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.”