(This chapter takes place immediately after the events of Descendants #7)
North of Wales, 1130 A.D.
Rain poured down in rippling curtains, making it difficult to see even a few feet in front of her nose even under the heavy tree cover that protected the path through the forest. In perfect weather, the trail was dusty, steep, and treacherous. In the deluge, it was a river of sucking mud. No person with any kindness would let even the most hated dog in their household out into such a downpour, much less volunteer to go out in it themselves.
But Elise of Hafren braved it. Bundled in a horse blanket against the driving rain, her feet bare for fear of losing her only pair of shoes, she pressed up the hill, sliding in the muddy soup all the way. She knew the way from following her father along it to the ancient stone house that squatted at the hill’s summit like a sleeping dragon.
Aside from herself, her father was the only person from the village to visit them. The folk who fished the river and tended the fields refused to consider the idea and called Marcus of Hafren mad to go willingly. They said the women who had taken up residence on the hill were witches.
In point of fact, that was why Marcus had moved to the sleepy village, taking his wife and only child from their comfortable home by the river to a dank, cold, thatch roofed cottage. He and his partner, Geoffrey of Monmouth, were embarking on an ambitious venture that few scribes of the day would even consider; they were writing an epic, the tale of the legendary bear-man who had defended the land against invaders in antiquity.
The plot was intricate and far reaching and involved a great deal of discussion of the occult. Being ostensibly men of God, neither man had dealings in the practice of magic and knew not where to begin; the druids were all but extinct, wizards the thing of myth and legend; that only left one source…
Lightning cracked in the sky, outlining the stone house with its brilliance. Elise felt a smile tug on her otherwise miserable and bedraggled lips. The folk of the village were right. The women of the house were glad to indulge her father and from their tales, Marcus had spun the character of Morganna la Fey, mighty sorceress.
She had heard the tales time and again as her father spoke constantly about his and Geoffrey’s works to her and her mother. Morganna was strong enough to match the greatest man who ever lived and essentially fight him to a stalemate on the virtue of her magic and guile.
Morganna was a woman who would make a father proud that he sired a daughter when he could have had a son. Magic was the ideal replacement for the sinew and broad shoulders she lacked.
Hauling herself out of the mud and onto the front step of the ancient edifice of stone, she pounded on the door with both hands.
Another World, September of 2074
“It is living?” a voice asked. All was blackness and pain, but the disembodied, genderless voice somehow found her through it all, sounding like the clear tone of a bell. She tried to reply, but all that came out was more discomfort, followed by hacking and gasping.
“Yes, is living.” Another speaker said, just as genderless, but with the melodic trill of a flute.
A great clod of dirt erupted from her throat, allowing air the finally make a triumphant return to her lungs. Her throat burned.
“Is good it is living, no?” the bell-voice said.
“Yes, is good. Good for it, maybe good for us if is nice.” The third voice brought to mind the dulcet notes of a harp.
“How we know if is nice?” the flute asked.
Gasping, she flipped herself on her back, feeling pressure ease on her chest and face that she hadn’t even noticed before. She gulped air as if it was the water of life itself, desperate not to lose contact with it again.
“Important more so; we know what it is?” the bell asked.
“Am not knowing.” The harp replied haughtily. “Is very fat for spriggan, tall as well. No wings, so no is millennial.”
“Is short and thin and color of wet sand. Is no troll or ogre.” The flute offered.
“Could be daemon.” The bell said, “Daemon look like everything.”
Puzzled by the odd conversation going on around her, she opened her eyes. Most of her vision was blocked by the leafy branches of strange trees she didn’t recognize. Their branches were light and waxy and their leaves broad and flat. But directly above her, many of those branches had been bent or knocked loose, leaving a hole through which she could see the sky.
It was no sky she had ever laid eyes upon. The sky she knew ran the gamut of shades of blue, giving way to whites, grays or the occasional black with the weather. Orange or red, the colors that accompanied the sun would also have been acceptable. A quick check of her ‘acquired’ memory told her that this at least hadn’t changed in the interim save the addition of a few sick shades of yellow from something called ‘smog’.
The sky currently above her mocked all of that by being a rich, verdant green. Not just green, but roiling like the surface of the sea in a tempest, or the canopy of a forest lashed by storm-winds.
She didn’t have time to question the ceiling of the world because a glowing blob of violet light imposed itself between it and herself. “Are awake now, yes?” The harp-like voice was coming from the object hovering over her.
“What… are you?” Morganna croaked hoarsely. “A will-o-the-wisps? Am I… dead?” Against the protests of every muscle in her body, she sat up, wheezing and coughing up more dust.
“Is not what wisps do.” The voice like a bell belonged to another floating dot of color, this one a lighter than average shade of blue. Hovering next to it was a similar variation of yellow.
“Are not wisps.” The yellow one said indignantly. “We are motes.”
Morganna tentatively reached up and began pulling twigs from her hair. “Motes. Very well then… motes, where am I? How… did I come to be here?”
The violet mote bobbed upward to indicate the sky. “Fell through Vault and Thorn. You are in Forest Realm Cabanna.”
The blue one bobbed as well, “In far west of Faerie lands.”
Wracking her host’s mind, Morganna couldn’t find any knowledge of a place called Cabanna. She blinked at them, confused.
“Know what it is now!” Said yellow mote, excited, “Is not from Faerie, is a Mankind!”
Morganna froze, fear suddenly gripping her. Her original teachers had told her stories of the place that could no longer be reached; of beings of magic that was alien to mortal understanding. Occasionally, one or two such beings would cross into the mortal plane and wreak havoc, either by choice, or by virtue of its very existence.
Her gaze went once more to the sky. She remembered flame and noise; a bolt of lightning crashing down. She was already sinking into the astral plane when the explosion came. The boiling of the sky was because of her. She had torn through it, propelled by the explosion and her astral spell. She had landed in the place that could not be reached.
The motes were too enamored with the prize they had found to notice her shock. “Mankind, yes!” the blue one sang, “Only one in Faerie! Are strong, Naife?”
The violet mote, ostensibly Naife, bobbed in confirmation. “Is why don’t come to Faerie. Too strong even for demons.” The magical creature flew once more to hover in front of Morganna’s face. “If it be nice, motes be nice back. Tell Mankind all about Faerie. Mankind must know Laws.”
“There are… no rules.” Morganna stated, suddenly acting affronted. “Magic… magic makes them unnecessary.”
“But Mankind has no magic.” The blue mote chirped. “If had before, is gone now.”
Her glare pinned it in place. “What nonsense is that?” she demanded, “I… I am the most powerful…” she trailed off, noticing that the display of raw power she was attempting to call up had failed to make its appearance.”
“Habsi is right.” The yellow one said. “Fell though Vault and Thorn. Thorn takes head-magic from flesh-things.”
“Thorn can’t hurt motes.” Naife added with pride.
Mortified wasn’t drastic enough, or showing the proper degree of terror to describe the emotion that reached its icy fingers into Morganna’s soul. The prospect of being lost in treacherous Faerie no longer held any fear for her. For without magic, she was already dead.
Naife took her silence to be acceptance. “Anyway, are not rules, are Laws.” It bobbed in a pointed gesture directed at the yellow mote. “Renst knows Laws best. Can say them like demons do.”
Renst flared a little brighter with the praise. Its musical voice took a deeper tone as it recited. “The Seven Laws are for all faeries that walk and crawl and fly in Faerie and live under the Vault and Thorn. First, no being of Faerie shall die by the hand of a being of Faerie. Second, work not the metal of the ground. Forge only what the Wellsprings provide.”
The yellow mote started circling Morganna, as if the act drove its words home for her. “Third, only demons and servants of demons lie. Fourth, give nothing if nothing is to be given. Gifts are equal or not at all. Fifth, the Vault and the Thorn are above you, the firmament below; fall toward the firmament, fly toward the Vault and the Thorn. Sixth, each race will have Laws on its own.” Renst concluded with an excited burble.
Morganna barely heard a word of it. “Tell me…” her voice trembled as she questioned what she was sure was a collection of treacherous fey, “Tell me what must be done to regain my powers.”
“Motes will help.” Naife said, “If Mankind helps motes.” It didn’t have time to elaborate before something moving in the forest caught its attention.
“Comes an ogre.” Renst bobbed about, agitated.
“But Mankind is ours.” Habsi whined. “Ogre cannot have!”
“Why is ogre in Forest Realm?” Renst agreed.
By now, Morganna could hear the ogre’s approach as well. Branches snapped and brush rustled violently as something large moved in their direction. Agonizingly, she got to her feet. Her clothes were burnt rags, but somehow, aside from the phantom pains, her flesh was whole. “I… my magic, I cannot stand against a beast…”
“Motes cannot help until you offer gift in return.” Naife said. “Is Law.”
“Damn the law!” Morganna snapped. She could see the shadow of the towering thing coming through the trees. “You… wanted a mankind; you’ll lose it if I die.”
“Is Law. Motes cannot give gift of help. Is impossible. Give motes its name, Mankind, and then motes can help.”
Morganna glared at the darting speck of violet. “You… you can’t have it!” She scowled. The ogre’s smell; like wet horse mixed with sweaty leather, reached her nostrils, sending primal urges to run that her body was in no shape to comply with.
“Then motes cannot help Mankind. Motes wish to, but help is gift and Law is Law.” Naife sniffed.
The ogre broke through the tree line and into the clearing. It towered over her, as tall as any two men, with gray skin that reminded her of the ‘elephants’ she’d encountered in the menagerie back in the mortal world. Its face was passably like a man’s albeit thuggish, with a sloping brow and wide mouth. Its teeth were gray, flat things like millstones sized to fit its mouth. The lobes of its ears were long, weighed down by spikes of stone passed through them. Hair grew in wild tufts all over its body, including a wild shock of brown on its pate.
It wielded a stone paddle, only a few hands shorter than the creature was tall. It used it to batter down the young saplings in its path. Dirty scraps of leather and cloth hung from it in a pathetic attempt at clothing.
“King Grott wants the Mankind that fell here, motes.” He declared, battering down a small tree to demonstrate the violence it was offering. “He offers a day and a night at least free of pain in exchange.”
Morganna glared defiantly at the tower of raw strength standing before her. It was speaking of her as if she were chicken or sack of grain to be bartered. In her estimation, it was worse than the duplicitous little motes could ever hope to be. They had at least offered to bargain directly with her.
“I…” she began haltingly. “I am not theirs. I will… never be yours or your king’s.” Almost unconsciously, she crossed an arm over her body, raising two fingers parallel to her ear.
“You’ve got no say in this, Mankind.” The ogre huffed. “King Grott will have you and I will do his will.”
“Is not fair.” Renst whined. “Motes found Mankind. Cabanna not even ogre Realm.”
“As if the King cares.” The ogre gave his club a backhand swing, smacking the marble sized point of light into a tree.
“Your… laws prevent you from killing him.” Morganna haughtily pointed out. “Don’t you… care about these laws?”
“You’re dense, Mankind.” Said the ogre. “The Law prevents him from dying by my hand.”
“That’s what I said…”
“You’re not listening.” The ogre pointed with his paddle to where the yellow mote was rising, woozily from the ground. “I can try and kill him as much as I want. The Law won’t let him die.”
Morganna blinked at this. “You… can’t die?” The raised fingers shook slightly.
“No being of Faerie can die by the hand of another being of Faerie.” The behemoth quoted. “First law, Mankind.”
“Oh.” A sharp gesture let the invisible knife that was Tatiana Farnsworth’s psionic gift, usurped by Morganna, fly. It took the gray monster in the throat with enough force to stagger it. Thick, crimson blood oozed slowly out of the wound, which was quickly staunched by a black nailed hand. “I… I’m not of Faerie.” She observed.
The ogre roared, eyes burning with rage. “Little bitch! Filthy trickster! What conjuring was that?” With one hand, the monster lifted its paddle to dash his would be killer to dust, regardless of his King’s orders.
Another invisible knife cut the paddle off at the handle, sending the broad, flat slab crashing down onto the ogre’s shoulders, driving it to its knees. The collapse had the side effect of bringing the ogre’s eyes down to Morganna’s level.
“Hear me… beast.” She breathed through clenched teeth. “You… you are only the first. You world… has stolen my soul from me and I will… snuff out every one of your kind until I find how to get it back.” One final dagger of force split the ogre’s head and ended its life.
The ground shook as the titan’s corpse hit the ground. Morganna didn’t look at it, nor did she look at the motes she addressed. “You heard me. I will give you a gift; I will give you… your lives… if you give me your service.”
The motes were in no position to refuse.
To Be Continued…