Issue #5 Legends of Chaos and Darkness

This entry is part 6 of 15 in the series The Descendants Vol 1: Welcome to Freeland House

Mystic Spiral Part 1

Wales, 1141 A.D.

“Where is my son? Where is he?!” Frantic screams were accompanied by rattling chains and the sounds of heavy blows landing against the stout, iron bars that separated the specially prepared cell from the rest of the circular room.

Marcus of Hafren watched the struggles within the cell with a pained look upon his age worn countenance. Once he had been handsome and young and had a bright destiny. But the last decade had ground away not only his fortune, but his aspirations and hope for better days. All to come to this moment – for the piteous creature contained in the iron cage.

Even wrapped in the specially treated cold iron chains, standing in a circle of runes blessed by one of the few remaining druids and behind bars of yet more cold iron; the being in the cage was still intimidating, almost feral. But in Marcus, she inspired sadness and regret.

“When I find him, he will slaughter you all and drink your blood!” She screamed, straining at the chains. Tiny blue sparks crackled along them, but the bars held against whatever magic she was plying against them.

“I hope Drennl isn’t taking his time on this.” The other man in the room said. Tall and slender as a sapling, he was the druid who had constructed the cold iron prison. “She’s too strong. The shackles will break and we’ll never get this chance again. Even if she does let us live.”

Marcus shook his head sadly. “I never meant for this to happen. Geoffrey never meant for this to happen either. We just thought it a story. We thought we could make our place in history by telling a tale of the bear-man – making an old hero into a legend. I… didn’t think it was real.”

“The story isn’t real.” The druid, who had yet to give Marcus his name, even after years of working with him, replied. “At least not anywhere but her mind.” More blue sparks flew from the cold iron chains as the woman inside redoubled her efforts against her imprisonment. “But the magic IS real. You were ignorant of that. You saw no danger in filling her head with it.”

“Her mother tried to stop me…” Marcus shuddered.

“And it earned her an early grave.”

The door to the circular room flew open, carrying the hot wind of midday with it. Drennl, the courier hastened inside, carrying a large, rectangular shape under one arm. “I’m sorry; we had to let it dry.” He explained as Marcus and the druid set to work erecting a stand in front of the cell door.

“Careful with that,” Marcus said as they put the object in its place. “The wealth of twenty families, and the blood of many, many others paid for this. We cannot risk damaging it.”

“Not to mention the combined might of magicians from across the realm.” The druid added.

“Are you sure this will work?” Drennl eyed the struggling woman warily. “That it will stop her forever.”

“Nothing is forever.” The druid said. His frustration with the foolish notions of the other men was clear in his tone. “But it will keep her at bay until such time as our knowledge of the things she has tapped has progressed enough to allow future generations to stop her.”

Marcus shook his head sadly. “We’ve paid enough—had enough rumors spread—that this will be the most valuable object in the know world for generations. No one will break the seal placed here.”

Blue sparks crackled again, accompanied by the sound of groaning metal.

“Do it now, Marcus.” The druid commanded.

Taking a deep breath, Marcus caught the woman’s eyes. “Please, Elise… please, just once more – for the sake of God and our land… look upon me… and recognize me.”

Through sweaty locks of hair, the feral woman gazed up, her eyes embers of hatred and defiance. “Y…you don’t know anything. You… you think you do, but you’re wrong. I’m not who you—who you think I am. I am Morganna le Fay.”

That was all Marcus needed; eye contact. His hand moved quickly to rip the oilcloth from the object stood before the cell door. Confused, Elise—Morganna—shifted her gaze toward the image on the canvas there. It was a single moment; one in which she saw herself portrayed in the most intimate detail of any painting she had ever seen.

A moment was all it took and that moment stretched on into infinity. Elise slumped in her chains; her body, bereft of its motivating force simply lay down and died.

Marcus bit his lip to hold back the tears and bid farewell to Elise, his little girl. His beloved daughter.

***

Mayfield, Virginia, 2074 A.D.

Warrick watched the cue ball ricochet its way around the pool table. In route, it sent the five, three and two balls into three separate pockets. The tentacles raised their cue in victory.

“Big deal,” He said with a grimace, “You still had to team up to beat me.” The tentacles made a gesture that while totally alien to any human physiology, was clearly rude. “Oh, real mature guys.” Warrick rolled his eyes.

The door opened and Ian entered from outside, closing his umbrella and placing it in the stand next to the door as he did. As testament to the effectiveness of the umbrella, he was soaked to the bone. “I see one of us had the basic common sense to stay inside today.” He noted.

“Melissa had some too. She’s upstairs talking with Kareem.” Warrick shot Ian a glance as he started racking the balls up again. “Up for a game?”

Ian noticed the look and nodded. “Another chance for you to make yourself feel better after getting your ass handed to you by your tin friends here? Sure.” The tentacles made the same rude gesture at him as they had made at Warrick earlier. Warrick snickered. “What?” Ian blinked.

“They’re aluminum, not tin.” Warrick said, with a smirk. “They’re not happy being called tin.”

“I know Cyn tells you this on a daily basis,” Ian said, “But your powers are weird.” Unlike Alexis, he didn’t try to ignore the fact and unlike Laurel, he didn’t try to sugar coat it. The younger psionic seemed to appreciate that about him.

“That’s kind of what I wanted to talk to you about.”

Ian pretended that he hadn’t noticed Warrick’s nervous, shifty glances leading up to this. Just because he seemed honest to them, didn’t mean that he didn’t know when to lie to make them more comfortable. “You wanted to talk to me?” He casually took a pool cue off the stand against the wall. “Okay, what’s up?” Just as casually, he positioned the cue ball to break.

In reply, a smooth piece of pinkish material, about the size of a person’s thumb landed on the table in front of the cue ball.

Laying the cue stick aside, Ian picked up the substance. Aside from its odd hue – a cross between light pink and mother of pearl, it was rather unremarkable. “What’s this?”

“You probably heard about the whole thing at the craft expo a couple days ago?” Warrick began.

“Yeah, when you and the girls told us you three went to the Lexington Gallery and the mall at the Gates Center?” Ian didn’t even bat an eye at the fact that the youngsters had been somewhere other than where they had told him. The prolonged existence of Life Savers, Inc depended on such minor deceptions.

Warrick nodded.

“So what does this have to do with you two – excuse me – three stopping some crazy psionic from running amok?”

“Well, he was using these super hot fire blasts against us.” The young man began. “So I made us a shield out of copper to protect us. That… was a bad idea.”

“Yeah, copper’s as good at conducting heat as it as at conducting electricity. That’s elementary chemistry.” Ian shrugged, turning the chunk of pink stuff over in his hands thoughtfully. He gave Warrick a rueful look for the disbelieving look on the younger man’s face. “I do have a Bachelors of Applied Engineering, I’m allowed to know some chemistry.”

“That sort of thing didn’t really go through my mind at the time; what with the deadly fireballs and everything.” Warrick said with such a straight face that Ian wondered if he was being sarcastic or not. “Anyway, things started to heat up and I finally felt the heat moving through the copper in my metal sense. So I tried using my power to strengthen the copper against the heat…” He trailed off.

“How does that even work?” Ian asked, knowing full well the answer was ‘psionics’ followed by a shrug. At least that’s the answer he always got when he asked how his own powers worked. The actual mechanics of many psionic powers had spawned entire new branches of biology, all of which were new, exciting and largely inconclusive.

“It didn’t.” Warrick frowned. “At least not the way I expected. I pushed everything I had into the copper and it kind of, uh… broke.” He said the last word as if he didn’t know if it was the right word.

“Broke apart?” Ian asked.

“No, I mean it broke—like on the molecular level – sub-molecular, actually. It broke apart and came back together into a disc of that stuff you’re holding right now.”

Ian eyed the material nervously, as if it would bite him if he took his eyes off it. “What is this, Warrick?”

“I didn’t know at first.” The young psionic admitted. “My metal sense picked it up, but I couldn’t identify it like I do iron or tin or something.” He crossed the room to one of the couches and sat down on the back of it. “So yesterday, I went down to the science museum and took a look at their periodic table sample exhibit. Its bismuth, a metal I’ve never even heard of. But get this; it has one of the lowest heat conductions of any elemental metal.”

Ian hadn’t been prepared for this. He took a few moments to decide what to ask. “You’re telling me that your powers let you take matter apart and put it back together into a form that could protect you – on instinct?”

Warrick nodded, slowly. The room was quiet for a few minutes as both tried to decide what to say and do with this information.

***

Across town, Lisa Ortega smiled as her aunt finished recounting the tale of a road trip her mother and two other aunts had taken to the Grand Canyon.

“You make it sound so awesome, Aunt Tay,” Lisa said, using the nickname for the older woman her mother always used. “I can’t believe mom stole a burro, that’s so unlike her.”

Lisa’s aunt, Tatiana Farnsworth smiled at her. “Well, she wasn’t always the stuffed shirt researcher over at ConquesTech, Lisa. She was a girl your age once and she did just as many crazy things as you’ve probably done.” She was an elegant woman with dark hair and eyes to match. Her jewelry told of a vast amount of wealth when her modest apartment didn’t.

“You know, you love to embarrass mom, but you never tell me anything about the kind of trouble I’m sure you used to get into.” Lisa said conspiratorially. Her visits with her aunt only came once a month, but she was grateful for every moment she got with the person who seemed to be the only proof that being boring wasn’t simply part of her genetic makeup.

Tatiana laughed. “I was mom’s good girl back then, believe it or not. School reporter, honor roll, perfect attendance – I wanted to be the perfect student and daughter. My idea of an accomplishment back then was measured in how many entries I got in the yearbook.”

Lisa glanced over at the multitude of trophies and pictures that adorned the walls of her Aunt Tay’s dining/living room. For lack of a better word, her aunt was an adventurer. She had climbed Kilimanjaro, had kayaked half the suitable waterways in the United States, and had done at least two walkabouts in the Australian Outback. It was hard to believe that the woman before her had ever been what her grandmother would have called a ‘good girl’.

The phone in Tatiana’s office rang. “Hold that thought, Lisa.” She said, a barely hidden satisfaction playing on her face. “I’ve got to take this.” She swiftly moved back to the office and closed the door before picking up the phone. “Nightshade.” She said into the receiver.

“Good evening’, Lady Nightshade.” The twang of Vincent Liedecker’s voice came through. “So sorry it took so long to get a hold of ya. We’ve had some work going on, over here that needed my close attention.”

“I thought the painting was important to you.” Tatiana said, unafraid of the crime lord.

“Not as much as the fifty million it was insured for, no.” Liedecker said, “Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice picture – pretty lady on it and all – but it’s definitely not the Jewel of the Known World it used to be called.”

“I’m actually curious as to how you came to be in possession of this jewel.” Tatiana said conversationally. “It may not be worth much anymore, but the legends behind it would probably have landed it a comfy place in a museum somewhere.”

“I don’t see what business it is of yours, but I don’t see no harm telling you.” The phrase came with a verbal shrug. “Back in my globetrotting days, I found a vault in the basement of a mosque in what was left of Baghdad. Don’t know how it got there – probably loot taken back from crusaders – but that little beauty was part and parcel.”

“So you looted a holy site for a treasure of the ancient world.” Tatiana said, “And then used that treasure as part of an insurance scam?” She could barely contain the disgust she felt for such acts, or for her part played in it.

“That’s correct, Lady.” Liedecker seemed too proud of his ingenuity to notice Tatiana’s disgust. “Now, if you’d be so kind as to drop that treasure off at Tenth Street Shipping, you can get your payday and we can conclude our business.”

“What’s going to happen to the painting?” she asked for reasons she wasn’t entirely sure of. “You can’t exactly show it off now that it’s ‘stolen’”.

“You’re asking a lot of questions that ain’t really your business, Lady.” The arms dealer drawled. “If you must know, it’s going to stay at the warehouse.”

For some reason, the thought of the Portrait of Morganna le Fay lying in a dark warehouse filled Tatiana with something close to dread. She shook herself and gave Liedecker a look through the phone. She wasn’t an art lover, but this painting was… something special. “You can’t do that.”

The silence on the other end of the phone was a palpable thing; a coiling serpent, ready to strike. Finally, Liedecker spoke. “I don’t think you meant to say that, Lady Nightshade. No. Body. tells me what I can’t and can’t do – not even my mama. You will have that painting at Tenth Street Shipping by midnight tonight – or bad things are gonna happen.”

Her mouth went dry. What had she done? Why had she done that? It didn’t matter; Liedecker only knew her through Brother Wright and with him missing, he had no way of knowing who she was, or even how to contact her unless she contacted him first. She was totally safe.

“By your silence, Nightshade, you think maybe you’re immune to me. Maybe you think you don’t need to apologize and beg for forgiveness?” He chuckled. “Or maybe you don’t care what happens to you – you seem the type. But don’t make the mistake of crossing me. Have that painting at TSS tonight or else – Tatiana Farnsworth.” The line went dead.

Suddenly, she realized everything that was wrong with the conversation – Liedecker wasn’t even supposed to know the number to her office phone – and yet he did. Tatiana slammed the phone down into its cradle. She was marked for death. What was going to happen now?

“Aunt Tay?” Lisa opened the door to the office. “Is everything okay? I heard you yell.”

Schooling her face, Tatiana smiled at her niece. “Sorry, Lisa… I… thought I saw a spider.”

“Ew.” Lisa said, glancing around the room. Even if being boring wasn’t genetic, she imagined that arachnophobia was.

“Don’t worry, I was mistaken.” Tatiana said quickly. “Uh, listen, I’ve got to run an errand for a friend. I’m really sorry to cut our visit short, but it’s really important.” Her gaze traveled to the painting. She couldn’t let it stay in a warehouse after all that time in a vault. For some reason, the thought wrenched her heart.

“Its okay, Aunt Tay.” Said Lisa, always an understanding girl. “I’ll call you next week? Maybe we can do lunch.”

“Yeah…” Tatiana said. Of course, all that hinged on her being alive next week. “Oh, before you go, I have a present for you.”

“Really?” Lisa asked. It was a ritual between them. Every time the two would visit, her aunt would give her a last minute present, purchased from a curio shop during her frequent outings. Unbeknownst to Lisa, some of these presents had previously been part of museum collections or in the private vaults of the wealthy.

This day’s present was forgotten though. Tatiana took the wrapped painting from what it stood and offered it to her niece who accepted it with a huge smile on her face. “Don’t open it until you get home, okay?” she asked, trying to sound like herself.

Lisa nodded and tucked the package under an arm before giving her aunt a hug. “Thanks Aunt Tay.” She said, before Tatiana walked her out of the apartment.

Alone in the room, Tatiana’s head cleared. She had just killed herself. Not with her own hand, but it was close enough – deliberate enough. And she had not idea why. Regarding the room full of her accomplishments, she made a fist with her right hand. She didn’t want to die. She wouldn’t die – but she would have to disappear…

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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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