Last night Cole and I finally sat down and did the Joradian Safeguard to my blog! You know, aside from fannying about with the journals, I realised I haven’t had the chance to do any sort of actual magic until now. I know this is going to sound sooooo eye-rolly but it was… romantic? Intimate? Definitely a fun night. I made the wheel and Cole took on the keeping vessels because I am rubbish at origami (as it turns out.)
Coming up with the six pale memories had me thinking a lot about the past ten months or so. How different my life was this time last year. How different I was this time last year. Where I was, what I thought I wanted…
Everything changed with that letter from Mr. Wallace.
I want to finish this, see Neithernor, do whatever I have to do there to help you, us, if only to gain some kind of closure. For my father as much as me. The idea that he did all of this, and died before he ever saw it come to fruition… well it’s the least I can do to see it through.
But at some point, it has to be finished. Right? Whatever we’re meant to do with the journals, the puzzles, it’s all leading somewhere, and then it will be done. And then what? The idea of learning the truth, possibly bringing magic back into the world somehow… it’s wonderful, exciting, but for me, abstract. Unfamiliar. I don’t really know what it means, you know? Will we wake up and the whole world’s changed? Or will it be like a trickle? Someone remembers something, someone on the other side of the world remembers something else… I don’t know. And it’s hard to pin my life on something like that. I know my father did. But he was consumed by this, at the cost of family, friends…
I have something here. In New York. With Cole. And I still want to do something good for the world that’s tangible, real, creative. Whether that means rebuilding Ackerly Green, or doing something new, right now it’s all bright and exciting and I want to feel all of it. And share it. I wouldn’t change much about what led me here, but I’m also ready to do whatever it is I’m supposed to do, and then get on with my life.
The thing is… Right now I am as close to my father as I’m ever going to be. These journals are all I’ll ever have of him, and part of me knows that the Neithernor volume might be the last. Maybe I’m making my peace with that, but I’m also ready for what little closure might come from seeing his plan through and then starting to live the life he’s given me a chance to live. I need to figure out what I want outside of all the expectations and plans and machinations. Maybe in my heart I’m not some magimystic adventurer, but I can still do good. Maybe change the world in other ways…
But I’ll never have anything more of my father than this, never more than chasing his ghost.
I think the time is coming for me to let him go, the idea of him, because that’s all that’s left.
It was a whirlwind day, that.
I didn’t want to leave Grey, wanted the day he’d imagined for so long to go on and on. But by evening he was tired and frankly, so were we.
I didn’t know what to do next and honestly was hoping you’d all figure something out. Then Cole told me what you’d done (don’t want to say specifically until Cole and I work the charm thingy on my site) and how you’d figured it out. You never cease to amaze me. It’s obvious why my dad put his faith in you.
I’ve since spoken with Grey twice over the phone. We have this sort of bond. We are the last of Ackerly Green Publishing. I’ve told him a little more, about you, some of the more general things that have happened, collecting the old AG books, etc. He tells me stories about my father, my grandfather, even my grandmother. It’s all faded, but there. It’s wonderful. A last gift from my father.
UPDATE: So I was actually writing this post when Cole found something in the new journal—
Cole was flipping through it (I had flipped enough) and he found new entries.
We think we’ve narrowed down how this volume might work. We think it’s either based on a time release or on location. Cole thinks it could be on a schedule and it seems possible but so far my dad has made it pretty tough to unlock these books. Just having someone wait for new pages doesn’t seem like his style? But then I realised I’d gone back to the brownstone yesterday to pick up some clothes and things, and I think that’s when the new pages could’ve shown up. The brownstone triggered them like some sort of magical gps.
(I’ve been making a list of other places to visit to try out my theory, if you have ideas, please let me know.)
So, the actual pages… There are two entries, one in the front of the book, one in the back. The front one is to me, and the back is to you, the Mountaineers.
This journal is similar to Volume One of The Monarch Papers (seems like a thousand years ago) where I can’t take photos of the pages so I had to transcribe what he wrote, and it’s all even more incredible than any of the previous volumes.
The only thing I didn’t copy was a sketch he made of the number 18 on your entry. It didn’t seem especially relevant but if you think you want to see it I’ll try and give it a go.
Fasten your seat belts. You’re about to read some gobsmacking stuff.
The Incomplete Mundane History of Neithernor.
There is a place beyond our world. A place untouched by the curse that erased magiq and all knowledge of it.
The following is what I know about Neithernor. When your mother and I walked the paths of wool and silver we knew so little, and had no clue where they would lead. But after you were born I found Neithernor. And my experience there, along with echoes of its history here in the mundane, helped me assemble what I believe is the most complete (but still unfinished) history.
My research of Neithernor goes back to Anne of Brittany’s death and the eventual splitting of her court of artists’ secret guild into the paths of wool and silver. At some later point in our current history the path of wool became Monarch’s Mountain so that’s what I’ll call them going forward.
The two groups split, searching for illumination and beauty and magiq in their own ways… I don’t know how or when exactly, but it was the Monarchs who first sought out Neithernor ( I believe the destroyed eighth unicorn tapestry may have held clues to its location and is the true reason it was destroyed.)
The Monarchs discovered a small but verdant place connected to our world through secret entrances, but wholly hidden from us. ( I’ve read that at that point in history simply knowing about Neithernor and/or its name and imagining or wishing yourself there may have been enough to gain entrance.)
Neithernor was not affected by whatever removed magiq from our world. That’s how the Monarchs learned that there was an alternate history of magiq. (A secret they kept from the world.)
Neithernor is a small “pocket world”. It is a strange and gorgeous land of shores and fields, of deep woods and unexplained ruins, mountains and caves, all abandoned when memory of it was removed, but still alive and rich with hidden magiq. The Monarchs believed that this place had been created eras ago, through magiq, as a home for the old guilds… A place where those in the old time could slip away to use and research magiq freely, because even in the time of those who didn’t die magiq was secret and feared.
The Monarchs found written histories of the guilds, learned magiq beyond our world’s rudimentary charms, explored the strange island-like world, discovering doors to and from places all over our mundane world. They created their entire society around Neithernor and the relics and old histories they found. At some point they created the original path of wool so that others like them could find it and explore and learn and cast. Many Monarchs lived normal lives here, then secreted away to rule and explore their hidden kingdom.
But the path of silver also discovered tale of Neithernor and became desperate to share in its wealth. The Monarchs allowed them entry. The Silver chose a remote place to call home, and kept to themselves, as was the agreement. (There had been conflict among the groups in the years following the court of Anne, even before Neithernor, having to do with their differing views and methodologies.)
There was peace for an untold time. But then something unknown happened that pitted the Monarchs against the Silver. I don’t know whether it was a gradually building conflict or if there was a single catalyst, (or who was ultimately at fault) but it escalated into “The War of Neithernor.” Many were lost but MM drove the Silver out of the land and barred all entrance back.
The Silver scrounged for power here in the mundane world, trying to use everything they had to get back in. But they had been exiled.
Years later, The Council sent The Book of Briars to Monarch’s Mountain and the Silver scrambled to take it from them. They had grown strong in their own secret place here in the mundane, using what they learned from Neithernor and gathering artifacts and objects from the old time… They had also created The Storm. Once they realized the book was not for them, they sent the Storm, and in doing all but wiped away any memory the Monarchs had of Neithernor. Aside from the Silver, and a few whispers and stories, Neithernor was forgotten again.
The paths fell into ruin. The ashes of Monarch’s Mountain became a small secret sect here in the mundane, unaware of what they had discovered. Left with nothing but esoteric records of their former, glorious history. And Neithernor, untended, became a volatile and lonely place.
But Neithernor is still there. Still barred from most. But I found the way in. And in that strange place I learned magiq.
And there I found the little red house your mother had somehow dreamed of all her life, and inside of it… well, you’re going to have to see for yourself.
And then, the letter to you.
The Letter to the Mountaineers.
I don’t know much about the 18 Gates (The Council of The 18 Gates) but I’ll share everything I’ve learned over the years.
They have sent the book, in varying forms, to groups for centuries. Groups analogous to you, the Mountaineers. They are particularly fond of those who have found themselves on the path of wool. Perhaps it’s easier to reach ones seeking what they seek. It requires immense power to send the book to us from where they are. An in-between place called “The Fray”, an unformed sort of purgatory where I believe they became trapped when everything changed. I don’t know how much they know about the truth. The Fray is a strange place from what I’ve learned, difficult to communicate with, and there’s much I still don’t understand. But I know it takes them decades, sometimes centuries, to gather enough magimystic energy to send the book, borrowing power from our world, searching for power in theirs.
But the book persists because in each era the 18 Gates have used what power they have to not only send their cherished object to us, but also to protect it from The Storm and its Master. They have kept the book safe while also trying to spread what remained of that protection to those who’ve tried to unlock it. But those on the path of silver have wiped away almost everyone who has ever tried to open it, and it becomes harder and harder to send it every time.
I may be wrong, but I believe the book is a kind of seed spell. I think the book is the vessel for the whisper of a story. A most powerful kind of magiq. A story that wishes to be told. Old, or perhaps new, I don’t know… But within it, the truth. I believe it’s been planted in The Book like a seed in a garden. And every time The Book has come to us, we have nurtured it, with perseverance, goodwill, and with magiq. The stronger the book, the better chance we have of telling the story within and changing everything.
Yes, the book is destroyed.
But I have a plan.
A plan that took years of design. And to set the plan in motion, I convinced the 18 Gates to focus their power to protect you instead of the book when The Storm arrived, and let the book burn. It was a difficult choice but they knew we had to try something desperate to have a chance.
Much of the “how” won’t make sense at this moment, but I hope by now you’ve looked to my letter to Deirdre and found something the 18 Gates left with our storyteller friend.
The Storm’s Master has collected immense power but holds it out of hand, out of sight from us. Soon there will be nothing left here. But for now, we have an advantage. One they aren’t yet aware of.
We have you Now, and an unburned book Then.
Your book is gone, but with our guidance you are going to help your predecessors open theirs. What will happen then, I don’t know. But we have all that we have ever needed. The book and the Mountaineers.
Together, with the help of my daughter, you will change everything.
Grey (as he asked to be called) invited us in and Cole and I both noticed that it felt like the atmosphere changed as we walked through the door. Like we were in a plane taking off. Definitely something weird/magic.
The place had been completely untouched from when they turned the building into a hotel. It wasn’t huge (though still absolutely massive by New York City standards), but it was beautiful, dappled with light, the sounds of NYC city traffic a soft drone, dulled by beautiful curtains, antique furniture, and heavy, wall-sized tapestries.
We sat down with him in the parlour where he motioned for us to join him. I was not at all expecting this so my mind was furiously trying to figure out what to say, what to ask, what to do… And Cole, feeling this was my show (he told me later) tried to fill my awkward quiet with compliments about the apartment while I tried to get my mind together.
Grey started talking, his hands in his lap but gesturing dramatically at times, leg crossed over the other at the knee. He had a sophisticated but warm air about him.
He paused every now and then, trying to find a memory, or a word, (I just looked at the Basecamp post about Ackerly Green and only now realised Grey is 101!) but he didn’t seem frustrated or embarrassed. He just looked at his hands or out the window and waited for whatever he was looking for to come to him. We talked for the better part of an hour before I told him that we were surprised to find him here because as far as anyone knew, he’d died decades ago. He smiled and nodded, telling me that had been my father’s plan.
He went into the kitchen, brought us tea and said the memory was very hazy now but my dad had come to him years ago and told him that the Ackerlys and the Greens were connected to a conspiracy and he thought those of us who suspected it we were in danger. Grey thought he’d gone insane but my dad showed him something that changed his mind, though he couldn’t remember what it was now.
Grey explained that the apartment had been preserved at great cost, first to protect him and others in the families, then eventually me. So if I ever followed the path here, the path my father left me, the safe haven would be waiting. He pointed to the front door where there were two locks. One was normal, one was not. He said one simply locked the door, the other one locked out the world. That’s what my father had told him.
He said my dad came back at some point because he remembers him both as a young man and an older man, but all the years in the apartment had become a jumble. He remembered he cared very much for my dad and had hoped that he could make up for what happened with my grandfather by being there for Sullivan.
Grey asked Sullivan to warn Grey’s son James, but he and Grey had a contemptuous relationship and James wanted nothing to do with the Ackerlys or the Greens. My dad reassured him that he thought only those seeking the truth were in danger. And from what he knew James led a normal life, untouched by magic. Grey asked if I knew what became of his son. I sort-of recalled reading that James died but since I wasn’t sure, and wasn’t sure when, I said no. It seemed like a well-intentioned lie at the time but I feel guilty about it now.
I asked him if he remembered why the two families were in danger, who my dad was afraid of. Grey didn’t remember, said he may never have known in truth. Then he said, “But I assumed it was about the books. The lost books. And that assumption, Sullivan said, was why I was in danger.”
Cole and I were stunned. Cole asked if Grey remembered them. He told us that the older he got the more the walls come down. For most of his life he only saw the path blazed by the choices he made. But now he can see other choices. Warren’s choices. Choices he never allowed Warren to make, but somehow, somewhere, those choices were made. He said he didn’t remember the books, but he now remembers a hole where something used to fit, and as decades passed, that hole became the shape of The Lost Collection. He stopped himself, a little overwhelmed, and said something to the effect of, “You have to take everything I say with a grain of salt, unfortunately. I sometimes find myself remembering something that isn’t mine to remember. A dream or a story told by someone else becomes the truth, my truth, at this late stage of life. But I know there’s something missing. A scratch that’s missing its itch.”
That stuck with me. A scratch missing its itch.
He went on to tell us that his life had been consumed with poor decisions but he hoped in helping me, he could do some right. Give his life purpose. He was sure there was more to tell, but he couldn’t quite remember. He knew at some point he’d taken to writing it all out.
He got up to look for his writings… and then after a few minutes called us to the dining room. The room was sunny and had a great big wooden table. And on the table, was a box.
Grey had remembered this was what he was meant to give me. The box was from my father.
I was so out of it that I only found out later Cole had taken photos in case Grey didn’t let us take the box, so you could see it.
This was what my father had wanted me to have. It was gorgeous, expertly crafted. There wasn’t a lock, but I couldn’t get the lid open. Grey had never seen the inside of the box either, but had been assured by my father that I’d be able to open it.
I spent ten embarrassing minutes trying to pry it open before realising this must be some kind of puzzle. Some way of protecting whatever was inside from everyone but me.
I went back over everything I’d seen and learned these past months as Cole and Grey made small talk to try and pretend they weren’t waiting for me to figure this all out. Sometime later, room service arrived and they left me alone with a sandwich while they ate in the parlour.
It had to be sealed magically. Nothing else explained how tightly locked the lid was without an actual lock. What was I missing? What did I know that no one else did? I even picked over the two halves of the scarf, maybe something else was hidden in them…Then something struck me. Why was Herman on the box? Yes, a Green left it with an Ackerly to give to me, but it had to be something else, it had to be a clue…
And then I remembered…
The hippocampus pendant. A clue in the scarf separated them into a pair. What if I had to bring the two hippocampii (?) together for the final clue?
I pulled it out of my bag and half-expected it to be drawn to the box like a magnet. I laid the pendant on top… nothing. I moved it along every side of the box… nothing. At this point Cole and Grey were standing in the doorway, watching.
I was at a loss.
And then, half-embarrassed, I put the pendant around my neck and I barely had to touch the box. It almost opened itself when I tried to lift the lid.
Inside was a cloth pouch and a small journal.
Inside the pouch was what looked at first like a pocket watch:
Until I opened it…
The thing on the cover of The Guide to MAGIQ. Cole said you call it a chronocompass. It must’ve been my father’s.
The journal was blank except the title page which my father had written, “The Monarch Papers: Neithernor”
And a letter to me.
You’ve found it. Your bravery and heart have led you here. Beyond all hope you have continued, and on the other side of the darkest woods you have found the end of a path. Now you stand at a door, my love. On the shore of your future and the future of all the world.
But the time for choosing is done. This is a door you must go through I’m afraid, because your journey is now tied to all of us. All who’ve sought the truth. There is a plan in place. An unfathomable machine of secrets designed by myself and the council beyond our sight- a plan to thwart The Storm and its master.
Hope is not lost. Not yet.
The truth is this… If we don’t succeed now, then all of this will be for nothing. The magiq here in the mundane is finite. This is our final chance. I have sacrificed my life for this cause. I would never wish the same for you, but I trust no one to finish this more than the daughter of your mother.
All you need is inside this box. And the places these objects will take you.
Be prepared, nothing I have done to protect you so far can keep you safe now. Trust only in the flow of magiq and those who join you on this journey.
To begin this final chapter The Mountaineers must use the most dangerous of magiq and you must learn everything about the secret world.
The Mountaineers must reach out to the past, and you my dear, must go to Neithernor.
A month passes by like a year and suddenly one week happens in an hour.
So much to unwrap, but it looks like it’s all starting up again, in ways bigger than I could’ve imagined. I wish you could’ve been there.
First, the scarf.
It’s a little itchy.
I mean, obviously I’m not wearing it now because it’s insufferably hot, but when I did, a few times last fall, I noticed it was itchy. Not terribly. Just a little. And only if you wrapped it around in certain ways. It’s very wide so I could rewrap it and poof, no itch…
Two nights ago we were lying on the sofa at Cole’s. I was rubbing his feet and he was reading to me after a deliciously gluttonous (and very wine heavy) meal at an Italian place in his neighbourhood. My bag was near the sofa, and I don’t remember when, but and at some point I absently reached down and starting fiddling with the scarf.
Must’ve gone on an hour before I actually noticed that I was running my fingers along the itchy part. There was a line down the middle of the scarf that was rough, unlike the rest of the yarn. I didn’t want to say anything until I’d managed to run the entire scarf through my hand, following the rough thread from one end to the other.
Why was there one course thread running down the middle of the scarf? I bolted up and yanked it out of my bag, investigating through wine-rimmed eyes. I couldn’t see the thread, but I could feel it. I handed it off to Cole. He felt it too. We were giddy at this point. We each grabbed an end, trying to find the source, and then I felt it. The “tail” of the course thread, hidden amid the tassels on my end. Cole found it too. We both pulled at the same time, giggling at how insanely excited we both were. He gave me the honours and the hidden thread slid right out of the middle, separating the scarf into two!
We ran to the kitchen table to study the thread under the light.
It had lines and dots running all down it. Morse code I thought? Cole was already rushing back with a notepad from the coffee table. I “read” the lines to him and he wrote them down. Turns out Cole knows Morse! (he’s very handy.)
I half expected it to not make sense. To be a fluke we were trying to wish into being magic.
It wasn’t a fluke.
It was an address.
In New York City. The upper east side to be precise.
We googled it. It was a hundred-year-old apartment building that at some point had been converted into a boutique hotel.
We figured whatever was in the apartment would be gone now. Right?
We stood in the kitchen in our underpants trying to figure out what to do. Cole went over the code again. He’d gotten it right.
We figured we should definitely wait until morning to go. Daylight, soberness, etc. We agreed to wait.
And we barely slept. We kept checking to see if the other was sleeping and finally got up just before 6am.
I brought the scar(ves)f just in case. We went over and over what we’d say to whoever was managing the front desk of the hotel. Ask if my father had left something behind, maybe lost and found? Who knows, maybe the manager was another of my father’s friends, waiting decades for me to show up?
Nope. The manager looked at us as if we were mad. They weren’t in the habit of keeping things in the lost and found for years and he’d never heard of Sullivan Green.
It wasn’t until Cole mentioned apartment number 7G specifically that the manager perked up. He had Cole repeat it twice, then hurried into a back room to make a whispery phone call.
He came back and told us to take the elevator to the 7th floor. To room 717. The room that used to be 7G. We wondered what would be waiting up there, how we’d get in. The manager shook his head and said we wouldn’t need a key.
We took the elevator up, wondering what were getting ourselves into. Cole wanted me to wait in the lobby, with the scarf. I politely declined.
We stood outside the door for what felt like an hour. I kept telling Cole to knock and then stopping him before he could. I rubbed my eyes as if I were about to see something so incredible I wouldn’t want to blink.
And then Cole finally knocked.
And knocked again.
He tried the knob just as the lock turned.
Someone was already inside.
The door opened and standing on the other side was a tall, handsome man who had to be somewhere north of 90.
His hair was silver but impeccably groomed. He had a light in his eyes and a beautiful smile. All the anxiety, apprehension suddenly melted away. I felt at ease for some strange reason. Was it him or the trail? The man nodded to Cole, then turned to me.
He asked if I was Deirdre Green and smiled when I said yes.
Then he proudly introduced himself.
A name I’d come to think of as myth. But here he was, standing at the head of the trail my father left for me.
M. Grey Ackerly.