Chapter 1: Griffin 1 GRIFFIN
IF GRIFFIN HAD learned anything about magic, it’s that you can’t trust it. Not one bit.
His eyes fluttered open after a too-short nap and the ceiling was right there, his nose smashed against it, and his toes, too. He floated on a plane of mist high above his bed, with nothing but air holding him up. Griffin jerked in panic, flinging his arms out to both sides, grabbing at anything in reach.
Laughter tittered below. He swung his head around, banging it against the ceiling. Three children scurried out the door, shrieking and giggling while Griffin watched helplessly from above. They wore gauzy layers of spun spider silk like everybody here, the loose edges trailing in the air as they whipped around the corner and out of sight.
Without any warning, Griffin dropped out of the air, the curled corners of his mom’s drawings fluttering as he plopped onto the feather bed below. He scampered off the bed in case those little magic workers came back for a second try. (Not that he could do anything about it if they did.) But still, he felt better facing them on his feet.
He’d only been on this world for four days, and that was already four days too many. Griffin shivered. His body still hadn’t adjusted to the chill of Caligo after the dry heat of Somni. But he’d put up with the cold (and the pesky kids) if it meant he and his mom were safe.
Griffin shuffled out the open doorway and to the edge of the floating island where they were staying, shading his eyes against the glare. A swarm of birds as tiny as bees spiraled like a tumbleweed, chasing a cluster of windblown seeds. The kids were long gone, seated in one of the shallow boats that rode the currents of air through the city in the sky. In the distance, the lighthouse tower rose out of a bank of crisp, white mist. The lens at the top swiveled, winking as it turned.
The lighthouse. That’s what had started all this trouble. Well, not that one. The one back home on the Oregon coast that Griffin and his dad took care of. He loved that lighthouse—it was cool in an old-timey sort of way, and it was all theirs, his and his dad’s.
Of course, he’d always assumed it was an ordinary lighthouse. Why wouldn’t it be? But then his dad was sucked through the glass, and Griffin found out that the lens was a portal between Earth and a bunch of other worlds, and that his parents, Philip and Katherine Fenn, were part of a secret society tasked with guarding the portal against invaders from those other worlds.
Griffin had gone after his dad, though he barely knew anything about Somni, the world Philip had been pulled into, or the wicked priests who’d kidnapped him. It had been like a nightmare, losing his dad after his mom had died only three years before. But if the priests hadn’t kidnapped Philip, maybe Griffin never would have discovered that his mom wasn’t really dead. Years before, Katherine had been kidnapped by the same priests, who’d planned to use her lifelong study of Fresnel lenses to unlock the portal’s magic.
Griffin shuddered. That’s the last thing anyone on any world needed—those priests getting ahold of more magic. It was bad enough that if you didn’t have a way to protect your mind, the priests could control your every move and use that power to attack and colonize every world in their reach.
Griffin turned his back on the mists and peeked into the room beside his. Katherine was sprawled on the floor, books scattered around her as she soaked up all she could about the years she’d missed. Her dark hair was tucked behind her ears and she hummed absently while she read. Relief rushed through Griffin at the sight of her there, alive and getting well.
If only his dad was here. The family had just been reunited—they weren’t supposed to be separated on different worlds again so soon. But the Somnite rebels needed Philip’s help. He had to stay behind to make glass pendants that would shield their minds, protecting the people of Somni from falling back under the priests’ spell. It had to be this way, at least for a little while longer. Still, Griffin wouldn’t stop worrying until his whole family was together again and those wicked priests were gone for good.
Katherine glanced up. “You’re awake!” she exclaimed, promptly shutting the book in her lap and setting it aside with the rest.
Griffin nodded. His mom had been so fragile when she first arrived—half starved and covered in bone-deep bruises. The mists had wrapped around her, healing her hurts and making her stronger each day. She was still terribly thin, and sometimes in the middle of a conversation, her face would blanch, her shoulders hunching over like a wounded animal. Her nightmares woke them both.
They were supposed to have gone home through the portal, to Earth, where Griffin could get her to a hospital. But the Levitator had other plans (not that he’d bothered to share what those were) and he’d pulled Griffin and Katherine through the portal to Caligo.
They were stuck here.
So each day Griffin and his mom took one of the little boats on a tour of the floating islands to see the strange birds in the mews, stroll through the markets, or visit the observatory, where the glare of the mists was blocked out and they could peer into the purple nebulae and red stars and blue planets spinning above. It wasn’t like on Earth, where you had to wait for night to see the stars. On Caligo, they were always there, pinpricks piercing the black floating above the mist. If Griffin had been one of those kids obsessed with rockets and satellites and aliens, he would have spent all his time at the observatory, looking deeper into space than anyone on Earth could.
But the real reason they ventured out every day was to check in on Fi. Griffin had met the young spy on Somni while he was desperately searching for his dad. She’d been working for the Vinean resistance, disguised as one of the servants. He hadn’t trusted her at first, but without Fi, none of the Fenns would have escaped.
It was hard for Griffin to be stuck on Caligo, but it was even worse for Fi. At that very moment, the resistance was fighting to save their home world of Vinea. And she was here, powerless to help them.
As if Katherine could read his mind, she brushed past Griffin, resting a hand against his cheek before stepping into a boat waiting at the island’s edge. “Let’s see if Fi wants to visit the library with us, hmmm? Leónie told me there’s an entire section on the seven other worlds—one floor for each. Over the years, the Levitators have written down everything they observed through the portal. Imagine, Griffin—they’ve peered into Glacies, and Arida, and, oh—do you think even if they could see into Stella that they’d actually see anything in all that dark?”
Griffin clambered into the empty spot in front of his mom, settling in as the boat rocked impatiently. He didn’t care one bit about Stella. He just wanted his dad back.
“To the aerie,” Katherine said, and the boat shimmied into the current of mists. The belly of the boat was polished to a mirror shine so it reflected the black of space overhead and the mists passing fleetingly by. Katherine leaned forward, wrapping her arms around her son. “How’d you sleep?”
“Seems like all I’ve done is sleep, ever since we got here.” Griffin’s words were swallowed in a yawn.
Katherine chuckled. “Apparently you’re not finished catching up yet.”
Griffin hung on to her arms where they crisscrossed his collarbone. He was still reminding himself that this was real, that she was okay. Maybe he wasn’t in such a hurry to get home after all. He eyed the lighthouse tower again, all alone at the edge of the mists.
“Yes?” Katherine exhaled, leaning back again to let the breeze wash over her as the boat climbed steadily upward.
“How come there’s never anyone in the tower, guarding the portal? Aren’t they afraid the priests will come here and attack Caligo next?”
“Hmmmm. It seems like such delicate magic, what the Levitator and his fleet do, holding everything up.”
Griffin turned in his seat, rounding his spine and fitting it against the boat’s curved bow so he could watch his mom’s face light up while she spoke.
“Their gift is fierce, though, too. Only the invited can remain on Caligo. When Somni first invaded, the old Levitator did the unthinkable: He commanded his fleet to let the soldiers fall. This world doesn’t need guards in the tower like Vinea or an alarm system like we have back home. No foreigner can survive on this side of the portal unbidden.”
Griffin shuddered. He glanced over his shoulder at the aerie. It was a broad platform with a nestlike building at the center. The fleet went about their work, loose strands of spider silk bobbing in the air behind them. Griffin had dismissed them as silly children and kindly recluses practicing their magic in a blissed-out meditative state. But there was more to it that he hadn’t counted on.
That’s the thing about magic. It has a hard edge, sharp enough to carve right through a person if he isn’t careful.