(This chapter takes place during the events of Descendants #18)
Once, there was a beautiful princess, who lived in a simple land in simple times, who everyone loved. Her father was a great and wise king whose passion was for the written word.
The king loved the princess very much and doted on her. But the princess could tell that the king was saddened by having no son. For without a strong and powerful heir, his kingdom would fall to ruin when he passed.
Ever so clever, the princess saw this and resolved to be worthy of being the king’s heir even though she was a girl. Now, the princess shared her father’s passion for words and in one of his many tomes; a story her told her many times and in many different ways, she found the answer. She found the truth.
Her path was the path of magic, for magic is eternally mightier than brute strength and more subtle besides. So she climbed a great mountain and begged two goddesses to show her the ways arcane. And they did show her and the princess’s eyes opened.
The book that had put her on the path of magic was not a story at all. It was about her and she was the sorceress from the book. Joy lit the princess’s heart and she gladly accepted her wondrous fate.
But the gods secretive and slow to teach. So the princess found a secret way to learn faster, to surpass the gods and like Prometheus, bring light to the mundane world.
But like a modern Prometheus, the gods sought to punish her. They sent a most wicked devil to strike her blind and ignorant. But he could not kill her. The princess lived on, forever striving to bring light into the world.
But again, the gods sent devils. First, one cast in the form of her mother. It spoke kind words, but betrayed itself when it tried to convince the princess that she was mad. So the princess banished the demon with her light.
The second devil came as her father, the mighty king and it came with a host of demon-knights and dark gods. They could not kill the princess, but they did make her fall asleep for a long, long time.
But soon a powerful, but foolish warlord found her and allowed his trusted lieutenant to awaken her and give her new form. The princess awoke to see the world given over to twisted perversions of the light she carried within her and set out to banish them, knowing them to be devils.
To aide her, the warlord sent her another of his warriors for her to teach her the ways of the world and the lieutenant gave up her own body that the princess may be stronger still. The princess even called upon her own knight to stand against the demons.
But the knight betrayed her, a foul act beyond even Lancelot, and the demons’ Queen banished the princess into hell itself.
Without her light, she was lost, but the princess found allies even in that horrid place and from the corpse of an old god, regained her power. Now she stands at the gates of Hell, fighting her way up from that stark underworld praying to have one more chance to bring her light into the world and banish all the monsters that wear human skin from the Earth.
“Is very strange.” Naife noted, slowly orbiting Morganna’s head as she sat on her throne, staring blankly out over the defile. “Is awake?”
Defile was a fitting term for the wide, rugged canyon that separated the Demon Kingdom Sai’n’shree from what seemed to be the entire rest of the world. Even before the siege, it had been a gray, lifeless waste covered in scorch marks and the skeletons of all manner of creature; most of them broken and shattered from falls from the cliffs which topped a thousand feet in some places.
More bodies and more scorch marks had come with the arrival of the Army of Xolinar-Cabanna. The blackened ribs of a ratulle, a behemoth used by the demons as a living juggernaut rose in jagged peaks that mimicked the natural stone crags of the defile.
Fifty ogres had died bringing it down and butchering it for the mess-hall kept a full thirty occupied two days later. Its lower jaw had been roughly hewn into the throne Morganna sat upon, hunched and unresponsive.
In the distance, a sphere of crackling purple flame filled the far end of the defile, two and a half miles distant. After their front line guardians had fallen easily to the ogre onslaught and the power of the heir of Hyrilius, the demons had raised the deadly thing around their palace and began only sending probing attacks, of which the ratulle had been one of dozens. They were looking for tactics, for weakness.
Manikin knew they’d find none in Morganna’s mad determination. The inhuman advisor stood beside the throne and waited for her mistress’s fugue to lift. It was happening more often, especially since they had entered the defile. Morganna said she was taking to ‘Nightshade’, though she never explained who or what that referred to.
As she waited, she took the elevated position of the skull throne to survey the camp, such as it was. They had bought well over a thousand ogres from Xolinar to march into the defile. There were only four hundred or so of that original number, awaiting reinforcements. They sat or knelt in stone leantos or in nooks carved out by their own thick nails in the near canyon wall.
There were tents also, made from freshly planted saplings nurtured by the fey magics of daoine that had thrown their lot in with Morganna. There were two score of the willowy humanoids, mostly serving as healers and scouts. There were almost a hundred spriggans, marshaled by Laup and Suayco. Most of them slept standing up, rooted to the rocky ground. The air practically hummed with the wings of pixies, minor fey only slightly higher on the proverbial food chain than the motes.
The mote cloud that followed Morganna had increased exponentially in size since ogre King Grott’s death. Their multi-hued forms blotted out the Vault above as they darted to and fro. They were Morganna’s messengers and spies, her lieutenants and cartographers. Manikin was astounded to see a day when mote commanded ogre in battle.
Naife, Renst and Habsi, the trio that had found Morganna, were first among their kind because of it. And they were seldom far from their mistress’s side, nor was Tau, the fading orange mote, so near spawning.
“For being asleep sitting up, no is good.” Renst replied to Naife’s comment, also darting around Morganna as she continued to stare into space. “Should take it to bed.” It bobbed in Manikin’s direction. “Golem should be taking Mankind to bed.”
“I have no intention of disturbing her.” Manikin said, glaring at the motes.
“But no is good!” Naife echoed Renst’s earlier sentiment. “And motes cannot be lifting Mankind!”
“Motes cannot be lifting anything.” Habsi added.
“We… I…” Morganna said, stirring from her reverie, “Don’t need to sleep.” She took up the staff lying across her lap and looked out over the defile, her eyes reflecting the purple flames of the barrier raised by the demons. “N-no one… will sleep tonight.”
The moment she said it, a new light awoke from the direction of the palace. A white pillar of fire rose into the sky, topping the canyon walls and rising into the night.
Manikin recognized it; a fire sign used by noble fey like the daoine or the demons. A pillar of white was an invitation to speak; a sign of peace. Coming from demons, it was not a good prospect. The only fey exempted from the Third Law, which prohibited creatures of Faerie from speaking falsehoods, demons took full advantage of that fact. Even the fire sign itself was likely a lure toward an ambush.
“Tell me what it means.” Morganna said to Manikin, observing the golem’s look of concern. She wasn’t demanding as she was wont to do, only asking.
“They call us to speak in peace.” Manikin explained. “But demons are duplicitous; they can lie at will and take great pride in that. I advise that we ignore it and press the siege.”
“No…” Morganna shook her head. “Any… any chance I have to return to my world… the real world… I must take.” Manikin set her jaw, but said nothing. Better to harangue an avalanche in hopes of convincing it not to continue on its path than to argue with Morganna.
Morganna raised a finger and Naife lighted upon it, flanked by Habsi and Renst. “What is it asking of us?” Naife asked, its voice affecting as much seriousness as a ball of light with a musical voice could.
“Assemble a party.” Morganna said. “A score… no more than that, plus motes; bring… two score motes. We… we will leave on the hour.”
“Only twenty warriors and a flock of motes?” Manikin asked, “If the demonic envoy has even two in its number, we will be outmatched.”
Morganna studied the staff of Hyrilius for several long moments before answering. “I am here. I… I am more powerful than a legion of demons. My magic is greater than their brute strength.”
“Just because the demons you’ve seen thus far have tended toward physical combat, I warn you against complacency, O heir of Hyrilius. Even the least of the Rae’sha is an entity of possession in its base form. They invade other beings and twist their form to their ends. Your predecessor had a ward against them, but it is not in his staff.”
“Tell me more.” Morganna stood, wrapping the Woodling Cloak around herself.
“Their chief servants and host bodies are daemons. Those creatures are not fey; they were left her by the Old Visitors during the pharaohnic age. They are imperfect shapeshifters, but their forms lend themselves to the demons’ natural ability to twist their hosts. A demon retains all of the host’s abilities and the longer they remain in a single host, the more powerful they can become in their magical art; Ro Kalum, Blood Magic.”
“Elder Demons have a single form they maintain at all times and through this, are masters of Ro Kalum. Their magic is nearly equal to that of an Earthly archmage. And like an archmage, they will not fall before brute force alone, nor will by be deterred by the threat of such.”
Morganna’s face split into a maniacal grin. “Excellent…” she said, “Then they are all that I hoped they would be.”
The demonic envoy was waiting for Morganna’s entourage at the halfway point between the Xolinar-Cabanna camp and the palace. They had taken up advantageous positions upon rocky outcroppings and with their backs to the same. There were six in all.
Atop the crags, two heavily armored figures stood at attention. One had the head of a ram with the protruding, toothy maw of a crocodile; the other had the head of an eagle sans feathers. They both wielded long hafted war hammers with wicked spikes on their butts.
Crouched on the lower crag between the two was a red creature as broad as two bulls abreast. Its horse’s face was filled wit teeth and twin rows of barbed spines ran down its back between a pair of undersized wings to a forked tail. Its arms were longer than its legs, allowing it to walk on its knuckles. Not a stitch of clothing or armor covered its knobby hide.
Below it, two female humanoids stood. At least they were humanoid in basic body configuration. The first was ash gray with segmented, red eyes and a bald head. It stood pigeon toed on three toed feet that pawed the ground in irritation as its whip-like tail lashed the air behind it. The second was a muddy blue color with a smooth, chitinous hide. A frill of bone extended from its skull, sweeping backward into a magnificent crest, which bore black markings.
Between them, sitting far back in a stone chair mounted to rollers was the obvious leader of the group. He was largely human, with pale blue skin laced with red veins. A pair of stubby horns emerged from his brow and double rows of teeth showed when he smiled, which he did as Morganna’s party arrived. At his feet, a misshapen heap lay under a sheet of thick cloth.
“The Rae’sha of Sai’n’shree welcomes you, Queen of Xolinar.” He said, and then noted the staff with widened eyes, “Heir of Hyrilius. I am Colos, Lord of Sai’n’shree.”
“Demon…” Morganna said offhand as she approached with Manikin in tow and Naife bobbing along behind her.
“Please.” Colos said, giving a flippant hand gesture, “You don’t call daoine ‘elves’. We are the Rae’sha and we had that name long before Mankind’s wizards muddied the waters of reality.” He schooled his expression. “Not that we have any bitterness. But all the same, only low races use the names of Mankind.”
“I want the portal.” Morganna said tersely. “Nothing more. Keep… keep your world.”
“No pleasantries, heir of Hyrilius?” asked Colos.
“My mistress wishes to return to her world.” Manikin intervened. “She knows that you command the Gate her arrival caused.”
“When I wish to converse with a worthless thing of wood and wire, I will address you.” Colos snapped at the Manikin. He set an eye on Naife. “And don’t even consider speaking in my presence, mote.”
“No, sir.” Naife said, “Naife no is for to be speaking. Naife will be silent.”
Colos started forward, but Morganna raised the staff, calling a ghostly green light into its jewel. “No…” she said, “Not now. The portal, demon. I want it.”
Letting a faint growl leave his throat, Colos sat back. “You are the heir.” He observed in a low tone, not exactly awed, but with an air of constrained joy. “My scouts reported one of Mankind’s children led the army against us. The staff confirms that you are no illusion.”
He hunched forward, resting his hands on his knees. “Mankind made for such a wonderful host. Their emotions… they were so…” The pause and tone of his voice made him sound as if he was talking about the taste of wine, “…exotic.”
Smirking, he sat back up. “But then the wizards left and the Gates became rare. You, O heir, are the first to cross into Faerie in over a century. And no fey that has crossed into your world has ever returned… until recently.”
“What does… where is the portal, demon?” Morganna asked, growing irritated.
Colos bent forward and pulled aside the cloth covering the object at his feet. It was in pieces; plastic and metal panels everywhere, spilling guts of circuitry on the rocky ground. The words ‘Oceanic Institute’ were stenciled on one panel. The letters ‘ROV’ appeared on another.
“Your portal is no more, O heir” Colos said, in a mockingly apologetic tone. “This device passed through it. And Gates only last long enough for one object to move through them.”
“What!” Morganna raged, eyes flashing a dangerous yellow. Naife flew straight up, hopefully out of reach of Morganna’s wrath. He was right to as Morganna called up a ball of fire with the staff and launched it at the shattered device.
Colos drew a symbol in the air with a finger and the fireball veered off and exploded on the far canyon wall, throwing sparks and molten stone into the air. “Ah, I understand your anger, O heir. But this device is important to us. Both you and my own people.”
“How?!” Morganna snarled.
“When this device passed through the portal, something about it drew one of those sent to guard the portal through to the other side.”
“You already… already said that fey cross over anyway.” Morganna countered, considering which spell could bypass Colos’s counterspell. “What does it matter?”
“Because the guardian returned.” Colos grinned. “And it was thanks to this device. Is sings with words hidden by all but the keenest ears. And that song pierces the veil between worlds. Guardian Hamata followed that song to Earth and when Mankind’s soldiers killed his new host, he followed the song back.”
Hope lit in Morganna’s eyes.
“Demons lie.” Manikin said evenly and only loud enough for Morganna to hear.
“Even so…” Morganna said aloud. “Why do you need me?”
A grin split Colos’s face. “The song is dying. And even when Hamata used it, it wasn’t strong enough to send more than one at a time. I want to sent all of Sai’n’shree and return to Faerie with a feast of emotion and hosts with which we can rule Faerie.”
His expression turned deadly serious. “But Ro Kalum doesn’t work. I have some hope that the magic of Mankind will.”
It was Morganna’s turn to smile. She held the key to her own destiny. All it took was another leap of faith; to believe the liar and bare her back to the dagger. But it was worth it. There were worse demons back on Earth; creatures that had done worse than feast on the minds of humans—they had usurped magic.
And defeating them was the only way that the princess would have her happy ending…
“T-tell me… friend Colos…” she said, tightening her grip on the staff of Hyrilius, “Where do we begin?”
End Rise of Morganna