SPG: August, Part 4/4

CeceliaIsaac_StPaulGrimoire

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.

“Dakotah!”

Hands on his back, his head.

“Your arm!”

“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.

“Guardian.”

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.

“Thank you.”

“Now that you have chosen the side of the Seelie court–”

“–Hold up.”

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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SPG: August, Part 3/4

CeceliaIsaac_StPaulGrimoire

Posting once a day until I get caught up!

~*~

“You’re a pretender to the throne,” Dakotah said. “There’s no balance, and it’s making the fey world unsafe. I have to take you down.”

Queen Samantha cackled a lightning-filled laugh. “Big words, Guardian! Just how will you do what Icarus could not?”

He shifted focus, tapping into the Guardian power of borrowing, which let him take on the power of fey nearby. The area was crowded with fey power but he looked only for Samantha’s…without luck. He felt her magic like a roiling mass but he couldn’t access it, couldn’t even see into its opaque depths.

“Trying a bit of borrowing?” she asked after he’d stood there for a minute like an idiot, unmoving.

He pursed his lips in response.

“Guardians cannot take on fairy power.” His heart sank as she let that thought sink in. “I suppose it’s my turn.”

The Unseelie Queen raised her arms. Light bloomed around her face–her hair was on fire, the blaze destroying the prairie and little forest. The birds took flight. The little trees stood like charred stalks. A humming filled the air around her, gathering into a fever pitch before it sparked.

Dakotah dove, throwing up his Shield as he went. Lightning burst and blazed around him, blinding him. She hit him again and again. He dashed around, throwing back whatever magic he could borrow from fey in the crowd. Their magic was frail compared to Samantha’s, pinging off of her like BB gun pellets. It was almost like she was absorbing each hit and gaining some kind of strength from it. Putting up his Shield too slowly, she got his arm. Fire caught his clothes and he patted himself down hastily, howling when he smacked at burned skin.

“Run away, Guardian, eventually you’ll be too slow!”

She’s right, he thought. All it would take would be one hit before he put up a shield and that would be that. He needed to be on the offensive.

Stupid Guardians and their stupid no battle magic. Too late he thought he should’ve just brought an iron pole and beaten his way through. It wouldn’t have felt right, he realized. Iron disturbed the fey balance and he wasn’t trying to upset it anymore than it already was.

….Wait…there was an idea.

Putting up his Shield, he felt again for the powers around him. Now that he was looking for it, he felt the imbalance, like a scale weighed down too heavily on one side. He was surprised he’d never noticed before. It was almost like the listing like a busted canoe. He could tell any spell he or anyone else did would be warped by this slippery slope of imbalance. In his case, his magic would be working against this imbalance. In Samantha’s case, her magic would gain some momentum.

But he could already sense what Samantha in her hubris had not yet noticed: too much imbalance and her magic would suffer too, for it drew from both parts–Making and Unmaking being the same, after all.

The Unseelie Queen had been raining blasts of magic at him, apparently for the amusement of her Court, because she’d been changing colors and adding little flourishes like fireworks. The next rippled toward him, sparkling like sun on a lake in summer.

He dropped his Shield.

Samantha’s mouth opened in surprise, and that was the last thing he saw before the magic hit him.

The battle magic still blazed around him with ill intent, but he felt none of the effect. He had left the fey world and was on some other plane, where there was nothing but him and the magic’s component parts. He separated them with a mental swoop of the mind, absorbed the parts he wanted and dissolved the rest, before landing back in the field in front of Queen Samantha.

He didn’t know who was more surprised, the court or their queen. She frowned and shot at him again, another wild lightning strike. He almost snatched it out of the air, separated the parts again and reappeared on the field to an even more dumbfounded Samantha.

“What are you doing?” she demanded.

He shrugged. “I think I’m Guarding the balance.”

She didn’t look like she understood, but he could feel the slightest shift back toward normal; the scales taking a step toward balance.

She rained a few more spells at him, all battle magic, all ill intent, all of the exact kind he was learning to disassemble or absorb or whatever he was doing. She paused to get her breath. He hadn’t reacted at all, but now he was ready. He started toward her, pulling in magic all around himself–not the kind they were short on, the kind Samantha had all too much off. He built and built the power until the air was tight and seizing between himself and the queen.

Her fire had run its course, leaving her head charred and bare and smoking. But as he closed the distance her look changed. Green grass sprouted all over and she smirked.

He didn’t have time to guess what she was thinking. She whipped a spell at him–a curveball. He went to catch it but it wasn’t the same type of magic. Before he could adjust his own magic he was already in motion. He blinked, and found he’d been moved to the other side of the field.

What the hell? he thought, wondering how that helped Samantha.

Then he heard his name. “Dakotah!”

Phin, Pete, and Val had emerged from the cover of the iron tree. They were now across the field from him.

Samantha tossed him a sly grin over her shoulder. Then she raised a ball of fire and hurled it toward his friends.

“NO!” Dakotah cried.

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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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