Issue #67 – Emet

This entry is part 7 of 16 in the series The Descendants Vol 6: Returns and Departures
Last Year
It had taken months.
First, there had been days, maybe weeks finding a ship to cling to. He’d taken the talents and characteristics of a strange bird, native to the land the Book had banished him to, and that helped him survive the chill and allow him to safely digest the raw fish and squid that became the entirety of his diet, but crossing the gulf between continents was impossible for him on muscle power alone.
Always the Books sang their siren song and it was that pull that told him when to let got and swim for shore. On the way, he’d been attacked by a large, predatory fish and traded the gifts of the birds of the frozen wastes for those of the aquatic terror. What he lost in weather resistance, he gained in new senses and the ability to breath underwater.
Once on land and out of the fishing village he found himself in, he filled a minor stone with the local language and got his bearings. He was in a place called Peru and that was very far indeed from the place called Mayfield.
Then there were months of travel. Always north, always without a single other care in his mind besides survival and the Books.
He traded the power of the shark for those of a young thief in a city in Brazil. It was a strange place, where in places the streets seemed to have once run like wax in extreme heat, and on almost every corner, there was nearly new construction and a monument to deaths little over ten years earlier. A great power had been unleashed on that place, and he only wished that something like that were in the palm of his hand.
In Columbia, he found a buffet of powers to choose from and it pained him to only have three stones capable of storing them. He spent several weeks there, harvesting as needed. There had been a man who never needed food, only sunlight and that cut down on living expenses greatly. Another man who could read minds with a touch allowed him to blend in seamlessly and learn quickly.
And just before he decided he’d tarried too long, he’d met a woman who could access the internet with her mind. Telepathy had seemed like a massive waste of time after that. And with that and two other powers he found useful in tow, he made his way north once more. His target was a place called Mayfield, one of many places called Mayfield in the nation called the United States, but the only one in the region called Virginia.
But first, he needed to make a stop or two…
Three Months Ago
Rabbi Leo Sasso stepped out of the commuter pod he’d taken into the heart of Savannah, Georgia and groaned inwardly as he looked at the colossal home improvement store across the lot from him. It looked more like a home improvement fortress to him. It was going to take hours to complete his list.
Normally, he preferred to stick with the small, single owner shops in his neighborhood. Things might cost more to account for the proprietors not depending on bulk sales for a profit, but things were easy to find, the people were friendly, and it was almost impossible to get lost in one of their stores. Here, he felt like he should be leaving bread crumbs.
But Mrs. Ross absolutely required a very specific shade of pink to repaint the chipped and cracked walls of her front room and Joe’s Hardware (run by Joe’s great, great grandson Will) didn’t have the fancy scanner that would detect the original color of the chip she’d given the rabbi and then mix that exact shade.
And he considered it the right thing to do; helping Mrs. Ross. The old lady didn’t have anyone since her husband passed away at eighty, and at one hundred and one (according to her, she’d been ‘pushing one hundred so long it didn’t surprise me that I’d finally knocked the damn thing down and ended up on the other side’.), she was frail even if she was as spirited as ever. So even though she was demanding and finicky and referred to him as ‘Father’ even though she certainly had to know the difference, he was willing to deal with the hassle of the labyrinthine store so his elderly neighbor could enjoy her favorite room.
As he walked out of the pod station, intent on getting things done quickly, he became acutely aware of a sensation like heat rising up along his back and across his neck. He’d felt that sort of thing once before, in Los Angeles. He’d been there for a rabbinical conference and between lectures and events, he’d visited a museum.
There had been a very interesting exhibit on meteors there, but one fragment, a chunk apparently made almost entirely of iron, but peppered through with yellow flecks the placard said were comprised of an incredibly complex molecule, had caught his attention. Because it had engendered in him the same feeling. A feeling he couldn’t put his finger on except that it was wrong. Somehow, it felt wrong on all levels; physically, mentally, morally, even philosophically, as if he was in the presence of something that just shouldn’t be here. Not ‘there’. ‘Here’. As in everywhere.
And now that feeling was back and it was more present in the air around him than before: the difference between feeling a match and feeling a blast furnace.
Before he could do anything about it, a voice behind him spoke.
“Rabbis are teachers.” The speaker was male and with notable confidence, as he wasn’t trying to deepen his voice or affect a growl. He was just calm. Calm and nothing else.
Rabbi Sasso turned and saw a man standing behind him; tall, broad shouldered, with long, hark hair handing down. He had a baseball cap on and pulled down, but his jaw was visible, showing bronze skin and smoothness that had never needed a razor. The figure was dressed in a long-sleeved shirt that buttoned in the front and jeans that had been worn in the knees from much walking. Through the shirt, there was a yellowish glow, as if he had lights on under there.
Which wasn’t unheard of. In the last month alone, the rabbi had been called on by parents to council against interfacing. And some of the things the kids wanted to do to themselves were much, much less tame than installing some lights.
The stranger kept speaking calmly, but a hint of excitement tinted his words. “Ordained as yore yore: ‘He shall teach’, right? In a very literally way, it’s your divine mission.”
The feeling of utter wrongness was growing and the rabbi wanted to get away from this man because of it. And that bothered him more because that didn’t seem like him at all; running away from someone just asking a simple question. So he planted his feet and nodded. “One of my responsibilities, yes. How can I help you?”
A smile crossed the man’s face and again, the rabbi wanted to run. It was like being a mouse looking at another mouse who was slowly but surely turning into a cat. Only the cat was just in his head—wasn’t it?
“You’re a good man, Rabbi. Everyone says so. How good and wise and helpful you are. How close you are to God.”
Why did that sound like an accusation? Rabbi Sasso felt himself take a step back. “That’s very kind of them.” He said just to say something, as if that was what was keeping something terrible from happening.
“I hear it takes years of diligent study to get that far. Many, many years. Unfortunately, I don’t have the kind of time. But fortunately…” said the man, raising a clenched fist, but not in a threatening manner; it was palm-up. When he opened it, the light from the overcast sky caught on a messy handful of diamond jewelry: necklaces, bracelets and earrings, all jumbled in a heap.
Curiosity and confusion temporarily stayed Rabbi Sasso from flight. “What… what is this about? This makes no sense.”
“Oh, it does to me.” The diamonds were glittering now, more than the ambient light should have allowed. He raised the other hand, palm forward, revealing a smoothed chunk of amber embedded there. “Combine to the power of a Warped Star.”
A shovel was hurled out of a deep pit that marred a field somewhere in Abemarle County, Virginia. It did a clumsy half flip in the air, then landed blade first in the earth, where it quivered for a moment before the soft, red Virginia clay gave way and the shovel tipped over and landed with a clatter.
It was followed momentarily by a man. With grunts off effort, he dragged himself up out of the pit he’d made, the red mud streaking his skin. Once out, he rose up and exalted in the still-warm sun of early autumn already baking the mud caking him.
One of the powers he’d stolen for a short time in Columbia was that of a shapechanger, and once he relinquished them, the alterations he’d made to himself remained. He was bulkier now; not musclebound, but broad across the chest and shoulders and narrow at the hip. It was the body of a proud brave; the one childhood sickness and a supposedly respectable apprenticeship in the ways of healing and religious ceremony had robbed him of.
But even then, he was still himself: still his face, still his hands, and most certainly still his collection of smooth-worn amber colored stones embedded in patterns running up his arms, in his palms, and across his chest. The three largest were arranged front and center, burning bright with stored essence.
It had been hundreds of years since his real name mattered. In the present, he was a new creature, transformed by the fallen gems he’d gathered and learned to use. He was the child of a warped star and so, he was simply Warpstar.
He ran his fingers through his thick, dark hair, not so much combing out the clumps of mud there as smoothing them uniformly, and turned to look back down into the pit he’d crawled out of.
It was over six feet deep, teen feet long, and five wide, cut into the earth and surrounded by all the rocks that once occupied the space now vacated. At the bottom was a humanoid form, eight feet tall and so wide at the shoulder that it barely fit into the pit. Its shape was rough; a head, shoulders, arms and legs, like a gigantic voodoo doll; the only detail on it being four symbols engraved on its forehead.
A small, satisfied smile came to Warpstar’s features as he raised his eyes to look at his handiwork. That pit was only the last one. The field he stood in the covered with them; dozens of perfectly rectangular holes in the ground, dug out wherever and however his fancy had struck him.
With the smile spreading into one of manic glee, Warpstar touched one of the major stones embedded in his chest, the one that contained the essential elements he’d stolen from Rabbi Sasso. The amber light of the stone suffused the air and then exploded outward in a wave, like the dust cloud of a collapsing building. It settled into the pits, shaping and baking mud into clay, putting power into the single word placed on each brow of each hulking thing he’d given form to in the pits.
He raised a glowing fist and spoke a single word: “Emet.
And the creatures of clay and the fire of Creation rose.
Warrick was starting to believe that the first lesson he was meant to learn in college was that most of the class summaries in the catalog they gave him at registration had been either honest examples of incompetence or vicious lies.
First, his Freshman level acting class had turned out to be ninety-percent about yoga and ten percent talking about feelings. Simply holding in his annoyance, disappointment and embarrassment was probably teaching him more about the craft of acting than what they were doing.
And second, the Freshman level Mythology class he’d picked because as a child of pop culture, he already knew all about Thor and Zeus and Ra seemed to have been designed specifically to punish people who took the class for that reason. Apparently sensing that her students planned to skate by on pop cultural osmosis, Professor Tatum had front-loaded the syllabus with African, Indian, Native American and Jewish mythology as a scholarly spike strip to their getaway cars of laziness.
The class was an hour and a half lecture wherein Professor Tatum, who was an excellent storyteller would spend fifteen minutes to half an hour telling a story, then the rest of the time breaking it down into its cultural and social influences and impacts, permutations on the tale, and other very important and serious details Warrick felt sucked the fun out of the story.
As they’d just finished up their unit on African myths with How Ananzi Got His Stories, that day they were starting Jewish mythology at the begging—well, near the beginning, with Lilith.
He tried to keep from making a face even though he didn’t know what kind of face he would be making. After all, he could sympathize with Adam on that one; he’d dated someone that ended up with a superpowered evil side that was really very close to a demon.
Well, a traditional demon. He’d also run into real demons, or at least a species that called themselves that. He hadn’t had much time to flip through the textbook on his tablet, but he doubted there was anything like them in there. Which got him to wondering just how much of mythology was actually true. Faerie was a place, after all, and magic, demons, gremlins and what were either Tolkein-style elves or sidhe called daoine were all things that really existed.
And once you went there, anything was possible. Why not vampires and goblins and pixies? Maybe somewhere out there, there really was the Mother of All Ex-wives in the form of Lilith. In which case, he decided, he’d better start paying better attention.
“Hey, did you take notes yesterday?”
Of course, the moment he chose to pay attention, someone decided to distract him. Luckily Professor Tatum was setting up a presentation on the projector, so he nodded and turned to synch his tablet with the person asking.
And then he froze.
Some tiny part of his mind remembered seeing her before and taking note of her the same way he took note of any pretty girls that crossed his line of sight. He couldn’t control it; having a girlfriend didn’t make pretty girls unpleasing to the eye, after all. Only he so, so wished that was true at least for this particular girl.
As he’d noticed before, she cut her dark brown hair very short in back, leaving it long in front to frame her round face and fall almost obscuring her right eye in front. He couldn’t see her eyes because, as was usual for her, she wore small, round sunglasses perched on the end of her nose. And of course he’d noticed her body: definitely not skinny, maybe a little on the heavy side for some, but a lot of that heft was muscle; she worked out a lot.
What he hadn’t registered on other days was on display. She was wearing jean shorts and a light gray tank top that exposed the very conspicuous seam below her right shoulder where her flesh and blood arm ended and the artificial one began.
And just seeing that, he was suddenly able to place her face and from there, gibbering panic set up shop in his head and stymied any of the words trying to make their way out. “Urk.” He said eloquently, offering his tablet.
“Thanks.” She said, keeping her voice down out of respect for the Professor. As she waited for the file transfer of his notes, she sighed. “Is this part of your major, or are you here to fill out that wonderful Liberal Arts laundry list of requirements too?”
Warrick pretended to look at the tablet just to keep himself from looking at her and seeing her as she would look in twenty years. This time he forced words out, but had no control over anything approaching sentence structure. “Chemistry.” He said with a suddenly dry throat. “Acting.”
“That’s… certainly a combination of two majors.” She said with a smile he recognized and wished he didn’t. “I’m just plain old Com-Sci, focused on robotics programming.”
He could have nodded and left it at that, because god knew, he didn’t want this to carry on any further than it had to. But his brain wasn’t working right at the moment and instead of doing what he should have, he blurted: ‘Like with your arm’.”
Instead of getting self conscious about it, she shrugged. “Yeah, but I’m more interested in actual robots and AI. I was into this kind of thing long before this happened. She rolled her artificial wrist for emphasis. It was a very good prosthetic: if she covered her shoulders, it would have been hard to notice at all.
Then she glanced up and saw that the Professor was done setting up her presentation and gestured for Warrick to turn back around. “Oops. Class is back in session. Maybe you can explain to me why Chemistry and Acting after class.”
There was nothing for it but to nod dumbly. That and try to breath slowly to avoid a freakout.
Because even having never spoke to her n his life, Warrick knew her name: Meghan Rockwell. The artificial arm was on the wrong side, but it was her, definitely her. And in a timeline that never came to pass, never would come to pass, she’d been Meghan Kaine: his wife.

About Vaal

Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter. You can also purchase his books from all major platforms from the bookstore
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