo into leaving. And every night Bruno’s been hiding, he’s actually been torturing Leo with Vivian. You betrayed me. You betrayed us!” 

Bruno was blinking back tears now. “Where did you get that crazy idea?! Look, Henry, we’re here to help. Megan’s not a spy, and I’m not Vivian’s accomplice. Henry was our friend too…” 

Henry’s emotions overruled his thoughts. Without a care in the world, Henry launched a bolt of magic at Bruno and Megan. 

He didn’t look to see if it hit them. He didn’t look to see if they were okay. 

Henry ran, his feet pounding. He ran to his room and slammed the doors shut. He ran to the window and threw it open. Henry had done this a hundred times before. 

He ran to his desk and grabbed a pen and parchment. Then he shoved them in a satchel and climbed onto the window sill. He threw his leg over the edge and searched for the loose brick. When his foot hit the brick, the block moved inwards and a staircase sprouted from his window upwards. He climbed the staircase. 

Henry and Leo had invented this spell secretly when they first moved into the castle. Imogene and Bruno were very close, nearly inseparable at that point in time. Leo had wanted an escape, an escape that Henry had found. 

The sun was high up in the sky. The stone roof of the castle was warm, and Henry found a flat part towards the top. 

He pulled the parchment paper from his bag and clicked his pen so he could write. 

Although his chest was still heavy from emotion, a rational thought had managed to slip into Henry’s mind. He wouldn’t dare admit it to Bruno and Megan though. 

Bruno had said Leo was as good as dead, not actually dead. Although Henry had not heard the rest of Bruno’s statement, he had heard something about a wordless Realm. That meant that maybe Leo was still alive. 

At first, Henry had meant to write a letter to Leo. But now, Henry realized that if Leo truly was in a wordless dimension, the words would never appear in that Realm. 

So, instead of writing a letter, Henry drew several pictures on the parchment. 

First, Henry drew a stick figure with freckles and brown hair using colored ink. He then drew a checkbox beside it and made another of the same stick figure, but with x’s for eyes and another checkbox. He put question marks all around the two figures. 

He then drew seven more stick people. Three of them (one had a triangle body) were holding circles, each one a different color. He drew the other four people as well (two with triangle bodies). Inside each he drew a different picture - a raindrop in one, a flame, a leaf, and a cloud. Then he circled the seven people and drew stars around it. He then drew another stick person (brown hair again) and drew bars to the side of it. He drew an arrow from the circle to the boy behind bars. Finally, he sealed the parchment, placing the pen inside the envelope. 

Henry whistled loudly in an odd pattern that would’ve sounded like nonsense to anyone else. 

A large bird shaped creature flew from the sky and perched on the roof next to Henry. 

It was a crow like Bruno’s, but Henry’s crow had no name and honestly was terrible at everything it did. 

“Listen,” Henry told the bird, trying to tie the letter to its leg. “I need you to find Leo, you hear me? It won’t be easy, and I don’t know how you’re going to manage that. Just do it. Find Leo, give him the letter, and don’t stop being obnoxious until he answers.” 

The bird squawked and Henry finished the knot. The bird flew off into the sun. 

Henry sighed and brought his knees to the chest as he watched the black bird fly off. Part of him regretted everything he had said, but the other part argued that only if Leo was actually dead should be apologize. Henry was torn. 

And then he heard a voice from his window. “Henry?” 

Imogene

Imogene had not thought it possible to despise someone as much as she hated Vivian. Of course, it was perfectly reasonable to loathe a woman like Vivian. 

But she now wished she had stayed in her cell. 

When Imogene first agreed to help Vivian, she thought she was doing the right thing. She was dead wrong. 

Vivian had given her a white dress, five minutes to change, and a pair of silver cuffs that would prevent her from doing anything out of order. Imogene reminded herself that this was for Leo, that maybe Vivian would stop testing on him. 

Instead, Vivian ignored her question for quite a few hours until she revealed that Leo was gone. And she had decided that although her workers would continue trying to find a way out of the Realm, their work could slow down so one worker would work a two hour day each week. There was no way Leo was coming back now. 

So that night, when Imogene was locked in her new, very fancy bedroom, she did the only think she could think of. She sent a message to Bruno. 

The spell was incredibly complex, and without her amulet, it would’ve been nearly impossible. Imogene had waited until Vivian turned her back in the office before reaching out and touching her silver amulet. She had taken as much energy as she could from it to use in an emergency. Leo’s disappearance was an emergency. 

The next day, Imogene began her work for Vivian. 

Vivian stood in front of Imogene in their tiny office. It was on the top floor of their building, but the room had no windows. Imogene only knew where it was because of the elevator. 

Vivian’s office was decorated in magical items she had stolen. Henry’s amulet was displayed on a pedestal in the corner, and Imogene’s was on one of the many shelves. 

There were quite a few rings and even a dagger on the shelves, but nothing had more magic than the brooch. No matter what Vivian wore, whether a suit, a dress, or an expensive looking blouse, there was always a brooch pinned on it. 

The broach was shaped like an oval, the stone was a midnight blue like the deep ocean. It was surrounded by a silver rim that looked like faces. And Vivian never took it off. 

Imogene knew that the brooch was actually magical. Bruno had told her the story many, many times before. And her father used to tell her before she went to bed each night. The brooch had a source for its magic. 

Years and years after the amulets were created, the brother king, Igor, discovered they existed. He searched far and wide for them but to his dismay, he could not find them. Unbeknownst to Igor, they had already been found and were being kept by the first Amulet Keepers. Igor’s wife, the new queen, was as disgusting and vile as he was and wished the amulets for herself. The queen, Rhea, was convinced that the amulets were rightfully hers and Igor’s. She searched the forest for them. 

In the forest, Rhea discovered a mysterious creature called an alicorn. They were extremely rare, and similar to unicorns. The alicorn possessed unknowable magic and to steal it from the creature, Rhea shot the alicorn with a crossbow. 

But rather than give up its magic for Rhea, the alicorn (with its last breaths) formed a brooch with a midnight blue stone and filled it with its magic. 

Rhea squealed with delight when the alicorn vanished and a mysterious brooch took its place. She scooped up the gem and carried it home to Igor. That night, Rhea felt terribly sick. Igor sent her to the healers by the sea, but she died on the way. The brooch disappeared. Igor then married four more woman so if they died, his bloodline would continue anyways. 

The brooch held the magic of an alicorn, and Vivian held the brooch. Which meant that basically, Vivian was unstoppable as long as she had the brooch. 

“Hurry up, then.” Vivian called, breaking Imogene out of her thoughts. “We don’t have all day.” Today, Vivian had decided on a long, black dress that billowed around her skinny ankles. The brooch was pinned at the top. 

Imogene stood from her tiny wooden stool in the corner. It was her first day of actual work and her nerves were balled up. 

What would Vivian force her to do? Would she have to kill someone or something? 

Imogene held back, consumed by her nervous queries about what the day would hold for her. “Don’t worry.” Vivian stopped and tapped her foot on the floor. “I’m not giving you anything that important, I don’t completely trust you yet.” 

Imogene didn’t say anything. She had learned quickly to hold her tongue. Vivian seemed satisfied and lead Imogene to the elevator at the end of the wall. 

They rode to the fifth floor, and Vivian grabbed Imogene’s arm with nails like talons. 

Vivian dragged Imogene through the fifth floor so fast that the younger girl could barely grasp her surroundings. She saw desks upon desks, computers, and thought she glimpsed a few rings. Finally, the arrived in front of a door at the end of the room. 

“You have quite a few assignments, so I suggest you get started.” Vivian handed Imogene a clipboard. “This will be your office area. You will be placed under constant guard - and the men guarding you are magical. Any attempts to sabotage my projects will result in me closing the entrance to the Realm of Silence - which means you will never see that boy again. Do you understand?” 

Imogene nodded once. Vivian smiled and opened the door, locking it as soon as Imogene flicked on the lights. 

Suddenly, the floor and the walls erupted into light, blinding Imogene. She staggered backwards. Vivian’s laughter filled the room and Imogene dropped her clipboard, attempting to cover her eyes. She had been blind. 

“You really thought that I would let you keep your will?” Vivian asked, and Imogene could sense a smirk in her voice. “You really are stupid.” 

“I wouldn’t expect anything less.” Imogene snapped. Her stomach lurched as she realized that Vivian had been planning this all along. Leo would never escape the Realm of Silence, even if Imogene helped Vivian. And based on the book she had read, it was easier to hypnotize people if they had agreed to help first. 

“You seem to be smart.” Vivian said, the voice all around her. “Too smart, which is why you’re here. I think you’ll like being my secretary. And besides, if all goes as planned, no one else will need to be hypnotized.” Imogene squeezed her eyes shut. 

It was too late. Vivian’s new secretary would be extremely productive. And not at all sentient. 

Megan

“Henry?” Megan asked again. “Henry?” She called his name but he didn’t answer. 

Megan’s foot almost slipped of the step as she reached the top of the staircase. Henry did not move. She climbed onto the roof, surprised at how easy it was to stay balanced. 

“Come to tell me I’ve been a jerk, I suppose.” Henry sighed, uncurling himself from his little ball. “I’m not surprised.” Megan took a seat beside the boy. His golden hair glinted in the sunlight. Beside him was the bronze amulet. Megan stroked it with her finger. Henry flinched. 

“I’m not here to insult you.” Megan said quietly. “I’m here to help you, because that’s what friends do.” 

“I don’t have much experience with friends.” Henry turned away, pulling his amulet away from Megan. “And I’m surprised you even consider us friends. I didn’t think anyone would want to be friends with a pathetic mess like me.” 

“What about Imogene, Leo, Bruno, and I? And the Elementals? Are we not your friends?” Megan asked him. 

Henry huffed. “Leo’s dead, Imogene is with Vivian now. Bruno thinks I’m a mess. And you … you…” Henry sniffled and Megan wrapped an arm around him. He shivered despite the warmth the roof radiated. 

“Everyone has their faults.” Megan said. “You called yourself a mess, but in reality, we’re all messes, aren’t we?” She smiled and Henry simply stared at the sun. “Look, Henry, your outburst was perfectly reasonable. If I was in your position, I would’ve done the same thing.” 

Henry looked up. “You wouldn’t run away and accuse me of being a traitor. You’re perfect.” 

Megan laughed and Henry looked surprised. “You think I’m perfect? I’m nowhere near perfect, trust me.” Henry actually smiled a little, and Megan felt better about herself. If she could just get the old Henry back … 

“Give me one example of you not being perfect.” Henry challenged. 

Megan thought for a moment. “I didn’t have many friends in school, I was super smart so I took the hardest classes and almost everyone else was friends, but not me. Normally, I was left alone at school but there was always one girl who got on my nerves. She shouldn’t have been in our classes, but she was. And she always made fun of me. One day, she lashed out at me because I got almost 100% on my test, and she failed. The girl was saying I was stuck-up, a know-it-all, and I snapped. I slapped her right across the face. When my parents found out, my father was livid. It was the worst lecture of my…” 

Megan stopped. She had never shared that with anyone before. No one, not even her teachers, knew that if she did something wrong, she was punished harshly. 

She remembered her fifth birthday when she had woken up with nightmares. Her father had been absolutely irate. “Lectures?” Henry asked, reminding Megan he was there. “Are you…”

“I don’t want to talk about it.” She said quietly, pulling a strand of hair in front of her face. “It wasn’t just lectures, but I don’t want to talk about it.” 

“Then show me.” Henry grabbed her hand. “I can use a spell, I’ll see what you think.”