- 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
The protection spell moved with Lisa, so when she started toward the cavernous opening in the base of the tower, everyone else was forced to as well. Cyn had to be pulled along by Wil to get her going.
“Cyn.” a strong voice roused her and she found that Duke Smythe had come back to walk with them while Duchess Keyes was speaking quietly with Warrick and Christina, the pair she expected to come try and comfort her. She merely looked at him, saying nothing.
He shrugged and fell into step beside her, opposite Wil. After a few steps, he spoke again. “It isn’t just bloodlines that make your mother Queen. She really is the best person to rule our kingdom. You know that.” When she looked away, he pressed on. “Without the Crown of the Codex, she’s still one of the most capable, self-sufficient human beings I’ve ever known. Right now, she has the crown plus the Book of Reason. I imagine she’s devising a method to save Kareem and Callie as we speak.”
After another period of silence, as the group stood waiting for Lisa to conjure a light spell, he looked up at the tower looming above them and said. “I’m not going to tell you not to worry about her or any of them. I’m not even going to tell you not to worry about us. You’re a grown woman and you know just how much danger we’re in right now; no reason to sugar coat it.
“What I am going to tell you is that Laurel raised you. She taught you everything she could about bravery, resourcefulness and perseverance.” As if on cue, Lisa’s light spell ignited, illuminating the space just inside the tower and failing to do so to the yawning blackness beyond it. “And right here is where you’ll need to put it into use. Prove to all of us that you really are your mother’s daughter.”
Cyn’s eyes widened at this and she looked back across the desolation. She couldn’t see Laurel, but she saw the amber cast of the protective dome under bombardment. What the Duke said could have been plucked from her own thoughts. There had been a time when she’d hoped Laurel would adopt her, but now that she was an adult, that ship had sailed as far as she knew.
Except here, Laurel was her mother. The how and why of that seemed minor compared to the idea of losing her or any of her friends. Her fingers closed around the hilt of her sword. Its familiarity flowed through her.
Yes, Laurel was her mother; the only mother she’d ever known. And she would be damned if she was going to give her up without a fight. “Right. Let’s find this venomous, bunch-backed toad and put an end to it.”
Following Lisa, they stepped through a short entryway and into a wide open chamber at the base of the tower. There didn’t seem to be a ceiling to it, just a set of stone stairs that wound along the inner wall, up into the darkness above.
“Wait.” Warrick’s voice echoed all around them. “The stupid tower’s hollow? How does that track? Where’s the wizard we’re hunting? Where’s the artifact he stole?”
“Nothing is as it seems inside a wizard’s tower.” said Lisa. From a pack at her hip, she took a small magnifying lens on a chain and started looking at the area through it, scanning slowly as she spoke. “The physical tower is simply a means of storing and directing the magics of ley lines. With that power, the caster can create demesnes and oubliettes for their use in the neighboring astral plane, or even a sub-dimension.”
Warrick looked around and noticed no demesnes or planar gates that he could discern. “And that means…?”
Lisa continued surveying, now tilting her head to look up at the higher spaces in the tower. “The entrance could be hidden anywhere.”
As she resumed her search, Wil stepped away from Cyn’s side for the first time since what happened to Captain al-Utt and the spymaster. After a few careful steps, she closed her eyes and turned a slow circle. “Does it have to be a magical entrance specifically?” She asked dreamily.
“I… suppose not.” said Lisa, turning to look at the odd scene the other woman was putting on.
Also watching was Melissa, who rolled her eyes. “My Device can’t cure daft, I’ll have you know.”
“No daftness at all.” said Wil, holding out her cloak. It was gently fluttering. “There’s a draft coming from the floor.”
Duke Smythe also closed his eyes and concentrated on his Device. “She’s right. Air is seeping up from beneath the stone. This tower has a basement.”
“…Or a dungeon.” Christina said warily.
“That is more likely.” the Duke admitted. “But either way, we have to investigate. Stand back everyone.” They complied, because when a man who commands the winds tells one to take cover, there is nothing lost in obeying.
It started as a small zephyr that swirled about the stone Wil had wisely vacated, building steadily in intensity until it howled with the fury of a hurricane. The wind coming through the miniscule space between the stone and its brother whistled shrilly and the stone itself began to rattle in its setting. Slowly and by fractions of an inch, the stone rose up. With a mighty expenditure of effort, he summoned one final blast of wind, which flipped the four-inch thick stone slab aside. It came crashing down, revealing a stairway leading down into yet more darkness.
The noise and thunder of the slab being moved, however, were answered by shrill cries from somewhere in the shadows up above. These were followed by the fluttering of vast wings.
“What now?” Cyn demanded, drawing her sword.
“I just realized that this is a question I never like the answer to.” Said Warrick, bringing up his hammer.
They dropped from the somewhere near the top of the tower; two creatures that combined the worst features of ape and bird. Their core body was basically humanoid and covered with long, shaggy hair the color of rust, however, their arms were actually wings sporting stiff, yellow plumage that simply looked as if it could cut a person to ribbons. They had apish heads but with long, hooked beaks where their mouths should be, and their feet were talons.
Passing through the protective shield seemed to have no effect on them, as they merely hit the ground in a crouch, their feathers scraping fine lines in the stone floor.
The first one down caught a coherent beam of the Duchess’s black heat in the chest, which sent it careening back into a wall. Its compatriot, however, managed to dodge the surprised and clumsy sword strike from Cyn before parrying her more controlled follow-up with its wings.
A third landed on Christina before she even saw it coming. It didn’t have time to take advantage of it, as Warrick clouted it across the temple with his hammer, nearly taking its head off. It recovered swiftly and tried to snap at him only to discover the hard way that it had forgotten Christina, she brought her knee, enhanced by her Neo-Device armor, up to break its sternum.
Shrieking, it tried to withdraw and allow a fourth of its kind to land, but said fourth was tagged by a pair of ice arrows that encased on wing in a rime of frost, causing it to land with neck-snapping force on the unforgiving stone.
“Thanks!” Warrick called back to her, only to find that the injured beast was not to cowed as they thought. It lunged for him and caught his shoulder in its jaws. Though it labored to breath with its injuries, it managed one mighty pump of its wings to drag it and Warrick backward—and out of the protective dome.
The blacksmith saw what happened immediately and dashed the beast’s head in with his hammer. However, the progress of the strange amber shell was even faster inside the tower and he was frozen beneath it before he could even turn back.
Dumbfounded at what had just happened, Christina struggled to regain her feet, screaming his name.
Still engaging her own foe, Cyn made the critical mistake of looking to see why her friend’s wife sounded so distressed. The monster took advantage of it to slash open her arm with its wing. Before she could recover, it hooked the same wing around her and threw her toward the protective spell.
Her flight, however, was interrupted by a mighty wind the pulled her back from the brink and unceremoniously tossed her to the ground. A blur flew over her by the time she was up again, Duke Smythe was going at the beast with bare fists.
“That’s my goddaughter, you unnatural filth.” He declared, hammering a blow into its head, then following with a hook into its body. Cyn had never known that her mother had named anyone as her godparents. “So you’re going to have to deal with me before you can even think of touching her.” Two more powerful blows to the head had the thing reeling back and trying to shake the stars from its vision.
However, it was then that the first of the creatures returned, flying with terrific speed toward the Duke’s back. Cyn leapt to interpose herself between it hand him, thrusting her sword up into its belly even as it slammed into her. The weapon twisted out of her hands in the impact and she fell back with three hundred pounds of bird monster rolling over her.
Mortally wounded, the creature spasmed and convulsed even is it put everything it had left into crawling over Cyn and biting at the Duke’s calves. The Duke managed to dodge, but in doing so, left himself open to his own opponent to catch him with a wing, bowling him through the air and out of the realm of the Sorceress’s protection. He was encased before he even came to a stop.
Cyn tried to push the still dying monster off her before the other could set its attention back on her, but she was slow reallocating her mass to her muscles. Letting out a cry that mixed equal parts eagle and howler monkey, the creature opened its mouth wide, aiming for her head.
She jerked sideways, leaving it to get nothing but a mouthful of dust and scraped teeth. Before it could try again, she heaved the dead weight off her and into the monster’s face. In the confusion, she rolled to her feet, cursing when she realized she was missing her sword.
“Down!” Shouted Lisa. “Regroup at the stairs so they can’t keep coming from all sides!”
A glance over her shoulder told Cyn something she didn’t want to know: more monsters had joined the fight and more still were dropping from on high. Their corpses littered the floor showing the signs of death by fire and ice and brutal pounding.
Something inside her felt sick when she realized something else: except for the one she’d basically picked a fight with, none of them were targeting her.
“It’s about me.” she whispered, shifting her hands into claws. “That’s why they made a point to hurt the Sneak Thief. That’s why I’m the one having moments of weirdness. It’s all about me. Whoever this is is trying to get me alone.”
Her teeth clenched. Kareem. Callie. Warrick. Ian. They were all hurt—or worse—because of her. No way was she going to let that stand.
Hot rage entered her breast. This, she poured into her every cell, the Amulet d’Fac’smil forgotten as she transformed. In seconds, a creature no one on that world had seen before.
Black chitin armored covered a tall, lean insectile body with four arms sporting meat-hook claws, a segmented tail that ended in a cruel, curved blade, and an elongated, eyeless head. Slavering jaws opened in a screeching roar that revealed a second set of jaws behind.
Unfazed by her transformation, the creature that had been attacking her charted. She dispatched it out of hand, running its skull through with her tail before turning fully to face the others. They were fighting will valiant ferocity—but they were fighting a losing battle.
Lisa was that the top of the stairs, protecting her back with a shield of overlapping, crimson plates while hurling fireballs at any monster that came within range. The Duchess hovered above her, completely enshrouded in her shadowy energy. She swept beams of the stuff left and right, burning creatures and throwing them back.
Before both of them knelt Wil, firing her frost-bearing arrows up into the ceiling, disabling the beasts as they appeared and more often than not sent them crashing to the floor with terminal force. Christina was engaging those already on the ground hand-to hand, occasionally pulling out some device that would entangle on in loops of barbed wire, belched arcs of bottled lightning, or exploded into swiftly hardening foam.
Most terrifying of all was Melissa. The woman was standing impassive in the center of the brawl, her face a mask of blank indifference. But on occasion, she would raise her hand and when she did, one of the beasts would behind to keen, then rapidly waste away where it stood, dropping to the ground as an emaciated husk.
Had this been a fair fight, they would have been winning. But separated from the group, Cyn could tell that it wasn’t a fair fight. Many of the creatures that dies fell down and left no corpse, simply dissipating into nothingness when no one’s eyes were directly on it. And as soon as one did, two more appeared falling from the darkness in the ceiling.
“They’re not even real.” Cyn muttered. She vaguely remembered several lazy nights spent at the Dungeon with Warrick, JC and sometimes Kay or Tink, playing video games on ‘time attack’ mode where the enemies came at you endlessly and the object was to just hold out longer than anyone else. It was that last part that stuck in her mind as she watched the monsters attack her friends… and not her.
“Shit.” She hurled herself to battle. Both jaws tore into monstrous throats while claws opened bellies and raked spines. Her tail thrust and impaled with force born of desperation as she fought her way to the others. “We need to get out of here!” Her voice was hideous and alien; her normal speaking voice mixed with insectile chatter and something like bat screeching.
Lisa found a moment to cast something bigger and shot a column of fire skyward past Duchess Keyes. It burned a half dozen beasts apart and at least to Cyn revealed that the eaves of the tower were actually empty. “The only way to end this is to defeat the master of the Canker-in-the-world and recover the scion’s stone.” She shouted at Cyn.
“No, listen!” Cyn grabbed a monster that was trying to escape pummeling by Christina and threw it bodily into three of its brethren. “It’s a set up! This was all a plan to get us here! To get me here!”
Not far from her, Melissa made another of the creatures die horribly. “And why, Princess, do they want you specifically?”
“Not that you’re not special, mind.” Said Wil, her voice sweet even as she sent another frost arrow skyward.
One creature latched its jaw onto Cyn’s lower right arm and she threw it off, taking time to heal the damage while she pondered this. “I… have no idea, but that’s what’s happening! It’s why I’m going crazy and remembering things differently… I think.”
Now that she actually was thinking about it, she couldn’t wrap her mind around it. In her distraction, she was blindsided by another monster which knocked her to the ground and snarled into her face. It didn’t get much time to do so, as her tail came up and slashed open its neck before she hurled it aside.
A wave of nausea rolled over her. Why was she just cutting through all those things so casually? She’d never killed before and something told her that all this should be bothering her more even if they were magical monsters, seeing as they did bleed and all.
“They’re not real.” She muttered to herself, rolling to her feet. “It’s all just some kind of trick…” Then she remembered the reason she’d been fighting her way to the group in the first place.
“Never mind why; we need to get out of here right now!”
Duchess Keyes directed a beam of black heat to sweep away a creature about to close on Wil and shouted down. “Even if that is the case, it will be even more difficult reaching this place a second time if we left now. We have to press on!” She turned and blasted another beast, but missed a second, which swooped in from her left side and tackled her out of the air. They crashed down outside of the protective spell, the monster pulling back to let the duchess become cocooned.
“Enough!” shouted Lisa, her voice filling the room as she caught two attacked on her barrier shield. “There is no other option: we must get to somewhere defensible. Now!”
“But—” Cyn started to protest, but just as she did, one of the winged beasts managed to duck under Lisa’s shield and slam into her. The Sorceress tried to cast another spell, but they fell together down the stairs with a sickening symphony of meaty thuds and other painful noises.
Whether the fall killed her or simply knocked her unconscious, the result was the same: The protection spell began to collapse. The dome twisted like a freshly blown bubble and started to shrink.
Upon seeing this, The monsters halted their onslaught, falling back through the warping walls of the failing spell and watching them with their dull bird eyes.
“No.” said Melissa, voice dull and bereft of her usual attitude. Before the word was even out of her mouth, she dashed down the stairs, looking for Lisa.
Wil nocked another arrow and started moving in that direction as well. “You two go down ahead of me.” Se instructed, still cool and calm despite the danger constricting around her. “I’ll make sure they don’t attack from behind.”
“I don’t think they’re the problem anymore.” said Christina, who complied anyway.
Cyn on the other hand, was looking around, wild-eyed. There was someone behind this. Someone smart and manipulative. Someone who wanted her for something. If she could find them, she had a chance to take them down before the descending curtain of unreality behind the collapsing spell finally came down.
But there was no one in sight and not even a clue as to why and how any of this was being done.
“No. No!” Cyn’s head snapped around to find Christina staggering backward up the stairs. Her hand had apparently passed through the failing barrier, as it was encased in a sheath of the same amber substance. Worse, it was spreading up her arm even though she was still in the zone of safety.
“Stop it!” Cyn shouted into the empty space. “Who or whatever you are, just stop now! You’ve got me, okay? Just tell me what you want and let them go!”
There was no answer. The spell finally fell apart completely, leaving a sea of yellow to wash over the three remaining members of the expedition. Cyn threw an arm over her face as it came down, hiding he face from what was coming.
Silence broke over her.
Her being Cynthia McAllister from North Carolina, not Princess Cynthia Brant d’Fac’smil of the Kingdom of May. The thoughts and memories of her lingered, but in the same way that a TV show or comic book’s plot might. She’d seen it, but she hadn’t lived it.
Lowering her arm, however, she found that the other Cyn’s world remained. She was standing in the dread tower, surrounded by the still, amber statues of her friends—her second family.
“They are unnecessary.” said a voice. ‘Voice’ was being generous. It didn’t actually sound like anything—it was simply words hitting her ears without tone or pitch. “You are all I require. Come to me, Formless; I have a proposal.”
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