Issue #55 – Beer Money

This entry is part 7 of 14 in the series The Descendants Vol 5: How the World Changes

Part 6

Never in fifteen hundred years of existence had the ring encountered a power such as this. It has emulated the ritual skill of wizards and the raw magic of mages. It stole the strength of trolls and blood magic of demons. It replicated the half-breed blood of the mortal offspring of sidhe, and the tainted ichor of vampires.

But this was something new. All of those were something that were part of the body: from how they were stored in the brain to how they ran in the blood. But this new power came from an agent that worked actively and the vessel was largely unaware.

And so it did the best it could; affecting changes in Kevin to match what this unknown agent had worked in the vessel. But where the latter worked slowly, having had more than half a year, the ring accomplished the same in seconds.

Searing light overwrote muscles, rearranged synapses, and heightened his body’s efficiency in every way. This wasn’t the bestowal of strength, for that wasn’t what the other power did. The other power altered its host. Permanently.

Kevin doubled over, leaning on the counter. He could feel the changes happening and it was all he could do not to pass out. It shocked him that he didn’t scream as he felt his body changing shape. Matter couldn’t be created or destroyed; not without magic beyond the scope of the ring, but it within him now, excess fat, dead cells and undigested food was rapidly being converted into heat and then into new tissue.

In the press to get the civilians out and prepared for the Syndicate, only two people noticed his predicament. Warrick had grabbed Tink at the first shot and pulled her behind the bar. Before he could summon the railing and bar stools into armor, Rook had been taken down.

Now it was clear that the others were hanging back rather than reveal to the criminal universe around Dawson Bay that the Descendants were not only in town, but probably someone on the ticket rolls for the concert. His plans had switched to quietly dissolving guns from behind the bar and letting the others mop up hand to hand. It didn’t feel very heroic to him, but letting the mob hunt down everyone that had been to the concert was even less so. Therefore, he swallowed his pride.

But then Kevin started having his episode just above their heads.

“What’s wrong with him?” Tink asked. “do you think he’s been shot?” His face was a mask of concern for more reasons than one. It seemed like before, when danger happened upon her, she’d been able to do something to help, something more than hide.

Now she had nothing. Her purse was back stage because leaving it left her hands free and now she didn’t have her tools or even her palmtop. She had nothing and it wasn’t sitting well with her.

“I’ll make sure he’s okay.” Warrick said, mistaking her expression for simple apprehension. “Just stay here and stay safe, okay?” Even though it wasn’t okay, she nodded, knowing that it must be killing him that he couldn’t become Alloy.

Taking a breath, he got up and vaulted over the counter. A few years ago, he never would have tried, now he never gave it a second thought. “Hey. You okay?”

By then, the transformation was tapering off. Not ending; the process was a constant and systematic improvement on a cellular level, but the pain ebbed, replaced by a new found feeling of strength and vigor.

Kevin straightened his back experimentally and flexed his fingers into a fist. The motions felt different from before; easier, more powerful. “Yeah.” He finally said. “Defiantly doing o–”

There was a commotion at the entrance, more screams from the stragglers among the patrons. Rook’s back-up had arrived.

“Get down! Get down! On the floor, now!” shouted the first few through the door. They wielded automatics and wore bullet proof vests over suits or shirt-sleeves, but they shouted orders as if they were with SWAT. In the chaos of the moment, few would be able to tell the difference to police.

Kevin looked at Warrick and say a short, skinny guy with not protection, too far away from either route out of the room. “Sorry about this, but you’re going to have to hide back there.” He gestured to the bar. Warrick started to protest, but Kevin grabbed him by the belt and dumped him over the bar to what he hoped was safety.”

Behind the bar, Tink helped him sit up. “Are you hurt?”

“Pride’s completely gone.” He said, shaking his head. In his metal sense, he could feel at least eight men enter the bar based on the number of guns. “I can still help though.” Reaching out mentally, he started liquifying bullets.

In the middle of the room, Cyn had shifted to look like Rook again. As much as she thought it was beneath her to try and trick regular old guys with guns, the day had been taken up so totally with preparation for the concert, Sonja’s arrival, and everything else that she’d only eaten about eight meals, far below her norm for staying in fighting shape. Non-functional changes used less energy than growing things humans didn’t have, like claws and horns, so she was going with this method first.

“Wait, you idiots!” She shouted, hoping her voice sounded something like Rook’s. “Fall back, they’re too powerful!”

“Out of your hand now, Frank.” Said the man closest to her.

Cyn huffed and picked up a half empty beer bottle, dropped in the panic. “Fine. Suit yourself.” Human form or not, Cyn maintained the muscle and skeletal structure to be several times stronger than normal, so when the thrown bottle connected, the man on the receiving end dropped without much fanfare.

One of the two nearest him turned to train their guns on Cyn. “What the hell, Frank? You turned on us? Who was it? The Maras?”

Flashes of blue appeared behind him and two Reggies appeared from them. “Nope.” The fire one to appear said. “Nope. Stooges.” Then the pair each grabbed one of the gunman’s head and clunked them together.”

Cyn gave him a disapproving look. “What did that even mean.”

The Reggies shrugged and spoke in stereo. “You know, the Three Stooges.”

“Who?”

“Dude, how can you not know–”

They were interrupted by automatic fire striking one in the side, much to Cyn’s horror. But instead of falling and bleeding, the copy shattered into shards of what looked like blue glass before sublimating into the air as blue vapor.

The other copy turned toward the attacker. “Due, that was so not cool of you.” That was all he managed before he too was destroyed. Next, the barrel was pointed in Cyn’s direction.

Duncan flickered into being beside the copy-killer and shoulder checked him, sending him crashing into a table. “Nobody even thinks of pointing a gun at my bro, bro.” He said firmly. “Not even a copy of him.”

Flat on his back, the Syndicate goon raised his gun, aiming for his stomach.

“Look out!”Sonja leapt to tackle him out of the way, but was too late. A bullet hit him in the forearm.

It was the gunman that screamed as the power of retribution tore apart his ligaments and splintered his bone in Duncan’s stead.

Duncan landed on his back with Sonja on top of him. In spite of the situation, he noticed their predicament and grinned up at her.

She laughed. “Don’t get any ideas.” But as she sat up, she found the muzzle of an automatic pointed at her chest.

The man aiming it smirked. “Ha. Not every day you get to take out a celebrity. Not much of one but…” He squeezed the trigger and let loose five rounds into her chest that did about the same damage as if they had hit the wall.

Sonja winced. Her skin was incredibly resilient, but the nerves beneath the surface didn’t know that. Still, she toughed it out and grabbed the gun before he could fire again. “I’m more than you think I am. For example – Ho-wah!” It was a clumsy, undisciplined and untrained punch, by an uppercut tot he groin doesn’t have to be professional. “I’m an Elvis fan.” She informed the thug as he crumpled to the ground.

As that scene was unfolding, a different one was shaping up on the other side of the room.

Before Kevin could make a move on the Syndicate goons, the three nearest him found themselves swarmed by a pack of Reggies who charged headlong into them brandishing whatever they could get their hands on, from bottles to chairs. They were met with a hail of gunfire that shattered them into glowing blue motes almost as fast as they could close.

Just like Duncan, Kevin couldn’t abide by that, even in the case of magical simulacra. Exercising his new strength, he grabbed a table and hurled it easily into the fray. Two of the thugs dodged, but the third was knocked flat to the ground by the improvised projectile.

Instantly, both remaining guns were trained on Kevin. Their respective owners pulled the trigger only to find the guns not only inoperable, but leaking gray sludge out of the magazine. By the time they put two and two together, it was already too late; Kevin covered the distance between them with remarkable celerity.

He grabbed the first one by the front of his suit and threw him across the dance floor to end in a heap against the far wall. The other he caught with a right hook that cracked a rib.

A gun let out a chattering report to his right and he looked just in time to see Sonja drop the man who shot her. It looked like the situation was well in hand.

That is, until more figures appeared at the door. Just the sight of movement, mixed with a heady dose of adrenaline set Kevin on edge and made him tense in preparation to strike.

But then he saw the blue and the badges. Heard the order given to freeze and shot them his hands. It almost came as a relief. Kevin blew out a breath and brought his hands up behind his head. As he got to his knees, he looked around. Reggie and Duncan looked okay. Duncan actually looked more than okay as he grinned at Sonja, who was, per police orders, now lying down next to him.

Oddly, Sonja seemed to be looking at Kevin instead…

***

“Twelve counts of misdemeanor theft, one count of inciting a riot, six counts of use of superhuman powers in the commission of a crime…” JC was reading from a local news blog the next afternoon as the gang recuperated in the living room of the beach house.

“They’ll never make those last charges stick.” Lisa pointed out from the kitchen counter where she was trying her hand at real lemonade, much to everyone’s horror. “None of them will ping on a test for descendant powers, none of them have mods, and I may actually be the only person on the planet that can identify that ring.”

Warrick and Tink were sharing one of the recliners. Tink raised her hand as if she were in class. “What the hell was that thing, anyway?”

“The digi-book says it’s a Sythian Ring of War. It’s meant to give military leaders powers to bolster and inspire the troops.” She grimaced at just how little actual juice she was getting from each lemon, but kept at it with the archaic plastic reamer.

“It sure did the job.” Kay mused from her place sprawled on the floor staring at the ceiling. She’d spent the morning arranging the make-up show and the others were lucky she wasn’t asleep.

“I can’t believe they still have that thing.” Cyn muttered.

“Not my fault.” said Lisa. “The cops showed up and took that Kevin Clark guy into custody before I could get to him. So unless you want to break into the police evidence locker, that’s where it’ll stay until the trial.” She tossed the latest horrifically mutilated lemon rind in the trash.

Tink leaned her head on top of Warrick’s. “That’s the think I ‘can’t believe’ the least. Why is Sonja paying for their legal defense?”

Warrick shifted so they were snuggled up closely together. “Well they did help all those people at the end. And I’m okay with that. I’m not sure they were really ‘bad guys’ in the way we think of bad guys. Yeah, they committed crimes, but last night made it really clear that they never actually meant harm.”

“Aw, little Mr. Black and White’s growing up.” Cyn teased.

He offered no defense, but added, “The thing that gets me is Bruinhauser.”

“Yeah,” said JC. “A twelve million dollar lawsuit… or we get to get you to make beer commercials gratis. Gee, I wonder what they’re going to take.”

“I heard the ad campaign is going to be called the Supper Buds.” Kay said, rolling her eyes.

The doorbell rang and a sudden alertness came to the whole group as they looked around for anything in the room that might give away their secrets. When none presented themselves, Lisa grabbed a dishtowel to clean off her hands and went to answer the door.

To her surprise, Sonja Remington was standing there on the front stoop.

“Sonja! Oh my god, I didn’t… come in!”

“Actually, I’m just here for a second. I have a photo shoot in Miami before I can get back up here for the make-up show next week. Is Juniper around?”

Juniper had, in fact, been right there with them, sitting on the opposite end of the couch as JC. She hadn’t talked much since getting back from the concert. For her, the whole fiasco was just a stay of execution, but she would never tell anyone that.

At the sound of her name, she cringed and slowly stood before crossing over to the door.

Sonja offered her a bright smile, but understood why she got only a fake on in return. “Juniper… I think there’s been a misunderstanding. My manager heard you talking to that guy last night.”

Juniper’s face colored. “Oh. No. I mean, I didn’t mean what I said. It’s just…”

“It’s okay.” Sonja cut her off. “If I thought that was happening to me, I would say much nastier things.”

“Thought…?” Juniper asked.

“Yeah,” nodded Sonja, “’Thought’. Because there’s no way I’d try and take you place in Snackrifice.”

“Wait. When did this even become a topic?” Kay asked, sitting up.

Juniper blushed. “I just thought… with you and Lisa working with her on music and songs… Well I thought it was to get her ready to be the lead singer. She’s rich and famous; having her in the group would make Snackrifice a hit over night!”

Lisa turned to her and grabbed her in a lemon scented hug. “Oh, Jun. We’re songwriters, remember? Sonja heard our thing on Descendants Appreciation Day and hired us to work up some material for her. In exchange, she gave us a contract to let us open for her when she performs. That’s how she’s making us famous. We would never do that to you. Not only are you our friend, but you’re that good.”

“But Snackrifice is your dream. Especially yours, Kay.” Juniper protested. “You should do whatever it takes to make it a success.”

Kay shrugged. “Turning into the kind of asshole that ditches their bandmates to make it big isn’t part of my dream. Yours, Lis?”

“Not a chance.”

Sonja smiled to hear the exchange. “I knew you were people I wanted to work with. Maybe Descendants Appreciation Day made me look at things in a new light, but I’ve got a whole new appreciation for the kind of people that make these kinds of sacrifices. Mack says it means I’m finally growing up.” Her eyes widened as something struck her memory.

“Oh! I’m sorry, I have to go. We should get together sometime, really. But right now, I’m late.”

“Late? Juniper asked, no longer conflicted in her feeling for the other woman. “For what?”

“I’ve got to meet a friend before visiting hours are over.”

***

With the Syndicate members and the usual summer traffic of arrests ahead of them on the docket, Kevin, Duncan and Reggie were still in a precinct holding cell, following their bail hearing. Ten thousand dollars each; not as much as it might have been, but more than they could simply call their parents for. They shared a bench; Kevin in the middle with the other two flanking him.

Some of the Syndicate goons were there too, but kept their distance, not even wanting to make a sound to upset them.

Kevin had just returned after being pulled out by one of the guards to resolve some matter or another. He looked bemused and harried as he rested his head against the concrete wall behind him. “So they picked up a guy robbing people on the beach this morning. Know what they found on him?”

“Dude, please don’t say it.” Reggie buried his head in his hands. “Please no.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Duncan groaned.

“Goddamn cash card.” Kevin tried not to laugh.

“Is he here now?” asked Duncan.

Kevin nodded.

“Think they’d let me go over there and kick his junk up into his throat?”

“You’d have to stand in line, man.”

Reggie sighed dramatically. “This tanks, dude. This was gonna be the best summer. Instead, we winded up poor, arrested and sued for millions!”

“We also ended up doing the right thing. And don’t worry about the lawsuit, I think it’s a publicity stunt.” Kevin was partially distracted by the sound of the outer door before the cells opening.

A moment later, the same guard that took him to identify his cash card arrived at their cell and began to unlock it. “You three.” He indicated them, “Bail’s been posted. You’re out of here.”

Reggie grinned and jostled Kevin with his shoulder before standing. “Way to go, dude! You got us out!”

The other two followed him out and waited for the guard to close the cell behind them. Kevin looked perplexed. “No I didn’t. I haven’t even used my phone call.”

“Then who would pay to get us out?” Asked Duncan. “You don’t think those mob guys paid to get us out to kill us?” They were all thinking the same thing: they seriously hoped that they would get the ring back soon.

Those thoughts were washed away as they entered the reception area in front of the cell block to find a now familiar vision of blue hair and mother-of-pearl skin.

Sonja Remington stood with her arms folded. Mack stood behind her, looking torn between being upset that Sonja was getting involved with criminals, but proud of her show if independence.

“Why…” Kevin started.

“I’ve already had this conversation today.” She laughed. “Let’s just say it’s because of what I saw last night and then well can all go get lunch.”

End Issue #55

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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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