- 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 #71: Yellow
CynQuest Part 2
An ill wind slept across the hill below the healing house as five women stood in silence, staring at the bones of a giant trapped in a forest of quartz spars. The bones had just been a whole being, shouting threats or possibly dark promises about his master. In the span of moment however, the giant had withered away, disintegrating into yellow motes of dust and his still-standing bones.
The bones weren’t fresh either: they were mottled and brown, broken in places with some bones missing entirely. It was as if they had been in the earth for years rather than in the flesh of a living thing just moments ago.
Cyn sheathed her sword, the loud clack of metal on metal breaking through whatever thoughts the others might have been dwelling on. “Okay.” She announced with the same enthusiasm she met most things with. “There’s a mad wizard out there who makes dead things walk, can change wolves into monsters, and right now he either has or soon will have a copy of all my mother’s knowledge of the kingdom. What do you say we relieve him of the latter and put a stop to the first two?”
Voluminous robes billowing the Sorceress turned and looked at the princess. “This is not some random brigand, or even simply an enemy spellcaster like Morgan Le Fae. This… whatever person these monsters called ‘master’ seems to have an entirely new form of magic. This requires study—I need to move the giant’s bones and the wolves by to my tower in the city, bring in all of my apprentices—”
“Are you daft?” asked Cyn. “This is no time to think: we must act! Yes, the dead things moving around and whatever that wolf was becoming disconcert me greatly, but right now, power is all he’s got. If he gets that Device—or whatever it is—then he gets the kingdom: every secret, every weakness, every defense. We won’t just lose; we’ll be slaughtered.”
Christina was sitting on the ground and, with Melissa’s help, slowly and painfully removing her jerkin so the healer could see to her injuries. With teeth gritted from the effort and injury, she looked up at Cyn. “That… actually made sense.”
“The Princess is often very persuasive when talking herself into a fight.” Wil said with a small, fond smile that was belied by the concern in her eyes. “We still need to go back to the city though. Inform your mother, resupply for the journey?”
The suggestion made Cyn frown thoughtfully and look off to the north. There wasn’t a much in that direction but disparate hamlets and farmland. A day’s travel north of the city was neutral territory that acted as a buffer between May and their northern nation Americ Union. The AU was an ally, having long buried their animosities toward the many Kingdoms that broke from them in the Great Wars, they wouldn’t harbor anything like the giant’s master.
But the neutral lands were another question. With no standing army, no support system between towns and very few Devices, it wouldn’t be hard from some dangerous madman to set up shop out there. Cyn had seen such despots before: working their peasants to death, taking the fruits of that work for themselves while leaving those who provided it to starve, and killing anyone who resisted to make an example of them. Every hour they spent going back to Castle Freeland was more time fore people to suffer.
Were she queen, she would march with the army to take those little hamlets and bring them under her protection, treaties with the AU be damned. She wasn’t queen though; her mother was. Even Cyn had to admit that her mother was more knowledgeable about such things than her.
“I know it doesn’t matter to you what I think,” Christina said, “But I agree with Wil. Now that I know what to expect, there are other things I know to bring. I’m not saying we wait for days, but a few hours would increase our chances greatly.” She swayed a bit as the healing Melissa worked on her with her Device took its toll and she began to feel as if she’d missed a week’s worth of meals.
The Sorceress knew that look well enough to add. “Dinner would be in order too—unless we want to be sorely lacking in rations.”
Cyn looked pointedly at Melissa until the other woman seemed to feel the gaze burning the back of her head and looked over. “What?”
“I wanted to know what you thought. We might lose the track the giant and his wolves took.”
Melissa folded her arms and lifted her chin with a toss of her red hair for good measure. “This isn’t my fight: I have patients to tend to.” She shook her head. “I may be bound to a Device, but it isn’t a weapon and I’m no warrior.”
Typical response for her, but Cyn rolled her eyes because that wasn’t what she was asking. “I wanted to know what you thought of going ahead or reporting—seeing how you’re Mother’s friend and all.”
For just a moment, it looked as if Melissa was affronted to have not been considered to go along, but her features settled into her usual unique disgruntled calm. “Fine. Here’s what I think then: Laurel sent you out here to catch a simple thief and this,” She waved a hand at the skeleton, “Is no simple thief. Going out and starting a row isn’t your mission; recovering the stone is and the way to best do that is to prepare carefully and with Laurel’s counsel.”
With that, and the knowledge that the Sorceress would concur, Cyn found herself outvoted. Visibly deflating, she gave them all an unhappy look before turning uphill and striking off back up the hill. “Very well.” she grumbled, “Back to Castle Freeland to tell Mother what’s happened.”
The remainder of the day involved interviews with the queen and her advisers for the four members of the expedition, plus Melissa who was summoned from the healing house by Royal messenger: a young blonde woman with a Device that gave her the gift of great speed. It was one of the more common Device powers, but one that allowed the Queen to communicate far more rapidly than most other world leaders.
Captain al-Utt had gone with a contingent to collect the wolf corpses and the giant’s bones for the Sorceress and her apprentices to study.
Dinner had been eaten, shifts had changed in the Castle staff, and almost anyone who didn’t have an immediate task was sleeping when the messenger girl in her special red and yellow livery that usually signified her as an emissary in foreign lands, was sent ’round to summon people for an emergency council meeting.
Cyn only failed to curse at the blonde woman because she was gone before Cyn could rise from her bed. She’d never been part of an emergency meeting before and all of her childhood desires of doing so evaporated the moment the opportunity roused her from a dead sleep.
It was only after stepping out into the torch-lit halls of Castle Freeland that she realized that she’s stomped from her rooms naked and pale. One of the night maids, charged with tending to the guests needs after hours and to clean the halls at a time when (normally) they wouldn’t be underfoot, stopped short when she saw her and screamed.
A moment of embarrassment turned to one of annoyance when Cyn recognized the woman. Another blonde (somehow, a lot of people she disliked shared that hair color), this girl, the heir of a noble family that collapsed just prior to her coming to marrying age, was a known bully among the other maids and Cyn herself had transferred her to night duty to humble her.
Before Cyn could deliver a tongue lashing, a blur of white lacy shot past her. A deceptively strong arm caught one of the maid’s arms while a leg tangled the maid’s own and sent her crashing to the floor. In the time it took Cyn to figure out what was happening, Wil had the maid on the ground, one arm going high, and a throwing dagger appearing in her hand as if forming out of the air.
The bodyguard’s killer instinct faltered when she got a good look at the ‘threat’ she’d taken down. “Lilith?” She looked up at Cyn. “You were attacked by Lilith Gold Mire, Princess?”
“Goldenmeyer!” The maid shrilled. The response was so quick that it seemed as if she’d transformed her scream into words mid-breath. With Wil loosening her grip on her, she sat back, hand to chest as if the imaginary corset she was wearing in her mind’s eye was making her breathless. “And that is not the princess. I’ve seen the princess.”
Cyn gave her a glare. “You mean your princess who is know explicitly for her ability to change shape?” To emphasize this, she tried to change to her normal everyday form. Nothing happened. She strained. Normally, she didn’t even have to picture the shapes she took regularly, like her usual form or Facsimile. Others she just pictured and willed her body to conform to those pictures. Others were more complex and she had to build those step by step, but it didn’t seem to be working this time.
“Princess…” Wil had gotten herself off Lilith and was gesturing to her chest. Her choice of sleeping attire was, as per her usual, perfect for a lady-in-waiting, but not so much for a bodyguard of the Order of the Juniper. It was some sort of silky, white shift with a riot of lace around the neck and at the hem, topped by a green robe with even more lace at the neck and spilling out of the sleeves.
“Yes, I know I’m naked, but I’m going to fix that… if my powers weren’t on the fritz.”
“Powers? Fritz?” Wil asked, “You’re not wearing your Device. I was trying to say so.”
Cyn opened her mouth to respond to that, but nothing came out as it hit her: she needed the Amulet d’Fac’smil to change her form and that babble in her head about ‘powers’ and ‘building’ her forms was nonsense. “…Right.” She said after entirely too long. “Just a moment.” Dashing back into her rooms, she grabbed the Device from its resting place and put it on, quickly activating it and taking on her basic form, plus clothing herself in proper bed attire.
She came back out of the room, ready to lord over Lilith and give the overly regal maid a good fright, but Wil had already sent her away.
Wil saw the scowl that came with that and shook her head. “We don’t have time for that now. Your mother wants to see us.”
“There are going to be rumors about me running around the castle starkers before the sun rises.” Cyn hissed as they started down the hall.
“Well you are the one who always says she doesn’t care what rumor might say.”
“That was when they weren’t true.”
The meeting chamber was the most formal looking room in Castle Freeland. Its ceiling was high and domed with arched windows and pillars making up its rounded walls except where it connected to the rest of the structure. Normally, it offered the various and sundry nobility that made up the council a grand, panoramic view of the kingdom they governed and, in the Queen’s name, served.
All it showed now were the occasionally candlelit window, watchman’s lamp, but otherwise just the dark firmament with a star-sprayed sky above.
In the center of the room stood a great, stone table with a space cut into the center. During official meetings, the Queen’s Seat rose up into this space on a clever Neo-Device that allowed her to turn and address whoever she was speaking to at the moment. By this arrangement, no one ever had ‘favored’ seating next to the queen.
This night, the Seat did not rise. Laurel sat in the southernmost seat, figuratively facing whatever new enemy her daughter had uncovered. To her right hand were Duchess Keyes and Duke Smythe. To her right were a reticent looking Melissa and Captain al-Utt. Directly across from Laurel sat the Sorceress. Christina was sitting to her right with Warrick beside her. The twins were not in attendance, probably being watched over by the castle staff somewhere nearby.
Conspicuously missing from the gathering were any of the usual scribes, valets, or any other servants who were usually a more integral part of council meeting than the actual councilors. In fact, even the other regular advisers and officials like Sheriff Liedecker or Lester Mendel, head of the Merchant’s Guild.
Cyn also noticed who was and was not dressed for bed instead of a meeting or at least dressed hastily. It wasn’t a surprise to see that Captain al-Utt was at the ready, giving his military training. Nor was it that her mother and the Duke and Duchess were all dressed as they had been that morning: they would have been the ones to call the meeting.
What was surprising was that Melissa looked even more presentable than she had been back at the healing house. Not only was she wearing a crisp, white blouse and flowing red skirt, but her hair had been washed and brushed. Clearly the queen’s old friend had never left the inner circle.
A whoosh followed by the door closing alerted Cyn to the arrival of the messenger girl.
“Good.” said Laurel. “We’re all here now. If everyone would be seated, we can begin.”
Cyn did a double take at the messenger, who offered a sheepish smile and a half-bow before scurrying to a seat beside Warrick. There was a private meeting at Castle Freeland, in the middle of the night and a mere messenger was invited to sit at the big table? It was only when Wil subtly bumped her forward that Cyn remembered that she was supposed to be at that table as well. She sat down next to the Sorceress with Wil on her other side.
The queen’s chest rose and fell and her eyes squeezed closed for just a moment. Centering herself, Cyn knew. When her eyes opens again, she looked more calm and less tired than she had when Cyn first entered the chamber.
“In this room, at this moment, sit the most powerful and trusted Devisers within a half-day’s ride of the City of May, plus out resident experts in the ancient magic and in Neo-Devising. Never in the history of this kingdom has so much of our nation’s capability been amassed in a single place. And that is because never in our history has this kingdom faced so overt a supernatural threat.”
She picked up the pewter goblet set beside her and sipped from it before inclining her head toward the Sorceress. “If you would?”
As if they were following a script laid out long before, the Sorceress needed only this to signal her to specific action. From the satchel at her side, she extracted a set of finger cymbals and a small, clay jar of some form of grease. Whispering a spell over the former, she smeared them with the latter before raising the cymbals above her head and bringing them together.
Instead of noise, or a wet splat of grease, the cymbals released a wave of anti-sound that, as it passed, made Cyn feel like someone had packed her head in cotton bales. It passed quickly however and the noise in the room returned. The night noises, both from the castle staff in the halls and the insects, birds and other night life outside, failed to return.
“We are now speaking in privacy, your Majesty.” said the Sorceress.
“Thank you, Lisa.” replied the queen, invoking the young woman’s real name as if to test that privacy. Flicking her gaze to each person in the room in turn, she folded her hands in front of her. “There are no secrets here. Within this room is a zone of trust between us. In keeping with that, allow me to introduce you to Calliope Kreiger, royal messenger, emissary of the Kingdom of May, and my personal spymaster.”
The spymaster shrank from all the attention that had just been thrust upon her and ducked her head. “You can all just call me Callie, thank you.”
“Why do we need a spymaster?” Cyn blurted out. Once she did, there was no sense in holding back. “We know in general where this ‘Canker’ place is; we should go there directly.”
Laurel shook her head while wearing that smile she wore whenever Cyn was in for instruction. “If our foe is any kind of tactician, he will know the most direct route and place obstacles in out path. Callie’s experience in running messages to the Americ Union and up to Second York means that she knows back ways and secret paths that might have fallen under the enemy’s notice. We will be following her most of the way.”
This time, it was Wil that spoke out of turn. “’We’ your Majesty?” She stirred uneasily in her chair and Cyn picked up on it.
“Mother… you can’t seriously be thinking of going can you? The kingdom…”
“Might not last if the one who revived the ancient giant and placed transmutative corruption in the wolves is allowed to expand his influence.” the Queen cut her off. “The Sorceress’s initial mystic inquiries are what spurred me to action. Lisa?”
The Sorceress, Lisa, had put her cymbals away and now had her fingers laced in her lap. Upon being addressed, she coughed once, then launched into the hard truth. “I have made substantial study of the ancient magic and old ways. I have read the bestiaries of Faerie and have studies the accounts of what magics Maeve’s servants use.
“Our foe is employing something entirely different. The bones of the giant he sent are so old that none of my spells could reach back that far and yet it stood, it fought, and it had learned our language. There has not been a living giant in over five hundred years. My limited inquests into the nature of the magic employed has led me to believe that it is especially powerful, capable of twisting the lower fabrics of our reality, not be design, but because the world it originated on is so far removed from out own.”
For the first time, Duchess Keyes spoke up. “But you just said that it isn’t from Faerie.”
Lisa clenched her hands into fists. “That is correct. However, for some time, there has been a theory among my contemporaries: That there exists not just the three worlds we know: Earth, the Astral and Faerie, but an entire Orrery of Worlds. If that theory is correct, the master of this ‘Canker-in-the-World’ may well be a creature of one such world, and by its very nature, so powerful that it would make Morgan Le Fae seem like a mere trifle.”
“And that,” said the Queen, “Is why I have mustered the greatest of May’s mystic force here and now. We travel with swiftness and stealth to this Canker-in-the-World and extinguish its master before he might act on a larger scale. My decision is final and will not be countermanded. I want us all packed, mounted and out of sight of the city before sunrise.”
Bookmark the permalink.