Descendants Annual #4

This entry is part 15 of 15 in the series The Descendants Vol 4: Confluence

“Morganna.” Chaos growled under his breath. He was striding with purpose away from the still steaming site of Inexorable’s defeat. The problem was, he didn’t know what he was striding purposefully toward.

Darkness fell into step beside him and took his arm. “We don’t know it was her.”

“I have to agree with him.” Occult didn’t quite catch up with them, walking as she was, using her staff to ease the weight from a twisted ankle. They both turned at the sound of her voice and the couple’s solidarity and dire expressions made her feel she was intruding.

She recovered admirably though. “The arms that pulled him into the portal; I recognized them. It was Manikin.” If anyone was familiar with the guise Manikin wore, it was Occult, considering she saw it daily in the mirror.

Chaos and Darkness’s shoulders slumped at the revelation. Both of them had been hoping this wasn’t the case. “Can you track it?” Chaos asked.

Occult shook her head. “I wish I could. No one’s got more of a reason to want to hunt Morganna down than me, but as far as I can tell from the Book of Reason, tracking astral teleportation over long distances is like following footprints across the surface of the ocean.”

“Then we’re back to square one.” Chaos muttered. “I hate how we always have to wait until the bad guys move to try and stop them.”

Darkness gave his arm a squeeze. “I know.” She said with sympathy. “But we’re not going to just sit idle. Occult, you say you can’t track her, but is there something you can do?”

“I’ve been trying locator spells, but to be honest with you, I’m no sorcery genius or anything. They may have failed because she’s blocking them, or because I’m not that good at rituals.” She hung her head, not so much out of shame as in frustration. “I’m not going to give up though.”

“We know you won’t.” Darkness said gently. “And if there’s anything we can do to help, just ask.”

The sorceress hesitated a moment in thought. “Thanks. It means a lot that you trust me and… just to let you know that it’s not misplaced, you should know.” Deep breath. This was a big steps, something she’d been putting off for a year.

Darkness and Chaos glanced to one another and found their curiosity and slight foreboding mirrored in the other’s eyes. That didn’t make things any easier on Occult.

“See…” She said, chewing her lip. “I’m not just some random spellcaster. You know me, why I’m trying to stop Morganna.” She couldn’t take off her hood right there on the street, which was starting to sprout press vans like mushrooms after a rain. Her face was concealed under a glamour anyway. “I’m Lisa. Lisa Ortega.”

Chaos’s back straightened at the revelation. It didn’t help things, in his mind, that Darkness didn’t seem that surprised at all. “No.” He said without much conviction. “You mean that all this time, when we’ve been trying to figure your angle out…”

“We should have known that you remembered everything after that night.” Darkness said thoughtfully.

“I don’t blame you for not trusting me before.” Occult said in earnest. “After what Morganna’s done, and Warpstar, I’ve questioned whether magic was good or evil myself sometimes. But it’s a tool that I can use to save my aunt from Morganna, and good or bad, I need it until I do that.”

“But why didn’t you tell us?” Darkness asked.

“Well… some of you do know. They guessed, or found out… Zero found out today, even. I asked them not to tell because I didn’t want to be part of a team. I thought I could do this alone. Well, not alone, but…” She didn’t have to turn around to picture the destruction Inexorable had wrought, and the damage done to the surrounding area to stop him.

“But now I know I can’t. That’s why I’m telling you all this. I want to work closer with all of you, especially when it comes to Morganna and the magical world.” She managed to look hopeful even with much of her face shrouded in darkness. “I know I’m not a descendant, but I’d like to at least be an adjunct Descendant.”

***

Simon Talbot entered his office the next morning to find that someone had taken his work tablet from the locked drawer it was stored in when he was away, and left it atop his desk. It was on and displaying the main page of the Mayfield Scribe’s website. He picked it up and scanned the story about Inexorable and the heroic actions of a small group of bystanders who happened to be descendants.

In the quiet of the office, he suddenly became aware of the soft hiss and whisper of specialized intakes and regulators along with the quiet hum of other compact machinery. Talbot straightened up as his chair, which had been turned to face the window, turned toward him.

A man like a living corpse was seated there.

Morgan Flint looked like he had been born before the turn of the century, and considering that in his lifetime, he had tested numerous radical but successful techniques for extending life on himself, he could have been incalculably old. The evidence of his methods were quite evident in the black tubes that emerged from beneath his fine, but well worn gray suit and dress shirt to burrow into either side of his throat, or the faintly blue glowing bulge around his waist that occasionally gurgled fitfully.

The effort of turning himself around made his respirator release a loud, mechanical sigh of air, followed by a gasp as it drew new air in.

Flint held an ampule of amber liquid up so that Talbot could see it and be tantalized by it, and then made a production of placing it in his breast pocket. “You’ve given up our window of opportunity to capitalize on Greenview Ridge.” His voice was like a large, heavy balloon slowly losing its air.

Talbot forced himself to take his eyes off the pocket with the ampoule. “It would have been a waste of assets.” He set the tablet down on the desk and stood before it with his hands folded in front of him. “Given our current capable manpower, and the hindsight provided by what has happened with this ‘Inexorable’, it would have been another Redeemers situation: Keyes’ group would have gained more popularity and used it to directly subvert the board’s directive after Greenview Ridge.”

“They were already doing that with their little holiday.” Flint observed.

“And the same outcome happened as I projected.” Talbot defended. “Except this way, we haven’t lost anyone.”

Flint took a deep breath, which sounded similar to a fleet of old buses braking. “God forbid that you lose assets before embarking on your initiative to burn even more assets.”

“If all goes well, we’ll only be burning one asset and given the climate in the nation today on other issues, we might as well use it before we it’s taken off the table.” A slow smile crept over the director of Project Tome’s face. “Does this mean the board approves of Operation: All In?”

“Against my best advice.” Flint growled. “I told them that this is too large a gamble to leave in your hands, how you lost us the Academy, the ‘A’ line of desired subjects, the Enforcer Corps, and even forty percent of our core R&D staff… but a majority believe that you’ve had mitigating circumstances.

“As director, it is your right to allocate and exercise resources as long as they don’t endanger our fiscal interests. It would seem…” He reached into the pocket and extracted the ampoule, “That the only two methods of removing that power from you is by a vote of no confidence by your own section leads, or your death, because the board’s faith seems unshakable.”

With a spryness that defied his decrepit appearance, he tossed the ampoule underhand. Talbot was quick to catch it. “Sadly, I am loathe to abandon my own investments in you. The board likely feels the same way after the amount of influence necessary to remove your name from those investigated when it came to the Academy.”

Another long, hissing breath. “But remember, if this fails, I will take it upon myself to order you to personally assail Keyes and her little cadre. I’m fully aware that this would be a death sentence, and I expect you to take at least one with you in the process.”

Talbot kept his eyes locked on the ampoule even as Flint set a small plastic box with nine more on the desk. “Don’t worry. ‘All In’ is all but destined to succeed. My predecessors made sure of that. This has always been an open option to the Project. It only just happens that the stars align in our favor in our time of need.”

Flint stood, drawing a wracking breath as he did, but once he was on his feet, he stood steady and strong. Taking an elderly, stiff brimmed hat, and teak cane tipped with a silver orb from behind Talbot’s desk, he prepared to take his leave.

“Just remember, Simon: make certain that they are your stars.”

Cane thumping the floor and respirators huffing, he left Talbot alone with his amber colored ambitions, and plans to the future.

***

A make-up event was staged three days later on the Saturday after the attack to a somewhat smaller crowd.

Mayor Cole Thomas had steadfastly delivered the speech he had prepared before the attack (which doubled as a transparent attempt to stump for his November re-election bid), and then recycled most of it when the time came to present civic awards to unlikely heroes Leo Freemont, Mark Troy, and Sonja Remington with special consideration to Callie Kreiger.

The man they directly saved from Inexorable, Fredrick Carlson was given the honor of actually presenting the medallions bearing the city’s seal to them. He let his little daughter Edie do it instead.

Then Marv Will and Fred Booth from Sanctum Comics were brought out to present their check to Descendants Rights Worldwide, and as a bonus, Booth gave free lifetime subscriptions to the group that was already being called the Mayfield Citizens’ Brigade after a comment Callie made during the battle that spread through the internet at the speed of meme.

Most of the bands lined up for the Wednesday event had other engagements that weekend, but citing their personal debt of gratitude to the Descendants, the Ladies of Armageddon canceled an appearance in Charlotte, NC to play after the ceremony.

Everything had started at noon, but the sun was scrapping the horizon when a tired, but happy quartet slumped into chairs on Freeland House’s patio. Only one was an actual resident.

“Man, every year should be a tricentennial.” Cyn said between munching on a slice of deep dish pizza with the works. She’d gotten two for herself as a ‘reward’ for being honored that day. “We got a parade… well, half a parade,.. and everyone’s talking about how great we are all the time. And our own comic! To think I just thought it was cool when the papers were talking about us!”

Lisa smiled lazily and toasted her wine cooler with Cyn’s two liter of cola. “I still think the paper thing is cool.” She left out an introspective sigh. “You know, as scary as Inexorable was, and as frustrating as it is that he got away, I feel like a huge weight is off my shoulders now.”

Tink was working on her ever-present tablet and didn’t look up. “I still can’t get over the idea that you’re Occult.”

“I can’t get over the fact that you’ve been in on this.” Lisa pointed out.

“At least I’m not alone anymore in being the sidekick!” Kay burbled happily and drained her own bottle. She wasn’t allowed to drink, as per edict of her father, who had voted against lowering the drinking age the very first year he was old enough to vote. The others had promised not to tell.

She cocked her head in Tink’s direction, causing her red and white frosted hair to fall in her face. “What are you working on, anyway?”

“Oh.” Tink looked at her work as if for the first time. “I sort of overhead Ms. Brant talking about a redesign of Chaos’s gauntlets and I decided to make my own design. She turned the tablet around to show the others a schematic she’d been drawing on her tablet.

“That… looks…” Lisa started.

“That thing is huge!” Cyn said, and just to stomp on tact one more time, she whistled in amazement at how big they were. “How is he supposed to swing his arms?”

Undaunted by the criticism, Tink actually looked glad the question was asked. “First thing is, these aren’t made from ceramic. Instead, they’re made from panels of aerogel backed by ballistic cloth. They’re linked by elastic panels so they expand instead of break.

“The rest of the size is because there’s a water channel,” She indicated that part of the schematic. “Here. It adds weight to a punch, and when Chaos twists his wrist in a certain way, it pools in the palm so he can use it for Chaos Novas.”

“Nice.” Cyn said with a satisfied smile usually found on well fed cats.”We picked up a team mechanic and a team mage on the same day.”

“Hey! Don’t forget the sidekick.” Kay insisted. “I’m pretty proud of that, thank you very much.”

“And our team sidekick!” Cyn exalted.

“Speaking of things for the team,” Lisa tried to word on for size and found that she liked it. “Remember back during the Mauler thing when I gave everyone illusory costumes?” The others nodded, Tink hesitantly, as she hadn’t been directly involved.

“Well I found a spell that lets you actually switch one set of clothes for another, you know, over a distance. You… well we could actually change into real costumes pretty much instantly in a pinch.”

“Does this mean you’re going to get a real costume then instead of the magic robes?” Kay asked.

It was Lisa’s turn to give a feline grin. “Remember that section on enchantment I found in the digi-book a few weeks ago? I think I’ve got it covered. The only catch with the summoning spell though is that you need a focus.”

The dull stares she got from Cyn and Tink told her that she’d gone too far into the technical terms. “Um, think of it as something the magic is stored in and what you use to activate the spell. It’s got to be something everyone can carry that they won’t mind getting—heh–boiled in a brine made of stuff I’m going to spare you from hearing about. Old timey witches used to use broaches for it.”

Tink perked up. “I almost forgot! Have any of you seen Warrick’s new belt buckle?”

“Yeah, it’s pretty cool.” Cyn nodded.

“Well I got the website of the girl that makes them. She’s actually been trying to get in touch with the Descendants about them. If we can get more buckles and pins, will those work?”

Lisa nodded and Cyn almost squealed with excitement. “With you guys with us and Callie being sort of a town hero too, things are going to be so cool from now on!”

***

Jay Willis woke up drowning. Water was pouring down his throat and when he started at the sensation, some went into his windpipe. He sputtered, grasping until his fingers closed around a slim arm, knocking the offending bowl away. Its contents spilled down his arms.

He opened his eyes to find Manikin in her human guise, looking down on him with a perturbed expression.

“What the hell are you doing? Trying to kill me?!”

“The opposite.” She said with frustrating calm. “If I did not force you to drink, you would die from dehydration. The Heir wishes that you live.”

He tried to sit up and decided against it. His entire body ached like one big bruise on top of being stiff from lying on what felt like a concrete slab. The pain caused it all to come pouring back: the fire in his lungs, a woman’s voice chanting what was obviously a spell, and then the explosion that felt like he’d been punched in every part of his body at once by a giant fist.

“So this wasn’t a ‘you have failed me, so I’m gonna kill ya’ deal?” He asked with relief. Then something occurred to him. “I’m… not strong anymore.”

“Because your powers only work when you act in the service of the Heir of Hyrilius.” Manikin said.

“And… you will again.” Another voice came from across whatever room Jay was lying in. With great pain and effort, he turned his head and found a Latino woman in her mid-thirties, wrapped in an oversized man’s coat. There was a certain family resemblance between her and Manikin’s human form that he didn’t care to think about. He looked back at Manikin for an explanation, which she provided by addressing the newcomer.

“The Knight Inexorable has awakened.” She said with a small bow. “Once I establish a counter to the method the usurpers used to stymie the Inexorable, I will heal him and send him…” But the Heir hand-waved her into silence.

“Heal him. But… but… he will not be fighting just….yet.”

“My apologies, O Heir, he was nearly victorious. He could not be pierced, or bludgeoned, or have his mind assailed!”

“Twice…” Morganna interrupted. “I’ve sent single Knights to make war. Twice they have failed. But….but when the time comes again… they will face not a single knight, but a Knighthood. I will… will be sending you for the next two very… very soon.”

“By your will, O Heir.” Manikin bowed again. Jay focused on breathing through his pain. It seemed that his new place in the world would soon be expanding.

End Annual #4

Series Navigation<< Issue #48 – Inexorable

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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