- 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
Ten Minutes Earlier.
Since meeting and befriending Warrick, Facsimile had become arguably a bigger fantasy buff than he was. Playing Deathgate at all hours of the day and night, and listening in (she never did get the hang of playing) on tabletop roleplaying sessions had been like a gateway drug for her. Where before she hated reading, now her Quintessence cloud drive was packed full of Fantasy books right alongside movies and TV shows.
Almost three years of mainlining the genre and all of its permutations were about all that prepared her to turn a corner in a worked-stone passage under a mythical king’s burial mound and find a room full of monitors.
Not really monitors, she amended in her head, just the mystic equivalent.
The room was also less of a room and more of a furnished cave. The ceiling and walls were uneven, craggy stone while the floor appeared to have been ground smooth. Huge chunks of quartz erupted from the walls and ceiling, some of them unnaturally dark while others flickered with images. Cyn’s eye picked out a stone disc with strange writing around the edge in one, and in another, a snowy forest with a tiny, ancient shack that looked close to falling down.
At the center of the room was a giant anvil, its flat top larger than her bed at Freeland House. There was a rectangle of silk cloth atop it, its smooth surface disturbed by something about a big as her hand beneath it. Too low and flat to be any Holy Grail she’d ever heard of, too short to be a legendary sword.
“What would a tomb need superconductors for?” she heard Grand Dodger asking somewhere behind her.
It certainly would explain the live magical video feeds, she mused. “Maybe this?” She asked, because it was hard keeping things that popped into her head not immediately come flying out of her mouth.
Both her mother and the Dodger came around the corner and stopped in the archway just like she had. “Oh my.” said Grand Dodger.
“Hmm.” said Codex. “This certainly isn’t a tomb, now is it? Looks like some sort of observation room, but there’s no furniture for whoever might be monitoring those crystals.”
“Unless they sit on the anvil.” Facsimile suggested helpfully.
Codex looked over to Occult as the young woman entered behind them. “Any expert opinions?”
The hooded woman shrugged. “The crystals are basic scrying spells, but they might be watching things on the island, or things on the other end of the Earth for all we know. Beyond that… well it’s not really something I know, but I’ve got a weird feeling from this place. Like we’re being watched. By something magical and powerful.”
Grand Dodger drew out his kali sticks. “Assuming this place does run on the logic of myths and legends, then perhaps the door was a test of the mind, while we’re to meet a test of the body here?”
Extending her own expanding staff, Codex nodded. “That’s a possibility. A very good one.”
Facsimile shook her head. “If there was a boss monster down here, it wouldn’t just sit and wait, it would slam the door behind us and come for a fight right off. This is probably another stupid puzzle. Like we have to guess what all the things in the crystals are before we can uncover the thing on he anvil, or we have to push the anvil over some hidden switch.”
“It’s not likely to be exactly like a game, Fax.” Occult tried to laugh, but the presence she was feeling made he too tense to make it sound convincing. “But there is probably some secret to it.”
Codex nodded. “Right. We just have to reason this out. This is, according to legend, King Arthur’s tomb. In fact, it’s built to look like a burial mound and we gained access by declaring that England needs a king. All of this seems predicated on the idea that this is connected to the Arthurian legend, whether actually part of it, or inspired by. But at the same time, Armigal knew about this place and implied that it was older than she was—that suggests that Avalon predates the timeframe of the traditional King Arthur stories. That makes sense, as the Arthurian legend is a blend of dozens of stories and legends with very little historical backing.”
“How does any of that help us?” asked Grand Dodger.
“I’m not sure.” Codex admitted. “Maybe the original legend was created to keep their equivalent of passwords straight. Maybe whoever the real Arthur was, they were someone who used this place. The problem is that Armigal didn’t explain any of this to us. She just assumed we’d figure out Avalon before whoever Maeve is got here. Our only saving grace is that if we can’t figure it out, the Adriel might not either.”
The air around them vibrated. It was a low hum that became a buzz and from somewhere within it, they each discerned a voice; calm, genderless and melodious: “For what reason do you wish to deny others the bounty of Avalon?”
All four closed ranks. Despite having never worked with the Descendants before, Grand Dodger naturally moved to form one point of a triangle around occult who would be the only one present who didn’t seem capable of melee combat.
“You wouldn’t happen to be something magical and powerful would you?” Facsimile asked automatically.
“A question was posed. An answer is required.” There was no annoyance in the voice, only a dispassionate statement of fact.
Codex addressed the room as a whole. “The Adriel are a misguided and misinformed group who would use what they find here to murder and oppress. We are only here to stop them.”
There was a pause before the voice inquired, “And take what you find here for your own?”
“Test of spirit.” Facsimile whispered to Occult. “This is totally like a video game.”
For her part, Codex leaned on her staff and shook her head. “We were told about this place by the dragon Armigal. She said that Avalon—and presumably whatever is here—would be needed when Maeve comes. As far as we know, she hasn’t. We would only ask for whatever it is if we needed it.”
The hum, which had been ever-present even when the voice was silent increase din volume. “Then you quest has been for naught, noble seeker.” Several of the dim quartz crystals in the room flared briefly and the light seemed to reflect and refract off of angles in the air that hadn’t been visible before: like noticing a piece of glass only when it catches the light.
Colors began to fill those spaces, granting depth, texture and form. A giant loomed into being above the anvil. It was androgynous, and bald; its face covered by a featureless silver mask, its upper torso enclosed in a shining breastplate, and an ankle-length loincloth draped around the lower. Were it human, its impossible thinness would have been skeletal, but it had no bone or muscle to be seen, merely smooth hairless limbs of a dusky hue. Behind it, two great feathered wings, as black as night, sprouted from its spine to hang at odd angles as if they were broken.
“Avalon is already well-protected. I am First of Twelve, the Fallen Angel, Guardian of the Forge and the Forged. As put forth by the cunning folk of ages long gone by to ensure that the Forged do not fall into the hands of the wicked. Should one who is unworthy seek to take what they cannot have, their own strength shall be turned against them.”
“Guys, did you know you were out of contact?” None of them had even heard Renaissance as she ran down the corridor alongside Vamanos. Her arrival jostled them out of the shock of the angel’s appearance. “Look, whatever’s going on down here is going to have to…whoa.”
Vamanos almost ran into Facsimile as she spotted the gigantic creature in the center of the room. “Whoa is right? I-is that an angel? Like a real angel?”
The eyeless masked face tracked in on her. “I am a construct of pure mystic force, my appearance designed to strike a balance between awe and reverence to the common person—to mitigate the need for more damaging actions.”
A security system.” Codex deduced. “Assuming ‘cunning folk’ means ancient magic users, it makes perfect sense. We know that magi have access to knowledge of other worlds via the 4 Books. It stands to reason this isn’t the first time that incursions have spiked—Armigal said as much—and formulated a means to arm the future against such things. This guardian is how they make sure whatever was left behind only got used when absolutely necessary.”
“Your assessment is correct. Therefore, your quest is folly. Avalon was already well-protected.”
“Maybe not against what the Adriel have.” Renaissance cut in, trying not to even look at the magical creature. “Codex, that’s why we came down: the Adriel are here and it’s not just the group Chaos and Darkness fought before. I counted at least thirty parachuting in—plus two tanks.”
“Tanks?” Facsimile scoff. “Seriously?”
Renaissance nodded. “Very serious. I guess they expected someone to try and stop them, so they’re not even pretending to go easy on us.”
“The greater the threat, the greater the damage that will be turned pon them.” stated the angel.
“I’m not willing to bet everything on that.” said Codex. “But I think we need to learn everything we can here. Occult and I will stay down here to consult the… er… Fallen Angel… Everyone else, topside. Vamanos, since we apparently can’t communicate, you’re going to have to play go between. Have Alloy seal the entrance; you can still phase through if it’s aluminum and not the ensorcerelled silicon carbide.”
“Are you sure you don’t need some muscle down here?” Facsimile asked, casting a wary eye toward the angel.
Codex waved her off. “As long as we make it clear we’re not trying to take anything, we should be fine. Go; the others need you out there.”
Facsimile ducked her head, then turned to the others. “Let’s go kick these guys’ asses real quick then.”
“I’ll admit, I was hoping for a bit of action.” Grand Dodger turned to Renaissance, “Thirty you say? Armed?”
The green-clad heroine shook her head. “I couldn’t tell, but given the tanks, it stands to reason.”
He cracked a smile. “Excellent. Codex, keep us posted, please.”
Once he headed up, the others followed until Codex and Occult were left alone in the chamber with the Fallen Angel. Codex made sure no one else needed last minute instructions before returning her attention to the creature. “Now that we have time and we’ve established we’re not after what’s kept here… can you tells us exactly what it is you’re protecting?”
The hum that filled the air surged as the angel reached down and waved its hand toward the silk cloth at its feet. A gust of wind blew the cloth away, revealing what lay beneath.
“This Forge has passed on blades to defend this world many times. They are as powerful as they need to be. What was given to the bear-man—who would be called Arthur—was the Steel-Cutting Sword, Caledfwlch. Countless who have hunted beasts from beyond have been given the Foe-Cutting Sword, Claíomh Solais. What you see here is the template for both, the ultimate weapon, the Ur Sword: All-Cutting Sword Caldabolg. It is never to leave this place until the day Maeve enters this world and brings it to its darkest hour.”
Occult looked to Codex and immediately guessed what the genius was going to ask next, so she went ahead and did so herself. “Well in that case: who or what is Maeve?”
Partway up one of Avalon’s numerous hills, concealed by the trees, James Richter watched through a set of binoculars as the so-called heroes charged out of the mound.
“They’re leaving.” he reported to Delilah, who was following the main Adriel forces’ progress in forming up a battle line on the island interior. “Looks like they left the metal controller behind to close up the mound.”
Richter shook his head. “I’ve seen Chaos and Darkness overhead a few times, keeping an eye out.”
“One or two will not be a problem.” Delilah said, sounding almost bored. “The Doctor’s plan was flawless.”
The plan had been simple. The Gustav dropped a small boat with her and Richter just off the coast of the island twenty minutes before the Descendants arrived while it picked up Dr. Tang’s troops and a pair of heavily-modified tanks from the English mainland.
Concealed and with the self-styled ‘heroes’ thinking they were racing against the clock, it was simply a matter of following them to the burial mount. Now, with the main force of the Adriel attacking, the ‘heroes’ left the tomb of Arthur almost unguarded to engage them.
“Ready?” Richter asked, stowing the binoculars away in a hip pouch before drawing his symbol-etched revolver.
Delilah fingered the veil she wore. It was down at the moment, but could be raised over her mouth at any moment. Aside from that, she was wearing tactical webbing with a knife and pistol on it. “Ready.”
They followed a game trail down to the stream that flowed around the burial mound and from there, followed the contour of the mound around to the entrance where Alloy stood ready before a shining, uninterrupted wall of aluminum.
At the last corner, Delilah pulled the veil over her face and leaned out to get a good look at her quarry. She came back with a look of consternation on her face. “I’m not sure I can get all three.”
“Three?” Richter asked in hushed tones. “Who came back?”
“No one. But there are three there.”
Richter didn’t bother arguing, only cocked his revolver and said, “Do your best. I’ll take out whoever’s left standing.” Delilah nodded and stepped out of cover and into Alloy’s line of sight.
The armored hero pivoted to face her, At the same time, the metal tentacles sprouting from his upper arms sifted into foreboding blades. Delilah didn’t flinch.
“In The Name Of God: Bind This Man.”
Alloy cocked his head. “What now?” That’s as far as he got before the tentacles lashed around him, the left pinning his arms to his sides while the right forced his legs together, causing him to topple over.
“W-what the hell?” Alloy asked, not just because of the sudden apparent betrayal, but because he could feel Isp and Osp’s confusion in his head.
As he lay there, he watched as Richter stepped out to stand alongside the woman. “Thanks for leading us right where we needed to go.” the older man said gruffly, then looked to the veiled woman. “Delilah, have him get the door.”
“Of course.” she replied, then looked in Alloy’s direction again. “In the Name Of God, Tear Down This Wall.”
Something cold and insidious wormed its way into Alloy’s ear. He could feel it echoing around, seeking out pathways. When it connected, he felt his mind reach out with his powers. Try as he might, he couldn’t stop it as it slammed into the wall he’d just erected and ripped a hole in it.
Cursing under his breath, he watched the two Adriel members walk out of his sight and into the burial mound.
“Damnit.” he hissed. The twins were still under Delilah’s orders. “Sorry boys.” With that (and a sense that for once, they completely understood), he unsummned them, retracting their orihalcite bodies into snake charms around his biceps and freeing himself.
Even as he struggled to his feet, he was on the comm.
“It was a trick! Richter and one of his pals hit me with some kind of mind control! They’ve gone inside!”
To Be Continued…