The ball of fire grew and grew. His friends put up their hands as meager protection. Dakotah, too far away to do anything, felt stricken, paralyzed.
But the fireball never made it to its destination. Light came suddenly from all directions, brighter than any Divine Light.
No words were spoken and yet he was certain this was the thing that had spoken to him a year ago, when he’d been deciding whether or not to be Guardian. The Voice-with-many-voices, the Seelie power.
Gone for so long from the fey world, Dakotah felt the universe rise up and greet the power. The balance shifted violently into place, sending everyone stumbling. Samantha’s fireball collapsed in on itself, and then the light sprang for the Unseelie Queen.
“–you damned hypocrite,” Samantha cursed. That was all she was able to get out before the light engulfed her.
Dakotah, with his new sensitivity to magic, clapped his hands over his ears. They popped anyway, and he felt the horrible sensation of Samantha being Unmade, component parts pulled apart and returned to the Great Other.
When the pressure faded and the roaring lessened, he heard the voice with many voices order, “Run.”
The Unseelie Court scattered, whooping and howling their terror.
Hands on his back, his head.
“Are you ok?”
“Get him up slow!”
His friends hauled him to his feet. He lowered his hands from his ears and blinked his eyes open.
The Unseelie Court had fled but now the field was filled with fey–the bunny army and Seelie warriors. At the end of field two figures stood, ringed in blazing light.
The Seelie prince, freed from his bonds, strode forward. He crossed the distance as fast as propriety allowed, and bowed deeply before his parents.
“You have served us well,” said the voice-with-many-voices.
The prince bowed again and took his place at the right side of the king and queen.
As Dakotah and the others approached, the light faded a bit. No longer blinded, he could make out the queen and king. They were ethereally beautiful, dark-skinned with hair of black feathers, velvet antlers crowning each. Their faces were as moon-shaped as Samantha’s, bodies solid as tree trunks and limbs like branches. He could barely tell them apart, but it did not matter for they spoke with many voices.
“Heroes.” They addressed Phin and Pete. “You have freed us from the usurper. The Court owes each of you one favor.”
Val sucked in her breath in surprise, leading Dakotah to guess this was not to be taken lightly.
“You may accept the favor now, if you join us in Underhill…” Either the king or queen lifted an arm to gesture into the woods.
Pete and Phin shared a look. Before anything else could be said, thought, Val grabbed both their arms.
“We’ll wait on that, thanks.”
Her voice was sharp.
Dakotah thought the voice-with-many-voices carried a lilt of laughter when it responded, “Archivist. We are aware nothing could have been accomplished without your knowledge. We have a gift for you. You may approach.”
Dakotah frowned as Val approached with visible hesitation. What was she so worried about?
When she was close enough, the king or queen extended a hand and laid gentle fingers on Val’s forehead. Barely a breath passed, and they broke apart. Val took a step back.
“You now have the knowledge of the fairy language.”
“Thank you,” said Val. “I am honored.” She bobbed forward in a short bow.
Then she and Pete and Phin stepped back a couple steps, and Dakotah felt the whole weight of the Seelie couple’s attention fall on him.
For the four millionth time, he wished Ike were around, this time to tell him how to act in front of royalty.
“For a year you have protected the fey from the chaos that befell our world. You have carried the weight borne by Icarus, never faltering despite the toll.”
Not really accurate, thought Dakotah ruefully. But he’d done the best he could. He was completely at peace with that. He was glad the Seelie could see that, and that they had honored his friends.
“Now that you have chosen the side of the Seelie court–”
The voice stopped, surprised by his interruption.
“I haven’t chosen your side,” Dakotah said. “I’m a Guardian. I’m neutral.”
The atmosphere changed. He felt it shift like he’d felt the Balance change. The queen and king weren’t pleased.
“Samantha was ruining the Balance. That’s the only reason I got involved in your mess.”
“Your interests align with the Court–”
As they spoke, he felt pressure gather. Not just heavy air, but a magical pressure, testing his will.
He bucked it off with a mental shove, strong enough to clear the air–and send a clear message. It was frightening to face off with a pair who had just dissolved a fairy into Nothing. But Dakotah’s power was of a different sort. He was a pillar in a shifting magic world.
“I will defend the Balance. From ANY influence.”
His words rang out.
“Very well,” said the voice-with-many-voices after a pause. “We accept your ruling. You are truly Icarus’s heir.”
“D, are you all right?” gasped his mom.
“I fell off Phin’s bike,” Dakotah lied. But the lightning marks on his arm looked like they could be wicked asphalt burn, so the lie might hold.
“Shit, let me get something for that.”
He sat in the kitchen while she went to the bathroom medicine cabinet. Leaning back in his chair, he let the summer sunlight warm him up. Already the world felt fresher. The balance of magic was an everpresent feeling. It calmed him, and he hadn’t even realized he’d been off-kilter.
Well, obviously he’d realized it a little, running around like a crazy person putting out one magical fey fire after another. But now he could breathe a little easier.
And tomorrow he’d be back at his shop, ready for whatever else came his way.
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