Issue #16: Psalm of a Soul

This entry is part 4 of 15 in the series The Descendants Vol 2: Magic and Machines

Part 4

Before Melissa’s brain could even fire off the signal to scream, the thing with the red eyes acted. A small, but firm hand shot up and covered her mouth. Its twin lifted a finger to cloth covered lips.

“Shhh… you don’t want them to start firing do you?” A female voice said.

The adrenaline clouding Melissa’s mind cleared. Standing before her was not a monster with red glowing eyes, but a woman, about a head shorter than her, wearing bug eye goggles with red lenses. She was dressed like a Victorian representation of a ninja. Melissa started to speak, but the hand kept her quiet.

“I’m Vorpal.” The intruder said, then motioned for Melissa to lean down so she could whisper in her ear. “And you are Hope, the prelate, right? I saw you on TV last November.”

Melissa nodded.

“Good.” Vorpal continued, “Then this will be easy. You’re here for the same thing I’m here for.” She removed her hand from Melissa’s mouth.

“I don’t think so…” Melissa whispered hoarsely.

“You’re not here to clean up these weapon smugglers?”

“No… I’m trying to get to the roof—weapon smugglers?!” Melissa struggled to keep her voice down.

The eyes behind the goggles widened with temporary surprise. “Really? You didn’t know?”

“There’s something much more important I need to do.” Melissa admitted.

Vorpal’s predatory grin almost showed through her mask. “Huh. Not my problem. I’m here for them.” She turned and stared at the crates that separated the two women from the launch and the smugglers. The red lenses faded to black. “Hmm… and given their choice of reading material, I’m going to enjoy it.”

Melissa squinted at the crate, trying to see what Vorpal was seeing. “What? How—“

“State of the dark arts.” Vorpal said cryptically, tapping the goggles as they returned to normal. “But don’t worry; I won’t look under your mask. That would be disrespectful to a fellow descendant.” She quirked another smile under the mask, “Little ‘d’, of course.”

“You’ve got powers too?” Melissa asked. The moment she asked, she realized how stupid the question was. Who else would be standing in an arms warehouse, prepared to take on a quartet of armed men that outweighed her by hundreds of pounds?

“Head for the roof.” Vorpal instructed, ignoring the question. “I guarantee you they won’t notice you.” Without waiting for an answer, she stepped out from behind the crates.

***

The conversation hadn’t moved on much since Melissa had stopped listening. The larger man was guffawing as the man with the flyer continued trying to assert the threat psionics poised to the world. One of the others continued to agree, the other vehemently dismissed the claims.

“All I’m saying is that the government needs to put a tighter grip on them. Reverend Stiles—“

“Reverend Stiles has only been a reverend since Christmas.” Vorpal sauntered out from behind the crates. The man who had been denying the claims of the good Reverend swung his pulse cannon toward her. The big man drew a pair of oversized pistols. The last two unclipped plasma lances from their hips. Vorpal ignored the weapons pointed at her with casual grace. “He wasn’t even ordained in a church. He got it online.”

“That doesn’t mean he’s not right.” The man with the flyer said, stuffing the aforementioned piece of paper into his vest pocket.

“Shut up, Al.” the big man rolled his eyes. “You the buyer?”

“I’m here for the weapons.” Vorpal said, not really lying. “And might I add, how classy this establishment is; mildew and bigoted paranoia? It’s the kind of atmosphere you can’t pay for.” She looked around. “And you didn’t. Good for you.”

“It’s not bigoted, it’s common sense. I don’t have a problem with Arabs, or Brazilians, but those guys can’t blow you up, know what I mean?” Al defended himself. He looked to the man who had been agreeing with him, “Right, Nathan?”

“Yeah, I read this article that said that prelates cause more violence than they stop.” Nathan supplied.

“I read the same thing.” Vorpal replied. “Citywide Weekly, right? Who was the author, I can’t remember…”

“Reverend Stiles—oh.”

“Can we get down to business instead of talking politics?” The big man asked, holstering his weapons. “And hell, why do we care if there’s more violence because of prelates? We’re selling goddamn guns. That’s a profit for us.”

“And how many psionics are prelates anyway, Al?” The man with the pulse cannon asked.

“Yes, the guns.” Vorpal commented as if they had slipped her mind. She hadn’t stopped walking toward the men and was now within arm’s reach of them. “I’m not here to buy them.” Before he could react, the big man found himself reeling from a forward kick to his gut. “I’m reclaiming them for the powerful—and vengeful—man you stole them from. She pivoted and grabbed the plasma lance out of Nathan’s hand, flinging it into the water.

The man with the pulse cannon tried to draw a bead at the extreme close range and failed as Vorpal rolled under the barrel and kicked at his knees. One gave with a horrible pop and he fell, hard. “Shit, Allen! Shoot her!”

Allen, the big man, leveled his guns and fired. The heavy shells cracked the concrete around the boat landing, but missed the darting Vorpal entirely. She bounded under a line of plasma from Al and came bounding right for him.

Sneering, Allen fired one more time, naturally missing, then dropped his weapons. He stepped into Vorpal’s attack and caught her in a crushing bear hug. The diminutive mercenary groaned as the pressure force air from her lungs.

“That was pretty damn stupid, kid.” Allen laughed as he continued his hold on her. “What did you think you’d achieve?”

“I… am not… a kid.” Vorpal growled, trying to get air back into her starving lungs. “And my name is Vorpal.”

“Stupid name.” Al said, putting the still hot barrel of his plasma lance to her head. The cloth started to smolder.

“There’s… a reason… for… it.” Vorpal gasped. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw that the unarmed Nathan still wasn’t making a move.

“Yeah? What?” Al smirked, moving the barrel to her temple.

She couldn’t wait any longer.

Suddenly, Allen bellowed in pain, releasing his grip on her. Vorpal pushed off him, pulling her head away from the path of Al’s plasma just in time. The blast would have blinded her if not for the protections provided by her new goggles.

Falling backward, she came down on her shoulders and pulled her legs up to her chest. With all her might, she straightened herself, planting both feet in Allen’s chest. He flew backward into a crate, which shattered on impact.

Wasting no time, Vorpal kipped up and grabbed Al’s forearms. Glaring at him through red lenses, she snarled at him. “Want to know why I’m called that? Do you, bigot?” She drew her hands roughly up his arms, opening he veins up the length of them. “Snicker-snack!”

Al screamed and dropped his gun, only to receive a head butt to the chin that sent him sprawling. Blood sprayed everywhere in a grisly mist.

“Taking your head’s too good for you.” Vorpal spat.

“No!” Melissa shouted, running across the floor. She had been halfway to the second floor when she saw Vorpal’s violent display. She imposed herself between Vorpal and Al. “You can’t kill him!”

“Why not?” Vorpal asked, “He’s talking about interring us. Making us all government mules.”

Melissa looked back at him. She really did feel contempt for the man, but he was bleeding to death. She’d never seen anyone die and she didn’t want to. Not when she could do something about it. “You… you just can’t. It’s not how it works.”

“For a prelate, maybe.” Vorpal snorted. “I’m not a prelate.”

“Well… well I am.” Melissa said firmly. “And I’m going to heal him.” She turned to do just that.

“Like hell you are.” Vorpal said, grabbing her wrist. Melissa felt something sharp against her skin. “I don’t want to do this, but I’m not going to let—“The sharpness disappeared from Melissa’s skin and Vorpal threw her to the floor, landing on top of her. A white hot bolt of energy cut the air where they had just been.

Allen rose from the crate he’d crashed into, holding its contents; a heavy plasma cannon. A wordless roar came from his throat as he fired again.

Vorpal threw them both out of the way. “Stupid girl.” She snarled. “This was going so well too.”

“I can stop it without killing them.” Melissa mewled getting to a knee. “I can elevate emotions.”

“Do it quick then!” Vorpal commanded, dodging again.

Melissa closed her eyes and focused, releasing the power she tried so hard to keep contained. It burst forth and washed over the warehouse.

The effects weren’t what she had expected. Al burst into tears, screaming that he was going to die. Nathan screamed and dove into the water, swimming as if for his life. Allen switched his weapon to continuous fire and fired blindly in their direction. The still nameless man fought through his pain and lifted his pulse cannon, adding his own fire.

“Yeah, you elevated them alright.” Vorpal growled, leaping past plasma bolts to land a heavy punch to Allen’s head.

“But… why aren’t they happy?” Melissa asked, eyes going wide. Behind her, one of Allen’s plasma bolts hit some ammunition, touching off an explosion. Screaming, she ducked and covered, wishing she had something to fight back with.

***

Somewhere in the Westlands neighborhood, the young man staggered to a halt. Mortal terror was emanating from the mind he was trying to reach in waves that broke against his own psyche. They were intense enough to cause him physical pain.

“Melissa…” He said aloud, putting a name to the terrified mind at the docks. “What is happening? Why aren’t you…” determination drove more memories to the surface. “Why are you not back at home? At Freeland House?”

He looked toward the docks. They were too far; it would take him half an hour to run there and by then… An idea hit him. He could read minds, even from across the city. That was how he could sense Melissa in the first place.

Tentatively, he reached out and found five other minds in Melissa’s immediate vicinity. Like her, they were in turmoil. One was mad with fear, floundering in the water. Another was weeping uncontrollably, unable to think of anything but impending death. Two others were pressed to their limits with rage. The last was panicked, but coherent. Her inner voice cursed ‘the girl’ for not understanding her power.

Suddenly, the mental landscape made sense. Melissa’s power didn’t elevate moods at all: it intensified the strongest emotion someone was feeling. And now it was working overtime. He had to calm them down or one man would die for sure and the men discharging their weapons would probably blow the rest of them up.

But he didn’t know how. Could they hear him? He knew he could affect people from the astral plane, but the last time he’d used that ability, he’d killed the target. And more to the point, he wasn’t on the astral anymore. There was nothing to draw upon—

His introspection had finally shut out the other voices. He was alone with his own. The same voice that was in his mind when he spoke on the astral; wholly apart from how he heard himself when he had been one with his body. Experimenting, he shucked his jacket and threw it away. It got about two yards from him before it hissed and unraveled into skeins of rosy energy and dissolved.

That was it; he’d taken part of the Astral with him into the Material. He didn’t understand the process, but he now understood how he could help Melissa. Closing his eyes, he faced the docks and focused with all his might on the minds that did battle. A nimbus of light rose around him.

***

The windows of information Laurel was combing through suddenly disappeared under alert messages. Thirteen transponders were now detecting Kareem’s astral presence in Mayfield. And one of the damaged transponders at the docks was suddenly operational again.

***

Wincing at another explosion on the far end of the launch, Melissa crawled toward Al. The man was curled up in the fetal position whining like a large dog. Blood formed a veritable lake around him. His skin was growing paler by the minute.

“Hold on.” Melissa said, her voice lost over the sound of weapons discharging and explosions.

“Leave him!” Vorpal snapped, forced to bend completely backward to avoid the plasma cannon’s barrel as Allen swung for her neck. “Save yourself, get to the water!”

“No!” Melissa screamed back, causing Al the shiver. “I am a prelate.” She added, audible only to herself. “I am going to help this man. I am going to do the right thing.” She put her hands on his arms. Some perverse part of her mind noted how neatly they’d been opened up. A pulse shot lifted her hair with the wind of its passage, causing her to flatten on top of Al.

Somehow, she kept from screaming and threw open the floodgate of her power. Doctors and her tutors at the Academy had tried to explain how it worked before; about the acceleration of the patient’s metabolism and natural healing, how it activated natural facilities all creatures had, but didn’t work due to threat of starvation.

All she really cared about was that the wounds closed and color flooded back into Al’s face. His eyes opened and he began screaming.

Vorpal cursed under her breath and brought a hand down on the central barrel of Allen’s weapon. Sparks flew as her knife hand strike impossibly cracked open the plastic housing. “You won’t be so lucky.” She growled at Allen.

But then something happened that she didn’t expect. Allen’s face changed—softened as if he’d suddenly thought of the most pleasant thing in the world. Then it changed again, to a look of alarm. “We’ve got to get out of here!” He bellowed, grabbing her upraised arm. “This place is going to blow!”

In retrospect, she would wonder why she didn’t take the opportunity to cut his throat. But instead, she allowed him to drag her to the boat launch and leapt in with him. She barely registered the man she’d kneecapped hobbling into the water as well. But she wasn’t surprised to see the young prelate pulling the man she had hoped to kill to safety.

She didn’t remember much of the next few moments after that – aside from the massive explosion.

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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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