SPG: June, Part 4/4

CeceliaIsaac_StPaulGrimoire

There wasn’t much room around the cave to set up, or do recon. They tread water below the mouth. Finally Al-Ysa decided her soldiers would go first and last, with the humans in the middle.

“We can fight,” Pete said.

“Protect the Guardian,” Al-Ysa ordered. “If we meet with trouble, get him and the Archivist out.”

It took them a minute to realize she meant Val.

“If anything happens, get Val out first,” Dakotah said. “She’s the only one without magic.”

I’m the one with all the knowledge!” Val protested. “How will these two fight without me?”

Dakotah looked at Phin. “Get Val out first.”

Val glared.

“Whatever,” said Phin with a shrug. “If shit goes down, I’m gonna be the first out that cave.”

Val giggled, but Al-Ysa interrupted. “Are we ready?”

“Lead the way,” Dakotah said. He tried to screw his head on straight. They didn’t know what they were getting into.

“No more talking,” commanded Al-Ysa, and she waved a few soldiers up the cliff.

Dakotah couldn’t tell if it was easier or harder for the bunny army to get up the cliff. The rabbits moved fast and needed smaller footholds. But the teens climbed much faster with their longer bodies.

At the cave, they filed in, pressed against the side. Al-Ysa communicated to her soldiers through quick ear flicks. Before them, the cave was a black hole.

“We need light,” Val hissed as a few bunnies hopped into the darkness.

“Lumos,” said Phin, and the humans dissolved into hushed, nervous laughter. They fell silent as Al-Ysa sent them a glare.

“Remain here,” she said. “We will clear the cave.”

The bunnies disappeared into the cave, and the humans were forced to wait. Dakotah’s eyes strained in the dark, hearing heightened. But he still couldn’t tell what was happening.

Suddenly, light bloomed. Phin started. The light bobbed unevenly as it approached–and revealed a bunny soldier with a lantern.

“Come quick,” said the soldier.

Dakotah practically stepped on the soldier’s heels to get further into the cave. Finally the tunnel came to an end and opened into a wide, low space. A bed of coals and kindling took up most of the floor space. The air was damp and reeked.

Al-Ysa hopped up. “We’ve secured the area, Guardian. This is the extent of the cave.”

“So there’s nothing here.”

“Come to this side.”

They followed Al-Ysa. The lantern bobbed forward too, revealing a wall of hooks. Off the hooks, bright stones hung off leather straps. They were all cuts and colors, from smooth agates or unpolished green and white jade. Dakotah saw blue sea glass and red limestone.

“What the fuck!” he said.

“I don’t get it,” said Pete. “What is it?”

“They’re Heart stones,” Dakotah said. “The Unseelie Queen has a collection of Sanctuary Hearts!”

It took only a moment to determine his House’s purple quartz Heart was not among the necklaces. Still, Dakotah was enraged. His hand snapped out to grab a necklace. The moment his fingers got close, a ripple of electricity shot through him, throwing him across the cave.

The girls screamed as Dakotah’s body cracked against the far wall.

There wasn’t much time to react. The electricity in the air did not fade. It gained power, making everyone’s hair stand on end. It started to take on shape, lightning forming in bright bursts. A bolt hit the nest of coals and dry kindling, sparking a fire.

Smoke formed over the flames.

Val and Phin were helping Dakotah to his feet. Pete had stopped on her way. The smoke boiled, growing faster than the flames. Deep in the clouds, lit by flashes of lightning, Pete could see a woman’s face appear. Dark eyes glared out of a moon-round face patterned like tree bark. Her hair was grass–literally, long prairie grass in shades of brown and green. Birds darted in between the blades and small trees were growing. She wore a crown of leafless branches.

Queen Samantha caught Pete’s eye and raised a hand. Lightning started to collect between her twig-like fingers. She threw the lightning at Pete.

A horde of bunny soldiers tackled Pete and the lightning sailed over them to hit the cave wall.
Sound rushed back into Pete’s ears. Al-Ysa was roaring for a retreat. A grey-faced Dakotah leaned heavily on Phin. Unseelie fairies crowded around Samantha, jeering at them.

Samantha formed another lightning ball and lobbed it through the cloud portal, this time towards where two soldiers urged Val down the tunnel. Pete launched to her feet. She caught the lightning ball, swung in a circle, and tossed it back through the portal. Samantha and her Unseelie soldiers were forced to leap out of the way.

This gave them a moment to dash down the tunnel.

Val’s heart jumped to her throat at the thought of having to jump into the black Mississippi. But before anyone reached the end of the tunnel, the Lake appeared before them. The canoe, bobbing at the border, morphed into a large motorboat. The rabbits didn’t slow: the vanguard hopped into the boat in a rapid but orderly fashion. The humans clambered on next, followed by the rest of the rabbits. Phin dropped Dakotah on a seat and turned the key.

The motorboat threw them all backward as it leaped into action. The human world faded away and for a moment they were enveloped by the absolute silence of the Lake.

“Get in formation!” Al-Ysa yelled, moments before the Unseelie court burst into the air.

There were easily a hundred of them, fairies with wild faces, demons, restless spirits on a wild hunt. Some rode horses with skeleton faces across the sky. Samantha rode a black carriage pulled by black swans. One hand held a whip, the other a long leash leading to a muzzle on the Great Salamandra, its wing patched where Pete had hit it. Coals spilled from its mouth and rained on the Unseelie fey, who did not seem to notice. Caitlin rode a beetlelike thing, laughing as she spun magic into a swirling tornado of air.

“Kill them!” yelled the Unseelie Queen, her voice catching like thunder and echoing all around them.
Caitlin released the tornado.

Val took the wheel so Phin could join the bunnies and Pete. They raised their hands to begin a spell–but Dakotah grabbed Phin’s shoulder.

“Don’t!” he said to Al-Ysa before she could command her soldiers to fire. “There’s too many! I’ll do it!”
“Dakotah!” yelled Pete as the tornado bore down.

“You don’t have fighting magic!” Phin said. His hands went up.

“We’re not fighting,” Dakotah said. Then he spoke the words to the one Guardian spell more powerful than any magic there.

The tornado hit his shield and vanished. Caitlin screamed from her perch. She knew a Guardian’s protection could not be shaken.

But Samantha was not perturbed. “You cannot hide forever, Guardian,” her thunderous voice called. Then: “Fall back!”

The Unseelie Court screeched and wailed and hollered, raining insults and abuses at the motorboat and its passengers. But none dared try the glittering shield, and the swarm of them soon turned and flew off over the Lake.

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SPG: June, Part 3/4

CeceliaIsaac_StPaulGrimoire

The bell rang and Central disgorged a flood of students onto the grounds. Dakotah was one of the first out of the building. He didn’t have anyone to talk to in the halls, where other students stood in joyful groups on the grassy hill down to the buses. It was hotter than hell, the sun blazing, matching everyone’s enthusiasm.

He wouldn’t see Peter or Val or Phin for a while. They had plans with a bunch of other friends. Phin’d invited him along but he didn’t like Phin’s other friends—just not his type.

He didn’t really know what his type was anymore though. He hadn’t had many friends after transferring to Central and he’d distanced himself from those he’d had before.

Whatever. He was busy; he had Phin, Pete and Val; he liked his alone time.

Then he made a face, remembering there was no alone time to be had—his shop was filled to the brim with refugees.

Samantha, Queen of the Unseelie Court, had begun her war. She was moving through the fey world, razing it as she went.

The fey world had already been shaken deeply by her first onslaught years ago. This was her final push.

Someone—Dakotah guessed Ike—had staved her off the first time. But someone—Dakotah guessed himself—had made Samantha feel threatened, and she’d renewed her attack.

No word from the Seelie Crown Prince, supposedly leading the resistance. But every day more arrived at the House, seeking sanctuary.

The House would hold them, inventing rooms where Dakotah had never known rooms existed. But they couldn’t hole up in there forever.

~*~

When he got to the shop he was surprised to see Pete tumble out the door to meet him.

“What the hell? I thought you were–”

“Dakotah, listen to what Al-Ysa told me!”

The commander of the bunny army hopped down the steps to stand on her hind legs beside Pete. She was about 18 inches tall and draped in a red cloak and gold mail.

“Your Hero has told me she shot the Great Salamandra out of the sky.”

Dakotah’s eyebrows arched. “You know its name.”

“More than that.” Pete’s eyes glowed. “She knows where it came from!”

“Well, now that we know about the war, we pretty much know Queen Samantha sent it,” Dakotah pointed out.

“If I may explain the significance,” Al-Ysa spoke up. “If the Unseelie Queen did send the Great Salamandra, that tells us useful information. The Great Salamandra has been missing for many years. None questioned this because we did not miss its plague upon us. However, I now suspect Samantha had it sleeping.”

“Ok, so what?”

“If she had gained the ability to put fey magic to sleep, that is also what she may have done to the Seelie King and Queen.”

Dakotah was frowning, already running through the implications in his head. “Ok, but what’s the next step?”

“I believe Salamandra’s cave may hold the answers. We could go and investigate, to learn further what kind of magic Samantha may have used, and therefore how to break the spell.”

“You know where the cave is?”

“Yes. It was built into the cliff face above Mississippi, near your current Stone Arch Bridge.”

“In Minneapolis,” Dakotah said. The bridge was right by downtown Minneapolis if he remembered correctly. He didn’t go in to Minneapolis enough to really have his bearings, but he knew some places.

“The cave reveals itself by moonlight only. If we are at the riverbank at night, we will be able to storm the lair and reveal its secrets.”

He could already see a few problems with this plan, but it was better than doing nothing, hoping the crown prince would rescue them in time. Or fighting a siege war when Samantha arrived at his doorstep.

But the first problem: “None of our parents will let us go to Minneapolis at night,” he said, almost to himself.

Pete leaned in with a big grin on her face. “Not normally, but this weekend’s Northern Spark.”

~*~

Northern Spark began at sunset and went until sunrise. The all-night art show featured glow in the dark papier-mache jellyfish, a boat lit up from the inside, dancing in front of the Guthrie Theater, a garden of ancient plants inside Mill City Museum, and food trucks all over.

Val’s head swiveled at the sight of the food trucks but Dakotah’s pace never broke. They were on a tight timeline. They were going to meet Al-Ysa and some of her best fighters at the riverbank in ten minutes. Not only that, but all of their parents expected them back at midnight. They’d had to beg and borrow for the right, even though, Dakotah thought with a grumble, he and Phin would be 18 in the winter.

The whole area was bustling and Val’s mom had had to drive slowly until they were close enough to jump out and make their own way.

They threaded their way through the crowd in a line. Some people were already drunk even though the party didn’t end until 5:26 am. Weird light-up art kept distracting him, especially the images being broadcast on the side of the museum wall. Eventually they made it down the sidewalk to the bottom of the cliff.

Every so often he caught a movement out of the corner of his eye. One of Al-Ysa’s soldiers, keeping watch, unarmored to those who couldn’t see the fey world layered over the human one. Even though they were at the bottom of the cliff there were still more people here, looking at more art or standing around talking and eating.

“We can’t jump in the river with all these people here,” Phin said. “They’ll call the cops.”

Dakotah cringed at the thought. He turned to Val. “Any invisibility magic? Do you think it’ll be enough if we just get into the fey world?”

The places where fey and human overlapped were strange, and even if no one else could see the magic it didn’t mean they might not see a bunch of teens acting weird.

“Well there’s glamour–” Val started to answer, but just then thunder rumbled. They all looked up as it began to pour. The suddenness of the rain took everyone by surprise, and the people around them ran for cover.

Al-Ysa appeared at Dakotah’s side. “Let’s go,” she said, a military command expected to be obeyed.

With a few last looks around, they scrambled into the tall grass. Dakotah almost balked at the cold water, but he was in the lead and didn’t want to show hesitation. He splashed in. Everyone else followed.

When they’d learned they’d have to get into the river to find the cave, Val had researched a drying potion and Dakotah had found a bit of it in the shop. There hadn’t been enough for everything, so Val had put it on their phones and shoes, and given the rest to Al-Ysa.

So, Dakotah’s feet were warm but his sweatshirt soaked through. He was instantly cold even though it had been 90 degrees all day.

“We need moonlight,” Al-Ysa called. The commander was doing a strong breaststroke around him, scanning the area through the rain.

Dakotah turned to his Heroes. “Can you do something?”

Control of natural elements was something Pete had heard Val mention. It was probably out of their ability but she felt ready. It was raining, the Minneapolis skyline was lit up behind them, and they’d jumped into the Mississippi on the second night of summer vacation. She felt ready for anything.

“I need my hermano,” she said, stretching her hand out to Phin. He took it. Pete took them into the fey world (more malleable than the human one). Here the rain fell in a Wonderland fashion, big drops falling slow, splashing into the Other-Mississippi. Pete tried to imagine herself as part of the storm, part of the energy. When her consciousness reached the clouds, she nudged at them, encouraging them to move along. Slowly, a hole opened, allowing the moonlight to stream over them.

“There!” cried one of Al-Ysa’s soldiers.

All eyes followed the direction of the pointed paw. Halfway up a steep stone cliff, moonlight shimmered against the magic on the mouth of a dark cave.

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SPG: June, Part 2/4

CeceliaIsaac_StPaulGrimoire

Val obeyed reluctantly. Part of her was exasperated, the other part filling with slow-moving adrenaline, a weird feeling she now associated with the fey. A combo of adrenaline and dread.

In her head, she went through the ways they might use magic to catch a rabbit. She wasn’t at all concerned about not having magic herself. It seemed unwieldy for something supposedly helpful.

Unfortunately, Pete and Phin had really only mastered things that came from their own senses. Creating nets out of thin air wasn’t in their repertoire.

She made it to the back gate. It was wooden and grass had grown deep around it, preventing it from actually being used. Vines grew over the warped wood. The gate just had the air of age, though. Like everything else in the Sanctuary it bowed only to Dakotah’s powers.

“Val!” called Phin.

She didn’t react in time–the rabbit sprinted by her, panic in its leaping feet. Phin blundered by next, pushing aside overgrown bushes and stumbling on the uneven ground.

She followed, and they dove past blooming poppies and peonies (certainly Dakotah did not tend the garden; it bloomed riotously nonetheless). The lilac bushes, flowerless now, created a shady tunnel. She pursued him down the tunnel.

Val almost crashed into Phin when he drew up on the far side of the tunnel.

“Hey!” she complained.

“Shit,” said Phin.

She looked around him.

“Shit,” said Val. They’d come out the short tunnel into another part of the garden–presumably. The shop was no longer in sight; the sky was a cool, grey color. Val whipped around. The tunnel was gone, lilac bushes blocking the way. In front of them was a swamp. The ground was soggy at their feet, slowly eaten up by brackish water. Mangroves grew farther on, and the sounds of life were everywhere. Monkeys screeched just out of sight, insects buzzed, fish splashed. The bright heat of early June in Minnesota was replaced by a muggy humidity.

There was that feeling again–the mix of adrenaline and fear. The House was built to protect people, but it was still a fey thing, and if they fell in or were eaten by something strange here, who knew what would happen?

Before she had time to voice her concerns, Phin pointed. “There–!”

Then he was off again, scrambling onto the solid ground provided by tree roots, after the damn rabbit. Val, hindered by the grimoire, stumbled along behind him. She cast looks into the murky water, wondering if crocodiles were the worst of their worries.

“Through here!” called Phin, aware he was leaving her behind, as he passed through a curtain of hanging moss. He gasped when he saw the other side: a great grassland, a blazing sun filtering through acacia trees, the air roiling with a coming rainstorm.

Val entered the savanna a moment later with a small gasp. Phin was glad she’d entered the same world as him, but his eyes were fixed on the grasses. He’d seen that fucking bunny look at him with more understanding than an animal should have, seen it plot its way through the swamp with intelligence, not panic.

There–a path through the grasses, low. He dove, grass taller than his body when he crawled.

He drew up from the grass into an artic tundra.

“Ah!” Val shouted as the bitter wind ripped into them.

“Fuck,” said Phin. He wrapped his arms around himself. “I’m Mexican, I should not be here!”

Val laughed. He made the same joke every time he was cold.

He turned back to her.

“I hate you!” she said. “It’s a fucking bunny!”

“Then how did it get into the Sanctuary grounds?” he shouted over the wind.

This made her pause. “Because it’s a harmless bunny?” But she didn’t sound sure.

“Come on!” he yelled. She grabbed his arm and he put up a hand to shield his eyes and lead them forward.

Phin’s eyes closed to slits to block out the wind, and when he blinked they were in a deep forest of tall, tall trees. The ground was filled with pine needles and the air was cool and still. Val looked up, the height of the trees like a cathedral.

When she brought her head down, she saw the bunnies. They ranged around her and Phin, propped on their back legs and wearing armor. Shiny gold breastplates covered bloodred tunics. Their helmets included chainmail over their ears, and swords hung at every waist.

Phin took a slow breath.

One bunny hopped forward. “Speak your names!” she commanded.

Phin froze, wondering what a Hero should do. But Val clutched his arm and said, “Guardian, protect us!”

The air rippled, cracked, and then Dakotah and Pete stood in the forest with them. Frowning, Dakotah examined the forest, but Pete didn’t wait. Her body glowed lightly with the beginning of the Divine Light, her hands raised and ready for a fight.

Dakotah brought his gaze to the head rabbit. “Who the fuck are you?”

The bunny’s ears twitched. “I am Al-Ysa, commander of the bunny army.”

Dakotah looked back at Phin, but Phin was too nervous to revel.

“I beg your forgiveness, Guardian. We are here to ask for sanctuary, but…we had to be sure Ike’s successor was trustworthy.”

“And did you figure it out?” Dakotah asked caustically. “How many days were you going to trespass?”

Al-Ysa cringed. “Forgive me, Guardian. Dark times.”

“How many of you are there?” he asked with a look around the circle.

“We are one hundred, sir.”

“I don’t see one hundred.”

“Forgive me.” Al-Ysa tugged the edge of her breastplate. “My contingent numbers forty-five. We bring with us one hundred refugees.”

SPG: June, Part 1/4

CeceliaIsaac_StPaulGrimoire

“I think the bunnies are watching us.”

Dakotah, Pete, and Val all looked up from what they were doing. Phin was peering intently through the blinds into the yard, standing at a slight angle as if worried about sniper attacks.

“Dude…what?” asked Dakotah.

Phin let the blinds drop. “I’m serious. There’s a whole bunny army out there. Un conejito ejercito. I think they’re watching us.”

“Why…would they be watching us?” Pete said with arched brows.

Phin shrugged. “You said we aren’t safe. Maybe they’re waiting for their moment. You know, a bunch of bunnies could be more dangerous than just one giant salamander.”

“Stop saying bunnies!” Val giggled. “Is this how you get when there’s no homework?”

School was out in two weeks, and with all their AP tests done at the end of May, Phin and Pete were pretty much home free.

Dakotah and Val were the opposite. She had to do super well on two final projects to get her grades up. He had had to go around to each of his teachers and figure out a way to avoid summer school. Unlike last year though, his teachers were more helpful and less resigned. Putting in more effort during the school year had definitely helped sway some opinions of him.

Ike would’ve been happy. He’d always had a lecture for Dakotah on the importance of school. Dakotah still didn’t give a shit about school but at least it’d be out of his hair for three months, and then he’d be a senior. He did not have time for summer school this year. He had big plans for marketing the shop.

“Besides, the salamander was like three weeks ago,” Pete pointed out.

They’d spent a ton of time trying to figure out the salamander—what its real name was, where it had come from, if it had been sent by someone, if it had died, why it tried to attack them—with no luck. Dakotah had put a strict ban on using the Lake (the only thing he hadn’t tried was going back on it and seeing what happened). Beyond that, he’d sent a note to the Seelie prince, a note that had gone unanswered.

“Three ominous weeks,” responded Phin, with another look out the window.

Val cracked up. “Well, I’m done with this,” she said, dropping her pencil. “Let’s go outside and practice sensing. Maybe you can tell how big the bunny army is.”

“Cool. You guys coming?”

Dakotah and Pete shook their heads.

He said, “I have to finish this.”

She said, “I have to read about salamanders on Wikipedia.”

They all laughed and Phin and Val went out to the backyard.

“Apparently if you coat yourself in salamander blood it makes you immune to fire,” Pete said. “We should remember that.”

Dakotah grimaced. “That’s some Walking Dead shit.”

“Ooh!” said Pete.

“What?” He looked up from his homework.

“There was a Power Rangers salamander monster called Saliguana! That’s what we should call our salamander!”

“Oh Jesus,” said Dakotah, looking back to his homework. “We can’t, it’s probably copyrighted.”

She giggled.

“And stop reading me the Wikipedia page. I read that before the grimoire.”

There hadn’t been a salamander grimoire so they’d been having Val read random tomes, like reptiles (which included amphibians; grimoires weren’t very scientific), winged beasts, and fire. The Fire Grimoire had been surprisingly long.

“Maybe I’d better be practicing Hero stuff with Phin,” Pete wondered. “In case we have to fight.”

Dakotah made a face. “Nobody’s fighting anyone.”

She arched her eyebrows. He sighed.

“Ok, just a little more researching. If we can’t find anything today, we’ll just…”

But he couldn’t finish the sentence, because he didn’t know what they’d do.

“Close your eyes,” Val instructed. She held the heavy grimoire in one hand, referencing it as she told Phin what to do. Ever since Dakotah had first inherited his shop, they’d all been experimenting with the magic they came into contact with. Now she was organizing, setting up mini lessons and trying to teach things to Phin and Pete in a logical way. Unfortunately, she didn’t have any magic herself, but the magic of Heroes was way more clear-cut than Guardian magic, so they could figure it out together.

“Picture the backyard in your mind. No, wait, look at the area three feet around you, then close your eyes and picture that.”

“Ok.”

“Ok, then, like fill it with color?”

Phin opened his eyes. “Was that a question?”

“I think you have to picture it like, really, really clearly, then you infuse it with magic and you can start separating things—even how many blades of grass there are.”

“Ok,” said Phin. “I already know the shop really well, so I’m gonna sense for bunnies.”

“Dude, you are so weird–”

But Phin was already trying. His eyes were closed and he frowned slightly as he concentrated.

“Got one,” he said after a moment. Without opening his eyes, he started to walk forward. “You circle around the back side of the fence.”

“What? Why?”

“We’re gonna trap it.”

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