ANNO DOMINI ~Allium~ [Beta version]
***THANKS FOR READING!***
Hey there, Honeyfeeders! I managed to prepare this second "half" of the previous chapter in a relatively short time. One of the busiest holiday weekends for my job starts tomorrow, so I'm uploading this within a narrow time frame...
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BOOK 2, CHAPTER 24: THE FOOD SHORTAGE CRISIS
The headquarters building of Agrarian-Schism embodied a different personality after hours, being darker and lonelier than during the day. At the bottom of the stone-cut steps leading to the entrance, Regal stopped to catch his breath after running all the way there. Although he was tired from the sprint, it was remarkable how quickly and far he had run, a notion that disturbed him.
More disturbing was the ceaseless whispering that spoke to him from within himself the entire time, tugging at his mind to pull him away from this current decision.
You can’t run from your heart. What you desire most is what constructs your destiny.
Regal did his best to ignore this message. He wiped the sweat from his forehead, jogged up the steps, unlocked the door with his personalized cardkey, deactivated the alarm system by inputting the numerical code on the alarm panel, and headed straight to his office on the fifth floor.
The custodians, thorough and efficient as they were, had already emptied the trash can under his desk and replaced the bag. Wasting no time, he went through his desk and cabinets, packing all of his important belongings into the fresh trash bag: pictures, extra laptop accessories, valuable office supplies, and a small figurine of Hatsune Miku that he was oddly attached to. Not bothering to pick up after the mess of rummaging, he trotted out of the office with the entire trash can of items in one hand.
In the elevator, he pushed the button for the ground floor, but a small power outage flickered the button panel and overhead lights. Cursing under his breath when the doors closed, he saw the top floor button was lit, and the elevator headed up rather than down.
“Give me a break,” Regal grunted as he watched the floor number indicator tick ever higher. The button panel was unresponsive to his presses. “What a time for a power outage to glitch the elevator. I don’t have time for this. Stupid elevator moves so slow!”
At the top floor, Regal pressed the ground floor button before the doors fully opened. As the doors were closing, a gloved hand from outside caught them, halting the elevator. Regal’s temper surged when he saw the person standing outside the elevator wearing a quality brown cloak, black ski mask, dust mask, and sunglasses. The hood of the cloak was pulled over their head.
“I take it you brought me up here,” Regal said, speaking at the ski mask.
“Yes,” the fake voice said. “Elevators are easily manipulated with magic once you understand the specifications.”
With a contemptuous chuckle, Regal replied, “Magic? That’s what you call it?”
“Magic allowed me to force you to sleep, and also make a copy of your cardkey.” The individual called forth a small rectangle of shimmering light, holding it for a few seconds; it was the same size as Regal’s cardkey. “If I’d destroyed the lock to this building, it’d instantly trigger the alarm. Your company is smart to arm their headquarters with electronic locks connected to the alarm system, unlike the idiots who ran the Cook County Medical Laboratory and Research Center. Saved me a lot of trouble to just break the simple lock itself. The trick was learning how to disarm their alarm, the same trick as I disarmed this one.”
The imitation cardkey disappeared from the gloved grasp.
“This isn’t the first time I’ve snuck in here,” the hooded individual continued, “and I may have watched somebody enter the code once to see what it was.” They held out their arms and tilted their head in a boasting manner. “Invisibility is easy to achieve, but hard to maintain for more than six or seven minutes. I had to work fast.”
Regal stepped out into the room and flicked his eyes toward the security camera in the ceiling corner. He wondered if it would do any good. Chances were the masked person had accounted for other security, unless they truly were a fool or reckless; both were viable possibilities. Besides, what could law enforcement actually do?
With his tempter in check, Regal asked, “How’d you know I was here?”
“I told you that I am always watching you.” The concealed head turned toward the door leading to the gardenlike rooftop terrace. “Go out there.”
“What if I refuse?”
“Try to refuse. I’d be delighted to punish you. You’ve seen my magic, and I wanted to show you what I can do. Please, allow me to punish you for disobeying.” Pointing to the elevator, they added, “There’s the elevator.”
Regal bit his tongue, set down his trash can of possessions, and walked stiffly out to the terrace. The first odd thing he noticed was the garden lights were still on, which usually meant someone was occupying the area after dark.
Why are the lights on? he wondered. Is there a meeting in progress? But it’s Saturday, so there shouldn’t be any business-related meetings…
He walked cautiously and slowly, descending through the groomed, pristine garden. No voices could be heard from the meeting area at the bottom level of the terrace, only the gentle trickle of artificial waterfalls, and the language-less crowing of wickedness in his mind and soul.
When the meeting area came into view, that fear was coupled with curiosity upon seeing the end chair (where Desmond Landers typically sat) was occupied. However, it was not one of the outdoor chairs; someone had brought one of the office chairs up with them. Turned with their back toward Regal, it was as if this person was sitting there, staring out over the darkened Chicago skyline.
Regal glanced around, but the cloaked individual was nowhere to be seen.
“Hello?” he called to the person sitting.
The chair swiveled around, none other than Desmond himself seated in it, the CEO of Agrarian-Schism and Regal’s father. He smiled gently when he saw his son.
“Why, this is unexpected, Regal,” Desmond said from his chair.
“What are you doing here, Papa?” Regal asked, feeling uncomfortable. “I didn’t know you came here on Saturdays.”
Desmond nodded. “I usually don’t, but I wanted to. I like it here, and have been spending much of my time up here. The view is spectacular.”
He turned the chair around and looked out over the city, something Regal immediately took as unusual. Having known his father well, Regal thought it was strange for the man to give such a vague answer, let alone turn his back on a person during a conversation.
Papa would never respond so vaguely. This is strange.
Thinking of the trash can full of belongings, Regal said, “I…have to tell you something.”
Desmond slowly swiveled and looked at Regal. “What would that be?”
Regal wiped his forehead…he was still sweating.
“I really don’t know how to say it,” he said, “but I need to apologize for what I’m about to tell you.”
With a small nod, Desmond replied, “It’s okay, Regal.”
Regal took another quick look around.
What would happen if the person in the cloak overhears this? he wondered.
“I need to quit the company. I need to get out of Chicago. I plan to take Chanel with me.” Regal looked down. “It’s sudden, I know. Things have happened, and I don’t know if I can explain them. I don’t know if I should explain. I still haven’t told her yet, but I hope we’ll be able to move to the summer home in Wisconsin, or anywhere, right away.”
Regal looked up at his father, and was caught off guard by Desmond’s small nod and gracious smile, as if Regal had only said he’d adopted a kitten.
“Sounds good, son,” Desmond said. “I’ll prepare the arrangements with our accounting department on Monday.”
“But, didn’t you hear me?” Regal walked up to his father. “This is big news, Papa. And so sudden! I thought you’d be, like, more upset…or shocked…”
With a warm smile, Desmond stood up and placed his large hand on Regal’s shoulder.
“It’s quite all right,” Desmond told him. “Trust in your heart. Follow your desires.” His face lit up, as if touched by a most precious family moment. “If your destiny is not here, then it is elsewhere. Don’t worry, I’ll take care of everything here, so you can go ahead with your plans immediately.”
Everything about Desmond’s reaction felt out of place, and Regal knew that his father would never take so kindly to such news, even with a formal two-week notice to leave the company. Desmond Landers was a very strict, methodical businessman.
Let your desires lead you. Give in to the bliss, and be one with the earth as its protector. This is your destiny, and it will grant you unending happiness.
Regal shoved his father’s hand away from him, and winced as the shivers of oblivion rippled through his mind and body. Desmond was not himself. His words matched the ghastly thoughts Regal fought to vanquish.
“You would never say that,” Regal said sharply. “I haven’t told you everything, but you’re totally okay with it?”
“There’s nothing more you need to explain,” Desmond said. “I’ll do whatever is best for you, because, you see, what’s best for you is best for everything.” He reached out his arms with a sweeping motion toward the surrounding city. “That’s why I support your decision to the fullest. I’ve already done so much for your destiny, and this is another step toward worldwide perfection.”
“What in the hell do you mean that you’ve done so much for my ‘destiny’?” Regal advanced with a tone and attitude he hadn’t used against his father since stubborn childhood quarrels, but this was more than stubbornness or anger…this was also fear.
At last, yet too late, the expression Desmond wore changed to one more serious and taken aback.
“I’m telling you that I’ve been working hard for you,” Desmond told Regal firmly. “This company, Agrarian-Schism, is my life’s work. It means my life to me, and yet I’m sacrificing it for your purpose. If it means saving the world from the people who hurt the environment, who wring it dry of resources and destroy the atmosphere with pollution…then I’ll use this entire company, the greatest tool at my disposal, to leverage that goal. That goal is your desire, son. You’ve never expressed your environmentalism much, but I know it’s in you. This is all for you, the savior of Mother Nature and the land and all that it has to offer!”
Regal was appalled, staring harshly with his mouth agape at the imposter in his father’s body. There was no way this man could be the same wise and respectable Desmond Landers who had built Agrarian-Schism from scratch and had raised Regal from birth.
Struggling for words through the flurry of questions in his head, Regal said, “Tell me what you mean when you said you’re sacrificing the company.”
For reasons Regal didn’t understand, Desmond relaxed his face, satisfied by Regal’s question. For a moment, he didn’t reply, and Regal could tell that his father was having difficulty with his response.
“There has been a scandal recently in the company,” he answered earnestly. “I didn’t tell you, but I didn’t tell many people.” He cast his regret-filled eyes toward the ground. “It hurts me to say it, but I take full responsibility.” Looking up at Regal, his eyes shimmered on the verge of tears. “The person behind the scandal…is me.”
The confession was like a slap to the face, but confusion took the lead in Regal’s response.
“Papa? The perpetrator was you?”
Hesitant, Desmond nodded. “Yes. I was responsible for a number of decisions that have turned the company in a, let’s say, ‘suicidal’ direction.”
“No!” Regal snapped. “That isn’t true!”
“I understand how you feel,” Desmond replied, “but it is true.”
Regal balled his fists.
This is all wrong. I, myself, had conspired alongside that faceless bastard to use Agrarian-Schism as an asset in our deal. The company was meant to be used for the collapse in socioeconomic stability, all part of the plan to subtly, sneakily reduce the flow of resources and preserve the land’s fertility. But Papa says he’s doing that, too? No…
He turned away from his father, breathing heavily.
What an evil plan! Why hadn’t I seen it earlier? How didn’t I realize the full extent of what I was doing? How…did that masked bastard ever get to me with such a fleeting, stupid, shallow thought like ‘protecting the planet by starving the population’? And why is Papa confessing to this? He was just a victim…my own father, a victim.
“Regal, hear me out.”
“It’s not true,” Regal retaliated. “It can’t be.”
“But it is.” Desmond took a deep breath. “Without certain government officials and our company investors, nobody could interfere when I monopolized Agrarian-Schism by acquiring our largest competitor. I was able to manipulate our product chains, adjust wages, and sell many of our assets without being questioned.”
He smiled, fully content with his reasoning. “It was the perfect opportunity to raise food prices across the Midwest and potentially the majority of the United States. I have full control over the food shortages, and it’s only just begun. This might not last long, I’m afraid…the Securities and Exchange Commission will eventually be alerted of the equity changes, but I can only do so much from my position.”
“This doesn’t make sense, Papa! How did you know about the government officials?”
“What do you mean?”
“How’d you know they…they’re letting this happen? What are they doing? They shouldn’t allow this.”
Desmond paused, as if his mind had gone blank. Emotions drained from his face, leaving a clean canvas of thoughtlessness, before he blinked, then smiled warmly.
“I don’t know what is happening with the officials,” he said far too genuinely. “That’s not important.”
That faceless bastard had something to do with this! Regal thought despairingly. So, this is what’s been really happening in the company. I can’t see my father ever trusting somebody like that, though.
“But…gahhh…” Regal paced in a circle. “How is it not important? Those people…what happened to them? I don’t believe they’d allow a monopolizing merger without…without…” He trailed off, unwilling to complete the thought necessary for finishing his sentence. “What about the other company’s CEO and investors? What’d they have to say about this acquisition? They must’ve agreed, right?” Regal grew angry when Desmond didn’t reply. “Papa! Were they in on this, too? They had to be! They had to know this was illegal.”
The smile on Desmond’s face was frighteningly sincere and devoid of scandalous intent. “It’s not important.”
“But you hired a detective.”
“I did. It was all a show to appease the rest of my management team. Although, I lied about hiring financial advisers. One meeting with one detective was enough to curb suspicions for now.”
Throwing that thought aside, Regal desperately asked, “H-how do you know…about my desire to protect the land? How…?”
In the same innocent manner, and with the same loving smile, Desmond replied, “Because, my son, it’s your destiny.”
Regal stared at Desmond. That was all he could do.
“I said not to worry,” Desmond continued. “Follow your heart. Take your fiancée and leave this place. If that is what you truly desire, then that is how the earth will prosper.”
Without a doubt, the man was not the same man Regal had known, respected, looked up to, followed, learned from, and loved.
Regal’s throat tightened, but the words still broke free.
“Why are you telling me?” Regal wasn’t expecting any sort of answer, but the question begged to be asked. “I could expose you. Your actions, your crimes, are serious.”
Although they’re also my crimes, Regal thought.
“Because it’s not important,” Desmond replied confidently. “I may get caught, eventually. This is all to create a narrow opening of opportunity for you, and this is the timeframe you’ve been granted. If my downfall results from it, then so be it.”
Regal glanced around, still not seeing the disguised individual, but knowing their invisibility might have been in use.
“Have you been working with someone who keeps their face covered?” Regal kept his voice low. “And their entire body?”
Desmond wrinkled his forehead. “No. Why would I know someone like that?”
“Because I think they’re messing with the company and the acquisition, too.”
“I haven’t met such a person,” Desmond said, “but if they’re a part of the scandal somehow, then it’s probably all for your destiny.”
“Don’t tell me about ‘destiny’!”
“It’s true, Regal.”
“No, it’s not! Please listen to me.” Regal stood directly in front of Desmond, eye-to-eye. Desmond was slightly shorter, only because age had compressed his spine to lose nearly an inch, as time would continue to do so. “Papa…Father, it’s all my fault. You don’t need to lie, please. I know it wasn’t you, because it was me. I’m the one responsible for the scandal. Me and another person.”
He gripped his father’s collared, button-up shirt, wrinkling the starched material with sweaty palms, loathing the fact that he had, indeed, become the scapegoat for the disguised scoundrel whose identity was still a secret.
“You don’t need to cover up for me…” Regal uttered. “I’ll confess… I’ll turn myself in. I won’t run, but face the repercussions myself. Don’t ruin your company for me. Don’t ruin your life for me.”
Again, Desmond’s face went blank. Nothing entered his ears. Regal’s words did not process in his brain. Instead, he blinked and smiled.
“You must follow your heart, Regal.”
“No!” Regal yelled in his father’s face. “I’m done with that bullshit!”
“You must follow your heart. It’s what must be.”
“Now go. Be free. Set right what’s wrong.”
“I love you, my son.”
My dearest child, protector of my bounties.
Regal shook with rage, pushing Desmond back, making him hit the table, stagger, and grab onto one of the outdoor wicker chairs to regain his balance. To Regal’s horror, Desmond only smiled as he stood himself back upright.
“You are not my father,” Regal growled.
“Then who am I?”
It could have been Regal’s imagination, but he sensed smugness in Desmond’s response.
Taking much consideration in his answer, Regal said, “You’re…just another victim…”
The young man turned to leave and stormed through the terrace to the elevator. He flung open the door to the elevator room, damaging the hinges.
Through the blackest of sunglasses, the cloaked individual watched Regal’s tumultuous behavior, and followed him into the elevator, leaving the trash can full of belongings behind. During the ride to the ground level floor, the large young man huffed and paced.
“I heard your conversation, Regal. Don’t think you can leave all of this behind.”
“What is going on?” Regal snarled. “This doesn’t make any sense.”
“It’s simpler than you think,” the disguised person said. “Your contract with me gave you the powers you possess. Those powers are at work in a lot of ways. More ways than you know, and more than I expected.”
Regal glared at the ski mask.
“Tell me what you mean,” he demanded through his teeth.
“Whatever it is you desire has manifested in the real world,” the fake voice explained. “It’s quite remarkable. Even I’m surprised by the exact way it’s unfolded, but it makes sense.”
“I said explain.”
“Your father is under your influence. His actions and mindset are a direct result of your powers, and your powers are the direct result of your desires.”
“Are you saying it’s my fault my father is destroying his company?”
“Yes.” The masked person crossed their arms, seemingly amused. “As I said, I’m also surprised by this.”
“How the hell do you know this?” Regal asked. “I have every right not to believe you!”
“Your disbelief won’t make it any less true. I am the contractor of your power, and because of that, I can sense your powers and understand what they’re doing…apparently better than you understand.”
Regal snorted angrily, and the hooded individual continued to speak.
“Your desire was to protect the earth; your plan to do so was to restrict the flow of resources consumed by people; your father is in charge of the most influential entity of food resources in this half of the country. However, for him to fall under your influence, he needed an opening. I provided that opening for him—I took care of the officials who’d stand in his way, and he immediately acted as such. Your powers followed your whim, and everything fell into place.”
“It was you.” Regal shook with anger. “What’d you do to those people? They wouldn’t allow my father’s actions otherwise…so you bribed them?” A chill ran through him. “Or…”
“I have my ways of dealing with people. You see, I sometimes hear the whispers of truth in my heart, too, and they guide me to act accordingly, just as they do for you. I knew who to get rid of, but I didn’t understand at first. Our powers are kin, and they are truly phenomenal!”
It felt as if Regal’s blood had stopped flowing.
“…My powers are that influential?”
“I’m fascinated, too.”
Regal looked at the elevator ceiling.
“This isn’t what I wanted.”
“Yes it is, so get over yourself! You’re past the point of no return, so there’s only one option. Listen to what’s inside you. Get rid of this so-called blight of nature that you’re opposed to. Those were the conditions when you signed with me, and there’s no backing out. What was in your heart when we forged the contract? Remember what your thoughts and feelings were at that time, because that’s what you must follow from now on. I won’t let you stray from our deal.”
Regal leaned against the elevator wall. The elevator was always slow, but the ride seemed to stretch on forever.
“I-I don’t remember that time…”
“Whatever. Your subconscious is doing all the work. It’s not so bad.” The voice behind the dust mask took on an upward inflection, as if the mouth was smiling. “You’ll get what you asked for. Also, you and your fiancée might even be prosperous in the end. Think of it, you and her can be the Adam and Eve of—”
Without warning, Regal hurled his fist at the masked face. All of his physical strength, along with the exponentially more powerful force of the shadowy elements within him, created a strong ripple of energy that split the treated wood walls of the elevator. A wailing groan from outside warned against such a shock while the elevator was in use.
Even with so much power behind the punch, Regal’s fist stopped inches before the disguised face. A bizarre sensation pushed against him, holding his strike at bay, keeping him from touching the cloaked individual, who didn’t budge in the slightest.
He pushed. He strained with everything he had. There was no getting closer to the masked face. After a few futile seconds, Regal gave up. A staredown commenced.
“Good,” the fake voice said. “Turn that anger against the true enemy of your heart. I won’t say it again, Regal Landers. Give in to your destiny.”
The elevator reached the ground floor, coming to a stop, and the doors opened to reveal the hulking black-furred titan standing in the dark headquarters lobby, waiting for its master.
“My destiny…” Regal looked at the enormous quadruped, the gift of his contract. “This is all I can do now…”
Protect me, Regal, the messages from beyond whispered to Regal’s heart. You are the chosen one.
Unable to resist any longer, Regal surrendered himself. His spirit was weary, his body famished by the continual doubts, fear, and shame squeezing him, making him want to break down on the spot.
Regal held his gaze with the four-legged beast. His soul slowly tangled with the quadruped, an invisible act, and he began salivating from the euphoria of his wavelengths matching with the beast’s negative energy. All of his inhibitions disappeared, presenting to him an endless surplus of opportunity, of truth, and of plentiful achievement.
Wiping his mouth, he told the giant jabberwocky, “Hmm? Ah, I understand.”
“You’re communicating with your gift?” the disguised individual asked. “Now you’re learning how to make use of it.”
I was such a moron, Regal thought as his mind coalesced with the voice that had tenaciously begged for his attention. How could I fear such a straightforward truth, such a beautiful thing? Sandra…she’ll be among the first who dies, since I’ve already taken her bounties, so she’ll soon starve to death without the nourishment needed by all living things. I’ll get revenge on her for misguiding me…
“I see it now,” Regal said with a content tone, his eyes flashing red. “This feeling I had earlier is what’s real.”
“It must feel good,” the hooded person said.
“You need to know something.” The sly grin on Regal’s face stretched wide. “There are others with superhuman powers.”
The masked individual turned their head toward Regal.
“What?” A hint of disbelief rimmed the altered voice.
“They stood against me. They’re trying to stop us. It’s time to take care of them, our enemies, the blight of the land.”
The black-furred monstrosity stepped toward Regal.
“I’ll do it,” Regal said to it, his lips twisting into a huge grin. “You’ll make a fine vessel for me to ride.”
Not more than a second later, the titan opened its mouth. The jaw unhinged and cheeks split, allowing for a gaping maw to spread from its top jaw down to its chest, creating an enormous rift of astronomically voracious hunger as its entire head and neck opened to expose a bevy of squirming fangs. Crops of sharp, fingerlike teeth sprouted from the bottom jaw, which dragged across the floor as the beast walked forward, while the top set of teeth stretched high into the air.
In the next instant, both hideous jaws clamped down on Regal, swallowing him at once and taking a portion of the floor with. The sound of the snapping bite was louder than a shotgun, and was music to the ears of the cloaked witness, who watched in amazement as the four-legged cretin morphed into another form: morbidly obese with a greedy mouth overflowing with acidic saliva of substances that couldn’t be created with anything on the periodic table of elements.
“There are others with superhuman powers?” the masked person muttered, soon ignoring the hideous evolution of Regal and the cretin. “This is a problem.”The black hole in the titan’s belly opened up, stealing nature’s bounties from the citizens of Chicago and feeding into an infinite appetite.