The Descendants #104 – VIRAL Chp.4

This entry is part 53 of 55 in the series Current

Denial was a powerful thing.

For Alexis’s part, she’d tried to bury and ignore what a kitsune had taunted her with what seemed like ages ago: That the entity that once possessed her, the magical construct of angry lost souls known as the Fall Angel was still somewhere lurking in her head.

The thing that terrified her was that she’d sort of known since the day it first entered her life, her mind and her nightmares. She’d always had a vague feeling that something was wrong, but couldn’t quite grasp it. Whenever she would wonder how she was getting more proficient with her powers when her involvement at the school and wedding planning precluded her training, something always distracted her, no matter how menial. Whenever she thought back to the moment when the creature was exorcised from her, she found it too painful to dwell on it.

But when she focused on Maeve, the being the Angel was created to avenge its component parts against, it was with a clarity she rarely knew.

It had remained inside her after having failed to force her and the others to do what it wanted. Instead, it tried to be subtle now, steering her in the right direction and trying to forge her into is weapon of vengeance.

Now ignoring it wasn’t an option.

Now was the time for confrontation.

“Okay,” she said, knowing full well how insane she might sound if anyone else were around, “I know you’re there. You know I know this and even if you’ve been able to play a few tricks, you can’t stop me from going to Codex and Occult or even the Magi Club and getting them to find a way to either exorcise you or contain me in such a way that you won’t get anywhere with your goals. You’ll have to just sit on the sidelines while the others defeat Maeve without you and without me.”

It was impossible to describe the feeling that briefly overtook her. It started at the base of her spine, traveled up it and then down into her stomach until finally settling heavily in her chest.

“But if you help me, I’ll redirect our efforts from trying to defend against Maeve to taking the fight to her. And if we find a way to make it happen, I promise you the… the killing blow.”

The feeling pulsed within her. The Angel was listening.

“Good. Then we need to stop that thing that has Ian—and get him back to me safely. That last part? Non-negotiable.”

She was rewarded with the feeling of surging heat all over her body Followed by an insistent pressure. Something wanted in and that too was non-negotiable. It was purely symbolic when she opened her mouth and felt the heat fill her.

Now. The voice of legion boomed both inside and out, we are one.

Black heat—dark matter—erupted from every pore of her body. The black ballistic cloth body suit, bo staff and infrared goggles that were her Darkness costume were annihilated, replaced by an ebon breastplate over a flowing gown of dark matter scales slit to the hip, knee-high boots with three-inch heels, a black-winged helm with a visor, and a glaive.

As Celtic symbols drew themselves across her rapidly-paling skin, a pair of gigantic wings formed themselves from the dark matter, unfurling from her back.

She took wing, flying with terrific speed, following the direction Viral had gone.

***

The blast of dark matter hadn’t gone unnoticed by those on the ground.

“Nothing like this was in our profiles on Keyes,” Klass exclaimed in an awestruck voice as she split her attention between the instruments on her tablet and the actual sight of the Angel-possessed Darkness flying overhead. “When did she learn to do that.”

“Keep the fact that you didn’t expect this in mind when you report back to your leadership,” Laurel said sharply. Her expression was set into a rigid mask of concern for her friend. She hadn’t expected or planned for this possibility either.

At the same time, she was hard at work on her own tablet, working to take control of any cameras in the city that might be watching the sky in order to track her friends’ movements. “We need to get moving. Follow them.” She then hit the comms. “Vamanos, keep me up to date about what Chaos is doing. Ephemeral, come back we’re going to have to run interference and keep the citizens out of harm’s way.”

What she didn’t add was the possibility that neither of them might be in their right minds.

Bernhardt grumbled something to Klass before climbing into the driver’s seat and giving chase.

***

Viral was regretting destroying Ian’s visor. Even after growing a second set of rigid lenses over its eyes, the wind of its flight was still disorienting. Add to that the fact that it only knew a vague location for its destination and it was slow going for the escaped experiment.

Its frustration was mounting and it was getting tempted to land and find an internet connection to find directions.

That was until a painfully hot lash struck it across its back, breaking its concentration and sending it spinning end over end through the air until it struck the corner of a building. Digging its claws into the concrete, it steadied itself and scanned the sky to see where the attack came from.

What it saw made its host falter in his attempts to break free of their bond.

“What is this?” It demanded. None of its knowledge even hinted at such a thing existing in nature. The fact that it could fly, even with such disproportionately-sized wings, was an impossibility in and of itself. And that made it just plain angry.

Bracing its feet against the building, it pushed off and supplemented its leap with a blast of wind that sent it like a bullet toward the Angel, claws at the ready. She met it with the shaft of her glaive, blocking its first strike and dodging the second. Then she slammed a fist into its chest and let loose a blast of dark matter that drove it from the sky and slammed it into the street below.

Its body dug a sixty-foot furrow and sent incoming cars screeching out of the way to avoid it.

There was barely a beat before a miniature tornado kicked up and Viral stood from the furrow. Debris was caught up in the winds and began scouring the area around it and rushing out toward the surrounding civilians.

This was in turn intercepted by the Angel’s wings as she swooped down and extended her wings, allowing intensified heat from their dark matter makeup to destroy it. Glaring through her helm, she leveled her glaive at him.

“I’m not going to let you hurt anyone.”

Viral looked around, noticing the fleeing people through gapes in the Angel’s pinions. It had barely been aware of them beyond an intellectual level. After a moment, understanding dawned in the creature’s wide, glassy eyes. “Ah. I understand.”

Then it hurled itself into the air in a blast of wind and flew off down the street. It didn’t go far before it found what it needed: a street meat vendor. Alighting in a rush, it shoulder-checked the man selling hot dogs and brats hard into the side of a parked car and tore open the side of the cart with one powerful swipe of its claw.

Water and steam belched out of the stricken cart with a roar. Viral stood in the middle of it, immune to the scalding steam, and condensed water into a sphere just larger than a medicine ball.

It purposefully waited for the Angel to give chase before launching the largest Chaos Nova Ina had ever generated into the corner of the building across the street. It wasn’t a powerful enough explosion to bring the structure down, but it did shatter windows all the way up to the twelfth story and dislodged a bolted on balcony, sending it and a storm of glass shards plummeting toward the pedestrians below.

Reacting on instinct, the Angel flung out a hand and called dark matter out of the ether. The stuff grew rampantly, forming a crystalline lattice that spanned the distance across two streets across three buildings, a rigid net that caught the glass and the balcony before they could do harm.

But they had already done their job.

With its distraction in place, Viral was off again, flying in the midst of a full-blown tornado, purposefully using the air pressure to blow out every window it passed to keep its pursuer busy.

***

It also kept Vamanos busy as she tore up down the street, grabbing anyone in the path of the falling glass and dragging them to safety at dizzying speed.

Back in the van, Laurel, Kareem and Klass were watching the running battle. “Remarkable,” Klass said, “Look how quickly the specimen is mastering the host’s powers. We never imagined the neural interface could allow that. And how it ascertained that Miss Keyes was protecting civilians and used it against her. We absolutely need to perform a full autopsy of this once we get it back to the lab. The data will be invaluable in creating the second generation.”

“There’s not going to be a second generation,” Laurel cut her off with a glare. “If you think we’re going to let you go back to formula and make something even worse you can lose control of, you are sadly mistaken.”

Klass looked at her as if she’s just told her pi was exactly three. “Are we not watching the same footage? This is artificial life. Artificial intelligence. A completely man-made entity demonstrating remarkable emergent abilities and behavior. Doesn’t that excite you?”

“Surprisingly I value science while not being a sociopath.” Laurel continued to glare. “What I see is a deadly animal putting my two very best friends and hundreds of civilians in danger. Are you too enchanted by the thing you made but don’t understand to notice the hail of broken glass out there?”

While Klass fumed indignantly, Bernhardt spoke up from the driver’s seat. “I think I know where the specimen is headed.”

“Now that’s actually useful,” Laurel said, staring Klass in the eye. “Where?”

“Based on the general direction and the specimen’s growing control over Ian Smythe’s fluid control properties, I believe it would seek out the most versatile fluid available in large quantities. That being the molten iron used in Pittsburgh’s steel works. Imagine the combat potential it would see in having access to that.”

“Only if it knows a way to keep the iron in a fluid state. The second it cools and solidifies, Ian’s powers will stop working on it. No, there has to be something else it’s looking for of it’s as smart as you make it out to be.” she paused, brows suddenly knitting together in sudden thought. “It’s the rivers. That’s all it needs to take maximum advantage of Ian’s power. Rivers equal infinite ammunition and infinite material. What’s making it move erratically is that it’s spoiled for choice and not used to making those types of decisions. It doesn’t have the information to pick a tactically superior place to make its stand.”

She didn’t wait to hear what the scientists had to say, instead turning to Kareem. “We have to do everything we can to stop it from making that choice. Do you think you can attack its mind?”

“Assuming there’s anything I’m capable of targeting,” Kareem nodded. “This is an wholly artificial creature after all. Something we’ve never encountered.”

“Once we never encountered faeries,” Laurel pointed out. “I have faith that if it can think, you can connect to it.”

“Thank you for that vote of confidence,” he replied, sounding mildly disappointed. Sitting back against the wall of the van, he closed his eyes and cast himself back into the astral plane.

The rose-tinted world of Pittsburgh on the astral plane was a great deal like Mayfield and other cities he’d seen from the other side: a mix of modern and historical structures made nearly physical by the collective emotion and memory of residents both past and present, dotted with teaming blue astral forms of the living and sapient.

Above, like a weird scar, the Angel cut an impressive figure. Alexis’s vibrant blue astral form made up its core while pale blues and greens and reds shackled in white arcs of lightning, the magically tethered souls that made up the Fallen Angel construct draped her body in a facsimile of a winged humanoid, their forms no longer even human, just myriad flickering flames.

Garbed in his Ephemeral costume if only by dent of habit, Kareem moved at the speed of thought, catching up with Viral. The creature was like nothing he’d never seen before: a null space in the misty fabric of the astral plane with flecks of flickering, sporadic blue trying desperately to combine, but never quite managing to. It surrounded Ian’s astral form in a loose, ragged cage like kudzu growing upon and consuming a tree. Its form shifted unsteadily, changing second by second.

Cautious, he slowly reached out and made tentative contact.

That was all that was required.

In a mind-bending moment, he went from the astral to a black room and smooth walls, floor and ceiling. Gravity was suddenly part of the equation again, as was breathing and he found himself stumbling and gasping all at once.

A grunt caught his attention and he found a hulking, demonic creature looking over its shoulder at him as it held a bloodied and disheveled Ian against the wall.

“The mentalist?” the monster asked. “Another interesting discovery—my neurology is similar enough to a human’s that psions can make contact.” It cast Ian aside roughly and brandished claws. “Unfortunately for you, I have had extensive experience with the case files involving you and your tactics. You will find that I have no fears to prey on. No desires to manipulate. You will find that you are powerless here.”

Righting himself, Kareem got into a fighting stance. He hadn’t been working out extensively every morning and evening purely as rehabilitation. “You are a thinking being. Even if you aren’t aware of them, you have fears. If you think like a person, you feel like one. And that can all be manipulated. Therefore, I still have a great deal of power here.”

“From the astral. On the material. But what can you do in the mindscape. You’re no genius like Brant or myself—even if your powers work here, you aren’t smart enough to figure out how to use them in time.” It lunged forward and Kareem danced to the side, bouncing on the balls of his feet in a boxing stance. When the next clawed slash came, he stepped into it, slamming it in the chest with his shoulder, then following up with a pair of jabs to the ribs.

“Who said anything about mental powers?” asked Kareem as he forced Viral to back away. “There are a lot of ways to attack a vulnerable mind—and play on its fears.” He charged, fist swinging. Viral, drawing on Ian’s boxing knowledge, threw up a guard and backed off.

And in doing so, tripped right over when Ian had rolled into a hunched over position behind its knees. The demon toppled over, smacking its head on the wall at the same time. With it disoriented, Ian threw himself onto his tormentor, delivering savage blows about the head and face.

“You keep saying how smart and great you are, but you fall for a school yard prank?” He shouted in Viral’s face and he rained blows down on it. “Humility, you poor man’s Old Scratch! While you’re learning ‘everything’, maybe move that up on the list of priorities!”

He only managed to get in a few more shots before Viral threw him off. It got to its knees only for Kareem to deliver a knee to its back, sending it sprawling onto its hands and knees. When he went to kick it, Viral caught his leg and twisted, flinging him to the ground.

“This is mind mind! My creation! Did you believe you can actually harm me here?”

Its answer came in the form of Ian tackling it and putting it in an arm bar. “Not the point. How’s your flying?”

“Wh—no!”

***

Back in the real world, the tornado keeping Viral aloft became erratic, catching its cape and dashing it into a fire escape in passing. The metal structure gave way with the impact and came crashing down in an alley, Viral buried under a pile of twisted metal and rubble.

To Be Continued…

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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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3 Comments

  1. Typos

    Fall Angel
    Fallen Angel

    into is weapon
    into its weapon

    through gapes
    through gaps

    Ina had
    Ian had

    if she’s just
    if she’d just

    mind mind!
    my mind!

  2. Congratulations on the car. Too bad you can’t get Warrick & Tink to trick it out for you

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