(This chapter takes place during the events of Descendants #11 and #12)
Wales, Winter Solstice, 1130 A.D.
Elise cast her baleful gaze at the roaring bonfire, which was surrounded by joyous revelers welcoming in the solstice. The fire promised much more gratifying warmth than the feeble cook fire she was warming herself next to, but the cunning peoples cavorting around it promised to be nothing but sources of useless banter and endless titles.
Agnes and Mary taught her that sabbats were important gatherings during which the cunning folk; witches and wizards and enchanters and the like, shared information and news of the world. The one that took place in tandem with the winter solstice was the most important sabbat of the year, one where practitioners from the Dark Continent, the Steppes and Arabia would be in attendance.
However, as it turned out, the sabbat seemed to only be an excuse for those with magic to cavort without having to conceal their abilities. Casual and practical magic was used with impunity here; nothing that could be done with magic was done by hand.
It was all terribly boring to Elise. And more than that, it was frustrating. She had mastered all of the small spells witches traditionally knew, as well as the modest repertoires of her ‘sisteren’, as they referred to one another at sabbat. She had even created a few herself based on stories told to her of the capabilities of wizards and enchanters.
What was left to her was a choice between figuring out new spells by ‘feel’ as Mary called it, or seek out others to observe. She had hoped that the sabbat would give her just such an opportunity, but the cunning folk were far too wrapped up in their dancing and imbibing of libations brewed by exotic or even arcane means to teach her anything. Even her so called sisteren.
At the rate she was learning now, by the time she was powerful enough to be worthy of the title Le Fay, her father would be moldering in his grave and it would be for nothing.
There was another way, a Forbidden Art that would teach her everything a given person knew. The description Mary had given when telling her about it was maddeningly vague to the point that she didn’t even know where to begin constructing it with the power.
“You don’t seem to be enjoying yourself very much.”
Elise looked up to see a young man with ruddy brown hair and a sun baked face standing over her, blocking her view of the bonfire. He wore a light colored, almost white robe, belted with a cord of rough, twisted fiber. A bare weapon, less a sword and more a sickle, was thrust into the belt to hang at his side.
“No…” she said flatly. “I am not… this is… not what I expected.”
“Not what I expected either, truth be told.” The young man said. “No combat trials, the horses tied like they were mere animals, women dancing—it’s all very strange… but exciting.”
Elise noticed, for the first time, that his mouth’s movements weren’t matching the words. An exceptionally inferior spell of translation. He was either a student or he had begged an enchantment from one. Either way, he was useless. So she ignored him.
He blinked at the dismissal by silence. “Forgive me. The tradition is that I give my name, yes? I am Chakkama, of the Children of the Steppes, quiver-bearer of Abadai the Fire-spinner.”
Elise scanned the crowd near the bonfire for Mary or Agnes. Perhaps they would tell her where all that alleged trading in information would be taking place before the midnight hour was upon them.
Chakkama cleared his throat loudly. More accurately, the translation spell replaced the annoyed grunt he expelled into a throat clearing sound. “Has some curse or fell birthright stricken you dumb? I am trying to speak to you!”
“I am… am trying to think. Be silent.” With stunning swiftness, Elise was standing and her extended finger tips were slamming into his throat. With a pained gurgling sound, Chakkama collapsed on the ground.
In that moment, as Chakkama lay curled on his side, struggling to breath, a flash of insight streaked through Elise’s mind. She knew things that Chakkama knew. The way Abadai, the Fire-spinner had shown him to calm of berserk a horse from twenty paces, the minor gesture that could ignite the wick of a lamp, the word that made an arrow fly twice as far. All she had to do was take it.
However, she didn’t want it. Every spell was useless.
Dropping to a knee, she stared at the rapidly purpling face of Chakkama the quiver bearer. “You’ll live.” She said, weaving a simple spell that reversed the collapse of his windpipe, but removed none of the secondary trauma. “You… showed me something… Something important. I… wouldn’t have seen it without you.” She kissed her fingertips and placed them on his brow, ignoring the terrified look in his eyes. “Thank you for teaching me… Merlin.”
She stood and straightened herself, letting her eyes sweep over the sabbat. The most famous and powerful practitioners in the world, plus the Steppes, Arabia and the Dark Continent were there. Knowledge and power waiting to be plucked.
Stooping, she pulled Merlin’s sickle/sword from his belt. He didn’t need it any longer. His job of teaching was done. Now Morganna would put his lessons to good use.
Faerie, November of 2074
“No.” Jaken’s voice was a low snarl that reverberated through the vault’s stone chamber.
Morganna, one fist still clamped around the staff, snapped her head in his direction. Her glare bored into his soul. What he had seen her do, what he knew she was capable of even without mystic power allowed that glare to stir mortal fear deep in the pit of his stomach.
But for all the Laws he had betrayed while in the thrall of that mortal terror, there was one he would not forsake. A troll protected what he guarded. And the contents of the vault were his to guard. He didn’t know or understand, or even care why he had led the mankind to this place, or revealed its existence in the first place; but he wouldn’t let her go any farther.
“What?” Morganna demanded, the yellow glow in her eyes casting her in an even more terrifying light. The motes cleared a wide space around him. “What did you say?” The sound of her voice took on inhuman qualities.
“You cannot.” Jaken said. “I cannot let you. Nothing will leave this vault. I swear this on my life. It is the Law of trolls that I will protect what lies in my grand-mater’s vault.”
A cruel, mocking smile crossed Morganna’s face. “Law… Rules… they don’t mean anything. Not to me.”
“They do to me.” Jaken snarled.
“There are no Laws about… not showing others to these places?” Morganna asked.
Jaken blinked and hesitated. “Y-yes.” He admitted, “Yes there are.”
“A-and you broke them?” Morganna asked.
“Is not being possible.” Renst broke in with as much of a hushed tone as was possible for a mote. “No Faerie can be breaking own laws. Can change, yes, but cannot be breaking.”
“And yet…“ Morganna gestured at the vault around them with her free hand. “Here we are.”
That silenced everyone in the room. The faeries understood better than she that what Jaken had done was impossible; as impossible as drinking the ocean. They shouldn’t be standing in the vault, shouldn’t even know its existence. And yet… there they were.
Morganna nodded at the silence as if it were agreement, and then lifted the staff from the mannequin’s hand.
“No!” Jaken roared, springing toward her.
Smoothly, Morganna swung the staff to bear on Jaken. “Solarius!” she intoned the word even as the staff supplied it to her mind. The yellow fire left her eyes and the emerald half dome at the end of the staff flared white. Jaken’s advance slowed, then halted as if he were wading through mud. His flesh faded and became dull; even his eyes grew gray and flat.
“Hmm.” Morganna surveyed her handiwork. “Hyrilius had a spell to turn trolls… to stone.”
“What is we be doing with him now, mankind?” Naife floated over to his mistress as she sauntered over to the trapped Jaken.
“There are no rules for me.” She said forcefully and turned on her heel, walking back to the mannequin. With care uncharacteristic of her normal behavior, she undid the clasp of the cloak and removed it.
“Is not answering.” Renst said pensively to Naife.
Undaunted, Naife bobbed over to face Morganna again. “Mankind, is it going to kill troll Jaken? What are we be doing now?”
Morganna shrugged the cloak onto her shoulders and let out a delighted chuckle as she allowed the magic within it to lift her a few inches off the ground. “Yes, Naife… dear, dear Naife.” Her voice was saccharine. “Now… I have my power. Now my magic is back…” She reached out and pulled the ring from the mannequin’s finger and slipped it onto her own.
A shiver of ecstasy ran over her.
“Yes. Yes. Good. Good.” Naife said, bobbing up and down in agreement. “But… is not telling Naife or motes or spriggans what is to be happening now.”
Morganna continued to ignore it. Gesturing with the hand she had just placed the ring on, she levitated the crystal sphere out of the mannequin’s hand and into the air. The sphere glittered in the dusty air and threw a pale rainbow across the floor.
Childlike delight played over her features. She wagged her fingers a few times, causing the sphere to dance, reflecting the colors from the motes. After several long minutes of this, she set the sphere in air with the ring’s power and turned her attention to the last piece of Hyrlius’s legacy; the torque around the mannequin’s neck.
There didn’t seem to be a catch or other means of opening the necklace and it was simply too small to pull over the head. Glowering, Morganna ran her fingers along it its surface, searching for hidden catches.
Naife gave up, floating dejectedly away from its mistress.
Finally, Morganna’s touch reached the ruby held in the jaws of the teak dragons. A tingle ran up her arm and the stone became lit from within with eldritch fire.
Reflexively, Morganna stepped back.
The mannequin’s eyes went white, its lips supple. It turned its pupil-less gaze on the sorceress, who leveled her staff in preparation to defend herself.
The golem made no mode to attack. Instead it bowed its head. “Greetings, heir of Hyrilius.”
Morganna didn’t lower her ill-gotten staff. “What… are you?” she demanded. The motes and spriggans positioned themselves so that Morganna was between her and the creature.
“I am Manikin; advisor, assistant and companion to the heir of Hyrilius. The Heiress of Hyrilius as it seems.” Though only its face and eyes were capable of emoting, it looked troubled at her blank stare. “It is you; Elise of Hafren, also called Tatiana Farnsworth, also called Lady Nightshade, who calls herself Morganna le Fay, Heiress of Hyrilius who was the heir of Arcturus of Dare. You who have shown Wit and a Wise Mind and found this place.”
Manikin stepped off the chest and went down on one knee, lowering its head. “What form would best serve you, O Heiress?”
Morganna shook her head, forcing herself out of her stupor. She swung the staff up and planted the butt on the ground, using it to lean on. “A golem.” She stated. “And you… you are my servant now. What can you become?”
“It is only an illusion, Heiress.” Manikin responded. “But I can assume the form of any human or fey or creature of similar shape. Lord Hyrilius was uncomfortable conversing with my natural form.”
“Useful…” Morganna said thoughtfully. “But… I’ve no need of it now.”
“I will take a shape from your mind for the time being then.” Manikin’s face darkened and filled out; chocolate brown locks grew in ringlets from its head. Jeans and a black tank top appeared as its body changed. Within minutes, the only thing differentiating Manikin from Tatiana Farnsworth’s niece and Morganna’s former host, Lisa Ortega was the teak and ruby torque around her neck. “Is this satisfactory, O Heiress?” she asked.
“Yes.” Morganna nodded absently. “Now… you are an… an advisor, yes?”
“Perfect.” Morganna smiled. “We are in Faerie. I wish to return… home. Advise me.”
Manikin shook her head. “You home, O Heiress, is nine hundred years past.”
Habsi bobbed over Morganna’s shoulder. “Mankind is looking very young for being so old, yes?” Morganna waved it away.
“I… know this, Manikin. I want to return to… Farnsworth’s world and time. I wish to continue my quest… my… quest to return magic to that world. Show me how.”
Silently, Manikin stood and walked over to the still floating crystal orb. She held out a hand and the orb dropped into her outstretched hand. “It is difficult business, O Heiress; traveling to and from Faerie. The Astral Plane separates the two worlds and the faeries as a rule lack the empathy that keeps the Astral close to the Material Prime. There had existed no known portals between the two worlds since the Pharaohnic era, when practitioners locked the two Primes apart.”
“I know this. Don’t… tell me what isn’t… possible. Tell me what is.” Morganna snipped, frustrated.
Manikin nodded. “Very well. There are ways. The locks the old cunning folk used are failing and there are places where the plane can be breeched; sometimes by natural phenomena.” She held the sphere up to her face and gazed into it.
After a few moments, she spoke again. “There is such a breech. The portal was created by your arrival on this plane.”
“And… where is it?” Morganna asked.
Again, Manikin shook her head. “It is controlled by the demons. Even with the power of Hyrilius, you cannot defeat their armies.”
Morganna made a snarling sound and looked at the floor a moment. Then a dark smile spread over her face. “Then I know where we will go next.” She turned to the motes. “Naife… Habsi… Renst… lead me back to Xolinar… to the ogre king.”
To Be Continued…