Issue #46 – The Juniper Chronicles

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

Part 3

The transport touched down as close to the Rook as the pilot was comfortable with, which turned out to still be a brisk walk for the Descendants. When they did reach the other craft, they were greeted by Zero Point. Specifically, he looked up from where he lounged, back against the exhaust vents of one of the Rook’s lift pods, tanning reflector bathing his face in the warm rays of the sun, and smiled amiably. “Afternoon.” “Forgive me for being a little blunt,” Codex stopped right in front of him, hands on her hips. “But this doesn’t look like ‘consulting’ to me.” “Then again, sitting around tanning doesn’t really look like running off to fight the baddie either.” Facsimile pointed out from the back of the group. With the slight hesitance of aging muscles, the Arizona prelate got to his feet. Just as the last time he’d met the Descendants, he was garbed in a white jumpsuit with blue stripes and matching cape and cowl. A blue zero with a white ‘P’ in the center rested just over his heart. He left the reflector on the ground next to where he’d been sitting. “Actually, that wasn’t tanning, that was getting my game face on.”

“And the ‘consulting’ thing wasn’t our idea, it was the General’s.” A voice came from the rear of the craft, from almost two stories above their heads. The Mayfield based heroes turned to see Majestrix standing atop a web of temporary scaffolding that extended from the back of the Rook to encompass the Queen’s Gambit.

The mecha was in a highly different configuration from when a partial strength Descendants team encountered it in the desert, on the trail of a missing girl. Then, it had been stripped down and optimized for swift flight and negotiating canyon country. Now, it’s articulated arms had been replaced with simpler devices, one outfitted with quad-mounted, high caliber machine guns, the other with what looked like an artillery piece.

A rack, looking like backward facing, steel ribs, was mounted to its back with two glass-canopied pods flanking a singular lift pod that was the smaller cousin to the ones on the Rook.

It’s owner looked less like a hero and more like a mechanic, which, in point of fact, she was. Instead of any sort of costume, she wore a sweatshirt with the monitor lizard logo for the Arizona Reptiles hockey team with the hood up so only a fistful of her wavy brown hair was visible, and a pair of cargo pants that were full near to bursting with tools and things she decided might someday be useful. The entire ensemble was gray with half cleaned grease stains and streaked with fresh ones with the only glint of cleanliness coming from the lenses of a pair of aviator goggles pulled down to hang from her neck.

As she continued, she inspected a coupling where one of the pods attached to the rack. “It’s certainly a bad situation, but we can’t just stand aside. The Burrower is only loose now because we didn’t make sure the authorities knew how to handle him before leaving him with them.”

Alloy allowed himself a prideful nod in Hope’s direction. His heroes agreed with him.

“Burrower.” Zero Point chuckled. “I hear he calls himself Groundswell now. I wonder if he’s trying to be political, or if he’s just a moron.” He saw that Codex was about to say something and held up his hands in a defeated gesture, “But anyway, we also realize that we can’t go rushing in, and we certainly can’t do this alone; Braylocke is a sociopath, and if he’s set his mind to it, I’m honestly afraid of what he might have concocted to use against us.”

Without further preamble, he inclined his head to Darkness and Codex. “So the show is yours to run; we’ll just be actors. All we want is to not be sleft in the wings.”

“If it helps your decision, ZP and I’ve prepped the Queen’s Gambit in Hostile Extraction Configuration!” Majestrix shouted from atop her mecha. The job of double checking all the connections done, she spidered down the scaffold and came to join the group. “So,” She pulled up her goggles to cover her eyes, “What’s the plan? Me and ZP are all ears.”

“Actually, we were hoping to be all ears with you.” Codex instantly noticed the awkward phrasing of her own sentence. “In your consulting role, that is. We were hoping you could shed some light on Braylocke’s capabilities.”

Feeling almost as if he were back in school, confronted as he was with the more experienced heroes and asking for their knowledge, Chaos had to stop himself from raising his hand. “Also, something’s been bothering me about this set-up; why here?”

“What do you mean?” Zero Point asked.

“I mean why did Groundswell choose this place as the one to call you out from? Sure, there’re mountains to use his powers on, but if he wanted that, the Rockies are much closer to your home range.”

“Maybe he’s local now.” Majestrix guessed. “It is beautiful around here; I wouldn’t want to abandon it either if I lived here.”

“If that was the case, I doubt his plan would have involved ripping up a landscape with that wall of his.” Chaos reasoned. “But there has to be some connection… L? Er, I mean Codex?”

“I’ll see what connections Vimes can draw between Braylocke and Greenview Ridge.” She nodded, “But we do still need your expertise on his powers.”

“For example, did he show any ability to sense through the ground?” Darkness joined in.

Majestrix shook her head. “Not a chance. Back then, the Queen’s Gambit only really had jump jets, so I was on the ground through most of it. He did try and cause earthquakes to knock me down while he was underground, but he always popped up and looked around when he wanted to do something more direct.” She frowned at some bad memory that she left unspoken.

“Good.” Darkness allowed relief to enter her tone. “Then we just need to hope he hasn’t learned that trick since you last saw him. Is there anything you can tell us that might help fight him?”

“Just to stay in the air.” Volunteered Zero Point. “I saw him use his powers at a good range; pushing up stone spears, splitting the earth, things like that over maybe five hundred yards at times, but he had to work hard to drive anything high enough to reach me, and even then, it was so slow I could dodge in my sleep.”

“Oh, and he’s got to see to use his powers.” Majestrix chimed in cheerfully. “I’m not sure how it works, because he can move rock under the road, or a foundation, but I shot off a magnesium flare and he couldn’t use his powers for a second. It’s part of how we beat him.”

“How did You beat him?” Ephemeral asked, if only because he knew Alloy really wanted to without even reading his mind.

“When Maj hit him with the flare, it gave us both time to hide behind one of the stone pillars he threw up.” Zero Point explained. “Then when he came looking for us, I slugged him.”

“With the kind of power you pack? Ouch.” Alloy winced.

“Oh no, he just used his fist.” Majestrix gave her husband a fond pat on the arm. “Even without his powers, ZP is in great shape. He even taught boxing classes… before our Willow disappeared.”

Still keeping her distance from the makeshift strategy meeting, Zero drew her hood further up over her head and adjusted her mask. None of her odd behavior had escaped Facsimile’s notice and now, with a lull in the previously frenetic action, she decided to get to the bottom of it.

Taking Zero by the arm, she edged to girl out of earshot of the others. “Z, look, I’m sorry about this whole Adel thing, but you’re acing really weird. Maybe you should hang back with Codex on this one.”

For the briefest moment, Zero considered that option, but ultimately discarded it. “N-no. It’s not that, I mean with Adel. It’s…” she couldn’t help but glance at Majestrix and Zero Point. “Nothing. Besides, the others will need me to freeze the rock so we can tunnel through.”

Facsimile followed her gaze to the two heroes. Something clicked. “Oh. Ooooh! Holy shit, Z, you were some kind of super-bad before we met and now you’re scared that they’ll think of you the same way as that Braylocke guy.”

Zero blinked at her golden compatriot. Was that explanation any better than the truth? Not at all, but she wanted Facsimile to find out less than she wanted her to think she was a reformed criminal.

“Sure. Yeah.” She finally said in a timid voice.

“It’s okay.” Facsimile put her arm around her friend’s shoulders and gave her a quick hug. “You’re our friend and was still love you, Jun.”

Concealed by the shadows of her hood, Zero pressed her lips into a thin line. “Yes… thanks.”

Meanwhile, Chaos nodded respectfully to Zero Point and tried to move that conversation away from the understandably sensitive topic of their missing daughter. “Boxing, huh? You know, I took a few classes myself; never thought of taking down a criminal with that alone though.”

ZP gave a rich laugh, appreciating the much needed course correction. “Necessity makes us all inventors.” He shot an endearing glance at Majestrix, “Some not as inventive as others.”

Beneath the smudges if grease on her face, Majestrix blushed. Then she coughed nervously at holding his eye a bit longer than she intended while the other were watching. “But anyway, the papers had a lot of fun with the whole scene. Willow printed out the headline from that evening’s Phoenix Herald-Dispatch.”

That got a laugh from ZP. “Oh yes, ‘Look Ma, No Powers: Zero Point Schools the Burrower with Fisticuffs’”

“Nicely done.” Smiled Codex.

“I think I have that front page saved somewhere.” Alloy recalled. “Along with the one where you,” He turned his attention to Majestrix, “first rolled out the Queen’s Gambit’s pursuit mode.”

You follow our career pretty closely.” said Zero Point with flattered amusement. “It’s nice to see we inspired someone to do some good of their own.”

“Not just you,” Hope chimed in. “The Whitecoat, Infinity, The Shade, even Rapscallion and Firebug. He’s a huge nerd.”

A look of sadness came over Majestrix’s face. “Poor Firebug. We met him once, he was a very nice man.”

Darkness cleared her throat. “Well then. Given what you could tell us about Groundswell’s powers, I think our current plan is still workable.”

“We’re all ears.” Majestrix said, snapping out of her fugue over Firebug.

“Alright then.” Darkness said, “both of you will be part of our ground team. You’ll be tunneling through the wall in an effort to establish an evacuation route for the locals. The plan is to keep both of you under Groundswell’s radar unless we really need you.”

“If that’s the ground team, then what will the rest of you be doing?” asked Zero Point.

“Besides me—I’ll be mission control for this outing—the others will be flying decoy over the town, trying to draw out Groundswell.” Codex said.

“At the same time,” Added Ephemeral, “I will be attempting to locate his mind. If we manage to catch him off his guard, I may be able to disable him without combat or bloodshed.” His shoulders hunched slightly. “Unfortunately, I will have to be rather close to do this.”

Then let’s make sure you get close.” Majestrix replied cheerfully as she fiddled with what looked like an oversized watch with four faces that was strapped to her arm. In response, servos in the scaffold surrounding the Queen’s Gambit hummed to life and started to retract the maze of metal bars.

“If it’d help you concentrate, you can ride in one of the stasis pods.” She offered, “At least until we find injured that need them. ZP does it all the time to conserve power.”

The mentalist shook his head so fast he feared he might have insulted the woman, though she gave no indication of it. “Thank you, no. I’ve had a bad experience with… enclosed spaces.” It was enough to make him wonder if heroics in general inspired a talent for lies by omission.

“Haven’t we all.” Hope caught herself muttering bitterly, and clamped her mouth shut. “Sorry.” With that, she pinched her eyes closed and in the span of a few seconds, the tension in her face melted away.

Ephemeral shot her a weighty stare, which caught Facsimile’s attention. There would have to be discussions after this mission.

And none of these quick exchanges of glances, tension and worry got past Majestrix or Codex, the former of whom coughed politely. “Let’s get this plan underway then, shall we?” She suggested pleasantly.

“Yes, let’s.” Codex agreed. “And afterward, maybe we can all get to know each other better.”

***

Twilight came quickly in the shadow of the mountains It wasn’t long before The Queen’s Gambit deployed it’s floodlights to show the others the way, saving them to trouble of using the lights each Descendant carried as a matter of course.

Alloy moved from branch to branch with Isp and Osp’s help, keeping pace with the mecha and by extension, Zero Point, who was riding on its shoulder. The veteran hero was amiably answering the fusillade of questions being sent his way by the armored newcomer.

Ephemeral and Hope walked in the robot’s wake. Where they normally would be chatting as only those two could with one another, Hope was instead keeping the telepath from blundering into underbrush or stumbling over uneven ground as he searched for the mind of their adversary.

Behind them all skulked Zero, feeling alone with her thoughts. She often felt alone with her thoughts, actually. Mostly because she was abysmal at expressing them and partly because she hated the idea of appearing negative.

Now she felt nothing but negative. The weekend wasn’t a day old yet, and it had gone from teenage nightmare, to something more heart wrenching.

From the hollow of her hood, she peered at the back of the giant robot. The smell of metal and grease tickled her memories. Add in blood and antiseptic, and she would probably recall her entire childhood.

Should she tell them? Maybe she could have earlier, but she’d been there, in disguise with them for more than an hour now, compounding the years of hell she’d already put them through. It didn’t help that not only had she been selfish about the whole thing, but they were right about everything that happened. She had the scars to prove it thanks to Project Tome.

And if she did tell them, what then? Would they be angry? Of course they would. And what about her friends? She’d been lying and hiding so much from them for so long… would they see this as a betrayal? Of course it was a betrayal, one she hadn’t even given a second thought about until the others had teamed up with Majestrix and Zero Point over the summer.

That time, she had avoided coming along, and hoped that would be the last time the teams crossed paths until after senior year when she could make a decision on what to do without the pressure of changing schools…

“Z?”

She almost walked into Alloy before she realized he was calling her name. “Hmm?”

“Are you okay, Z?” Even though his voice echoed ridiculously inside his helmet, she could tell he was genuinely concerned for her.

“Y-yeah.” She replied. “Just day dreaming…” And how. Now that she was paying attention, she found that they had reached the wall. It was over fifty feet tall now and it was evident that there was a slight curvature to it was it went up.

“This isn’t just a wall…” She blurted.

“No, it is not.” Ephemeral agreed. “This is the beginning of a dome.” Even as they stood there, there was a low noise as the wall continued to grind out of the ground at a barely visible rate.

“My scanning suite says that at this rate, it’ll be completely closed by eight tomorrow night.” Majestrix said over her machine’s speakers. “Of course, it sprang up to this height overnight, so this rate? Not a guarantee.”

“Then we’d better get in there while we can.” Alloy decided. “Z, can you do that thing where you make it so the rock shatters?”

She nodded. “That’s what I’m here for.” She confirmed. And it was. She couldn’t forget that; they were all there for a reason. She could deal with her issues when she wasn’t needed.

Planting her feet, she raised her hands up before the granite edifice and concentrated. The already chill temperature took a noticeable dip and frost began to spread it’s icy fern pattern across the stone.

In her unique vision, the sense she never really talked about, she could see what little heat energy there was in the barren rock leave it and flow to her, as did much of what was in the air immediately surrounding her.

A few barely audible cracks and pops sounded as ice crystals roughly shoved stone aside. It was at that point that she nodded to Alloy.

“Sure you don’t need some help?” Zero Point offered.

“Positive, sir.” Alloy replied. “I’ve got all I need, right boys?” In response, the tentacles formed wicked, thick spines along their lengths, and their ends became slick, sharp spears. “I think they’ve been looking forward to this part.” He laughed.

“They?” Majestrix asked.

“It’s best not to think about it.” Hope assured her.

With no audible direction from Alloy, the tentacles struck the now fragile stone at angles and bored in, the spines folding down to follow them in. For long minutes, they simply burrowed deeper and spiraled inward inside the stone, doing very little damage to the wall itself.

“Stand back.” Alloy suggested, sealing his helm’s eye slits with his power. Moments later, the tentacles flexed, spines digging into the rock as they contorted and tried to pull free. The spiral pattern they’d laid down suddenly became a means of applying torque to the weakened stone, which began to crumble and break under the strain.

Weakened by freezing and crushed under the force of high tension metal, a twelve foot diameter plug of stone six feet deep exploded into a cloud of bounding shards and dust.

The shard bounced harmlessly off of Alloy and the Queen’s Gambit’s armor, never reaching the more lightly armored individuals behind them. When the dust had mostly settled, Alloy gazed proudly at his doing. “One or two more like that and we’re through!”

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

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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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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