Issue #6: Myths and Heroes

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

Part 2

Alexis quirked an eyebrow as she held up the items Laurel had handed her. “This isn’t a tactical suit, it’s a costume.” She regarded the formfitting bodysuit with a skeptical eye. It was mostly back with silver filigree and a silver belt. A black silk scarf was draped over the shoulders and fastened there with uncharacteristically bulky, rectangular fasteners. The shoes and gloves at least seemed practical; streamlined affairs that closed with zippers and had rugged mountain climbing treads. “Plus, I thought you said these would be armored.”

“They’re stylized because we don’t know where you’re going to end up having to go and we want any security or law enforcement to be thinking ‘prelate’ instead of ‘burglar’.” Laurel explained. “Oh, and it is armored.” She waved her hand at the outfit in a vague sort of way. “They’re made from an old Brant Industries prototype fabric – ballistic cloth. It’s made up of carbon nanotubes and specialized ceramics. Basically, it’s bulletproof, knife proof and heat resistant to an extent.”

“Why do I get the feeling that you had these made long before this whole Lisa Ortega issue came up?” Ian asked. His own body suit was dark red with diagonal black stripes along the rib cage. The shoulders were padded, as were the wrists of the gloves. A ceramic face mask and visor made up the headpiece.

“Because I did.” Laurel shrugged. “I started putting these together about a week after you helped the Kin. I figured that it was only a matter of time before we’d have to escalate things with the Academy if we want to help all the other kids they’ve captured.”

“You thought we’d start taking the fight to them as prelates?” Ian asked.

Laurel nodded. “I’ve considered all the options and it really is our best hope of stopping what’s happening. Prelates have a lot of public backing right now and seeing a few of them fighting against the Academy may be enough leverage to put some political pressure on them.” She chewed her lip. “But that was then and this is now. And right now, dealing with this Morganna situation is top priority.”

Alexis frowned at her. “That’s a last – and I mean last resort, Laurel. I’m not kidding. As much as I want to save everyone, we can’t risk the kids we’ve already saved by going public and playing prelate.”

The psionic genius gave her friend a reassuring smile. “There’ll be plenty of time to discuss that after you get back from this. Now, get suited up – and don’t forget your cowl. Hair as long as yours runs the risk of getting caught in things unless you put it up.”

“Then why did you give me a long scarf?”

“Because it’s not just a scarf – it’s another Brant Industries abandoned project – the omni-rope. If you take it off and depress the button on the left fastener a high frequency electrical current hardens it into a bō staff. I trust that semester of bōjutsu classes hasn’t been lost on you?” Alexis nodded, perplexed. “Anyway, the right fastener sends an ultra low frequency current that increases it’s elasticity by a factor of ten – the perfect rope.”

“Just out of curiosity,” Ian asked, “And I just know I’m going to regret this… but why were two stupidly useful inventions like those abandoned?”

“Money.” Laurel shrugged. “Apparently, the lives of law enforcement officials, firefighters and soldiers weren’t worth over a hundred thousand dollars per unit.”

“Jeez,” Ian remarked, “I kind of hoped that if I ever had an expensive suit, I’d be able to at least wear it someplace nice.”

“Well, right now, someplace nice is going to have to be Coltrane Avenue or the Garfield Zoo.” Laurel said.

“The zoo? When did that happen?” Alexis asked.

“A minute before you two got here. She must be up to something again.”

“So which one do we go to?” Ian asked.

“We split up.” Alexis said after a moment’s thought. “Ian, take Laurel’s SUV to the zoo, I’ll take my car and head into town. We can’t risk losing her trail again.”

***

Morganna pressed her hand against hot steel, a simple spell protecting her from being burned. With deft movements of her fingertips, she traced patterns down the length of the orange glowing steel shaft; they glowed white.

“Yes… striking from afar. That is… is how humans in this world fight – how this body fights. He will have to fight this way too.” Morganna mumbled as she quenched the spell wrought metal in the zoo’s ornamental fountain. Steam rose into the night.

When she raised it again, the eight foot length of the heavy lance dwarfed her easily. The only way she managed to hold it at all was due to some long term charms she had lain over her new body’s muscles.

Hefting the weapon, she took twenty paces from the fountain and turned back toward it. With impossible agility, she leveled the lance at it. “Strike!” She commanded, thrusting the lance. A sound like rushing steam gurgled from the lance and a blur of motion raced out from it and into the head of the fountain. Cement and lead piping cracked and exploded into a cloud of dust. Water burst upward in a torrent to rain down in an uneven circle.

“Perfect.” She said quietly as the impromptu rain plastered her hair to her face. “The lance is ready… my knight is ready… now he only needs a steed…”

***

Across town, a natural rain was beginning to fall. Alexis hit the switch to bring up the top on her convertible. Laurel had pointed out that such a large group needed two cars and had taken money from whatever funds she had hidden away and given it to Alexis to buy one. Her only stipulation was that Alexis wasn’t allowed to buy anything practical.

Despite Laurel basically forcing her into it, Alexis felt guilty for spending so much money on her brand new, midnight black convertible. Somewhere along the process, Laurel had changed some of the specifications; adding gold rims, a top of the line stereo system and an onboard computer that all but doubled as an auto-pilot. Once upon a time, that would have been her dream car. And even now, she had to admit that she felt a little giddy when she got up to speed with the top down.

At the moment though, she was barely creeping along the city streets, her eye on the computer display screen as Laurel sent more precise directions to the point of the astral breech. Her headlights played across the brick wall of an old theater as she turned onto Coltrane Avenue.

Suddenly, a figure lurched into view, waving its arms and shouting at her to stop. Alexis recognized Lisa from the girl’s countless visits to Freeland House. She put the car to a squealing halt and threw open her door. She didn’t have time to pull the cowl over her face first.

Lisa’s face lit up when she saw Alexis. “Ms. Keyes, thank God! I didn’t know how I was going to get home, and Aunt Tay needs help, quick!” She rushed over and hugged the older woman before Alexis could react.

Alexis took a step back and held Lisa back at arm’s distance. “Lisa? Is this really you… though if you weren’t I don’t expect the truth.”

Lisa nodded fiercely. “Yes, it’s me. I know what happened to Warrick and what she tried to do to Kay and everyone else – it was like I was doing it all myself– but please, you have to listen! She’s still out there and she’s got my Aunt Tay.”

“Slow down.” Alexis tried to remain calm, but something in her mind told her things were more dangerous than she realized. “Who is it that’s still out there?”

“Morganna.” She said, looking Alexis in the eye in an effort to show her she wasn’t crazy. “I know what you’re thinking, but I didn’t make her up – she’s real and she’s not like a regular person. She was like this thing that got into my head while I was dreaming.” She shook her head. “No, that’s not what I meant. I’m not crazy. I feel like I’m going to be, but I’m not. She was in my head, and I could see her memories. She’s from like a thousand years ago!”

Alexis put an arm around the panicking girl, trying to calm her down. “I believe you, okay?” she said without much commitment behind the words. “I’m here to stop her. Now where is she?”

Tears streamed down Lisa’s face. “Aunt Tay traded her head for mine. She let Morganna in so she’d leave me alone.” She leaned into Alexis and shivered. “She’s going to make her do horrible things now. She wants to make everyone believe in magic again, even if she has to kill a bunch of people. And she wants to…” she choked and held on to Alexis tighter. “She’s going to do experiments o-on psionics. People like Warrick and Kay.”

Alexis tried to school her face to hide her shock. Lisa’s concern was genuine and she didn’t seem to be mentally disturbed, which left only one option; someone really was out there using real magic with an axe to grind against psionics. “Lisa,” she said softly, “look at me, okay?” Through tear filled eyes, the girl did as instructed. Alexis tried to look far more serene than she actually was. “I’m going to stop Morganna, but I need to know where she is.”

“The zoo. S-she’s making something there, a weapon, I think. I didn’t understand most of the things involved.”

“Ian’s already there.” Alexis noted, “Get in the car; I need to take you home.”

Lisa’s eyes bulged with sudden concern. “No.” She said, “He’ll need you. We need to get there now– or he’ll die.”

***

Morganna stood on the rim of the ruined fountain, her head bowed, and a psychotic grin on her face. Rain and the spray from the fountain made her hair hang down in a heavy curtain over her face. The backpack, now almost empty sat open at her feet. “I… knew one of you would come looking for me.” She said loudly.

Ian stopped in his tracks. He had been trying to sneak around the aviary to get the drop on the lone figure. “You’re not Lisa.” He said, judging simply from the voice because the falling water made it impossible to see her clearly at that distance.

“I wasn’t even when I was.” She replied. “And… and now you’re here to try and… and stop me. You… things… you psionics. You just want to repress real power. Magic.”

“I’m just here to stop an innocent girl from ruining her life.” Ian said coolly, stepping out into the open. His feet splashed in the quickly forming puddles on the brick walkway. “I don’t know who the hell you are, but just let her come out and you can go back to boiling some ex-boyfriend’s bunny rabbit or something, okay?”

Morganna sneered behind her hair. “You don’t believe, do you? Even now that I’ve changed bodies? Even after… after all you’ve known me to do?”

“This whole magic thing that’s got some of my friends on edge? I’d really like to – and hell, I went to school with kids who did a hell of a lot more than pulling rabbits out of their ears – but it’s a lot to swallow that a sixteen year old girl suddenly takes an interest in the Matter of Britain and parlays it into phenomenal cosmic power.” Ian stopped some sixty feet from where she stood. The lamps lining the walkway reflected off his visor.

“The legend is true.” Morganna snarled. “Arthur the bear-man was real.” She straightened up, her dark eyes glittered with an almost alien light. “I cannot understand why you people are so… so stubborn. You live in a world where unicorns are real.” She mentally snapped the last measure of a spell in place, setting bestial fury loose and directing it toward Ian.

“What the hell? Unicorn—? “Ian was interrupted by a fearsome bellow from beyond a rock wall to his right. Before he could think about what had made the noise, the wall tumbled down, sending rocks clattering over the walkway. Rough grey skin rippled over massive muscles and three toed feet hammered the ground as something huge surged toward him.

Acting quickly Ian pushed his powers to the maximum. The wind howled as it catapulted him up and back away from whatever was charging him and leaving him to cling to the mesh wire dome of the aviary.

From that vantage point, he saw his assailant clearly. The monster looked like a rhinoceros; thick, hairless skin, prominent horn, and bulky body. But it was… wrong somehow. The horn was at least three feet long and so smooth that it looked lacquered; the secondary horn characteristic of white rhinos was missing entirely. Its skin was noticeably thicker, almost rigid except on the legs and joints, making it look more like it was wearing leather armor rather than simply thick skin. Its legs were noticeably longer, which accounted for its uncanny speed. Most disturbing were its eyes; they were much larger and shone with a feral, malevolent intelligence.

“That’s your unicorn?!” Ian shouted. “Excuse me if I don’t expect any fourteen year old girls fawning over this guy and wanting to brush his hair.”

“It seems you people discovered, then killed off—slaughtered all of their kind with only one horn.” Morganna retorted coldly. “So I had to make… fix this one. So it was proper. One horn.” She added, more to herself than to Ian. “And now I’ve made it want to kill you.”

“Great.” Ian said, trying to shinny further up the aviary dome. “You transmogrified a rhino into a unicorn from hell. You know, I’m starting to believe you might be for real about this magic stuff – how about you call him off and you can teach me how to cast Magic Missile?” He watched as the monster paced below the dome, waiting for him. Every once in a while, it glared up at him with its unearthly eyes.

“It is far too late… too late for you.” Morganna said in a sing song voice. “Psionics are… strange. I need to test them. Learn more. But.. but… but it doesn’t matter if you’re alive or dead for me to test you.” She added the last part with a sort of happy indifference.

“In case you haven’t noticed, Lady M,” Ian said, summoning all his courage in the hopes of forcing the madwoman into making a mistake that would allow him to escape, “Rover down there can’t climb up to get me.”

Morganna laughed an eerie cackle that made Ian wonder if he wasn’t better off dealing with the mutant rhinoceros. “My unicorn… it’s only a gift. Something he needs. A unicorn is just a mount. A white charger for my chosen. My knight.”

Ian realized that she wasn’t looking up at him. She was looking above him – he followed her gaze.

Morganna’s knight was the end result of an orangutan having been twisted by mystic forces. It stood around six feet tall on legs too long to belong to any natural creature of its species. Its face looked like it had been pushed in and pinched, giving it a more human appearance. A thick, leather loin cloth has been wrapped around its waist, but its chest was bare, showing scrawls of Celtic script etching into its chest in a rough circle above the sternum. Upon its brow rested three azure gemstones which glowed dimly in the night.

It wielded an eight foot lance in one hand as if it had been born with it there and wore a fetish of leather scraps and dried berries encircling a blood colored carnelian around it’s neck. Most impressively, it stood on the curved aviary dome with as much ease as any man could stand on terra firma.

“Your knight?!” Ian exclaimed, suddenly caught between a rock and a murderous rhinoceros. He shifted his grip and rolled over on the dome so he was now on his belly. “What the hell?”

“Instilled with the intellect of a man, and the honor of a soldier with the Rites of the Open Eye.” Morganna said her voice more clear than it had ever been. When it came to magic, she never needed to fumble for words. “He is my loyal knight, bound by blood to destroy my enemies.”

The hulking figure hefted its weapon and spoke in a rough, ancient voice. “My Lady has named me Lucian after the emperor of Rome. She has given me the title of Ape Knight. By her order, psionic creature, I will slay you.”

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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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