- Issue #49 – George
- Issue #50 – Operation: All In
- Issue #51 – Amore Detestabilis
- Issue #52 – Scenes From a Changing World
- Issue #53 – The House on Dawson Bay
- Issue #54 – Shadow of the Kurounagi
- Issue #55 – Beer Money
- Issue #56 – Family Matters
- Issue #57 – Waylaid
- Descendants Special #5 – Women in Free-fall
- Issue #58 – Alert UMW: Mages
- Issue #59 – Return of the Magi
- Issue #60 – Rust Buckets
- Descendants Annual #5
Juniper looked… happy.
Which was how she normally looked, with a gentle smile and a permanent expression caught halfway to being awestruck in her eyes. But it was a drastic departure from the ball of half-frazzled nervous energy she’d become in the two weeks between prom and graduation.
Admitting to her parents her final choice of school and planning a summer around both spending time with them in the Southwest and appearing in shows with Snackrifice in the East on top of final exams had strained her ‘sunshine’ to the limit. Everyone was still talking about the day she cannon-balled Cyn out of her room in a ball of psychokinetic energy for being a bit too much of her pesky self while Juniper was trying to study for her Government and Citizenship final.
The stress was gone now; her parents understood her feelings about her friends and Mayfield, and Cyn would be covering for her with Kay providing her part of the vocals for about a quarter of Snackrifice’s scheduled engagements so Juniper wouldn’t have to spend a huge chunk of her summer in the air or using the mirror.
She stood in the parking lot of Freeland House now, looking angelic in a simple white sundress and comically oversized blue sunhat. A light breeze played with her cascade of wavy, brown hair as she hugged each member of her second family in turn.
“I’m going to miss you guys so much!” She said for probably the hundredth time as she threw her arms around Lisa. Melissa and Kareem had left a few days earlier, with their normal places in the group filled by Lisa and Kay.
“You’d think that, but I’ve got a feeling you’re going to get sick of us.” She produced her palmtop. “I’ve got you listed on my family plan on this thing; complementary 24 hours a day direct video calls. Plus, I’m taking vid of every second we’re in Dawson Bay, so you can watch that and it’ll be like you’re right there with us the whole time!”
“Not every second, I hope.” Laurel spoke up. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to have video of any power use floating around on the web, no matter how secure your storage service is.”
“I promise any powers stuff goes to the hard drive or a flat format stick?” Cyn asked, hoping to bargain. What was the use having powers if you couldn’t abuse them on vacation?
As Cyn and Laurel haggled over ground rules, and Juniper moved on to say goodbye to Warrick and Ian, Lisa shifted nervously from foot to foot. Laurel had given her blessing for telling JC everything, despite the fact that exposing herself as Occult made the identities of the other Descendants clear. The resident genius has insisted that she trusted Lisa’s judgment and that her identity was her secret to tell.
That didn’t make it easier to actually do. Nor did the fact that somehow, she’d led the others to believe she would tell JC before the trip. Now here she was, three hours before we would all be piled in Cyn’s Humvee, on the way to a vacation where Warrick, Cyn and Kay all expected to be able to use their powers freely, at least inside the house.
And JC still didn’t know.
It wasn’t just the lying, or the prospect of him being angry that she’d lied to him that kept her silent. If it became a fight about that, she actually had very good reasons for not telling him for so long. And it would be one of their few fights that weren’t, as her father would call it, ‘petty teenaged crap’.
No, there were other concerns that she felt were just as valid.
For example, JC thought that video of the Descendants in action was all very cool. He had a collection of it on his palmtop. But that was because he didn’t think he knew the real people beneath those masks and disguises. Would he still think it was so cool when he recognized his girlfriend standing in the maw of a deep-devourer worm from Faerie, protected from being bitten in half only by virtue of wedging its secondary jaw open with her staff?
She didn’t know how Tink or Ian or Alexis did it: watched their loved ones hurl themselves into the face of Death time and time again. Or seeing injuries that, while handily healed away by Melissa or a rudimentary spell from herself or Laurel, were still agonizing. If she wasn’t sure she could handle that, how could she introduce JC into that part of her world?
Two hours later, and Warrick and Cyn had bid a fond farewell to Laurel, Alexis and Ian and were on their way to pick up JC and Tink. The later had wanted to be there to see Juniper off as well, but got tied up with last minute shopping. And as for JC, Lisa had ‘neglected’ to tell him.
Her reasoning was that he wasn’t all the close with Jun in the first place, but the truth was, Lisa was afraid that, because they all thought JC was in on the secret, the others wouldn’t be shy to use their powers casually. That, and Junipers parents called her Willow or Will all the time, which would make for awkward questions.
Maybe it was fear, maybe it was her way of insulating him from the scarier bits of her life. It no longer mattered because the moment of truth was coming and it didn’t care.
Barely listening to the conversation Kay and Cyn were having about which room they wanted to claim at the beach house, she watched out the car window as JC’s apartment tower loomed closer. Most people that lived in the city lived in a tower; it was the only way to fit that many people into what, footprint-wise was a relatively small city. JC lived in the building not far from Kay’s; a relatively nice one with an attached parking garage and small balconies for all of the apartments and a ‘courtyard’ in the center so that even the apartments on the inner edges could have balconies and windows.
There was a lump in her throat. Because a decision had to be made; disappoint her friends, or risk upsetting the man she… liked. A Lot. The lump worsened. Her powers weren’t the only thing she wasn’t being completely honest with him about. How she felt about him now, how she felt about him prior to the past year or so… that there had been a change at all.
JC prided himself on seeming non-complex and easy going, but she knew better. Anything she told him would be silently, but thoroughly analyzed and probably hashed out with Warrick before he decided how to proceed. There might be implications there that she didn’t intent, but that he might find.
Cyn pulled up to the guest parking and paid the meter fee from her palmtop before turning around in the driver’s seat to look at Lisa. “Should I call your boy down, or do you two wanna get in some alone time in the elevator?” Her eyebrows suggestively.
Now or never. Even Cyn could plainly tell, as the mischievous look on her face fled. “What?”
Taking a deep breath, Lisa rubbed her face with both hands. Best to get it over with quick, like a band-aid. “He doesn’t know.”
A look passed between all three. They had a very good idea what she was talking about, but none of them wanted to react without confirmation. It was Kay that asked for it in a very careful tone. “Who doesn’t know what?”
Lisa groaned and continued to hide her face with her hands. “JC. He doesn’t know about this… us… the whole thing. I tried to tell him, but every time I thought about it, I came up with more reasons not to.”
Kay licked her lips and hoped that in that time either Warrick or Cyn would say something. As expected; she was Lisa’s best friend and the one that kept the secret longest. It was up to her to have this talk. Even Cyn seemed to respect that, though her expression betrayed her disappointment.
“It’s up to you.” She finally said. “You’re the one who has the most to worry about with telling him, so it’s only right that it’s your decision.” Scrubbing her hand through her vibrant green and yellow hair, she couldn’t help but make her own disappointment evident. “But I wish you’d have told us earlier.”
“I know. But you were all so excited about this trip and being able to just be yourselves… and I know this is really selfish of me…”
“You’re going to be grounded powers-wise too.” Warrick pointed out flatly. Lisa glanced over her seat to the rearmost seat to see him tapping out a message on his palmtop to Tink.
“Not really.” She admitted. “Your powers are part of who you are. Mine aren’t. And I don’t really use them when I’m not practicing or dealing with a problem.”
“Maybe you should.” Cyn said.
Lisa chuckled a little. “Like when? I can’t at home with my parents or Zack always there.”
“It seems to me that you’re about to spend eight weeks away from home with a bunch of people who really won’t care if you use your powers around them.”
“Cyn. Have you not been listening?”
“Yes, I have. You said JC doesn’t know. Not that you weren’t going to tell him.”
Lisa fidgeted uncomfortably. “You make it sound easy, but it’s not.” Her gaze fell on each in turn. “Cyn, you’ve never told anyone; Kay and I already knew by the time you figured out who Occult was. Kay; you did tell us your secret, but yours isn’t a secret that might be dangerous and disturbing to someone not in the loop. And you’ve already been kidnapped because someone made the connection between me and you.” She craned her head over her seat back, “And Warrick, as much as you talk about how great it is, you still didn’t tell Tink until you had to use your powers to save her!
“None of you have had to deal with forcing yourself to tell someone you lo…care for not just how you’ve been hiding a huge part of your life from him, but how that part of your life could get you killed or maimed at any moment.”
Silence filled the cabin. That was an aspect of the work they rarely talked about. The danger was an adrenaline rush, and made for great stories among them, but living through it was hard. And terrifying.
She immediately regretted pointing it out. “Look, I will tell him. Just… let’s just get to the beach house and get settled in. This isn’t exactly ‘road trip’ kind of conversation.”
After collecting JC, they picked up Tink from her house, where her father subjected Warrick to his usual good-natured ribbing about dating his daughter, and her mother laughed openly and often at the young man’s reactions to said ribbing and her husband’s own at her offhand musing about how they would be well away from adult supervision for two months.
The drive to the Bay was filled with everyone talking animatedly about their plans for the vacation.
Kay, having fulfilled her promise to her father to not date until college in exchange for a car, intended to make up for lost time scamming on guys with Cyn as her sidekick. (She said ‘sidekick’ a bit too pointedly for Lisa’s taste). Cyn had no qualms with that plan, though she had no intentions of letting anything get too serious, as she was hoping to keep up her relationship with Ollie over the summer.
Warrick and Tink, being who they were, spent most of the trip pouring over tourist guides. Dawson Bay had little to sate their inner science geeks, but it did have a boardwalk, and about a dozen different block parties, conventions and festivals n the area leading up to the tricentennial. Cyn spent a healthy chunk of the trip mocking them for actually considering an itinerary
JC, on the other hand, had zero plans. His palmtop was loaded with books and movies, his girlfriends was there, and his best friend, through what he’d been told were several very generous graduation presents from distant relations, was footing the bill. What more could he want?
As for Lisa, she drifted idly in and out of conversations. Her mind was on her task. The element of choice in the matter was gone now, she knew that. It wasn’t her friends’ fault. It was just that JC wasn’t stupid. Living in close quarters with the others, he would notice how Cyn needed six times a normal person’s allotment of food and healed any injury; he’d start to wonder exactly how Warrick was paying for all the lessons and tours he and Tink were hoping to partake in, rich relatives or no.
It was better that he heard it from her than if he simply found out.
All too soon, the drive was over and Cyn turned down a short, but winding drive. There was a ramp that led to an underground garage, but then that wasn’t as dramatic as stopping in front of the house so they could all get a good look at it.
They’d all seen the photograph form the landlord’s website, but it didn’t do the place justice.
The front was landscaped with tiered concrete planters supporting shrubbery and trellises that shielded the entire front approach and the top of the drive from the rest of the beach and the street not too far away. A full third of the place was given over to a huge living room, which was glassed in on three walls with sliding doors to give easy access to the wrap around deck on the first floor and the beach beyond. Above the living room, the second floor was actually a big, open deck with a pool and hot tub. The rest of the house was wood paneled, something none of them expected when Warrick the city boy was making choices, and had large windows to let in the maximum amount of sun.
“Calling the master bedroom!” Cyn chirped, breaking everyone’s appraising thoughts.
“Cyn, I love you like a sister, but: Hell. No.” Warrick grinned. He produced a pair of sunglasses from the pocket of his shirt and slipped them on. They were the latest product for sale on his site: unbreakable tinted sunglasses, made of a titanium steel lattice that was ultralight but strong enough to survive a sledge hammer. The big secret though was that the lenses were oxidized aluminum crystal. If anyone found out that the major component of the blue and red tinted models were artificial sapphire and ruby respectively, his two hundred dollar price tag would seem such a deal that it was laughable.
He reached past the middle seat to pat her on the head for the overwrought sad face she put on. “There there. There’s three other rooms and the basement den for you to choose from.
Six of us and only four bedrooms… well six.” Kay noted. “Kaine, you sly dog.” Despite Cyn’s attempts to seek out and embarrass them over it, it was a subtle confirmation of where he and Tink were in their relationship.
Subtle, but he hadn’t meant to intentionally point it out and at Kay’s comment, he instantly went red in the face. “I… I mean…” In his flustered state, he looked to Tink for help, and though she had been hiding it well, eye contact caused her own face to heat up with a blush.
“We’re going to have to get creative if we want to tease them for two months straight.” Cyn mused before taking a picture of the pair with her palmtop. “They’re just adorable when they’re mortified.” After labeling it and sending it to Juniper and Laurel, she opened her door. “Okay, people, I want to be unpacked and on the beach in twenty!”
Twenty turned out two hours plus before the group reconvened. By virtue of being the person bankrolling the entire trip, Warrick got the master bedroom, which took up a good half of the second floor that wasn’t dedicated tot he deck and pool area. Tink brought her bags to the room as well, after braving a gauntlet of applause and catcalls from Cyn and Kay.
Kay got the other bedroom on the second floor, which was the smallest, but had a massive bay window overlooking the ocean. Cyn took the first floor bedroom closest to the living room and attached kitchen/dining area. All the better for surreptitious midnight snacking.
JC and Lisa took the bedroom at the back of the house, escaping the teasing Warrick and Tink got by virtue of not being as fun to mess with.
The den would become a practice area for Snackrifice and a guest room for when Juniper visited as she promised she would. Adel had opted out of the ‘coastal tour’ as Kay called it, with his place being officially taken by Warrick or Tink (whoever wanted to sit and go through the motions that night), but really, it was all Kay’s psionic gift of sound mimicry. Eventually, they would have to find a permanent drummer, but with Cyn subbing for Juniper in some of their shows, that seemed inadvisable for the time being.
It was gone past four in the afternoon by the time rooms were squared away, clothes were changed, the house’s amenities were explored, and a very late lunch of Chinese food was delivered. They ate together in the wood paneled living room, sprawled out on the couch, recliner and floor as they found most comfortable. It was not unlike how they spent many evenings and weekends at Freeland House; laughing, eating, watching movies, but this time, it was different somehow. They felt somehow more free.
Even Lisa. Comfort had set in for her as she stretched out on the couch, legs across JC’s as she struggled to capture her chow fun noodles with chopsticks. Everyone else was using theirs without a problem (except for Cyn, who was simply using them to stab morsels of her orange chicken), and she was determined to finally get it right after years of suffering the shameful defeat of asking for a fork.
All too soon, however, reality intruded in the form of a lull in the conversation following a hearty laugh. Cyn had relayed news from Callie Kreiger that she would be renting a house along with Lily Goldenmeyer and some of her other friends and then speculated upon (with bad vocal impressions) life in that household. It was incredibly funny, the kind of funny that set everyone to laughing until they forgot there where conversation came back into play.
And so four brains strayed to the wondering when Lisa was going to free them of the restriction still hanging over the trip. And four sets of eyes found themselves drifting toward the young woman in question.
They didn’t know it, but Morganna’s possession hadn’t just kick-started some sort of latent capacity for magic within Lisa. That capacity came with a whole suite of alien senses. Chiefly, she could concentrate and detect life signs and discriminate between terrestrial life and Faerie creatures. But she also knew for certain something others claim to feel only vaguely; when she was being watched.
It wasn’t drastic or specific, but she distinctly felt eyes upon her at the moment and she knew exactly why. Her mood quickly darkened as the lull went on.
To his credit, JC noticed instantly and gave her a questioning look has he hurriedly swallowed a mouthful of shrimp lo mein. He noticed something was amiss. Of course he noticed. And now there was absolutely no backing out.
Lisa blew out a long breath of air and set her takeout contained down on the floor. “JC… we need to talk…” The moment she said it, she knew that was the absolute wrong way to start things. As entrenched in pop culture as he was, it was as much a warning sign of ‘be things are about to happen’ was sirens and klaxons. Just at those words, he stiffened as if expecting her to slap him… which admittedly had happened back in the ‘petty teenage crap’ era of their relationship.
“Oh! No, no, no!” She swing her legs off him so she could sit up beside hm. Her hand found his. “It’s not a bad thing… I don’t think. That really depends on you.” It was impossible for her to read the thoughts and fears that scrolled through his head at that, but again, she realized that was the wrong thing to say.”
“I’m really bad at this.” She groaned.
“Ain’t that the truth.” Cyn stage whispered to Kay from their place on the floor in front of the coffee table.
“Not the time.” Lisa shot back through clenched teeth.
“What…” JC spoke slowly, as if he’d just run into a mountain lion on a lowly mountain trial and his only hope was talking it down. “… are you ‘really bad at?”
Lisa looked down at their clasped hands. It might be the last time for that. “I need to tell you something. About me… about all of us really.” Again, wrong thing to say; now he was deeply confused. “But… before I scare you so much with being cryptic that you run for it, maybe I should show you instead.”
She stood up in front of him and, from the third pocket of her jeans produced a red metal ‘D’.
“Hey cool, one of those Descendants logo things. I tried to get one, but she’s back up ’til July.”
“I… sort of have an in.” Lisa blushed as she affixed the pin to the front of her collar. It was a cryptic as hell comment, but she didn’t feel so back about it because of what she did next. “Visteme.”
She was researching a spell to allow the other Descendants to summon their uniform wholesale using the same items that now functioned as keys to the mirror gate, but in the meantime, Occult’s costume wasn’t a physical thing at all, but a glamor layered with a protection spell. It was easily contained alongside the key spell, and slaved to a command word.
Two waves of red sparks emanated from the ornament, first altering how her body looked and then clothing her in Occult’s red and black.
A new silence swept the room. No one had expected her to be that dramatic about it.
JC stared, nearly dropping his food, as she pulled down her hood and looked at him with an entirely different face. “I…” He looked to the others with a ‘did you see that?!’ expression and found anxiousness instead of surprise. Somehow that shocked him more than the display of magic, if only be a little.
He shot them all a second, darker look, then looked back at Lisa. Words, however, still failed. “Whoa.”