- 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
- Descendants #105 – Foreign Relations Chp. 2
- Descendants #105 – Foreign Relations Chp. 3
- Descendants #105 – Foreign Relations Chp. 4
“His name is Jame Stewart Sawyer,” Kareem reported after a brief foray into the mind of the orderly the police picked up within thirty minutes of viewing him placing Joykiller’s medicine ball devices in the rehabilitation room. He’d been easy to find, having simply gone back to his rounds and then to lunch in the cafeteria where he was arrested while having a slice of pizza and a diet soda as if he hadn’t spent the morning conspiring to assault, kidnap and murder people.
“He’s a very angry and troubled man; exactly the kind of person Joykiller can mold and manipulate. Unlike the others chosen for this mission, however, he has a very weak and undisciplined mind. It took me only moments to read and backtrack his memory to a house in Salem where he picked up the balls from a trash bin left by the curb.”
Ian chimed on over the comm. “The images Ephemeral was able to send us from his mind puts the house at 742 Evergreen Court, but the place belongs to Ronnie and Leslie Rose and their four children. Now, I don’t care how good Joykiller is at making cover identities, he can not have just made up these people because we’ve been able to find their social media, their friends, family, even accessed traffic and neighborhood watch cam data and they exist unless they’re the best damned robot infiltrators ever built.”
“Which is completely possible,” Alexis added, “Remember Adamantine.”
“Right, but it’s unlikely, so we checked traffic cams on Evergreen Court and discovered the trash bin was dragged to the curb from the house of the next door neighbor by a domestic service robot, which went back into 740 Evergreen Court. And guess who lives there?”
Melissa suppressed a groan. “Someone with a mush less verifiable record than the Rose family?”
“Give the girl the prize,” said Ian. “One Albert E. Newton, who works from home for an internet start-up that’s existed for just under two months, has no social media presence, and whose financial records include his house and nothing else.”
This time Melissa did groan. “As if a super-genius trying to lay low would put together such a shoddy alias. Any one of us could have made that one up.”
“Agreed.” Kareem nodded from his seat beside her aboard the Karasu no Yūrei. “Even the name: Albert Newton, obviously derived from Albert Einstein and Issac Newton. I am beginning to agree with Hope that this is an obvious trap. He will expect us to come at him full force and will have appropriate countermeasures in place.”
“Then what do we do?” With Laurel and Tink both otherwise indisposed, Cyn as a rookie pilot was at the controls preparing for take-off. “Hell, why did you ask use to prep the jet if Frownie the Clown is just lying in wait to kill us?”
Melissa chewed her lip. “Because I do have a plan. Actually, I’m taking a page out of Warrick’s book: Joykiller is all about being smarter than everyone and reinforcing his world view. So I’m going to do something so far out of his wheel house, I’m hoping to take him by surprise.”
“And that is…?” Cyn asked hesitantly.
“I’m going in alone.”
Less than an hour later, at the prompting of a multi-site invitation, millions of people logged in to their favorite sites to see a special simulcast live video reportedly from Hope of the Descendants.
What they saw at first was a shaky hand-held image of a street that could have been in any suburban neighborhood in the country. The houses were almost identical with meticulously kept up lawns stretching all the way to the corner and beyond.
Then the unsteady camerawork panned over to reveal the woman the world knew to be Hope of the Descendants, wearing her third costume and holding a gas mask by the face straps.
Visibly biting her lip, she stared into the camera through her mask before glancing aside at the camera person. “Is it on?”
“Yes,” hissed a female voice, “Start already.”
Hope cleared her throat, looking sheepish and nervous. “Um… hello world. Hope here. I’m sure by now you’ve all heard the story of what’s been going on in my city. In case you haven’t: the man who calls himself Joykiller has declared war on me because in his mind, I’ve saved too many people’s lives and because the word and concept of ‘hope’ goes against everything he believes in.
“He’s sworn to do terrible things to the people of Mayfield unless I followed his instructions and played through his idea of a game of wits. So far…” She paused to swallow and gather herself. “Dexter Deeds has been critically injured, possibly paralyzed and Mayfield Scribe reporter Mary Northbrooke was almost murdered.”
She took another moment before speaking again. “Unfortunately, I can no longer see a way to end this in a way where everyone walks away from this safe and sound. There’s only one way to end this now: give Joykiller what he wants—and that’s me.”
Taking a few steps back, she held out her free hand. “And that’s why I’m here in Salem, Virginia to do just that: sacrifice myself to protect my friends, my family and the entire city of Mayfield and beyond.” A sad look flitted across the exposed part of her face. “To tell the truth, I never really considered myself a hero. I’m not the person who throws punches or catches people falling out of buildings. All I really am is a walking band-aid. But today, when the choice is between myself or others? I now realize that being a hero is in making that choice correctly. And the fact that I can and will make that choice?”
At this point, she donned the gas mask.
“That’s why the Joykiller will always be wrong, no matter what happens to me.”
Raising a hand, she said through the mask, “Remember: Even if I die, real Hope will live forever.”
Once more donning her armored balaclava and the red cloak, Hope stormed up the driveway of 740 Evergreen Court, across the short walkway to the front door and up to the door. Then, from under said cloak, she pulled a SWAT-issue breaching shotgun.
The first shot to the hinges almost knocked her over, but for the second, she remembered to brace herself and remained steady enough that she was easily able to swing the butt of the weapon around then knock the door in, bending the deadbolt and lock to worthless twisted metal.
Jaw set, she stepped up onto the fallen door and into the room.
She half-expected a darkened lair with a creepy rotting mannequins or banks of computers with monitors all showing grinning digital skulls. More than half, she expected weapons of all kinds aimed at the door to kill whoever came along.
What she got was an almost painfully normal-looking living room. There was even a paisley couch and a little wooden coffee table she was pretty sure she’d also seen at her family’s home. What was missing was a psychotic nihilist with plans to destroy everything she cared about.
Tossing the empty shotgun aside, she looked around, looking for cameras or other sensors. When none were readily apparent, she simply spoke to the air. “I’m surprised you weren’t here to meet me, Joykiller. I mean you meant for me to find out where you were, right? The medicine balls, the pasty whose mind I might have been able to read? The terrible cover identity that owns this house? That was the plan, right? Or did you expect me to be too dumb to get that?”
Narrowing her eyes, she added, “Or maybe you didn’t care whether I figured it out or not because since you came gunning for me, you were sure my friends would all come straight here instead of me, get killed, and then I’d have to live with being the reason they died.”
Still, there was silence, so she kept going.
“Except now it’s just me. Me and the millions of people who just watch me go of to sacrifice myself for the greater good, to save even more lives than I could even hope to save living my life as I have been. And being the genius you make yourself out to be, you realize now that killing me now makes me not just a martyr but an example. An example people will follow by saving lives, doing good and bettering humanity in ways that will just keep ripping down your horrible little world where everyone is a selfish bastard.”
Reaching up, she pulled off her mask. “So either you kill me and let the world prove you wrong, or you let me go and prove yourself ineffectual to all your cronies and fanboys.” She dropped the mask to the floor and held her arms out to the sides. “Either way, I win. Come on, Joykiller: come at me. Do your worst.”
Doing her best not to let it show, she tensed for the gunshot.
Seconds ticked by and the nagging idea that this might be the wrong house wormed its way back into her mind.
Then, just as she was about to relax, something stung her lip and clinked off her front teeth. Gasping, she reached up and pulled out the dart that had pierced her bottom lip. Numbness started to spread from the point of the injury.
“You and your cronies seem to think my healthy understanding of my mental capabilities is, in fact some form of crippling hubris that you can take advantage of.” Joykiller emerged from the open doorway to the dining room wearing a sort of jumpsuit lined with metallic filaments and a helmet with a clear, plastic helmet with air filters on the sides near his mouth and a metallic device blocking her view of his mouth, evidently the voice changer that made his voice deep and menacing.
As Hope swayed and stumbled to a knee, he slowly approached her, flipping open a switchblade. “Yes, my optimal plan was for you to send your friends her, at which point, I would escape and detonate a bomb powerful enough to wipe out this block. But I am nothing if not flexible when it comes for planning for the unexpected human factors… like your adorable video.”
Upon reaching her, he reared back and kicked her in the chest, laying her out on her back.
“You honestly believed that you put me in a Catch-22? That I have no good choices in this situation?” He dropped down, crouching over her body and screaming, “I always have options to dim-witted wannabe!” Leaning forward, he brandished the knife across her line of sight.
“For example: my own special blend of ‘anesthetic’. Do you like it? It’s a paralytic that attacks only specific motor functions, leaving the victim completely conscious and able to feel everything that happens to them. Oh, and they’re capable of registering their pain and even screaming. I’ve replaced conventional anesthetics with this beautiful cocktail a few times, but sadly retaining the ability to react means surgeons stop fairly quickly.”
A shadow fell over his face. “I on the other hand will not stop. I’m going to strip every nerve in your body as you scream for mercy. And I’m going to film it and send it to everyone who saw your video just so they know the price of being a ‘hero’.”
“Now let’s get that uniform off you.”
To his shock, Hope glared up at him defiantly and said, “No, I think my uniform is going to get you off me.”
Before the madman could process what she was saying, her red cloak fluttered up, curled its edges into close approximations of fists, and punched him off her, knocking the knife from his grip at the same time.
The entire costume then peeled away from Hope, leaving her in just a white ballistic cloth body suit and the armored balaclava. It folded into itself and turned a familiar shade of gold, becoming a much thinner version of Facsimile.
“Hiya, smilie!” she said with a malicious grin, “Weren’t ya wondering who was the camera girl? And boy have I been waiting to meet you!” Reaching down, she grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and lifted him back to his feet and into the air.
“Please. You’re the easiest one to deal with.” The among of smugness in Joykiller’s voice could have filled a men’s rights chat room all on its own. He tensed his jaw and a concealed switch ran a powerful charge through his jumpsuit.
Facsimile gasped, tensed, then sneered at him. “Someone’s been watching old footage. That doesn’t work anymore, shitheel. All thanks to studying our good friend the electric eel.” She held him up with one hand and cocked back her free fist. “For a smart guy, I’m shocked I have to tell you this: Learn some science, bitch!”
With that, she punched him with full force, her arm muscles enhanced by her power. The plastic helmet shattered with that mighty blow, the Joykiller’s head rocking back and slamming into the back of the helm. Then she threw him to the ground and extended the orihalcite claws she kept with her and started cutting the suit off him.
“You okay?” she asked over her shoulder.
Hope groaned and sat up. “Guess he didn’t consider that curing poison might be part of the whole ‘healing’ thing,” she said, rolling her tongue around the hole in her lip. “Is he really knocked out?”
“If he’s playing possum, we’ll find out soon enough. Let’s get the hell out of here and call in the bomb squad.” Hope nodded and got to her feet as Facsimile threw Joykiller over her shoulder, face forward so she could keep an eye on him.
They started out the ruined door in silence before Facsimile spoke up. “Hey.”
“I just waned to say that… even with me here and Zero and Vamanos waiting down the street to back you up… this was an insanely brave thing for you to do. I don’t know how much of what you said on that video is how you really feel, but… you’re definitely a hero, Hope. Don’t ever forget that.”
The team healer gave her a thin smile. “That actually means a lot coming from you. Thanks a lot.”
Facsimile smiled back, then faced forward and sighed. “I just wish this guy hadn’t came nosing around, distracting us from getting Alloy, Renaissance and Occult back. On top of every other awful thing, this guy wasted a ton of time we could have spent helping out with that.”
She purposefully jostled the unconscious villain on her shoulder. “I just wish I knew how they were doing…”
A gigantic, serpentine beast bearing a metal cage on its back filled with humans, a fey cat and a daoine screamed through the skies above a dense forest growing up along a river. Below it, dull, thumping explosions like gigantic party poppers going off, sounded and tangles of vines covered in translucent green ooze and tipped with a hard substance resembling dense nut shell whirled through the air around them.
Any that came too close were warded off by explosive shots, whipping metallic tendrils, and rays of crackling magical energy.
“Somehow I forgot where I was when I expected a dragon monster the size of a bus would be an apex predator.” Tink was breathing hard from holding on to the hellkite’s howdah and twisting around to watch for more organic nets.
Warrick directed Isp and Osp to cut two more nets out of the air. “I know what you mean, but then… who would expect there to be trees that blasted their seed pods at things to bring down baby food for their saplings?” One of the nets exploded as Lisa blew it out of the sky, its charred remains splattering the group with burnt husks and sticky sap.
“I just hope Passion Gate is really damn close—or at least some place where the plants don’t have anti-aircraft capability.
FaerieQuest Will Be Continued in Descendants Volume 9, #97.