Descension – B.C. Burgess

Power begets gold; gold spawns power. On both accounts, Agro was a rich man. For over sixty years, his supremacy had been matched by few and stymied by none. Not because there weren’t attempts. Defiance and disputes were around every corner—ignorant fools willing to die for pitiful beliefs, powerless bleeding hearts too stupid to let bygones be bygones. Both were laughable and completely welcome. Agro enjoyed crushing the insignificant lives that got in his way. It was one of life’s more rewarding pleasures, a fulfillment few received and even fewer accepted, a delight Agro embraced like a long lost child. As for gold, he’d always be willing to add another priceless piece to his immense collection of artifacts, and in his opinion one could never have too much money to play with. But even in a world where desires could be fulfilled with the wave of a hand, not everyone had the wits to gather the treasures he’d obtained. It hadn’t always been that way. As an adolescent, Agro was forced to earn his possessions by toiling away at degrading jobs, accumulating a scant collection that would shame a vagrant. By seventeen, he’d abandoned humble restraint. Armed with deadly determination, he set out on his own, building his life around a new set of rules—rules that hundreds would follow by his twenty-fifth birthday. Now, wise and robust at eighty, he commanded a slew of subordinates willing to plunge daggers into their bellies to please him, a mere snap of his fingers could part all the wet thighs in his camp, and his fortune would make a Texas oil tycoon piss his boots and lower his Stetson in shame.

Yes, Agro had been reaping the rewards of his ways for decades. His desires were now handed to him. Not on silver platters, but diamond trays. He’d thrown the silver he’d plundered over the years to his soldiers, raising morale and solidifying loyalty. And the most loyal of the peons was approaching. As the familiar footfall grew louder, Agro lowered his goblet, turning his orange eyes to the entrance of his spacious tent. His second in command, an obedient brute with more brawn than brains, stepped through the canvas flaps, dropping his gaze to the antique Persian rug. “Sir,” he greeted. “Farriss,” Agro returned. “To what do I owe your sudden appearance?” “Garran Bram is here to see you,” Farriss replied.

Agro shrugged. “Probably came to beg for more time.” “He says he has some interesting information to divulge. Something you’d want to know.” “Is that so?” Agro murmured, raising one eyebrow. He couldn’t imagine what useful information a lowlife such as Garran could possibly hold. Nevertheless, his interest spiked. “Very well. Bring the boy in.” Farriss hurried from the tent, and Agro filled an alexandrite encrusted goblet with wine as he waited, thinking a bit of useful information might add intrigue to an otherwise dull day.

Farriss returned, roughly pushing a derelict wizard draped in a shabby brown cloak. Or perhaps it was a white cloak caked in dirt. The malnourished man dropped to his knees and stared at Agro’s feet with wide eyes, his forehead sprouting beads of sweat, his larynx quivering over a rapid pulse. Agro enjoyed the ambiance of fear surrounding the cur, but there was no excuse for his pitiful hygiene. A magical sweep of the hand would improve his appearance tenfold. “Farriss,” Agro said, watching his company’s greasy, black hair. “Yes, sir?” Farris replied. “You may go.” The brute bowed then took his leave, and Garran trembled, offending Agro’s senses with his stench. Agro scrunched his nostrils and retrieved a sprig of sandalwood from a side table, wafting it between him and the riffraff.

“Do you have your penance, Garran? You’ve owed me for over a month now. Not many people get away with that.” Garran’s shaking turned violent, intensifying his stink. “N-no, sir. I’ve n-never had that kind of mmoney.” “That’s because you piss it away gambling.” “The fucking hexless rig their competitions,” Garran cursed. “Perhaps you should have considered that before squandering your money on their games and impregnating one of their bitches,” Agro scorned. “I got you out of a jam. I don’t do those things for free.

I scratch your back, you scratch mine. Hypothetically of course,” he added, observing Garran’s dirty and jagged fingernails. “Of c-course, sir,” Garran stuttered. Agro rolled his eyes as he sipped his wine, continually waving the fragrant twig. “Farriss says you have something interesting to tell me. Is this an attempt to pay your debt?” “Y-yes, sir.” “Look at me when I’m talking to you.” Garran snapped his head up. “S-sorry, sir.” “And stop stuttering.

It’s getting on my nerves.” “Y-yes, sir.” Agro set his goblet aside. Then an ivory smoking pipe appeared in his hand. “Well, get on with it. What’s so interesting?” Garran gulped, watching as Agro lit his pipe with a flaming fingertip. “I heard a rumor,” Garran revealed, “that you once lost something dear to you.” Agro’s gaze wandered as he tried to recall something he’d held dear, but nothing came to mind. “What are you babbling about?” “A child, sir,” Garran explained. “A child you wanted but couldn’t get.

” Agro puffed the pipe as he thought. Over the years, there had been many children he wished to obtain but couldn’t, and he was always slightly disappointed when one evaded recruitment. But his only true regret had come twenty-one years earlier, when he’d lost the one child he wanted most. His blood still boiled when he thought about what that child could have contributed to the Dark Elite—or, as their enemies like to call them, the Unforgivables. Agro smiled every time he imagined a burnt and bloody victim whispering the dreaded nickname—Unforgivables. It did have a certain ring to it. He sobered and turned his attention to the vermin at his feet. “There have been many children I’ve wished to procure and didn’t. You’ll have to be more specific.” Garran eagerly nodded.

“Yes, of course. You’re under the impression this child was never born. You believe it died in the womb…” He trailed off as Agro narrowed his eyes on him, but after a quick breath, he hurriedly continued. “I heard a man say you’d been fooled. The child was safely delivered and lives to this day.” The pipe and sandalwood vanished as Agro leaned forward, nostrils flaring in anger and disgust. Garran shrank back, trembling again. “I’m s-sorry, sir. I don’t mean to imply you’re a fool or anything. That’s what the man said.

” “What man?” Agro seethed. “Where did you get this information?” “He wouldn’t say his name,” Garran answered. “I was in a tavern in New Hampshire, minding my own, when he sat down and bought me a drink.” Agro stood and began pacing, fidgeting with the smoky quartz encrusted in the platinum buckle of his gold belt. “What else did he tell you?” Garran fearfully watched Agro’s agitated gestures, clearly torn between begging for his life and fleeing for it. “He said it had been twenty-one years since the great Agro had been taken for a fool. And I defended you, sir. I said nobody calls Agro a fool. Agro’s a good man who helps little people like me out of tight spots. But the stranger just laughed and said you’d been hoodwinked.

” Agro stopped pacing when he heard the time line. “What else did the stranger say?” “He told me you believe the child dead, but she’s alive, living somewhere in Oklahoma, in a hexless community.” Agro turned his back on the snitch, muscles rolling. If what the stranger revealed was true, he had been taken for a fool. Rage swelled, burning his eyes and lungs. So the child was alive—a twentyone-year-old female living in a non-magical community in Oklahoma. But who was the stranger in the tavern? It had taken a great sacrifice to ensure the child’s safety. So why, twenty-one years later, would someone blatantly reveal the secret? Who was this unknown third faction who’d discovered the truth when he, the great Agro, had not? And why had the man freely passed such valuable information to a worthless rat like Garran Bram? “What did the stranger look like?” Agro quietly asked. “He was young, sir,” Garran answered, “early twenties, with fair skin and short hair—light brown or dark blonde, however you flip it. And he had a short mustache and goatee.

I never saw his eyes. He wore sunglasses the whole time.” “Useless information,” Agro hissed. The unknown wizard could have easily transformed his appearance before revealing his secret. Only his eyes would have been genuine, the color and detail of the iris, but he’d wisely kept them hidden. Agro turned, looking down at his unpleasant company. “Did the stranger give you any more information about the child?” “No, sir, only what I’ve told you.” “Did you share this with anyone else before bringing it to me?” Garran’s eyes widened as he hurriedly shook his head. “No, sir. Of course not.

I came straight to you.” Agro tapped a fingernail to his temple, considering a plan of action. “I’ve done well, right?” Garran asked, starting to relax. Agro looked down. “Yes, Garran, you’ve done well, which bestows in me the tiniest tinge of regret for what I must do next.” Garran’s hopeful expression wrinkled in confusion then flexed in fright as Agro raised a palm. Garran opened his mouth to scream, but the shriek died in his throat as his body solidified into a horrifying ice sculpture with terrified eyes and a twisted mouth. Agro’s hand fell to his side, and the frozen man shattered. With one more flick of the wrist, the shards flew from the tent. Pity, Agro mused.

Then his goblet and pipe reappeared as he called for Farriss. ONE Present Day—Oklahoma Layla Callaway—young, healthy and desperately desolate; lost in a forsaken and pessimistic chasm bereft of pleasure and purpose. Her descension into the lonely belly of the debilitating beast had taken three years, three years of emotional pain and nail-biting fear. Though she remained cognizant enough to discern the depth of her despair, hope had dwindled, taking with it the motivation to resurface. Not even dipping into childhood memories could stem Layla’s grief. Rich as they were, lavish with love, happiness and peace, all of them co-starred Katherine—Layla’s mom, best friend, and lone relative—and Katherine was gone, dead for two months, though a massive stroke had smothered her lights three years earlier, leaving her an invalid. “Three years,” Layla brooded, sitting at Gander Creek’s lone stop light. The light turned green, and she tapped the gas pedal of her Taurus, creeping past thrift shops, general stores, and meandering people. She eventually cleared downtown and sped up, wistfully sighing at the steely gray clouds rolling in from the west. Oklahoma’s severe weather was one of the few things Layla still managed to appreciate—the untamed power that humbled the soul, intrigued the mind, and awakened the senses.

But while Katherine’s death hadn’t stifled Layla’s love of storms, it had dulled the excitement she got from them. No longer could she and Katherine sit on the porch together, acting like giddy children as they watched the clouds swirl with ferocious grace, counting the seconds between strikes of lighting and clacks of thunder, goading each other into more intense anticipation of whipping wind and beating rain. As usual, Layla’s memories took a sad turn. Giant raindrops occasionally slapped her windshield as she parked behind the local diner, recalling the night she found her mom unconscious on the floor. The image would forever be burned into her mind, haunting her dreams nightly. A medical team managed to revive Katherine, but her nervous system was shot. Her brain, however, was a thing of mystery not even three years could unravel. Even the expensive doctors in the big cities couldn’t answer Layla’s questions about Katherine’s mental capacities, so for three years, Layla acted as her mom’s caregiver, unsure if she understood words, remembered the past, or recognized her daughter’s voice and face. Nevertheless, Layla always treated Katherine as if her brain worked fine, and she flatly refused the option of a nursing home. What was three measly years, after all, compared to all the wonderful years Katherine took care of her? At least the time she’d spent nursing her mom gave Layla focus and purpose.

With that purpose dead and gone, life was empty. Layla tied her jet black spirals into a long ponytail then pulled in a deep breath, trying to straighten her shoulders, but she only got them halfway there before giving up. Oh well. Time to go to work, bad posture and all. She tugged at the knots in her apron strings as she entered the diner, shuffling alongside an outdated bar displaying the usual greasy spoon delights. “Damn apron,” she murmured, struggling with a particularly stubborn knot as she stepped into the break room. “Surprise!” Layla cursed and jolted, dropping her apron to clutch the door jamb. When she regained her wits, she looked around, finding two of her co-workers—Travis Baker and Phyllis Carter—next to a homemade cake with the words Happy 21 st B-Day written across the top. “Is today the third?” Layla squeaked. “Of March?” She was in bad shape.

She’d forgotten her own birthday. Travis pulled Layla into a hug as he threw Phyllis an I told you so look. “Hell, Layla,” he gently chided, leaning back to find her face, “you’ve gone and forgotten your twenty-first birthday.” His tone brightened as he wiggled his eyebrows, trying to make her laugh. “I think it’s ’bout time ya had a night out. Ya know, paint the town red. This place could use some color, and ya need to get outta your funk. First, I think, we’ll get ya drunk. Then we’ll find a farmhand willin’ to fulfill all your naughty desires.” In many ways, Travis was a paradox.

A country boy born and raised, he worked on the family farm until his dad passed away. Strapped for cash, his mom sold the land, moving Travis to town when he was seventeen. Now, at the age of twenty-three, he still adorned his reed thin, six-foot frame in tight Wranglers and leather boots, and he could easily pass for a star on the professional bull rider’s circuit, but not everything was as it seemed with Travis. Yes, he could handle a ranch and all its inner workings, but he wouldn’t do it without an MP3 player filled with show tunes. Travis was an admitted homosexual—the only one in town. Layla had witnessed Travis face persecution in Gander Creek too many times to count. He was shunned daily by its small-minded citizens, and she often wondered how much longer he could put up with it. He stayed for his mother, whose health had waned following a heart attack, and if Travis was anything at all, he was devoted to his mamma. So he remained in a town where most people passed unfair judgment, tossed about slurs, or simply leered at him in disgust. Layla adored Travis.

He was the closest thing to a friend she had, and he was the one person who could bring a genuine, if halfhearted, smile to her face. “It’s sweet of you to offer me a compliant farmhand, Trav,” she sarcastically replied, flashing him the elusive smile. “But getting drunk and felt up like a dairy cow isn’t everyone’s favorite brand of medicine.” “Lord knows it’s mine,” Phyllis disagreed, swooping in for a hug. “Used to be anyway. Now-adays it’s a hot bath and a good book. But I’m an old woman, honey. You’re young and gorgeous.” Layla felt many things, none of them young or gorgeous, but as a perpetually doting woman, Phyllis always said things like that. The plump, fifty-four-year-old was widowed young and childless, and she remained that way, perfectly content to spend her days toiling at the diner only to return to an empty home.

She was her own pleasant company, she claimed in defense, and Layla believed it. Phyllis was an unceasingly positive person and likely hummed a happy tune every time she walked through the house. “It’s not like you’re ninety, Phyllis,” Layla pointed out. “You could spend the next twenty or thirty years getting your udders felt up.” “Amen to that,” Travis advocated. Phyllis rolled her hazel eyes behind thick glasses. “Shoot. That would mean puttin’ down my book and exercisin’. ’Sides, I’m fond of my jelly rolls and the sweets that put ’em there.” “Ya know,” Travis teased, nudging Phyllis with a bony elbow, “some men like more cushion for the pushin’.

” Layla’s blush flared, and Phyllis smirked, shooing Travis away with a bejeweled hand. “Anyway,” she diverted, smiling at Layla, “happy birthday, hon. I made your favorite cake—dark chocolate ganache with mocha icin’.” Layla patted her stomach. “Mmm… Are you trying to make me fat?”

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