Issue #10: All Saints and Spirits

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

Part 2

The sun was low in the sky over Wagner Park. Though growing shorter, the days were still warm enough that families and individuals took advantage of it to commune with the oasis of nature in the middle of Mayfield.

Children played tag or a haphazardly organized softball game. Couples enjoyed picnic suppers on blankets. Joggers waged their constant war against sloth. It was in many ways an idyllic day. The only people that may have noticed something amiss were the ones who suddenly discovered their canine companions refused to venture near the east end of the park.

Unlike a human’s, a dog’s innate ability to sense a predator has not dulled over the centuries.

Stalking in the underbrush, the creature followed its sixth sense to the source of the nearest keening call. It spotted its prey some sixty yards away, sitting with a woman. He was in his thirties with already thinning brown hair. His skin was a pale green. As the predator watched, the color shifted to a sky blue in response to something the woman had said. The shift in color was accompanied by an intensification in the call that had lured the creature to him.

A low growl began in its throat. Gathering itself, it leapt into the open and charged.

Children screamed and scattered as the beast barreled into the open. Its body was reminiscent of a large wolf; four strong legs, tapered, furry tail, and jutting snout. That’s where the similarities ended. The upper half of its body and leading edges of its legs were covered with overlapping plates of dark metal culminating in a skullcap that seemed to be melded to the top half of the creature’s cranium, and gruesome looking metal claws were welded over its huge paws. Thick, almost greasy, fur stuck up at odd angles from under armor plates and along its belly and legs. Once, it may have been white, but grime made it a sickly brown.

It ignored the fleeing children and made straight for the startled psionic and his companion. As it came, it howled, a deep, low sound that vibrated the air around it visibly. Long strides closed the distance to its prey with malevolence in its eyes. It leapt for the color shifter even as the man helped his companion to her feet.

Levanto esta pared!” a strong, female voice commanded. The air between predator and prey suddenly bloomed with faint, red light. Translucent planes of force, roughly pentagonal in shape folded outward in space, overlapping one another to form a quarter sphere. The dog-thing slammed into it at full speed with a clattering din.

Even as it regained its wits, a woman clad in red silken robes and a full, black cloak complete with a face obscuring hood stepped out of the woods. She held a piece of clear glass before her like a religious icon as she advanced. “Stay behind me.” She ordered the psionic.

“Who are you? What is that thing?” the woman, the psionic’s wife, judging by the ring on her finger, shivered.

“Call me Occult.” The robed woman said, “I have no idea what that is, but it’s definitely bad news.”

Snarling, the monstrous canine flung itself at the wall of force. Its metal laced claws squealed as they gouged into the obstruction and it barked ferociously as it eyed the prey it so hated.

Occult felt the glass in her hand vibrate sympathetically as the wall came under attack. It wouldn’t last long. “Muevo esta pared.” She said, forcefully presenting the shard. The wall of force jolted forward several feet, knocking the beast backward.

Howling in rage, the beast charged once more, bringing its claws to bear on the wall. Red light flared brilliantly and the shard of glass in Occult’s hand crumbled to dust. The wall simply winked out of being.

The psionic’s wife screamed.

Occult wanted to scream as well, but she needed to concentrate. She extended her palm, face up and lifted it straight up with a sharp motion. “Tomo esto.” The creature roared as it was lifted five feet into the air. “Get out of here. NOW!” she said quickly. The couple didn’t hesitate to make their escape.

Biting her lip, Occult tried to focus on holding on to the thrashing creature as she reached into a hip pack situated under her cloak. After a bit of fumbling, she produced a clear glass marble. Cursing herself for not learning anything that could be used offensively, she spoke the incantation. “Globo de la fuerza,” and released her hold on the struggling monster.

Though it was invisible to all senses but touch, Occult felt the sphere of force snap over the armored creature. Remembering how the thing had shredded her wall with its unnatural claws, she pulled out another marble. “Globo de la fuerza.” She repeated, enclosing the first sphere in a second. For safety, she used one more to reinforce the last two.

Trapped, the creature when mad, lashing out with claws and teeth against its invisible prison. It managed a few gouges, but the curved surface made purchase exceedingly difficult. Another needle injected more chemicals into its blood and its efforts redoubled to no avail.

“Just what the hell are you?” Occult asked, regarding the berserk creature with guarded curiosity. “Hopefully, someone’s calling the police and animal control as we speak, Cujo.”

“We can’t have that.” The voice from the creature’s collar spoke up. Occult stepped back in surprise. “Sorry, five.” The voice said. The collar began making a high pitched whine.

The beast froze. It had heard this sound once before; only moments before—

The explosion filled the globe in brilliant, orange light. Occult exclaimed and covered her eyes as she felt the inner most globe fail and the middle one dwindle. There was no sound, only horrible light. When it was done, the globe’s interior was black with smoke.

Hesitantly, Occult lowered her defenses. A pillar of black, greasy smoke rose into the sky, leaving behind only the blackened, slightly warped exoskeleton of armor the beast had been wearing. Not an ounce of organic material remained.

“Oh my god…” Occult murmured. “What just happened?”

***

“… several witnesses, including the apparent targets of the brutal attack, Lowell Springs resident Frederick Carlson, and his wife Laura confirm initial reports that the creature was some sort of monstrous wolf.” A blonde, twenty-something reporter was saying on television as Ian, Alexis and Laurel looked on.

“Yesterday’s attack and subsequent rescue by the robed prelate who identified herself to Carlson as ‘Occult’ is the latest in a stream of reports of bizarre occurrences in and around Wagner Park and the surrounding Forest Heights neighborhood.” The reporter continued. “Police admit that little had been done prior to the attacks because they were believed to be innocent pre-Halloween pranks, but in light of yesterday’s rampage, steps are being taken to assess the situation. Police spokesman Henry Downs had this to say:”

The screen cut to a rough faced man in a suit standing behind a podium with several microphones aimed at him. “At this time, the Special Crimes Unit of the MPD has no leads as to the identity or origin of the alleged wolf creature or the prelate status of Occult. I’ve heard rumors being spread that this is rogue psionic activity, but I would like to urge the community to keep an open mind.

“Not all seemingly supernatural occurrences can be attributed to psionics. It was only six years ago that a surveying robot’s AI became corrupted and it ran amok downtown. Even more recently in other cities, illegal animal mutations have caused similar strife. Please, allow us to investigate every possibility before drawing conclusions.”

A graphic of the artist’s conceptions of both the ‘mystery beast’ and Occult appeared on screen. The beast was depicted as extremely bulky in the chest and facial regions with too small hind quarters. Inordinate amounts of saliva hung from its open jaws. It looked like a classical depiction of a werewolf save for the dark carapace that covered its hunched back and forelegs and its quadrupedal posture. Occult was less a victim of stereotypes, but her robes were depicted as extremely formfitting and her hood was conspicuously wide with a discernable point at the top. The reporter voiced the obvious thoughts the artists had meant to convey “With werewolves and witches doing battle in the city’s heart, this looks to be – for good or for ill – a Halloween Mayfield won’t soon forget.”

Laurel turned off the TV as the reporter segued into political news. “Looks like you were right, Ian, something is rotten in Wagner Park.”

“I honestly didn’t expect a transmogrified wolf.” Ian said. “I was worried there was a spellcaster involved though.”

“You think Occult is Morganna?” Alexis asked.

“Saving people doesn’t seem to be her modus operandi.” Laurel shook her head. “And she honestly didn’t seem bright enough to come up with something that results in this being a play for publicity.”

“It doesn’t have to be Morganna to be someone we don’t want to cross paths with.” Ian said. “How many spellcasters do we know of? More than likely, Occult, if she isn’t Morganna learned her spell slinging from her. Logically, she probably learned Morganna’s ‘psionic killing’ platform as well.”

“And the wolf thing was…?” Laurel queried.

“We’ve seen Morganna twist animals. That thing could be her servant. Or worse, some other sorcerer’s pet and they’re having a magical gang war in the park.” Ian frowned, and then his face lightened. “At least we won’t have to tangle with Mega-War Rover.”

“I would not be so sure of that.” Kareem’s voice said moments before his face appeared onscreen.

“What do you mean, Kareem?” Alexis asked. As worried as she was with having LSI back in action saving people from burning buildings and runaway vehicles, imagining them taking on the creature described in the news report was deeply troubling.

“For the past few days, I have had a sense of horrible, mutilated presences in Mayfield.” Kareem admitted. “I did not mention them because I was afraid.” His face betrayed his shame in this. “Afraid that their dark auras on the Astral could be harmful to me.” He drew a long breath, his mind remembering a time when breath was necessary. “But one of those presences disappeared yesterday – at the same time as the attack.”

“You think this dog creature was one of those presences?” Ian asked.

“And there are more of them?” Laurel chewed her lip. She was a bit off put that Kareem hadn’t told her about what he had sensed, but there was no time to dwell on that now.

“Three more.” Kareem confirmed. “I could be silent no longer. If these monsters are attacking innocent people, their blood would be on my hands if I did nothing.”

“You did the right thing, Kareem.” Ian confirmed, proudly.

Alexis nodded in agreement. “Where are they now?”

“At this distance, I cannot tell.” Kareem said. “That is why… Ms Brant…”

“You want to try my signal tower idea.” Laurel finished the thought for him. “I haven’t tested them yet, Kareem, are you sure about this?”

“It is the only way I’ll be able to find them before they harm someone else.” Kareem nodded.

“The kids should be out of school by now.” Ian starting to stand up. “I’ll get my cell and call them.”

Before he could, Alexis’s hand was on his arm, urging him to sit back down. “Our deal was that they get to continue Life Savers, Inc if we train them.” She said firmly. “They haven’t had any training at all yet.”

“That’s not their fault.” Laurel said, “The Brunswick School needed to ensure we weren’t a rival before they sent us teaching materials and I had to make sure they weren’t just another group of evil opportunists…”

“It is imperative that we move quickly. Their dark auras are easier to sense in the failing light on the material plane. But if Warrick, Cyn and Juniper do not help defeat these horrible creatures, who will?” Kareem asked.

Alexis gave Ian a sly smile and stood up. Her black heat enveloped her so that she was a void in the center of the room. “We will.”

Laurel beamed. “I’ll break out the costumes.”

***

It had been moving all day, skulking in the shadows of the towering buildings and slinking quickly across thoroughfares to avoid being seen. The place the voice in its ear urged him toward was a long distance from the greenery it had awakened in.

Frequent injections had ensured that It hadn’t tired or become the slightest bit inattentive during its sojourn. The cocktail of chemicals in its bloodstream addled it’s mind beyond caring about the painful needles and the weight of its armor. It lived only to follow commands.

Finally, after a series of difficult, free running jumps, it found itself on the third story roof of a storefront overlooking Westinghall Plaza. The financial center of Mayfield, the elegant Westinghall Building, soared into the air across two hundred yards of concrete replete with a fountain, peddlers and other typical city fare. The voice told it to wait and observe.

***

“Shall I unblind Seven’s theta sense?” a technician asked her superior. She, along with three others were arrayed in a room packed with monitors displaying a dizzying array of information. Before her, a data feed from the micro-dot camera embedded in the creature’s champron gave her a visual of the area from its point of view.

“No.” Brother Wright said. “We won’t be needing it. But bring the thermate detonation sequence to standby, just in case.”

“Sir, I thought this exercise was to draw out the prelates in Mayfield, not to purposefully destroy as many inugami as possible.” Another technician commented, even as he obeyed orders. “We’ve never had to initiate the detonation sequence in two inugami trials in a row before. Shouldn’t we at least try the transmission beam?”

Wright shook his head. “The orihalcite armor would interfere in that. The transmission beam isn’t all that safe for complex materials to start with. Trying to not only transmit something organic, but to run the risk of the beam trying to deconstruct and reconstruct orihalcite would lead to disaster.” He gave a little shrug. “And beside that point, the CS-132 strain of the inugami project is a trash line anyway.”

On that note, he was right. That particular breed of the deadly canines was riddled with crippling problems. Their ability to sense the unique theta waves of descendants was so sensitive that without repression, it proved painful to the animals. Further, they had proven to be less intelligent and more uncontrollably violent than previous strains. If not for their enhanced strength and high pain threshold, they would have been destroyed anyway.

“Still…” the technician protested.

Wright wasn’t listening. On the screen showing the inugami’s point of view, he saw his quarry. He smiled menacingly.

“Sir, the mission parameters…” the first technician said as she recognized the person Wright was sneering at.

“The mission parameters were to draw out and engage Mayfield’s prelates in order to gauge the inugami’s effectiveness against the descendants Tome wants to recover. I can personally vouch that these people are just as strong as Tome believes those children to be. And what better way to draw them out than attacking a ‘beloved pillar of the community’?”

“But sir, that’s—“she argued.

“I know.” Wright said as he watched the man he knew as Brill open the back door of a huge, black town car for his target. “Vincent T. Liedecker.”

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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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