On the second weekend in July, they entered the fey world.
In the human world, it was thunderstorming. The weather cast a pall over Other St. Paul as well as they passed through familiar places.
It could have been the overall mood, too. Pete looked around them, catching glimpses of the slowly moving army. It was small, she knew. They would not have a numbers advantage over Samantha.
Most of the army was hidden in an invisibility spell. Still, the fey would could tell they were passing by. Phin caught sight of eyes peering from pools of water or around trees. Maybe some would join them.
Val kept her head down and recited spells to herself. She could only take one grimoire at a time, so she’d chosen the Unseelie grimoire. Whether it would make a difference remained to be seen.
No one spoke much, but Dakotah least of all. Every step took him farther from his Sanctuary, the base of his power. He’d been all over the fey world in the past year but nothing compared to marching with a fairy army. Fairies were the rulers of the fey world, keeping a balance with the human world (especially the natural world, which saw no difference between fey and human really). He could feel their magic, and so could the world around them.
They walked on, out of Other St. Paul, deeper into fairy territory.
At last they reached the edge of a great wood. Trees ten times Dakotah’s height swayed darkly. The fey world was usually bright–gray, but bright. Under the trees was real darkness.
The Seelie Prince turned to Dakotah, nodded once. Dakotah returned the acknowledgment. They might not see each other again. When the army was engaged, someone would direct him to the location of the cage.
The army entered the shadow of the trees. They were loud–trampling leaves and snapping branches, but the invisibility stayed on, at least for now. The prince had explained the conflict between the courts had left plenty of rogue elements about. Dakotah was familiar with this, these allegiance-less fey had been the ones giving him trouble most of the year.
After some time, it was obvious they were being followed. Noises in the branches above them had grown. Whispers of feet or wings, short cackling calls…Dakotah pulled his friends closer.
Pete’s whole body was on edge, waiting for the moment. Al-Ysa hopped a few yards in front of them, paw clenched. She would give the signal.
Then an Unseelie fey swooped down from tree cover. It looked like a Pokemon–comically large mouth on a bulbous, winged body. It snarled. Al-Ysa’s paw fell.
Instantly, the invisibility spell was removed, and their army attacked. The Pokemon fey was shot down first by ten arrows; the rest aimed for the trees. The Unseelie army collapsed on them from above, creating a fray.
Dakotah didn’t see any more. Their invisibility stayed intact as a contingent of bunny soldiers hustled them away from the action. A single fairy guide took them around the battle, into the forest.
For a while they could hear the battle, and catch glimpses of the fighting. Then the glimpses faded, and then the sounds, and they were left wending through the trees alone.
This deep into the forest, the trees grew taller and taller. The underbrush disappeared, making it easier to walk. Still, it didn’t remind Dakotah of the forests up north. Maybe it was his own mood, but the stillness here wasn’t peaceful.
After only ten minutes’ walking, they arrived at a large clearing. At the head of the clearing sat a tree larger than any they’d seen before. They’d never see this kind of tree in Minnesota.
Its roots are as thick as my body, Pete thought in amazement.
The fairy signaled that they’d walk along the treeline instead of crossing the open clearing. The tree only got more stunning the closer they moved. Its trunk was massive, covered in steely bark. Flowers grew at its base, roots arched out of the ground and then plunged back below the earth. Silver leaves hung in silent waves like a willow tree.
They came around behind the tree, and their fairy guide stopped. He put branch-like fingers to his temple.
“Are you alright?” Phin asked.
“We are here,” said the guide. “The iron’s power is strong.”
The guide pointed at the tree.
Realizing first, Val’s hand reached out and grabbed one of the branches of silver leaves. Holding it up to the others, they saw each leaf was exquisitely carved out of iron, the branches iron wire, the steely-gray tree actually made out of metal.
“Whoa,” said Phin, taking a branch of his own to examine.
“So where are the king and queen?” Dakotah asked.
The guide pointed to the roots. “Under the tree…we think.”
“You think–” Dakotah started, but one of the bunny soldiers interrupted.
“Guardian, we’ve detected movement–”
A voice, high and terrible, boomed throughout the clearing. “DAKOTAH.”
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