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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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Interlude: Wacky posting schedule!

Got a little behind with my St. Paul Grimoire posts! But everything is up to date now. Read the next installment here.

Oddly, it was the editing that was taking me a while to do, which is weird because I don’t edit the SPG installments very heavily…but another project has been eating up most of my editing time: my second novel!

That’s right, DANA will be out by the end of this year. I already have the cover and it is another beautiful one 🙂 I’m keeping it under wraps…unless you are a newsletter subscriber, in which case you’ll soon get to see it before anyone else!

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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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SPG: May, Part 4/4

CeceliaIsaac_StPaulGrimoire

“Yeah, let’s head back.”

He shook his head and she laughed.

Dakotah raised the Lake and they managed to clamber back into the canoe, which had reappeared at the boundary between the icy Minnesota lake and the mysterious fey one. They picked up paddles and set off.

Dakotah’s soaked clothes were cold, but the fey air wasn’t, which helped a little. Pete shivered as she paddled. He picked up his pace so the exercise would warm them both.

“I should join rowing,” said Pete.

“You even allowed to do another sport?”

“I need a time turner,” she said, then fell silent at the reference to their previous conversation, when she’d wanted to forget everything they’d been through together.

“I’m gonna find you something really cool in the fey world,” said Dakotah. “Somethin’ to say thanks.”

“No,” she said, turning around to face him. “I’m going to find it. And not just one thing, a bunch of them.” She turned back around. “And while I’m at it, I’m gonna do the same in the rest of the world.”

“Fucking wisewoman.”

“I try.”

They paddled on. After five more minutes Pete stopped paddling and pointed.

“What’s that?”

He squinted into the gloomy horizon. “Home?”

But it didn’t look right. Normally their destination came up relatively quickly, out of the foggy air. This thing in the distance was a black shape in the sky, something that really made Dakotah realize the vastness of the lake. And it was moving towards them, much faster than he liked.

“Turn,” Dakotah ordered. Pete obeyed immediately. They went sideways (and arbitrary direction on the Lake, but at least not right toward the…thing). It was no use. Within minutes the shape was close enough to discern.

“What…is it?” asked Pete.

“A salamander?”

That was his closest guess and he wasn’t too far off the mark. A winged lizard-like animal flew toward the canoe. It had moist-looking skin patterned in black and orange, and a wide, blunt mouth. Its tail was short, looking as if half of it had been bitten off. As it approached, it opened its mouth and out fell burning coals. They hit the water of the Lake and sizzled. It banked, swinging its body right for the canoe, revealing back feet tipped in claws.

“Holy shit!” said Dakotah.

The claws came right for him and he threw himself the floor of the canoe.

The salamander screeched in pain as it swooped away. Burning coals rained onto the canoe.

Dakotah looked up to see Pete standing, wielding a paddle.

“Don’t stand in a canoe!” he yelled over another screech. He plucked coals from the floor and dropped them into the Lake.

“Well, how do I fight it?” Pete didn’t even look at him. The salamander was circling back.

“Heroes can summon a weapon for the task at hand.”

“What, like a sword?”

“No, a gun, you nerd!”

Pete actually laughed. “Duck!” she yelled. He did, but he didn’t see what she did because he was blinded as she activated the Divine Light. The Light filled her and spilled outward. Her body moved, the canoe rocked wildly, and he grabbed her legs to steady her.

The salamander wailed its annoyance. He covered his head as more coals bounced down.

“Shit.” Dakotah looked up and saw the paddle she’d been wielding had cracked in two.

“Its tail got me across the chest–“

She stopped talking as they both saw the same thing. Her sweater was disintegrating.

“Take it off!” Dakotah yelled. She sat and pulled the sweater off, and her shirt too. In a sports bra, they both stared at her stomach for a moment.

“It’s fine, I don’t feel anything,” she said. “Its skin is like acid.”

A cry in the distance reminded them of the danger.

“We ain’t gonna fight something like that,” Dakotah said. “We need to get outta here.”

“Relax,” said Pete. She closed her eyes, and in a moment an 81mm mortar materialized in the canoe.

“What the fuck?” asked Dakotah.

“I play Halo,” Pete answered.

“You a baller, Abe.”

She loaded the mortar and aimed it. “Duh. Your powers are weird. Can you breath coals if it’s near?”

“I don’t wanna.”

She didn’t answer. Ratcheting up her Divine Light, she waited for the salamander. When it came in close, she launched. The canoe was an unsteady launch point, but Dakotah watched in awe as the shot caught the salamander in its left wing. It cried in pain, the sound reverberating across the water. Then it hit the Lake with a crash.

“You paddle!” said Pete. “I’ll see if it surfaces!”

He obeyed without question.

~*~

They dragged themselves out of the canoe and into her bedroom. Dakotah didn’t bother to check the canoe for damage just yet. He let the Lake fade away until it was just the two of them, both soaking wet and burned, adrenaline racing through them.

Pete put her fingers to her ears. They probably rang just as loudly as his.

He was about to speak when the door opened and Pete’s mom stepped in. “Did you see the rain? It’s pouring like–”

She stopped when she saw them.

Dakotah saw the situation like she saw it and blushed.

“Ok, thanks for your help, Pete. See you.”

He scurried out the door and back home.

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