- 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 3)
It was mid afternoon in Nevada and the staff of Deep Ten were still locking down the various crates, cages, containment fields and bins in the cargo holds of the last flight of carriers.
“Come on, hurry up! Let’s go! Let’s go!” Simon Talbot moved through the various staffers like a sheep dog through a flock, unsettling and spurring to greater action everyone he passed. He clapped loudly in the direction of two men carrying a terrarium full or what looked like some strange child’s action figures: partly humanoid, but mostly insectile. The men almost dropped it in surprise.
“If you hadn’t parked the fleet so far from the main lifts, we would be gone by now.” complained Ronald Powell, huffing as he tried to keep up.
“Powell, trust me, we want to be nowhere near the main lifts when mama shows up. They smell like baby and everything that smells like baby that’s not baby is probably going be crushed into new and interesting shapes once she gets here.”
Powell shot a dirty look at the open tarmac the carriers would have normally landed on, some one hundred and fifty yards distant. There was nothing there but the offspring. The creature was recovering from months of sedation at an alarming pace, already making labored, drunken attempts to get its feet under it. Every time, it would end up falling over and bleating plaintively.
“Why are we rushing anyway?” He demanded. “All the projections said this thing will take more than a day to get here from its current heading.”
Talbot turned and looked at him agog. “Do we even live in the same universe, Powell? Do you remember who we are up against? Have you taken ten minutes to go online to PrelateWatch or just put in ‘Descendants’ on DataGlobe Video?” His voice rose to a shout, “Have you looked at some of the damn monsters you were supposed to be curating at this site?! We even have a beaming system—did it not occur to you the someone else might know how to teleport?”
His outburst drew Powell up short. “I… I’ve read the briefings. I’ve never heard anything about long-distance teleportation when it comes t any active prelate.”
“That’s because we didn’t know what magic was until we started interrogating the faeries.” Talbot pointed out. “All this time we wondered how they woman in the hood could have so many varied and unrelated powers? It was magic. And in case you haven’t been keeping tabs in the last ten minutes—“
Powell blinked. Talbot had been right there with him and he certainly hadn’t been checking video on his palmtop.
“—The Descendants have been talking with the goddamn dragon. They’re gong to be here and they’re going to be here soon.” He clapped in the direction of a group of scientists moving a coffin-like container. “Hurry up and get that on the ship and locked down!”
Not ten minutes later, part of the quarry floor to the east of the tarmac seemed to be ripped away as if it had been nothing but flimsy tissue paper with the rock painted over it. Beneath where it had been was a circular pool of rose-colored light.
“Here we go.” Talbot said to no one in particular as the staffers started exclaiming at the bizarre sight. He turned to them and bellowed. “Everyone out. Now. If it’s not on the ships yet, leave it. If it’s not locked down, hold it down. I want these ships in the air in one minute!”
Engines started whirring to life as Tome staffers scrambled for whatever transport was nearest.
Powell started for one himself, only to notice that Talbot wasn’t. He paused, looking between his superior, the transport and finally the long, stout neck starting to rise out of the pool of light. “Mr. Talbot, come on. We need to take your advice too.”
To his surprise and horror, Talbot turned to him and smiled a manic, reckless smile. “Not ‘we’, Powell. You’re going, I’m staying.” He pulled a palm-sized device that consisted solely of a touch screen from his coat. “I have some things to tend to.”
The neck was being joined by the rise of a great spiny back and wings as well as a sleek, black jet.
“What? You can’t do whatever it is in the air?”
Talbot tapped the screen to activate the device. With another tap, he set something in motion. Ports along the tarmac around the tarmac opened and from them rolled maintenance drones normally dedicated to fueling and running diagnostics on the transports.
“Nope. Besides, like said, everything that smells like the baby’s going to be on the wrong end of mama in a few minutes. And I smell like the baby.” He smiled that unnerving smile at Powell again. “I get to die today, Powell. Unless you want to join me, you’ve better get your ass on the transport.”
He paid no attention to Powell after that. Some of the transports were taking off; presumably he would be on one. Instead, Talbot maneuvered the maintenance drones to surround the baby, then sent the main lifts back down to the main floor of the facility
A glance at the pool of light revealed that the jet was nearly free of the teleportation circle. He guessed it had some sort of Vertical Take-Off and Landing system to pass through the circle at the height it would have to maintain to be level with the dragon’s back.
“Almost here.” he said. “Both of them.”
After a few more taps on the control box, he looked around him. His eyes fell on one in particular, a heavily reinforced titanium steel crate about ten feet long and seven wide. There were holes drilled in it near the top, which revealed that the plate steel was five inches thick. “Not a lot got left behind; only one big one. I actually kind of want to see them try and open it.”
After another pause, he added. “Yeah, I know what I’m supposed to do.”
Without a transceiver in range, the Karasu no Yūrei’s sensors were all but useless during the astral jaunt. All the external cameras showed were swirling currents of pink-hued astral matter and a dark bulk of Armigal while all of its online feeds were blank thanks to lack of signal.
Codex watched the monitors showing the astral currents intently.
The teleportation spell took advantage of the fact that distances on the astral plane didn’t work the same as on the material one. It was both larger than and smaller than the regular world, twisted and honeycombed by the emotional impressions that stamped themselves into its fabric. Every sapient creature had molded the astral plane and in their movements, they forged pathways that directly connected one place to another without crossing the intervening space. With the right spell, one could follow those paths nearly anywhere in the world.
But it wasn’t instantaneous and they were still spending time in the astral—where any number of astral predators might happen upon them.
Soon enough, however, some of the blank screen kicked back on and tried to refresh. The nether end of the spell had opened and wireless signals were reaching them again. Minutes later, the topside cameras breached the portal, pink giving way to the sun’s yellow glow.
Rising back into the material plane was like standing on an elevator with the doors open. Eye level started at the ground and gradually went up. It wasn’t long before Codex had a good view of the quarry outside of Deep Ten.
At least a dozen heavy carrier ships equipped with free-lev systems were struggling into the air far to the west, the last of whatever was being moved out lying abandoned in the dust alongside a long standing figure. There was a tarmac not fifty yards from the edge of the portal, its concrete surface likely to have gone unnoticed in surveillance images as it matched the quarry floor.
There lay the baby, struggling to right itself from where it had fallen on its side. IT was ringed by at least a dozen robots armed with various implements that looked like they wouldn’t do anything kind to a juvenile dragon.
She hit the comms immediately, adding Armigal to the conversation as well “Guys, I have visual on the baby, but it looked like they plan to hold her hostage to let the transports get away.”
Armigal didn’t respond verbally through the speakers, but her growl vibrated the entire jet.
“Ephemeral,” Codex said, calling up the controls to the cargo bay doors, “can you convey the image to Armigal? Armigal, we’re going to be free of the portal before you are:I’m going to dispatch Zero, Facsimile and Alloy to help your child as soon as our cargo doors are clear of the portal. Is that acceptable to you?”
“Do so.” replied the dragon. “And do not allow them to escape. My child will not be some Mankind’s bargaining chip.”
Codex worked on establishing her more secure up-links as she spoke. “Of course we won’t. “Chaos, Darkness: the transports are yours. Keep them in the quarry until I can hale General Pratt and get this airspace secured.”
“On it.” came the reply.
Down in the cargo hold, most of the team, sans Ephemeral and Hope was assembling. The fliers, plus Alloy stood before the cargo door as the ramp started to lower.
Renaissance and Occult finished undoing the cargo netting around a bin filled with pressed bricks of aluminum culled from the recycled soda and beer cans from around Dayspring College.
“Once the portal closes, we’re going to drop this just in case Alloy needs it.” Occult shouted across the hold. “When that’s done, I’ll come down with Renaissance and Vamanos.”
“Hey.” Renaissance said thoughtfully. “That means all us new recruits are going to be together.”
Occult smirked beneath the perpetual shadows of her hood. “And that means I have seniority.”
Back at the doors, the ramp was now fully extended, hanging precariously over the yawning pink chasm that was the portal. Alloy and the twins gave it a dubious look. “Hey, Occult? What happens if some, I don’t know… fell in there?”
“That’d be nice.”
“I think you would be ejected from the astral at a random point along the pathway we took—which could be anywhere from Meridian Beach to Istanbul. Or you might be lost in a random part of the astral with no way for us to find you. So seriously: don’t fall in.”
Gulping, Alloy backed away from the ramp, finding Facsimile there to drop an arm around his shoulders. “Don’t worry, Tin-man. I won’t drop you.” She said with a grin before moving around to grab him by indentations he formed in the armor’s shoulder blades.
Wings outstretched and with all of her spare mass shifted to her muscles, she carried him to the end of the ramp and took off, followed shortly by Zero, Chaos and Darkness. The thermals coming off the portal were powerful, as if the air wanted to avoid falling into the astral ass well, and it little effort on her part to carry her friend and loop around toward the tarmac as the older flier lit off toward the escaping transports.
The moment his metal sense told him they were in range, Alloy bent his power against the drones, warping axles to lock them in place and liquifying wiring wherever he could find it.
In retaliation, the handful of surviving machines raised oil guns and fired them at the young dragon. Only what sprayed out of the guns wasn’t oil but some kind of fine mist that enveloped the little beast and set it to bleating unhappily, rubbing its nose against the ground.
Back at the Karasu no Yūrei’s controls, Codex took notice and targeted the spray with ranged sensors. “Might be some kind of poison. Chaos, break off from the transports to blow it away, please.”
“No problem.” Seconds later, a powerful gust blew the mist away while Alloy’s power made short work of the drones.
An alert came up on one of her screens and Codex looked up at it. Someone was trying to brute force their communications, broadcasting on multiple channels. Isolating the system receiving the call, Codex answered, only to find a video connection showing her the malicious smirk of Simon Talbot.”
“Too late.” he said.
Codex narrowed her eyes behind her helmet’s visor. “Talbot, you have no idea what kind of forces you’re bringing to bear on yourself. And to try and gas the infant while her mother is right here? I thought I had a profile of you and your narcissism, but this is… is… suicidal. No matter where you hide, she will find you if that baby dies.”
“I’m touched that you care.” he mocked. “And as for finding me, well if you’ll look to the east, you’ll see a handsome man.”
She checked the cameras. “What?”
“I’m not running from you.” he laughed and held up the control box in his other hands, tapping the screen with his thumb as he did. “But I think you’re going to be much, much too busy to deal with me or the carriers for quite a while.”
Out on the tarmac, the trio sent to see to the baby felt the ground vibrate slightly and heard the noise of hydraulic motors struggling under great weight.
“Codex, something’s happening out here.” Facsimile reported.
Setting her jaw, Codex only thought a moment before muting the mic to Talbot. “Occult move now. Talbot has another distraction up his sleeve. We need to have everyone in position to defend against it.” That said, she unmuted Talbot. “Whatever you mean to accomplish, you know the dragon will just ignore any attacks to tear you to shreds.”
“This is absolutely true.” replied Talbot, exuding more smugness than Codex deemed possible for even him. “She will ignore any attack on herself. But just like you and mama bears, she won’t just stand back when her cub is in trouble.”
Talbot tilted his head as if listening to something. “By the way, that wasn’t poison gas I doused the baby in. Oh, and I have a message for you. Doesn’t make any sense to me, but whatever” Fly, you fools.”
The lifts hissed to the surface at last, revealing the oversized cargo they bore. Five immense inugami, more wolf than dog, stood atop the lift platforms. But what set them apart from every other inugami the team had encountered before was the sheer immensity of them.
The largest was at least ten feet tall at the shoulder and over sixty nose-to-rump. They were all light gray shading to slate along their backs, but most of their fur was obscured by orihalcite armor with complex machinery worked into it that looked to have many moving parts and even heavy-duty antennae.
At first, they blinked in the unfamiliar light. It was their first time ever seeing the sun.
But it only took seconds for their noses to twitch and their brains to recall exactly what they were meant to do when a particular scent hit their nostrils. Like all inugami, they were trained with a kill-scent. And for the inugami of Project Fenrir, that scent was the one now wafting off the scaly hide of the young dragon. They would now stop at nothing to destroy her.
“Doggies,” the acoustics of the quarry made Talbot’s voice carry, “Fetch.”