Chapter 23: Agents of the Collective

Graham sat at the table with his head in his hands. Dora looked on, red-eyed from crying for the past two days as Miki gently patted her back. Oren puffed lightly on a cigar.

“It’ll be okay, honey,” Dora said to Graham. “We’re going to find her. She’s strong and so smart. She’ll be just fine.”

She blew her nose hard into her handkerchief and broke into another fit of silent sobbing.

“I should have never let her go. I was a fool!” Graham slammed his fist onto the table.

“But you!” he pointed at Oren. “You said it would be okay. You said she’d be back before the moon cycle resets. Swore Ian would be waiting. Why I trusted you I’ll never know. You’re a liar, Oren Arlington! A LIAR! And now you took my grandbaby from me like you took my boy. And what do you got to say for yourself? NOTHING! Just goin’ on, day after day, smokin’ that stupid cigar. Why I should pull that thing from your mouth and shove it—”

“Graham!” Dora cried. “Please! The children.”

At that moment, Reece and Izzie entered the room carrying two trays of chicory coffee and shrimp po’ boys. They set the trays down on the table and went to work pouring the coffee and passing out sandwiches. Graham refused his.

“Scarlett,” Izzie pleaded. “You have to eat. We all do. It’s more important than ever we keep our wits about us.”

Graham took the sandwich Izzie was offering, but placed it on the table next to him and settled his head back down into his hands.

“You’re absolutely right, Cruz,” Oren said, taking a bite from his sandwich. He washed it down with a long gulp of coffee. “We have less than a month until the next full moon. We should be using every hour productively.”

“Don’t you tell me how to use my hours, Oren Arlington!” Graham exploded. “Don’t you tell me anything at all! You’re the reason we’re in this mess in the first place. If you hadn’t passed our plan to close the Corridor through your blasted channels, none of our agents would have been trapped, and my grandbaby wouldn’t have had to go in after Ian!”

“You forget yourself, brother,” Oren growled menacingly. “The sorrow of your loss must have rattled your mind.”

“You son of an alligator!”

“No—Graham—I am the son of our mother! Who taught us to fight, not lie down and lick our wounds when the enemy strikes! Gather yourself man! You are an agent—a founder—of the Collective! Not some sappy granddaddy who performs carnival tricks!” Oren spit out the words, his voice full of disgust.

Graham’s face turned purple with rage. “I’ll cast you into the DARK, you devil!” he bellowed, rising from his chair.

“Try it!” Oren dared. “And you’ll come with me! I didn’t close the Corridor myself, Graham. You would do well to remember that. And I passed the information through my channels because you insisted we dig out the mole! You couldn’t rest until you knew who was talking to the Trust.”

“I knew it was her!” Graham cried.

“It wasn’t!” Oren shouted back. “Vella was one of ours!”

“She was a viceroy of the Trust!”

“A double agent, spying on Zahlamaer for the good of the Collective!”

“She was a double-crossing traitor! An enchantress! She bewitched my boy and sent Sula to her grave!”

“Your mad drive for revenge sent your wife to her grave, not Vella!”


STOOOOPPP!” Reece cried suddenly, slamming his mug onto the table. His blue eyes fizzled with anger. “Stop fighting right now! I’m sorry Mr. Scarlett, and Mr. Arlington, but the past is past! The only thing that matters right now is bringing Mitch home, and to do that we need to stick together!”

Graham sighed heavily. “I’m sorry Reece,” he said, rubbing his forehead. “You’re right. We got no business talking about anything but Mitch right now.”

“Perfectly agreed,” replied Oren. He took another cigar from the pocket of his vest and lit the end. “So then,” he said between puffs. “What’s the plan?”

“We go after her!” Izzie shouted. “And Ian! Me and Reece—we’ll bring them home at the next full moon—we’ll leave as soon as the moon rises!”

“I’m in!” Reece agreed. “But…we can’t go at moonrise.” He looked at the ground sheepishly.

“Oh right,” Izzie said remembering. “It’s got to be midnight for newbies. You need that extra energy boost, right? Well, no problem! We’ll leave at midnight and we’ll find them before moonset—I know we will!”

“But what if you don’t?” Miki broke in cautiously. “And we lose two more members of the Collective? We rushed into this quickly the last time, and look what happened. You and Reece entered into a terribly dangerous situation for no reason.”

“No reason?” Dora snapped. “For goodness sake! A viceroy of the Trust wandered into our headquarters carrying a Corridor Atlas on him!”

“We all thought Zahlamaer would be there,” Graham added. “Including you, Masamune.”

“I did,” Miki admitted. “But I was wrong. We all were. We were lured into a trap because we acted without taking enough time to think.”

“What could we have done differently?” Dora challenged. “Mitch pulled the coordinates straight from Eliot’s mind.”

“But they were the wrong ones.”

“We all know that,” Graham replied protectively. “But she did her best. I told you all she wasn’t ready to be charged. But you insisted—”

“Oh let’s not start this up again!” Oren exclaimed.

“Look,” Miki intervened. “I’m certainly not saying Mitch was in any way to blame. The magic that drove Eliot to Ol’ Cypress, that planted those coordinates in his mind, was of a powerful kind—the most powerful kind.

“But it was a trap, and we—the agents of the Collective—fell for it because we did not stop to think it might be one. We are fortunate Izzie and Reece were able to make their way back. How can we be so quick to risk their safety again?”

“Because Mitch is still out there!” Graham cried. “Risking her safety!”

“I know she is, Graham, but think. Izzie and Reece are the only ones left who are not chained down by time anchors. We are just two agents away from the total loss of our mission—everything we have sacrificed so much for.”

“So what do you want to do, Masamune? Leave Mitch trapped in time? With Richelieu?

“My recommendation,” Miki answered patiently. “Is simply that we pause, learn all we can about the situation we now find ourselves in, and determine a course of action once we can be assured it will not lead to another failure.”

The room fell quiet as each agent considered Miki’s words. It was Izzie who finally broke the silence.

“Zahlamaer is still out there,” she said gravely. “And so are our friends.”

Her eyes filled with resolve.

“I went to Carthage prepared for a fight—for more than a fight! I went to Carthage determined to send Zahlamaer to the DARK! I’d been training my whole life to do it, and I was ready. When I dropped down into that volcano and marched my way through that lava field, I felt, for the first time in my life, like a soldier of the Collective!”

“Me too!” Reece exclaimed, and then covered his mouth, embarrassed for interrupting Izzie’s speech. She smiled and threw a tattooed arm around his bony shoulders.

“We are agents of the Collective,” she said proudly. She looked down at Reece, locking her green eyes with his blue.

“And we will FIGHT!” they shouted together.

Their shouts echoed off the crumbling walls of the mansion. The older agents looked at the two young magicians standing side by side, so sure of their purpose, so ready to charge into battle, so confident they would win. Some of their eyes filled with admiration—others with worry.

Oren stubbed out his cigar and rose from the table.

“Well then,” he said, looking from Izzie to Reece. “If that’s the case, then we’d better get to it.”

He tipped his hat, turned on his heels, and disappeared through the door leading down into the basement.

Izzie and Reece exchanged excited glances and then ran off after Oren.

Dora looked at Miki, then at Graham, then back at Miki. She shrugged, rose from the table, and disappeared after the others.

“This is a bad idea,” Miki said to Graham.

“Go,” Graham replied, placing his head back down into his hands and rubbing his temples. “I’ll be down in a minute.”


“Miki—” Graham interrupted. “Go on now.”

Miki hesitated.

“Please,” Graham added, looking up. “We can’t leave them alone with Oren.” He managed a weak smile.

Miki closed his eyes and sighed heavily, then rose from the table and left the room without another word.   

Graham sat for a while, staring at a tear in the wallpaper. Finally, he took a deep, labored breath and pushed himself up from the table. Struggling to his feet, he winced as another sharp pang shot through his chest. They were becoming more frequent, he thought. He looked down at the pale blue light pulsing through the veins in his arms. Only a matter of time.

Graham took a moment to gather himself and then made his way slowly down into the basement after the others.

New chapters of The Secret Corridor will be published every Friday to Listen at SpotifyApple Podcasts, or Buzzsprout.

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