Issue #10: All Saints and Spirits

This entry is part 11 of 15 in the series The Descendants Vol 1: Welcome to Freeland House

Alexis sat on one of the stone benches in front of Freeland House, taking in the cool of the late October breezes. She was reading with intensity the documentation Laurel had arranged to be sent to her from the Brunswick Boarding School, one of England’s private schools for young descendants.

Most of what it revealed were things she already knew from her teaching days at the Academy; power control though focus techniques linked to martial arts, overcoming fear of one’s own powers, and many other basic curricula for teaching young descendants about their powers. What interested her; however, were the concepts of ‘power exploration’ and ‘power creativity’.

The focus when it came to descendants in The UK was based on insuring there were no ‘accidents’ with undiscovered powers manifesting and harming people. This was opposed to the goal of the academy system installed in North America and much of East Asia that focused on putting descendants’ powers to work for the good of society. The difference was that the academy system never put much emphasis on exploring a descendant’s full potential.

In the UK and several other European nations, this exploration came in the form of stress tests called ‘power exploration’ and learning games called ‘power creativity’. Exploration was based around putting descendants in situations that pushed their powers to the brink; for example, asking a water controller to empty an Olympic sized swimming pool in as little time as possible. Creativity was goal oriented, confronting the descendant with a standard problem and asking them to solve it using only their powers.

It hadn’t been long ago, after convincing Life Savers, Inc to divulge tier exploits, that Alexis had learned that Warrick’s power to convert elemental metals had been discovered in a ‘real world’ exploration scenario. At the very least, there was evidence that the Brunswick School’s proscribed techniques would be an aide in training Freeland House’s residents – both younger and older.

The overly loud protest of an engine from the parking lot made Alexis glance over. A white sedan, probably built in the previous decade, pulled into the lot and disgorged Cyn, Juniper and Warrick. Kay got out of the drivers seat and stretched. Her hair was dyed black and orange for the approach of Halloween.

“Thanks for the ride, Kay.” Juniper smiled, heading around to the trunk.

“Yeah, lugging all of this stuff up the stairs out front from a cab would’ve been murder.” Warrick said, following Juniper’s lead.

“No problem.” Kay said cheerily. “Gives me an excuse to drive.” She had received her father’s old car for her birthday earlier in the month and the novelty of finally driving for herself still hadn’t worn off.

“You do realize we’ll be mooching off you all the time now, right?” Cyn asked.

Kay laughed. “That’s just what Lisa said. She hates JC’s car – it really wasn’t built for tall people.”

“Maybe you and JC should trade cars then.” Cyn grinned, poking gentle fun at her friend’s diminutive stature.

Warrick and Juniper started unloading bags from the back of the car as Alexis walked up. “Hey, Ms. Keyes.” Warrick said. He grunted as he hefted several hefty bags out of the trunk. The wing of a rubber bat flapped comically from the top of one of the bags.

“Let me get that.” Alexis said, reaching for one of the bags. “You shouldn’t be stuck helping decorate for your own birthday party.” It would be the second birthday Freeland House had seen, though things had been too tense to properly celebrate Ian’s birthday in July.

“Nah, it’s okay.” Warrick replied, lugging the bags toward the side door of the house. “It’s not just my birthday party after all; it’s also our Halloween party.” He made a face, “Speaking of which, Cyn can you remind me to pick up some of those giant candy bars from the store after school? I want to make sure all those stairs are worth the climb to for any little trick or treaters.”

“It’s also serving as a debut party for Snackrifice.” Kay beamed. “We’ve got our first performance at the Dungeon the weekend of the party.”

“I notice you said ‘performance’ and not ‘gig’.” Cyn said.

“It’s not a gig if you’re not being paid for it.” Kay countered. She was far too excited about actually playing to think about money.

“Does that mean Adel’s going to be at the party too?” Juniper asked, referring to Snackrifice’s new drummer, Adel Mills. Her cheeks pinkened slightly.

“Yep, the drum monkey will be in attendance.” Cyn smirked. “I delivered the invite to him personally – on your behalf.”

Juniper blushed a bit more, but Kay saved her more embarrassment by changing the subject. “You know, Kaine, it says something about you that your birthday is All Saint’s Day.”

“I sort of took it as a hint.” Warrick shrugged, not going into detail as to how far he’d taken the hint.”

“Frankly, I’m surprised you all aren’t using the excuse to throw three separate parties.” Alexis laughed as they entered the house.

***

As preparations of Freeland House’s Halloween/Birthday festivities commenced in the kitchen, Laurel and Melissa were in the workshop with Kareem attending via the astral transponder Laurel had designed for him.

“The others should be back any minute to start planning the party.” Laurel said, consulting schematics on her tablet computer as she constructed yet another complicated device.

Melissa shook her head. “I’m not too excited about it. I hate Halloween anyway. Besides, you said you had a new idea of how to help Kareem and I want to help.” She took a seat across the work table from Laurel. “Especially since I couldn’t…”

Laurel paused a moment to frown a bit. On several occasions, Melissa had tried to use her healing powers on Kareem’s comatose body. Though his health had stabilized and most of the physical trauma he had endured had repaired, Kareem was still unable to reenter his body and awaken in the physical world. The psionic genius theorized that some sort of psychic trauma had been inflicted on Kareem. This contrary to her previous assumption that his stasis cell had failed.

“It isn’t your fault.” She and Kareem said at the same time. The older woman deferred to the telepath with a nod of her head and he continued. “What has been done to my body is not the kind of damage you are able to fix. I am just happy to know that you were willing.”

“I still want to help.” Melissa said, resolute. “What’s this new breakthrough, Laurel?”

“Well, we already know that Kareem is limited in his astral movement by some sort of resonance between himself and his body. Originally, he couldn’t move more than six hundred feet and some change from his body. But since the Astral has been in flux following what was hopefully Morganna’s death, he’s been able to move up to a mile away on certain days.”

Melissa listened to the recounting of the past few months patiently, nodding that she understood.

Reassured, Laurel continued. “The reason for this is that his body’s resonance frequency carries further in the Astral now that it’s in flux. What I’m working on right now is a beacon of some sort – think of it as a relay station, akin to a wireless communication tower. With it, I can modulate and demodulate the resonance frequency from Kareem’s body and broadcast it through my astral monitoring transceivers.”

“Basically, you’re bouncing his signal so he can move around at will?” Melissa translated for her own benefit.

Laurel confirmed with a nod. “It’s a small step, but a first step. Once this is done, I may be able to make a mobile version of his transponder so he can perceive more of the real world than what the sensors in the house show. And after that… well, Brant Industries has some discarded patents I think may prove very useful.”

“I appreciate all that both of you are doing for me.” Kareem said, “But I don’t want my situation to consume your entire lives. I can wait for you to finish this.”

“But—“Melissa started.

“No.” Kareem said. “Both of you have given me so much in the past few months. Now, give something to yourselves. There are friends and enjoyment waiting for you. I sense that the others have returned with Kay. Please, go and help them instead of me.”

Laurel put a hand on Melissa’s shoulder before she could protest. “Kareem, you’re a noble young man. I promise we’re going to make things better for you. It’s the least I can do for your help with the Book of Reason and the least Melissa can do for your kindness to her during the worse of her early days here.”

This time, it was Kareem who was starting to protest, but Laurel held up a hand to stop him. “And it’s also the least we can do to obey your wishes. At least for a little while. Come on, Melissa.” She led the perplexed redhead toward the door, but turned before opening it. “I’ll be back to finish later. I’ll see you then, Kareem.”

“Enjoy yourselves, Ms. Brant, Melissa.” Kareem said as they left. On the Astral, he frowned. He had sent them away because he could feel them burning themselves out as they tackled the problem. But that wasn’t the full reason.

Since the night Morganna had met her demise, and he had had contact with the Book of Reason, he could feel odd things moving in the world. He had felt Morganna up until the explosion, all the way in Mayfield and now something with a similar aura was in the city. What was worse, he also felt something else there, things whose astral presence was marred by inhuman amounts of hate, fear, pain and madness.

They were black wells of astral void and truthfully, he feared leaving the safe, happy eaves of Freeland House and moving among such obvious monsters.

***

Ian glanced up from his newspaper as Warrick exited the kitchen with a confused and vaguely wounded look on his face. “Get kicked out?” he asked the younger man.

“Apparently, I’m not allowed to hear all the details of the party.” Warrick answered, flopping down on one of the couches. He picked up a gaming magazine from the coffee table and thumbed through it.

“Ah, I see where this is going. Alexis thinks every birthday has to have something that’s a surprise. My advice, just grin and bear it – sometimes she even comes up with something fun.”

“But it’s a Halloween party.” Warrick groaned. “The best holiday of the year and I can’t help?”

“I doubt they’re going to cut you completely out of the loop.” Ian offered, flipping briskly thought his paper. “But in the meantime, take a look at this for me, will you?” He pushed the folded paper across the table. The headline ‘IS LOCAL PARK HAUNTED?’ was at the top of the B-section.

Warrick’s expression grew slightly more confused as he traded his magazine for the paper and read aloud. “Since the start of this month, the city’s largest recreational park, Wagner Park, has been the site of numerous strange phenomena, starting with reports of strange lights in the night and progressing through disappearing and reappearing fixtures, and freak winds.”

He scanned further down the page. “Last night, the flashes of light were credited with frightening away two men as they attempted to rob a woman on a bike path…” He shrugged and put the paper down. “Weird. Do you think the park really is haunted?”

Ian shook his head and took the paper back. “I think someone’s causing it. Especially with those lights just ‘happening’ to scare off some muggers.”

“You think…” the idea dawned on Warrick and he shook his head. “That’s not LSI’s MO, Mr. Smythe, you know that.” He glanced at the kitchen door, mindful of Kay’s presence. “They only do rescue type things. The only time they’ve gotten involved with criminals was during a major attack.”

“So it wasn’t LSI.” Ian confirmed. “And I’m almost 100% certain it’s not a ghost…”

“You think there’s a new prelate in town?” Warrick tried to keep the excitement out of his voice. “Maybe we should make contact…”

Ian shook his head. “Not a good idea. We don’t know who this new guy is. I’m not saying avoid them, but don’t seek them out if you don’t have to. With luck, they’ll stay on the criminal side of things and LSI can focus on saving lives.”

***

The needle tore a hole; the old, familiar sting turning dreamless sleep into wakefulness. A sensation of discomfiting cold flowed through the creature’s veins. Its heart raced, its muscles tensed and all of its senses engaged with sudden clarity.

It was no longer in familiar surroundings. The curved, metal wall that enclosed the space it found itself in was barely large enough to accommodate its bulk. Light came from a slender gap inches from the creature’s muzzle; feeble and grey.

Fully dilated pupils made the best of the light available and were able to make out the only feature inside the tiny, metal prison; a faint numeral five scratched into the floor, just beneath the gap. The creature didn’t know what the symbol meant. It only knew that that shape had been associated with it for its entire life.

It shifted its weight, feeling heavy plates slide over one another with the faint whisper of metal against metal. The plates were part of it, yet it knew that this had not always been the case. There had been a time when it had felt soft breezes ruffling its pelt in places it now only felt the protective weight of its armor. A particularly heavy collar weighed around its neck.

The stimulant began to do its work. The already too close walls seemed to be closing in. Breath came faster, its lungs burned to breath fresh air.

A buzz interrupted its thoughts of desperate escape, a burst of static just inside its ears. “Five.” A voice said, invoking the alien sound that had been associated with the creature. “Seek and Press.” Thoughts of escape melted away, replaced by something deeply ingrained in the creature’s being.

Air rushed in; fresh and alive. There were trees and grass nearby. In the far distance, the sounds of city traffic reached it. But foremost in its ears were the sounds of birds singing, a few dogs barking, and the babble of humans conversing.

The collar made a low beep and a sixth sense flooded in. The creature felt several keening calls around it, their intensity representing their proximity. It had been raised to hate them. To track and destroy them. Getting it its feet, it stretched its tired limbs. It knew what it was to do now. It was in its nature to hunt and destroy.

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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.

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