Issue #51 – Amore Detestabilis

This entry is part 3 of 14 in the series The Descendants Vol 5: How the World Changes

Part 2

Magic is a living thing, and when it is not roused, when its masters cease to call it, like a great bear in winter, it falls into torpor.

Across Europe and in part of Africa, there rose a predator of raw power and tenacity that was only matched by its lack of empathy, mercy, or patience for anything between it and its prey. And those it called its prey were the most powerful practitioners of the age.

It became a mark of death to live near or even lay eyes on one skilled in the power as entire villages were leveled in its dread pursuit. News spread and as it was diluted by distance and memory, it became rumor and superstition. And there were far too many predators of a different sort, waiting to grab hold of the fears and confusion and twist it to their own gains.

Even after the predator was sealed away, the witch hunts and werewolf trials did not stop. They became a devouring things unto themselves, destroying practitioner and charlatan and dissident. Any who challenged the newly powerful were fed to the jaws of the monster made from society’s flesh.

The skilled hid themselves, taking no students and allowing their knowledge to die with them. Those with the knack and the spark never learned their true potential and their numbers declined until the knack became a vestigial and rare birth defect.

Such a massive shift and the accompanying weakening was felt the world over. Belief began to wane and initiates willing to learn shrank to a trickle.

And the Chains of Fate forged by Amarocca began to shift along with the balance of magic…

***

Not Las Vegas, Nevada – three weeks ago

In Wayne’s opinion, waking should be a gradual process. First you realize you’re not asleep, then you recognize that you’re in a bed (preferably a nice hotel room and preferably not alone if you could swing it), and finally, you turn over and go back to sleep for a little bit. That’s how it worked for him up until the present and that was how it should always work.

So it was a rude experience when he was snapped from unconsciousness to full wakefulness in the span of a sharp breath. It was like someone flipped a switch and turned his brain back on. He just as quickly wished someone would turn it back off.

He was secured to a wall by what he quickly realized was some sort of giant spiderweb. Warm, sticky strands pressed tightly against him, bringing him to the next mortifying observation of the past pico-second: he was completely naked.

Even having dated his shared of women exotic in culture as well as various psionic abilities and spark-jockey body modifications, he was pretty sure this had nothing but bad implications.

“What the hell did you do?”

He managed to turn his head in spite of the web and groaned at what he saw. The girl from the club; equally naked, equally trapped in the stuff lunatic terror was made of. “You can’t be serious.”

“It wasn’t me.” She replied hotly. “And you look like the kind of guy that’s into the freaky crap.”

“I’m getting a lecture on kink from Sheila the shark girl.” He shot back, finding the image of her from the club to be burned into his memory; every scrap of clothing, every piece of jewelry, every curve of her body… What the hell? He was not just thinking that.

“Liking an animal doesn’t make you kinky. Liking it does.”

“I think trying to impersonate one fits the profile.” Why was he arguing about this? There were so many more important things to consider here. How they ended up stapled to a wall in… where were they anyway?

For reasons he couldn’t fathom, he hadn’t even bothered looking around after he heard her voice. He’d just focused on looking at her and her body… and the just on the edge of ‘cute’ pout she made when she was about to say something acidic and… Focus!

He need to focus and figure out where they were. It took an effort of will to stop looking at her, especially when even after he did, he could feel her eyes on him.

The room wasn’t very large, but it was sparse. It looked like an abandoned office of some kind, a toppled and dusty filing cabinet serving as testament to that fact. A low bench was situated directly in front of the wall they were attached to, and beside that was a small pile of books with plain covers and often cloth or leather covers. The only other feature was the fact that someone had cut a large, irregular square out of the floor in front of the door off to the side of them and it was from there that the only light in the room emanated.

“I’ll have you know that I am a shark.” She snarled. “A litigious one. And as soon as I get free, I’m going to ruin your expensive suit wearing ass. I’ve got at least false imprisonment and kidnapping. Stripping me is sexual assault, and all it takes is a lab test to prove you drugged me.”

“Will you just shut the hell up a second?” He asked. “No one wants your shrill skank ass, okay? And if I did it, why am I tied up to? God, I’m hoping whoever it is kills me first so I don’t have to hear you!”

She strained against the webs in an attempt to lunge at him. They stretched a bit before snapping back into their original position. “You do not get to tell me to shut up!”

“I do and I’ll keep doing it.” He shot back. “If you want to stop me, you’re free to tear your way out of there and make me.” A sneer came to his lips. “Except we both know you’re not strong enough.”

“That is IT!” She exploded. “I don’t even care what this stuff is, I’m gonna strangle you with it. And then, I’m going to knot it up and pound your—“

Someone came out of the hole in the floor. More accurately, someone jumped straight up through the hole in the floor and landed in a three point stance, balled fist in front of him. Lean and dark skinned, he was dressed in a gray hoodie from the University of Chicago and sweat pants, but he obviously wasn’t ‘normal’. The silver coin that glowed dimly between his eyebrows proved that.

His arrival and the self satisfied smile on his face made them both fall silent.

After taking a long minute to straighten and dramatically stretch, cracking his joints in the process, he strode toward them. “Wayne Jones. The Blockade.” He said with an easy-going air. “Big fan. I bought the whole bar a round when you beat Disco Jack and the Manhunter in that ropes and platforms match in WrestleDown XXIX. Always wanted to meet you.” His eyes suddenly diverted upward. “Well, not as much of you as this, but…”

“If we got kidnapped because you have a creepy stalker fanbase, I will kill you and then use your body to kill him.” The woman (Dana. How did he know that?) interjected, staring pointedly at Wayne.

The man with the glowing forehead decoration laughed. “Don’t worry, wifey, I just happen to be a fan. I’m not the one that took you. I doubt they even know wrestling exists.”

“I’m not his wife!”

“She isn’t my wife!”

They shouted together and made the third member of the conversation laugh again. “You’ve got no idea.” He turned his head and called back to the hole. “They’re awake!”

Before anymore complaints could be raised, someone else emerged from the hole. This one didn’t jump though, she simply rose as if she were standing on a scissor lift and stepped onto the floor the moment she was even with it. Medium height, dark brown hair, definitely Hispanic and young. Both Wayne and Dana vaguely remembered her from the club. She’d watched them fight.

“Thank you, Inexorable.” Se said flatly, her eyes locked on the pair stuck to the wall.

“We’re not exactly out and about, Manikin. You can call me Jay… or Jacob. You wouldn’t even get nicknames, would you?” The man who preceded her into the room said. It sounded like this was part of a larger campaign on his part.

Very slowly, her gaze turned to him and she spoke in the manner of a weary teacher addressing a problem student. “You are the Knight Inexorable it is proper to address you as such.” Her eyes wandered off him again and back to their captured prizes. “And these are the Knights Amore Detestabilis.”

“Did you just call us detestable?” Wayne glowered. “Look, I haven’t done anything to you, and she might not have. So if this is some sort of revenge game, how about I just cut you a check?”

“Are you not paying attention?” Dana said, staring at him in disbelief. “You think this is some old wrestling grudge? Have you not noticed the goddamn spiderwebs? Or how we’re naked? They’re some kind of psionic ritualistic serial killers. You can’t just cut them a check!”

“At least I’m trying something.”

“Yes, stupid things!”

The argument was cut short when the woman, Manikin, gestured and the sections of the wall the webs were attached to tore free of the surrounding drywall and hovered forward a foot or two.

“Amore Detestabilis means ‘Loving Hatred’.” She explained to the scared silent pair.

“So the boss lady ain’t coming to see this?” Asked Jay. “I mean, the way she’s been ranting about them when she’s not watching the blue plate special n her caldron…”

“The Heir has left their instruction and first task in my hands.” Manikin said dispassionately.

“So are you going to do this for every Knight she wants?” He asked, folding his arms. They still weren’t imposing after weeks of work. He’d started working out more; his super-strength and invulnerability only came into play when he was following orders, so he figured he might need to be regular strong too.

“It is a Quadratic Knighthood.” She informed him. “There will only be one more after these.”

“Not counting yourself.”

“I am not a knight. I am teacher, adviser, servant.” Jay knew better than to call attention to the bitterness in her voice. He knew she was some sort of magical robot, but even she was irritated by Morganna’s ways and swingshift moods.

“Can you please tell us just what the hell you plan to do with us?” Dana was once more getting more irritated than scared.

Manikin gestured and the slabs of wall rotated inward and floated closer together, putting Dana and Wayne in a very uncomfortable position. “That would be a waste of time.”

“You smell like rum.” Wayne had no idea why that needed to be said at the moment.

“If I lean forward a little, I could tear your throat out with my teeth.” Dana warned.

The Manikin ignored them. “That part of the great fey’s gift remains at least. You will both remember everything and regain your abilities once it’s done.” The two were moved fractionally closer. “Now. Kiss.”

“Are you insane?”Dana shouted, effectively doing so into Wayne’s chin. “You pinned us up her like butterflies just so you could make us kiss? I’m not going to do that, I’m naked here!”

Wayne stopped struggling in the web, a small laugh in his throat.

“How can anything about this be funny to you in any way!?” Dana snapped.

He laughed openly and loudly now. “Because this can’t possibly be real. She was in the club last night, watching the argument you and me had. And you; you’re way too over the top about this, Dana. Come on, admit it, this is all a put on. Is this being streamed live? Did my friends set it up?”

Dana lunged forward, not actually intending to go for his throat, but wanting to lash out in some way for such a stupid conclusion. She ended up head-butting him in the chin, which didn’t work out well for either of them. Wait. How did he know her name?

Wayne shied back a second, but he was convinced now. “Or maybe this was something you set up. Maybe you wanted to kiss a big star, but our girlfriends didn’t have the money for the A-list. Look, it’s okay. Besides the ‘tude, you’re pretty shiny, babe. So Here you go, on the house.”

As he leaned down to do it, he suddenly knew that this wasn’t the case. But no matter how true that was, and despite how bad it hurt, he didn’t want to stop.

As she blinked in surprise, she knew that she could put a stop to it with another headbutt. But no matter how much she absolutely hated him and how much of a dull ache it called up n her heart, she didn’t want to stop it.

Their lips met and it swiftly became a deep, devouring kiss of lovers too soon parted. They pressed into one another as best the webs allowed, seeking that connection, that little touch that was always more than mere contact. They missed each other. Called and cried and screamed, even as the ties the bound them caused pain beyond the knowledge of flesh.

But it wasn’t only one kiss. It was the continuation of a single, perfect kiss that had lasted millennia:

On a roof, above the dusty streets of Ur. While gathering thorned acacia with their fellows to build an enkang near the shores of Lake Turkana. Hidden in the expansive halls of the great library in Baghdad. In a quiet moment in their small home in a village near Hokkaido. Through the iron bars of the Bastille. After a long day’s hunt along the banks of the Rappahannock. Huddled for warmth in the stinking belly of a slave ship. Comfortable and warm on the sand following a celebration in Pele’s honor. At a picnic lunch as the opening shots of the war between North and South were fired. Listening to the rumors in Cairo that outsider had uncovered more tombs beneath the sand.

There were memories beyond the kiss. Painful and still able to sting after decades:

Alone atop the new Eiffel tower, waiting for an arranged meeting that never showed. Love that went unrequited for a lifetime in Kingston-upon-Hull because both feared too much that they weren’t good enough. Dying alone in a Calcutta slum. Living alone in a glaringly empty house on Montego Bay.

And then one night, on a road near Erfurt; a drunken college student taking the year off so she could tour Europe, a harried businessman on his way home after a late meeting. Tires screamed. Glass shattered. The feeling of weightlessness. And then oblivion until the next lifetime.

They recoiled from one another as the taste of one another was suddenly as bitter as venom.

“You killed me!” Dana screamed. “You worthless, gin swilling piece of… How could you!?”

Wayne shook his head furiously. “It’s not like I meant to, okay?”

“Yes, I’m sure the liquor just snuck into your veins commando style. No wonder I hate you. Centuries of love and devotion and you throw my life away that carelessly?”

“I didn’t even know you!”

Dana glared at him. “Don’t act like that makes it okay to kill me. Besides, you can’t use that excuse anyway by now. We always find each other.”

“Not always.” said Wayne bitterly.

“Still upset about Paris?”

“That was the first time we missed.” He hung his head, which didn’t do much to change his position, given the web. “The first time we didn’t remember.”

“And the last time we remembered on purpose.” She recalled Kosovo, almost a century prior. A stranger wounded from the bombing and she couldn’t just let him die. She knew just enough to try mouth-to-mouth and not enough to know that it didn’t work on someone with a crushed ribcage. They’d remembered and argued for all of a minute before he died.

“And right after that; San Juarez. You beat me to death in the ring. So you don’t get to play the who killed who card.” He kept his gaze steady to make up for his voice.

“You were supposed to take a fall.” She scowled at him as she recalled. “Once you didn’t it was either you or me. And I like me.”

Wayne joined her in scowling. “So much for the big gift. Is that how it is? We’re going to spend eternity constantly being drawn to someone we hate enough to kill? Is it going to get worse? Are we going to start being forced to kill each other?”

“I’ve been waiting for that question.” Manikin reentered the conversation by rotating them to face her again. “The two of you are pinned to the Wheel of Resurrection and bound by the chains of fate by very powerful magics more ancient than even Hyrillius.”

“Who” The eternal couple echoed, then glared at one another.

Manikin ignored them. “My Mistress, the Heir of Hyrillius knows of your fate; to be locked in this combat of hatred until the last mortal souls leave the Wheel and there are no more children for you to be born into. She would like to help.”

“There’s a catch.” Dana guessed.

“Of course. A trade. Service in one lifetime for freedom in those that follow. If you ply the powers given to you in the Heir’s service, She will untangle you from the chains of fate and you will both be able to live lives of natural loves and hatreds.”

“Rid of him?” Dana asked. “I’m in.”

“I never wanted this in the first place.” Added Wayne.

“Excellent.” Manikin waved her hand and the webs dissolved, letting them drop gracelessly to the floor. “Now. We will need your full power, but the Heir has a test she wishes you to carry out first. It seems that when one of you died by the other’s hand, there was a side effect…”

Series Navigation<< Issue #50 – Operation: All InIssue #52 – Scenes From a Changing World >>

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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