Dakotah spent the last two weeks of June under a haze. The air seemed to be humming with a coming storm. Once his mom surprised him and he jumped practically a foot. He reduced the shop’s hours because he didn’t want too many strangers coming through. Finally he closed it entirely.
He didn’t need the money; the basement held more money than he could ever spend. But it meant the days were filled with nothing but scattered research into fairies and then just…waiting.
One day his accountant stopped answering the phone. He went by Morticia’s but the lights were dark. The elven village by the train tracks was just as deserted. He dared not stay long in these places, for fear the Unseelie Queen would catch him in the fey world. He didn’t think she’d attack him in the human world, it wouldn’t be to her advantage. If they were going to fight anywhere, he hoped it would be in Other St. Paul. The places where the fey and human worlds overlapped might give him an edge.
But he didn’t really know if they were going to fight or not. He’d been doing his job as a Guardian, taking in refugees. Should he seek out Samantha? Was it suicide to face a fairy queen? He didn’t know enough about the fey world to tell if their powers were evenly matched.
One evening he sat on the back porch when a rocket of energy went through the Sanctuary. He shot to his feet, granting access as he did. He ran through the shop, getting to the front in time to see the Seelie Prince stumble through his door.
Maybe thirty soldiers crowded in behind the prince. His friends, the bunny army, and the refugees ranged behind him. The shop was packed.
The prince raised a head weakly. He was supported by two soldiers, a bloody slash across his chest.
“You’re alive,” said Dakotah.
A slight grin crossed the prince’s face. It faded quickly. “I need medical attention. Then we must speak.”
Al-Ysa’s organization had already set aside an area to be used as a hospital bay. The fairy warriors and prince were tended to there. In an hour, despite protests from the fey healers, the prince called for Dakotah. For privacy, Dakotah led him to Ike’s old room.
“Guardian,” the prince said as he settled on the edge of the bed. “I apologize. I had no way to return your missives. Thank you for sending them.”
Dakotah nodded once. Gone was the cocky rebel leader he’d met a few months ago. The prince was a drawn boy with serious eyes, his face pinched with pain.
“I come to you for…help. Your kind are supposed to remain neutral, I know.”
Dakotah frowned. He hadn’t realized that. All year he’d been taking sides, fighting off fey he thought acted wrongly. All this time he was supposed to be neutral? When they’d said he was “too involved” he didn’t realize that meant “biased”. What would Ike think?
“What do you need?”
“I found them. My parents. I found them.”
“Deep in the fey world, in the devil-queen’s forest.”
“We can help.”
Dakotah and the prince looked up in surprise. Pete, Phin, and Val stood in the doorway.
Pete had spoken, of course. Dakotah smiled at her.
She returned the look. “Dakotah can go back to being neutral after we get rid of Samantha.”
“Seriously,” agreed Val. “She has to go.”
“What do we need to do?” asked Phin.
“The Seelie King and Queen are in a cage made of iron. It can only be opened by a human. I cannot–as a changeling I have been..away…too long. We must distract the Unseelie Queen long enough to free them. Once freed, I believe their power will be enough to take on the devil-queen. Last time they were defeated by Samantha and Sunil’s combined forces.”
“That whole plan rests on the king and queen being strong enough to defeat Samantha,” Phin said. “They’ve been captured for a year. What if they’re weak?”
“The fey draw their power from the natural world,” the prince explained. “The forest has suffered from their absence. It will greet them with abundance. All our powers will be rejuvenated. Our soldiers will engage the Unseelie army. I will distract Samantha. You will unlock the cage.”
“And what happened…” Dakotah gestured to the prince’s injuries.
He made a face. “Ambushed by Unseelie soldiers. Our army was greatly decimated, both by death and desertion. A final call to action will hopefully rally others to our side.”
His word “hopefully” hung in the air.
“Read to me everything we know about the Unseelie,” Dakotah said. They were undergoing the awkward process of being fitted for armor. Awkward, because he felt ridiculous wearing armor at all, and also because everything was three sizes too small. Between the bunnies and the fairies there wasn’t much to fit a human. They had pillaged the shop for everything that could help them and were using small magic where they could.
“We’ve got ten minutes,” Phin said to Pete. They were due at a family Fourth of July party.
Val started to read her grimoire. “Unseelie is the power of unmaking. It is in this that their power flows strongest.” She looked up. “How can we use that? Samantha’s trying to make an empire, it’s against her powers.”
Dakotah shrugged. “Not really making any difference, is it? She’s killin’ it out there.”
“Seriously,” Pete said. With the arrival of the crown prince, they’d learned the full extent of the state of fairyland. It wasn’t just Dakotah’s little pocket being affected.
He felt like he’d missed some important part of being a Guardian. Yes, his shop was stuffed full of refugees who thanked him daily, and yes, they had a battle plan, but he didn’t feel in control of the situation. He hadn’t felt in control for a year but at least he’d been feeling better about it. There were wide gaps in his knowledge and every time he did something with the fey he found more gaps. Here they were, going into a war, without a complete understanding of how Hero magic worked! He knew his magic a little better, but only because it felt like there was so little of it. And he didn’t struggle to learn his skills like Phin and Pete. He been able to make a Guardian shield the first time Val had told him about it, but he couldn’t shield the whole army. Even though he and his friends weren’t going to fight themselves, it made him nervous.
And what would Ike think? How had he banished Sunil the first time? Had he fought?
With a sign, Dakotah cast off wondering if Ike would approve. There wasn’t any way to say. All he could do was meet this situation as best he could. But he still wished the old man were around to help.
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