Issue #9 Ladies of Ragnarok

This entry is part 10 of 15 in the series The Descendants Vol 1: Welcome to Freeland House

Part 3

“I don’t understand why I’m doing this…” Juniper sat cross legged on the floor of her room, across from Cyn who was doing likewise. There were only four hours left until the concert and Cyn was trying to recruit her in her ‘mission’.

“Because I need a second and Melissa’s helping Laurel and Kareem with that astral… whatever thing.” Cyn finished weakly. Laurel’s flare for names left many of her inventions unpronounceable.

“That’s not what I mean.” Juniper said. ‘I mean ‘why are we doing this?’. Warrick’s our friend. He’s your best friend. Explain to me again why we’re spying on his date?”

Cyn grimaced. “Yes, he’s my friend… and that’s why this is so important. We’re not breaking up some meaningful relationship here. We’re keeping him from thinking he’s in one and getting hurt.”

“Why are you so sure he’ll get hurt? Elizabeth seems like a sweet girl.”

“Come on, it’s so obvious that she just likes him because he defended her from Lilly and her little clan.” Cyn rolled her eyes. “The second the white knight mystique wears off, she’ll get sick of him and drop him. It’s all about the rescue romance syndrome. Why do you think girls get all swoony over firefighters?”

“I always thought it had a lot to do with those calendars where they’ve got their shirts off and they’re all sweaty and—“she got a far off look in her eye as she talked.

“Okay, stop that right now.” Cyn said. “That’s just unsettling.”

“Why?”

“Because you’re like little miss sugar and spice. It’s like watching the sugarplum fairy get all hot and bothered – it’s disturbing.”

Juniper blinked at this. “Just because I look on the bright side of things doesn’t mean I’m not human.” Self consciously, she touched one of her scars under her sleeve. “Anyway, are you sure this isn’t because you like Warrick?”

Cyn shot the brunette a dark look. “I like Warrick in about the same sense that I like you – and that is not any kind of innuendo.”

“You don’t like me.” Juniper said. It was stated as a fact, with little in the way of hurt or admonishment in it at all.

“What gave you that idea?” It was Cyn’s turn to blink. She suddenly felt guilty, though she wasn’t sure why.

“Just because I’m nice and an optimist doesn’t mean I’m dumb.” Juniper said. “I’ve known since I first came to Mayfield.” She noticed the flicker of guilt in Cyn’s eyes. “…but I’m not upset about it.” She said quickly. “I mean if it wasn’t for the Academy and everything that’s happened… and LSI… I can’t imagine that you and I would ever give one another the time of day, let alone be friends.”

Cyn heaved a sigh, “Look, I didn’t like you when you first came here. That’s true. But that was only because, you know, you were the new girl. And I’ll be honest and say that I’m still not a fan of your love-love-happy thing. But it’s not like I hate you or anything. You and I and Warrick have been through enough together that that doesn’t matter, understand?”

Juniper gave her a neutral look. “So you do like me?”

“Sure.” Cyn said. “And look, if you’re not up to helping with this date thing, you don’t have to.”

“No,” Juniper gave her a smile. “You’re right; he’ll be crushed if he expects more than a crush. Keeping his expectations low is probably a good idea.” Inwardly, she wondered how exactly Cyn planned to do what she proposed.

Inwardly, Cyn wondered the same thing.

***

Ian knocked once more on Alexis’s door and again got no answer. He knew she was there; he’d just heard her go in. She had been avoiding him since he’d come back and today was no exception. Through the door, he heard her television; she was watching something with lots of squealing tires in the soundtrack.

“Look, Alexis, we really need to talk.” He said to the door. “We’re going into week three of this and… Look, it’s really not right to say things like this through a door. Please let me in.”

There was no answer. He stepped back and leaned against the facing wall.

“I really need to say this, Alex.” He said stubbornly. “I’m not going to throw away everything over this. I can’t let that happen. So I’m going to go get a book out of my room and I’m going to sit out here. You can’t stay in there forever.”

He stomped down the hall to his own room and grabbed a hardcover espionage thriller he’d been meaning to finish from his nightstand. Before turning to go, he took a good look at the room. Freeland House had originally been a bed and breakfast, meaning each room had its own bathroom. One of the amenities Laurel had installed in everyone’s room was a personal mini-fridge. Ian’s only contained beer and soda, but from their Academy days, he recalled both Laurel and Alexis keeping theirs well stocked.

“Well damn.” He frowned. “Maybe she can stay in there forever…”

***

“You seem nervous.” Kareem said as Warrick paced the floor of the upstairs commons. “Sit down, relax. It will not do if you start sweating even before your date starts.”

“Yeah, I know.” Warrick said, shrugging as he looked to where Kareem’s face was onscreen. “It’s just that… God, I hope I don’t screw this up.” He sat down heavily on the couch. Isp and Osp fussed at his clothes, keeping everything straight regardless of how much he thrashed about.

“I don’t see what there is to be nervous about.” Kareem said, with a similar shrug. “This Liz person got tickets to your favorite group specifically to convince you to go out with her. It seems to me that you can safely assume that she likes what you have been doing so far.”

“But what have I been doing?” Warrick asked, eyes widening. “Cyn says that she likes me because I make Lilly back off her. Unless Lilly conveniently shows up so I can yell at her, that’s not gonna help.”

“I wouldn’t put too much stock into what Cyn’s been telling you…” Kareem said, slowly and carefully.

“Why? She’s female, she knows this stuff.”

“Do you know everything every other man on Earth thinks?” Kareem asked, neatly skirting the real issue. “And aside from that, Cynthia isn’t your average girl. You have to admit that.”

“Well yeah.” Warrick agreed. “Cyn’s definitely not the average girl. She’s… different, you know?” after a second of thought, he quickly added, “Good different. Not, like bad different. I wouldn’t hang out with her if it was bad different…”

On the Astral Plane, Kareem allowed himself to smile at Warrick’s nervous rambling, though he didn’t allow that to be captured by the device that projected his image onscreen. “I know, Warrick. And again, there is nothing to worry about. The worst that happens is that the two of you decide not to go out again and that isn’t so bad.”

“You wouldn’t say that if you were in my shoes.” Warrick pouted.

“Is he breaking down again?” Cyn asked, coming in from the hall that led to the rooms of all of Freeland House’s younger generation. She wore a white shirt that exposed her midriff under a blood red vest with black Celtic markings scrawled across it at random with dark, tight jeans. “Nerves, Warrick! Jeez, you look like you’re going to your own funeral.”

“I told him there was nothing to be worried about.” Kareem said. “He does not believe me.”

“No one ever believes that when someone tells them.” Cyn observed.

“I’m not breaking down.” Warrick defended himself. “I just have to not screw this up. There’s like a thousand different ways that I could do it – I’ve actually performed half of them – and I just have to avoid them.”

“It’s just a date.” Cyn said. “And Liz is the one that should be scared.” That part was true. “She’s the one that did all the footwork. She’s the one trying to impress you, not the other way around. You’re on easy street tonight. All you have to do is not set her on fire or anything.”

“Are you sure about that?” Warrick raised an eyebrow. “While I’ve never done the fire thing, I do manage to say really dumb things, or get off on kicks about things normal people think are boring…”

“Like the comic books or Malady Place?” Cyn asked, “Yeah, I can see that.”

“Or video games, or animation.” Kareem offered.

“Hey!” Cyn sniffed. “I like those too.”

“I’m just offering topics that this girl is not likely to find interesting so he can avoid them.” Kareem pointed out.

Cyn turned up her nose and gave Warrick a pointed look. “If this chick can’t appreciate Armored Century or the simply joys of tricking out a mystic gunman in Death Gate, you don’t need her.”

“But the mystic gunman character path sucks.” Warrick said, Isp took a break from keeping Warrick’s clothes in order to affect a tentacle-like nod.

“Only because you’re not patient enough not to go head long into combat. Gunmen are a thinking girl’s class.”

“This is exactly the conversation you should avoid tonight.” Kareem broke in.

Cyn smiled triumphantly. “Fine. Have it your way, Kareem. Still Warrick, don’t worry; Jun and I’ll be right there for you if you think you’re about to tank.”

“In any event, I believe I’m supposed to be meeting Ms. Brant and Melissa down by the lake to test Ms. Brant’s latest device to aid my present state.” Kareem said. “Good luck, Warrick.” His image faded from the screen.

***

“This set-up is beautiful!” Gwen Robertson said, looking over the touch screen control panel that commanded the automated acoustics system at Capashen Arena. She was the head sound tech for Ladies of Armageddon, dressed in cargoes and a staff shirt.

“If you like the tech, you’ll love the view.” Regina Lewis, known to the world as LoA’s award winning lyricist and keyboardist, Finch, said. She was standing by the huge window that looked out over the arena to where the circular stage had been set up. She had dark brown hair, which was already done up in a complex fountain of topknots for the show.

Gwen came over to look and gaped. “No back stage monkeying in this place.” She said, “This is like a sound tech’s dream – we didn’t even need the rest of the crew to run this venue.” The rest of the sound crew had all gotten paid vacation plus front row tickets if they so desired, though Gwen would have the best seat in the house.

“It was a sound tech’s dream. Our first sound tech designed this place only a couple months after she split from us.” Finch said with a shrug. “It’s the third most advanced in the country.”

“Hey, Finch, we got warm-ups.” A large, blonde woman said, leaning into the room. Emily “Garuda” Parker, LoA’s bassist, was – to borrow a line from the song – a brick house. She wore her Nordic ancestry on a sleeve that strained against her muscular frame. Her height combined with her weight to provide near perfect proportions, only at a fifth greater size and probably half again the density. “You know how Robin gets if we don’t at least throw down Damascus in perfect harmony before show time.”

“Yeah,” said the high, nasal voice of Donielle Peterson, know as Ducky. She appeared beside Garuda, her five foot nothing frame and short blonde hair making her look like an adolescent version of the bigger woman. “I’m not talking her out of her sulking this time.”

“You heard them.” Finch shrugged with a smile. “Have fun and try to enjoy the show – not like you haven’t seen it like a billion times, but still…” she waved at Gwen as she trotted after her band mates, who were already leaving.

Gwen smirked after them and sat down at the control console. After working with so many ungrateful and impersonal bands, she was incredibly happy to be working with the Ladies of Armageddon. The band and their crew had a tighter, more familial relationship than any she’d worked with or had heard of. She supposed that it was due in part to the strategy of almost non-stop touring that was at the center of their fame. Tough on real family, strong on adopted family.

Tapping the screen until she came to diagnostics, she gave the system one last once over. No matter how advanced the system was, she was wary of it because her crew hadn’t set it up. After a few moments, she suddenly frowned at the screen. Furrowing her brow, she got up and walked to the window.

Down below, on the field, she confirmed her memory of the set up. Most of the on stage speakers were housed in the trio of scaffolds that surrounded the main stage, reaching about thirty feet into the air. However, there were two speakers on the stage that were unaccounted for in the diagnostic screen. “Weird…” She muttered to herself.

Behind here the door clicked closed softly.

“Forget something, Finch?” Gwen asked, still frowning down at the errant speakers.

“Regina forgot a great deal of things.” An unfamiliar voice said. “But not this time.”

Gwen whirled to see who was talking. “What are you doing here? Who are you?”

Nikolia Petrov, the Maven stood at the other end of the room. Her gloves and headset had been joined by similar boots and a belt, bulging at the sides with boxy, chrome pods. She also wore a bulky backpack made of some sort of grey plastic.

With an air of detached certainty, she advanced on Gwen, who pressed herself flat against the window, looking desperately for something to defend herself with.

“Don’t worry, I won’t kill you. It isn’t your fault you took my old position.” Nikolia said as she thrust her left hand forward and touched Gwen on the side of her neck. Electricity sparked between two silver contacts in her palm, causing Gwen to spasm, then fall to the floor. “However, I do require you to stay out of my way while I commandeer the sound booth I built.”

Giving the fallen woman a once over, she strode over to the console. Now all she needed was to wait for the perfect moment to strike – and she knew exactly what song would be the soundtrack for her revenge.

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Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter.

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