Issue #18: A Tale of Two Churches

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

Part 2

Laurel adjusted her glasses as she peered at the screen in front of her. “Now that’s interesting,” She said, touching the screen and dragging her finger across it to rearrange a few items for easier viewing. “Very interesting, but how does this help us?”

The door to her workshop opened and Alexis stuck her head in. “Hey L, have you seen Ian?”

It took Laurel a second to register what she’d been asked. “Huh? Oh, no, sorry. He went out around noon, said he was going to check out the scene of the Atkins murder. I figured he’d be with you.”

Alexis shrugged, stepping fully into the room. “We’re not joined at the hip, you know?”

“I should amend my statement.” Laurel said, moving a few more icons. “I meant I think he should have been with you. All this stress we’ve been under lately… the kids take it well, but you and Ian; you’re more… how do I put this delicately…”

“High strung?” Alexis offered. She was carrying an unpopped bag of microwavable popcorn and a flat format case…

“I was going to say ‘drama prone’, but I like your words better.” Laurel smiled at her friend. “My point is that you need each other. You both tend to assume responsibility for every little thing that happens and that’s not healthy.”

“Sort of what I had in mind.” Alexis said indicating the items in her hands. “I was going to suggest to him that we let the kids handle patrol tonight and we stay in and watch some movies.” She frowned. “I told him I’d be back from grocery shopping at four and he said he’d be waiting for me.”

“You know Ian; he’d call if he ran into trouble. More than likely, he’s nipped off somewhere to brood. You should give him a call.”

“I’ll give him a little more brooding time.” Alexis said, coming to stand beside Laurel’s chair in front of the touch screen. “What’s this?

Laurel was just moving the last few items into place. “I had Vimes search for anyone in the national news that matched the Mauler’s victims; you know, seeing if I could connect the dots?” She double tapped two icons and two full profiles expanded to fill one half of the screen each. “They don’t connect, but they definitely pair up.”

Alexis leaned over her friend’s shoulder and read aloud. “Celeste Watson, age twenty-nine, green eyes, blonde hair, 5’4, 135 pounds; teacher at Crystal Valley Elementary, Mayfield; mother of three.” Alexis read one profile, and then moved to the other. “Andrea Foster, age thirty-two, green eyes, blonde hair, 5’2, 140 pounds, teacher at Ludley Park Elementary, Cincinnati, mother of… three.” She blinked. “This is the same woman!”

Laurel nodded. “Not the same, but close; these are just basic profiles. Everything in Andrea Foster’s Confederated Press write up matches up with Celeste Watson. Mrs. Watson was killed by the Mauler and Mrs. Foster was hit by an out of control car. There was no way her death was by the Mauler. The only link there was that both deaths made national headlines.”

“That’s weird.” Alexis commented.

“Once is weird.” Laurel said, bringing up another pair of profiles. They were also almost identical. “Twice is coincidence.” She tapped her keyboard and the computer displayed all of the Mauler’s victims. “Seven is calculation.”

Alexis put her hand over her mouth. “He’s killing people to ape the headlines?”

“The top viewed headlines according to .” Laurel nodded. “Remember what he told you? That he wants to cause chaos? This is how. He’s looking for people whose otherwise routine deaths made national headlines and killing the closest approximation in very gruesome and public ways—because those people will make headlines.”

“That doesn’t make sense though,” Alexis said, shaking her head. “How does a press feeding frenzy cause the chaos he says he’s after?”

“That’s the part I don’t understand.” Laurel said. “But now that I see a method to his madness, I have something to work with.”

“I’m going to call Ian and fill him in.” Alexis said, phone already out. After a second, a grimace of confusion came over her face. “Node couldn’t be found? What does that mean”

Laurel snapped her head around to look at her. “Alexis, call the kids, then get suited up.”

Still making faces at her phone, Alexis blinked at her. “Why?”

“Because ‘node not found’ is the message you get when you try to call a phone that doesn’t exist.”


“Reverend,” asked Mike Carnes, host of News Provider 2, Mayfield’s weekly local debate program, Free Forum, “You seem to suggest that the government outlaw being psionic.”

Reverend Douglas Stiles, a clean cut man in his forties, looked more like a car salesman than a holy man as he leaned over his podium and responded. “Mike, that’s not what I’m saying at all. What the government should outlaw are prelates. They’re the ones taking the law into their own hands and making our world a more dangerous place to live. Psionics just need to be better regulated is all.”

“Regulated?” Carnes asked.

“Yes. Now, I’m no legislator; nor am I perfectly up on the ins and outs of things, but what we have now is chaos. Even under the Academy, we had many potentially dangerous people opting out of any kind of oversight at all and that’s what led to these rogues and prelates in the first place.”

“That’s preposterous.” W. Edgar Zorbaugh, professor of sociology at Dayspring College scoffed. “You talk about prelates and those that use their powers for illegal purposes like they’re one and the same. Prelates making our lives more dangerous? Please, Reverend, just look at any study done in the past year – Mayfield has become a much safer place to live since the Descendants appeared on the scene.”

He shuffled some papers and held up a few. “The same can be said for New York following the arrival of John Harding, also called Infinity; Chicago with the Shade—and let’s not forget Arizona. Zero Point and Machina X have dropped crime ninety-two percent there and within a month of their retirement, crime rose ten percent. The proof is right here, Reverend; prelates stop crime and make cities safer.”

“And how much have meta-crimes gone up, Professor?” Stiles shot back. “Mayfield had exactly three in the twenty odd years since psionics came into the public eye. After the Descendants… well, we’ve seen an art theft at the Westmoreland Hotel backed by a fire manipulator, a full scale assault on Capashen Arena, an explosion on the West Truman Bridge, and what the Scribe describes as a ‘battle royale’ that spanned from the third district all the way to City Central. And this isn’t even mentioning minor, but still destructive skirmishes.”

“In none of those situations were the prelates the aggressors.” The Professor countered. “And in light of your own anti-psionic stance, it should be noted that Nikolia Petrov is not a psionic and the aggressors in the incident in November were fully regulated government operatives that went rogue.”

“The fact of the matter, Mike.” Reverend Stiles addressed the host rather than his opponent, “Is that no matter what evidence Professor Zorbaugh brings to the table, psionics are inherently dangerous and prelates invite escalation—effectively a metahuman arms race—in the criminal element!”

“Ugh.” Chaos groaned. “turn that off. Listening to that gas bag again isn’t going to…” he stopped, realizing that he wasn’t at home. With his eyes still closed, he could tell he was in a relatively small room, laid out on a bed on top of the covers. His costume was intact; including his cowl, but his visor was gone.

Before he could act on this, the noise from the broadcast of Free Forum went mute. “Our guest is awake.” A calm, thoughtful male voice said.

“He’s a strong one.” A light female voice replied. “I’da thought one o’ my O-fuda woulda put a mortal man under for a week.”

O-fuda, Chaos recalled. That was the name of those paper talismans. Was that what had knocked him out? That wasn’t the important matter at hand though; he had been unconscious in a room full of people he didn’t know, one of whom had just admitted to weilding the thing that knocked him out.

Ignoring the tingling sensation running up his arm, probably from the electrical shock, he swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood up as swiftly as possible.

He was in a modest, two bed hotel room. Two men, both in their forties or fifties; one bearded and dour looking, the other crew cut and looking very much like a classic marine were sitting at the table by the window, watching the now muted debate show and apparently disinterested in his actions.

Another man sat cross legged on the other bed. He looked to be in his late twenties or early thirties, with straight, brown hair in a ridiculous bowl cut. He had a closed book on his lap and was keeping his place with a finger while watching Chaos’s outburst.

Sitting in a soft chair on the other side of his bed was a woman with long, curly red hair that she must have cultivated since she was a young child. She had been caught in the middle eating noodles out of a takeout carton; the chopsticks laden with lo mein, paused halfway to her mouth.

They were all dressed casually in t-shirts and trousers and didn’t look the part of kidnappers, especially people who would kidnap a prelate. But appearances could be deceiving. In fact, that’s all they seemed to be as of late.

“Tell me who you all are and what you did to me right now, or it’s going to be very hard to breathe.” He said coldly and let a pulse of air wash through the room to illustrate his point.

Mr. Crew Cut was on his feet the very next instant, reaching behind his back.

“Please!” the one on the bed said urgently. “There’s no need for threats.” He said it more to Crew Cut than to Chaos.

“Good idea.” Chaos said, backing up to the nightstand so he could keep an eye on everyone at once. “Let’s all keep our hands where we can see them.” Crew Cut sighed in frustration and held both hands out in front of him. “Now let’s try this again. Who are you people, why did you kidnap me, and where the hell is my visor?”

“We didn’t mean any harm.” The peacekeeper said. “It was an accident that the O-fuda discharged into you.”

“For true.” The woman backed him up, setting her lunch to the side. “I thought tha’ all o’ ‘em had gone off. It was a bit o’ a shock to me tha’ one even held a charge tha’ long.”

The man on the bed nodded. “Daria felt it go off and we went back to the scene of the battle. We found you there.” He gingerly reached into a duffel bag beside the bed and withdrew Chaos’s visor. “Forgive us, but Cristoff had to remove your visor to check your pupils.”

Chaos accepted the visor and replaced it. “Okay… we’ll say I believe that. Who are you?”

“Oh, I must have skipped right past that. We are the Sineaters, an organization dispatched to Mayfield by our superiors to investigate and contain the—er—Mauler. I’m Walter, the young lady is Daria, the quiet one at the table is Cristoff and the man who almost pulled his weapon on you is James Richter, our field commander.”

“Why do I get the feeling you’re not with the ROCIC?” Chaos asked.

“Because we aren’t.” Richter answered tersely.

“I’m not even going to go into how the correct answer would have been ‘what’s the ROCIC?’.” Chaos said, warily. “Now, you guys aren’t psionics and… Daria?”

“Yes.” Daria confirmed, starting into her noodles again.

“Daria here plays with weapons that aren’t exactly military hardware. What are you, militant magic users?”

The mere mention of magic use got him a cold glare from Richter. “He’s awake, he’s healed. We’ve done out part. Cut him loose. We have more important matters.”

“But sir…” Walter pleaded.

“He’s already gone toe ta’ toe wit’ tha’ thing.” Daria protested, “You’ve seen tha’ pictures. Couldna’ it be tha’ he knows somethin’ we don’?”

Cristoff said nothing, but gave Richter a disapproving look.

The room was silent as the other Sineaters awaited their leader’s judgment. A look of extreme frustration crossed his face as he threw up his hands in defeat. “Bringing this thing down’s more important than pride. We have authorization, fill him in, Walter.”

Walter nodded and motioned for Chaos to take a seat. When he remained standing, he began anyway. “First of all, about the entity you encountered last week, the Mauler, as the local media are calling it. It isn’t a rogue psionic, it isn’t an experimental mutation, it isn’t even of this world. It is a devil; an agent of Satan sent to do his work on Earth.”

Chaos cocked his head quizzically. “Okay, you’re not the first spellslinger to tell me this guy’s not human or any variations on that theme, but you’re definitely the first to get biblical about it.”

“The Sineaters are the only ones that keep records.” Walter said. “The only ones that monitor demonic activity and crossings.”


“They come from the Astral.” Richter clarified. “We’ve known about the astral plane since around nineteen hundreds. The demons enter the world through green astral breeches. They can take any form, from a glowing ball of benign light, to a huge, grey hulk, to anything in between. Some can possess a human and subvert his body. Those are the worst.”

Walter nodded and picked up where his leader left off. “That is the kind we believe to be responsible for the Mauler. While other varieties seem content either keeping to themselves or working minor mischief in a populace, this kind insinuates itself into human society, causes calamity and seems to draw strength on social strife.”

“I know for a fact the nothing lives in the Astral.” Chaos retorted. “And how exactly do you tell the difference between a demon and someone that’s nuts?” The gears in his head were turning. That sounded like Morganna’s MO, right down to the body snatching.

“The demon subverts the host’s own ambitions to its own purposes and to that end grants them power—magic as it were.” Walter explained.

“So…” Ian gave Daria a sidelong glance, “She’s got a demon in her?”

Daria almost choked on her food. “No!” she said emphatically, “Why would ye say somethin’ so mean spirited an’ hateful? I was under tha’ assumption tha’ you were one o’ tha’ good ones!”

Walter held up a hand to calm her down. “No, Chaos, that isn’t it at all.”

“Sorry,” Chaos said, “But you just told me that all magic users have a demon inside and to be quite frank, my experience says one for two. The new caster, Occult doesn’t seem to be all that demonic, just untrustworthy.”

“What we use,” Richter took over, “Isn’t vulgar magic, using demonic energies and paraphernalia. The Sineaters are trained to use their faith to bring out their own inner potential and channel it in a variety of ways. Daria, for example, can use it to inscribe symbols of power on paper talismans.”

“And where did you learn these special tricks?” Chaos asked.

“The original concept was developed in the far east by Shinto priests, but the Church—“Walter started.

“Wait, ‘the Church’ as in the Church, as in Catholic? You’re telling me that you guys are a sect of Catholics that are using Shinto chi to beat up on demons?” Chaos slapped the side of his head. “I could make millions selling this to a studio.”

“Jus’ because tha’ rest o’ their belief is incorrect, doesna’ mean other parts donna’ work.” Daria said.

“Right.” Chaos said, changing the too confusing subject. “So, if these critters are demons; and considering that I’ve fought an ape knight and an ancient sorceress, I’m just going to have to take your word for it (and have Codex schedule me some therapy later) and Mauler is a demon, how do we get Beelzebub out of his meat shield?”

“We don’t.” Richter said gravely. “Once a demon has possessed a person, they gain access to its power and are subject to its whims. That is irreversible. We’re only left to pray that their soul can be redeemed.”

“You kill them.” Chaos deadpanned.

“Better than to allow the demon’s influence to fester in the community. Especially ones like the Mauler. They won’t stop until the entire community they reside in has broken down into divisiveness and hatred.” Richter said.

“Then we have nothing more to discuss.” Chaos said, moving toward the window. “I’ve seen someone come unpossessed I’m not killing someone to get at this thing.”

“You don’t have a choice.” Richter assured him.

“Of course I do.” Ian said. “We find him first and when we do, we fight to contain.” He stepped into empty air and called up a gale to fling him from the hotel window. Fury at the idea of killing the victim to cure the disease welled inside him. He wanted to shout his distain, but before he could, he was interrupted by his phone ringing.

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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. You can also purchase his books from all major platforms from the bookstore
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