Chapter 31:

Book 2, Ch. 6: Bringers of Ruin, Peace, or Both

ANNO DOMINI ~Allium~


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*******

BOOK 2, CHAPTER 6: BRINGERS OF RUIN, PEACE, OR BOTH

Chris sat next to Drake in the school cafeteria, too distracted to taste his muffaletta sandwich while he ate it. He still retained the fresh memory of Bret’s barehanded victory over the spherical ancient being of malevolence, so the transition to lunchtime was anything but smooth. How had Bret taken down such a creature using nothing but his hands?

“I was gonna give you back that manga you leant me,” Drake said to Chris, sprinkling some Cajun seasoning onto his shrimp remoulade pasta salad mixed with diced celery, bell peppers, horseradish, and cayenne sauce, “but I didn’t catch you in the halls. I left it in your locker.”

“Oh, okay,” Chris said, adjusting himself to this normal conversation in a normal situation. “What’d you think of it?”

“It was better than the last volume,” Drake said as he stabbed his fork into the bowl of penne noodles. “The way they made those snails move fast and ricochet off stuff was awesome!”

“What are you guys talking about?” Garret asked. “A manga? Like a Japanese comic book thing?”

Drake nodded as he sipped from his can of Crash energy soda. “It’s called ‘Teenagers with Superpowers is a Genre.’”

There were teachers in the cafeteria, supervising the students, unaware that two of their students had skipped school, one of which had not returned. Still, Chris couldn’t fully put his mind at ease—surely the school authorities would have confronted him already if his absence wasn’t excused. Lavi, as Leon Kampton, must have been doing something to keep his students off the radar.

Someone approached the table. Robbie had walked up, along with a black girl who had amazing, naturally poofy hair.

“’Sup?” Robbie greeted Chris with a grin. “Mind if we chill over here?”

“Uh, go ahead,” Chris said somewhat flatly.

Robbie introduced the girl.

“This is Tinashe. And this is Chris, Drake, and Garret.”

Tinashe immediately recognized Garret.

“I know you,” she said with a smile. “You’re that Canadian boy with the beaver.”

“I am,” Garret replied proudly. “A fan of Mont Blanc, are you?”

“Um, I think you should keep that critter locked up,” Tinashe told him, “or on a leash, at least.”

“Mutiny!” Garret cried.

“Dude,” Drake told him, “chill out.”

Chris, Drake, and Garret scooted down the bench seats to make room for the additional students. As Robbie took a seat across from Chris, they made eye contact with each other.

“How are things going?” Robbie asked Chris.

Not sure how to answer, Chris said, “Fine. You?”

“Good. Can’t complain. Were, uh, morning classes okay?” It was obvious Robbie was referring to the dark entity Excalibur had mentioned in Lavi’s office.

Still not sure how to answer (especially with so many people in earshot), Chris said, “Oh…yeah. Everything I had to do…I did…”

Robbie looked at Drake, who smiled. Returning his own smile, Robbie thought about the discussion they’d had in current events class, and how news of Erik’s disease, the ‘ghost flu,’ had made it to major headlines.

“That sandwich looks really good,” Tinashe said to Chris. “Is that a muffaletta?”

“Yeah, it is,” Chris replied.

“I used to bring at least one good takeout sandwich a week from Rasta Blasta Sammiches for lunch,” Tinashe said. Her expression flattened as she looked at her assortment of plain vegetables to eat. “It got expensive, though. Me and my siblings gotta split lunches the other four days if we’re gonna afford the tradition.”

Garret received a text message, which he hastily checked and responded to. As he placed his phone next to his lunch, Drake looked at him wryly.

“You looked pretty desperate about that text,” he said to the pudgy Canadian boy.

“Oh yeah, it’s from this girl I met on a wildlife website.”

“You met a girl…” Drake wrinkled his forehead with confusion, “…on a wildlife website?”

Garret nodded, stabbing his plastic spork into his pile of chicken tartare poutine covered with tarragon chicken gravy over baked kipfler potato French fries.

“Yeah, and come to find out she goes to our school,” he said, checking another text message and replying to it. “She’s at a meeting right now.” A dreamy expression took over his face as he grinned.

“What kind of meeting?” Drake asked. “Here at school?”

“Student council meeting.”

“Huh? She’s in the student council?”

“Yeah,” Garret said casually. “Sheryl Juniper, she’s their secretary.”

“Whoa, good for you, man.” Drake gave Garret a thumbs up.

Chris would have said something, but the mention of the student council reminded him that he’d seen all four members earlier that day, and on his way to skip school, at that.

“Ya hear that?” Drake said with a grin, elbowing Chris. “Garret’s hooking up with a student council girl.”

Snapping back to reality, Chris smiled and said, “Yeah, Sheryl. Good for you.”

“That other girl in the student council is really short and small,” Garret said. “I forgot her name. The redhead. I heard she’s scary.” He looked at Drake. “You know who I’m talking about?”

“I don’t really know any of the student council members,” Drake said, “aside from Xavier Copenhagen, just because he’s a ‘prodigy,’ or whatever. It’s so dumb. He just has a lot of extra credit, so his GPA is really high.”

“It’s, like, really high!” Garret said excitedly. “Over nine thousand!”

“No, it can’t be,” Drake said. He didn’t believe it.

Chris wasn’t paying much attention to his friends’ conversation, being lost in thought. After a quick survey of the cafeteria, Chris saw Marilyn sitting at a distant table with Katie Vickers and Zee Ivanov. He glanced at Garret feverishly typing a message to the girl he was talking with, and considered sending a text message to Marilyn.

But what would he say? He didn’t know.

In the meantime, Robbie said nothing…he decided he was done eating.

*******

“Good work, Chris. Your work with the table saw is improving nicely.”

Wesley Olson, the woodshop teacher at Lyonbole, examined the pieces of cedar Chris had cut with the circular table saw. He was an older man with graying hair and hands as rough as the wood he was holding.

“Thank you,” Chris said humbly, “but all I’m doing is pushing wood straight…”

Mr. Olson chuckled. “Don’t sell yourself short. You’re doing a good job.” He turned to the rest of the class. “Listen up! Class is almost over, so start shutting down the equipment and clean your stations.”

At the sound of the bell, the school day ended and the wide hallways of Lyonbole Public High School swarmed with students. While walking to his locker, Chris brushed the sawdust from woodshop class off his clothes with his hands. As he rustled his hair to remove the remaining particles, his phone vibrated in his pocket.

Excalibur had sent Chris a text message.

["A new person has been entered into my database. Lavi has just revealed his true identity to someone. I believe this to be important information for you, and will alert you of such instances."]

Not wasting a second, Chris returned a message:

["Who and where?"]

Excalibur immediately replied:

["Alessandra Starling, female, age twenty-two. I do not know where she is currently."]

Chris thought for a moment, staring at the onscreen words.

If Excalibur doesn’t know where this woman is, then she’s either out of range, too powerful, or has a type of energy signal the app can’t detect. He looked around the hall as he walked, not looking for anything specific. Excalibur is useful, but has a lot of limits, too.

When he was out of earshot of the surrounding classmates, he inserted the Bluetooth earpiece into his ear.

“Excalibur,” Chris said to his phone, “do you have any more info on that Alessandra Starling person you mentioned?”

“Not at the moment,” Excalibur replied in its dignified voice through the tiny Bluetooth speaker. “If you desire more information, I recommend that you travel around the Chicago area. Doing so may place Alessandra Starling within my five-mile detection range, in which case I will be able to pinpoint her location, as well as obtain further stats on her over time. However, it is possible that she is not in Chicago.”

Chris gazed out the nearby window, which was from the second floor. A remarkable view of one of the school’s nicely-groomed courtyards was below. Thinking about Excalibur’s suggestion, Chris squeezed his phone in his hand.

“So,” he said, “if I wanna find her…I’ll need to look for her.”

“Seems so,” the app replied.

“If there are more people like me, then it’s a good thing, right?”

“I do not understand, and cannot give an accurate answer.”

Absentmindedness followed Chris to his locker on the first floor, and lingered in his brain as he packed the books he needed for homework that night, as well as the volume of “Teenagers with Superpowers is a Genre” Drake had borrowed.

A finger tapped on his shoulder, bringing him back to reality.

“Me and Katie bought our tickets,” Marilyn said all of a sudden.

“Oh, hey Marilyn.” Chris smiled at the cute girl who had seemingly come out of nowhere. “Tickets?”

“Yeah, the tickets for the concert,” Marilyn told him brightly. “For Leap Into Traffic. It’s at the Aragon Ballroom. I told you about it last week.”

Chris chuckled.

“Yeah, you did. Sounds fun.”

“Are you going? If we can get a group, it’d be awesome! The two opening bands are Sewage Dwellers and Choking on Gum.”

Although it was a casual question, it presented a surmountable challenge for Chris to answer.

“Eh, I’d like to,” he said, “but I don’t really know what my plans are.”

There was mild hesitation in Marilyn’s response, as if that wasn’t the answer she was anticipating.

“Oh, I see.” Marilyn held her hands behind her back. “If you can’t make it, that’s okay.”

Chris shook his head.

“I’ll try to make it,” he told her, “but there’s been a lot of, uh, stuff going on.” Marilyn didn’t reply right away, nor did she look at Chris. “Did you ask Drake if he wanted to go?”

“Um, not yet,” she said, smiling. “Maybe I will.”

“Who else is going?” Chris asked, closing his locker.

“Maybe my Russian friend, Zee.”

“I’ll try to make time,” Chris told her. “It sounds fun.”

Marilyn perked up.

“Just let me know,” she said.

“For sure.”

Through the mass of students, Chris saw Robbie walking toward him.

“Wassup?” Robbie greeted. His smile was barely visible. “Let’s chill for a while.” He looked at Marilyn and offered a courteous nod, then looked back at Chris. “I wanna talk about stuff.”

“Mary!”

Drake called out from down the hall, getting Marilyn’s attention.

“Oh, Drake.” Marilyn said as the well-dressed boy approached. “How are you?”

“I’m fine,” Drake replied hastily, “but how about you? I heard you had that ghost flu.”

Not expecting to hear that, Marilyn blinked for a moment.

“Huh? Oh, yeah.” She scratched at her cheek with her index finger. “Well, I don’t really know if that’s what I had, but…”

Drake leaned in. “But you’re all good, right?”

“Yup! I think it was just a one-day bug, if that’s even a real thing.”

“What’s this ghost flu?” Chris asked.

“You know,” Marilyn told Chris, “it’s what they’re calling that weird disease that spread across Chicago. They don’t know what it is. Actually, everyone seems to have felt a little off on Sunday. It’s weird, but, yeah…”

The air hardened in Chris’ chest, and he would’ve held his breath if Robbie hadn’t nudged his arm.

“Hey, we should get going soon, Chris,” Robbie said, his words subtly sharpened with urgency.

Marilyn smiled at Chris.

“Looks like you’re doing something tonight, huh?” she said.

Chris looked from Marilyn to Robbie, then back to Marilyn. Without a doubt, he was doing something that night.

I’ll see if Robbie can come with me to look for Alessandra, Chris thought. If there are more people like us, then it must be a good thing.

“Yeah,” he told Marilyn, “looks like I am.”

“What’re you guys gonna do?” Drake asked. “Hang out?”

“Uh, yeah,” Chris said. Hesitantly, he added, “what are you up to, Drake?”

I really don’t wanna involve Drake or anyone else in this, Chris thought, but I feel so bad about leaving him in the dark and not spending time with him. What do I do?

However, Drake shook his head. “I can’t hang out tonight.” He looked at the floor with a glum expression. “I have things to do…and homework.”

Chris felt bad for being relieved that he wouldn’t be able to spend time with Drake.

“That’s cool, buddy,” Chris said with an assuring smile. “I’ll bring the next volume of ‘Teenagers with Superpowers is a Genre’ tomorrow for you.”

“That’d be great,” Drake replied happily.

*******

The morning sun had been overtaken by overcast skies while a calm breeze carried the songs of birds throughout the courtyards of Saint Baptiste Monastery, making for a pleasant stroll as Father Buck Dood enjoyed the quiet. He chose not to lament over the unknown whereabouts of the Chashman Artifact, although he understood the weight of the situation could not be taken lightly.

He gazed up at the stone towers, a sight he had long grown accustomed to, yet still admired the beauty and underlying elegance in their design and shape; a Romanesque architecture, accented with the older gothic style.

“Good day, Father.” Brother Samuel had approached the priest in the flowery courtyard.

“Good day, Brother Samuel,” Father Dood replied courteously. “Did you come out to enjoy some fresh air as well?”

“Yes,” the monk said with a smile. “After the theft of the Chashman Artifact, I have been taking much time to reflect on many things. It is putting me at ease.”

“Very good,” the priest said humbly. “We are limited in what we can do at the time, so prayer and reflection are important and useful.”

“I agree.”

A soft rustling came from the nearby petunia patch. Father Dood noticed and chuckled.

“It seems we have a small animal tending to our petunias,” he said amusedly, catching a glimpse of brown fur.

“Ah, yes,” Brother Samuel said. “I hope it doesn’t invade our food storage, although we have traps in place if that happens.”

Suddenly, the critter darted out from the flowers toward the two men.

“That’s a big rat!” the monk exclaimed.

Seeing the letter in the large rat’s mouth, Father Dood immediately understood.

“Calm yourself, Brother,” the priest said, kneeling down to take the letter from the rat. He examined the plain white envelope with nothing written on it. “This is ratmail.”

“If you insist…” Brother Samuel said, eyeing the large rat cautiously.

“After receiving several of these, I’ve grown quite used to the method of delivery.” The priest removed the letter and examined it, seeing the sender’s name at the top of the page. “Ah! It’s from Aleph-Naught.”

The monk blinked a couple times, looking at the letter in the priest’s hands.

“Aleph-Naught,” he said contemplatively, “she’s that young girl who had been sent to aid our search for the Chashman Artifact, correct?”

“That is correct.”

Father Dood read the handwritten ratmail from Aleph-Naught:

"Dear Father Buck Dood,

"I have returned to Saint Baptiste Monastery. Sorry for such short notice. I am at the gate, and ask that you let me in."

“It appears she has returned,” Father Dood said. “Come with me to the entrance.”

Brother Samuel nodded, delighted, and the two men headed for the only gate providing access to the monastery. When the heavy gate was in view—tipped with sharp spikes atop—a short, hooded figure dressed in gray could be seen waiting on the other side.

Upon seeing the approaching men, the person standing outside the gate perked up and removed their hood, revealing shoulder-length blonde hair and green eyes.

“Aleph-Naught,” Father Dood greeted courteously as he released the gate’s lock mechanism.

“Good day, Father,” Al replied modestly, offering an uncharacteristically discreet smile. “Sorry I’m late.”

Father Dood opened the gate, requiring a bit of strength to move the large metal structure, to allow Al through. One quick look was enough for the priest to see the young girl had been through much hardship; her baggy, uniquely patterned gray hoodie was damaged and dirty.

“No need to apologize,” Father Dood told her stiffly, closing the gate, which locked automatically when shut. “You appear to have faced danger, am I wrong?”

Al gave the priest and monk a serious look.

“I have.” She glanced toward the monastery towers. “Let’s talk. I have a lot to fill you in on.”

“Yes, right away.” Father Dood turned to the monk. “Brother Samuel, please excuse us. Aleph-Naught and I will be in my office.”

“As you wish, Father. Aleph-Naught, I am happy for your return, and I hope you can offer valuable discussions.”

With an ironic smirk, Al told the monk, “Yeah, I think I can.”

The stalwart priest led the blonde, green-eyed girl through the cool, spacious corridors of Saint Baptiste Monastery. They walked in silence, their briskly paced footsteps rising into the ceiling spaces that stretched high above them.

In the minimally furnished office, Al took a seat in the comfortable chair in front of Father Dood’s desk, and the priest took his seat behind it.

“You had us quite worried, Aleph-Naught.” He showed little emotion, but he had scolding tones in the fringes of his voice.

“I know.” Al took the priest’s moderate scolding in stride. “I’m very sorry, Father Dood.”

“No matter, I don’t blame you. Sister Farrah was unable to detect you with her prayers, so we were afraid you would never return.”

“Ah, yeah,” Al said, scratching her head of blonde hair. “My bandalores are what she could sense, not myself. Without them, it’d be hard to find me, and they are dormant on their own and can’t be detected.”

Father Dood looked at Al inquisitively for a moment.

“Even without your bandalores,” he said, “you should have your own magical signal, because you are a magic user and one spell is all it takes to etch your soul with such a mark. Is your concealment possible because of what your superiors had informed me about you?”

“Yes,” she said directly, “because I am an Aleph.”

The priest smiled ever so slightly.

“Impressive,” he said. “You are able to conceal yourself to such a degree, not just with invisibility to hide from the eye, but to hide away from Sister Farrah’s prayers as well. Although, I imagine she will not take lightly to the news of her prayers failing yet again, but with time, she will be far ahead of me in terms of skill. She’s still young, and has plenty of opportunity to grow much more. I believe she will someday devise a gift much more effective than her already-substantial prayers.”

“Her clairvoyance is already off the charts,” Al added. She grinned, “I’m actually really surprised she couldn’t find me. Maybe she just didn’t know what she was looking for.”

The priest agreed. “Maybe so. She may be able to bypass your concealment with this knowledge of your status as an Aleph.” Father Dood cleared his throat and changed the subject. “I’ll let you explain what you need to say,” he told her. “Please tell me what you must.”

Al took a deep breath.

“Well,” she began slowly, gripping her knees and shifting in her chair, “some problems arose, and I have been unable to fulfill my regular duties until now.”

“What sort of problems?”

“I located another mortal of significance here in the city. Unfortunately, I failed to get his name. Also, I believe he is not on our side. His powers are pure evil, and seem to manifest as a disease of some sort. I engaged with him in combat, but lost. At this time, I do not know where he is or what became of him. I have lost my bandalores and their accessories, so my magical powers are reduced almost to zero.”

The priest studied Al. She seemed very tired and weary, and it was possible she had not slept nor eaten much in the past week. Additionally, her words troubled him.

“An evil mortal of significance.” He thought it over. “I have encountered my fair share of such individuals throughout the years, so it does not surprise me that there was one nearby. No doubt there are people who use their gifts in heinous ways, be it for personal gain or other despicable purposes. What I find disturbing, however, is you said this person possessed gifts that were pure evil. I believe the common term nowadays is ‘negative energy.’ The essence of malice and defilement.”

Al nodded. “That’s right.”

“So, it adds up,” Father Dood muttered. “I recently had Sister Farrah Elaina use her prayers to locate more mortals of significance. She told me that two seemed to possess vile attributes. However, after her prayers had failed her during the incident with Christopher, she could not be certain if she was receiving an accurate answer…now it seems she was accurate, indeed.”

“It’s true,” Al said bleakly. “I’ve never encountered a living being with such power—power usually only from the entities of shadows.” She rubbed her eyes with both hands, recalling the ominous sensations that had emanated from the sickly boy she had encountered. “But…I know what I felt. A teenage boy with absolute darkness flowing inside his heart, and tremendous amounts of it.” Al shuddered. “I’ve never met a demon before…but my guess is that guy was pretty damn close to one.”

Father Dood stared directly at Al.

“A demon?” Without realizing it, he was leaning forward with both hands on his desk.

The girl nodded solemnly.

“The only reference I have of demons is from teachings within my organization. I don’t think that guy was one of them, but like I said, he probably wasn’t too far off.”

Father Buck Dood pushed back from his desk, then stood up, unable to sit any longer. The songbird-filled breezes and petunia scents drifted into his office through the open window, and captivating Romanesque architecture with subtle gothic styles were clearly visible from outside.

The priest asked, “Did this person require magic?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Humans who possess unnatural abilities without the use of magic.” He spoke in a low voice while walking from behind his desk. “This is a notion that unsettles me. Also, there is a human with evil gifts typically found in unholy entities.”

“I know what you mean,” Al said in agreement. “I thought it was impossible, but I’ve seen it. It’s real.”

“Perhaps the key to possessing gifts without magic is related to the ability to possess such evilness.”

Al shrugged. “I dunno. Maybe.”

The priest moved his eyes across his bookshelf for seemingly no reason, a bookshelf stuffed with tomes and texts covering numerous topics on philosophy, geography, astronomy, astrology, the occult, and religion. Even he and Sister Farrah Elaina knew their blessed gifts were only accessible when using simple magical algorithms. He recalled when Sister Farrah had explained that her gifted prayers (an ability made real when using magic) had failed to detect the unnatural actions of a teenage boy named Christopher Findale…actions that did not require magic, according to previous reports from Aleph-Naught.

“Can you contact the boy named Christopher Findale?” he asked Al.

“Yeah, I think so.”

“I ask that you retrieve him.”

“You mean bring him back here?” Al tilted her head with curiosity. “You wanna meet him, right?”

“Yes. He may be important to this development. Perhaps he can aid us in the search for the Chashman Artifact.”

Al grinned eagerly.

“Leave it to me,” she said. “He’s kinda gung-ho about things, so he’ll probably be happy to help.”

Smiling, Father Dood replied, “Very good. Tomorrow, I’ll have you meet Christopher. But first, I’ll see that you get some food and some rest for the day. I can tell you’re hungry and in need of some recovery.”

“Utterly famished.” Al chuckled, her mouth already watering at the thought of food. “My defeat against that sick guy with evil powers drained all of my magic, I strained so hard. Normally, my bandalores would have regenerated my powers fairly quickly, but I lost them.” She clenched her fists, feeling disgraced for losing her most valuable tools, and remembered how Erik was the only person to sustain her Prometheus Incarceration for so long. “I’m such a dumbass…can’t believe I slipped up like that.”

“It is unfortunate,” the priest said grimly, “but do not be so hard on yourself. Your situation was far from normal.”

Al swallowed her pride, doing her best to confide within the priest’s words.

“Anyway,” she said, “it was a nightmare making it back here. My mental state was all outta whack from the loss of life force, and without my Mappa Mundi spell, it was all I could do to get back without being suspicious. Even my basic invisibility spell was almost too much for me to use. Right now, I’m still not in peak condition, or what I consider ‘peak condition’ without my bandalores.”

“Get some rest and something to eat,” the sturdy priest said softly. “Wait until tomorrow to act, because you need the rest.”

“Yeah, you’re right.”

“In the meantime, I’ll talk with Sister Farrah Elaina. There’s something I wish to have her do.” He looked at his desk drawer that contained the meteorite-carved cubit rod. “I hope it isn’t too much to ask of her, considering the circumstances.”

*******

Sister Farrah Elaina was in her private chamber, meditating while sitting on the floor with her eyes closed, when Father Dood knocked on her door.

“Come in,” she called out, opening her eyes.

The priest entered the room and greeted the young Afghani nun.

“Good day, Sister Farrah.”

“Hello, Father.” She stood up and smiled. “Good day to you, too.”

“Aleph-Naught has returned,” the priest told her. “I’ve seen to it that she is fed and rested.”

“This is good news,” Sister Farrah replied happily.

“We discussed matters related to her duties, and she informed me of reasons why she had been absent this past week.”

The young nun prepared herself for the explanation, already assuming that it would not be pleasant. She looked at the priest’s hand, seeing the detestable cubit rod he had brought for her.

“What reasons?” she asked firmly.

“She mentioned meeting another mortal of significance,” Father Dood continued. “This person was able to use special abilities without magic, just like the first two boys you detected.”

“Christopher and Robert,” Sister Farrah said, remembering the events of Revere Park when Chris unleashed his mighty powers. She remembered when her seemingly infallible prayers had failed. “They were very unique.” She looked at the priest. “You mean to tell me there is another like them?”

Father Dood nodded and said, “Yes, Aleph-Naught said that this new person had powers of pure evil, something akin to illnesses. She was defeated by this person, and did not obtain his name.”

“Then it’s true.” The young nun narrowed her eyes and spoke with a rigid tone. “There are people with detestable gifts, as my prayers have informed me.” She cast her eyes downward. “I am happy that my prayers did not betray me again, but I wish it was with better news.”

“Do not blame yourself,” Father Dood told her, “and do not be so unforgiving of yourself.”

Not knowing what to say, the young nun asked, “Is there something I can do to help?”

“I’d like you to locate more mortals of significance, if they exist,” Father Dood replied firmly. “Given these circumstances, I wonder if there is a recent increase in humans with these non-magical traits.” He rubbed his chin while thinking. “Try to send your prayers as far out as possible, which should be approximately the entire Chicago metropolitan area.”

“Very well,” Sister Farrah said dutifully. “What would you have me do after verifying the existence of more of these people?”

The priest sighed.

“In truth, I fear this specific category of people. I currently have no way of understanding what they’re capable of, or what their involvement is with everything happening, if any. That said, I only want you to verify their existence. I’ll use that information when communicating with Aleph-Naught and her organization.”

He handed her the cubit rod, which immediately responded to her touch, as if waking up from a slumber, conversing through her hands with various energies.

“Understood.”

Sister Farrah Elaina had memorized the magical requirements for her prayers long ago. With a quick whisper under her breath, so slight and easily unnoticeable by others, she closed her eyes, and then sent out her request to locate mortals of significance within the city.

The sheer size of her search range resulted in a dizzying influx of information. As the prayers returned their findings, they carried back thunderous groans and bellows uttered by every skyscraper, highway, tunnel, and other structure, down to the very bricks themselves. Despite this sudden wave of whispers, the young nun had experienced it many times in the past, and it was no more overwhelming than listening to a single person casually speaking to her.

When her eyes opened, she had already grasped her prayers’ answers.

“I am told there are five of these people,” she explained. “This does not include Aleph-Naught.”

“Aleph-Naught has lost her bandalores, the source of her magical abilities and the reason she can be detected.”

“Why…does she still elude my prayers? She’s a magic user, even without her bandalores.”

“She confirmed with me it is because of her status as an Aleph. Focus, Sister Farrah.”

“Then six, including Aleph-Naught. Eight, if you include you and me.”

“So, there’s one more since last time.” Father Dood contemplated this.

“But…that’s not all,” the nun said. “I already knew of Aleph-Naught, Christopher, Robert, and the other two who felt wicked. But something is different this time.”

“How so?”

“One of the wicked is missing. Instead, there are two unidentified ones in its place, and I can’t determine if they are vile or not.”

The priest utilized the silence, trying to interpret the information.

“That’s very odd.” He held his hands together in front of him as he thought. “I don’t know what that could mean, or what caused that.” Gazing toward one of the ceiling corners, he added, “There may be two new people with these abilities. Also, the missing wicked one may mean that that person has been eliminated or lost their abilities, so I hope.”

Sister Farrah Elaina nodded.

“Let’s wait and see what this leads to,” she said. “If there are, in fact, two new people, then their powers may have not matured.”

“Maturation of powers,” Father Dood said, crossing his arms. “It’s surprising how such powers can be born so suddenly, needing to be raised and nurtured.”

“Indeed.”

“And it’s frightening that we can no longer assume these new human powers will not be wicked.” He crossed his arms. “If there are more people like Christopher, they may bring ruin, peace, or both.”

“Yes, it’s unprecedented…and frightening.”

“With this in mind, you may be able to detect Aleph-Naught’s magical signal, as she is still a magic user. I believe your prayers failed to reach her because you did not know what specifications to search for.”

“If that’s so,” the young nun replied, “then I’ll do my best to improve.”

Father Dood smiled earnestly.

“I know you will,” he told her. Sighing, he added, “I still have not heard from Aleph-One. How troublesome.”

“Perhaps Aleph-Naught may have some insight,” Sister Farrah suggested.

“Aleph-Naught is not to know about Aleph-One’s involvement, as requested by their superiors.” He shook his head. “Honestly…what is going on?”
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