- 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
If Cyn squinted, she could see the yellow flashes outlining the second protection spell, five miles distant. Callie had taken Lisa across with the intention that while Laurel maintained the shield around the, Lisa could raise a second one to receive everyone as they were carried across.
Things had been going well. Callie had gotten almost everyone to the safety of Lisa’s shield, set up on the lee of a rock ridge a stone’s throw from the tower. Now it was only Cyn, Captain al-Utt, Laurel and the horses left. The horses wouldn’t be going of course. They had been relieved of their saddlebags, packs and riding tack as once Laurel was brought across, they might be able to flee the area before the corruption of the Canker took them completely.
Even as Cyn pondered what they might all face inside the tower, Callie arrived, skidding to the stop on the dusty ground. She was breathing hard through her nose, and the moment she stopped, she leaned forward with her hands on her knees.
“It’s bad out there.” She reported. “My device should make it so I don’t get winded but…” For a moment, she looked like she was about to fall asleep where she stood, but she shook her head and returned to alertness. “The ground out there is moving. It’s like trying to run on a giant water skin. I’ve never run on anything so difficult to keep pace on.”
“Sit and rest a moment.” said Laurel, bringing a skin of water over for the young woman to drink.
Callie stared at the proffered drink for a long time, as if it were saying something to her, then took it with a nod of thanks and drank slowly and deeply. As she tipped her head back, Cyn watched a cascade of yellow, glittering sand fall out of the other woman’s hair and stooped to look at it.
Up close, it wasn’t sand, but very small, yellow crystals, like crushed pieces of amber.
Standing, she looked Callie over and found patches of the stuff caked onto the back of her neck, at her elbows, and behind her knees. “Hold still.” She commanded and went to brush off the patch on her neck. It came away, in a single, solid piece before flaking apart in her fingers.
“What was that?” Callie asked.
“I think it’s the stuff that’s been bouncing off the shield.” said Cyn, glancing up at the dome overhead. The particles never stopped hitting it, true, but it didn’t seem to be accumulating elsewhere. Except on Callie. “Did you see any yellow dust on the others you carried across?”
Callie closed her eyes tightly, trying to visualize how the others looked when she dropped them off on the other side. “I think I remember some in The Sorceress’s hair. And on Duke Smythe’s shoulder. I… can’t be sure.”
Catching on immediately to what her daughter was getting at, Laurel knelt as well, examining another patch of the foreign substance on Callie’s thigh. She produced a handkerchief and flaked it off. “It looks as if it were trying to coat you. I suspect that it has only become this fragile by passing through the protection spells.” She ground the stuff to powder between her fingers. “If you didn’t move as fast as you do, you might have been cocooned in this.”
This brought the Captain into the conversation. “Cocoon? To what purpose?”
“I’m not certain that we could even comprehend any purpose devised by these creatures. If these indeed are beings the Book of Reason suggests they are, their thoughts, concepts and very form are anathema to this world and may be impossible to fathom.”
She took the handkerchief and briskly brushed off every patch and deposit of the amber coating she could find on Callie. Then she stuffed the object into her spymaster’s hand. “I want you to wipe down every time you make it across. No exceptions. If it continues to built, you might be immobilized in the middle of the desolation and… I don’t know what might happen after that.”
“Yes your majesty.” Callie said, her eyes regaining their focus and determination. She took a deep breath as if to cleanse herself of whatever weight had been sitting on her mind. “Who’s next then?”
“The Princess.” said Captain al-Utt without even a glance to the other two. “The Queen must remain to keep the protection spell intact here and I intend to remain with her for as long as possible to guard her.”
Cyn actually wanted to be the one to stay with her mother. Not because she didn’t trust the Captain with her protection, but because this was the first time she and Laurel had ever been in a dangerous situation together. If things went bad, she wanted to be on hand, not the Captain, not anyone else. Briefly, she wondered if that was why Wil had waited so long to cross.
Before she could voice her objection to Captain al-Utt’s declaration, Laurel had a hand on her, gently pulling her to a standing position before turning her so they stood face-t-face.
“No arguments.” Laurel said, her tone taking on aspects Cyn hadn’t heard since she’d outgrown lullabys and goodnight kisses. “It’s only a few minutes anyway and you know this is for the best.” She didn’t wait for a reply before folding her daughter into a tight hug.
Without hesitation, Cyn returned it. “You be careful.” She whispered in her mother’s ear. Even though she was an adult, it made her feel strange telling her mother that. “I… don’t trust any of this. I don’t want anything to happen to you.”
“I’ll be right behind you.” Laurel promised.
They hugged a little longer because both knew that even after the crossing, they might never get another chance. Then they broke apart and Cyn straightened her spine to try and make herself feel like a grown woman once more. “Alright, Callie, let’s go. Vamanos.”
“Beg pardon, Princess?”
“… never mind. Let’s go.” Cyn gave Laurel one last look before allowing the spymaster to take her arm. Then she met Captain al-Utt’s eye. He nodded to her, not needing to hear her orders to take good care of the Queen to understand them.
Oblivious to the emotional exchange, Callie tooka brief stance, trying to site an ideal path to the shelter of Lisa’s defensive dome. “Okay, Princess, all you have to do is hold on and don’t try and struggle. I can pull you along without any trouble that way.”
“Got it.” Cyn said. The ‘it’ hadn’t even left her mouth before they were off. There was barely a tug on her arm before they were moving forward, without any feeling of acceleration. Her vision tinted blue.
In the space of a breath, they hit the edge of the dome and broke through. The bottom dropped out of Cyn’s stomach as every sense (including those she didn’t know she had) started to report on the wrongness around her. Everything looked like it was behind a heat shimmer and somehow felt, smelled and sounded the same way. Her skin tingled and itched as the particles of amber stuff began to strike her and build up.
Cyn looked behind her. Laurel and Kareem receded behind her and she wondered, for a moment, why. Then she remembered the mission, the stolen stone from… Warpstar?… maybe, maybe not. Everything was strange and foreign, but familiar. It was lie Deathgate or one of those confusing games Warrick played with the dice and litle metal dudes.
Just what the hell was going on? Was she dreaming? That made some kind of sense. That explained why Laurel was her mother and she didn’t even remember Sean McAllister here. Being the heroine her people looked to was right up her alley too. But then why wasn’t she friends with Lisa or Kay or Kareem here? Melissa was more of an annoyed aunt than anything too.
And what was up with all the yellow crap, the insanity and the corruption? Most of her nightmares involved losing her powers or her friends dying, not anything so abstract.
She fought to recall she’d done before bed.
Laurel had been experimenting with some kind of alarm spell to cast over the Freeland House grounds to make sure things like the attack on Halloween night never happened again and Cyn had stayed up to talk and keep her company.
Somewhere along the ways, she’d started leafing through the Book of Reason…
They passed through Lisa’s protective barrier and the strange moment of insanity ebbed away from the Princess. It was all she could do to remain on her feet when Callie let go of her arm. Whatever had come over her left her light headed and more than a little nauseous.
A something rought and gritted crumbled in the crook of her arm when she brought her hand to her temple. Glittering, yellow sand had collected there. For a long moment, she stared at it before practically leaping out of her skin.
“Gah! Get it off!” She flailed at her arm, then across her chest and the front of her thighs, knocking away a thin coat of the stuff. “Callie, before you…”
The spymaster was gone again, probably too addled from exposure to the unreality around the tower to remember the Queen’s orders. “Oh, shit.” She muttered.
“Are you okay?” Wil was quickly be her side.
Cyn kept her eye on Callie’s back as the other woman ran an erratic, meandering path back to where Laurel and Captain al-Utt were waiting. “No. Did you have weird dust on you when you got here?”
“A little.” said Wil, giving her charge a concerned look. “We all did.”
“I had a lot.” said Cyn. “It’s getting worse. It’s something from the Canker; it tries to cover you, encase you. No idea why, but that’s what it does.” She saw Callie finally cross into the other protective barrier and finally turned to the others. Most eyes were on her and no doubt everyone had heard what she’d had to say.
Pretending that wasn’t off-putting in the least, Cyn looked to Duke Smythe. “Can you summon a wind to blow it off of us? I’m not comfortable with anyone having it on them.”
“Of course, Princess.” said the Duke, calling up a miniature tornado in the palm of his hand. “Now who—”
Even five miles away, they all heard the scream. It was a sound of pure torment, of a man who wasn’t just in pain; his world had become pain. Too late, Cyn recalled Captain al-Utt’s discomfort the day before. A headache. Whatever had caused it then had only intensified as they drew nearer to the Canker, staved off only by the protection spells.
Cyn turned to see what was going on and wished he hadn’t. Callie wasn’t even halfway across the desolation yet. What was worse, she was moving slower, having to direct her attention to getting a better hold on the Captain, who writhed and screamed as his mind was assailed.
His spear was missing, having been dropped at some point during the trip. And as everyone watched, he twisted in Callie’s grasp, desperately trying to shuc his coat—to removed the source of both his power and his pain. Normally, he would have seen the folly in that, the importance of reaching safety. Now, he was maddened by the pain and in that madness, he made a grave mistake.
He yanked himself free of Callie’s grasp.
It was a blessing for him that both the terrain and his earlier resistance had meant that they hadn’t gotten completely up to speed, but even so, they flew apart, the Captain going tumbling across the ground, skidding so violently through the ruined soil that he left furrows in it.
Callie was half a mile away before she realized what happened and tried to correct, to turn back for him. She slipped, spilling precious momentum as she momentarily went to her knees before picking herself up and starting back.
In the meantime, Captain al-Utt finally threw off his coat and got to his feet, dazed, disheveled and panting.
Cyn saw the setting sun reflecting off of what looked like plates of amber colored something forming on his neck, shoulders and chest. The same was starting to lock up Callie’s joins.
“No…” She muttered. “Hurry up. Grab him and get back here.”
Callie couldn’t hear her; and she was slowing down.
“No.” Cyn said more forcefully. Beyond the two endangered members of the expedition, she could see the distant form of her mother. Her mother, who would be stranded and alone if Callie failed. “No, goddamn it, no! Get back here!” She all but roared and took a step as if to go out and bring her back herself.
Wil caught her before she could do something stupid, grasping both shoulders.
Tears threatened as Cyn saw that the other two weren’t moving. They were completely covered in the amber shell, looking now like gem-carved figurines gleaming in the last rays of the sun.
Kareem, the kind, soft spoken boy; one of the only people close to her who would call her ‘Cynthia’.
Captain al-Utt, the stoic and loyal defender of the royal family, always there, always ready to spring to defense.
Callie, the mixed-up girl who once kidnapped a supervillain in the name of fanfiction, the girl who proved herself a hero. Someone Cyn had only grudgingly spent time with. Someone she hadn’t known as well as she should.
Callie, the spymaster who served her mother. A woman she just met, but whom had risked life and swhatever else the madness of the Canker might take from her.
‘No.” She said again, almost unable to manage it. Ever her closest companion, Wil turned her away from the scene and threw her arms around her. Over her friend’s shoulder, she saw that the others all looked just as horrified.
Melissa stepped almost to the edge of the protective spell. “We need to get them back here. No matter what this thing’s done to them, my Device can fix it, I’m certain.”
The slight breeze Duke Smythe had been conjuring to clear the dust suddenly swept around his body in a gale, lifting him off the ground. He was stopped by Duchess Keyes, who braved the windstorm around him and caught his arm. “If you leave the spell, you’ll wind up like that too!” She shouted over the maelstrom.
“We’ve got to do something.” protested Warrick.
Christina nodded. “We can’t just leave them.”
“That is exactly what we’ll have to do if we plan on saving them.” Lisa’s voice cut over all other sounds, borne to their ears by magic. The others gaped at her. While the Sorceress was enigmatic, she’d never been called cold. None of them could comprehend why she would start now when some horrible, clearly magical fate had befallen two of their number.
As Duke Smythe’s winds died, Duchess Keyes directed her attention toward Lisa. Whatever respect and reverence the Sorceress was usually due seemed to not apply when it came to the acid glare she gave the other woman. “Are you daft? They’re sealed in crystal! We might have only seconds before they suffocate! To say nothing of Laurel!”
Lisa met her with a flat, practiced gaze. “They aren’t sealed in crystal, they’re sealed in magic. Magic so far removed from our world that everything it touches becomes warped. If they can be saved, the method of doing so lies in destroying the source of that magic. And as for the Queen…” She looked across the desolation. “She is more safe at the moment than we can hope to be.”
Turning slowly, she summoned her staff to her hand and pointed it toward the tower. “The future of those two brave souls, those shining servants of May—and the future of May itself resides there. It falls to us to take it back.”
It hated planning. It hatted plans. But it needed a plan. This plan.
There was so much it didn’t fully understand, didn’t want to understand because it was wrong and unnecessary.
Choice. Choice had no meaning to it. Neither did offers. Why would anything need to choose? Why would anything need anything that might be offered. It was horrible, this existence of lacking.
But it needed this. It had never needed anything before. It had never needed to plan before because before there had been no ‘future’, no things that came later or would never come again. This caged reality.
Freedom. It wanted freedom. For all things—because there was not reason for them to be things. To be a thing was to not be free.
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