The only thing that kept Juliet from storming over to the old Henderson farm to confront Kith and all his friends was Dmitri, who caught her at the door and took the phone from her clenched hand to read the message on it. The message was short and typed in a hurry, judging by the odd typos, but it told her enough: new elves had come through from the lower world and Jesse needed help. She tried to shake Dmitri off, but he refused to let go of her arm, still looking at the message on the phone’s screen.
“Just wait a minute, Jules.” He looked up at her, then seemed to realize how tight his grip was on her arm and let go. “Sorry.”
“Jesse needs help,” she said, already reaching for her keys on the hook beside the door. “I knew I should never have let him talk me into allowing this. Give an elf an inch and they’ll take the entire fucking world.”
“Jules, wait.” He covered her hand with his own, blocking her from grabbing the keys. “We don’t have the full story. At least take a deep breath.”
She opened her mouth to snap at him—all she could think about was her baby brother in the hands of elves and it would be her fault if he got hurt—then shut it and took the requested deep breath. “I need to go help him.”
“Fine, I get that, but for one, this could be a trap and for another, this says new elves. Kith and his companions might have nothing to do with it.”
“I don’t care.” Juliet bit off each word. “They can all go back. I hope they all get eaten by a grue or something.” She tried to pull away, horrified to find she was near tears, but Dmitri just pulled her into a hug, stroking her back and dropping a kiss onto the top of her head.
“Maybe you should think about calling in Guelph.”
“No. They’ll take Jesse.”
“They’re not big, bad monsters, Jules. You work for them, after all. And you’ll be a lot safer if you go rescue Jesse with backup, which is my big concern. As much as I admire your independence, I don’t particularly want it to get you killed.”
“Not yet.” Juliet pulled away, chewing on her bottom lip as she thought, but feeling a little calmer and more in control. “But I am going to call those friends I told you about, the ones I asked to make some black iron for me. Maybe they’ll have something ready.” She pulled her phone out of her pocket and called the Rasmussen number, holding her breath until Sarah picked up. She gave Sarah the situation in as few words as she could manage and asked her to see if Onias had anything made yet.
“Two sets of manacles and a knife,” Sarah reported after a wait that seemed to last forever. “He will make you more as fast as he is able.”
“I will be in your debt for life. I’m going to come up to get what he’s made so far. Give me about an hour.” She said her goodbye and hung up, then looked at Dmitri and mustered a smile. “Want to come? I’d feel better if you did.”
“Of course.” He kissed her cheek and handed her the keys, following her out of the house.
Juliet left him charming Sarah and the girls when they arrived at the Rasmussen farm, and went down to the forge herself, ducking into the heat. Leaving Isaac and Miriam still working—though Isaac paused long enough to give her an enthusiastic wave—Onias picked up a box from one of the counters and brought it over to her. She could feel the power in the iron when she picked up one of the manacles to inspect it, a gentle throbbing against her fingertips that made her think of working in the little vegetable garden in the spring, when the sun was just starting to get hot.
“Thank you,” she said, taking the box and settling its weight comfortably in her arms.
“If you need us, call. We will stand with you,” Onias replied.
“I really appreciate that. I hope it won’t be necessary though.” Juliet smiled a little. “Call me as soon as you have more black iron for me, please.”
“We will. Stay safe, mage.”
“You as well.” Juliet nodded to them and took the box to her car, tucking it safely in behind her seat, then collected Dmitri and turned the car’s nose back towards home, casting a quick concealment spell to keep any police from pulling her over for speeding.
She felt a burst of magic as she was turning onto the road that led to their farm, strong enough that she jerked the wheel to the side and almost went into the ditch. She corrected and let her foot off the gas a little, heart pounding in her chest. “Jesse just did something,” she said in response to Dmitri’s alarmed look. “Some sort of spell.”
“Protecting himself?” Dmitri asked.
“Maybe.” She continued down the road and pulled into their driveway, trying to keep herself from shaking. “I need to go help him.” She turned the engine off and tossed Dmitri the keys, scrambling out of the car and heading for the house to get her pack.
She was halfway back to the car, her pack slung over one shoulder, when she heard the sound of hooves hitting packed gravel. She shielded her eyes against the setting sun with one hand and raised the other, ready to cast, as she saw the unicorns flying up the driveway, their riders crouched low on their backs. Just before she would have hit the first rider, she realized that one of the unicorns was carrying double and pulled the magic back into herself, hurrying forward as the unicorns skidded to a stop.
“Jules, help me.” Jesse sounded out of breath and his face was almost white in the dimming light. He had both arms wrapped around Kith, who slumped limply against him, and as Juliet yelled for Dmitri to come and help pull them from the unicorn’s back, she realized they were both streaked in dark blood.
“Where are you hurt?” she demanded, pulling up Jesse’s bloody shirt, feeling shaky with relief when she saw unmarked skin.
“Not me.” He squirmed away from her and knelt beside Kith, lying sprawled across Dmitri’s lap in the middle of the driveway. “He was hit while we were running, with an arrow.” With Dmitri’s help he turned Kith over to show Juliet the arrow jutting from the back of Kith’s bloody shirt.
“If it’s not removed, he’ll die,” the female elf said. “It’s black iron and poisoning him.”
“That and the fact that he’s got an arrow in his back,” Dmitri muttered, and raised both eyebrows at Juliet. “We can’t just let him die like this.”
Juliet made an irritated noise, resisting the urge to tell him that they could. “Get him inside.” She pointed to the elves. “You three. One of you take your unicorns down to the barn. There’s a gryphon in there, leave him alone. Whoever’s left, get in the house and clean off the big table in the dining room. We’ll put him on there.” She clapped her hands when they just stared at her. “Move!”
The darker-skinned male moved first, sliding off his unicorn’s back and motioning with his head for the other two to do the same. All four unicorns obediently followed him down to the barn, though Juliet saw their ears swivelling in response to the enraged shrieks coming from the house. The female elf led her companion inside and Juliet caught a glimpse of them scrambling out of the way of one of the Musketeers just before the door shut behind them. The sight made her laugh, though the noise was rusty, and it faded as soon as she turned back to Dmitri, Kith, and Jesse.
“Jess, grab his legs. Dmitri, shoulders. On three.” She counted and they both lifted, carrying Kith into the house.
The elves had simply swept everything, including the tablecloth, off the table in the dining room, and stood to one side, giving the Musketeers wary looks. Juliet moved Aramis out of the way with her foot and helped Dmitri and Jesse lay Kith on his belly on top of the table. Pulling a pair of scissors out of her pack, she cut Kith’s shirt up the back and pushed the two halves to either side, studying the wound and the arrow sticking out from it. Angry-looking red lines already extended from the top of the wound, halfway towards the back of Kith’s neck, and she had an idea there were more lines under the blood staining the skin of his lower back.
“You think you can handle this?” she asked Dmitri. “Not quite the same as first-aid on an animal.”
“Same basic principles apply. If he’s going to die either way, we need to at least give him a chance.”
“He won’t die,” Jesse said in a low voice. “At least not if you stop standing around talking about it and actually do something.”
Juliet turned to snap at him, but the look on his face, the obvious effort he was making not to cry, stopped her. “We’re trying, Jess. What do you need from me, Dmitri?’
“Hot water, clean cloths, sterilized knives.” He gave her half a smile. “Magic.”
“Will do. You two.” She looked at the elves. “What are your names? Just give them to me, we don’t have time for bullshit.”
“Celina,” the female elf said after a moment. “This is Corvin. How can we help?”
“Come help me carry stuff.” She took them into the kitchen and set Corvin boiling water to sterilize a couple of knives, then sent Celina back into the dining room with an armful of freshly-washed towels and as many bandages as she could find.
She locked the dragons in their playroom, ignoring their offended growls, and carried another lamp into the dining room to provide more light for Dmitri’s makeshift operating theatre. When he was ready, she stood beside him and did her best to keep the bleeding down as he cut around the shaft of the arrow, trying not to feel queasy at the sight. She’d endured her fair share of both injuries and providing first-aid, but she’d never had to actually watch someone who looked almost human have his back cut open by kitchen knives. A quick glance at Jesse showed he’d gone even whiter, but he stood firmly at the head of the table, holding Kith’s hand.
It was fully dark outside by the time Dmitri gently worked the head of the arrow loose from Kith’s flesh and pulled it out, tossing it to one side with a grimace of disgust. Out of the corner of her eye, Juliet saw both Celina and Corvin flinch back away from it. While Dmitri washed the blood off his hands, she started putting delicate stitches of magic into the wound, slowly closing it up. It was hard work and she was grateful when Jesse reached out to put a hand on her shoulder, feeding her his own power to boost her flagging strength. She was still exhausted by the end, and gladly stepped back to let Dmitri clean the blood off Kith’s skin and wrap bandages around his torso.
“Now what?” Jesse asked.
“Wait, I suppose.” Juliet looked him over critically. “You look like hell. We’ll put Kith in the spare room, then you can tell me what happened and go to bed.”
“Corvin.” Dmitri gestured him forward. “Help me with Kith.”
Juliet watched them carry Kith out of the room, noting how reluctant Jesse was to let go of him, and told Celina to clean up the mess before tugging Jesse out into the kitchen. She made them both a mug of tea using the leaves the Fae Lord had given her and listened while Jesse told her the whole story.
“We can’t trust any of them,” she said when Jesse was done. “It’s more than a little suspicious that his cousin and his mother just happened to follow him through. I have to send them back. All of them.”
“I know.” He made an obvious effort to smile. “I told Kith I’d support you this time. He protected me though, Jules. You have to at least take that into account. He got hurt helping me.”
“I doubt he did it on purpose.” She held up a hand to cut off his protest. “Go get some sleep. I’m not going to do anything tonight if I can help it.”
“Just keep it in mind. Please?”
“I will.” She kissed his forehead. “Bed. I mean it.”
“I love you. I’m sorry for causing all this trouble.” He gave her a quick, rough hug, then made his way up the stairs, exhaustion obvious in the set of his shoulders and the way he dragged his feet. It hurt Juliet’s heart a little to watch him take each step like it was the hardest thing he’d ever had to do, holding onto the railing like he was afraid he’d fall if he didn’t.
She sent Dmitri down to the barn to fetch the elf Celina told her was named Cato, gathering them in the kitchen and trying to decide what to do with them. The thought of letting them roam free around her house, especially when she and Dmitri were sleeping, made her feel cold all over. She took the manacles out of the box Onias had given her and laid them out on the kitchen table, ignoring Dmitri’s frown.
“You know what these are?” she asked. The redhaired elf—Corvin—flinched a little, but the other two only watched her warily. “I don’t trust you. I can’t afford to trust you.”
“Do you want us to subdue ourselves so you can feel better about yourself?” Celina asked dryly, then laughed. “If that’s what it will take, fine. Here are my wrists, mage. Chain me, if you like.”
“Will do.” Juliet snapped one of the manacles around her right wrist and gestured for Cato to give her his hand, closing the other manacle around his wrist when he did. The other set of manacles went one around Celina’s left wrist and one around Corvin’s. All three of them flinched when the metal touched their skin and Corvin’s face went even paler. “You can spend the night in the living room and we’ll see what the morning brings.”
“Was that really necessary?” Dmitri leaned in to murmur as they went up the stairs to the second floor.
“Completely.” Juliet went down the hall to check on Jesse, glad to find him fast asleep in bed, the lines smoothed out of his face. She stroked his hair and rejoined Dmitri in the hallway, glancing into the other spare room, where Kith still lay unconscious. “The last thing I want is to wake up with one of them holding a knife over me. At least I’m not making them sleep on the back porch.”
“Generous to a fault, my love.” Dmitri shut the bedroom door behind them, locking the Musketeers out, and stripped off his shirt. Distracted by the sight—and unable to help grinning a little at his obvious farmer’s tan—Juliet didn’t realize he’d said something else until he snapped his fingers in front of her face.
“Do that again and I’ll bite your fingers off.” She stuck her tongue out. “Sorry, what did you say?”
“Should we expect some sort of attack from these other elves?”
“Probably.” She turned to grab the shorts and T-shirt she slept in. “But hopefully not until tomorrow morning. I need my beauty sleep.”
“Well, I wasn’t going to say anything...”
“You shut up.” It felt good to laugh, and she paused in changing to step up to Dmitri and kiss him, wrapping her arms around his neck. He pressed a hand against the bare skin of her lower back and flicked the light off with the other, pushing her back towards the bed.
The attack came just past 2 in the morning, bringing Juliet up from a deep, dark sleep with her heart pounding and her head tingling with the sense of magic. She rolled out of bed and went outside onto the porch that looked over the driveway, barely seeing the approaching elves with her eyes, her head full of their foreign magic. With a gesture she brought up the wards she’d laid out years ago, shortly after they’d moved to the farm, and grinned when she heard a yelp of pain at the end of the driveway.
She went back into the room and woke Dmitri on the way past the bed, then went out into the hallway. Jesse was already stumbling out of his room, his hair stuck up in disarray, his eyes still full of sleep. He started for the spare room where Kith was but Juliet hurried down the hall to catch his arm, and they looked in together. Kith still lay sprawled on his belly where they’d left him, his back rising and falling gently with his breathing, though Juliet thought she saw his fingers dreamily twitching.
“Leave him,” Juliet said, closing the door again and sticking her finger in her mouth, then drawing a complicated symbol on the door’s wood. It glowed faintly white before sinking in, preventing the door from being opened by anyone but her. “Downstairs. The wards won’t hold them back for long.”
“They’re not going to overrun us, are they?” Jesse asked as they ran down the stairs.
“I sure as hell hope not. If I have to, I’ll call in Guelph. But hopefully I won’t have to.” She snorted. “Hardly deserve my own territory if I can’t even take on a bunch of elves.”
“Just don’t get too distracted by admiring your own balls to call for help if we need it.”
“You’re hilarious.” Juliet went into the living room to check on the other three elves and found them standing at the big window along one wall, standing as far from each other as the chains allowed. “Hey, you three. Keep your heads down and your noses clean while we’re under attack. You make one move to help your buddies, and I won’t hesitate to blast you into itty-bitty pieces.” She shifted her weight, bouncing up and down a little on her toes, so full of energy despite the late hour that she felt like she would float off. The prospect of a real fight had always both thrilled her and terrified her. “Got it?”
“We could help,” Celina said mildly. “You, I mean.”
“They aren’t our ‘buddies’,” Corvin added.
“Just sit tight.” Juliet left them there and went back into the kitchen, where Dmitri, ever-practical, was making tea. “Everything okay in here?”
“You mean, other than the fact we’re under siege by a bunch of pointy-eared assholes?” Jesse asked from his seat at the kitchen table, grinning a little. “Yeah, we’re cool.”
Juliet dropped a kiss on the top of his head on the way by and opened the back door, using her foot to keep Aramis from rushing out into the darkness. “Stay. Protect Dmitri.” She slipped out onto the back porch and started pulling power, tucking it gently inside the little area in her head where she’d always pictured her magic coming from.
The first elves approached warily but with arrogant confidence, reining their unicorns up in front of the back porch and looking her over. She could see a resemblance to Kith in the two women at the head of the little group, though it was hard to tell which one could be old enough to be his mother. Neither of them showed any gray in their long black hair, or lines on their faces.
“You have something that belongs to us,” one of them said. “Return them.”
“Sorry? Return the elf you shot in the back?” Juliet snorted. “I don’t like any of you, but I’m a little more inclined to be sympathetic to him than to you. You’re on my property and in my territory, and none of you belong here.”
“Yet we are here,” the other woman said, smiling. “You will not find it so easy to be rid of us. Return what you are hiding and we will allow you to keep your small farm here.”
“And people say Magia act like they own the world.” Juliet shook her head. “Here’s my counter-terms. I send all your asses back where they belong, and you stay there.”
She saw movement from the corner of her eye and ducked, an instant before an arrow would have gone straight through her head. It embedded itself into the wooden support of the porch instead, quivering with the force of the impact. Juliet lashed out at the archer who had tried to sneak around while she was talking, catching him full in the chest with a bolt of power and knocking him into the pool, where he floated belly-up, eyes wide and unseeing. She hit the women with another wave of power, this one not calculated to kill, driving their mounts back a few steps and almost unseating one of the other elves behind them.
While they were untangling themselves, she ducked back inside, yanking the door shut just before a volley of arrows hit the wood. Grinning at Dmitri, who was watching her with wide eyes, she grabbed one of the mugs of tea and downed most of it at once, glad for the sugar and the heat of it spreading through her chest. She directed Jesse to stand guard at the front door and stayed at the back door herself, catching and breaking the spells the elves cast when their arrows couldn’t find a way through the warded windows.
Dawn broke on a stalemate and Juliet began to feel the effects of using so much magic in such a short time. Leaving Dmitri at the back door, with instructions to yell if he needed anything, she gathered up her pack and started laying out what she needed to cast a gate-spell. She was sure she would need to cast the spell multiple times to get rid of the last of the infestation, but she hoped that the first one would be big enough to take out Kith’s mother and the other stronger elves.
She heard Jesse gasp when she was almost finished, and risked a glance up to see what was wrong. He scrambled back from the door, arms up to protect his face, as the glass in the center of the door crashed inwards, shattering into thousands of glittering shards on the kitchen floor. From under the kitchen table one of the pygymy dragons shrieked in rage. The elf with the stronger features, the one Juliet had decided must be Kith’s mother, kicked the last of the glass out of the frame and ducked through it into the kitchen, her hands already raised to cast.
Juliet slammed the gate into place using the empty frame of the window and raised her own hand to push the elf back into it. Even as the spell was leaving her fingers, the elf twisted like an eel and grabbed Jesse by his hair, hauling him up onto his feet as he yelped in pain. The spell hit them both, knocking them stumbling back against the gate. The elf fell first, almost losing her grip on Jesse, and Juliet lunged forward, desperately trying to grab his flailing hand. Their fingers brushed and she saw the panic in his eyes before the elf gave one last yank and they both tumbled through the frame back into the lower world.
The gate snapped shut.