Issue #46 – The Juniper Chronicles

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

Part 4

“Did… I just hear you laugh?” Chaos asked over the open com between himself and the rest of the air team. He was just passing over the wall, witnessing the rolling foothills spread out beneath him. It was stained a blue-green hue and overlaid with range and elevation information from the image processing in his ROCIC-issue night vision goggles. “Sorry.” Codex stifled her amusement. “I know this is serious, but I just had a thought that made me question my ‘genius’ credentials for not thinking of it sooner.” “Do tell.” Said Chaos. Darkness added a sound of agreement from her end as well. “I was uplinking to Vimes back home; you know, so the system can start gathering and analyzing information on Groundswell and Greenview Ridge? At the same time, I was wishing we could still talk to the sheriff in town, if only the com towers weren’t down. Then it hit me; I’m using a mobile com tower , situated just outside of town to link to Vimes! It’ll take less than ten minutes of rejigging and we can call any phone in town!”

“That’s a great idea, Codex.” Darkness was similarly starting her run into the presumed hostile airspace. “That way, we’ll be able to coordinate the evacuation.”

“And possibly get more information about what’s—“ She was cut off by a startled exclamation from Darkness. “What? What happened? Talk to me here!”

Fingers flying over her controls, she brought up the composite map, which incorporated visual feeds from the Forest Service drones, satellite imaging from an ROCIC-commandeered Odinseye satellite, and the locator information from the transponders her friends wore. Darkness was thankfully still in the air. Codex let out a relieved breath.

For several seconds, the com was abuzz with three voices shouting to get the attention of one. Then, the slightly deepened, businesslike tone Alexis used for Darkness returned. “It’s okay. I’m okay. My mic came loose when… I just had a very close call. Something almost hit me!”

“I think I saw it too.” Facsimile added her two cents. “It came from the ground, about a couple of miles west of me… like a meteor in reverse.”

As the only member of the team that needed neither night vision equipment, nor binoculars for this mission, her visual contacts were the most accurate, but her ability to convey them to everyone else left a lot to be desired.

“Say again?” Darkness asked. “I didn’t see anything but a shadow looming up.”

“It was a big rock, exactly like I said.” Facsimile was quick to come back. “A meteor, only going up instead of down.”

Thanks to an understanding that had nothing to do with her enhanced intelligence, Codex had gotten all she needed the first time. With time and direction, it was only a matter of watching the map.

“Got it:” She announced. “Three miles west southwest of Facsimile’s position; a quarter mile out of town. There’s a rock ridge there that just grew a new formation.”

“A rock formation that throws rocks?” Chaos asked.

“Rocks the size of my car.” Darkness didn’t bother disbelieving the idea; all too often the truth was stranger than anything she could make up.

“It’s possible.” For some reason, Codex felt compelled to defend her findings, “I’ve read how tectonic activity, rock slides, and even the rapid cooling of lava have been known to generate enough pressure to hurl chunks of rock; with direct manipulation of the stone and years of practice…”

On screen, the image of the ridge changed again.

“Heads up, he’s just launched another!”

This time the noises of confusion and the buffeting of wind came from Chaos’s com, along with a few more colorful phrases. Somehow, he managed the wherewithal to quickly shout that he was alright. “I’d give anything to be able to get a good Chaos Nova off about now though.”

“The old timers didn’t mention the trick with the rock throwing.” Facsimile thought aloud. “So… trap sprung?”

“That might not be the end of it.” Darkness said. “But seeing as we now know where he is and have his attention; I say we keep it until the ground team is in place.”

Facsimile grinned ferally as she extended her hands into claws, hooked for capturing instead of pointed for piercing. “Oh, we all know how great I am at getting boys’ attention.” Folding her wings, she dove to gain airspeed; just in time to only be clipped by the coupe-sized boulder that rose up to meet her.

Clipping was enough to wrench her right wing out of it’s socket and cause painful stars to explode in her vision. She tumbled end over end, trailing her broken wing while her mind struggled to play catch-up with her body. By the time she had the presence of mind to heal the wing, she was moving too fast and traveling too low. The next thing she saw was a tree trunk approaching faster than she could dodge.

***

Greenview Ridge didn’t have a proper city hall, or even a school for that matter; the handful of minors that did live there on a permanent basis were either bussed to nearby Oak Hollow, or taught at home with teaching software as their parents saw fit.

The only place in the town capable of supporting a meeting of even a healthy chunk of the town’s admittedly small population was the guest lounge of the Greenview American Inn, the town’s largest hotel. And even after Sheriff James Gaskin had the hotel’s skeleton crew pilfer every chair and cot in the place, there were still people forced to stand or sit against the wall.

The middle aged sheriff had changed into his full uniform, hoping it would make people feel the situation was well in hand, but if it was having an effect, he didn’t notice.

“Should we be doing this, Jim?” Asked Travis Wayne. He ran a restaurant in town and was part of the sheriff’s weekly poker game. “Putting everyone together like this when God knows what’s going on out there?” All the while, he was casting furtive glances to the other side of the lounge where his wife was trying to calm their two young sons.

James shook his head. “I don’t know, Trav. It’s the best I’ve got right now to just make sure everyone’s safe and that we know where they are.” He turned to Neena Betterman, his dispatcher/secretary/occasional deputy for the past three years. “Do you have a headcount yet?”

Neena nodded, She was only in her early twenties, but her attempts to appear professional around the office made her look older. Like him, she was trying to keep herself composed, but her husband, Nate, a ranger with the Forest Service, was somewhere outside of the wall. “Half… half the town’s here, about twenty more across the street at Janice Proctor’s place, the bed and breakfast.”

Sniffing, she took a moment to gather herself. “We can’t call anyone out of earshot of the emergency PA system, but Lois Bundy said Frank and the rest of the fire department are going door to door in their trucks to bring people in.”

Before Jim could reply, his radio squawked. “Test test test. Can anyone hear me?”

The three looked to one another, confused. Jim took the unit off his shoulder and answered. “We hear ya. Who is this and how are you getting through?”

“That’s a bit technical.” The voice apologized. “But this is Codex of the Descendants. I need to speak to whoever’s in charge there.”

“I suppose that’d be me. I’m the sheriff; Jim Gaskin.” Jim gawked at the radio as if it had just turned to gold.

“The Descendants?” Travis whispered to Neena. “Who’re they?”

“You don’t read the news?” She shot back reproachfully. “They’re psionics from Mayfield; prelates.”

“Pleased to be working with you, Sheriff.” Codex said graciously. “Here’s the situation: a rogue desc…” She remembered that the proper terminology for people born with supernatural powers hadn’t quite taken off outside of Mayfield and corrected herself. “…psionic is responsible for the wall around you town. He’s ransoming you for vengeance against two other prelates.”

If Jim was gawking before, he was agog now. “So we’re what? A battleground for this guy?”

“We don’t know what your town was targeted for, sir.” Codex admitted. Even as she spoke, her computer back at Freeland House was combing the internet for information. “But we’re working to get the situation under control right now.

“At the moment, some of my associates are engaging the criminal. But we haven’t forgotten about you; a team is on the way to help you stage an evacuation. We’re going to need you to get everyone outside in an orderly fashion to go with them.”

“I don’t like putting people out in the open like that.” Jim chewed his lip. “Can’t they come in here?”

“Not all. One of them is piloting a giant robot.”

Neena’s brows knit in incredulity. “A giant robot?”

Jim shrugged. “You can’t account for these super-types.” To the radio, he added. “We’ll have everyone waiting—inside—until your people show up.”

“That’s fair.” Codex conceded.

Neena nodded in response to Jim’s aside look. “I’ll go over to the bed and breakfast to let them know what’s going on then.”

***

Another stone, this one the size of a grown man, span through the air toward Darkness, trailing behind it a comet-tail of dust and detritus. The black garbed heroine didn’t move, but she did hold a charge of black heat in both hands in case it came too close.

She needn’t have worried. A scant handful of yards from impact, gravity reasserted itself and tugged the boulder from its apogee and into a long arcing path that saw it crash noisily through tree branches and the undergrowth beyond.

“Two-hundred thirty feet.” She read off the altimeter built into her night vision goggles. “It looks like he can’t reach that even with his best shot.”

“Just to play it safe, everyone stay around two and a half.” Codex came back. “Chaos, Facsimile, have either of you seen higher?”

“I wish.” Facsimile complained bitterly. “Just let me get my hands on that guy.”

Chaos ignored her attitude. “I haven’t seen any lately either and I’m coming right up to the ridge.”

“Why are the two of you not getting shot at?” Darkness wondered.

“Silhouette, maybe?” Chaos suggested, coming in over the ridge at a flat angle. “I’ve got the big cape, Fax has wings—so you’re the only one that looks like Zero Point in flight.”

“I hope I don’t look like a man in his forties in silhouette.”

“Just a terrible, terrible guess, hon.”

“Actually, I’m wondering…” Codex brought up the topography of the area. “Could it be something as simple as line of sight? Just looking at the map; the ridge itself would block the view of you approach.”

Darkness turned a quick circle in the air, surveying the landscape. “They’ve stopped coming at me too. Something’s not right here, where is he?”

Somewhere to the south of her, Facsimile winged her way over the ridge, scanning the ground with an owl’s sight. It didn’t take her long to spot what she was looking for. “Down.” She said in reply to Darkness’s question. Hissing at the lingering pain of extending her wing fully, she dipped toward the place she’d seen in the air.

It didn’t take long for the others to follow suit and the moment they were below the treeline, they saw it too. An elderly tree, bereft of its leaves by the winter, leaned at an impossible angle. From above, to anyone but Facsimile, this would have passed without notice.

Only she had seen past trees to the forest floor, which had been churned and overturned with great violence in the general vicinity of the great tree. Not a speck of undergrowth had been spared and where there should have been soft earth, there was a shifting layer of shattered stone. The ground had shifted so much, in fact, that not only was the tree leaning, but it sank into the ground by several feet.

“He burrowed.” Chaos hated that he sounded disbelieving of this turn of events. Of course, Ethan Braylocke, the Burrower, would burrow out of danger.

“Yes…” Darkness frowned, “But to where?”

***

The transition from ‘wilderness’ to ‘civilization’ when it came to the town proper was sudden and almost jarring. Despite having been able to see the glow of the street lights between the trees for quite some time, it still came down to stumbling along on a mossy, rocky forest slope one minute, and stepping out onto a flat, gravel lot behind a building the next.

Nowhere was this more evident than when the Queen’s Gambit took a false, too heavy step upon breaking the treeline and Majestrix had to work feverishly to keep her balance.

“Well…” She said sheepishly over the coms. “We’re in town now.”

At odds with her mood, Zero couldn’t fight a fond smile at this and wondered if the others found her attitude familiar.

“Codex said that the townsfolk will be assembled at the only three story building in town.” Ephemeral recalled their most recent update.

“And she means it’s the tallest here.” Alloy said with slight disapproval in his voice. “Seriously bizarre; being somewhere without high places.” Osp whipped out and caught the edge of the building they’d come out of the woods behind and neatly pulled him over to the roof so he could have a look around.

Once there, he continued over his shoulder to the others. “Plus, all this nature stuff. The mountains, the wood. I much prefer asphalt, concrete and…” His head snapped to the east. “Twisted… metal.” Wasting no time, he opened his com. “Codex, please tell me the hotel we’re headed for isn’t on the southeastern corner of the town.”

“No, you’re going to head due north to get there, near the corner of Main and Roberts street.” Codex replied after a moment. “Why?”

“Is something wrong?” Ephemeral asked.

“Someone did a lot of damage to something to the east.” Alloy frowned behind his visor.

“We should go and check that out.” Zero Point stood up on the shoulder of his wife’s mecha, stretching to get the stiffness out of his legs. “Someone may be in trouble.”

“Just you and Alloy.” Codex agreed. “The rest of you should proceed as planned with the evacuation and mental scanning plan. But be careful; the other team lost track of Groundswell.”

“Joy.” Majestrix said in such a way that the sarcasm wasn’t entirely obvious. “Be careful ZP! Call if you need anything!”

A blue glow enveloped Zero Point and he floated off the Queen’s Gambit’s shoulder. “Always am, sweetie.” With that, he nodded to Alloy. “Alright, partner, you’ve talked my ear off on the way here, now we get to see what you can do.”

“You won’t regret this, sir!” Alloy gave a salute before directing Isp and Osp to start swinging him (with much difficulty thanks to the low buildings) toward the east.

Majestrix turned her vehicle’s head to watch them go before cheerily declaring. “Okay, gang, let’s go do some good!” and marching toward the hotel.

Greenview Ridge being what it was, it didn’t take long before they were turning onto Main street. Sheriff Gaskin was standing in the middle of the road for the dual purposes of spotting their arrival and directing them to where they needed to go.

With him was Lois Bundy’s husband, Frank, the fire chief for the little town and surrounding valley. He’d had a late night the night before, doing paperwork, and then the past twenty-four hours of calamity kept him up all day. The appearance of the towering robot, followed by a trio of real life superheroes had more effect on him then all the coffee he’d been drinking up to that point.

“God damn if I didn’t believe you when you said it, Jim.” He gawked. “But they’re really here. They’re here and this whole damn mess is gonna be over!” He was just about to make a dash to the bed and breakfast to start ushering people out when the road exploded between the two town leaders and the would be rescue party.

A row of stalagmites, as tall as Frank and twice as wide around at the base, erupted skyward, hurling pavement and gravel like shrapnel and causing both men to dive to the ground to avoid serious injury.

“Clever.” A voice rumbled seemingly from the Earth itself. “The decoys, walking in when you usually fly; no wonder Phoenix’s crime rate is so low. I bet the criminals there will name a day for me after tonight.”

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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