Issue #47 – Everyday People

This entry is part 13 of 15 in the series The Descendants Vol 4: Confluence

Part 4

Eldritch deeds and diabolic pacts had once been real things and real concerns for mankind. In past centuries before the common era, a learned individual could indeed call upon powers from beyond the Earth-bound realm and barter with them for power, soldiers, and wealth beyond their wildest dreams in exchange for the cruel, dangerous, or simply inscrutable tasks and offerings required of them from those being who dwelt beyond the Blue World. The worst of that had been put to an end for centuries before Morganna’s father’s father was born. Stories of fey encounters cropped up occasionally, but even the worst of fey, the self styled demons, were a far cry from the creatures that prowled the land in antiquity.

Eyewitness accounts had become misremembered stories or rumors; footnotes that became incorporated by myths and religions over the intervening years. In the crucible of the shared human experience, they were boiled and clarified again and again in parables and legend, penny-dreadfuls and airport fantasy until the mere mention of such deals between mortals and things not of this world were themselves an archetype with a formula they were expected to conform to.

It forms almost instantly in the mind’s eye: the night is given over to a storm that churns the clouds and sends lightning to crack the sky and winds to whip the land. Within a tumbledown castle, or perhaps atop a weather torn hill, two figures meet; a mortal man of weak moral fiber and a soul as black as the depths of space, and a silver tongued demon.

There is a contract with very specific terms, and a condition that would, if triggered, mean a victory over the demon’s designs, or the instant damnation of the mortal. Both sides will fully believe they can get the better of the other. Inevitably, the mortal will either prove to be clever and slip from the demon’s clutches, or be damned for eternity, depending on the purpose of the story and how much the storyteller wishes to make young listeners cry.

Though smaller in scale than demands to rule or destroy cities, the first such pact in millennia was about to happen at the Winston-Buckles correctional facility in Orange County. And at no point would any of the above happen.

Pod 26, Block B. For a year now, it had been home to Robert “Abel” O’Neil, a man convicted of vandalism and theft after a series of brutal assaults wherein his victims and his victims were too intimidated to testify against him, and Jacob Willis, called Jay, the former leader of Los Lobos de la Noche out of Mayfield.

For reasons few people speculated on without becoming either suddenly wealthy and disinterested, or dead in common household accidents, street gangs were at worst a minor nuisance in Mayfield whereas in other cities, they often grew into major criminal enterprises. The Lobos had been on the high side of a generally low threat matrix, the most powerful rats in the sewer, before running afoul the heroic combine that would eventually become the Descendants.

Long story short, there was no gang called Los Lobos de la Noche anymore. Willis’s attempts to implicate Brother Wright, the very man whose party he had attacked and whom he had held hostage, in the attack, fell on deaf eats. For leading a street gang with the impressive and up to date arsenal of the Lobos, he’d pulled a ten to forty year sentence.

The one bit of hope he had was in being put on the rehabilitation track, which included therapy, job training, and other programs designed to ensure he had comparatively better prospects than crime when he got out. If he did especially well and tested out, he could be free in five years. Five very long years.

In the dead of night, a humble, rose colored spark flickered into being, then flared and guttered, bathing the cell in its light. This not being his first time in prison, Abel was a habitual light sleeper and that glow was more than enough to rouse him to wakefulness.

Also as a habit, he knew not to let on that he was awake all at once; not until he knew what was going on around him. The rose glow was dimming, but it had brought with it a sweaty odor, not unlike the rec room at the first prison he’d graced with his being. It stank of poor ventilation, spotty air conditioning and overcrowding. This one smelled like all of that boiled in a bag for a week.

There was a slight breeze and a quite footfall. Only one person, he thought and chanced opening one eye just a crack. And there in the middle of the cell, he saw a young Hispanic woman with a red cloth bundle in her arms. Her face was turned away from him, gazing at his cellmate, Willis.

Abel didn’t know or care how this situation came to be, but he was not above taking full advantage of it. With the agility and balance of a fighting man, he swung his legs off his bed and was standing all in one swift movement.

“You don’t need that scrawny wimp, mamasita.” His voice was a low growl and his hand closed like an iron vice on her shoulder. “But if you keep quiet, I’ll make ya feel real good.”

She didn’t even look at him. “You aren’t the one I came for.” The tone was uncaring and formal. Not something typical of young women being threatened by prisoners in their cells; if there is such a category. It should have been Abel’s first warning, but men of his ilk are known as well for their intelligence as they are for their humanity.

“We’ll you’re gonna be com—ahhh!” The crude taunt was lost in Abel’s throat as the woman seized the hand on her shoulder and bent the fingers away with such force that tears came from the man’s eyes.

“Be silent.” The woman commanded, but all things considered, she might as well have said ‘be a productive and worthwhile member of society’ or ‘turn purple’. In fact, Abel was well on the way to accomplishing the latter.

Releasing his hand, the Manikin turned to face her former attacker. “To honor my former master, I would prefer not to end human life. But my current master has ordered me to terminate any who endanger my mission. If you do not become silent, I will interpret that is attempting to hinder said mission.”

Rage colored Abel’s face as he stared at his throbbing hand. Wisdom, or at least the better part of valor still eluded him. “You smug little bitch! I was gonna go easy on ya too, seein’ as it’s been awhile.” He lashed out with his good hand.

Manikin caught his wrist and using her prodigious strength, used it to haul him toward her and then across her shoulders. With something between a shrug, a buck, and a hop, she threw him with all of her might.

Abel impacted the corner between wall and ceiling and came down in a senseless heap at the foot of Jacob Willis’s bed. The series of thuds that went along with the action woke Jay up just in time to see him hit the floor.

He didn’t say anything, just struggled wildly with his sheet to get out of bed. But even as he won free, he found a strong hand pressing down on his chest, effortlessly keeping him on his back. “Be still and listen.” Said a hushed female voice. “Fortune smiles on you this night.”

It didn’t take long for his gaze to fall on Manikin. She still wore the body of Lisa Ortega, but all he saw was a Hispanic girl half his size. When she was certain he wasn’t going to bolt, she withdrew her hand and bowed her head slightly.

“I bid you welcome from the heir of Hyrilius, Jacob Anthony Willis.”

“What the hell is this?” Jacob hissed, not wanting to draw the attention of the guards.

The mask of sternness that was Manikin’s usual face betrayed a faint amused smile. “This is an offer, Jacob. Do you desire freedom?”

There were so many questions; how she had gotten into his cell, why his cellmate was lying on the floor with his arms and neck at odd angles, or even who she was. But at the mention of freedom, they became suddenly less important.

“Hell yeah. Me and everyone else in this shit palace.”

“They are not my concern.” Manikin said dismissively and moved on. “Once you were a king after a fashion; men fought and died or were killed at your command. Now they are gone; incarcerated as you are, or gone to join the ranks of your enemies. Where once you had soldiers, a territory, and wealth, there is only dust. Less than dust. Even the name of your kingdom is naught but memory. Tell me: who do you blame for what’s happened to you?

“Who don’t I blame?” He scowled, the anger he harbored for many months boiled to the surface. “Wright especially. And the Descendants.”

Manikin ducked her head. “And in the Descendants, you share a common enemy with the Heir.”

“And who is this heir?”

She shifted the silk bundle in her arms so that she was presenting it before her. “She who offers you the power to exact revenge on the Descendants and those like them.” A subtle motion let the flaps of the bundle fall away to reveal the bracers, arranged with the coin between them.

Almost without realizing it, Jacob leaned forward to give the devices a puzzled look.

“You don’t believe in the power of magic.” Manikin conceded, “A common mental affliction of this age. “But if it does not exist, how did I enter this cell? How did I overpower the oaf you share living space with?”

“People have all sorts of bullshit powers.” Jacob shrugged. “But you’ve got to be born with it. You can’t just hand it to someone.”

“Ah.” Manikin dropped the glamor over her features, causing the illusions of flesh and bone and warmth and life to fall away, leaving only the blank, wooden countenance of the golem beneath. “But I am not a person. I am metal and oak, given mind and life by enchantments too long passed from this world.

Jacob jumped back from the alien visage with a yelp, prompting Manikin to reassert Lisa’s face. “Shit! Damn. Okay, I believe you. What’s that got to do with me?”

“Unlike the greedy blood of psionics, magic can be granted, channeled into a person by a more powerful being.” Lying was another thing she wasn’t accustomed to, but took to readily. “The Heir proposes to channel power through you to oppose the Descendants on their celebration day.”

Suspicion crept into Jacob’s expression. “Nobody just gives anything away. What does your boss get out of this?”

“The destruction of her enemies, of course. And your service as her Knight Inexorable.”

“I don’t do ‘masters’” said Jacob reticently. “And I don’t know what that word even means.”

Manikin didn’t move an inch, still displaying the talismans. “It means unstoppable, ever moving forward. And with the power offered here, that you shall be. While in the Heir’s service, you will suffer no poison, be capable of breaking any bond and tear down any obstacle, have the strength to shatter all of your enemy’s defenses, and the resilience to stand against all forces directed against you.”

A long silence fell over the cell as Jacob thought. Then he heard the door at the far end of the cell block opening. The hourly check. Within minutes, a pair of guards would look into the Pod 26 and find Abel gravely injured, possibly dead, and this strange woman in his cell.

What was there to lose?

“Fine.” He said. “Let’s do this… how do we do this?”

“Take the bracers first.” instructed Manikin. “They symbolize your pact with the Heir, and upon them, you will swear your oath of service to call upon the power.”

Jacob picked up the first bracer. He wasn’t a fan of this oath of service business, but he was already down the rabbit hole as it were. With little trouble, he slipped him both down over his arms and was startled to feel them reshaping and adjusting to him.

Before he could question this behavior uncharacteristic of a wardrobe, Manikin was presenting the coin to him. He could only guess at what the symbols meant, but there was little time; he heard the footsteps of the guards approaching.

“Press the coin upon your brow and repeat after me.” She instructed in soft tones.

He did as told, and even as the guard’s tread quickened when they heard voices, he chanted after her:

“My allegiance I give to the Heir of Hyrilius and by her will shall my strength flow. Upon these bonds, I do swear this and by these bonds, I shall find myself forever unfettered. No longer merely human, I stand thus transformed; a Knight Inexorable!”

The words thus spoken, the coin suddenly heated to a painful degree. The pain was so agonizing, so blinding, that Jacob couldn’t find a voice with which to scream. It felt, and smelled as if his flesh were cooking.

And then it was over. The heat and pain vanished as instantly as they had appeared. Jacob was left shivering on the edge of his bed, scarcely sure if he had experienced that or not. He took his hand away from his forehead. The coin remained as if it were fused there in the center of his brow.

And there was a strange feeling, a warmth and vigor that months within prison walls had removed from him, only returned tenfold.

There was little time to ponder this new sensation before a voice imposed rudely upon his thoughts.

“What the hell is going on here? Who are you?” It was one of the guards, addressing Manikin. His hand was on his mace. A second guard soon came to join him, also demanding explanations.

Manikin regarded them for barely a second before turning to Jacob. “These bars, these men. They stand between you and freedom, O Knight.” Then she stepped aside and made an ‘after you’ gesture.

For a moment, he just blinked at her dully. Of course: he was supposed to be some sort of unstoppable force now. She wanted him to prove it. Slowly, still not sure he wanted to do this, he got to his feet.

“Back of the cell!” the first guard orders. “Both of you. And—holy shit, is that O’Neil?”

“I had nothing to do with that. I was asleep.” Jacob took a step closer.

“I said back of the cell!” The second guard bellowed and let loose with a stream of mace.

In his panic, he missed, the chemical spray going over Jacob’s shoulder. The small amount that did hit him stung, but not enough to arrest his charge. Hearing Abel scream himself awake behind him spurred him on.

Moving forward despite the threat of chemical bath, he reached the bars of the cell and with a single sweep of his arm, drew them aside in a cacophony of squealing metal like they were some new kind of beaded curtain.

Seeing their ranged corrections action rapidly approaching a melee, the guards unclipped their batons.

The newly minted Knight Inexorable met the first baton with his fist. The steel rod rebounded with such force that it flew from its wielder’s grasp. Chumps!” He mocked, “You think you can stop me? You can’t! ‘Cause I’m Inexorable!”

End Issue #47

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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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2 Comments

  1. Just a note, but at first Fredrick’s wife’s name is Jill, and then it changes to Laura.

    • Thanks, fixed. I think Jill was originally the girlfriend he had when he manifested the first time.

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