Issue #35: Demonology

This entry is part 12 of 14 in the series The Descendants Vol 3: A Bright, Bright Summer

Laurel yawned as she padded down the hall in her pajama bottoms, Mayfield Colossi jersey and fuzzy blue slippers, holding a freshly brewed cup of coffee. The other hand ran through her still wet hair.

It had been a week since classes at the Liedecker Institute had started and though teaching was turning out to be deeply satisfying, she missed her workshop and being Codex.

The weekend meant she finally had time to get back to the business of monitoring the media for leads on the Tome or the Magical World, going out on patrol, and designing new training scenarios for the others.

Sensors in the room detected her biometrics the moment she opened the door and a half dozen screens blinked to life, bringing up images of the websites and media feeds that constituted her morning routine. She smiled in the familiar glow and sipped her coffee before settling down into her chair.

There were a handful of pertinent stories that morning.

Gina Sheldon, aka Impact was having her sentencing hearing Monday and was being transported under heavy guard from Braddock Island to Federal Court in Florida for it. The ROCIC had already sent her a brief on their security plans and she’d sent him a few suggestions for improvements.

Police in Kansas City, in cooperation with the USMC’s Superhuman Intervention Division had encountered and neutralized a creature that had killed a number of people in a hospital the night before. The military assured the public that the creature was NPO, or of non-psionic origin; the new keyword they used for the creatures crossed over from Faerie. General Pratt had warned her that the military would shy away from actually calling Faerie by its name.

And finally, an article in the Scribe had come up as flagged by her pattern recognition and compilation system. The police dispatch had reported the sixth butcher shop robbery in the past month. The targets were always whole sides of beef and one or two trays of high end cuts. Delicacy wasn’t part of the MO; the door had been knocked in or the windows broken on all occasions.

Laurel ruminated over this. It was probably nothing more than someone realizing that meat markets and butcher shops were less well guarded than over shops and selling the meat. Stealing the harder to carry and conceal sides of meat, however didn’t make a lot of sense, especially given that the thief clearly knew about smaller, more expensive cuts.

She decided that it wouldn’t hurt to do a quick cross referencing for other such cases before moving on to other tasks, so she pulled out her keyboard drawer.

The Book of Reason was lying on top of the keyboard, open.

She didn’t remember reading it the day before and knew for certain that she kept it under lock and key when she wasn’t reading it. Yet there it was. She wasn’t quite surprised at this; it was one of the 4, after all, highly magical books with clear goals when it came to magic.

Taking a closer look, she found that the section it was open to was a treatise on teaching spellcraft to others.

“I just spent all week teaching.” She felt silly complaining to a book, but it was a very unusual book after all. She frowned and picked the tome up and skimming over the contents. “Hmm. But this isn’t any kind of curriculum I’ve ever seen.”

Her train of thought was interrupted by her phone ringing. The name on the called ID display didn’t come as a surprise either; there was only one other person directly involved with the Book. “Hello, Occult.” She answered. “Yes, mine did to.” She listened to the other end, nodding along before saying, “I figured as much. That’s why I trusted you with keeping it. Any idea where we’ll find our prospective student?”

***

Augustus Roe was having a great week. The second week of college had seen him make a lot of good friends, find that he liked all his classes, and luck into a job between classes working in the rec room at the student union.

With the return of better fortune, his muse had returned as well. Bursting with creative energy, he’d risen early that beautiful morning, biked to Wagner Park and climbed the hill behind the tennis courts with canvas and supplies in hand.

For more than two hours, he had painted the serene landscape laid out in front of him and felt at peace with the world. Then a shade of rose he had hoped never to see again tinted the world around him.

“Hello, Augustus.” Occult rose from a pool of astral light just behind him. She was cloaked and hooded, as usual, her staff grasped in one hand, the other holding the palmtop computer in which the digi-book or Reason resided.

Deep dread filled Augustus. There was absolutely no other reason that she’d be there, speaking to him. The Book of Passions had to be involved.

“No.” He said instantly and backed away from her. “I don’t want it. I don’t even want to see it!”

Occult completed her emergence from the astral portal, which winked out of existence, leaving her standing on the grass. She sighed empathetically. “I understand how you feel Auggie, I really do. But with or without the Book, you’ve had contact with magic and soon your powers are going to start manifesting. With the Book, you can at least learn to use them safely.”

“Powers. Look, I’m not a psionic, if that’s what you think.” Augustus informed her as he went to pack up his paints.

“No, you’re not.” Codex came up the hill to stand behind Occult. “But psionics aren’t the only people born with genetic predispositions toward something the uninitiated would call the supernatural. And like it or not, you’re one of them.”

Augustus scoffed. “No, I don’t. Look, I don’t get why that strange guy was after me. I don’t care now that he’s gone. I don’t care about the book. I’m happy now. Leave me alone.”

Occult sighed. “I’d like to Auggie. I would. No one would rather be doing something else on a Saturday morning. In fact, I had plans for this afternoon.” She added unhappily, “But this is really important. My powers got activated after I had a spell cast on me. I started sensing things, and moving things without understanding and it scared me a lot.”

“What does any of that have to do with me?” Augustus demanded.

“Because Warpstar cast a spell on you and very soon, the same thing’s going to happen.”

“How do you know?” Augustus challenged, collapsing his easel. “What the hell makes you so sure?”

“The Book gave me a vision—“

“I don’t care what the Book says. It wants me; it’ll say or do anything to get to me. It’s bullshit.”

“Augustus,” Codex said in a calmer tone, “I understand how you feel, but these Books are serious business. It’s not going to leave you alone. And since it can’t alter your mind to make you do what it wants, it’s going to go more and more out of its way to convince you to take it up.”

“And I’ll just keep saying no.”

“That won’t work, Auggie. In fact, it’s in your paint kit right now.” Codex said.

Augustus’s eyes widened and very slowly, he opened the kit and peered inside. He was greeted by the leather bound spine of the Book of Passions. The kit tumbled from his hands and clattered to the ground.

“I saw it appear there when you were closing it.” Codex explained. “Once it’s picked you, it’s not going to give up. But there’s a silver lining to it: the Books aren’t malevolent; they just want to keep magic around in the world. You can use it as you see fit; to control your powers.”

“I don’t want to ‘control my powers’ I don’t want any powers!” Augustus waved his hands wildly in the air and kicked the case containing the book away from him as if it were a dead, festering rat.

Occult didn’t see it. Augustus didn’t know what to look for. But thanks to her hypercognition, Codex did. In his gesticulating, Augustus was moving his hands in a very specific pattern. Completely unconsciously, his middle fingers were following hidden lines of force.

“Augustus!” Codex leapt at him and tackled him just as a green glow suffused through the ether. She was up and in a defensive crouch before Augustus had even come to rest next to his paint kit.

A humanoid form materialized from the glow; a fair young man with curly, rust colored hair and ears that stabbed the air in sharp points several inches out from his head. His eyes were shimmering marbles of black and violet. What appeared to be a poncho made of strips of oily leather was draped over a buckskin vest and breeches. His feet were shod in supple leathers.

An imperious glance was cast around the hilltop as he took a deep, cleansing breath. “It’s about time we found a way through.” He seemed not to notice the other people there.

“Yes. Is being long time since daoine has being come to Blue World.” The voice came from a mote of red light that seemed to hover next to his left ear.

The ‘poncho’ twitched and flowed, a pair of leering orange eyes appearing on a spot just under his shoulder. “And look what we’ve got here, Uur.” A gurgling, hissing voice said, “Witches. We should fight them, Aenix, yes.”

“We don’t have time to fight witches, Ecksion.” The man called Aenix chided. “Maybe once the job is done. There’ll be plenty of fighting once we find the gift.”

“Just who and what are you?” Occult demanded, bringing her staff on guard. “And what business do you have in the mortal world?”

Aenix sneered. “I’m called Aenix, daoine bounty hunter. And my business is my own. Don’t get in my way, witch.”

“Sorry.” Codex straightened herself up. “We’re responsible for keeping everyone in this city safe. We can’t just let a bounty hunter go traipsing around wreaking havoc and attacking innocent people. Let’s talk.”

“As if you could stop me.” In one, smooth motion, Aenix drew a long, straight bladed sword from beneath his leathery cloak.

Codex made a smooth motion of her own, pulling out her grapnel launcher and firing low. The line wrapped Aenix’s legs and with a sharp tug, she pulled him off balance and sent him crashing to the ground.

Occult didn’t waste the opportunity. “Levanto esta pared!” She conjured a shield and pressed it down on the bounty hunter to pin him.

The sneer faded from Aenix’s face. “Ecksion.” He ordered.

“Yes?” The oily voice replied with mock sweetness.

“You can fight the witches now.”

“Excellent.” A rigid, black spike stabbed out from the black cloak, shattering the shield with little effort. At the same time, a claw similar to that of a praying mantis formed at the bottom of the garment and slashed through the line tangling Aenix’s legs.

Thus freed, the daoine kipped up and brandished his sword once more. “You have no idea who and what you’re pissing off.”

Ecksion’s form flowed down Aenix’s non-sword arm and formed a snarling gargoyle head over his hand. “I resent being called a ‘what’” He snapped before belching a stream of noxious, green goo at Codex.

The blue clad prelate leapt aside, observing how the spatter withered the grass and turned the earth beneath it to gray ash. She didn’t want to test how well her suit would stand up to that.

On the other side of Aenix, Occult chanted a spell in its original Aramaic, ending with a thrust of her staff and her own made up words of power. “Vos Solaris!” A bar of yellow light streaked toward the bounty hunter with blinding intensity.

With inhuman speed, Aenix bought up his sword and reflected the beam, raking it across her ribs and turning her around. “Not even a challenge.” He regained his sneer as he moved in to hit her while her back was exposed.

But in doing so, he exposed his back to Codex. She took the opening to aim a horse kick to his back. But the moment she did, a three fingered claw lashed out from the boiling mass that was Ecksion, turned her foot aside, and threw her to the ground.

“The witch doesn’t know that I’m the eyes in the back of the head.” Ecksion laughed, opening a half dozen orange eyes across Aenix’s back.

“It does surely not.” The red point of light called Uur echoed, floating above one of the eyes.

Undaunted, Codex came up with one of her screamers and set it to full burst. The result was the opposite of what she expected.

Aenix clutched his head with his free and hand snarled painfully. “Damned witch!” He turned and rushed her with his sword. Another vos solaris beam caught him in the back, sending him sprawling. Now on his knees, he sheathed the sword and covered his ears. “Ecks! Get me out of here. We don’t have time for this!”

Apparently unphased by the hole Occult had just burned into his flesh, Ecksion pulled away from Aenix’s front to expand into a pair of dark, membranous wings. “We’ll be back for you witches.” He gurgled, “Once we’ve done our jobs.” With a mighty downbeat, he lifted Aenix into the air and away from the battle.

“Where did that come from?!” Occult was already summoning a horizontal shield that she could ride pursuit on.

“Augustus.” Codex said. “He—where’d he go?” She looked around and found both Augustus and his paint case missing. “Damn it. Go after the bounty hunter. I’ll find Augustus and catch up to you. He summoned those things and he may be the only one that can banish him.”

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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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