- 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 5)
Gabraed remained stationed on the rider’s chest, but shuffled back a few inches as a new figure came into the corrupted daoine’s view. This one was swathed in a worn, faded cloak with a cloth drawn up over their mouth and nose, leaving only their eyes visible.
Hiding their face because they feared retribution most likely. Probably an actual native of Faerie and not a Mankind then. Someone hiding their face from him because they had something to lose.
His calculations were interrupted by Gabraed as the cloaked figure extended a slim, gloved hand holding a shallow bowl partially filled with a liquid that looked more like white sand than an actual beverage. “This tincture will allow you to understand and speak one of the tongues of Mankind for a short time. Accept it.”
There was no hesitation on the rider’s part. If his assailants wanted him dead, they would have made him so already. Not to mention how useful it would be understanding and perhaps overhearing them. Cracked, bluish lips parted and allowed the cloaked figure to pour the tincture down his throat.
When he swallowed, a lump formed in his throat that made him gag before it slowly warmed and dissolved, suffusing into his throat and working its way up into his head, particularly around his ears and the inner workings of them.
“Is it working?” What had once been meaningless chatter, made even more incomprehensible thanks to the strange echoes of its metal head, became an actual, meaningful question from the iron monster. He leaned over the rider and asked: “Do you understand me?”
Giving him his most disdainful look, the rider simple replied with: “Ask your questions.”
“Let’s start simple: what’s your name?” the iron beast asked.
“Idrankkar, Koldarket—” he heard the spell translate the name of his rank as ‘Captain’, “–of the Fifth Frossensjel Heraldry Force.” Again, the spell did its work, parsing ‘frossensjel‘ as ‘frozen soul’.
The iron creature turned to the hooded one. “Do the Books have anything on these frozen soul guys?”
Idrankkar couldn’t see from where he lay, but the hooded one seemed to be consulting a thin tile of some sort. Finally, she replied. “It’s showing me ‘frossensjel‘, apparently a type of daoine Maeve transformed into truly immortal pseudo-sidhe by using her power to literally freeze their essence in time. If they’re killed, their body will repair itself by freezing the wounds over. If the body’s destroyed, their soul returns to a place of power where other servants of Maeve make them a new body.”
“Then,” a female voice began, someone Idrankkar couldn’t see, “Why did he give up so easily? Why not fight to the death?”
The whole group seemed to go even more on guard as they started considering reasons, many of which included ‘to lull them into a false sense of security’.
“No idea,” the hooded one was still consulting the tile, “But they have a power set we’re all familiar with: generating cold and ice, shaping it into weapons, armor and constructs. The only thing Zero doesn’t have is the ability to bond with faerie animals—something I guess most daoine have the ability to do, but not really the desire. At least that’s what the Book says.”
Idrankkar was trying hard not to show shock as something dawned on him. Maybe it was the translation spell, or maybe it was some other factor, but he would swear on Maeve’s soul that he could detects a special emphasis whenever they said ‘Book’, is if it were clear in every possible sense that they weren’t talking about any ordinary book, but something special.
It immediately made his mind leap to those Books. The 4. The Ancient Powers. The Foundations. The many languages of Faerie and the myriad folkloric traditions among them gave them many names, tied them to many legend, myths, heroes and villains. First among those were the Mankinds, especially the Heir to Hyrillius and His Successors. Those who would challenge the Air and Darkness, who could threaten Maeve.
“It’s the iron.” Another female voice, this one from the figure that gave him the tincture. “Even creatures of Maeve, if they were fey before being transformed, know that dying by iron will destroy their souls utterly. Faerie cannot kill faerie by ancient edict, but we fey? We fight and die easily as we know we will reincarnate—unless slain by iron.”
“Is that really a thing?” The iron beast asked the robed one.
Idrankkar wished dearly that he could scoff at that. It would have given anything to be able to dismiss it as religious and superstitious bunk. But six hundred years ago, he had dismissed Maeve herself as a myth, a smokescreen to hide the rise of a petty sorceress queen. Now, he had lived three times the span of any of his fellows, had seen power beyond faerie or fey wielded by Her hand. And had an immortal life he did not wish to gamble with.
The robed one shrugged. “It doesn’t say, but whether it’s possible or not, we can use that fear to our advantage.”
“As a last resort, of course.” the other, non-cloaked female added.
“Good thing I didn’t make that spear for the Huntmaster,” said the iron beast. “But… maybe we shouldn’t talk about not wanting to destroy this guy’s soul right in front of him?”
That Idrankkar did silently scoff at. Of course they didn’t want to perform one of the Unspeakable Acts, but that didn’t mean they wouldn’t carry one out. Survival was the only true honor in the Green World. Which was precisely why he then chose to tune out all the byplay between his captors and focus on one of his chandae.
The robed one had been correct: the frossensjel had been granted expanded ability to bond with faerie-beasts by Maeve. What she didn’t seem to grasp was that ordinary daoine of the Low Soder (the only race of daoine with the ability) didn’t partake in bonding a chanda because that bond was a two-way street. The participants shared pain and emotion and that was multiplied when dealing with multiple chandae.
Maeve’s gift was to make the bond one of true command. It was no shared bond, it was pure and simple domination. The bonded beast obeyed or suffered. And the limits? Only range and patience. He could have reached out to his grappabaern mount, but the beast would have been easily overpowered by his assailants. So he called upon a chanda he kept in reserve just for these such occasions…
Lisa rubbed her face in frustration. It wasn’t that she blamed her friends for trying to reassure themselves they wouldn’t have to do anything… well utterly monstrous while in Faerie. Everything they knew about the place pointed to it being a Death World where ‘red in tooth and claw’ was the nicest way of putting things. The idea that they might have to kill to survive was a very real possibility and one even more disturbing to people like Warrick and to a lesser extend, Tink than the idea of plants trying to murder them.
It wasn’t like she wasn’t on edge about the idea herself either.
However, the discussion was getting them nowhere and they were already looking at a trip that would take weeks at best. The area contained by Hyrilius’s Vault was, at least according to the Books, compressed: the size of Europe inside, the ‘merely’ the size of Virginia outside. They had to walk a quarter of the way around the entire thing to reach Passion Gate.
Yes, she could make a platform to carry them, but she couldn’t move it faster than a brisk walk. She turned to Chilani. “Have you ever been to Passion Gate before?”
The healer, concealed behind a cloak and veil, shook her head. “I visited once or twice when I was very young, some thirty years ago. I couldn’t give you much information about the situation there now. I am sorry.”
Lisa waved off the apology. “Don’t worry. I wasn’t really fishing for information so much as…” she cut herself off because she realized that if he knew why she was asking, Idrankkar might lie to sabotage them. Instead, she merely stepped up to him and knelt down by his head.
It was difficult looking at the twisted, alien creature. Normal daoine were almost human with a few odd features. The ‘frozen soul’ was clearly supernatural, from the living frost crawling, cracking and reforming over its skin, to those milk-white eyes that swirled with an inner… something. It was something otherworldly even on another world.
“Have you been to Passion Gate recently?” she asked.
“I have. We patrol the Cardinal towns, preventing disturbances.”
Preventing people trying to follow through on whatever Hyrillius had planned against Maeve, she guessed. “Describe it for me. The people, the places. Leave no detail out.” She only needed a physical description, a sketch to go in her head along with the relative distance and position from where she was, but he didn’t need to know that.”
To helpful, too eager, Idrankkar began to speak in cold, measured detail about the town of Passion Gate. His personal focus seemed to be on its defenses, standing guard forces and the magical skills of the people there with some shades of demographic date and what trade was popular.
As he continued in his calm, even pace, Lisa heard Tink shifting nervously, as did Warrick. They could sense it too. It was almost an actual sense developed after years of confronting villains: they were being stalled. Idrankkar was happily complying with her demands, probably with perfect accuracy, because he was buying time.
It wasn’t long after she had this thought when she found out what he was buying time for.
The Digi-book of Reason was the first to alert her, letting out a soft ping as new information was called up to the fore. Seeing as there weren’t any sound files associated with the Book files, she chalked this up to the Book deciding this was very urgent and didn’t even bother to excuse herself before checking it.
‘Hellkite’ was the first word of the entry, making her briefly wonder at the fact that Faeries had a word for ‘hell’. Then the more dire implications hit her. They not only had a word of r it, but used it in a descriptive name for several breeds of aerial predator.
A piercing call came from the overcast sky and something broke through the clouds. The sunlight it allowed through with it gleamed off silvery scales and if she hadn’t met Armigal, she would have called the thing streaking out of the sky a dragon.
It had an arrow-shaped head tipped with a wicked beak and tapering to a brow heavy with a pair of swept-back horns mounted above a pair of blazing blue eyes she could make out even from such a great distance. It had no other limbs besides a pair of deceptively delicate-looking wings. A long, whip-like tail stuck out rigidly behind it.
According to the Book, this was a Torakken Hellkite, a variety native to glaciers and high mountains. Adapted to cold, it was naturally a favorite mount and warbeast for Maeve’s servants. Built to kill creatures of cold, it possessed a breath weapon that generated unmatched heat.
“Take cover!” She shouted, throwing up her customary wall spell and angling it to provide a safe space from attacks from above.
“Is that a freaking dragon?!” Dana shouted, wasting not time getting under the safety of the wall spell.
Unwilling to leave Idrankkar unguarded, Warrick shook his head at her. “Didn’t you see us on TV that one time? Real dragons are crazy huge. This is… let me guess… wyvern—even though it doesn’t have any legs?”
“Hellkite.” Lisa supplied, “And it’s got a super-heated breath weapon. I don’t think the bismuth armor will protect you.”
“Noted.” He looked down at Idrankkar. “Did you have something to do with this? Call it off!”
The corrupted daoine gave him a nasty smile. “Not unless you answer some questions for me Mankind. Where did you acquire one of the 4?”
Warrick looked up at the diving hellkite. Now that it was closer, its size was evident: it was the size of a city bus in girth and almost three times as long if one counted the tail. Maybe not a ‘true’ dragon, but a reasonable facsimile.
“You’re not in a place to negotiate.” Warrick reached down and balled his fist in Idrankkar’s shirt. Gabraed left aside, startled beyond even giving a reproachful glare at the move. Surreptitiously, Isp snaked along his arm and added its strength to his, allowing him to lift the other man of the ground. “If it roasts me, it roasts you too.”
“Can you say the same for all your allies?”
The hellkite dropped to the deck before Lisa’s shield and opened its mouth. A river of blue flame issued forth, striking the shield and washing across its surface. The spells flickered as it struggled to hold back the assault. Even so, heat radiated through, causing those sheltering behind it to wilt and strain under the heat.
Then, in a rush of silver scales, the hellkite wheeled over head, skirting the top of the shield and beating its wings to regain altitude.
“How long can that sorcery protect them?” Idrankkar locked his milky eyes with Warrick’s visor. Behind him, Lisa was hastily rotating the shield over the heads of the others, trying to get it into place before the hellkite came around again. “Now tell me what I want to know?”
Behind the visor, Warrick glared. But he’d seen the monster before him worried earlier. Things about them, from his power over iron, to Lisa’s possession of the Book bothered him. He saw a chance and took it. “How did we get the Book?” he asked, forcing himself to laugh even as the hellkite began another dive. “Don’t you mean ‘how did we get the ‘Books’?” A widening of his opponent’s eye told him he was on the right track. “Reason, Passions, Tranquility. One more and we’ve got the whole set.”
A sharp whistling call brought his attention back to the hellkite. However Idrankkar was controlling it, his moment of shock had caused the monster to falter, trying to beat its wings again to pull out of the dive. It was a scant second bought that provided an opening.
His faith did not go unrewarded when a muffled pop was followed by a wad of dark green polyurethane foam exploding over the hellkite’s wing joint. When Idrankkar reestablished control, the monster couldn’t readjust to the dive it had been preparing. One wing was locked in place, causing it to spiral toward the ground out of control.
It might have been a perfectly orchestrated maneuver if the hellkite’s new trajectory wasn’t carrying it toward himself and Idrankkar.
“Gah!” With Isp’s help, he threw the frossensjel on way while Osp caught the ground and launched him in the other. Moments later, two tons of flying death struck the earth so hard the ground shook.
Temporarily hidden from his enemies by the writhing, panicked bulk of the hellkite, Idrankkar wasted not time taking the advantage. He drew in a deep breath and belched out freezing mist, forming thick armor around his body and a pair of sawtoothed swords in his hands.
Desperation replaced fear. These were the Mankinds he’d been fearing would come for centuries: Hyrilius’s revenge. No prophecy ever written could have ever matched the promise of a wizard whose power rivaled that of the Queen of Air and Darkness. Someone in the Blue World had picked up His legacy, followed the ancient instructions and now they had come to strike at his ruler.
And if his ruler’s reign ended, so did Idrankkar’s immortal life.
Ignoring the globules of green foam appearing across the hellkite’s body and anchoring it in place, as well as the mounting fury of the creature now almost completely unbound to his will, he raised his weapons and charged. All his focus was on the first of the iron monsters. If he could surprise it, it was possible he could destroy it.
Three loping steps brought him to the thrashing body of the hellkite. He used it was a springboard to launch himself up and over. One mighty leap brought the iron beast into his sights and he fell upon it with both swords raised in an overhead chop.
But the iron beast wasn’t focused on him and neither were the golden serpents that coiled around its arms. The serpents sprang backward, anchoring into the ground and throwing their charge aside well before Idrankkar could strike.
He hit the ground, burying both swords in the soft earth. For a brief moment, he saw blue reflected in his enemy’s shining armor. Then the heat rolled over him.
Ice flashed to steam, scalding ancient flesh even as it itself was annihilated in blue flame. All that remained of Idrankkar, Koldarket of Fifth Frossensjel Heraldry Force, was an echoing scream on the wind.