- 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
Codex led Grand Dodger into the passenger cabin while Chaos and Darkness followed after. Inside, the rest of the team, all fully suited up, sat waiting for the new arrival.
“Everyone’s been briefed on what we know, so I’ll let you relate your end to the others while I get us in the air… if that’s okay with you of course.”
“Perfectly.” said Grand Dodger genially.
Darkness directed him to a sitting area toward the front with actual couches and a coffee table. There was a holographic projector on the table, displaying ‘FEED NOT FOUND’ in the air above itself. “The login code is 501337 if you want to make use of it.”
Grand Dodger ducked his head. “Thank you, I think I will.” As he made his way to the front, he got his first close-up look at The Descendants. Even with his experience, they were strange: an apparently literal knight in shining armor, a Nordic woman with a hood over her eyes that managed to cast her face in shadow from every angle, a golden woman he was pretty sure was naked… the list went on.
He’d learned long ago not to let first impressions fool him thought. Intel, reputations and first-hand observation were far more important, and the first two said they were good at protecting their citizens even if sometimes their capture rate tanked.
Reaching the front of the cabin, he took out his palmtop and entered the code to synch up to the projector. Then he looked to his audience and cleared his throat. Public speaking wasn’t usually part of his job description. In fact, public was, in fact, explicitly not part of his job at all, Silence’s musings notwithstanding.
“Right.” He said more to himself than the others. “I’m the Grand Dodger, MI-6 by way of the Foreign Office. Like most of you, I am a descendant, a pre-cog with a five second recall window. Not enough to win any lotteries, but more than enough to demolish most gents in a stand-up fight. You may call me Grand or Dodger, either one. Formal introductions can wait until after the briefing though.”
He had the display call up a satellite image of the island. “As we are all aware: four hours ago, an island appeared in the Celtic Sea, just over twelve kilometers off the coast. This was accompanied electromagnetic storms and an earthquake and as detailed images show…”
A few more taps zoomed in on the image, revealing a green canopy of trees growing over steep, rugged hills and in deep valleys with a few open meadows and lakes. “…it is not soggy and dead as an island that’s been underwater ought to be. Let’s not beat around the bush here: something supernatural is afoot and these enemies of yours, the Adriel want it.
“Luckily, sat images show that unless the crashed down into the canopy so neatly they didn’t bend a branch, the Adriel haven’t made it to the island yet. Therefore, our job is to secure the island and any strategically important locations, then lie in wait to ambush the Adriel when they try to make land.”
He brought up an image of Tang on the display. “A word on Tang: Alvus Tang, alias Elias Wu, alias Ephram Xi Hung is ethnically Chinese, born to sixth generation British citizens. He’s spent his entire career in religion, starting as a priest in the Anglican Church. Two years into his priesthood, Tang, then Xi Hong and two friends disappeared for six years before stumbling into a small town in France, frost-bitten and ranting about demons.
“No one knows what happened over those six years, but Xi Hong has always claimed that he and his friends went hiking new Cheddar and found an ancient, ruined hut wherein they found a ring of stone mushrooms that transported him to hell. He then swiftly capitalized on this by publishing what he claims is a true accounting of what happened to him and the others under the name Elias Wu.”
The armored man—Alloy, if Grand Dodger remembered correctly—suddenly piped up. “I thought I knew that name. They made that book into the Darkest Jungle miniseries, right? The one where three hikers get transported to this death-world where all the plants try to murder you and so does like, everything else.”
“Right on the button, yes.” said Grand Dodger, resisting the urge to react to the young, irreverent voice that came from behind Alloy’s visor. “Made himself a bit of money out of the deal and also drew a number of fans—fans who believed him when he said the Darkest Jungle was Hell and that demons were trying to break into this world from their own.”
“Wait.” said Occult. “That’s Faerie. A world mostly covered with jungles, filled with demons that can possess you? Faerie. Are you saying he’s actually been there?”
Grand Dodger shrugged. “We can’t be sure. While my government is well aware of Faerie and its inhabitants, that doesn’t mean any of that actually happened to Tang. In any event though, his descriptions and growing fan base brought him to the attention of the Sineaters.”
“I thought Tang founded the Sineaters.” said Chaos.
“I’m afraid not.” said Grand Dodger. “Though both the Vatican and the Anglican Churches deny their very existences, our own records show that they’ve been active since at least the thirteenth century. Whether they were ever actually sanctioned by a church is anyone’s guess, but they’ve been blamed for murders, involuntary exorcisms, and practicing an… unorthodox brand of Christianity in hundreds of accounts, most of which various groups attempted to expunge—including thefts from Vatican vaults.”
Chaos nodded slowly. “Now that you mention it, when I met them, they said demons have been entering our world for centuries. Which implies Faerie has always been ‘leaking’ into our world, just not so much as now.”
“And yet, they never devised a means to separate a possessing entity from its host short of murder.” Grand Dodger said dryly. “Progress, it seems, does not march on for everyone.”
He let out a sign and gestured back to the image of Tang. “After falling in with the Sineaters, Xi Hong changed his name to Alvus Tang and began appearing in the public record only sporadically. We don’t know when or how he became leader of the Sineaters, but we are certain he started the Adriel as a means of keeping his most loyal members close.
“Tang is our primary objective after the defense of the island. He is likely to have one or more of the artifacts the Sineaters have collected or stolen over the years, plus he commands the unquestioning loyalty of his Adriel. If we can take him early, we may be able to force a surrender.”
A few taps on his palmtop’s screen brought the image of the island back. “In order to get to that, however, we need to secure the island and anything of import on it. There are an estimated nineteen square kilometers of heavily forested hills and valleys down there and the electromagnetic interference is delaying close-in scans. Therefore, I propose we break into teams to explore the island.”
“We are talking about some kind of magical murder island, right? Let’s not make these teams too small.” Facsimile said, making Grand Dodger wonder how many of The Descendants were so young.
“There’s no indication the island itself is deadly.” said Grand Dodger. “And in any case, we’ll maintain communications at all times. Seeing as you have several fliers and a speedster and that this is a very small island, I don’t imagine there is much danger of forming smaller expeditionary forces.”
Darkness raised a hand. “We don’t have proof it isn’t dangerous either though. So no groups smaller than three. Chaos, Facsimile, Zero and myself are our best fliers, so we can be Alpha Team. Codex, Occult, Hope and Ephemeral all have things they can do here at home base, so they can be Beta Team. Alloy, Renaissance, Vamanos and Dodger, you’re our ground-pounders and arguably are the best in close quarters. You’ll be Gamma Team.
“Alpha Team will scout from the air and pick out anything unusual we can point Gamma Team toward. Meanwhile, Ephemeral can sweep the island for any sapient minds, Occult can see if the Books of Reason and Passions have anything to say about Avalon, Codex can use the Karasu no Yūrei sensor suites, and Hope will of course be on hand to patch up anyone who gets hurt.”
She looked to the rest of the team. “Any objections?” No one voiced any disagreement. “Alright. Then we have a plan.”
“I’m going to be totally honest here.” Alloy said as he and Renaissance made their way down the Karasu no Yūrei’s cargo ramp, “I really didn’t see ‘mission to freaking Avalon’ coming in terms of things I would do in my superhero career.”
Grand Dodger followed them down, stopping to give an appreciative look at the surroundings. Codex had set the jet down at the top of a hundred-foot chalk cliff, at the top of which was a field of chest high stalks of grain that was swallowed up by forest after a few hundred yards.
“We have no proof that this is Avalon.” he asserted. “The Arthurian Legend, while enduring, is the result of centuries of various myths, legends and simple stories being melded together. You’ll find as much truth in them as you might Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, or James Bond’s escapades.”
Vamanos was last of the plane and was staring around, wide-eyed. “Well, Facsimile really did fight some kind of eldritch abomination. And Alloy was Bond for Halloween… so maybe there’s hope.”
“Hope?” asked Grand Dodger. “That’s an odd choice of words.”
Vamanos shrugged. “I just really love the King Arthur stories. The Knights of the Round Table, the Quest for the Grail, the Fisher King—it’s all very cool if you ask me.” Her shoulders slumped a bit as she took a better look around. “I sort of expected something more though. Giant statues of the Knights, a giant burial mount… something.”
“It could still be out there.” Renaissance offered. “Under all the wheat and apple trees.”
This seemed to energize Vamanos and the speedster made a gleeful noise. “Apple trees? Avalon is named ofter the old word for apple.”
“That’s a might thin.” said Grand Dodger, “But then again, I didn’t know that.”
Vamanos nodded eagerly and struck off east along the cliffs as they’d decided. “It was also called ‘the island of fruit trees’, because it was supposed to be so fertile that only edible foods grew. There wasn’t even grass because grain grew instead.”
Just behind her, Renaissance was looking at readouts on her gauntlet’s on-board computer. “Well she’s right about that only grasses I see around here are wheat. Though my botany encyclopedia says there’s a good mix of non-fruit trees out there like oak.”
Alloy was walking beside Renaissance, paying more attention to the cliff and rocks below than the greenery. “Kind of a specific detail to match up if this isn’t Avalon. Hey, Vam… why do you know so much of this stuff?”
The speedster looked back at them over her shoulder. “We read a cleaned up version of the Arthurian Romance in eighth grade and I loved it. Afterward, I went to the library and got every book they had on it—and I never really liked reading before. I’ve also seen every movie, even the weird one where the guy has sex with Arthur’s mother through his armor.”
She let out a wistful sigh. “Percival and Galahad were my favorites. And Mordred and Claudas. The really good guys and the really bad guys. I’ve always been interested in that kin of thing—it’s how I got interested in superheroes and villains.”
“Can I just say I find it refreshing to hear an American using ‘superhero’, after years of hearing all of this ‘prelate’ claptrap?” said Grand Dodger.
“Tell me about it.” Alloy said, gesturing expansively. “I don’t get who the news and stuff thought they were fooling.”
Renaissance chuckled. “It’s a good thing Facsimile isn’t here, or we’d hear such a rant.” She tapped her lips with a forefinger. “Say, Vamanos?”
“Seeing as you know so much about King Arthur and Avalon, do you have any better ideas about how we should go about looking?”
“No idea. Sorry. I’m not even sure what the Adriel would want from here.”
Alloy looked up from perusing the rock coastline. “Excalibur, obviously. These guys like stealing religious artifacts, especially weapons, so that’s got to be it.”
Vamanos shook her head, facing front again. “That doesn’t make sense though. Even if the most popular stories are the ones that are true, then Excalibur was returned to the Lady of the Lake and the Holy Grail never came to Avalon. The only thing Avalon’s really known for is being where Excalibur was forged, and where Arthur’s burial mound is.”
“Burial mound?” asked Renaissance. Like… a big hill with a tomb inside?”
“If only we weren’t surrounded by hills, then that would be simple to find.”
Renaissance tapped her lips with her finger again. “Actually… that might help.”
She swept her hand in the direction of the forested hills. “Think about it: if you were going to bury the greatest king in history, would you stuff him in the first random hill you find? I doubt it. They would choose a special kill and do the medieval version of terraforming to make it special—if they didn’t make one of their own.”
“Yeah, but that was a thousand years ago, maybe more.” Vamanos pointed out. “It would have weathered away, especially being underwater.”
“If this wasn’t a magic island where the trees managed not only to not drown but thrive.” said Renaissance. “I’m willing to bet absolutely nothing’s changes since this island disappeared.” With that, she hit her comm. “Codex, I know deep scans aren’t possible right now, but can we get a topographical map?”
After a moment in which Codex could be hear keyboarding, the reply came. “Sure, but with this terrain, it would be really easy to lose a structure in the trees or the noise.”
“I know, but can you send it anyway? Callie just gave me a great idea. We’re looking for Arthur’s burial mound.”
“Hmm. “said Codex. “Given all the hills… oh. Oh wow. There’s a valley between hills two miles north of here with an inexplicable and perfectly round bulge in the middle. I’ll send Alpha Team to give it a fly over, but that’s a great candidate.”
“Really?” Judging from Vamanos’s tone, Grand Dodger imagined that, without her goggles, her eyes would be sparkling.
“With any luck.” said Renaissance. “Good work, Vamanos! Now we just have to figure out what it is the Adriel want.”
In the heart of Avalon, in a deep, stone hollow craved by mortal hands, where light had not penetrated in centuries and the air was forever still, a light breeze fluttered across the hewn stone, kicking up whirlwinds in the dust.
Power had returned to Avalon. A spark that had long been extinguished only to be recently rekindled in the rest of Britain was more like a carefully tended but dormant ember on the island, just as its original creators intended. Now, with the presence of true power, that ember was stoked to new life.
Rough cut crystals lit from within, bathing the stone corridors and the great main chamber with soft, yellow light. An almost imperceptible hum ran through the living stone, bolstering it against attack. And the plans of cunning men and women, the strongest in the Arts in their generation began to play out.
All that was needed was a mortal hand to carry them out against an ancient, hated foe…
To Be Continued…