SPG: August, Part 2/4

CeceliaIsaac_StPaulGrimoire

They paused at the base of the staircase. Here green torches burned at intervals around a low room. On the far wall, iron bars closed in a prison cell. The cell was part dirt, part metal. There were no people, or fey, inside the cell. Instead, an iron ball rested on a tall pillar.

The steady light of the magic torches gave them confidence, and Phin, Pete, and Val moved forward as one to the cell bars.

Pete wrapped her fingers around the bars and pressed her face in close. But the cell was definitely empty, except for that pillar.

“Okay…” said Phin.

“There’s no door,” Val observed.

Pete said, “Shit,” but actually the problem of no door was a preferable one. She had no idea what the deal was with the iron ball, but the bars she could handle.

Phin beat her to it: “We can Create a tool for the task at hand.” He quoted the Hero grimoire.

“Even when there’s no danger?” asked Val with a frown, half-opening her grimoire as if to check the information.

“There’s definitely danger,” Pete pointed out. She looked at Phin. “What do you think? Chainsaw?”

“We don’t know how to operate one. What about a handsaw? Or like a steel rope? Didn’t someone escape using floss once?”

“Too slow,” said Pete, a chainsaw already forming in her hands. “I’ve used one, when we landscaped the backyards. Move.”

Val and Phin backed up.

“Make safety goggles!” Phin said hurriedly just as she was about to pull the starter rope. Pete sighed, but she closed her eyes and breathed in. As she let out her breath, magic formed around her face. It solidified into chemistry-class safety goggles. She fired up the machine. With careful movements, she cut through the top and bottom of four bars.

As the bars clanged to the floor, she set the chainsaw aside and tossed off the goggles.

The three of them crowded into the cell and stood around the iron ball.

“Should I use the chainsaw again?” Pete was mostly joking. But the ball was small and solid-looking. It was roughly made but didn’t have a weld seam or any other chink. Now that they were closer, Pete could see a silver glow flickering around the edges.

“God no,” said Val. “Hang on.”

She opened the Unseelie grimoire. Her fingers flipped through heavy pages filled with diagrams, spells, foreign symbols, and the occasional plant. She stopped at a page with a drawing of a wrought iron bar. “This is the section on iron. I’m looking for imprisonment spells.”

“I don’t know if anything Samantha would use would be in a grimoire for anyone to see,” Phin pointed out.

Pete looked at the dirt ceiling. Suddenly she was filled with worry. “We should hurry.”

Val spared a moment to glare at her, then went back to the book.

Seconds ticked by. Pete tapped her foot.

“Can you at least translate out loud?” suggested Phin.

Val flicked her hair over her shoulder and humphed. “It’s just talking about native powers…you know, like powers that come from what you’re built of? Iron is the antithesis of fey power, because they aren’t, like, built of it. But iron still falls into Making and Unmaking. It’s still part of the natural world. That’s why humans can touch it. So I think basically Samantha molded this little guy,” she pointed to the ball, “with fey magic, and then infused some more magic into it. That’s why it’s kinda glowing.”

“So it’s double-protected, basically?” Phin said sourly.

“Actually, I think that made it weaker. She forced together two things that don’t want to be together.”

Val fell quiet. That was as far as she’d gotten. She didn’t know how to test that theory, or how to exploit the weakness if it was there.

“Let’s use the Divine Light,” Pete said.

“Why?” Phin had spoken but Val didn’t look too enthusiastic either.

Pete shrugged. “It’s natural Hero magic. Our strongest spell. If we’re undoing something natural, something we’re built of, it might react.”

“But Divine Light isn’t a weapon,” Val pointed out. “Unless there’s vampires, it’s pretty much just a light shield. An amplifier.”

“It’s the quintessential Hero spell,” Pete pressed. “It means purity! It’s not a shield, it’s a dissolver of evil!”

Val started to argue but Phin interrupted. “Fine, we’ll try it. Val, keep reading.”

He and Pete held hands on either side of the iron ball. Val stepped back with her book open, but she wasn’t reading. She watched as the light gathered around them.

Pete gave everything to the magic. Her Divine Light hadn’t blazed this bright since she’d faced the vampires. At first, she squeezed her eyes shut. When she felt her feet lift off the ground she opened her eyes.

She was in another world. Not fey or human. An Other-Other, a deeper-magic-from-before-the-dawn-of-time. Everything was brilliantly white. The only things she could see were her brother and the iron ball between them.

“Open,” she and Phin said at the same time.

The iron ball started to vibrate. It became a gray blur, and then its iron-and-magic makeup simply–fell apart.

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SPG: August, Part 1/4

CeceliaIsaac_StPaulGrimoire

“DAKOTAH!”

All their heads went up toward the voice, and then they all turned back to Dakotah.

“Fuck,” said Phin.

Dakotah had the same thought.

“She’s coming!” cried the Seelie fighter.

Damnshitfuck, thought Dakotah.

“Free the king and queen,” he yelled, and then ran to meet Samantha.

“Dakotah!” his friends called after him, but he didn’t look back.

He made it to the front of the tree as Samantha and her entourage burst over the clearing. Spotting him, she roared a laugh and swooped toward the ground. She alighted, the Unseelie all around her.

Dakotah had not gotten a good look at her before. Now she strode forward and he had time to take her in. Her skin was tree-like, brown and barky. She had glittering wings, bigger than any other fairy. Clothing made of leaves and flowing scraps of fabric were draped over her. Her most fascinating feature was her hair–if it could be called that. Over a moon-shaped face, prairie grass grew in sweeping waves. Here and there small trees were growing, not horns like Dakotah thought he’d seen before. Flowers bloomed and a light dew covered everything. Small birds flitted around her head.

“Guardian,” Samantha said. Her voice was sour. “Meddler. Did it ever occur to you that the affairs of fairy are not yours to control? Give humans an inch of power and they will take the world with it–”

“Sounds familiar,” interrupted Dakotah.

To his surprise, Samantha laughed. The birds in her hair chirped and the grass looked greener.

“At least I remain in the domain of my people,” she said. “But you, and Icarus, and Sunil–” Her hair was frosting over, leaves dropping from trees, grass turning brown. “Humans should remain subject to the fey, as they were in the past. Like animals, close to the nature magic, knowing naught but fear for us.”

“There have been Guardians just as long as fey,” Dakotah said flatly. Was that true? He had absolutely no idea. His knowledge of Guardianship was limited. A lot of it had come from his own experiences. As uncertain as he sometimes felt, he still knew when he was doing something right. When he took on the powers of the fey around him, it felt natural. When he’d connected with the House, it felt right. When Val had first shown him how to raise the Shield, he’d known he was connecting to something ancient and intrinsic, something that came so easily because it was built into his role. He wished he could just cover the whole army with a shield, but he knew that wouldn’t solve anything in the long term.

But he’d stand there and tell lies about being a Guardian all day if necessary, because all he wanted now was to give his friends time to free the king and queen.

~*~

“We cannot follow,” the Seelie knight said to Pete, Phin, and Val. Both he and the bunny soldier looked sick to their stomachs by the iron tree.

“We’ve got it,” Pete said with her usual confidence.

Phin felt, for once, the same confidence. “Guard the outside,” he ordered. He lifted a hand and parted the metal leaves so Val and Pete could pass through.

He followed and let the leaves fall behind him.

Immediately the noise of battle ceased. They were in the small space between the metal canopy and the trunk. Val looked around them nervously. “Should I be helping Dakotah?”

Phin and Pete hesitated. Finally Phin shook his head. “You know the most about magic. We might run into something weird down here. Dakotah knows how to fight, he can hold her off.”

Pete crouched by the trunk. “Plus, if you go out, Samantha might realize Phin and I are here.” She reached out, hesitating just a moment before putting her hands to the trunk. She curled her fingers around a cool handle and pulled. Part of the tree swung open, revealing a dark interior, also made of iron.

“There’s something–” Val pointed. Pete took a step inside even as Phin’s hand fell on her shoulder.

“A body,” said Pete. A shriveled fairy corpse lay on the ground, its fingers reaching for the door.

“What the fuck happened to it?” Val asked.

Pete looked up. The tree was hollow on the inside. “Maybe one of the builders, poisoned by the iron.”

“Sick.”

They passed the body, and two more, as they walked single file into the tree. After a short distance, metal stairs descended into the ground. Pete, in the lead, looked all around. There was nowhere else to go. She led the way down.

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SPG: July, Part 4/4

CeceliaIsaac_StPaulGrimoire

Bunnies don’t have battle magic. It might seem strange, then, that the reputation of the bunny army went before them, and that all respected their skill. But most humans don’t have battle magic either, and you see how well they fight.

So Al-Ysa was unperturbed to fight someone with battle magic. She was too professional to be disdainful, but her nose twitched at Caitlin’s arrogance. In her experience, many relied too heavily on their magic and not enough on skill.

Caitlin lifted her sickles. They glowed with livid orange magic—poison. Al-Ysa backed up, leading Caitlin away from the main battle. Caitlin followed. When Al-Ysa took a quick look over her shoulder, Caitlin lunged.

Smoke spiraled from her chest, enveloping them. Al-Ysa coughed on the smoke, hopping left and right to avoid sickle swipes she couldn’t see.

The fallen Guardian couldn’t see much better, Al-Ysa realized, and she used this. Dropping low, she listened for the sound of Caitlin’s footsteps (hard to distinguish with the sounds of battle all around). She spotted Caitlin. The human was producing more smoke, but it rose into the air faster than she could form it, leaving her booted feet visible.

Keeping low, Al-Ysa moved into position. When the toes turned away, she jumped, hitting Caitlin in the small of her back.

She stabbed with her broken sword, but the human was lucky and twisted away. A sickle scraped her plated shoulder. Magic made the gold ripple and warp but the metal stopped the corruption from reaching her.

Al-Ysa slashed at one hand; Caitlin cried out and dropped her sickle. Al-Ysa kicked it away with one powerful hind leg. Then she called on the magic she did have: nature magic. Without the Seelie king and queen, and this deep in Unseelie territory, she had to nudge and prod the magic into action. But as an animal, her connection was strong, and the tree roots rose up and ensnared Caitlin.

The woman cried out as she was bound flat on her back on the forest floor. She writhed, then tried to spit a spell at Al-Ysa. But the prison was a magical one as well, and no spell could pass the roots. Al-Ysa ripped the other sickle out of Caitlin’s hand.

“Stupid rabbit, you think this will stop me! Kill me now or I will never stop–”

She was cut off by a sound that echoed through the whole forest.

“DAKOTAH,” boomed the voice of the Unseelie Queen.

~*~

The prince scrambled to his feet. He rarely thought of himself as different from any fairy (except, of course, by his rank) but at this moment he desperately wanted wings. As it was, he called on his Hero magic, casting himself in the Divine Light.

Queen Samantha hissed like a wild animal, even though they both knew it wouldn’t help him much. Still, it was a powerfully symbolic spell.

Her staff was her power’s anchor, a tool to support her magic since fairy power was waning without a Seelie to match its Unseelie. The prince knew this and struck not for her, but for her staff.

Samantha sprang to the side. He’d shot at her with light magic, an illusion to make it seem like the Divine Light was coming for her. But she knew the ruse and sent his spell up into the sky, and swung back at him when he watched his spell crash into the air.

Lightning streaked by him, burning his shirt, heating his armor. Electricity set his hair straight up. He closed the distance between them. Samantha sent a blast of fire, but the prince snatched at the threads of the spell, bending it to his will and forming a wall of flame on one side of the clearing. He did not trust the Unseelie troops to fight fair and hopefully the fire would deter them.

He threw up his shield just in time to escape a hail of magic. He didn’t know what she’d fired at him, but his shield smoked and the air smelled rotten. With one last dash, he ran right up to the queen. He thrust his sword for her chest. Samantha blocked with her staff. The sword cut deep into the wood. The prince twisted the blade, trying to snap the staff. Instead, he found the weapon trapped. Viscous purple liquid welled out the staff like a wound, sealing his sword to it.

“Now!” the queen ordered.

The prince released his sword and moved–but he was too slow for the Unseelie demons. They seized him. The prince flailed, to no avail. His hands were bound and he was wrapped in a net in moments.

“You are not the one I want,” Samantha snarled. “Where is the Guardian?”

The prince sneered. “Freeing the true king and queen.”

Samantha looked sharply in the direction of her iron tree. “Quickly!” she called to her army. “Follow me!”

She took flight, and the host of Unseelie rose around her on housefly, beetle, and bat wings.

From her vantage in the sky, the queen enhanced her voice, loud enough to fill a stadium. She drew breath and shouted, “DAKOTAH.”

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