Descendants Special #7 – The Curtain Rises

This entry is part 8 of 14 in the series The Descendants Vol 7: The New World

“This is an absurdist disaster.” declared the man who introduced himself to Codex as Colonel Gus Stokes from the ROCIC’s west coast installation. He was a sunburned man about two days overdue for a shave, whose uniform failed to hide a thin frame.

Codex couldn’t disagree: as they stood under the shade of a hastily constructed field command center, they watched as retrieval specialists in full hazmat gear gathered up the containers Tome’s operatives left behind. Nearby, a nervous-looking Captain was attempting to conduct a debriefing with the ogre, Tydir. And at the opposite end of the quarry, a small detachment of marines were ostensibly guarding Armigal and her child, though they didn’t seem to know f they were guarding them or guarding everything else from her.

The idea of the Captain trying to debrief the dragon only made the image worse.

“What does your end plan to do about this?” she asked.

Stokes shook his head. “SOP won’t work for this. A billion people have seen those videos already and there are thousands of witnesses in and around Meridian Beach. There’s no way to deny it happened. There’s talk of passing it off as another experiment; a weather machine like the Storm Cage.”

“That’s shaped like a dragon?” Codex asked, incredulous.

“Again, that’s one option. Luckily, we’ve been feeding and or planting conspiracy theories for so long, people just might assume anyone who pushes for the truth on this is as crazy as folks who think vaccines cause autism, the Apophis asteroid capture was an alien ship settling into orbit, or that the moon landing was fake.”

Codex considered him for a minute. “So the policy of owning up to thins after Juis de Flora is over, I take it?”

“No one died here, much less on that scale. Besides, imagine the panic from the headline ‘We are not alone and our neighbors are the worse things out of childhood fairy tales.’ Do you think people will take that well? There have already been hundreds of minor riots across the country by people thinking this is the apocalypse.”

She had heard some of those reports. She also heard online chatter, from fear to excitement or everything in between. Theories were already growing rampant with to without interference. Most were as wild or misinformed as one would imagine, but there were people out there connecting the dots between the spike in other strange ‘monster’ sightings and the dragon.

“And the alternative is to feed them the idea that their government almost destroyed a small city with a runaway weather machine?”

Again, Stokes just shrugged. “We’ve almost done a lot of things. When you ‘almost’ do something, people forget very quickly.”

“Yes, the deeply obscure Cuban Missile Crisis.”

Stokes glared at her. “Spin and suppression aren’t my department, ma’am. I’m just here to clean up what I can and start the investigation on Deep Ten. You might want to pass your suggestions along to General Pratt or go direct to the appropriate section.”

Behind her visor, Codex furrowed her brows in thought. “You know what, I think I do have a band-aid to put on this problem. Hopefully, the General will understand that it’s only a band-aid. The truth is out there already, but I can buy you enough time to formulate a better response.”

Without another word to the Colonel, she turned and headed back to the Karasu no Yūrei.

***

Darkness sat on an inert piece of equipment whose name she didn’t know, watching as the team of doctors and engineers worked. Powerful floodlight have been brought down, along with battery packs to run them, leaving the generator room as bright as an operating theater.

That was exactly what it was at the moment. The engineers were studying the apparatus Dana Rice-Kelly’s stasis cell was hooked into whole the doctors observed the readouts of various imaging systems to see what was hooked into her.

From her vantage point, Darkness could see that some of it involved nanowires threaded into her brain along with larger surgical implants. She had no idea of how the girl survived it or if she would ever recover. It was just another reminder of how much she still had to answer for; both in working for the Academy in the first place, and then in not saving all the taken kids immediately.

The metal she was sitting on groaned and Darkness broke her vigil to see who it was. Even though she specifically asked for him not to come down, she expected Chaos. Instead, she got Facsimile, albeit without the wings.

The golden heroine had climbed atop the machine and was craning her neck to get a better look at Dana. “Whoa… so that’s the girl, huh?”

“Hmm?” Darkness braced herself for something crass and disrespectful. “Hmm?”

“She’s the one you came looking for when you ended up finding us.” Facsimile’s voice was surprisingly low and thoughtful.

Darkness nodded. “She was. I didn’t even know for sure there were more at the time. In hindsight,t hey were moving her out when I saw her. It’s no wonder she wasn’t there.”

“How long do you think she’s been here?” Facsimile sank down to sit cross-legged next to the older heroine. “The whole two years?”

“I have no idea.” Darkness prayed it hadn’t been that long. It was bad enough if Dana had been trapped in stasis, but trapped being used like a human battery? That was a special kind of hell, conscious or not.

For the next few minutes, they sat in silence, watching the team from the ROCIC work. The engineers bored new holes in the stasis cell and plugged them with thick, rubber gaskets through which instruments could be passed. Meanwhile, the doctors were cataloging the implants and wires, trying to decide how to proceed.

“She should have been with us.” Facsimile said after a long while. “One of us, you know?” When Darkness only nodded silently, she asked, “Do you think we would have been friends?”

From what Darkness remembered, Dana had been a rebellious youth, but not destructive wither to herself or others. She had her own path and she walked it no matter what anyone else said. A sad smile touched her lips. “Either the best of friends or the worst of enemies. She was a lot like you, actually.”

The got a light snort out of Facsimile. When she spoke again, she sounded more like herself. “I don’t think War… Alloy would have survived to drinking age with two of me around.” A mischievous glint came to her eyes. “I’m not sure how Chaos managed it.”

“Codex told you some stories from our high school days, huh?”

The girl bumped her with her shoulder, offering a little grin that just barely reflected in her eyes. “You were worse than I’ve ever been. Did you really melt some chick’s tires because a guy dumped you for her?”

“It was just one tire.” Darkness defended quietly. “Then I blistered all the paint off her door and driver’s side door.” She shook her head. “Yeah, I was pretty bad and Codex wasn’t exactly the Team Mom back then either.”

Facsimile stifled a giggle. “I can imagine that. She’s not really a ‘play by the rules’ gal nowadays. She’s more like someone who butts up against the rules until they change.”

There was a brief commotion from the vicinity of the stasis cell as another handful of engineers arrived with some sort of scissor-lift modified with a number of complex machines, which they began hooking up to the connections formerly plugged into the generator device. Some of the monitors beeped fitfully at the various interruptions.

Both women went silent, watching as the team fought desperately to keep the girl in the cell alive.

Darkness took a deep breath in through her nose and lowered her head into her hands. This was her fault. She should have laid into the men moving her two years ago at the Academy. More than that: she should have figured out what was happening long before George pointed her in the right direction.

“You know…” Facsimile said, once again bumping her with her shoulder, only more gently this time. “I remember you. You know, from back at the Academy. You were never my teacher, but I remember seeing you on campus and stuff.”

They probably all remembered her—at least Facsimile, Alloy and Zero who would have been at the Academy while she was teaching. At times, she’d been able to convince herself they hadn’t.

Whether she knew it wasn’t helping or not, Facsimile continued. “It’s weird. I… I never like… thought about you. You were just this teacher. I didn’t even know what you taught or anything. Except one day, I get some delivery—Chinese food: pork dumplings, sweet and sour chicken, a couple orders of of shrimp lo mein—and the dumplings tasted kind of funny. Then I got drowsy and… there you were, pulling me out of some Snow White glass coffin.”

She turned to fully face Darkness. “I never thanked you. You know, for that. Making sure I’m not still in there with tubes coming out of me and like… that Potentia crap or the Gold coming out like I was a superpowers faucet. Or the other either. Just thinking of one of them like… like…” Her voice was getting shaky.

Darkness reached over and looped an arm around the girl, pulling her close.

“I’m okay.” Facsimile asserted, but didn’t pull away. “This is messed up. What the hell is wrong with these Tome guys? First the kids from Florida and the thing with the trepanning. Then the inugami being pretty much man’s best friend if you tortured it until it turned evil. Then trying to break into fairyland where all the nightmare stuff is? Who the hell are we dealing with?”

Across from them, the monitors were settling down and the engineers were slowly lowering the cell onto the scissor lift. The doctors in the meantime were still going over the imaging.

Facsimile was leaning against her now, and Darkness wrapped her arm around her, rubbing small circles on the younger woman’s back. Proxy’s rant had laid the whole thing out fairly well: Tome wanted power. Not ‘power’ in the sense of the descendant and magical powers they wielded, but the greater power that came from controlling those things. That they were willing to bore into Faerie and engage the deadly things that lived there proved just how hungry they were for it.

“Scary monsters, Fax.” Darkness whispered to her young friend. “The kind of things worse than the Mayfield Mauler or even Joykiller.”

“We’re still going to kick their asses, right?” Facsimile asked gently.

Darkness looked over to where Dana had been loaded onto the lift. The team was getting ready to move her out to an uncertain future. “Yeah. We are.”

***

Two hours later, Codex disconnected her call and sat back in her seat on the flight deck. It was surprising how far up her call reached with General Pratt backing her. The President’s Chief-of-Staff had been surprisingly open-minded and she had the impression that her suggestions would get where they needed to go.

Now everything was up to the President and his advisers. Seeing as her plan involved passing the buck and putting the responsibility on someone else’s shoulders, there was a good chance he would take them to heart.

She switched on her comm connection to Armigal. “I’m sorry it’s taken so long– there are complicated realities to our way of life that I couldn’t avoid.”

“You have leaders who must be informed and appeased.”

“To a given extent, yes.” said Codex. “But I’ve been giving some thought as to what to do about your situation and…”

Armigal managed to make a snorting sound over the comm. “My situation? What are you talking about, Mankind?”

Frowning, Codex turned her attention fully to the speaker. “From what I’ve learned, the portal you used to come here was destroyed. We don’t have the power or the knowledge to create a gate large enough to send you and your child back to Faerie.”

She was braced for anger, but what she heard was a distorted form of her own throaty laugh. “That was never something for you to concern yourself with, Mankind. The distance between this world and mine grows thinner every day. The gulf placed there by the great cunning folk of time long past degrades. It is no longer an obstacle to those with great power such as myself.”

Already, the image of dragons storming out of the aether played in the back of Codex’s mind.

As if realizing the implications of what she said, Armigal rumbled and said, “As yet, they are unaware. In the land beneath Vault and Thorn, the demon King Colos and his counterparts know yet have the power to do nothing. My kin have the power but no knowledge, same as the Errolking, the King-Under-Mountains, and the May Queen. Be thankful that the daoine of Soder remain ignorant, as their lords are as your Project Tome when they become aware of secrets and power.”

That didn’t make Codex feel any better because a name have been left out. “What about this… Maeve?”

‘Her seven and seven years in the Air and Darkness draws to an end, but her hand touches Faerie not at the moment. You will do well to prepare yourself, for she will discover a way onto the Blue World soon enough—and you do not yet have the power to oppose her.”

Codex only frowned more. “What power do we need to oppose her?”

Armigal made an amused sound. “That has already been arranged long ago. When Avalon rises, you will learn. The 4 will lead the way.”

“The 4? You mean the books? Reasons, Passions, Tranquility and—”

“Madness.” finished the dragon. When they have declared their chosen, one will open the path of the power long locked away—to the Orrery of Worlds. And from the corpse of an infinite beast there will be forged a force of Creation. My mother’s father has seen it happen before, in a time before the Blue World. I see it coming again, as the turning of a great wheel. A Game of Monarchs is afoot—and it has been playing out for some time now.”

Everything the dragon was saying itched at Codex’s mind as she tried to process it. “That doesn’t sound so much like advice as prophecy.”

“Prophecy is seeing future events. I am merely letting history and reality be my guide. Avalon is due to rise, I can feel that the 4 have awakened, and this confluence of events means that there is need for both. These, Mankind, are instructions on how to save your world.”

“I…” Codex was, a for a rare moment, at a loss for words. “Thank you?”

Outside, the dragon stretched her wings and rose to her full height. The marines on guard snapped to attention, reminded at once how utterly useless their weapons would be if the dragon turned hostile. Herding her child to the fore,Armigal ignored them.

“Thank me when Maeve is beaten back. Thank me when her grip on Faerie is shattered. Until then, I hope that you fare well—and bring to task the beast who harmed my child.”

She turned her attention to the far side of the quarry where, without any apparent effort on her part, a bolt of green lightning leapt from one rock face to another. Instead of dying out, the bolt persisted, jagging in unpredictable directions between the faces. Others soon joined it until a screen of verdant energy was crackling in the air, stretching across the width of the quarry.

ROCIC personnel; marines, technicians, doctors and hazmat teams alike, sprung into fevered activity as they tried to make sense of what was going on.

Armigal ignored them, spreading all three sets of wings while lowering her head to urge her child forward. Though free of the effects of her long months of being drugged, the young dragon mewled its complaints and moved slowly and drunkenly forward. After long minutes of her mother’s urging, she stumbled into the screen—and vanished.

The great Dragon of Earth didn’t waste any time once her daughter was through. Even for dragons, Faerie could be a world of death and destruction if they didn’t know how to approach it. Without another word or even a look back, Armigal stepped into the wall of lightning and disappeared as well.

A sound like thunder rolled out from the portal, rebounding off the quarry walls. In a series of bright, strobing green bursts, the screen and the portal collapsed into nothing more than the scent of ozone and burnt stone.

And on the flight deck of the Karasu no Yūrei, Codex pondered what to do next; what the dragon’s words meant.

***

Thirty minutes out of the town of Shank’s Creek, Nebraska, there once stood a fallout shelter built for a wealthy man named David Brigs all the way back in the 1960’s. Briggs had been notably outspoken on the virtues of fallout shelters back in the day, and his had been outfitted for the man and his family to live for months in comfort and safety should nuclear Armageddon befall planet Earth.

Briggs had lived into his eighties, which was just long enough to see his children lose everything in the financial collapse of 2011. The fallout shelter had been forgotten—except for a few scraps of information digitally archived in local papers.

Only someone who dedicated decades of their life to hunting down such forgotten refuges would have found it.

Arjun Ravi, with the ‘receive-only’ internet connection Project Tome allowed him to have in the secret subsection built into the Braddock Island prison, had done just that. And with the help of a private backer in France, he’d been able to add some slightly more modern amenities—like a television in the lounge.

Regina Shurig sat on a stool at the retro 50’s-era bar. The narrow, metallic blue tines growing in rows along her arms and back as well as replacing her hair meant that she would have destroyed the ancient leather couch and love seat, where her roommate, a short, barrel-chested Texan named Marshal Adams was sitting on.

Both were staring at the TV as they watched surreal history being made.

“…the President has not scheduled a press conference as of yet, concerning the strange and disturbing happenings in the skies near Meridian Beach, Georgia earlier today,” The reporter was saying, “But the White House has just released the following statement:

“’While experts have yet to determine at this point and time the nature of the object sighted over Meridian Beach, we do acknowledge that it is a mystery worth investigating and will do so to the fullest extent of our ability. To that end, this office has not only tapped experts in all possible relevant fields, but it has reached out to America’s prelate community to address this and other, smaller-scale reports. As of the drafting of this statement, The Descendants have volunteered to take point and have assured this office that they will share information, including their account of what happened at Meridian Beach, as soon as is appropriate.

“’In the meantime, they assure the citizens of the country and the international community that The Descendants and heroes affiliated with them under the banner of Lifesavers, Inc, are ready and able to lend aid in the event of another such event. A website, greenworld-dot-know is being set up to receive reports and data about sightings and events. Rest assured that the President is taking this matter seriously.’”

As the news moved on the more man-on-the-street reactions, Marshal scratched his head and looked over to Regina. He was older than her, in his thirties, and wore his beard in huge mutton chops. “You think Arjun is gonna want a call about this, or do you figure he already knows?”

Regina slid off the stool, already deciding she was going to make the call. “He just sent a lead on something to them through the frenchman—he’s going to want to hear that they might be too preoccupied to deal with it. You know how he gets about us: think about how he’s going to feel when it involves kids.”

End Descendants Special #7

Series Navigation<< Issue #79 – Tome of Secrets (Une Mascarade Brisée Part 2)Issue #80 – Bitter Work >>

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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3 Comments

  1. Oooooh. Ravi knows Stephan?

  2. Awesome update. The scene between Fax and Darkness was very intense. I especially like Fax’s story about what she remembered of Darkness, and how she was rescued. It felt very real, like it wasn’t just part of a story, but instead part of someones life. Thanks for all the great work you’ve done 🙂

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