ANNO DOMINI ~Allium~ [Beta version]
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Believe it or not, the chapter title isn't named after anything Pokémon-related. My idea came before the announcement for those games. Alas, that connection has been made...
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BOOK 2, CHAPTER 22: SWORD & SHIELD
Sandra’s hands and knees were blackened from the dirty, cold alley ground. She stared down, not wanting to stand yet, unable to look at Regal. She didn’t want to look at her old friend, who was undeniably the source of the insidious aura that permeated everything in the alley around her. She balled her fists and squeezed her eyes shut, which only served to shift her sadness into anger.
Out of instinct, Robbie grabbed Sandra’s upper arm and pulled her up, but she suddenly shoved him away.
“Don’t touch me,” she grunted, still looking at the ground.
Robbie could clearly see by Sandra’s stance and demeanor that her heart was breaking apart and her mind was unravelling. Leaving her alone, he turned back to Regal and the black-furred fiend, both stronger and viler than ever. Robbie’s mighty shield was ready for deployment, but the spiritual fatigue warned him of his drained state.
I think I still have the energy for Ball Protection, Robbie thought. If I use it, though, it’ll tucker me out, and I’ll be totally useless. He looked at Sandra, who was grasping handfuls of her messy hair again. I gotta get Sandra away from here, she’s too bent outta shape to fend for herself.
Regal had his offensive stance directed at Chris, Al, and Bret. The three allies huddled together and waited for Regal to make a move, the colossal beast at its master’s side.
With the two foes distracted, Robbie saw his opportunity to retreat.
“Sandra!” he hissed, his back rigid and tone firm. “Snap out of it! We gotta run.”
However, Sandra shook her head, still grasping her hair and not looking up. Robbie stomped up to her, grabbed both of her shoulders, and forced her to look at him. To his surprise, her face was not one of fear or desperation, but anger and stubbornness.
Her mouth twisted into a wolf-like expression as she snarled, “I’m not going anywhere, Robbie.”
Robbie stepped back from the unexpected vicious reaction, but he needed to remain steadfast.
“Yes we are,” he said. “It’s too dangerous for you—”
Quick as lightning, Sandra lunged forward and latched both hands onto Robbie’s shirt under his collar, all ten of her fingernails digging painfully into his skin.
Each of her words were sharp and emphasized as her spit hit Robbie’s sweaty face. “They need me.” Robbie winced as Sandra’s nails dug more into his upper chest as she pulled him closer. “They need us! You can protect them, and I can heal them.”
She let go, and Robbie could see the blood under his shirt where he’d been grabbed. Sandra pushed the palm of her hand onto his ten fingernail wounds, called upon her Heal, and closed them without a scar.
Speechless, Robbie gave a dutiful nod of affirmation to Sandra, who stared back. Their determination had just been made clear to each other.
Chris and Bret stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Al right behind them. Regal suddenly rushed toward them at inhuman speed, giving little time for Chris and Bret to react. The phone sword blade grazed Regal’s side and drew blood, but he used his huge left hand to push Chris’ arm away, and simultaneously used his huge right hand to punch the metal baseball bat from Bret’s grip. In a single motion, Regal tackled both teenage boys, using their bodies to smash into Al.
With little effort, Regal had pinned his three opponents on the ground while disarming one of the two attackers. He held Chris’ weapon down by pinning his arm in place, although he couldn’t get the boy to drop it. Bret, unarmed, had Regal’s hand around his throat as he writhed to free himself. Al was trapped underneath, and she could barely glimpse the red glints in Regal’s eyes as he continually slammed the boys against her, each blow resulting in a dreadful sound of living bodies being hammered together.
“Dammit!” Robbie cried in horror at his teammates being brutalized.
The grisly quadruped turned its attention toward the sound of Robbie’s shout, and Robbie gulped as he readied himself. When the black-furred beast charged, the boy summoned his Ball Protection to impede the assault. Anticipating the large orange shield, the hulking cretin leapt high into the air, crushing the ground from the force of launching itself up.
Robbie strained to adjust the mighty shield, but was too slow. As the massive beast plummeted toward him, Robbie dismissed his Ball Protection and scrambled out of the way, pushing Sandra with him. A thunderous smash rumbled from behind them, signifying their narrow escape from being crushed.
Before Robbie could assess his next move, an unstoppable mass struck him from behind, sending him reeling through the air and onto the asphalt ground, where he groaned in agony. Sandra cringed when she’d seen Robbie receive the headbutt from a skull as large as his torso.
The beast slowly turned its head, once again fixating its gaze on Sandra. She locked up, her breath wanting to hide in her chest, but the titan moved toward Robbie instead, as if not interested in her—perhaps she wasn’t seen as a threat to nature’s bounties.
Regal had heard the ruckus behind him. Chris and Bret had gone limp, although they were still conscious and kept their weary eyes on the large man. Blood stained the ground where they had repeatedly been slammed; Al had been knocked unconscious, covered in blood. Regal dropped the two boys, who crumpled onto the blonde girl, and he turned to address his four-legged companion.
“Bring the other boy here,” he demanded.
Enraged, Sandra thought, How can he be so calm? Doesn’t he have any guilt for pummeling three people?
Sandra, helpless and afraid, watched the abominable quadruped approach Robbie. She watched the black boy attempt to crawl away. She watched the beast kick Robbie across the ground toward Regal, hearing him grunt in pain…and another kick…and another, until Regal picked him up and carelessly tossed him onto the heap that was Chris, Bret, and Al. A collective groan escaped from the pile of defeated allies.
“Watch over them,” Regal told the monster. “Make sure they stay put.” He felt a sting on his side, seeing the bleeding slash from Chris’ Excalibur blade, although it wasn’t too deep as it had only grazed him.
Robbie said nothing as he rolled himself off his teammates, and the look on his face was amess with doubt and pain. Chris groaned, his entire body shaking in misery from Regal’s assault. At the sight of the monster slowly creeping upon them, Chris forced himself to sit upright.
“H-hey…” he muttered to Bret and Al, not looking away from the approaching beast. “We have a problem.”
Bret lay on his side as he grinned through bloody teeth.
“Well, well.” A sharp throb shot up his arm as he pushed himself into a sitting position. “Lookit what we got here.” He sneered cockily as his vision shook. “This animal thing…just can’t wait to get whooped…”
The three boys were covered in cuts and bruises, but they seemed to be in better condition than Al, whose eyes were still closed. Robbie noticed she was still breathing, and he quickly patted her cheeks.
“Al! Al!” He looked at the hulking jabberwocky looming closer, its slow approach appearing deliberate. “Wake up!”
“Let her die.” Bret grimaced as he attempted to stand, but his body wouldn’t allow it. “Shit…we’re all dead, anyway.”
“No,” Chris breathed. He clenched his fists, noticing how weak his hands were, and wondered if he would still be able to grip his phone sword without the help of its strange adhesive properties. “Don’t say that.”
Al suddenly sucked in a deep breath, only to be met with harsh pain in her chest, and she immediately coughed up blood. She gasped, positive that a broken rib had punctured a lung. When she tried opening her swollen eyes, they burned from the blood that ran down her face, some of it from the wound on her forehead, some of it from Chris and Bret as they had been smashed against her repeatedly.
“Guys,” Robbie said, looking with dismay at the bloody girl as she wheezed and coughed, “Al’s in real bad shape.” He hesitated before saying what he was about to say. “We…need to get Sandra over here.”
“Sandra’s got her own problems,” Bret muttered, staring up at the titan. It had stopped its advance, but didn’t look away, not even blinking, like a gargoyle stationed at the gates of Hell.
Yet, when Chris watched Regal confront Sandra, he perceived a very different event from what the others perceived—more than with the sight of his eyes, but of a much more universal sense. What the eyes saw was an encounter between two people at odds with each other…although Chris observed a stupendous state of affairs, knowing a blossoming reaction was on the verge of fruition.
“I wouldn’t call them ‘problems,’” Chris told Bret.
They need me, Sandra thought, looking past Regal and catching the desperate gazes of her beaten allies. I have to be there for them…
She trembled as Regal walked up to her. There was no urgency in his movements, and his serious face was difficult to decipher. The entirety of his attitude made Sandra’s blood boil.
Regal opened his mouth to speak, but Sandra cut him off.
“What do you want?” she barked. “You have something to say?”
“I just want you to know,” Regal replied, “that I’m acting in accordance to what is best.” He tried to look directly in Sandra’s eyes, but she did not allow it; her hair was a tangled, knotted mess, obscuring her face as she denied Regal access into her gaze. “This violence is pointless, Sandra. I know that. Now that we have time, I’d like to explain it to you, and discuss what—”
The young woman suddenly lashed out with a verbal assault.
“That isn’t true at all!” Sandra shrilled. She threw her entire body into the words that exploded from her mouth, making her voice crack. “If you wanted to avoid violence, then you would’ve…you would’ve gone along with Chris! He didn’t want this…” She wrapped her arms around herself in a hug that only she could give, and that only she could receive. “I just don’t know anymore…”
Regal took Sandra’s accusation as an insult. He looked back toward the defeated enemies of nature, bloodied and discarded as they should have been, and wondered which one was Chris. Surely it wasn’t the boy with the predatory eyes and bizarre handgun who had threatened to take away Regal’s powers…the powers to protect the land and loving bounties of the earth.
Sitting on the alley ground, Chris, Robbie, and Bret watched Regal and Sandra from afar. The black-furred beast idly kept watch over them, doing nothing more. Even while trapped and at odds, Chris felt his aching face spread into a smile.
“I made a mistake,” Chris said to his companions, “by comparing Sandra to a healer.” Robbie and Bret looked at him as he continued, “In games, the healer is a person who takes to the back and avoids danger, waiting for others to do the work before stepping in with support…but that’s not what I get from Sandra.”
Chris paused to listen to the conversation between Sandra and Regal, confirming what he was perceiving, and confirming the link between himself and Sandra to see into a part of her that even she had difficulty believing during these recent hardships; yet it was there, unfiltered and utterly true, now stepping into the limelight and frontlines with the bravado she had forgotten about.
Regal told Sandra, “There are things in this world greater than us. The wellbeing of the land takes precedence over all. Without the earth, there is nothing for people, nowhere to live, no way to exist. It’s not about taking to the stars or other planets in some bold space exploration nonsense, but about having a mother to raise and nurture us…Mother Nature, in all her glory and love, something that only she can provide, and something that we all quintessentially need: nature’s bounty.”
A familiar feeling spread its wings within Sandra, encompassing and consuming her, as if she had finally stepped back into her own skin for the first time in too long. Her previous desire to be there for others—to protect, support, and defend those who entered her heart—did not step down, but rather stepped aside, and now stood beside another very true aspect of herself: the desire to fight tooth and nail for what she believed in, no matter the odds.
“What do you know about ‘love’ and ‘giving’?” she growled. “Those are the things I live for, and I know that your view of this ‘nature’s bounties’ bullshit is negligence.”
Sandra’s right arm surged with beautiful dignity and harnessed the essence of her adventurous, entrepreneurial cravings. She popped her fingers open, and the environment responded to her desires. It was easy to not notice how the surrounding pebbles, dust, and ubiquitous alley trash instantly moved away from her…but they did not move out of spite for her, and instead moved from her will to push away all which hindered her spirit and stood in her way.
Yet Chris noticed it, and he could only keep smiling.
“Sandra’s heart has a balance,” he told Robbie and Bret as he watched Sandra’s influence impede upon her surroundings. Even Al listened in, barely awake, and fighting silently through the agony of her battered body. “She has a strong two-sided will. She knew she had this trait all along, but doubt had steered her away. Now, I can see, she’s found her way again.”
Chris grasped his face with his hand, chuckling and struggling to keep his composure. “I wish you guys could see…just how breathtakingly beautiful her soul looks right now…”
Robbie and Bret gaped at Chris as he buried his face into his hands while he kept smiling from serenity and contentment.
With a step forward, Sandra found the rationale in her tone to convey her unbending conviction without raising her voice.
“You’re wrong, Regal. What good is a healthy world without people to enjoy it? I know you favor friendship and love, but now you claim to stand for this fucking objective mindset that’s so extreme, you’d strike me down to obtain it.”
Regal’s face grew hot.
“I said I would talk about it!” he shot back. “I wanted a peaceful negotiation!”
“Then explain the evil powers you’re overflowing with. Explain why you panicked and backed out of a peace-talk when you heard you’d lose that evilness.”
Don’t fall for her word games, Regal thought. She has no idea what I’ve been through, or why these cursed powers are necessary for what I envision.
“You’re being emotional,” Regal said darkly. “It’s blinding you.”
“Then that makes two of us,” Sandra replied, outstretching her arms and fingers, feeling the tendons of the world around her tugging and flexing as she commanded, as if the surrounding energies were puppets on her hands.
The patterns of reality presented themselves to Chris, allowing him to view the mounting tension. He could understand the situation was approaching a threshold.
This brought Chris peace.
“Sandra wants to protect herself as well as others,” Chris said, not sure if the others were still listening (which they were). “She can save those who are hurt, and protect those who are in danger. What’s special, though, is how she can guide those who she helps. She can stand alongside them, even put herself out in front to take initiative…and she loves it. She loves getting her own hands dirty, to set examples, to take risks.”
Chris defied the weakness and soreness of his body, clambering back to his feet, even as the black-furred titan’s red eyes warned him about bold, sudden actions. However, Chris would not miss the next event sitting down.
“To fight beside the strong, to stand in place of the weak, to be versatile in and for all walks of life…” Chris gazed at Sandra, seeing her and only her. “She isn’t just a healer. No…Alessandra Starling…is a magic knight!”
At that moment, the powers humming and teeming through Sandra’s body and mind snapped into place, presenting to her a picture clearer than any she had seen before: a picture of herself.
Her left hand to lift up the lost, broken, poor, and abandoned; to guide toward safety and far from despair…
Her right hand to push away and destroy everything that bared fangs and stood in resistance; to pave a path of adventure and commitment…
These abilities, made to manifest, needed a purpose, a resolve…and a name:
“Sword & Shield!”
When she squeezed both fists tightly shut, the alleyway rattled from the storm that was released.
Regal turned against the blast of wind, feeling his balance topple backward. Blinking the dust from his eyes, he saw the young woman in her purest, most honest form: Sandra’s right arm was ablaze with a glorious gauntlet of flame-like, golden energy extending from her shoulder, reaching far past her fist and forming a large, clawed hand of light; her left arm was fixated with a two-dimensional plate of verdant, green, honeycombed energy the size of her torso, shimmering with defiance against anything that attempted to assault her, as if her healing abilities had solidified into a protective crystal.
Her soul: a sword and a shield.
Sandra stepped forward, tears flowing freely down her cheeks as she bared her teeth. She roared ferociously and swung her right hand. Rage, despair, and contempt erupted from her flame-like gauntlet, creating a spectacular, giant band of golden energy that sliced through the alley. Regal held his arms up to defend, and his evilness-protected skin was cut by Sandra’s fury, along with the nearby metal and concrete structures. Light poles, rain gutters, and handrails were chopped down by Sandra’s anger.
“Whoa!” Regal shouted in surprise and was knocked off his feet by the blast, tumbling among the debris.
The quadrupedal titan had to make its move, as its master was now in trouble. Snubbing Chris and the others, it spun around, pounding its enormous feet during the stampede toward the young woman, the awakened knight.
Sandra had expected the beast to act. Cementing her left foot forward, she thrust out her left arm with its newly fixated shield. The green, honeycombed patterns shimmered in anticipation of the collision, but Sandra was not afraid, feeling more enthralled than her brain could admit.
Her love and defensiveness of friends and comrades soared into her left arm as she ducked down, slamming her shield into the titan’s chest from underneath. Asphalt cracked and crushed beneath her, but her body was fortified by the thought of defending all who relied on her—the memories of all she’d left behind in Ohio, those beaten and wounded teammates who watched her at this very moment…and even he who had betrayed her love to leave with another woman whose name she had never cared to learn.
It was this unshakeable love that pushed against the multi-ton mass of four-legged wickedness, flipping it over her head. When this love cried out in grief and her body threatened to break under the pressure, her right hand (full of wrath and determination, a gauntlet of power) came to her aid and exploded with a flashy punch, moving the unwanted foe away from her…blasting the vile beast far down the alley like a cannonball, tearing some of the rancid flesh from its body that was too defiled to bleed.
Regal got back to his feet, but he was instantly met with Sandra’s biting glare as his four-legged companion crashed and roiled through a cluster of parked box trucks. He understood Sandra’s defensive feat was about to turn onto him in the form of a brutal reprisal, because it was written all over Sandra’s expression.
He’d seen this expression once before.
Early middle school. A field trip to a cornfield operated by Agrarian-Schism just outside Chicago. The girl with black hair who had been made fun of for bringing a football in her backpack to play with in the wide open outdoors.
“Girls can’t play football,” they had said.
“Bet you can’t even throw that,” they had said.
Regal had been the only one willing to play catch with this girl. There were acres of open land, perfect for playing, so why not?
That face the girl had made when she wanted to prove the other kids wrong…moist with tears, twisted with rage, yet full of the resolve to display what she was capable of.
That very same face, now ten years later, stared at Regal in that alleyway, except with more tears, more rage, and more resolve to prove that girl’s formidable capabilities.
Sandra raised her right hand clad with searing energy; her sword, her football.
Yes, this feeling is all too familiar, all too natural.
She had to make the pass. This time, the pass had to go beyond Regal, the only one who had ever been willing to receive it. It had to go through him. It had to prove that nothing could stop her, but only push her to get stronger.
So she threw it.
A grand spear of energy struck Regal. Whirling like a horizontal tornado, Sandra’s gauntlet extended over sixty feet past her hand, skewering everything in a straight line in front of her. Its windstorm of otherworldly power gallivanted triumphantly, kicking up dirt and litter, peeling away at rusty, weak metal plates fastened to walls, snapping powerlines, tossing oily puddles into the air, cracking glass windows, and thoroughly leaving Sandra’s mark that even the structure of the city itself couldn’t stand against.
She cleared away the emotional roadblocks in her throat with a strained, angry wail before plucking the solidified spear of light from the pierced ground, and the energy promptly reverted back to the fiery sheath covering her right arm.
Chris, Robbie, and Bret saw the young woman standing tall, like a warrior who had slain her nemesis. They were speechless, intimidated by her sudden transformation as someone who aspired to stand and fight, not wait to pick up the pieces.
Before Regal even saw the blood from his injuries, he knew he’d taken a hit from something more powerful than it should have been. The words of the masked, cloaked individual repeated in his head, saying Regal would be unmatched in strength and power. Perhaps the individual had been wrong or, considering their underhanded personality, had simply lied.
Debris and rubble covered him, requiring his bestowed powers to remove them. His equilibrium took long to stabilize itself, making it hard to sit up, the wreckage of the alley wobbling in his vision.
Through the clearing dust, Regal saw Sandra still standing tall, forcing back her sobs, still giving him that same potent face, her right arm ablaze with golden determination, her left arm sheltered behind a honeycombed blockade of verdant guardianship. He also saw something behind her, and his eyes glistened with red as he narrowed them.
Chris, Robbie, and Bret also saw what was behind Sandra, but their battered bodies prevented them from taking action. Only Robbie, with his ability to deploy his Ball Protection from afar, could do anything to help.
Sandra didn’t see what the others saw, but a malicious presence compressed itself against her back, seeping into her soul as it sped closer to her. It pricked her skin and pinched her spirit, turning her veins icy. The ground rumbled from the monstrous footfalls growing nearer.
The young woman whirled around in time to see Robbie’s large energy barrier appear between herself and the charging titan. Instinctively, she threw out her left arm with her green shield swelling with power.
Focusing all of its foul powers into its head and legs, the aggressive jabberwocky rammed forward with all its strength. It shattered the Ball Protection barrier without losing any momentum, ripping through Sandra’s shield and slamming into her. The ulna and radius bones in her left arm were pulverized, her muscles and tendons severed from wrist to elbow. Ribs were snapped, puncturing both her lungs and tearing the aorta from her heart before her spine was ripped and splayed.
Using its enormous face, the beast crushed Sandra into the ground and smeared her body across the asphalt like warm bubblegum under a shoe. The nearby building’s wall was painted with the color of her flesh and blood before the four-legged tank drove her through the wall’s steel-reinforced brick, mortar, and drywall interior.
Robbie’s senses washed in and out as he received the spiritual shock of having his energy partition savagely destroyed, and he fell back, hitting his head on the hard, cold alley ground. The pain of the fall came seconds later, along with his consciousness.
“Nooo!” Chris bellowed. “Sandra!”
Chris’ body surged with some hidden reserve of energy pulled from beyond the three dimensions, but at the price of having his head spin and stomach churn. Pushing through the disorientation and nausea, he hurried forward, feeling his legs throb as his body used his Desphelmer powers as a crutch. No matter if it destroyed him, Chris had to help Sandra…even if it was too late.
However, when he stumbled toward the huge hole in the side of the building, the image of the young woman was too much for his upset stomach. He doubled over, retching painfully while the knowledge of failing to protect somebody debilitated him.Emerging from the dim interior of the building (presumably a storage room for some retailer), the cretin surveyed the alleyway, emotionless with burning red eyes that matched Regal’s. The black fur on its hideous face was slick and wet with dripping blood, giving it the appearance of a predator that had finished off its prey.