Issue #21: Come the Black Clouds

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

Part 4

“G.M. Logan Zoo, ETA: five minutes.” Cyn said, trying to sound official. Laurel nodded absently, eyes focused on her computer. “Uh, Laurel?” Cyn asked, “are you okay?”

“You do seem very distracted, Ms. Brant.” Juniper added from the seat behind Laurel in Cyn’s giant Humvee.

“I am.” Laurel admitted, “And not just from coordinating all of our groups. Girls, it’s time I tell you the truth; Kareem and I translated the Book of Reason.”

“The magic book Morganna had?” Cyn asked, “Why?”

“I know how paranoid Ian is about magic and it’s probably rubbed off on all of you in your training with him,” Laurel said, “But it’s just a tool, like a computer, like our powers, like everything. We figured that we should know as much about it as possible. If not to use it, at least to learn how to identify and counter it.”

“But why are you saying all of this now, Ms. Brant?” Juniper asked, “Does it have something to do with the Astral storm?”

“I don’t know yet.” Laurel admitted. “But I’ve got a hunch. Remember the Mauler? How he started his spree just after the astral storm that made Kareem go missing and start manifesting on the Material plane?”

“Both Occult and the Sineaters said it was a demon.” Juniper recalled softly.

“I think they were right.” Laurel said. “The Book talks about worlds beyond the Astral Plane; the closest to us being called Faerie – a world where many magical beings live, one species of which is called Rae’sha; demons.”

“You can’t be serious.” Cyn said incredulously. “Demons? Fairies? Isn’t this a little too beyond gone, even for us?”

“Well, we all accept that Morganna really was a witch from about a thousand years ago that possessed Lisa and her aunt.” Juniper pointed out, “And after that nasty Sineater man shot Mauler, that… thing jumped through some kind of portal. Maybe it went back to this Faerie place?”

“That’s what I believe.” Laurel said. “And given that today’s storm was a megascale version of what happened back then, I’m starting to believe that Mauler was a scout and that these signatures we’ve been picking up are the start of an invasion from the other side.”

“Come on Laurel, please.” Cyn said, laughing nervously, “You’re the logical one here. There’s got to be some science you can drop on us that can prove we’re not fighting Hell’s finest.”

“I didn’t say anything about Hell, Cyn.” Laurel said, putting a comforting hand on the agitated girl’s shoulder. “But look at the facts; Mauler was almost impossible for us to fight, but Richter, the Sineater, put him down with one bullet; a bullet police records show to have been inscribed with angelic symbols. Since the only other person we know can harm them is currently in a coma, magic may be our only hope here.”

“But there’s still a chance that these things we’re chasing aren’t demons, right?” Juniper asked.

Cyn slammed on the brakes, stopping just short of a pile of shattered concrete rubble. The headlights revealed that the rubble had come from a hole smashed in the wall surrounding the zoo. They also revealed something else; several somethings else, which glared at them with baleful eyes.

“Not anymore.” Laurel said voice tight.

***

Only the light of the television illuminated the Ortega living room. Rushing in, Lisa could see her twin brother, Zack on the sofa and her father standing in the short hall that led from her parent’s room. Her mother was silhouetted in the door to their bedroom. All three were motionless, like mannequins.

A fourth figure stood at the door, which had been broken down. Dressed in a jumper bearing a ConquesTech patch on one shoulder, he was a thin, balding man in his thirties, but the terrible grin on his face didn’t even look remotely human.

Lisa’s teeth ground as her anger rose. “What did you do to them?” she demanded.

“Blood magic temporal displacement.” The man said an oddly feminine tone in his voice. “They’ll be fine, at least until I’m done. I’m very curious about how familial bonds taste. They are your family, correct?”

“What are you talking about?”

Naife streaked in from her bedroom, stopped dead at the sight of Edenkai and made a small ‘eep’ sound. “Oh no, the demon is being here!” it moaned. “You must to be going! Motes can lead you there. Away!”

Lisa shook her head and reached into her bag. “I don’t know what’s going on here, but I don’ like it. Whatever you want—“She touched the prepared sphere that initiated her glammer and at the same time grabbed up her shrunken staff. Occult was suddenly standing across the living room from Edenkai. “You’re going to have to fight for it!”

“You are a mage then.” The man grinned, taking a few steps forward, walking with a sultry saunter that didn’t fit his body. “Excellent, you’ll be very useful when we are one.” A nimbus of yellow and white mist expanded around him until he was lost from sight. When it receded, the man was gone.

In his place was an ash grey feminine creature. Red, segmented eyes glowed horribly as they watched her, their owner standing pigeon-toed on feet tipped with three sharp claws. A grey whip of a tail had torn out of the back of the jumper and flailed about behind her. “I am Edenkai, consort of the Lord of Sai’n’shree and you are what I want.” Bunching herself up, the demoness launched herself at Occult.

Levanto esta pared!” Edenkai slammed into and was repulsed by the red tinted shield that was suddenly erected between them. She rolled into the coffee table, smashing it apart.

“You’re definitely not getting that.” Occult said. She looked over to the three motes that were hiding behind her. “If you’re against this thing, I’ll go with you. Show me the way.”

“Yes!” Renst bobbed happily. “Following us, please!” It and its comrades shot over to the window and passed through it.

“Betrayal!” Edenkai hissed, getting to her feet.

Occult wondered at this, but figured there wasn’t time to question it. After all, the demon was after her, so it was her responsibility to lead it away from her family.

Edenkai leapt again, this time bringing her claws to bear on the shield. Occult angled the shield so that the demoness rolled off it and crashed through her bedroom door. Taking the chance, Occult ran for the window, threw it open and jumped. “Yo Vuelo!” she shouted. It was an incant she had only just learned, but there didn’t seem to be any better option.

Gravity suddenly missed its chance and Occult found herself floating smoothly away from the window, shooting past the motes, which had paused to wait for her. Slowing, she looked back to make sure Edenkai wasn’t following. The demon was nowhere to be found.

“Occult!” a voice asked from above. The mystic prelate looked up to see a living silhouette descending. If she didn’t know who it was, the past ten minutes would have convinced her to rabbit. “What are you doing here?” Darkness asked.

Occult thought quickly she was getting very good at lying on her feet. “I was in the neighborhood when that creature appeared. It was after the girl and myself, I don’t know why. I managed to hide her, but her family’s frozen. Care to lend a hand?”

“It doesn’t matter how much help you get.” Edenkai appeared at the window, crouching as if to jump. “The end result will be the same, spellcaster.” She uttered a harsh syllable in her native language and suddenly flew toward them.

A pillar of black heat slammed into the demoness, driving her back against the building. The force continued, scrapping her down the side, leaving a trail of crushed brick for fifteen stories before she cratered into the ground.

“That enough of a hand?” Darkness asked.

“No, I don’t think so.” Occult said, watching the dust clear. Edenkai rose once more, seeming no the worse for wear. “This isn’t another psionic, or a robot. This is a creature like the Mauler – and you know how tough he was.”

“Damn.” Darkness said wearily. “That means the others are too.” With one hand, she sent another wave of black heat to hold off the monster. With the other, she touched the controls for her com. “Codex,” She said started, “I ran into Occult here. She says…”

“’One of?’ There are more of these things?!” Occult exclaimed.

“You knew?” Darkness said into the com, ignoring her. “But why didn’t… Oh, I see.”

Below, Edenkai soldiered through the latest blast of black heat. Instead of trying to fly again, she dashed to cover behind a car.

“We have to lead her away from the girl’s family.” Occult said.

“We will.” Darkness nodded, “Codex has a plan – we’re going to lead this thing and all the others back to where all this started – ConquesTech.”

***

The dagger-like feather hit home with a pronounced ‘thunk’. Morganna smirked up at Samael past Manikin, who had interposed herself in the path of the projectile.

“No matter.” Samael said to himself, seeing the feather quivering in the woman’s chest, right where the heart was located, “One hit. One kill. Doesn’t matter who dies.” He noted the pile of collapsed antenna parts where Aberak had been. “Two kills, actually, but there’s something vaguely disappointing about using gravity as a weapon.

Manikin reached up and grasped the length of metal lodged in her chest. It came out with a splintering sound, bringing with it a fine cloud of sawdust. For a moment, she examined the weapon. “Colos is gone.” She reported. “He would have been here long before this reached me if he were close enough to feel the magic in this, or the violence in that man’s heart.

Morganna smiled. “He… still thinks… that I’ll bring him his army. By the time he comes back… if he comes back… it will… will be… too late.” She bought the head of the Staff of Hyrilius close to her face. Whispers in an eldritch tongue flew from her lips, awakening runes deep within the emerald stone. Traced in lighter green, they began to swarm under the surface, assembling a circle to Morganna’s specifications.

The spell had taken her weeks to concoct with the help of both the staff and Manikin; weeks the demons had thought she had spent learning how to open Gates between the worlds, a spell it had taken her only hours to learn from studying the ROV.

“Guess you’re a psionic.” Samael said, landing on the roof and glancing at Manikin. “Can’t be killed that way? I guess the other one can’t either, considering that you haven’t run. But let me let you in on a little secret; I’ve killed your kind before and there’s a trick to it. See, no matter how fast you heal, you can’t heal back from being cut into a thousand pieces!” He raised his wings and prepared a much larger volley.

A long shaft of ruined metal slammed into him from behind, knocking him on his stomach. A hulking, red reptilian form loomed up behind him, brandishing a broken strut from the antenna array. Twin rows of barbed spines ran down its back, between two undersized wings, ending at a forked tail.

“Your love of the kill is commendable, Mankind.” Aberak, now in his true form, snarled. “But I wonder how that will flavor your own death?” He raised the strut high, intending to bring it down many, many times, expertly breaking a single bone with each blow. The strut, it seemed, had other ideas. It writhed like a snake, and then tied itself in a knot around the demon’s arms.

“Looks like Codex was right, it really is a demon.” Alloy was borne onto the roof by Isp and Osp with Hope clinging petulantly to handles he’d formed on his shoulders. His eyes looked past the angry reptile to see something even stranger. “Lisa?” he asked, looking at Manikin.

“Worse.” Chaos intoned grimly. “That’s Morganna beside her. You two take the demon. I’ll take the main course.” He surged forward on a monsoon wind with a fist drawn back to strike. He didn’t make it to within ten yards of the two women before slamming into an invisible wall.

“The Barrier is holding, O Heir.” Manikin stoically informed Morganna.

Morganna ignored her, muttering softly to the rotating magical circle with in. Flickering green lines began to fade into existence around her, creeping over the ground and forming likenesses of the runes in the staff.

Taking advantage of the confusion, Samael snapped his wings out, cutting an ‘X’ across Aberak’s belly and throwing him backward. In a fraction of a second, he was standing, surveying the scene around him.

“Dude.” Alloy said to him. “What are you? A new cyborg prelate?”

Samael laughed softly but turned his attention to Aberak, who was healing quickly from the surprise attack and was chewing through the metal knotted about his arms. In a smooth motion, the assassin drew the gun at his hip. It glowed with clearly unearthly power.

“Wait!” Alloy said, “These demon things are possessing people. There’s an innocent person inside!”

“A demon?” Samael raised and eyebrow at Aberak. “Well, well, well. I’ve killed a holy man before. I imagine this’ll be like getting matching bookends.” He leveled the weapon and pulled the trigger.

Faster than the bullet could leave the barrel, Osp snapped out and slammed into the magical weapon. Across the plaza, an explosion of dust and sparks tore a three foot wide gouge in the side of a building.

“What the hell kind of good guy are you?!” Alloy demanded, watching the explosion with mixed horror and revulsion.

“Well…” Samael said, snapping his wings back. “I’m not.” His wings snapped forward, sending two bladed feathers toward the armored prelate. Isp managed to strike one, sending it skittering across the roof. Alloy tried to slag the other, only to find that his powers had no effect. His armor had no effect either, as the dagger punched straight through it, through he flesh beyond. Hope screamed in pain as the blade continued on further still, slicing her arm.

Alloy made a choking sound and a few dribbles of blood seeped out from under his visor.

***

In another part of the city, Colos roared his frustration and called on his blood magic once more. A roaring ball of flame slammed into the heavy, metal door before him and burst, having little to no effect on the obstruction.

It was infuriatingly tantalizing. Just beyond the door, Colos sensed strong magic, woven in strange patterns he’d never conceived of. What was more, there were Mankinds there was well, the thick door muting all but their sharpest, most fearful emotions. He would have a mighty weapon and a feast fit for one of his stature if only he could break through the seemingly impervious barrier.

But he’d tried every blood magic spell he thought was useful and even tried to tear through the wall, only to find the same thick metal there.

“It really is impossible.” A voice said. Colos looked up and saw a speaker set in the wall near a camera. “’less of course, you’ve got the code to put in the… well that’s too bad, you’ve gone and melted the security pad.”

“Who are you?” Colos demanded, “I demand you tell me how to open this door!”

“You ain’t in any place to demand nothing, boy?” the voice replied, “But I’m feeling sportin’. You see, up here where I am, there’s a control panel that opens those doors remotely. How about you come up here, Bluebell, and we settle this like men ought to?”

Colos’s eyes narrowed. “Tell me who you are and where you are.”

“I’m the man in charge of this city,” the voice said, “The lord here, I think you’d say. And I’m none too happy with you and your kind coming here; especially not with that little bitch Nightshade. No worries about her though, I trust she’s dead already. Or a certain Louisianan better hope he’s dead instead. Now come on up; top floor, only office here—and let’s settle our differences…”

Vincent Liedecker closed the cover of his translation of one of the books taken from Nightshade’s lair, the Book of Madness, and finished, “Man to demon.”

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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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