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 4

The instant she had spoken, Occult wondered if that had been the best idea. She could sense the sudden rise in energy, both the emotional surge of people who were not exactly joyful at her appearance as well as the marshalling of psionic power in preparation to strike. Metaphorically, she had just put her foot down on a hornet’s nest. How she reacted in the next few moments would determine how badly she’d be stung.

“I’m not here for a fight.” She said quickly. After a second she added, “Not with you anyway. There are…” She felt silly trying to describe such frightening creatures in the only terms she had for them, “I don’t know– cyborg dogs out here and they need to be stopped.”

“She talks like a normal person.” Alexis noted. “Definitely not Morganna.”

“That doesn’t mean she’s not dangerous.” Ian pointed out. “Drop the glowy thing and show us your face.”

Despite her features being hidden in shadow, they got the impression that she had glanced pensively at the glowing, teardrop shaped pendant. “Er… I can’t drop the pendant.”

“We know how magic works.” Laurel said, “How you need foci and components to work spells. There’s no way we can see you as anything other than a threat if you’re standing there, holding what, in your hands, could be equivalent to a loaded gun.”

“This isn’t what you think it is.” Occult protested. “It took me almost twenty minutes to make it and if I drop it, it’ll be another twenty before I can track those things again.”

“A divining pendulum.” Laurel surmised.

“A what?” That was Ian.

“That’s what the book calls them. I recognize it now that you pointed that out.” She nodded to Ian. “She can’t hurt us with it.”

“I’m still going to ask you to show your face.” Ian said.

“I can do that.” Occult said. “But notice how I’m not demanding any of you take off your masks.” With her free hand, she pulled down her hood. The obscuring shadows lingered over the top half of her face for a moment longer than natural shadows would, pulling back to reveal a smoothly tanned face topped by blonde locks. She wasn’t a day over twenty if she was that old. Shaking a long, blonde braid out of the hood bunched at her shoulders, she gave them a petulant look. “Satisfied?” she asked.

They nodded. “Good.” She said, “You can call me Occult. We’ve already established that I know magic, but I’m not like Morganna.” She shivered at the very mention of the name. “I want to help people with what I know. I’ve been practicing for weeks so I could use the magic I know to that end.”

“You’re the source of all the weird happenings people have called in.” Alexis realized. “And you’re the one that scared off those muggers.”

“They were going to do worse.” Occult frowned. “She only saw lights, but I raised a wall to knock them away from her – give her time to run.”

“So we have Glenda.” Ian grudgingly admitted Occult was probably on the side of good. “So where’s the wicked witch of the west and why’d she trade in monkeys for schnauzers?”

“I don’t think they’re magical.” Occult said “I think they’re robots or something. I fought one and when I had it trapped, I heard someone say ‘sorry’—like it was a recording or something. Then the thing exploded!” She noticed herself getting too excited and took a deep breath to keep the glamour over her appearance in place.

“A robot is not an emotional being.” Kareem said via the device in Alexis’s hands. “Only something with emotions or imbued with deep emotions would have an impact on the Astral Plane.”

Occult stared at Alexis oddly. “Who said that?”

“You can call me Ephemeral.” Kareem said, “I will respect your secret identity if you respect mine. I exist on the Astral Plane and can sense the beasts that we are hunting. I hope that this arrangement is not too confusing to you.”

Occult shrugged. “I just spent twenty minutes turning a piece of my mom’s costume jewelry into a magical tracking device to hunt down cybernetic hellhounds. I can accept that you’re a man in a box.” She turned to the others. “Whatever they are, we still have to find them. My little pendant… pendulum will only work within a couple of hundred yards of them and Wagner Park is only slightly smaller than Central Park. We have a lot of ground to cover in only a little time.”

“What a coincidence, K—Ephemeral can sense them within a broad range, but can’t pinpoint them.” Laurel said. “By the way, you can call us Chaos, Darkness and… hmmm, call me Elle for now. I didn’t consider giving myself a codename.”

“Excellent.” Occult said. “Lead on.”

The band of would be heroes headed in the direction of the nearest disturbance. Ian fell behind, puzzling over something. Occult may have taken her hood off, but with magic in play, that didn’t mean she had shown them her face. What really bothered him was that her voice sounded vaguely familiar, even with her attempts to disguise it.

***

“If this is how he handles the inugami, then how do you think he’ll handle the team he’s building?” Thomas Cross, head of Project Tome’s biological research and development section demanded. “Is he just going to sacrifice them too? Maybe strap thermate detonators to them in order to cover his tracks?”

Simon Talbot gave Cross a bored look as he sat his fork down next to his plate of rigatoni. The two were in Talbot’s private dining room adjacent to his office, ostensibly to have a celebratory dinner in honor of Cross’s section’s recent breakthrough. But Cross had spent most of the time bemoaning Brother Wright’s appointment to head of the newly created specialized personnel section within the Enforcer Corps.

“Wright isn’t an animal person.” Talbot observed. “I didn’t bring him in to be an animal person. I brought him in to be a people person. He knows how to control people, manipulate them – Convince them that everything he wants them to do is to their own benefit. If this was a war, he would make an excellent general.”

“Then why give him control of the CS-132 strain?” Cross demanded.

“Because a man like Wright always has a reason for asking for things. Several reasons at once if he can help it. It’s no secret that he has a grudge against Vincent Liedecker and the prelates of Mayfield. The inugami are bred to hunt psionics—do the math.”

“I don’t understand…” Cross puzzled. “Why waste even weak strains of inugami on letting Wright carry out his petty vendetta?”

“Because until Wright came to me about his sob story of Liedecker destroying his network in Mayfield over the actions of the prelates, we weren’t aware there were prelates in Mayfield.” He dabbed his mouth with his napkin and stood to pace the room. “I’ll say that once more, Thomas; we, the organization behind the organization tasked with monitoring the actions of unaffiliated psionics – were completely unaware of the existence of the only organized team of prelates in North America.”

He moved over to the window and looked out over the darkening city below him. “A team that consists of a metal controller, a woman with impossible physiology and another woman who freezes the air. Ring a bell?”

Talbot smirked at his reflection in the window as he heard Cross’s fork clatter to the floor. “D-does Wright know what he’s dealing with?”

“Not in the slightest.” Talbot said. “He doesn’t even have access to black files. And I’ll keep it that way for a while.”

“We should dragnet the entire city!” Cross ranted. “Put an all points bulletin in with the local police! We need them – it’s the perfect time too, considering our recent…”

Talbot silenced him with a hand. “No, Thomas. We don’t dare do that. Not only do we not have confirmation of their identities yet, but we don’t have all of them yet. The second we make a peep on any proper channels, Brant will know and they’ll be ghosts within hours.”

“We can’t just ignore this, Simon.” Cross said, “Those kids are our holy grail.”

“I know that.” The director of Project Tome said. “And I have a method of confirmation already on the way. Until then, let’s see if we can glean anymore useful tidbits from Wright’s little crusade. For example, CS-132-FIVE encountered the most unusual thing – a prelate that didn’t trip its theta sense.”

***

“It’s close.” Occult said in a hushed tone as she stepped out of the darkness and into the pool of light provided by a streetlamp set up on the jogging path the group had been following. She held up her divining pendulum and noted the direction it was pointing in.

“Very…” Kareem’s voice was tinny and uneven. “The poisoning of the Astral is thick here. Almost unbearable.”

Occult pointed. “It should be behind this trashcan.” She slowly stepped around the waste receptacle, avoiding the bits of paper and plastic that had accumulated around it, but saw nothing. “I don’t get it.” she muttered.

“Look at your pendulum again.” Laurel pointed out, standing close enough to see for herself. The magically charged piece of jewelry was pointing once again at the trashcan.

“You have got to be shitting me.” Ian said. “It’s in the trash?”

Alexis pressed one of the clasps on her scarf and it stiffened into a bō. She used the weapon to gently probe the refuse at the top of the can, only to find that it was only a few inches deep. “It’s fake.” She reported. “Who makes a fake trashcan?”

“Someone who wants to hide large, dangerous animals in the middle of a city.” Laurel stated. “Think about it; Mayfield employs a huge sanitation department for the city, but Wagner Park is maintained by volunteers and community service details that only work here once every two weeks. So a garbage can here would be the perfect place to conceal creatures for whatever purpose they have.”

“Your codename should be Brainchild.” Alexis said. “Seriously ‘L’, reading up on the city’s sanitation practices is a little much even for you.”

“I’m leaning toward Codex, actually.” The genius laughed. “I think it provides a nice counterbalance, if you know what I mean.”

“I suggest we hurry.” Kareem cut in. “The creature is not aware of us at the moment, but that may change quickly.”

“Right.” Alexis said. “Sorry.” She called up her black heat and ensconced herself in it. Occult stepped back as she did. “Don’t worry,” she assured the magic user, “It doesn’t hurt anything I don’t direct it into.”

“You said the other one exploded?” Ian suddenly thought aloud. “How big of an explosion are we talking about here?”

“I used magic to seal it in, but I’d say it was pretty big.” Occult said. “Enough to not leave any bone behind after it went up.”

“Hold on Ale… Darkness.” Ian snapped as he glared at Occult. “When did you plan on telling us that part? After we got ourselves atomized?”

“I figured you knew that!” Occult said defensively. Now that she was fairly sure who these people were, she felt compelled to keep their respect, even in the guise of Occult. “But don’t worry; I can shield us from the blast.”

“We don’t really have time to yell at each other.” Laurel said in her rarely used no nonsense tone. “You can go back to showing Occult your McCarthy impression after we kill the deadly super-beasts.”

“She’s right.” Alexis said. “And you’re the one who was so passionate about doing the right thing with one’s powers. Well, let’s do the right thing!” With that, she extended her hands, palm outward and sent her black heat to flow around the fake trash receptacle. Within moments, the metal began to glow a dull orange. Hidden seams groaned and deformed, twisting the can out of shape.

A very doggy whine of surprise and pain came from within, followed by a thrashing and the squeal of metal scrabbling against metal. Claws broke through the red hot walls of its prison as the beast within fought to free itself. But it was already too late. As armored as its hide was, as advanced as its genetics were, its lungs were never meant to breathe superheated air. With a low, rumbling death rattle, the struggling ended.

Alexis continued her black heat assault until the metal began to melt and steam into the autumn air. “Got it.” She finally said, her voice showing the strain of maintaining the black heat at those levels.

”One down, one to go.” Laurel said.

“And we’re no closer to finding out how or why.” Occult pouted.

“That will have to come later.” Ian said, still trying to place where he’d heard Occult’s voice before. “The main thing right now is to make sure the public is safe. Once that’s done, then we can find the source.”

Alexis smiled and gave him a little hug as they started walking toward the next target. “You’re really getting into this prelate stuff, aren’t you?”

“I’m not the one who flash fried a chaotic monster in thirty seconds.” Ian smiled.

“I admit that it was… I don’t know… a visceral sort of joy to cut loose with my powers.” She said. “But this is only a one time thing.” She added.

“We’ll see what you say once we get the job done.” Ian said slyly.

Laurel smiled to Occult as the two walked along behind them. The younger woman was rolling her eyes. “Shameless, I know.” The genius said, “But it’s better than having them fight the whole time.”

***

“What in the ever loving Christ was so important that you had to call me away from dinner?” Brother Wright was in the back of his private car, returning to Tome’s east coast headquarters. “I was speaking with Teddy Drake – the Teddy Drake, the entertainment mogul when you interrupted!”

Even as he spoke, he was entering Theodore Drake’s name into his new database. Talbot had been very generous with his rolodex and in Wright’s skilled hands; it was blossoming into an even higher profile social network than he had ever dreamed. Forget Mayfield. Forget the United States. By his calculations, he would have international influence if Drake played ball. If only he could convince Talbot to introduce him to some useful psionics – not the worthless second stringers that largely constituted his ‘team’…

“Eight is dead.” The technician’s voice interrupted Talbot’s train of thought.”

“I didn’t order anyone to send it out.” Wright said, accusingly.

“He wasn’t let out, sir. Someone found him. A psionic for sure—the last data transmissions before the equipment died reported temperatures in excess of one thousand degrees.”

“My, my, my.” Wright said, adding a low whistle. “Someone saw through the utterly moronic trashcan disguise? How is that possible?”

“Sir, we need orders. If Eight was compromised, Six may also be vulnerable.”

“Then let it meet them head on.” Wright said, casually. “Let Six out, pump him full of enough amphetamines to wire a small nation and send him toward Eight’s last location. Killing an inugami in its sleep is easy, but let’s see if they can handle one that’s cranked past the point of self preservation.”

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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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