ANNO DOMINI ~Allium~ [Beta version]
***THANKS FOR READING!***
Howdy, ya'll! I'm just in time for one last chapter before the end of the year! Now with the holidays coming to a close, I'll be able to keep up on here better, since the last couple of months were busy. I've also been working on commissioning an artist to do some manga-style artwork for this story, and I'm super excited about getting that going! :)
If you like this story, violate that "Like" button! I also love comments, so feel free to leave some and I'll do my best to respond!
AND I WISH YOU ALL A HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! Let's continue down the path of otaku love in the next year!
BOOK 1, CHAPTER 9: ANCIENT BEING OF MALEVOLENCE
The very second Chris opened his eyes, he knew he was late for school. There was no need to look at the time because the amount of daylight coming through his windows was a sure enough indicator. Hopping out of bed, the first thing he checked was his phone, which was what he used for waking up, but it didn’t go off for some reason.
However, something was different about the phone. There was a mysterious loading screen, as if some sort of app was booting up. Chris’s initial panic due to his lateness suddenly faded and his curiosity stepped up to the forefront. What was his phone doing?
He glanced around. There was no sign of Al anywhere, although he knew she very well could have been using her invisibility, but he hoped she had left.
“Al?” he called out. No response.
He looked back at his phone as the loading screen reached one hundred percent completion.
“What the heck?” he asked out loud. “Is this … the Excalibur A.I. app?”
The phone’s screen suddenly went white and a big, green checkmark popped up in the center. A man’s voice then came from the phone’s loud speaker.
“Voice authentication confirmed.” The voice sounded dignified and formal.
Chris stared, dumbfounded, at the phone as his normal home screen returned. However, the voice continued to speak.
“Are you Christopher Joshua Findale?” the voice asked.
“Uh … yeah,” Chris replied hesitantly.
“It is nice to meet you. I am the Excalibur Artificial Intelligence application for your smartphone.”
“Excalibur? You’re that app!”
“I am a specially designed interface. My one and only purpose is to aid you.” When Chris didn’t know what to say, Excalibur continued. “You have already spoken with Lavi, so you know that your future will be perilous and pivotal. That is why I have been downloaded onto your smartphone.”
Chris hadn’t known what to expect from the app, but now because it was functional, he wasn’t very surprised by it. It was something that had been determined very long ago, he felt. Additionally, it also felt very familiar to him, like a type of resolute déjà vu that had been whispered into his ears every time he fell asleep.
Somewhere outside of his conscious mind, Chris had anticipated the event.
“Excalibur,” he said to his phone, “what should I do from here?”
“Attend school. You are very late.”
Chris was struck with reality, like a flyswatter to the back of his head. Darting around his room, he quickly got dressed, gathered his school materials, and rushed out of the house. The bus schedules weren’t aligned in his favor, considering the hurry he was in, and he had to make the relatively short trip on foot. All he could think about while jogging down the street was why his parents both had to work too early to be home to wake him up.
He barged loudly through the main entrance of the high school. The current period was just about to end and he didn’t have time to make it to his class before lunch. Slowing his pace to a normal walk, Chris checked to make sure nobody was around. He was alone in the hall.
“Excalibur,” he said quietly. His phone was in his pocket.
“Yes?” the voice said, muffled by his pants.
“Don’t talk to me when others are around,” Chris told it. “That would be a bad idea.”
“I am well aware of the customs,” Excalibur replied. “My programmer knows humans very well.”
“Oh, okay.” Chris continued walking, checking his surroundings again for anyone nearby. “I have to ask. Why didn’t my alarm work this morning? Is it your fault that I’m late for school? I had a perfect attendance.”
“It was necessary to cease functions of every other application in your phone during my installation,” Excalibur told him. “One hundred percent of your phone’s new specs needed to be geared toward the process of this particular update. Therefore, your alarm’s processes were shut down.”
“That was inconvenient,” he said dully. “You ruined my perfect attendance record. Not like it really mattered, though. The only thing I would’ve received was a piece of paper and honorary announcement during graduation.”
“You need to weigh the results of both scenarios,” Excalibur said. “You can find pieces of paper anywhere. It is also easy to have another person say your name into a microphone in front of trillions of people.”
“Uh, it wouldn’t be in front of that many people,” Chris replied, trying to laugh.
“I am fully aware of that. That was a joke. It was my very first one.”
“… I see.”
“Did you find it funny? Am I a successful joke-telling artificial intelligence?”
“Um, well ….”
“That was also a joke,” Excalibur said. “However, it is difficult for me to comprehend the differences between something called a joke and something called sarcasm. They both appear to be attempts at something called humor, and yet I cannot differentiate between them easily.”
“Please don’t try too hard,” Chris muttered, trying not to beg so obviously.
“Back to the matter of your phone’s processes being compromised during my installation,” Excalibur continued. “I will apologize. I am sorry. A lot of data and power were needed. Now that I am downloaded, I will operate in the background processes of your phone at all times.”
Chris thought for a second, not wanting to openly voice the fact he was uneasy about Excalibur constantly being active.
“I can’t shut you down?” Chris asked. “Won’t that take up a lot of battery power?”
“Your phone has been reconfigured to handle more processing power than normal,” Excalibur explained, “and that includes battery life. While I operate in the background, I am merely using a little more than twenty-eight hundred kilowatt hours of energy a day, which is fractional compared to what your phone can now handle.”
“What’s a kilowatt hour?” Chris asked. “I don’t know what that means.”
“It is a term I was programmed with to say during a conversation within the parameters of this one. In simple terms, your phone’s battery will last longer on a single charge than it ever did, even with me operating to full capacity for hours on end.”
“So, does that mean you’re acting at full capacity now?” Chris asked, trying to pry any simplicity out of Excalibur’s confusing answers.
“No,” the app replied. “For the time being, this is software version 0.9, and is not a complete version. More updates will occur in the future, and I will become more useful to you.”
The bell rang, indicating hundreds of hungry students were about to swarm the hallways on their way to the cafeteria. Chris was almost to his locker when the classrooms emptied out, and he was glad when Excalibur went silent on its own. He knew very little about computer programs, but he understood Excalibur was advanced enough to remain quiet around other people. The last thing he needed was the attention of everyone around him.
An idea came to him, and he stopped walking to dig through his book bag. He had a Bluetooth earpiece for his phone that could be used to communicate with Excalibur. Although people could hear Chris speak, it would sound like a casual conversation as long as they didn’t hear Excalibur. As far as Chris was concerned, it’d be a good idea to keep the app a secret.
Chris placed the earpiece on his right ear and synched his phone to it via Bluetooth. When the connection was established, Chris spoke softly.
“Can you hear me like this?” he asked Excalibur.
“Yes.” Excalibur’s voice came through the earpiece. “Can you hear me as well?”
“Yeah. This should be good for keeping our conversations a little more private in places like this, but it still has limits. People can hear me and I can’t use this during class.”
“But it is still valuable,” Excalibur replied. “Also, there is something I need to inform you of.”
“I am detecting two very malicious entities in close proximity to your location. They are likely in the building.”
Chris stopped walking, interrupting the flow of students walking down the hall. A few annoyed students looked at him as they brushed past, and Chris stepped to the side of the hall and looked around.
“They’re in the school?” he asked, feeling nervous.
“What … are they?”
“One is an ancient being,” Excalibur explained. “It is notably nasty, but I can’t tell what it is doing.”
There were probably a hundred students just within Chris’s current line of vision, not to mention how many there were altogether in the school. Swallowing a lump in his throat, he tried to keep calm. There was a very good chance he was the only person with the ability to protect everyone, so he couldn’t afford to panic.
“What should I do?” Chris asked, keeping his voice down.
“We need to be careful and figure out as much as we can,” Excalibur told him. “I am not yet able to offer my full range of functions, so my assistance to you is quite limited.”
That wasn’t the answer Chris wanted to hear. What if it was too late and students were already being harmed? He expected to hear screams of fear at any moment, and that only made him more anxious.
“Okay,” he said. “You said there was another one in here?”
“Yes. Unfortunately, it is something I have no data on, but it appears to exude a similar negative aura. Also, according to various calculations and simulations I have just performed, I estimate a seventy-one to eighty-four percent chance that this second entity poses a much greater threat than the confirmed ancient being.”
A drop of sweat ran down Chris’s forehead, making him realize he had been sweating. Being both calm and patient was Chris’s only option at the time, but doing so was proving very difficult. The situation was completely alien to his previous concept of the world. It was clear Chris was at a disadvantage.
“Are they close to this spot?” Chris asked, warily continuing toward his locker.
“The ancient being is, and it is moving closer.”
Chris’s eyes darted around. There were students everywhere and he had no idea what to look for. Just as he was about to ask Excalibur for a description, it made its appearance, phasing through the ceiling like a ghost.
The entity resembled a bundle of cloths and smoke, absolutely black with no other shades or reflection of light at all. No shadow was cast from it, as it was like a shadow itself with no adherence to standard physics. Chris watched, motionless and breathless, as it drifted down from the ceiling nearly fifty feet away from him, moving gently and slowly like dust being swept from a ceiling fan.
When more of the being was in sight, Chris noticed it had a humanoid figure: two legs, two arms, torso, and a head … but it was clearly not of the physical world and resembled nothing he had ever seen.
Nobody else noticed as the nightly mass sank to the floor. Students walked through it, talking with each other and going on with their daily lives. It touched down on the polished, pristine floor as if deciding to stand on something it could just as easily pass through. Fully erecting itself upright at a height of at least eight feet, it towered above the oblivious crowd as an obelisk of bleakness.
“Do you see it?” Excalibur spoke through Chris’s earpiece.
Chris had to swallow before speaking.
“What is that thing?” His voice nearly cracked.
Excalibur was quiet for a few seconds.
“That has no name. It is a manifestation of negative energy, wrought over millions of years since before mankind’s first breath. More than likely, human negativity has contributed to the latter stages of its evolution.”
“I-I don’t understand,” Chris replied glumly. “Negative energy? Like hatred?”
“Do you feel the negativity I speak of?” Excalibur asked. “It is being emitted from the being.”
Chris stood in place, the thought of moving never crossing his mind, his feet cemented to the gorgeous, untarnished floor of Lyonbole’s hallways. He was transfixed on the ancient malevolence. It did not appear to have any features other than its shape and shadowiness, so it was impossible to tell who or what it was looking at … if it even needed eyes to detect its surroundings. However, Chris did not feel the sense of “negativity” Excalibur mentioned.
“No,” Chris replied, “I can’t feel it.”
“I see,” Excalibur said. “Then it seems you have a lot to learn.”
The being moved down the hall away from Chris. Its “legs” appeared to mimic a person’s walking motions, but it was definitely not walking the way one would think as its legs stirred and rolled underneath it. While it followed the current of students, Chris tagged behind it, keeping his distance, and thinking of what to do.
“Nobody has any idea what they’re right next to,” Chris said quietly. “Has that thing been wandering around the school all this time?”
“I do not know,” Excalibur said. “It is possible it has been here the entire time before your ability to perceive it, but it may have been summoned, manipulated, herded, or influenced at some point. The only thing for certain is that its birth took place eons ago.”
“How smart is it? If it’s dumb, it might be easier to deal with.”
“Intelligence is difficult to measure, for it is subjective and contains too many variables that constitute it. If you are asking if it is sentient, then yes, it is aware of its existence and surroundings. As for cognitive capacity, memory, emotional aspects, problem solving, creativity, and planning ability … it is uncertain. Those are all variances of intelligence as understood by humans, and may not apply in the case of beings such as the one you are observing.”
Chris wasn’t fully paying attention to Excalibur’s lengthy explanation, but was still focused on the ancient being. After not even a minute, it broke away from the crowd of students and vanished through a wall. Just as Chris thought, the being did not need to adhere to physical laws. So why did it seem to mimic human behavior? Was it learning? Bored? Impressionable?
“Do not let your guard down,” Excalibur cautioned. “It has not disappeared, but is still moving.”
“That creeps me out.” A shudder ran down Chris’s body. “Something like that is roaming around. And it probably has been for a while.”
“You may want to investigate the other target I mentioned,” Excalibur told him. “It is farther away, but I believe it to be in the building as well.”
Chris wiped the sweat from his forehead, which continued to form on his brow. Trusting Excalibur, a mysterious phone app that had just started talking earlier that morning, was all Chris had to go by.
“I have a weapon,” Chris said, mostly trying to make himself feel more confident. “It’s some kind of holy handgun called Gunnhildr. Would that stop it?”
“I know of Gunnhildr,” Excalibur replied, “but I was not aware that you had it. Do you know how to use the absolving bullets?”
“Uh, not really, but Lavi told me I have them.”
“You are still fortunate. The absolving bullets should suffice in neutralizing the ancient malevolence.”
“But I don’t know how to use them. I already fought some … thing, and Gunnhildr was hard to figure out.”
“Trust in yourself. Look inside yourself for the answer to your abilities, because your powers and the answers to tapping into them both originate from the same place.”
For the first time since the curtains were raised on Chris’s grand play did he feel the way he believed a true superhero would. It was probably due to the cheesy line Excalibur had just delivered, but it invoked Chris’s confidence nonetheless.
“It’s time for lunch now,” Chris said, not knowing what point he was trying to make.
“I recommend you eat,” Excalibur said. “Skipping meals will do you no good.”
Chris understood he needed to eat, and going to lunch would prevent his friends from worrying. It was especially true since he had never been late for a class before, so some people were undoubtedly suspicious of something strange.
The number of students in the hallways had dwindled when Chris reached his locker. He yanked it open, keeping a sharp lookout for anything unusual.
I need to get Mr. Kampton! Chris thought as he haphazardly tossed his book bag into his locker. He’ll know what to do. He should be able to do something about these things wandering around.
He strutted to the main office at a brisk pace, carrying his lunchbox so he wouldn’t have to backtrack to his locker for lunch. Mrs. Brown was the secretary, a scary-looking lady with mightily permed hair and enough makeup to graffiti one long side of a train car. When Chris confronted her abruptly, noisily landing his hands onto her desk, her startled expression quickly slouched into a nasty grimace.
“I need to see Mr. Kampton!” His voice was firm and demanding, which was unlike him in most situations.
Mrs. Brown narrowed her eyes.
“Do you have an appointment?” she said in her typical nasally tone.
“It’s really important!” Chris told her. “I wasn’t planning on this, so no, I don’t have an appointment.”
“Mr. Kampton is not in today,” Mrs. Brown replied, sounding aggravated because she was being interrupted from the massive two-page stack of papers needing to be processed in the seven-hour time crunch … but she always sounded that way when speaking with students. “He’s on a trip he’d been planning for months. He’ll be back tomorrow.”
The heaviness of Chris’s disappointment pressed on his shoulders.
Angels take trips? he wondered.
“Oh,” was all he could think to say. “Uh, in that case, never mind.”
Mrs. Brown raised her eyebrows as she directed her attention to her computer. Such was her signature way of letting a person know she was done speaking with them. Slowly, Chris turned and exited the office, his first couple of steps dragging on the floor. When he rejoined the cafeteria-bound students in the hallway, he tried thinking of some alternative plan. Before making it to the cafeteria, the conclusion was made that he’d have to handle the predicament himself.
Robbie yawned as he walked out of his class to go to lunch. The first half of the day had been boring, but he had managed to stay productive. He was on autopilot while walking to his locker, trying his best to think of something other than the events of the previous day; other than Aleph-Naught, Lavi, and crazy superpowers. He struggled to think about an upcoming geography test and an English essay, which were normal thoughts for students his age. Yes, normal … normal was good.
Something caught Robbie’s eye and brought him back to reality: Erik Hawthorne was in school that day, talking with two other boys. Hesitant at first, Robbie went up to Erik. The two had been friends, but clashing school schedules had drifted them apart, and yet Robbie felt somewhat uncomfortable to approach him.
Uncomfortable because of their drifting apart. Uncomfortable because Mr. Kampton … a holy angel … had brought Erik up in a notable, unforgettable conversation.
Whatever the reason was for the angel to mention Erik, perhaps Robbie could figure out through casual chitchat. The next question was how to pull it off.
“Erik!” Robbie greeted as he got close.
“Oh, hey!” Erik replied, his face lighting up. “What’s up, Robbie?”
“Not much, man,” Robbie said. “Haven’t really talked in a while. Thought I’d say hey.”
Erik chuckled. “Yeah, and you’re lucky to have caught me. I’m kinda known for calling in sick a lot.”
Eighteen years old and in the eleventh grade, Erik had dirty blonde hair and green eyes. Due to frequent illnesses, his skin was pasty, almost pale, and he was a tad on the scrawny side. His own appearance conspired against him as he was widely known as “The Sick Kid” around school.
“Glad you’re feeling good enough to be here today,” Robbie said. “How’ve ya been?”
“Oh, good, I guess,” Erik replied with a shrug. “It’s hard to keep up with school when I gotta catch up on so many lessons all the time.”
“Yeah, makes sense.”
“Still playing basketball?” Erik asked.
“Sure am. It’s the best time of my day,” Robbie said proudly.
“Good to hear.”
The conversation was coming to an end, and Robbie found it hard to keep talking while thinking of ways to figure out why Lavi had mentioned Erik. Nothing seemed different about Erik at that point, and the silence was just about to reach its minimum length to be considered an awkward one.
“Hey, it was good talking to ya, man,” Robbie said, deciding to wrap things up.
“For sure,” Erik replied happily.
“We should chill again sometime,” Robbie suggested. “Just like old times.”
There was a slight drop in Erik’s expression, as if he was unsure of something.
“Sounds good.” It was slight as well, but Erik’s tone of voice went with the look on his face. “I’d like to.”
Robbie continued toward his locker, feeling as if he learned nothing. Optimistically, if anything, he’d be hanging out with an old buddy again, possibly soon.
The hustle and bustle of The Loop annoyed Al as she wandered around, taking the chance to do some sightseeing while waiting to hear from her superiors for further instructions. Despite her annoyance, she was enjoying herself, thinking of the occasion as a sort of vacation.
She made her way to Millennium Park, and it was hard for her not to feel somewhat awed by various attractions among the park’s spacious layout. While staring at a large, bean-shaped sculpture made entirely from mirror-like metal, she was amused by the rounded, distorted reflection it captured of Chicago’s skyline. Dozens of people were gathered around it, taking pictures and being entertained by their reflections.
The center of the sculpture featured an archway for people to walk under. As Al approached it, she noticed a police officer under the archway attempting to wake up a sleeping homeless person on the ground.
“How many times have I told you not to fall asleep here?” Officer Duke Harrison said to the person who was now awake.
“Hrrm, sorry sir,” Biscuits N’ Gravy apologized, slowly climbing to his feet. He brushed some dirt off his tattered, smelly tuxedo.
“I’d better not catch you sleeping under here again, Mr. Gravy,” Harrison told the bum.
Al walked up to them with a big grin, her hands in the pockets of her baggy, gray hoodie.
“Aw, don’t be mean to him, Officer,” she said, still grinning. “He’s probably just tired.”
“It’s unsightly to have homeless people loitering here,” Harrison replied. “This is a major tourist attraction. It’d be bad for the city’s image. Also,” his voice dropped as he thought about the incident with Ivan Dudek and the stolen medication, “homeless people may be at risk for catching and spreading disease.”
“This is a major attraction?” Al looked up at the bottom of the bean-shaped structure, her mouth dropping when seeing the concave shape of the omphalos creating stunning reflections. “Well, it is kinda mind-blowing.”
“Its official name is Cloud Gate,” he explained, “although most people call it The Bean.”
“A cloud gate?” Al suppressed a snicker. “What’s that mean?”
After some thought, Harrison said, “I think it has to do with how its rounded reflections seem to bring the ground and sky together. And when you walk underneath here,” he pointed up at the concave omphalos, “it looks almost like a portal to another dimension, or so they say.”
Al looked at the “portal to another dimension” for a moment, then grinned again.
“Heh, I wonder if this is how we can talk to angels!” she said jokingly.
Biscuits N’ Gravy had been spacing out until he heard Al’s last statement. Slowly, the energy in his bones began to build as his eyes widened and fingers shook. His dusty throat coughed out the one word that had brought upon his reaction.
Aleph-Naught and Duke Harrison exchanged glances before looking back at Biscuits N’ Gravy, who continued to tremble as his eyes widened more by the second.
“Uh, what’s this dude’s damage?” Al muttered as she watched the delirious episode slowly manifest in the homeless man’s body language.
Suddenly, Biscuits N’ Gravy sprung forward, his arms and legs stretched out.
“The end is nigh!” he declared, catching the attention of everyone nearby. He darted out from underneath the Cloud Gate sculpture, causing a ruckus as he tore through Millennium Park faster than a man of his health should have. “Prepare yourselves! The new world is upon us all!”
Harrison rubbed his temples in frustration, deciding to let the bum go about his noisy business. When he turned to look at the young blonde girl in the uniquely-patterned gray hoodie, he saw that she had seemingly disappeared. Al, in an attempt to simply get away from the situation, had activated her invisibility magic and made a stealthy exit from the area.