ANNO DOMINI ~Allium~
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BOOK 1, CHAPTER 2: GUNNHILDR & EXCALIBUR
In the vice principal’s office, Chris sat in his seat in front of the desk and stared at the floor. The vice principal, who just revealed himself to be an angel, let the resounding silence settle in for a moment before resuming his explanation.
Throughout the ages, Lavi had been involved with the fragile and easily disrupted human race, yet it had always been in the nature of an angel to relay such life-changing messages in abrupt and sudden manners. Breakdowns and denials were typical of the humans who received such unexpected messages. The magnitude of Lavi’s message to Chris was among the more significant, however, and although Lavi didn’t show it, he felt concern and sympathy for the seventeen year-old boy in his office.
Lavi faced Chris, who was still looking at the floor.
“You’re a very special individual,” the angel told the boy. “You have a great purpose and a great task on your hands.” He paused to gaze out the window again. “This world is in turmoil, as it has been for eons. The people of the world need someone to guide them, and that someone happens to be you, Christopher Findale.
“Your culture is inspired and fascinated by fictional heroes, whether they be ordinary or super, flawed or perfect,” Lavi continued, still looking out the window. “You could say this fascination with portrayed heroes stems from the human desire to be saved from something that can’t be easily seen or felt, but haunts everyone from the corners of their hearts. Unbeknownst to them, the wheels are now set in motion for those hauntings to be chased away by the very hero they wish to have.”
Lavi turned around to see Chris looking at him. His face was mostly blank, but showed an unexpected level of peace. The look in his eyes, sharp and steadfast, intrigued the angel, as most people’s at that point would be filled either with anger or tears.
“You seem rather calm, even after hearing all of this,” Lavi said.
Chris thought for a moment before answering.
“It’s actually no surprise to me, really,” he replied committedly.
Lavi smiled and raised his eyebrows, surprised by the lack of surprise.
“Is that so? You realize the path before you will be one filled with peril and hardships, right? Your life will be nothing like you imagined.”
“I realize the hardships before me,” Chris said firmly, “but to be honest, I often imagined my life being that way to begin with. I’ve always felt a need to be there for others, as if it was destiny or fate.” Chris chuckled. “The words ‘destiny’ and ‘fate’ are so clichéd these days, probably because of all those stories you mentioned about heroes, but I think clichés are only clichés because they truly are so common. And really … over the past few days, I guess I felt this coming. I just didn’t know how it would happen, and now that it’s actually happening, you could say … it has put me at peace.”
Angels are divine beings with perceptions and intuitions that span beyond the understanding of humans. That being said, Lavi had “seen” and “heard” a multitude of things a person could only dream of fathoming.
And here was this boy named Christopher who had given the angel the pleasure of experiencing something not even angels knew they could experience: genuine shock and excitement.
The look on the boy’s face, the power behind his words, and how they carried pure honesty and concealed nothing made Lavi laugh out loud.
“You are truly a spectacle to behold!” Lavi chortled, taking Chris’s hands in his own while smiling gleefully. “I knew the Boss had it right when he pointed you out, but this is somehow beyond my expectations! You, boy, are da bomb!”
“Uh, thanks,” Chris said, caught off guard by Lavi’s sudden change in behavior. “So, if I’m some kind of hero, would that make me the ordinary kind or the super kind?”
Lavi beamed, letting go of Chris’s hands.
“The super, of course,” he replied with a grin. “You like superpowers? Even if you don’t, it comes with the territory. Let me see your phone, ‘kay?”
“My phone?” Chris removed his smartphone from his pocket and handed it to the angel.
“Ooh, this is the new Samsung model?” Lavi looked over it with sparkling eyes. “4K resolution screen! Enough processing power to handle multiple tasks! 12-megapixel camera with 4K video recording! Bluetooth is taken for granted, but is still there! Sleek design that not only pleases the eye but fits in your hand as if it were structured from Adam’s other ribs! Truly gorgeous!”
“Um, actually, it’s a rather outdated model,” Chris said. “It’s not even a Samsung, or all of those things you said … except Bluetooth.”
Lavi just smiled.
“Think again,” he said, holding up the phone. “It’s now much better than what I just prattled on about.”
Chris looked at the phone in the angel’s hand and blinked several times.
“It looks the same,” he said.
“Well, looks are deceiving,” the angel replied smugly, going through the phone’s settings, somehow bypassing Chris’s password screen. “Let’s see here … just gotta find the right thing. They always make each model just different enough so you need to relearn how to work the darn things. Strange critters, these phones.”
After a few minutes of Lavi fiddling with the smartphone, Chris glanced around the office, unsure of what to say or do or think.
“Can I ask what you’re doing?” Chris finally asked.
“Aha! Eureka!” Lavi exclaimed, handing the phone back to Chris. “I just wanted to install an app for you. It’ll take a while to download, but don’t sweat the details. Like I said, your phone has been totally reworked by my angelic touches.”
Chris looked at the download screen under his phone’s app list, noticing an app called “Excalibur A.I.” downloading. The size of the app said 144.121212 exabytes, whatever exabytes were.
“Excalibur A.I.? What’s that?”
“A very special program,” Lavi said. “I think it’ll be extremely handy in the future.”
“What else did you do to it?” Chris asked, looking over every part of the phone.
“I gave it divine protection. It won’t break so easily and is unable to be hacked by your manmade computers.”
Before Chris could act, Lavi snatched the phone from him again and threw it against the wall like a pro baseball player pitching a ball. The phone ricocheted off the wall and bounced around noisily, making Chris cringe as somebody had to have heard that in the school’s main office.
“See? Tough.” Lavi placed the phone on his desk, reached down below, and brandished a chainsaw while smirking. “Wanna see just how tough it is?”
“Uh, no, that’s not necessary,” Chris told him, smiling assuredly, knowing the chainsaw sound would definitely garner attention, and wondering why Lavi would have a chainsaw under his desk to begin with.
“Aw, okay.” Lavi pouted, looking disappointed as he tucked away the chainsaw. “But there you have it! Enjoy!”
He slid the phone back to Chris’s side of the desk, and Chris quickly grabbed it before Lavi did anything else to escalate the situation. When he put the phone into his pocket, he looked back at the angel.
“What else?” he asked. “Do you know about the gun I have? It just suddenly appeared in my hand this morning, and …”
“And you can make it appear and disappear at will, eh?” Lavi said.
“That’s right! You know about it, then!”
“Oh, of course I know! Bring it out, let’s see it.”
Chris made the pistol appear in his hand, and he placed it on the desk. Lavi picked it up and looked at it with admiration.
“This is called Gunnhildr,” he explained to Chris. “A holy handgun, if you will.”
“What’s it do?”
“Shoots magic bullets!”
“Well, ‘magic’ is just a term.” Lavi scratched his head. “Would you prefer ‘enchanted’?”
“It doesn’t matter what it’s called,” Chris said flatly. “What do these ‘magic’ bullets do?”
“It depends on what ammo you choose,” Lavi told him. “For now, let’s stick to the absolving bullets. The absolving bullets are a way to defeat unholy enemies while providing them the chance of being absolved. That means they’ll be spared from damnation. Also, it’s important to remember that the absolving bullets are nonlethal. They’re actually quite harmless.”
“Oh.” Chris tried to digest the explanation.
“Just remember that you’re not a destroyer,” Lavi said, “but something much more admirable and important. Gunnhildr and its absolving bullets will be one of your defining assets. So, to sum up, just shoot the baddies with this and they’ll be hunky dory, as will you! Capiche?”
“What baddies are you referring to?” Chris felt uneasy.
Lavi gave Chris a sideways glance.
“Those which are watching you,” Lavi told him.
An unsettling, tightening feeling sank into Chris’s chest. For the first time in the conversation, a sense of dread swept through him. He opened his mouth to speak, but Lavi held up his hand, giving the boy a stern look.
“There are things that exist with minds not unlike yours or mine,” Lavi said, dropping his voice. “They know of you, although they never met you, or they don’t know exactly who or what you are. But they are fixated on you.”
“What are these things?” Chris asked, not as calm as moments ago. “Spirits? Demons? Monsters?”
“You aren’t too far off from calling them that,” Lavi said. “While that may sometimes be true, you need to be aware that things exist beyond your understanding … beyond my ability to explain to any human. But drill this into your mind: they are predators, and they will come for you.”
Chris looked around nervously, his neck hairs perking up.
“Some of these beings exist without conclusive reasons or purposes,” Lavi continued, his tone strong and resolute. “They thrive on a will that does not correlate with the human condition, good or bad, and are their own entities and masters. What they are, where they come from, why they act as such … they vary. Not even I can be certain of the specifications of each one.”
Chris calmed himself down. The initial shock was still subsiding, but a sense of duty overtook his fear. Taking Gunnhildr from Lavi, he suddenly felt empowered, even ready.
“It sounds like these things are my enemies, then,” he said. “And from what you said, they’re going to come after me.”
“Correct. This is your destiny, Christopher.”
“I know.” Chris smiled.
“I’m thrilled you understand,” Lavi said, “but I’m also concerned about the lessons you’ll face and the tolls they’ll take. You’ll never be a normal person after this. Well, you never were normal, but now the cat’s out of the bag.”
Gunnhildr vanished from Chris’s hand, and he looked across the desk at his angelic vice principal.
“What else?” Chris asked.
“That’s it for today,” Lavi replied.
“Yup, I’ll keep up my end of the bargain so long as you keep up yours.”
“What bargain? This is a bargain?”
“Bon voyage, Christopher. And don’t fret.”
Chris was still full of questions as the angel practically pushed him out of the office. Before walking back to class, Chris noticed the wings still protruding from Lavi’s back.
“Uh, Mr. Kampton, er, Lavi. Your wings are showing,” he whispered.
There were other office workers in clear line of sight, but none of them seemed to be paying attention. The angel gave Chris a soft smile.
“No need to worry about me,” he said gently, stepping back into his office. “Take care, Christopher. And seriously, don’t fret, ‘kay?”
When the door closed, Chris hesitated briefly, then hurried back to math class to beat the bell. He made it back in time to look over the notes on the interactive whiteboard and jot them down quickly. Ms. Vaughn handed out the homework worksheet which Chris tucked away in his folder without so much as glancing over it.
In the last minutes of class, not caring to really think about what he was about to say, he turned to Robbie Smith next to him.
Robbie looked at him and smiled.
Chris showed Robbie the download screen on his smartphone and pointed to the Excalibur A.I. app still downloading.
“Have you ever heard of this app before?”
Robbie looked at it for a couple seconds, squinting.
“Excalibur A.I.? Nah, never heard of it.”
“Oh.” Chris put the phone back into his pocket. “Just thought I’d ask.”
“But you’re downloading it,” Robbie said, “and you don’t know what it is?”
“Well, it seems that way.” Chris chuckled, feeling silly now.
“Be careful about some of those apps developed by third-party developers,” Robbie told him. “You never know if it’s a virus or malware or something.”
“Yeah, good point,” Chris said. “But it was a gift. Mr. Kampton insisted on it, and I think it’s free.”
Robbie raised an eyebrow.
“The vice principal called you to his office … to download an app for you?”
Chris chuckled again, feeling even more ridiculous.
“That’s about the gist of it.” He didn’t want to explain too much. Although his conversation with Lavi wasn’t too shocking for himself, certainly other people would find it preposterous.
On his own smartphone, Robbie searched through the app store to see if he could find the app in question.
“Excalibur A.I.,” he muttered to himself. “Huh? It’s not showing up under the search. Maybe it’s exclusive to your phone.”
That was to be expected. Not knowing what to say, Chris said nothing at all and shrugged.
School was over for the day, and students poured from the main entrance of the building. The school statue faced outward, as if keeping a watchful eye on the main gate that provided access to the school grounds. Being a bronze likeness of the major academic figurehead Frederick Randolph Lyons, the man was depicted in a suit, standing tall, and holding a scroll in his right hand over his heart. The statue was a commemoration by Lyonbole Public High School, which was named after Mr. Lyons himself.
Chris stood next to the statue, which was surrounded by a small cast iron fence. He looked at his hands, remembering what Lavi had told him, trying to figure out any meaning to the angel’s words.
“Superpowers,” he whispered to himself, thinking about what Lavi had said.
Gripping the bars of the statue’s iron fence with both hands, he heaved as hard as he could. If he possessed any superpowers at all, then surely the cast iron fence would be easy to bend. Grunting audibly, Chris tried with all his might to force the iron bars out of shape. The veins in his neck and forehead started to bulge, his teeth clenched, and sweat began to form.
“What are you doing?”
Drake approached Chris, wondering why on Earth someone would be pushing and pulling on an obviously very sturdy fence. Letting go of the iron bars, his hands stiff from the pressure, Chris wiped the small amount of perspiration from his head.
“Hey.” He grinned at his best friend, attempting to play it off.
“Trying to give yourself a hernia?” Drake asked, looking at Chris with a quizzical stare.
“Um, I was just testing the fence,” Chris told him, knocking on the iron bars. “It’s very well-made, I say.”
“Well … it’s iron,” Drake said. “Iron is hard, Chris.”
Chris nodded in agreement.
“You have sawdust in your hair.”
“Oh?” Chris rustled his hair, knocking out the sawdust from woodshop, his last class of the day. “I didn’t notice.”
“Are you feeling all right, man?” Drake asked, concerned. “You’ve seemed out of it for the last few days.”
“Yeah,” Chris assured, “I’m fine.”
He decided not to tell Drake about the app from Lavi. Telling Robbie had aroused enough suspicion from one classmate, and Chris didn’t want to involve anyone, especially his best friend, until he had at least some sort of understanding of what was to come. If things became too dangerous, which his gut told him was possible, then involving other people would be irresponsible.
Drake noticed the sullen look on Chris’s face.
“Hey, if you’re not feeling good, then we don’t have to hang out today,” he told Chris.
Chris didn’t reply immediately. The small pause — that tiny moment of hesitation to so much as even look up was enough to tell Drake something was off with his friend. In that moment of no reply, Marilyn happened to appear.
“What are you guys up to?” The energetic smile on her face faded when she noticed Chris’s expression, although he was quick to cover it up. “Something wrong, Chris?”
“Eh, it’s nothing, really,” he replied, smiling.
“Oh, okay.” Marilyn, much like Drake, didn’t fully believe Chris’s words, but decided to let it be. “I’ll see you two tomorrow morning. Have a good one!”
The two boys watched Marilyn walk off, quickly joined by her friend Katie Vickers, who was easily distinguished by the extravagant hairband (today it had jeweled hummingbirds) in her strawberry blonde hair.
“Maybe I’ll just head home tonight,” Chris said to Drake.
“Alright,” Drake replied. Before Chris could walk away, he added, “Hey, buddy. If there’s anything you need, just let me know, okay?”
Chris gave a thumbs-up.
“You got it, buddy.”
But what did Chris actually need at that point? And if he ever figured it out, what could Drake or anyone else really do to help?
“You’re in a good mood today,” Principal Charles Stark grunted from the other side of his office desk, patting down his terrible comb over of what little black hair he had.
“I’m always in a good mood,” replied Vice Principal Leon Kampton with a smug smile.
The two were alone in the principal’s office after school had been dismissed. They were to discuss plans regarding the upcoming food drive, among other topics, and file the appropriate paperwork. However, the stout and grumpy principal quickly whiffed something unusual about his second-in-command.
Principal Stark narrowed his eyes, focusing on the vice principal.
“What are you up to?” he asked in a deep voice.
The vice principal shrugged and said, “Nothing too different from what you’re probably up to.”
“Don’t give me that crap, Lavi. We’re destined to oppose each other, no matter what. If I’m sensing that something is stirring, which I do, then I know that you feel it, too, so don’t try to hide it!”
“I’ve got my secrets, and you’ve got yours, Baal,” Lavi told him, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed. “The differences between us angels and you demons aren’t separated by as vast a chasm as many are led to believe.” Lavi looked at Baal out of the corner of his eye. “That’s considering that you and I were once on the same side before that whole ‘falling from grace’ fiasco. Tell me, how was the landing from Heaven? Did it hurt?”
“Still holding that against me, huh?” the demon grunted. “Whatever. This entire thing is just one drawn-out game. What’s the point in using unnecessary cogs like us to accomplish what could be done in the blink of an eye?”
“That’s how our bosses like to do things.” Lavi shrugged. “And I don’t think we’re entirely ‘unnecessary’ like you say.”
Baal glared at Lavi dolefully, sighed, and then leaned forward to rest his arms on his desk.
“There definitely is something in the works as we speak,” he said quietly. “Things are going to get heated, that’s for sure. What a pain in the ass.”
Lavi clasped his hands together, wearing a big smile.
“Just remember,” he said enthusiastically, “no matter what happens, we have a school to run! So, let’s do our best, ‘Boss’!”
“Yeah, I got it,” Baal groaned. “What a stupid order given to us. Running this damn school. I just don’t get it.”
“Are you allowed to question your boss like that?” Lavi asked.
“I just did, and I’m still in one piece.”
“Very bold, ‘Boss’!”
“Are you allowed to address me as your ‘boss’ that way, considering who your real boss is?”
“He’ll forgive me.”
Lying in bed on his back, Chris played around with his phone, trying to find anything different about it, but everything seemed normal thus far, other than lightning-fast processing speed. The Excalibur A.I. app was still downloading and would probably be completed by morning.
There was something very mysterious about the app as he searched the internet in hopes to find any information about it, but nothing came up. Thinking about what Robbie had mentioned, Chris was certain Mr. Kampton, Lavi, wouldn’t install anything malicious on his phone. The vice principal had always instilled a sense of trust that ran deep down inside every student at Lyonbole, even before his debut to Chris as an angel.
A video was going viral on the web. Although only posted that morning, it was already receiving a great number of views. Chris watched it, noticing the ranting homeless person who starred in the video was none other than Biscuits N’ Gravy. He was yelling about a changing world and so forth as he ran down the street.
Not knowing what to make of the video, Chris put his phone down with a yawn. Homework had been tiring that day and a good night’s sleep was in order.