- 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
There was indeed a mound where the topographical map said there would be. A small spring bubbled up out of a nearby hill, feeding into a stream that ringed a thirty-foot tall, perfectly circular lump of earth. Trees grew on top of it, but the sloped sides were made of rammed earth—obviously artificial up close.
On the mound’s eastern face, seemingly guarded by a great oak whose gnarled roots had grown in what couldn’t possibly have been a natural arch, was a ten-foot tall set of double doors made of stone.
When Isp and Osp working in tandem couldn’t force it open, the entire team convened before the mound’s entrance to figure a way in.
“Do you think the Adriel beat us here? That they got inside and locked the door behind us?” Chaos asked.
Codex was in the process of taping the last of a half-dozen sensor pads to the doors. “Doubtful.” She said. “There’s no tracks and we didn’t see any other planes in the satellite photos or when we flew over. If they don’t have supersonic transport, they’ll be behind by hours despite having a head start on us.”
“So now we have a head start.” Facsimile beamed, holding Codex’s laptop for her.
“A head start me might lose trying to get the door open.” said Chaos.
Occult has also been examining the door, holding the crystal pendant she used for scrying against the smooth rock. “Well we’re not going to smash it down. I’m not sure what kind of spell it is, but this door most certainly has magic in it. Strong magic. It might be that neither we nor the Adriel can get in.”
At the mention of the doors being magical, Alloy looked the structure up and down thoughtfully. “Magical huh? Is it a password thing, or a ‘only the chosen one can pass’ thing.”
“No idea.” Occult admitted.
“Hmm…” the armored hero bumped his shoulder playfully against his girlfriend’s arm and strode over to stand in front of the doors. With an air of drama, he raised both hands and proclaimed, “Mellon.”
Absolutely nothing happened besides Renaissance and Zero giggling and Ephemeral cracking a smile and shaking his head.
Undeterred, Alloy raised his hands again. “Open sesame!” Nothing. “…Swordfish?”
Ephemeral came over and clapped his friend on the shoulder. “I believe this door is a few hundred years too old to respond to the first and third, and much too far west to respond to the second.”
“I figured. But I had to try.”
“Maybe I can get a running start and phase through it.” suggested Vamanos. She moved back, hopping over the stream to give herself enough room to build momentum. Taking a moment to pull down her goggles, she struck out toward the doors at a full sprint.
For just a moment, it looked like she was going to go through the stone barrier, but then the entire surface of the pair of doors seemed to ripple and in the next instant, Vamanos was hurled back from them, skipping along the ground until she landed in the stream with a splash.
“Ca… Vamanos!” Darkness was closest to where the speedster hit the water and flew over to see if she was okay.
“I-I’mb otay.” Vamanos say up and wiped at the stream of blood flowing from her nostrils. “Waib. No. I tinb I broke by nobe.”
Alloy looked from his fallen friend to the doors. “Aw man, I’m sorry Vam, I should have stopped you. My powers don”t work on magic metal, so your probably don’t work on magic barriers either.”
“I wish my ability could have helped as well.” admitted the Grand Dodger. “But it seems that you move too quickly for me to perceive in future events. It was quite disconcerting.”
Darkness helped Vamanos up while hope came over to tend to her broken nose. “It looks like we can’t cheat our way through. We’re just going to have to figure out the right way, or hope the Adriel similarly can’t get through.”
Looking up from the laptop Facsimile was still holding for her, Codex said, “If they’re planning to get through, it’s not with brute force. According to the mass spectrometer readings I took, these doors are silicon carbide.”
“Really?” asked Alloy, “That’s nearly diamond hard. I’m not even sure the twins could cut through that. Maybe smash through them if they’re not too thick…”
“Super-hard, and super-rare.” Codex pointed out. “The only naturally occurring silicon carbide on Earth is found in meteor strike craters and in the planet’s mantle—both places medieval knights didn’t have access to last time I checked. So not only are the doors warded b magic, they might well be made by magic too.”
Grand Dodger nodded along with the conversation before speaking up himself. “Okay then: what’s the game plan? We let the Adriel bang their heads against this thing, then take ’em from behind while they’re busy?”
This got Chaos shaking his head. “That’s too much of a risk. What if they know how to open it? I’d much rather they come here and find that whatever they’re after wasn’t anywhere in their reach at all. Now there’s got to be some secret catch, or a password, or a spell right?”
Holding up her digi-Book of Reason, Occult shrugged. “Usually, the Book would show me a new spell or new information if that was the case. There’s nothing. Not on these doors… not on Avalon itself.”
“I still say we’ve go no proof this is really Avalon.” said Grand Dodger, “Or that it uses that name. You might as well also check and see what it has to say about Tir Na Nog.”
Chaos pinched his nose under his visor. “Codex, what about the dragon? Did Armigal tell you anything that might have been a clue as t how to get in there?”
The resident genius took up the laptop from Facsimile and started typing. “She said something about the 4 Books picking a chosen one, but aside from Passions, we have no indication that that’s happened for all of them. I don’t really think that was part of the same thought when she mentioned Avalon rising though. She said ‘Avalon is due to rise, I can feel that the 4 have awakened, and this confluence of events means that there is need for both. These, Mankind, are instructions on how to save your world.’ That might be a clue, but to do what?”
Looking up at the doors, Chaos said, “Maybe it is the password thing. Maybe we have to tell the doors that we need them opened—or what we need from inside.” He moved to stand before the door like Alloy had before, but made no effort to flourish as he said, “We need to come inside. Corrupt people are coming to take what Avalon holds and we’re here to stop it.”
“If this is over a thousand years old, it would understand modern English.” Grand Dodger pointed out. “I do have a semi-universal translator on me, but I doubt Middle English is part of the standard software.”
“I can try and find a compatible download.” Codex offered.
But Chaos was shaking his head. “It’s magic, I bet it would understand whatever language we use—as long as we use the right meaning. You can search, but I’m going to keep trying…”
Once more he shouted, “There is a need for Avalon.” Nothing. “We need the Grail.” Again, nothing. “We need Excalibur!”
“Wait…” Alloy said. “Vamanos was telling us earlier that the grail was never here and neither was Excalibur after it was made here. The only thing that ought to be here now would be… Arthur.”
“Right!” Vamanos called, voice muffled because Hope still had a hand over her nose, keeping it straight as it healed. “Actually, now that I think about it, that’s how the story goes: Arthur was brought to Avalon wounded, where he waits until England needs a king.”
“We’ve done far better under Charlotte than we—” Grand Dodger started to say, only to be interrupted by the grinding noise of stone on stone. “–Not quite as absurd as it responding to Tolkien.” he decided aloud.
Chaos gave him a sympathetic look. “I take it this doesn’t happen much to the Guardians?”
The on-loan agent shook his head. “More often than I would prefer when dealing with these mystic cases. I’m much more comfortable in a stand-up fight with someone with powers or tech than I am to the absurdities of magic.”
“That’s rough, buddy.” Chaos said, clapping him on the shoulder. “I wish I could tell you you’ll get used to it, but then I met a dragon a few weeks ago and she told my best friend freaking Avalon was going to appear. Oh, and I’m prepping myself to square off against a squad of psychopaths styling themselves after angels.”
Grand Dodger merely nodded. “Speaking of, let’s see what they’re making such a fuss about, shall we?”
By the time they turned their attention back to the entrance, Darkness and Codex were already organizing the troops.
“Occult, as the magic expert, you’ll be in first with me.” Codex was saying. “Facsimile, you too. There may be other defense mechanisms and your versatility would be of the most help. Dodger, I imagine you’ll want to come with us too as this might be a national treasure we’re wandering into.”
Darkness looked to the others. “Chaos and I will stay in the air as overwatch. Vamanos, if you could start bringing Alloy’s aluminum blocks from the jet, that’d be a big help. Alloy, start setting up a line of defense in case the Adriel get here and we can’t close the doors.”
“What about us?” Renaissance gestured between herself, Ephemeral and Hope.
“Backup.” said Codex. “We don’t know what’s in this mound, so we need a reserve on hand.”
With everyone informed of their roles, it didn’t take the first team to start through the doors. The initial corridor was a gently sloping incline with the walls, floor and ceiling all made of the same material as the door. There were torch sconces at regular intervals and to no one’s surprise, the torches were all alight.
“Why silicon carbide, I wonder…” Codex said mostly to herself. “It’s hard, but if you can just conjure up whatever material, there are tougher things you could use that aren’t as easily sheered or shattered by precision impacts. Maybe it’s for its superconductor properties?”
Grand Dodger was right beside her and caught the entire not-so-internal monologue. “What would a tomb need superconductors for?”
“Maybe this?” Facsimile had went ahead of the others and had come to the end of the corridor, a stone arch. As the others approached, they all saw what she’d come across and gasped.
Renaissance had climbed up to the top of the mound and found a root above the doors to sit on while she busied herself monitoring the sensor feeds from the Karasu no Yūrei on Codex’s laptop.
It was a rare moment of non-travel downtime while on a full-team mission. Usually when someone called for all hands on deck, it involved a big fight, not a lot of sitting and waiting. In the meantime, she’d decided to see what else could be gleaned about Avalon.
Unsurprisingly, something was odd about the local magnetic field. It wasn’t interfering with her nanites, but it was skewing magnetic north by three degrees, presumably toward the mound. Local temperature was six or so degrees above the surrounding area too.
“Maybe magic has waste energy too.” she mused. Clarke’s law said sufficiently advanced technology was indistinguishable from magic, but maybe there really was science behind the magic. Occult and Codex got the same results from the same actions at a reliable rate after all.
Her reverie was broken by an alert window popping up onscreen. ‘Contact Detected’.
Switching quickly to the Karasu no Yūrei’s radar, Renaissance didn’t need to wait even a moment to hit her comm. “Everyone, get ready. The Karasu no Yūrei’s short-range radar just picked up a contact. The radar cross-section matches a…” she checked the readout. “Gustav type B supersonic cargo carrier. It’s going to fly over us in about two minutes.”
“Gustav is a military transport.” Chaos said over the comm. “Why am I not surprised? Alloy, get your defense in place. Everyone else, stand by and keep out of sight. If we can make them waste time hunting for the mound, all the better.”
Darkness added, “Codex, how’s it going in there?”
There was no answer.
“Codex?” Nothing. “Renaissance, comm check.”
The young gadgeteer switched screens once again and ran the diagnostic tool. “Comms are all operational… but there’s no sound from anyone who went inside.” She was already scrambling to her feet. “I’m going in after them to check it out.”
“No, I can do so more safely; from the Astral side.” Ephemeral called from below.
“Still coming down, just in case.” Renaissance half-climbed, half-slid down the side of the mound, ignoring the dust that caked her costume along the way.
“Find out quick because here they come.” Chaos’s voice ordered over the comms.
Sure enough, a rumble come overhead as a massive, yet sleek aircraft flew in low over the island from the east. At subsonic speeds, the Gustav, with its desert camo paint job looked like the seed of some exotic fruit with oddly shaped, rounded wings jutting out of its fuselage on structures designed to fold them in flush with its sides when it transitioned to supersonic flight.
“I’m still not as worried about these guys as I am about whatever’s inside keeping the others from talking.” Renaissance said.
“Yeah, There’s only a handful of them and there’s a whole team of us.” Alloy agreed.
Renaissance frowned. “If we can get the rest of us out of there. Vamanos, come with me. At the very least, you might be able to run back up to the surface if we run into serious trouble.”
“Speaking of serious trouble…” hope was looking up at the Gustav, which had slowed as it passed over the island north of their position. The rear doors were open and people were jumping out. Many more than the half-dozen Adriel. “…that’s a whole lot of parachutes.”
Just as she said that, a mass of parachutes burst out of the rear of the Gustav all together and something huge and sand colored was dragged from the bay.
“Son of a bitch… is that a tank?” Chaos muttered.
“We can’t wait on the others any longer.” Renaissance said. “Callie, let’s go!”
Moving with purpose and being two of the more maneuverable members of the team, Vamanos and Renaissance got to the end of the main corridor in no time. It wasn’t hard to spot Facsimile’s golden feathers through the open arch, and Renaissance rush forward to her friend.
“Guys, did you know you were out of contact? Look, whatever’s going on down here is going to have to…whoa.”
She stopped dead in the arch, just as the others had minutes before. Because there in the cavernous room, surrounded by quartz crystals taller than a man, each of whose facets showed the image of some distant place… was a twelve-foot tall, black-winged angel standing atop a giant anvil.
End Issue #83