The Descendants #96 – Kill Hope Chp. 2

This entry is part 22 of 55 in the series Current

Once they got back to Mayfield and Lifesavers, Inc HQ, it was a long night for the remaining Descendants. With the help of Laurel’s web crawlers and algorithms, they combed through the previous month’s worth of national news stories that had any sort of basis in good fortune, philanthropy, or any other positive thing that might attract Joykiller’s ire, focusing on those in and around Mayfield itself.

There were a lot of them. Miracle surgeries, spontaneous acts of good will, rag-to-riches stories, patients who beat terminal illnesses. In any other context, it probably would have struck them just how many nice things were happening in the world when one was actively filtering out the sensationalized crime and violence.

In context however, they just represented a search for a needle in a stack of needles.

Worse, they were all worried for their missing friends, a fact only exacerbated as fatigue started to set in.

Around three in the morning, Alexis pushed herself away from her console in the operations room and looked around at the others. “It’s not going to do anyone any good if we’re all completely run down when Joykiller does make a move. The HQ has rooms, so let’s work in shifts from here on out.”

She looked around the room, gauging everyone’s levels of tiredness, picking out the three who were worse for wear. “Kareem, Callie, Juniper, go get some sleep. Cyn…”

“No,” the white-haired girl snapped, not looking up from where she was reading news off a tablet. “I’m not going to sleep. Not now. My best friend’s missing and now a guy who has every reason to hate him’s on the loose? Hell no. In fact, I should probably call Tammy and their parents.”

“That’s… actually what I was going to suggest,” said Alexis. “We can hold off telling the Carlyles and Ortegas for now, seeing as they don’t know what’s going on, but the Kaines at least should know. You’re the best person to do that.”

Cyn glanced up, locking eyes with the older field leader of the team. They hadn’t always seen eye-to-eye (to put it lightly), but lately, she’d started to grok to exactly what drove and motivated he former teacher. It also hadn’t passed her notice that Alexis hadn’t mentioned Dana—there was no doubt in her mind who would be handling that call if things came to it.

“Right. I… think I’ll head down to the war room for some privacy then.” As she started to rise, Alexis intercepted her, putting a hand on her shoulder. “We are going to find them, Cyn. We’ve got the best, most experienced people in this sort of thing working on it. We’ve just got to hold things together here, okay?”

“Okay.” Cyn ducked her head and followed the others out of the room.

“What if we don’t?” Alexis almost jumped, turning to find Melissa witting at her console, looking at her with deeply serious eyes. When she didn’t response right away, Melissa elaborated. “Yes, we have everyone we know of with any magical experience working on this, but ‘most experience’ here equals two years tops while Morganna was active god knows how long before ending up as some kind of possessing spirit.”

She placed her palms flat on the console and hunched, looking more haggard then Alexis felt. “So I’m asking you: what are we going to do if we aren’t able to find them?”

“Look, ‘lissa.” For the first time since they’d gotten back, Ian spoke up, “That might be the case. We don’t know and God willing, we won’t have to find out. Right now, we have to focus all our energy on the opposite: that we can find them and that they need us to bring them back. Doing anything else is a waste. For these things, I just have to have—“

“I didn’t pick ‘Hope’ as my codename, you know?” Melissa said coldly, “Cyn saddled me with it since I didn’t have one back at the Academy.”

Ian shook his head. “I was going to say ‘faith’. But hope is good too.”

***

It was an ordinary sort of house, just one of dozens in its subdivision, where the only real difference between them were which species of flowers dwelt in carefully tended beds around it. Automation kept it up year-round, from a drone lawnmower to sprinklers to a bot to keep the gutters clear.

Of course it was situated in a location ruled over by one of the most strict Home Owners Associations in the city of Salem, Virginia. The owner deeply appreciated HOA’s; something about how they convinced people to divest themselves of all hope of individuality or expression especially during the holiday seasons all in desperate, blind pursuit of property values just warmed the cockles of his heart. The institutional racism and classism helped too.

Within a short driving distance of Mayfield, it was the nearest safe house Joykiller had to said city without actually being part of it. The Descendants would expect him to come to them, but why should he when he didn’t have to? He had legions of easily manipulated fans to do that for him. Plus, during his stay in prison, something new had been added to the equation.

That was why he was in the basement of his safe-house, facing a huge, yellow spider icon with the words ‘Voice Only’ below it on his largest plasma screen.

He sat back in a comfortable recliner, relaxed with his hands folded over his stomach as he smiled at the screen despite the other party not being able to see him. “As you can see, I didn’t need any help breaking out. I appreciate the offer, but I do not appreciate you appropriating Ms. Straang to deliver it.”

“Is that why you left her behind?” The deep voice of the Orb Weaver inquired from the screen’s speakers.

Joykiller shrugged. “Partially. That plus she wasn’t really a true believer in the cause, just someone who was enamored with my image. Probably though she could change me or some other dross. We’ll see if a harsh lesson brings her around to thinking clearly, breaks her or has no effect at all.”

“Very cold, but staying on task. I admire that.”

“Why thank you.”

“I must ask, however: if you have no need of me, why bother getting into contact after the fact?”

Joykiller smirked and inclined his head. “I admire your own body of work. While idiots the world over are drawing hope and inspiration from these ‘superheroes’, you’re profiting from them and supplying the natural response to their existence: the supervillain.” He laughed. “You prey on the hopes, greed, vengeance and ignorance of the people you call your clients, trading their money for what will either ultimately be their destruction or a Pyrrhic victory at best.”

“All true, all true,” said Orb Weaver, chuckling lightly. “But that doesn’t answer my question. You are not the sort of person who makes social calls, I don’t think.”

Nodding, Joykiller replied with, “Indeed. I feel that we can help one another. I have fanatic manpower and you obviously have resources. Resources that I lost a fair bit of when Codex of the Descendants hacked my accounts.”

“Then the idea of caches was a ruse?”

“Of course it was! Why would I just hand over he products of my time and effort to some random idiot who managed to decode a secret message? I’m leading a movement here, not an Alternate Reality Game. The best I left to my ‘followers’ were secret how-to videos to make the tech themselves. That distributes more easily.”

The Orb Weaver laughed out loud this time. “Excellently plotted. But not enough to get you a loan, JK.”

“Oh, I don’t want a loan.” Joykiller shook his head, “I want an investment. I want to add my plans, my expertise, my… signature to your empire. Think of it as acquiring a new division. Before my tragic run-in with the superheroes, my operation was phenomenally lucrative without even tapping into the power of my base.”

“Hmm. You have ten minutes to give me an elevator pitch. Go.”

“Actually, why don’t I take a week to give you a demonstration?”

The Orb Weaver replied, amused, “Of what?”

“My capability. By the end of this week, without leaving this house, I will confront the Descendants’ Hope… and kill her with my own two hands on a live stream for the world to see.”

***

Like most things at LSI HQ, the beds in the barracks were brand new, never been used, as were all the linens.

Which was the problem for Melissa. Four hours after the other had been sent to get some sleep, she finally got to switch off with Juniper, only to find that aside from Juniper’s nap, the mattress and sheets hadn’t been broken in. they were stiff and uncomfortable because of it, leading her to end up lying awake, staring at the ceiling.

There were times that she could forget that in a few weeks she would be twenty-nine, not nineteen, that Alexis and Ian were her team leaders, not her former wild-child roommate and the goofy, smitten guy that hung out with her.

Tonight wasn’t one of those nights. Talking to the two of them; they being desperately optimistic, her keeping to the cynical end of things, felt like they were right back at the Academy—except they had still gained ten years on her.

A lost decade was a strong distancing element. She was too young to really be a peer to people her chronological age, but she was literally from a different era relative to those her mental age. It was hard relating to any of them even without worrying about her powers tipping the scales. And she did worry, even though she’d long since gained not only control over them, but a greater understanding.

Everything was just… awkward. From having a brother who hadn’t existed before she was kidnapped, to having a crush on a certain team member who was not only take, but also similarly time-lost. It bothered her all the more that Kareem had adjusted so easily while she was… her.

The idea of seeking out counseling as Alexis had over Avalon was starting to appeal to her when the door was thrown open. She sat up with a start as Cyn rush in, holding a tablet.

“Melissa, you need to see this! It’s bad—really really bad!”

The white-haired girl didn’t hesitate to drop onto the bed beside her, ignoring the confused look Melissa sent her way. Instead,s he just presented the tablet, which showed the image of a man in a darkened room, his face obscured by a crying drama mask in puke green.

A tap of the play button set the video in motion.

“Good morning world. Joykiller here. Back from my luxurious sate-sponsored vacation and ready to get back to my good works.” He clasped his fingers before him, leaning forward. “Not you may have heard how I was ‘bested’ by the Descendants some months ago. These claims are, of course exaggerated because as you all know, everything that happens around me is exactly according to plan.”

“Yeah, being made to look like a chump was just what you wanted, you sack of shit.” Cyn growled.

On the screen, Joykiller continued, “No, the truth is, I needed time to think. Some quiet time. Some me time. Because in Mayfield, I witnessed something that shocked and disgusted me,”

“A mirror?” Cyn continued trying to antagonize the recording.

“Among the Descendants, there is a singular young woman whose very powers are anathema to the proper workings of the universe. When I came to that fair city, I was there to see to it that a woman died to counterbalance her friend’s unearned windfall. It was a simple enough operation: just a little honey bee venom in a bowl of cake batter. Anaphylactic shock would have done the rest. If this person wasn’t there to save the day.”

Cyn and Melissa glanced at each other. “Didn’t you administer the epi-pen?” the latter asked.

“I’m thinking he drew his own conclusions,” Cyn guessed.

“Not only did she save a life that I was trying to end, but this person has done so repeatedly and consistently. By my calculations, this ‘Hope’,” The word came out as a slur, “has used her healing hands to save over one thousand people—people who would have died in a good and ordered world. If left unchecked, she might save thousands more.

“Think of it, will you? Thousands of more worthless, resource-hogging, idiotic, passive filth wasting our space, having children so their kind can multiply and take up more space and resources. All because one little girl can’t accept that death is a part of real life—one of the most important and profound parts.”

Joykiller’s voice had become a growl now and his hands were clenched into fists. “Well no more. Today, I take a break from my war on ‘hope’ to declare war on Hope. She cannot be allowed to continue her activities and I for one intend to ensure she doesn’t by the end of the week, no matter what I have to do to her.”

Melissa gasped and then gasped again as Cyn put an arm around her. “Like hell.”

The crying drama mask shifted and morphed into a sinister smirk. “And because I have no doubt in my mind that The Descendants have intercepted this video and are watching, allow me to address you directly, Miss Hope: let’s play a game. In the city of Mayfield, under the lip of the southern side of the fountain in Westinghall Plaza, you will find a package containing a clue that will lead you to another clue—a trail of puzzles and mind games that, if you complete them, will lead you to where I’m hiding.

“If you follow this path and find me I will gladly concede and allow you to take me to jail. On the other hand, if you ignore me, I’ll be forced to impose a penalty.

“I’m certain that you’ve been combing the news, looking for some event or person whose circumstances match my MO. Clever, but only if you forget that I’m not some delusional fool locked into his pattern. There is a sickeningly endless variety of joy in the world to snuff out. Maybe I’ll visit every chapel and church holding a wedding today and slash every groom’s throat. Maybe I’ll gas a playground. So many accidents can happen at museums, concert halls, cafes, and malls. Anything that can bring the ignorant, blissful folk of your city enjoyment could be a target. Will be my target.

“That’s right, Mayfield: I’m declaring a holiday of sorrow in your city that will last however long I want—until I get to kill Hope.”

Cyn stopped the video there, putting the tablet down to wrap her arms around her shivering teammate.

“What did I do?” Melissa murmured, staring down at the paused screen.

“You didn’t do anything. He’s just some asshole, okay?” Cyn tightened her hug.

“He’s going to kill people.”

Cyn broke away to look the other girl in the eyes. “I say again: like hell. Look, this is so obviously a trap that it’s straining believably that this guy is a genius. I’ll just shift into you, do the scavenger hunt thing, than kick his teeth in. Cake.”

“No.” Melissa shook her head. “No… he’s a genius. And he knows you exist. There’s no way it could be that simple. He’ll either had a way to know it’s really me, or else you’re the real target. Remember the woman we saved? The one who ate that bee-venom cake? She was the friend of someone he hated. He tried to kill the daughter and husband of the reporter who was writing uplifting stories. He never comes straight at his target. There has to be something more.”

“Okay, then what?” Cyn asked.

The redhead shook her head. “I… don’t know. We have to do something though. Even if we end up playing his game it’s better than letting other people get hurt right?”

“Man, I wish Mom were here.” Cyn muttered, “or Warrick. He’d go all righteous anger about his threat. He’s really smart when he’s pissed.”

“Well, we’ve still got the rest of the team.” Melissa reasoned. “Let’s go talk this out with them.”

To Be Continued…

Series Navigation<< The Descendants #96 – Kill Hope Chp. 1The Descendants #96 – Kill Hope Chp. 3 >>

About Vaal

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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One Comment

  1. Typos (& suspected)

    who were worse for wear.
    might be correct, might be:
    who were worst for wear.

    to grok to exactly
    to grok exactly

    witting at her console,
    waiting at her console,

    she didn’t response
    she didn’t respond

    though she could change
    thought she could change

    over he products
    over the products

    who was not only take,
    (not sure, but ‘take’ doesn’t look right.)

    as Cyn rush in,
    as Cyn rushed in,

    straining believably
    straining believability

    about his threat.
    might be correct, might be:
    about this threat.

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