Chapter 44:

Book 2, Ch. 19: Suspect Pinpointed

ANNO DOMINI ~Allium~ [Beta version]

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The 6:00 PM deadline loomed early, it seemed. Chris had difficulty avoiding suspicion while a large rat carrying a ratmail letter followed him around a video game and movie store, and he had to time when to take and read the letter as not to be seen. Despite its size, the critter darted stealthily among the shelves and floor displays until it intercepted Chris in a corner at the back of the store.Bookmark here

“How aren’t these rats ever seen?” the boy wondered out loud, looking at the other customers in the relatively small store. “Al said rats are cunning, but…”Bookmark here

As expected, the letter was from Al, reminding him of the approaching meeting. Glancing at his phone, Chris realized he had to get going, and tucked the letter into his jeans pocket.Bookmark here

Drake didn’t like the idea of Chris ending their time together so soon, and skulked off before Chris could explain (which would’ve involved telling a lie or two).Bookmark here

“Whatever, see you at school, Chris.” Bookmark here

As Chris took the ‘L’ train back home to drop off his school supplies, he listened to the clacking sounds of the railway, his book bag on his lap.Bookmark here

I don’t like cutting our time short either, Drake. Chris looked at the Sewage Dwellers CD case in his hand while seated. Sorry, buddy…but I have to do what I have to do.Bookmark here

After Chris left his book bag in his bedroom, he immediately headed back out. However, his mother stopped him by the door as he was putting his shoes on.Bookmark here

“You aren’t staying out all night again, are you?” she asked with a stern look.Bookmark here

Chris couldn’t look her in the eye while lying.Bookmark here

“It depends if Drake wants to hang out, or if I wanna stay over again. I’ll let you know, though.”Bookmark here

“Stay the night again?” His mother stared at him before adding, “Well, it is the weekend. You better call me if that’s the case.”Bookmark here

“Okay, Mom.”Bookmark here

“You’re seventeen now, which means the curfew doesn’t apply to you anymore, but it’s still dangerous to be out late. If they raise the age to eighteen, which they should, then…”Bookmark here

His mother’s safety speech was nothing new, and Chris hurried to leave the house.Bookmark here

During the walk to Saint Baptiste Monastery, the sourness of lying still lingered in Chris’ head. That sourness soon turned into a foul bitterness when he stood in front of the monastery gate.Bookmark here

I almost wish I didn’t read that conspiracy theory article, Chris thought as the friendly Brother Samuel let him onto the monastery grounds. Are these people involved in some kind of secret, large-scale plan involving the city? I probably shouldn’t ask…Bookmark here

“Father Dood is in his office with your friends,” Brother Samuel said with a humble smile. “Please go there.”Bookmark here

“Okay, thank you.”Bookmark here

Father Dood sat behind his desk, waiting with Sister Farrah as the team arrived one at a time. Chris was the last to arrive, still two minutes until the arranged time. When Chris looked around at the others, a bit of confidence arose inside him; these people needed him, as well as his friends and family he’d lied to, and many others who he would probably never meet.Bookmark here

Bret held a dented, metal baseball bat, resting it over his shoulders.Bookmark here

“You brought your bat from school?” Chris asked the delinquent.Bookmark here

“School’s locked on weekends,” Bret replied, shaking his head. “This is my other one. I told ya to arm thyself, fool.”Bookmark here

“Everyone is here on time,” Al said, doing her best to sound authoritative when addressing the four Desphelmers.Bookmark here

“No thanks to your weird letter.” Sandra removed a ratmail letter from her jacket pocket with a weary grin, and the others cracked smiles of their own.Bookmark here

“Okay, as I see it, we have two objectives to choose from tonight. First is looking for the Chashman Artifact. That is my priority, and I’d prefer to do that. For the second option, we’ll see if the Excelsior phone thing can detect any shadows—beings of malevolence—and we’ll take them out.” She crossed her arms. “Just so you know, I doubt it’ll help with my main objective to look for those shadows. Also, I might get in trouble with my superiors if I sidetrack too much.”Bookmark here

“What do you have to do for your mission?” Sandra asked Al. “For finding the Chashman Artifact?”Bookmark here

“I need to find any information I think is relevant to the theft,” Al answered, “and send it back to my organization.”Bookmark here

Chris remembered the conspiracy theory that linked Saint Baptiste Monastery to a secret society. He looked at Al, unable to put aside his wariness.Bookmark here

“When you send reports to your organization,” Chris said to Al, “what will they do with that info?”Bookmark here

“Probably make plans to retrieve the artifact,” she replied. “It’s kinda open-ended, but as I send reports to my superiors, they use that knowledge to decide my objectives. I look for leads, gather info, and carry out other tasks given to me as a scout.”Bookmark here

“I don’t know if I can just go with that,” Sandra said straightforwardly, “because I don’t know exactly what the Chashman Artifact is, or who your organization is, Al.” She sighed and looked away. “There’s too much I don’t know…and I don’t feel fully comfortable. I need to be honest.”Bookmark here

Al gave Sandra a dirty look, but changed her attitude.Bookmark here

“Yeah, I know, I get it,” Al said quietly, “but remember that I won’t force you to help me. If anything, we’ll split up, and I’ll do my thing, and you guys can do yours, like tracking malevolent entities. Maybe we can figure out where and when to meet up after, sound good?”Bookmark here

“I’d rather we all stick together,” Chris said. He and Sandra glanced at each other, and the young woman returned an unsure look.Bookmark here

Bret rubbed his chin. “I don’t care. I might as well stick with everyone else. Safer that way, because it could take all of us to beat one of those things.”Bookmark here

When nobody said anything else, Al raised her hand and gave everyone a strict gaze.Bookmark here

“Anyone coming with me will need to listen to my instructions. This is my mission, and I’m responsible for it. I don’t want anyone causing problems.”Bookmark here

“Whatever,” Bret said impatiently. “Got nothin’ better to do.”Bookmark here

“Al,” Chris said, “what if we find that other ‘wicked’ mortal of significance that Sister Farrah mentioned?”Bookmark here

Al bit her lip. “I knew you’d bring that up.” She slowly combed her fingers through her hair. “That would count as the second option, looking for beings of malevolence, which I’m opposed to doing.”Bookmark here

“But you said it could be dangerous if they’re left alone,” Chris argued, “and that we’d have to act quickly if they turn out to be like Erik.”Bookmark here

Wobbling her head, Al muttered, “Yeah…I did say that.”Bookmark here

“And you also said that finding mortals of significance was important,” Chris added.Bookmark here

“I know, I know…but I was thinking of people who could help us, not be against us. My bandalores still aren’t ready, so I’d be going in unarmed if something happens.”Bookmark here

“You got us with you,” Robbie told her, “and Chris can use Gunnhildr.”Bookmark here

“Besides,” Chris said, “do you have any other leads on the Chashman Artifact?”Bookmark here

“No, I guess not,” Al replied grumpily. “Other than finding you guys, Desphelmers, I don’t have any other leads.”Bookmark here

“So,” Robbie said, thinking about the two options, “we know this wicked thing could be very dangerous and serious. That’s why it’d be good to go after it. But what would happen if we don’t retrieve that Chashman thing? How bad would that be?”Bookmark here

Al raised her eyebrows in thought. “Uh…Father Dood and I would get in trouble.”Bookmark here

“Trouble with who?” Robbie asked, squinting at the girl. “Your superiors, right?”Bookmark here

“Yes.”Bookmark here

“And so what?” Robbie asked. “Why would it matter to us? Or to everyone else? What I’m askin’ is if you two getting punished would be equal to having another Erik-type thing romping around the city. If looking for the artifact is really more important than stopping that wicked thing Sister Farrah’s talking about.”Bookmark here

The confidence drained from Al’s face. She looked to Father Dood (as did everybody else, including Sister Farrah) for an answer. The priest, however, did not immediately respond.Bookmark here

“Hiding something, huh?” Bret sneered at the priest.Bookmark here

“There is information I must not divulge,” Father Dood said firmly. “However, Robert has sound reasoning. The safety of the citizens takes priority over the consequences that Aleph-Naught and I may face should we fail to retrieve the Chashman Artifact.”Bookmark here

Al sighed and looked down. “True…but I hope my superiors see it that way…”Bookmark here

“Although, it is not easy to discern,” the priest said, “because of the Chashman Artifact’s mysterious properties. We do not know what potential consequences may stem from the artifact being abused by the thief.”Bookmark here

“I’m wondering about somethin’ else,” Robbie said to everyone in the room. “What if this…this person with evil powers is already using them, but it’s so big that nobody really notices right away? It happened with Erik and the ghost flu…so it could be going on again.”Bookmark here

“Like what?” Al asked. “It’d have to be something big.”Bookmark here

“Food prices.” Everybody turned to Sandra as she nodded. “That’d be something big going on.”Bookmark here

“Huh?” Bret snickered. “How could that be a superpower?”Bookmark here

Sandra shrugged. “Just a suggestion.”Bookmark here

Silence settled in. Sitting at his desk, Father Dood leaned back in his chair. Sister Farrah, unaware of the scope of the food shortages, listened intently to what would be said.Bookmark here

“So,” Al said, “does that mean we suspect expensive food is caused by an evil mortal of significance?”Bookmark here

Scratching his head, Robbie replied, “Maybe.”Bookmark here

“But why would they do that?” Chris asked. “For money? To starve people? Both?”Bookmark here

It was uncomfortable for Sandra to consider her next suggestion, let alone share it with everyone. Still, she had a sneaking suspicion of Regal after his behavior at Flounder’s Dorsal.Bookmark here

“Well,” Sandra said reluctantly, “I was with a friend the other day, and he started acting strange, like he saw something I couldn’t see, so I think he maybe tried to protect me from it. He told me to get away, and then he ran off in a hurry.”Bookmark here

“Heh heh.” Al smirked. “That’s what ya think? But, are you sure he saw some sort of a nonphysical sentience?”Bookmark here

“I can’t really say for sure.” Sandra looked at the ceiling in thought. “But get this…my same friend works at Agrarian-Schism, and it’s possible that the company is tied up in these high food prices. They’re a major influence of food production in the Midwest.”Bookmark here

“You told us about your friend before,” Chris said to Sandra. “Like he might know something, because he works for that company.”Bookmark here

Sandra crossed her arms, looking at the floor.Bookmark here

“I don’t like the idea,” she said sorrowfully, “and I don’t want any of my friends caught up in all this, but he’s the only person I can think of who might be a mortal of significance…and there’s only one other that Sister Farrah detects…”Bookmark here

Thinking of Drake and Marilyn, Chris told Sandra, “I know how you feel.”Bookmark here

“Okay then,” Al said, somewhat impatient with her hands on her hips. “What are we doing? Are we going to meet this friend of Sandra’s? I hate to say it, but that sounds like the clearest goal right now.”Bookmark here

Sandra was hesitant. “S-sure, I guess. I can call him to set up a meeting between the two of us.”Bookmark here

Behind the sole desk in the minimally furnished office, Father Dood had been quietly listening to the conversation to interpret everything discussed. Despite (or, perhaps, because of) his passiveness thus far, everyone quickly noticed when he stood up and looked at Sandra.Bookmark here

“Contact your friend, Alessandra,” Father Dood told her, “and ask him where he is. Sister Farrah, you will attempt to locate the wicked mortal of significance, and take as much time as you need. We’ll see if the locations match, and if they do, we can assume they are the same individual. If not, then we can quickly rule out that possibility.”Bookmark here

Sandra took a deep breath. “Okay, I’ll call him after Sister Farrah locates who she’s looking for. If anything, maybe I can get something out of Regal if I meet him anyway, like learn something. I can ask him about the other day when he acted weird.”Bookmark here

The young nun grasped her meteorite cubit rod in both hands and closed her eyes as she commenced her search. To the others in the office, she appeared to have fallen into an instant slumber with studious restfulness.Bookmark here

Father Dood held up his hands. “Let us wait for a moment. Until Sister Farrah’s prayers answer her, and until Sandra contacts her friend, we will be unable to make further plans.”Bookmark here

The priest removed a map of Chicago from his desk drawer, ready to have the nun mark a location on it with an ink quill. Although the map was over ten years old, it would suffice.Bookmark here

Fifteen minutes passed, and Sister Farrah had still not completed her search, standing steady as a statue with her breathing being the only indicator that she was still alive. Every second of the passing time was marked by the large clock’s endless ticking.Bookmark here

At last, a labored inhale from the young nun caught everyone’s attention, and she opened her eyes wide. Looking at Father Dood, she said, “My prayers have provided me with a location.”Bookmark here

“Here,” Father Dood spread the map out on his desk, “show us.”Bookmark here

Using the measurement notches on her cubit rod (as cubit rods were originally intended to be rulers), Sister Farrah calculated the distance to the target according to her prayers. The priest provided her with a worn protractor, which she used to figure out the direction. After double-checking her measurements, she took the ink quill in hand and drew a circle on the map, roughly a mile and a half in diameter to scale, then she stepped away from the desk.Bookmark here

“I believe the wicked person to be within that marking,” she said confidently.Bookmark here

The others gathered around the desk and leaned in to get a closer look.Bookmark here

“Go ahead and call your friend,” Al told Sandra.Bookmark here

Sandra selected Regal’s number from her smartphone’s contact list. Holding the phone to her ear, she held her breath until the call went through, keeping her anxiety in check.Bookmark here

She heard him answer, and chills stung her as she spoke.Bookmark here

“Hey, Regal, how are you? Um, I was just wondering if you were free tonight… I don’t know, like, hang out or something… No, I’m still waiting to hear back about the job… Oh, Chanel must’ve been tired enough to sleep that much.” She glanced at the large clock on the wall. “Yeah, I’m no stranger to stress…”Bookmark here

“Ask him where he is!” Al whispered.Bookmark here

“Uh, hey, where are you right now? At home? Don’t you live in, um…” checking the marked spot on the map, she didn’t want to sound suspicious, so she gave a random different location, “…um, in Goose Island?”Bookmark here

Everyone saw Sandra’s eyes widen as she fought to respond without being awkward.Bookmark here

“…Ah, okay. Haha! Y-yeah, I don’t know why I thought Goose Island…but okay… No, I was just curious… Okay, I understand. Yeah, I’ll talk to you later. Bye.”Bookmark here

Sandra let her arm go limp as she held onto her phone. She stared off into nowhere.Bookmark here

“He’s busy now.” Her voice was small. “He doesn’t want to be bothered.” Not looking at anyone, Sandra added meagerly, “He’s at home. He told me he lives there.” She pointed at the circle on the map.Bookmark here

“All right!” Al said energetically. “That means both our target and our suspect are one and the same. This clears that up.” When she saw Sandra hanging her head, however, she regretted her excited response.Bookmark here

Chris approached the young woman. “Hey, are you—”Bookmark here

“I’ll go there,” Sandra said quickly, interrupting Chris, “and everyone else can be nearby, just in case something comes up. He might want to join us, but he’s engaged and very busy with life. I bet he’ll want nothing to do with us so he can think of his fiancée and start a family.”Bookmark here

“But,” Robbie told her reluctantly, “if he’s the same target…”Bookmark here

Chris gave Robbie a stern look to be quiet.Bookmark here

“No, it’s okay.” Sandra shook her head, then put her phone in her pocket. “It’s fine.” With a big smile that was very much forced, she said, “I’ll just have to go meet him anyway, even though he doesn’t want to be bothered.” Creases formed on her face. “I gotta know what happened at the bar, and…if he’s part of all this.”Bookmark here

Al smirked. “Excellent. We’ll learn what we can, and we’ll go from there. But remember,” she looked at everyone, especially Sandra, “be ready for trouble.”Bookmark here

“Sister Farrah and I will remain here,” Father Dood said, “and we will continue the restoration of the bandalores with Brother Benjamin’s help. We will pray for your safety.”Bookmark here

“Okay,” Al told the Desphelmers, “let’s move out.”Bookmark here

Sandra was the first out the door, her pace quick down the stone corridor, and she didn’t stop to wait for the others.Bookmark here

“Let me get this straight,” Robbie said when Sandra was out of earshot. “This guy we’re going after is Sandra’s friend?”Bookmark here

Bret and Al were already out of the office when Chris replied to Robbie.Bookmark here

“He is.”Bookmark here

After a regretful frown, Robbie walked out of the room. Chris gave a nod to Father Dood and Sister Farrah before exiting as well, closing the door behind him.Bookmark here

“I would like to go with them,” Sister Farrah said glumly. “However, I am needed here.”Bookmark here

Father Dood acknowledged the young nun’s desires.Bookmark here

“Come, let us check on Brother Benjamin. Restoring Aleph-Naught’s full magical capabilities will be very beneficial.” He opened his desk drawer and removed his most recently received ratmail. “Furthermore, her superiors have ordered us to promptly restore her bandalores, and we must not go against their orders. Aleph-Naught and I may already face consequences for veering from the search for the Chashman Artifact, so I do not wish to upset her organization any further.”
Jio Kurenai
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