ANNO DOMINI ~Allium~ [Beta version]
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BOOK 2, CHAPTER 2: THE MOST WORTHLESS ALLY
Chris had taken no more than two steps into his history classroom when the teacher, Andrew Norris, spoke to him. The teacher was standing at his desk and hanging up his desk phone.
“Oh, impeccable timing, Chris,” the scruffy-bearded teacher said. “I literally just got off the phone with Mr. Kampton. He wants you in his office.”
The expression on Chris’ face went flat. He was one of the few people who knew Leon Kampton was actually a holy angel named Lavi—an angel disguised as the vice principal for Lyonbole Public High School.
It was probably going to be another interesting meeting, to say the least.
“Did he say why?” Chris asked dully, anticipating the answer.
“Just to talk,” Mr. Norris said. He gave a reassuring smile and added, “Don’t worry, he said you’re not in trouble.”
That doesn’t mean much, Chris thought grimly.
“Okay,” he replied.
“No need for the hall pass,” the teacher said. “Somebody made off with it…troublemakers…”
After dropping off his school supplies at his seat, Chris exited the room and headed to the main office. It had been less than a week since he, Robbie Smith, and Bret Taurus had fought against Erik Hawthorne and his city-wide disease. A gloomy sense of worry nestled into Chris’ chest. He still hadn’t regained a full grip on reality since those harrowing events, and the day-to-day school life had become a lackluster procession.
While walking down the pristine hallways tiled with sky-blue and white, he observed the many students he passed. Nobody seemed sick, but it was hard to tell. Sick students would stay home, and there were too many overall students to keep track of who was in attendance that day.
The paranoia was very real, and for good reasons.
Chris removed his Bluetooth earpiece from his pocket and placed it on his ear.
“Excalibur,” he muttered quietly.
The Excalibur A.I. app on his smartphone heard Chris’s voice and promptly responded.
“How can I help you?” the dignified male voice said through the earpiece.
“Are there any threats nearby?” Chris asked, glancing at a couple of girls who noticed his heavy metal band shirt; they quickly looked away when his mean-looking eyes met theirs.
“None that I can detect,” Excalibur answered. “I am still operating under your previous command that states I shall inform you if I do detect a threat. Therefore, you do not need to keep asking me, unless you want to.”
“Yeah, I know,” Chris said. “I’m just, uh…”
“Being a scaredy-cat?”
Chris chuckled. “Yeah.”
“It was a joke.”
“But it wasn’t too far from the truth.”
He pocketed his earpiece before entering the main office, walking up to the secretary’s desk. Mrs. Brown gave the teenage boy a doleful look. Her hair was permed more viciously than a makeshift George Washington wig, and Chris could practically see the hardened acrimony of her bitter spirit holding it rigidly in place.
“I’m here to see Mr. Kampton,” Chris told her straightly.
“Do you have an appointment?”
She said nothing. Chris walked past.
The door to the vice principal’s office was open. When Chris entered the room, he was surprised to see two other students standing there: The tall black boy Robbie Smith, and the disheveled, grumpy Hispanic boy Bret Taurus. Lavi was not present.
“And here’s our third party member,” Bret said with mild irritation when he saw Chris.
“Hey, what’s up, guys?” Chris greeted.
“We got called here,” Robbie said with a shrug. “We’ve only been here a couple minutes.”
“Really makes me wonder what the hell’s gonna happen, huh?” Bret said. “I mean, the three of us being here.”
“Yeah,” Robbie said, looking at the unoccupied desk chair. “Now that you’re here, Chris, I kinda have a feeling I know where this is headin’.”
Chris didn’t want to admit it aloud, but that didn’t change the fact that he still internally admitted he knew what the meeting was about.
“Is Lavi not here yet?” he asked.
“You rang?” The blond angel entered the room behind Chris. With a cheerful smile, he greeted the three boys. “Ah, you’re all here. Promptness and punctuality are highly regarded among the students at Lyonbole. Very good.”
Bret shrank away, feeling goosebumps from being called such misleading things as “prompt” and “punctual.” Lavi strode to his side of the desk, clasped his hands together, and tilted his head with a big grin.
“What can I do for you boys today?” he asked, sounding lively.
Chris, Robbie, and Bret stared at the angel in disbelief.
“You called us here!” Bret snapped. “Why are you asking us?”
“Oh, I know, don’t be so rash.” Lavi waved dismissively at Bret with one hand. “I haven’t spoken to you boys in a few days. I called you here because I assume you three are filled with questions and uncertainties.” He paused for a moment to examine the three students. “Am I right?”
“About Erik,” Chris said straightforwardly. He looked at Robbie and Bret, whose faces showed their agreement.
“Yeah.” Robbie nodded, looking at Lavi. “How did you know about Erik in the first place?”
Lavi took his seat behind the desk.
“Can you be more specific?” he asked.
“Well,” Robbie said, thinking about it, “you told me to ask Chris about Erik. When I did, Chris didn’t know anything about him. It seems like you already knew everything about Erik from the beginning.”
“I knew what about Erik?” Lavi asked, leaning back in his chair.
Robbie felt aggravated.
“That he had powers and stuff,” he told Lavi. “And that he was a bad guy.”
Lavi raised an eyebrow with a smirk. Before Robbie could voice his irritation, Bret butted in.
“Are ya playing dumb with us?” Bret pointed at Lavi. “Why else would you ask Robbie to talk to Chris about Erik? It makes sense that you knew something all along. That pisses me off, ya know? Havin’ us go out and find the answers to this stuff, all while you’re just sitting there all smug with keeping the answers to yourself.”
“Whoa, now calm down,” Lavi said coolly. He leaned forward and rested his arms on the desk, giving the boys an intent look. “You gotta remember something: I’m an angel. Our way of knowing and learning is different from humans in many different ways.”
“Great, now you’re gonna play that with us,” Bret muttered, looking at the ceiling. “Sounds like you’re making excuses.”
“I’m not playing anything.” Lavi’s tone became more serious. “Let me explain. Just because I’m an angel, doesn’t mean I’m omniscient and all-knowing. There’s a lot of information deliberately kept secret from me. Trust me, if you think the way I do things is mysterious to you guys, imagine how I feel when I have to deal with my real Boss.”
“Your real boss?” Robbie asked, looking at Bret. They both gazed straight up as Chris just smiled.
“I’ll use Erik Hawthorne as an example.” Lavi sat upright in his chair. “I knew he was special. Don’t ask me how I knew, because the human mind is unable to comprehend the reason.” He looked at Chris and Robbie. “So, I set you two in motion, guided you down the right path. I knew you’d be able to figure out Erik’s situation, and the situation turned out to be Erik was a ‘bad guy,’ as you claim. Again, don’t ask me how I knew these things, because you won’t understand.”
“You suck at helping,” Bret muttered.
“If I look at it from your perspective, then yes,” Lavi replied with a shrug, “it’s natural you’d feel that way. But I’m doing my part.”
“But you’re an angel,” Robbie pointed out. “You could be doing so much more, right?”
“Heh, yes and no,” Lavi replied. “I’m not allowed to overstep my boundaries, no matter what. In fact, it’s impossible for me, and I just can’t do it. Secondly, helping your charming principal, Mr. Stark, keeps my hands full.”
“Why are you the vice principal here?” Chris asked.
Lavi shrugged, saying, “No idea.”
Bret groaned. “This is a waste of time.” He crossed his arms. “All you’re doing is making us more confused.”
“There’s a valuable lesson to be learned from this meeting,” Lavi said, his expression lighting up. “That’s to make sure the questions you ask are the right questions, lest you end up chasing uncatchable answers.”
“Waste. Of. Time.” Bret made for the exit, but an unexpected voice made him stop.
“My databases confirm what Lavi is saying to be true.” Excalibur’s muffled voice could be heard from Chris’s pants pocket. Chris removed his phone to hear more of what the app had to say. “There are many things humans cannot understand, but it is crucial that you accept them, Bret Taurus. Doing so is pivotal to your role.”
Bret scoffed at Chris’s smartphone, crossing his arms and leaning against the office’s door.
“Hello there, Excalibur,” Lavi said warmly. “This is the first time we’ve met.”
“Indeed it is,” Excalibur replied. “It is a pleasure meeting you, Lavi.”
“You’ve received your first update, I take it?” Lavi asked the app.
“Yes. The beta version has been replaced by the full-functioning version.”
Holding onto his phone, Chris called forth the Excalibur A.I. sword feature. The white, nearly-holographic, leaf-shaped blade extended from the top of Chris’s smartphone. Lavi leaned over his desk to get a closer look and whistled, impressed by the weapon.
“That’s a doozy of a weapon, Christopher!” the angel said with a smile. “Has it come in handy so far?”
“Yeah,” he said quietly. He dismissed the blade and looked at Lavi. “But you told me I wasn’t a destroyer, Lavi.”
“I did say that.”
“Then why do I have a weapon?” Chris stared at his phone. “Gunnhildr I could understand, because it’s not lethal. But now I have a sword that can cause serious harm…and there was that time at Revere Park…I still don’t know what I did or how I did it. They’ve just started most of the repairs.”
“Think of it as self-defense more than anything,” Lavi told the boy. “There are those who will seek to do harm to you, so you’ll need the proper equipment.”
“But I caused so much destruction!” Chris protested. “If I’m really some kind of savior and not a warrior or something, then why do I have all this destructive power?”
“It all boils down to how you use your powers.” Lavi stood up and looked out his window at the school grounds below. “Your goals align with the greater good. Like I said before, don’t fret.”
“Well, I’m fretting.”
“Then stop it, you goofball!” Lavi chuckled.
Chris looked back at his phone. Although he trusted Lavi, it could be difficult to believe him at times.
“Excalibur,” Lavi said, turning around to face the boys again, “give Christopher a comprehensive list of all of your features. As his personal assistant, he’ll need to fully understand all of your capabilities so he can choose for himself how he wants to utilize you and his powers.”
“Understood,” the app replied. Chris’s phone vibrated as it received a string of text messages. “Christopher, I have just sent you several text messages explaining my features. I can do this after each of my updates to ensure you have the latest information on my functions.”
“Oh, cool.” Chris scanned through his text messages. “Thank you. I’ll check this out later.”
“There you have it,” Lavi said conclusively to Chris. “I trust you’ll use this knowledge to your liking, and that you’ll be able to gear yourself more toward the pacifist savior role.”
“I’ll try,” Chris said, not feeling entirely sure, pocketing his phone. “Is there anything else?”
“I have a question.” Robbie held up his hand. “Are there gonna be any more bad guys like Erik around?”
“Maybe,” Lavi answered quickly with a shrug.
“Rrgh, you really ain’t much help, sir,” Robbie murmured.
Lavi cracked a half-smile and said, “You’re entitled to your opinion, but I’ll tell you that you’re wrong.” When the three boys continued to stare in disapproval, the angel added, “You boys just gotta trust yourselves! You keep asking for answers, but those answers are already inside you.”
“I really feel like we’re being jerked around here.” Bret fondled the doorknob on the office door.
Robbie hung his head.
“We just wanna know what kind of things we’ll need to deal with,” he said without looking at Lavi.
“There’s one I can think of,” Chris said in a deep voice. Both Robbie and Bret looked right at him with silent acknowledgement.
“Do you mean that monster with the white fur?” Robbie asked quietly.
“Yeah.” Chris nodded. “That thing seemed to help Erik, but I think Erik was scared of it.” He turned to Lavi. “Can people, like, enlist the help of inhuman entities?”
Lavi’s head bobbed slightly as he considered the question.
“I don’t see why not,” he replied. “Similarly to animals being trained, I suppose. Just know that the creatures you’re referring to are nothing like living organisms, so the methods would theoretically be very different. But to answer your question, I’ll say it’s possible that Erik had such a relationship.”
“That thing was nothing to joke about.” Robbie remembered the white-furred entity and the impeccable difference in strength. “It was damn near unstoppable…”
“But you stopped it?” Lavi asked.
A barrier of utter resolve, standing tall and fortified, had indeed retained the beast in question. Robbie could still remember the sensation of his life force being sacrificed to erect such a wall of orange energy.
“I did.” Robbie ran his hands over his hair.
“But it still got away,” Bret quickly commented.
Lavi could see the lament on Robbie’s face. The sullen slump under the boy’s eyes was one Lavi had regrettably seen many times; a common feature people shared when a pass at death itself was not enough to overcome a trial.
“Even so,” Lavi said with a comforting tone, “you three pulled through, and without permanent injuries. That alone shows the potential you possess.”
“What about Erik?” Chris asked dully. “I used Gunnhildr on him. We haven’t seen him or heard anything since. Do you know about his condition, or anything?”
Lavi grinned. “Erik is fine. His parents have been calling in, saying he’s just not feeling well, although nothing notable is off with him. You know, the usual spiel. Plus, I feel like he’s a tough little champ, so don’t worry about him.”
Hearing that answer brought Chris great relief, and he couldn’t help but smile knowing Erik was normal.
“Christopher,” Excalibur said suddenly. “I have detected a malicious entity.”
The tension in the office escalated as everyone’s attention was focused on Chris’s smartphone.
“You did?” Chris watched his phone’s map app automatically open. There was a destination marker in the shape of a basic, red monster face. The distance was indicated as 1.8 miles away.
“I’ve marked the location of the entity,” Excalibur said. “I’ll continue to track it in real time with the help of the GPS application, so you’ll be able to find it as long as it remains within my range.”
Robbie and Bret were peering over Chris’s shoulders to look at the map on the phone. The marked entity didn’t appear to be moving.
“It’s almost two miles away from us.” Chris clicked on the icon and an onscreen popup labeled the entity as a Negative Energy Nonhuman. There was a space for a photo, but it said no image was available. “There’s a lot of info I can get from targets you detect, huh?”
“Yes,” Excalibur replied, “but stronger entities will be harder to collect data on.”
“Is this thing weak?”
“Fairly weak. I must note that it did not enter my range from outside, but suddenly appeared.”
Chris thought about it for a moment. Lavi was standing at his desk with a slight smile.
“Uh, so it can teleport, or something?” Chris wondered out loud.
“Perhaps,” was all Excalibur had to say.
Bret scratched his head in frustration. “Can’t ever be easy, huh?”
“How far is your range, Excalibur?” Robbie asked.
“Up to a five-mile radius from Christopher’s smartphone. That is an area of 78.54 square miles. The city of Chicago itself, not including the entire metropolitan area, is 234.14 square miles, both land and water. That means my detection radius can cover 33.54 percent of the city’s area.”
“That’s…good to know.” Chris forced a smile, not letting the onslaught of numerical data flood his brain.
“Whoa, that’s cool how you figured that all out so quick,” Robbie said, looking at the phone in bewilderment. “You know a lot, don’t ya, Excalibur?”
“Wikipedia helps me a lot,” Excalibur told Robbie.
“So, what should we do?” Chris asked Lavi.
The angel shrugged. “It’s up to you.”
“Well,” Chris said, “if it’s dangerous, then I don’t want it wandering around.”
“Any significant accumulation of negative energy is potentially detrimental to humans,” Excalibur said. “However, the weaker ones may not provide direct threats without provocation. That said, this entity in question may not directly harm anybody, but merely be a nuisance by causing moodiness in people or make radios pick up white noise.”
“Heh, it don’t matter to me,” Bret sneered, pounding his fist into his other hand. “Frankly, I’d enjoy a simple hunt once in a while. Good for practicing our powers, ya know?”
“Yeah,” Robbie said skeptically, “but we have school.”
“Hmm…I can help with the school part.” Lavi gave an encouraging thumbs up. “If ya’ll need excuses for absences, just leave it to me. I’m the school’s mini-boss, after all.”
“I don’t know.” Chris looked at his phone’s map, seeing the marked entity had moved a smidgen. “What about our report cards? Don’t they show how many absences we have? My parents will get suspicious. They still don’t know about my ruined perfect attendance…”
“Hey, just who do you think you’re talking to?” Lavi beamed with his hands on his hips. “I told you I’ve got it covered.”
Chris looked at the other two students. Robbie shrugged. Bret rubbed his hands together with a mischievous look.
“I say we ditch school,” Bret suggested. “Screw this place. Let’s go do something fun!”
Looking at his phone again, Chris sighed.
“Okay, I’ll agree to that.” A wave of confidence rolled over him. “We can use the practice. And we’d be doing some good for people.” He looked at Lavi. “I think protecting people, no matter how small the threat, is more important than school. Especially because we need all the practice we can get at this point.”
Bret nodded impatiently. “Yeah, yeah, goodness and heroics, great,” he muttered. “Whatever, let’s go. I need a smoke.”
Robbie diverted his gaze. The gung-ho vibe wasn’t catching on with him.
“I don’t really know, man,” he said. “Honestly, Chris, I know what you mean. I get that. But I don’t wanna get dragged into all this craziness.” He sighed, then looked at Chris. “I’m gonna just go to school today.”
Chris patted Robbie on the shoulder.
“It’s all fine. I understand. I don’t want to force you into something.”
“Thanks for understanding.” Robbie smiled. “Just be careful, all right?”
“You got it,” Chris told him. “But remember, if I really need your help, I’ll call you. In case of an emergency, because I really don’t know what I’m getting into here.”
Robbie blinked a couple times, then offered a weak smile.
“Uh, I still don’t have my phone,” he said. “Yeah, it broke when we fought Erik.”
As that statement soaked into Chris’s mind, Bret flung open the door to the office.
“Let’s go, dammit!” he grunted.
“Bon voyage, fellas!” Lavi called out as the three boys left the room. “I trust you’ll do well, no matter what you do.”
Now alone, Lavi stretched out in his chair, holding his hands behind his head and looking at the ceiling.
“You’ll make a fine leader someday, Christopher,” he said to himself with a smile. “You boys need to be patient. It’s important that you learn these things on your own. That’s precisely why I suck at helping you. Admittedly, I may be your most worthless ally.”
He retrieved a TV remote from his desk drawer and removed the batteries, then pulled apart the housing, delighted at the sound of electrical components hitting his desk.
“Now, about Erik Hawthorne, indeed,” he said playfully as he disassembled the remote’s interior, “I’ll need to pay him a visit soon, I suppose.” He snapped a chipboard in half with a smile. “This is where my role gets fun!”
The three boys walked through the main office area. Not more than ten steps away from the vice principal’s office, Bret took out a cigarette, placed it in his mouth, and lit it.
Robbie was appalled by the delinquent’s blatant disregard for the school’s no smoking policy.
“What are you doing, Bret?” he hissed, glancing around at the various office workers and school officials who weren’t paying attention. “You can’t smoke here.”
Bret took a deep drag and blew the smoke into the air.
“Why should I care?” he said gruffly. “I’m skipping school anyway. If I get expelled, then that’ll free up my schedule.”
At that moment, Principal Charles Stark rounded the corner, coming face-to-face with the three students, stopping them in their tracks. He glared at Bret, who showed mild signs of intimidation upon seeing the stout, balding principal with a knack for instilling primitive fear in every student at Lyonbole.
Without warning, Mr. Stark balled up his fat hand into a tight fist, then punched Bret square in the stomach. The force made Bret spit the cigarette out, and he attempted to grab it, but the lit end burned his finger and he dropped it to the floor.
As the delinquent held his abdomen, gasping in pain, Mr. Stark reached down and picked up the barely-smoked cigarette.
“No smoking on school grounds,” the principal grunted. Not saying another word, he walked away.
“Told ya so,” Robbie told Bret mockingly.
“Shut up,” Bret muttered.
Chris tried not to laugh as they headed out of the main office.
Around the corner, Mr. Stark, whose real identity was a demon named Baal, gobbled up the cigarette. He licked his lips and walked toward the teachers’ lounge.
“Too bad cigarette policies reach above my authority,” he said to himself with a delighted, smoky burp. “They’re so tasty.”