- Issue #85 – The Ballad of Bad Lass
- Issue #86 – Those Not Forgotten
- Issue #87 – Descendants… In Space
- Issue #88 – Tome of Battle
- Issue #89 – All That Glitters
- Issue #90 – Just Us Sidekicks
- Issue #91 – Rock and Roll Lifestyle
- Descendants Special #8 – The Heart of Rock ‘N Roll
- Issue #92 – Homage
- Issue #93 – Day of Recovery
- Issue #94 – The Knight, The Witch and the Gadgeteer (FaerieQuest Part 1)
- Issue #95 – Into The Woods (FaerieQuest Part 2)
Those Not Forgotten (Part 4)
The rest of the night wasn’t as uneventful as Alexis would have hoped. The alarm clock went off three times, a spring in her mattress started poking her in the back, and it sounded like the couple in the next room decided to get energetic and frisky around six in the morning.
Even taking three more hours of attempted fitful sleep, Alexis felt like she’d been wrung out and left hanging by the time she checked out. The distractions weren’t what kept her up for the most part. No, she’d been thinking about the strangeness surrounding her night. It couldn’t have been just bad luck, at least not such a preponderance of it.
“Someone is screwing with me.” she murmured to herself as she left the hotel. Once she was well away from the entrance and out in the parking lot, she took her comm out of a pocket hidden in her jeans and put it in her ear. “Call CDX.”
There were thirty seconds of dead air before a digitized voice said, “Connection could not be established.”
“Cycle channels.” she said, no longer surprised at any misfortunes befalling her. This time, the comm didn’t respond at all.
A light shiver ran down Alexis’s spine and she realized it wasn’t just concern at not being able to raise Laurel on the comm; it actually was unseasonably cool when it hadn’t been when she first left. It felt like the air often did just before Juniper did something big.
Only she doubted it was Juniper this time.
Grasping at a slim chance, she took out her palmtop. The internet was down and the icons said there was no cellular signal.
“Alright then, Plan B.” she put her palmtop and comm away and took a quick look around. The hotel was out in the suburbs, specifically chosen so she could find a private place to take off from. It was situated on its own little plot of land down the hill from a pair of shopping centers, another hotel and a gas station, but the land behind it was all young forest that concealed a drainage pond.
There were a few cars on the road driving past, but no one was out and about that she could see. A quick scan told her no one was watching out the windows either, so she didn’t try and fancy evasion techniques in making her way around the side of the hotel and into the woods.
It was a good forest for hiding; lots of tall, thin trees with plentiful alanthus bushes blocking sight without making it too hard to move around. As soon as she couldn’t see the hotel anymore, Alexis reached up to her choker and touched two fingers to it, speaking a command word.
In a rush, the disguised D-icon replaced her T-shirt and jeans with her Darkness uniform, backpack and new goggles.
“At last, she prepares for battle.” The speaker’s voice was like an iron rasp drawn over silk, somehow smooth and rough all at once and feminine the whole time.
Even with as lethargic she felt, Alexis whipped around in the direction of the voice, black heat forming up around her fists.
What she found was a bank of yellowish fog rolling out from a figure that her tired mind found familiar. There were hints of silk and red-brown.
“The woman who stole my room.” Alexis said flatly. The chill fog closed in around her. “I knew there was something up with you. The only thing I’m trying to figure out is how and why. How do you even know how I am?”
“My lord has been watching her. Watching those with the magic inside them. She is the leader: strong, but flawed.” It falls to me to see if her flaws are too great: if she will crack when faced with the true tribulations to come.” The figure’s arms came up and then went sharply down, and the fog followed suit, dropping instantly to waist height.
Alexis chewed on the inside of her cheek to keep from gasping. Back in the hotel, she now realized, shed seen exactly what she was seeing now, but her mind just didn’t manage to translate it right. The woman—if she could be called such—didn’t have sharp vulpine features… she was just vulpine; an literal merger of human and fox.
What before seemed to be a long, pointed nose was, in fact, a muzzle. She still had red hair—a whole cascade of it—but her face was actually covered in red fur with white under her chin and down the front of her neck. Her eyes, however, were all-human, a soft, soulful brown that somehow managed to draw Alexis’s eye despite the spectacle of the rest of her.
The silk kimono remained the same, but the think Alexis remembered as a sash was actually a pair of fox tails looped around her hips. And from beneath it, she stood tip-toe on little fox paws. Her hands, which where black-furred, but still largely human, was holding several leaves like the ones Alexis had gotten from the maintenance woman the night before.
With a pair of deft flicks of her wrists, the fox woman launched the leaves into the air, sending them in looping flights all around the tiny forest. They struck trunks and rocks and dirty and exploded into bursts of frost and ice spread until the entire area was locked in the grip of Winter with a capital ‘W’.
Alexis wrapped herself in a cloak of black heat to protect against the chill and looked at the transformation that gripped the forest. “So I’m guessing this is a faerie thing.”
“This concerns both Green and Blue.”
The cold seemed to press in. Alexis shifted her stand, feeling unsteady. “Maeve?”
The fox woman dipped her head once in a simple nod. “My lord wishes to know if she is the one to oppose Maeve.”
She took a step. One step. Alexis was sure that’s all she saw.
But it was a step that crossed something like eight yards and suddenly the faerie was right in front of her in a solid striking stance, both palms joined at the heel of the hand as they collided with Alexis’s sternum. The force took her off her feet and flung her back into a tree. The frost encasing it shattered into a tinkling chaos as she rebounded off it and hit the ground atop its roots.
“Maeve will send physical threats.”
The voice had retreated. Alexis looked up to find the fox woman in exactly the same place she’d been before her attack.
“So can I.” she snarled and unleashed a bar of black heat. It flashed the frost on the ground to steam in its passage, but the faerie danced—literally danced—aside, twirling just far enough out of the way that the lance of dark matter missed even the folds of her clothing by fractions of an inch. It continued one to cut down two trees, sending them crashing to the forest floor.
As she completed her twirl, her tails unfurled from around her, rising up to join a third that emerged from beneath the kimono. Pale green-blue flames lit at the tips of them, casting weird shadows in the suddenly-winterized forest.
“Maeve will send threats to her mind.”
Upon saying this, the fox woman disappeared, leaving the pale flames behind, hanging in air. A second later, they each exploded into a swirling conflagration. The air seemed to burn like old film in a projector to reveal an old battle tank with Gnostic symbols etched into its armor, only said armor was melted and bent inward as if from a fantastic force. The air was suddenly filled with the scent of burning metal and charred meat.
Alexis averted her eyes, fighting to keep her stomach from rebelling. “Why are you doing this?” She demanded.
A strong hand closed on her shoulder, seemingly impervious to the black heat enshrouding her, and effortlessly pulled her to her feet. “I have already explained myself. The question is: ‘why aren’t you looking?’.” A second hand reached around and grabbed her chin, likely intent on making her turn toward the scene.
With a wordless snarl of rage, Alexis shrugged free of the grasp and whirled, intent on putting a fist into a vulpine face. Her swing pulled up short when she found herself facing not her tormentor, but a stasis pod. And inside was Dana Rice-Kelly.
“Maeve does not know what haunts her yet.” said the fox woman’s voice. “But once Maeve knows she exists, the she will not stop searching until she learns. And Maeve will turn it against her.” Behind the cell containing Dana, others appeared, forming out of the mists, each with the shadowy form of another unfortunate teenager captured by Tome.
The forest was gone, replaced by row after row of cells. The mists rose up in pillars. Within them, Alexis could make out silhouettes that she recognized instantly: Morganna, Mad Mad Maddigan, Warpstar, Simon Talbot.
“All of there are her burdens?” the voice laughed lightly as if it was a private joke. “All of these are her fault? That is impressive, Mankind. Through her eyes, she is an atrocity Maeve would be proud of, yes?”
Teeth gritting, Alexis didn’t turn this time in case it might telegraph her actions. Instead, she just snapped an arm straight out to her side and fired a blast of black heat in the direction of the voice. More frost crackled and broke apart in the heat, but it made no contact with her target.
“She is not thinking.” the fox woman said calmly. “All this after only one poor night’s sleep. I could have done worse. Maeve will do worse.”
Alexis closed her eyes tightly and breathed through her nose. She didn’t want to look at anything anymore, knowing it would just be more psychological torture. More distraction. More… smoke and mirrors.
Something in her sleepy brain went click.
Her foe was right: she hadn’t been thinking—had missed the obvious. Everything was illusion. Not just the visions, but the sounds, the sensations—everything. And now that she was thinking, she realized what exactly she was fighting.
After their encounter with the dragon, Armigal, Laurel had started putting together dossiers on potential Faerie threats. The leaves, the flames and especially the anthropomorphic fox all added up to kitsune. According to the Book of Reason, they were a species without natural magical abilities, but with powerful traditions in illusion magic. The could alter people’s perceptions in any way they saw fit.
Alexis felt a vicious stab of cruel pride. Correction: anything they were aware of.
The kitsune was learning about Earth at an alarming rate. The night before, she hadn’t known about instant messanging: that was how Alexis was able to talk to Laurel and get the second room booked. But in less than twenty-four hours, she knew to block internet and cell signals.
There was something the kitsune was highly unlikely to have figured out yet…
“Is this all there is? My Lord held her in high esteem. Has she already given up?”
“Stop!” Alexis shouted, putting her hands over her ears. Coincidentally, this put her hand next to the manual controls for her goggles. “Stop it! I didn’t ask you or your lord to hold me in anything! You can already tell that I have enough on my mind?!”
The kitsune chuckled raspily. “Her redemption? What fools these Mankinds be. Redemption cannot be sought or quested for. It come or it does not. It is earned and cannot be forced. She is wasting her time on distractions when the end of our worlds looms near.”
Alexis paused, though she didn’t stop cycling the various sensor modes the goggles afforded as she cast about for the kitsune’s true location. “I know full well what’s going on. And if we got anything more than cryptic clues and prophecy, maybe we could do something about it, but we never get that, do we?”
She built up twin cyclones of black heat around her fists. “But all the same, I can’t turn my back on everything else going on. People could die and those kids could be kept from their families forever. Even more might be kidnapped and experimented on. I won’t let that happen.”
The pillars of mist and illusory cells faded away until only Dana’s was left. “Did that include leading me and whatever else may be watching right to this one?”
Fighting down her anger and an onset of shame, Alexis turned and took aim “Just like you lead me right to you. Dark Phenomenon!” A tornado of black heat whirled up around her, lashing ribbons of the stuff peeling off to strike out at the kitsune where she hid, crouching in the branches of one of the larger trees in the forest. They crashed through trunk and boughs, converting them to showers of splinters.
The kitsune leapt from her perch just as the tree was consumed in a cloud of black heat. Green-blue flames roared to life on the tips of her tails as large as beach balls before disgorging jets of the stuff in Alexis’s direction.
Just as they had when she cast the Dark Phenomenon, Alexis’s fingers seemed to move on their own, patterns and incantations falling into place in her head. “Black Drill.”
A helix of dark matter burst into being before her, meeting the flames and scattering them until they dissipated to nothingness before it dissolved as well.
The kitsune hit the ground in a crouch, her landing causing the remnant black heat and foxfire to swirl around her, casting her in an eerie light. For a long moment, the two women remained still, each watching for the other to make the next move.
Then the kitsune smiled crookedly, something Alexis considered impossible for someone with a fox muzzle, but she couldn’t argue with what she was seeing. With care and grace, she stood, her robe straightening itself without her interference.
“So ‘she’ is a ‘you’ after all.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Alexis asked, wondering why she shouldn’t just blast the fox before she could try something else.
The kitsune inclined her head. “That you’ve earned my respect.” Her ears flicked and she blinked, “But you don’t know what you just did, did you?” Her smile grew. “It’s hiding it from you. Interesting.”
A flash of black heat covered Alexis’s fist. “What was that?”
With a throaty chuckle, the kitsune waved the question off. “My lord the Errolking wished to see you tested. You have done… satisfactorily. You will lead the Mankinds that bear magic in the blood against Maeve when she comes.”
“You know what would help me stop Maeve? Telling me who and what the hell Maeve is! Everyone wants us to help fight this wicked queen of yours, but no one has bothered explaining anything! We don’t even know how to get to Faerie—or how to keep Faeries out from our side!”
The kitsune’s expression grew serious. “Maeve is the most powerful of the sidhe. On a level of one you would call a god. She has gone beyond the physical form and is now Air and Darkness. And she is coming. Already Mab-Her-Voice rallies the most loyal of Maeve’s forces at the Bastion Brumal.
“Now, I am to reward you for your success.” Her left hand went up to her forehead. Two fingers went to the space between her brows and parted the flesh there, revealing a shining red-orange sphere. “This is the secret of all kitsune: my hoshi no tama, a crystal implanted in all our young to allow them to gather great magical power.
With her right hand, she reached up to touch the sphere with a single finger and then she rubbed it in a circular motion before pulling it away. What seemed to be a ghostly after-image of the hoshi no tama came away as well, stuck to the finger.
“I am powerful among my people. A maker of charms.” She stepped quietly and carefully toward Alexis, the glowing, ghostly bauble on the tip of her finger. Something—likely the real power the kitsune could have wielded against her—pinned Alexis in place as she approached.
“Speak ‘sōdesu ka’, and no illusion will ever again confound you.” And with that said, the kitsune poked the glowing ball directly into Alexis’s right eye.