ANNO DOMINI ~Allium~ [Beta version]
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BOOK 1, CHAPTER 22: EPIDEMIC
The aura of disease breezed muddily around the preserve, but the standstill of the fight created a pressing silence as Chris and Erik stared each other down. Robbie and Bret got back to their feet, moving to the sidelines, giving enough room for whatever was about to happen.
With a deep breath, Chris ran at Erik. He swung the Excalibur sword, aiming for Erik’s torso. It didn’t matter how lethal the attack would be. Given Erik’s stated intensions to harm thousands of people, Chris’s time of grievance would need to come after defeating his opponent.
Erik blocked the sword with his IV pole at the last second, surprised by the speed of Chris’s swing. The collision of weapons created a metal-on-metal clink sound accompanied by sparks. Using the IV pole, Erik pushed Chris’s sword away. With the directional assistance feature, Chris was able to reposition his sword and slash Erik’s side.
Gasping from pain, Erik twirled the IV pole and landed a hit on Chris’s head, making him see stars. Wielding the pole with lance-like intentions, he planned on thrusting the base into Chris’s face with all the strength he had.
Miraculously, Chris’s recovery was very quick, and he struck the oncoming IV pole’s base with his sword, deflecting it. As Erik stepped back to prevent himself from falling over, Chris struck the base of the pole again, shattering it as the Excalibur blade expelled a small burst of energy on impact. Pieces of the base and its rusty swivel wheels showered the air.
“He damaged Erik’s weapon!” Robbie cheered. “That sword really is something else!”
“Don’t get excited yet,” Bret grunted, keeping his eyes on the action. “This ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”
There was little time for Erik to mourn over the damage dealt to his weapon as Chris moved in for another attack, swinging his sword with distinct deliberation. Erik dodged it sideways, stepped forward, blocked another attack, and then kicked Chris in the knee. As Chris stumbled, Erik gripped the IV pole like a baseball bat and delivered a mighty strike to Chris’s chest, sending Chris flying through the air. Not being athletic, Erik’s form was terrible and off-balance, but his powers compensated effectively.
Chris hit the grassy ground, bouncing and tumbling before coming to a stop, completely unaware of the fact that Erik’s improper swing had spared several bones from being broken or internal organs being severely damaged.
Getting to his feet, Chris rejoiced knowing his phone was essentially stuck to his hand. It also seemed he couldn’t be harmed by the blade at all, as rolling violently across the ground while holding it could have resulted in injury.
“While the sword function is in use,” Excalibur explained, “you are unable to drop your phone unless you desire to do so. Additionally, the blade is very sharp, but cannot harm you unless you desire it to do so.”
“Heh, not sure if I ever want it to hurt me.” Chris applied effort to chuckle, wiping the blood dripping from his mouth. He watched Erik approach, his eyes glinting red as his dragged his IV pole angrily across the withering grass. “So, what’s this guy’s secret, Excalibur? Does he have a weakness?”
“I am unable to obtain any information on him,” Excalibur replied.
“What? I thought you got an update! Aren’t you able to detect stronger enemies, or something now?”
“Yes, my energy detection threshold for targets has increased greatly, so I am able to detect stronger targets than before. However, your current target is still essentially invisible to me. It is possible that he is either masking his presence, or is too powerful for my detection, even now, or his overall energy reading is not compatible with my detection.”
“Same as before, huh?” Chris muttered.
“Also, he has not learned of Lavi’s identity, otherwise he’d automatically be detectable.”
Erik stopped walking, his loose stance belying his teeming powers. He stabbed the broken bottom of the dirty IV pole into the earth to stand it upright, leaning on it for support, the yellow-green glow now absent from the weapon. Coughing harshly, he gasped for air after spitting out a considerable amount of something Chris didn’t want to think about. After a spell of more dry coughs, Erik leaned on his pole for a moment before looking scornfully back at Chris.
Was Erik getting tired? It was clear he was sick, but in Erik’s own words, the sicker he became meant the stronger he became. Although, Erik himself seemed unsure if that was truly the case. Did he lack full understanding of his own powers, or was something else wrong?
He looks worn out, Chris thought. If he’s just tired, then it’s understandable. That would mean that he has his limits. And judging by how I feel right now … I have my limits as well. These powers really aren’t infinite after all, or at least have some kind of restrictions.
Erik could feel the weakness in his legs, but it was far from enough to keep him down. Lifting his IV pole into an offensive position, he readied himself to charge at Chris. Before he could, the sound of running footsteps behind him caught his attention, and he turned around in time to see Robbie and Bret stampeding at him.
“Just s-stay away!” Erik yelled at them in frustration.
Erik held his IV pole over his head, and it began to glow the sickly color again as he charged it with energy.
Robbie ran directly at Erik, anticipating the attack from the grimy weapon.
Block it! Block it!
The glowing pole came down, hitting Robbie’s orange energy shield, which kept the strike at bay. Just as before, Robbie countered by igniting the shield and blasting Erik with its energy.
Bret circled around and attempted to attack from behind, but Erik noticed and smashed Bret’s nose with a solid attack. As Bret fell, the world faded from his vision … he was unconscious before collapsing into a heap at Erik’s feet.
Erik leapt high into the air, calculated his falling trajectory, and brought his glowing IV pole down on Robbie, feeling the evil energy pulsing within his arms. Attempting to block it, Robbie’s shield shoved away the powerful attack, but shattered immediately after. Using the deflection as a rebound, Erik launched himself back into the air, repeating the attack with equal strength. This time, Robbie was unable to put up another shield in time, feeling an oddly spiritual fatigue from having used it so frequently in the small timeframe, and received a brutal whack on his head, striking him down.
Chris, seeing his two allies on the ground next to his standing opponent, trembled with resentment and fear as he glared at Erik. Both boys brandished their weapons offensively, and then charged at each other, nothing but the other in their sights. The bravado they both possessed fueled their battle cries as their feet swept across the grass swifter than the wind.
Erik’s grimy IV pole glowed ominously. Chris’s Excalibur sword vibrated with energy. With an aggressive head-on collision, both boys slammed their weapons together, emitting a violent, spark-loaded blast of energy that churned the ground as the deadlock commenced.
It was as if their weapons shook with rage as they pressed against one another. Chris’s body became vibrant with a soothing aura, sweeping away the cloud of ill haze which fought back the way smoke fights a clean breeze. The boys snarled and growled, locking their scathing gazes with each other’s, pushing with every muscle and bone in their arms, legs, and backs.
Chris held the smartphone handle with his right hand and gripped the top of his blade with his left hand, praising the inability to be cut as he wrapped his fingers around it. Suddenly, there was a weakness, a sort of hiccup in the resistance he was struggling against.
Then Chris stepped forward. This resulted in Erik stepping backward.
Another step forward, thusly another step backward.
“Grraahhh!” Erik bellowed as he was gradually pushed back. “N-no! How … the h-hell? Impossible!”
Erik stepped to the side, guiding Chris’s sword away, the holographic-like blade shrieking as it slid down the grimy pole. Poising his sickly weapon to attack, Erik was caught off guard when Chris managed to throw a punch with his left hand. The forceful strike sank into Erik’s stomach. A glorious aura channeled itself down Chris’s arm to the site of the punch’s impact before blasting Erik away.
Bret had regained consciousness in time to see Erik fall to the grassy field a considerable distance from where Chris remained. In addition, the hazy smog was being held back, and the sunny glow from Chris’s body seemed to be the cause. Bret wiped the blood from his nose and stumbled over to Robbie.
“Hey! Wake up! Hey!” Bret shook Robbie, who slowly came back to his senses.
“Hrrm … huh?” Robbie sat up with Bret’s help. Blood streamed down his face from the wound on his head where Erik had hit him. “What’s happening?”
With a tattered smirk, Bret replied, “Chris is giving Erik a poundin’, that’s what.”
Groggy and fighting the blurriness in his eyes, Robbie looked across the field and saw Chris running with such ease that he appeared to be almost flying. With a two-handed swing of his smartphone sword, Chris released a large blast of energy that plowed into Erik while chasing more of the ill aura away. Chris’s energy was very potent, catching trees on fire as it bowled over Erik.
Robbie’s expression lit up, despite it hurting to move that many muscles in his face.
“Unreal,” was all Robbie could say.
“Yeah, that’s for sure,” Bret agreed.
“Chris is the man.” Robbie grinned, wiping the blood from his forehead.
Bret stared at Chris and his grand display of abilities. His smirk faded, almost into a scowl. For a moment, he was quiet, just looking at Chris push Erik around.
“Yeah,” he finally said quietly.
Chris and Erik traded several more blows, quick and energetic. Erik received a long cut across both his arms when he failed to block an attack from the Excalibur sword. Chris could feel the aches and pains all over his body from the damage provided by Erik’s IV pole.
The withered grass, dried and drained by Erik’s sickly aura, readily combusted as the fire smeared across the field. Even so, Chris didn’t hold back as he assaulted Erik, adding to the greedy flames.
For a moment, the two boys stared at each other, catching their breath, dripping sweat and blood, trying to ignore the tiredness in their legs and arms. While Chris remained as focused as he could, Erik had a whirlwind in his mind.
What’s going on here? Erik wondered. I was supposed to have my way. That was the whole purpose of that deal I made. But there’s this guy … this Chris bastard. And Robbie, and that other punk, too! Not only are there others with powers, but they’re against me? What the hell?
Erik thrust his IV pole into the ground again. He clenched his fists and bared his teeth.
“That guy knew this would happen!” Erik spat.
Closely observing Erik, Chris was confused by his words.
“What are you talking about?” Chris asked, nearly demanding. “What guy?”
Shaking his head, Erik hotly replied, “The guy … the thing I m-m-made the deal with. The deal that g-gave me these powers.”
Chris didn’t know what Erik meant. He figured it was important information, but he didn’t know how to go about learning more.
“You made a deal?” he asked.
The rage gradually faded from Erik’s body language, being replaced with something akin to defeat. He wearily clutched the IV pole planted in the ground.
“I was p-promised the deal of a l-lifetime,” he said flatly, “a-and that my deepest desires would come true.”
“Who told you this?” Chris asked sternly. “Who’d you make this deal with?”
Nighttime had fallen, but the burning patches of the meadow granted sufficient light, casting flickering shadows and dark lines on Chris’s and Erik’s faces.
“I didn’t see his f-face or g-get his name,” Erik replied, looking at the ground. “He w-was disguised, hiding his identity with a brown, h-hooded cloak, a ski mask, a dust mask on his mouth, a-and dark sunglasses. E-every part of his face was covered. If it was a ‘he’, I don’t know. Wouldn’t b-be surprised if the v-voice was fake, given the crap I’ve seen lately.”
Robbie and Bret looked on from afar.
“What are they talking about?” Robbie asked.
“Can’t hear ‘em, so I dunno.”
“Let’s get closer. C’mon.”
They walked toward Chris and Erik, treading lightly and cautiously.
“What else did the person say?” Chris pressed. “Maybe … maybe we can figure something out.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Erik whispered, yanking his IV pole out of the ground.
“Erik, I want to help you.”
“Dude, it’s not too late.”
“You’re right, it’s n-not too late,” Erik muttered as he charged his weapon with energy, causing it to glow yellow-green. He smiled, taking a deep breath and exhaling slowly. “It’s not too late … to get my wish.”
Gripping the IV pole with both hands, Erik directed an incredible level of energy into it, the most he had done thus far. Waves of power shook the forest preserve as the yellow-green pole became brighter than anything else nearby. The diseased haze swirled and stormed, blowing the wind and carrying the flames caused by Chris’s stray energy blasts.
Robbie and Bret hurried over to Chris and watched helplessly as Erik’s powers climbed. The wind was howling, and the three boys had to anchor themselves with sturdy stances to remain standing, blocking their faces from the dust and debris riding the gusts. They were unable to approach Erik, or they would risk being blown away.
The empty pouch fastened to the top of Erik’s IV pole was filling with a bright yellow substance, glowing like radioactive waste. As the smoggy haze encircled the premises, it slowly condensed around Erik like a filthy tornado.
Squeezing and pressing tighter, every trace of haze coalesced into a single, straight line and instantly transformed into a radiant spear — a giant arrow, hovering over Erik and pointing straight up, glowing brightly. The air had cleared, and the clouds overhead were giving way to the stars and moonlight.
Throughout the meadow, the sinister energies were still fueling a windstorm, and the fires frolicked wider and hotter across the flora. Erik grabbed the arrow of light and stabbed the tip into the IV pole pouch containing the new bright yellow substance. The arrowhead assumed the yellow hue as it absorbed the pouch. He then locked the shining arrow and yellow-green IV pole into a cross formation, holding it over his head with the arrow once again facing straight into the sky.
The furious winds stopped, bringing aching silence. Many of the flames had died out, leaving just enough fire to produce decent visibility. A calmness wafted around the four teenagers.
Erik’s face showed peace as it relaxed, and his red-glinting eyes moved softly in Chris’s direction. While holding the arrow and IV pole in place overhead, Erik continued to smile, conveying a gentle warmth that bled into the guilt; a guilt that never once completely left him since the beginning of this ordeal.
“Hey,” he asked Chris quietly, as if they had always been close friends, “why … do we have these powers?”
Chris looked at Erik, noticing the sadness, the fear, and the shame. A deafness rang out as he thought about his answer.
“I don’t know.”
A sole chuckle left Erik’s lips as he thought about how disappointing Chris’s response was.
“Okay, yeah. Me neither.”
Robbie and Bret shouted something, but Chris didn’t pay attention to them. With the IV pole hovering horizontally over his head, Erik pulled a strand of light out of the pole that was connected to both ends. It was string-like and elastic. He pulled it down halfway and used his foot to stretch it to the ground, requiring some effort. He grabbed the yellow-headed arrow of light with both hands, pressed the theoretical nock into the string-like strand from the IV pole, stepped off the string, angled the aim forty-five degrees eastward, and released the arrow from his hand.
There was a swift, delicate sound as the arrow launched. Like a comet at first, it soon faded out, being silent and mostly invisible as it flew toward the heart of Chicago. Over the city’s skyline, the arrowhead burst open, gently and modestly, sending a nearly unnoticeable sphere of Erik’s most advanced diseases spreading through the population, invading outward in every direction like a welcoming breeze on a stuffy night.
The front of illness moved without stopping, leaving a trail of instantaneous sniffles and tickled throats behind it, rustling through the trees, playfully blowing people’s clothes, making flowers dance and flags flutter momentarily, caressing every structure and vehicle, and paying visit to all residencies and establishments. It waltzed quietly, serenely, soothingly, and could be seen sneaking across the tranquil grass of the meadow, greeting the flames which stirred in reply, before sighing through Chris’s hair.
Chris trembled. A sense of defeat barreled down on him. He gripped his smartphone with its leaf-shaped, vaguely holographic sword blade, feeling the anger rising inside him. Robbie sniffled as his sinuses itched. Bret cleared his throat as his tonsils began to warm up. A small cough came out of Chris’s mouth as he stared at the content expression on Erik’s peaceful face.