Issue #59 – Return of the Magi

This entry is part 12 of 14 in the series The Descendants Vol 5: How the World Changes
Morganna’s Body Part 2
Dana brought her sword up into a ready position, guided by centuries of training. The dust of the stone serpent’s ruin swirled around her dramatically, coating her hair, her skin, her clothes in the faint red of pulverized brick. She took one step forward…
 
And was promptly jerked sideways as if slapped by an unseen hand and flew fifteen feet into the iron bars protecting a first floor window of a dormitory.
 
The bars buckled at the impact, shattering the glass behind it. Someone inside screamed as Dana bounced off and landed in the grass.
 
Wayne stopped short of his own charge on Occult, Jennifer and Theresa to look for the source of that attack. He swiftly spotted Jeremy standing behind a hedge at the bottom a the hill that led up to the walk. Behind him was a blue compact car with a hand-print shaped dent in the door panel. One of Jeremy’s hands was pointed directly at the dent, while the other was still aimed at where Dana had been standing.
 
Jeremy’s face was a mixture of shock and terror. Shock that he’s actually managed to knock Dana off her feet, terror for earning Wayne’s attention.
 
“Y-you want some of this!” He squawked at Wayne, his voice shrill as he redirected his aim at him. At the same time, he shifted his footing to keep the car directly opposite Wayne.
 
When they first picked ‘categories to study, he thought he was reading up on telekinesis. By dictionary definition, it was, but apparently, when it came to magic, the two concepts were distinct and worked on entirely different principles.
 
Attraction and repulsion were primal magic, a simple manipulation of existing forces, but using it well was more complicated than reaching out and grabbing something with an invisible hand. For one, he couldn’t push something more massive than himself unless he was also pushing something even bigger in the opposite direction.
 
Wayne chuckled to himself and oriented the Shield that Overcomes in his direction. “Try me.”
 
Noting his distraction, Occult leaned over to Theresa. “Cover me. I’m going to his him from the side.”
 
As soon as the other girl started to nod, she took off, raising her staff and placing one of her first homebrew spells on it, a charm called ‘twenty-ton’. It was crude, quick and simple, making the staff weight far more than it should in relation to everything but herself.
 
Around her, the still intact bricks at the edges of the walk rose into the air; Theresa’s ‘cover’.
 
Jeremy whispered the short mnemonic that came with his spell, a word he was pretty sure meant ‘push’ in another language. As usual, it felt as if someone was stretching rubber bands over his outstretched fingers, down his arms to the shoulder and releasing them all at the same time. There were no flashy visuals to go with it; the car shook a little and the shield before Wayne glowed slightly brighter and pressed back against him.
 
And that’s all it did. Wayne didn’t even grunt as he stood his ground. The spell broke against the shield and spent itself. As soon as it did, he pivoted and interposed the shield between him and Occult.
 
It was at that moment that the ground opened up behind him.
 
Soil and loose dirt rose up, sloughing off frosted, brown fur, gleaming, white incisors, and thick, curved black claws. A piercing whistle filled the air was a groundhog the size of a town car hauled itself out of the earth and towered over him. There was clearly something unnatural going on; a silvery sigil burned on its brow and faint, golden wisps of smoke curled off it’s fur.
 
Wayne shouted in alarm and hastily turned the shield just as those wicked claws bore down on him. The impact and the fact that he was already off balance caused him to topple over and become pinned beneath the shield and the weight behind it.
 
Occult skidded to a stop, lest she run headlong into the confusing scene. “What the…”
 
“Feral Elle has returned!” A jubilant voice came from behind the groundhog. A moment later, Elle climbed out of the hole. She was caked in dirt, but looked quiet pleased with herself. “Did you see that? I bet none of you expected me to do that.”
 
Still beaming, she petted the groundhog’s side. “Good job, Duke.” To Occult, she added. “So what do you think? I’m thinking of naming the spell ‘Big, Big Whistle-Pig’.”
 
A noise to her right shook Occult out of her disbelief. Instead of answering, she snacked a component off her belt and presented it forcefully “Levanto esta pared!” A wall of red, translucent scales unfolded into Dana’s path as the latter was sliding across the grass to attack Elle.
 
The Knight struck out with her sword, raising a shower of hissing, white sparks. She was forced to back off as Theresa sent the swarm of bricks she’d been levitating pelting through the air at her.
 
“I hate this.” Dana muttered. With superhuman speed and precision, she parried or cut in half what she could, but in the process, she was still getting hit by broken chunks, that was making their presence known in scratches and bruises.
 
Ruefully, she recalled that while Amorocca, the being that gave she and Wayne their powers, did give them healing powers, those powers required her and Wayne to kiss to activate it. Cursing the mystic’s adherence to the ‘lovers’ theme, she decided to try and soldier through for now.
 
When the bricks let up, she charged the shield again, but this time, she didn’t swing at it. Instead, she acted on a hunch and raised a foot as she approached. The moment she made contact, she slid up the shield as easily as she could along even ground.
 
At the top, she used her momentum to throw herself into a flip and extended her foot so that she would come down hard on Elle’s skull.
 
Only Elle was suddenly tugged forcefully to the side, toward Jeremy and out of the path of Dana’s foot. She stumbled and rolled partway down the hill while Dana stuck the ground with meteor force and landed in a crouch.
 
Shifting to face Occult, Dana remained crouched and on guard. This one was the superhero; the one that played a part in defeating Inexorable and who, despite the sorceress never mentioning it, had foiled Morganna as well. She needed to be careful; she needed to change the playing field, because she couldn’t win this fight fairly.
 
As the two faced off, each waiting for the other’s next move, her attention turned to Duke the groundhog, who was still pinning Wayne and menacing him with his incisors. The girl– Feral Elle, apparently—controlled it and made it magically huge. How close was that to possession, she wondered.
 
“One way to find out.” She muttered.
 
“What?” Asked Occult.
 
“This.” Dana lunged, but sideways, sweeping her blade through Duke’s side.
 
She was rewarded by an even shriller whistle from Duke, who reared up on his back legs and convulsed, his spine twitching at odd angles. The golden smoke intensified briefly and the sigil seemed to shatter. Then Duke began to shrink.
 
Wayne rocked on his shoulders and pushed the rapidly normalizing woodchuck off his shield as he got to his feet. Duke rolled off and lay still, his already beady eyes dull and listless from the mind-numbing effects of the Sword that Defends.
 
Elle shouted her animal companion’s name and scrambled to her feet, rushing to him in spite of the danger.
 
“This is getting ridiculous.” Wayne said. “It’s not like we’re trying to make people into slaves.”
 
“Is that what you think?” Occult dipped her hand into her bag. “Then you haven’t been paying any attention. Morganna. Doesn’t. Care. We can all burn as far as she cares; just as long as she gets what she wants. And with how her mind works, what that is changes constantly. Siding with her is siding with a death sentence for anyone and everyone—completely at random. She’s been in my head, so I know.”
 
Dana’s features drained of frustration, but retained bitter resolve. “See, that’s the thing.”
 
“For us,” Wayne picked up on her line of thought instantly, “Death doesn’t mean as much. We know we’re coming back. And without her, we’re going to keep coming back again and again.”
 
“And always into a life being drawn to the person we hate most.” finished Dana.
 
“I could find a way—” Occult started.
 
“She already knows one.” Dana cut her off.
 
Occult felt a tremor under her feet. That, combined with the look on the Knights’ faces told her that Theresa was calling up something big behind her.
 
“Then it’s not ridiculous.” She said. “We have to fight just as hard as you do.”
 
***
“Mary Washington coming up on our eleven.” Codex reported from the cockpit of the Karasu no Yūrei. “Dropping the cloak.”
 
At the flip of a toggle, the refraction technology designed to make the jet appear invisible powered down, first allowing a blurry outline to appear before the full craft sprung into sight.
 
Darkness sat beside her, using one of the smaller displays to watch feeds from the internet surrounding happening at the university. At the moment, she was studying a still of the tower.
 
“That certainly wasn’t there when I was here before. What do we know about this thing?”
 
Codex tapped a small display of her own and sent a page from the Book of Reason. “It’s wizard’s tower. Part home, part laboratory, all magical equivalent of an AC to DC converter.
 
“Don’t tell Ian, but magic is a naturally occurring phenomena, just rarely observable these days. Just like the electromagnetic field every organism generates, every living thing also generates some level of magic—again, just not a great deal. And just like earth also has an electromagnetic field, it has a magical one too. The books are non-specific as to how or why, but it’s there and it has lines of force just like the EM field.
 
“The problem is, you average spellslinger can’t tap that power. They need to extract and convert it. Hence, the tower; a converter, capacitor and battery all in one, grown from a ‘seed’.”
 
The doors from the passenger cabin opened and Chaos came in, adjusting his gauntlets. “So Morganna got her hands on a magic bean and that’s the beanstalk. How do we chop it down?”
 
Codex shrugged as he, followed by Zero and Hope took the other seats in the cockpit. As they talked, she maneuvered the jet into a hover over the large quad not far from the tower. “The Karasu no Yūrei is a ninja troop carrier by way of a spy plane, it’s not exactly armed to the teeth.”
 
“We’ll need to clear out the crowd around it first anyway.” Darkness added.
 
“Of course.” Chaos nodded, “But we do have to break it to make it stop building a charge, right? That’s how all this magic stuff works; it can’t just be turned off and contained—we saw what happened when the military tried to lock up Mad-Mad’s scepter.”
 
“Why can’t you just do that exploding ball of light?” asked Hope.
 
“The Chaos Nova’s about as damaging as one of those dangerous fireworks, which is to say ‘not very’.” Chaos looked to Darkness. “Dark Chaos Nova?”
 
Codex shook her head. “We’re talking about taking down a building here. You can’t do that with a hand grenade.”
 
“Sure which we had our big, dumb chemistry nerd.” Hope muttered.
 
Zero blinked at her from behind her half-mask. “Why would we need—oh! I get it, because he could make a big block of sodium and get it wet—or plutonium!”
 
The others fell silent for a long moment. Finally, Codex reached out and touched Zero’s arm. “Jun, sweetie… we might have to have a lot of words with the governor if we nuked Fredericksburg.”
 
“I only meant a little bit of plutonium.” Zero said quietly.
 
“The point’s moot anyway.” Darkness quickly put in. She reached over and opened a com link. “Tink, are you there?”
 
“Right here, Ms… Darkness.” Tink’s voice returned.
 
“Great, how’s our boy?”
 
“Well, he’s not throwing up anymore. Just kind of curled up on the couch, muttering about killing JC.”
 
Hope folded her arms. “Serves him right, eating at a place called Uncle Buck’s Pork Pit.”
 
“So… do you need anything?” Tink asked.
 
“Just checking in. We’re working on a plan of attack and it came up that he’s the best at demolitions.” Darkness said, shooting a look at Hope.
 
“What needs demolishing?” Tink asked. Her confusion was justified; the last she’d heard, they were answering Kay’s distress call at a university.
 
Codex turned back to the main console and moved some files around before sending them back to her workshop. “A ten story, granite tower, possible reenforced by magic. I’m sending you the scanning information I’ve taken of it. IF you can find a way for us to destroy it, it would help a lot. Do you mind?”
 
“Not at all.”
 
“Great.” said Codex. “Alright, first thing’s first everyone—we clear the area around the tower for when it comes time to deal with the tower or whatever else Morganna does and back up Occult.”
 
***
If he wasn’t becoming used to magic to a worrying degree, Jay would have thought his eyes were playing tricks on him.
 
The basin has been filled and now that no more glittering mist was pouring into it, the sapphire liquid was so still that it might have actually been a gemstone. And like amber, there was something caught in the heart of that gem.
 
The corpse of Elise of Halfren, who would become Morganna, lay in repose inches beneath the surface. If he looked closely, he could see her chest gently rising and falling. Without a mind, without a soul, she still breathed, even while submerged.
 
Morganna leaned over the basin, dangerously close to falling in, with her face almost touching the liquid. She was dressed in a simple wool dress that had been patched many times and even still was still frayed and worn. It was a dress that had been well loved to the point that even in her madness, she was recreating it from memory out of the sheer volume of power coursing through the tower, replacing the white dress she’d been wearing previously. Only the woodling cloak draped over her shoulder, remained unchanged.
 
Showing uncharacteristic caution, she extended a hand, which dipped into the liquid without a ripple, to caress the body’s cheek.
 
For once, as Jay watched, he didn’t see the dangerously unstable sorceress he was used to. He saw a woman who was well aware of how much she had lost and who was so close to regaining not just her face, but a piece of herself.
 
Maybe this would fix whatever was wrong in her head and put an end to the carnival of insanity that she’d made of her life and the lives of all those around her.
 
As quickly as the moment started, it ended. She suddenly retreated from the body, standing bolt upright.
 
Her hair, which Jay hadn’t even realized had been pulled into a braid, came undone and fell in a tangle around her head. The dress distorted, incorporating a spray of mute colors and patches of leather and velvet until it was a manifestation of the woman’s mind.
 
She turned to the east and look up slightly, as if she could see through the walls of the tower.
 
“They’ve come to… stop me.” She intoned. Without looking at him, she spat a single word order, which was accompanied by a grinding of stone down below.
 
“Go.”

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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