ANNO DOMINI ~Allium~
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BOOK 1, CHAPTER 20: HIPPOCRATIC OATH
Erik stared at Chris, Robbie, and Bret. His face was nearly blank, but contained a downtrodden expression, nearly too absent of thought and emotion to be humanly receptive. Gradually, with painstaking slowness and unnatural progression, his visage lightened to the point of being acceptable for a person’s response to seeing his classmates.
“Huh?” His senses stumbled around before setting in. “Robbie? What are you doing here?” He looked at Chris and Bret. “Have I … seen you guys before? Yeah. At school.”
“It’s a really, uh, well … it’s a story,” Robbie tried to explain, “but we were led here.” When Erik didn’t reply, but only divert his gaze, Robbie added, “So, what are you up to? Is it just you here?”
“Uh, sorta.” Erik was thinking about his answer, leading to his fidgety body language. He remembered what he had in his pocket, which he removed and showed the other boys. “I was just playing with my yo-yo.”
The yellow H-shaped body wasn’t one that Chris or Robbie had seen before. However, the elaborate, patterned etchings were familiar, and there was no mistaking the symbol that matched the pendant on Al’s necklace.
“That yo-yo!” Chris did not expect what he saw. “Where’d you get that?”
Erik was surprised by Chris’s response.
“I found it,” he replied.
“Where?” Chris quickly approached Erik. “Did you get that from somebody? A girl with short, blonde hair?”
That was all the information Erik needed to understand the depth of entanglement he had found himself in.
What’s going on here? Erik wondered. That girl was no ordinary person. If these guys know her, then does that mean … they’re like me? I’ve had my suspicions that there are others ….
“I thought those dice were supposed to let you find a girl.” Bret gave Chris a dirty look. “We found this dude. This male.”
“That’s what she told me,” Chris said. He shook his head. “No, I have no doubt that she wouldn’t lie to me. I think the dice follow the yo-yo, not herself. She probably didn’t intend on losing her yo-yo, either.” Looking straight at Erik with firm eye contact, Chris said, “Erik, where did you get that yo-yo?”
Erik tightened his grip on the yellow H-shaped body. He began breathing heavily, as if readying himself for some arduous task. What would he do? This was not what he had planned on happening.
“Erik,” Robbie said quietly, trying to be non-threatening and serious, “tell us where you got that.”
“Enough with the questions!” Erik snarled. A treacherous presence immediately showed itself on his face, and there was something in his eyes, some sort of redness in the pupils caused not by light, but by another source of energy … a foul, resentful energy. “I have my own questions for you three.” His face tightened into a collage of various, ambiguous expressions such as pleading, disgust, and anger. With a small voice, he said, “Why aren’t you sick?”
Chris and Robbie exchanged glances, wondering what Erik meant.
“What do you mean?” Chris asked.
Erik became angrier, throwing the yellow yo-yo to the ground.
“It’s a simple question,” he said, balling his fists. “How can you three be healthy right now? You really don’t feel sick at all?”
“You’re not making sense!” Robbie said impatiently. “A lot of people are sick. We’re just lucky, I guess, or healthy.”
“No.” Erik shook his head. “I don’t think that’s it.” A smoggy aura began to diffuse from Erik’s body. It was faint, but the blackish green was indeed visible. “I just met somebody who was resistant to the disease, even after being exposed directly.”
“Who?” Chris demanded. “It was the girl with the yo-yo. That’s right, isn’t it?”
“You know her, then,” Erik muttered, the smoggy aura growing thicker. “That explains it. You have whatever she has. You have a resistance.”
“A resistance to what?” Robbie looked at Erik with disbelief. “Erik … are you the one … making everyone sick?”
Erik didn’t say anything, but the glum expression on his face gave him away.
“Uh, this don’t look too good.” Bret watched the smoggy aura stretch across the field they were in, covering the entire area. “What the hell is this? Smoke?”
“Erik!” Robbie yelled. “Answer me!”
“It’s true, Robbie.” Erik’s voice was softer now, and he showed small signs of guilt. “The spreading sickness … is my fault.”
Robbie clenched his teeth when he heard the answer he didn’t want to hear, but had expected. When Chris took a step forward, Erik immediately went on the defensive.
“Stop where you are,” Erik ordered.
“Just tell us what happened to the girl.” Chris was firm when he spoke, staring Erik down. “We’re looking for her, and that’s why we came here.”
“I have no idea,” Erik replied.
“Tell me the truth,” Chris said.
“I’m not lying!” The red glow in Erik’s eyes flashed for a second, correlating with a sudden influx of more smoggy aura. “I don’t know what happened to her after.”
Erik looked at the ground before his eyes moved to slowly meet with Chris’s. Any guilt on the sickly boy’s face was now erased.
“After I fought her and beat her.”
Instinctively, Chris wanted to brandish Gunnhildr and strike Erik with an absolving bullet. However, he hesitated to do so. To date, he had only successfully used the holy handgun one time, and the twelve-hour reload time meant he would have to use it strategically.
One shot, one chance.
“This is unbelievable!” Robbie barked. “What are you doing, Erik? Why would you make people sick?”
“Because I’m always the one who’s sick!” Erik snapped. “All my life, a bad immune system has made it a living hell. Even now, everyone knows me as ‘the sick kid’. ‘Don’t get too close to Erik, you’ll catch his cooties!’ is what they always say. Well guess what? Now they are right!”
“Oh, this is real rich!” Bret jeered, cracking his knuckles. “A typical sob story. ‘Poor me, life sucks, let me ruin everyone else’s lives’ kinda thing! If anything is making me sick, it’s your whining! Hey, Chris, Robbie. Let’s knock this baby out!”
“No, we should talk this out first,” Chris said. “Listen to me, Erik. There has to be another way.”
Unfortunately, Erik was now beyond negotiations. The sinister source of his power was pumping a purely evil presence through his veins, oozing from his body and leaking into the air as the smoggy aura that now covered half of the forest preserve.
As a side effect of the evil presence, much of Erik’s human mind had been shut down, specifically his ability to relate with others and consider peaceful alternatives. He was now obsessed with the one desire that fueled his wicked power, focused on inflicting everyone with the same suffering that had anchored him down since birth.
Erik Hawthorne wanted everyone in the world to suffer.
“There is no talking anymore,” Erik muttered through gritted teeth before shouting, “Everyone needs to suffer!”
Lifting his left hand, Erik thrust his fingertips into his right wrist, ripping through the flesh before grasping his radial artery and yanking it out. The grizzly display was performed once more as he dug into his wrist and removed his ulnar artery as well. These two blood vessels, the largest sources of blood flowing into the hand, were stretched out longer than they should have been allowed, but Erik’s non-biological, microscopic squadrons were already busy at work, altering the boy’s own body and biology in disturbing ways.
“D-dear Neptune!” Robbie cried, taken aback by what Erik had just done.
“That’s messed up,” Bret croaked.
Chris’s stomach churned as he watched Erik’s pulsing arteries slither downward and pierce into the ground. After a few seconds, Erik used his left hand to clutch the arteries and attempt to pull them out of the soil, as if trying to unearth something. With a final heave, and with an oddly comical popping sound, Erik yanked a filthy medical IV pole up from the dirt.
“Ah, here it is,” Erik announced proudly, eyeing his unburied piece of equipment.
Chris, Robbie, and Bret stared with their mouths open, feeling disgusted and absolutely confused. The two arteries from Erik’s wrist were directly attached to a dirty-looking bag fastened at the top of the IV pole, syphoning the liquid contents straight into his body. With a relieving sigh and smile of true contentment, Erik looked rather relaxed and refreshed.
“This isn’t quite what I was expecting,” he snickered with a goofy grin while practically hugging the IV pole, “but man, this feels great! The diseases are flowing right into me!”
“Chris,” Bret said weakly, “I beg of you, let’s pound this guy.”
With no better ideas, Chris said, “Sure.”
“N-not so fast,” Erik told them cockily, clutching the IV pole like a lance. “Now that you know my secret, I-I can’t let you go.” Despite his words and actions, it was clear he was uneasy and nervous. His hands shook as he gripped the unorthodox weapon.
“We ain’t leaving now!” Bret replied. “It’s settled. We’re gonna pummel you!”
Hearing Bret’s threat only provoked Erik. He made eye contact with Robbie, who returned a look of disappointment.
“Don’t give me that look, Robbie!” Erik barked. “You … you abandoned our f-friendship, and now you’re standing against me? I can’t believe you!”
“It’s not like that!” There was sadness in Robbie’s voice, but he stayed firm. “I had no idea what was going on, Erik. I still don’t really know. But,” he took an offensive step forward, “I know that you’re doing something bad! You’re hurting people, making ‘em sick. And for that …,” he raised his fists, mimicking the boxing stances he’d seen in movies such as Rocky and Million Dollar Baby, “I’m against you.”
Erik glared at Robbie as Chris stepped forward.
“This is your last chance, Erik.” Chris’s absolute resolve radiated as he spoke. “You’re outnumbered, and we can settle this a better way.”
“It’s funny that you’d give me a chance,” Erik replied wryly, “because I’m not giving you any!”
The time for talk was over. Still holding the IV pole like a lance, Erik charged directly at Chris. His speed was fast, too fast for a normal person. In the couple of seconds it took Erik to close the distance, Chris realized he had a good opportunity to shoot Erik with an absolving bullet. However, a sudden fear overtook him as the grimy IV pole speared toward him, clouding his judgment. Unable to properly take action, Chris threw his hands out in a feeble attempt to block the attack.
Erik held the IV pole close to the top with his right hand, clutching the bottom half with his left hand. Bypassing Chris’s meager defense, he forcefully thrusted the heavy base of the pole (designed to stand the pole upright and included little swivel wheels for mobility, although covered in rust) into Chris’s chest.
The strike pushed the breath out of Chris, but he remained on his feet. Erik’s arteries were still connected to the IV pole, so his movement and flexibility with the weapon were limited. Even with his lack of fighting experience, Erik noticed the opening to land another hit on Chris. Spinning clockwise, he brought the IV pole around and struck Chris in the side, knocking him aside several feet before tumbling onto the ground.
“Chris!” Robbie shouted.
Turning his attention to Robbie, Erik readied himself to attack the next closest opponent. Planting his feet firmly on the ground, he positioned the IV pole for another thrust using the pole’s base.
Thinking quickly, Robbie held his hands out in front of him with his palms facing outward, a stance commonly used in basketball to catch a ball pass. If he could grab Erik’s weapon, it’d give Bret a chance to counterattack.
I gotta block this! Robbie thought during the fraction of time while he watched the oncoming attack. Block it! Block it!
Erik attempted to aim his thrust below Robbie’s hands, aiming at his abdomen. Realizing Robbie was better suited to handle the attack, he diverted more power into his weapon. The dark powers flowed from his body, travelling through his wrist’s blood vessels and into the IV pole, filling it with energy and making it glow a ghastly yellow-green that shone through the ill aura covering most of the forest preserve.
A dedicated thrust, propelled by sinister powers and amplified by millions of phantom pathogens, rushed forward.
Robbie failed to catch the weapon. In fact, he had no need to. The sickly weapon collided with a barrier directly in front of Robbie, halting it indefinitely. Stunned initially, Robbie immediately took comfort in what was happening, for it was not his first time witnessing the phenomenon: a small orange wall between him and a harmful impact.
A protective shield, composed of nothing but energy.
Consciously and deliberately, Robbie made his energy shield pulse once. Doing so made the shield disappear, but by dispelling itself forward, pushing Erik backward.
“What?” Erik was in shock as his IV pole was deflected, almost breaking out of his grasp, making his hands hurt. “A force field!”
Bret swiftly lunged forward. He sank his strong fist into Erik’s stomach, following up with an equally strong punch to his face. Finding himself in pain with his back on the ground, Erik was helpless against Bret’s ruthless kicks and stomps, crying out with every hit.
“Bret! Stop it!” Chris had climbed back to his feet, unhurt but rattled.
Reluctantly, Bret resisted the urge to deliver any more kicks. Unfortunately, that gave Erik another opportunity to attack, as his disease-filled body felt stronger and lighter than it ever had. Leaping back to his feet, Erik brought the IV pole to the bottom of Bret’s chin in a quick, upward motion. Caught off guard, Bret received another strike from the grimy pole, launching him far into the air. Chris and Robbie watched in horror as Bret soared in a high arc, building anticipation before hearing the crunch of a human body landing on the ground.
Chris and Robbie stood next to each other as Erik ran up to them. Two against one, they would have to coordinate their movements with each other, and do so in accordance to their opponent’s actions. Attacking one probably meant Erik leaving himself open to be attacked by the other.
Erik unexpectedly held the IV pole over his head, then brought it down in a vertical motion. The glowing pole left a yellow-green tracer through the dark aura as a condensed wave of pathogens surged forth. Robbie blocked the attack with another energy shield, but could feel its immense force as his shield shivered and flickered … such was the strength of Erik’s attack.
Chris, however, endured the blast with no protection. Like a snarling gust of hateful wind filled with uncountable ice needles, the pure maliciousness of the attack did far more damage than the physical movement of air. The non-biological microorganisms bombarded Chris’s spirit in hordes of soul-lashing bites and cuts. Those diseases, the army of Erik’s powers made real, threatened to infect Chris and his natural human biology, leading to an infection of his soul. Chris’s only advantage was his own powers, the so-called “superhero powers” Lavi spoke of so flippantly without much explanation, and how they provided a resistance. Chris, Robbie, and Bret shared that trait, their powers protecting them from infection.
Seeing the two boys holding their own against the attack, Erik released another wave. Bringing the IV pole down again with another vertical motion, a more powerful blast followed.
Seemingly unlimited power, the ability to draw energy from an unobservable space, the creation of energy from what appeared to be nothing … none of these boys knew this was the nature of their abilities.
And yet, Erik continued to do so as he sustained the ill wind tunnel at Chris and Robbie. The cells in Erik’s own body continuously reached beyond the physical world, using help from the non-biological pathogens, returning with power attained from that otherworldly realm. Each of his mitochondria dipped from the three dimensions, touching the fourth dimension and higher, all to power the boy with the sinister forces that broke through Robbie’s energy shield and pushed him to the dirt; all to assault Chris with unfathomable viciousness, only to do so in vain, for Chris not only remained upright, but was now walking forward, persisting through the wave of sickness, approaching Erik while wearing a look of intimidating determination.
Unsettled by his failure to push Chris back, Erik ceased his attack and wielded his IV pole.
“Don’t come any closer!” he warned, stepping back.
“Sorry,” Chris muttered, clenching his fist tightly, “but you had your chance to talk me out of this.”
Erik swung his grimy weapon, cutting through his own dark aura with a yellow-green tracer. Chris anticipated the attack, and with his phone already in hand, held it up to block Erik’s blow.
The trajectory, speed, and skill behind Erik’s offense was far inferior to what Chris had experienced when facing Aleph-Naught and her formidable yo-yo. Therefore, thwarting Erik’s swing was far too easy.
The IV pole smacked the screen of Chris’s smartphone, sending a painful shockwave up his arm, but he was ready for it. Just as planned, the rebuttal was tenfold against Erik, reflecting his weapon and disarming him. His hands vibrated in agony, spared from destruction by the cascade of wicked energy granted by the innumerable phantom microbes.
In a state of panic, Erik fumbled with his weapon, unable to properly wield it due to his fright and tingling hands. That was when Chris delivered an attack. The energy from Chris’s closed fist burned Erik’s face before the knuckles lifted him off the ground a few inches. Chris hated resorting to violence, but the effortless jab of his arm was rather seductive as the feeling of striking his enemy added to the experience.
Erik didn’t fall over, but was dazed. He hardly had time to see Chris move.
“I hate fighting,” Chris said gravely as he delivered another strike to Erik’s mouth. “This proves how much you’ve pissed me off!”
A third punch narrowly missed Erik, a combined effort between Chris’s inexperience with throwing punches and the unexpected action of Erik half-stumbling to dodge the attack. Without thinking, and feeling desperate, Erik charged his entire body with his powers and released a sloppy blast from his hands at Chris. However, the move was effective and pushed Chris away as he held his arms up defensively.
This was an opening, and Erik quickly grabbed his weapon and attempted to bash Chris with an awkward swing. The fact Erik was connected to his weapon via blood vessels made him unable to perform many basic swings, and the attack was effortlessly blocked by Chris’s indestructible phone, once again disarming him and causing his hands to throb.
A hearty fist plowed into Erik’s cheek. Bret had regained himself and was mostly unharmed, aside from a scuffed arm. Falling to the ground, Erik yanked his right arm, causing his IV pole to fly up and hit Bret from behind, knocking him off-balance. Although it was a solid strike, Chris and Robbie were already prepared to suppress Erik before he could get back up.
From what Erik could believe, it was a potential dead end for his plans.