The bell rang and Central disgorged a flood of students onto the grounds. Dakotah was one of the first out of the building. He didn’t have anyone to talk to in the halls, where other students stood in joyful groups on the grassy hill down to the buses. It was hotter than hell, the sun blazing, matching everyone’s enthusiasm.
He wouldn’t see Peter or Val or Phin for a while. They had plans with a bunch of other friends. Phin’d invited him along but he didn’t like Phin’s other friends—just not his type.
He didn’t really know what his type was anymore though. He hadn’t had many friends after transferring to Central and he’d distanced himself from those he’d had before.
Whatever. He was busy; he had Phin, Pete and Val; he liked his alone time.
Then he made a face, remembering there was no alone time to be had—his shop was filled to the brim with refugees.
Samantha, Queen of the Unseelie Court, had begun her war. She was moving through the fey world, razing it as she went.
The fey world had already been shaken deeply by her first onslaught years ago. This was her final push.
Someone—Dakotah guessed Ike—had staved her off the first time. But someone—Dakotah guessed himself—had made Samantha feel threatened, and she’d renewed her attack.
No word from the Seelie Crown Prince, supposedly leading the resistance. But every day more arrived at the House, seeking sanctuary.
The House would hold them, inventing rooms where Dakotah had never known rooms existed. But they couldn’t hole up in there forever.
When he got to the shop he was surprised to see Pete tumble out the door to meet him.
“What the hell? I thought you were–”
“Dakotah, listen to what Al-Ysa told me!”
The commander of the bunny army hopped down the steps to stand on her hind legs beside Pete. She was about 18 inches tall and draped in a red cloak and gold mail.
“Your Hero has told me she shot the Great Salamandra out of the sky.”
Dakotah’s eyebrows arched. “You know its name.”
“More than that.” Pete’s eyes glowed. “She knows where it came from!”
“Well, now that we know about the war, we pretty much know Queen Samantha sent it,” Dakotah pointed out.
“If I may explain the significance,” Al-Ysa spoke up. “If the Unseelie Queen did send the Great Salamandra, that tells us useful information. The Great Salamandra has been missing for many years. None questioned this because we did not miss its plague upon us. However, I now suspect Samantha had it sleeping.”
“Ok, so what?”
“If she had gained the ability to put fey magic to sleep, that is also what she may have done to the Seelie King and Queen.”
Dakotah was frowning, already running through the implications in his head. “Ok, but what’s the next step?”
“I believe Salamandra’s cave may hold the answers. We could go and investigate, to learn further what kind of magic Samantha may have used, and therefore how to break the spell.”
“You know where the cave is?”
“Yes. It was built into the cliff face above Mississippi, near your current Stone Arch Bridge.”
“In Minneapolis,” Dakotah said. The bridge was right by downtown Minneapolis if he remembered correctly. He didn’t go in to Minneapolis enough to really have his bearings, but he knew some places.
“The cave reveals itself by moonlight only. If we are at the riverbank at night, we will be able to storm the lair and reveal its secrets.”
He could already see a few problems with this plan, but it was better than doing nothing, hoping the crown prince would rescue them in time. Or fighting a siege war when Samantha arrived at his doorstep.
But the first problem: “None of our parents will let us go to Minneapolis at night,” he said, almost to himself.
Pete leaned in with a big grin on her face. “Not normally, but this weekend’s Northern Spark.”
Northern Spark began at sunset and went until sunrise. The all-night art show featured glow in the dark papier-mache jellyfish, a boat lit up from the inside, dancing in front of the Guthrie Theater, a garden of ancient plants inside Mill City Museum, and food trucks all over.
Val’s head swiveled at the sight of the food trucks but Dakotah’s pace never broke. They were on a tight timeline. They were going to meet Al-Ysa and some of her best fighters at the riverbank in ten minutes. Not only that, but all of their parents expected them back at midnight. They’d had to beg and borrow for the right, even though, Dakotah thought with a grumble, he and Phin would be 18 in the winter.
The whole area was bustling and Val’s mom had had to drive slowly until they were close enough to jump out and make their own way.
They threaded their way through the crowd in a line. Some people were already drunk even though the party didn’t end until 5:26 am. Weird light-up art kept distracting him, especially the images being broadcast on the side of the museum wall. Eventually they made it down the sidewalk to the bottom of the cliff.
Every so often he caught a movement out of the corner of his eye. One of Al-Ysa’s soldiers, keeping watch, unarmored to those who couldn’t see the fey world layered over the human one. Even though they were at the bottom of the cliff there were still more people here, looking at more art or standing around talking and eating.
“We can’t jump in the river with all these people here,” Phin said. “They’ll call the cops.”
Dakotah cringed at the thought. He turned to Val. “Any invisibility magic? Do you think it’ll be enough if we just get into the fey world?”
The places where fey and human overlapped were strange, and even if no one else could see the magic it didn’t mean they might not see a bunch of teens acting weird.
“Well there’s glamour–” Val started to answer, but just then thunder rumbled. They all looked up as it began to pour. The suddenness of the rain took everyone by surprise, and the people around them ran for cover.
Al-Ysa appeared at Dakotah’s side. “Let’s go,” she said, a military command expected to be obeyed.
With a few last looks around, they scrambled into the tall grass. Dakotah almost balked at the cold water, but he was in the lead and didn’t want to show hesitation. He splashed in. Everyone else followed.
When they’d learned they’d have to get into the river to find the cave, Val had researched a drying potion and Dakotah had found a bit of it in the shop. There hadn’t been enough for everything, so Val had put it on their phones and shoes, and given the rest to Al-Ysa.
So, Dakotah’s feet were warm but his sweatshirt soaked through. He was instantly cold even though it had been 90 degrees all day.
“We need moonlight,” Al-Ysa called. The commander was doing a strong breaststroke around him, scanning the area through the rain.
Dakotah turned to his Heroes. “Can you do something?”
Control of natural elements was something Pete had heard Val mention. It was probably out of their ability but she felt ready. It was raining, the Minneapolis skyline was lit up behind them, and they’d jumped into the Mississippi on the second night of summer vacation. She felt ready for anything.
“I need my hermano,” she said, stretching her hand out to Phin. He took it. Pete took them into the fey world (more malleable than the human one). Here the rain fell in a Wonderland fashion, big drops falling slow, splashing into the Other-Mississippi. Pete tried to imagine herself as part of the storm, part of the energy. When her consciousness reached the clouds, she nudged at them, encouraging them to move along. Slowly, a hole opened, allowing the moonlight to stream over them.
“There!” cried one of Al-Ysa’s soldiers.
All eyes followed the direction of the pointed paw. Halfway up a steep stone cliff, moonlight shimmered against the magic on the mouth of a dark cave.
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