Issue #57 – Waylaid

This entry is part 9 of 14 in the series The Descendants Vol 5: How the World Changes

The Beach House Arc Part 3

The night was beautifully clear.

Away from the bonfire, the stars were out in their millions; a cloud of white fireflies against the blue backdrop of the night.

JC was on his way back from the house with the second cooler they’d been too lazy to bring down earlier and a pack of marshmallows they’re forgotten on the counter. He stopped on the top of the dune to take a good look at the universe laid out above them.

He wasn’t the kind of person to sit and contemplate man’s place in the universe or the infinite possibilities that lay outside the Sol system. He wasn’t even the kind to try and see if he could spot the space station Indus River, or the asteroid Apophis; both objects that, by their very presence in Earth’s orbit testified to humanity’s harnessing the universe around it.

It was just a beautiful sight.

Ever so slowly, though, his attention was drawn to the bonfire. Cyn and Kay were dancing spasticly around it, chanting nonsense . Tink was sitting beside Lisa, laughing at their antics and talking about whatever it was that those two found common ground on. JC had not idea. The only common ground he shared with his best friend’s girlfriend was Deathgate and Malady Place, so it eluded him what she and Lisa could discuss.

Warrick was trudging up the dunes to help JC with the cool. The starlight caught the golden bands around his arms. It was a public beach, so Isp and Osp weren’t allowed out during the bonfire.

“I got it.” JC said as Warrick got within hearing range. He was conscious of the fact that he’d been doing more heavy lifting on his own since their stay at the beach house started; probably to show that he was still capable while surrounded by friends he now knew were far beyond him capability-wise, but he couldn’t stop even when he noticed himself doing it.

Regardless of if he suspected this was the case or not, Warrick just nodded and fell into step beside it.

“Hell of a night.”

JC nodded. “Goddamn beautiful. Stars, ocean, girls in swimsuits; who needs fluffy cloud heaven when you’ve got a house on the beach.”

“Too bad someone rented the place for the back end of the summer before I called. Just one week left, then it’s back to reality.”

“Always next year, man. And at least we’re going out with a hell of a party. Everyone still coming?”

Warrick couldn’t take his eyes off the stars. But something felt… off. A tickling at the edge of his metal sense. That wasn’t all the uncommon at the beach; the sea had concentrations of metal salts in it that, on occasion, grew concentrated enough to trip his sense, but never enough for him to clearly define.

It took a beat for him to actually hear the question. “Huh? Yeah. Even Melissa sounded pretty eager. There is a little snag though…”

JC raised an eyebrow, then realized his friend couldn’t see that in the dark. “What?”

“Callie begged me to let her other friends come.”

“You’re kidding me.”

“’fraid not.”

“You can’t be serious. Those girls were a nightmare all through high school. What makes you think they’ll even be a tiny bit better now?”

Warrick hunched his shoulders. “I don’t. But you know Callie, she can really lay on the sad puppy routine.”

An unhappy huff escaped JC. “This is bullshit, Warrick.”

“I know.”

“Absolute bullshit.”

“I told Cyn I shouldn’t have been doing the invites.”

“Lily lays off you, but not me, or Kareem’s girlfriend, or Jun. You’ve got to make this up.”

“Yeah, but how.”

JC’s eye brightened. There was a silver lining to the looking, evil cloud that was Lily Goldenmeyer and her clique. “Let me do my fireworks.”

“Your illegal fireworks? On the public beach?”

“I didn’t get to use them on the fourth because the tricentennial stuff was so awesome anyway. I’ve got a whole trunk of fireworks that need to be used, War.” They arrived at the edge of the fire. He put down the cooler and tossed the marshmallows to an eager Cyn.

Warrick opened the cooler and pulled out a hard cider for Tink and a bottle of cranberry juice for himself. He’d already had a few beers and, not trusting himself drunk with his powers, was cutting himself off. “You’re going to get us arrested.”

“Doubtful.” said JC, “I’ve seen people setting them off up and down the beach and haven’t seen one arrest.”

“Who’s getting arrested?” Tink broke off her conversation with Lisa to accept the bottle Warrick bought over to her. She’d had more to drink than he had, but remained alert and bright as if she hadn’t touched a drop.

“JC.” Warrick laughed, sitting down on the beach towel beside her. “Speaking of which, wasn’t it just a little while ago that you wanted us to go and hunt down the booze bandits because they were committing crimes?”

Kneeling at the cooler, JC was hunting for something that looked good to him. “Fireworks are a victimless crime.”

“Until you set someone on fire.” Cyn chimed in. “But let’s set them off anyway.”

“Not now, for the party next Sunday.” JC corrected her.

“Oh. Then let’s set Lily on fire with them.”

“You really did drop the ball on that one.” Tink said, tossing an arm over her beau’s shoulder.

Warrick blushed in the firelight. It had nothing to do with Lily. Cyn and Lisa had taken Tink out shopping the day before and thanks to their insistence, Tink was wearing an actual bikini for the first time, It wasn’t as revealing as the ones Cyn was fond of, and it wasn’t as if they hadn’t seen more of each other, but the green and black, circuit board patterned garment was the least he’d seen her wear in public.

Fighting the blush, he leaned up and kissed her neck and jawline. “Sorry about that. Mistakes were made, insufferable bitches were invited to special occasions… I’m not some kind of super man, you know?”

Amid the chuckles, Kay shook her head and pointed accusingly. “That joke was so terrible, it physically hurt me. I demand a duel, sir!”

Warrick snorted. “Very well, Madame Greycloud. I choose pistols at…”

He trailed off and looked toward the ocean. Something had tripped this metal sense again and this time, her recognized it. The same mystery material that made up the bands around his arms that summoned Isp and Osp. He’d sensed it other places; in the armor of the inugami, in the chains wielded by the Redeemer called Manriki, and in a refined form as part of Vorpal’s armor and the flechettes launched from Samael’s wings. That was definitely not a naturally occurring impurity in sea water.

The light from stars and fire didn’t show much out on the water, but they were enough for him to notice that the waves were somehow moving perpendicular to the shore. He didn’t have time to act on it. A low, resonating tone struck his ears. He’d seen a video once of someone making music by running their finger along the edge of a wine glass; the noise reminded him of that.

Sand exploded into the air in a line that drove steadily up the beach until it hit the bonfire. The unseen force sent flaming logs through the air in all directions, some of which were blown into chunks of burning shrapnel by the initial impact.

A group of everyday, ordinary kids, fresh out of high school would have been dead in that first second; crushed and burned and without ever really having seen it coming.

None of the six friends on the beach were everyday or ordinary; powers or not.

Warrick acted on reflex, summoning Isp and Osp even as he pushed Tink flat to her beach blanket with his own body covering her. The tentacles were out and at work almost faster than thought. Both formed blades down their lengths and whipped into the flying debris.

Thick logs split under the assault, smaller ones were just knocked aside. The swathe of protection cut by the tentacles protect not only Warrick and Tink, but Lisa as well. Not that she needed it: by the time they acted, she had formed the spell for a hasty shield in her head and only held it back because the twins were doing a good enough job anyway.

Across the way, Cyn grabbed Kay and put herself between the shorter girl and the flames. A small log hit her in the small of the back, causing her to stumble. The flying brand left red blisters on her skin, but she endured with just a hiss of pain.

JC was too far for the others to cover, but also just far enough for Lisa to use the shield meant for herself on. He exclaimed in shock as the translucent film of the shield wrapped around him, just in time to deflect two huge chunks of burning wood.

The nightmarish moment stretched on as for a second, a stillness filled their world. The only sounds were the pop of embers and the settling of wood on wood or sand. Everyone shared the same panicked thought: ‘What just happened?’

Warrick tried to work it out in his head. The blast had come from the beach, from where he felt the strange metal and… His chest tightened. He hadn’t noticed in the chaos, but there was more of that metal now, also at the water’s edge and advancing quickly!

The howling started shortly after that.

“Inugami!” Cyn shouted a warning.

Warrick rolled off Tink and into a ready crouch. Isp and Osp curled around him, also fully prepared for a fight. “Tink.” He said, praying that the quiver in his voice was just a trick of his mind. “Get to the house. Take a car, take a scooter—just get the hell out of here now.”

The first inugami broke from the shadows a breath after he said that. It was smaller than the previous types they’d fought. Only as big as a Saint Bernard. The others were wolfish, but this one looked more like an even more sturdily built rottweiler, save for its slate colored fur. Like its predecessors, however, it retained the metal champron fitted over its face and the top of its had and interlocking plates protecting the belly and ribs.

It came right for him. They were bred with an innate sense for the unique theta wave pattern possessed by psionics and ignored anyone that lacked it.

Osp whipped back around and formed into an X-shaped crossbar just as the monster leapt for its target. It caught it across the chest and flexed, tossing the inugami into the smoldering remains of the fire. The creature howled in pain as sharp ends and embers dug into its exposed flesh.

Three other inugami followed it out of the dark; tow heading for Cyn and one intent on Kay.

Cyn stepped up in the face of all three. Cracking her knuckles, she transformed her arms into heavy, brown scaled limbs that ended in hooked talons. The first inugami to reach her was raked across the face with enough force to throw it to the side. The champron protected it from the claws, but not the strength behind them.

The next rose up and tackled her, heavy paws slamming her shoulder while its weight bowled her over. It howled at her, a deep, resonating noise the disrupted her concentration, making it hard to consciously change her shape.

The third dove past both and leapt at Kay, only to be thrown violently to the side by a rapidly forming wall of translucent, red, pentagonal plates. Kay leapt back as it impacted the shield and rolled, surprised that she hadn’t even heard Lisa utter the spell.

Her eyes strayed to the armored beast that attacked her, watching as it righted itself, shook its head to get it’s bearings…

“Move!”

JC was there, grabbing her arm. He pulled her back just in time as the inugami that had been on Cyn was sent flying hard into the back side of Lisa’s shield courtesy of Isp. She started to thank him, but the wine-glass tone returned, drowning her out.

A line of sand was thrown in the air, neatly cutting Warrick, Tink and Lisa off from view. The first inugami rose form the fire and, headless of the poor visibility, threw itself into the cloud, searching for its prey.

Cyn shook off the affect of the howl and struggled to her feet, looking wild-eyed at her two friends. “Get to the house. Go!” Before she even finished saying it, she was up and running, intent on dragging them along.

The first inugami she’d raked pounced, but she saw it coming and shifted her right arm into a chitinous sword. Stepping into its attack, she drove the sword into its slavering mouth. The angle was shallow and she only cut into its tongue, but it was enough to cause it to check its attack enough for her to hammer it in the head with her other hand, driving it back and away from her friends. Blood dribbling form its mouth, the beast stalked them, suddenly more wary.

“Shine Heavenly Arrow!”

A brilliant beam of white light pierced the sand cloud, the energy behind the spell cutting a hole in it to reveal a writhing, yowling inugami on the ground in front of Lisa and the others. The sorceress still held the bow of light in her hand, keeping it manifest through sheer force of will.

The three of them ran past the felled monster to link up with their friends. In passing, Warrick tried and failed to pull metal from the inugami’s armor. He’d hoped that the same desperation that let him influence it when Manriki attacked would let him do it again this time. No luck.

“What’s going on?” JC asked as the six made a run for the beach house.

“Tome.” Cyn said bitterly. “Goddamn Tome. They found us here. Probably figured we’d be easier to hit far from Mayfield.”

“And we were right.”

Too late, Warrick noticed the hovering patch of circuitry ahead of them. Something hissed in the air as it passed him and a moment later, Cyn screamed, collapsing to her knees with an electrified dart in her chest. Her body convulsed and altered in ways that a normal human could never achieve.

Directed by Warrick, Isp stabbed out, skewering the gun that fired said dart, but the invisible assailant was already moving. A second of scuffling on the sand and Kay’s head snapped back as something hit her in the temple, knocking her flat on the sand.

Lisa started to go to her, but Warrick held out an arm. “I’ll protect them.” He said tersely. “Get Tink and JC out.”

She knew it was the best way, no matter how much she hated it, and she knew what he meant about getting the others out: there was a reason there was a full length mirror in all of their room at the beach house. “Right.” She said quietly.

Grabbing both Tink and JC by the shoulder, she forced them to keep going. Behind them, she heard the tone again and knew it would be aimed at Warrick.

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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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