- Descendants: LA #25 – Merchandise Driven Part 1
- Descendants: LA #26 – Merchandise Driven Part 2
- Descendants: LA #27 – Merchandise Driven Part 3
- Descendants: LA #28 – Troubled Production Part 1
- Descendants: LA #29 – Troubled Production Part 2
- Descendants: LA #30 – Troubled Production Part 3
- Descendants: LA #31 – Troubled Production Part 4
- Descendants: LA #32 – Troubled Production Part 5
- Descendants: LA #33 – The Sixth Ranger Part 1
- Descendants: LA #34 – The Sixth Ranger Part 2
- Descendants: LA #35 – The Sixth Ranger Part 3
- Descendants: LA #37 – The Sixth Ranger Part 5
Felix Park hunkered down over his computer console, watching the projected results of dozens of virtual experiments at once. If anyone asked, he’d gotten the cutting-edge pharmaceutical simulation software from ‘a friend at Johns Hopkins’. The reality was, he’d gotten it from Codex of the Descendants, but the team, even months after their meeting with the original Descendants—were hesitant about reaching out to them.
He had no such qualms. There wasn’t anything on the line except pride in this case and he was fuzzy as to how that even came into it. Maybe they were worried that the East Coast team was going to ash how things were going against Zales and they would have to admit to a big, fat goose egg after months.
Not that he faulted anyone for that. Given Zales’s power, careful, surgical actions were a necessity. The moment he realized they were on to him, it was brainwashing time. At least according to Icthiani and Loshuia.
So far, they’d been subtle. Ray had started accepting some charity appearances and deploying the team without consulting his father first. Felix himself had been—and was at the moment—working on replacing the pills D3I had given Ramona with ones that actually slowed the progression of her ‘glassing’. Lydia and Loshuia did tons of public appearances and even finagled Mr. Fayth into letting them do celebrity endorsements.
From the outside, it hopefully just looked like they were stretching their proverbial wings as their fame grew and not a sign of subversion.
In private, they were gearing up for war. Icthiani was leading the charge there, experimenting and researching ways to block or break the mesmer with resources Felix funneled to her via the original Descendants’ Occult. Most of it was human magic and she apparently couldn’t use it, but there was knowledge there, and underlying principles she could adapt.
He leaned over just a bit to see past his holographic monitor. ‘Ani had built what Felix had taken to calling The Nerd Nest in one corner of his lab. It consisted of stacks of books and print-outs (she still refused to learn to use computers) surrounding a low table and a beanbag chair Felix had bought for her.
Sure enough, there she was, sitting cross-legged in the beanbag, wedged so deeply into it that Felix wondered how she managed to get out. As usual, he hadn’t seen or heard her come in. Usually when he came into the lab and spent any appreciable time working there, she would just… appear, already reading a book or printed stack of pages as if she’d been there for hours.
It was like having a cat.
A big, person-shaped cat that drank coffee like water. And if you tried to pet them, you’d bee drawing back stump—which wasn’t so much of a threat to Felix considering he had a room full of prosthetic arms already.
As happened more often than not, Icthiani seemed to sense him looking at her and looked up from her book, locking eyes with him.
Maybe it wouldn’t be if she would say something. Even demanding why he was looking at her would be better than that calm silence. Not even stone-faced. If Felix would describe her expression, it would be more like a lump of clay than a stone: not hard, not soft just… there. Passive.
They’d been talking less and less (a feat given that one of them was Icthiani) since the day she—or her demon?–had licked him after talking crazy talk about his fear and sadness while making expressions he’d only seen on women’s faces in a very specific context. And in videos online. He hadn’t even known ‘Ani was capable of those expressions.
As much as he wanted to talk more about what the hell that had been (she’d explained some, but at that point, he’d been drugged nearly out of his mind on pain meds), he didn’t want to frighten her off. So, like every other time, he eventually just gave her a smile and nod before going back to his work.
The work was the most important thing now. It was yet another round of experimental drugs for Ramona’s glassing.
He’d gotten some suggestions from an actual friend at Johns Hopkins to try a specific cocktail of drugs they’d had success with in helping metamorphs with painful transformations. They didn’t inhibit the change as his previous efforts had been directed toward, but they were meant to make transitions faster and less painful. And most importantly, reversible.
Their main concern for a long time when it came to Ramona was that one day a major artery or part of her brain or something was going to go glass without the rest of her and kill her. While the numbers were infinitesimally small, there were some descendants who died as a result of their powers manifesting. What little knowledge there was about how descendant powers worked indicated there was some mechanism keeping it from happening often, but it was foolproof.
So the new idea Felix was following up on was letting her change fully back and forth as smoothly as possible. He was running simulations based on scans of Ramona’s physiology vs one hundred and seventy-three permutations of his friend’s drug combination, testing different dosages, metabolizations and proportions of the drugs in the cocktail.
The software took up something like ninety percent of his computer’s resources to simulate the chemical reactions and biological reactions likely to occur in each case, running two hundred versions of each set in parallel to check for minority poor reactions.
He pulled up the window where they were running. Fifty-two of the permutations had been failed by the program already for either causing adverse symptoms or not doing anything at all. There were still many hours to go before the best candidates presented themselves and there was really nothing else the computer could be used for while the program was running, so there wasn’t much more he could do in the lab.
Heaving a heavy sigh, he rolled his computer chair back away from the desk.
From across the room, her heard the rustle of papers, maybe a page or two being turned—the first noise Icthiani had made the entire time. She usually did tend to make herself known when he was about to leave the lab. The quiet and subtle lack of quiet hung over his head like a tiny storm cloud.
Felix was not a man who took silence or drama well. He’d tried—really tried. Whatever the hell Icthiani was doing with this, he’d done his level best to respect it. Months of it. He buried himself in work so he wouldn’t say anything, or spent more time with the others. Today, with the computer off limits, he was out of easy distractions.
Taking his time, he stood and stretched, rubbing the back of his head with one hand. Today he was just wearing his bare-bones ‘home’ prosthetics. “Um…” he started. “How’s the spell research thing coming?”
Icthiani reacted to being so suddenly and directly addressed slowly. But fractions of an inch, she raised her head and looked up at him. For a moment, she stared at him as if trying to decide whether or not he really meant to ask. After seemingly ensuring he wasn’t going to bolt, she spoke up: “I’ve been making progress. But none of you will like the solution. I don’t like the solution.”
And if she didn’t like it, Felix was sure it would make him hork up his breakfast. Nevertheless, he walked around the desk with the computer and crossed to one of the work tables positioned closer to ‘Ani’s corner. “Let’s hear it.”
She hesitated a moment, taking time to wet her lips. “The magic of this world is different from my people’s. They force energy into patterns; usually circles. I cannot replicate it. However, now that I know what their spells against mesmers do exactly, my sangrelogos will be able to conjure the correct words of power and infuse it into my blood.”
“So… this is going to be one of those deals where you have to cut yourself and magic up your blood?”
A slim, red-on-black eyebrow rose at that and Felix got the feeling that she was trying to decide whether to correct him or not. Truth was, he hoped she wouldn’t. It freaked him out every time she had to cut herself to use her magic. Even if she didn’t seem to suffer in doing so, he hated seeing any of his friends injured—he’d seen enough blood and been in enough pain in his life to have very high empathy for anyone in the same position.
She cast her eyes back down to the paper she’d been reading. “Worse.”
Felix felt his stomach try to climb up through his throat.
“First, I will have to commune with my sangrelogos. I don’t cherish the idea of communicating with her. Not after…” she wet her lips again, “what she’s done.”
That made him balk. “Wait. I thought you said that singer tacos thing meant ‘blood words’. That’s the name of your… uh…”
“Demon.” said Icthiani. “Her name is Daevaxien. Sangrelogos is what she is—what she became as part of the ritual that bound her to me.” Somehow—though Felix couldn’t fathom how—she settled further into the beanbag chair. “A demon is a spirit. The ritual reshapes it into a conduit for magic power, then grafts it into our blood. When performed correctly, the demon’s personality is completely overwritten.”
“Except yours wasn’t done right. I remember you saying something like that.”
Icthiani nodded, looking ashamed. “She was bound to my blood… and to my body.” She held out her arm, stained red by the thousands of minute characters and symbols inscribed on it. “I hold her in check. But if I commune with her…”
“She might take over again.”
“She might do something to you.” Icthiani corrected him, much to his surprise.
Felix suppressed a shiver. “Y-yeah, but last time, I was kinda laid up and loopy on drugs. I’m fine now and—no offense, ’cause I know you’re stronger than most humans—even with these arms, I could totally bench you.”
The look she gave him at that made him almost take an involuntary step back. It was as if she was watching something huge and evil looming over him, ready to strike. “No.” she snapped. “You have no idea. What I am capable of, she is capable of. Your strength, your machines, your weapons—they will not avail you.”
Setting her papers aside, she withdrew into herself, folding her legs up close to her chest and crossing her arms. “Nothing would avail any of you. My brother should have left me as I was.”
“Weren’t they going to kill you?” asked Felix.
“There is a reason those who fail to fully bind their demon are put to death.” Icthiani was staring at nothing now, purposefully keeping him out of her field of view. “They told us every day as we trained. From the moment we were judged strong enough to make the attempt. One in five dies in the process of binding: the demon takes over and consumes them. Half fail to even initiate the binding. One in twenty are like me. Our binding fails at a critical moment… and we are the most dangerous of all: bearing a demon with access to the magic of the sangrelogos. For the good of all, those are put to death by beheading.”
Felix blanched. “Dude, why is it that every time I hear about your world it’s something else awful? Monsters everywhere, man-eating plants, nobles with mind control—and now they cut your head off if you don’t pass a test? Heck, they make you take a test that can kill you?”
“I stood for the training.” she said petulantly. “Binding a sangrelogos brings great prestige to the binder and their family. Our place in the courts would have been elevated and I would have become among the most respected people in the realm.”
She frowned. “And you speak as if your world is inherently better than ours. There is risk of us, yes, but we have mastered our world and grown stronger for it. You have needed to master nothing. You have never had to survive because you have your machines and conveniences. In Faerie, survival is all and we are very good at it.”
Felix let out a little sigh and moved to stand by her, leaning against the wall. For a long time, he was quiet. He even picked up a book from a stack and idly paged through it, it wasn’t a book of spells, but on neurochemistry. That made him glance at Icthiani, who, it turned out, was staring at him, waiting for a response.
Out of stalling options, he began. “Uh… look, when I was little, my mom was a huge fan of ClassicTV.nostalgia. I think I tried to show you that sight before?”
She nodded. “The images were o distressingly poor quality.”
“Yeah, well they didn’t have the tech to make true-to-life recordings back then. Anyway, she shared a lot of shows she loved with me and one I remember had a theme song—they really don’t do those much anymore—anyway… again… it had a line that went like ‘life is more than mere survival’. Kinda true, the way I see it.”
Evidently, Icthiani didn’t agree, as she continued to stare at him.
“Right… look, I guess we’re lucky here on Earth—at least our part of Earth—where we don’t have to just survive. Hell, like here in this country, if you don’t got money for food or a house, they get you at least that. They might not be awesome, but you can like, not die. Compared to everything trying to eat you though… okay, rambling.
“’Ani, you’re lucky too, ’cause you ended up with us. And you don’t have to just survive anymore. You’re not gonna like… get dropped back into Faerie again. Nothing gonna try and eat you and nobody—and I mean nobody’s gonna try and cut your head off. If this Zales guy tries, he’s gonna have to get through me… uh and the rest of us.” he said, rubbing the back of his head.
“Without any defenses, he may well have you be the one to destroy me.” She said, impassive as ever at that possibility.
Felix cocked his head, thinking a moment. “Now that I think about it, he’s seen you before—hit you with his mind thing before—and he didn’t kill you then. If your being all red is a sign of your sanke cocoa thing going wrong, then he would have known right?”
This made her pause, her forehead creasing in consideration. “…why didn’t he kill me?”
“He wanted you on the team. For whatever reason he wants the team around, he picked you for it, same as Lyds and Ray and Josh and me. Probably because you’d make an awesome action figure.”
Her forehead creased even more at this. “I don’t even know what an ‘action figure’ is, let alone how to create one.”
“Oh. Translation doesn’t help with that, huh? Well an action figure is a toy. Like a really cool toy that usually comes with extra stuff to make them cooler. Think like… a really cool doll. They do have dolls in Faerie, right?”
Icthiani nodded. “I had many dolls. It was the privilege of being a noble child.” Her mouth… well she didn’t smile, but she was showing the hints of some sort of emotion and it encourage Felix on.
“Did you have a favorite?”
Giving him an odd look, she nodded slowly. “It was made of fired clay in the likeness of a swordswoman. The joints were carved so that it could be posed and its clothing was handmade, its sword and buckler carved from the same hardwood the real things would have been.”
Felix’s eyes widened. “Dude! That’s like exactly like an action figure! Except they’re usually plastic and not clay.”
“Why would Zales want me to create dolls for him? That seems like a dire waste of my power.”
“Oh. He doesn’t want you to make them for him, he wants to make figures of you. Well he has… or D3I has. You know what I mean. There’s at least three variants last I saw.”
Now it was Icthiani’s turn to look shocked—as much as her expression actually changed at least. “There are dolls… of me? For the children of this world?”
“Oh hell yeah!” said Felix. Then he grinned maniacally. “You wanna go see?”
Her eyes narrowed with suspicion. “Go where?”
Pushing off the wall, he pointed dramatically. “To the toy store!”
To Be Continued…