- Issue #61 – Higher Education
- Issue #62 – Poor Relations
- Issue #63 – Storm Cage
- Issue #64 – Stormfall
- Issue #65: Fond Farewell
- Issue #66 – City by the Lake
- Issue #67 – Emet
- Descendants Special #6 – Things to Come
- Issue #68 – One Week
- Issue #69 – Crashers
- Descendants Giant-sized #2 – After-Party
- Issue #70: Gold and Glory
- Issue #71: Yellow
- CynQuest: Yellow Fallout
- Issue #72: Turmoil Returns
- Descendants Annual #6
Issue #70: Gold and Glory
CynQuest Part 1
The warm rays of the sun coming through the window and caressing her sensitive skin were all it took to awaken Princess Cynthia Brant d’Fac’smil.
It was the way she usually woke up, but it wasn’t pleasant. If she wasn’t such a light sleeper, she imagined she might wake up burnt to a cinder. There was the option of drawing the thick velvet drapes, but the princess liked her fresh air enough to suffer a few minutes every morning for it.
Drawing the duvet she’d kicked off in the night up around her shoulders to protect her from more of the dread day-star’s rays, she got out of bed and crossed her bedchamber to a spot that was out of direct sunlight before tossing the thick cover back onto the bed.
In doing so, she got a good look at herself in her vanity mirror. Sleeping always returned her to her true form, and these morning incidentals were usually the only time she got a chance to see herself as she truly was. The white hair and violet eyes were features she usually kept constant, but her skin was usually the first thing she changed. Most people would call it pale, or white, but it wasn’t. It went beyond that; lacking any pigment at all. Her veins showed through it if one looked closely enough.
The girl in the mirror was also wearing a cream colored, silk shift; the only clothing she bothered putting on most days and even that only because otherwise she would be naked when she fell asleep. Aside from the shift, she was also wearing a medallion on a gold chain.
As princess, she owned many pieces of jewelry more extravagant than the gold disc, the diameter of a plum with a pair of feathered wings etch on the front. But this was no mere bit of frippery; it was her birthright, the source of her powers, and the most precious object in her possession: the Amulet d’Fac’smil.
With hardly a thought, she reached up and ran her thumb around the amulet’s edge, invoking the power within it.. There was no glow to tell her that it was working like so many other Devices in the Kingdom of May, but it felt to her as if a golden light was suffusing her, settling into every muscle, tendon and bone.
Once she felt that power, she put it to work remaking herself. First, her attention fell to her skin. Once she would have just pinkened it enough to stand up to the sun, but this morning, she turned it a rich, nut-brown to match her mother’s. Her eyes, she let be, but she reshaped her long and unruly hair into a short style that hung just above her shoulders with no bangs.
Then she focused on her figure. Like every morning, she woke up rail thin and sickly looking even without her lack of coloration. Layers of lean, athletic muscle, softened by hints of baby fat in the same way an artist might detail a painting changed her look on a fundamental level, as did an extra four inches of height.
By the time that was done, the shift wasn’t fitting properly, so she shrugged out of it. As a replacement, she used the power of the amulet to grow a second skin and remake it on a level with its very essence. Instead of flesh, there was cotton, silk, leather and even ivory and wood.
When she was done, she was attired in a black, long-sleeved shirt with polished wooden toggles, a vest on top of that; gold and dark brown silk in a pattern that gave it a marbled appearance and ivory buttons, a knee-length black skirt, tied with a sash of golden silk, and black leggings. Her feet was in leather knee boots with bone buckles that looked to be lacquered black.
Satisfied with herself, she when to the door of her bedchamber and was immediately greeted by the welcome scent of breakfast even before she opened it.
Just outside of her bedchamber were her living quarters; a sizable parlor, a study that she had turned into a practice room, and a private bath. The parlor was already occupied.
“Good morning, Princess!” the cheery young woman currently fussing with the arrangement of a platter of sausages was Willow, the daughter of Freeland Castle’s chamberlain. Officially, Willow was the princess’s handmaid, but in reality, she was an accomplished ranger, bearing the distinguished Order of the Juniper honor, sworn to travel at the princess’s side and face the same dangers she did.
This morning she wore a simple off-white tunic with a green vest and canvas breeches. Unusual for a handmaid, but not so much for one who had to follow a princess who was notorious for being afflicted with wanderlust.
For reasons Cyn couldn’t fathom, the other woman seemed to enjoy the petty domestic chores just as much as high adventure.
“Morning, Wil.” Cyn replied, still trying to bring herself to full wakefulness.
Willow rushed to pull out her chair. “You mother has another assignment for you. It must be something big, because she had the kitchen prepare your favorite breakfast:” She gestured expansively at the spread on the table. There were platters of sausages, fried eggs, johnny cakes, ham slices, bacon, hashbrowns; bowls fresh fruit, porridge, and cold cereal, and two pitchers, one of milk, the other of orange juice, “Heaping mounds of everything.”
The sight of all the food before her woke Cyn up the rest of the way and she practically flew into her chair. While one hand was unfolding the napkin into her lap, the other was already cramming a boiled egg into her mouth.
It was a full ten minutes before Cyn slowed down, the initial hunger that came with using the amulet’s magic, abated and she slowed to a more leisurely pace.
She looked up to find Willow stirring red powder from a paper envelop into a bowl of porridge for herself. Knowing the other woman’s proclivity for spicy food, that was one thing on the table Cyn had no interest in. Now that they were both eating in companionable silence, Cyn took a good look at her long-time companion.
If not for the amulet’s power, they would be the same height. Willow was heavier than her by a good thirty pounds, but more of that was muscle than her rounded features would suggest. Her wavy, chestnut hair hung to the small of her back and was kept in check by two silver combs with snowflake shapes on them.
Like the Amulet d’Fac’smil, the Zero Degree Combs were, when used together, a Device. They gave the girl command over the freezing cold.
“Any idea what the assignment might be?” Cyn asked once she got time between bouts of chewing and swallowing.
“I can’t say, Princess.” said Willow. “I’ve gotten the latest rumors from the household staff and the Kingdom seems to be at peace. The Duke of Smythe and Duchess of Keyes arrived last night, but it sounds like a social call to discuss the Guild of Devisers your mother wants to found.”
Cyn nodded thoughtfully and gnawed on a sausage. The world as full of Devices; mostly lost magic technology from one of the Great Wars fought over a century before that were now starting to reemerge in the world. The people of May and its neighbors had known little about magic at all until a generation or two ago, and now there were not only the Devices, but the ancient mystic arts returning to light. There were even those who were building Neo-Devices on their own.
As a result, the world was changing and Cyn’s mother knew it. That was why she was trying to bring together those who had magical means and a desire to do good with it under one Guild that would make them more effective. It was also why she allowed her only daughter to travel the kingdom herself, using the Amulet d’Fac’smil to defeat monsters and dark sorcerers that threatened the people.
“Hmm. This might involve something outside of the kingdom,” she mused. “Wouldn’t that be grand, Wil? A change to ride out, sleep under the stars and show the rest of the Ameri Continent what a true Champion is?” She flexed her hand into a fist and imagined using her Device-granted strength to punch out some of the world’s known tyrants like the Tome Emperor, Morgan le Fae, or her personal nemesis, Brilliance Shining of the Society of Aces.
Wil nodded, but the enthusiasm was lost on her. “If we leave the kingdom, I hardly think it will just be you and I, Princess. You would be an ambassador and we would either travel with an envoy… or an army.”
The Princess raised an eyebrow at her companion. She knew the other woman with highly decorated, could survive a month in the wilderness with just some string and a dull knife, and could probably kill a legion with just the object within her reach at the breakfast table. That just made her meekness and apparent aversion to violence all the more perplexing. And frustrating, considering how much Cyn herself loved knocking heads and solving most problems with swordplay and use of her Device. The only story she could recall from her Classics education was that of the Gordian Knot and she took it to heart.
“Eh, we’re not going to war.” She assured Wil. “And if we were, Mother wouldn’t send me to play general. She’s got Duchess Keyes or Captain al-Utt.” A dangerous spark if glee flashed in her eyes, “Which means; if we’re leaving the kingdom, it’ll be on a secret mission.”
Willow swallowed a spoonful of porridge. As much as she cared for her charge and friend the Princess, she also knew of the other woman’s proclivity toward the exact opposite of secrecy. “Somehow I doubt it will be that.”
“I bet it will.” Cyn grinned. Now that it idea was in her head, she wasn’t going to let go of the idea. “I better hurry up and eat then; can’t be late for my secret mission!”
Even hurrying, it was a good forty-five minutes before Cyn had eaten her fill (which included a sizable fraction of her body weight in eggs alone). And so it was just under an hour later when they blew past the guards at the door and entered the Queen’s sitting room.
The room itself was proof that even the level-headed Queen of May was no immune to royal excess.
Rich wood paneling covered the stone walls while thick, luxurious carpeting in the royal blue and white covered the floor with a colorful swirl pattern. The marble hearth was large enough for a man to stand in, and as autumn was upon the kingdom, it housed a roaring fire. Overhead, a chandelier dripped with fine crystal that scattered its light around the room.
While there were leather arm chairs arranged in front of the hearth, the room’s current occupants were instead sitting at high-backed chairs around the polished oak table at the room’s center. Porcelain cups of steaming tea were set in front of the guests, along with sauces stacked with petits fours and tea biscuits.
Her Royal Majesty Laurel Brant, Queen of May and the outlying Virgini Territories, Benefactor of the Realm, Sovereign of the Hills, Keeper of the Book of Reason, Holder of the Book of Passions, and Governess-in-absentia of Dawson Bay sat at the head of the table. She was resplendent in a blue gown with spills of white lace coming from the sleeves and collar.
Her black hair was worn up and held in place not only by pins, but the Crown of the Codex; a Device made of a solid, shining piece of steel worked into a sweeping chevron shape, then bent so as to fit atop a person’s head. It was plain be device standards, but it granted the Queen the wisdom and knowledge to forge May into one of the few superpowers on the continent.
Standing to her right hand was Captain-of-the-Guard Kareem ibn Rami al-Utt in his non-standard uniform; a floor length leather coat the color of blood with golden embellishments and buttons worn over more traditional blue trousers and vest worn over a white silk shirt. The coat was his Device, the Ephemeral Mantle, and thought Cyn had never sen it in use, the rumor mill had it that it gave him such a power that he could crush an enemy advance on the battlefield just by looking at them.
He was dark in a different way than the Queen of her shape-shifted daughter; his tones telling of a heritage from somewhere across the sea in the desert lands. Standing with his back straight, hands crossed behind his back, he kept a careful eye on everyone in the room. When Cyn and Willow entered, he gave them a small, friendly nod—he was of an age with them after all.
The man to the Queen’s left had no Device, but that didn’t stop him from being formidable. Vincent Liedecker, the Sheriff of the City of May, just outside the walls of Castle Freeland, was in his fifties and it was unlikely that he would ever bond with a Device. That hadn’t stopped him from going toe to toe with both Device users and creatures of the ancient magic. While amiable, he was not to be trifled with in matters pertaining to his city.
As Cyn expected, the pair actually sharing the table with her mother was Duke Ian Smythe and Duchess Alexandra Keyes. Neither was blooded, nor particularly well-landed; they were both childhood friends of the Queen who had been given just enough land to justify their spending so much time in royal company.
“Ah, right on time.” the Queen said, cutting off whatever she’d been saying the moment she saw her daughter. “Good morning, Cyn. Did you sleep well? Have a good breakfast?”
Cyn nodded and plopped into the seat at the opposite end of the table. “Sure did! Thanks for having the cooks send it up.” Though she was outwardly cheerful, the presence of the Captain-of-the-Guard and Sheriff tempered it. Those two were part of the Queen’s inner circle, but not her social circle.
Hoping there was an explanation that didn’t involve something bad, she ventured, “Another meeting for the formation of the Guild of Devisers?”
The Queen’s mask of clam dissolved. She knew there was no easing her daughter into the situation now. “Only another example of why it is needed, sadly. An alarming one at that. Sheriff?”
Liedecker nodded and stepped away from her side as he began to lay things out. “As you know Princess, a few weeks ago, May’s Devisers—yourself included—put down a golem invasion led by a man calling himself ‘The Scion of the Warped Star’. Did a lot of damage before he got stopped,” He grimaced as if the next words were sour on his tongue, “then he got away almost clean.”
Cyn shared the distaste for having lost the Scion. It happened all too often when dealing with foes with Devices of their own or ancient magic—they managed to teleport away, or create enough of a diversion to escape.
“Almost clean.” repeated the Sheriff, “’cause fore he got away, you tore part of his Device out of him.”
She didn’t have to be reminded. “Right. One of his amber gems that lets him copy the power of other people’s Devices.” That was a gross understatement: the Scion had shown the ability to steal things like languages in metaphysical magic perquisites before too. “The one with the copy of the Crown of the Codex in it.”
It only took a moment of uncomfortable silence for her to realize why it had descended. “Wait… did I get the wrong one?”
When no one else volunteered the knowledge, Laurel did so. “No, Cyn, you got the right one. And we’ve had it here at Castle Freeland since then while I and Sorceress Ortega tried to find a way of purging the copy from within it. You see, the gem didn’t just copy the abilities the Crown granted me, but all of the knowledge I’d accumulated using it to retain information instantly. It literally has all of the kingdom’s secrets within… and now it has been stolen.”
Cyn almost fell out of her chair. “Say what?!”
Castle Freeland wasn’t just any fortress; it was a fortress devised by the Queen using the advanced intellect the Crown gave her. Even with no living guards at all, it was impossible to get to a place within its walls if the residents didn’t want you to. And there were guards; not just soldiers, but powerful Device users in their own right such as Captain al-Utt.
Laurel gave a heavy sigh. “I’m sorry to say it’s true. We have no idea how they reached the vault where it was kept, much less got inside to take it and escaped the grounds. But at the moment, the more pressing issue it getting it back.”
“O-okay.” Cyn said, still reeling from the sudden feeling of insecurity she had. “But if you don’t know who it was and how they got out, how do you know where to start looking?”
Captain al-Utt took a half-step forward. “Small detachments have been scouring the grounds since the early hours, Princess Cynthia, aided by patrols from the City Watch. Witnesses have reported suspicious activity near the east wall and the city. Both I and the Sheriff have people searching for clues there.” He frowned, “Though I suspect that it will take more than deduction to pick up their trial.”
His eyes went to Willow. Cyn almost smirked—even the Captain knew her prowess as a survivalist.
“It’ll take more than that.” the Princess mused. “For someone to get into the castle? That means magic and lots of it, or some kind of Neo-Device.”
There was pride in the small smile Laurel gave her daughter. “I agree, dear. That is why I’m putting Sorceress Ortega at your disposal for this. I don’t know any Neo-Devisers that can be brought in at such short notice, however… I leave that up to you.”
Cyn grinned, her mind already translating the whole thing into the context of an adventure ballad. They had the ingredients: her, the sword-swinging heroine, Wil as the rugged tracker, and the sorceress as the… sorceress. They were one piece away from having the classic adventuring party.
“Don’t worry, Mother. I’ve got just the person in mind…”
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