CynQuest: Yellow Fallout

This entry is part 14 of 16 in the series The Descendants Vol 6: Returns and Departures
After hours of explaining everything to Laurel and then to Alexis and Ian, I finally managed to slink off to the hall bathroom.
 
Except for showers, I usually don’t have much use for bathrooms, but after spending two days fighting an alternate me for control of her body, watching versions of my friends possibly dying by being trapped in crystal, fighting something that was a tiny god on par with Mad-Mad Madigan that was planning to break reality because it doesn’t like order and individuality—by myself, then stealing some of its god power and sifting through universes like I was playing in a sandbox, I felt like I was going to hurl. Even though it was all over and the world wasn’t going to be basically destroyed by some tentacle monster wearing my body, the pants-darkening terror of the whole ‘deal’ was still working its way through me, specifically, trying to work its way up out of my belly and into the sink.
 
Not that that made any sense. I hadn’t thrown up in more than ten years, not since I last had the flu. I can’t get the flu anymore, but more importantly, my stomach is just for show: anything that goes in my mouth is totally digested by the time it’s halfway down my gullet.
 
But the thing is, my subconscious is just as much in control of the ‘ol corpse as I am and sometimes my brain decides it’s not going in for this ‘shapeshifter’ bullshit and decides it’s going to do what it wants. Yeah, I get cramps like any other girl and everything else too, the only difference is, if I concentrate, I can turn that kind of stuff off. And at that moment my stomach was lurching, rolling and doing it’s damnedest to boot a lunch that’s just not there.
 
Because that’s what anyone else in my situation would have done.
 
I leaned on the sink, trying to fight the chaos in my gut enough that I could will it away. My eyes met those of the girl in the mirror.
 
Damn. I must have been worse off than I thought. Somewhere along the way, I’d completely reverted to my natural form; skin the color of paper with visible veins everywhere. That hadn’t happened in a long time, not even in my sleep. I normally keep the eyes and the hair, but I’m not a fan of being transparent. No wonder Laurel had looked at me with so much worry: she’d never seen me like that.
 
Fixing my skin had to wait until I got rid of my stupid rebellious stomach though. I closed my eyes and went over my usual routine, visualizing my entire body and then focusing in on what needed to change. It was usually an instinct, something I just did, but that night, after scrambling my brains, nothing was working on auto-pilot anymore. Any other night, I would have just shut down the muscles and nerves that were acting up, but I was tired, freaked out, and starting to get pissed off with my own body’s bullshit, so I just shrank my stomach down to nothing and was done with it.
 
It was rough, unnatural, and inelegant—the me of shapeshifting. Goddamn it felt good though. Finally able to stand up straight without feeling sick, I did so, changing my skin to its usual light-but-not-see-through tone. I briefly pondered copying Laurel’s skin instead like my alternate self did, but I wasn’t sure how my Laurel would feel about that.
 
Thinking about my alternate self made me feel a little bad. Not ‘need to throw up’ bad, but guilty. I had no idea if getting rid of the Yellow World monster would free her friends or not. If I had been thinking, I could have fixed that while I was stealing that thing’s power instead of just focusing on kicking its ass.
 
“I am an asshole.” I told my reflection, imagining that I was talking to Princess Cyn instead. I meant both of us. Sure, I hadn’t stopped to undo all the things the Yellow thing did, but then again, we wouldn’t have gotten into that situation if she hadn’t been so stubborn in tamping me down whenever I started to notice things were weird.
 
I put my hand on the smooth, cool glass. All I could do for her now was send her happy thoughts and hope she got out of there and back to her castle and her life with Laurel as her mother and… I glared at the other me in the mirror. And Sneak Thief as he boyfriend? What the hell was wrong with her? That guy was the bane of my existence and even standing there, even after feeling how she felt about him, I couldn’t help but fantasize about kicking his ass and throwing him under the MPD’s lockup.
 
Taking a few deep breaths, I looked away from the mirror and toward the door. There hadn’t really been a reason to come into the bathroom in the first place beyond a little bit of privacy. Now I didn’t want privacy. I wanted to make sure everyone was really okay; to call Warrick and Jun and Kareem, and everyone else, even Tink in England, just to make sure that all the horrible things I’d been through in the past couple of days hadn’t translated over into my real life.
 
It was only then that I realized something: It hadn’t been a couple of days, not to everyone else.
 
Yeah, I’d been skin-riding Princess Cyn for that long, but it was only a few hours from when I first picked up the stupid yellow rock, and most of that had been taken up by telling the story. “Oh son of a bitch… again?”
 
Maybe time was just one of those things that go pulled into funny shapes by the life of a superhero—superhero, not ‘prelate’. That we can’t just call ourselves ‘superheroes’ because of some legal dumbassery with trademarks is the dumbest thing I ever heard. Didn’t we learn something in history about some big court case that rewrote how copyright law worked last year? I honestly had no idea because history bored me more than any other subject, but I was pretty sure we had. Apparently some folks managed to keep a stranglehold on a few things and choke other people with it though.
 
But yeah, this wasn’t the first time that I’d run up against time problems. Project Tome had me in stasis for about two years, so I was actually twenty and not eighteen if you went by birth certificates, but stasis keeps you from aging or remembering the time that passes outside, so I basically am eighteen in every other sense. This had all been much more important to me a year ago when I was too young to drink anywhere but on paper. Not that I can get drunk without a lot of effort (which is lost the moment I actually become drunk), but it was the principle of the thing.
 
Now I was two mental days older, which wasn’t a lot, but I couldn’t help but wonder if that meant my birthday should be two days sooner.
 
I almost laughed when I realized what I was thinking about. It was a good sign there wasn’t any lasting damage if my attention span was still as short as ever. That was what made me decide to finally leave the bathroom.
 
Laurel was waiting for me, sitting with her back against the wall on the opposite wall from the bathroom door. She’d been dozing when the door opened, but made a good show of being fully awake when I came out. The first thing she did, besides give me that soft, loving smile that makes me feel wanted like I never was back at home, was hand me a plastic bag from the convenience store down the street.
 
“I thought you might be hungry after all you’ve been through.”
 
I grinned back at her, never sure what my smiles make her feel like, and checked inside. There were two party sized bags of tortilla chips, a big jar of chunky salsa and another of salsa con queso: my favorite quick snack, and she’d gone out in the middle of the night to get it for me.
 
“Thanks.” I said. I almost sat down opposite her, but then part of Princess Cyn’s memory flashed through my head: sitting next to Queen Laurel that night in the ruins. I moved over and slid my back down the wall until I was flat on my butt beside her, legs stretched out to partly block the hall. A quick swipe of a hastily formed claw, and the first bag of chips was open. “Want some?”
 
Sharing isn’t a thing I do easily, but it felt right and for the first time, I was actually hoping she’d take me up on the offer. It looked like she almost didn’t, but I think she somehow picked up on my hope and took and handful, nibbling delicately on one. “Thank you.”
 
“Mmm.” was the best I could do because I was cramming chips in my face and contemplating cracking open the salsa and drinking it like a can of coke. God, I didn’t even realize how hungry I’d been.
 
Laurel let me happily chomp my way through four fifth of the first bag and gargle down half the queso before speaking. “Do you need to talk about it?”
 
‘Need’, not ‘want. He knew me better than to think I ever actually wanted to talk about these things, and there was an implicit trust between use that I would tell the truth. Only this time, need and want were one in the same.
 
I swallowed a huge mouthful and for once, didn’t replace it. “Jeez, that’s the problem. I wanna talk to everyone right now. Everyone… Well the weird Device World versions of everyone might have died and,,, and I know it’s stupid, but I can’t be sure if it all wasn’t some bad omen until I make sure they’re all okay.”
 
“We can do that.” Laurel promised, then made a mental calculation, “In about four or five hours when everyone else wakes up.”
 
Four hours seemed like a long time. I fidgeted and pulled out a chip. One. I don’t think I’ve eaten just one chip out of a bag in ten years either. “Where are Ian and Alexis?” They had come running when my ‘return’ set off the floor alarm in Laurel’s workshop, but they weren’t in evidence anymore.
 
“Downstairs.” said Laurel. “Proof that I don’t know everything: I thought you’d want your space after all that.”
 
I recalled those hellish moments in Device World where I was left alone without even Princess Cyn there with me. There had been many occasions during the last two years where I fought bad guys single-handed, but I’d never fought alone before. Not alone like that. Maybe I should have been proud of myself for that: kicking a reality-warper’s extra-dimensional ass by myself, but it was just… scary. I never wanted to do that again.
 
“That’s the last thing I want right now.” I said quietly. Before I could think better of it, I dropped the chip in my hand and threw my arms around Laurel. It didn’t take long for her to hug me back.
 
If the whole scene have been on TV, I think we would have been crying, but that’s not what happened. I certainly didn’t feel any tears because I was just so damn happy to be home.
 
***
As it turned out, I never got back to sleep that night. Laurel probably didn’t want to, but she’d already been up early the morning before and up late that night. She, Alexis and Ian all tried to stay up with me in the downstairs commons, but she and Ian passed out around five.
 
For the first time, it was just me and Alexis, sitting on the floor on opposite side of the coffee table, playing cards because I didn’t feel like going to bed, like being alone. There wasn’t a lot of talk between us; she knew she wasn’t my favorite person: a grudge I still hadn’t let go of since the whole Lifesavers, Inc thing.
 
Both Laurel and Kareem have told me that I need to get over that, but as good as they are at this kind of thing normally, I don’t think they get the problem. Yeah, maybe setting up our training and eventually taking co-lead on the whole Descendants thing is penance in her mind, but not to me. The way I see it, she did me and War and Jun and even Mayfield wrong and she’s never apologized for it. And as a reward for being a jerk to use and then feeling bad, she gets to be the one all the papers call the ‘leader’ when there would never have been a Descendants without Lifesavers, Inc and there never would have been a Lifesavers, Inc is I hadn’t made War save those suits with me way back when.
 
Yeah, I’m the one that started all of this, but no one gives me credit. I wouldn’t even care so much if it wasn’t for the fact that she’s the one that does get credit every time the Northbrooke chica writes and article on us, or when a Prelates of Mayfield comic comes out.
 
I didn’t think about it much that night though. If someone asked me about it, I’ll deny it, but I’m glad she was there for me. Who knows what I might have done or thought or felt if everyone fell asleep and I was left on my lonesome?
 
By six-thirty, I couldn’t take it anymore and called Warrick. Distraction or no, I had to make sure my first and best friend was still alive. It had been especially awful watching his alternate version get swallowed up by the crystals. Unsurprisingly, he wasn’t happy to hear my voice on the other end of the line at such an hour, but after I explained, he wanted to know everything and if I was doing alright. He even asked to talk to Laurel to make sure there wasn’t anything science-y wrong with me.
 
Moment of honesty? I almost did cry then. I loved the guy—not in a ‘wedding bells’ way, but more than a brother. Maybe that’s how the ‘best friends’ bond works for everyone, but I’d never had one before him. And yeah, I should have expected him to be concerned, and for the others to be concerned just like after my dad attacked me and the city with giant robots, but it still hit me kind of hard.
 
 
As it turns out, I didn’t have to call anyone else. By seven thirty, we were all together; almost all the Descendants and even some of our extended family. Warrick called everyone, and I mean everyone. Kareem, Juniper and Lisa were a given, but Melissa, who spent most of her time complaining about me came too, apparently without any arm twisting. JC and Kay were there with minimal mutterings about how early it was,
 
What really shocked me was how many video calls Laurel had to throw up on the split screen. Tink checked in, saying what wasn’t able to use the mirror gate because she had an exam she couldn’t miss after lunch (I’d honestly forgotten about the time difference. Being in England, she was five hours in the future or something). War’s little sister snuck out of her room at the Liedecker Institute to call me from their common room too—she was always a sweet kid. And then there were the Kaines. I should have expected Warrick to call his parents, about something like this, but I never expected them to be as worried about me as they were.
 
I grew up with two brothers, a mom and a dad, but they weren’t really a family—to one another they were, but not to their third kid, the albino with the smart mouth who grew a giant appetite over the course of one summer. Warrick, Laurel—hell even Alexis—all of the people who lived or used to live, or just stored a spare costume and some tools at Freeland house and the people connected to this whole new life I’ve woken up in: they cared about me. They loved me.
 
That meant a lot normally, but after I’d just watch some space monster just kill them and have to think about what I was going to do if I beat the thing and then had to go on without them… I didn’t know if I could even explain how much that meant.
 
Alexis went out at the earliest possible convenience to hit the grocery store and when she came back (and woke Ian and Laurel), we all made of party of making a big breakfast, everyone pitching in where they could and generally crowding to kitchen.
 
Everyone ended up hot and sweaty from cramming ourselves into a hot kitchen; and, as it turns out, too many cooks really do spoil the dish. By there was plenty of food even for my appetite, and after a lot of nervous glances in my direction, probably waiting for me to flip out like Mad-Mad, it turned into a pretty happy time. It just didn’t last long enough, as people had class, or work that they need to get to.
 
Unlike my friends, I was smart and didn’t schedule any of my classes at community college for earlier than ten, so when tiredness finally caught up with me, I still had an hour and change in which to crash; more if I flew into the city instead of hopping a commuter pod.
 
I got another surprise when I woke up well past noon (and one. It was a little past two, actually) on my own instead of around nine with Laurel calling to remind me I needed to get to class. There was a note tapped to the inside of my door: ‘Figured you might want to take off today. I downloaded your classwork if you want to get it out of the way, but just this once, it’s okay if you don’t. –Laurel. P.S. You are still not alone. Ian is skipping his patrol for the day.’
 
Wow. I would have sooner expected him to miss mass than his daily patrol. That’s the one thing him and me have in common: how important doing the superhero thing is to both of us. I had no idea why he was like that. He didn’t have anything to prove from what I could tell. He didn’t have a tragic back-story like they gave Chaos in the Prelates comic. Hell, he wasn’t even a geek in the same way Warrick was. At least Alexis had the fact that she’d worked for Tome without knowing it and Laurel thought being Codex was the best way to protect us all and increase awareness of people like Tome. Ian though… I had no idea why, but he was damn driven about it. For all I knew, it was a Catholic thing, but then the Adriel was Catholic too and they were on the supply side of super-crime, so that idea didn’t hold up either.
 
I knew he was in the downstairs commons before I even reached the stairs. When he wasn’t talking to someone, he played pool against himself. Again, I have no idea why; it was fun to beat War at it, bit pool by yourself looked pretty pointless to me.
 
Sure enough, he was down there; half the table cleared. The TV was on, tuned to a local news provider. One time, while he was visiting, Jun’s dad called the local news ‘patrolling for the lazy superhero’. I liked to argue that my mini police scanner was much lazier.
 
One of the stairs must have creaked, because he knew I was coming down the stairs without looking up.
 
“Hey.” He said, lining up a shot. “Feeling better.”
 
Most times, when someone asked me something like that, I would just say ‘yeah’ without a second thought. This time, I actually thought about it and I really was better. Now I knew that no one was dead and things were going to be okay.
 
At least no one in my world. I wanted to kick myself for not making sure Princess Cyn’s friends and family were safe. I’d been nicer to the damn god-head thing, then I’d been to her and she was the one who had the most to lose the whole time. as it was her friends the thing was holding hostage and her who would have been pretty much killed if I took the deal. I owed her and I had no way of paying it back.
 
Thinking of the other world, I recalled Sir Smythe and his little pep talk. It sort of reminded me of back in the beginning when Ian encouraged me and War to keep being Lifesavers, Inc. I might have started it all, but I didn’t keep it going on my own. It wasn’t just Ian either. Or War or even Laurel. It was all of them. More than ever, I wanted get to know all of them better.
 
“Yeah. Better now.” I said, coming the rest of the way down the stairs.
 
He looked up and gave me that same kind of smile that Laurel usually gives me. It’s like a pet on the head and a lot of praising words all in one look. The kind of look that Sean McAllister, the guy that got my mom pregnant with me but was never my father, should have given me.
 
Before he could say anything else, I gestured toward the rack on the wall next to the table. “Can I play?”
 
He nodded, seeming to know that I wasn’t going to talk about it anymore, at least not then. Later, I planned, I’d ask if he wanted to go out on patrol.
 
***
Yellow.
 
I like gold. Not necessarily the metal, but the color. My amulet is gold and so is my favorite form to take. Gold is a perfect kind of color: it accents the dark and brightens the light, adds a sheen and weight to whatever it touches. It goes with any other color.
 
Yellow on the other hand was the color of dirty snow and the flowers of weeds. I never cared about yellow as a color before, but after the past two days, I can honestly say, I hate yellow. It is the color of corruption and chaos and some vile monster that was using my body as a bargaining chip for some other version of me from beyond the pale—but only after it encased everyone I cared about, except for the man I love, in yellow crystal.
 
It was almost insult to injury to wake up under two inches of thick, yellow dust, coughing and hacking the same out in great, unsettling globs. That was the doing of the other me. She attacked the thing with its own power and pulled the same trick on it as it planned for me; shunting it to yet another world.
 
She found one where its ‘body’, the yellow stone Neo-Device formerly belonging to the Scion, was just a husk like the one on our world so that she wasn’t consigning one version to oblivion—which is what it was going to do to me. It was lucky she was in control at the end: I would have annihilated it for all it had done and planned to do.
 
I was afraid to look around. The yellow powder was likely from the pillars the thing had trapped everyone in. Whatever force managed to reduce that to powder… I shivered at the thought and if I wasn’t already coughing, I might have vomited.
 
But then I heard other coughs and retching that was not my own. No sweeter sounds had ever graced my ears.
 
Scrambling to a sitting position proved to be a bad idea. Having been trapped as a prisoner in my own head, born witness to the other me temporarily seizing control over the ebb and flow of multiple connecting realities and finally being caught in whatever backlash occurs when a monster form beyond the stars is torn physically out of one’s reality, my body and brain had had enough with all concept of movement for a while and protested in the form of pain and weakness.
 
“Princess!” a voice called out and I sensed more than saw someone move up beside me.
 
Wil. Of course she would be the first one up.
 
“Are you injured?” she asked, her hands already pressing my side, looking for wounds or broken ribs.
 
I started to lie and tell her I was when her prodding made me shift positions, my hip coming into contact with something solid and angular that dug into the flesh there painfully. Biting back a curse, I reached under myself and extracted the thing, thinking of nothing more than throwing it across the room.
 
But I stopped when I saw what I was holding: the husk. The dead stone of the Scion. As the thing had told my other self, it still retained the ability to absorb the abilities of those around it. And the last being whose power it absorbed was…
 
“Wil.” My voice was hoarse from all the dust. “Find mother. Get everyone up. We need to get this back to Castle Freeland at once. And into the darkest, deepest vault.”
 
She hesitated, probably wondering if I was still daft from the other me being in my brain. “What is that, Princess?”
 
“Something that could change everything,” I said, “If we let it.”
 
End CynQuest: Yellow Fallout
Series Navigation<< Issue #71: YellowIssue #72: Turmoil Returns >>

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Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter.

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