ANNO DOMINI ~Allium~ [Beta version]
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BOOK 2, CHAPTER 20: THE TITAN WITH BOTTOMLESS EYES
“Sister Farrah can’t come with us,” Al told Chris, Robbie, Bret, and Sandra. They had just been escorted from the monastery by the Afghani nun. “She and Brother Benjamin must restore my bandalores by sunrise tomorrow. My organization has made that demand. Otherwise, Sister Farrah would be able to find our man’s exact location if she was close enough. Instead, we need to search the area, no big deal.”
Sandra held her phone and looked at the black screen.
“I would call Regal back and ask him,” she said with a sigh, “but that might piss him off and make it even harder to talk to him. He’s gonna be mad when I show up, anyway.”
“Let me call him on my phone,” Chris said. “Excalibur can locate his phone that way. I won’t even need to talk to him as long as the call goes through.”
“Really?” Sandra looked up Regal’s number in her contacts, then showed it to Chris. “Okay, here’s that.”
Chris dialed the number, but it went straight to voicemail.
“I am unable to detect the desired phone’s location,” Excalibur said through Chris’ speakerphone. “It is possible the phone is powered down, and powered-down phones aren’t trackable without an installed Trojan virus, a tracing chip, or other means of spying and surveillance.”
“Hmm,” Sandra unzipped her light red windbreaker jacket, “seems like he really doesn’t wanna be bothered. Let’s go, then.”
During the rideshare trip from the monastery, the team discreetly discussed their plan, not revealing too much with the driver overhearing. The area within Sister Farrah’s estimations included nearly ten city blocks in total. Sandra hoped to find Regal’s name on an apartment intercom panel, so the plan was to check every apartment complex.
Once at their destination, they stood on the sidewalk and glanced around the neighborhood.
“It’ll be faster if we split up,” Chris said. “Separately check each building.”
“Yeah, in teams,” Robbie added. “Each team should have a cell phone. That way, whoever finds the name can call the others.”
Al agreed. “Yeah, good point. I can use ratmail the same way. Okay, what will our teams be?”
“My phone’s dead,” Bret said, pointing to his jeans pocket.
Robbie nodded. “And I don’t have one.”
“Bret and Rod—er, Robbie can come with me,” Al said. “Chris and Sandra are the other team.”
“Why do they get the phones?” Bret asked curtly, tapping his metal baseball bat on the sidewalk. “We get the rat?”
“My mission, my rules,” Al said, pointing at Bret and then herself. Looking at Sandra, Al added, “When we find the place, you need to talk with him and win over his trust.”
Finding her confidence was essential, as Sandra knew there was no going back now.
“I’ll do what I can,” she said resolutely.
“If I had my bandalores,” Al grumbled, “we could probably get in the place on our own. I have magic to help me infiltrate low-security, locked places like apartment buildings.”
“You can still go invisible,” Chris said to her. “I saw you do it.”
“That’s a simple spell. So is Hermes Rattus for my ratmail. My sweatshirt pockets are imbued with magic too, but those aren’t spells I need to cast. The rest of my magic relies on my bandalores, such as a lock-opening spell to open many mechanical locks with keyholes. I haven’t perfected it and it doesn’t work on high-tech ones, and it’ll still trigger any alarms.”
“Can you send Regal a ratmail?” Robbie asked. “Then we could follow the rat.”
“No,” Al shook her head, “to receive ratmail, I have to meet someone in person, then deliberately register them as a recipient in the Hermes Rattus spell formula. I do that by putting a kind of tag on a person’s soul.”
“I received those ratmails before,” Robbie said, looking uneasy. “You ‘tagged’ my soul?”
“It’s not as bad as it sounds,” Al told him. “It’ll have no other effects on you, and you can’t notice when I do it, so chill out. I have already included you four in ratmail. Now let’s go.”
After splitting into two groups, Robbie, Bret, and Al headed north around the block. Chris and Sandra walked east.
“Here’s a place.” Chris pointed to a red brick building across the street.
“You are still within the indicated coordinates,” Excalibur said, confirming the location. “I will do an internet search for all nearby apartments and other rental residencies within the appropriate area.”
The red building’s aged vestibule was small and smelled like fermenting grain. Checking the brass-plated name list on the intercom panel, there were no entries under “Landers.”
“Doesn’t look like this is it,” Sandra said. “On to the next one.”
Chris looked at his phone. Excalibur had displayed other locations to check on the GPS. The next apartment complex was two buildings down the street.
“Have you known this person a long time?” Chris asked when they were outside.
“Yeah, we went to high school together,” Sandra said rather swiftly, as if dodging some sadness. “Lyonbole.”
“I go to Lyonbole. I’m in eleventh grade.”
Sandra gritted her teeth and groaned. “I can’t believe I’m tracking him down like this! He’s gonna think I’m nuts.”
“You know,” Chris said, giving Sandra a serious look, “there’s a chance he’ll be dangerous. Will you be okay if I, or someone, have to stop him?”
Slowing her pace, Sandra felt glum as she thought about Chris’ words, then answered, “I mean…we’ll have to do something, right? You said Gunnhildr doesn’t hurt people. It should be fine.”
“As long as you’re ready.”
“I gotta be ready,” Sandra replied. “I already kicked him in the balls once, so I’ll do it again if I have to.” She snickered deviously, stomping and grinding her heel into the sidewalk. “Grape jelly!”
She hopped over and gave a playful kick to the small, decorative stone pedestal outside their destination’s entrance and laughed.
“Hahaha! Ahh…ughhh…I hate everything…” With a big, genuine smile, Sandra looked at Chris. “Sorry, I get crazy when I’m excited.”
“It doesn’t bother me. I actually think I got the wrong impression about you.”
“What, you thought that I was a weak little bitch?”
“No…” Chris said, surprised by her bluntness, “not exactly like that.”
Sandra pushed her hair from her face and gazed up at the two-story apartment building, and the two headed inside, checked the names, then walked out. It was another miss.
Looking at his phone, Chris said, “The next two closest places are about the same distance from here. What do you think about splitting up to search the rest?”
“It’d be faster,” Sandra replied. “I’m fine with that. We can call or text each other.”
“I’ll text you the list of addresses to look up on your GPS,” Chris said.
Instantly, Excalibur sent the information to Sandra’s phone while taking into account the best route for her to take. As Chris walked east on his own, he watched the smiley face indicators of Bret and Robbie moving through the neighborhood to the north; Sandra’s indicator gradually slid south. Expectedly, Al was not displayed.
The next place Chris entered was also a no-go. Frustrated, he perked up as he exited the building and a large rat scurried up to him with a letter in its mouth, which read:
"It’s Al. Status report."
“Al, I was hoping you’d found it,” Chris muttered to himself. “Wait, I don’t have anything to write with.”
The rat scratched itself with its paw, and an old pencil fell from its fur. Hesitating to touch the writing utensil, Chris wrote a quick reply on the same paper:
"Sandra and I split up. Still haven’t found it."
He handed the letter to the rat, tucked the pencil back into its fur, and watched it run off.
Sighing, he said, “We really should’ve divvied up the teams better, so that Al had someone with a phone…”
Eventually, Chris joined up with Al, Robbie, and Bret as their paths crossed.
“Oh man,” Robbie said, “we didn’t find the place, either.”
“So,” Al looked hopefully at Chris, “maybe Sandra will?”
“I’ll call her,” Chris said, selecting Sandra from his list of contacts.
A prickly sensation covered Sandra’s skin, giving her goosebumps while she continued alone through the neighborhood. The sun was tickling the horizon, gradually replacing the sky with the city’s orange glow.
Only two more places, she thought, following her GPS. That’s good, because something doesn’t feel right…
A shortcut through some alleys seemed promising, and she wanted to check the remaining locations as soon as possible. The harrowing paranoia was, in fact, more than a mental state, and it flittered against her skin, keeping her hairs on end.
Her phone rang in her hand, displaying Chris’ number, the ringtone echoing in the alleyway.
“Hello?” she answered.
“Sandra, I just regrouped with the others, but we didn’t find the place yet. Are you still looking?”
“Uh, yeah. I have two more places.”
She tensed up as the prickling on her skin became sharp; suddenly, she didn’t feel alone.
Glancing in all directions, there was nothing to see, yet she could swear she was looking at something. Behind and in front, the alleyways turned and twisted, offering many corners for something to hide behind.
“I have your location on my GPS,” Chris said over the phone. “We’ll go to you.”
Feeling her adrenaline at the ready, she replied, “Uh…I-I think I might be getting close, actually. I think I’m feeling some negative energy, or something.” Even when speaking quietly, her voice caught the bare, echo-inducing surfaces surrounding her.
“You do? Okay, hang tight, we’re coming. Maybe you should find somewhere to stay put for now.”
Deep, rumbling sounds came from behind her. A brutish grunt followed, making her spin around.
Sandra froze, her legs and ankles locked in fright. Yet, it was not the fright itself that rendered Sandra motionless, but the raw, deleterious wavelengths jostling her thoughts—something utterly alien compared to anything she had ever felt, and something she didn’t know she could possibly experience.
“H-h-hey…” Sandra’s fingers barely lent the strength to hold her phone to her mouth, her voice faring an equal challenge to speak. She held her gaze with that of something she was not meant to see.
Four legs. Unnaturally muscular and enormous. Fur black like coal, and eyes red like fire burning within that coal.
There was no looking away.
“What’s wrong?” Chris spoke from the quivering phone in Sandra’s hand.
The titan deepened its eye contact with Sandra, shuddering her bones with mysterious, dark energy. It turned its massive body, like a ship rotating in place, and aligned itself with her; a head-on confrontation.
“I found something,” Sandra squeaked. She silently begged her legs to step back away, but mere eye contact kept her still.
“What’d you s—”
Sandra’s phone cut out, the result of its battery being drained in a way unexplainable by all physical sciences—quantum, relative, or otherwise. While her numb feet scraped backward across the old alley asphalt, her nerves tingled with pain as her body reacted similarly to her phone.
She let the phone slip from her weakened hand. It tumbled on the ground. The screen cracked and the sapped battery popped before the phone sank into an oily puddle.
The behemoth had her with a stare; a deadlock of eyes, overriding her mental stability so she hadn’t realized she was already surrendering, accepting that her life was teetering toward the mercy of her quadrupedal transgressor. Her body and mind were paralyzed as she felt the world abandon her, leaving her alone with the only eyes watching her—bottomless, red eyes that reached beyond a colossal skull. The negative energy continued to increase.
From afar, the titan’s dispersing foulness was now significant enough to tickle the hairs of all it touched. Chris wiped the back of his neck, feeling as if a morbid breath had aggravated his skin.
The others noticed it too as they shared speechless glances.
Chris lowered his phone, seeing the call had ended.
“Sandra needs help,” he announced, snapping out of the stupor caused by such potent negative energy.
“That’s bad,” Al said in a low voice. “Do you feel what I feel just now? You should recognize the sensation of negative energy at this point. I imagine any human or animal would be aware of this signal, even without the heightened sensitivity we have to it.” She looked at the sky, a glum expression across her face. “This signal is particularly terrible.”
“It’s negative energy, all right,” Robbie muttered, flexing his hands and feet nervously, “but I think it’s messin’ with my muscles or something, like it’s really uncomfortable.”
“Your body’s response is to be expected.” Al furrowed her brow and shook her head, trying to fight off the dizziness. “This is the most I’ve ever felt, aside from Erik. I don’t have any training for these conditions…but we need to get over it!”
“Let’s go now,” Chris told everyone, urgency in his tone. “Sandra said she found something, and if it’s what we’re feeling, then we need to get to her right now. This way, guys!”
He hurried off, not waiting for anybody’s answer, in the direction of Sandra’s marked location. Their footsteps swiftly and quietly pattered down the street as the overcast sky lost the sun under the dull horizon. Coming to a brief stop, the group assessed their direction on Chris’ GPS app.
Bret rolled his head along his shoulders to crack his neck.
“What’re we gonna do when we find this thing?” he asked. “Beat it up, or snag the girl and go?”
They huddled closely, tucked between a back entrance stoop and inactive air conditioner unit. Al glanced up and down the alley, seeing nothing noteworthy.
I can’t be afraid, Al told herself. These guys need me.
“Make sure Sandra’s safe,” she told the others. “From the signal I’m feeling, I think it’s very dangerous around here. I don’t know what’s giving off this energy…it could be anything, like an astral gate or an energy spring, because the signal is that strong, but this much negative energy can’t be good anyway.”
“It’s gotta be the thing the nun talked about, right?” Robbie asked.
“Hmm, I don’t know,” Al replied. “Sister Farrah was searching for a mortal of significance, a human. I’ll be damned if a human is giving off this signal.”
“Well…” Robbie whispered, “Erik had a companion. Some kind of malevolent creature, or something…and it got away…”
Chris tensed up. “You think this is it? It seems powerful enough.”
“Could be,” Bret muttered, gripping his baseball bat.
“Erik had tamed an ancient being of malevolence?” Al asked, disgusted. “How shameless…”
“Yeah,” Robbie replied, “the strongest one we’ve seen. It was stronger than Erik. A four-legged monster with white fur.”
Al bit her lip. “That isn’t good.”
“Excalibur,” Chris said, “is the negative energy coming from Sandra’s location?”
“I do not detect any negative energy.”
Chris squeezed his phone in frustration. “You really don’t detect any negative energy?”
“I do not. I have said that I will inform you of any threats as soon as I detect them. That setting has not been changed.”
“That doesn’t do me any good. There seems to be an energy signal around here outside of your parameters.”
“If that is so,” the app replied, “then I will be unable to locate the source and compile data unless the signal changes to match my—”
“Piece of shit app,” Bret blurted out. “Pretty unreliable.”
“It doesn’t matter what the source is,” Chris said. “Sandra’s safety is priority, but if it’s as dangerous as Al says, or if it’s the thing that was with Erik, we’ll need to be really careful.”
“Right,” Al replied. “Move fast. Keep sharp.”
They came to a street with no traffic nor pedestrians, which aroused their suspicion that something was looming nearby.
“Damn.” Al clicked her tongue. “It’s hard to pinpoint where the negative energy is coming from, like it’s everywhere, but I think we’re going the right way.”
Robbie’s skin crawled thinking about the foreboding sign: the absence of people within a large city.
“Ain’t nobody around,” he said quietly, glancing both ways down the street. “This area should be kinda busy this time on a Saturday.”
An eerie silence pressed against Chris’ eardrums.
“Something is around here,” he said, “so everyone left. It’s probably an effect of evacuation magic.”
“Not everyone,” Bret said, pointing across the street.
A tall, large black man wearing a black tank top, long camo cargo pants, and heavy boots exited an apartment building; Regal Landers. His brisk pace suggested he was in a hurry, as if whatever evacuation effect was pushing him along. However, he made his way into the alley across from Chris and the others, heading toward the supposed source of tainted power.
“Is he a straggler?” Robbie asked, watching after the large man who hadn’t noticed them. “From the evacuation effect, I mean.”
“No, I don’t think so,” Al replied firmly. “If he was under the influence of any evacuation technique, he would likely head away from where we’re going.” She narrowed her eyes. “Instead, he’s heading right toward it.”
Chris considered that. “Have you guys checked that building he came out of? I haven’t.”
A smirk cracked on Al’s face. “We have not.”
“He’s gotta be the guy,” Bret grunted.
Nodding, Al said, “Most likely. That’s a fair assumption.”
“Is that man in your database, Excalibur?” Chris asked his phone.
“He is not.”
“Then we’ll go talk to him,” Chris said.
“H-hey,” Robbie tried to put together the situation in his head, “maybe we should think about it. If we consider everything we know, maybe we can come up with a good answer about this…like if that guy’s the evil thing we’re after.”
“We don’t have time,” Al told him. “Sandra’s in danger, so we gotta leave the planning for later.”
They hurried across the street, instinctively checking for traffic that did not exist at the moment. When they closed in on the man in question a little down the alley, Chris called out to him.
Regal stopped walking and turned around. He eyed Chris and the others with a rigid look.
“Yes?” His voice was deep and strong.
Chris needed to think of something to say, and do so quickly to look for Sandra.
“We’re looking for a Regal Landers.”
“That’d be me.”
“You got any superpowers?” Bret asked impatiently, pointing his baseball bat at Regal.
When Regal’s eyes widened and jaw dropped, the group had their answer. Rather than appearing baffled, he appeared cornered, as if overthinking his response.
“We think you do,” Al told Regal, “because you’re here when no one else is, and we have reasons to suspect you might be somebody we’re looking for.”
The calmness Regal conveyed masked his confusion well.
“Are you suggesting that you four have ‘powers’ as well?” he asked.
Chris nodded, saying, “Yes. We have abilities that are, um, abnormal.” He gestured to the surroundings. “During certain situations, people without these abilities are evacuated. Since there’s nobody else here, we think that you’re not a regular person.”
For a moment, nobody spoke, and Chris wondered if he had said too much. Regal looked at the ground, thinking about what he’d just been told.
I wondered if there were others, he thought. It makes sense that there are. But…how many are there, then? There are four right here…
“We’re looking for a friend who might be in danger,” Chris told Regal. “Sandra Starling. She said she knows you.”
“Danger?” Regal asked, giving his full attention to Chris. “You know Alessandra Starling.”
Al was wary of Regal and watched him closely.
Because of Sister Farrah’s prayers, Al thought, and Sandra’s phone conversation with this guy, I thought he’d be the source of this negative energy, but it doesn’t feel like it’s coming from him, but from a little farther away.
She took a deep breath, collecting herself.
“C’mon, we can’t explain it all now,” Al said pressingly, nudging Chris down the alley. “We have to move!”
“Sorry, but we’re in a hurry,” Chris told Regal. “You can come with us, but it’s dangerous.”
“You said Sandra’s in danger?” he asked. “What do you mean by that?”
After glancing down the alley, Chris said, “We’ll tell you after we save her.”
Regal shook his head. “I don’t get it, but okay, let’s go. I was heading this way already.”
A readiness Regal had never felt before suddenly welled up inside him.
If this isn’t a setup, then this could be a chance to finally use these cursed powers for something good, Regal thought. Yes…this could be what I was meant to do. The earth is telling me that my time to act is now! He flexed his muscles, preparing himself for whatever was ahead. This was his reckoning.
Excalibur spoke up as the others jogged away down the alley. Lagging behind, Chris checked his phone.
“What?” Chris asked shortly.
“I’ve detected a potent malicious entity. Its information is displayed on your phone.”Chris’ blood ran cold. The image of the target was the face of Regal, a computer-generated image rather than a photograph. The monster face indicator on the GPS labeled “Regal” was moving down the alleyway, alongside the indicators for Robbie and Bret.