Descendants: LA #17 – Fiends and Falsehood Part 5

This entry is part 5 of 13 in the series Descendants: LA Volume 2
A beige SUV pulled up to the curb in front of a row of townhouses on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon. The driver killed the engine and lights, allowing the car to disappear into the curtain of steady rain coming down.
Inside, Ray gave the rain a distasteful look and double checked the leather document case in the center console beside him to make sure it was tightly closed. “Alright guys. Remember: even though he’s a psychic and he’s going into one of our heads, we don’t need to give him any more information than he needs, alright?”
“You’re talking about me, aren’t you?” Felix grinned sheepishly in the front passenger seat.
“I mean everyone.” Ray said, but his eyes were saying ‘yes’, because Felix was the one that talked too much.
“This is folly.” Icthiani croaked from the rearmost seat where she sat alone. While the others were dressed in business causal styles, she was bundled up as if for winder with a long, dark gray, wool jacket worn over a black hooded sweatshirt, matching sweat pants and brown leather gloves. The hood was pulled up, she was wearing dark glasses, and a red and black striped scarf.
All together, the outfit completely concealed every inch of her skin.
“This is important.” Loshuia said over the back of his seat. He was between Lydia and Ramona in the middle seat. “We have no idea what really happened when we first arrived here and that worries me. We need to find out, ‘Ani; whatever it takes.”
She folded her arms. “This is a mentalist we speak of. He could do something even worse. He could take your self from you. He could enslave you. Have you really grown so trusting in such a short time in the Blue World?”
“Nobody’s being overly trusting.” said Ray.
“Yeah, Josh might be letting him into his head, but the rest of us are going to be wearing these:” He flipped over the small, black case on his lap to reveal a padded interior holding six curved, ceramic devices inlaid with circuitry. “Standard Superhuman Intervention Unit issue psi scramblers—well, not standard, since I had to build them from schematics I scammed off the Pentagon’s servers, but you get the point.”
“If he does something against Josh, we’ll know and we’ll make him pay for it.” Lydia chimed in while Felix started passing the devices out. They clipped behind their ears and sent a soft static hiss into them.
Ray waited for everyone to have their scramblers in before opening the driver’s side door. “Alright then: let’s go see the wizard.”
James H Sevrin answered the door the first time Ray knocked. He was dressed exactly as he had been on his web page: sport coat, rings on his middle fingers, and cross-shaped cufflinks.
“Good afternoon.” He said in a clear, smooth baritone.
“Yeah, we’re here for—“ Ray started, but Sevrin waved him off.
“You told me everything I needed to hear when you called. Please come in.” He stepped back to allow them in to a modest foyer. To the immediate right as they came in was a display case, bearing his framed academic degrees, first editions of his two best selling books, and several minor awards won for the same. There was also a picture of him with the governor of Oregon and another with the mayor of Portland.
Sevrin paused for a moment, hoping for them to comment on his achievements, but when they didn’t, he directed them to the left, where a set of bifold doors opened into a lush sitting room. “You’ve brought the contract with you?”
Ray held up the case and patted the side. “Right here. Standard non-disclosure agreement; you’ll be hurt badly in terms of your business and reputation if you relate anything you discover today, I can assure you.”
“I understand the need.” said Sevrin “And I’ll gladly sign, but you don’t have to worry: by law, professional telepaths are bound by rules of disclosure similar to patient/doctor privilege. I’m not allowed to discuss information without your permission unless lives are in danger and I can’t be compelled to without a warrant.”
“We’d still feel much better if you signed the papers.” said Ramona, taking a seat at the end of the long, white, plush couches. Lydia sat down beside her while Felix took the matching love seat. Josh remained standing next to Ray while Icthiani skulked behind the couch and loveseat, shuffling restlessly.
Sevrin nodded curtly and waited for Ray to present the documents to him. “Of course. Anything to make my clients comfortable.” He signed in quick, practiced strokes in all the marked spaces before looking back at the group. “So who is the actual patient then?”
With a drawn out intake of breath, Josh raised his hand. “I am.” He looked around the room, not knowing what to expect. “Is there something special I need to do to prepare for this, or…”
“All the preparation is mental.” said Sevrin “Please have a seat, make yourself comfortable, and we’ll begin.”
After exchanging looks with Ray, then Lydia, and finally Icthiani, he chose a low backed, velvet arm chair, which was within easy reach of the other seats and gave him a clear path to the door if things came to that.”
Sevrin came to stand behind the chair and rested his hands on the back. “Good. Now, I need you to close your eyes and imagine for me a room: four walls, floor, ceiling, all white.” He closed his own eyes and breathed deeply.
Behind Felix, Icthiani stopped her pacing to stand stock still, staring at her brother and the man reading his mind.
Felix craned his head to look at her. “Are you okay?”
“Absolutely not.” she snapped.
He’d expected that and shrugged it off. “Pacing’s not going to help. Why don’t you sit down?”
“Next to you?” she asked sharply, her voice dropping into a whisper. “No.”
This too failed to cut Felix too deeply. He still didn’t know what to make of what had happened. The only people who could have shed light on it were Icthiani and Josh. Asking Josh was the same as betraying Icthiani’s trust, and ever since it happened, ‘Ani had been avoiding everyone more than ever before.
While he refused to let what had happened affect him, it did leave him with a host of questions and made him concerned for Icthiani. Had it always been like that for her? Was the sangrelogos doing other things to her? And could she recover from it? That was the big thing. In the time the group had been together, the daoine had made several small , reluctant steps into socializing, not just with him, but the others. Whether she stayed skittish around him or not, he didn’t want her to backslide.
Worry lined his face, and he rose to his feet, pretending to stretch. Leaning a bit toward her, he whispered; “Alright then. You sit, I’ll stand.”
She gave him a look like someone might give upon seeing a dog playing piano, but she took his place on the love seat without argument. Once seated, she locked her eyes onto Sevrin and Josh and didn’t venture him another glance.
Sensing that she needed to be left alone to focus on one threat at a time, Felix wandered over to stand behind the couch Ramona and Lydia had taken.
Either not noticing or not caring about that exchange, Sevrin took one more cleansing breath. “Alright, good. We’ve now established a baseline: a marker in your mind I can use to navigate the rest of your psyche. A mind is a chaotic place: layers of thoughts, each connected by links of various strengths and levels of usefulness. Without establishing a baseline thought, there’s no point of reference and, well I’m not so good with my powers that I can sift through every thought and find a false one without it.”
“But you can find it, yes?” asked Josh.
Sevrin nodded, eyes still closed. “Oh, of course. That’s become a small, but unfortunately growing segment of my clientele; false thoughts and memories—at least people who think they’ve had them implanted. You see, there are maybe one hundred telepaths in the world who can read more than surface thoughts, fewer that can alter anything, much less the memory. The only other one I know besides myself also saw the value of being legitimate, but he has taken money from people who want false memories.”
“The thing is: they’re never perfect. People start to suspect there’s something wrong, and then they come to one of us to be ‘fixed’. Sometimes it becomes a viscous cycle.”
“This one wasn’t like that.” Ray assured him.
A long pause brought silence to the room. Finally, Sevrin made a soft humming noise in the affirmative. “So I see. This is nothing like either of us could have pulled off—who ever did this was phenomenal: they actually made a series of trivial connections to hide it from other telepaths.”
Ray bit his lip. “Can you fix it?”
“Well, it’s very good work.” Sevrin said, “But we’re about to see…”
Loshuia arn Hemenddent Corathe struggled forward, uphill into darkness. As the cool mist began to rise from the mossy roots underfoot, he wished he had three arms.
One arm held aloft his military issue watch-lamp, which let forth a stuttering white light from the jagged shard of crystal within. The light was no ordinary light and in darkness, it would hold the minor threats of the forest; the searching vines, acidic flowers, and small, stinging or biting beasts at bay.
The other was wrapped securely over his sister’s shoulders. She waked only because he was forcing her, cursing and complaining and making dark predictions the whole time. If he let her go, she would probably stand there in the dark and let the forest claim her.
And that left no arms to hold his sword.
A wild, uncomfortable heat rose from her and when he chanced to look upon her, he could only recognize her from the shape of her face beneath the alien red scrawl of the sangrelogos. The rogue sangrelogos.
He scarcely believed that she’d failed the binding, even after seeing how the demon had stained her. That she had survived to escape the Sanguine Halls was a miracle as well. But in the court of their father, her luck had run dry. For even the heir to Corathe’s position could not escape the laws of the Soder King, and his law was that failures at the ritual of binding were to be put to death.
Other siblings would have gladly hefted the ax themselves, especially when it would leave them sole heir, but Loshuia hadn’t seen the wold beast in his sister’s eyes that failures were said to become as the demon took them. And if she was not lost, he would not abandon her: even if she herself demanded it.
“We should return to the road.” Icthiani rasped. She hadn’t had anything to drink since her escape and it showed when she spoke.
“Father will have rides on the roads, likely on the swiftest mounts in the court.” Loshuia said.
Icthiani stumbled over a root that had moved to try and trap her foot. “Yes. And you could turn around and meet them. Say that I snared your mind with a spell, that you made a mistake. You are the only heir now, they will be lenient.”
“Not to you.” he said, soldiering onward to the crest of the wooded hill.
She made a shrill, annoyed sound. “You are a fool, Loshuia. I am already dead. I’ve managed to control my sangrelogos, to beat it back, but the longer we run and the more tired I get… I’m no longer sure I can keep this up forever.”
From the top of the hill, Loshuia could see light to the east: the town of Brellig. They could steal mounts and a change of clothes there and find a place to sleep, safe from the terrors of the out of doors. “Well I have faith in you. From what I know of the binding, you shouldn’t be able to hold on at all and you are. So we push on.”
He dragged her forward again. “Now come.”
“Do you really believe we’ll survive to that town?” she asked, moving just fast enough to keep from being pulled off her feet. “It’s better than ten miles through thick forest and that light won’t keep anything serious at bay for long if its hungry.”
“We’ll make it.” said Loshuia and he dearly wished he could believe it. People didn’t go out at night unless they were in a large group. Or a small army. Their people, the High Soder, had beaten back the murderous intent of nature in the daylight hours and close to their towns and cities, but in the wilds, things were different. Lethally different.
“No.” Icthiani stopped suddenly and it was all Loshuia could do to keep them from falling down the slope. “We won’t.”
Loshuia looked at his sister. None of the moons were out and the only light was the pale glimmer from the watch-lamp. It reflected red in her eyes, making them seem to glow as she cast about with them, searching the darkness.
“A fell mist rises.” She whispered. “It might be hungry.”
He too peered out into the night and saw what she did. The wispy, white mist that rose form the ground was being chased away and replaced by creeping, green tendrils of vapor that ghosted through the trees on all sides, moving inexorably toward them.
There were tales about hungry mists; he’d heard about them at the sword school and in his brief service with his father’s army. They were predators in a class all their own: non-corporeal like a demon, but unharmed by magic and with no mind to attack to speak of. They were said to be rare, but when they fell on a body, nothing remained of them afterward.
All the same, Loshuia wasn’t one to simply allow himself to be bested, even by nightmare creatures and the stuff of campfire tales. “’Ani, stay close.”
The stubborn fire seemed to light in his sister’s eyes as she became fully aware of the danger and it stoked to a hateful blaze. “I will not die like this. Where is my bag?”
Allowing her to stand on her own, Loshuia reclaimed his arm from around her shoulders and used it to draw forth his sword. “You bag?”
“The one that holds my spell components.” she said. “You took it from me when we left the keep.” The mist was closing in, growing more dense in the trees as it came and deadening all sound.
“It’s in my pack!” He nodded back to the heavy field pack strapped to his back. “Flying Raven Technique: Zephyrus Wall, First Form!” Taking one step forward, he brought his sword up sharply, presented the flat of it to the mists, then snapped it down, sending a screen of wind out to push the green tendrils back and disperse them.
He stepped backward and around Icthiani and repeated the attack in the opposite direction, pushing the mist back there too.
“In your pack?” ‘Ani growled. “How am I supposed to reach it there? What use are spell components if they are not at hand?!”
“This isn’t a time to argue!” Loshuia shouted back. He whirled his blade overhead, “Flying Raven Technique: Tornadic Force!” A whirlwind formed around them and expanded rapidly in all directions, catching up the mist and carrying ti away from them as well as snapping branches off the trees.
Loshuia prepared to use a second technique to clear a path for them when he heard his sister curse:
“Maeve’s teats! It’s coming out of the ground!”
He looked and it was. The tendrils curling up and thickening rapidly until they couldn’t see their feet. And in his distraction, it had closed in around them as well.
Sight and sound fell away and through the green haze, strange shapes loomed; great and angular ones, large ones, seemingly made up of multiple shapes put together, and shadowy people moving just on the edge of sight. The air grew close and stuffy, but also cold. The scents of the forest gave way to the sharp tang, like the smell of the braziers used to cow dryads when harvesting their garden glens.
Then there were people speaking. The tongue was foreign and rough with no music in it at all. The shadows moved to surround them and thought he couldn’t make anything out clearly in the slowly clearing mist, Loshuia knew that there were weapons being trained on them.
A stiff, artificial breeze hit them and the mist rolled away, revealing the world like a curtain drawing up from a stage.
There were people around them: short, square featured people with stubby, rounded ears and a strange manner of dress.
“You are no longer at home.” said a voice Loshuia understood. Then it said something else and there was a sudden, stinging pain in his arm. He looked down to see some sort of dart jutting from his arm. Just before he slipped into unconsciousness, he heard Icthiani screaming every oath she’d ever taught him as a child.
To Be Continued…
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About Vaal

Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter. You can also purchase his books from all major platforms from the bookstore
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