Issue #29: Little Girl Lost

This entry is part 5 of 14 in the series The Descendants Vol 3: A Bright, Bright Summer

Part 2

“2pm check in.” Codex’s voice came over the rescuers’ frequency. “Anyone find any signs of Rose or Tome activity?”

“I’m at three thousand feet and scanning the air with everything the Queen’s Gambit has.” Majestrix’s calm voice returned. “Unless they’ve got something very, very advanced, there’s no stealth aircraft within fifty miles.”

“Nothing here either.” Facsimile returned.

“I had to help some of the searchers about ten minutes ago.” Alloy said. “There was a rockslide. No one was hurt, but I’m going to have to search this section myself now. No one can get in here on foot anymore.”

“If she or anyone else came this way, they covered their tracks but good.” Said Chaos.

“Ditto.” Zero Point replied. “Nothing but a little pack of half starved coyotes.”

“She’s not going to show up in your heat vision, dear.” Majestrix reminded him, “She’s rock.”

“I know, hun. I’m using my plain old eyes.”

“Darkness, what about you?” Codex asked from aboard the airborne carrier with Hope nearby.

There was a pause before Darkness came back. “I’m not sure. I think I saw something; let me double back and take a look.”

“If you find something, give a ring.” Codex responded. “I’ll have Ephemeral check out the local Astral to try and find her.”

Darkness rogered back and looped around to the mesa she’d just passed. The top of the formation had long ago collapsed, creating a wide, shallow bowl that was open on one side. Cracks and fissures, some the large enough for a man to push through, disrupted the walls. At the center of the bowl, amid the rock debris, a pool of rainwater had formed.

At the edge of the pool, Darkness saw what she was looking for: a blue and red hiker’s backpack. Landing, she stooped to examine it. Something had torn two perpendicular rents in the canvas material and one of the straps has snapped. There was an tag clipped to one of the zippers. It read ‘property of Richard Abernathy’.

“I found her father’s backpack.” Darkness said over the com. “She’s somewhere near, but something may have attacked her; it’s torn up.”

“Think it could be one of Tome’s goons?” Codex asked, already triangulating Darkness’s position.

“Possibly. But these cuts… they look like someone was out to kill, not capture.”

“I’m closest to you.” Majestrix’s voice said. She had been receiving coordinates from Codex the whole time. “I’m coming to help.”

“Thank….” There was a scrabbling sound from the cracks above. Darkness immediately called a globe of black heat into her hand, the com forgotten. “Who’s there?”

“You gotta get out of here!” a girl’s voice called from one of the crevices.

“Rose?” Darkness asked, “Rose Abernathy?”

The scrabbling sound got louder. “Run!” the girl screamed.

“Don’t be afraid.” Darkness tried to say calmly, “I’m her to help you.”

“No!” the girl screeched. A reddish brown hand flicked out of the darkness of one of the crevasses and beckoned her forward. “Come on! They’re coming!”

Darkness frowned deeply. Then something caught her eye; a flicker of black in one of the larger cracks in the wall. Then another. Then another. Before she could ask something else of the screaming voice above her, the first scorpion emerged.

‘Scorpion’ being the closest earthly approximation to the creatures she saw. Each one was four feet long and half that in width, moving on eight legs that ended in two pronged pincers. Two more pincers, massive and prominent were held on either side of its chitinous, jackal-like head. The stinger arched above its armored body, ending in twin serrated blades that dripped with viscous, brown fluid. Strangest of all were the green, faintly luminescent geometric shapes imprinted on their heads.

As Darkness watched, at least two dozen of the little monsters crawled out onto the cliff walls, chittering and clicking as they came.

“Codex…” Darkness said, trying to stay calm even as she stoked the fires of the black heat globe in her hand to greater potency, “I think I’ve found Rose, but we’ve got a problem. There are… bug things.”

“Bug things?” Codex asked. She was already preparing to relay instructions to the others.

Meanwhile, the nearest scorpion ran down the rock face, shrilling and snapping its pincers together. Darkness let loose with a bolt of black heat that smashed it to green and black paste on the rocks. This only served to bait other creatures into the same suicidal charges. Four more met the same fate in rapid succession with more rushing forward.

“Lots of bug things!” Darkness let the black heat engulf her and lift her up just as the first creatures reached her. Their claws snapped uselessly at her boots as she pulled out of range. “Don’t worry, Rose!” She called out, “I’m not leaving without you! I won’t let them get you!”

“It’s Arkose!” the girl shouted back. “And they can’t get me from here.”

From her now elevated position, Darkness could see why. Arkose was standing at the entrance of a crevasse that was around two feet wide; too small for most people to enter, much less the splay-legged monsters. The issue would be getting her out of that space and to safety with all those scorpions around.

Darkness sent a thick bar of black heat ranging across the basin, burning and crushing any scorpions that it touched.

“It won’t work.” Arkose shouted with a melancholy tone. Her sandstone colored fingers pointed to the first casualties of the older woman’s assault; the broken and burnt husks were dissolving into green mist and running together.

Where the mists from two ruined spiders came together, something dark moved.

Before Darkness could get a good look at what was happening, an engine noise came from over head.

Riding two pillars of blue flame from its back and two smaller, orange flames from its feet, the Queen’s Gambit; Majestrix’s anthropoid gunboat looked like something from the Book of Revelations. The gattling gun concealed in its right wrist gleamed as it began to spin up.

Majestrix’s airy voice blaring out over the external speakers ruined the image or made it more menacing, depending on one’s point of view. “Should I use lethal or non-lethal rounds?” she asked.

“Lethal!” Darkness shouted, sending out another swathe of destruction. “Very lethal.”

“Switching to incendiary rounds.” Majestrix copied. There was a whir and a click, followed by the mecha’s arm leveling at a cluster of the little beasts and expelling fiery doom. Scorpions exploded in gouts of flame and showers of green ichor. Green mist began to rise.

“Stop killing them!” Arkose shouted from her hiding place. “You’re only making it worse!” No one could hear her amid the gunfire.

“What’s with the green fog?” Chaos asked over the com as he flew over the lip of the basin and into the war zone.

“We don’t know yet.” Darkness replied. “Some defense mechanism? Codex, I don’t think these are natural creatures. Any chance that the Book of Reason can help?”

“I’ll check.” Codex replied, “And while I’m doing that, Ephemeral, can you check out these creatures from the Astral side?

“I can and will.” Ephemeral replied.

“In the meantime…” Chaos landed on a little hump of dirty that formed an island in the pool of water. “Let’s see if we can’t clear them all out the old fashioned way.” He raised a hand and a pillar of liquid rose from the pool. A flick of his wrist sent it smashing down upon several beasties. Another caused the almost solid cylinder of water to roll out over another set. Chaos smirked at the devastation he’d wrought. “That worked so well.”

A chill wind blew in from the south, following on the heels of a blue glowing streak that resolved into the form of Zero Point as it reached the basin. “Monster scorpions? I guess it’s better than those robotic roaches. Right, dear?” He laughed as he descended.

“There’s a lot more of them, ZP.” The Queen’s Gambit had landed and was hip deep in bug splatter and green fog. “It wouldn’t hurt if you lent a hand.”

“Just waiting my turn.” Zero Point dropped to the deck and brought his hands up in front of him in a praying position. Just as quickly, he pulled them apart, unleashing a wide ribbon of bluish light that cracked along the ground, lifting and crushing the creatures where they stood.

He turned to his left and struck out with the heel of his hand toward another group of scorpions. A bolt of blue exploded out, tearing through them like a musket ball through rotten apples. As a finale, he made a grasping gesture with both hands, causing blue skeins of energy to encircle a handful of monsters and lift them into the air.

“This is how we catch crooks in Phoenix.” He laughed. “Though we put them in jail instead of – this!” With that, he clapped, creating a similar effect on the scorpions.

“Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap.” Arkose moaned from her hiding place. “They’re going to die…”

“Show off.” Chaos said good naturedly as he flew over to where Zero Point was standing. He used his power to push aside green mist as he went. “Now I know why crime in Phoenix is so low.” He extended a hand to shake with the living legend.

“Yeah, but it just wasn’t much fun without Wi—“

“ZP!” Majestrix scolded. “Codenames.”

“She doesn’t have a…” Zero Point muttered, “Our daughter.” He finished lamely to Chaos. “By now I would have hoped—“ He didn’t finish. Instead he pushed Chaos backward and flew upward at the same time. The two foot blades passed through the space they had both occupied.

A new scorpion; this one six feet long with a different glowing rune on its head and eight, glowing, red eyes stepped out of the fog. As he righted himself, Chaos noticed that the creature wasn’t moving out of the fog as much as absorbing it.

“They’re not done!” He cried out, throwing his power into a gust emanating in all directions. The mist was blown away to reveal more than a dozen such beasts.

Majestrix span in time to deflect a stinger headed for the Queen’s Gambit’s back. She returned fire with her gattling gun. The incendiary rounds exploded along its shell with no other effect. “Uh, ZP? They’re bulletproof now.” She said nervously. The mecha’s left arm whirred as it reconfigured.

The scorpion rose up to grapple the robot with it’s deadly pinchers, only to be answered by a sound of thunder. Green bug flesh was painted across the cliff face as the monster slid away from the Queen’s Gambit.

“Not tank shell proof though.” Majestrix noted as she queued up a reload.

“Black heat’s not doing anything to them.” Darkness fretted as a burst of her powers as big around as her waist glanced harmlessly off chitinous armor. “Chaos, Wind’s probably not going to hurt them either. Let’s focus on the environment.” With that, she sent a ray of black heat to incise some of the cliff face, sending rocks tumbling onto one of the scorpions.

“Gotcha.” Chaos replied. He thrust his power into the pool and forced it out over the rocks in a thin, slick sheet that slowed the scorpions’ movement. “It’s working, but it’s not much.” Another thunderous volley came from Majestrix’s direction and another scorpion fell. “We need to get a cannon like that.”

Facsimile’s laughter came over the coms at that. “Really?”

“Oh no…” Alloy said shakily. The pair glided up over the lip of the basin, Facsimile carrying Alloy under her arms. “Fax, come on, don’t—“

“Banzai!” Facsimile let her passenger fly from six stories up.

“Shit!” Isp and Osp snapped out in a protective circle to absorb the impact of the fall even as Alloy curled into a braced position. Seconds before impact, they realized what Facsimile was doing and extended spikes from the outer rim of the arcs they had formed.

Chitin didn’t stand a chance against orihalcite. Alloy, Isp and Osp cut cleanly through two scorpions before coming to a stop on the ground.

“Those kills count as mine!” Facsimile shouted as she went into a dive herself.

“Isp and Osp disagree.” Alloy said, getting his footing.

Green mist was starting to rise again from the bodies of the stricken monsters. “Another assist, if you please, Zero Point?” Chaos asked over the com.

“I’m trying.” Zero Point replied, sending fists of blue energy into the creatures with no avail. “But to tell the truth, I used up a lot of my juice when I thought we were cleaning up the last of the little ones. Guess I’m a little out of practice.”

“Get over to me, ZP!” Majestrix called, forced into laying into a scorpion with her mecha’s bare hands as it came too close for cannon range. “Core temp is eight hundred, a quick vent should boost you.”

“Juice? Boost?” Chaos wondered aloud.

“Quirky powers, quirky limitations.” Majestrix replied matter-of-factly.

Meanwhile, Darkness concentrated on using her powers to contain the monsters’ movement and was caught entirely off guard when a chunk of sand stone bounced off her shoulder. Instantly, she was facing the direction it had come from, ready to spew black heat at her assailant.

Instead she saw Rose Abernathy, also known as Arkose, pulling herself out of her hiding place and waving her hands frantically. “You can’t beat them that way!” She was shouting as loudly as she could. “I stepped on them when I got here! That’s why they were so big before!”

Darkness dropped down to hover near the stone girl. “We’ll have to find some way to contain them. But for now, I’m getting you out of here.” She reached a hand out for the runaway.

“Wait!” Arkose was watching the green fog rising from the twice defeated scorpions. “I know who you are—I know how you can beat them!”

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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. You can also purchase his books from all major platforms from the bookstore
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