SPG: June, Part 2/4

CeceliaIsaac_StPaulGrimoire

Val obeyed reluctantly. Part of her was exasperated, the other part filling with slow-moving adrenaline, a weird feeling she now associated with the fey. A combo of adrenaline and dread.

In her head, she went through the ways they might use magic to catch a rabbit. She wasn’t at all concerned about not having magic herself. It seemed unwieldy for something supposedly helpful.

Unfortunately, Pete and Phin had really only mastered things that came from their own senses. Creating nets out of thin air wasn’t in their repertoire.

She made it to the back gate. It was wooden and grass had grown deep around it, preventing it from actually being used. Vines grew over the warped wood. The gate just had the air of age, though. Like everything else in the Sanctuary it bowed only to Dakotah’s powers.

“Val!” called Phin.

She didn’t react in time–the rabbit sprinted by her, panic in its leaping feet. Phin blundered by next, pushing aside overgrown bushes and stumbling on the uneven ground.

She followed, and they dove past blooming poppies and peonies (certainly Dakotah did not tend the garden; it bloomed riotously nonetheless). The lilac bushes, flowerless now, created a shady tunnel. She pursued him down the tunnel.

Val almost crashed into Phin when he drew up on the far side of the tunnel.

“Hey!” she complained.

“Shit,” said Phin.

She looked around him.

“Shit,” said Val. They’d come out the short tunnel into another part of the garden–presumably. The shop was no longer in sight; the sky was a cool, grey color. Val whipped around. The tunnel was gone, lilac bushes blocking the way. In front of them was a swamp. The ground was soggy at their feet, slowly eaten up by brackish water. Mangroves grew farther on, and the sounds of life were everywhere. Monkeys screeched just out of sight, insects buzzed, fish splashed. The bright heat of early June in Minnesota was replaced by a muggy humidity.

There was that feeling again–the mix of adrenaline and fear. The House was built to protect people, but it was still a fey thing, and if they fell in or were eaten by something strange here, who knew what would happen?

Before she had time to voice her concerns, Phin pointed. “There–!”

Then he was off again, scrambling onto the solid ground provided by tree roots, after the damn rabbit. Val, hindered by the grimoire, stumbled along behind him. She cast looks into the murky water, wondering if crocodiles were the worst of their worries.

“Through here!” called Phin, aware he was leaving her behind, as he passed through a curtain of hanging moss. He gasped when he saw the other side: a great grassland, a blazing sun filtering through acacia trees, the air roiling with a coming rainstorm.

Val entered the savanna a moment later with a small gasp. Phin was glad she’d entered the same world as him, but his eyes were fixed on the grasses. He’d seen that fucking bunny look at him with more understanding than an animal should have, seen it plot its way through the swamp with intelligence, not panic.

There–a path through the grasses, low. He dove, grass taller than his body when he crawled.

He drew up from the grass into an artic tundra.

“Ah!” Val shouted as the bitter wind ripped into them.

“Fuck,” said Phin. He wrapped his arms around himself. “I’m Mexican, I should not be here!”

Val laughed. He made the same joke every time he was cold.

He turned back to her.

“I hate you!” she said. “It’s a fucking bunny!”

“Then how did it get into the Sanctuary grounds?” he shouted over the wind.

This made her pause. “Because it’s a harmless bunny?” But she didn’t sound sure.

“Come on!” he yelled. She grabbed his arm and he put up a hand to shield his eyes and lead them forward.

Phin’s eyes closed to slits to block out the wind, and when he blinked they were in a deep forest of tall, tall trees. The ground was filled with pine needles and the air was cool and still. Val looked up, the height of the trees like a cathedral.

When she brought her head down, she saw the bunnies. They ranged around her and Phin, propped on their back legs and wearing armor. Shiny gold breastplates covered bloodred tunics. Their helmets included chainmail over their ears, and swords hung at every waist.

Phin took a slow breath.

One bunny hopped forward. “Speak your names!” she commanded.

Phin froze, wondering what a Hero should do. But Val clutched his arm and said, “Guardian, protect us!”

The air rippled, cracked, and then Dakotah and Pete stood in the forest with them. Frowning, Dakotah examined the forest, but Pete didn’t wait. Her body glowed lightly with the beginning of the Divine Light, her hands raised and ready for a fight.

Dakotah brought his gaze to the head rabbit. “Who the fuck are you?”

The bunny’s ears twitched. “I am Al-Ysa, commander of the bunny army.”

Dakotah looked back at Phin, but Phin was too nervous to revel.

“I beg your forgiveness, Guardian. We are here to ask for sanctuary, but…we had to be sure Ike’s successor was trustworthy.”

“And did you figure it out?” Dakotah asked caustically. “How many days were you going to trespass?”

Al-Ysa cringed. “Forgive me, Guardian. Dark times.”

“How many of you are there?” he asked with a look around the circle.

“We are one hundred, sir.”

“I don’t see one hundred.”

“Forgive me.” Al-Ysa tugged the edge of her breastplate. “My contingent numbers forty-five. We bring with us one hundred refugees.”

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SPG: June, Part 1/4

CeceliaIsaac_StPaulGrimoire

“I think the bunnies are watching us.”

Dakotah, Pete, and Val all looked up from what they were doing. Phin was peering intently through the blinds into the yard, standing at a slight angle as if worried about sniper attacks.

“Dude…what?” asked Dakotah.

Phin let the blinds drop. “I’m serious. There’s a whole bunny army out there. Un conejito ejercito. I think they’re watching us.”

“Why…would they be watching us?” Pete said with arched brows.

Phin shrugged. “You said we aren’t safe. Maybe they’re waiting for their moment. You know, a bunch of bunnies could be more dangerous than just one giant salamander.”

“Stop saying bunnies!” Val giggled. “Is this how you get when there’s no homework?”

School was out in two weeks, and with all their AP tests done at the end of May, Phin and Pete were pretty much home free.

Dakotah and Val were the opposite. She had to do super well on two final projects to get her grades up. He had had to go around to each of his teachers and figure out a way to avoid summer school. Unlike last year though, his teachers were more helpful and less resigned. Putting in more effort during the school year had definitely helped sway some opinions of him.

Ike would’ve been happy. He’d always had a lecture for Dakotah on the importance of school. Dakotah still didn’t give a shit about school but at least it’d be out of his hair for three months, and then he’d be a senior. He did not have time for summer school this year. He had big plans for marketing the shop.

“Besides, the salamander was like three weeks ago,” Pete pointed out.

They’d spent a ton of time trying to figure out the salamander—what its real name was, where it had come from, if it had been sent by someone, if it had died, why it tried to attack them—with no luck. Dakotah had put a strict ban on using the Lake (the only thing he hadn’t tried was going back on it and seeing what happened). Beyond that, he’d sent a note to the Seelie prince, a note that had gone unanswered.

“Three ominous weeks,” responded Phin, with another look out the window.

Val cracked up. “Well, I’m done with this,” she said, dropping her pencil. “Let’s go outside and practice sensing. Maybe you can tell how big the bunny army is.”

“Cool. You guys coming?”

Dakotah and Pete shook their heads.

He said, “I have to finish this.”

She said, “I have to read about salamanders on Wikipedia.”

They all laughed and Phin and Val went out to the backyard.

“Apparently if you coat yourself in salamander blood it makes you immune to fire,” Pete said. “We should remember that.”

Dakotah grimaced. “That’s some Walking Dead shit.”

“Ooh!” said Pete.

“What?” He looked up from his homework.

“There was a Power Rangers salamander monster called Saliguana! That’s what we should call our salamander!”

“Oh Jesus,” said Dakotah, looking back to his homework. “We can’t, it’s probably copyrighted.”

She giggled.

“And stop reading me the Wikipedia page. I read that before the grimoire.”

There hadn’t been a salamander grimoire so they’d been having Val read random tomes, like reptiles (which included amphibians; grimoires weren’t very scientific), winged beasts, and fire. The Fire Grimoire had been surprisingly long.

“Maybe I’d better be practicing Hero stuff with Phin,” Pete wondered. “In case we have to fight.”

Dakotah made a face. “Nobody’s fighting anyone.”

She arched her eyebrows. He sighed.

“Ok, just a little more researching. If we can’t find anything today, we’ll just…”

But he couldn’t finish the sentence, because he didn’t know what they’d do.

“Close your eyes,” Val instructed. She held the heavy grimoire in one hand, referencing it as she told Phin what to do. Ever since Dakotah had first inherited his shop, they’d all been experimenting with the magic they came into contact with. Now she was organizing, setting up mini lessons and trying to teach things to Phin and Pete in a logical way. Unfortunately, she didn’t have any magic herself, but the magic of Heroes was way more clear-cut than Guardian magic, so they could figure it out together.

“Picture the backyard in your mind. No, wait, look at the area three feet around you, then close your eyes and picture that.”

“Ok.”

“Ok, then, like fill it with color?”

Phin opened his eyes. “Was that a question?”

“I think you have to picture it like, really, really clearly, then you infuse it with magic and you can start separating things—even how many blades of grass there are.”

“Ok,” said Phin. “I already know the shop really well, so I’m gonna sense for bunnies.”

“Dude, you are so weird–”

But Phin was already trying. His eyes were closed and he frowned slightly as he concentrated.

“Got one,” he said after a moment. Without opening his eyes, he started to walk forward. “You circle around the back side of the fence.”

“What? Why?”

“We’re gonna trap it.”

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SPG: May, Part 4/4

CeceliaIsaac_StPaulGrimoire

“Yeah, let’s head back.”

He shook his head and she laughed.

Dakotah raised the Lake and they managed to clamber back into the canoe, which had reappeared at the boundary between the icy Minnesota lake and the mysterious fey one. They picked up paddles and set off.

Dakotah’s soaked clothes were cold, but the fey air wasn’t, which helped a little. Pete shivered as she paddled. He picked up his pace so the exercise would warm them both.

“I should join rowing,” said Pete.

“You even allowed to do another sport?”

“I need a time turner,” she said, then fell silent at the reference to their previous conversation, when she’d wanted to forget everything they’d been through together.

“I’m gonna find you something really cool in the fey world,” said Dakotah. “Somethin’ to say thanks.”

“No,” she said, turning around to face him. “I’m going to find it. And not just one thing, a bunch of them.” She turned back around. “And while I’m at it, I’m gonna do the same in the rest of the world.”

“Fucking wisewoman.”

“I try.”

They paddled on. After five more minutes Pete stopped paddling and pointed.

“What’s that?”

He squinted into the gloomy horizon. “Home?”

But it didn’t look right. Normally their destination came up relatively quickly, out of the foggy air. This thing in the distance was a black shape in the sky, something that really made Dakotah realize the vastness of the lake. And it was moving towards them, much faster than he liked.

“Turn,” Dakotah ordered. Pete obeyed immediately. They went sideways (and arbitrary direction on the Lake, but at least not right toward the…thing). It was no use. Within minutes the shape was close enough to discern.

“What…is it?” asked Pete.

“A salamander?”

That was his closest guess and he wasn’t too far off the mark. A winged lizard-like animal flew toward the canoe. It had moist-looking skin patterned in black and orange, and a wide, blunt mouth. Its tail was short, looking as if half of it had been bitten off. As it approached, it opened its mouth and out fell burning coals. They hit the water of the Lake and sizzled. It banked, swinging its body right for the canoe, revealing back feet tipped in claws.

“Holy shit!” said Dakotah.

The claws came right for him and he threw himself the floor of the canoe.

The salamander screeched in pain as it swooped away. Burning coals rained onto the canoe.

Dakotah looked up to see Pete standing, wielding a paddle.

“Don’t stand in a canoe!” he yelled over another screech. He plucked coals from the floor and dropped them into the Lake.

“Well, how do I fight it?” Pete didn’t even look at him. The salamander was circling back.

“Heroes can summon a weapon for the task at hand.”

“What, like a sword?”

“No, a gun, you nerd!”

Pete actually laughed. “Duck!” she yelled. He did, but he didn’t see what she did because he was blinded as she activated the Divine Light. The Light filled her and spilled outward. Her body moved, the canoe rocked wildly, and he grabbed her legs to steady her.

The salamander wailed its annoyance. He covered his head as more coals bounced down.

“Shit.” Dakotah looked up and saw the paddle she’d been wielding had cracked in two.

“Its tail got me across the chest–“

She stopped talking as they both saw the same thing. Her sweater was disintegrating.

“Take it off!” Dakotah yelled. She sat and pulled the sweater off, and her shirt too. In a sports bra, they both stared at her stomach for a moment.

“It’s fine, I don’t feel anything,” she said. “Its skin is like acid.”

A cry in the distance reminded them of the danger.

“We ain’t gonna fight something like that,” Dakotah said. “We need to get outta here.”

“Relax,” said Pete. She closed her eyes, and in a moment an 81mm mortar materialized in the canoe.

“What the fuck?” asked Dakotah.

“I play Halo,” Pete answered.

“You a baller, Abe.”

She loaded the mortar and aimed it. “Duh. Your powers are weird. Can you breath coals if it’s near?”

“I don’t wanna.”

She didn’t answer. Ratcheting up her Divine Light, she waited for the salamander. When it came in close, she launched. The canoe was an unsteady launch point, but Dakotah watched in awe as the shot caught the salamander in its left wing. It cried in pain, the sound reverberating across the water. Then it hit the Lake with a crash.

“You paddle!” said Pete. “I’ll see if it surfaces!”

He obeyed without question.

~*~

They dragged themselves out of the canoe and into her bedroom. Dakotah didn’t bother to check the canoe for damage just yet. He let the Lake fade away until it was just the two of them, both soaking wet and burned, adrenaline racing through them.

Pete put her fingers to her ears. They probably rang just as loudly as his.

He was about to speak when the door opened and Pete’s mom stepped in. “Did you see the rain? It’s pouring like–”

She stopped when she saw them.

Dakotah saw the situation like she saw it and blushed.

“Ok, thanks for your help, Pete. See you.”

He scurried out the door and back home.

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