- Issue #73 – Give Thanks
- Issue #74 – Bit Part Bad Guys
- Issue #75 – Kaiju for Christmas
- Issue #76 – Silicon Soul, Adamantine Will
- Issue #77 – Date Night
- Issue #78 – Delved Too Deep (Une Mascarade Brisée Part 1)
- Issue #79 – Tome of Secrets (Une Mascarade Brisée Part 2)
- Descendants Special #7 – The Curtain Rises
- Issue #80 – Bitter Work
- Issue #81 – Kin, Speed and Ducks
- Issue #82 – What To Do With Your Downtime
- Issue #83 – Avalon Rises
- Issue #84 – Darkness Falling
- Descendants Annual #7 – First Frost
Issue #75 – Kaiju for Christmas
Even though all of twenty people at best would ever see it over the course of the holiday season, Chamberlain Salvage was decked out for Christmas with strings of colored lights around scrap metal sculptures of a snowman, three Christmas trees, an eight-foot tall penguin, Santa, his sleigh and seven tiny reindeer.
The eighth was in one of the empty hangers that now served as a workshop for the Chamberlains, bedecked in a cloud of sparks more reminiscent of the Fourth of July then Yuletide.
Eighteen year-old Willow Chamberlain, also known as Juniper Taylor, was welding the remains of a badly mangled rake into place as one of a pair of antlers. Meanwhile her mother, Emily, went over the business’s books on her tablet, perched on the open tailgate of an ancient pick-up truck full of scrap metal.
All families have their own traditions.
For the Chamberlains, scrap sculptures were their equivalent of trimming the tree. The finished product was donated to an auction held every January by the volunteer fire department in nearby Greenlee where Juniper’s father, Pete used to work.
The welding torch kicked up sparks twice more before Juniper stepped back to admire her handiwork through the light sensitive port in her welding mask. “How’s it look, mom?” She asked, having to shout to be heard both through the mask and over Elvis singing Blue Christmas over the workshop’s speakers.
It took Emily a moment to realize she was being addressed, thanks more to being caught up in The King’s singing than paying much attention to the business’s profits and costs; she was thinking of hiring an accountant anyway.
“Hmm? Oh, very nice, Wil. I really like how you shaped the eyes and the antlers.” She pursed her lips and gave the sculpture a better look with her keen engineer’s eye. “Are you confident in the seams around the neck though? The head looks pretty heavy and these have to survive being moved around.”
Juniper looked over those same seams. She didn’t have as good a sense for all things mechanical like her mother, but she’d been welding since she was twelve and could tell solid from weak. “I’m sure.” She concluded. “It might not look like it, but it’s all connected on the inside anyway. The neck seams are more like back-up.”
To show her confidence, she extinguished the torch. “Dasher here is ready to join his brothers and sisters.” She announced, flipping up the welder’s mask. Sweat was streaming down hear face, joining the grime of rust and oil and dust, but from beneath it all, her smile was still bright.
Emily cocked her head to the side at the comment, wavy brown locks bouncing. “Huh. I always thought all the reindeer were boys. Which ones would be Dasher’s sisters?”
“Almost definitely Vixen.” Juniper said after some thought. “But you’re right, I don’t know if any of the others are boys or girls. Cupid’s probably a boy, but none of the others don’t really say much one way or the other about their sex.”
“Comet sounds like a male name.” Emily suggested.
Juniper blinked. “Really? I was leaning toward female for that one.”
“The phone calls are done.” announced Juniper’s father as he came around to the wide-open hanger door of the workshop. Even though he’d been in the office most of the day, he looked as if he’d expended just as much energy as his daughter. “Emilo is driving down here tomorrow to take away those I-beams we picked up from the Cranston job, and Harry over in Yellow Creek wants us to clear off some land he just bought.”
“Sounds like more numbers going into the black.” Emily smiled.
Removing her mask completely, Juniper smiled at her father. “Hey, Dad, which of the reindeer do you think are female?”
Having been married to his wife for almost two decades, Pete didn’t even blink at the question. “Vixen of course, then Dancer, and Dasher.”
“Dasher?!” Both women asked.
:What?” He asked, “that wasn’t obvious?” Before the conversation could delve deeper into the genders of any more beloved childhood icons, he continued, “Anyway, I was going to drive into Greenlee and catch the train into Phoenix. If anyone has any last minute shopping to do, you might like to come with.”
Emily shrugged. “I’m pretty much done, plus I’ve got some work to do.” She waved her tablet at him. “How about you, Willow?”
A slight blush of embarrassment tinged Juniper’s face. She always managed to forget someone on her list until the last minute when neither of her parents did. A quick inventory went through her head: Both of her parents were taken care of before she even boarded the plane to Arizona. She’d gotten things for each of her teammates over the past week, plus Kay (who might as well have been part of the team) and JC. Her list had grown significantly while her paycheck from sitting the information desk at the Dayspring Museum hadn’t changed.
All that were left were… and then she realized why she’d taken so long to get the last two presents on her list. “About that…” She said, pulling off her thick, leather welding gloves before unbuckling the apron. “I’m not sure if I’m supposed to get gifts for Malcolm or Jessica. Malcolm’s Jewish and I’m not sure if it’d be rude to buy him a Christmas present or not. And Jess… well she’s Kay’s roommate, not mine but we’ve talked a few times since the party and I kind of want to be friends with her.”
Emily tilted her head again. “I don’t think Malcolm would be offended by a present form his girlfriend. As long as you still respect his traditions, it’s fine to share yours.”
“I’ve got to agree with your mother.” said Pete. “And as for Kay’s roommate, I don’t see the problem. I doubt Kay would be upset and you did say you wanted to be friends with her, right?”
“Yeah.” Juniper said without hesitation. “But the thing is, I’m nervous about making another friend that’s out of the loop about the Descendants and Zero. She lives with Kay, but Kay doesn’t have to run off when danger happens. I’m just not sure if it’s fair to her or to the others to add yet another person who might find out.”
Pete and Emily shared a look. It was a part of being heroes that they had long ago learned to accept: that their chose second vocation invited extraordinary circumstances into their lives. Whether they sought them out, or whether it came looking for them, the unusual was a staple in their lives. Their daughter had grown up with it, but it hadn’t been made clear to her that she had inherited it.
“Sweetie…” Emily started, “If there’s one thing I’ve learned about doing this so long, it’s this: you can’t let it take over your life. If you start blaming your lifesaving and crime-fighting for a lack of a social life, you’re going to be miserable. It’s part of being an adult to maintain a balance and yes, even to make friends who aren’t part of the lifestyle.”
“Your mother’s right.” added Pete. “It’s not healthy to push people away, especially when you don’t want to. Remember what you told us about your friend, Melissa? She didn’t exactly have an easy time because of it, did she? And she wasn’t associating pushing people away with good things on top of it.”
Juniper nodded slowly, considering. “That’s true. I think I’ll get gifts for both of them then.” She blushed again, recalling her dwindling bank account, “But… I think you might have to buy lunch, Dad.”
“No problem at all. Go get changed and I’ll meet you back here in fifteen minutes.”
Scattered Lake have started existence as a Mexican army outpost built on one of several small rocky islands in its namesake body of water. Eventually, a trading town sprang up on the lake shore and flourished for a few decades.
Eventually, however, the streams and creeks the fed the lake dried up and over the course of a few years, so too did Scattered Lake. The town and the remains of the fort were left to ruin and decay until being converted into a tourist trap in the mid twentieth century. It never made more money than just enough to justify keeping it open for a few generations of owners, and it was almost unbelievable for its most recent owners when Spectacle In Action, an entertainment consortium, offered them fifty million dollars for a dry lake and rundown buildings.
Within two years, Scattered Lake had become Ultimate Desert Arena at Scattered Lake, the southwest’s most popular battleground for the Live Metal giant robot fighting show. There were spectator seating areas along what had been the lake shore, an elevated judges platform with VIP suites built above the old fort, and two barn-like concrete buildings at the east and west ends of the lake where teams kept and maintained their robots before and after competitions.
The next exhibition was scheduled for Christmas Eve; the long awaited first meeting of the teams Prodigy League and Team Stunlock. As it was the weekend, there was mostly just a skeleton crew on hand at each facility; only there for security and janitorial purposes.
No one was in the east building’s robot maintenance bay where Team Stunlock’s machines were standing at the ready for their next battle. No one saw the green haze staring to form in a far corner.
The cloying, rotting vegetable stench of a swamp wafted into the room, along with a hazy green light. The realm of Faerie drew close to the place, blindly surging along the lines of lost connections awakened not so long ago. For an instant, the Blue and Green worlds harmonized, overlapping one another. In the space of that overlap, the air tore open and something tumbled through.
It squelched wetly as if hit the concrete floor, looking like a leather trash bag full of meat.
For a moment, it sat there, shivering in the rapid change from its native muggy swamp to the climate controlled dryness of the bay. Then it extruded a handful of pseudopods to steady itself and an orange-yellow cat’s eye opened at its center.
This flowbeast as ancient among its kind, having fled into the deepest swamps to avoid being captured and made tame by other creatures of Faerie. Preying on fish and plants and the occasional hapless foll who became separated from a larger group and became lost, it grew large over five hundred years.
Other flowbeasts were usually tamed and forced to bond with other creatures in a symbiotic relationship. That was too balanced for this beast, who had no name. Instinct compelled it to bond with those sentient being it caught, but it never allowed them agency; controlling them until they grew old or reached their breaking point.
Those same instincts were making it cast about the new and unexpected environment it found itself in with its manifold senses, looking for any likely candidates that might present themselves. Instead, it found something far more… intriguing.
There were presences in the room, thinking, but neither sapient nor animal. They had logic and routines, but no drive or true reason. To a flowbeast’s senses, they were alien… and inviting.
Slithering over to the nearest object, the flowbeast touched it with a pseudopod. Unlike the fey, flowbeasts were unaffected by contact with iron or steel; the ancient creature felt only the cool touch of the metal and through contact, was able to learn more of the subject of its attention.
It had never observed anything like it: a golem of steel and other composite materials. Its nerves were woven metal, it’s muscles pumps and energized coils. The thing was in the shape of a living being, but so much more—and that wasn’t even considering the beings unique, empty mind.
Powerful. That was the most important thing. This creature would be a powerful, almost unstoppable host. With it under the flowbeast’s sway, there would be no more need to skulk and stay in the depths of stinking swamps. No servant of Maeve of her rivals would stand against it, no adherent to the sleeping dragons could thwart whatever design it conjured.
Suckers grew along the edges of the flowbeast’s pseudopods and it scaled the golem, scaling its hind leg up to the thick trunk of its body. There, it found a seam that would eventually be welded shut before the competition began, but had been left open for emergency adjustments. It only afforded centimeters of space, but the ancient monster poured itself slowly inside.
There, it found the center of the thing’s nervous system, and fed hair-fine tendrils into it. The same tendrils that could bond a flowbeast to a living being’s nervous system performed much the same interfacing a CPU.
Over the course of a few hours, the flowbeast adapted to the strange patterns of the being’s mind—it’s code. From the comments, it discovered that its new host was built for combat by a civilization and species it never heard of. It also learned the host’s name: Rex the Wrecker.
Something about that resonated. Rex was a Good name, somehow superior. Stately. ‘Wrecker’ seemed appropriate too. Combining them gave the flowbeast who had been nameless its first and only sobriquet in five centuries.
It expanded it’s formerly compacted bulk out into the rest of the robot. The flowbeast connected itself along the wiring to every remote part of the golem. Black and gray flesh oozed out of seams and grew into a second skin, shifting to a dark purplish hue that pleased its regal sensibilities. It also flowed into an integrated with the optical sensors, transforming them into clusters of orange eyes.
Start-up routines initialized. The default input channels were changed to accept commands from the flowbeast instead of the piloting rig.
A fresh power core had been installed a day ago and within moments, all systems were reporting in the green.
The creature; a fusion of flesh and steel, flexed and tore away from the scaffolds placed around it by its pit crew. It took one lurching step forward, its taloned foot striking the floor with a ponderous thud.
Ahead of it, the bay’s doors stood closed.
Not for long.
The creature lowered its head and straightened out its tail, making its spine parallel to the ground. Pods emerged from its back, revealing a pair of huge plasma lances. The weapons fired, cutting a hole in the doors within a minute. The circle of iron toppled to the floor, revealing the sparse expanse of Scattered Lake beyond.
With a few more strides, it was running, charging out through the breech it made and into the sunlight. Five stories tall and with more firepower than most tanks, it stomped out into the dry lake bed.
Alarmed has started going off in the building, but they had no meaning to it. What mattered was that it had taken a mighty prize as a host; one that no daoine or goblin could hope to defeat even with magic.
Mighty Wrexus was free to roam the strange new world it tumbled into—and destroy any who challenged it.
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