SPG: October, Part 4/4

CeceliaIsaac_StPaulGrimoire

 

St. Paul Grimoire is a weekly serial that updates on Mondays. Each month will cover a self-contained story told over four parts.
It will not be overly edited, and character arcs and plotlines could be adjusted with your feedback! PLEASE let me know what you think!

“And then he just… disappeared?”

Phin paced a corner of the loud cafeteria. Dakotah sat on the ground, back to a wall, knees drawn up, hair swinging in front of his face.

“Yeah.”

“He killed Michael.”

“Seems like it.”

“But he didn’t kill Ike?”

“I guess not.”

“So we can assume Other St. Paul is actually the fey world. Or part of it.”

“Sure.”

Phin rolled his eyes. “You know,” he said, sitting by Dakotah. “If you don’t Ascend, Sunil will probably stop caring about you.”

“Yeah, I’ve thought about that,” Dakotah snapped suddenly. “I’ve thought a bunch about dead Guardians and monsters attacking us and how I’m too stupid to figure anything out! I’ve also thought about fucking creep Sunil and prowlers and how I could ever go back to my real life. How can we go back?”

Phin shrugged. “I don’t know. Whatever Sunil wants, I just know it’s all about the fey world, and we’re pretty lucky that we can duck out if we wanted. Don’t you want to?”

Dakotah did not answer.

At home, he flopped onto his bed and stayed there, staring at his ceiling. Wondering what the fuck Ike wanted from him. Halloween was weeks away, and he still had no idea how to Ascend. In fact, the only thing he did know about it was that someone would be waiting to kill him at the exact moment.

The bulky emerald necklace was still in his pants pocket. He was certain it was the talisman (indigestible) that had protected him from Sunil. He didn’t think Sunil could find him unless he entered the fey world, but now that he thought about it, every time he entered Other St. Paul was kind of by accident. And the prowlers—could they sniff him out?

And if he walked away, would it really be over?

Would Ike ever forgive him?

Dakotah felt like he aged years in the weeks to Halloween. He spent every moment at the shop, but his actions, his so-called studying, was all routine and automatic. He hadn’t made a decision about the shop. He hadn’t made a decision about his life.

He’d said that to Ike once, about how excited he was to get out of high school—but how unpromising the larger world seemed.

Ike had nodded sagely. “Find something that awakens you.”

Was the shop the thing that would wake him? He had no idea. He had no idea if he even wanted it. He thought about Michael and the image made him sick to his stomach. Was he supposed to guard people from psychos like Sunil? How the fuck was he supposed to do that? He was deeply unsure he wanted that responsibility. What could he do that Michael couldn’t?

The idea of gargoyles made him wonder why Michael had protected him in the first place. The gargoyle could’ve left him and the others to run home alone. Were there other fey who would help Dakotah? If so, were the hell were they?

It was too much. Dakotah threw down his earnings reports. His keys landed on the ground on the papers. Last went the three smooth river stones.

He almost threw the necklace as well, but ended up stuffing it into his pocket again. Until Halloween, he wasn’t safe from Sunil.

~*~

“Where’s Dakotah?” Valene paced back and forth in the hallway. She clamped her fingers tightly around her phone. It was the Friday before Halloween. Pete sat on the ground, drinking from a water bottle. She and Val and Phin had met by the Central’s front doors.

Phin shook his head. He had a textbook settled on his front legs, but wasn’t looking at it. “He wasn’t here all day.”

Valene frowned. “Then what the hell are we waiting for?”

“I hoped he’d show.”

“He ran off,” Valene snapped.

“Wouldn’t you?” Phin said sharply. “We don’t know what it’s like for him, okay?”

“I wouldn’t just leave,” Valene insisted. “I mean, it’s bad, but, like, what’s the point of a Guardian? They wouldn’t need one if everything was so great.”

Pete snapped her water bottle closed. “That’s kind of a good point, Val.”

“Duh.” She gestured with the hand still holding her phone. “Dakotah always avoids shit.”

“You don’t even know him,” Phin said. His voice was rising.

“You don’t either! You guys just started hanging out. When you were in ninth grade he was SUCH a loser. Why do you think he’s changed?”

“Like you’re so great—”

“Okay!” Pete said. “Okay, that’s enough. Let’s go to Ike’s. Maybe Dakotah’s just been there all day. We’ll find him. He’s going to be Guardian, you’ll see.”

~*~

Dakotah had floated through a lot of life. He’d thought he was king of the roost, but really he’d just been floating, following other people’s suggestions. He’d thought he was the coolest, and it had turned out he’d just been one of a pack of idiots. After he’d distanced himself from his old crew, he’d just been floating some more.

Asleep. He had been asleep.

“We’ve been looking everywhere for you.”

At the sound of Phin’s voice, he sat up.

He had spent the whole day in the garden between his and Phin’s houses. The meticulously groomed landscaping job had hidden him. It was a rainy, cool October afternoon, and his hands were bunched up inside his sweatshirt.

Phin, Pete, and Val waited expectantly.

“I can’t be Guardian,” he blurted out.

Pete let out her breath with a sigh. Valene rolled her eyes, though he didn’t know what emotion that was supposed to express.

“Why not?” asked Phin.

“I thought you didn’t want me to.”

“No,” Phin said slowly, “I just pointed out that you might be safer if you didn’t. I didn’t mean…”

“Give up? Whatever, that’s what I’m doing. This whole thing is bullshit, anyway. Nobody’s told me anything useful. They’ve been too busy trying to tell me how fucking dangerous it’ll be. I’m over it. I’m done.”

He laid back onto the wet leaves. He was aware of being wet and uncomfortable, now that they’d disturbed his meditative state.

“Well…” said Phin. “Okay then. That’s it.”

Dakotah closed his eyes.

~*~

There were a few parties on Halloween night, but Dakotah didn’t do anything. He lay in his bed while his mom answered the doorbell and cooed over tiny trick-or-treaters.

His phone read 11:00. Without thinking, Dakotah got to his feet.

If he wasn’t going to be allowed back to Ike’s shop once he refused Ascension, he should probably see it one more time.

The streets were covered in fallen yellow leaves. It had drizzled for days—some years in Minnesota it snowed by Halloween, but this year they’d only gotten rain—and so the leaves gleamed in the streetlights. The damp wind could barely stir them. The streets were empty by now. Jack-o’-lanterns burned on some porches.

He crossed the gate for one final time, petting the heads of the stone cats. He didn’t feel safe this time—he supposed Sunil was right, there was nothing to protect him on this night.

He’d left his keys on the ground inside, but the door swung open to his touch.

He stopped at the counter. This was his favorite vantage point. Ike would sit in his chair, and Dakotah would lean against the counter, and they would survey the work they’d gotten done: restocking and reorganizing, pricing, cataloging, finding and packaging special requests. Dakotah realized that even if he didn’t know the business side of the shop as well as he could’ve, Ike had taught him all the other aspects of running the shop pretty well.

It looked forlorn and disorganized now (more than usual), because he hadn’t taken care of it at all, not while he’d be worrying about the Guardianship test.

More like avoiding it. He realized now he could’ve gone to see another Guardian than the Irish one. He could’ve arrived in Kindred and Cloak’s office and demanded to know more. He could’ve searched his own inventory for a way to contact Michael, or anyone.

Instead, he’d wasted time, avoiding anything that might lead him too close to actual answers.

He closed his eyes and bowed his head. “You wasted your time with me, Ike.”

He hadn’t cried when he’d been told Ike had died. He hadn’t cried at the funeral. But now something washed over him and Dakotah squeezed his eyes together but wasn’t able to stop his tears.

When he opened his eyes, he was in Other Saint Paul.

He still stood inside the shop, but now everything glowed with magic. The river stones were a soft blue. The lamp in the corner was a malevolent red. Some things didn’t glow but had changed form, becoming unnaturally large or small, given extra ears or eyes.

“I don’t want to be here,” Dakotah said to the empty room—though it did not feel empty. He was surrounded by living magic.

“Mrow?”

He looked down. At his sides stood the two cats, their fur a stony blue-grey. They trotted ahead, then paused and looked back at him.

He knew they wanted him to go to the basement, to the heart of the House.

“I’m not Ascending,” he told them. “You gotta find someone else.” Their looks said there was no one else. He stooped to pick up the three stones. “Here, keep these.”

The cats yowled suddenly, and Dakotah jumped to the side without thinking.

The window shattered all around him. Broken glass rained down. He threw his arms over his head.

“Shit!” he yelled.

A roaring, cackling, screeching jangle of noise reached him.

“We knew you’d come, Dakotah!” shouted Sunil from outside.

Dakotah scrambled around the counter, keeping his head down. Another brick sailed through the window that had so recently been liberated of its glass. It hit the lamp, smashing it to pieces.

Dakotah realized the shop had stopped glowing. Sunil had said nothing would protect him, and the psycho appeared to be right.

“Find him!” yelled Sunil. “Bring me his head. Then raze this place like Belfast!”

It was the threat to the shop that finally got Dakotah to his feet. He ran down a row of shelves, glad the lights were out.

A slithering, padding, prowling movement came through the window in hot pursuit.

He swung himself around the doorway and pounded down the stairs to the basement. Something slashed his ankle. Dakotah yelled and fell the last few steps. He landed hard on his wrist.

A lion’s roar blocked out all other sound. He whirled to find a blue-grey lion in between him and the stairs. It faced his pursuers and roared again.

The horned, scaled, toothy, feathered pursuers stopped in their mad scramble down the stairs. The lion leaped.

Dakotah ran for the treasure room.

He didn’t even need the stones for the door in the wall stood wide open.

All defenses down. He ran into the room, straight for the giant quartz heart.

Right before he got there he pulled up short.

What was he doing?

“I can’t be Guardian,” he said, perhaps to the House itself. Perhaps to Ike’s ghost, because maybe something like that did exist in the fey world. “I can’t!”

Something hit him hard in the back and he stumbled forward, into the quartz.

Suddenly he was away, away from the basement, away from the fighting. He was floating in a crystalline purple space, in near complete silence but for his labored breathing.

“Dakotah.”

The voice-with-many-voices spoke his name.

“What?” he yelled angrily. “What does everyone want from me?”

The voices were impassive. “We want you to Ascend, and take up the mantle of Guardian.”

“Why?”

“Because…we need protectors. For those who cannot defend themselves. If you become a Guardian, you vow to do whatever possible to help those who come to you for aid.”

“Like help from psycho Sunil?”

The many-voices seemed to hesitate. “You may be best suited to the task, yes.”

“Why?”

“Sunil was once a Guardian. Icarus trapped him in the fey world, limiting his powers. He grows again in strength.”

“I fucking noticed. I meant, why me.”

“Icarus chose you.”

“That’s what you told me last time.”

“Yes…because that is reason enough for us. Now you must decide if you will choose us, Dakotah.”

In the movies there would have been some defining moment to change his mind. He’d have witnessed some great injustice, some injury to his friends, and the bravery would bloom inside him and he’d know just what to do at just the right moment.

But his friends had already been hurt, and he’d seen what Sunil could do, and he didn’t feel brave, he just had to commit to something, to choose to do it.

Part of him did want it. Part of him wanted it for Ike and part of him grudgingly admitted that maybe he knew what to do and another part fiercely declared that he was a match for psycho Sunil and anything else the fey could throw at him.

Icarus chose you.

Dakotah took a steadying breath. It was good enough for the fey…why wasn’t it good enough for him?

Ike believed in him. He had to believe Ike wanted him for a reason. He had to try.

“Okay,” said Dakotah. “Okay, I’m choosing. I’m going to be a Guardian. I will protect those who come to me for aid, and nothing will stop me from Ascending. What’s the test?”

“Test?” asked the many-voices. “There is no test. You just have to formally Ascend on a day of power. Good luck, Guardian Dakotah. Now that you have Ascended, the fey world will be open to you. Use your powers responsibly.”

And then he was standing outside the quartz heart, back in the real—the human—world.

A lion roared.

At the door to the treasure room the demons of Sunil and his lions were locked in combat.

Dakotah felt furious, and with his fury swelled a power within him.

He had felt hints of this power since becoming Heir. With difficulty he had summoned the lake, or moved into Other St. Paul, or seen the true forms of the things in Ike’s shop.

Now he felt that those abilities would come as easily as breathing. He felt connected to the House, his Sanctuary. And he felt furious at the intrusion.

GET OUT! He cried with his mind.

The House seized, magic spreading from Dakotah to every corner of the property. It bucked the prowlers out, sending them spiraling through Other St. Paul, back to wherever they’d come from.

Then he mentally lunged for Sunil.

The former Guardian had made a mistake coming onto the grounds. Here Dakotah’s magic was strongest, and he used it to push Sunil to the farthest corner of the fey world. Sunil screamed in rage.

Dakotah breathed. The House breathed. They were safe.

He hadn’t gotten rid of Sunil. But when he came again, Dakotah would be ready.

~*~

“Kay, so, where’s Sunil?” asked Valene.

“I banished him to the farthest reaches,” Dakotah said, unable to describe how he knew that or how it had felt at the time. “It’s like…just sending him really far away so it’ll take a while to get back. I didn’t lock him up, or even really hurt him, like Ike did.”

“We should figure out what happened between them,” Phin said. “So we’re ready when he comes back.”

“We?” asked Dakotah.

Valene rolled her eyes. “This dude wants to have all the fun by himself. Of course we’re going to be there. That sicko killed Michael!”

Pete asked, “What made you change your mind?”

“I didn’t. I never really decided before.”

“Do you feel weird? Like magical?”

And the questions kept coming and coming.

Dakotah didn’t feel magical. He felt like he had a lot of work to do.

~*~

“Mom?”

“Yeah, D, what’s up?”

He leaned around the doorway to the kitchen, making sure she knew this wasn’t a conversation. He was just popping his head in. “I’m keeping the shop. We’re opening Monday under new hours—evenings and weekends. I’ll send you quarterly updates. That’s all.”

He walked away and left her there looking vaguely confused.

~*~

Dakotah felt a flash of guilt as he packed things up from the Belfast Sanctuary. The Irish police would be confused. They might think the killer had come back for souvenirs. They’d never match the prints to an American teen. They’d waste more time on the case.

But he couldn’t leave it here.

He stowed the mirror-painting—it didn’t speak to him this time—and anything else remotely magical. He didn’t know if he would keep it or sell it, but it belonged in the care of the Guardians.

Lastly, he found the heart of the House.

The sky-blue crystal had broken, turning black were the cracks stretched. Huge chunks had fallen to the ground, turning black or smoky grey. Sadly, Dakotah picked up a chunk and put it in his pocket. Then he paddled back home.

 

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SPG: October, Part 3/4

CeceliaIsaac_StPaulGrimoire

St. Paul Grimoire is a weekly serial that updates on Mondays. Each month will cover a self-contained story told over four parts.
It will not be overly edited, and character arcs and plotlines could be adjusted with your feedback! PLEASE let me know what you think!

When they finally made it back to the shop, Pete went home. He watched her go from the gateway, the stone cats flanking him. He could see her check to her sides and up above. Luckily, nothing had tried to kill them for several weeks, and the neighborhood was normally safe. He should’ve walked her back, but he wanted to sit in the shop for a while.

It was 2 a.m. His phone shone in the dark shop while he scanned Facebook, played Candy Crush, looked over his fake inventory, his real inventory. He walked the rows of merchandise, practicing seeing both forms of each strange object.

Eventually, his feet took him to the stairs. He walked up them slowly, almost as if he were being pulled against his will. He passed the second floor and its larger merchandise, and went on to the third.

The door to Ike’s old bedroom swung open. He had unlocked it weeks ago, but done nothing more than stand in the doorway.

He’d thought dying unexpectedly would leave all your secrets exposed. You wouldn’t have time to hide or trash anything. He thought about his own computer, his Google searches on goblins and gargoyles. His mom would be so confused.

Ike’s room wasn’t at all like that. It was meticulously clean. The bed was made, the bedside table drawer empty, the floor free of dirty clothes. A look in the closet produced rows of neat shirts—plus a few weird-looking hats, proof of the zany side Ike kept well-hidden.

He ended up shutting the door again with no more clues.

On his way out of the shop he caught sight of the emerald necklace where Pete had placed it. He picked it up. She’d been a big help that night, she deserved something in return.

Dakotah was walking in the middle of the empty st. Paul streets when he stopped. A familiar prickling on the back of his neck sent his senses roaring. He turned—and as he did, transitioned into Other St. Paul.

“There he is.”

The man who had spoken was a thirty-something Indian man. He was dressed in a Nehru jacket and his voice carried an Indian-English accent. He wore his black hair a little long, slicked back with gel.

In his left hand, he carried the severed head of a man.

No, not a man, a gargoyle.

Michael.

Dakotah’s jaw dropped.

The man went on, “Dakotah, Icarus’s Heir Apparent.” He spread his arms like he was revealing something to a large crowd, though they were alone in the grey-edged world of Other St. Paul.

Or, almost alone. Despite only being able to see the man in front of him, Dakotah still felt surrounded by a sinking, slinking dark force. It prowled on the edges of his vision. The mist-wreathed lampposts did little to improve his view.

Michael’s head swung by his hair in the man’s grasp.

“Makes me feel sort of poetic, holding this.” The man lifted the head slightly. “Know anything about Indian culture?”

Dakotah shook his head.

“Ah, public education. Nevertheless.”

Dakotah averted his gaze. “Who are you?” he demanded.

“I,” the man pronounced theatrically, “am Sunil. I’m glad I met you before you Ascend, Dakotah.” His eyes flicked over the boy. “You’re a hard one to track. What Heirs lack in power they make up for in cloaking abilities, I suppose.”

Dakotah waited. He waited for the man to say something more about the fucking head.

“Icarus surprised us all by even choosing an Heir. He always was a loner. And now that I see who he chose—well, you understand why I’m not afraid of you in the slightest, don’t you, Dakotah?”

“You don’t have to be afraid of me,” Dakotah said. “I’ve got no issues with you.”

“Well not yet,” Sunil responded smoothly. “It was Icarus who had issues with me. Would that I had been there to watch him die—that would have been the next best thing to getting my revenge. Which, by the way, I haven’t gotten. No, Icarus escaped by dying—and threw you right into my path. I’m sure he’s told you all about our relationship, hm?”

“Of course, “Dakotah lied. “But that was before I came around. If you just leave me alone…”

“I’m afraid I can’t. You know how the fey world operates. If I leave a loose end,” he held up Michael’s severed head, “suddenly I’ll be looking at a hundred loose ends. No, my only choice is to kill you before you Ascend.”

Dakotah could barely muster a snarled comeback when Sunil gestured with one hand. Out of the shadows rose the prowlers. They looked like smoke panthers, moving close to the ground, black muscles tensing. The first sprang for him.

Dakotah yelled and threw up his hands. But the prowler never connected. A bang sounded and the prowler screeched in pain as it was blown away from him. It hit the street on its side and didn’t move.

Sunil growled, suddenly looking more like an animal than a human. “A powerful talisman. You’re smarter than you look, Dakotah.”

“Leave me alone!” shouted Dakotah.

“No, I don’t think so. You’ll have to come back to the fey world—like when you Ascend. At that moment, the House, your talismans—everything will be stripped away. And that is when I will shoot you down.”

Sunil vanished in a flash of light. By the time Dakotah blinked and his vision cleared, he was back in St. Paul, shaken.

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SPG: October, Part 2/4

CeceliaIsaac_StPaulGrimoire

St. Paul Grimoire is a weekly serial that updates on Mondays. Each month will cover a self-contained story told over four parts.
It will not be overly edited, and character arcs and plotlines could be adjusted with your feedback! PLEASE let me know what you think!

It took him several tries to raise the Lake. He was starting to get the hand these Guardian tricks, of controlling his double vision, or calling up the Lake. He could also shift into Other St. Paul, though that also took several tries and in the end never got him anywhere useful.

“Whoa,” said Pete as the rippling water reached for her running shoes.

“First things first,” said Dakotah when he saw the raft. He closed his eyes and concentrated, grasping for that feeling he was getting the hang of. When he opened his eyes, he felt a surge of success at the sight of a long canoe and paddle where the raft had been.

“That’ll be way easier to steer,” he said. “I used to canoe a lot with my uncle on the reservation. Have you canoed before?”

“Like once,” she admitted. She gripped his hand as he helped her into the boat. Most Minnesotans were big on the outdoors but her family’s vacations had always been to Mexico. “My mom hates the water.”

“It’s easy,” he assured her. “Only thing is, while you’re paddling, just think about the Santuary in Ireland. Keep thinking about it the whole way.”

She nodded.

Valene probably would’ve hated gliding out on black water into an uncertain veil of mist, but Pete loved the rush. She loved watching the water ripple over her paddle. She didn’t look forward, she took in everything all all sides.

“Do you think you can swim in there?”

“You’re wack, Abe,” Dakotah said, which was a phrase he often used on her brother. “Why you wanna swim in there? There’s probably, like, monster fish.”

“Maybe,” she said. But she didn’t think so. Yes, they’d been attacked, and seen some scary things, but she’d met them all, and felt ready to face them again.

Hero Class, a voice in her mind said.

Plus, there was that necklace. And Ike. The fey world couldn’t be all bad.

“There,” said Dakotah, and barely a minute later they were bumping into the side of a room.

But Pete did not have time to wonder at the lake lapping quietly at the edges of a landlocked house. The living room they were looking at had been ransacked. No object had been left upright. Mirrors and frames lay shattered, couch stuffing ripped up, shelves cleared of their objects with a swipe.

“Fuck,” said Dakotah.

She didn’t know if that Hero Class comment was infecting her brain, but she said, “We have to look around.”

Face drawn, Dakotah nodded.

They stepped warily from the ferry. Like before, as soon as they were on dry land, the lake faded away behind them. Pete started off like a TV detective. She walked with head bent as she examined the wreckage.

The place wasn’t a shop, it was a home. They had entered through the living room. A kitchen lay beyond. The ceiling was low and close and there wasn’t an upstairs.

“I don’t see anyone,” Pete called.

He could’ve told her that. The weight of the silence was complete. He knew there wasn’t another soul in this house.

Dakotah went straight to the front door. He opened it and stepped in the Irish dawn. In the early morning light, he saw a house surrounded by a high, barred fence. Other houses on the block were the same. Unruly shrubbery blocked his view of the street, and he bet people’s eyes slid right by this house, missing it just like they did Ike’s shop.

“Dakotah…”

At the sound of Pete’s confused voice, he snapped the door shut.

She stood in the living room, in front of a huge oil painting of a woman on a horse. Dakotah frowned. Had that painting been there before?

The woman turned her head and looked right at him. “Guardian.”

“Uh, just the Heir…” he said lamely.

“What happened?” Pete jumped in. “Where’s the Irish Guardian?”

The layers of paint making up the woman’s face crumpled, and she brushed away a tear. “Caitlin was killed some time ago. She had no Heir, she was so young herself…”

The horse whickered sympathetically.

“‘Some time ago?” Dakotah repeated. “Did you call anyone? Who’s looking for her killer?”

The painted woman shook her head. “The human world has ruled her death a murder. They will search… and never find her killer, of course. This house is a crime scene, I suppose.”

“I meant, from the fey world,” Dakotah insisted. “Who’s gonna find her real killer?”

“Things do no work that way in our world, Guardian. One must look after oneself. Guardian is no easy task. There are many, many people who could have killed Caitlin.”

“But—” stuttered Pete. “But what about, like, fey police? No one’s even wondering how a Guardian was killed? I thought they had special powers!”

The mournful woman shrugged. “In the past, we had a court. A court of beauty and goodness. But now we must all fend for ourselves. It has become a cruel world.” Her voice shuddered, and broke. “I am sorry.”

“Hey, wait!” said Dakotah, but her image was fading, along with the horse and background, until it was completely blank.

He and Pete traded a look, but there wasn’t much to say after that.

 

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