Issue #17: Freaque

This entry is part 5 of 15 in the series The Descendants Vol 2: Magic and Machines

Part 2

In the dim, Warrick could barely make out the shape that crouched atop a junk pile nearly three times his height. It had thin, batlike wings that were spread out behind it in a threatening display. Its head was ducked low, completely obscured in the shadow of its body. But the long snarl that curled up from it made its intentions clear.

“Tink, run!” Warrick shouted, turning the beam of his flashlight upward with hopes of blinding the creature. It was just his luck; two weeks patrolling with the intention to apprehend the Mauler and not only had the killer found him instead, but with Tink there, he couldn’t cut loose with his powers.

The creature saw what he was trying to do and raised a forearm to shield its face from the light. The flashlight revealed smooth, rust colored skin, a well muscled forearm with twin rows of spiky protrusions running from the back of the wrist to the elbow and the remains of a tattered t-shirt covering a modest, but definitely human bosom.

“Huh.” Warrick muttered to himself. “Girl monster.”

“Come on!” Tink grabbed his arm and tried to pull him behind her.

With a sharp hiss, the creature leapt from her perch, aiming for a pile closer to the pair, huge wings turning the jump into a glide.

Mentally, Warrick violently thrust his power into a lead pipe deep inside the pile, twisting it and causing half the stack to slide sideways in the process. The creature let out a very human yelp as she went down on her hands and spiked knees trying to keep upright.

With a few moments bought, he let Tink drag him into a full run. Together, they dashed down the dirt paths between the dozens of hills filled with assorted scrap. Before the place had looked like an alien landscape; now it felt like a horror film.

After what seemed like an hour of blind running, the front gate complete with the trailer that served as both guardhouse and office, loomed ahead.

It was then that the creature caught up to them. Erupting from hiding behind a refrigerator that had probably been in use at the turn of the century, she sprang directly at Warrick, tackling him at the shoulders with enough force to carry both of them a good ten yards into a tangle of old cables and tires.

She was close to him now. Even with the poor light, he could finally make out her face. The same calcified armor that grew on her arms and legs formed plates along her brow, cheeks and chin, giving the impression that she was wearing a helmet. Her eyes were totally white, but reflected green in the starlight. Lank, inky hair hung in clumps over her face, which was strangely familiar, but confusion and adrenaline were probably playing tricks on Warrick.

“Now you have reason to be afraid.” The creature said in a smoky voice that reminded Warrick of a lounge singer from an old, black and white movie.

“You’d think that.” Warrick said, defiantly. Even as they spoke, he wound her legs in cables, hoping to at least buy Tink time to get away and get help, or, god willing, for one of the other Descendants to happen by. It was a long shot; Juniper was at a classmate’s house working on a civics project and Ian and Alexis were searching the sites of previous Mauler attacks, looking for clues. His only hope lay with Cyn getting bored with whatever she was doing and patrolling on her own. That or blowing his secret identity in front of Tink.

The creature glared at him. The bizarre calm that had settled over its features dissolved into one of rage at his lack of overt fear. “No!” She screamed in his face. Raising up, she surprised him by balling up a fist instead of going at him with her claws.

Still, there was a good chance that she was stronger than a normal human. As in very strong. Super strong. Cave your skull in with a single punch strong. Warrick prepared to raise his armor. He wasn’t going to die to keep Alloy a secret; that would just be stupid on an ironic level.

But suddenly, the creature screamed again, this time in pain. She turned to swing at whoever had attacked her, but the cables tightened at Warrick’s command, causing her to overbalance and fall. Warrick kipped up, already spouting a stream of thanks to his rescuer before he even knew who it was.

Tink grabbed his arm and started running with him again.

Warrick looked back as they went. The creature was slow to rise and try to untangle herself. “What did you do to her—it? Hit it with a truck?”

Tink held up her keychain, which was in the form of an adorable blue and pink kitten holding an LED light between its forepaws. “Every girl needs to know how to defend herself.” She panted as the pair passed the front gate and hit the street. “mini-light, laser pointer, memory stick and one shot taser all in one.”

Still looking back, Warrick didn’t see any signs of pursuit. “Is that even legal?”

“Well, the store version is.” Tink shrugged. “The new circuits and flash battery I installed aren’t standard though.”

“We need to get to the police.” Warrick said.

“Hey, it may be illegal, but it just saved you!” Tink defended.

“No, I mean about that thing that attacked us.”

“You really think they’re going to be able to do anything about the Mauler?” Tink asked, looking back as well. They were still running, but not flat out as they had been. She gave a little shiver. “Even the Descendants haven’t been able to catch up to him and they took out the Brothers Steel.”

“Yeah, but the Brothers are dopes that tried to nail an armored truck in broad daylight. The Mauler, whoever sh—he is, is good at not getting caught.” Warrick defended indignantly. Wisely, he changed the subject. “Look, we at least need to report this. They need to know who and where so they can try and figure out why and where he’ll go to next, right?”

Tink nodded. “True. You know, my brother says it isn’t a party unless it ends at a police station – wonder if it works the same way with dates?”

***

Two hours with the police later, Warrick found himself back at Freeland House, giving essentially the same report as he and Tink had given to the cops to his housemates. ‘Essentially’, in the sense that a novel is essentially the same as cliff’s notes.

Everyone was assembled around him in the upstairs commons, listening with concern to his recounting.

“Huh.” Ian said. “Girl monster.”

Alexis sighed and elbowed him in the ribs. “So you said she looked familiar, Warrick?” she asked.

Warrick screwed up his face and shrugged. “Well, not entirely familiar, I mean how many flying demon girls can a guy know?” Cyn raised her hand. “Murderous flying demon girls.” Warrick amended, which bought the hand down. “Anyway, it wasn’t like I really recognized the demonic part. I met a lot of protomorphs and metamorphs at the Academy, and she was like none of them.” He thought hard for how to explain it. “I don’t know; it was like seeing someone you know with a lot of stage makeup on. It’s still them, even if its not.”

“Maybe someone you know is a metamorph and you don’t know it.” Laurel offered.

“Someone we know is a serial killer?” Juniper paled. “But every one at school is so nice…”

“Have you like, not met Lilly and her flock?” Cyn snorted. “Or Ollie and Jake, the seniors that spend half their time harassing the lowerclassmen girls?”

“Well, everyone is so nice to me.” Juniper corrected herself with a blush.

“Oh, I’m certain Ollie and Jake were ‘nice’ to you.” Melissa said, putting ‘nice’ in air quotes. “But they’re ‘nice’ to all the girls that don’t get double entendres.”

“Can we get to back to the point here?” Ian asked. “It does fit. I mean four of the last victims were from your school.”

“It isn’t that hard to believe someone snapped and decided to spread their ‘pain’.” Melissa frowned.

“We can’t be sure that’s the cause.” Laurel said. “Some metamorphs don’t have control of their transformations and suffer seriously unbalanced brain chemistry while shifted. This person might be lashing out at people they know without meaning to.”

“Come to think of it,” Warrick said Melissa’s words still in his head. “Everyone attacked before; Holly, Raymond, Josh, and Chris, are all people Lilly and her friends go after pretty often.”

“As much as I’d love, love, love for little Miss Thing to be a chaotic monster, you don’t fit the pattern.” Cyn declared. “Lilly doesn’t mess with you after you made her look stupid that day with Liz.”

“She did used to tease Tink though.” Warrick pointed out. “She even gave her the nickname.”

“But she pounced you.” Melissa said. “And nearly mauled you.”

“That’s the other weird thing.” Warrick wrinklrg his brow in thought. “Why didn’t she come at me with the claws? She could have torn me apart with the first tackle, but she didn’t. Then she balled up her fist when she had me down.”

“Maybe she still has enough control not to kill people she knows?” Ian asked.

“Fat lot of good it did the other people she’s killed.” Melissa grumbled.

“Well, maybe she was working her way up to people she really hates?” Cyn asked. Then her eyes opened. “Holy crap, I’m next!” She pointed at Warrick. “You may have told her off, but I made her ruin her entire Valentine’s day!” Sneering, she got up and started shadow boxing behind the sofa. “Let’s see the preppy bitch come after me. I’ll… I’ll clobber her!”

Laurel sighed. “We shouldn’t marry ourselves to just this theory… no matter how enthusiastic Cyn is about it. We’ll watch her, but—“She was interrupted by her cell phone beeping out an espionage themed tune.

She grabbed it immediately and looked at the screen. “Huh. The CEO of ConquesTech is holding a press conference about us!”

“’Us’ us?” Cyn asked, and then bent into a bodybuilder pose, “Or ‘US’, us?”

Laurel picked up the remote and tuned the TV to the local news provider covering the conference. “The Descendants.”

“Now what?” Alexis asked, “it can’t be good news for a big company to specifically name prelates in their press conferences.”

On screen, Lester Mendel, CEO of ConquesTech, stood at a podium, looking haggard and solemn. The ConquesTech logo, a stylized ‘C’ with a ‘T’ inside, both colored in to resemble a globe, hung behind him.

“Good evening. You all know who I am and what my company means to our great city. Every Year, ConquesTech brings in more jobs and more money for our economy. We participate in environmental and civic projects that have helped make our city the cleanest on the eastern seaboard and the eighth most livable in the nation.”

He paused, seeming to gather himself. While his speech was obviously meant to make him sound like a powerful and benevolent giant of industry, his bearing was more like that of a child begging for allowance; a far cry from how he normally appeared on TV.

“Now, we need to enlist the aid of the people that have made our city safer and more crime free. I am speaking of course, of the Descendants. A recent matter has come to our attention and we… respectfully request their cooperation in dealing with the matter. If they require it, I am personally willing to pay any price they name from my own accounts. I will be in my office at the ConquesTech business campus, Building Four for the rest of the night. Thank you and goodnight.”

Mendel walked off without acknowledging a single question from reporters.

“That was…” Ian started.

“How could he possibly…” Melissa murmured.

“It’s a trap.” Cyn said, breaking up the stunned response.

“Why would you think that?” Juniper asked.

Cyn gave her a look as if she’d grown a second head. “Are you serious? It’s the oldest trick in the book!” She counted the steps off on her fingers. “Powerful head of a massive corporation asks for heroes’ help, powerful dude neglects to mention the nature of the help he wants, powerful dude asks for a private meeting on his home field—a home field invariably filled with traps and evil agents and uncovered vats with rickety catwalks suspended over them!”

“We get the point, double-0 seven.” Ian held up a hand to stop her. “Obviously, this whole thing stinks. The question is, what do we do about it.”

“How is ‘ignore the hell out of it’ not an option?” Cyn asked.

“Ian’s right.” Laurel said. “We can’t ignore it. First of all, we aren’t the only people with powers in this town. If he’s after that, what happened when Occult or worse, some amateur kid who wants to make a name for himself goes in our stead?”

“I like how none of you think he might be telling the truth.” Alexis crossed her arms.

“I’m not discounting that at all.” Laurel said. “But its best if we go into this thinking that. And of course, if he needs help, we should give it to him. He did, after all, go to the trouble of staging a press conference to get our attention.”

“T-R-A-P spells trap.” Cyn insisted.

“I don’t see why everyone is supposed to be evil all of a sudden.” Juniper frowned. “First Lilly, now Mr. Mendel.”

“Lilly is pretty evil.” Warrick admitted. “Not serial killer evil, probably, but still…”

“Only high school evil… maybe.” Juniper protested weakly, “And… and Mr. Mendel gives thousands of dollars a year to animal rescues and wildlife preserves and orphanages. How can a man that likes puppies and orphans be an evil mastermind?”

“Maybe he likes them on a bun.” Cyn suggested. Juniper looked truly horrified.

“Anyway,” Laurel cut in, “We should send someone to meet with him.” She looked over the group. “Alexis, Juniper, you two aren’t biased against him, so you two are probably best. Warrick, you should go too. If things do go south, you, Isp and Osp have the best chance of breaking you all out.”

“What about me?” Cyn pouted.

“Yeah, I’m not about to sit on my duff if Al… all of you guys are in danger.” Ian said.

“You won’t be.” Laurel said. “Lilly Goldenmeyer is our best lead so far. You two are on air patrol over her house. Maybe we’ll get lucky and catch her coming home after attacking Warrick and Tina.”

An evil grin crossed Cyn’s face as she looked over at Ian. “Air patrol? Does that mean…?”

“Yes,” Laurel said, allowing herself an amused smile at the discomfort that had suddenly come over Ian’s features. “You’ll be giving Ian his first in field flying lesson. Ian, time to break out the new suit.”

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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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