Chapter 1: Showtime 1 Showtime
The roof of the Majestic Theatre was Joey’s “go-to” spot when he needed a quiet place to think. He had a bit more on his mind than the average fourteen-year-old boy, so he needed a place like that pretty often. Joey spent a lot of time up there with a foot on the ledge, staring out at the city in silence. In that one respect, the night was no different from any other, but the night was still young.
The theater was not as tall as Joey’s apartment building across the river in Hoboken. At home, he had a clear view of Manhattan’s iconic skyline, but he preferred to be on top of the Majestic. The city had grown on Joey. The neighboring buildings towered over the theater like an urban forest, and Joey liked being in the thick of it. He liked the city’s energy. Tonight, however, that energy was noticeably absent. It was eleven o’clock on a warm October evening, and New York was eerily quiet. The streets should have been bustling with activity as the nearby theaters released their audiences and the sidewalks filled with people, but that wasn’t going to happen. The lights had all gone out, and not just on Broadway. An invisible enemy had swept across the globe, shuttering businesses, taking lives, and forcing everyone into isolation. It wasn’t an evil scheme by dark magicians that had done it, but a virus. The latest crisis in a world filled with problems that were spinning out of control. For Joey, it was the final straw. People everywhere were desperate for the pandemic to end and life to return to normal, but Joey took a different view. In his mind, normal life wasn’t enough. Normal didn’t work, and the truth was, it never had. Joey was after something better.
“You finished brooding up here, Dark Knight?” Janelle asked him.
Janelle liked to tease Joey for spending so much time up on the roof looking serious. She was convinced that he secretly wanted to be Batman, but really, he was more of a Spider-Man/Winston Churchill type.
“I’m not brooding,” Joey said. “I’m thinking. You hear that?”
Janelle paused a moment to listen. “I don’t hear anything.”
“Exactly. It’s like some kind of post-apocalyptic disaster movie out there. Only it’s real.”
“I know,” Janelle agreed. “It’s scary how fast everything changed.”
“You know what’s scary? How much I miss going to school. I never thought I’d say that.” Exemplar Academy, the school for gifted students that Joey and Janelle both attended, had switched to all-virtual classes when the pandemic began. Only the students who were working on a vaccine were allowed back in the building. Joey and Janelle were not part of that effort, but they had their own plan to make good on the school motto and change the world for the better.
“Are you ready?” Janelle asked Joey.
“I’ll be down in a second. I’m just taking one last look.”
“A world without magic.”
Janelle joined Joey at the edge of the roof. She nudged him with her elbow. “Was that your Batman voice? Because if it was, it needs work.”
“Stop it,” Joey complained. “I wasn’t doing a Batman voice.” He narrowed his eyes, trying to look tough. “This… is my Batman voice,” he rasped in a gravelly tone.
Janelle laughed. “That was even worse.”
“No way. That was quality. I stand by it.”
“Can we stand somewhere besides the roof? Shazad and Leanora are downstairs in the Map Room. Their parents just got here.”
“They’re here? Why didn’t you say so?”
“I just did.” Janelle gave Joey’s arm a tug. “Let’s go, Boy Wonder.”
“Did you just demote me from Batman to Robin?” Joey winced, stung by the comment. “That’s cold.”
Joey followed Janelle down to Redondo’s old office. Having never met Redondo, she always called it the Map Room, which made sense because one of its walls was covered with a giant interactive map. It was a mural of the Secret Map of the World. Leanora and Shazad had painted it using magic brushes, and the map moved just like the original had done, allowing them to zoom in on lost realms and magic gateways that led all over the planet. This was the room where Joey, Shazad, Leanora, and Janelle made all their big plans. A year of talking, researching, plotting, and scheming—not to mention a whole lot of rooftop thinking—had finally led to a breakthrough. The Order of the Majestic was ready for action.
“You found him,” Leanora said to Janelle as they entered. “Where was he?”
“In his office.” Janelle smirked.
“The roof again?” Leanora asked. “Pretending to be the DarkBat?”
Joey snorted, trying to keep a straight face. “Exactly. That’s one hundred percent right. How’s it going down here?”
“Everything’s fine,” Leanora’s mother said, smiling warmly at Joey. “We’re just mapping out our plans for the evening.”
“For the hundredth time,” Shazad’s mother added. “How are you, Joey?”
“I’m good, thanks,” Joey replied. “I’m ready.”
“Hello, Joey,” Shazad’s father said from a few feet away, where he stood studying the map alongside Leanora’s father. Both men waved to Joey and went back to strategizing. “I think we need more people at Stonehenge,” Shazad’s father said.
“Da,” Leanora’s father agreed. “My cousins can join you there. The rest of our family will be here, here, and here,” he added, tapping spots on the map.
Shazad’s father rubbed his chin, staring at the map. “Yes, this is good. This can work.”
“How is everyone else doing?” Joey asked. “All set?”
“Just about,” Shazad said. He spun the Staff of Sorcero around in one direction, extending it to the size of a bo staff, then twirled it back the other way to shrink it down to the length of a ruler. He handed it to Janelle, who thanked him. “Are you sure you don’t want to take anything else with you?”
“I’m sure,” Janelle said. “I like this one. It makes sense to me. Somewhat.”
“Good thing Hypnova brought it back to us,” Shazad said.
“It was the least she could do,” Shazad’s mother said. “After keeping the Caliburn Shield for herself.”
“She needed it more than we did,” Shazad told his mother.
“I know. And you left it in good hands—that’s the important thing. But I would have liked you to have it tonight. For protection.”
“I’ll be fine,” Shazad reassured his mother. “I’m ready for tonight.”
“Are you ready?” Leanora asked Joey. “Everything taken care of at home? Your parents all tucked in, safe and sound?”
Joey nodded. “That tea you gave me worked like a charm.”
“That’s because it was one.” Leanora grinned.
Leanora’s mother said something in Russian. Joey didn’t understand the words, but he knew a reprimand when he heard one. From the way the grin slipped off Leanora’s face, Joey knew he was right.
“What?” Leanora said. “Dreamleaf is a natural sleep aid. It’s harmless.” She had given Joey and Janelle a special blend of enchanted tea leaves that her family kept in their pantry. It was amazing stuff, guaranteed to put anyone who drank it to sleep within minutes, but only if they were in a safe place. Also, they would wake up immediately if they were in danger.
“My parents had two cups each, they liked it so much,” Janelle said. “They should be out for the next forty-eight hours at least.”
“Same here,” Joey said.
“And while they sleep, everything’s going to change,” Leanora’s mother said. “They’re going to wake up in a whole new world.”
Joey shrugged. “More like the old world back again, but yeah. That’s the plan.”
“You’re not concerned about what they’re going to say?” Leanora’s mother asked. “It’s going to be quite the rude awakening. And then, when they find out you are responsible?”
“Mamushka,” Leanora said. “If Joey has to explain himself to his parents when this is over, that would be a very good thing.”
“I’m just worried about all of you,” Leanora’s mother said. “Our plans tonight are dangerous. Joey’s and Janelle’s parents deserve to know the truth of what you are doing.”
“They can’t handle the truth,” Joey said, making a rare, non-comic-book movie reference.
“You never know,” Leanora’s mother said. “They might surprise you. We’ve faced our share of difficult audiences over the years, and always, we’ve been able to reach them. My daughter might disagree, but not everything has to be a fight.”
“We’ve been through this,” Leanora said. “And tonight does.”
Onstage, Leanora’s family was known as the Nomadiks. They performed all over the world, hiding magic in plain sight and inspiring a belief in the impossible. Their shows helped keep magic alive in people’s hearts, but their influence was always limited to a single town or village at a time. The act had never been enough for Leanora. She wanted to take on the forces that held magic back directly. Getting her parents to come around to her way of thinking had not been easy, but she had done it. Convincing Joey’s parents to do the same was out of the question.
“Mrs. Valkov, my mom and dad would never let me go ahead with this,” Joey explained. “They wouldn’t understand. They can’t understand. Not yet.”
“They will… in time,” Shazad’s mother said. “It’s all right,” she added to Leanora’s mother. “Sometimes people need to be shocked into seeing things differently. Look at us. Before Camelot, we never would have approved of this crusade. Now we’re lending the children magic artifacts to take with them into battle. Speaking of which…”
Shazad’s mother placed one last item into Joey’s overstuffed backpack and handed it to him. Joey peeked inside and thanked her. It was loaded with enchanted objects. For generations, the Hassans had acted as the guardians of rare and powerful magical items. They traveled around the world, collecting them and keeping them out of the wrong hands. Up until now, that had been as far as they were willing to go, but the secrets that Joey, Shazad, and Leanora had uncovered in Camelot had changed everything.
“A pity the rest of the world didn’t learn from Camelot,” Leanora’s mother said. “If they had, we wouldn’t have to do this.”
“We got the crowd warmed up,” Leanora told her mother. “Tonight we hit them with the showstopper.”
Joey was inclined to agree. Camelot had been a good start, but it was only a start. The lost kingdom’s inexplicable return had led many people to conclude its existence was magical in nature. Before the pandemic had curtailed travel, millions of visitors had journeyed from all over the world to see the castle with their own eyes. Most of them went back home open to the idea that magic was real. However, for every new believer, there were countless others who refused to entertain the possibility. It wasn’t hard to see why. The modern world, with its many problems, beat magical thinking out of people, and powerful forces conspired to push them away from the truth. Well-funded social media campaigns and dubious news organizations spread misinformation and lies, claiming that Camelot was a publicity stunt for an upcoming movie, or some kind of elaborate prank. People accepted these ridiculous explanations because they understood them. They fit with a picture of reality that the general public already knew and believed in.
Joey saw Ledger DeMayne’s handiwork in all of it. As the leader of the Invisible Hand, DeMayne had connections everywhere. His considerable resources, plus the natural suspicion that people held for things they didn’t understand, made for a powerful combination. That was how the Invisible Hand had kept the world’s magic to themselves for so long. By leveraging the twin powers of manipulation and denial. After Camelot, there had been flare-ups of magical happenings all around the world, but they were quickly swept under the carpet and pushed out of the news cycle. For example, Janelle and Joey’s alternative energy project at Caltech had been taken over by the government and shut down. They were told it was due to safety concerns and national security interests, but Joey knew it was just more behind-the-scenes maneuvering by Ledger DeMayne and the Invisible Hand. That setback, over a year ago, had lit the fuse for tonight’s mission. The Order of the Majestic couldn’t beat the Invisible Hand inch by inch, one step at a time. They had to do something big. Something no one could explain away, deny, or cover up.
“It was always going to come to this,” Joey said. “It’s why the Order of the Majestic exists. It’s why I have the wand.”
Joey stopped short of calling it destiny, but there were definitely times when it felt that way. This night had been a thousand years in the making. Ever since the mad emperor of a lost, forgotten country had decided there was too much magic in the world. Joey joined Leanora’s and Shazad’s fathers at the map. It told the story of a great injustice and what could be done to set it right.
“In the beginning, there were three cursed objects strategically placed at key points around the world,” Joey said, running through their plan of action one last time. “Three dark magic markers that blocked the flow of magical energy. We destroyed one of them at Camelot last year. The other two are here and here.” Joey pointed out targets in the North Pole and somewhere between Hawaii and Japan. “If everything goes according to plan, Shazad and Leanora will take them both out tonight.”
“Don’t say ‘if,’?” Shazad said. “There is no ‘if.’ We’re doing this. Security around the dark markers was on high alert after Camelot, but now?” He shook his head. “It’s a skeleton crew. They’re not ready for us.”
“The next twenty-four hours are going to be very interesting,” Leanora said.
Her father chortled. “You don’t have to tell us.” He and Shazad’s father stepped away from the map so everyone could see what they had done to it. Using the magic paintbrushes, they had marked up the map like two generals laying out troop positions in a battle plan. Nomadiks and Hassans were stationed all over the world in places that were strong in magic and steeped in lore. “We’ll be there to greet the new world when it gets here.”
“And we’ll make sure everyone gets to see it,” Joey added.
He kept his eyes on the map, tracking the Imagine Nation as it moved slowly across the Atlantic Ocean. A year ago, the magical, roaming island had vanished from the map by the time the paint on the wall had finished drying. It had been gone most of the time since then, but it had recently resurfaced without warning or explanation. Joey and his friends took it as a sign. Another reason to believe it was time for them to act and give magic back to the world.
“I can’t believe this is actually happening,” Janelle said. “No more planning and waiting. We’re going to change the world—tonight.”
“No sense in putting it off any longer.” Joey took the wand out of his sleeve. “I haven’t used this thing all year, I’ve been saving it for this. Chances are, after tonight I’ll never use it again.”
Everyone got quiet when Joey produced the wand. His choice of words was a sobering reminder of the dangers associated with its use.
“I think I speak for everyone when I say the restraint you’ve shown with the wand has been remarkable,” Shazad’s mother said to Joey a few moments later. The adults in the room all nodded in agreement. Joey felt a “but” coming on. He was right. “But are you really sure you want to go through with this plan? All of it? Surely it’s enough just to destroy the dark magic markers?”
Joey shook his head. “This wand has unfinished business in the Imagine Nation. A thousand years ago, Merlin used it to hide the island away from the world. I’m going to bring it back. I know it’s hard to understand, but it’s something I have to do.”
“I understand why you don’t want to tell your parents,” Leanora’s mother said with grudging approval.
“I’ll be the first one to tell them when it’s over,” Joey promised. “I’m not looking to sacrifice myself for the cause. On that note… check it out.” He pulled up his sleeve, revealing a green rectangular mark on his inner forearm. Everyone leaned in for a closer look.
“You got a tattoo?” Janelle asked. “When did this happen?”
“Five minutes ago, up on the roof. It’s not ink. I used the wand to do it.”
“Joey!” Janelle gave him a shove. “You can’t be using the wand on pointless stuff like that.”
“It’s not pointless,” Joey said. “It’s like a power meter in a video game. This mark lets me know exactly how much energy I have left. Every time I cast a spell, the green bar goes down based on how much magic I used. See? It’s not quite a hundred percent full.”
Upon closer examination, everyone saw there was a black border around the green bar on Joey’s arm. The color measured how much Joey had used the wand, going almost to the top of the rectangle, but not quite.
“So, when the power runs out…,” Shazad prompted.
Game over, Joey thought.
He pulled his sleeve back down. “The idea is for it not to run out.”
The room got quiet again. Everyone knew what it meant if Joey pushed himself too far with the wand.
“Stick out your hand,” Leanora told Joey. He did as he was told. She put her firestone pendant in his palm. “I want you to take this.”
Joey looked down at the priceless magical weapon. He was stunned. Leanora’s firestone was a Valkov family heirloom that had saved their lives on more than one occasion. Giving it to him was an incredible gesture. “Lea, this is too much. I can’t.”
“I’m only lending it to you,” she said. “The idea is for you to bring it back.”
“Right. I knew that,” Joey said, feeling a little foolish. He should have known she wasn’t giving him the stone. She probably wanted to hand it down to her children one day. “I appreciate the offer, but I already have this whole bag of tricks.” He lifted the backpack that Shazad’s mother had packed for him.
“So? Now you’ve got one more,” Leanora said. “Between that and what’s in the bag, you’ve got no excuse to use the wand. Not unless it’s absolutely necessary.”
“Don’t you need the stone? What if I lose it?”
Leanora’s eyes narrowed.
“You’d better not,” her father said. “Then she’ll kill you.”
Joey put the pendant around his neck. “Thank you. I’ll put it to good use.” He held up his right hand as if swearing a vow. “After I use the wand to get everyone where they’re going, I’ll put it away. Emergencies only from now on. I promise.”
“Be sure to hold him to that,” Leanora’s mother told the children. “Fortunately, you don’t need to send us anywhere,” she added to Joey. “We made our own travel arrangements.”
Leanora’s father flashed his palms. At first they were empty, but the second time he opened them, a golden doorknob with a red ruby in the handle appeared in his hand. It was another prized Valkov family possession, this one with the power to turn any doorway into a magic portal. “Can we help you get where you’re going?” he asked Shazad’s parents.
“No, thank you,” Shazad’s father replied. “Shazad’s brother is waiting for us at home. That’s our first stop. We’ll collect him and depart from Jorako.”
Leanora’s father offered his hand. “Good luck.”
Shazad’s father gave it a hearty shake. “To all of us.”
The grown-ups said their farewells, first to each other and then to their children. As Joey watched everyone embrace and tell one another not to worry, he wished he could have had a proper goodbye with his parents, but he also knew leaving things the way he had was the only option. The number of red eyes in the room confirmed even families who understood magic as a daily reality couldn’t help but worry at a time like this. But they let their children go and left to do their part.
Eventually, only the four children were left in Redondo’s old office. Everyone looked at each other. The awesome scope of what they were about to do hung heavy in the air between them.
Janelle broke the silence. “Everybody ready to make history?”
“Ready or not, it’s showtime,” Leanora said.
Joey held up the wand. “Guess I better say the magic words.”
“What do you have in mind?” Shazad asked. “Anything special?”
Joey never planned out what he was going to say before he used the wand. It was always something that came to him in the spur of the moment. Either a single word or a turn of phrase that signaled what he wanted to do, captured how he felt at the time, or had real meaning for him. Past choices had been old-timey, modern, and everything in between. Movie quotes and tag lines were not out of the question. Joey’s spontaneous method had not been Redondo’s approach to wielding the wand, but it was his way of making magic and bringing his imagination to life. As he and his friends prepared to embark on the adventure of a lifetime, there was only one thing he wanted to say.
“You guys are the best friends I’ve ever had.” Joey waved the wand. “Godspeed.”
A light appeared at Leanora’s and Shazad’s feet. It swirled around them as if it were alive, growing brighter with every revolution until it was so intense that Joey and Janelle had to shield their eyes. When the light blinked out and they lowered their hands, Shazad and Leanora were gone. The world’s last night without magic had officially begun.