ANNO DOMINI ~Allium~
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BOOK 2, CHAPTER 11: FORMATION OF THE DESPHELMERS
Chris and Al were unlucky enough to catch the creakiest taxi in all of Chicago, with stiff suspension allowing every bump and crack on the road to be felt. It was, as Al put it, an anxiety attack waiting to happen in a stinky yellow automobile, and the girl kept her head tucked between her knees the entire time.
“Is she okay?” the Filipino cab driver asked.
“She’ll be fine,” Chris replied, looking at the sign in the taxi mentioning the imposing cleanup fee for sick passengers.
Standing in front of the monastery gate, under the late afternoon overcast skies, Al grumbled and rubbed her stomach.
“Ack…I feel nauseous.”
“Do you normally get carsick?” Chris asked.
“Y-yeah.” She straightened up. “I’ll get over it, though. I’m getting better at using automobiles.” With an aggravated look directed at Chris, she said, “Ya know, we could’ve walked here, but I know that’s too much to ask of a city person.”
“Do you always walk, even if it rains?”
“Usually,” Al replied. “My hooded sweatshirt is waterproof. It also regenerates, so it can still be used if damaged. Pretty good, right?”
“That’s actually really cool.” Chris looked at the high peaks of the stone towers, still awestruck by the sight, even though he’d seen it many times before. “Is someone coming to get us?”
“They’re coming now.” Al pointed through the gate at a person dressed in a monk’s robe.
The person reached the gate and greeted them gently.
“Good day,” he said with a soft smile.
“Yo, Bro Sam!” Al replied, grinning broadly. “I brought Chris.”
“Yes, I see. Allow me to get the gate.”
Brother Samuel unlocked the gate and let the two through, then closed it right away.
“I’m Brother Samuel,” he said, bowing to Chris courteously. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Nice meeting you, too. Um, I was told your priest wants to see me.”
“Yes, yes.” The monk gestured toward the entrance of the main building. “This way, please.”
Inside the large stone building, Chris couldn’t keep from looking around the foyer. The high ceilings, soft lighting from seemingly hundreds of candles, and Romanesque styling with Gothic flair made the boy feel like he had traveled hundreds of years into the past.
“Wow,” he said breathily, “this place is awesome!”
“It is but home,” the monk said.
Al, who was used to the monastery and had seen many spectacular sights over the years, tapped her foot impatiently.
“Is Father Dood ready for us?” she asked the monk.
The monk nodded. “Follow me.”
Candles lined the castle-like corridors, their flames stirring as the three people walked past them one at a time. Chris wondered who was responsible for lighting them and putting them all out, but he didn’t ask. After an impressive trek through the corridors, the monk led them to a closed door and knocked on it. Chris took a breath as he heard the sturdy voice answer from within the room.
“Come on in.”
The monk opened the door, inviting Chris to step in first, and the teenage boy entered the minimally furnished office. Candlelight cast lively shadows across the floor, walls, and ceiling. A smell of aged books, welcoming and comforting, filled Chris’ nose and chest. Steadily and repeatedly, a large clock on the wall swung its pendulum, holding the everlasting tempo of sixty beats per minute…larghetto…staccato…
However, only one thing captured Chris’ attention and locked him into place where he stood: the stern expression of the middle-aged man sitting behind the desk, who stood up as Brother Samuel closed the door while exiting and leaving Chris and Al in the office.
The smile the priest offered was sincere and nonthreatening, but his robust persona was still glaringly apparent.
“You must be Christopher Findale,” the priest said in a bold, gracious voice.
“Yes, sir,” Chris replied, feeling his intimidation subsiding.
“It is an honor to meet you, Christopher.”
The priest approached, and Chris had expected a handshake, but instead received a hug that was tender, yet felt inescapable.
“The pleasure is mine, sir. Are you the priest of Saint Baptiste?”
“I am. You may call me Father Dood.” He turned to Al. “Thank you, Aleph-Naught, for bringing him here.”
“Yup, no problem.”
“Now then,” the priest moved back toward his desk, “sit down, make yourself at home. You are a welcomed guest.”
Chris sat in one of the two rustic chairs in front of Father Dood’s desk, and Al sat in the other. Before Chris could get comfortable, however, his phone vibrated in his pocket.
“Oh, excuse me,” he told the priest, reaching into his pocket, “but when my phone goes off, it might be really important.”
“No worries,” Father Dood said.
A message from Excalibur was displayed on Chris’ phone:
["I have detected a malicious entity nearby. It is named 'Inherit.'"]
The map app showed a generic monster face emoji marking a spot over three miles away from Saint Baptiste Monastery. It was labeled as a Negative Energy Nonhuman. Al leaned over to get a look at the phone screen, impressed by the interactive GPS capabilities and real-time information.
“Is something the matter?” Father Dood asked, seeing the teenage boy’s somber face.
Putting his phone in his pants pocket, Chris looked at the priest.
“A malevolent being has been detected by my phone.”
“You say a malevolent being? An inhuman creature, I assume.”
“Right…but,” Chris glanced at Al, who shrugged, “but I think it can wait.”
“Unholy creatures exist everywhere,” Father Dood told Chris, taking a seat in his chair. “Do not despair over each and every one of them.”
“I try not to…”
“Christopher,” the priest addressed the boy firmly, interlocking his fingers on both hands while sitting behind his desk, “I asked to meet with you today because I believe you have a gift.”
“You know about my powers, don’t you?” Chris replied, making eye contact with Father Dood.
There was a knock on the door, to which Father Dood replied, “Come on in.”
Brother Samuel returned with another person, and Chris watched a young nun step into the room. Her light brown eyes met his, and she offered a small smile before returning her face to its serious default.
“This is Sister Farrah Elaina,” Father Dood told Chris. “She and I are the only two residents here who possess blessings. They are blessings I believe are similar to yours and Aleph-Naught’s.” The priest paused. “However, I also believe that yours are exceptional, Christopher.”
The young nun tried hiding the awe she felt as she gave Chris a slight bow.
“It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mr. Findale.”
People bowing and referring to him as “Mr. Findale” made Chris feel somewhat awkward, but he accepted the hospitality with a smile.
“Nice meeting you, too.”
“I am the one,” Sister Farrah explained, “who had detected your status as a mortal of significance. I take it there are others, as well.”
“Uh, yeah,” Chris said. “Three others…and a fourth who wasn’t on my side.”
The young nun retrieved her meteorite-wrought cubit rod from the priest’s desk, held it with both hands, and remained utterly still. Chris noticed the etched carvings on the rod, but couldn’t make them out; they seemed foreign. Although he didn’t know what Sister Farrah was doing while she closed her eyes, waiting with prolonged quietude and meditativeness, he could somehow sense an incredible force at work.
Her eyes opened.
“Eight mortals of significance altogether,” she uttered, “including the four of us here. But there are differences this time.” Sister Farrah gripped her cubit rod tighter and looked at Father Dood. “Formerly, two of them were unidentifiable in regards to their energy, but they are no longer as such.”
“Have their gifts matured, then?” Father Dood asked.
“It seems so. One of them feels positive, and the other…” she looked down, “…feels wicked. In total, there are eight: the four present here, two other positives, and two wicked.” After realizing something, Sister Farrah added, “No…the first wicked feels ambiguous…like a mixture of good and evil that refuses to blend, similar to oil and water.”
Two who are wicked? The thought made Chris uncomfortable. One is like a mixture. Didn’t Excalibur say something about Bret…?
Father Dood held his chin, thinking. “There are four others who aren’t here now.” Looking at Chris, he said, “You claimed to know the other four.”
“Well,” Chris counted on his fingers, “there’s Robbie, Bret, and a new power-user named Sandra. There was also Erik…” he sighed, “but I don’t know what happened to him. He had evil powers, but I took them away.”
When he called forth Gunnhildr in his hand, the priest and nun gasped.
“What sort of ability is that?” Father Dood asked as he leaned forward, looking at the sleek pistol.
“This is Gunnhildr. It’s a handgun with holy powers, and I’ve used it to get rid of evil entities. It doesn’t do physical harm and is nonlethal.”
He handed it across the desk for the priest to examine.
“It’s certainly unique,” Father Dood said. “Most of the parts seem to be absent.” His face showed concentration as he handled the handgun. “As you say, it seems to possess a sort of grace and righteousness. Astonishing…”
Chris took Gunnhildr back and dismissed it. “This was how I made Erik right again, taking away his evil powers.”
“The one named Erik…” Sister Farrah mused. “He could be the wicked one who no longer is heard in my prayers. Perhaps…he truly has lost his gifts of darkness, as well as his status as a mortal of significance.” Her eyes twinkled as she looked at Chris. “It’s incredible that you did that.”
Before Chris could comment, Al interjected.
“Maybe you should explain things to Chris,” she said. “He looks a little lost.”
“Allow me,” the priest said, looking at Chris, who braced himself for a lecture. “The term ‘mortals of significance’ refers to humans who can perform special phenomena, sometimes called ‘gifts’ or ‘blessings,’ and I believe your term for it is ‘powers.’ Typically, this means using magic, as with Sister Farrah, Aleph-Naught, and myself. Traditional knowledge states that humans cannot perform such phenomena without magic.”
“And then you found me,” Chris said flatly, “and Robbie, Bret, and… I only met Sandra yesterday, and my guess is she doesn’t use magic…but she can do superhuman things, too.”
The priest stood, then walked to his bookshelf lined with much-used texts and teachings.
“To put it into perspective,” Father Dood continued, looking over his bookshelf of nearly-memorized books, “the notion of magic being a necessary component to use gifts is an ancient notion. It is a fundamental lesson of many teachings and religions all over the world, passed down for millennia, and is a very general concept: people need magic (or any given term to refer to such) to do what you, Christopher, can do without magic. Same goes for the others you’ve mentioned.” He held his hands behind his back, still staring at the bookshelf. “It troubles me to no end, honestly.”
“But, wait,” Al said. “I think…think that I’ve heard something about people who don’t need magic.”
Turning away from the bookshelf to face the others, Father Dood nodded.
“Yes, so have I. However, it was commonly acknowledged that such accounts were either fictional, lacked proof, controversial, or were plain lies. As an example, many people who refute Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah claim Jesus was a mere magician, performing his miracles not by the divine forces, but by other methods—magic.” He took a deep breath. “Makes me wonder if this sort of thing was intended to be kept a secret.”
“Does that mean my powers are divine?” Chris asked. He remembered Lavi, as well as the repeated themes of “good” and “holy.”
“I am not sure,” Father Dood replied.
“Why, then,” Sister Farrah asked with a sigh, “has the existence of non-magical gifts been kept a secret?”
“According to several philosophies I’ve read on the subject,” Father Dood said pensively, “magic exists as a natural restriction to keep humans from using such gifts to catastrophic degrees. That’s a summarized explanation of the most common view.”
“So…” Al moved her eyes to Chris, “…does that mean Chris is supposed to be unrestricted?”
Chris could sense the attention.
“That’s possible,” Father Dood said. “We must also consider one other thing.” The priest’s voice was low and stern, creating an unsettling mood when combined with the serious expression he wore. “If this was meant to remain a secret, and now so many of us here are aware and involved, then it could mean whoever’s behind the secrecy would attempt to silence us.”
“That’s a scary possibility,” Al said quietly, rubbing her arms to alleviate the goosebumps. “I’ve let my superiors know about Chris and the others not needing magic, but they haven’t said anything to me about it. Since I told them about my defeat against Erik, all they’ve written to me was to come back here, and that Chris’ involvement to help is fine. They haven’t even sent me any more supplies. It’s so frustrating.” She rustled her hair. “Their lack of information is pissing me off!”
“This is a holy place,” Father Dood told Al with a scolding tone. “I’ve told you before to watch your language.”
Chris stared at the floor.
From what it sounds like, he thought, there is an entirely new layer to everything. I wouldn’t have guessed everything would get so complex. He gripped his hands. I need to do something.
“It’s hard for me to understand,” Chris said quietly, instantly garnering the attention of the others in the room. “There’s a lot more to all of this than I thought. But it doesn’t matter. Whatever needs to be done, will be.” He looked at the sturdy priest. “I’ll make sure of it.”
The priest and nun exchanged glances.
“I believe Christopher,” Sister Farrah said resolutely. “Of everyone I’ve ever met—including the boy Robert Smith, who also could use his gifts without magic—Christopher is the only person, thing, or event to ever act outside my prayers’ ability to inform me of. I believe even Aleph-Naught will be detectable by my prayers with practice, but I get a sense of depth from Christopher that I may never fully understand his circumstances. That day at Revere Park, when I first experienced my prayers failing, I had spoken with…”
She trailed off, suddenly looking confused.
“What is it?” Father Dood asked her.
“I am not sure.” She shook her head. “For a moment, I thought I’d met somebody else there, but I’m mistaken.”
“You must focus, Sister Farrah,” the priest told her. “As I’ve said, I understand how you must feel, but do not allow it to affect you.”
“Yes,” the young nun apologized. “As I was saying, even Aleph-Naught, who is capable of obscuring her magical signal, is not completely outside of my prayers’ capabilities to detect. Only Christopher.”
“Oh?” Al grinned at Sister Farrah. “That’s really something to be proud of. You can find me even without my bandalores?”
“Not yet,” Sister Farrah told her, “but I intuitively can tell that I will with effort. All I must do is figure out your unique, yet advanced criteria for your energies, as you are an Aleph.”
I wonder if Excalibur will be able to detect Al if she learns of Lavi’s identity, Chris wondered. It sounds like she has “special detection parameters,” as Excalibur would put it.
“I’m surprised,” Sister Farrah said, “that I can detect Christopher’s energies to some extent; I can locate him and sense his positive aura. Yet, his actions and capabilities have been entirely elusive from my abilities, and my intuition tells me that will always be the case.”
“This is a matter we’ll need to consider later,” the priest said, “but for now, let’s continue with the intended discussion. Christopher.”
“Have you heard of something called the Chashman Artifact?”
Chris thought for a moment.
“I know there was an important item stolen from here,” he replied. “That’s why you contacted Al’s organization.”
“Correct.” The priest continued, “The artifact has been passed down through countless generations. Protecting and isolating it is the most important task of the person possessing it.” He hung his head despairingly. “That person was me. I have failed my most important task.” Looking up at Chris, his hardened eyes nearly made the boy jump from fright. “I’ll make sure to take it back!”
“Who gave it to you to begin with?” Chris asked the priest.
“The previous protector is a secret,” he answered quickly.
“Okay. What’s it do?”
Father Dood and Sister Farrah looked at each other. While the nun appeared unsure, the priest offered her an assuring nod, then looked back at Chris.
“I am not sure what the Chashman Artifact does.” His voice was deep and formidable. “It is said to harness a great potential, and can be used for good, evil, or indifferent, although it may come with unexpected side effects, whatever that entails.”
“It’s an enigma,” Al added, “and I’ve barely heard anything about it.”
“That said,” the priest continued, “I’m under the impression that its most recognized characteristic is, in fact, its mysteriousness. And because of your involvement, Christopher, I shall share with you another secret regarding the artifact.” He hardened his stare at the boy. “You must not share this secret with anyone else outside this monastery. For you see, I may face undue punishment for revealing too much information.”
Who would punish him? Chris wondered as he took Father Buck Dood’s words to heart. He nodded with sincerity and honesty.
“The Chashman Artifact,” the priest told him, “is a shapeshifter.”
After kneading that fact into his head, Chris blinked several times.
“A…shapeshifter? It changes into other things?”
“That is correct. The method of doing so is not understood, but I have a strong belief that it is an inanimate object and cannot change form without outside manipulation. At any rate, this shapeshifting trait will make locating it very difficult.”
“Can you detect it, Excalibur?” Chris asked his phone, holding it in his hand.
“At this time, no,” the app replied. “The Chashman Artifact does not exist in my database, and I do not know if I am configured for such a detection.”
“Who are you speaking with?” the priest asked abruptly, sounding demanding.
“Oh, it’s an app on my phone,” Chris explained. “It’s okay, it isn’t a person, just an electronic assistant on my phone. It’s called Excalibur.”
Sister Farrah eyed the phone.
“Sounds suspicious,” she said with a sharp tone.
“Yeah, it’s a bit of a creeper,” Al remarked with a snicker.
“But it’s useful,” Chris said defensively, “and you can trust it.”
Al was skeptical. “Can you really trust it? I don’t know much about phones and the internet, but they do some crafty information gathering. I know that much.”
“You’re one to talk,” Chris muttered. “Spying on me while invisible.”
“Meh, call it what you will. But how do you really know if Excavator-whatsit isn’t linked to some third party?”
The notion caught Chris off guard.
“I…I don’t know, now that you say it.” Chris looked at his phone. It suddenly didn’t feel so friendly.
Lavi gave me this, so I trust it, Chris thought. But, should I tell them about Lavi? What would happen if I revealed Lavi’s identity to someone else, instead of him doing it himself?
“Turn it off,” the priest said firmly.
“Uh, yeah,” Chris said. “Excalibur, can you shut down?”
“I am to remain active at all times,” the app replied in its flat, dignified voice. “I cannot shut down.”
A lump formed in Chris’ throat. He attempted to shut his phone off entirely, but could not.
“I can’t shut my phone off?” Chris asked, aggravated.
“I am to remain active at all times,” the app repeated exactly.
“There is no need to turn your phone off,” Excalibur stated. “In the time I have been installed, your phone has lost less than one percent of its battery charge. Also, in your phone’s current state, being on at all times will pose no detriment to your carrier plan, data usage, memory storage, and physical components. Finally, it must stay on, because I am to remain active at all times.”
“Eh…okay,” Chris felt the eyes of the priest and nun on him, “but are you linked to a third party? Can anyone else access your information, or know what I use you for?”
“I cannot answer that question with the current people listening.”
Chris was dumbfounded, but had no time to speak.
“If you are unable to disable that Excalibur,” the priest told Chris sternly, “then I must ask you to leave.” Traces of anger lined his eyes and voice. “If I had known of such a device, I would have thought twice about this meeting. Perhaps you should have left it behind.”
“I’m sorry,” Chris said.
“We can’t afford any information leakage from a conversation such as this one,” the priest said, unfazed by Chris’ apology.
“Don’t worry, guys,” Al said nonchalantly, “I’ve got it covered.” She took a breath, formulating the magical equations in her mind, body, and spirit. “Hermes Rattus.”
Within seconds, a brown rat poked its head out of Al’s hidden hoodie pocket. She removed the rodent and placed it on the floor. Lost for words, the others in the room watched the large rat scurry over to Chris, take the phone from his hand in its mouth, dart to the window, and crawl out.
“Hey!” Chris shouted. “Th-that rat took my phone!”
“I said don’t worry,” Al said. “I took the liberty of using ratmail to take your phone back to your home. It’ll be there when you get back.” She turned to the priest. “Now we can continue our conversation.”
Chris gawked. “You were carrying that rat in your pocket the whole time?”
“Well,” Al scratched her head, “it’s not that simple, and it’s a long explanation.”
“What’s to explain? That rat was in your pocket!”
Al heaved an irritated sigh.
“They’re magic pockets,” she said matter-of-factly.
Even with that nondescript answer, Chris took it at face value, and was upset with himself for accepting it so easily.
“Christopher.” Father Dood redirected the attention back to himself.
Father Dood approached Chris.
“Will you aid us in retrieving the Chashman Artifact?” He spoke humbly, doing well to hide any hint of desperation. “I feel you may be very valuable in doing so.” Moving down on one knee, Father Dood still never lost his air of dignity and steadfastness. “I loathe to ask you for this dangerous favor, but I will do whatever it takes to have the artifact returned.” He looked up directly into Chris’ eyes as the boy remained seated in the chair. “Please help us.”
Chris’ answer was obvious and required no thought. He smiled at the priest, feeling confident and unwavering.
“I will. I’ll help you.”
The priest and nun were happy to hear such a resolute response.
“Thank you very much,” Father Dood said, standing up. “I am in your debt. While we don’t have much to offer as way of compensation, we will be more than happy to lend you our resources and hospitality as best as we can.”
Al grinned at Chris, as she knew the teenage boy would be hard pressed to turn down a plea for help.
“So, what should I do?” Chris asked Father Dood. “Where do I start?”
“You and Aleph-Naught shall be partners,” the priest replied, “and will continue the search for the Chashman Artifact, as well as other mortals of significance, just as Aleph-Naught had been doing originally.”
“Gotcha,” Chris said. “But, is this okay?” He looked at Al. “Won’t your superiors get mad for involving someone else? You said they told you that I was okay to be part of this, but…”
“It might be all good,” Al answered. “My contract with Saint Baptiste gives me limited freedom to act under my own conditions, and as long as they are mutual with what Father Dood wants. Since he nor I have objections to this, I’m not breaching anything. Also, from the beginning, it was already decided by both Saint Baptiste and my organization that we’ll be seeking out other mortals of significance…” She cracked a weary smile. “Although…I doubt anyone expected we’d encounter such significant mortals of significance…and directly involving these anomalous people probably crosses into some gray areas…”
“It can’t be helped,” the priest said. “If we happen to breach any part of the contract, then I will also assume responsibility.”
“I suggest we give a title to this new class of mortals,” Sister Farrah said. “It may prove important to distinguish them.”
“You have a point,” Al said. “But what’re we gonna call it? It’s a whole different class of mortals.”
Giving it some thought, Chris said, “Desphelmer.”
“Did you just make that up?” Al asked, annoyed.
“Yeah. It’s a nonsense word.”
Al looked at Father Dood and Sister Farrah. They offered no input. She sighed.
“Fine. ‘Desphelmer’ it is.”
“Then it’s settled,” Father Dood said. “Mortals of significance who do not require magic to use their gifts will be known as the Desphelmers. This includes Christopher and the others.”
Chris perked up.
“The others? Hey, what about them? Aren’t they gonna get involved, too?”
“I reckon so,” Father Dood replied.
“There you have it,” Al told Chris. “Call your Desphelmer friends, Chris.”
Chris looked at Al blankly.
“Your rat took my phone.”
“I know that, I didn’t mean now. Let’s hurry back to your house.”
As Chris and Al stood up, the teenage boy looked at his monastery hosts.
“Is there anything else?” Chris asked Father Dood. “If not, we’ll be off.”
“I believe this covers everything for today.” The priest gave a solid, yet delicate smile. “Thank you, Christopher. As I said, we are in your debt.”
“I’ll do my best to help,” Chris replied.
“Oh, Father Dood, by the way.” Al removed her emerald green yo-yo body from her hoodie pocket. “I have my bandalores with me, but they’ve been drained of their magic. Excessive negative energy stripped them lifeless. Do you have a way to recharge them? Otherwise I’m out of luck until I take them back to my organization.”
“You may leave them here,” the priest told her. “We’ll attempt what we can.”
“I may be able to restore them,” Sister Farrah said. “I shall consult Brother Benjamin, who has seen me through many difficult tasks.”
“Thank you,” Al replied, bowing courteously. “Okay, Chris. Let’s head out.”
With a dutiful nod and a smile, Chris said, “Got it.”
Both the sturdy priest and young nun escorted their guests to the entrance. Once Chris and Al had left through the large gate, Sister Farrah turned to Father Dood.
“Father, I must express my distaste of something.”
“I believe it to be unfair, even concerning, that we must keep Aleph-One’s involvement a secret from Aleph-Naught, and that their organization demanded we uphold that secrecy.”Looking after Chris and Al as they briskly strode down the sidewalk, the priest only uttered a vocal sound of agreement.