- Issue #73 – Give Thanks
- Issue #74 – Bit Part Bad Guys
- Issue #75 – Kaiju for Christmas
- Issue #76 – Silicon Soul, Adamantine Will
- Issue #77 – Date Night
- Issue #78 – Delved Too Deep (Une Mascarade Brisée Part 1)
- Issue #79 – Tome of Secrets (Une Mascarade Brisée Part 2)
- Descendants Special #7 – The Curtain Rises
- Issue #80 – Bitter Work
- Issue #81 – Kin, Speed and Ducks
- Issue #82 – What To Do With Your Downtime
- Issue #83 – Avalon Rises
- Issue #84 – Darkness Falling
- Descendants Annual #7 – First Frost
It was gone past two in the morning when Christina Carlyle finally slipped into her room, ready for bed.
The trade-off for having the single room in her three-person dorm flat was that she didn’t have a bathroom of her own and had to shower and change in the ‘guest’ bathroom off the small living area.
Dressed in a dark red tank top and gray sweat pants, she padded tossed her towel in the hamper and went to check her computer one more time. The program she had written for class in the morning was still compiling and there were no messages other than one from her boyfriend, Warrick, wishing her a good night.
A quick check of her computer clock (set both to Cambridge time and the time in Mayfield, Virginia) told her it was still around nine the previous night where he was. With a small smile, she returned his good night and then climbed into bed.
Sleep didn’t come immediately. Her mind was abuzz with thoughts: new ideas for devices her heroic persona, Renaissance, could use; plans for what to do between classes the next day; wondering how her meeting with her mentor that evening was going to go… Life in Cambridge was exactly how she’d dreamed—even better, seeing as how her mentor had taken a shine to her and pulled strings to get her into advanced placements first years wouldn’t normally be privy to.
Somewhere n the middle of all this, she noticed herself idly scratching her scalp. It didn’t seem to be helping. In fact, the itch seemed to be spreading in patches: from her scalp, to her elbows, to her knees and up her spine. Just as she started to rise, the nausea hit along with a wave of dizziness that sent her crashing flat on her back across the mattress again. Soon enough, her muscles were on fire and her breath hitched.
If it were happening to someone else, she might have tried guessing at the symptoms, but all she could do was try and fight the rising fear and think through the fog of panicked confusion trying to claim her mind.
Just as she was about to scream—to do whatever she could to summon her flatmates to her aide… it all ceased. The pain, the vertigo, even the itch ceased to be as if it had all been in her head.
And then the earth shook.
“So, I mean no pressure or anything but… you two need to hurry up and pick a damn date if you want to get married sometime this year.” Laurel said to Alexis.
“Well that came out of nowhere.” Alexis shook her head. The pair plus Ian were in the downstairs commons. Alexis was browsing teaching websites while the others were playing pool.
Ian leaned against the wall, waiting for Laurel to take her shot. “It has been more than a year since we got engaged. And we do want to get married this year… so she’s probably right.”
“It’s also probably far, far too late to book anyone or anything for the traditional June wedding.” Laurel pointed out. “Especially St. Drausinus.”
“Um…” Ian rubbed the back of his neck, “St. Drausinus wasn’t going to happen anyway. As much credit as I get with the Sisters over there, I’m nowhere near in good enough with Father Colburn to convince him to let me marry a non-Catholic in the cathedral.”
That got Alexis to look up. “What, really?”
“It’s kind of a big thing.” said Ian. “I didn’t bring it up since I didn’t think you wanted to get married there anyway. Speaking of which… where do you want to get married?”
Alexis shrugged, “I never really put a lot of thought into the where when it came to getting married. The dress, the cake… even the invitations—I dreamed of all that, but I honestly never thought I lot about the venue.”
Meanwhile, Laurel made her shot, sinking a six and a four.
“Lousy genius and her superior grasp of geometry.” Ian muttered with a playful smirk. Then to Alexis, he said, “We could go look around the city. Big place like Mayfield has plenty of nice spots.” He frowned a bit. “But not a June wedding. The eighteenth and all…”
“Right, your mom’s day.” Alexis said softly.
Laurel lowered her head. “Sorry. I wasn’t thinking.”
“Don’t worry about it, L.” said Ian. “You’re just trying to light a fire under us and all, so your heart’s in the right place.”
Before Laurel could reply, her palmtop started playing a staccato tone. The others looked to her askance, seeing their friend’s expression turn to one of deep worry.
“I’ve never heard that one before, L.” Alexis said, sounding vaguely hopeful even though she knew it couldn’t mean anything good.
Dropping her cue on the pool table, Laurel took out her palmtop. “That’s the ‘oh shit’ alarm. It’s the tone I get when more than one red flag comes across my sweeps at once.” She quickly scanned the screen the alarm popped up for her.
“What’s going on?” Ian asked, moving around behind her to try and read over her shoulder.
“What’s not happening?” Laurel said, her voice tense. “A six-point-one earthquake under the Celtic Sea just triggered a tsunami warning for the southwestern coast of England. Satellite coverage is picking up thirteen separate electromagnetic storms on par with a sunspot emanating from different points around the globe… and and ROCIC facility was just attacked and ‘sensitive materials’ stolen in New Jersey.”
“That’s… I don’t know what all that means.” Alexis admitted, “Are any of those storms local?”
“There’s only two of the thirteen in the Americas; one is in Mexico, one is in Peru, so nothing local to us.” Laurel replied. “And before you ask the next question, I’m querying what was stolen now.”
Putting his cue on the table beside Laurels, Ian folded his arms and paced across the room. “You know, Warrick was just telling me he was worried about all those earthquakes happening recently in England—you know, because of Tink. Think this one was the big one?”
“No idea, but a tsunami hitting England… that’s bad. Maybe we should use the mirror gates to head over there and help out if this ROCIC thing doesn’t turn out that big.” Alexis said. “After all, it is the only place not local we can get to quickly.”
“We might just want to.” Laurel said, “Tink just checked n with me—she said she needs to talk t me.”
Ian cocked his head. “To you?”
“Team mom stuff, I guess. Seems like she felt the quake all the way in Cambridge. Look, I’m going to leave my palmtop here—you two can monitor for Pratt’s reply about what was stolen from New Jersey. I’m going up to the Workshop to call Tink.”
“Something we should know?” Ian asked.
Halfway to the stairs, Laurel turned back to him. “Hopefully just personal and confidential—as far as I know, she’s never been through an earthquake before. But if it’s something we need to deal with, you’ll hear about it.”
In no time at all, Laurel was settling into her seat before her main computer terminal and sending a call to Tink.
Guilt and worry gnawed at her. She wasn’t even sure if she’d really just lied to her oldest and best friends. Tink’s message had been very, very clear: Something had gone wrong with her and she thought it was the nanites—the nanites she’d asked Laurel to keep a secret until Tink felt it was a good time to tell everyone.
“I’m really sorry if I interrupted something.” Tink said by way of greeting. She was out of breath and her voice was shaky.
“Nothing’s more important than your health and well-being, though I just got a parade of alerts on my end.”
“I-I’m sorry. I can call you back later.”
Laurel shook her head even though it was a voice-only connection. “I called you, Christina. Now tell me what happened.”
On the other end of the line, the younger woman let out a slow, hopefully calming breath. “It was right before the earthquake. I just got this weird feeling… like itching and then it got worse. I started feeling sicker than I’ve ever felt… dizzy and-and my joints hurt… I thought I was going to die.”
“What makes you think it’s the nanites?” asked Laurel, already keying in the symptoms.
“Because it just ended. The exact same time as the earthquake started, it cut out like someone flipped a switch. I didn’t even feel any lingering aches. I’m not biology major, but normal people don’t have that happen, right?”
Acting on a hunch, Laurel bought up the map of electromagnetic storms. Just as she suspected, one had overlapped England and lasted thirty-seven seconds. What she hadn’t expected was the epicenter– twenty-tree miles off England’s southwestern coast. Exactly where the earthquake’s epicenter had been.
“Hello?” Tink said, reminding Laurel that she hadn’t spoken in too-long a while.
“Have you ever had issues with EM interference before?” Laurel asked. “Unshielded sources… sunspots?”
“No, but I’ve been hyper-aware of nearby electronics the past few months. It’s not really a sense so much as I just kind of know where the largest source is? Does that make sense?”
Laurel frowned. “It does. Most nanites are controlled by a signal leash. My assumption is that your nanites are responding to your own bio-electricity as a makeshift leash. It just so happens that the earthquake you felt was also the center of a very powerful EM storm; your nanites may have become confused by the stronger pseudo-signal.”
She started running searches on nanite control and diagnostic systems. “Look, I want you to gate her right away. We need to make sure this didn’t cause any permanent damage.”
“Right. Good idea.” said Tink. “But did you just say the earthquake was at the center of an EM storm? What could cause that?”
“I’m almost afraid to ask. I’ll be looking in on that while you’re on the way. Come straight up to the workshop, okay?” Laurel glanced back as there was a knock on the workshop door. “Just a minute!”
“Something else need your attention?” Tink asked.
Laurel took a deep breath. “Just one of those other alerts. Not your concern right now. You get here ASAP, alright?”
“Alright. And… thank you.”
The line cut off and Laurel turned to the door. “Come in.”
“Everything alright?” Ian asked before he even had the door all the way open.
“That remains to be seen, but I have high hopes.” Laurel said cautiously. The look on his face wasn’t giving her any hopes about his end of things. “Where’s Alexis?”
Ian ran a hand through his hair. “Putting out the ‘All Hands On Deck’. The attack in New Jersey was on a secure facility where the ROCIC stashes the slightly less dangerous tech and magic they take off of people they arrest. The good stolen? Jame Richter’s custom—apparently blessed revolver, a pair of ruby chips formerly belonging to Walter the Sineater, an the Adriel member, Harobnah’s sword.
“Oh, and General Pratt just checked: Richter, Harobnah, and Gospel aren’t in their cells. The guards report that a woman walked into the prison and—and I quote—demanded they release those men in the Name of the Lord. To which the guards replied by opening the doors and letting her walk out with them. They have no idea why they did so.”
Laurel couldn’t stop herself from gawking at him for a moment. “The Adriel are back in play?”
“With at least one new member, seeing as they didn’t bust Bezek, the guy with the powered armor out and didn’t try to free the old Sineaters.” said Ian.
Turning away from him and toward her variable wall of monitors, Laurel looked at the map depicting the locations of the electromagnetic storms. “And they did it at the same time all hell broke lose on the EM spectrum and an earthquake hit England…”
Something a dragon said to her not long ago spurred her to call up a real-time satellite image of the Celtic Sea. Her eyes widened and she found herself following her adoptive daughter’s mannerisms instead of her own. “Oh. Shit.”
Ian crossed the room to get a better look at the screen. “What? Is there something happening on that island there?”
Swallowing, Laurel shook her head. “No, Ian. The island is what’s happening. There isn’t an island in that part of the Celtic Sea. She ran a time lapse of the live image back an hour. Together, they watched as the island sank into the waves thanks to the magic of rewind.
“This is what Armigal was telling us about. An island in England that appears out of nowhere? This is Avalon. ‘When Avalon rises, Mankinds will have to prove themselves—or lose a great hope against Her cold’. ‘Her’ being whoever this Queen of the Air and Darkness is.”
Ian stared at the screen, jaw set. “If humanity is supposed to prove themselves… and the Adriel are going after whatever’s on Avalon… we’re going to fail that test, and hard.”
“It’s a good thing we’re going All Hands On Deck then.” Laurel said. “If we can contact someone closer to Jersey, maybe was can catch the Adriel before they cross the Atlantic.”
“Amen.” intoned Alvus Tang, standing in front of an old cargo plane waiting on a rural Connecticut runway.
“Amen.” replied his flock. They were an odd assortment, dressed in costumes that vaguely related to one another by a theme of militant Christianity.
There was a man in a black bodysuit and body armor with a white cross painted on his heart and a scabbard hanging from his hip and a bandana covering his hair and top half of his face except for his eyes. His mustache was waxed into a curl worthy of a ringmaster.
Next to him stood another man garbed in white with a hood that covered his eyes and nose, leaving only his mouth visible.
To his right was a woman in robes of red, blues and gold in a style that hadn’t been seen in a hundred years. Her blonde hair hung in a cascade of curls tot he small of her back, and she wore a veil that crossed just beneath her nose to cover her mouth. It had a Gnostic symbol for Obey positioned over her lips.
Last in line as a square jawed man who was not like the others. Instead of a costume, he wore a crisp, dress shirt, gray slacks and black suspenders along with a visible shoulder holster that held an ornate revolver for all to see. He had the suit jacket for his outfit folded over his arm as he knelt with the others at the end of the prayer.
“My most loyal flock.” said Tang. He was a thin Chinese man in his sixties, and the stress that had taken him over in the last year had cause him to loose the last of his hair. Still, he looked fit and spoke with smooth confidence—the confidence of a man doing God’s work. “It pleases me to see you all here today, on this most auspicious day.”
He folded his hands in front of him and made eye contact with each in turn. “The Almighty God has told me that this day was coming. The day when His most holy and powerful of Relics would be revealed to the world. At the very same moment Sister Delilah was securing your release, this came to pass: in England, an island has risen from the ocean—the island of Avalon.
“Thought the Lord did not tell me what I would find there, I believe it is obvious. The legendary King Arthur—once thought a myth and a fiction; but there are people who ay Almighty God is a fiction as well—once quested for the cup that caught the blood of our Savior, Jesus Christ as he was tortured upon the cross. I speak of course, of the Holy Grail.
“Today, we fly to Avalon, where we will take possession of the Grail and use its power to finally purge this world of the unholy creatures that plague it and in doing so, reveal the Truth of the Lord and his love to the entire world.”
He raised on hand and pointed to the plane. “Let us take the first step now on this most holy pilgrimage. Sister Delilah, if you would take the controls, I will co-pilot.”
To Be Continued…