- 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
“Just what I needed today: another lippy kid.” Shawn lamented. “This would go a lot easier on you if you didn’t struggle.”
“So this is about us.” said Tillie, worrying her lip.
“An old friend’s been keeping tabs on you. Now he’s calling in his debts.” said Shawn. “That makes me the repo man.” His reservoirs were still below forty percent, so he conserved water by forming a pair of four-foot blades at the ends of his wrist nozzles. This kid wasn’t a prelates; for all her bluster, he figured he could win by intimidation.
Tillie shifted nervously from one foot to the other, watching the AquaMarine and his armor. His head was exposed, but thanks to his armor, he was too tall for him to punch him in the face easily.
An old friend. That might mean that Callie wasn’t the only specter of her family showing up. On the other hand, the Kin had run afoul some bad elements in their nomadic lives: from the corrupt Tongs in New York, to an amulet-powered madman in Chicago. And then there was Project Tome. Whatever reason they had to take her and her friends in the first place, it was probably still valid as far as they were concerned.
“What do you want?” She asked, unsure if she even wanted to know.
“Don’t worry. I’m just here for the girl. She doesn’t belong with you.”
Terrible odds or not, Tillie felt her hands clench into fists. “Yes. She does.” She was just about to launch herself at him when a blur of red and yellow streaked down the side of the tower behind Shawn, and shot past him, leaving a brown cloud of dust in its passing.
Shawn flinched back from the surprise attack, hacking and coughing. His nose and mouth filled with the dust, overwhelming him with the taste and scent of… chocolate? While he was puzzling over just what the hell was going on, the solid water blade over his left arm where the attack originated turned to milky brown goop and fell apart, plopping to the ground.
Vamanos skidded to the stop next to Tillie and looked back to see her handiwork. “Yes!” She declared, literally jumping for joy. “I was right!”
“You were… wha?” Tillie did a double take, from the watery, brown mass that had been the AquaMarine’s water blade, to the pillowcase Vamanos had slung over her shoulder like Santa’s pack. “What did you just do? What’s the brown stuff?”
The yellow-clad prelate lifted up her goggles with her free hand and winked. “Instant chocolate pudding.”
“That… didn’t answer anything.”
Her confusion only made Vamanos’s smile bigger. “No, it answers everything.”
Seeing Shawn raising his unaffected arm, she grabbed Tillie’s hand and urged her to run just as ice bullets ripped through the air where they had been standing. Once they were at speed, she explained. See, I was thinking about all the stories the other Descendants told me about all the times they had to beat the bad guys by being clever instead of just strong: using hot sauce to mess with Inexorable’s sinuses, disrupting Metal X with electromagnets… it made me actually think about things.
“And what I came up with is that this guy’s a water guy, right? He controls water and he’s got kind of insane control to be able to shoot non-lethal ice bullets. But people are something like seventy percent water… so why couldn’t he just grab the water in me and hurt me that way? I guessed that it’s because he needs pretty pure water and that’s why he’s using that thing on his back and not ripping open a sewer.”
Understanding dawned in Tillie’s eyes. “When you mix water and instant pudding, you get pudding, not water.”
Vamanos grinned and hefted the pillowcase off her shoulder and opened it so Tillie could see. “And it works for a lot of stuff. I think we can clog up that humidifier thing on his back and be—ah!”
Her boots were made to get traction on almost any terrain including ice, but what Vamanos put her foot down on was more like a trash bag full of jelly—it didn’t matter how good a grip her soles had, the surface under her was moving regardless.
Both Vamanos and Tillie found themselves tripped up by a field of congealed water and sprawling on the ground. The pillowcase tumbled free of Vamanos’s grasp, spilling its contents of various things from the kitchen of the apartment Shawn set up in.
Shawn gestured with a closed fist and globs of the gel-like water washed over the girls’ hands and feet, solidifying and effectively pinning them to the ground. “No more jobs where I have to leave targets alive.” he muttered before lumbering toward the tower where he’d last spotted his quarry.
“Get back here!” Tillie shouted, straining against the watery bonds. Each lob had laid down spikes into the ground before turning solid, keeping her from moving. “Why are you doing this?!”
“Money.” Vamanos said, staring up at the sky. “Please tell me you made that call before you came out to fight him.”
“What’s it matter now?” Tillie said and even without seeing her, Vamanos could tell she was near crying. “It was just some girl. She said she was on her way, but I don’t see how that’s going to help.”
Mind racing with plans hastily concocted and discarded, Vamanos merely frowned. “”I’m ‘some girl’. Most of the Descendants are ‘some girl’, actually. Hey, and you’re ‘some girl’ and you hit him pretty good. Right up until I decided to stand up against that Inexorable guy, I was basically nobody. What I’m saying is, it’s kind of an attitude thing…. I think.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” said Tillie. “That man is about to take Rain. She basically my sister and… and after all I’ve tried to do, I’m failing her.”
Vamanos wiggled her arm and looked over at it with interest. “I’m just saying we can’t give up. Maybe the other Descendants will get her in time…” She wiggled her arm again. Her glove was stuck in the solidified water (was it ice if it wasn’t cold?), but her hand had some room. “…Or…”
She spoke the command phrase for her D-icon and the magic responded, switching out her costume for the street clothes she’d been wearing earlier. As she hadn’t been wearing gloves before, her hand was suddenly in a loose, glove-shaped hollow which she was easily able to pull free of.
“Huh?” asked an annoyed Tillie who couldn’t tell what just happened.
“The guys in the comics say it all the time when they do something like that.” Said Vamanos, who had been getting a crash course on the century-old classics from Warrick. She reached down to her belt and grabbed the collapsible ceramic baton stored there. A moment later, and her bonds were all shattered and she was on her knees, breaking Tillie out.
The other young woman gave her a surprised look as the last bond holding her down fell away, leaving her free. “T-thanks.” She said softly. “Look, I…”
“I haven’t done anything yet.” said Vamanos—actually just Callie now that her costume was off. “We’ve still got to save your sister and without back-up, we’re going to have to do this smart.” She gestured to the groceries all over the ground around them from where her bag spilled. “And I think I have a plan.”
Shawn checked the timer on his HUD. Less than two minutes until the typical MPD response. Less than that for back-up to arrive for the prelate. If he was going to get the girl and get to his escape route, he was cutting it close. Luckily, his reservoirs were all back above fifty percent and climbing; he’d be able to vent for a big leap and shave a few precious seconds once he had the girl in hand.
The hall was mostly empty; everyone that could and wasn’t too afraid to move had, leaving the most terrified—and the fallen. His imaging tech painted the warm bodies in shades of red where they were out of visual range. The other kids the target lived with were still down, concealed behind a sofa. So was the Descendants Rights Worldwide rep.
Shawn didn’t waste time dwelling on her, but in the back of his head, there was the ghost of guilt. He’d been all over the world, seen placed where descendants were treated like kings and where they were treated as something lower than vermin. There had been placed where he wasn’t even allowed off base without special permission because the locals didn’t like people with science experiments in their family trees.
He knew about the Academy, about the Braylocke Laws and Reverend Stiles’s movement and its successors. Seeing the country he still loved (even if it didn’t love him back anymore) turning into one of those places made his gorge rise.
But a man had to eat. And thanks to his marksmanship (and the largesse of his employer), she would live; maybe with a concussion, but she’d live.
Instead of lingering on Laurel Brant, his gaze fell on another shape huddling behind the sofa. The HUD instantly popped up the bio provided by his client. “Time to come home, Nicole.” He said mostly to himself as he strode forward. Threads of water emerged from his right nozzle, braiding and extending into a lasso.
Red warning messages started flashing in the HUD, reporting malfunctions in the compressor rig. Intakes 2-5, 7 and 9 were obstructed, six of the twelve filters needed changing, and three of five feed tubes were blocked.
Shawn blinked against the sudden barrage of images before his eyes. Between one blink and the next, Vamanos appeared, holding an empty paper bag. She smiled and held the bag up to show him the label: Checkerboard Brown Sugar.
“Do you know what hygroscopic means?” She asked with a smile. “I do because Cooking With Awesome did this thing where they made a shoo-fly pie using the residual heat of a Civil War cannon. Anyway, it means ‘something that locks in moisture’, but most importantly, it’s what makes sugar get crusty and lumpy if you leave it out—or shove it in a big dehumidifier, like the thing you’re wearing.”
If possible, her smile got even sweeter. “So I’m guessing you’re out of water now.”
In the Corps, they conditioned Shawn to work under pressure, to keep his cool, and not to be let himself be baited into losing the advantage. Not learning those lessons in their entirety was part of the basis of his discharge.
“I’ve got enough.” He drew the lasso back into the reservoir and instead raised his hand, pointing his index and middle fingers at her with a half-inch of space between them. Water snaked down his wrist, around to his palm, then up into the space between those fingers to become a bullet—a solid bullet this time.
Vamanos didn’t move even though Shawn was sure she saw it coming. That alone made him suspicious and in that moment of hesitation, a jar of molasses shattered on the back of his extended hand as another blur went by him on its way toward the couch.
The sticky mass spread all over his hand and crystallized in the water forming the killing shot. Worse still, Shawn saw the second speedster get up with the target in tow and start running.
It was about that time that the last straw was finally laid down and Shawn’s calm was officially blown. Screw the money. Screw the mission—he was not going to be shown up by amateur kid superheroes. His left hand came up and he drained the last reservoir he had into it. Tendrils of water coiled over the back of his hand and formed up into a massive cannonball of ice in his hand. He aimed it at the retreating back of the one making off with his target.
The very last dregs of the water he could muster compressed under his power and form the propellant that fired off the shot with such force that the servos in that shoulder threw up all new warnings of overload.
That wasn’t part of the plan. Vamanos saw the armored man aiming for Tillie and Rain. She expected him to get angry, but not to go for the kill—especially not with Rain in the line of fire. And yet, there he was, preparing to fire what couldn’t possibly be a stunning blow into her cousin’s back.
Her body started moving before she could even think coherently. When she could, she didn’t try to stop it.
After all, Tillie had done all she could to keep Rain safe and there was no way Vamanos was going to let that go to waste or unrewarded. This, she thought, was the way of heroes. She’d worried so much about fitting in with the group, and about how different they all were, but this was what they all shared. Ricking it all so other people were safe. Doing what was right even when it hurt.
Because they could. Because something crazy that happened to their ancestors made them better able to take it and give it back. Because if they didn’t, they would have to live knowing that they could have and failed.
Vamanos’s overactive mind kicked into over drive and she found herself focusing on the flight of the icy cannonball. She wasn’t going to be fast enough the leap in the way, but if she could just reach out…
She made contact wit her gloves and something seemed to stretch and bend in her head. She felt the forces working on the ball, sensed its momentum and energy. And as she tightened her grip, she could feel that energy bending to her will.
It felt as natural as the sudden shift from running on the ground to running up a wall. All she needed was to use the ball’s momentum, turn with it, redirect it and…
In real time, it was almost too fast to follow with the naked eye. Vamanos dove sideways, caught the airborne cannonball, pirouetted in mid-air—then whipped the cannonball one-handed right back into the AquaMarine with equal force.
His powered armor took the brunt of the hit—by breaking denting and cracking. Circuitry was crushed, wired pathways severed. Servo controls to the arms, already strained from firing, was completely lost on impact. The AquaMarine was bowled over from the blow, and swiftly found that not only were the arms disabled, but so there the servos that let him pivot at the waist, and the manual locks used to don and doff the armor. He was trapped in largely non-functional armor, laying on his back.
Vamanos held her throwing pose for a few seconds as she stared in disbelief at what she’d done. Then a silly, thoroughly enjoyable thought hit her: She had a great story to tell the others now.
“There shouldn’t be any side effects once you’re over the hunger.” Hope explained. She still hadn’t finished her new costume and had gone back to her white gi for the time being.
She and Chaos had arrived at the same time as a pair of MPD’s powered armor officers. Along with the former, they had commandeered the hair salon there for a makeshift hospital where Laurel, Noah and Kevin were now lying on couches being fed a steady supply of snacks from the convenience store next door.
“Do you know why he wanted me?” asked Rain. “…or if he was working alone?”
“He’s being quiet for now.” said Chaos, “But I’m pretty sure the lesson’s been delivered to anyone else who might want to try something: you’re under the protection of the Descendants.”
He then turned toward Callie, who was out of costume and sitting on a counter with her head down and shoulders slumped. “Sorry it took us so long. I have to fly to the other side of town to get Hope and…”
“That’s fine.” Callie said, fighting against sleep. “It all worked out.”
“Don’t be so modest.” Chaos said, knowing that normally it would be Laurel saying such, but she was still recovering, “It turned out fine all thanks to you.” A deep chuckle had his shoulders shaking. “And with pudding of all things. That was good thinking.”
Callie smiled. “I was just lucky I discovered cooking shows when I did. And that he couldn’t just separate the water back out…”
“No, no. You’re definitely being way too modest.” Tillie was in one of the styling chairs next to Rain. “I looked back over my shoulder. I saw you jump in the way of that cannonball thing. If you had missed, or he reloaded in time, you could have died for us.”
She looked down, recalling what she’d said before to the very woman who went on the save her life the very same day. “And, um… look. About what I said before… I was thinking that maybe once we’re all settled in here, you might want to come over to dinner? I kind of want my new family to meet a god example from my old one.
Callie smiled. It didn’t matter that it took the threat of death to get it, it still lifted a pall from over her head. “You know? That sounds great. Maybe I’ll bring a shoo-fly pie.”
End Issue #81.