“The Seelie lost prince,” Phin clarified. Dakotah thanked him for that. He didn’t need a lost Unseelie prince to add to his problems.
“That’s right,” said Yolanda. “He is, of course, a human. A boy stolen at birth by the Seelie Queen and King.”
“So the Unseelie queen Samantha is looking for the lost prince because he could unite the scattered Seelie and overthrow her.”
“Or at least try.”
“So why would an enemy of the Seelie court want to find the lost prince’s changeling?”
This was another good question from Phin. Dakotah’s brain was going so fast he’d practically forgotten about Caitlin. But by now there wasn’t much doubt she was working against the Seelie court. To what extent remained to be seen.
“I doubt the Seelie will rally behind the untried changeling, but certainly there is a bond between the two. If one wanted to find the Seelie Prince, the changeling would be a way to do it.”
Dakotah sighed. “Thanks Yolanda.”
Back at the shop, they regrouped around the front counter.
“We need a plan,” decided Dakotah. “To get Caitlin off Roland’s trail.”
“And the hell out of here,” Pete added.
“I want to go home,” said Roland suddenly. He hadn’t spoken for an hour.
An awkward silence settled over the group.
“You…can’t,” Dakotah managed. “You aren’t safe. Caitlin would’ve found you eventually. The Unseelie think they can use you. And anyway, you can’t go back looking like…that.”
Roland’s wings twitched in distress. “I don’t understand any of this.”
“Join the club,” Dakotah snapped.
“What Dakotah means,” Pete said with another glare at Dakotah, “is that we only found out about all this fey stuff in September. We just try and figure things out together. We didn’t mean to drag you into anything but you believe you’re in danger, right? We’re trying to help.”
These assurances finally began to register with Roland. He took a deep breath. “Ok, fine. So you’re a Guardian?”
“And Caitlin is…”
“A fallen Guardian. We don’t know if she’s working for the Unseelie or not. We don’t know where her magic comes from now but she can do magic. We don’t know how she planned to use you to find the lost prince.”
“What do you know?” Roland asked peevishly.
Dakotah laughed unexpectedly.
“Weirdo,” said Val. “What you laughing for?”
“I don’t know,” said Dakotah. “It’s just funny to be the one who knows more. Finally.”
“We still dunno shit,” Valene reminded him. “So think.”
Phin spoke up. “We could wait for Caitlin to get back and try confronting her. Maybe that will scare her off. Like, it might be too early in her plan or maybe she’s not working with the Unseelie and she’ll just have to leave because she can’t fight us off.”
“What ‘us‘?” Dakotah asked. “She’s been teaching me magic, so I know how powerful she is. What if she knows I’m no threat, and takes me down?”
“Pretend you want in,” Pete said.
“Like what? Like I’m a fallen Guardian, too?”
“Yeah,” Val agreed excitedly. “Like you know where Roland is and you’ll give him up for a price.”
Phin frowned. “Will she fall for that? She’s been training you, she knows what you’re like.”
Dakotah considered. “She also knows I used to run with a different crew. And I’ve complained about Guardian powers. Maybe I can make her think I want more magic abilities.”
Before they could discuss any further, a voice called from the front gate–“Hey Dakotah, lemme in!”
The view to the front gate was partially blocked by stacks of shop merchandise and signs in the window, but Caitlin’s voice was clear.
“Damn,” said Dakotah. “She’s back.”
“Well, a magic lightning storm did announce we’d found Roland,” Val pointed out.
“K, well, I’m gonna try it,” Dakotah decided.
“We’re pretty slapdash around here,” Pete said to Roland, clearly trying to lighten the mood.
“Fake it till we make it!” Val said.
Dakotah rolled his eyes at Phin.
“Stay out of sight,” he instructed as he left.
“Heya,” Caitlin greeted him, her hands on the closed gate. It was full dark out but the lampposts cast plenty of light. His cats stood at attention.
“I tried to take the Lake right in but it looks like you locked down the House. What happened?”
“I found Roland Cunningham,” Dakotah said figuring there was no need to be coy.
Caitlin’s face was still. “Who’s that?”
“Ain’t you been looking for him?” Dakotah’s voice grew harsh and he wasn’t sure anymore about pretending to be a fallen Guardian. She’d been living off him for months with free range over the House. Not only that, what was with all the fallen Guardians? He’d only met four other Guardians and half were bad guys! Would Ike have pretended to be a fallen Guardian?
Probably, because he’s smarter than you. But Dakotah’s pride wouldn’t let him.
“Well, you can stop looking,” Dakotah said. “He’s been six feet under for a few years now. We’ve got more important things to talk about.”
He’d made it to the gate by now, so only the rusted wrought iron separated them. Iron, and a hundred years of Sanctuary magic.
“What’s this?” he asked, holding up the blackened chunk of (formerly sky-blue) Belfast crystal.
Her lips pursed. “I don’t know.”
“Well you fucking should. It’s the crystal from your House, the Sanctuary you promised to protect. Do you know what it means when it’s all broken like this? It means you’re not a Guardian anymore.”
Caitlin figured out the jig was up and dropped her act. She sneered. “Took you long enough.”
“Yeah, don’t worry, I know what I’m doing now.”
“I doubt that, Guardian Dakotah. You think you know about the Unseelie–”
The cats yowled and Dakotah sprang back automatically from the gate. Caitlin did, too, in the other direction.
The cats had saved them both from a hail of arrows shot toward the gate (though Dakotah noticed none actually got through the Sanctuary barrier).
He flipped into Other St. Paul just as the street flooded with fairies. They carried bows and dressed in a ragtag style, though each was marked with a yellow cloth armband.
Caitlin hissed as they raised their weapons again, all aimed at her. She raised her hands add if intending to do some magic, but Dakotah felt a ripple go through the air as he opened his gate. The ripple held a clear warning–all fifteen of their combined magic against one of her.
The fairies started to advance on her.
Another current of magic caused the air to flex again–but this time, a cloud was blooming in the middle of the street. When the cloud took up half the street it stopped growing. The middle of the cloud crackled with lightning and then started to separate. Through the flickering clouds was not the other side of the street but another place entirely.
Dakotah had been so busy watching the cloud he forgot about Caitlin until she leapt for it.
“Hey!” called a fairy warrior, but she was already pulling herself through. A warrior ran up but lightning forked out of the clouds, striking him down.
Caitlin, safe in the cloud’s embrace, turned back to scowl at them. As the cloud began to fold back in on itself, Dakotah could make out another person’s shape, a moon-faced fairy with six-pronged anters coming from her head. Lightning crackled around her. But then the cloud folded in on itself, and Dakotah and the warriors were left staring at each other.
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