Issue #16: Psalm of a Soul

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

Part 5

There was fire and noise and rushing water. The next thing Melissa knew, she was being hauled out of the water by her arm and allowed to flop gracelessly onto a pier. Smoke from the explosion blotted out her view of the sky.

“A suggestion, Hope.” Vorpal said, kneeling so her head was in Melissa’s field of vision. “Or rather several; first, get a handle on that power. Second, a white gi is not good for stealth and it becomes a brick around your neck in the water.” She straightened and stood, starting to walk down the pier, “And lastly, either learn to fight, or stay the hell off the front lines.

Straining against phantom aches she didn’t realize she’d picked up, Melissa rolled over into a sitting position. Fifty yards away, the former boathouse was collapsing and on fire. Vorpal was gone. Sirens wailed in the distance.

Another explosion finished off the near side of the building, which tumbled down in a ball of fire. How did she manage to keep her head enough to stay alive? The last thing she remembered before rushing to the water, pulling Al behind her, wishing that she hadn’t tried to do more than she was capable of, and accepting that she was powerless and alone.

You saved that man’s life with your power. A voice said in her head. And you are never alone.

“Kareem?” she exclaimed, twisting to look for him even though she knew he was on the astral. To her surprise, she saw a cascade of pinkish light, which fell into a ghostly image of her friend.

“It seems that I cannot repeat my earlier feat.” He said as the sparking energy began to fade. Or rather; that I do not understand how I managed it in the first place. He finished telepathically.

“I—“Melissa stumbled on her words, “What happened, I don’t understand.”

The portal—that is what it is—drew the ROV inside and began to close. I would have been trapped between, but something… collided with me. It dislodged my astral form from the closing portal and… and… then there was light and pressure. I awakened on the material plane. I wish I could explain it better, but perhaps Ms. Brant will be able to. Too many of the facts are confusing as it is.

“Right.” Melissa agreed, too exhausted for questions. “I’ll called Alexis and let her know we’re here to be picked up.”

***

Struggling to help one another, the would be arms smugglers made it ashore some two hundred yards from where their big score had gone up in smoke.

“Jesus, Craig,” Allen said, looking at the horribly dislocated knee of his fallen friend. “She did a number on you.

Craig’s head lolled back to look at the ruins of the boathouse. “And our inventory” he said weakly. The adrenaline that kept the pain down still hadn’t worn off completely. He inclined his head to Allen’s chest and arms, which wept tiny drops of blood from dozens of puncture wounds. “She got you too.”

“She nearly killed me.” Al whimpered, looking his once filleted forearms over. “Holy shit, she would have killed me. Guns didn’t even scare her. That’s how dangerous they are.” Nathan nodded, out of breath to speak.

“And yet, another psionic saved your worthless life.” All four men looked up to see Vorpal standing at the end of the launch they had crawled onto.

Al wilted instantly. “P-please don’t kill me. Oh god, we didn’t know we were stealing from your boss. We’ll never do it again and we’ll give him all the money we already made!”

“You mean from the strong box that was in the exploding building?” Vorpal asked dryly. “Not likely. Plus, my employer didn’t order me to kill you. He ordered me to get the weapons back.” She tilted her head thoughtfully. “Which is now impossible, no?”

“Oh god, that’s why she wants to kill us.” Nathan breathed.

“I opened Al’s wrists there before that.” Vorpal pointed out. “Do you really don’t understand why I want you dead? Why you’re a symbol of what is wrong in this country?” The four said nothing. Vorpal glared at them form under her goggles. “Figure it out.” she roared, causing all of them to flinch.

Then she turned on her heal and started walking away.

“She’s not going to kill us.” Allen whispered.

“Not today.” Vorpal said. “Not until you explain to the good reverend and his fellow zealots how you wrists were healed at any rate. And I’ll be watching to make sure that you do. Cross me, and no one will find the bodies.”

***

“Well, you weren’t imagining it, Kareem.” Laurel confirmed, waving a hand at screens full of compiled data. “The… portal is gone. Every reading it blipped on is coming back negative.”

It was hours later, after the others had finished expressing how happy they were to have him back and asked all the questions that had been on their mind and Kareem was back to communicating via his screens. Laurel had had to be none too gentle in shooing them out so she could work out the specifics.

“And we still do not know what it was, exactly?” Kareem asked.

Laurel shook her head. “Well, we know for sure that it is a portal now. To where, I have no idea. Before all contact was lost, the bridge transponder actually captured the ROV’s final measurements from the Astral. The place on the other side has air at least, with a higher helium and free hydrogen content than home.”

“It is not of this world.” Kareem confirmed. “What I felt when I was caught between; thought and emotion are as different in form on that world as they are when comparing the material and the astral.”

“Then it’s probably best that the portal is closed then.” Laurel said. “Astral science is only some twenty years old and the first years there was a race to attempt to weaponize it. If this new world lends itself more to that, it could be a disaster.”

“I am glad you aren’t disconcerted at the loss of the portal.” Kareem said.

“I’m just relieved to have you back.” Laurel said. “I’m… I’m sorry for making you participate in my experiments, Kareem. I didn’t consider the danger it put you in and you very nearly paid the price today.”

“You could not have forced me to so something I was not willing to do, Miss Brant.” Kareem said. “Like my parents, I am more than willing to do what is necessary to explore the world the powers of my father’s bloodline allow me to perceive.”

“That doesn’t mean I should let you.”

“Miss Brant, I had already explored the portal before I even brought it to your attention.”

Laurel blinked. “Is this true, Kareem? When… Why?”

“I discovered it shortly after you extended my range via the transponder network. And again the first time my parents came to visit.” Kareem admitted. “I did not tell you until after the new year because there were more pressing things; the fate of the Academy, Project Tome going underground, the trouble with the Kin…”

Shaking her head, Laurel offered him a bemused smile. “Kareem, after all this time, you have to understand that nothing is unimportant to me when it comes to you kids. If anything is on your mind, you should speak up.”

On screen, Kareem nodded. “In that case… perhaps we can discuss the manner in which I was able to cross into the Material Plane? I shall like to do that again, but cannot seem to muster it.”

“I promise we’ll look into every possibility, Kareem.” Laurel gave him a motherly smile.

***

“So,” Cyn said, sidling into Melissa’s room uninvited. “I hear you were the hero of the day.”

“What are you talking about?” the redhead asked, peering over her book. “Kareem’s the one that saved me, not the other way around. If he hadn’t used his power and commanded us all to run at just that time…”

“Oh he saved you.” Cyn said, bouncing down on the foot of Melissa’s bed. “total white knight upon a fiery stead action. But before that, you were the one that was strong, fast and fresh from the fight.”

Melissa rolled her eyes. “You’re quoting lyrics again.”

“Blame Warrick, he got it stuck in my head.” Cyn shrugged.

“But I wasn’t any of that.” Melissa said. “I didn’t even get to the transponder – which is now blown up and in the St. Anne River.”

“So?” Cyn demanded, “By my count, in the process of trying to do that, which turned out to be unnecessary anyway, you; saved a guy from a psychotic new baddie, participated in taking down an arms cartel with at least enough weapons to level that dock, then saved that same guy again from being exploded to death.”

“And in the end, I didn’t end up doing what I set out to do and what I set out to do ended up being unnecessary.” Melissa said, returning her gaze to the pages before her. “I got saved by the person I was trying to save.”

“Like Infinity says… or at least the guy that writes the character Infinity in Prelates, ‘It isn’t about what you plan to do, it’s about what you get done.” Cyn smiled at her housemate. “And you did good today.” She slid off the bed and picked up the soaked Hope costume Melissa had tossed in the corner. “You know, Hope and Ephemeral don’t patrol with us, but they definitely belong with the Descendants.”

“Maybe…” Melissa admitted slowly. “But I think I’m going to need a new costume in any case. The gi didn’t exactly help matters.”

***

Brill let Vorpal in with a quiet nod and left her alone in Liedecker’s office with the man himself.

Liedecker ignored her entrance, engrossed in something in his computer screen. Vorpal stood a while in silence before gently clearing her throat.

“I thought you were here to tell me what happened.” Liedecker said, not looking at her. He typed something and hit the enter key particularly hard.

“I failed at my objective.” Vorpal said. “The goons panicked and in the process of firing on me, they detonated the ammunition. The place went up. Not an ounce of salvage intact.”

To her surprise, the secret lord of Mayfield’s criminal community only shrugged. “It is regrettable that we didn’t manage to capture Vorran’s stock, but destroying it keeps him out of Mayfield just as easily.”

Vorpal removed her goggles. “Excuse me? Vorran? I thought this was a shipment stolen from you. Who’s Vorran?”

“Eduardo Vorran,” Liedecker said, “A new upstart that’s been sniffing too close to my backyard.”

“I’ve never heard of him.”

“No one has.” Liedecker replied, “That’s what I think don’t smell quite right. He’s trying to break into my business and he doesn’t even know my name. Doesn’t take credit for his own work; told his people those shipments were stolen from me.”

“Why didn’t you tell me that, sir?” Vorpal raised an eyebrow.

“Tell you the truth, Ms. Vorpal; I wasn’t totally sure those weren’t my arms.”

“How are you so sure now?”

“The fact that they exploded, for one.” Liedecker said. “Nothing I currently stock is going to blow unless it’s been fired. “Vorran’s not much of an arms dealer if he’s still dealing in old technology.”

“I can try and track him down for you.” Vorpal offered.

A sly grin crept over his face. “Good to hear, Vorpal. That’s exactly what I hired you for. Stealth, precision, grace—everything I need to keep people thinking about being my rivals in line. Let Sky Tyrant and Samael worry about the rest.”

“Samael took the job then?” A hint of disgust crept into Vorpal’s voice.

“He’ll be joining us after he sees to some business in Europe.” Liedecker confirmed. “But I can tell you’re not exactly happy to have him, are you, Vorpal?”

“I don’t approve of how he operates. He’s got no morality, no limits. And frankly, I shudder to imagine someone like him—someone that I know for a fact has killed for fun—armed with anything like these goggles. Are you honestly thinking of giving him this…” She stumbled over the bizarre explanation she’d been given for the goggles, “this… magitech?”

The smile on Liedecker’s face turned serious. “Ms. Vorpal, you may not realize this, but an arms race has begun. In the past year, the number of prelates has increased world wide threefold. Now, our very own Descendants haven’t turned their attention on us. But soon, they may.

“And I’m not the only one who is thinking like this. Powered armor is being bought and sold on the black market regularly. The Tongs are trying to build their own anti-prelate team as near as I can tell. I’ve heard tell of cyborgs trying to organize in this very city. In my city, Ms. Vorpal. Hell, last year, some rival I have still not identified sicced a mutant dog on me.”

He sat back in his chair, steepling his fingers. “I didn’t start the fire, but I won’t be caught in the house. That’s why I would bring a nasty son of a bitch like Samael into this. I need someone that can and will fight anyone I need him too – even the heroes of the world.”

Another sly smile came to his face. “But rest assured, my dear Ms. Vorpal, I am not fool. I know exactly what Samael is capable of. But he knows what I’m capable of and I promise you the same thing I promised him; If my dog gets out of line and bites when I tell him not too… he’ll be neutered.”

***

Elsewhere in Mayfield, the dreary, rainy day was clearing into a starry night worthy of van Gogh. Myriad stars hung in the sky, shedding their light on the city streets.

He started at his reflection. He would have preferred to be handsome, but then again, he didn’t know what handsome meant here. All he had to go on was the general rule among races that symmetry equaled beauty and that meant he was definitely not beautiful.

Not that it mattered. As much stock as almost ever species put in aesthetics, appearance was a non-factor when it came to getting a job done. And he had a job to do. Survival.

He looked down at a flyer he’d taken off a public bulletin board about an hour ago. Ah yes, humans were so good at providing food for his kind. They were the perfect instrument for playing the song of discord.

He laughed; a harsh, unpleasant sound.

And his reflection changed.

End Issue #16

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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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