Putting these here so we have them in one place in case there are clues in these we need.
No one knows that after I left the Mountaineers to lead themselves, I myself looked for guidance from the Oracular Eye.
When I found it, I chose Despair and Illumination.
The Eye told me that if the Mountaineers were successful, the new age would only dawn with an unseen event that would catalyze the story, an event that would be decades in the making. An event that would stretch across time, tome, and affiliation, ringing in a hard-fought and hard-won age. The Book of Briars.
But it also told me that in that new age, there would be three opposing forces, forces representing the Eye’s three sights — Hope, Illumination, and Despair.
One new and wholly formed from belief in something better. One ancient and all-seeing. The source of this world’s shadows. And a third only beginning to coalesce, made from adumbral factions, but striving for light and learning.
So the Silver is not beaten, only bruised it would seem, and we’ll be fighting them into the new age. So be it.
Monarch’s Manor, as we’ve come to call it, was the home of Monarch’s Mountain. An apartment building which had become their headquarters, in the heart of Philadelphia’s Old City. Living together, working together, but lost in ritual and rites. They were unsure what they were doing, bested at every turn by the Silver, and the stone that hid them had finally been rolled back. They barely fought us on The Day of Change. No one was hurt beyond a few bruises, temporary transfigurations, and a fair amount of spell sickness. Knatz described their demeanor as “exhausted from holding on to old ways too long.” Some ran off with whatever they could carry, but we have most everything they’d collected over the years (except the actual Collector), which was both immense and a lot less than we had hoped for. We have a small group led by Endri and Bash who are sorting through it all, who spend every waking moment trying to unravel enchantments, decipher secret codes, and attempting to make sense of what we fought to free. A handful of the Mountain has even come back, offering what help they can, tired of running and tired of being slaves to what was.
We are safe here, hidden, but have no idea what will come now, and what hidden catalyst will finally end this fetid age.
The Silver has, by all accounts, retreated to lick their wounds after The Day of Change. Guide willing, it will be a while before we hear from them again.
But I have to be vigilant, for us, for the Mountaineers, because new threats are emerging.
A small group of the Mountain had been researching recent changes in the flow of magic and ways to try and correct it. Established rules that are changing or reversing, mundane spell outcomes becoming unpredictable, sometimes even dangerous.
And safeguards beginning to fail all over the world.
Even the Joradians, the oldest, purest, and most reliable of the safeguards.
Much of the Low, Basecamp 33, our own servers, are all protected by some form of Joradian. If they fall, the “Magiqverse” as we know it will fall.
Is it the Silver or some other force? Some fundamental change occurring?
Or just the end of magic?
We were all dead set on bringing about a new age, two worlds rebound in butterfly wings, but I for one never once considered we’d have to watch the old age die first.
And I never considered if we’d all survive the ending.
I don’t resent that these few look to me as their leader, it’s helped us accomplish so much, but as always, I more often feel like a liar than a leader. Pulling innocents down a black hall, promising I see the light at the end.
It had been months.
We’d been piecing together what the Mountain knew. What they’d discovered, what they thought they’d discovered. What we had left wasn’t much. The few of their ranks that stayed behind knew even less. They were young, new, and hoping to keep hold of the little corner of magic they’d found in the world. It was the elders who ran with whatever they could take and a wealth of memory and knowledge. Endri had been working nonstop to make sense of what was left of the admittedly still vast library. In our taking of the building, there had been failsafes deployed. We’d broken through dozens of physical barriers, but the books, scrolls, and notes left behind had become locked figuratively, literally, or both. Encrypted, obfuscated, or physically unable to be pried open. The young ones from the Mountain knew of a digital “card catalog” but the drives had all been wiped.
Whatever “win” we thought we’d collected sure didn’t feel like one.
But then Knatz half-discovered and half-remembered how to call the Collector. Or rather, how to request an audience with the Collector.
Whoever they were, they’d been eager to help Deirdre, warning her that Monarch’s Mountain was trying to take The Little Red House , and sharing with her, and us, most of what we currently know about our altered time.
Now that the Mountain had fallen, maybe they’d be willing to share more.
We were summoned to a lighthouse on the southern tip of the Isle of Wight. Knatz took a small crew to meet them. I stayed behind. She and I decided from the beginning that one of us had to watch the manor and everyone inside.
They were gone for the better part of a day with no word back to us. Then Knatz finally returned, alone.
She’d lost the rest of her crew to the Collector. Or rather, someone who was pretending to be the mythic figure.
She said they’d spent an hour talking to the old woman who claimed to be the Collector. The rest of the crew peppered the woman with questions, eager to learn something, anything, but Knatz felt like something was off from the beginning. It wasn’t obvious at first, but Knatz has a finely tuned bullshit detector. The Collector was asking more questions than she was answering.
She couldn’t say how, but she knew the Collector wasn’t in the lighthouse.
Knatz tried to leave, but things devolved quickly. Members of the Silver emerged from the cellar of the lighthouse. There was a covered mirror on the wall of the main floor, and in the rabid, scrambling fight, the sheet had been torn away. Knatz fell back to the manor as she caught sight of the “Collector’s” reflection.
Wrapped around the old woman’s back was a figure with long dark fingers that dug into the imposter’s neck. A wild, sneering woman with long hair and one white eye, controlling the old crone like a demon from some old painting, and she was staring right at Knatz through the mirror.
Somehow they knew we’d found a way to the Collector and they knew we were coming.
The Collector wasn’t in the lighthouse.
But someone from the Silver was here with us.
I dreamed about the thing in the mirror last night. I never saw it myself. But I saw Knatz’ face when she described the woman with one white eye to me, her claws digging into the old woman she was perched on, wrapped around. Knatz’ voice had been trembling.
It was like the first time you saw your mother or father afraid of something. It changes your worldview. Knatz isn’t scared of anything, except that thing in the mirror. And now it’s on my shoulders too.
The day at the lighthouse changed everything here. It wasn’t just losing five members, it was realizing someone must’ve tipped the Silver off from the inside, and that the Silver never stopped coming for us. We had no idea they had a plan until their trap had snapped on our necks.
Morale is starting to crumble. I can see it. Small ways now, but cracks become crevasses, and we have no idea who the informant is. Did Itsuki even know that he’d betrayed the Mountaineers, or are they all sleepwalkers, blindly answering the call of some unseen thing, unaware what they’re really doing?
We had to stem the fear and doubt. Knatz gathered everyone left on the main floor for a reflection test. It was a nerve-wracking half-hour as every member took their turn in front of the front hall mirror.
Everyone was clean. Knatz explained to everyone that whoever was compromised must have been on the crew to the lighthouse. She told them Endri and Bash are working with a powerful adept to try and reassemble the destroyed library databases in the hopes that they can continue the Mountain’s research on protections and put together something stronger than the failing Joradians. But Knatz and I both know that adept power is waning and the mirror is a panacea. The Silver has most of what’s left of magic in the world. They may have found a way to control one of us in a thousand ways. Ways a mirror wouldn’t show.
Maybe that’s what they wanted. To make us doubt each other. Sow seeds of discord and watched us fall apart. Knatz and I reassured them with lies, but the lies won’t last forever.
Wyckstrand woke up the manor last night. He was yelling up from the street, begging to be let in. I met him at the chained door. He said he got away from the Silver and made his way back to the states, but they might find him and retake him at any minute. He’d be safe inside.
He refused the mirror, so I had to make the call. I left him to howl outside the door until morning broke. He was gone by the time the sun came up.
Maybe he was the informant. Maybe we’re safe now, at least until the safeguards fail. Maybe we’ll find a way to protect ourselves. Or maybe they’re still inside, and they wanted us to rest easy.
Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.
It’s been over a month since the lighthouse. Most have chalked it up to a one-off attempt to topple our confidence, a blind swipe to get at us and what’s left of Monarch’s Mountain, and that the informant was left behind at the lighthouse. They’ve all gone back to research, excavation, and unraveling the mysteries of the Mountain and what they knew.
But I’m not sleeping. I can’t.
Yesterday, Endri, Bash and their team cracked it. They managed to salvage the safeguard from one of the dead drives. It’s a complicated piece of magic the Mountain called “Determiner 12.”
It’s a proxy. A magimystic doorman of sorts that’s imbued with all manner of telemantic spells as well as leaving room for the practitioner’s intention and discretion. If performed correctly, it’s believed to provide three-tier protection against both physical and virtual places and groups. It will protect those allowed within the walls of the spell. It will continuously determine who at any given time should be kept out (or doesn’t absolutely require access), and will also in rare occasions allow “messengers” that exist outside the wall to communicate through the wall without having direct access.
They’ve been building this for the better part of a decade. At first, like all things, I thought the Mountain was overthinking it instead of performing it, but the few who stayed behind with us told us stories about a handful of attempts to cast the spell in preparation for Silver raids or the Joradians failing. In each preparation, the practitioner was killed. The spell is made of pieces of twelve spells, and because of that, there are unseen flaws and narrative conflicts that cause echoes and reverberations which end up catching the practitioner in wave after wave of magimystic energy. It is costly, messy, incomplete, and extremely dangerous. Endri, Bash, their team, and their unnamed accomplice (I’ve told them not to tell me their name) have spent weeks trying to find the flaws and patch them. In partial tests, new defects always appear, new conflicts arise between the different spell types. With what little we know, and what little power is left, this may be the best we can do.
It was always considered a worst-case scenario. Not only because of its level of authority and that it’s nigh-unbreakable, but also because you’re putting your life in the hands of some external object that makes the determination for you. They first considered making a person the determiner, to better control and humanize the spell, but they feared that a human would be mentally torn apart by the countless variables and choices flooding through them.
We had a long meeting about it in the front sitting room. I was the last to arrive.
Questions were bandied. Could we fix the flaws? Should we even try? Is there some alternative? Could we protect the caster? Who should we protect behind the wall? There was unanimous agreement that the physical manor and the virtual collection of mountaineers should be behind the wall. I didn’t say anything. I just watched the room, full of those who followed me here. How long this road has been, and no one knowing what would happen next now that we “saved the world.”
Finally, I spoke up. I admitted that I knew of something that could protect the practitioner. An object the '94s found when they tried to open The Book of Briars. It’s called a bearer’s band. Similar to the charmed tokens we found, it’s a ring that can withstand magic for a brief period before needing to recharge for years. Only a few of us knew about it, and it was never used because the mountaineer who kept it safe was caught by the Storm. I told them I thought I knew where to find it. I told them I would wear it and perform Determiner 12. They debated and discussed, but I’d already made up my mind. I left that night without anyone knowing.
Two weeks. That’s how long it took to do what I needed to do. When I came back, I told them about my search. How it was hidden, where I feared it would be, how difficult it was to obtain, but how I managed, in the end, to find it and bring it back. I told them I was ready to perform the spell.
Every word a lie.
Knatz heard glass shatter in the middle of the night and found Wyckstrand in the basement, dead. Starved, withered, his bare feet nearly worn to the bone. We found blood all over the back walls of the manor garden. He’d been clawing against the protections for what looked like weeks. And he finally got in. The Joradians had failed. Maybe just the manor. Maybe everywhere. Maybe not completely. But enough. There was no way of knowing given what little time we now had to act.
Endri, Knatz, and I buried him in the garden without waking anyone. Endri asked me to meet her in the library to go over the particulars of the Determiner one more time. I sat with her in the dark, in the middle of what’s become her base of operations. She slid a cracked hand mirror across the book-crowded table.
Of course she knew.
It’s not just dreams, the woman with the claws. She’s been trying to reach me. Reach into me. I could hear her, looking for ways past the protections. It started when Wyckstrand first came to the door, and I answered. She must’ve been inside him, and sensed me, reached out for me. I could feel hints of her, hear her whispers, and now that we’re exposed, there would be nothing to stop her from coming for me. She wants something, needs something. She’s desperate, and she believes either the monarchs, the mountaineers, or both can help her get whatever it is she’s hunting.
She knew why I lied. Everything we’ve tried to do here, every potential solution we have at our disposal, it will all shatter if their leader falls to the Silver. I made them trust me. Reassured them. I told her I never let on that my storm-wracked mind could be especially ripe for manipulation. Maybe I never really believed it myself. I should’ve planned for this. After all the '94s, after Augernon, I should’ve known.
All I wanted was to guide them, find our way to the top of the mountain. But I was a liability to them now, for no other reason than answering the door. Simple as that, and it’s all done. The ring I brought back is powerless. It’s a lie to reassure them, and Endri knew it from the moment I brought it up. The last lie I’ll tell them. The last truth I hide.
I thought she might try to fight me, try and come up with an alternative to me performing the spell, knowing it will kill me, but she knows how dark the path we’re climbing is about to become, and one weak link could destroy us all.
We agreed. The spell has to be cast, to give them all a chance at making something of the new age. And I can’t be on this side of the wall given what I know, or how well I can hide and lie and convince. I’ll compromise everything. And it just so happens that someone has to cast a spell that kills. It has to be me.
Endri had one request. If the spell starts to fail, if anything goes wrong, she wants me to focus on the mountaineers and the Guide to Magiq as the determiner. Given the chaotic nature of the spell, any number of things could go wrong and not splitting my focus between the manor and the mountaineers could be the key to it working, if it works at all. I didn’t have to ask who would protect everyone else. She will. She has become more of a leader than I ever was. Brave and just, but also compassionate and honest in a way I was always too afraid to be.
I don’t want to go. I don’t want to leave without ever having seen a magical world realized, without ever having met my daughter. But I can’t risk whoever is out there getting in and destroying it all. I’ve been touched by the Storm itself, but I have never felt a darkness like the shadow in the mirror — the shadow in me.
I wanted to sit there for hours. Share stories and secrets. Talk about old friends. Everyone we lost. There was so much more to say. So much I wanted to do.
But it was time to go — one last bit of magic. A final climb, and then —