After months, the Descendants and the loose alliance of heroes under the semi-private banner of Life Savers, Inc had still failed to bring the former ROCIC installation they had been gifted as a headquarters to full operational capacity.
Nonetheless, Laurel had taken one of the higher level offices for her own even if she rarely used it and it was here that she was holding a meeting that she knew would change a lot of things when it came to the team.
“I get that you’ve got a lot to do,” Warrick Kaine was saying, sitting across from her with his palms on his knees as he leaned far forward in his seat, staring at the floor, “And I get that Mr. Smythe and Miss Keyes have to go to California for the thing with Mr. Smythe’s mom… but can’t we wait until they get back? I mean, we’ve waited all this time to go after these things.”
Across from him, Laurel’s expression was not unsympathetic. She knew she was putting a lot on his shoulders, but in order to move forward, she knew this was for the best. “We could, but they’re also going to be visiting Alexis’s family too and I don’t want them to feel rushed in doing things. Besides, the idea to go after this particular artifact came from you guys and let’s face it: you aren’t kids who need us to hold your hands anymore.”
“Oh, I get that,” Warrick said with conviction. “And I appreciate that you get that.” After an awkward pause, he added, “And I get that you’re like way smarter than everyone else, but I still think you’re making a mistake! I mean wouldn’t Kareem be a better choice? Or Lisa? I mean why would you want me to be field lead for this mission?”
He made a game effort not to flinch at the now-honed school teacher stare he found himself on the other end of. Laurel frowned a little at his lack of confidence. “Why not you, Warrick? Frankly, you’re the one who’s had the most leadership experience among the younger members. You fought crime on your own for almost a year; you were the one who came up with the plan to defeat the Joykiller; you helped keep everyone safe sane and together when you were trapped in Faerie, and in battle, you’re often the one figuring out tactics.” Her expression lightened a bit as she added, “Plus—and this is no mean task—you’re one of the few people Cyn will listen to and that’s going to be very valuable in this mission not becoming an international incident given our newfound celebrity.”
There was a brief moment as image of Cyn getting defensive and loud with local authorities, especially given the fact that the mission Laurel had laid out would be taking the group near two international borders, flashed before Warrick’s eyes. “That last one’s… a good point. But at the same time, given how well-guarded Excalibur was, shouldn’t this be a full-team type situation?”
“Excalibur was complicated by our own ignorance and the Adriel’s involvement. Now Lisa has the knowledge of Hyrilius and as far as we can tell, the Adriel has neither the knowledge nor the resources left to be a problem this time.”
“And if there’s other problems? I mean we are going to be flying super near Columbia on the way there and on the border with Brazil…”
Laurel gave him a sympathetic look. “You’ll be fine. No one from Brazil is going to blame an eighteen year-old for something that happened before he was born. And as for Columbia, the last time I checked, the biggest danger you’ll be in is being mobbed by adoring fans.”
“That can still be a problem…”
“Warrick.” She said his name firmly but without cruelty. “You are the best choice for field leader right now. Moreover, you also know how we operate: all the responsibility won’t all be on you.”
He sighed. “Yeah, only just most of it.” Before she could argue, he continued, “But I think I understand. I’ll do the best I can, Miss Brant.”
She smiled. “I know you will. That my first reason for choosing you. Let me know if you need anything and don’t hesitate to call if you want some advice. How about you have your team of seven picked for me by Monday?”
“I think I already know who to bring already…”
“Okay. I’ve got a question.”
Warrick was treating Cyn at Gooey, a local gourmet sandwich shop known for its vast variety of grilled cheese sandwiches, including Gorgonzilla, their specialty challenge sandwich. Cyn had of course ordered two because now that everyone knew she was Facsimile, she didn’t have to pretend it was hard to eat just one in a sitting.
Warrick was having a Monte Cristo with house blackberry compote and trying not to get spattered with five kinds of cheese as his best friend went to town. “Shoot. I’m all ears.”
Taking time to swallow a huge bite and sip her gallon milkshake (also part of the challenge), Cyn finally found time between gluttony to speak. “So I’m noticing a pattern in the team you put together. And notice I’m not bringing up how my own mom passed me over for leader because I’m a bigger person than that and not at all pissed that I’m a member of the only rich family that doesn’t naturally nepotize.”
“Of course you wouldn’t. You’d never bring that sort of thing up.” Warrick said, hiding his irony behind eating a fry.
She nodded in unironic agreement. “Right. So yeah: Lisa and Kay are just no-brainers. Dealing with magic bullshit, we bring the magic experts. But then the rest of us… can’t help but notice you picked the four of us who got the shortest end of the stick when it came to the whole… thing last week. Me of course and the Ollie situation. And Kareem—enough said. Then Tink and Jun? Is it just me or is this pity trip? Trying to make us feel better about how crap life suddenly got when it should be amazing by taking us on three days of fun and sun?”
Shooting him a suspicious glare, she reached over and poked his arm. “I know you. Even if you’re usually sealed in a strong shiny metal shell, there’s always soft, sappy nougat underneath.”
Warrick scoffed. “The last time we went after this kind of thing we nearly got cooked to death by dark matter and you really think I’d sabotage us while we’re shorthanded?”
“Sappy nougat,” she sang back in reply.
He huffed. “Seriously, that’s not what I’m doing! Look at It this way: I’m taking my best friend who is the most versatile person in the world—”
“It’s true I am pretty great,” Cyn laughed.
“–my girlfriend who is also the only person who can fly the jet—”
“I can fly it too, ya know!”
He gave her a level stare, “I’ve seen your simulations, Cyn.”
“Hey. I fly really well. It’s the landing… and the taking off… where there are problems.”
“Still, I rest my case. Anyway, then there’s Juniper, our stronger flier who I’m not even sure fits your theory. Didn’t things go good with her and Malcolm?”
Cyn’s conspicuous consumption ceased as she turned that thought over in her mind. “It did… and it didn’t. She’s having… Willow issues. The rest of us are out there for the world to see. No more secrets, mostly. For her? Not so much. It’s really just a name change, but Jun asks like it was so much more. Since Malcolm was so understanding about… all the things… when it came to us, now she’s feeling guilty.”
That got a sigh from her friend. “Can’t say I don’t know how she feels. I hated lying to Tink all the time.”
“I didn’t. Ollie was better off not knowing and no one can tell me different. It’s just safer when people don’t know and there’s no reason to feel guilty for it.”
After an increasingly tense and awkward pause, Warrick asked, “I know I already asked before, but… wanna talk about what happened?”
“I’m fine.” Cyn said all too quickly, then thought better of it and shook her head. “I’m just not in the mood right now. Can we just hang out and not talk about that?”
Taking care not to point out that she was the one that brought it up, Warrick moved on. “So yeah, I didn’t know Jun was having a hard time. And Kareem? Well this magical world stuff sometimes comes with Astral stuff attached. Not gonna lie: I am going to be trying to convince him he’s still valuable to the team even if he doesn’t want to use the mind-whammie right now.”
Ignoring her knowing look, he sat back in his seat and folded his arms. “I really worked hard to make sure the right people were going on this mission.”
Very early the next morning, the floor-length, double width mirror in the concealed hangar where the Karasu no Yūrei rested flashed briefly, the reflection of the cavern being replaced by the image of a dorm room decorated with posters and wall-scrolls of shows that heavily featured unusually beautiful anime men either trying to outfight or out-brood one another.
Moments later, Tammy Kaine and Kura Akagi emerged into the quiet of the cavernous space.
“See? It’s his spare D-icon. I might have nicked it from his room last time I was over to hang out with him,” Tammy was saying as Kura looked around in awe.
“Oh my god, there it is!” Kura squealed, “Its’ the secret ninja plane. I’m going on a kick ass South American trip in a secret ninja plane. You are the most awesome friend ever and your brother just went from ‘dur’ to ‘dude’!”
The mirror returned to normal and Tammy pocketed the D-icon, taking a few more steps into the hangar. “I just wish we could take some of the others, but… well it’s a small plane. We’ll just have to have enough summer fun for everyone.”
“Think we can top last year at Walking Bear?” asked Kura.
“Eh,” Tammy shrugged. “I don’t think all the family revelation stuff and being shot at was as fun for the others as it was for us. But the team’s heading out to collect some kind of artifact against ancient evil… or some D&D thing or other. So there’s bound to be a fight.”
Kura grinned massively. “Sweet.”
And then she took a few running steps and then glided slowly over to the Karasu no Yūrei, staring at it avariciously before dropping back to the ground and planting her hands on her hips.
“So. What part are we stowing away in?”
The lofty flat-topped mountain called Kukenán was the mother of many waterfalls. Though known as the source of the a river and attendant waterfall that bore its name, it’s topography afforded water a great many places to run off its edges to water the lush forest that crowded is flanks and foothills.
At one particular place, a steady trickle of water—just voluminous enough to maintain liquid form during its long fall from over two thousand feet—had drummed upon a boulder over several thousand years turning it into a flat, smooth surface with a groove in its center where the water ran off and into the forest.
Upon that flat stone, sitting next to the falling stream, was a hunchbacked figure. It wore what seemed to be clothing made from broad swathes of cloth in varying colors from browns to grays to a spectrum in between with the occasional hint of a rusty red or dull purple and joined together by means unknown.
Large, flat-fingered hands with flesh the same hue as a fresh blueberry—a blushy blue-purple—pressed palm-first into its knees while a long, disjointed nose of the same color poked out from the ramshackle hood pulled over the being’s head.
Here, he had sat vigil since the time of the Mariche peoples before the days of Columbus and the colonization. No matter how deeply or violently the invaders delved into the land, even to the Land of the Dead at the headwaters of the Kukenán River, they never found this place where ancient powers had conspired to secret away the incredible gift they’d been bestowed in preparation for the coming of a great and foreseen evil.
And a mechanism to protect it.
And a guardian. One of a number standing sentinel around the world for the day when the Blue World would be confronted by the Queen of Air and Darkness. Summoned far from his home and given the gift of immortality along with a body that could allow him to fulfill his duty.
He had dreamt of one of the other guardians, the Fallen Angel and how it had been awakened. Caliburn had been taken up… and then sealed away. Now his dreams revealed that eyes had turned toward his charge.
The day had come at last. The Unseen Vale would play host to a great trial.
And one would die.
It was inevitable and necessary.
Slowly, like the growing oak, the Guecha rose from his seated position and turned to face the mountain. Yellow eyes pierced through myriad defenses and illusions, then distance and the physical obstacles in the way. It was time to step into the world unseen and prepare it to become a killing field.
Such was his destiny. It was the only way to save the world.
To Be Continued…