- The Descendants #104 – VIRAL Chp.2
- The Descendants #103 – Power and Responsibility Chp.6
- The Descendants #103 – Power and Responsibility Chp.3
- Descendants #102 – Tales of Consequence Chp. 6
- Descendants #102 – Tales of Consequence Chp. 5
- Descendants #102 – Tales of Consequence Chp. 4
- Descendants #102 – Tales of Consequence Chp. 3
- Descendants #102 – Tales of Consequence Chp. 1
- Descendants #101 – The Battle of Freeland House Chp.7
- Descendants #101 – The Battle of Freeland House Chp.6
- Descendants #101 – The Battle of Freeland House Chp.5
- Descendants #101 – The Battle of Freeland House Chp.4
- Descendants #101 – The Battle of Freeland House Chp.3
- Descendants #101 – The Battle of Freeland House Chp.2
- The Descendants #100 – Paradigm Shift pt.3
- Descendants #99 – Huddled Masses Chp. 6
- Descendants #99 – Huddled Masses Chp. 5
- Descendants #99 – Huddled Masses Chp.1
- Descendants 98 – The Precocious Prodigy Chp.2
- Descendants 97 – Heir of Hyrilius Chp. 1
- The Descendants #96 – Kill Hope Chp. 5
- The Descendants #96 – Kill Hope Chp. 1
- The Descendants #96 – Kill Hope Chp. 2
- The Descendants #96 – Kill Hope Chp. 3
- The Descendants #96 – Kill Hope Chp. 4
- The Descendants #96 – Kill Hope Chp. 6
- Descendants 97 – Heir of Hyrilius Chp. 2
- Descendants 97 – Heir of Hyrilius Chp. 3
- Descendants 97 – Heir of Hyrilius Chp. 4
- Descendants 97 – Heir of Hyrilius Chp. 5
- Descendants 98 – The Precocious Prodigy Chp.1
- Descendants 98 – The Precocious Prodigy Chp.3
- Descendants 98 – The Precocious Prodigy Chp.4
- Descendants 98 – The Precocious Prodigy Chp.5
- Descendants #99 – Huddled Masses Chp.2
- Descendants #99 – Huddled Masses Chp. 3
- Descendants #99 – Huddled Masses Chp. 4
- Descendants #99 – Huddled Masses Chp. 7
- The Descendants #100 – Paradigm Shift pt.1
- The Descendants #100 – Paradigm Shift pt.2
- The Descendants #100 – Paradigm Shift pt.4
- The Descendants #100 – Paradigm Shift pt.5
- The Descendants #100 – Paradigm Shift pt.6
- Descendants #101 – The Battle of Freeland House Chp.1
- Descendants Special #9 – Outted
- Descendants #102 – Tales of Consequence Chp. 2
- The Descendants #103 – Power and Responsibility Chp.1
- The Descendants #103 – Power and Responsibility Chp.2
- The Descendants #103 – Power and Responsibility Chp.4
- The Descendants #103 – Power and Responsibility Chp.5
- The Descendants #104 – VIRAL Chp.1
- The Descendants #104 – VIRAL Chp.3
- The Descendants #104 – VIRAL Chp.4
- The Descendants #104 – VIRAL Chp.5
- Descendants #105 – Foreign Relations Chp. 1
“I should come back.”
Those were the first words out of Laurel’s mouth the moment she heard the situation from Alexis.
“What about tracing the teleport spell?” was her best friend’s immediate question.
Laurel sighed. “I have the Magi Club here, as well as the Manikin. We’re still waiting on Shade’s apprentice and Lady D while Whitecoat says he’s putting out feelers to anyone in New York who might know something about magic. So far…” She shook her head. “The Books aren’t being helpful; mostly offering up long-ranged translocation spells when we need some kind of dimensional gateway like the means of opening the Astral. And Manikin… I’m not sure if she doesn’t understand or doesn’t accept that Occult isn’t here. She keeps saying that this is according to Hyrillius’s plan.”
“Then maybe you should find out what the plan was.” Alexis said dryly. “Everyone else seems to have had an anti-Maeve plan. Maybe it wasn’t Morganna that sent them away at all.” The line went quiet for a moment and on the screen, Laurel’s eyes went wide.
“What? What did I say?”
Laurel slapped herself up side the head with an open palm. “The Manikin has been helping Morganna with her magic all this time. What if she set this up?”
“Sounds like you have a lead,” Ian said, “But what should we do in the meantime?”
“I thought that was pretty obvious.” Melissa interrupted. “Laurel follows that lead and I play this twisted bastard’s game.”
Cyn gave her a sidelong look. “Yeah, that’s not going to happen.”
The redhead fixed the other woman with a glare. “Yes it is. There’s no way we can even consider giving him license to do the other things he plans on doing. If it were you, we wouldn’t even be having this meeting because you would already be halfway to Westinghall Plaza.”
“Because I’m me.” Cyn jumped up from her seat. “I’m damn-near immortal. I take hits. It’s what I do. You… no offense, Melissa, but on bullet and it’s over for you. Hell, any of the rest of us, there’s a chance you could save us, but you can’t fix yourself—not like that.”
Melissa grit her teeth, hands clenching into fists as she stared at the table. “Then what am I supposed to do?! He is going to kill people because of me. He’s going to ruin lives because of me. You think I can live with that?” Shaking her head violently, she stood up as well. “No. you know what? I’m a grown woman. This is my choice and I’m going.”
“No you aren’t. Not without a plan.” Alexis glanced tot he projected image of Laurel. “Which we still have to make.”
But by now, Melissa was on a roll and turned a fiery gaze on her. “And what the hell do you know, Alexis? Actually, explain to me how you’re the ‘field leader’ again? Laurel is a super-genius, but what did you ever do to earn the right to tell us what to do? You’re not me superior in the military, you’re not my den-mother. You’re my ex-roommate who’s been overcompensating for working for the bad guys all these years!”
Everyone else in the room fell silent at that blow-up. Callie in particular fidgeted in her seat, having only a passing understanding of what was going on, looking to Juniper for guidance and only getting a sad shake of the head.
Breathing hard through her nose and trying to hold back tears, Melissa took a moment to look every person in the room plus Laurel dead in the eyes before saying, “Now if you excuse me, I’m going down to the armory.” She then turned on her heel and stomped out of the room.
“Melissa!” Laurel called.
“Now wait just a damn minute!” Cyn moved to follow, but was held back by a gentle pressure on her shoulder. Kareem met her gaze and without a word either verbally or mentally, told her he was the one to deal with this.
When Cyn relaxed, he let her go, then addressed the room. “I will talk to her. Please, take the time to hammer out a decent plan for when we return.” With that, he waked out of the room at a leisurely pace that would give Melissa time to think things through before he caught up to her.
The second incarnation of Lifesavers, Inc had been founded on sharing resources and information. That included a database on all monsters and supervillains (as Cyn insisted on calling them) as well as labs… and the armory.
It started out as a place to store and maintain the various weapons and gadgets they used in their activities, away from the prying eyes of family, friends and landlords. Having so many mechanical, electrical, and sundry engineering field geniuses sharing space and labs, however, led to experimentation and improvisation.
Most of the things in the armory wouldn’t ever see the light of day as they didn’t fit the theme or MO of the people who made them unless someone was in need of a pinch replacement—or were desperate.
Melissa was in the latter category as she all but charged through the sliding doors and assaulted the touch screen that served as the item locator. She’s already used her D-icon to switch to her Hope costume, but was well aware that someone like Joykiller would guess its limitations and weaknesses.
The first thing she looked up was ‘helmets’, because if he was more serious about killing her than making her play his game, all he needed was a single head shot. There weren’t a lot of helmets available; a few modifications Laurel had made to her own, something Teen Machine had worked on, and an armored balaclava Improv designed.
Looking up the latter, she went to the locker it was being held in and opened it. Much like most of Improv’s gear, it was all substance and no style: a navy blue ski-mask with layered scales of some ceramic material she couldn’t identify attached to it by elastic stands passed through minute holes drilled in them. It wasn’t pretty, but according to the specs on the locator, it was designed to stop a high-velocity sniper’s round with ‘only’ a concussion as the result.
The use of the word ‘only’ for turning a sniper bullet to the head into a concussion explained a lot about Improv as a person.
“I might also suggest some form of gas protection,” a voice from behind her made Melissa’s back stiffen. She refused to move even as Kareem stepped around into her view. “After all, he specifically mentioned gas attacks in his threat.”
Balling the armored headgear up in one hand, Melissa brushed some stray hair out of her eyes—or at least that’s the reason she was giving herself why she was wiping at the area under her eyes. “Y-yeah, I was going to look into that next.”
“It’s… alright. You know, being afraid.”
“Who said I was afraid?” she ground out, biting her lower lip.
Kareem settled back against one of the nearby lockers. “You didn’t have to. And before you ask, no, I was not using my power. I just want you to know that being afraid and angry is perfectly reasonable in this situation. We all feel it. We all hate it. We all hate him for doing this.”
Running her free hand through her hair, Melissa stepped back from the locker, tears stinging her eyes. “I just don’t… “ Gulping for air, she kept backing up until her back hit another locker. A gasp escaped her and it was as it everything holding back what was driving her disintegrated.
Tears started flowing freely and she slid down the metal face of the locker. “Someone out there wants me dead.” Even with her sobs, the words came out hollow. “He says I’ve helped too many people and I’ve inspired people or whatever and I have to die for it….” The need for breath made her pause.
“But he’s wrong. He’s… it’s like he hasn’t paid any attention.” She looked up at Kareem, shaking her head in disbelief. “I-I think I could accept it if it was true. Maybe I could be like Cyn and be proud of it b-but I’m the worst of us.”
“That isn’t true and you know it.” Kareem pushed off the locker he was leaning on and came to kneel next to her.
She shot him a searing look. “Isn’t it? I do that bare minimum. I patrol when I’m scheduled to and that’s it. I know how powerful my powers could be, but I never practice with them, never exercise them. I-I’m happy just to sit back and heal the people who—like Cyn says—take the hits.”
By now she was shaking. “Do you know how many times I’ve come back from a mission covered in blood from one of you? Even you, Kareem and you shouldn’t be anywhere near the real fighting. But I’m never hurt, because I don’t do anything until all the real danger’s passed.” She rolled her head on her neck as she continued, “Maybe if I investigated things or came up with ideas, but I don’t do that.”
Burying her head in her hands, she wept silently for a few moments before she felt warm arms surround her. She leaned into him, doing her best to stop shivering. “I… Kareem, don’t tell anyone, but… I think I might deserve this. I’ve sent two years calling myself Hope and pretending I was doing my part in the good fight… when I’m not.”
Kareem didn’t let go, only tightening the embrace.
“Even if what you say is true; even if we could not keep doing as we do without your ability to keep us standing, you would not deserve this, Melissa. No one deserves this.” He pulled back so he could look her in the eye, waiting for her to move her hands so he could do so. “And together, we will ensure that this is never inflicted on another person again.”
A few hours later, an unmarked, anonymously paid commuter pod stopped on its rail just a block south of Westinghall Plaza and Hope emerged from it.
In addition to her usual costume, she wore a red, hooded cloak that settled around her in the appropriately dull drizzle of warm summer rain. As few passer-by stopped to gawk, taking pictures of yet another costume change on her part.
She ignored them, striding with long, purposeful steps toward the main plaza and the fountain it held.
“We have access into all police drones and city cameras in a five-block radius,” Alexis’s voice buzzed in her ear through the comm—a special bone-induction earbud for this case, in case the plaza was rigged with listening devices, “If anything untoward happens, we’ll see it. Vamanos is standing by not far from you. She can be on top of you in seconds.”
Melissa only nodded, knowing the motion would be picked up on dozens of cameras.
Her eyes rose to scan the surrounding rooftops and windows as best she could without exposing her covered face. Hesitant. She was terrified to find herself looking directly at a bullet on a course for her eye.
At the edge of the plaza proper, she paused, trying to gather her nerve. There could be mines. Someone in the usual hustle and bustle of the crowd could be carrying a knife or a bomb or have powers that could kill her in an instant.
Her teammates walked into situations where they knew for a fact something deadly was waiting for them. She was even more afraid of the unknown.
Some part of her tried to push her forward by pointing out that mines or bombs or knives could just as easily be employed on those people in front of her to draw her out. It wasn’t enough.
It would have been for Warrick. Or Cyn.
Not for her. She was so afraid and there wasn’t a well of heroism within her to push her onward. That was the grim truth: she wasn’t like the others. They were heroes. She was just a girl who put on a costume because it was easier then arguing against it, who stood back and let things happen while others rushed in.
But she didn’t want to be.
That got her to take a step. Then another.
Up to this point, she’d been able to avoid being in danger, having to muster strength. She let the others do that. Now some of them were missing, lost because they were trying to do what was right. And no one was voicing the possibility she knew was always on the table: they might not be coming back.
So everyone needed to step up, become better.
Especially her now. She clenched her fists, careful to avoid the triggers there from one of the ‘surprises’ she’d taken from the armor. Joykiller was fixated on her. He was using her. And she couldn’t let that go on.
Back straight, eyes focused, she made her way past confused and admiring onlookers, past a couple of jeering teenagers who had come out wearing ‘Joykiller Lives’ and ‘Kill Hope’ t-shirts, to the fountain. Those last two she kept an eye on. It seemed like Joykiller wanted to kill her himself, but who knew if he might send his followers after her? Or if they might just try and do the job themselves.
Following his instructions, she ran a cautious hand along the rim of the fountain.
A spark of static electricity jolted her into flinching back.
It took a moment to find the button speaker positioned on the fountain. It was in the shape of a laughing drama mask.
“It is you, isn’t it, Hope? You didn’t just put someone more durable in your costume and hope a hood would hide the switch, did you?”
“Well I’m not going to open myself up to being identified or shot in the head to satisfy you, so let’s get on with it: first clue,” she spat.
That got a cruel laugh from the speaker. “Have I touched a nerve already? Is it because I’m going to kill you? Because it’s not completely personal. I kill a lot of people.”
“The clue.” Hope demanded through grinding teeth.
“Very well. It’s in the same place where you felt the shock. The first one is simple. They will increase in difficulty hereafter.”
Without another word to him, Hope went back to the edge of the fountain, and, using the hem of her cloak to feel under it this time, she retrieved a plastic zip-top bag with a tiny lipstick taser attached via duct tape.
Inside the bag was a printout from the Mayfield Scribe‘s home page, the lead story for the day: ‘Dexter Deeds to cut ribbon at opening of new wing of Valmont Children’s Hospital’.
“Only you can save him.” the voice from the speaker said, “If anyone else tries, well even Vamanos can’t outrun a bullet once it’s been fired.”
Cursing, Hope leapt to her feet and started walking off the plaza. As she moved, she pulled out her palmtop and started searching for directions.
Despite her being out of earshot, the voice on the speaker cackled. “Let’s begin, Red Riding Hood.”
To Be Continued…