Issue #4: Juniper

This entry is part 5 of 15 in the series The Descendants Vol 1: Welcome to Freeland House

Part 3

“So this is Mayfield.” Juniper said, looking around. The taxi the quartet had called had dropped them off at Westinghall Plaza, just across from the giant ornamental fountain. “I’ve heard a lot about this place – never thought I’d get to see it though. I figured that I’d get shipped right back to San Jose as soon as I got done…” She looked around at the people who passed by all around. “Uh… you know.”

She wore a dark green sundress that was weighted at the bottom by a number of thick, metal rings. Vaguely, she remembered having one like it in blue, but a lot her memory of the period surrounding her disappearance was spotty at best.

“Yeah, keeping in mind not to talk about that’s the hardest part.” Warrick said, trying to be helpful. “Well, not… you know, using what we can…” He just nodded to indicate ‘using their powers’. “That’s the real hardest part, but it gets easier.” He finished with a hollow lie.

“Thanks.” Juniper said, smiling at him. It really did help to have someone she at least recognized around.

“So…” Cyn said, stepping in between the two so fast that Warrick could have sworn she’d ‘shifted into that position. “Where do you want to start the tour?” She gestured up to the mammoth building at the end of the plaza. “We’re already at the Westinghall Building. The Gates Center is only a few blocks down…” Her gaze went a bit unfocused in thought. “There’s the zoo, Dayspring College, and the National Museum of Sciences. We could hit the Lexington Gallery too.”

“The, uh, Westmoreland is holding a craft fair.” Melissa offered shyly.

Cyn snapped her attention to the redhead. She was about to say something smarmy about the fact that Melissa was finally contributing, but realized that she was helping her out. “That’s a great idea! How’s that sound, Juniper? It’s got to be better than all that touristy crap I was talking about.”

The new girl smiled. Cyn didn’t like that smile. It was the kind of smile that wasn’t hiding anything. It was pure and honest and at the moment, Cyn was looking for sinister and scheming. Liking the other girl was not on the menu.

“That sounds perfect.” Juniper continued smiling. “So, you’re into crafts, Melissa?”

“A little.” The shy girl admitted. “I did pottery when I was little and I still like looking at it.”

“No kidding?” Warrick said. “We’ve been here months and I’d never have taken you for an artsy person.”

“Probably because it takes one to know one.” Cyn teased playfully.

“Hey now, I’ll have you know I’m real artsy.” Warrick placed and hand over his chest as if to indicate his passion for the arts. It came off as melodramatic.

“Warrick, you’re more in the ‘demand’ category for art than the ‘supply’ line.” Cyn said. “Then again, comic makers and TV producers owe their wallets to you, I guess.”

“Just because I haven’t had time to do any of that stuff since we came here doesn’t mean I didn’t – or that I won’t.” Warrick pointed out with a wounded voice.

“So what is it you do?” Juniper asked, jumping into the conversation before Cyn could think of another smart remark. It took a considerable amount of facial control on Cyn’s part not to glare daggers at the intruder. Some primitive, sadistic part of her mind giggled over the fact that as a shapeshifter, she quite possible could glare daggers at the other girl.

“I do all sorts of things.” Warrick said, responding to Juniper, but looking pointedly at Cyn. “I drew a lot, even at the—at school.” He caught himself before he mentioned the Academy. There wasn’t anyone around to hear him, but he decided that things would be easier on Juniper if they didn’t tempt her to mention it. “I painted some too. I like to think I was pretty good at it.” He shrugged and started walking toward the bus stop. The Westmoreland wasn’t what any sane person would classify as ‘within walking distance’. “And I did some acting even.”

Cyn blinked. “You? An actor?”

“Sure, it’s in my blood, Cyn. My dad’s a voice actor only on the account of him not being good looking enough for movies.” He turned to walk backward and shot all three girls a wolfish grin. “Me though, I got all my pretty from my mom’s side.”

“What have you acted in then?” Cyn had the next question ready. She asked partly because she wanted to know and partly to steer the discussion away from families.

“Only a couple things.” Warrick admitted, sitting down at the bus stop. “I was Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet; the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, and my favorite – Master Sanzo in Journey to the West.” Sprawling on the seat, he gave another shrug. “They weren’t leads or anything, but I really liked doing them.”

“Mayfield has to have some theater groups or something.” Juniper offered, sitting down beside him. “You should find one and try out.”

For the second time in so many minutes, Cyn blinked. “Uh, yeah.” She nodded in agreement as she leaned on the clear plastic overhang that theoretically (in the same sense that the Flat-Earth Theory is a theory) protected the bench from rain. Helpless, she looked over Warrick and Juniper’s heads to Melissa for help.

The redhead bit her lip, and then sat down next to Juniper. “So, Juniper… do you do any crafts?” She was totally out of her element attempting to guide a social situation and that was all she could muster.

Juniper gave a thoughtful look. She remembered being in an art class at the Academy, but the instructor had made her focus on freezing water vapor in the air into structures and patterns. It wasn’t the kind of art Juniper liked doing and it made her powers feel cheap.

“I do a little origami.” She finally said, “And those little animals you can make from pipe cleaners.” Her smile was a little weaker now because for whatever reason, she was embarrassed about being what she suspected was the least artistic person in the group. “Anything you can get out of a kit basically.” Turning it into a weak joke didn’t help much, so she decided to shift focus to someone else. “How about you, Cynthia?”

Cyn avoided Juniper’s gaze. “Nothing.” She muttered.

Warrick gave her a disbelieving look. ”Really? I thought by the way you laid into me about it, you were into all sorts of stuff.” He looked off into the distance as if visualizing his memory. “Huh. Guess that explains why that sort of thing never came up.”

“It just wasn’t on the menu for me as a kid, okay?” Cyn snapped defensively. On the one hand, she had succeeded in deflecting attention from Juniper. On the other, she didn’t like where this was going. Luckily, her fervent prayers for interruption were answered by a twenty-five ton angel with the words ‘CITY OF MAYFIELD TRANSIT’ stenciled on its side. “Oh look, the bus is here.” She said, letting a bit more relief slip into her voice than sounded in any way natural.

***

The Westmoreland Hotel was an impressive thirty story structure in downtown Mayfield. Its convex façade wrapped elegantly around an ornate white marble dome that protected the entry way from the elements. A less than characteristic marquee placed above the dome scrolled the text ‘THE WESTMORELAND WELCOMES THE TENTH ANNUAL MAYFIELD CRAFTS EXPO JULY 17-20’ in black text on a white background.

“They made sure we knew this was the place.” Juniper said, walking a bit ahead of the rest of the group toward the welcoming dome.

“So what should we look at first?” Melissa asked; her head buried in a brochure for the Expo she had printed at the tourism board kiosk on the bus. “I’d really like to see the glassblowing workshop they have set up.”

“I’m more interested in the art restoration thing you mentioned.” Juniper admitted, dropping back to walk with the redhead. “new stuff doesn’t really interest me as much as the really old stuff.”

Cyn imposed herself between Warrick and the other two girls. “Let me guess…” she said to him. “blacksmithing demonstration?”

“It crossed my mind.” He nodded as the quartet entered the main lobby of the hotel. Steel scaffolds were arrayed throughout, supporting digital signs directing guests to the various exhibits, panels and demonstrations. “I mean why not learn how to do it the right way? It may help me get better at it.” He gave her a grin.

Cyn smiled back at him, and then noticed one of the digital signs. “Glassblowing demo starts in ten minutes, Melissa. How about you take Juniper to see?”

“You’re not coming with us?” Juniper asked, with a little shrug that indicated that she didn’t especially mind one way or the other.

“I figure the two of us can scout out the rest of this place.” Cyn returned the shrug. “Never hurts to have a game plan.”

“I don’t know, glassblowing sounds pretty cool.” Warrick said. “You can’t go wrong with melting down stuff that was never meant to melt.” He glanced over to Cyn. “Besides, when do we ever have a game plan?”

“We usually aren’t trying to show a new person around.” Cyn defended her position.

“If you think it’s important, you can scout yourself.” Juniper offered. “The glassblowing demonstration is only a half hour long, after all.

Cyn felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. This just wasn’t fair. Somehow, the new girl had turned the tables on her and now she was left wandering around alone. “Fine.” She snapped and stalked off through the crowd.

Juniper blinked. Hadn’t scouting around been Cyn’s idea? “Why’s she suddenly so mad?”

Warrick gave a nervous chuckle and rubbed the back of his neck. “No idea. Sometimes, Cyn gets like this.” He peered through the crowd. She was already lost within. “Look, you two go ahead, I’ll go after her and see what’s wrong.”

“Alright.” Juniper said. “I hope it’s not something I did.” This caused Melissa to make a face, which she hid behind the brochure.

“I’m sure it’s not.” Warrick assured her. “Back in a bit. We’ll meet you two at the glassblowing… thing.” He rushed off into the crowd.

Juniper heaved a long sigh. “And then there were two.” She said to Melissa. “Come on. After this, we should check out the artist’s alley. I need something to hang up in my room.”

***

The Westmoreland’s White Room was given over to the Expo’s silent auction room. The evening auction featured art pieces from the estate of a local philanthropist, Vincent Liedecker. The proceeds were supposedly going to the Windsong Project, a scientific endeavor to revive extinct species such as the black rhinoceros and the Tasmanian wolf through cloning technology.

Cyn didn’t really care what animals were brought back to life. The room was away from the bustle of the main rooms and it was quiet. She found a bench in a corner that was obscured from view by the various displays and sat down to think.

She didn’t know how long she had been sitting there when she heard the voices. All she knew was that the minimal foot traffic was all but non-existent at the moment. But two people now stood on the other side of a display of 20th century modern paintings, speaking in hushed tones.

“Quickly now – we don’t have much time before someone else comes in here.” A female voice said. “Let’s make sure you have the plan straight.”

“It isn’t exactly a complicated plan, Nightshade.” A deep, male voice said. “I start some chaos, you nab the painting, and I get sprung from jail six hours later with a new identity. Everyone wins.” There was a pause that Cyn could only interpret as the pair nodding to one another. “The only thing I don’t get is why just the one painting? There’s about four million worth in here easy. That thing ain’t even worth much.”

“I don’t ask questions, I just do the job. My boss says to get Portrait of Morganna le Fay by Unknown; that’s exactly what he gets.” The woman called Nightshade responded.

There was another pause. “Fine. I know I’m getting a new ID from this. What’re you getting?”

“What does it matter?”

“Because I don’t like working with people whose motivations I don’t know. It makes me nervous.”

“I’m not getting paid at all.” Nightshade replied. “I’m just in this for the daring daylight art theft. Something like this will definitely reach the papers.”

“Oh. You’re on of those.” The man said dryly.

“Don’t give me your attitude, Cinder. Just get your part of the job done.” Nightshade’s steps began to move away from the display, followed by Cinder’s.

Cyn blinked in confusion. Had she just heard what she though she did? Her mind raced at the kind of ‘chaos’ someone calling themselves Cinder would decide to cause. Someone had to do something. No, she corrected herself – Lifesavers, Inc had to do something before anyone got hurt.

Her fledgling rivalry with Juniper forgotten, she stood up and stretched a bit, awakening her shapeshifting ability. There was no time to find Warrick. She would just have to assume that seeing Facsimile in action would tell him all he needed to know.

Stretching her new, golden wings, she prepared to fly out of the White Room, only to be stopped by a sudden realization; she didn’t know what either Cinder or Nightshade looked like.

***

Finding a specific person in the crowded hotel was harder than finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. In fact, it was on par with finding a specific needle in a stack of needles; provided the needles were constantly shifting.

Warrick shook his head and leaned on one of the scaffolds holding up the digital signs. I occurred to him the Cyn may even have left the hotel altogether. He just wished he knew why she was so upset. Frowning, he pressed his fingers to his temples. Today had promised to be fun too. They had a new friend to show around, there were all sorts of cool things to do at the expo… then Cyn had just gone spare and walked off in a huff.

Part of him wanted to say ‘screw it’ and go find the blacksmith exhibit. Most of him, however, took his role as Cyn’s best friend very seriously and wouldn’t let him rest until he found her and at least offered comfort – however well that would be received or not.

There was the possibility that she would still answer her phone; the logical part of his mind pointed out. That would make things move a lot faster. He headed for one of the more out of the way rooms to try and get a signal.

From somewhere at the other end of the wide hall, there came a sound that overcame even the loud din of convention goers. On a smaller scale, it would have sounded like the noise a gas pilot light makes when ignited. Only this was much larger.

Warrick looked up to see a ball of fire bloom over the heads of the milling crowd. It boiled and undulated in a most unnatural way, sending twisting tendrils down among the crowd that only just missed them.

Beneath and just behind the living cloud of flame stood a large man dressed in a camouflage jacket and pants. He grinned with sadistic glee as the crowd broke and fled. “Run, run, run!” He taunted. “Or we’re going to have some barbeque!” He drew the last word out far longer than was tasteful.

Cursing, Warrick tried to move out of the way of the wave of humanity that surged toward him, only to be slammed against a door, which broke, dumping him unceremoniously into a darkened room.

Catching his breath, Warrick glanced around him. A number of portable forges had been set up here, along with a number of other tools of the trade, including raw bars of iron, waiting to be hammered into shape.

“Right.” Warrick noted with a mental roll of his eyes. With a thought, he called the iron to him and formed his armor.

Series Navigation<< Issue #3: GatherIssue #5 Legends of Chaos and Darkness >>

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

Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed

  • Descendants Serial is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.