Issue #18: A Tale of Two Churches

This entry is part 6 of 15 in the series The Descendants Vol 2: Magic and Machines

The Devil Came Down To Mayfield Part 2

St. Drausinus Church stood at the east end of Wagner Park, overlooking a cluster of small office buildings. Modern construction had built it in the perfect image of its gothic forbearers; high towers and stone walls topped with leering gargoyles, all framing an ornate painted door that was at least four times a man’s height.

Ian used one of the two smaller doors on either side of it to enter. Inside, the church rivaled any cathedral in overall opulence with its high domed ceiling, supported by arches carved into the semblance of saints. The dome itself was almost entirely made of stained glass depicting various biblical scenes in image and verse that left the balcony seating awash with color.

It was a quiet time of the day; morning mass was long past, choir practice had ended an hour before and preparations for evening mass and bible study were occurring elsewhere in the huge building. Only a few people remained, sitting in small clumps in pews or using the main hall as a shortcut to the other side of the building.

This suited Ian just fine as he went to the side altar, dropped some money in the donation box and lit a candle. He wasn’t entirely sure why he was even there. He wasn’t Catholic, hadn’t been raised with any particular slant toward religion at all, really. But the past three weeks had been hard and he needed someplace quiet to think. Someplace he wouldn’t constantly be hearing conversations or news broadcasts about the Mauler.

Flexing his stiff shoulders, he sat down in a pew to brood. Another week had gone by without bringing the Mauler to justice. The monster had, at least, become more cautious after the fight at the Archipelago Estates parking garage. Only two had died in that time, both victims this time had been taken alone, out of the public eye. The thing knew they were patrolling more heavily now.

As much as Ian hated to admit it, Occult was right; whatever the Mauler was, it wasn’t a psionic. Neither Kareem, nor Laurel’s astral monitoring software could detect him. Worse, he was seemingly invincible. They had thrown everything they had at him and he had made them look like amateurs.

He wished he could convince everyone else that Mauler wasn’t a psionic. The Reverend Douglas Stiles was making hay with the Mauler’s actions and though most news providers dismissed him as the hatemonger he was, he still managed to get sound bytes on the air. Ian was certain that he had heard Stile allege that the Mauler was the next Arjun Ravi at least a thousand times in the past two days. And almost as often, he heard him go on to say that the Mauler would be first in a wave of copycats as psionics did to America ‘what they did in Columbia’.

Stiles had been careful to omit that the regime change in that country was the inevitable result of an already splintered military government attempting to forcefully conscript psionics.

Ian closed his eyes and leaned his head back. Mauler had said that what he wanted was chaos. He was getting it. Stiles’ little group was holding a rally at city central that coming Sunday. Laurel had suggested they keep an eye on it in case some other psionic decided to prove the ‘good’ reverend right and touch off a powder keg.

“I’m surprised to see you here.” Ian looked up to see an elderly nun standing in the aisle beside his seat. “This does explain why I never see you at mass.”

Ian blinked, then remembered where he was. “Sister Ann Marie? I thought you were with Our Lady of Hope.”

The nun nodded. “I am. I was visiting a friend who works with the community outreach project here.”

“Oh.” Ian said dumbly. For some reason, he had it in his head the nuns weren’t allowed to leave their church. “Uh… we’ll, I’m not a member here.” His voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper. “I’m, uh, not even Catholic.”

If this fazed Sister Ann Marie, it didn’t show. “Ah, then are you just here to offer your volunteer services here? The kids were very happy with your help with the Easter egg hunt.”

“Actually, I just needed a place to sort my head out.” Ian said, then gestured to the side altar, “And light a candle.”

A sympathetic look came over the sister’s face. “What did you light a candle for?” The implication being ‘why was he lighting a candle if he didn’t believe?’

“Let’s just say that I see people do it in movies all the time and I figured I’d light a candle for someone and hope God looks after them.”

“Who for?”

“I don’t know.” He said honestly. “I don’t know them, I just… think there’s probably someone out there that needs watching out for.” He only hoped that he’d be able to stop the Mauler before God’s intervention was needed.

“You’re a very thoughtful man, Mr. Smythe.” The nun smiled. “And the Lord can always use more of those at his side.”

“Everyone does.” Ian nodded.

***

An hour and a change of costume later, Chaos found himself in a very different part of the city, the neighborhood called Prosperity Heights, which was just about as viscous and blatant a misnomer as could be found in an atlas.

The neighborhood was overrun with crime and even the organized underworld that operated out of Mayfield seemed to want no part of it. Even the gangsters and pushers of Prosperity Heights, however, had been shocked by the discovery of the body of one Gary Atkins, a user and banger who had tried to go straight

The Mauler had torn him apart in an alley next to the convenience store where he had purchased a six pack and some chips shortly before disappearing.

Most of the chips and the spilled puddle of beer were still there next to the bloody stained chalk outline. Chaos suppressed a gag at just the sight and was thankful to Laurel for fitting his cowl with a face mask. Ostensibly, the mask was to protect his face in flight, but now it kept back the stench of a grizzly murder scene.

With careful and deliberate concentration, he lifted himself up on a pillar of air, pulling it in slowly enough the he didn’t disturb the crime scene, and levitated himself over the police tape for a closer look.

It didn’t take him long to see why the police had been wary of linking Atkins’ murder to the Mauler. In paces, the brick wall and pavement were scorched by intense heat; hotter and definitely more precise than plasma lances.

The Mauler was never known to use weapons and Chaos knew he didn’t need them. Atkins, being a reformed gangster and by all counts good citizen, more than likely hadn’t been packing illegal arms—and moreover, none have been found with him.

A stray gust from his power caught a scrap of paper that had been lying nearby and made it dance in the air. There was something printed on it, a series of Japanese characters.

The wheels of memory turned. He’d seen something like that before—several times before, in fact. Juniper watched a lot of anime, Japanese animation. He knew of several characters just in passing that used slips of paper like that as weapons. Typically, they were quiet priest or priestess types that were the magical companion to a duo or ensemble’s muscle.

Using a small vortex to bring the slip to his hand, he frowned at it. “Very much not our boy’s style.” He said. Memory of Occult’s assertion that the Mauler was a magical being came back to him as he continued to scowl at it. Maybe someone else agreed with her. Right or wrong, if MPD’s fingerprint database could return and ID, it might help—

The slip of paper flared blue and sent electricity coursing through his body. Everything went black.

***

“Is this much security really necessary?” Vorpal asked as the second of a series of three blast doors ground closed behind her. “No one even knows these people are here… well, not ‘here’ here anyway.” As always, she was in her costume, completely anonymous save for her nom de guerre.

Vincent Liedecker stood beside her in the hallway between blast doors. “It isn’t about keeping people out, Vorpal. It’s about keeping them in.” It had been a weeks long battle to convince him to simply call her ‘Vorpal’ instead of ‘Ms. Vorpal’. “Despite their eccentricities, these people are some of the brightest minds on the planet and I’m ‘bout as sure that one or two of them will try and bow out of our agreement as I am that a hound dog has fleas.”

There was a tone from someplace hidden and the final blast door began to roll up.

“How are you certain that they’re really bright minds and not just off kilter ones?” Vorpal asked.

“That’s the beautiful thing about how people are wired, Vorpal—those two ain’t exactly mutually exclusive.” The blast door fully opened into a short, open corridor where two armed guards were posted. Vorpal noted that they wore flak jackets and bore low tech assault rifles instead of computer aided pulse weaponry or plasma lances. Liedecker really did think of everything.

The corridor opened up into a wide, cavernous room with a transparent floor that looked down into several work rooms where a handful of people in hospital gowns bearing the logo of the Solomon Center milled about, tending to one project or another. The space above was also filled with lab coated scientists working at transparent plastic tables on other projects.

“Welcome to the Think Tank, Vorpal.” Liedecker said, gesturing to the setup. He waved one of the scientists over.

While he came, Vorpal looked down at the goings on below. She didn’t have her so called ‘magitech’ goggles on, but she could clearly see some of the projects. In particular, one woman had procured two large workrooms and populated them largely with tiny spheroid machines with odd wings. Amid those, a half constructed humanoid design menaced from its workbench.

“They can’t see us, can they?” She asked.

“No.” Liedecker assured her. “The transparency is one way and no entrances from here lead down there from the inside. They’d have to break outta there to even start breaking in here.”

“Correct, sir.” The scientist said, nodding his welcome to Vorpal. She recognized him as Drew (she didn’t know if that was a first or last name), the scientist that had outfitted her with her goggles. “We observe their process and methodology from above and replicate it. The transparent floor is because we don’t want them finding cameras and realizing that we’re reverse engineering their processes and actively working to sabotage any escape attempts via their tech.. Nothing they make leaves the Tank.”

“Good man.” Liedecker said, slapping him on the shoulder. “Now, let’s show our girl what you’ve got for her.”

“Of course sir.” Drew nodded and led them across the lab. “Vorpal, as you know, we asked for your specifications on your costume when you first came on board. From that, we’ve been able to improve on your design.” He led them to a mannequin wearing its own version of Vorpal’s ‘Victorian ninja’ garb.

This version was dark green instead of black, though it was only distinguishable from black when the light hit it at the right angles. The chainmail seams were there, but now they were gold colored.

“We’ve reinforced key areas with carbon nanotube fibers backed by thin, ballistic tested ceramic plating. Now, the chainmail was a concern…”

“How so?” Vorpal asked.

“The prelate Alloy is a metal controller. He could us it against you.” Drew answered.

“I sincerely doubt that.” Vorpal said, running a finger over the seams. “This isn’t gold.” She stated.

“No, it’s a designer metal we’ve…” Drew looked at Liedecker for guidance.

“We had it reverse engineered here.” Liedecker took pity on him. “Drew and his science boys wanted to call it impervium, but as it turns out, it already had a brand name; orihalcite.”

“This is a refined version created by one of our guests.” Drew said, referring to the incarcerated scientists. We’re calling it orihalcon—it’s a reference to a classical—“

“I know what orihalcon is, Drew.” Vorpal said in a bored tone. “I don’t know about Mr. Liedecker’s other hired help, but I’m an educated woman. I did, after all name myself in honor of my affection for Lewis Carroll’s work.”

Drew shot Liedecker a nervous glance, but the well of pity was dry. “Yes…” He finally managed, changing the subject rather than continuing on as he had. “We’ve also completed the rig for Samael.” Again, he led them to another segment of the lab, to a large work table where the rig lay.

At its center was a flat, orihalcon assembly that looked not unlike a human spine. Each vertebra had a pair of clear ampoules filled with liquid in shades of blue and orange at right angles to one another. The top of the assembly was a collar that was obviously sized for a man’s neck. Ceramic needles passed through the back of the collar at three points. Attached to the spinal assembly were two expansive wings, made up feathers of thin hammered metal, each etched with strange symbols. Fully extended, the wings were over fifteen feet wide.

“I thought we couldn’t use metal?” Vorpal asked, running a finger over one of the feathers.

“Doctor Tennyson’s project team has warded the feathers against psionic assault.” Drew assured, speaking to Liedecker more than to her. “Their theory is that they can integrate this sort of protection into any metallic surface large enough to etch with conventional tools.”

“Why can’t they use lasers?” Liedecker asked.

“It, uh… doesn’t work that way, sir.” Drew shrank back from his employer, expecting reprisal.

It didn’t come. Liedecker simply nodded. “It’s a damn miracle they know how any of it works.” He admitted. “Keep me posted. I’m going to keeping looking around here; I’ll call you over If I need you.”

Drew was more than happy to leave them alone.

“By the way,” Vorpal said, “Will you be needing me this weekend?”

“I don’t see as I do.” Liedecker said, looking over the shoulder of a young scientist who was trying to assemble what looked like a digital wrist watch with lenses instead of a normal face. “This have anything to do with the rally?”

“Stiles and his bigots will be out front of City Hall. I want to keep an eye on them.” She gave him a warning look. “I won’t kill anyone.”

Liedecker smirked. “I was going to tell you I wasn’t going to pay for it if you do.” He moved on to where two women were making a copy of the small flying robots one of the incarcerated geniuses had built. “Douglas Stiles is a small fish. He’s just a bean counter that’s got the sudden fool idea that his opinion means something.”

“I take it that you don’t agree with the good reverend’s politics.” Vorpal said coyly.

“I have my own lack of love for prelates, Vorpal, but the difference between he and I is that I have a point.” He moved over to where a new mockup of the Sky Tyrant armor was being assembled. “Prelates can hurt my business; what’s his reason? I would be more surprised than anyone if it was actually God at all.”

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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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