ANNO DOMINI ~Allium~
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BOOK 1, CHAPTER 7: ALEPH-NAUGHT & THE SECRET SOCIETY
“Chris! Yo, Chris! Snap out of it!”
As Robbie shook Chris and spoke directly to his face, the human boy inside him gradually reentered his mind. The glowing aura around his body disappeared. His legs felt heavy and pained.
He blinked, looking at Robbie. His breath stuttered as he tried to speak.
“What … w-was that?” Chris asked morbidly, staring at his hand … the hand that had called forth such devastating destruction with a simple motion. “What d-did I do?”
“That’s what we wanna know!” Al said, glancing around at the aftermath. “How’d you do that?”
Chris tightened his fists, feeling his phone still in his other hand.
“How the hell should I know?” he replied, not sure if he was angry or scared. “It was like … I could see the molecules moving. B-but not with my eyes! And then I just kinda blacked out, I think … I don’t know, it wasn’t like anything else ….” He trailed off.
Robbie glanced at Al, who shook his head.
“I can’t say I get what you’re saying,” Al said.
Looking at the carved earth and damaged buildings made Chris’s mouth dry. “There’s no way I knew this would happen! I didn’t want it to!”
“Well, ya did it anyway.” Al shrugged and let out a sigh. “Look on the bright side. The enemy is done for. You beat it and we won.”
“Don’t act like you’re on our side all of sudden,” Robbie told Al with a scowl. “You tried killing us!”
“No, I didn’t try killing you,” Al said while waving his hands defensively. “It was a test,” he looked at the wreckage one more time, “and you passed.”
When Robbie looked displeased, Chris spoke up.
“We need to get out of here,” he said. He pocketed his phone, his hands shaky, and turned to the young boy. “I’m Chris. What’s your name?”
“Call me Al.”
Chris held his head. The dizziness still hadn’t fully subsided.
“Now that we know each other, let’s find somewhere to talk it over,” Chris told them.
“Sure,” Al replied with a grin. “That would be smart, ‘cuz we might get caught sticking around here.”
“Welles Park ain’t very far from here,” Robbie said. “I go there sometimes to use their fitness center. The park itself is still open for a few more hours.”
“Okay, let’s go.”
Chris and Robbie grabbed their belongings and school supplies, which had been left to the side and luckily unharmed in the scuffle. The three of them hurried out of Revere Park, going east on Irving Park Road and then north on Western Avenue. All the while, Chris’s head buzzed with a tempest of thoughts, and his legs felt loose and disjointed.
How would he get away with what he had just done? He wasn’t sure if there were any surveillance cameras at Revere Park, but surely somebody would learn of the conflicts that had taken place there. Not allowing himself to fall into a pit of doubt and despair was one of Chris’s strengths, but the predicament couldn’t be taken lightly.
In Welles Park, they stopped next to a wrought-iron, green gazebo featuring a distinct European-style design. A few people were around, but a secretive conversation was still possible. When Chris was sure there wasn’t anyone within earshot, he turned to Al.
“Al, was it?”
“I need you to tell me what your story is,” Chris said firmly.
“Yeah, I’ll explain,” Al replied, “but not my whole story. That’ll take too long.”
“Just fill us in on what we should know.”
“No problem.” Al pulled at his hoodie. “First, I gotta take this sweatshirt off. It’s muggy out here.”
Al removed the gray hoodie to reveal blonde hair cut just above the shoulders while looking refreshed by the feeling of cool air on the skin. However, Chris and Robbie stared, noticing the unexpected curves and shape of Al’s body under the white tank top. It took them only a few seconds to reach a conclusion.
“Wait a minute!” Robbie gasped. “Y-you’re a girl?”
With a blank look, Al replied, “Yeah. I never said I wasn’t a girl.”
“Uh …,” Chris scratched his head, “you said your name was Al, though.”
“That’s right,” Al said. “It’s short for Aleph-Naught.”
“That still doesn’t imply an obvious gender,” Robbie said.
“I’m named after a mathematical term.” She held up the plastic pendant of her cheap necklace. “That’s what this symbol represents.” When Chris and Robbie continued to gawk, Al sighed. “Look, do you want me to explain my situation, or what?”
“Please, go ahead,” Chris said, bringing himself back on track.
“Basically, I’m part of a secret organization,” Al explained. “I can’t reveal too much, but we’re a very old organization that has been keeping tabs on a well-guarded secret for a long time.”
“Oh, so you’re with the illuminati,” Robbie said, feeling suspicious.
“No, dammit!” Al rolled her eyes. “We’re not the illuminati! Why does everyone think that?”
“That introduction you just gave might have something to do with it,” Chris said flatly.
“Whatever.” Al tucked her hoodie under her arm, the twenty-four karat gold aglets dangling freely. “My superiors sent me to investigate an incident that happened early this morning. A precious artifact was stolen from its appointed guardians, and I’m here to gather info because I’m a scout.”
“You mentioned earlier about not being alone,” Chris said. “Is someone else here with you?”
“I teamed up with one of the guardians of the artifact,” Al explained. “She was with me, but now I don’t know where the hell she went.”
“What’s this have to do with us?” Robbie asked.
“Well, my orders were to come to this city and meet with the guardians of the artifact and assist them,” Al explained. “They asked me to locate mortals of significance. That was when I teamed up with my temporary partner, because she has an ability, some kind of clairvoyance.” Al thought about when she witnessed Sister Farrah’s incredible talents. “She’s quite remarkable, really. I was impressed.”
“I don’t follow,” Chris said. “This other person found us for you? It was all because your bosses told you to?”
“Yep,” Al said. “The phrase ‘mortals of significance’ is vague. There are tons of significant people in the world, and that’s if you don’t include animals into the mortal category. Whatever criteria my partner used to seek you out were up to her, but she was right on the money. It led me straight to you, Chris. Not only that, but there were two of you right in the same spot. That made it the obvious best choice.”
“So,” Robbie said slowly, “does that mean there are other people around here … who can do what we can?”
“No clue,” she said. “It’s not impossible, but people with so-called ‘powers’ are very rare. There’s an old saying that they’re drawn to one another, almost like destiny.”
“Destiny?” Chris muttered. “Don’t give me that.”
“What?” Al asked. “You don’t believe in destiny?”
Chris didn’t reply. Of course he believed it. He also accepted it. He just didn’t understand why it was suddenly so difficult to face the fact that destiny probably pulled more strings than he had anticipated.
“Well, you found us, Al” Robbie said impatiently, “and we passed your dumb test. What do we do next?”
Al looked at the large, green, iron gazebo. A refreshing breeze passed by them, being borderline cold after working up a sweat.
“I’ll have to wait for more instructions,” Al said. “You two probably have something to do with the investigation of the artifact.”
“How?” Chris asked with narrowed eyes.
“I don’t know,” Al said hastily. “It’s obvious you two have some kind of abilities. Maybe you’ll help locate the artifact. We might have to take you two into custody.”
Robbie tossed his head back and groaned at the sky.
“Are you for real? I got school and basketball. I got a life! I can’t be doing crazy stuff like this.”
“No complaining,” Al told him, her hand on her hip. “It’s not my fault. Chances are this was already determined. This is the hand you were dealt, Robin.”
A small rustling sound caught their attention, and a large rat scurried over from the bushes, making Chris and Robbie jump. There was a piece of paper in its mouth. When it approached Al, she reacted casually.
“Oh, I got ratmail.” She knelt down and took the letter from the rat, which scurried away. Chris and Robbie watched as Al looked over the letter, her expression growing more sullen as her eyes moved down the page. When she finished reading, she crumpled her forehead more than she crumpled the paper in her hands. “Are you kidding me?” she howled.
Robbie didn’t care to ask, as he really didn’t want to know.
“What’s wrong?” Chris looked around, making sure nobody was paying attention.
“I don’t believe them!” Al was swift to arm her ruby red yo-yo, which she used to strike the letter and burn it without a trace. “What do they mean to ‘stand by until further notice’? How far is this notice? This is bullshit!” She huffed and puffed for a moment before collecting herself. When she was cooled down, she looked at the boys with a pitiful smile. “Hey … can I ask you two a favor?”
Robbie still didn’t care to ask, as he still really didn’t want to know. However, Chris’s innate goodness couldn’t leave the situation alone.
“What would that be?”
With an enormous smile, Al asked, “Can I crash at one of your places for a tiny bit? Just until my superiors give me … further notice ….”
The boys looked at each other. Robbie shook his head rigorously. Staring at the ground, Chris heaved a sigh.
“You don’t have anywhere else to stay?” he asked Al.
“Er, well ….” Al got on her knees. “Please! I don’t wanna stay at Saint Baptiste Monastery by myself with those people! They weird me out!”
“So, you do have somewhere to stay?” Chris replied dully.
“N-not an option! As long as I stay in the city … (where is this again? Portland?) … then it won’t be against my orders.” The girl walked on her knees up to Chris. “Please, have a heart!”
Chris looked back at Robbie, who was still shaking his head and probably hadn’t stopped shaking his head since he started.
“What were you doing at Saint Baptiste Monastery?” Chris asked curiously. “Is that where those artifact guardians are?”
Al suddenly stiffened up. She jumped back to her feet with a smug grin.
“I’m not entitled to tell you,” she sneered.
“Then that’s a yes,” Chris muttered.
Pouting, Al turned her back to Chris.
“Okay,” she said, “but don’t go crying if another evil creature shows up and starts screwing things up. You’ll have to deal with it by yourself, since I won’t be there.” She looked back at Chris with a serious face. “There’s a possibility that ‘they’ are on to you after that noisy, disruptive, highly obvious thing you did earlier.”
There was no denying how unsettled Chris was by that notion. Robbie inhaled loudly before exhaling even louder.
“More of those things are out there?” Robbie murmured quietly. His voice was weighted with both acceptance and worry.
Looking back at the boys, Al nodded.
“There are,” she said empathetically. “Not to sound mean, but you two seem like total rookies to this. Since you both were able to see that last shadowy being with your rookie abilities, it means that was a very weak adversary. Most are stronger than it.”
Chris could almost feel Gunnhildr waiting at his beck and call as his index finger brushed the air, imitating pulling a trigger. Even so, the holy handgun had failed to perform as expected, meaning Chris honestly didn’t know what to expect anymore.
“Okay,” he said confidently, “only because there’s so much I just don’t understand, I’ll let you stay with me for a while.”
Al’s face lit up as Robbie fought the urge to shake his head.
“Really?” Al was clearly overjoyed, her eyes practically sparkling. “You mean it?”
“Of course,” Chris told her. “You need a place to stay, and I need, uh, you to … protect me.” He was a little embarrassed to admit he wanted the protection of a young girl. “This will be a mutual benefit.”
Robbie saw a good opportunity to seize an exit.
“Well, this has been a hell of a day,” he said with a little added drama in his tone, “so I must reeeaaally be going now.”
“You’re going home?” Chris asked. He could tell Robbie was highly distressed, and Chris understood why he was feeling insecure.
“Y-yeah,” Robbie replied with an anxious grin. The gym bag hanging from his shoulder felt ten times heavier than usual. “To put it straight, I need to rest. And think.”
Giving Robbie a pat on the shoulder, Chris smiled a warm, genuine smile.
“Thanks a lot, Robbie,” he said.
“Thanks for what?”
“For your help today.”
“I didn’t really do much,” Robbie said with a shrug, “except help you beat up the shrimp.”
“I heard that,” Al warned.
“Just rest up,” Chris told Robbie. “We’ll have plenty of time to talk about this later.”
Robbie chuckled and said, “Yeah, yeah. I’m sure we will. Ohhhh, I’m suuuure we will, Chris.”
As Chris watched Robbie walk off, he instinctively realized they would be great allies. However, Chris also realized they would be facing a terrifying, dangerous situation.
“Are you ready to go?” Al asked Chris impatiently. “I’m hungry and wanna take a shower.”
Thirdly, Chris realized he was about to take a girl home with him for the first time ever. A truly terrifying, dangerous situation.
Al sat on Chris’s bed and twirled her necklace, making large circles in the air with the cheap plastic aleph-naught pendant. Having lived as part of a secret organization with roots dating back to antiquity, she was largely unfamiliar with modern life and its cultures and technology, although she was exposed to them frequently.
Scanning Chris’s bedroom, she marveled at the odd objects, doodads, decorations, and knickknacks that all converged into a mishmash of visual overload. However, the scent of clean linens and body spray was nice. An American teenage boy’s room was indeed a den of wonder.
When Chris walked into the room carrying a plate of food, Al was examining the posters on the walls. Chris had just eaten dinner with his parents, although his stomach still felt odd from the events at Revere Park.
“Your residence is quite unique,” Al commented. “It’s not the first time I’ve been in a place like this, but each home is different.”
“It’s home, though,” Chris replied, handing Al the dinner plate.
“What’s with the cartoon pictures?” she asked, pointing at the posters of the Bleach anime and Rick and Morty show. “Are you really a high schooler?”
“Those shows aren’t really for kids,” he said.
Al looked at the steak on her plate. The tantalizing smell of the black pepper and seasonings paired delectably with the steamed vegetables lightly dusted with oregano and thyme with an olive oil sheen.
“Is this beef?” She examined the food up close.
“Yeah,” Chris told her. “Porterhouse steak. You know, my parents are suspicious that I brought an extra steak to my room, and with vegetables.”
Not answering right away, Al directed her eyes up at Chris.
“The last country I was stationed in was India,” she said. “Cows are considered sacred by the Hindus there.” An awkward silence followed because Chris didn’t know how to respond to that. Al grabbed the fork and knife, a mischievous grin spreading on her face. She started prodding the well-seasoned porterhouse steak with the utensils, snickering as she did so. “It’s been so long … since I’ve eaten steak.”
“Just don’t be loud,” Chris said, feeling slightly uncomfortable at that point. “It’d be bad if my parents found out I snuck a girl in here, especially since you’re a kid.”
Al was savoring a mouthful of steak which she quickly swallowed when hearing Chris’s comment.
“I’m not a kid,” she told him shortly. “I’m thirteen, so that actually makes me a teenager like you.”
“Eh, that’s still a bit of an age gap between us.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Al cut into the steak again, noisily sliding the serrated blade across the plate as she did so, giving Chris goosebumps. “I’ve participated in numerous covert operations. Your parents will never know of my existence.”
The voice of Chris’s mother came from outside his bedroom door merely seconds before she opened it. Chris’s heart flopped in panic. However, Al was nowhere to be found.
Chris’s mother saw the desperate look on her son’s face as he stood in the middle of his bedroom with a partially-eaten steak dinner resting on his bed.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Uh, just considering the mysteries of the human condition.” Chris laughed nervously, thinking about his abrupt answer.
“Oh. I made a mixed berry cheesecake and wanted to let you know it’s ready.”
“Okay, I’ll get some if I feel like it.”
As soon as Chris’s mother closed the door, Al appeared next to Chris, startling him.
“That was a weird answer,” she said snidely. “Do you hide all your secrets behind the mysteries of the human condition?”
Chris looked at his bedroom door.
“Maybe I do, but never realized it.”
Al took that as a cue to finish eating the steak quickly approaching room temperature.
The sun was on the verge of setting, but the cloud cover hastened the onset of darkness over Chicago. Bret Taurus, the Hispanic delinquent from Lyonbole, ducked into an old alleyway, having made it all the way to Englewood. While hidden in a smelly nook, he pondered the insidious circumstances he had just narrowly escaped from, as well as take the time to plan his next move.
However, his reason for travelling all the way to the southwest side was because he had been informed of a deal. This deal, as Bret had been told, was supposed to be far better than the petty drug deals and thievery he was tired of doing. This deal was supposed to bring him the very things he always wanted, even if those desires were subconscious in the bottom of his heart.
Desperate for change and not knowing where else to turn, he had jumped at the chance.
Squatting on the ground behind a dumpster, Bret pulled the hood of his sweatshirt over his head. The deal had been something he could not bring himself to agree on. That person … that thing he had met … was not to be bargained with. Promises of inhuman powers and other such talk was nothing Bret wanted to involve himself with, no matter what ends it could attain.
Yet, in that alleyway while staring at the dirty ground, he couldn’t help but feel like that thing had taken a piece of him as a nonrefundable down payment for their meeting. Even though Bret had flatly refused to go through with the deal, he had an immense feeling that something had been stolen away.
Making his way slowly into the street, he looked around and realized he recognized the area. An old contact used to live nearby, and being strapped for cash, Bret decided to stop by and see if he could make a safer, more dependable drug deal to get money into his wallet. The cocaine in his pocket was meant to be a celebratory offering if the “deal of a lifetime” had gone through, but now it was nothing more than potential cash in a world of sin.