- 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 4)
He’d played dozens, maybe even hundreds of games, a good healthy portion of them being in the fantasy genre complete with healing magic. He’d read the books too, and watched the movies and shows. Hell, he’d played card games. Somehow he thought that would give him even a sliver of an insight on what to expect.
But Warrick Kaine was unprepared to learn that healing magic hurt. The sigils drawn in salve across his skin heated under Chilani’s hands, swiftly going beyond the pleasant warmth depicted in stories and quickly approaching the scorching, blistering intensity of actual flame. As if that wasn’t enough, his cracked and broken ribs started to move, sending lances of raw agony shooting throughout his chest.
There was no holding it in. He screamed. He howled. Tears blurred his vision and his back arched against the cot as his body tried to escape what was happening to it. He’d been hurt before, but this time, there was no adrenaline to blunt the pain, no post-fight endorphins to distract him.
A firm hand pushed down on his abdomen, forcing him to lie flat as Chilani’s voice ordered him to be still. As if any of what was going on was under his control anymore. Another hand, just as strong, but callused from years of working with tools and warm in the way he thought healing should be closed over his own.
“It’s okay. I’s like setting a bone. It’ll only hurt for a little while.” Tink soothed, “Just try and keep calm. It’s okay.”
He didn’t want her to see him like this. No, he wasn’t so full of machismo that he feared his girlfriend seeing him cry, but he’d been part of rescues, seen his friends hurt an in need of Hope’s healing power. Seeing people in pain wasn’t a pleasant experience and seeing someone you cared about in pain tore something out of a person—or it did for him. It was the last thing he wanted Tink seeing, and yet there the were.
Mustering every ounce of self-control he was capable of, he marshaled his breathing, taking quick, shallow breaths and trying to place his mind elsewhere. It was difficult: all he wanted to do was to bawl and scream until hopefully he ran out of oxygen and passed out so he wouldn’t feel it anymore. But for her, he’d try.
True to Tink’s promise, however, the pain started to drain away and the heat began to recede to a warmth that was only uncomfortable rather than blazing.
When Chilani removed her hands, the salve started to flake off, having been baked onto his skin like clay in a kiln. “Very good. It seems Mankinds can receive the benefits of salves as easily as we can.”
“You mean you didn’t know if it would work?” Warrick leaned his head up to give her an alarmed look.
“Some magic does not…” she paused, looking for the word, “…translate between peoples when it comes to affecting their bodies. However, it was either make the attempt or allow you to suffer.”
Before Warrick could ask the very dangerous question of what could have happened, Tink broke in to ask him how he was feeling.
“I… can breathe right again, and it stopped hurting.” Very tentatively, he sat up, feeling a tightness in his side as more of the salve pinched and crumbled away. “I think it worked. Thank you, Chilani.”
The daoine woman ducked her head briefly and made an odd sign with her fingers. “Do not offer thanks just yet; not until you are delivered to the Vault. Now: are any of you still injured?”
Dana made a noise somewhere between a snort and a whimper. “Thank Christ, no I’m not! If that stuff can make the Invincible Alloy cry, I’d probably beg for death!” She looked down at Gabraed. “Just for reference: once this war thing start, I’m going to need good old fashioned doctors if all magic healing is like that.”
Whatever his reply was made her growl. “That’s got nothing to do with it! We humans spent hundreds of years figuring out medicine so that isn’t a thing we have to go through!”
“In any event,” Lisa addressed Chilani, trying to ignore the argument between teenager and fey-cat, “How are we getting to Passion Gate if the Huntmaster is likely going to turn us in to protect the town? And if that’s really the only choice you think he has, how do we keep Maeve’s people from punishing the town for letting us go?”
“Easy.” A little shaky still on his feet, Warrick got to his feet. “Whoever these goons are, they’re just going to know some humans showed up; not that humans with superpowers and a secret ally showed up. Chilani, can you tell us how to get to Passion Gate, then head that way with Dana and the cat?”
“I… could, but I don’t understand what you intend to do.”
Isp and Osp, who had been doing their best to keep out of the way while Warrick as being healed roused themselves as he relayed the plan to them. Their excitement instantly made Tink and Lisa concerned.
Warrick stretched a bit and dusted the last of the dried salve off himself. “I’ve got the sketchiest art of an idea in mind, but answer this, please: how do Maeve’s goons handle prisoners? Do they put some kind of hold spell on them, just tie them up, what?”
Chilani frowned. She didn’t know what a ‘goon’ was, but it was clear from the context what he meant and that still didn’t make what his plan sounded to be comforting in any way. “They will all be capable of magic and using ice to bind.”
“As in ice shackles or freezing someone in a solid block?”
“I doubt they would be powerful enough to freeze you in a block of ice without killing you—and Maeve would want any Mankinds alive for study and to extract their memory.”
Warrick nodded thoughtfully. “Hear that, boys? Ice cuffs.” Isp obliged him by tuning its leading edge into an ice pick.
“You can’t be suggesting we let ourselves be captured,” said Lisa.
“No, I’m saying I let myself be captured, then you two ambush them once they’re about to move me and we hijack whatever transportation they’ve got—you know, if we can ride or drive it.”
Lisa shook her head. “No, that sounds like it could easily end up with you actually captured and if Maeve extracts your memory, she’ll know everything we know. No, I have a better idea. Chilani, can you take us to the Huntmaster?”
The sun had set an hour earlier when five dark riders entered Madgate.
Their mounts were barrel-bodied creatures reminiscent of mountain sheep with broad, curved horns and thick padded paws with three toes tipped with thick, black nails and stubby elephantine trunks. All covered in long, dense fur.
Each of them was dressed for the cold mountains despite the relative warmth of the plains: thick, white furs and padded leathers with heavy boots and hoods drawn up. Within those hoods, they could be broadly identified as daoine, but only in the same way a zombie is still human. Frost rimed their flesh in veins that ran along their faces and necks, decorating blue-white flesh and their eyes were a milky white. If any cared to look closer, they would see that their teeth had been filed flat in their mouths was well.
They rode up to a scene of destruction. The Madgate Tavern wasn’t in flames, but it looked to have been a very near thing. The doors had been smashed off their hinges, part of the front wall around a window had been smashed to kindling, and most of the supports holding up the roof of the tavern’s porch had been destroyed, leaving the roof to sag dangerously. Scorch marks marred the rest of the wall and deep gouges tore up the wooden flooring and much of the ground outside.
For a moment, the riders simply sat astride their mounts, surveying the damage and the injured bar patrons who were being led outside and toward the healer’s home. Finally, their leader spotted who he was looking for and dismounted.
Huntmaster Halvinian stood on the porch of a neighboring building—a clothier’s shop—speaking with one of his subordinates while holding a wad of cloth that had been a fine shirt over a nasty gash in his side. “…muster riders to pursue them. Those Mankinds cannot be permitted to escape, no matter what the cost.”
“That will be unnecessary, Huntmaster.” the leader of the riders approached, lowering his hood to reveal a severe face and a bald pate covered in a spider’s web of frost. The two hunters with Halvinian flinched upon seeing his eyes. “We will pursue as soon as you tell us what happened here.”
Halvinian stepped forward past his people and slammed his fist ti his sternum before sliding it up to rest over his throat in a show of fealty. “Madgate extends its welcome and obedience to the servants of the Queen of Air and Darkness.”
“I asked not for pleasantries. What occurred in this place?”
Nodding, Halvinian stammered as he started his story. “One of the Mankinds was injured so we had them sent to the healer while we contacted you. Our intention was to keep them occupied there until your arrival. However, the Mankinds, unable to communicate very well, left her to seek me out once more. They tried to speak with me, but soon became frustrated… and violent as you can see.”
“They fought you?” The leader eyed Halvinian coldly, no emotion visible on his face. A bit of frost above his eye cracked audibly.
“Indeed my lord. Fiercely and with iron. One had a sword of all things made from it. The wound merely throbs now, but the pain… it was blinding, my lord. It incapacitate most of my hunters with a single blow each.”
This little revelation gave the rider pause. Frossensjel such as himself and his fellow riders were stronger and more tough than daoine who had not been touched by the power of Maeve, but iron’s touch was just as painful for them, and if a bit broke or flaked off in their bodies…
He let out a slow breath, twin clouds of chill mist issuing from his nostrils. “Where did they go from here?”
“They expressed great interest in the Vault, my lord,” reported Halvinian. Then he added, “But they did not approach it via our gate. They struck out toward Passion Gate.”
Only decades of training while waiting for his Queen’s return kept the emotion off the rider’s face. Mankinds bearing iron with designs on the Vault? There were dangerous portents surrounding things like that; things it was not in his best interest allowing the common creatures of the world to entertain.
“Then their gore will be draped from the lowest thorns by the rising of the sun.” He turned from the Huntmaster and relayed orders to his fellows with hand signals. The Mankinds surely knew people had seen them make for Passion Gate, so if they had any sense in their heads, they would loop around to either Madgate’s titular feature, or Tranquil Gate.
Two he would send on the Madgate’s road, two to Tranquil Gate. He alone would travel to Passion Gate, just in case these Mankinds truly were fools. Whoever found them would summon the others to capture their foes. It would be simple enough.
With his orders relayed and acknowledged, he swung up into his saddle and spurred his beast forward, out of the town and onto the plain stretched out between the Cardinal towns and the Vault.
There wasn’t much travel or trade between the four towns. They existed more out of stubborn adherence to tradition than anything else. Few who lived and worked in them even believed in the promises made to them long ago that if they built and flourished in settlements around the Vault, their descendants would reap great rewards. Hundreds of years removed, they now stayed because their families had ‘always’ lived there, or because the plain provided just as good protection from the forests as the forests provided ample game and resources.
The rider turned his eyes toward the Vault. It was an ugly thing, rising from the plain like a boil on the Queen’s otherwise perfect fiefdom, emboldening rebellions and allowing Her subjects to dream of her overthrow. He longed to burn the whole thing down to cinders.
But that was not his duty this day. No, he had to track down the Mankinds. That shouldn’t have been much of an issue: it was several weeks’ ride to Passion Gate along fairly open land and the Mankinds had only a few hours head start—if they were even on this path at all. If he didn’t find them, the others would.
It didn’t occur to him that plains were never perfectly flat, or that the tall grass that grew even over the lightly worn track on the way to Passion Gate could hide people, especially those who had access to glamors. It was also the furthest thing from his mind, the idea that Mankinds might have magic of their own.
Not in a century of centuries had a Mankind arrived in Faerie with even an inkling of talent of any discipline. Not since Hyrilius had they been able to challenge even a novice in magical capability. There was a reason that what Hyrilius did had faded into myth and legend.
So he never imagined that Mankinds might have conjured to make it appear that the Madgate Tavern had been attacked or that any of Halvinian’s people had been injured. And they certainly wouldn’t be able to use that same magic to set up an ambush…
The air off to his right seemed to shatter just before something gray and furry cannoned into his side, throwing him off his mount. The grappabaern bellowed and snarled as it felt its rider leave its back and the scent of a predator struck its nostrils out of nowhere. It reared up, but something struck the ground at its rear feet, expanding into a glossy green foam that trapped them in place.
Hearing savage claws tearing through his cloak, the rider rolled and spat frozen mist from his mouth, infusing it with power even as he thrust his hands into it. Mist formed frost, formed ice and by the time he found his feet, an escutcheon and jagged spear of ice had sprang into being in his hands. He bashed the snarling, spitting graymalkin from his side and twisted to drive his spear into the beast.
A sword of gleaming iron intercepted the blow, knocking it off course. The rider backed up, finding himself face-to-face with something out of nightmare: a creature seemingly made of metal, plates and rings of the stuff all brought together into the hellish semblance of a daoine. It’s face resembled some hellish beats with a grate of cold iron for teeth, its joints were articulated like some sort of sea creature’s. And its weapon was the promise of an agonizing death.
Switching grips, the monster came on guard, staring the rider down with its horrible, eyeless face. A drawling, clipped language echoed from somewhere inside it through its mouth refused to move.
The rider tensed. He was afraid, but his fear of the Queen of Air and Darkness was greater. If this creature stood between him and the Mankinds, then it would simply have to be destroyed. He took a step forward, but in that instant, he heard a quick pop and a wet sound. When his foot came down, it was directly into a puddle of pink goo that slid beneath him.
Legendary even among the other fey races, daoine reflexes were a thing of beauty and grace. Once one became a frossensjel, they were nearly flawless. It didn’t help here, however,a s the moment his other foot came down, it too slipped. He planted his spear to try and keep vertical, but his feet wouldn’t stay under him.
A serpent of gleaming gold emerged from the metal beast’s arm and struck at him, its jaws parting into four separate sections before slamming into his chest. Thanks to the pink slime, there was no dodging, no bracing. He went over and struck the ground with enough force to drive the air out of his lungs and crack the frost covering his skin into a white morass.
The next thing he knew, the iron sword was thrust into the ground just inches from his neck so that the blade slanted across it like a guillotine paused just before the moment of truth. Leaning over him, the metal monster said something else in its strange tongue before the graymalkin peered over the edge of the blade, cold eyes making it clear that it would have preferred he died.
“I am Gabraed, servant at the left hand of the Errolking, steward of Dame Cold Iron, his Champion,” the creature snarled at him. “You have been bested by heroes of the Blue World known as The Descendants: Alloy, Renaissance and Occult as well as Lord Alloy’s familiars Isp and Osp. Lord Alloy greets you, servant of Maeve, and against my better council, declares you prisoner.”
“A prisoner?” the rider sputtered. Only the extremely powerful was arrogant or strong enough to have the confidence required to hold another fey or faerie hostage as part of ongoing hostilities. Too many of even those died for that arrogance.
Gabraed seemed to read his thoughts. “How do you propose to defeat one covered in steel and iron?”
White eyes turned toward the metal creature, presumably Lord Alloy and the graymalkin’s words sank in. It wasn’t made of iron—it was wearing iron. Like the Errolking was rumored to. Maybe Mankinds didn’t have the same aversion to the substance as fey and some faeries, but the power and influence implied by simply having enough of the substance was staggering.
He would have to tread very carefully should he hope to carry out his duty to Maeve.
“What do they want of me?” he asked the graymalkin.
The fey-cat narrowed his eyes in cruel enjoyment. “They wish to ask you some questions.”