- 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
Occult only had half a second’s warning as the stiff wind preceding the blast-wave hit her. She used it to push JC to the right and into the cover of the adjacent aisle.
JC was wrong in thinking that her glamor left her unprotected. In reality, she’d been refining it over the year and a half since she first created it, weaving in spells meant to redirect force around her body. It wasn’t perfect; it didn’t keep her from bruising, and wouldn’t prevent cuts or scratches, but blunt trauma and directed energy was well in hand.
The blast-wave threw her off her feet and sent her rolling down the corridor. The bulk of the attack carried further down to the end, where it bashed open an insulated pile carrying mixed and catalyzed ceramic material, still in liquid form, to the storage tanks.
Tan colored sludge oozed out of the break, but without the pressure and constant heat and exposed to an oxygen rich environment, it started to set immediately, hardening into ropey globs all over the machinery. Alarm tones and flashing lights filled the area as the plant’s systems recognized a problem.
Occult kept all that to her back and came up to her knees, staff raised. Suddenly, she felt foolish for letting herself become so complacent with her spells. She only knew a handful that she could cast off the cuff and whose versatility she relied on.
Now with Manriki and Ossia striding toward her, she wished she had some kind of binding spell, or concussive blast to warn them off. Shine Heavenly Arrow and Fireball were lethal ordinance reserved for the monsters of Faerie or overtly magical being that wouldn’t die to them. When this was over, she promised herself that she’d be more diligent about her personal casting instead of crutching on rituals and prepared items.
Until then, the old saws would have to do with a bit of creativity added.
“Levanto esta pared.” The standard shield formed. “Muevo esta pared.” She normally used that combination to turn the shield into a floating platform. But this time, she left it oriented vertically and focused the command through her staff to add some momentum to it.
The result was a shield that drove forward like a snowplow blade into the advancing villains.
Manriki tried to meet it head on, sending his chains to make contact while he braced against the impact. It worked poorly. The shield pressed forward, pushing Manriki on ahead of it into Ossia.
Ossia on the other hand sidestepped Manriki and touched the shield itself, humming quietly. After a second, which confused Occult, he leapt backward and redrew his sword. One tap of the blade against his bracer and the sword hummed with the same frequency as he had when he touched the shield.
Bounding forward, he thrust the tip of the sword into the shield. A cascade of angry, red sparks flew and the shield seemed to catch fire around the edges of the breech created by the humming blade. Ossia grunted as he started to be pushed back as well, forcing the sword further through the translucent plates. Grasping the crossbar, he turned it sharply, like a giant key.
A crystalline tinkling filled the air, interspersed by sharper cracks like thawing ice. A section of the shield shattered, its pieces ablaze with jagged arcs of red magic as they fell to the ground and sublimed into the ether.
Ossia hacked at the opening. Now that the structure of the shield was compromised, it came apart much easier, allowing him to quickly break a hole large enough for him to step through. Manriki tried to follow, but Ossia held up a hand to stop him. “Get the guy. I’ve got this.”
“Fine.” Manriki grunted and directed his attention down the aisle Occult pushed JC down earlier.
Gasping, Occult took manipulated the shield again, reorienting it so it rotated lengthwise, aiming to hit both of them. Manriki was knocked to the floor, recovering quickly thanks to his chains lifting him back onto his feet. Ossia, on the other hand, dashed forward, striking his sword on her bracer again and changing the tone of its hum. He skidded to a stop out of range of the turning shield and brought the sword up and slightly to his left in a two handed, overhand swing.
The air itself writhed around the blade, shimmering as it fell into line with the frequency.
Throwing one last, helpless look past him at Manriki charging down the aisle, Occult took a glass sphere from her pouch and used it to conjure a globe of force around her. It manifested just as Ossia slashed the sword in a precise down-stroke.
The air seemed to boil forward in an arc, heralding the sonic blast-wave the rode it. Incredible force hit the barrier hard enough to cause the concrete it was anchored in to crack. If it hadn’t been anchored, it would have been sent flying. Occult marveled at the power the Tome enforcer was capable of putting behind his attacks.
She didn’t have a lot of time for that, as Ossia moved forward, his hand outstretched to touch the globe and repeat his performance with the shield.
Before he could, she released the spell and lashed out with her staff. “Twenty Ton.” She hissed out the incantation. In mid swing, the mass of the staff multiplied, its momentum increasing exponentially over a short space.
Ossia managed to block with his sword, but the sheer weight behind the blow knocked him back into a sampling station where the ceramic output was monitored to ensure that the mix was consistent from batch to batch. He tumbled over the padded chair and landed hard against a shelf of glass sample jars.
By the time he struggled free, Occult was disappearing around a bend. He cursed, retrieved his sword, and gave pursuit.
Tink jogged the whole way to the back of the building, but as she approached the large open area where freshly bricked and ready for transport product was stored, she slowed down and moved cautiously.
The area was far enough away from the big machinery that it should have been relatively quiet, yet she could distinctly hear a generator running.
She stayed low, keeping hidden behind the stacks of shrink-wrapped blocks. The roar of the generator wasn’t the only noise here. There were also other low level hums, more or less the same sound, but out of synch with each other. A quiet gasp escaped her as she peered around a corner and found out what was making those sounds.
Being a student of every kind of science she could find articles to read about, she knew what a stasis cell looked like, at least the medical ones; clear fronted coffins stood on end with diagnostic equipment and foam bedding inside forming a nest for the person within.
These followed that same design, but plugged into a larger, tilted at a seventy degree angle. The larger device was a box, cut off at one angle to accept the cell, with machinery humming deep inside. There were three in all and inside them, she could see Warrick, Cyn and Kay.
There was a folding metal table set up before the cells. Part of it was taken up by a holographic display showing vital signs and monitoring information about the cells themselves. Most of I was taken up by the full shattered pieces of Isp and Osp.
Warrick often explained to her how the metal tentacles weren’t the twins’ bodies in the normal sense, but seeing them like that still made her feel sick. They were utterly alien things, silent, occasionally unnerving, but somewhere along the way, she’d picked up on the brotherly affection Warrick had for them and found herself caring about them herself.
There were two men in surgical masks at the table, one watching the display, the other poking and prodding at the pieces of the twins. Scientists working for Tome. Thought it was a small thing next to attacking her boyfriend, her friends and her self, she briefly felt a flash of anger too at seeing two people corrupting the noble calling she shared with them like that.
As she watched, she caught bits of their conversation:
“…definitely orihalcite.” The one examining the metal was saying. “But the carbon lattice the alloy is built upon has been tightened further than anything out instruments have been able to achieve and most of the residual impurities that come with the synthesis process are gone. We need to get samples to Deep Thirteen; these people have learned how to refine orihalcite.”
Tink checked the ammunition in her gauntlet. She still had the high density polyurethane rounds locked in. Good enough. If Tome was excited about ‘refined orihalcite’, they shouldn’t be allowed to get a sample. More importantly, she needed to get past them to let the others out.
It was then that the enormity of what was happening hit her. The others were fighting off Tome’s enforcers, leaving everything up to her. They wasn’t going to be any timely rescue by the Descendants; there was just her and a device she’d made with her own two hands and had only fully tested in computer simulations.
What the others did always seemed so distant, even when she was in the thick of it. To hear them tell it, it wasn’t a big deal to run up against terrible odd with death or capture being the price for failure. She never heard from them how crushing the pressure was when it all came down to them making the right call and performing flawlessly or else they might lose someone they care about forever.
Why hadn’t they ever confided in her about this? Even Warrick never talked much about just how scary it could be when the mission turned and you found yourself alone. Maybe they were just better at handling t than she was. Or maybe she was worse.
She shook her head at that thought. This wasn’t the time for those kinds of questions. Either she could do this or she couldn’t. Indecision and self doubt would get nothing done. Kneeling, she took careful aim and fired.
The first shot hit the tablet being held by the man who spoke. The expanding gel quickly covered his hands and came in contact with the table. In the span of a second, he was locked in place.
The second hit the other scientist in the knee. When he turned to see where the first shot came from, the knee was locked in place, causing him to stumble and fall. Tink his him twice more in the back where he lay, the foam expanding to lock him in place there.
Only after they were down did she advance into the space, arm pointed at them. “Both of you keep quiet, or I’m switching to incendiaries.” Evidently, the stress in her voice convinced them that she’d actually do it, because both men nodded and shut their mouths.
Nevertheless, she kept her weapon pointed at them until she reached the holographic display. Much to her relief, it displayed the controls for the stasis cells in addition to vitals and diagnostics. Thanks to her surprise attack, the biometric and password locks hadn’t been engaged.
She selected one of the cells and bought its control screen into focus on the center of the screen. There was some sort of serial number along the bottom to designate who was in what cell, but she didn’t know what they meant.
Using her palmtop, she did a quick internet search and found a paramedic’s handbook for taking a patient safely out of the cell and applied it to the task at hand. First, there was a cocktail of paralytic gasses, muscle relaxers and sedatives in the chamber. Those had to be vented before the patient could be administered the electrical shock and stimulant shot that hastened waking.
When she touched the appropriate places on the screen, there was a chunk sound and the noise of fans powering up in the cell holding Warrick. The greenish haze that filled the tube began to clear, and onscreen, the green interior of the animated representation of the cell began to tick downward in time with the concentration in the air.
She felt a rush of relief and surprised herself in finding pride in the mix.
This lasted right up until the electrified dart hit her in the neck.
JC cursed himself and jumped back. He should have known what the thick, red line on the floor meant; the central furnaces were housed in the section he’d run down and the workers needed the heat suits stored in the workstations on the other side of the red line.
He looked back to the intersection and the huge cluster of pipes that ran past it. He had really wanted to be further away for this, but the blast of dry heat that hit him in the face told him that wasn’t going to happen unless he decided that the only way out of this was luring Manriki into a place where they’d both die.
Manriki was easily heard before he was seen. His chains rattled unnecessarily; possibly because he thought it sounded intimidating. Maybe in a dark alley, but in the middle of an active industrial complex, it just sounded loud.
The enforcer pounced on JC’s backpack, lying abandoned at the top of the intersection. The thickest of his chains cracked down atop it several times, seeking to disable any booby traps that might be there. Finally, he turned his attention to JC himself, his smile growing when he saw the red line.
“What? You run out of fireworks and decided to save everyone the time and trouble by cremating yourself?”
“You know,” JC fought to keep his breath going, his voice steady. This was a stupid plan. He that much. If this worked he somehow survived, he would still have to keep it quiet out of embarrassment. Not that he needed to sorry, he was pretty sure he’d be having his brains painted all over the floor by a chain to the skull.
Still, he forced himself to talk. “I saw you on TV, during that Redeemer thing. You looked pretty badass.”
Manriki cracked his knuckles. “Are you really going to go out begging to switch sides? Weak kid. And I thought you had some real balls coming in here fighting people with real powers with fireworks.”
“Forgive me for trying.” JC laughed nervously and took the roman candle he’d pushed through his belt loop out, followed by the lighter in the other hand. The candle was rumpled and bent, not used to this kind of treatment. All he could do was pray it still worked. “But you came after my friends. Maybe I don’t have anything else, but just because you’ve got powers doesn’t mean this is going to be easy for you.”
He lit the fuse, starting it right at the base so the candle went off almost immediately.
Laughing derisively, Manriki spread his arms and chains broadly. “Take you best shot kid. Coming up, me and my friends shot those at one another every Halloween, just horsing around.”
“Yeah, mine too.” JC said. “But kids are stupid and a third degree burn’s no joke. I had to have a skin graft on my back from that.” He aimed the candle just as it went off.
The first glowing ball went wide, missing entirely. Manriki sneered. The second came at his head and he had to duck. The third hit his costume and fizzled. And then he forth, coming from the first crumpled section, flew off erratically to the side. The rest just sputtered inside the tube.
“Crap.” JC said.
“Can I just beat you to an inch of your life now?” Manriki mocked.
But at the moment, JC heard the hiss of a fuse. It had to have been a miracle that he actually hit something with Manriki in the way.
“Hey, on Halloween, you even have that one ‘friend’ you knew was going to grow up to be a serial killer or something? The one that threw 160’s at people instead of firecrackers?”
Manriki grunted a laugh. “Heh. I was that kid.”
“Oh.” Said JC, unsurprised, “Then this is karma.”
The enforcer narrowed his eyes, no doubt preparing to utter a cliched ‘what the hell are you talking about’, or some verbal tour de force like ‘huh’. He didn’t have time, as the entire twenty-four pack’s worth of 160’s JC had stuffed into the space behind the pipes lining to corridor went off.
Just about the only difference between 160’s and dynamite was that 160’s were slightly smaller and contained metal oxides to make the resultant explosion colorful when viewed at night. When bunched together, they remained demolitions grade explosives. The pipes never had a chance.
Neither did Manriki. When the pipes burst, a flood of molten ceramic slopped out into open air and sprays across his back. He tried to turn and block the stuff with his chains, but that just made the problem worse, coating them and his front in rapidly hardening ceramic.
“What the… You little son of a bitch!” Manriki shouted. The emergency shutoffs had stemmed the flow, but it was too late for him as his back and chains slowly became essentially locked in stone.
JC toe the spent roman candle in his hand in half and moved quickly to push the open end into Manriki’s mouth before the ceramic could harden around it. “Be glad.” He told the enraged man. “You’re going to need that to breath. I just saved your life.”
With that, he backed away until his back hit the wall. All his false bravado drained away with the adrenaline. God, he just wanted to curl up and go to sleep.
Somewhere in the building, something crashed violently.
She was still out there. She didn’t need his help to take care of herself. He was out of fireworks now anyway, but she probably thought he was dead by now. He had to get to her.
Pushing away from the wall was probably the hardest thing he’d ever done, but he did it and then he staggered past the trapped Manriki to find her.