Issue #24: Love Like Mad

This entry is part 14 of 15 in the series The Descendants Vol 2: Magic and Machines

Part 2

Fight or flight is a powerful reaction in a person. It drives muscles to do things they’ve never done before. It dumps adrenaline into our systems in a last ditch attempt to spur some sort of survival instinct in the unresponsive slab of meat called the body human.

Madrigal Madigan’s fight or fight response was essentially as useless as that of a horror movie victim in the face of the fist sized amber eye that examined him. It screamed at him to run, or smash the thing. It roared out for the legs to back away and ordered the arms to spring up defensively. Finally, it begged the mouth to at least scream. It was thoroughly quashed by something far beyond its ability.

Instead, Madrigal’s hand came up and extended his index and middle fingers to touch the scepter’s shaft. Where before he had felt the cold of stone, he felt a living warmth.

A ripple of light, the same color as the terrible eye in the stone came from his fingers. It washed along the scepter, and where it touched, the centuries of dust and grime and sediment flared away as if it had been burned. Beneath was white, exquisite marble. The amber fire reached the top of the device and cleansed the olive branches, revealing them to be delicately worked copper. It continued on to reveal the entirety of the eye-stone before dying out.

“What in the world…” Madrigal murmured. His curiosity was suddenly overwhelming and before he could think better of it, he snatched the scepter up in his right hand and held it so he could peer into the amber stone and the eye trapped within.

A little chuckle escaped him. Suddenly, none of this seemed as frighteningly surreal as it had moments before. “A self restoring artifact.” He quipped. His gaze drifted over the other projects that were piled up in his office. “If only they all did that.”

There was a series of amber flashes in the room, starting small and burning like tiny wildfires across the artifacts pending restoration. When they died out, mere fractions of a second later, they were… different.

Madrigal gaped, his attention rapidly fluttering between the suddenly transmuted items and the artifact clutched in his hand. After some debate, he hurried around his desk and over to the painting Twilight Rising by a mid-twentieth century painter, Campbell.

It had come into the museum in poor shape, having survived a fire, but spending quite some time buried in ashes and subjected to the elements. Madrigal had estimated the restoration would take eight months at best. But now the faded colors were brilliant, the blues and blacks crisp against the woodland greens and browns of the trees in the nighttime forest. Even the poorly preserved and cracked frame was restored to its former glory.

Turning, Madrigal set eyes upon a stone statue of a man carrying a boar over one shoulder. Before, he could not have known that it had been a boar, so harsh had the passage of time been to the piece. Every detail had returned to perfection as if it had just been made that day.

When he tried crossing the office to examine another piece, Madrigal stumbled on a pile of papers that had been sent to the floor by the glacial advancement of paperwork on his desk. He cursed and glared that the papers.

“I’ve been meaning…” He looked at the scepter in his hand, and then smiled. “Hmm…” he pondered, then flicked his hand in the direction of his desk. The amber flames engulfed it and suddenly, the desk was exceedingly tidy. The stacks of paper were still there, but now they were arranged in neat towers on the desk.

Smiling, Madrigal took the top paper off one of the stacks and looked at it. It was a budget form that was about a week overdue. He’d been too swamped to fill it out. Now he waggled a finger over it and in a flash of amber, it was done. Another gesture completed all the paperwork.

“You know,” he said to no one, “I’ve been here for six years and I’ve had to put up with a particle board desk this entire time, while Demetrius and those other old men get real desks in oak and mahogany.” He waved his hand and his desk changed.

There was a moment’s contemplation. “Of course, I’m better than them anyway, so I should have something unique; more befitting for a superior mind such as myself. Maybe… cherry?” he made it so in another flash of light. “Or ebony, perhaps.” Yet another flash made his thoughts reality. “But really, Madrigal, you’re thinking too small. You can do anything now, can’t you?” With a thought and a gesture, the entire room was suddenly meticulously clean and orderly.

“Yes, I can.” He confirmed to himself. “So why am I constraining myself to wood and tradition?” One last blast of amber energy lit the room. Madrigal observed his new, solid platinum desk. “Perfect.” He intoned, and then span on his heal to face the door. “Just as the world should be: at my beck and call. Now to make a few more… corrections.”

Madrigal laughed. It wasn’t a pleasant laugh to hear with human ears. It had the kind of wrongness to it that makes a hyena’s ‘laugh’ unsettling and ensures that they’ll never be mistaken for humans at dinner parties.

***

“I would really just like to say how proud of the two of you I am.” Laurel beamed across the table at Warrick and Juniper. The residents of Freeland Houses, save one, were gathered around the table at Hidalgo’s; a Mexican restaurant that was Juniper’s current favorite.

The aforementioned smiled and gave her thanks before continuing to perform amateur alchemy involving several different hot sauces and peppers that had been placed on the table only for decoration. The fumes from the concoction hinted that it would be more than capable of removing paint, scoring metal, or offending a minor deity.

Cyn, seated between the two teens of the hour formed and lowered a set of transparent eyelids to keep from tearing up. “It’s still pretty low that Melissa blew you guys off.”

“Well, she must really like Terry to not be here.” Juniper said, finally pouring her terrible tincture over her enchilada. “I for one am happy for her. We should support her.”

“We both know she doesn’t like anyone. She’s just using this as an excuse to snub us again.” She scooped a laden chip out of her ‘entrée’, a platter of nachos marketed toward small parties of people, and glowered at Juniper. “Even Kareem managed to be here for you two and she didn’t. That’s all I have to say about it.”

I would really rather not be used as an example in this manner. Kareem communicated to all present.

“At least she’s finally getting out.” Warrick offered.

Cyn scoffed. “I can’t believe you guys!” She looked around at her friends, her mentors and where Kareem was presumably situated. “We’re a group—a team—kind of a family even, and she’s completely cutting us out. Doesn’t that make you angry?”

She poked Juniper in the shoulder. “Jun, seriously, if Adel wanted to go somewhere on say, my birthday, you’d come to my party, right?”

“Of course.” Juniper smiled and nodded.

“Damn right, you would.” Cyn smiled. She clapped a palm on Warrick’s shoulder. “And Warrick; if copper-top—“

“Her name’s Tink, Cyn.” Warrick complained, “You know she doesn’t like when you call her that.”

“It’s a term of endearment.” Cyn insisted. “Anyway, if Tink wanted to do whatever it is you two do for fun, you’ve still come to my party, right?” Warrick nodded. “See? Because we’re friends and care about each other.”

“You were two hours late for my party.” Juniper ventured.

“I was stuck in a cab!” Cyn whined.

“I know.” Juniper said. “I was only saying so because you had a good reason and I’m sure Melissa has a good reason too.” She gave a little shrug and went back to her meal.

Letting lose an exasperated sight, Cyn directed her next question to where she figured Kareem would situate himself. “What about you, Kareem?” she demanded. “Melissa used to keep you company and now… is she ever around, even for you?”

We still talk. Kareem noted. And like Juniper, I am just happy that she is finally adjusting to her situation. Any other response would be selfish… on my part at least. He added the last part in truly diplomatic fashion.

Defeated soundly, Cyn sighed and slumped in her chair. An awkward silence hung over all of them.

“So,” Ian said, riding to everyone’s social rescue again, “Have the two of you thought about what kind of car you’re working toward?”

***

“That… could have gone better.” Alexis said by way of apology as she walked Warrick and Juniper back up the sidewalk toward the museum’s entrance. “I think Cyn is just having problems dealing with having to do things on her own lately.”

Warrick nodded, trotting along with his hands in his pockets. “Last year, we pretty much did everything together and when we couldn’t she could call the rest of the gang or drag Melissa off somewhere. This year, we’ve got this job, Kay and Lisa aren’t available as much for some reason; even JC’s out of town for a couple of weeks.”

“I think Melissa getting a boyfriend was the last straw.” Juniper chimed in. “She isn’t going to go insane or anything is she?”

“I don’t think so.” Alexis shook her head. “I think we just have too…” She trailed off as they reached the door. “Huh?”

Juniper noticed the same and read the legend printed on the glass doors aloud. “The Madrigal A. Madigan Memorial Museum? Didn’t this used to say ‘The Dayspring College Arts and History Museum’? I’m pretty sure that’s what this place is called—at least that’s what it says in the little speech we’re supposed to say.” She glanced at the other doors. “They all say that.”

Warrick frowned and looked around. “I don’t get it. It’d take more than an hour to change all these doors…” he stepped back and looked up at the bronze lettering over the entrance. “And way more than an hour to change that too. Not to mention that no one seemed to like that Madigan guy anyway.”

“This is incredibly strange.” Alexis agreed. Through the glass doors, she saw Professor Demetrius at the desk. “Maybe the professor will know.”

They opened the door and didn’t make it halfway across the room before the feeling that something was monumentally wrong overtook them. The seal on the floor, once the Dayspring Phoenix was replaced by pair of stylized M’s. None of them really noticed, especially not Alexis, who gasped and dashed to the desk. “Professor Demetrius?!” she called.

The Professor didn’t respond. He didn’t even blink. Not dead, something else. He was held in place, mouth open, finger raised as if he was admonishing someone. But he was perfectly still, like a photograph in three dimensions.

“Professor?” Alexis came around his desk to his side and tried shaking him. Not only didn’t he move, but the cloth of his shirt didn’t seem to yield to her touch either. “What happened here?” she demanded of the living sculpture.

“Do you like it?” A voice as oily as a properly prepared serving of fries asked. The elevators seemed to burn away in amber fire, replaced by opulent staircases that curved gracefully upward to the second floor.

Madrigal Madigan stood at the place where the stairs converged. He was garbed in red and platinum, with a crimson silk poet’s shirt, suit pants and a platinum sash. His wingtip shoes shone like diamonds and his hands were loaded down with rings. The scepter was thrust into his belt, the amber stone thrumming quietly. “I call it ‘Silent at Last’. It’s my contribution to what I feel is a shameful lack of quality sculpture at this establishment.”

“You did that to him?” Juniper asked. The temperature in the room dropped several degrees.

Madrigal thought, seemingly seriously on the matter for a second and then cut loose with his hyena laugh. “Yes, I suppose I did. But it isn’t for you to criticize, clerk. Because it isn’t for you. It’s for the lovely Ms. Keyes.”

Trying in vain to keep her composure, Alexis fixed a baleful glare on the madman. “What the hell do you mean, it’s for me? Undo this now!”

Madrigal looked genuinely hurt. “You don’t like it?”

“No!” Alexis intoned. Minute particles of black heat began to form around her unbidden.

“Oh.” Madigan shrugged. “Oh well then, I guess that was just for me then. I’ll make you something better.” He flicked a finger and an amber fire washed over the seal in the center the floor and from it sprang a twenty foot, marble statue. On casual inspection, it was a sculpture version of the central figure from Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, but there was one key difference…

“Uh, your hair’s a lot shorter than Venus’s.” Warrick muttered offhandedly.

Black heat lanced out in a beam the width of a fist, shattering the statue into a pile of marble rubble. The rising mist of darkness surrounding Alexis swirled and built in intensity as she turned her attention back to Madigan.

“Undo what you did to Professor Demetrius.” She demanded. “Or I’ll do the same to you, Madigan.”

Madrigal’s only recompense was a look of bemusement. “What a temper. And a psionic to boot. Truly, Alexis, you are a woman of many surprises. But not to worry, we’ll have plenty of time to get to know each other.” He chuckled, which wasn’t any better aesthetically than his laugh. “With this kind of power, we probably have forever.”

“What the hell are you talking—“Alexis was cut off in mid-sentence by an amber flash that left her frozen in place like the professor.

“Of course, I can’t have you accidentally igniting me in that time.” Madrigal noted.

Warrick summoned the tentacles, which snapped out from under his sleeves and cracked the air. “That’s it.” He declared. “You’re going down, pal.”

“Huh.” Madrigal considered. “Another psionic. It would be interesting to see how our powers stack up against one another. But, as they say, true love waits for no man. So my paramour and I will have to see to you later.” He snapped his fingers and both he and Alexis disappeared in a flash.

The two young psionics looked at one another in shock.

“This is very bad.” Juniper said. “We have to call the others.”

“Yeah.” Warrick nodded, “Especially Mr. Smythe.”

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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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