Issue #46 – The Juniper Chronicles

This entry is part 11 of 15 in the series The Descendants Vol 4: Confluence

Part 2

“Alright guys, everyone on their way to Wagner Park?” Laurel asked over the com links. “Already there.” Ian reported as he moved aside the emergency kit in the trunk of Alexis’s car to reveal the hidden compartment where their spare costumes were stored. “And tell Pratt he’s lucky it’s cold today. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter if it’s February, there would be a ton of people here and we wouldn’t be able to find a place to change without suspicion.” “They’re still trying to work out a way to pick us up without drawing attention.” Laurel offered by way of apology. She was in her SUV, already in costume under a long coat except for her tactical belt and helmet. “I keep saying we should get a jet, or a private monorail or something.” Cyn chimed in with her two cents. Along with Juniper, she was in her humvee, speeding toward the park. Like Alexis, Ian and Laurel’s vehicles, Cyn’s also sported a secret compartment for storing spare costumes for the team. Juniper was wrestling with the task of changing into hers in the back seat. “And just as an aside?” Cyn said into the open com, “This isn’t helping my whole ‘make Jun feel better’ plan.”

“Juniper is in need of cheering up?” Kareem asked. At the wheel of Warrick’s seldom used car, he was in route to pick up Melissa after having to break off his date with Desiree less than a half hour into it.

“What’s wrong, Jun?” came Melissa’s voice. It was probably the first time she’d ever used that name for the other girl.

“Oh, she just broke up with Adel.” Cyn said helpfully.

“Can we please not talk about this?” Juniper’s plea was muffled by the top she was pulling over her head.

“Oh, I’m sorry, Jun that’s terrible, you two looked so sweet together!” Melissa’s tone was distressed.

“No they didn’t!” Cyn shot back. “And she knew they didn’t! That’s the whole point of the breaking up with him!”

“Wait, so she broke up with him?” It was Warrick this time.

“Why are you out of breath?” asked Cyn.

“I didn’t want to bother Tink for a ride, but there’s nothing for the twins to swing me from in Twin Timbers.”

“So you walked to where they could swing you?” Kareem asked. “That does not sound like it should have tired you out so.”

“I ran the whole way, actually.” Warrick replied.

“The boy just can’t wait to play the hero.” Cyn rolled her eyes.

“Anyway,” Warrick ignored the teasing, “Jun, if you broke up with him, what’s the problem?”

“Guys, a little bit of focus here, please.” Alexis interrupted them all. “L wants to give us the briefing before the ROCIC picks us up. But Juniper, hon, if you don’t feel up to this…”

“No, I think I need this.” Juniper shook her head before pulling the hood of Zero’s cloak up. “Ms. Brant, please can you do the briefing now? So we won’t be talking about me anymore?”

“Sorry about that, Juniper.” Laurel replied. “All I asked was if everyone was on their way, honest. Anyway, the General gave me a dossier on the situation if everyone’s ready?”

The others replied in the affirmative.

“Good. Just over six hours ago, a wall of granite ten miles in diameter sprang up around the town of Greenview Ridge, cutting off ever route in and out of town. An hour and a half later, the town’s cellular and satellite relay towers went offline.”

“That can’t mean anything good.” Ian said.

“I know, and it gets worse.” replied Laurel. “General Pratt identified the man who did this as Ethan Braylocke, a descendant with control over stone. He first came to the General’s attention five years ago when he began using his powers to drop armored cars down ten-story shafts to break the doors open in Phoenix. Five security guards were killed and more and a dozen were wounded before Zero Point and Majestrix captured him.”

Cyn didn’t notice the distressed sound Juniper made. “This guy killed five people and he’s already running free? Go, go justice system.”

“Actually it’s more like ‘go, go descendant-ignorant law enforcers’.” Laurel sighed. “When they brought Braylocke in to the authorities, they had no plans or method of dealing with his powers. So they stuck him in a concrete cell; a cell that was sitting on a bedrock foundation, just like the asphalt the armored cars he attacked were driving on. He was gone in less than a day, and he hadn’t been seen since.”

“Until today.” Kareem commented flatly.

“Right.” Laurel agreed. “Braylocke is back and it seems like he’s bitter about being beaten by Zero Point and Majestrix, because his only demand in his is that they come to Greenview Ridge and face him.”

“That’s a trap if I ever heard of one.” Alexis noted, pulling down the cowl of her costume.

“Oh, without a doubt.” Ian agreed. “He’s probably spent all this time off the radar figuring out just how to take them down.”

“They’re not… going to actually be there, are they?” squeaked Juniper as Cyn parked the humvee in a cluster of bushes far off the park drive. “I mean, with it being a trap and all, they shouldn’t go.”

“They’ll be there.” Warrick said with certainty.

“Why would you say that?” Melissa asked.

“Think about it;” With Isp’s help, he was lifted over a traffic barrier and into the park. Osp immediately grappled a bough and swung him in the direction of the meeting point. “Trap or not, this Braylocke guy is putting people in danger over them. Put yourself in their shoes; would you let someone else put themselves in harm’s way in your place?”

“He’s got a point.” Ian admitted.

“I would, if grudgingly.” confessed Kareem. “My death would do no one any good and an unexpected substitute has a better chance at avoiding a trap designed with me in mind.”

Alexis nodded along with his explanation. “I have to agree. Responsibility or not, it’s more important to make the choice that’s best for the hostages, not your conscience.”

“Fortunately, General Pratt had a reasonable tradeoff for both.” Laurel interrupted. “Both Majestrix and Zero Point will be involved; but in a consulting role only. We’re going to be the ones going in.”

“The trap springers, if you will.” said Ian.

“Exactly.” Laurel agreed.

“Uh, guys?” Warrick said over the com. “I’m coming up on the meeting point and… we’ve got a problem. The tennis court is clear, but I’m sensing tons and tons of different metals.”

“It’s nothing to worry about.” Laurel assured. “Let me make a call…” Her end of the communication went silent.

“It’s stealth.” Cyn reasoned. “The same tech Tome used and Shine’s friends too! We’ve got to take that thing apart!”

“Hold your horses, kid.” Ian cautioned. “If L says it’s nothing to worry about, it’s a safe bet to listen to her.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence.” Laurel’s voice returned to the conversation. “You’re right, Cyn; this is tech from Tome. But what you don’t know is that the ROCIC’s captured more than one in the last year. So what’s theirs…”

From where Warrick was standing, it started as a slight haze that occupied the space over the tennis courts. If he squinted, he could make out a vague, humpbacked shape; a military transport.

In the next moment, a web or orange light traced the craft’s outline, followed a split second later by the greyish-brown ceramic outer hull and the stenciling that identified it as belonging (ostensibly) to the United States Marine Corps.

“Is now ours.” Laurel finished.

***

Twenty-three minutes from the landing site, the carrier cruised invisibly toward its goal.

The interior of the transport wasn’t as impressive as it’s high tech exterior. Inside, it was all business and stark with the kind of metal benches found in troop carriers that hadn’t seen any advances in ergonomics or comfort in decades.

A large screen to the rear represented the most advanced piece of technology in the hold. At the moment, it was displaying a layered three dimensional map of Greenview Ridge and the surrounding twenty miles of mountain and valley, extrapolated from satellite imaging and Forest Service drones.

Codex and Darkness were pouring over it with while the others tried in vain to get comfortable.

“Do we know anything about Braylocke’s powers?” Darkness asked, her eyes on the screen. “For example; can he sense through stone? Maybe sense damage to stone like Alloy?”

“Unfortunately, we know nothing.” Codex replied. “He never attended the Academy, never demonstrated his powers at all until he became the Burrower.”

“Burrower?” Asked Hope.

“That’s what the media in Arizona called him after he sank his third armored car.” said Codex. “And the sheer volume of media coverage is how I know exactly how little anyone knows about Braylocke’s capabilities.”

“Then we need to talk to Zero Point and Majestrix.” Chaos concluded.

“Why’s that?” Zero asked in a small voice. She had situated herself alone at the tail of the transport.

“Because they fought him.” He reasoned. “Since he never even showed off to friends and family, they’re the only ones that have seen him in action; they’ll know at least his basic limits.”

“Except that information might be outdated.” Ephemeral spoke up. “Is the theory that we are working from not that he has spent the last five years preparing for this confrontation?”

“Right.” Chaos agreed. “But it’s better than nothing and they’re the only witnesses.”

“Unfortunately, it’s kind of moot.” said Codex. “No one’s been able to raise Majestrix or Zero Point since the ROCIC first apprised them of the situation. We’re going to have to go in assuming he can do anything we can imagine with the stone in and around Greenview Ridge.”

“So what’s the plan for that then?” Chaos flexed his fingers inside his reinforced gauntlets.

“Constant monitoring and covering our bets.” Codex turned back to the rendering of the target area. I’ll stay in the transport and watch everything through the drone feeds, trying to figure out where Braylocke is and what he’s capable of.

“Based on the walls, his intended targets, and hoping that he doesn’t have some sort of stone based remote viewing, he’s going to have to be somewhere where he can see incoming fliers. Our own fliers are going to overfly the wall and see if we can get a reaction; Facsimile from the south, Chaos and Darkness from the northeast and northwest respectively. Anyone that doesn’t get a reaction from Braylocke should proceed to evac citizens, starting here,” She indicated a point on the map where a knot of people were gathered around at the base of the wall, apparently trying to figure out a way to scale it.

“W-what about us?” Zero asked. “The people on the ground?”

“You and Alloy will try to breech the wall to the southeast.” Codex informed her, marking out the route on the screen. “Work fast and hope he can’t sense it. From there, your job is to get Ephemeral and Hope into the town to render aide and reduce panic. Hopefully, Ephemeral might also root out, or even stop Braylocke.”

“I will do what I can.” Ephemeral replied with a nod, glad to be directly involved with the team again without anyone worrying overmuch about his health.

Hope didn’t seem to be listening, instead starting out of the porthole at the ground outside.

“I know you will.” Codex’s voice conveyed the great faith she put in all of her teammates. “We all will and with some luck and keeping surprises to a minimum, we can take this guy down without anyone getting hurt.”

“Except him.” Facsimile chimed in.

“I think we can abandon the idea of not getting surprised…” Hope said, eyes still on the approaching ground. “We’ve got a welcoming party waiting for us.”

***

There was a craft already sitting in the clearing designated as the ROCIC’s drop site, six miles south of the wall around Greenview Ridge. As opposed to the hunchbacked, military design of the transport the Descendants had arrived in, this one was a combination of a boxy shipping container fitted into a heavy, oval frame with magnetic lift pods attached.

Somehow, it reminded everyone of a UFO if the aliens shopped at thrift stores and junkyards.

Alloy recognized it immediately and couldn’t resist telling the others. “It’s the Rook.” He said in breathless awe of the less than awesome looking machine. No one needed to ask who the Rook belonged to; Majestrix’s walking tank, the Queen’s Gambit was standing just outside the cargo doors.

“I thought they were consulting.” Zero stared at the ship and mecha with an entirely different expression hidden by her mask and hood.

“I told you they wouldn’t shy away from this guy’s cocky challenge.” Alloy swelled in pride at his childhood heroes.

“I’m not entirely comfortable with this.” Codex admitted. “If Braylocke really has set a trap designed to kill them, they’re just more people to protect.”

“But with us to back them up, it doesn’t matter what he throws at them.” Alloy insisted.

“I hope you’re right.” Chaos patted his young protege on the shoulder. “But we’re going to have to work like you’re wrong.”

“No chance we can warn them off?” Darkness asked.

“Would they be able to warn you off?” was his reply. She didn’t have a counter for that, only frowning at the situation at hand before folding her arms and adopting a commanding pose.

“Fine. Codex, can you alter the plan to use these two without exposing them to the brunt of the trap?”

“That’ll be simple.” Codex turned back to the screen and tapped the site where she intended to have Zero and Alloy breach the wall. “They can go with the ground team. Even if Braylocke notices when they break through, he’ll probably see the fliers as a bigger threat. At the point, we’ll have two very heavy hitters inside his defenses.”

“You mean they’ll be going with us?” Zero had to brace herself as the transport touched down.

“Yeah, isn’t this great?” Alloy’s was a small lapse in self control from light, nerdish dancing.

Series Navigation<< Issue #45 – The Gremlin and The GameDescendants Special #4 – Some Day In May >>

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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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3 Comments

  1. Rebecca Thompson

    So I’ve been working my way through your stories for the past month, and now that I’m finally almost up to speed (on the main series, at least), I figured I should comment. Your series is absolutely incredible–your characterizations are fun, your characters actually grow, but beyond that, the world you’ve created for them is just phenomenal in its detail and scope. I’ve had so much fun reading it, and I look forward to more in the future!

    • Wow. Thank you so much for the kind words. It’s reactions like this that make the work I put into the series feel more than worthwhile. I hope you continue to enjoy the series and related pieces and that you continue to offer your thoughts, even if they aren’t all as positive.

      Thanks for reading, and commenting!

  2. Pingback: Descendants Serial » Vaal’s Top 20 Moments In Descendants Vols 1-5 (Part 3)

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