ANNO DOMINI ~Allium~ [Beta version]
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BOOK 1, CHAPTER 23: THE POWER OF A NAME
Chris, Robbie, and Bret were quick to understand they’d been infected. The weakness and chills arrived swiftly as the microscopic violators entered their bodies and triggered their immune responses, registering the life-draining effects from head to toe.
Taking a deep breath, Erik savored the ill atmosphere, relishing the countless phantom microbes filling every part of Chicago’s air as they performed his bidding. He laughed, but was cut off by a harsh, delightful cough.
An impulse of rage took over Bret’s senses. Some sort of power began to build up inside him as he glared at Erik with tunnel vision and an obsessive mindset. His surge of energy slowed down the malicious effects of the diseases inside him, although it did not stop the advancement entirely; the illness was terminal.
“No,” Bret murmured through gritted teeth, his fists shaking angrily. “You! What did you do?”
With a smug expression, Erik replied darkly, “I won.”
Bret stamped his foot into the ground, leaving a significant imprint under his like-new shoe.
“Like hell you did!”
Now pushed over the edge, Bret held his fist up high as he charged at Erik.
The bio bomb Erik had just detonated used almost all of his sinister energy, and his body was indebted to fatigue’s heaviness more than ever. Panicking as Bret quickly closed the distance between them, Erik attempted to grab his IV pole, which hadn’t yet succumbed to gravity again, as it drifted slowly away into the air. In his worn out state, Erik was unable to jump inhumanly high, and his scrawny arms flailed pathetically as he stretched toward his out-of-reach weapon.
Like a madman, Bret tackled Erik and pinned him to the ground, punching him in the face repeatedly. Robbie hurried over and held Erik down, who scrambled to get away from them both.
Chris remained in place, not knowing what to do. With the entire city now infected, including himself, he was out of ideas.
Erik cried out as Bret and Robbie doled out their painful, unsympathetic attacks.
“Help!” He desperately tried crawling away, but to no avail. “Help me!”
“Who are you calling to?” Bret cackled mockingly, kicking the sickly boy being subdued by Robbie. “Who the hell would save you?”
“Help me, please!”
The image and sounds were almost too much for Chris, who could feel his heart breaking as his sinuses grew hot and eyes felt lazy. He didn’t know what to do, but knew he couldn’t remain idle. Helplessly, he watched Erik receive a ruthless beating while crying out for help … and at that moment, Erik’s help arrived.
When the ground rumbled and an abominable breath snarled nastily past his shoulders, Chris knew something had landed behind him. He spun around and confronted the new contender.
It was a monster, and a true manifestation of that term, as general as the word itself, yet bearing the full embodiment of the telltale nightmares the word connotes; from the bottommost zeniths of children’s fears to the most desolate summits of the mentally disturbed’s delusional paranoia … yet it was not a figment of thought, but a physical being which had arrived at Miller Meadows Forest Preserve.
Standing on four legs, the steed-like jabberwocky craned its neck to look directly into Chris’s eyes. The shine from the moon accented the white fur, giving it an eerie, lunar appearance. It was like a cosmic entity, cast down from the heavens for being too bleak and loathsome for the sky, and had planted itself spitefully on the mortal earth. Its very presence hummed and croaked with the same insidious power Erik possessed, but hundreds of times over, and Chris could feel his bones vibrate in agony from the sheer pressure of this beast’s existence.
Unlike the ambiguously formed shadow-entities Chris had encountered, this animal was solid and very much alive, bearing a dense bulk for a body. The head was sleeker and sharper than a wolf’s, with eyes designed to gaze through the most isolated abysses in search of the darkest victims. The mouth surpassed the maw of an alligator’s, being fitted with more teeth, more power, and more hunger; when fully agape, Chris stared into a throat deeper and colder than a shark’s, leading down into a belly littered with portals that swallowed prey larger than space-time and heavier than consciousness, having a true void for a stomach.
With a tremendous roar akin to thunder and screams from a waking night terror, it declared its arrival. This vocal proclamation shuddered through Bret and Robbie, paralyzing them as Erik scrambled from their hold. Chris, however, had received the full brunt of this vicious declaration, and his ears rang in misery.
Shifting onto its hind legs, which were pillars of muscle and sinew that flexed with vulgar definition, Chris knew he was about to receive its attack. Its front leg swung like a boxer’s fist, a seemingly impossible motion for such a quadruped. Chris positioned his smartphone sword in front of him to block the attack, but the unstoppable foot was unobstructed, striking Chris without slowing. The air was forced out of Chris’s lungs, followed by infectious bile and blood as he careened through the air. He hit the ground, bounced, and rolled before coming to a stop, and he was unable to move.
“Chris!” Robbie shouted. “Bret, we gotta help him! We gotta get out of here!”
Bret grunted, then glared at Erik. He didn’t know what to say, but he wanted to make Erik pay for his grievous actions.
“Bret!” Robbie shook Bret to get his attention. “Do you hear me? That monster will kill us!”
Angrily, Bret swatted Robbie’s hands away.
“Then let’s run away. We might make it if we go right now.”
Robbie looked at Bret, taken aback by what he had heard.
“And leave Chris here?” he pointed at Chris lying on the ground, unmoving.
“Chris is as good as dead,” Bret turned back to Erik, who appeared to be contemplating his own escape as well, but was too scared to take action, “and so is that prick. Just you wait, Erik! You’ll get what’s coming to you!”
Torn between too many decisions, Robbie glanced around. He glanced at Erik, Chris, Bret, the white beast … and then made his decision without further delay, taking off as fast as he could toward Chris.
The huge creature was looming over Chris and readying itself for the finishing blow, wanting to crush the helpless boy beneath its colossal feet.
The beast heard somebody approaching, making its ears perk up. It looked in time to see Robbie charging at full speed, his orange energy shield in front of him. Swinging its bulky body around, the white steed-like creature clobbered Robbie with one of its large feet, shattering Robbie’s shield like glass and breaking his arm. His right arm, which he used for shooting and dribbling in basketball, was crushed on impact before he was lifted off his feet from the same attack.
Bret tensed with anger and fear, hearing Robbie’s cries of pain. He looked at Erik again, who was shaking, probably from fright, fatigue, or both. Full of adrenaline and yelling vigorously, Bret ran at the beastly jabberwocky.
His voice echoed through the forest preserve as his footsteps pounded through the darkness. The swiftness in his feet seemed to increase along with his rage, moving faster by the second, his fist held above his head to strike the inhuman foe. He knew he was probably running straight to his demise, but the rage had taken control, and he couldn’t stand the thought of his so-called allies being killed.
The white beast didn’t wait for Bret’s attack, however. It leapt out of the way, making Bret stop in his tracks. The large creature then galloped to Erik’s side, and the sickly boy seemed to fight his urge to be afraid of it.
“Y-you … came to s-save me.” Erik looked at the beast meekly, as if unsure whether to pet it or not. “Thank y-you.”
With a sort of silent acknowledgment of Erik’s gratefulness, the beast reared onto its hind legs, snatching the floating IV pole out of the air with its gaping maw, giving it back to Erik. The grimy weapon had returned to its original state, but lacking its bag of diseases and still with a busted base.
“Erik!” Bret shouted, shaking his fist. “Get your ass over here! Fight me like a man!”
Erik had no intention of obeying Bret’s provocations. He looked at his beastly companion, but committed the horrible mistake of making eye contact with it.
Feeling like something had taken a ghastly hold of his soul, Erik sensed a sudden connection established between himself and the beast. Pure dread and a sense of imminent doom overtook the sickly boy, and he stumbled away from the lumbering creature. Telepathic communications channeled the thoughts and instincts of the bulky quadruped directly into Erik’s mind, bypassing the concept of language and conveying raw intent. Its otherworldly thoughts clutched Erik’s brain as his soul tried to assimilate with the monster’s void.
“N-no!” Erik backed away, but the fright nearly cemented his feet to the ground as tears clouded his vision. “I don’t want to! Please, don’t m-make me d-do that!”
From the distance, Bret watched Erik’s nervous breakdown, wondering what was happening.
“What the hell is going on?” Bret muttered. “Is he scared of that thing? I thought they were on the same side.”
The sound of pained grunts caught Bret’s attention, and he looked to see Robbie stagger over to him, clutching his arm that was clearly bent in the wrong places.
“M-my arm … is broken,” Robbie said stiffly, timing his words between his steep breaths. “Shit, man.” When he heard Erik’s wails of fear, he looked to see what was going on. “Is something wrong over there?”
“I don’t know,” Bret replied flatly, “but I don’t think Erik likes his new pet too much.”
Erik trembled and cowered away from the white beast, which continued to stare him down, and continued to create a spiritual vacuum for Erik’s mind and soul to fall into. He gripped his IV pole, noticing its lack of energy, being nothing more than a dirty metal stick.
Just what the hell is this thing? Erik thought as he fought to break eye contact with the beast. I can feel its thoughts. It wants me to join my body with it! To become one! There’s no way. I can’t do that. I don’t care if this thing is supposed to be on my side. I won’t join with it!
As soon as the strength returned to his legs, Erik whirled around and started running, discarding his IV pole. The fatigue in his limbs coupled with the absence of his powers due to using them up, so he was unable to run very fast. The white-furred monster didn’t pursue him, but stood in place and watched, as if accepting Erik’s decision.
“I don’t wanna do this!” Erik cried, tears streaming down his ill-looking face and pasty skin. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I take it back! I take it all back! Pleeeease! Forgive me!”
“He’s getting away!” Bret snarled. “I don’t think so!”
As soon as Bret rushed toward Erik, the beast immediately intercepted him. Dodging a vicious headbutt, Bret scrambled back, knowing he didn’t stand a chance against the bulky monster. He and Robbie simply stood their ground as Erik pitifully made his retreat.
The pain in Chris’s body was debilitating while he laid on the ground, and the motivation to counteract his misery gradually trickled into him. However, he could hear Erik’s cries steadily moving farther away. There was so much agony in the sickly boy’s voice, and the obvious guilt and desperation for forgiveness weighed greatly on Chris’s heart.
Slowly, Chris opened his eyes, and the world came into focus, one small detail at a time, until his awareness once again became operable.
“Erik,” he said so softly as to be inaudible to others, pushing himself with strength he knew he shouldn’t have had at that moment. “I forgive you, Erik. But …,” he stood upright, his abdomen throbbing from where the beast had struck him, “… it is not up to me to judge your actions. That is why … you must still atone.”
Bret and Robbie noticed Chris had clambered to his feet, and they felt delighted he was still in the game, watching his posture regain its rigidity and integrity.
“Chris.” Robbie grinned through the pain of his broken arm. “Very nice … he’s okay.”
His knees were weak as he gripped his smartphone sword with both hands, looking directly at the white-furred beast. From his heart, a warm sensation radiated outward, filling his arms and legs with comfort until the glowing aura surrounded him. Instinctively, he converged the energy into his sword, which emitted the same aura as his body.
Although he knew Erik couldn’t hear him, he still spoke to the fleeing boy.
“You asked me why we have these powers. In all honesty, I don’t have the answer to that. But I feel something in my heart … and I feel it in my mind. At the very least, I like to think I have some sort of small understanding as to why I have my own powers,” Chris pointed the tip of his smartphone sword at the beast, “and that is to carry out the will of something much greater than you or I. And that will … wants you to know your wrongdoings, Erik!”
At that moment, like throwing a ball or tossing a coin, Chris knew exactly how to fire a gorgeous beam of energy out of his sword. He didn’t understand how or why he could do so, nor did he comprehend the physics behind the shocking recoil from the blast. All he cared about at that very moment, while gripping his smartphone in both hands and directing the excellent beam of divine energy, was the fact he had missed his target, blowing a hole in the ground directly in front of the bulky creature.
Aggravated by the sudden attack, the monster reared onto its hind legs and roared ferociously, and then charged at Chris. Standing in place, Chris fought the urge to feel panic, taking comfort in the glowing sensation radiating throughout his mind, body, and soul. Taking aim at the stampeding assailant, Chris focused on his breathing, maintaining his calmness as best as he could, despite the difficulty in doing so.
A name, Chris thought. Al said that names have meaning and carry power. If I want to use an ability to its fullest potential, I need to establish and confirm its existence by giving it a name. Only then will it be truly set apart as its own technique … special and unique in and of itself.
The pounding of the giant feet on the ground rumbled while Chris faced his attacker head-on. He understood if he failed to stop the beast’s charge, then he’d be done for.
“Chris!” Bret shouted. “What are you doing? Get the hell outta there!”
Robbie could do nothing but watch. He shifted his attention toward Erik, who had stopped running to catch his breath and observe the action from afar.
Chris’s phone hummed with energy and the blade shimmered and glowed. There was little time to pick a name, so he quickly thought of the first name that came to mind.
It was a name that had a special place in his heart, and he knew without a doubt its meaning was powerful, significant, and relevant.
Taking aim again … Chris yelled out with great deliberation … thereby commanding his ability with its own branded name ….
Called forth and amplified by the emotional attributes associated with its new name, the eruption of Eden’s Lance was profoundly more potent. Chris could sense himself being poured into the attack, and like a perfectly performed motion, the execution felt satisfying, as if the mechanics of the attack lined up in such a way that Chris could feel the flawless efficiency of every sequential aspect. The flow of energy just felt right, emanating from within himself and expelling itself from his sword, hitting the oncoming beast straight in the face.
With a vulgar stumble, the bulky creature plowed into the ground as it was thrown off balance. As it snarled and squirmed grotesquely in the dirt, Chris saw its face had taken damage. There was no blood, but there was definitely a large wound.
Chris called out the name of Eden’s Lance again, landing another hit on the defenseless cretin, which roared aggressively from the attack.
Chris felt the toll of using the powerful attack as the tiredness instantly beat down on him. He turned wearily to Bret, knowing it was their only opening.
“Bret! Get Erik, now!”
Gathering himself after the shock of seeing the beast getting hurt, Bret zeroed in on Erik, then ran at him as fast as he could. Erik turned to run again, but his powers were still drained and his body was still on the verge of collapsing.
Giving a quick nod to Robbie, Chris chased after Bret. Robbie knew, in his state with his broken arm, his own actions were very limited.
Within seconds, Bret caught up to Erik, grabbing him around the waist and slamming him onto the ground. As Erik screamed for help, the writhing monster leapt to its feet and galloped toward its distressed companion, pounding across the grass with every violent step.
Holding out his left arm, Robbie staggered forward. He directed his focus to the area in front of the stampeding beast, wishing for nothing more than to protect his allies. The last of his power seethed through him, and his mind raced and fumbled from trying to figure out how to erect an energy shield over such a distance away from himself.
Maybe a name for that shield would make it possible.
Keeping his focus aimed, Robbie did his best to ignore his throbbing right arm as the sharp, broken bones jostled around inside his flesh. A name for an unbreakable wall of defense … something that provided guaranteed fortification against something that absolutely should not be allowed to pass ….
Maintain a defensive stance, Robbie thought, reliving the countless hours of being on the basketball court. The ball is in my hands. Protect the ball at all costs, and don’t let the opponent lay a finger on it. A few seconds remain on the clock, and the opponent must not score, and we’ll win. Coach Van Dregg is counting on it … counting on me.
The rumbling galloping of the beast came nearer as Bret pinned Erik to the ground. Erik punched and clawed at Bret, but he wasn’t going anywhere. However, the white-furred monster would surely reach them before Chris ….
Coach always drills the same thing into our heads: if we screw up the game-deciding opportunity, he’ll bust our balls. Therefore, with the ball in my possession, and the opponent must not be allowed to score, I’ve only got one defensive goal above all else! And that is:
With those words, a large, mighty barricade made of Robbie’s orange energy appeared in front of the beast. At full speed with its mass, the monster crashed into the impressive energy shield that upheld against the collision. Stunned and confused, the beast fell to the ground while the energy shield stood firm.
Through Erik’s struggling, Bret grimaced and looked at Robbie.
“Did he just say ‘ball protection’?” he asked before receiving a punch in the face from Erik. “Dammit, just stay down!” He socked Erik directly in the stomach.
The glory of winning the game played through Robbie’s head. The cheers of the crowd, the jubilations of his teammates, and the congratulatory thumbs up from Coach Van Dregg … these were the elements of bliss and contentment. As the euphoria of victory swept Robbie away, a smile found its way to his face before his vision went black and his every ounce of energy was paid in full. He collapsed to the ground, unconscious and exhausted, and the game-winning energy partition flickered out and vanished, leaving the beast to climb back to its huge feet, still dazed and disoriented.
Chris grasped the opportunity, not missing a beat as he rushed up to Bret and Erik. Dismissing the blade from his smartphone, Chris snagged Gunnhildr from thin air, jammed the tip of the barrel into Erik’s chest under his shirt, and then wrapped his finger around the trigger.
Not a word was spoken, as nothing needed to be said at that point. A deep connection was established between the boys, and Erik felt the soothing warmth of kinship as Chris matched their spiritual wavelengths in preparation for the absolving bullet. In silent surrender, Erik let his head fall backward into the grass. He looked right into Chris’s eyes, seeing not anger nor oppressiveness, but gentleness and forgiveness.
That forgiveness was all Erik truly wished for at that moment, and when the absolving bullet pierced his heart without leaving a scratch, the split-second experience of purification and redemption was the best thing he had ever felt throughout his illness-laden life before slipping into slumber.
Bret quickly let go of Erik’s limp body, shuffling backward with a morbid expression.
“Did … did ya kill him?” he asked, looking at Erik.
Chris shook his head.
“No. I made him right again, that’s all.” He held out Gunnhildr. “I think this gun is a tool for my true purpose.”
With nothing to say, Bret looked at the grotesque beast. Oddly, it now seemed entirely uninterested in the boys.
Chris watched the white-furred monster wander aimlessly, sniffing the ground like a normal animal. He aimed the holy handgun at the beast, pulled the trigger, and sighed as nothing happened, just as expected.
“What’re we gonna do ‘bout that thing?” Bret grunted, gesturing toward the creature. “Can’t just let it romp around, ya know?”
“Well,” Chris said, “the only thing I can think of is to shoot it with an absolving bullet, but I need to let Gunnhildr recharge.”
“And how long will that take?”
Not looking at the boys, the creature glowed a bright white, and within seconds, vanished completely.
“Aaaand it’s gone.” Bret scoffed, spitting on the ground. “And so am I.”
He turned to walk away, but Chris stopped him.
“You’re leaving?” he asked. “What about Erik? And Robbie?”
“I don’t care!” Bret shouted, getting in Chris’s face. “Erik’s been saved, his pet just poofed, and Robbie’s asleep! Call me nuts, but as the only two standing, I think we win. So that’s it, I’m done here.”
Chris looked at Bret in disbelief of his upfront, uncaring behavior.
“At least help me take care of Robbie and Erik,” Chris said.
For some reason, Bret couldn’t find it within himself to turn Chris down. They had just survived a life-threatening situation, which was something Bret often considered when determining to forge close relationships. As much as Bret didn’t want to admit it, Chris and Robbie had just become more than nice-guy schoolmates.
“We’ll get a couple taxis,” Chris said, “and we’ll have to find out where they live.”
“I know the home address for Robert.” When Excalibur spoke, he startled Chris.
“Oh, I almost forgot about you, Excalibur.” Chris chuckled, sweating. He looked at his phone. “What about Erik?”
“He’s not in my database, so I don’t know his home address.”
“Oh yeah, that’s right.”
“We’ll just dump him in the river,” Bret sneered.
“Uh, do you think he’ll be fine on a park bench here?” Chris asked.
“Yes,” Bret replied very quickly. “Otherwise, we’ll have to carry them both.”
“Yeah … good point.”
“And Erik tried killing us.”
“Another good point.”
Fortunately, the spreading flames were slowly dying out, along with the threat of a wildfire across the preserve. The two boys carried the unconscious Erik, looking for a bench. However, doing so in the dark was difficult, and Chris had a hard time carrying Erik and using his phone’s flashlight to see.
Deciding to place him under a tree (because even Chris was getting too tired to care much at that point), Bret searched Erik’s pockets, finding more yo-yo accessories and a white, strange, crystalline stone. He gave the yo-yo pieces to Chris, but was unwilling to give up the crystal.
“I don’t think it’s a normal drug,” Chris told Bret flatly.
“All the more reason for me to keep it,” Bret said stubbornly.
“I’ve seen one of those before.” Chris remembered the miraculous healing properties it had on Al’s wrecked hand. “It’s special.”
“Could fetch a good price. Or a good high.”
“C’mon, dude. Hand it over. It can heal bad injuries, so it needs to be used responsibly.”
Bret reluctantly handed the crystal to Chris, who stuffed everything into his pockets. They returned to Robbie, who was still out cold, stopping to pick up the yellow H-shaped yo-yo body and string Erik had thrown on the ground before the fight. With his pockets bulging to the maximum, Chris wanted to at least return the yo-yo and dice to Al. Looking at Robbie’s misshapen arm, he had a better use for the crystal.
“Is it just me,” Bret asked while he and Chris were carrying Robbie through the dark, “but do you suddenly feel a lot better? I mean, not sick anymore.”
“Uh, yeah,” Chris replied. “I felt really bad after Erik used that disease bomb thing.”
“Do you think it’s because we beat him? You used that magic bullet on him, right?”
“I think the absolving bullet cancels out evil, or something.”
Bret was quiet for a moment.
“So … is everyone not sick anymore?”
“I hope so.”
“You don’t know crap about anything going on, do you?”
Bret laughed, almost dropping Robbie.
“Heh, that’s great, Chris. Real awesome.”
Ironically, Chris laughed as well.
It was the middle of the night when the boys managed to hail a taxi. While they rode back to the city, Chris looked out the window, but was so lost in thought he didn’t actually see anything. Bret managed to fall asleep within minutes, and Robbie was muttering something about making his coach happy while he snoozed.