- 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)
Into The Woods (Part 1)
It said something that Christina ‘Tink’ Carlyle’s mind never even considered the word ‘impossible’ in the moment she found herself in.
One moment, she had been in the catacombs beneath a medieval fortress in Massachusetts of all places that was playing host to an ancient sorceress who thought she was Morgan Le Fay, a pair of reincarnated lovers from the dawn of human civilization and a human juggernaut who was immune to all damage. She’d been accompanied by her superhero boyfriend and a friend who was a literal sorceress alongside a talking cat and a girl who some faeries apparently thought were her messiah.
And then things got weird. The world had cracked open and she’d found herself in a burned out patch of primeval forest near her barely conscious boyfriend, surrounded by plants that were clearly trying to decide whether they were predator or prey.
But none of that seemed impossible anymore. Her blood was filled with nanites that made her super strong, she knew someone who had ended up in an alternate universe, and the past few months had been dedicated to combating the Queen of Air and Darkness.
This wasn’t a time for disbelief, wonder or even scientific curiosity. It was a survival situation plain and simple.
Belly-crawling because standing up would present a larger target, she made her way to where Warrick lay. Isp and Osp, already on alert, stretched out to surround them defensively, turning their entire lengths into a pair of deadly bladed ribbons.
Tink gave them both nods of thanks before focusing on the man they were attached to. “Warrick?” She tapped on his helmet and was rewarded with a groan. “I know sweetie, but you need to wake up right now.” Rare were the times she used pet names except in private, but this one just slipped out in her concern.
He replied with an incomprehensible mumble.
Rapping on the helmet with her knuckles now, she tried again. “We don’t have time for this. Are you hurt? Can you move?”
Again, he mumbled, then there was a sharp intake of breath before he managed. “Head hurts. Sides… hurts a little when I breathe.” That suggested his ribs were injured. It wouldn’t be the first time for him, but Hope was… in another dimension this time, making healing an issue.
“Crap,” Tink muttered and looked around. Most of the plant life was still keeping its distance from the burned area, but at least one woody, questing root was slithering its way across the ash toward them. As she watched, Osp formed itself into a gold-sheened cleaver that came down on the root with a single chop that severed it. The stump, weeping brown-green sap, retracted immediately.
Somewhere off to her right, a flare of white light streaked up from the forest, followed by inhuman shrieks. That was Lisa’s Shine Heaven’s Arrow for sure. They weren’t alone.
“You see that? Lisa’s here,” she tried not to sound as relieved as she was, but was failing. For a second, she pondered trying to get him to walk, but if he wasn’t trying under his own power already, she surmised that he was more hurt than he was admitting. “We’ve got to get to her. I’m going to try and carry you.”
Warrick didn’t waste breath arguing. The next sound she heard was the slight groan of his power cinching his armor tighter around his torso to keep his ribs immobile. In her slightly-enhanced hearing, she also heard him do the same around his ankle. That wasn’t encouraging.
Isp stabbed into the earth about three yards from them, coming up with its leading edge impaling something like a four-foot long centipede with iridescent blue chitin. The thing wriggled and coiled violently before the tentacle whipped itself around, launching the creature into the forest.
As if she needed more motivation to get moving.
Getting into a crouch, Tink wrapped her arms around Warrick’s shoulders and pulled him into a fireman’s carry, armor and all. Never had she been more thankful for the nanites infecting her body for granting her a measure of super-strength.”
Not that carrying Warrick was easy. While he knew the principles of effective medieval armor, his powers allowed him to get away with wearing hundreds of pounds of solid metal with no problem. Normally, that just gave him more metal to work with in combat. At the moment, however, he was taxing her impressive strength as she trudged over the loose, shifting ash toward where the Heaven’s Arrow had come from.
Isp and Osp took point, one transforming into something akin to a machete while the other formed itself into a ribbon edged with serrated teeth. They hacked and slashed into the brush in Tink’s path, destroying any plant life within ten feet whether it seemed dangerous or not.
A distinct odor rose from many of the cut stalks, branches and vines, something that reminded Tink of eucalyptus. It made her wonder just how far off genetically Faerie’s species were from Earth’s.
Another shriek reminded her that her current mission was to reach Lisa, though now that she was closer, ‘shriek’ wasn’t the right word for it. It had a hooting quality and was coming in harsh, regular strings. It might have been a language now that she thought of it. Doing her best to keep Warrick steady, she pressed on as fast as the twin bushwackers allowed.
The ground rose steadily as she trudged forward, eventually evening out at the top of a narrow ridge that gave her a view through the towering trees and foliage of another ash-bound desolation. She couldn’t make anything out clearly, but she did see the occasional flash of translucent red denoting one of Lisa’s shields and glimpses of large bodies covered in white fur.
She was not heading toward a better situation, but she still had no choice: there was at least one friend down there who could use her help. Supporting Warrick with one arm, she checked her free gauntlet. There was still a high explosive clip loaded. She’d probably need it too.
“Boys?” She addressed the tentacles. They paused in their destruction to turn and acknowledge her. “We need to get down there to Lisa and by the looks of it, we need to move fast.”
No more needed to be said. While Tink lacked the inherent link they shared with Warrick, they liked her and also understood she had their ‘brother’ Warrick’s best interests at heart. Osp looped around Tink and Warrick to secure them together while Isp struck out upward with a harpoon as its leading edge, plunging into the bough of one of the gigantic trees. In the next moment, They were swinging over the landscape, skimming above the undergrowth, some of which did its level best to rise and intercept.
Lisa stood unsteadily, the ash under her feet shifting and sliding under her feet as she tried to keep the creatures all in sight. A Shield stood at their back to keep anything from sneaking up on them, but things weren’t looking good.
On her side were Dana, who though fully armored, was slowly freaking out, keeping it together only just enough to translate for Gabraed. Speaking of whom, the graymalkin also seemed to be losing his damn mind despite Dana’s assurances he was calling for aide. As far as Lisa could tell, he was sitting there, yowling for all he was worth and doing little more than setting her nerves more on edge.
On the opposing side were four hulking, shaggy beasts that reminded her of apes on the most basic level. Only these apes were twice as big as any gorilla she’d ever seen and the had high foreheads with a brow over their two largest eyes which held a second set of eyes. They were also clothed in rough, green bark armor with leather shoes covering their huge feet. And their mouths… they were horrible, something like the mandibles of insects only fleshy and drooling as they shouted at her in an alien language.
As if to add to their eerie mystique, they had sticks of what might have been incense stuck in their armor, wreathing them in acrid smoke.
They moved with impunity among the deadly plants that months now of studying told her liked to attack anything living. And worse, she had no idea what they were; they hadn’t been illustrated or described at all in the Books o Reason or Passions.
The largest among them hooted a challenge and banged its weapon—a long, straight haft ending with the jawbone of something whose pointed teeth all faced forward instead of pointing upward from the jaw—against its bark breast plate. The others took up what must have been a challenge, massing up around him, preparing to charge. Evidently, her shot with the Shine Heaven’s Arrow hadn’t put enough fear into them.
Before the probable leader of the creatures could call the charge, something crashed out of the woods to Lisa and her group’s left, tearing away stray branches about twenty feet off the ground. Something human sized and bulky, girded by golden bands exploded into the burned out clearing. The bands expanded and oriented themselves into a sort of wheel, which allowed the main mass of the thing to roll to a stop just a few yards from Lisa before she could even mount a defense.
It was just as well that she didn’t as once the leafy debris and ash settled, the ‘thing’ proved to be Warrick and Tink, the former holding on tightly to the later.
“Tink?” It was a slip, given that Dana was there, but given their circumstances, Lisa couldn’t care enough to devote any energy to maintaining their masquerade.
Neither, it seemed, was Tink. “Warrick’s hurt. I think we fell from somewhere to end up here.” She tilted her head toward the ape-things, who were clearly off-balance and agitated by her and Warrick’s entrance. “What are those things?”
“No idea. They aren’t in the Books,” said Lisa.
Tink leveled her gauntlet, taking aim at the space a scant few feet from the creatures and fired off a high explosive round, which blasted ash into the air alongside a great bang. The monsters hooted in alarm, falling back into the treeline. She responded to that by shooting one of the trees, blowing a three-foot hole in its trunk and causing it to list dangerously for a few seconds before gravity caused the rest of the trunk to fail. With a tremendous groan, the tree toppled, forming a sizable barrier between them and the creatures.
Having provided them some time, she asked, “Do the books say there’s somewhere safe around here?”
Never taking her eyes from the last place she’d seen the ape-things, Lisa shook her head. “Define ‘safe’. But Earth standards, Faerie is a Death World. Everything is aggressive and deadly to some degree; the plants, the animals—the cultures. Even if we find a town, we can’t be sure they won’t kill us on sight or in our sleep.”
Gabraed abruptly cut off his yowling and turned to Dana.
The armored young woman spoke with a shaky voice. “H-he says that isn’t true.”
“He tried to claw into Wa… Alloy’s chest the second he spotted him.” Tink shot back.
“Yeah, he’s violent, but he says most faerie and fey peoples might be warlike, but they have things like rites of hospitality and parley. If we get to one, we can claim that as long as it isn’t a village under Maeve’s control—she’ll kill humans on sight.”
A groan from the ground reminded them Warrick was still there. “But is there a town nearby we can get to? Like… fast? I kind of doubt we can camp out here.”
As if to add weight to his words, a hooting cry caught their attention and the lead ape-thing leapt up onto the trunk of the fallen tree. It was swiftly followed by two more of its kn, the fourth remaining unseen. Whatever their motivation, neither magic, nor explosions had deterred them for long, and not with a flourish of its jaw-spear, it jumped off the trunk and started loping toward them.
As the other two followed, something was lobbed up and over the fallen tree toward the group’s position. It looked like a moss-covered rock, but as it struck the ash-covered ground, the moss was revealed to be hundreds of tiny buds, each of which burst on contact to release puffs of white dust that thankfully wasn’t blown toward them by the wind. A naturally occurring biological weapon.
Gabraed spat a string of syllables which sounded more like words than his normal cat sounds and the mossy rock caught fire. Then he aimed a baleful glare at Dana.
The young woman managed to hold her own despite her obvious fear. “No, I’m still not going to kill anyone!” She took a few deep breathes before holding out her arms. Her gauntlets detached and floated in the air before her. “I’m still going to fight though!”
With that said, her gauntlets struck out across the ash-covered field, planting themselves directly in the gut of one of the ape-things. Its stumbled, the breath driven out of it, but in the next instant, it let out a scream and leapt back, dropping its weapon and scrabbling at the spot where it had been struck. Beneath red fur, pale skin had become red and angry with weeping blisters.
Heedless of their ally’s fate, the other two continued onward as another ‘moss’ rock was lobbed into the fray.
Isp, now recognizing the threat posed by the rock, lashed out, forming a reasonable impression of a jai alai scoop, and caught the rock moments before sending it rocketing back the way it came. Meanwhile, Osp set itself down on the ground between the two groups, forming a double row of orihalcite spikes that would punish anyone trying to cross that line.
Tink took a moment to switch clips in her gauntlet. It was no longer the time to try for shock and awe, but she wasn’t ready to murder creatures who she couldn’t even understand. As soon as the new clips were in place, she opened up with bursts of high density polyurethane rounds, striking the leader in the legs and lower body with rapidly expanding foam that swiftly locked his legs and sent him sprawling in the ash.
On her end, Lisa raised her hand, preparing to call on the crackling power she’d learned from Hermes’s altered realities. But before she could launch it at the last charging ape-thing, a green wooden spear fell from the sky to strike the creature in the chest with so much force that it pitched over backward.
The hooting shrieks coming from the other side of the tree trunk cut off with a wet gurgle. Silence suddenly fell over the clearing as those who could move on their own turned slow circles to see what new threat had come.
A humanoid figure climbed up onto the fallen tree. She wore a fitted coat of padded leather and hide trousers and was carrying a sleek length of wood with a bulging end that had a thick knob on one side and a wicked ax-like head on the other. Her skin was dark, what there was of it exposed, and her hair grew in a wild tangle down to her waist.
She wasn’t alone either. One by one, other human-shaped being appeared. Their black eyes with no scalera or iris marked them as daoine like the pair The Descendants LA counted as members. Most were dressed in leathers, with some merely wearing padded cloth. All were armed, and all had incense sticks tied or strapped to them in some manner. And they were surrounding the little group from Earth.
Last to appear was a male riding astride a long-necked beast that resembled a robust antelope. His leather was more well-made than those of his fellows, and his weapons were lacquered red with white stripes. He looked upon them, especially the twins, who rose up menacingly in the form of axes, and said something harsh.
“This doesn’t seem good. Dana, can the graymalkin talk to them?”
The faerie-cat turned up its nose, lifted its tail and padded out from where the others were grouped. More than a few of the daoine tightened their grip on their weapons. Graymalkins evidently had a reputation even among the deadly peoples of Faerie.
If this gave him any pause at all, Gabraed didn’t let it show. Instead, he came to within a long leap of the mounted man and sat himself down. When the antelope creature shied away and had to be calmed, he flicked his ears with obvious satisfaction.
Once the beast was settled, he spoke in the harsh, let somehow musical tongue of the daoine.
Upon hearing his words, the leader gave a worried look to his fellows and then gave a lengthy reply. Gabraed answered with a few clipped words that made the man clearly uncomfortable. His shoulders slumped and he inclined his head, finishing with a few words of its own.
Satisfied, Gabraed got up and strolled back to the group.
Dana visibly relaxed when she ‘heard’ what he had to say. “The Huntmaster of Madgate extends to us the right of hospitality. They’ll give us a place to stay for the night, food, water and healing.” Then Gabraed added something that made her worries all return. “But we need to be gone by the time the sun is above the horizon tomorrow—Maeve is sending a governor to take control of the town.”