Chapter 32:

Book 2, Ch. 7: Blazing Through the Trials of Opposition

ANNO DOMINI ~Allium~ [Beta version]


***THANKS FOR READING!***Bookmark here

Greetings, fellow Honeyfeeders! Thank you for checking out this story! I've been hard at work with editing, especially making sure all of the plot points are tied together nicely, and a new chapter shows that I'm gradually making progress.Bookmark here

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*******Bookmark here

BOOK 2, CHAPTER 7: BLAZING THROUGH THE TRIALS OF OPPOSITIONBookmark here

There was standing room only as Chris and Robbie boarded the crowded city bus after school, and the two boys remained shoulder-to-shoulder as the doors closed. Chris had the GPS app open on his phone, and Excalibur had marked a specific location in The Loop with a generic smiley face icon labeled “Alessandra Starling.” That was their destination.Bookmark here

Robbie looked at the phone screen, which Chris was staring at with a notable degree of intent.Bookmark here

“I think we’re in range of this person now,” Chris told Robbie. “Her name’s Alessandra.”Bookmark here

“That really shows where somebody is,” Robbie muttered, being mindful of the number of people around. “Somebody…who’s like us?”Bookmark here

Nodding, Chris said, “Seems so. And if that’s the case, then meeting them might be a good idea.”Bookmark here

“Eh, I hope you’re right.” Robbie was skeptical. “I don’t wanna deal with somebody like Erik again. I…I just don’t think I can handle that, ya know what I mean?” He sighed. “He was a friend…”Bookmark here

“I know.” Chris glanced out the window. “This is our stop.”Bookmark here

The boys exited the bus and transferred to the nearby ‘L’ train line. Heading to the platform, they continued talking.Bookmark here

“I’ve been thinkin’,” Robbie said. “I’ve been giving it some thought.” He scratched his chin. “What I wanted to talk to you about earlier, I think I wanna team up with you.”Bookmark here

Chris looked at him.Bookmark here

“Aren’t you already, like, on the same team as me?”Bookmark here

“Well, yeah. What I mean is I wanna do it fulltime. I got school and basketball and stuff, and Tinashe really wants to spend time with me…” he checked his phone, seeing a missed text message from Tinashe Bronson, “…and I really wanna spend time with her, too. But I’ve really been thinkin’, man…and I think this is the right thing to do.”Bookmark here

“It’s okay, Robbie.” Chris patted Robbie’s back with an assuring smile. “I’ve already told you that it’s your choice, but I’m glad you want to stick with me.” His smile morphed into a weary grin. “Otherwise I’d probably be stuck with Bret by myself…”Bookmark here

With a chuckle heartier than intended, Robbie said, “Man, I couldn’t leave you with that asshole by yourself!”Bookmark here

“Do you think ill of Bret Taurus?” Excalibur asked as Chris held his phone.Bookmark here

“Um, he’s difficult,” Chris told the app.Bookmark here

“He’s an asshole,” Robbie added with a grunt.Bookmark here

“Then I feel the need to inform you,” Excalibur replied, “that Bret seems to be accompanying Alessandra.”Bookmark here

Chris was shocked.Bookmark here

“Y-you’re kidding.”Bookmark here

“I am not,” Excalibur said. “Bret’s energy signal has been within close proximity to Alessandra’s energy signal ever since they have entered my detection range. I’ll display his location on the GPS.”Bookmark here

Another smiley face icon, labeled “Bret Taurus,” appeared on top of the other one.Bookmark here

The two boys exchanged glances as the train arrived. Both of them could see the mild anguish on each other’s face as they boarded the next train; once again there was standing room only. Furthermore, they wondered if it was coincidence—Bret already making contact with whoever Alessandra Starling was.Bookmark here

Another person with similar abilities was merely coincidence?Bookmark here

Chris received a text message from Excalibur:Bookmark here

["I have detected a malevolent being. It has been marked on your GPS."]Bookmark here

With a nudge, Chris got Robbie’s attention and showed him the generic monster indicator on his phone’s map app.Bookmark here

“Is that…one of those things?” Robbie was quiet, his voice bleak. When Chris nodded, Robbie added, “We gonna take care of it?”Bookmark here

Chris thought of their possible course of action as the train rocked and clacked down the track.Bookmark here

“Yeah, but let’s meet this other person first. As much as I don’t like it, these things,” he pointed to the monster icon on his GPS, “can probably be left alone without causing too much harm, at least for a little bit.”Bookmark here

An idea came to Chris, and he typed a reply text message to Excalibur:Bookmark here

["We should name the malevolent beings so I can keep track of them better"]Bookmark here

Before Chris could send the message, Excalibur answered:Bookmark here

["I will oblige. What name would you prefer for this current target?"]Bookmark here

Chris typed:Bookmark here

["I dont know, I’ll leave it up to u"]Bookmark here

Instantaneously, Excalibur replied:Bookmark here

["I will utilize a random word generator on the internet to perform such naming tasks. In doing so, I shall name this current target “Pilgrim.” The indicator on your smartphone’s map app has been updated to reflect this change. Unless you desire otherwise, I can do this for all future targets of negative energy."]Bookmark here

“Hey,” Robbie said, “Excalibur can find Bret and this new person. Does that mean it can find you and me?”Bookmark here

A text message on Chris’s phone from Excalibur confirmed Robbie’s question.Bookmark here

["Yes, I can."]Bookmark here

“Wait.” Chris looked at his phone. “Excalibur…can you find Al, too?”Bookmark here

Excalibur replied with another text message:Bookmark here

["No. Aleph-Naught is not aware of Lavi’s real identity, nor does she emit negative energy readings. As of now, either of those two parameters are required for my detection."]Bookmark here

Chris sighed. Robbie read the text message and shook his head.Bookmark here

“Ain’t ever easy,” Robbie muttered.Bookmark here

When the train arrived at the next stop, one of the boarding passengers was a middle-aged man carrying a crude sign made from writing on a piece of cardboard with a black marker that read “Can’t afford food. Please help.” Although his clothes and appearance weren’t terrible, it was obvious he was down on his luck.Bookmark here

The man looked at Robbie, who tried to avoid eye contact.Bookmark here

“Do you boys have anything I could eat?” he asked weakly.Bookmark here

Robbie shook his head.Bookmark here

“Sorry,” Chris said passively, being used to beggars.Bookmark here

“I’m not homeless,” the man said, “not yet. I have a job and have been skatin’ close to the bottom for a while, havin’ kids and all. But with food gettin’ expensive, it was a matter of time before it tipped me over the edge.”Bookmark here

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Chris told him.Bookmark here

“A lesson for you kids,” the man said, “keep yer credit up. Don’t go hungry even with a job and home, like me.”Bookmark here

Chris and Robbie looked at each other before nodding to the man, and he slowly made his way down the train aisle asking for help. Despite the large crowd of well-dressed, groomed people, nobody offered so much as a penny.Bookmark here

“The homeless problem in The Loop is getting outta hand,” Robbie murmured.Bookmark here

“He wasn’t homeless, though.”Bookmark here

“Yeah, true.”Bookmark here

“I feel bad,” Chris said. “I wish I had something to give him.”Bookmark here

“You can’t help the homeless, Chris,” Robbie said. “You shouldn’t. You’ve lived in Chicago your whole life and still don’t know this?”Bookmark here

“He wasn’t homeless. He has a job, too.”Bookmark here

“…Yeah…true.”Bookmark here

“And is it really wrong, or impossible, for me to help them?”Bookmark here

“Well…”Bookmark here

Chris looked after the beggar.Bookmark here

“Is there a food shortage, or something?” he asked.Bookmark here

“Uh, I’m not sure,” Robbie replied. “I keep hearing about how they’re raising the prices of food, so maybe there is. It really makes you think.”Bookmark here

“Think what?”Bookmark here

“How lucky we are. How good we’ve got it.”Bookmark here

“Is it all right, though?” Chris asked.Bookmark here

Robbie shrugged. “I dunno, but we might as well use our privileges since we got ’em.”Bookmark here

Chris took a moment to let that notion sink in.Bookmark here

At the appropriate station, the train doors slid open, withdrawing yet another barrier between the two boys and their coincidental encounter with Alessandra, another person who had learned of Lavi’s identity.Bookmark here

They walked down Michigan Avenue along the Magnificent Mile, closer to the marked location on the GPS screen, and eventually coming to the large glass entranceway of a reasonably-priced hotel offering its best seasonal rates.Bookmark here

Ubiquitous light fixtures dotted the mundane lobby. A middle-aged woman attended the lobby desk, talking on the phone and reviewing a spreadsheet on her computer.Bookmark here

Robbie glanced at the receptionist before leaning close to Chris’ ear.Bookmark here

“Can we just go right in?” he asked concernedly.Bookmark here

“We should be able to,” Chris replied, “but we’ll just find out.”Bookmark here

The boys crossed the unmentionable lobby to the elevator. The receptionist saw them, but paid no mind as she kept working.Bookmark here

“Judging by the average height difference among floors in other buildings,” Excalibur said, “I estimate the target is on the eleventh, twelfth, or thirteenth floor.”Bookmark here

“Okay,” Chris replied, pressing the elevator call button, “we’ll start on the eleventh floor.”Bookmark here

When the elevator stopped at the eleventh floor, Excalibur confirmed it was the correct one. Chris and Robbie exited the elevator as three young men entered, each wearing shirts for the anime Baccano! and talking about virtual reality brain surgery.Bookmark here

Keeping watch on the GPS, Chris saw he and Robbie were right next to the smiley face marker. He looked toward the nearby door, room number 1105.Bookmark here

“Is this it?” Robbie asked.Bookmark here

“I think so.” Chris shook his head and smiled. “Sorry, but this room is number 1105. That’s the date of my parents’ anniversary, November fifth. It’s also Guy Fawkes Night in Great Britain.”Bookmark here

“Ah.” Robbie didn’t know what to make of the random facts.Bookmark here

Chris took one more look at the room number.Bookmark here

It’s a coincidence.Bookmark here

*******Bookmark here

“Getting all worked up ain’t gonna do you any good.” Bret popped the cap off his bottled beer with a Bic lighter, his third since arriving in Sandra’s hotel room. “Just be ready, because things might get pretty wild.” Taking a sip of beer, he smiled, devoid of much empathy. “Not even I can tell you what’s gonna happen, though. I’m new to this, too. Hey…you listening to me?”Bookmark here

“Uhhh, yeah.”Bookmark here

Sandra sat on the bed with her back against the headboard. Her hazy, blue eyes peered somewhere in the general direction of the full beer bottle in her hand. Feeling the drilling stare from the delinquent teenager, she looked indolently at Bret sitting on the table by the window.Bookmark here

“Hmph.” Bret realized his host was resisting almost all social interactions, and he had already dropped all hopes of getting into that same bed as her at the same time. He wasn’t disappointed, though, since the knowledge of Sandra’s circumstances had ruined the mood. With another swig of beer, he grunted under his breath.Bookmark here

What do I do? Sandra looked back at her beer, thinking how uninviting it was. I shouldn’t have left my apartment. This wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t come here.Bookmark here

Annoyed by the brooding vibes oozing from Sandra, Bret stood up and pointed at her.Bookmark here

“If you wanna sit and cry about it, then go ahead.” There was no trace of tact in his tone.Bookmark here

“I’m not crying,” Sandra muttered, pouting.Bookmark here

“Sure, whatever. I’ll get outta your hair if you’re gonna mope all day.” Bret chugged the rest of his beer and placed the empty bottle next to the others on the table. “But before I go, there’s one important piece of advice I’ll give, ‘cuz you’re in the same barnacle-crusted boat as me.”Bookmark here

“Mmm?”Bookmark here

Shuffling toward the door with his hands in his pocket, Bret smirked.Bookmark here

“There are real monsters in this world. Be on your guard.”Bookmark here

The words dribbled into Sandra’s mind, slowly and steadily.Bookmark here

“What…do you mean?” she asked, looking attentively at Bret. “Monsters?”Bookmark here

“Yup,” Bret said, wearing the same smirk and running his fingers through his disheveled hair. “Monsters, plain and simple.”Bookmark here

Sandra gripped her beer with her right hand and the blanket with her left, still giving Bret her undivided attention.Bookmark here

“You’re not screwing with me, are you?”Bookmark here

Chuckling, the delinquent replied, “Nope, I’m being serious. They’re out there.” When he looked at Sandra, she saw the firmness on his face. “Fair warning: they’re dangerous. I fought ‘em, and it was terrifying. I really thought I was gonna die. Hell, I might get killed by one sooner or later.”Bookmark here

Goosebumps erupted all over Sandra’s skin, and she promptly sat forward, spilling some of her beer on the bed.Bookmark here

“What do you mean?” she demanded, nearly shouting.Bookmark here

“I just told you, dammit.” Bret groaned with irritation. “I can’t say it any more straight. Evil things that most people can’t see, and they bite… Uh, you’re spilling your beer everywhere…”Bookmark here

Sandra quickly slid off the bed to her feet, sloshing most of the beer in her bottle on the blanket and carpet before setting it on the floor. She fumbled for words, anything to say that wouldn’t sound ridiculous or incoherent.Bookmark here

And yet she said, “Huhhhh?” while her hands and eyes twitched sporadically.Bookmark here

“Now that you know,” Bret said wryly, “I’ll catch ya later…if they don’t catch ya first.”Bookmark here

“Hold on!” Sandra stepped forward. She felt defeated for having to stop Bret from leaving. “You…don’t leave me like this…please.”Bookmark here

“Changing your mind?” Bret snickered.Bookmark here

“You can’t just tell me something like that and then bail! Monsters? For real?”Bookmark here

“Heh, so you want me to spend the night with you, is that it?”Bookmark here

Clenching her fists, Sandra’s face heated up (with the help of the alcohol still in her blood), and she glared at the shameless teenage boy who had weaseled his way into her hotel room after all.Bookmark here

Four steady knocks from the door resounded sharply through the room. Sandra was startled by the sudden noise, clutching her chest. Bret merely grimaced and looked at the door.Bookmark here

“Well, answer it,” Sandra said, feeling her heart pounding as she still clutched her chest.Bookmark here

“I gotta answer it?” Bret replied flatly.Bookmark here

“You’re closer.”Bookmark here

“It’s your room.”Bookmark here

“I don’t care!” Sandra hissed.Bookmark here

Sighing, Bret approached the door and peeked through the peephole. Chris and Robbie were in view in the hallway.Bookmark here

“Hahaha! No surprise.” Bret opened the door and greeted Chris and Robbie with a scowl. “What’re you guys doin’ here? Ain’t too surprised to see ya, anyway.”Bookmark here

“Bret,” Chris said, keeping a neutral attitude. “Excalibur said you were here.”Bookmark here

The scruffy delinquent shrugged.Bookmark here

“Is there somebody else here?” Robbie asked, looking past Bret. Sure enough, there was a young woman with voluminous dark hair standing in the room, and she appeared overly cautious and full of suspicion, casting watchful eyes toward the two new guests.Bookmark here

Bret nodded toward her.Bookmark here

“Yeah. This is her room.”Bookmark here

“We’d like to talk to her,” Chris said.Bookmark here

“Yo,” Bret called to Sandra, “you got visitors.”Bookmark here

“Oh. Okay,” she replied firmly.Bookmark here

As Chris and Robbie entered the room, Sandra silently stood in place. The door latched behind the boys, and she had no choice but to address the situation with authority and confidence…although the long day, lack of good sleep, and uncounted drinks made it challenging.Bookmark here

Chris and Sandra made eye contact. He could see the uneasiness on her face—Sandra saw a lack of a definitive expression on Chris’ face; a sense of solidity and determination behind his sharp, mean-looking eyes that wasn’t alleviated by the warm smile he offered seconds later.Bookmark here

“Hi there.” His voice and mannerisms were not what Sandra had expected, being gentler and uncannily inviting with only two words. “I’m Chris.”Bookmark here

“Hey,” Sandra replied in a neutral way, the result of her not knowing yet how to present herself in the uncomfortable situation. “I’m Sandra.”Bookmark here

“And I’m Robbie,” the black boy said, matching Chris’ polite demeanor.Bookmark here

“Hi, Robbie.”Bookmark here

An obnoxious noise rang out as Sandra’s smartphone vibrated on the bedside table. She checked it, seeing the text message she had just received.Bookmark here

“Uh, do any of you know someone called ‘Excalibur’?” she asked slowly.Bookmark here

“Oh, sorry.” Chris chuckled, feeling slightly embarrassed. “That’s my phone, um, saying hi to you…”Bookmark here

Sandra didn’t answer, but her thoughts manifested as lines of confusion all over her face as she slid the phone into her pants pocket.Bookmark here

Bret took his seat at the table by the window, prying the cap from another beer bottle, and grinned inadvertently at the awkwardness in the room.Bookmark here

“Really, Bret?” Robbie said with disapproval. “Drinking alcohol?”Bookmark here

“I am. Help yourself.”Bookmark here

Robbie shook his head. “No thanks.”Bookmark here

“What do you want?” Sandra asked Chris and Robbie, speaking directly and harshly. “You look like you know this punk,” she pointed at Bret swigging his beer, “and I didn’t invite you here.”Bookmark here

“You met somebody named Lavi, didn’t you?” Chris asked her, similarly direct with his answer.Bookmark here

“I…yes.” She looked at the floor before looking back at Chris.Bookmark here

“Then you know what he is.”Bookmark here

“Not human,” she said quietly, speaking slowly. “I mean, he had angel wings and shone like a neon sign. But…but that’s not the only reason I know he’s not a human. I could feel it. There was something obvious about him, and I can’t really explain it.”Bookmark here

Robbie smiled and sighed in agreement.Bookmark here

“Yup, that sounds about right,” he said. “The three of us have gone through the same thing.”Bookmark here

Sitting on the edge of the bed, Sandra rubbed her eyes and groaned.Bookmark here

“No shit, huh?” she muttered gravely.Bookmark here

“That’s why I want to talk to you,” Chris told her. “We might have similar abilities, kinda like superpowers. It sounds ridiculous when I explain it like that, though.”Bookmark here

Sandra didn’t look up, but buried her face into her palms.Bookmark here

“Superpowers?” she murmured.Bookmark here

“My phone has an app called Excalibur Artificial Intelligence,” Chris explained. “Lavi gave it to me. It has a lot of useful functions, and it detected your energy signal. That’s how we found you.”Bookmark here

“Phenomenal,” Sandra responded with utter sarcasm. Her sweaty palms greased her face as she remained behind her hands.Bookmark here

“And, uh, that’s why we came to see you.”Bookmark here

Chris could feel Sandra’s resistance against the meeting, and he wondered if he was approaching her correctly, or if he had made the right choice to meet her at all.Bookmark here

Finally, she removed her hands from her eyes and looked at Chris.Bookmark here

“Then tell me,” she said, maintaining a dignified attitude, “what should I do?”Bookmark here

“Well…um…”Bookmark here

She stood up abruptly and confronted Chris.Bookmark here

“Go on, tell me what this means.” Her sudden aggressiveness was surprising, but Chris was not deterred by it. “I don’t know a damn thing about anything at this point. In fact, I’m too tired to care one way or the other!” She irritably rustled her hair, and as she continued to talk, it was difficult to determine exactly at whom her words were directed. “Today has been a day! And this isn’t even considering the last few weeks of my life leading up to this.”Bookmark here

“It must be hard for you.” Chris didn’t know what else to say.Bookmark here

Sandra laughed ironically.Bookmark here

“Yeah, it sure is,” she told Chris rudely. “So, screw it. To hell with the half-assed plans that I tried cobbling together. I’m a free spirit now. And I’m drunk, thanks to the under-aged dipshit over here.”Bookmark here

“You’re welcome,” Bret sneered, swirling the foamy contents around in his beer bottle.Bookmark here

“So, whatever!” Sandra declared boldly. She looked at Chris. “Tell me what I should do.”Bookmark here

Reluctant to answer, fearing that he might say something to further aggravate the young woman, Chris failed to concoct a resolute response.Bookmark here

“Uh, that’s really up to you,” he said.Bookmark here

“That’s all you gotta say?” Sandra tossed her head back in frustration. “You come here acting like you have a plan, and that’s the best you can say?”Bookmark here

“Hey,” Robbie interjected sternly, “this ain’t easy for us, too.” When Sandra shot him a dirty look of disbelief, he added, “We’re new to this. Figuring out what to do is, well, hard.”Bookmark here

“That’s right,” Chris said. “We’re making this up as we go along.”Bookmark here

“Gahhh…I can tell,” Sandra told them flatly.Bookmark here

“But even so,” Chris continued, “we’re also doing our best. I wanted to talk to you so we can help each other out.”Bookmark here

“Help?” Sandra folded her arms, unconvinced. “Help how?”Bookmark here

Chris shook his head.Bookmark here

“I don’t know exactly, but I’m willing to find out. We have these abilities, these powers, and it could help if we come together and get through it together. Don’t you think so?”Bookmark here

“Get through what?” Sandra asked, narrowing her eyes and keeping her arms crossed.Bookmark here

There was a short pause.Bookmark here

“To get through the danger.”Bookmark here

Another pause followed. Sandra stared at the floor, her mind and emotions competing for what little sanity remained within her. Chris and Robbie watched her, waiting for her to say something. A small pop and hiss indicated that Bret had opened another beer; he was enjoying the discord unfolding in front of him, and grinned vulgarly.Bookmark here

Finally, Sandra looked up, including both Chris and Robbie in a single prudent gaze.Bookmark here

“I want you to explain yourselves to me,” she told them in a mature tone confirming her willingness to understand. “Tell me what you think I should know, and…and I’ll decide what to do based on that.”Bookmark here

She took the other seat at the table by the window. Chris and Robbie sat on the edge of the bed.Bookmark here

They explained Lavi and his connection with their powers suddenly developing.Bookmark here

They explained Excalibur and its assistive abilities.Bookmark here

They explained the existence of negative energy, malevolent beings, and Erik Hawthorne, saying they were attempting to protect people from those threats.Bookmark here

Lastly, they explained Gunnhildr and the absolving bullets, and the role those tools played in the mission to right what was wrong.Bookmark here

In silence, Sandra took in all of the information. No doubt, such talk sounded absurd, but she believed them, and it was that very belief that brought her much grief.Bookmark here

By the time Chris and Robbie had finished their explanations, Bret had grown bored, and had not contributed to the conversation aside from a few snickers and grunts. He finished the beer he held, feeling no need to touch the remaining few bottles.Bookmark here

“Is all of that true?” Sandra asked, giving Chris and Robbie a weary look.Bookmark here

“It is,” Chris told her.Bookmark here

“I went through the same thing when Chris told me these things,” Robbie said, “so trust me when I say I know how ya feel.”Bookmark here

“And…” Sandra spoke slowly, “you guys are like freedom fighters, or something? Well, not freedom fighters, I suppose…”Bookmark here

“Kinda,” Chris replied, “but more like—”Bookmark here

“Super. Heroes.” Bret interrupted Chris with the first thing he had said in a while. He stood up, stretched, and gave Chris a belittling smirk. “Ain’t that right? Being a good guy who protects the innocent. Ain’t that right?”Bookmark here

“More or less,” Chris said confidently.Bookmark here

Sandra looked at Bret with distaste.Bookmark here

“Are you one of these good guys, too?” she asked Bret, already expecting the answer.Bookmark here

Bret shrugged. “Sure.”Bookmark here

After receiving a different answer than anticipated, Sandra raised her eyebrows.Bookmark here

“Is that so?”Bookmark here

Chris and Robbie remained quiet, not sure how to answer (and not really knowing the answer).Bookmark here

“We’re basically fightin’ the same enemies,” Bret said flippantly, “so that puts us on the same side. Besides,” he looked at his right hand, remembering the sensation of holding the dark voids ripped from two sinister shadow beings, “it ain’t like…I’m a bad guy…” his voice trailed off as a modest, glum expression cast over him, “or am I…?”Bookmark here

“Huh?” Sandra impatiently leaned toward the delinquent. “What was that last part?”Bookmark here

Bret looked at her with an uncharacteristic blank face.Bookmark here

“Nothing.”Bookmark here

Robbie grew suspicious of Bret in that moment. Chris quickly dismissed it, however.Bookmark here

“Bret,” Chris said.Bookmark here

“Huh?”Bookmark here

“Excalibur detected a malicious entity on our way here.” He looked at Robbie, who nodded. “We’re going to deal with it.”Bookmark here

The life leaked back into Bret’s posture.Bookmark here

“Oh yeah?” he said, pounding his fist into his other hand. “You inviting me for some action?” He grinned. “I’m down for that.”Bookmark here

Chris checked his phone’s GPS and saw the monster indicator was still displayed and labeled as “Pilgrim,” although it had moved. He held up the phone for Bret to see.Bookmark here

“That’s the one. It’s still within Excalibur’s detection range and isn’t too far away.”Bookmark here

“Man, that’s a handy app!” Bret said. “So, when do ya wanna go? I’m ready now. Let’s do this!”Bookmark here

“Hey, what?” Sandra watched the boys stand up and prepare to leave. “What’s going on? You found one of those monsters?”Bookmark here

“Yeah,” Robbie told her, “and now we’re going to deal with it.”Bookmark here

“You mean just like that?” Sandra asked skeptically, standing up as well. “With that gun thing you have?”Bookmark here

Chris held out his hand, making Gunnhildr appear in his grasp. Seeing the strange pistol suddenly materialize made Sandra’s eyes bug out.Bookmark here

“It r-really just came out of nowhere!” she exclaimed.Bookmark here

“Come with us,” Chris told her. “You can see for yourself what we do, and then you can determine what you want to do.”Bookmark here

“Uh…”Bookmark here

Although it was too sudden for Sandra to decide whether or not she wanted to come with, a large part of her thirsted for the adventure. After all, city life with lots of action was something she had missed dearly while living close to the countryside.Bookmark here

“I won’t pressure you.” A comforting attraction seemed to emanate from Chris as he consoled the diffident young woman. “That said, I’ll say that I want you to come with just this once. After that, you should be able to make your own decision.”Bookmark here

“…Make my own decision?”Bookmark here

Alessandra Starling, by default, was not a timid or easily persuaded individual. Many of her actions stemmed from an inner source of confidence, curiosity, and pursuit of whatever her heart desired. Meager were the obstacles that often stood to drive her off any path, and the entrepreneurial resolve within her provided a nearly limitless wellspring of satisfaction and contentment whenever she overcame said obstacles.Bookmark here

Blazing through the trials of opposition to cut straight to any problem with an infallible solution…this was the greatest fire that lit her steadfastness.Bookmark here

This is it, she thought as a near-forgotten giddiness took hold from head to toe. This excitement…the feeling of standing at the edge of the known and staring into the uncharted unknown, like a pioneer…I’ve almost forgotten this feeling. This is why I couldn’t stay in that little apartment to fade away, and chose to come back to the city. This…this is what I live for!Bookmark here

AndBookmark here

“This will be goodbye to my life as I’ve known it,” Sandra said. Her fluency and pervasive keenness sprang from dormancy and rushed to the foreground. “And I can’t express how much I need to make that leap.”Bookmark here

Chris did not look away from her. In fact, he couldn’t.Bookmark here

“Does that mean you want to learn more about this?” he asked.Bookmark here

When the signature glow of Sandra’s confidence rallied forth, it held Chris’ attention with such unwavering clarity that it was impossible to ignore the ironclad bond forming between them.Bookmark here

Chris couldn’t help but smile before Sandra had even spoken, as if her answer had declared itself already without her consent.Bookmark here

“Hell yes, I’m coming with you.”
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