(This chapter takes place between the events of Descendants #8 and #9)
North of Wales, 1130 A.D.
The sound of driving rain outside was muted by the stone walls and superior thatching of the house on the hill.
Elise sat at an expertly crafted wooden table in a chair built by the same skilled hand. A homespun blanket had been thrown over her shoulders and a steaming bowl of broth placed before her.
She’d been in that room several times with her father, Marcus, as he endlessly interviewed the two alleged witches for his epic. It was simple, if exquisitely maintained; one table, four chairs, a bench, a fireplace with a black, iron pot hanging over the pit, a water pump, and two cupboards. All of the furniture, including the stone mantle around the fireplace, seemed to be brand new.
Elise didn’t think twice about how two women with no visible means of support, and who rarely visited the village below, managed to live so well. While she was, as her father always said, clever enough, she was totally focused on her self appointed mission. So engrossed in her thoughts was she, that she didn’t notice the door leading into the interior rooms of the house open a crack to observe her.
“I don’t like it.” Agnes of Berwick said. She was watching Elise through the door. Her voice was barely audible, but carried to her contemporary’s ear by means of a spell. “Like her father, she only sees us as a novelty; fools to caper and perform for their fancy.”
“Her father believes, dear Agnes.” The same spell bought to Agnes the voice of Mary Hillingsworth. “And the girl wants to learn. More importantly, she believes even more strongly than her father.”
“He fills her head with his homespun tails of this woman of the fey. That isn’t what we told him at all; it isn’t real magic. Swords cast from lakes and bastard children of destiny… That’s what she believes, you know. What use is that?”
“You aren’t looking at the larger facts, dear Agnes.” Mary said. The clack-clack of her knitting needles was the only sound softer than her voice. “She believes those. She accepts those willingly. Her mind is more open than any I have seen. And with it, her potential is beyond you or I.”
She put her knitting aside, stood and paced over to the door beside Agnes. “We’ve been two for far too long because all those that seek us out are too weak in the power; clinging too tightly to the Rules the world imposes. This one is different. With her as our third, we will be strong. We will teach her and she will lead magic into a new golden age.”
Faerie, October of 2074
The tension running up her arm reached a crescendo. With a grunt of exertion, Morganna lashed her hand down and forward, three fingers curled forward like claws. A ripple formed in the wake of the presented fingers and streaked toward her target.
A cloud of splinters erupted at the far side of the clearing, tearing loose from an unfortunate tree. Three long rents were gouged into the tree as if a bear had taken its claws to the trunk.
Morganna allowed herself a satisfied smile. Psionic powers could be varied in much the same way that magic could, it seemed. Tatiana Farnsworth had honed her invisible knife to the pinnacle of focus, to the point that it could leave a cut so fine that it was almost invisible to close examination.
Unfortunately, Morganna had learned such thin cuts were a detriment when fighting the creatures of faerie, many of whom regenerated and were able to heal thin slices, even slices that completely bisected them, given a surprisingly short amount of time.
To that end, she set about retraining Tatiana Farnsworth’s body to unleash explosively damaging attacks instead of the standard invisible knife.
Behind her, the air suddenly filled with musical voices praising her prowess, cleverness, and anything else the cloud of motes watching her could observe or imagine. She turned to see a swarm of color.
Motes were bizarre creatures. They were the least of the races of Faerie, incapable by their own Laws of making physical contact with objects or creatures. The Law didn’t work the other way, however, and motes found themselves perpetual victims of other races, who could inflict pain while the motes were unable to respond in kind.
They were even incapable of physically interacting with each other, resulting in an odd sort of asexual reproduction that Morganna observed numerous times since her arrival in Faerie. A newly ‘born’ mote was a dark colored speck of light which grew increasingly lighter as it aged. Once it became completely white, it split into seven new motes, one of each of the basic colors.
The arrangement left motes childlike and more than a little cowardly with little social capability beyond interacting with other motes. But now, the motes had a savior. All it had cost them was devoting their lives in service to her.
Despite their obvious weaknesses, Morganna found uses for them. They made ideal scouts and guides, leading her to food, water and shelter whenever she wanted for it. They even led her to the edges of the Forest Realm Cabanna, to a village populated by a humanoid race called the daoine, to pilfer clothes to replace her torn and scorched rags.
Beyond that, Morganna had discovered that being the least of the races, and therefore largely ignored, left the motes with large amounts of time to themselves; time they used to observe and listen and commit to memory large swaths of information. Each mote was a tiny treasure trove of information. The problem was coaxing that information from the dimwitted little creatures.
“Mankind is even stronger now.” Naife, a violet mote declared in a voice like a trilling harp and came to hover before her. It was the defacto leader of the motes that flocked around Morganna, due in part to an unspoken belief by the others that it was Naife who convinced Morganna to become the motes’ champion.
“Yes,” Habsi, one of Naife’s companions, agreed. It was a light shade of blue implying that it was older than Naife. “Mankind is greatest there is. Also, nice to motes.”
“It…” Morganna began a dark look in her eyes, “It isn’t enough. It is nothing… compared to my magic.”
“But Mankind’s magic is being lost.” Habsi reminded unhelpfully. “Taken by Thorn.” It bobbed upward to indicate the green sky above. According to the motes, the vault of the sky was covered by a vast plant called the Thorn, which absorbed magical ability or knowledge (the motes used the term ‘head magic’) from anyone it pierced. Morganna considered finding a way to reach the Thorn and hack her magic free, but had no idea how to do either.
“Mankind is strong enough.” Renst, a yellow mote and Naife’s other yes-mote said defensively, floating to hover over Morganna’s shoulder. “It uses magic never seen in Faerie.”
The undergrowth at the edge of the clearing rustled and a new creature emerged. It stood about two and a half feet tall with a stocky green body. Four gangly limbs sprouted from the body, growing thicker at the calves and forearms and giving it a misshapen, humanoid appearance. It had no neck and little head to speak of, simply a green lump with two eyes like black marbles set into the sides. The motes identified such creatures as spriggans. “That is why the Mankind should be Queen of Forest Realm.” It spoke in a gurgling hiss.
“I don’t… need to be Queen, Laupso.” Morganna waved a dismissive hand at the spriggan. He and his mate, another spriggan only distinguishable from him by that fact that her claws were significantly longer, had given themselves into Morganna’s service shortly after the former sorceress had defeated an emissary of the Ogre King Grott. Laupso was adamant that said battle was a sign that she was destined to be Queen of the Realm.
The spriggan dug its clawed feet into the ground, looking as if it were setting down roots. “The ogres keep coming and the Mankind is the only thing that’s stopped them. The daoine do nothing. Motes and spriggans and pixies can’t do anything. The dryads and arboreal folk don’t care for anything but drinking the light. And not a being had laid eyes on a sidhe in years upon years. You, Mankind are the only one that has done anything.”
“I… I don’t care about ogres. I don’t… care about… your Forest Realm. What I care about is my magic… my power.” Morganna said petulantly. She walked out of the clearing, toward a small pond the motes had found for her.
“Monarchs have power.” Laupso extricated himself from the ground to follow Morganna and her band of motes. It ambled along, sometimes on all fours, sometimes on two legs. “Realms have Rules. If you were Queen, you could make Rules for all of Cabanna.”
Knowing the inevitable response to any mention of ‘rules’, Naife, Renst and Habsi darted swiftly away from Morganna as she rounded on the diminutive fey. “There are no rules!” She screamed. She punctuated her point by sending an invisible knife to shear a few bushes near Laupso’s head apart. “Not… not for me! Never again!”
She turned once more and stalked to the water’s edge.
“It is sounding like what mankinds long ago said.” An orange mote observed, offhand.
Morganna stopped in mid crouch, hands reaching toward her reflection in the water. Ever so slowly, she turned toward the mote that spoke. “What did you say?” she hissed at it.
The mote pulsed faintly and wavered from side to side. “Is named Tau, Mankind.” It said nervously with a voice like distant chimes. It was an elder mote, its color nearly faded completely to white. “Was just saying that Mankind talks like is told mankinds of old talked.”
Morganna blinked. Now that she thought of it, it was obvious that other humans had managed to reach Faerie. How else would the motes have identified her as a ‘mankind’ in the first place?
“How… did they talk?” she asked, trying to keep her voice even.
Tau wavered a bit more. “Always say not having Rules. Which is not right. How mankinds know to be without Rules? They has Rules, right?”
“Motes has Laws.” Naife corrected, “Not rules. Is different.”
“Ignore that.” Morganna snapped, “These… other men. Did they have magic?”
“Yes.” Tau burbled, happy to see Morganna pleased with it. “Was before Thorn. Mankinds came and took Realms. Then mankinds learn stealing-magic magic. Were killing and taking magic.”
Something clicked in Morganna’s head. Though the capability had been taken from her by that thrice accursed Thorn, she still remembered the name of the spell that Tau was trying to explain. By slaying a spellcaster and performing a spell that required a great deal of time and several expensive reagents, one could gain the spells and rituals, even a measure of capacity, which the slain had possessed.
Her lips shaped the name of the ritual even as she thought it. “Animus Scindo Ritus.” She murmured.
“Yes, is right!” Tau said excitedly.
“Is always right.” Renst said, “Is strongest of all mankinds.”
Morganna shook off her fugue and nodded to Tau. “What happened… after.”
“Mankinds fought. Even more worse than other fighting. Hid magics where stealing-magic magic not take it.”
Morganna mulled over this for a moment. There was no defense against the Animus Scindo. It was performed postmortem and targeted the dying mind directly. Any spell in the victim’s mind was privy to the spell. It didn’t make sense. If It were possible to hide knowledge from the Animus Scindo, everyone would know it and thus the ritual would have become worthless.
The motes became restless. Morganna’s fits of thoughtfulness usually ended in fits of violence. All but Naife, Renst, Habst and the oblivious Tau retreated into the brush. Even Laupo sought cover.
But no violent outburst came. Morganna looked up at Tau, voice soft and quiet. “How did they… how was it done?”
“Put magic in things…” Tau started slowly, not sure why Morganna had become so quiet. “Were put in staff and ring and other mankind things. Hid them in place all over Faerie.”
Morganna’s eyes lit up. Spell forging; the process by which the legendary relics of times long past had been created. Most magical devices were short term, or even one use. Potions and charms either worked once and never again, weakened over time, or required some sort of power source to keep them functional. She recalled making the Ape Knight Lucian’s lance with an enchantment powered by the moon’s light.
Spell forged items, however, needed no power source and lasted ostensibly forever. They were made by permanently erasing a spell from the caster’s mind and impressing that spell into an item during a long, expensive ritual. The finished item could enact the spell (or spells if the ritualist was fond of expending a great deal of time and money) with no reagents and minimal incantations or gestures. The downside was that the ritualist would never be capable of using that spell on their own ever again and anyone could use the relic created if they managed to steal it.
Relics were rare and highly prized. Those in possession of one never spoke of it aloud for fear of theft. The side effect was that the spells placed within a relic would not be subject to the Animus Scindo. In a world where spellcasters fought openly with the forbidden ritual, some of those relics may carry a mage’s entire repertoire.
An evil grin split her lips. The Thorn may have taken her magic, but the mote had just shown her where to claim more. “Where, Tau… tell me where to find them.” She demanded, a dangerous fire igniting in her eyes.
The orange mote darted backward fearfully. “Does not know, Mankind. Motes not given any.” It bobbed up and down for a beat, then exclaimed, “But does know trolls would know. Build the old Vaults they did. Keep all secrets, trolls do.”
“Really…” Morganna smiled. “The trolls…” The motes had told her about the trolls that lived in the neighboring Realm, Mountain Realm Xolinar. They warred forever with the ogres for control of the region and were known as the greatest smiths in Faerie. “Then we… we will march to Xolinar. And I will have my power back.”
To Be Continued…