As it happened, Kareem had already made an appointment for a therapy session with Dr. Lauren Masters on the same day the mission to South America was to take place. Warrick had no intention of interrupting that, so he moved to the next person on his list: the Descendants’ resident healer, Melissa.
To his surprise, she didn’t take much convincing once he explained to her that she’d be subbing in for Kareem.
Even as leader of the mission, Warrick had no idea how, but Tink had been sent a special transponder code via the ROCIC that would inform Venezuelan air traffic control that the team were allowed in their airspace. With that and plenty of gear for a multi-day trip if need be, they left Mayfield at around seven in the morning on an eight-hour flight south.
They spent that time pouring over satellite maps of the Kukenán region, searching for likely landing spots for the jet and locations for the artifact’s hiding place. It originally appeared to be a simple task: the tepui was less than two miles at its longest side, but at the same time, it was two thousand feet high with densely forested flanks, any of which could conceal the artifact and its defenses.
“When Avalon rose, there were major tremors centered on this mountain just like all the suspected artifact sites,” Warrick was saying as the cloaked jet circled Kukenán-tepui on autopilot. “Unfortunately, the best we can do to pinpoint it is that it was on the western side. That’s still a lot of mountain and since we’re dealing with magic, it could be hidden anywhere even on a sheer cliff face with a keyhole that only shows up in moonlight on a certain night of the year.”
After a pause, everyone looked to Lisa, the same question on all their minds.
She shrugged. “It’s possibly a thing? Being Heir doesn’t mean I know every spell.”
Looking a bit disappointed at the answer, Warrick took control of the discussion back. “So here’s what I’m thinking: Seeing how bad things got when we got separated on Avalon, we need to stay in groups. Jun, Cyn and Lis can fly or do a reasonable impression, so you two should start on the cliff faces. Tink and I can climb and carry passengers, so we’ll make for the top and scout along the top with Melissa and Kay. That also means each group will have a magic expert along. If we don’t find anything on the cliff face or up top, we’ll break and head to the hotel and tackle the foothills tomorrow. Any questions or better ideas?”
“Yeah,” an unexpected voice called out from the stairs leading down to the cargo bay, “what team do we get to be on?”
The sound Warrick made upon seeing his sister and her best friend standing there proudly in their Liedecker Institute Safety Patrol uniforms wouldn’t have been out of place in a barnyard even if no one would ever be able to guess the animal.
After a few sputtering seconds, he got his voice back. “What the hell are you two doing here?” Normally he didn’t curse in front of his sister—unless she drove him to it.”
“Proving we can step up and are ready to be members of the team!” Kura declared like she was doing a pro-wrestling promo. “We’re already keeping the biggest, most visible target in Mayfield safe. Heck, we were doing it before there even was a Safety Patrol. Now it’s time for us to be in the big leagues; the we get out turn at bat.”
Warrick narrowed his eyes. “That’s a theme song.”
“Just ’cause it’s a theme song doesn’t make it not true.”
“And that’s a movie quote!” Warrick responded, swiftly becoming exasperated. He took a second to center himself before speaking again. “Look, Tammy I get that you want to be a superhero. I’m the last guy to discourage that or tell you you’re too young and… I’d be more than happy if you joined the team someday.”
His littler sister started swelling with pride, but he cut her off before she could express it. “But. I’m your big brother and it’s my job to keep you safe. Relatively. Considering how the world is these days and how good a job you’ve done taking care of yourself and your friends. That said, there’s three things in this world I never, ever, ever want you to tangle with: Joykiller because that guy is bent in ways that’d make half of Faerie say ‘damn‘, Maeve and whatever she’s packing, and all the stuff the magic-type folks made to fight against her. We’re going up against the third thing. So what we’re gonna do now is turn back and drop you two off at the hotel.”
“No you’re not.” Tammy said, folding her arms. “Not until we get to fight a dinosaur. That’s what we came here for.”
A low tone sounded from the cockpit and Tink excused herself to go check on it. Warrick barely noticed because Tammy’s declaration had derailed his train of thought even further. “Yes you a… wait. What?”
Kura grinned giddily, taking the lead from her best friend. “Hello! Didn’t you read the same story when you were our age? Do you not know what the mountain next door is?” Warrick clearly looked like he was afraid to ask, so she answered for him. “It’s the Lost World, dude! Mount Roraima—it’s the real-world place that inspired the book. You know, the one where they discover a plateau where dinosaurs still exist?”
Warrick narrowed his eyes again, unsure if the pair were being serious or not. “Why would you think there would be actual dinosaurs here? You know it’s just a book, right.”
The cocky little Asian girl blew a raspberry at him. “Duh, because dragons and golems and fairies exist now. So why not dinosaurs?”
Tammy nodded emphatically. “And where else on Earth would they turn out to be real?”
This time it was Melissa who lost her cool. “Dinosaurs are real! I mean they were real. They’re all dead now though.”
“Except for that Triceratops you guys fought a while back,” Kura pointed out. “Or those back-engineered chickens.”
Melissa shrugged aimlessly. “My little brother is kind of a dino nut and he says those don’t count. The point is, whatever is going to be down there, it’s not going to be dinosaurs.”
At that moment, Tink appeared in the doorway to the cockpit. “You’re really going to wish you hadn’t said that…”
“Please no…” Melissa said, instantly feeling she already knew what was about to come up.
Tink gave her a sympathetic look. “That noise? It was the radar detection system. It picked up something and I just got a visual. There’s… well I wasn’t into dinosaurs when I was growing up, but I’m going to say it’s a ‘pterodactyl’ coming this way. Like directly for us even though we’re transparent to light and radar right now.”
If the creature outside couldn’t detect them before, the combined squee from Kura and Tammy would have told them right where they were anyway. Melissa shot a glare at them. “It’s still not a dinosaur. You know, technically.”
“Technically works fine with me!” Tammy cracked her knuckles. “I’m going to zap a prehistoric reptile, get a sweet picture with it to show my friends, and that’s all that matters.”
Warrick stood from his seat and went over to Tink. “I-is this for real? It’s got to be an illusion or a drone or something, right?”
“It could be,” Tink admitted, “But if it’s an illusion, it can fool radar. Come look.” She led him—and then by extension the whole rest of the team and their stowaways onto the flight deck.
Sure enough, there was a creature that could only be described as some sort of pterosaur winging its way toward them from the mountain. It looked reasonably like the prototypical pterodactyl people might think of when told to envision such a creature: about twice the size of a large vulture with a long, toothy beak and a crest emerging hornlike from the rear of its head with membranous wings and a body that had a fuzzy appearance as if it had fur or downy feathers. The beak was longer, the crest more stubby, but there was no mistaking it.
“Best trip ever.” Tammy whispered as they all watched the creature gliding, riding updrafts, toward them.
Marking its progress, alongside the others, Lisa frowned. “It certainly looks like it’s heading this way. But what can it even do to us? It’s less than a fifth the size of the jet.”
Tink was also frowning, but more seriously than Lisa. “Not much if it’s just meant to attack, but if someone’s controlling it, they might be trying to make it suicide into our engines. It’d be like a super-sized bird strike. Even with ninja workmanship, I’m not sure we could stay airborne if that happens.”
“Then… we better keep it away from us,” said Juniper. “I’ll go and make a shield around us.”
“Wait!” Kura said, catching her by the arm. “I can do it from here!” She looked to Tink. “Can you make us visible? I mean whoever’s down there already knows we’re here anyway, right?”
The older woman nodded and looked to Warrick. “She’s got a point. And for all we know, the point is to get one of us to leave the jet and be exposed. You’re the leader thought.” That last part was said with a fond, encouraging smile.
Warrick ran a hand through his hair. On one level, he didn’t want to justify Kura and Tammy’s stowing away. On the other, if they could repel the pterosaur from the safety of the Karasu no Yūrei, he had a responsibility to try. Unwilling to voice his permission for… well anything, he simply nodded to Tink, who moved over to the pilot’s chair.
“Okay Kura, I’m going to drop the cloaking. What exactly are you going to do?”
Kura and Tammy grinned madly as the former did a little bob and weave with her arms up as if she were boxing and walked up beside Tink, placing a hand on the windscreen. “I’m still work-shopping the name, but I’m going with Kaos Kolors—with a ‘K’ for Kura.”
“It was going to be Kura’s Kaos Kolors, but the initials stand for ‘asshole’, so she dropped her name from it,” Tammy added helpfully.
Nodding her thanks to Tammy for the assist, Kura continued. “I can make anything any color I want, then I figured out that I can make a color pattern that makes people sick, or like everything is going crazy and awful.”
“Does… it work on prehistoric monsters?” Juniper asked, eyeing the creature through the windscreen.
“We’re gonna see right now!” Kura chirped. “Power down the cloak, Miss Carlyle. Kaos Kolors to maximum!”
Unable to hide a chuckle, Tink saluted, “Aye-aye not the cap’n.” With that, she shut down the array of cameras and tiny screens that made the jet effectively invisible. Kura pressed both hands to the windscreen and concentrated. Nothing changed for those inside, but on the outside, the hull of the jet turned from a sleek matte black to a maddening whirl of clashing colors in mind-bending patterns.
The effect on the pterosaur was immediate. It let out a screech and folded its wings, dropping precipitously from the sky and reorienting itself into a full retreat back the the mountain as if suddenly confronted by an apex predator.
Tammy whooped, slapping Kura on the back. “Awesome! It’s running away and it’s gonna lead us back to where ti came from—back to the Lost World!” She grabbed Tink by both shoulders from behind. “Miss Carlyle, follow that pterodactyl!”
For a moment, Warrick started to protest, then he nodded. “Actually, that’s not entirely the wrong idea. Tink can you make us invisible again and track it from the side? It might well be going back to where it came from, but then again, the whole point might have been to lure us in, so let’s keep our distance.”
As Tink nodded and started to follow, something else occurred to him. “Actually… hey Lisa? Just lookin’ for a magic world opinion here: what are the chances that these two came along hoping for a Lost World and we actually find a Lost World?”
“I’d say those chanced might go way up if someone was pulling concepts from our minds to populate some kind of major illusion or conjuring. That sort of magic takes a long time to construct, but then Hyrilius and magical folk all over the planet have been planning on the fight against Maeve for thousands of years, so I can’t put it past them.”
Warrick nodded grimly. “So there might be a magically-created land of dinosaurs down there guarding the artifact?”
“That’s looking more and more likely, yes.”
“Yes!” Tammy and Kura pumped their fists. Tammy smiled at her brother like a crocodile. “And guess who just read the book? You guys are going to need us to get through the whole thing safely.”
Cyn came to stand between the two younger girls, putting her arms around them and joining in the creepy smiling at Warrick. “That sounds totally legit and we should do this. I’ve been dying to have sidekicks of my own.”
“Hey!” Tammy protested. “I’m no one’s sidekick.”
“Hey yourself,” Kay sniffed. “There’s nothing wrong with being a sidekick. It is a noble, necessary and time-honored profession.”
Cyn hugged them both. “Think of it as super-internship. Only I’ll treat you with something other than a total lack of caring unlike with an intern.” To Warrick, she added, “Besides, just think of the international incidents these two might cause left unsupervised back at the hotel.”
Now officially outnumbered, Warrick sighed. “You’ve got a point. Plus there’s safety in numbers. No telling what we’re going to run into. Or who.”
While it was early evening, beneath the rain forest canopy, it was nearly as dark as night. This didn’t concern the party that made its way inexorably toward Kukenán-tepui, as all of its members could see extremely well in the naturally dim light.
Heavy hooves thumped on mossy ground and elderly roots alike, both those of horses and other things. Riding at the head was a creature that was very nearly human—or had once been. Long ago, it had been one of the daoine people.
Long service beneath the power of Maeve had left its skin mottled black and blue with permanent frostbite and and blushed with the white of lingering frost. Even in a South American summer, cold rolled off its body in waves. Its long ears twitched and swiveled, trying to home in on a noise far above.
“A flying vehicle as the scouts spoke of. You were correct, oracle.” The frozen elf said in a voice like a lead slab being dragged across permafrost. It—for there was no distinction of either gender or individuality for it any more—looked toward an iron cauldron strapped to the back of a fey horse trotting along behind it.
The only reply was a sullen slosh.
The frozen one scoffed. “You should have some pride in the fact that you are of use to the Queen of Air and Darkness. Not all of our unworthy, half-formed ilk are able to, spirit. Thank to you, we have an opportunity—a golden chance—to put an end to this crusade on the part of the Mankinds to reclaim their stockpiled strength.”
It glimpsed the mountain through a break in the canopy and raised a hand to it, making a fist. “And break them before they can muster their pathetic defenses.”
To Be Continued…