Descendants #99 – Huddled Masses Chp. 5

This entry is part 16 of 55 in the series Current

A grating, reptilian shriek filled the air as the creatures Warrick call unagu steeds boiled out of the caves pockmarking the underside of the floating fortress. They superficially resembled eels with craggy, nightmarish heads with teeth erupting gruesomely from exposed jaws and slick hides. Beyond that, they possessed membranous wings and a pair of muscular limbs with talons like an eagle.

They came in flights of five; four normal beasts led by one in leather and bronze barding being ridden by a gangly-limbed creature wearing a leather body suit, wool-lined divided coats, and cyclopean masks of bronze. The riders carried long staves with fist-sized heads resembling brass bee hives that crackled with red energy.

In formations that military fighter pilots would envy, they swept down upon the invading fliers like birds of prey.

Chaos buffeted himself to the side as the leader of one of the flights bore down on him, barely avoiding it when the rider swung its staff at him. Armed with the knowledge that the creatures from the Fortress were figments created by the gremlins, he retaliated with a wild burst of tornadic winds that scattered the flight like autumn leaves and left the rider struggling to stay astride its beast.

Above him, Maleficent managed to out maneuver a riderless unagu and drop on it from above to tear open one of its flanks with her claws. Using one clawed hand anchored into its flesh, she raked the monster’s wing, ripping it to tatters that could no longer catch the wind.

The monster’s shrieks took on a more desperate higher pitch as it pinwheeled toward the ground below.

Beams of black heat blazed through the air, lancing any of the creatures that came near while Facsimile, in the form of a golden unagu, weaved through their number, biting and scratching wherever she could while soldiering on toward the fortress itself.

One of the barded beasts crowed and dove at her with its rider extending its staff out like a staff. Chaos couldn’t hear the shot, but he did see the flying monster’s head jerk to the side before its body started burning like damaged celluloid film. Its whole body warped and bubbled out of existence with neither smoke nor heat, whatever gremlin magic that gave it ‘life’ critically failing out of being when that ‘life’ ended. The rider was left to fall screaming toward the top of the airship far below.

Looks like Facsimile’s going for the source,” Monika LaFontaine’s voice came in over the comms. “I’m going to back her up, but this feels like a distraction.”

Chaos flexed his palms, prompting his gauntlets to deposit measures water into them, then focused his powers to turn each globule of water into a sonoluminescence powered air-fuel bomb. A burst of wind cannoned them into the midst of two more fights, scattering most and blowing three creatures out of the sky.

I agree,” he said doing his best to dodge more incoming dive-bombers. “Probably keeping us from looking for he gremlins. As far as I know, the only two ways to deal with the stuff they create is to either destroy it or get the gremlin to undo it, so unless we have a ship-to ship rail gun or a nuke, finding the little guys is top priority.”

Another sniper shot caught an unagu rider in the chest, annihilating it from reality just as black heat tore its steed in half. Unagu were being destroyed by the dozens now, but still new flights emerged from the fortress overhead.

Haze is on it,” Monika said, “So far he’s go not sign of gremlins or the two gargouilles on the passenger manifest—or the new species that led them through.”

Yeah, speaking of that, I’m not comfortable with that part.” Chaos let himself drop ten feet to keep out of the reach of a pair of riderless unagu. “The ‘unknown species’ might be a sidhe and now Maeve’s got someone on Earth. Not only on Earth, but inside the ROCIC’s oper—ahh!”

Crippling pain wracked him as a staff held by one of the riders struck him in the back. Red energy encompassed him and with it came not injury, but concentration-destroying agony. The winds keeping him aloft died, no longer under his control and he started to fall.

***

Alloy and Renaissance’s break for the airship was ended by a blindside with a drill machine the size of a small van. Alloy summoned up the wherewithal to use his powers to rip the piece of equipment apart and force the pieces to flow around them before it could roll over them, but the drill hitting them and them hitting the ground was enough to jostle Renaissance out of her position on his back such that she tumbled across the uneven rock until crashing through a crate, sending packages of dehydrates and freeze-dried meals bouncing out around her.

With the twins providing leverage, Alloy was first to stand up, only to immediately be confronted by the female minotaur who had found the engine block from the drill machine among the debris and was was approaching in a stance highly reminiscent of a shot put thrower taking a run up before unloading.

“I’m always relieved when we fight someone who doesn’t know what my power is,” he quipped before asserting his will over the steel engine block. It practically exploded into steel ribbons that slithered into place, forming a spherical cocoon around his foe. Bits and pieces of metal along the ground liquefied and rolled toward it, adding their mass to the construct.

But Alloy didn’t stop there. Knowing how strong the minotaurs had already proven to be, he poured on power until his eyes blazed white, the light spilling out of the slits in his visor. The metal prison responded in kind, crackling with sparks as parts flaked off as black ash, revealing a darker colored metal beneath.

He kept a wary eye on the sphere as he circled around to where Renaissance was extricating herself from the crate. The constructed prison shook violently once or twice as the captured fey struggled within, then just as he reached her, it went still.

“Ha. Guess I caught a minotaur.” A nervous laugh escaped him. Reaching down, he helped his partner and girlfriend to her feet.

Letting out her own nervous chuckle, she noted the color of the metal. “Tungsten?”

He nodded. “I figured she’d just shatter osmium and I can’t do carbides so…” The sphere was racked by a sharp, focused blow and the metal sheered along a weak point. A hairy hand, held rigidly with all the fingers locked forward had punched through it. And as the pair of heroes watched, that hand began to peel the metal apart like an orange.

“Gah! It was so close, too!” Alloy put an arm around Renaissance’s waist. “Let’s get out of here before she figures out where we’re headed or one of the others shows up.” Renaissance obliged and the twins were quick to swing them away.

If they had stayed a moment longer, they would have seen one of the unagu swoop down and grab one of the crates of food in its claws before flying back up toward the fortress.

***

Behind Kareem, astral matter span and danced into a massive upright ring. At the center of it was an image he’d plucked from the dragon Armigal’s head when they met: a frozen mountain, locked in glaciers thicker than the tallest man made structures on Earth. Around it howled a bitter wind that emerged from the deep crevasses of the glacier, bringing with them utter cold. Snow and hail blew so hard and so fast that they carved and eroded exposed rock and ice.

“Imagine a blizzard so large that it covered the United States,” Kareem explained, “Only this blizzard is capable of hate and desire to subjugate. Imagine that a great storm had the will to target you and the people you love personally and has access to all its fury to personally to force you to do its bidding. Consider that this almighty storm, so full of spite had servants the greatest of whom were storms in their own right and the least of whom were just as powerful as any faerie.

“Now understand that you do not have to imagine. What I am describing here—what those you would call your subjects are fleeing is real. It has a name: Maeve, Queen of the Air and Darkness. She is to faeries what faeries are to non-powered humans: endowed with capabilities beyond imagine. There is no faerie, no descendant who can measure up to her. At one time, there were powerful magi on Earth and even they had to concoct plans centuries in the making just to hope to oppose her.”

He gave the so-called Nightmare King a pleading look. “Do you understand what I am describing here? Every half century, she comes to rule over the world of Faerie. It is so brutal, so terrible, that they are finding ways to come here to escape her oppression. If they flee Maeve only to find someone who meddles with their minds to force them to do his bidding… well that is clearly a lateral move.”

The Nightmare King sniffed and made a gesture that suggested Kareem get on with it. “So the serfs have served a lord before. That’s their place whether they like it or not. The difference is, I can make sure they like it—whether they like that. Or. Not.”

Kareem stood firm, staring the other man down. “That is no way to lead.”

“That’s the only way to lead. That’s why I was given this power. Divine. Right. To rule. Obviously you wouldn’t understand that because your powers are too weak. I take it from the news reports you can effect a small number of people rather than the limitless control I have on faeries. I posit that you’ve wisely realized that you can’t command a coalition large enough to survive a confrontation with local authorities. Otherwise? Well we could have been allies: You the king of Earth, I the king of Faerie.”

Here we see the difference between us,” Kareem said with a calm expression. “That you cannot imagine having power and not using it to subjugate others for your own power… it’s sad in a way.”

Scoffing, the Nightmare King waved one hand dismissively through the air. “Enough moralizing. I have more important matters to tend to and frankly so do you.” He rocked back on his heels, then leaned forward with a conspiratorial smile on his face. “I find it extremely interesting how similar and yet different our powers are. I mean we can both detect each other. Clearly. Yet you haven’t reacted at all to what I’ve been doing, which leads me to believe you can’t even perceive me constructing an astral form for my new fortress.”

Or perhaps I’m unaware of the significance.” Kareem kept his voice an expression steady.

That drew a boisterous laugh from the Nightmare King. “Of course you don’t, because you might know about Faerie politics, but I’ve spent the last few years learning about Faerie magic. Did you know that the demons first created their daemon hosts by enslaving gremlins to make illusory creatures live and then imbuing them with an astral form to fix them to the fabric of reality?”

He took a step back and raised his hands. “Living things might be beyond me for now, but behold the fruits of months of research into the most secure and powerful sanctum in all of fiction: the Fortress Allegiant: defictionalized!”

Kareem, however looked unimpressed, which made the other man falter in his grandiose pronouncement. “What?”

Allowing himself a small smile, Kareem shook his head. “We truly are quite unalike in powers. Because thanks to my team, I can communicate with the Material plane and thanks to my power, I can detect spells and powers that touch the astral as well as detect astral forms.” He folded his arms and straightened to his full height. “Which you cannot do—or otherwise, you would know by now that things are not going your way out there.”

Then he stomped the ground, causing the astral matter that made up said ‘ground’ to disgorge a wicked spear which he snatched out of the air as it rose. “And it is not going well for you here either.”

***

Pain jagged through Chaos’s body, joining panic as he watched the hard quarry floor rushing up to meet him at terminal velocity. Distracted by the feeling of white-hot fire that seemed to burn him without consuming his flesh, he couldn’t think of his power, much less undertake the complex usage of it that let him fly.

He didn’t have to worry long however, as a pair of arms grabbed him under the arms just before a blue aura of psychokinetic energy washed over him.

Sorry I didn’t get you in time Mr… uh, Chaos,” Zero said timidly as she carried him aloft. “Are you okay?”

Albeit slowly, the pain was ebbing. Chaos mustered a quick nod. “I’ll be okay. Just sit me down somewhere and get back in the fight.” Vaguely, he could hear a slur in his voice and wondered what was causing that.

I don’t know if there’s anywhere safe to put you.” There were spriggans along the rim of the quarry, minotaurs and armed gunmen in the interior, fantasy monsters in the air, and both gargouilles and an unknown species unaccounted for. At least wherever the gremlins were, they didn’t pose a danger on their own. She stared down at the scene below her, watching unagu steeds—some fighting her airborne allies and some bypassing the fighting entirely to grab crates and wing them back up to the fortress.

The only place that seemed not to be a danger zone was that top of the airship. Like other long-haul airships, be they government or not, the ship was partially subsidized by carrying a platform along its spine fitted with atmospheric instrumentation, sensors, and antennae used to relay internet and cell signals. It was crowded, but there was room for someone to lie down and recover. “Okay, I’ve got a place. Hold on, Chaos.”

She sank through the air, sending bursts of psychokinetic energy into any unagu that got too close. As she did so, Vamanos’s voice called over the comm. “I’ve found our bad guy… I think. There’s a big meeting room on top of the office unit they put into the quarry wall. I’ve got an unconscious guy in a costume a big, glowy statue, and two rock… lion… styracosaur monsters with wings. I went through fast enough they didn’t notice me, but getting to the guy is going to be a heck of a fight.”

Anyone have eyes on the gremlins yet?” it was Codex asking.

After a pause, Haze replied in a hushed voice. “There’s a trailer near the main elevators on the north wall of the quarry, guarded by three minotaurs. My guess would be that both the gremlins and the projector are there.”

Three minotaurs?” Darkness cut in, having been filled in about the nature of those foes by Kay. “How many were on board?”

At least seven,” said Alloy. “Know how I know? Because we’ve found the other four.”

***

Standing on the maintenance catwalk that surrounded the midpoint of the airship, Alloy and Renaissance stood back-to-back, watching two pairs of minotaurs scaling the heavy steel cables holding the ship in place.

Need help?” Facsimile inquired. “’Cause there doesn’t look like there’s an end to those flying monster guys up here. Getting more then five feet into this cave is taking forever.”

Alloy looked over his shoulder at Renaissance. “Got it finished?” He asked.

She responded by holding up a device composed of ampules; three pink, one red, all arranged at the end of a cartridge made of black plastic and brass. It was all fitted together with twisted wire and plastic zip-cuffs.

Giving a nod, she fitted the the whole thing to the business end of her left gauntlet’s launcher. “It should work—though I’m not sure it will actually stop them.”

Knowing she couldn’t see the reassuring smile he was giving her, he nudged her gently with his elbow. “I’ve got complete faith.” Then, on the comm, “No thanks Fax, we can hold our own.”

Are you sure?” This time the question came from Occult, “Because we’ve come up with a plan to fend off the mannhanaute at the very least.” She sounded tired, but sure.

We’re good,” Alloy repeated, “Taking out the fortress is more important than making our fight a little bit easier anyway. Go get the gremlins, if we need help, we’ll at least be able to hold out until then.”

***

Alright, if you’re sure.” Occult kept her comm open as she turned to face her two allies.

Tydir and Tahnda stood side by side, eyes blazing white as Occult’s strength-sharing spell filled them with sublime power; power they were drawing from her magical potential and personal stamina. Power that shielded them from the Nightmare King’s influence.

We’re going after the gremlins then,” Occult said, leaning on her staff for support. “Are you two still up for it?”

Tanhda stomped her foot and tossed her head. “For the people’s of Faerie and the Heir.”

Tydir slammed one huge fist against his chest, hefting his weapon. “And for the Blue World and Mankind. Homes old and new. A great honor it is, fighting beside you.”

Taking one last deep breath, Occult nodded. “Then let’s do this.”

To Be Continued…

Series Navigation<< Descendants #99 – Huddled Masses Chp. 6Descendants #99 – Huddled Masses Chp.1 >>

About Vaal

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

You can also purchase his books from all major platforms from the bookstore

Bookmark the permalink.

2 Comments

  1. Typos

    Warrick call unagu
    Warrick called unagu

    deposit measures water
    deposit measures of water

    air-fuel bomb.
    fuel-air bomb.

    the metal sheered
    the metal sheared

    capabilities beyond imagine.
    capabilities beyond imagination.

    gargouilles
    (It might be intentional, but if so it does seem odd to see gargoyles renamed as a type of green salad.)

    was that top
    was the top

    the people’s of Faerie
    the peoples of Faerie

Comments are closed

  • Descendants Serial is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.