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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