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.”

Sign up for my newsletter and get a free short story!

SPG: July, Part 3/4

CeceliaIsaac_StPaulGrimoire

The battle raged around Commander Al-Ysa. She’d been in dire situations before, but this fight had a tenor unlike any she’d experienced. Her side, the rabbit army and the Seelie fey, fought with desperation. The Unseelie were wickedly gleeful. They had the greater numbers but fought without any coordination in a great melee. Sometimes they helped each other, other times they cared not where their blows landed.

She and Nel, the Seelie prince’s head guard (and now general) had planned for this. Soldiers worked in teams to separate and take down Unseelie fey in small groups. She raced between the chaos, calling orders and fighting when necessary.

“Al-Ysa!”

The voice cracked across the battle and she whirled to see Caitlin, the Unseelie Queen’s right hand woman. A human, Caitlin had painted her face with long black streaks. The black ran into her hair, slicking it back. Her outfit was fey, black as well and decorated in sprays of feathers that almost disguised the blackened chain mail underneath. She looked crow-like, holding two sickles like talons.

Al-Ysa’s nostrils flared. She turned the point of her short sword toward Caitlin.

“You’ve chosen the wrong side, rabbit!” Caitlin called.

The bunny commander was too much of a professional to respond. She leapt for Caitlin. The two clashed. Caitlin’s sickles scraped her blade. Al-Ysa disengaged and thrust for a weak point in Caitlin’s armor. Caitlin blocked, then jumped out of the way as an oily-black Unseelie-rhinoceros fey charged through them. Al-Ysa jumped forward again, using the distraction. She slid between Caitlin’s legs and before the human could turn around, sliced her throat.

Al-Ysa’s blade snapped on the side of Caitlin’s neck. The reverberation went up her arm and she took a step back, clasping a hilt and broken blade.

Caitlin tipped her head back and barked a laugh. “It will take more than that!” The blue-black protection magic shone at her neck. “Come to fight the Unseelie without a shred of magic, Al-Ysa?”

“You dare speak that way to me, when all your powers are stolen?” the commander cried.

The former Guardian’s mouth opened, but not to respond. Between her teeth formed a swirling ball of magic. She thrust her chin at Al-Ysa, and the ball sailed toward the bunny.

She hopped out of the way just in time, for the ball hit the ground and exploded. Debris from the forest floor showered them both. Al-Ysa’s ears twitched, trying to regain her hearing.

“I’ve upgraded!” Caitlin shouted.

~*~

The Seelie prince dodged Unseelie whenever he could. He had one objective: to find the devil-queen. He preferred to do that on his terms, not captured and thrown at her feet. The Unseelie didn’t recognize him, or if they did, they were having too much fun battling to pursue him.

If he could just get to Samantha unscathed, he felt certain he could distract her. She was Unseelie at heart, surely she’d want to gloat.

Soon he was so far into the forest now that Seelie troops had not penetrated this far. Unseelie swooped at him at every turn until he was hemmed in on all sides.

The prince, like all humans in a fey court, had magic only as a gift from the fairies. With the Seelie Queen and King captured, he was not at full power. He threw his magical reserves into a shield and shouted, “Touch me not, dark ones! I come for Samantha!”

Giggling maniacally, they stepped back. A great mass of them followed him as he continued, leering and shouting curses. They knew watching their queen take on the prince would be a show to see.

With this wild entourage he made it to Samantha. The Unseelie Queen stood waiting in front of a grove of skinny trees, their bark black.

“Devil-queen!” the prince called. “You have upset the balance of the fey world and taken a place in fairy not meant for you! I challenge you to a duel.”

He was used to her terrifying visage, having seen it more than once in his youth and now during the protracted war. For the prince, the fight had never ended.

Samantha laughed, and all the Unseelie laughed in sharp echoes. Her teeth were pointed. “Little prince, you are not the human I am concerned with. You brought the Guardian from his Sanctuary, away from the only power strong enough to resist me. Where is Dakotah?”

“Fairy will face fairy!” the prince said.

Samantha’s eyes blazed. “YOU are not fairy, changeling! You are foolish enough to challenge me? The only reason you stand before me is because I could not be bothered to stamp you out earlier.”

“If you are not afraid, then fight!” With these words, the prince blasted magic toward the queen.

In one swift movement, Samantha snatched up the staff at her side. A wave of the staff caught the magic and sent it back toward the prince. He was not quick enough, and the blast blew him off his feet.

“Still dare to face me, prince?” she crowed.

Sign up for my newsletter and get a free short story!

SPG: July, Part 2/4

CeceliaIsaac_StPaulGrimoire

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.”

“What iron?”

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.”

Sign up for my newsletter and get a free short story!

SPG: July, Part 1/4

CeceliaIsaac_StPaulGrimoire

Dakotah spent the last two weeks of June under a haze. The air seemed to be humming with a coming storm. Once his mom surprised him and he jumped practically a foot. He reduced the shop’s hours because he didn’t want too many strangers coming through. Finally he closed it entirely.

He didn’t need the money; the basement held more money than he could ever spend. But it meant the days were filled with nothing but scattered research into fairies and then just…waiting.

One day his accountant stopped answering the phone. He went by Morticia’s but the lights were dark. The elven village by the train tracks was just as deserted. He dared not stay long in these places, for fear the Unseelie Queen would catch him in the fey world. He didn’t think she’d attack him in the human world, it wouldn’t be to her advantage. If they were going to fight anywhere, he hoped it would be in Other St. Paul. The places where the fey and human worlds overlapped might give him an edge.

But he didn’t really know if they were going to fight or not. He’d been doing his job as a Guardian, taking in refugees. Should he seek out Samantha? Was it suicide to face a fairy queen? He didn’t know enough about the fey world to tell if their powers were evenly matched.

One evening he sat on the back porch when a rocket of energy went through the Sanctuary. He shot to his feet, granting access as he did. He ran through the shop, getting to the front in time to see the Seelie Prince stumble through his door.

Maybe thirty soldiers crowded in behind the prince. His friends, the bunny army, and the refugees ranged behind him. The shop was packed.

The prince raised a head weakly. He was supported by two soldiers, a bloody slash across his chest.

“You’re alive,” said Dakotah.

A slight grin crossed the prince’s face. It faded quickly. “I need medical attention. Then we must speak.”

Al-Ysa’s organization had already set aside an area to be used as a hospital bay. The fairy warriors and prince were tended to there. In an hour, despite protests from the fey healers, the prince called for Dakotah. For privacy, Dakotah led him to Ike’s old room.

“Guardian,” the prince said as he settled on the edge of the bed. “I apologize. I had no way to return your missives. Thank you for sending them.”

Dakotah nodded once. Gone was the cocky rebel leader he’d met a few months ago. The prince was a drawn boy with serious eyes, his face pinched with pain.

“I come to you for…help. Your kind are supposed to remain neutral, I know.”

Dakotah frowned. He hadn’t realized that. All year he’d been taking sides, fighting off fey he thought acted wrongly. All this time he was supposed to be neutral? When they’d said he was “too involved” he didn’t realize that meant “biased”. What would Ike think?

“What do you need?”

“I found them. My parents. I found them.”

“Where?”

“Deep in the fey world, in the devil-queen’s forest.”

“We can help.”

Dakotah and the prince looked up in surprise. Pete, Phin, and Val stood in the doorway.

Pete had spoken, of course. Dakotah smiled at her.

She returned the look. “Dakotah can go back to being neutral after we get rid of Samantha.”

“Seriously,” agreed Val. “She has to go.”

“What do we need to do?” asked Phin.

“The Seelie King and Queen are in a cage made of iron. It can only be opened by a human. I cannot–as a changeling I have been..away…too long. We must distract the Unseelie Queen long enough to free them. Once freed, I believe their power will be enough to take on the devil-queen. Last time they were defeated by Samantha and Sunil’s combined forces.”

“That whole plan rests on the king and queen being strong enough to defeat Samantha,” Phin said. “They’ve been captured for a year. What if they’re weak?”

“The fey draw their power from the natural world,” the prince explained. “The forest has suffered from their absence. It will greet them with abundance. All our powers will be rejuvenated. Our soldiers will engage the Unseelie army. I will distract Samantha. You will unlock the cage.”

“And what happened…” Dakotah gestured to the prince’s injuries.

He made a face. “Ambushed by Unseelie soldiers. Our army was greatly decimated, both by death and desertion. A final call to action will hopefully rally others to our side.”

His word “hopefully” hung in the air.

~*~

“Read to me everything we know about the Unseelie,” Dakotah said. They were undergoing the awkward process of being fitted for armor. Awkward, because he felt ridiculous wearing armor at all, and also because everything was three sizes too small. Between the bunnies and the fairies there wasn’t much to fit a human. They had pillaged the shop for everything that could help them and were using small magic where they could.

“We’ve got ten minutes,” Phin said to Pete. They were due at a family Fourth of July party.

Val started to read her grimoire. “Unseelie is the power of unmaking. It is in this that their power flows strongest.” She looked up. “How can we use that? Samantha’s trying to make an empire, it’s against her powers.”

Dakotah shrugged. “Not really making any difference, is it? She’s killin’ it out there.”

“Seriously,” Pete said. With the arrival of the crown prince, they’d learned the full extent of the state of fairyland. It wasn’t just Dakotah’s little pocket being affected.

He felt like he’d missed some important part of being a Guardian. Yes, his shop was stuffed full of refugees who thanked him daily, and yes, they had a battle plan, but he didn’t feel in control of the situation. He hadn’t felt in control for a year but at least he’d been feeling better about it. There were wide gaps in his knowledge and every time he did something with the fey he found more gaps. Here they were, going into a war, without a complete understanding of how Hero magic worked! He knew his magic a little better, but only because it felt like there was so little of it. And he didn’t struggle to learn his skills like Phin and Pete. He been able to make a Guardian shield the first time Val had told him about it, but he couldn’t shield the whole army. Even though he and his friends weren’t going to fight themselves, it made him nervous.

And what would Ike think? How had he banished Sunil the first time? Had he fought?

With a sign, Dakotah cast off wondering if Ike would approve. There wasn’t any way to say. All he could do was meet this situation as best he could. But he still wished the old man were around to help.

Sign up for my newsletter and get a free short story!