(This chapter takes place during the events of Descendants #14)
Northern Germany, 1134
She came from the sky. Drifting like the seed head of a dandelion on the breeze, she traveled above the steep hills and deep woods, following her outstretched senses. For almost five years, dousing for magic over great distances, Morganna le Fay had sought out and slain dozens of the so called cunning folk; the practitioners of the ancient arts of the arcane.
In her wake, she had left villages leveled or burned to the ground. And with each growing year, her predations among her own kind and the residual deaths of hundreds of bystanders sent ripples of terror from the Islands of Britannia to the west to the Steppes to the east. None of the common folk knew who she was or anything of her quest. All they knew was that having a witch or wizard or any other practitioner of the occult was to invite death and destruction.
Morganna neither knew nor cared about what was going on in the world she lived in. Over the years, she had added a library of spells to her mental repertoire and her strength in the arts had proven to be more than a match for the occasional archmagus that threw himself against her in an attempt to stop her.
But it was still not enough. Not in her mind. She needed to overcome all of the world’s petty rules before she would be worth more than a male child to her father. And that meant more magic was needed. Surely, somewhere in the world, a mind still held secrets unwritten or forbidden. Those too would become hers.
This quest had bought her to a far and isolated part of the Holy Roman Empire, the northern portion of a place called Germany. Its rulers, the house of Hohenstaufen, ignored it, pressing their conquests to the south and east. Here was the perfect place for a wizard to make his last refuge.
And her senses confirmed such. But not in one of the fin villages, barely under the protection of any government and at the mercy of brigands and barbarians. No, her senses let her deep into the wilds to the banks of a stream that had become a river with the late spring melt water.
He sat on a fallen log, waiting for her.
He didn’t look up until Morganna’s feet had touched the ground. He was from the far south, in the land called the Dark Continent. Africa. A cloth of orange-red was draped over one shoulder, leaving the other bare. Wherever his dark skin was exposed, it was covered in ochre in swirling, hypnotic designs. In his aged, gnarled hand, he held a straight rod of ebony with a forked end into which an uncut chunk of white stone had been set.
Morganna landed a few yards upstream from him, hand already dipped into the rabbit skin pouch that held her foci.
“Elise of Hafren.” The man said, standing with the aid of the staff and turning to face her. A wave of unease swept over Morganna, but she battled against it. Whoever her quarry was, he was employing a kind of subtle mind control she’d never encountered. A kind she meant to make her own. “I am Hungan Reyete. Do you know why I’m here?”
Even watching his mouth, Morganna wondered if he was using a spell to translate or if he was really speaking. Either way, she understood him perfectly. Not that she cared what he had to say she only cared about what he could teach her in death.
“I will tell you anyway.” The Hungan was obviously reading her thoughts. “You have killed many of my brothers and sisters in the power. You have sifted their minds and attacked their very souls to take what it took decades and centuries for experience to give them. Your actions have repressed the sabbat for years and halted progress in all arts.”
Morganna’s hand settled on a lump of coal inside her pouch. The mind of a desert nomad had given a spell that caused fever and drew water from the body. The Hungan was obviously an accomplish magnus and she suspected she could learn much from him if she could keep him teetering on the razor edge between life and death.
But something stayed her hand. It was not thought or epiphany, but a tangible force, a cloying vise of moist air that settled over her and weighted down her limbs. The Hungan was more powerful than her senses foretold.
“What is more,” the Hungan continued, “You have sown fear of our people among the common folk. Because of you, they no longer trust the medicine men and witches that have for so long kept them well and prosperous. There are those that use this to their advantage and have pressed them to violence.”
Images encroached into Morganna’s mind; women burning alive, children left in the forest to fend for themselves, mobs with flaming brands driving fleeing figures over cliffs and into raging rivers.
“Because of you, our time is growing short, Elise of Hafren.”
Morganna pressed her full will against the binding the Hungan was working. In her mind, she pulled together skeins of power and formed them into a knife to cut her bonds. But it was slow going and the Hungan continued to speak.
“You have robbed this world of a vital resource in your madness. We may yet live on; hiding in enclaves, moving beyond the reach of news of your dark atrocities, but you alone have brought magic into a Dark Age.” The Hungan’s eyes narrowed. “I am here to stop your capacity for damage.”
The binding weakened and Morganna threw more will against it. For the first time, she spoke. “You…you mean to kill me?” She asked.
“I have taken a vow o bring death to no living thing.” He said. “But I can take your reason to hunt: the Animus Scindo Ritus. Without it, killing more of our breed will be worthless to you.”
This time, it wasn’t the Hungan’s spell that caused fear to flow in Morganna’s veins. The Animus was her key to power. With it, she needed no doddering teachers, no slow process of trial and error, no need to learn small worthless spells the build and combine into anything worthwhile. If magic was her life’s blood, the Animus was her marrow.
The fear and corresponding surge in adrenaline was enough to allow her will to surge through the Hungan’s binding and lay her hand at the short sword at her hip. “No!” She screamed, pulling the blade free. “I…I will not allow that!” Magical power strengthened her limbs and allowed her to throw herself into him with a single bound.
Eternally calm, the Hungan bought his staff up to counter the savage blow and turn Morganna back. “It is already done. The feeling you had when you first landed was a Soul Shackle closing on you.” Whirling the staff with practiced ease, he bought it around to clout her in the head, sending her reeling. “If you had experience, or training, you would have seen the trap before it closed.”
“It will end…” Morganna snarled, renewing her attack through the haze of pain and the ringing in her ears. “with your life!”
“You know that much.” The Hungan said, dodging a viper quick strike aimed for his belly. “But you know so little. Your teachers tried, may they find peace when they die, but you were too mad to absorb any of it.” He threw her back again and planted the butt of his weapon into her chest to push her further. “If you had listened, you would have understood the reason no one has done what you have.”
Enraged, Morganna threw a handful of sand into the air and spoke the words to ignite it. But the flames parted before a shield of the Hungan’s making.
“Even to my enemy, I am a teacher.” He said from behind his shield. “I have taught dozens, including my own sons.”
“I am not… in need of a lesson.” Morganna said, savagely striking against the shield with a spike of force. It wavered, but didn’t fall.
“You are in need of the greatest lesson of all.” The Hungan replied. “And that is why I teach; because of that lesson.” He threw more will into his shield and struck a pose more scholarly than warlike. “All things end, Elise. No matter what spells a person knows, all things must succumb to entropy. The only thing we can do is ensure that the magic lives on in one form or another. Because even those of us who can break the bonds of earth and fly cannot break that one rule.”
“It doesn’t apply to me!” Morganna battered the shield down at last. “Never… never to me!” She flew once more at her foe with her sword in a merciless overhand strike.
With both hands, the African wizard caught the blade with his staff, letting the sharp weapon bite deep into the wood, trapping it. “Especially to you. Because you’ve stolen so much and have no plans to let it continue on after you.” He glared over the crossed weapons. “No matter if you find another way to steal that which must be earned, no matter what powers you come to possess, Elise of Hafren, bear this in mind.” He pulled on his staff and the wood creaked as he broke it. White light flooded his eyes. “This too, shall pass.”
The staff broke and the Hungan’s life flowed out of him and into the Soul Shackle he’d locked around Morganna’s Animus Scindo Ritus. She felt it even as he collapsed at her feet. Her foe was dead, but she had lost.
Faerie, February 2075
She flew. Not in the way she had in the past, or even in the way the Woodling Cloak, part of Hyrilius’s legacy, allowed her to. No, she flew from the impact of a massive fist onto her less than massive body.
From her position, watching the horrid green sky wheel above her, she couldn’t tell how far she flew before her body struck the ground and her right shoulder started plowing a furrow in the muddy ground.
The ogre king, Grott laughed; a horrible snorting sound that started somewhere in the back of his head and promised to deliver gobs of phlegm if it every fully escaped. His distended belly shook with his mirth as he watched her stand.
Mud slithered off the Woodling Cloak as if it were water rolling off silk. Morganna stood. Whoever Hyrilius had been, the cloak must have made him invincible, she considered. None of the force from the blow or the subsequent rough landing had scathed her in the least, much less shattered her bones as it should have.
But being invincible wasn’t going to defeat Grott and neither, apparently, was Tatiana Farnsworth’s psionic power, or any of the spells she’d used so far. Spells broke over him like water and did just as little damage. Cuts were turned by his impenetrable, elephantine skin.
She held out a hand and the staff flew from where it had landed in the mud, seeking her hand. If Grott didn’t fall, she would soon tire and then he’d simple smother her. Her hopes of returning to her rightful world were slipping away.
Manikin had told her that the ogres had managed to defeat the demons’ warriors in large enough hordes. The motes told her the only way to command a horde of ogres was to defeat their leader in single combat. They had offered to lead her to leaders of weaker warbands.
But Grott was the king of all the ogres in Xolinar, she reasoned. With his fall, she would have a tide of ogres to storm the demons’ home and make her demands clear. Somehow, the standard rule that all kings but the One True King was weak, mewling individuals didn’t seem to apply to ogres as she had hoped. Grott seemed to be the Arthur of the ogres.
“Yield.” Grott boomed, like the coming of a thunderhead. “And you will be my pretty pet in a gilded cage.”
Baring her teeth, Morganna spat out a glob of mud and rubbed yet more from her nose. The stuff that passed for the ground in the higher mountains of Xolinar was thicker and stickier than any mud she’d seen on earth. All the ogres present were coated in it up to their knees with great clods of it stuck in the random tufts of hair that sprouted from their bodies.
“Is maybe good deal.” Naife said, floating at her side. The challenge was single combat, but no one seemed to care that the motes flitted about the mud pit freely. “Many motes is ogre pets. Is being a safe life. No is so bad.”
“I am… not a pet.” Morganna breathed.
“But Mankind is being to die!” the mote whined, obviously worried about what would happen to it and its kith and kin if that happened.
Ignoring him, Morganna raised one foot, then the other, watching the mud glob and ooze around her. She frowned at it thoughtfully. “Can barely walk in it, but… but…” She smiled and looked at the staff. “Hyrilius has been here before.”
“You think too much, mankind.” Grott came for her with ponderous steps.
Morganna ignored him, staring at the staff and concentrating. Power flowed from it and into her and with it, knowledge. “Yes…” said. “He… he has.” She dropped the head of the staff down into the mud and looked pointedly at the approaching ogre. “Earth Stone Wake.”
The mud rippled around the staff and then a pulse traveled from where it touched to a spot just ahead of the advancing ogre. Demonic glee in her eyes, Morganna stepped up onto the stone path she had just created.
“Why is it just not flying?” Renst asked, taking Naife’s place at her side.
“Do you think rock can kill King Grott?” the ogre king demanded, stepping into the stone platform as well. “It will just keep your carcass clean when I smash it for wasting my time.” He lunged for her, but she was in the air before he got a chance.
He would smother her, Morganna thought again. Because he couldn’t harm her physically. Turning in air, she aimed the staff and spoke the spell in reverse. “Wake Stone Earth!” The platform dissolved into viscous and unstable mud while Grott was in mid-lunge. He slipped and fell on his face into the mud.
Like a hawk falling upon a hare, Morganna dove and slammed her heels into his back as he lay prone in the mud, driving him deeper into the muck. With all her desperation, he brought the staff down on the mud that covered his head. “Stone Earth Wake.”
Mud became stone in a wide swath around the Ogre King’s head; pinning his arms and face into place. His legs kicked and floundered for almost twenty minutes before he became still.
The surrounding ogres became still too; a deathly silence falling over them when it became apparent that their lord wasn’t going to smash his way free of his confinement. Their former lord, to be accurate.
One by one, they raised their meaty fists to their brows, pledging their loyalty, as per the Laws of the Xolinar Ogres, to their new Queen.
A shocked expression on her face, Manikin stepped into the pit, followed by the spriggans. She surveyed the silent and cowed ogres. “You have done it…” she murmured as she approached her charge.
“You said I needed an army.” Morganna pointed out, stepping off the previous monarch’s body.
“But I didn’t advise you to fight an ogre king. By Law, they have immense strength and durability. And I certainly didn’t expect you to succeed in killing one.”
“I’ve… killed several ogres.” Morganna shrugged, looking her army over.
“You’ve what?” Manikin blinked. “But Faeries are immortal in their own world. Only the passage of time or accident can kill one…”
“I killed them.” She said.
If it was possible for Manikin to look more shocked, she would have at that moment. Then realization came to her. “The Seventh Law.” She said.
“No!” Renst moaned. “It cannot!”
“I am not bound by the Laws.” Manikin said haughtily. “I am not even real as they concern reality.” Then to Morganna, she said, “I can explain all of this…” she looked at the ogres, “Your majesty… I just need to retrieve the Book of Tranquility from the chest we bought up from the Vault.”
“No…” Morganna said, “No time. I want… want to be home, where I should be.” She raised a hand in the direction of the ogres. “Prepare for war!” she shouted. “Heed my spriggans and my motes as… as my generals.” She sneered as the looks of confusion and horror swept through the ogre ranks and whoops of joy came from the cloud of motes overhead. “We march tomorrow—against the demons.”
To Be Continued…