Issue #6: Myths and Heroes

This entry is part 7 of 15 in the series The Descendants Vol 1: Welcome to Freeland House

Mystic Spiral Part 2

Laurel’s fingers flew over her keyboard. The glow of multiple monitors the only light illuminating her workshop. It had been six days since Lisa had disappeared and she had barely uncovered any scraps of information that were useful in any way.

The name Morganna, Morgan, Morgaine, or any other permutation of such that traditionally preceded ‘le Fay’ was a dead end. The Academy had never given that designation to any psionic or Enforcer agent in their database, nor was any prelate currently operating in North America using it as a handle.

The only modern connection to the name came two separate headlines chronicling the discovery of a 12th century painting titled Portrait of Morganna le Fay and its subsequent theft during Life Savers Inc’s battle with the rogue psionic, Cinder. It was possible that Cinder had been working with a partner, but he had slipped police custody, leaving Laurel with just another dead end.

Lisa’s erratic behavior and new power set hardly matched the modus operandi of an art thief. A small time art thief at that, considering the Portrait was only valued at perhaps fifty thousand dollars; a far fall from its priceless status during the time of the Knights Templar. That meant that either Laurel was missing something or it was merely a coincidence.

She filed it in her ‘maybe’ pile along with that week’s reports of mysterious animal disappearances at the Garfield Zoo and equally perplexing broad daylight thefts from plant nurseries and jewelry stores in the same time period. Given the seemingly random array of powers Lisa had reportedly manifested, Laurel couldn’t put it past her.

The break came when Kareem had spoken to her on the night after Warrick came home from the hospital. Since his arrival at Freeland House, he had been primarily a creature on the Astral Plane; the world of mental energy adjacent to the Material Plane. Science hadn’t even been aware of the place thirty years ago and as far as Laurel knew, Kareem was the only person to remain crossed over for more than twenty-four hours. He’d crushed the recorded record for astral projection by an order of magnitude.

His intimate and unprecedented connection to the plane was probably why he was the only one to notice what he termed the ‘ripples’ along the Astral.

As he explained it; most people touch the Astral when they have particularly vivid dreams. These contacts with the plane sent gentle ripples within a limited range akin to leaves landing on still water. He confided that even Melissa’s emotion filled nightmares, or Cyn’s occasional night terrors – while causing noticeable turbulence on the Astral – seldom affected anything further than the confines of the house.

The day of Lisa’s disappearance, however, Kareem had felt something he described as being ‘as if someone had thrown a piano in a swimming pool’. The ripples from that event had washed all the way to The Hills from somewhere in Mayfield and had been followed by numerous smaller, but just as uncharacteristically powerful pulses for days thereafter. His guess was that someone had crossed physically onto the Astral Plane and it worried him greatly.

Upon further analysis, Laurel had discovered that the devices she had built to allow Kareem to communicate via monitors and speakers were picking up some sort of interference. She had quickly repaired it, but suddenly realized that that like radio waves, the special frequencies she used to connect Kareem with his communications devices could be traced.

To that end, she had sent every able bodied Freeland Houser out with almost a dozen hastily cobbled together transceivers to mount them to spots all over Mayfield. The main receiver was planted atop Freeland House and connected to Laurel’s main processor.

For two days, she’d lain in wait for the Astral hopping to continue. Who ever had been doing it had slowed down since their original flurry of activity. What few disturbances that had occurred had been too small to properly triangulate. But Laurel had been patient, manning the monitor day and night with only the food her friends bought up to her and the caffeine she had hoarded in her mini-fridge to sustain her.

All she needed was a stronger signal and she would be able to at least get a location – a start to her so far fruitless investigation. Luckily for her, other forces were conspiring to ensure Laurel was about to get all the signal she needed.

***

In traditional fantasy, wizards made their lairs in lonely stone towers or the high parapets of castles. In the distant past, this was only rarely true; with most wizards living in the same huts and houses anyone else lived in. None were ever forced to take up residence in a tin roofed lean-to atop one of Mayfield’s many multistoried buildings..

It was one of several erected by the local homeless in a feat of engineering prowess common to people forced to survive by their wits. A bit of rudimentary fire starting had managed to frighten all of the previous tenants away, leaving Morganna with the rooftop shanty town to herself.

Here, she stored her now vast library of ‘collected’ reagents; some living, some formerly living. Amid piles of what others would term ‘junk’, Morganna worked over a mortar and pestle, mumbling to herself.

“It’ll be soon now, yes.” She muttered, crushing fish bones into powder along with an assortment of dried leaves. “He’s… he’s… perfect. He needs to be perfect. I’ll make him perfect. Magic… will make him perfect…”

Beside her, something thrashed in a tank of water. It was, in many ways, a large badger, but its tail was flattened and black, as were its paws. Its muzzle was leathery and looked more like a duck’s bill than anything else. Morganna paused and regarded it for a bit.

“Platypus.” She said after a long moment of trying to remember the right name for the creature. “Why did… I do that again?” She blinked at it. “Was there… why did I make something like that again?” something assured her that she had, in fact, not created the platypus; that it was a natural creature, but she knew that was absurd. With a few confused blinks, she went back to work on the charm she was making.

“When you were little, you hated platypuses.” someone said.

Morganna’s head came up so fast, it was a wonder her neck didn’t snap. She focused, in her odd way of looking straight through a person, on the dark haired woman standing on top of the shelter across from her own.

Tatiana Farnsworth, Lady Nightshade, was dressed in a simple grey shirt with dark slacks and a backpack slung over one shoulder. “You thought they were scary.” she continued, a wistful air in her voice. “Actually, pretty much all animals scared you,” She laughed at a fond memory. “Toni was afraid she’d had to get rid of her parrot because you couldn’t stand being alone in the room with it.”

The intruder locked eyes with Morganna and jumped lightly to stand at the entrance of the dwelling. “As far as I know, you’re still uncomfortable with animals.” She continued. “And yet here you are, sitting in a tin shack with little cages full of newts and spiders and snakes…” She counted off the various captive animals as her eyes fell on them.

“Who…who… who are you?” Morganna muttered, sitting up on her haunches.

“It sounds like there’s an owl here too.” Lady Nightshade said, moving closer with animal grace. “As for who I am… I’m someone who’s starting to put the pieces together. You know, in high school, Toni and I fancied ourselves witches—mostly burning pictures of old boyfriends with spices or trying to make potions to make us so smart we didn’t need to study – but you get the picture.” She crept even closer. “The point is, I think you’re the real thing, or something like it. You messed with my head and made me mouth off to Liedecker – then you convinced me to give that painting to Lisa.”

She unslung the backpack from her shoulder and opened the zipper. “What I don’t understand is this: what the hell is the point of the painting?” She produced the painting, its colors slightly faded, but otherwise exactly as it appeared when she had stolen it. “I found it under Lisa’s bed. What is it? Something out of Dorian Gray? A voodoo doll type deal to let you control my niece?”

“A trap.” Morganna muttered. “Stole my soul and trapped it…trapped it forever – that’s what they hoped.” She crouched, shivering like a feral cat caught between the want to strike out and the want to flee. “But I got out… fought my way out. You… you’re one of them. I couldn’t use you, but your… niece… she was good.”

“One of them what?” Nightshade growled, fighting to keep her rage down. She wanted nothing more than to kill Morganna, but until she found out what effect that would have on Lisa, she couldn’t risk it.

“Psionic. I couldn’t take you, because… because you’re a psionic.” Morganna muttered. “You’re different – wrong. I can’t use you unless invited.”

Nightshade blinked. “You’re inside Lisa then. Possessing her like a demon?”

Harsh laughter answered her. “There’s no… no such thing as demons.” She grinned manically. “I’m not in her. Mo, she’s inside me, pressed down. She’s quiet now.” She started laughing at the thought.

Nightshade’s teeth ground. She didn’t know how to save her niece, but the first step was to stop the monster inside her. “You—you ARE a demon!” She shouted, lunging at her.

Still laughing, Morganna reached into a felt pouch nearby and drew out a plastic cup in which a handful of crude darts had been pushed into a soaked wad of cotton. She suddenly remembered why she had taken the platypus.

Before Nightshade reached her, Morganna flicked one of the darts at her, hitting her in her right bicep. A few motes of enhancing magic empowered the poison, speeding its course through Nightshade’s bloodstream. Convulsing, Tatiana collapsed on the concrete roof, overturning a few stray potted plants as she did.

“They’re poisonous.” Morganna said standing and moving over to Nightshade’s side. Something in the back of her mind felt bad seeing her like that. “Platypus. They have venom. Imagine that… a vermin that’s poisonous.” She crouched down, watching Tatiana struggling against the blinding pain that now took over her body. “You care about this body… its old soul?” She noted. “Why?”

“S-she’s my niece.” Nightshade hissed through the pain. “M-my family.”

“I had… family. A son. They took him… before they trapped me… trapped me in the painting.” Morganna said without emotion. “Now… now, I think your niece… yes, she can have what I couldn’t… give my lovely Mordred.” She started to stand but Nightshade grabbed her shirt.

“Wait!” She gasped at the sorceress. “P-please. Let her go!”

Morganna grabbed the offending hand and considered using the contact to make the poison more painful, then giggled. “I need… need a body so I can live, no?” Love and pain were a perfect combination to not only break down mental defenses, but to convince people to submit to anything.

Tatiana didn’t even pause to think about it. “Take me.” She breathed. “I… I’m the one you wanted in the first place. I-I’m the one with powers. They’re all yours – just let Lisa go.” The tears in her eyes weren’t from the incapacitating pain any longer.

The sorceress smiled. Crouching closer to her writhing victim, she twisted Antonia’s silver ring from her finger and placed it on Tatiana’s finger. “I accept.” She said before starting a low, haunting chant. One hand reached out and grabbed a handful of leaves and dropped them over Tatiana’s face.

Immediately, the pain eased, though fighting was no longer an option for Lady Nightshade. “Lisa…” she whispered as Morganna pressed some kind of gemstone to her forehead, “If you can hear me… take care of your mother and Zack.” Then perception collapsed upon itself.

***

Running her hands through her slightly shorter new hair, Morganna frowned at her clothes. She much preferred the girl, Lisa’s wardrobe. That thought made her eye stray to her former vessel, lying on her back, breathing shallowly. In some ways, she missed it already.

“Still…” she muttered, picking up Nightshade’s backpack, “this one is… better. Faster. More agile and… the power…” She looked down at the painting that had been her prison for the past several centuries. With her anger, she felt a new sensation – the psionic power innate in her new body. It tingled in her fingers, almost begging to be used. It felt like no magic she’d ever felt before.

Flicking her hand at the painting, she was delighted to feel lines of force suddenly pull taunt between it and herself. It fell in two halves, bisected with surgical precision. Laughing, she flicked her power at a rose plant she had acquired, removing all the leaves along its left side. Another flick aimed at one of the tin buildings outside. There was a rending sound and a few inches of tin pealed back under the assault.

She frowned at this. There was a limit to this power; both in range and how much damage it could actually inflict on a target. Still, a spell that precise would take an hour of preparation and a small diamond, so she couldn’t argue with the ease of use.

After a few more moments of throwing her new power around, she remembered that she had something to do this night. Grabbing Nightshade’s backpack, she began shoving reagents that might be useful into it. As she did, she giggled in anticipation – a quick sifting of Nightshade’s memory revealed that her new body owned one of those wondrous machines – a motorcycle – and had parked it a block from where she stood.

***

Laurel popped open another can of cola and blinked sleep from her eyes. She’d gone almost three days without sleep. Truth be told, she had gone much longer without it on occasion, but this time was important, she needed to be alert in case –

One of her monitors flashed red. All of the transceivers were responding to something BIG. One had even overloaded and fallen silent. A few keystrokes brought up the numbers the transceivers sent her. Laurel did her own triangulation – she was more accurate than the computer.

Within seconds, she had her cell phone open, dialing Ian’s room phone. “Ian,” She said before he could properly answer her. “Wake Alexis up and come to my workshop. I just got a huge hit coming from the 1300 block of Coltrane Avenue. I need to get you guys suited up and out the door ASAP.

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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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