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 3

Grimacing back at the hotel window where the Sineaters had set up their headquarters, Chaos flew out over downtown Mayfield at the highest speed he felt safe with. He was still angrily mulling over the events that had transpired there when his phone rang. It was the ringing tone he used for Alexis.

“Chaos.” He said after hitting the hands free toggle in his visor. Laurel had given them all a long, involved lecture in the logistics of using codenames and separate ringing tones while on ‘the job’ to keep potential eavesdroppers from learning their identities.

“Oh my god, where have you been? Where are you? We’re out looking for you! Your phone number was coming out node not found and…” the words spilled out in a torrent from Alexis’s side of the phone. “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine, hon.” Chaos said. “As for where I’ve been, it’s a long story.”

“I’ve got nothing but time.” She said firmly.

Slowing his flight into a steady glide, Chaos related how he had been knocked out and came to among the Sineaters, providing greater detail as Alexis asked for it. “So basically, we need to find Mauler even more urgently now.” He finished. “Even if they’re only half right, he may have a readymade hostage and this Richter guy is completely cool with killing him to get to the demon.”

“How are we going to do that?” Alexis asked. “It’s been almost a month and we only caught up to him when he came looking for someone we were with.”

“I’m not sure.” Chaos frowned, passing a huge billboard advertising Preoccupation, a new fragrance for men.

It depicted a man with an attractively exotic woman with mother-of-pearl skin and luminescent, green eyes draping herself over his shoulder. Sonja Remington, the model, was a major player in the modeling scene as of late; the most famous protomorph model and actress and a trailblazer for others like her. Seeing the billboard reminded Chaos of the upcoming hate rally and what that movement would do to people like Remington if it grew in power.

They won’t stop until the entire community they reside in has broken down into divisiveness and hatred.’ Walter’s words came to his mind. He stopped, hovering in front of the billboard. ‘The demon subverts the host’s own ambitions to its own purposes and to that end grants them power…’ Richter’s voice added.

“Son of a bitch.”

“What?” Alexis asked. “What happened, are you okay?”

“He’s been right there all the time. On TV, in the paper—and we couldn’t connect the dots.” He continued berating himself.

“What are you talking about, Chaos?” Alexis asked again.

“It’s Stiles. He’s the Mauler.”

“How? What made you think that?” Laurel’s voice came on over the phone.

“The Sineaters told me that this thing—the demon—it… I don’t know, feeds, on discord and social chaos. It told you as much itself. And what’s the biggest source of turmoil in Mayfield besides the Mauler showing up? Something that everyone thinks is a psionic killing people and an accountant turned overnight preacher using it as the cornerstone of his anti-psionic agenda.”

“You believe them?” Alexis asked.

“It makes sense.” Laurel replied, breaking in on another line. “That’s what the pattern was for. He found types of people whose deaths were guaranteed to generate media coverage and having a psionic doing it fits nicely with Stiles’ rhetoric.”

“Pattern?” Chaos asked.

“The Mauler’s victims were all people whose general life story matched as closely as possible with deaths that have been picked up by the national media in the past year; school teacher mothers of three, former bangers that turned their lives around, all American athletes…” Laurel explained.

“I was really hoping I was wrong on this.” Chaos admitted. “If Stiles and the Mauler are one in the same, this could get real complicated really fast. If we hit him in human form, we’re the big, bad prelates he’s been preaching about and we’ve already seen he’s a hard case in demon mode.”

“He didn’t fight the whole team last time.” Alexis reminded, “We know a young man who can target him from the astral side. If it really is a demonic parasite, maybe we can separate them.”

“If he can even sense the thing.” Chaos added. “Still, it’s our best bet. We can’t let the Sineaters cap him, that wouldn’t be right, even if Stiles himself is a prick.”

“We’ll talk about this back at home.” Laurel said. “The rally tomorrow will be our best chance at letting Ephemeral get a shot at him and if the Sineaters figure this out, they’ll no doubt take the opportunity as well. We need to plan this very carefully.”

***

“I’ll see you two at home then.” Chaos’s voice said and the call disconnected.

“Good work, Cristoff.” Richter said. Cristoff’s innovative idea of electronically jamming the room and then scanning for his phone to reconnect had worked perfectly in bypassing the heavily disguised signal the phone operated on. The bearded man nodded and closed his laptop. He turned to Walter, “I’m assuming he means that Reverend on television. What do we have on him, Walter?”

“Not much.” Walter admitted, consulting his own palm device. “He was basically a nobody until around November of last year. It seems that the Descendants and a group of rogue government meta-police participated in a running battle across Mayfield back then. A third party the media heard Darkness refer to as Sky Tyrant interceded and in the process destroyed a number of offices at City Hall.”

“This included Douglas Stile’s accounting office. It seems Mr. Stiles was a bit of a luddite and kept all of his backups on a tape drive instead of a distributed network. The destruction of his office pretty much wiped out everything he had for his clients and his city contracts. There are actually a dozen lawsuits still pending against him, but his declaration of bankruptcy has stalled the proceedings.”

Richter frowned. “So he loses everything because of his own faults and seeks vengeance on others using God’s name?” He shook his head. “And unfortunately for seven people, it made him the perfect vessel for demonic possession.”

Standing, he stretched. “A shame, perhaps in time, even his passing familiarity with the Lord would have turned him from the path of vengeance to the path of salvation. He’s already proven himself charismatic enough to have had a profound effect.

“But now, he is overcome by the fell affliction and only death stands a chance at saving his immortal soul from demonic torment.”

“Wha’ about wha’ Chaos said, sir?” Daria asked. “About a possession bein’ reversed?”

“She’s right, James.” Walter added. “If it is a possibility, should we not consider exploring it? As you said yourself, Stiles has the potential to become a great force of good in the community if not for the demon…”

Richter put a hand to his temple. “I’ve been at this since you and Daria were in grade school, Walter. I’ve seen this before. Not this extensive, with the full assumption of a new shape, but close. There is no going back. Douglas Stiles is dead and a creature from Hell is using him as a puppet. Listen to experience before getting starry eyed over what some prelate’s opinion is.”

“But if he’s seen it,” Daria pressed. “Doesna’ tha’ mean somethin’?”

“It means what he saw wasn’t a demon.” Richter snapped. “Psionics can do incredible things and it wouldn’t be the first time one was mistaken for a demon. Now get your gear together. The Descendants are right; the best chance we’ll have of dealing with him is at the rally tomorrow, which means tonight, I need to call Home and get permission and the rest of you need to focus your faith to ensure you’re up for the fight.” He nodded to Walter. “It’s time to put them on, Walter.”

With a resigned nod in return, Walter reached into his bag and extracted two piles of white bandages and a small jar with two tear-shaped rubies suspended in alcohol. Each gem was about the size of the end of his thumb.

“More accurately, it would be putting them in.” Walter held one of the gems up to the light. The Bloodlight Relics were two of the most secret and closely guarded objects of their kind and had been entrusted to Walter because he was the least likely to misuse them.

“I think I’m gon’ take a bit o’ a walk.” Daria said, getting up. “Maybe go back ta’ m’ room an’ change.” She didn’t like to watch or even be in the same room when Walter activated the Relics. The others knew this, even if she didn’t seem to notice they did.

Respectfully, Walter waited until she had vacated the room to open the jar. The stinging odor of alcohol quickly filled the room as he gingerly extracted the Relics. He had been entrusted with them for three years and even after that time; he couldn’t help but admire them. Cut to razor sharpness at the thin part of the tear drop shape, they boasted dozens of facets, each with bore a minute etching of an angelic symbol. More symbols were somehow impressed into the heart of the stones, yet as the light passed over them, the stones looked perfectly translucent.

Carefully, Walter placed one on the heel of his right palm and used the bandage to secure it there, then repeated the process with the other. The wrappings made him look as if he was preparing for a prize fight, which in a sense was exactly what he was doing.

Taking a sharp breath, he closed his fists and flexed. The gems bit deeply into his flesh, causing blood to well up and flow over the relics. Even beneath the bandages, a soft red glow was kindled from deep within the rubies.

Wincing form the pain, Walter looked to Richter. “Are you sure there isn’t another way?” He asked. “The bolts can burn the flesh of a mortal man to nothing.”

“It is what must be done.” Richter said solemnly. “Practice a bit before you go out. Take Daria with you, and try to explain to her that I’m right.”

“Shouldn’t you do that?” Walter asked.

“I would.” His field leader said, “But I need to put in a call to Dr. Tang before we do anything. This Occult person being involved may have changed his plans somewhat.”

***

“All I’m saying,” Lisa was saying to JC as the pair left the Cineplex, “Is that the trilogy stood up better by itself. Tacking on a fourth movie didn’t even feel like the same story anymore.”

JC shrugged. “Probably, but who cares when you’ve got John Shaffer fighting separatists room to room on a sinking battle ship? Did you see the part where he waited for the water to rise over the other guy’s boots, then switched on the circuits to fry him?”

“He did that in Tactical Discipline 2, too.” Lisa pointed out.

“Totally different thing.” JC argued. “In that one, he turned a fire hose on the guy while he was next to an electric fence.”

“Would that even really work?”

“Eh, when the main character can consistently shoot to kneecap with a nail gun, things like science and reality aren’t key to the whole thing.”

“I get to pick the movie next time.” Lisa shook her head and smiled. It had been a while since she and JC had managed to get through a whole date without Occult getting in the way. The Mauler was still out in force, but after the encounter the previous week, Codex had tracked her down on one of her excursions and given her the frequency to a special scanner band they would broadcast to if they needed her.

She was sure that it would give Chaos fits and that was perfectly fine with her; his costumed persona wasn’t exactly nice to her costumed persona.

“It’s going to be the one where the goofy teacher none of the other teachers likes comes to a new school and teaches all the problem kids to dance or blow glass or something, isn’t it?” JC shuddered in horror.

“Which one is that?” Lisa asked, eyes lighting up. Troubled teen features were, after all, her favorite.

“They’re all like that.” JC rolled his eyes. “At least the ones you pick. The guy in that last one looked eerily like Mr. DeCosta. I can’t even go to econ class without thinking he’s going to be waiting for me with tap shoes.”

“You know, if you just gave them a chance, you—“ Lisa let out a sharp hiss of pain as it suddenly felt like someone had passed a white hot needle into her temple. She caught herself from falling by putting a hand on the wall. The other went to her head.

“You okay?” JC asked, confused.

Lisa didn’t answer right away. She couldn’t answer, because she didn’t hear him. Her body was there in the mall with JC, but her senses, mostly, her hearing were elsewhere.

“She calls herself Occult.” A gruff, male voice said, “They say she’s a prelate. We have reason to believe she’s a witch, tapping demonic power.” The irony was lost amid Lisa’s confusion.

“Make sure she isn’t a psionic with an eclectic power.” Another voice, this one detached, but somewhat warm replied. “Once you’re sure, it is God’s own word that you cannot suffer a witch to live. Without malice, strike her down and pray for her immortal soul.”

“Thank you Dr. Tang.” The first speaker said. Lisa felt more than saw the image of a large, old fashioned handgun. There was power in it, magic bent and forged in ways she couldn’t begin to understand.

Then she was back in her own body, in the mall, with JC’s arm around her.

“…need to get you to a doctor?” JC was saying.

The pain gone, Lisa straightened. “No, I’m fine. Maybe it was like a delayed ice cream headache or something.” she was getting more proficient at lying to her boyfriend than she was strictly comfortable with.

“You looked like you were having a seizure or something.” JC said. “You know, my cousin had those. Not like all the time, or severe or anything. She was kind of out there anyway – said it was what happened when someone walked on her grave.”

“Cheery.” Lisa deadpanned, “But I’m fine. Let’s go get something at the food court, or hit the arcade.”

“After that?” JC asked, worried.

“I insist. Between Kay feeling extra needy and Snackrifice and school, we never do couple stuff anymore. Let’s fix that.” She said quickly. That was true, but at the moment, all she wanted to do was ignore the bizarre vision she’d just seen.

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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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