- 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
Tome of Secrets (Part 2)
It was the middle of winter, and she hadn’t finished redesigning her costume, so she was still wearing the ridiculous skirt Facsimile had stuck her with earlier in the year. Nonetheless, sweat was rolling down Hope’s face in fat drops as she taxed her powers to keep the crowd from stampeding.
She was so intent on preventing what she was sure would be a full-scale riot that she barely heard someone land atop the National Guard APC she had climbed atop to get a better view of the crowd.
“I thought you might want some water—and a couple of sandwiches.”
“Juniper?” Hope barely recognized the croak of her own voice and thanks to stress, forgot to use the proper codename. “What’re you doing here?”
There was a beat before the other young woman replied. “I… thought I just said…” As usual it was impossible to tell if she was being sarcastic or sincere. Everything that came out of her mouth sounded so innocent even when Hope knew she’d been lying to everyone about who she was for well over a year.
“Oh. What am I doing here.” Zero finally said. “Well Ephemeral is busy, you know, with the dragon and so is Codex. Chaos, Darkness and Facsimile are still on their way back from patrolling the roads. Occult and… uh… Kay doesn’t have a codename, does she?”
“She’s not exactly out there in public doing things.” Melissa pointed out.
Zero made a small sound, considering. “I guess that’s true. Anyway, I guess it doesn’t matter what everyone else was doing because you were wondering why it wasn’t Ephemeral, right?”
“W-what?!” A shouting match in the crowd escalated to shoving and Hope grit her teeth was she smooth the participants’ prickly moods back down to manageable levels.
Taking note of what just happened Zero frowned and came to sit beside Hope. “Not a good time to distract you. Right. Forget I said anything. How is… this… going?”
“I can’t do them all at once.” Hope admitted. “I wasn’t even sure I could do more than a handful at once until I had to calm big chunks when the news of the dragon hit. Someone almost got themselves shot already. Now that it… she… whatever is right in front of them? It’s getting impossible. I’ve got to be fast and sloppy because the second I deal with one group, the next is already starting to come out of it and their brains are telling them to run.”
She was breathing hard by the time she finished speaking. Zero nudged a bottle of water into her hand, which she drank greedily, draining it in moments. Before she could thank her, a wrapped sandwich replaced the bottle.
“How did you know I would be hungry?”
Zero shrugged. “I heard you and Ephemeral training, how he thinks your emotion control and healing are all the same bio-manipulation power. I figured if healing people made you hungry, using the emotion control a lot would do the same thing.”
“Thanks.” Hope said, and took a bite into the sandwich. It was roast beef, provolone, light mayo… and the aftertaste of jalapeno. “…Was this your sandwich?” She asked as the slight heat made her flush.
“I picked off all the peppers.” Zero said, defensive. “But… yeah. I pack a lunch every time we have to take a trip. So does Alloy. I’m sure he’d be willing to shake his hoagie if you’re still hungry.”
Hope took another bite of the sandwich. The left over jalapeno taste actually proved to be rather invigorating. “No, thanks. This is more than enough.” After a pause, she added, “You two put a lot o thought into this stuff, don’t you?”
“Well I get it from my mom.” Zero admitted. “There’s a mini-fridge under the forward console in the Queen’s Gambit. Not sure where Alloy gets it though. Maybe he got it from me. It makes sense though, right? We do a lot of physical stuff out here in the field.”
“I wouldn’t know.” Hope pointed out. “I hang back and heal whoever gets hurt, or mess with people’s thoughts.”
“Oh, speaking of thoughts… don’t look back.” Zero said, failing to take her own advice. The dragon was less than two hundred yards from them and just by standing there, seemed to give of a feeling that two hundred yards was far too close.
Hope nodded. “Oh I know. Everyone started freaking out and pointing when it got here. That… would definitely break my concentration.”
Her supply of topics seemingly exhausted, Zero grew quiet for a few minutes. Hope settled into her earlier pattern of watching for people starting to grow uneasy and putting the full weight of her power on them.
The silence couldn’t last forever though and eventually, Zero piped up. “Hey, Hope?”
“You want me to get you something else to eat? Fax hasn’t been doing a lot of shifting so the stuff Codex packs for her should still mostly be here.”
After thinking far too long about it, Hope nodded. “Yeah. Um, thanks, Zero. Not just for the food and the water just… thanks.”
Zero smiled brightly at this and flew off.
Back at the Karasu no Yūrei, Vamanos found herself sitting in the grass with her back against the forward landing gear. Her eyes were closed and her hand gripped a water bottle of her own.
“I didn’t know I could even get tired of running.” She murmured before taking another pull from her bottle.
“It’s not, you know, usually like this.” Alloy’s voice came from nearby. “Sometimes it’s like this. Like when Morganna is involved… but usually? Things don’t get this big.
Vamanos cracked her eyelids open. Big was right. She was looking that the dragon’s truck-sized foot—or was it a paw? Foreclaw? Whatever it was, Armigal’s extremity was enormous in its own right without being taken in conjunction with the behemoth it was attached to. If she so much as coughed, she could wreck the Karasu no Yūrei and Vamanos along with it.
It wasn’t something she wanted to dwell on.
Between Armigal and herself, however, something else had been holding her curiosity: While Alloy was watching the dragon in awe while trying to reassure her, the tentacles were pulling apart paintbrushes and passing them on to Occult and Kay through the open passenger door in the jet.
“Okay, I get why I needed to grab food and water.” Vamanos said, watching as Isp and Osp melted into the handles of the brushes and broke them apart, presumably so as not to waste any of the brush material. Matters weren’t helped by the fact that, when she looked up, she caught Armigal watching as well. “But why was Is sent to loot paintbrushes?”
“It’s not really looting since you left money.” Alloy said.
She blinked at him. “… I don’t think that’s the point though. Why paintbrushes?”
Alloy shrugged and turned back to face her. “I’m the wrong guy to ask about magic stuff. Best I can say is that there’s horsehair in the brushes—“
“Yeah, they made sure I only got horsehair brushes.”
“—And horsehair is important for teleport spells.” he gestured expansively and yet still failed to encompass the entirety of Armigal in his gesture. “And we’ve got a lot to teleport. A dragon, plus a jet, plus us.”
Vamanos glanced up and shivered when she found the huge eye of the dragon fixed on her. “W-we’re going with her?”
“Of course we are. This is Tome we’re dealing with. The guys that started it all.” His tone started stern, but grew softer. “You know all that stuff we told you about how Darkness, Chaos and Codex found us?”
“Yeah, well there were other kids like us. Kids we never found. They might still be in stasis. They might be messed up like Ephemeral was when he first got out, or they might have been in there forever like Hope… or maybe they just missed one Christmas with their families. Not to mention all the kinds of experiments they might be doing on ’em.”
He cast a wary look up at Armigal. She was looking at him now, but he straightened his back and spoke his mind anyway, regardless of if she heard him. “The drag… Armigal. She doesn’t care about any of those kids except her own kid. If some of them are there, she’s not going to be careful about ’em, see? We’ve got to be there to get those kids out safe.”
A sour expression briefly crossed his face. “And the Tome goons. They’ve got a lot to answer for, but we can’t just let her kill all of them.”
“What about that Talbot guy?” Vamanos asked. “I don’t think we can stop her if he’s the one that hurt her kid.”
Alloy’s shoulders slumped as much as his armor would allow. “Yeah… I guess we can’t.” He turned to look back up at Armigal, who was making no attempts to either hide that she was paying attention to them, nor addressing the subject at hand. “I’m just sorry this was your first big mission. I mean you end up learning you can’t save everyone, but that shouldn’t be the first thing you learn.”
Holding down a squeak of discomfort, Callie nodded even though he wasn’t looking at her. “I know. But… I won’t be scared off because of it. This isn’t something that usually happens, right? It’s out of our hands.”
Above them, the dragon growled. They had no way of understanding just what that meant, but in the next moment, Armigal lowered her missive head to be level with the two. Isp and Osp dropped what they were doing and took defensive positions in front of Warrick, honing their edges to deadly sharpness.
What are you Mankinds? The voice that pounded into their heads didn’t sound anything like the one that came from the speakers when the dragon spoke before. That is, if the purely mental projection sounded like anything at all.
Alloy urged the twins to stand down if only a bit and after some difficulty, found his voice. “you mean descendants? You’re talking about our powers?”
No. I understand power that passes down in the blood. You are not unique in this. But your order. The one you call ‘The Descendants’ as if to set yourselves apart. What is your purpose? What is your cred?
“I thought Ephemeral explained all of that.” Alloy said, struggling to keep his composure in the face of the huge creature.
Indeed, Armigal rumbled, But I may have misunderstood. I thought your purpose was the same as mine: to punish the one who harmed my child for your own reasons. Was I wrong?
Alloy took a deep breath. There wasn’t any point in lying to her, though he knew that if she took it the wrong way, she could and likely would destroy them and all Meridian Beach as well. “Look, what we do isn’t punish people. Sometimes it come to that, but the point is to save anyone that needs saving. We’re protectors. Of the weak, the innocent—anyone that can’t save themselves. And that includes your kid. We’ll do whatever we can to save uh… her… and make sure this never happens again. But if we catch the bastard Talbot, we’re turning him over to the cops, not killing him.”
Why not? It was a demand, not necessarily a question.
Dragon or no dragon, Alloy felt his back stiffen at that question. “Because we’re protectors. It’s not our job to go around deciding who lives and who dies. Our world… well this country at least has a system to decide that and we try real hard not to kill folks even when it comes to that.”
And if I choose to take my justice in blood?
Alloy groaned behind his visor. “There’s not a hell of a lot any of us can do to stop you.” He muttered, sure she would hear regardless.
Armigal growled at a higher octave that could have been her version of taking a different tone of voice. No. There is not. You will do well to remember that, Mankind. When it comes to this ‘Talbot’ and his servants.
Despite himself, Alloy balked. “Whoa now. You didn’t say anything about that. You have no idea who there did what. A lot of them are just going to be like… janitors and data entry guys. Any way you cut it, they don’t deserve it. Y-you heard us talking about that!”
The dragon rotated her head to be looking at Alloy head on, making a point to line him up directly with her jaws. And if I choose to deal with them as I see fit regardless? What will you do then? Will you fight, Mankind?
At this, Alloy took a step back, but only to set his stance. The edges of his armor curled and stiffened into blades and spikes around him. “M-maybe not the others… not all of them at least. But me? Yeah. When I said I was a protector, I meant it. This ain’t the first time someone’s threatened to kill me—not even the first time this month.
“And like Codex said: Maybe I can’t stop you, but I can slow you down, maybe long enough for some folks to get away. Note the blades: I wouldn’t go down smooth.”
There was a whuff of air announced that Vamanos had run up to stand by his side. “Y-yeah.” She said, trying to keep from trembling as she suddenly got a good look at the dragon’s mouth. “And you’d have a hard time catching me.”
Alloy started at seeing her unexpectedly backing him up. “You don’t have to do this if you’re not up to it, V.” He said quietly.
“I know.” She said with a wavering voice. “And I’m kind of regretting it right now… but it’s the right thing to do, right?”
Armigal exhaled forcefully, nearly knocking them over.
“Sometimes the right thing isn’t the smartest thing.” Alloy admitted, though he didn’t stand down from the dragon’s intimidation.
Instead of Armigal replying, however, a new voice came from above, specifically from the open passenger door. “Alloy, tell the twins we don’t need anymore… What the hell is going on here?”
Occult was leaning out the open door, a five foot length of thin horsehair cord wrapped around her arm. It wasn’t difficult for her to see two of her teammates seemingly squaring off against the demonstrably unstoppable might of Armigal.
The dragon rumbled in a way that would have been a derisive laugh coming from a human. She raised her head up to Occult’s level, angling it so that one eye and no teeth were aimed at her. A test, sorceress. When last I walked upon the Blue World, foolish and cacophonous things tried to worship me as a goddess.
Occult shied back from the dragon’s gaze. “That’s what was happening there?” She had to ask because Alloy looked ready for battle.
No. The opposite. Mankinds have grown a will. I wanted to see how strong it was. She looked back down at Alloy and Vamanos. It seems to exceed the survival instinct. And is also contagious.
“Is… that a good or bad thing?” Occult asked, wondering if she had any spells that might help if it was bad.
It simply is. Armigal replied. But if you are speaking, then you are ready to cast your spell, yes? We will go to my child now?
Occult glanced back down at her friends, then back to the dragon. “It’s ready. We just need to get everyone on the jet. It shouldn’t be more than a few minutes.”
Excellent. Said Armigal, directing her attention again to Alloy. And soon we shall see the extent of Mankind’s mettle.