Descendants #99 – Huddled Masses Chp. 3

This entry is part 35 of 55 in the series Current

“Catskills National Park is under constant drone surveillance like any other national park for a number of reasons: wildlife studies, detecting poachers and watching for people who just simply get lost,” General Barrett was explaining.

The ROCIC troop transport was packed thanks to the two teams, especially taking into account the Overwatch suit crouching near the rear cargo ramp and Tydir, who had a specially designed crash seat against the wall adjoining the flight deck.

“One of those drones got a glimpse of our lost airship skirting the western boundaries of the park. While there’s dozens, maybe hundreds of tiny valleys where the ship could be set down, intel informs us that there’s a quarry out in that direction owned by a firm called Big Bear Stonecutters. They also tell us that the employees there got a surprise week off this week. I’m calling that pretty damn suspicious.”

“Always nice when we don’t have to go searching for the bad guys.” Chaos admitted. “ETA, General?”

“Ten minutes to make approach range, then we’re going to fly in slow and quiet.”

Chaos nodded, then turned his attention toward the other team, particularly toward the three his didn’t know previously. “So we know what your specializations are and we’re familiar with how Tydir and…” he paused, making an effort to keep his tone civil, “Maleficent fight. So what are the rest of your powers?”

The Overwatch sprang to sudden life, the powered suit—almost large enough to be a mecha—shrugged. “My exact load-out is classified, sir,” the digitized voice of Monika LaFontaine said, “but it’s mostly giant robot stuff. Guns, plasma, pulse weapons, missiles and bombs in a large variety. Hope that gives you an idea. I’ll be deploying once we reach the zone of approach and flying around the flank-slash-gather recon.”

Haze waited until she was done to add, “I… turn myself and my gear to smoke. In a pinch, I can take someone with me, but other people tend to pass out, so don’t count on it for tactical positioning. I’ll be deploying with Overwatch for more recon.”

Finally, the attention was on Tahnda, who met Chaos’s gaze with a blank stare. “I know not how to explain the gifts I possess. The Yagha Tribe is one that has focused its learning on a specialty that,” she paused for thought, “I believe you would call it ‘imbue’. We can enhance traits, grant traits.”

“Like a buffer class in a video game,” Warrick suggested.

Tahnda gave him what might have been an even more blank stare. “I know what those words mean, but not what the sentence means.”

“I do and I think that’s what matters.” Chaos said. “That should come in handy.” His expression tightened as he thought about having a demon casting spells on himself and his team.

Codex’s voice came in over the comm, linked to the PA system. “General? I’ve gone over the satellite images from the quarry. It looks like there are both humans and faerie creatures on the ground there, including species we weren’t aware of but are on the ROCIC roster I wish I was aware of before now.”

“Sorry, Codex; need to know,” said the general.

“Yes, well I need to know now because I’m working on a plan of attack here. Search and rescue, because it looks like they have prisoners on the airship.”

***

The quarry was a gaping wound in the earth surrounded by reclaiming woodland. Young trees leaned over the precipice, trailing vines of ivy over the edge. It was behind a stand of such trees that an astral portal opened. From it rose Occult, Alloy, Renaissance, Vamanos and Tydir.

“Ground Team One is in place,” Occult reported over the comm.

Alloy, with the help of Isp and Osp, scaled halfway up the side of a tree to look down into the quarry. Portable lights had been set up around the airship, illuminating all possible approaches from the ground level while spotlights lit up the rim of the hole. People were moving around down there: guards on patrol with assault and pulse rifles, workers setting up projection screens or carting around boxes and crates, and others just scuttling about on unknowable errands. There was no sign of faeries from his vantage, which could have been good or bad. He relayed his findings to the others.

Renaissance was doing the opposite as him; scanning the woods around them with the advanced sensors in her goggles. The ROCIC’s manifest said there were spriggans on the airship and they would be best deployed where they could hide among the vegetation. Once she called the all-clear, Vamanos struck out to check out the rest of their side of the quarry lip.

“Ground Team Two Is also now in place,” Tahnda’s voice replied. She’d opened up a similar portal on the far edge, bringing with her Codex, Chaos, Hope, Maleficent and Facsimile. Ephemeral had remained on the ROCIC transport with General Barrett while Darkness and Zero had deployed to the air alongside Haze and Overwatch. Kay and JC were aboard the Karasu no Yūrei and were monitoring the situation from there.

These others (except the last two for obvious reasons) checked in as well before Vamanos returned.

“I ran all the way around,” she reported, “saw nothing up here. Anyone else notice the screens though?”

“The gremlins,” Occult said with a growing scowl. “There were gremlins on board. If they play something on the screens, the gremlins can bring life to the lifeless and make whatever it is real. Or… real enough?”

Alloy started pacing. “So the mastermind behind this is human. How else would faeries who are basically fresh off the boat know about projectors?”

“Well there obviously are humans down there,” said Renaissance, “but why wold they trust a stranger that kidnapped them?”

“I guess that’s what we’re going to have to find out.” Codex replied over the comm.

Tydir grunted and put a massive palm to his head and demanded testily, “Are we going to fight now?” He shifted his feet, half stomping and tossing his head.

“You okay there, Tydir?” Alloy asked.

The ogre bared his teeth. “I am not. Hiding and stalking our enemies like craven beasts is not the way it is done. We should sweep down on them like a hammer blow and dash them apart—grind them down to nothing beneath our strength.” He glared at them with feral light in his eyes.

“Yeah, not the mission there, big guy,” Alloy pointed out. “It’s search and rescue. Take some deep breaths and think about the faeries down there who need our help, okay? And the ones who might not know what they’re doing if someone’s manipulating them. They need us, alright? The need you.”

Some of the wildness leeched out of Tydir’s eyes at that and he grunted, rubbing the side of his head. “The mission. Yes. My apologies.”

Alloy kept his eye on him as he nodded. “No problem. I used to get antsy all the time before going on patrol.”

Occult bit her lip as she watched Tydir. The ogre was a physical match for the strongest members of the team, Isp and Osp, and she didn’t need him having a freak-out. Her thoughts were cut off by a voice over the comm.

“All teams, this is Codex. All visual check-ins seem to confirm that the faeries are being hidden in the outbuildings and the airship itself. Any hostiles among them are going to try and ambush us from there once we arrive. You all have your assignments as far as that goes.

“The one snag is that Ephemeral is sensing a low-level disturbance on the astral side. He’s not sure what it might be, but expect anything: astral predators crossing over, rapid teleportation, even an attempt to pull you into the astral itself. It’s thankfully too low-level to signal another mentalist, but keep on the lookout for astral side tricks nonetheless.

“That said, the operation begins on my mark.” There was a long pause before she spoke again. “Three. Two. One. Mark.”

Occult reached into her satchel and came up with a shard of glass which she pitched out into space through a break in the trees. “Llevanto esta pared,” she spoke sharply, working her power through the focus of the shard. A wall of translucent red pentagonal scales unfolded into being, rotating smoothly to become a platform just inches from the edge. “Anyone without another way down comes with me. The rest of yo; you know what you’re supposed to do.”

“I think that’s just Mr. Tydir.” Vamanos adjusted her goggles before backing up to get room to build up speed. With a final nod, she took off, running down the side of the cliff at speed.

“What she said.” Alloy picked Renaissance up bridal style, turning her in his arm so she had full range of motion to aim her gauntlets. In response to a mental command, Isp lashed out and anchored itself into the thick roots of one of the trees, then swung the two heroes over the side, Osp whipping around after to form the next anchor point.

Occult turned to Tydir. “If you don’t feel well enough to continue, you can stay here and watch out backs.”

The ogre shook his head, drawing the I-beam from his back. One end of the makeshift weapon had been bored through and wrapped with leather for a more comfortable grip (one that allow him to wield the I-beam without touching ferrous metal) and the other had been hammered into a large flat surface with an edge, giving him bot a blunt and slashing weapon. “Better now. As Haze often says: Let us do this.”

He motioned for her to step onto the platform before doing so himself. Across the way, flashes of gold, red and blue told them that Facsimile, Maleficent and Chaos had taken flight and were descending on the quarry floor. A dark cloud was forming around the spot they launched from, presumably Tahnda and Hope’s means of conveyance.

Occult started the platform sinking toward the ground some eighty feet below, keeping her attention split between the humans down below and her friends. Everything seemed to be going smoothly: no one on the ground showed any indication of noticing the joint hero teams closing in on them.

Then she saw the very noticeable golden form of Facsimile jerk in the air before hearing her exclaimed. Chaos and Alloy’s voices followed soon after. She leaned over the edge of the platform to find Alloy halfway down the cliff, struggling with two leafy green forms on his back, his body curled to protect Renaissance from flailing tendrils and flapping leafy limbs.

Spriggans.

Her eyes went to the trailing ivy hanging from the trees. Only now did she realize how odd it was for such young growth to be so riddled with ivy. They’d been looking at spriggan limbs and mystically fast-grown ivy designed to disguise them hanging over the edge of the cliffs to avoid detection.

Too late, she looked to the side to find some of the vines winding back together and leaves layering back into the quasi-humanoid shapes. By the time she’d reached for her mage’s staff concealed in the sleeve of her robe, the first one had flung itself at her.

It slammed into her, a tangle of clinging vines saw-toothed leaves and teeth resembling those of a Venus flytrap. Its natural weapons were repelled by the magical protection imbued into the robe, but the constricting limbs managed to pin her right arm to the side, making it impossible for her to perform the gestures that returned the weapon to its true size.

Then the second one slammed into her legs at the knees, wrapping her up and almost causing her to fall.

“Tydir, help!”

Immediately, the spriggan latched onto Occult’s arm was pulled away from her body. It still held fast to her, by there was enough space for her to get her staff between herself and and it and expand it to full size, the force of said expansion finally forcing it to let go.

It squirmed in Tydir’s hand, clicking and making smacking noises which passed for its language.

Occult might have asked what it was saying, but the answer came too quickly. Tydir looked from the spriggan to her, the feral glint from before returning. “Right. Why am I helping one of you, Mankind? It was Mankinds who captured me the first time—the ones called Tome. What’s to say you’re any better?”

And that might have been the start of an enlightening conversation if not for him raising his deadly I-beam maul.

***

Hope had been on the unpleasant end of a number of conveyances since moving to Mayfield and half-voluntarily becoming part of the Descendants team. She’d ridden on Occult’s platforms, which were super-slick on the surface and had no safety railings. She’d clung frantically to handles extruded from the back of Alloy’s armor while he swung through the air like a medieval Tarzan. And she couldn’t forget the humiliation of being carried in Facsimile’s arms like a damsel in distress.

All things considered, Riding Tahnda’s cloud down into the quarry had the pleasant. The ‘cloud’ felt more like a floor with thick carpet and it rose up in a dome around them so she couldn’t see how high up they were. And it was a smooth descent like an elevator. If a military general hadn’t expressly called the woman a ‘demon’, she might have lobbied for her to join the Descendants right then and there.

Then about twenty feet from the ground, things… took a turn.

Tahnda began screaming and the cloud went out of control, turning from a more magical elevator to a tornado that threw both of them into the ‘padded’ sides and span them around to a stomach-turning degree before throwing them to the ground like a child throwing a tantrum.

Hope ended up being thrown into a pallet of cardboard boxes, which burst all around her, spilling out green stalks. “What in…?” she picked one up and instantly recognized it from a previous snafu involving the others had briefed her on. “Sugar cane. Oh god, gremlins.”

Adrenaline properly pumping, Hope got to her feet and looked around. Really, she only needed to follow the screaming. Tahnda was on her knees, clutching her head and wailing as if her entire family had been slaughtered in front of her. “Tahnda? Tahnda? We have to get up. We’ve got to do something. They’ve got gremlins. That means it’s not just humans an faeries here, we could be fighting anything.”

Tahnda opened one eye. It glowed blue at the iris in a way that made it look as if her eye was burning out. “C-can’t. Can’t do,” she started panting from the exertion. “Something is… it’s attacking my daemon. Her mind. Her connection with me. She’s rebelling. Pushing me away. But we are one. We are… we are in agony.”

“Okay. Um…” Hope rubbed her hands together for lack of something better to do with them before putting one on Tahnda’s back and stroking it in an effort to calm her. “I don’t know if I can take away pain, but I’m going to try, okay? But I’ve got to do something first, okay?”

The only answer she got was a whimper.

Overhead, black heat and Chaos Novas started raining down, targeting a number of projection screens set up around the quarry. At least someone else knew about the gremlins.

Feeling shaky herself, Hope opened her comm channel. “Ephemeral? I think you were wrong about what the astral thing is. Tahnda is freaking out, she says it’s attacking her mind.”

“No one else Is reporting anything, but I will drop into the astral just in case. At the very least, I can come to you and Tahnda on the astral side.”

“Thank—” A light flashed, a solid ball of light that often preceded holographic stage shows. This one was aimed above the airship and it was twice as big. “Oh no…”

As she watched, the hologram resolved, becoming a titanic floating castle of dark stone with sinister gargoyles crouching on the parapets and a central spire of green flame.

Then it became real.

***

Kareem sank into the astral and was met with a hum not unlike that of a mosquito constantly buzzing in one’s ear. Nothing harmful, but clearly noticeable and irritating. All around him, he could see the blue astral forms of his friends and human allies and the green astral bodies of the faeries as well as the pink-on-green astral ‘squid’ that was the demon’s true form.

What he wasn’t expecting in the rose-colored haze of the astral was another fully-formed astral body: a man dressed in dark blues with a horned helm some one hundred yards distant. That figure turned toward him the moment he appeared on the astral and despite the distance, Kareem could sense him grinning.

As if they were face to face, the other man’s voice came to him. “The Descendants’ psychic. I didn’t expect you here, but I have. been. Hoping. For. This.” The astral buckled and eddied around him as he gestured. “IT is finally time to test my mettle as the Nightmare King.”

To Be Continued…

Series Navigation<< Descendants #99 – Huddled Masses Chp.2Descendants #99 – Huddled Masses Chp. 4 >>

About Vaal

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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One Comment

  1. I’m pretty certain that a military outfit could make Tydir something better than a crudely modified I-bar – more durable, or better balanced or whatever. He’s got some emotional attachment to it then?

    Typos

    The need you.”
    They need you.”

    rest of yo;
    rest of you;

    hearing her exclaimed.
    hearing her exclamation.

    clinging vines saw-toothed
    clinging vines, saw-toothed

    humans an faeries
    humans and faeries

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