- 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
When Callie was a kid, dreaming of being rich and famous, she always had a certain picture in her head: glitz, limelight and fancy parties with a side of big, fancy houses and getting her picture taken a lot.
Now, she was… well, she wasn’t rich and she wasn’t a household name. All she did was save people’s lives at great risk to her own—that couldn’t match the much-deserved fame of say, the pitcher of the Mayfield Collossi. The team clenched their division the previous year, which was worth millions in endorsements instead of the four-to-low-five figures she commanded. Not that her earnings were the important part of what she did of course, but a girl had to eat and she wasn’t born rich or capable of conjuring gold at will (or something worth selling) like some of her teammates…
She was getting too far afield. That was part and parcel with having her brain working just slightly faster than her body: it needed to do something to fill the picoseconds between nerve impulses, so it turned to over-thinking.
The point was, she only thought of the public, fun parts of being famous. Now that she’d attended several commercial shoots and special appearances, she knew that like a beautiful swan, it looked graceful above the water, but there was a lot of work going on underneath. Boring work. And the handlers and greenroom attendants all had the same basic script they followed when making smalltalk with her.
‘Faster than a speeding bullet’ came up eventually every time.
It was kind of annoying because it wasn’t true. Her life would have been much easier if it were.
No, she was just a fraction slower than a speeding bullet. It was enough to make evading bullets more like playing dodgeball instead of ‘get riddle with lead’, but still: it wasn’t the cakewalk people thought it was for a speedster.
That she didn’t know how the ice bullets worked and if her suit could stop them wasn’t helping. All she could do was juke, twist and scramble around the big, open room, keeping the fire focused on her and not any innocents—especially not Tillie, Rain or their injured friends.
One thing was certain: whoever it was hadn’t bought just a handful of rounds. Callie stopped counting at thirty. Not because she decided it was hopeless, but because that was when the sniper went full-automatic with their frozen projectiles.
But she wasn’t just dodging; she was watching. Watching the flight paths of each shot that missed her. Following those trajectories back up to the broken window… to an open one in one of the other towers in the apartment complex. From there, counting the number of floors up and over was a simple matter for an overclocked brain.
Among the Descendants, she was the new girl. She was the naive one who didn’t know the ins and outs of the superhero game. But she knew one thing that was integral to the whole business: you had to stop the bad guy.
Dodge. Fake left. Twist. Duck.
She had the sniper focusing on an empty corner of the hall where there was no one and nothing to target but herself. It was like one of those old cowboy movies she’d seen on late night TV where the bad guy made some poor drunk dance by shooting at his feet.
Accept she wasn’t drunk.
Just as quickly as she’d been boxed in, Callie was off at full speed, phasing through the wall of the tower she was in and running flat out for the sniper’s nest.
In said nest, John Lee Shawn grit his teeth.
It just had to be the speedster.
Two weeks of watching tape on the damn Descendants and he’d worked up a firing solution for most of the team: A full-body freeze for the shapeshifter. Shot the size of medicine balls to dent the metal controller’s armor. High speed, high velocity shrapnel to overload the psychokinetic. Oh, and the one that controlled wind and water would get a big surprise coming up against him.
But if you couldn’t make contact, couldn’t make a hit from ambush, a speedster would be… a challenge.
He gestured, the sensors in his gloves picking up the signal to rev up the condenser on his back. His HUD started registering his arm reservoirs ticking back up from forty percent while his back reserves started to crawl back from the twenty percent red zone.
The whole powered armor rig was something cooked up in Costa Rica to fight fires in rainforests, where running water was scarce but humidity was plentiful. The USMC had jumped at the chance to outfit a man of Shawn’s special talents with such a device. Taking it with him was his way of telling them what he thought of their ‘dishonorable discharge’.
Flexing his arms forward, he opened the nozzles behind his wrists while at the same time working his power over the water that stared pouring out.
Ice formed. The faults and weak points in the crystalline structure formed precisely where he wanted them to with steam forming behind and becoming pressurized by the water being forced into the nozzles by the rig’s pumps. When the ice finally gave under stress, the results were ballistic, sending shaped chunks of ice flying with enough force to do some real damage—if he hadn’t also made them hollow and full of liquid water.
His client didn’t want the target or her guardians to die.
Shawn made the man pay extra for that. With the speedster in play, he wished he’d paid more.
At first he thought he had her cornered with a blanket of cover fire. Then, as if she’d just been playing him, she lunged forward… and ran through the wall.
The tape hadn’t done that trick justice.
Briefly, Shawn tried to track in on her with his fire, but it was no use. She was too fast and coming too close to his blind spot at the foot of the tower.
A challenge indeed. Shawn hated challenges. They made him have to fight dirty.
Halfway to the opposite tower, Callie decided to forgo the building’s stairs. Locating them in a building she didn’t know would just give the sniper time to pack up and flee. Judging by how they weren’t even trying to fire on her, she suspected they were already on the move.
She reached the wall, took a hopping step, then ran straight up the side of it, making for the open window thirty-three stories above.
A crude plan had assembled itself in her head. The sniper was either packing up or—worse case scenario—still aiming out the window. Either way, they would be on their guard. So she wouldn’t use the window. She’s throw herself through the wall, then use the element of surprise to get another running start inside the room and pummel the baddie at high speed.
No plan survives first contact with the enemy. Callie’s was DOA.
She leapt through the wall to the right of the window only to phase into the room amid a thick bank of fog. Out of momentum, she solidified and landed heavily on her side. The floor was carpeted, but that was all she could discern about the place. A constant, pervasive ‘whoosh’ sound filled the space, sounding like an industrial vacuum cleaner.
The fog above her swirled and she rolled to her left just in time to avoid a ceramic-clad boot coming down where her ribs would have been.
With only a little over a month of martial arts training from Laurel under her belt and nothing having to do with attacking from prone, Callie panicked and did what came to mind first: she rolled back over and grabbed the boot with both hands, pulling with all her might.
A sharp curse came from above and more fog swirled as her assailant hit the floor with a thump and a clatter.
At the same moment, whatever was keeping the fog in the air seemed to fail, as the mist collapsed into a sudden, short-lived drizzle.
Callie scrambled to her feet while her opponent kipped up as if the bulky armor her wore weighed nothing. She finally got a good look at him—or the armor at least. Most of the top-heavy rig was black plastic or white ceramic tiles. The ‘whoosh’ sound from before was coming from a black plastic hump on its back that was lined with vents that glowed blue on the inside. Hoses trailed from the hump to plug into nozzles mounted on the heavy gauntlets of the suit.
Of the man, all she could see was a bald head with once-trendy chain-link tattoos circling the crown, and a pair of steely blue eyes that flickered with color as lights from somewhere on the mask flashed across them. The rest of the man’s face was hidden by some sort of breathing apparatus or the industrial headphones he wore, presumably to combat the constant noise of the thing on his back.
At the same time, she got a good look at the room. There were in someone’s living room from the looks of it; couch, coffee table, TV, tchotchkes. Someone lived there and it probably wasn’t the guy in the armor.
“Who are you and what do you want?” Callie was sure that was the standard question, though she was more concerned about sounding confident and figuring out how she could take down someone in full armor when her strategy had been punches.
A sound came out of the mask that Callie first mistook as something in the filter coming loose, but which she quickly realized was a cackling laugh. “What do I want?” that man’s voice came out distorted and uneven thanks to his mask’s design, “All I want is to get paid. You’re in the way of that right now.”
Then he raise both arms out in front of him, palms facing each other about a foot apart. Water leeched out of the nozzles in his gauntlets and defied gravity to converge into a ball between his palms. It promptly solidified and exploded through the air toward her.
Callie sidestepped and turned, narrowly avoiding the icy cannonball that smashed a hole in the wall behind her. Before the shattered ice of pulverized drywall had time to settle, Callie took off. The room was barely big enough for her to get up to speed, but she was able to run up the wall to avoid the next shot and was up to speed by the time she’d made two full circuits around it.
The armored man grunted, then flexed his shoulders. The ‘whoosh’ sound dialed back, only to be replaced by a deeper hiss as the blue-glowing vents along the suit’s humped back opened up and exuded more fog that quickly spread to fill the room.
“How well can you run if you can’t see?” He demanded with another cackle.
Not well, Callie had to admit. But she did remember the room’s layout, and if he couldn’t see either…” She left the wall and made a beeline for her most probably weapon: the coffee table in the center of the room. It looked to be solid wood, so given enough velocity, it might be able to crack the powered armor.
Just as she reached it, however, something solid made contact with her chest and refused to be budged even at her speed. Callie’s feet flew out from under her and her momentum sent her crashing down atop the coffee table on her back. She’d been clothslined by the armored figure’s arm.
“Adaptive Imaging Report Engine.” said the armored man. “lasers paint the image of the room directly into my eye—I don’t even see the cloud.”
He lifted up a fist to strike her, but Callie wasn’t as out of it as she’d been letting on. Grabbing the side of the table, she threw herself to the side, flipping it over on top of her. The fist slammed down on solid wood, driving Callie down onto the carpet, but that was much preferable to what would have happened if he’d hit her directly.
In the next moment, Callie got her feet under her and she bucked upward, driving the table up and into her enemy’s chest, forcing him back. Using that opening to back up as well, Callie then lunged forward, pushing as hard as she could.
Instead of phasing through it, she grabbed the table and lifted it like a riot shield as she cannoned into him.
She’d misjudged, though Callie had no idea if that was good or bad. The powered armor, with its humped posture and heavy arms already made it dangerously unbalanced. There was no way for the operator to root themselves to the ground and no way for him to easily correct if her got any unwanted backward momentum.
He stumbled back to avoid falling again, but Callie kept pressing, faster and with more force than ever before. The bullrush drove them both all the way to the other side of the room and yet the man was still giving up ground—right until he back-peddled through the window he’d been firing from earlier.
With the table in her way, Callie’s only warning was the sound of glass and wood breaking as the man and his armor crashed out into the open air some thirty stories above the ground. At the sound, she put on the brakes and tossed the battered table aside.
Eyes wide with horror, she peered out through the new hold smashed into the wall.
That was it, she thought. She’d screwed up beyond imagination. The other Descendants had managed to stop even Inexorable without killing him and now, n her first real solo battle, she’d thrown a man out a window far too high for even his armor to save him.
Her stomach churned as she forced herself to look down…
Then immediately leapt back as a fusillade of ice bullets raked the room from below. In the second before she had to dodge, she saw him some ten stories down, still falling, but very slwly—atop a column of water vapr spouting from beneath the hump on his back.
“Wow.” she muttered to herself. “I actually should have hit him harder.”
She didn’t give herself too much time to dwell on that: whoever the sniper was, he was focused on her for the moment, but he could turn his attention back to Tillie and the others at any moment. She had to keep his attention until someone responded to Tillie’s call.
Running circles around the guy wouldn’t do it though: he was smart and professional. The ‘taunt them into a mistake’ technique Cyn and Warrick swore by wouldn’t work on him either. She would have to go on the offensive.
Thinking of Cyn, Warrick and their stories made her gaze travel to the kitchen and an idea start forming.
Shawn had to drop the last twenty feet to the lawn between the towers. His main reservoirs was in the red zone from having to vent so much steam into a crude jump jet. His secondaries were near twenty-one percent after that last volley too.
He looked up at the gaping hole in the tower and narrowed his eyes. Speedsters. Even some trumped up kid with a few endorsements had been able to give him trouble. People fretted over the man who controlled the earth, or even the shapeshifters, but speed was an advantage that was difficult to counter.
Kicking the condenser into high gear, Shawn readied himself for whatever the speedster might send his way next.
The problem was, he was waiting for the wrong speedster. As he waited and watched, his reservoir indicators slowly ticking back up, he was caught completely off guard by something slamming into him from behind, nearly throwing him off his feet.
Stumbling from the hit, he wheeled around. The remains of a cardboard box was blowing away in the wind and the ground was littered with sneakers, boots and dress shoes. They didn’t weight a lot, but moving at over a hundred miles an hour, they packed a substantial punch.
Beyond the shoes, about a dozen yards from Shawn was a girl his employer had listed as someone to be incapacitated but not harmed. He hadn’t managed to neutralize her before the speedster attacked.
Tillie knew she wasn’t thinking clearly. She should have stayed hidden and waited for the cavalry. She should have stayed with her fallen friends. But the person who hurt them was still up and active and she was not just going to sit there and wait to see what he had planned.
Part of her hoped the shoe box would have put him down in one hit. A less reasonable part was happy he was still standing because she wanted to bury her fist in his jaw.
“I don’t know who you are.” She said, unsure if he could even here him at the distance she was standing from him, “And I don’t know why you’re here. But you hurt my friends and my little sister—I’m going to shove that powered armor up your ass.”
To Be Continued…