Issue #21: Come the Black Clouds

This entry is part 10 of 15 in the series The Descendants Vol 2: Magic and Machines

Part 3

“The big picture behind this may be even worse than whatever is happening to Kareem.” Laurel admitted, frowning at the screen of her notebook computer. The device was currently plugged into the vital sign monitors connecting to Kareem.

Alexis was, by that time, the only one left in the room. Ian had taken the others to the downstairs commons until they could sort out what was wrong. “So you know what this is?” she asked, watching Kareem’s inert form.

“Remember last year?” Laurel asked, “When Kareem sensed Morganna traveling through the astral plane?” Alexis nodded. “Back then, he described it as someone dropping a piano into a swimming pool. Morganna’s entrance and exit into the Astral plane caused disturbances… ripples in the plane itself.”

“I’m not following how this relates.” Alexis said, “Things like this have happened before without hurting him like this.”

“Nothing on this scale.” Laurel shook her head and turned her screen so Alexis could see. A map of the city was on it, showing the locations of the astral transceivers in green. “These are my transponders about half an hour ago. Without getting too technical, they sense and translate the astral wavelength.” Alexis still looked confused. Laurel tapped a play button at the bottom of the screen and almost all the lights went out in a circle that spread almost too fast for Alexis’s eye to catch.

“That was from the instant Kareem started screaming.” Laurel continued.

“The transponders got knocked offline?” Alexis asked, “Like during the Mauler incident and just before that when you were using the ROV?”

“That’s the thing.” Laurel said, “They aren’t offline. They’re still responding, still active. It’s the wavelength that’s missing. Totally missing.”

Alexis shook her head. “How is that possible?”

“Like water in a pool.” Laurel said quietly. “If you drop in something big enough, all the water goes out.” She gestured to Kareem, “And anything not bolted down goes with it. Kareem was shunted out of the Astral by an astral storm several thousand times more powerful than anything I’ve recorded so far.”

There was silence as Alexis considered what that meant. “So what’s causing it? Some new, more powerful inugami? Occult? Another spellcaster?”

“I couldn’t say.” Laurel said, turning the notebook back to herself and typing. “But I do have some leads. For example…” she finished her adjustments. “With the astral temporarily gone, the transponders are able to sense resonances closely tied to the Astral Plane, like Kareem or the inugami—though not Kareem right now as he’s back on this plane…”

“Anything of interest?” Alexis said, her voice becoming all business.

Laurel’s eyes widened. “Yes, very much. They’re picking up eight contacts and get this; Four of them are within one hundred yards of the epicenter of the storm: ConquesTech, the transponder Mr. Mendel let us install after the Freaque incident.” Anticipating the next question, Laurel continued, “One is uptown near the zoo and the final three…” She trailed off, “This can’t be good.” She said.

“Where are the other three?” Alexis asked.

“In the Blake Holsey apartment complex, building nine. I recognize it. It’s where the kids’ friend Lisa lives.” She gave Alexis a meaningful look.

Knowing that look, Alexis nodded. “I’ll go there now. Split the others up and intercept the other two; Warrick and Ian to ConquesTech—send Melissa with them too, there may be staff hurt there. You, Juniper and Cyn should check out the zoo. If this is a new kind if inugami, we should be fine.”

“And if it’s a new kind of Mauler?”

Alexis looked at Kareem, the only one of them that had managed to stop the Mauler. “Then we’re going to need you to come up with some options.” Steeling herself, she left the room, heading for her room to change into her Darkness uniform.

Laurel sighed wearily and waited for the door to close. Then she made a phone call.

***

There was a long pause, which was only long considering that the three motes had crossed the entire city of Mayfield in an amount of time that can generally only be measured in the theoretical sense. Still, it was a pause just the same as Renst, Habsi and Naife floated over the sleeping form of Lisa Ortega.

To their Faerie senses, she was practically soaking in magical energy; not nearly as much as Morganna, but in a world they believed to be bereft of magic, she was a veritable wellspring.

“Um…” Naife said, affecting a human expression he’d seen Morganna and Manikin use. “.. how are we for to be waking it?”

Renst and Habsi span in frustration. They hadn’t considered that. None of them would have even considered disturbing Morganna at any time and sleep was a foreign concept entirely to motes so it hadn’t crossed their minds that the Mankind they’d been sent to find would be in such a state.

“Maybe…” Habsi dropped low and ventured up the rise of Lisa’s shoulder, “Maybe if we are making noise, yes? A big noise for waking Mankind?”

“But what noise are we to be making?” Naife queried.

A complicated classical piano riff suddenly cut though the air, causing Lisa to stir in their sleep.

“Is being a good job, Habsi!” Renst congratulated.

“Good? But Habsi did nothing.” Habsi replied, curiously.

Not noticing her unearthly visitors, Lisa blindly lashed out with a hand that grabbed her cell phone from her night stand and pulled it under the sheet with her. She cracked an eyelid to see who was calling. The screen was blank; that wasn’t the phone that was ringing.

That fact pushed her out of the level of consciousness most people reserve for hitting the snooze button and cursing early rising bedmates. If the other phone was ringing, something important was afoot.

Again, the hand was dispatched, this time to the purse idly abandoned on her bed post. From within its pockets, she retrieved Occult’s phone. It was a cheap, disposable job she’d bought out of a vending machine in City Central; a laminated card printed with circuitry and buttons with a long, complicated number for receiving calls. She’d had to pay twenty dollars for a special card that made sure that long, complicated number remained constant on every disposable she bought for the job.

The number was in the hands of four people; Kay, Mary Northbrooke, a reporter from the Scribe she’d asked to call her if anything dangerous came into the newsroom, the police chief (or his secretary, depending on how seriously he took his email), and Codex of the Descendants. Once or twice, at the beginning, Kay had pranked her, but for the most part, she was fairly confident that the call was important.

She bought the phone under the covers with her and hit the receive button. “Hello?” she asked, trying to affect her ‘hero’ voice.

“Occult, this is Codex. There are very bad things happening right now and I need you to keep a look out because I think three of them may be headed your way. I’ve already sent Darkness out to—“

“How do you know which way is my way?” Lisa hissed, trying to keep her voice down and avoid waking her family.

“You can hide you face, but not your astral form.” Codex explained. “But don’t worry; only Ephemeral knows besides me. We won’t tell your secret if you don’t want us to.”

“Good.” Lisa growled, “Because I don’t.” She felt a little hypocritical, considering that she had figured out who the Descendants were and hadn’t told either. But it was rather a matter of pride in her glammers that were now wounded. “But you said Darkness is coming here? Why, unless…”

“She doesn’t know. As far as she knows, she’s checking out three astral signatures. I’ll explain all of that later though, right now, I need you to see if you can locate…” she trialed off.

“Locate what?” Lisa sat on the edge of the bed and reached underneath it, pulling out her component bag.

“There’s four now.” Codex said, confused. “They’re after you, Occult. I have no idea why, but they’re after you. Get out. Now. Head toward the zoo. We’ll meet you there.”

“Hey, no. If something’s coming here for me, they might go after my family instead. I’m not going to let that happen again.”

“They’re tracking you.” Codex said. “They’ll home directly after you most likely and if not, Darkness will be there soon, but you must get out of there. This new reading is significantly more powerful than the other three and I can’t tell you how close any of them are to your exact location.”

“Fine.” Lisa said, “I’ll go, but I’m trusting you on Darkness protecting my parents and brother.”

“No, it can’t be going!” Naife said, zooming around to stop in front of her as if it were actually capable of restraining her.

A tiny ball of light was talking to her after she’d just been informed that strange beings were coming (presumably) to kill her. Lisa did the only sensibly thing to do in that situation: She screamed. Then she tried to swat it, because after all, no matter how evil it might have been, it was still the size of a small beetle.

This had little effect on Naife as her hands just passed through it. Nothing on Mankind’s plane seemed to be able to physically contact it at all. Still it was alarmed and distressed by the action. “Noooo!” it whined, needlessly trying to evade Lisa’s flying hands. “We are not being here for fighting! We is here to taking you!”

Elsewhere in the apartment, Mr. Ortega had obviously been roused by the sound of his only daughter screaming. He called her name once before the sound of running feet could be heard.

“Yes!” Renst added, wisely keeping its distance from the fray, “We is to be getting you before the demon does!”

“Demon?” Lisa asked, halting her assault.

“Hey!” her father’s voice demanded out in the living room. “Who the hell are you, supposed to be, buddy? Back off, or you’re going to be tasting bat! Toni, call the co—“

There was a harsh word from someone else and Alejandro Ortega’s voice stopped abruptly.

“Dad!” Lisa shouted. She stood up and grabbed her component bag, the motes and their warning forgotten entirely.

“Occult?” a tinny voice said from the discarded phone, “who said that part about a demon? Hello? Hello? Oh my god…”

***

One of the transmission towers that remained atop Building Seven provided a perfect chin-up bar for Aberak as well as a good vantage point from which to keep an eye on Morganna. Physical exertion made his host’s body ache and strain all over and it’s extra padding quiver unhappily, but Aberak didn’t care. If anything the sudden exercise was making the still conscious part of Wesley McQueen surly and bad tempered, which was excellent fuel for Aberak’s demonic metabolism.

It also let him work off his own frustration at having Edenkai once again pull rank on him and use his oaths to his brother against him. It never fully became apparent to him as to why Colos had taken such a hateful and strong willed creature to be his consort. She was Fellspawn after all and that was the defining quality of their ilk. If it had been Aberak that had orchestrated the decade long cycle of betrayal and civil war that had ended in his rise to Lordship of Sai’n’shree, the Lord’s Consort would be a tempting, but unambitious Alure-monger or possibly a blood infused daoine…

The daydream of wanton debauchery was cut short by something glimmering in his preternatural sight. Even when he drifted off, Aberak was still as alert a warrior as ever. Something was coming – flying toward him and from the sensation that began to play to organs of his that were purely metaphysical, it was ripe with magic.

Letting go of the bar, he dropped to the roof and flexed. McQueen’s muscles left much to be desired, but Aberak felt something deep inside blossoming. It wouldn’t be long now. Just in time for a proper ambush.

He dropped low, concealing himself behind the three foot high barrier that kept workers from accidentally taking a tumble. From hiding, he watched as the thing appeared in his sight, silhouetted against the starry backdrop of the night sky.

It was in the shape of a man, but born along on feathered wings that spanned twice his height. As the being drew closer, Aberak could make out the dark features of the man and the metallic glint of his wings. He wore bracers on his arms and a bronze colored plate over his chest. The hilt of a two handed sword poked out from over his back, neatly situated between the pumping wings. On his right hip was a boxy looking sheath from which the oddly bent handle of another, shorter weapon was nestled.

“Aren’t you supposed to be defending us?” Manikin asked, just loudly enough for him to hear. She had managed to move up behind him without his notice. Aberak ignored the meddlesome golem. He was a warrior; he knew what he was doing.

Or at least, he thought so. About fifty yards from the roof, the figure slowed and back winged into a hover. Remington Haut, the assassin known as Samael smirked. Three on the roof, he thought and as many as twenty employees in the building. Liedecker had said not to let a soul live and Samael intended to be very thorough. Servos whirred as eldritch energies supplied more power than a generator that would have weighted fifty pounds and set the mechanical wings grafted to his back in motion.

There were tiny, metallic sounds as minute couplings disengaged at the same moment the wings snapped forward. A steely feather detached from each wing and was hurled forward, guided to their targets be yet more arcane elements.

The first scythed through the struts supporting the antenna nearest Aberak. The metal squealed as the entire structure went down. The second flew unerringly toward Morganna, who was grinning madly.

***

“Baboons” Rehenimaru read aloud from the placard posted to the four foot chain link fence before her. Beyond the fence was a shorter, concrete barrier. Beyond that as a deep trench filled with water, past which was an artificial island complete with grass, trees and a rocky cave. “Papio hamadryas, considered by ancient Egyptians to be sacred servants of the god, Thoth.”

She considered the empty island before her. There were animals there; her sense told her so, but she saw nothing. Still the Mankind had been supremely confident in his assurance that she was definitely looking for baboons. After a few moments of introspection, she removed the lantern of Devil Seeds from a non-space up her sleeve. In the presence of animals they could bond with, the green seeds crackled and flared with orange energy.

“Servants of Thoth?” Rehenimaru mused, removing the top of the lantern. The Seeds crowded the lip of the glass, awaiting her command. With a savage motion, the demoness dragged her incisor over the palm of her free hand. Ruby blood welled and fell amidst the Seeds in fat drops. The orange bursts became red and the Seeds launched themselves from the lantern and toward the island of the baboons. “Now you will serve Rehenimaru.”

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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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