Issue #12: Here and Now

This entry is part 14 of 15 in the series The Descendants Vol 1: Welcome to Freeland House

Part 3

Facsimile screamed a string of obscenities as Occult dragged her off the L platform to certain death. She was shouting and cursing so hard, she didn’t hear the spellcaster speak, nor did she see the smooth piece of glass produced from her hip pouch.

She did, however, notice when a shimmering red screen of pentagonal planes of force halted her fall. Their surfaces only provided the basic hints of friction, giving the impression of a bed of river stones, but they held fast.

Muevo esta pared.” Occult gently moved the glass downward and the horizontal wall obeyed her, sliding toward the ground like an elevator. ‘Like’ being the key phrase; no elevator that moved at the speed reached by the magical platform would ever pass safety standards. They hit bottom with a jarring thud; enough to throw both women to the ground.

“Sorry.” Occult helped Facsimile get to her feet. “I’ve never done that before and—“

“Wait, you didn’t know it would work?!” Came the hissed reply. “Are you crazy? We could have gone splat and I don’t think I’ve got enough in me to heal up from that and I bet you don’t heal at all!”

The magic user wasn’t listening; she sensed movement up above and turned to meet the green gazes of both inugami. They were running down the side of the platform.

Facsimile followed her gaze. “I am not seeing this.” She said to herself, even as she stumbled backward beside Occult. “All the crazy shit I can do… that the people I know can do… I wasn’t ready for dogs running on walls.” She was transfixed by the shear surreal quality of what was occurring before her. In truth, it was all she could do, seeing as her body was now officially running on empty.

Squealing tires broke her out of her trance. Her head snapped around to see a very familiar silver SUV skidding toward her along the sidewalk. Before it stopped, the passenger door flew open. The man that leapt out could have been her grandfather with the minor addition of a coif of red hair and the subtraction of some fifty pounds of muscle and broad shoulders. A moment later, she amended; her grandfather’s arms never burst into flame either.

Powers fully charged, Prometheus swept his arms before him. Twin jets of flame snaked out to form a curtain of fire between the young heroines and the rampaging monsters that had just dropped to the ground.

The barrier made the beasts draw up short, giving him time to glare up to the platform where Shine stood. “Whatever operation this was supposed to be, Shine, it’s over.” He roared.

A sadistic grin split Shine’s face. “Oh look, they dug up the fossil. No, it’s not over, Prometheus. This is only the beginning. The Redeemers are the new face of the Academy and you’re just the old doddering dinosaur they play for a chump.”

“We don’t have time for ‘old school, new school routine.” A new voice said. The driver of the SUV wore a sleek jumpsuit with glowing goggles. “Facsimile, Occult, get in the car now! We need to get to City Central!”

The rear door was pushed open by a figure wearing a white gi accompanied by a face concealing headscarf of the same color and a red sash tied around the waist.

The inugami didn’t give them time. Prometheus’s flame screen was dying quickly without his attentions and they quickly surged through.

“Go!” Facsimile practically threw Occult to the side and stepped forward. A claw of slim bone jutted out from the back of either wrist, making her wince as her body started to consume itself to comply with her wishes. If this had to be her last stand, she’d go down in a pool of the monsters’ blood.

Their prey presented to them, both hounds bounded forward with renewed tenacity. They didn’t even notice the pillar of flame rushing to intercept them. It caught the creature nearest the car in the side, burning away fur and blistering skin. The force of the blast slammed it into its kin, sending both of them rolling down the sidewalk.

“The lady said get in the car!” Prometheus barked with all the authority of a drill instructor. Facsimile and Occult wasted no time in complying.

Before the door was shut, the SUV was already moving.

“Who are you?” Facsimile demanded of Prometheus even as the driver thrust a duffel bag into her arms. She glanced over at the woman in the white gi, taking note of a stray strand of red hair peaking out of the hastily arranged headscarf. “Oh dear god, no… You’re—“

“Hope, apparently.” Came the reply.

“Uh, mister fire guy didn’t toast the dogs…” Occult was staring out the back window. The two inugami, one covered in horribly blistered skin were tearing after the SUV with a mile eating gait.

“And Shine’s still loose.” Facsimile said bitterly. Her curiosity got the best of her and she unzipped the duffel bag to unveil the most welcome sight she’d ever seen. Laurel had apparently emptied the entire contents of the kitchen cupboard into it. With a bestial snarl, she tore open a box of crackers and began cramming them into her mouth.

“Shine will come to us. For all of her many faults, she’s not one to leave a job undone.” Prometheus noted.

“Yeah, and you are…” Facsimile managed in the time it took her to crack open a box of cereal. Her hand was absorbing the needed nutrients almost as fast as she could shovel it into her mouth. Part of her considered eating the cardboard too.

“Seriously, they’re keeping pace with us.” Occult said, warily watching the pursuing inugami. “These definitely aren’t the ones like we fought before, L, They can run up walls, they don’t do the howling thing—they’re even armored differently.”

“It’s Codex now.” The driver said, taking one hand off the wheel to unclip a black, cigar shaped device from her utility belt. With her thumb, she held down the lone switch on the bauble, watching it flash red, then green. Still holding the cylinder, she pressed the power button on the sunroof, allowing in a gust of wind.

“Prometheus is the name of the Enforcer that beat up I… uh, Chaos?” Facsimile asked the entire car and got a nod from Hope. “Chaos, right.” She continued, “He’s the big-bad of the whole thing, so Shine’s just being all nutball calling you that, right?”

Codex depressed the switch on the device one more time and threw it out the sunroof.

“No, that’s me.” Prometheus said flatly, ignoring the shocked stare Facsimile was giving him over the handful of toaster pastries she was consuming and the sense of a shocked stare he got from Occult.

The tiny projectile Codex tossed clattered to the pavement and rolled to a stop a few yards ahead of the galloping inugami. The green light blinked twice, then turned white as a tone impossible for the human ear to perceive exploded from its micro-speakers. The rampaging beasts let out twin shrieks of pain and terror as their senses were assaulted. Their flat out run came to a staggering halt as they collapsed, blood gushing from their ears.

Codex let out a relieved breath as she watched the scene play out in the rear view. She hadn’t been certain the sonic grenade would work on the new type of monstrous hound.

Prometheus nodded in the direction of the fallen monstrosities. “But I’m not the ‘big-bad’ of this little war Shine and her cronies are carrying out. I’m here to stop them.”

***

Something was wrong. Wolf could feel it on the most basic level; Zero wasn’t trying to hide or even out distance him – she was leading him somewhere. But the base instincts of the beast within him wouldn’t let go, wouldn’t give up the hunt.

His proctors at the Academy had sent him through a battery of tests when Prometheus brought him in. Every manner of diagnostic short of killing and dissecting him had been used to unravel the mystery of why he gained the instincts of an animal when he transformed.

Type I metamorphs like himself; those capable of shapeshifting into a single other form (and occasionally, the transitive forms in between), often tried to mimic the second form, but their behaviors were only human approximations of animal thoughts and motivations. The Academy had discovered that Trent Kinsey, as his body transitioned from that of a human to that of a creature resembling a bizarrely marked, oversized timber wolf, actually experienced drastic shifts in his thought patterns, as if some new persona emerged.

The new persona was The Wolf. It was the one that send him loping across the plaza after the prelate Zero. It was the one that thought about how hot her blood would feel on his claws, how sweet her riven flesh would be.

But it was Trent Kinsey who stopped short when the cloaked heroine suddenly wheeled around to face him. He finally noticed where she had led him. The proud face of the Westinghall building looked down on them and the droves of tourists and locals that fled the part wolf/part man that had charged into their midst.

Zero had led him to Westinghall Plaza and was now balancing on the balls of her feet on the edge of the large fountain that stood there.

The inhibitor indicators ticked upward a few bars. Wolf growled. “You must think I’m just as stupid as the others if you think I’m going to leap at you and land in the fountain for you to freeze me.”

“You followed me all the way here…” Zero didn’t say it was an insult. She was genuinely surprised that he wasn’t that stupid.

Wolf’s eyes narrowed. “No matter what you think, or what our erstwhile handler thinks, I’m both intelligent and resourceful. The others may think you all are just a test, but I know the truth. I’ve read your file.” He sneered, baring his gruesome fangs. “Is Zero supposed to be an homage to your father? Or some pale imitation, Miss ‘Taylor’?”

“You don’t know anything about me.” Zero’s easy going voice suddenly hardened. Her ‘sunshine’ was gone. The part of her she never let her friends and housemates see was surfacing. Carefully, she started to skirt around the edge of the fountain.

“Oh, I know everything. They’ve got a bio-map of you, remember? They know things about you that you don’t even know.”

“Is that a fact?” Behind her back, water vapor hovering over the fountain became a set of frozen knives between her fingers. “Did you know…?” She launched the daggers into Wolf’s neck where they embedded just above the inhibitor. “That I took marksmanship classes at the Academy?”

Wolf winced a bit from the pain, but still sneered. “As much as I knew that trick wouldn’t do me any real harm.” He started to stalk around the fountain, following Zero. “What I want to know is why you didn’t just seal me up like you did the inugami last week. I’m betting that it’s because you’re trying to play the good hero and good heroes don’t kill people. Am I right?”

Zero nodded.

“And while being put on ice,” He motioned to the fountain, “Wouldn’t kill me, the frozen air you put around the inugami certainly would.” He chortled at her shock. “That’s right, I knew that part too. There’s not enough ‘water vapor’ in the world to let you make an ice cube that big out of thin air.”

“You really do know a lot.” A bit of the normal, light hearted Juniper slipped out of Zero’s mouth. The cold exterior she’d put up for Wolf returned quickly. “But there is something I know you don’t know. And you really should have figured it out.”

“What’s that?” growled Wolf. His inner demon was getting tired of the game.

“I am the good hero.” She said, coldly. “You said it yourself; I want to be the kind of prelate people idolize, that will be an example to them. Alloy and Facsimile have really rubbed off on me these past few months. They’re right; it’s the highest thing we can aspire to; using our powers to do the right thing. Just like my parents.”

“What does that have to do with anything?” Wolf demanded.

“Because, you know I won’t kill you. Why would I throw ice daggers into your neck then?”

Wolf’s clawed hand came up to grab the daggers, but his overactive metabolism had made his body temperature hot enough to quickly turn them into puddles of water that had soaked into his fur – and seeped into the seams of his inhibitor’s housing. He roared a curse, but it was too late.

The air around him grew intensely cold. The water in the inhibitor’s seams expanded, cracking them open. Sparks flew as the casing was forced apart, pulling wiring with it. “You bitch! You bitch!” He roared as The Wolf surged into command. His bones caught fire as his body reconfigured itself once more.

Gone was any semblance of resemblance to a werewolf. With no inhibitors, Wolf achieved his full second form. Four feet high at the shoulder, his fur was black, interspersed with dark brown, angular markings. Great spines of bone erupted along his spinal ridge and at the major joints of his legs. A pair of brutal, sickle-like tusks framed his lower jaw. Fury burned in his black eyes as his jaws parted for a deep, angry roar.

Denied his prey for far too long, The Wolf wasted no time in lunging for her.

Zero had been waiting for that moment. The air over her forearms solidified into a pair of wide, rectangular shields, which she pressed forward into the attack. One lodged into the beast’s mouth, spreading cold and pain in its wake. The other came up to swat a massive paw away with much the same result.

The force of the impact sent Zero flying backward over the wide rim of the fountain. Her feet found purchase on a shifting layer of coins as she skidded backward from the slavering horror before her.

The air around Westinghall Plaza became positively frigid. The forecast had called for a thirty percent chance of rain. Now the heavens sent a scattering of flurries over the block.

***

Manriki groaned and tried to get the world to stop spinning as he sat up on the steps of City Central Library. War-torn wasn’t far away, already on his feet and looking around for trouble. Launch raced overhead, locked in a three-way dogfight with the prelate he knew as Void-storm and a newcomer in black powered armor.

A murmur caught his attention. Not far from him, three twenty-somethings; one male, two female, all wearing Dayspring College paraphernalia, were staring at him, dumbstruck.

“I should’ve known college kids would be too dumb to run.” Manriki hissed. He didn’t know where the prelates were, but he felt fairly certain they wouldn’t leave himself and War-torn alone for long. He lashed out with his last three ceramic chains, which wrapped instantly around the young peoples’ necks. “Hello hostages.”

“That right there? That’s not going to happen.” A metal boot planted itself in Manriki’s back at the same time a metallic tentacle speared out to shatter the ceramic chains. The chain wielder fell hard against the handrail leading up the stairs. His swinging attack complete, Alloy let Isp and Osp whip out to lash Manriki’s hands to the rail. He turned to the would be hostages. “You guys need to get out of here.”

The Redeemer snarled wordlessly as Isp and Osp moved their ‘heads’ to have a look at their captive. Something registered in his head. The tentacles weren’t like his chains. They moved and acted on their own accord. Alloy’s words on the train came back to him: That’s what you think. The odds were never even. Suddenly, he understood.

The orihalcite chain still at his waist sprang into action at his telepathic bidding. The bladed edge didn’t aim for Alloy – the tentacles would certainly block it. No, it moved in a swift line perpendicular to the prelate and the Redeemer.

Sparks exploded to the eerie sound of screaming metal. Alloy clutched his head and screamed as something echoed in his mind.

Manriki grinned spitefully as he shrugged out of the two inert aluminum coils that had once held him. “Now the odds are even.” He snarled.

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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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