Chapter 50:

Book 2, Ch. 25: Into the Deepest Red

ANNO DOMINI ~Allium~ [Beta version]

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“This requires immediate action.” Father Buck Dood stood next to his desk in his minimally furnished office. The team of Desphelmers occupied the room, having arrived moments earlier at Saint Baptiste Monastery, dirty and tired and desperate. “Such a heathen must not be left to wander freely.”Bookmark here

Although the group had no physical injuries due to Sandra’s marvelous Heal ability, Father Dood could see the impression of a tragedy.Bookmark here

“I know we need to do something,” Al said hastily, repetitively tapping her foot on the floor, “but what can we do?” Her voice quivered as she addressed Father Dood and Sister Farrah. “The enemy is strong. Very strong.”Bookmark here

“Gunnhildr is the fastest way to end it,” Chris said, making the sleek pistol appear in his hand.Bookmark here

Bret grunted. “But we gotta wait twelve hours, or however long we have left.”Bookmark here

“How long do we have, Excalibur?” Chris asked his phone.Bookmark here

“Nine hours, fifty-one minutes, and twenty-one seconds,” the app answered.Bookmark here

The sturdy priest gave a disapproving look to Chris’ smartphone.Bookmark here

“Sorry, Father,” Chris said firmly, “but Excalibur is an important tool for us. I keep it with me at all times, and it won’t turn off.”Bookmark here

Hesitant, Father Dood replied, “Then I’ll allow it.”Bookmark here

He looked around at the ragged team, especially noticing Sandra leaning against the wall; she’d neither spoken nor moved during the meeting, wearing Chris’ bloody Callout 89 hoodie.Bookmark here

Father Dood added, “You all must be tired. We’ll arrange for you to stay here another night.”Bookmark here

“And hungry,” Al muttered, rubbing her stomach. “We worked really hard today, and we’re mentally beat up…so a good meal is a good idea.”Bookmark here

Father Dood nodded. “Agreed. I am quite hungry as well, although supper is already over. I can provide bread and water for you, but do not expect a full meal.”Bookmark here

Nobody replied, but cast sorrowful eyes at nothing in particular.Bookmark here

“I know you’re all troubled.” Sister Farrah stepped into the middle of the room to speak closely to everyone, her solid expression softened a little by empathy.Bookmark here

Robbie let out an angry chuckle. “We almost died!” he said, raising his voice. “That guy had murderous intent…no, that thing he had with him was made from murderous intent!” Robbie calmed down and stared at Sister Farrah. “Do you know how damn freaked out we were seeing everyone get manhandled like we were? So, yeah…we’re really troubled.”Bookmark here

“We know exactly what that’s like,” Father Dood told Robbie, stepping up to the boy. “There were many more followers who would be living here with us,”—he stopped in front of Robbie, lowering his voice, keeping eye contact— “and I personally watched many of them lose their lives or their souls, one at a time, over the course of two decades…often over spilled blood.”Bookmark here

Robbie stared at the priest in awe, then looked away.Bookmark here

“You must remain strong,” Sister Farrah told everyone, still speaking softly, “There is nothing we can do at the moment except rest, so take this opportunity to get the vital rest you require.”Bookmark here

Father Dood straightened his posture. “Sister Farrah Elaina is right. You all must rest. First thing tomorrow, we’ll take action. Until then, I will continue aiding Sister Farrah and Brother Benjamin to restore Aleph-Naught’s bandalores.” He smiled at Al. “I believe we are nearly finished.”Bookmark here

“Nice.” Al smirked, rubbing her chin. “I’ll be back in action soon!”Bookmark here

“I’ll grant you permission to use the refectory,” Father Dood told Chris and his companions. “We can’t offer much, but it will restore your bodies. Desphelmers or not, it seems your gifts won’t protect you from starvation and fatigue. You may use the washrooms as well, and we have some spare robes if you wish for one.”Bookmark here

With little delay, Father Dood led his guests out of the minimally furnished office.Bookmark here

*******Bookmark here

The food, as promised, was simple bread, baked earlier that day by the monastery residents. Being homemade, the bread had a characteristic chewiness and freshness, but also a familiar blandness of pure sustenance without manufactured flavor. It did nothing to curb the appetite nor soothe the mind, but it was food, nonetheless.Bookmark here

Robbie laboriously chewed his bread, looking down at the plain wood table in the refectory. The room reminded him of a cave cut into a perfect, squared-off hollow fitted with the longest benches he had ever seen, and was very similar to the washrooms they had used prior to eating.Bookmark here

“I really don’t want to eat this,” he muttered, cringing from the bread he held, “but I’m starving. It’s like my appetite is gone, but my stomach is empty.Bookmark here

“Same here,” Al said between bites. “We need to keep up our strength, though.”Bookmark here

Eating was unpleasant and painful, but a sharp hunger in their bellies provided a strong incentive to finish the offering. Afterward, slowly and reluctantly, Chris and the others followed Father Dood and Sister Farrah to the residential quarters.Bookmark here

Sleep? Chris thought, the words in his head echoing into the vast overhead rises of the stone corridor. There’s no way…no way…Bookmark here

In the room, Chris called his mother and lied about staying the night at Drake’s house again. Sleep eluded the boy as he lay in the modest bed, listening to the snoring of Robbie and Bret from the other bunks. His stomach continued to rumble, the effects of the bread imperceptible.Bookmark here

Hours passed. After one in the morning, Excalibur detected two low-threat beings of malevolence, and Chris dismissed them.Bookmark here

At some point, he fell asleep, but upon waking, he checked his phone and saw it was just after 5:00 AM. On his phone’s internet browser, he did a search for Agrarian-Schism, Inc. and learned the headquarters was in The Loop.Bookmark here

Regal works there, he thought, looking at the displayed information. We never found out if he or the company have anything to do with the food prices.Bookmark here

Chris stretched out on the plain bed. “But that’s not why we’re after him. He needs to be helped.” Bookmark here

Restless and far from falling asleep, he got out of bed, then quietly snuck out of the room. All of the corridor candles were still lit, as they seemed to always be, so he wandered through the monastery with little effort. The other residents were probably waking up, if they hadn’t already.Bookmark here

“You know what I hate most about what we’ve been doing?” he asked aloud, probably to Excalibur.Bookmark here

“Are you referring to your tasks that Lavi had burdened you with?” the app replied.Bookmark here

“Yeah.” Chris looked around at the stone walls that gently carried the sound of his footsteps. “I hate how the others have to risk their lives.”Bookmark here

“Your allies are essential to your development and tasks.”Bookmark here

“I…don’t know if I can accept that. I wonder if there’s a better way, so they don’t have to suffer.”Bookmark here

The app offered no response.Bookmark here

Outside, Chris approached the heavy, spike-tipped monastery gate and stopped. The orange glow over the city gave illumination, but the absence of electricity at Saint Baptiste Monastery kept the area dark. Looking through the gate’s metal bars, he knew he could easily leave, but returning would require being let in—although he figured he was always welcome.Bookmark here

“Chris?”Bookmark here

Sandra approached the boy. She was wearing a simple robe similar to the ones the residents wore.Bookmark here

“Hey,” Chris said. “What are you doing out here?”Bookmark here

“Clearing my mind.” Sandra looked toward the sky. “Open spaces help when I’m anxious.”Bookmark here

“Is that robe from the monastery?”Bookmark here

“Yeah, my clothes are ruined.” Sandra spread out her arms and did a half turn, showing off the cloth that reached down below her knees. “It’s kinda comfortable.” She looked at Chris. “Are you taking a walk, too?”Bookmark here

“Something like that,” Chris replied. “I can’t sleep knowing we need to stop Regal.”Bookmark here

The moment Sandra took before speaking was a harsh silence.Bookmark here

She gripped her fists. “I still can’t believe what happened.” Before Chris could speak, she quickly added, “Don’t worry about me. I’m better now. I know I can’t keep denying things, and that just isn’t my style.” She turned away and cracked a big smile. “I mean, a frickin’ angel came to me! I have a mission now, a real direction for my life, something to strive my ass off for, and I just know the adventure will be unlike anything my other college classmates will ever get to experience.”Bookmark here

“That’s the kind of thing you love, isn’t it?” Chris asked, grinning.Bookmark here

Sandra chuckled. “Oh yeah, it sure is.” Looking at Chris, she warmly added, “And because I trust you, Chris. I really mean that. Just so you know, it takes a lot to earn my trust…but I can tell that about you. I can tell that you’re not like most people, especially kids your age.”Bookmark here

“I just do what I do.” The boy shrugged, but was happy nonetheless.Bookmark here

As the young woman looked back at the orange sky, Chris was still troubled.Bookmark here

“Excalibur,” he muttered, holding his phone. “Show me all of the negative energy targets.”Bookmark here

“Here you are.”Bookmark here

Two monster face icons appeared on the GPS, one labeled “Home” and the other “Shocking.” He viewed their information, both having no picture data. Home was described as “nonhuman, humanoid” and Shocking was “nonhuman, amorphous.”Bookmark here

Chris sighed. “These aren’t the ones we encountered yesterday, aren’t they?”Bookmark here

“No,” the app answered. “The target named Regal Landers has not been detected since the previous encounter, and the so-called ‘big monster’ has never once been registered.”Bookmark here

There has to be some other way to find them, Chris thought. With that much negative energy, there has to be a way.Bookmark here

“You can also detect positive energy, right?” Chris asked.Bookmark here

“I can detect signals provided by people who have learned of Lavi’s true identity, whom you refer to as the Desphelmers. That is what I conclude is your idea of positive energy. Buck Dood, Farrah Elaina, and Aleph-Naught are not within my parameters.”Bookmark here

“Uh, how about other signals? You can detect everything a regular cellular phone can, can’t you?”Bookmark here

“Yes.”Bookmark here

“Ah.” Sandra gave it some thought. “Is it possible that negative energy has an effect on other signals?”Bookmark here

“In fact, it does,” the app replied. “Although the interferences are various and not yet documented, it may be possible to estimate the presence of negative energy by observing the disruption of other signals.”Bookmark here

A weight lifted from Chris’ shoulders.Bookmark here

“All right,” he said. “That might be what we need to do.”Bookmark here

“Please realize that signal interference happens at all times and in many ways. My search results will likely return many irrelevant results.”Bookmark here

“It’s worth a shot.”Bookmark here

“Understood. What parameters should I use during my detection?”Bookmark here

“Uh…I don’t know. Try all of them first.”Bookmark here

“Very well,” Excalibur said. “The search has generated over two hundred seventy-six trillion results. Would you like to view them?”Bookmark here

Chris and Sandra bugged their eyes out.Bookmark here

“N-no,” Chris said with an airy chuckle, “I wouldn’t. Um, how about you take out the results that you absolutely know aren’t caused by negative energy?”Bookmark here

“Very well. The search has generated seventeen thousand one hundred eighty-three results.”Bookmark here

“Ahh…that’s still a lot…”Bookmark here

“I have a suggestion,” the app said. “I have a record of all signals detected since the start of my operations. I can use these records to compare to current detections. That may help determine which interferences are most unusual.”Bookmark here

“Oh,” Chris said, “if you say so…”Bookmark here

“To further narrow the results, I can attempt to generate hundreds of forecasts based on Regal Landers’ negative energy increase before he exited my detection parameters, which will create hypothetical blueprints of his signal. I will then compare those forecasted blueprints to the interferences to estimate which signal may be his.”Bookmark here

“Fine, okay,” Chris said impatiently, unable to follow the app’s wordy explanation. “Do it.”Bookmark here

“The search has returned two hundred seventy-seven results.”Bookmark here

Chris scratched his head with a long sigh.Bookmark here

“Guess we’ll have to check them all.”Bookmark here

“However, there is one result with exceptional qualities,” Excalibur said. “This single result appears to be creating a ‘dead zone’ of sorts, where all signals are either absent or heavily distorted beyond standard activity.”Bookmark here

“Really?” Now Chris was intrigued.Bookmark here

“Yes. The quantity of interference is eight hundred fifty-four percent higher than the second-most interference-based search result. In other words, it is a particularly significant phenomenon within these current search parameters.”Bookmark here

“That sounds like a hit to me! Bring it up on the GPS.”Bookmark here

“Here is the area of effect. It is color-coded to show the various intensity of interference, but I believe it all to be part of a single system with a single source.”Bookmark here

A colored area appeared on the GPS, covering all of the business district in The Loop, along with the neighboring areas. According to the onscreen color code, blue was the least intensity with red as the most intensity; there was a red center that slowly progressed to blue farther out, so it seemed likely that it was coming from a specific source.Bookmark here

“Wow,” Chris whispered, “it’s amazing that you could find this. But,” he frowned, feeling his chest tighten, “it’s a huge area, and it looks centered right in downtown.”Bookmark here

“Agrarian-Schism has their headquarters around there,” Sandra said, pointing at the phone screen. “If Regal had a reason to go there, then this must be showing it.”Bookmark here

“Although I cannot detect the negative energy itself,” Excalibur told him, “if it is indeed negative energy, it is a truly colossal quantity. Judging by my general knowledge of negative energy, I believe any carbon-based lifeforms in the indicated vicinity would be experiencing a very unpleasant stimulus, as it may be detrimental to their biological functions.”Bookmark here

“Meaning it’s dangerous.” Chris pulled the large monastery gate open and stepped out without hesitation. “We have to go now.” Holding the gate, he looked at Sandra. “What about you? Do you wanna see about Excalibur’s forecast?”Bookmark here

Sandra hesitated, the lack of illumination accenting the darkness under her eyes. However, she looked up at Chris and smirked.Bookmark here

“What’d I tell you when we first met? Hell yes, I’m coming with you.” She glanced at the monastery. “What about the others?”Bookmark here

“I don’t want to involve them,” Chris replied. “Really, I don’t want to involve you, either. It’s dangerous.”Bookmark here

“It’s definitely dangerous,” Sandra said, “but you’re stuck with me. You can’t offer me a good time and then stand me up.”Bookmark here

“Uh…”Bookmark here

She laughed. “Let’s go.”Bookmark here

*******Bookmark here

The traffic of early Sunday morning going into The Loop was practically nonexistent. Staring out the rideshare car’s window, Chris was somewhat weak as his stomach felt more empty than before. Although the bread he’d eaten at the monastery was a small portion, he still felt unusually hungry.Bookmark here

“You all right, kid?” the driver asked. He was a Pakistani man with a noticeable accent. “You look a little queasy.”Bookmark here

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Chris replied humbly. “I just feel a little off.”Bookmark here

“Well, you must be feeling good enough to joyride around the city at this time.” The driver grinned, keeping his eyes on the road. “I joke.”Bookmark here

“Early morning is the only time to party,” Sandra said with subtle jest.Bookmark here

Chris forced a chuckle, staring out the window.Bookmark here

I don’t feel sick, he thought, but I don’t feel right, either. I wonder what it is. He gripped his knees with both hands. It’s been like this ever since we fought Regal.Bookmark here

“I’ve been feeling tired, too,” the driver said. “I don’t know what it is, but it’s like I’m drained. Some of the other passengers are saying the same, too.”Bookmark here

“Are they?” Chris leaned forward to speak with the driver. “Like, what are they saying?”Bookmark here

“Just tired. Weak and hungry.” He eased the cab into the right lane, ready for the upcoming exit off the highway. “I hope it isn’t that ghost flu thing.” He grinned again. “I joke.”Bookmark here

This time, Sandra didn’t reply and Chris didn’t chuckle. In fact, the driver’s joke almost made too much sense.Bookmark here

An effect that everyone in the city feels… Chris thought. It has to be Regal’s ability.Bookmark here

Several blocks away from the destination, at the nucleus of redness on Chris’ map app, the driver suddenly pulled over.Bookmark here

“Sorry, but I can’t go any farther,” the driver said.Bookmark here

“Why not?” Sandra asked.Bookmark here

The driver shook his head. “It…doesn’t feel safe around here.” He scratched his chin nervously. “I’m very sorry, but I don’t want to be here.” He turned to look at his passengers. “You shouldn’t get out here. I’ll take you somewhere else, free of charge.”Bookmark here

However, Chris already had the door open. “You don’t need to get any closer, but I’m not going anywhere else.”Bookmark here

The driver sighed.Bookmark here

“If you say so. Be safe, kids.”Bookmark here

With a nod, Chris and Sandra got out of the rideshare car. The driver took off, quickly pulling a sharp U-turn; Chris made sure to leave him a good tip through the phone app. The air was chilly, but another sort of coldness made them shiver, sending goosebumps across their skin. Sandra had her borrowed robe, but Chris’ plain, white T-shirt did nothing for warmth.Bookmark here

Chris checked his GPS. “We have some walking to do.”Bookmark here

“What was the driver saying about everyone feeling tired?” Sandra asked. “It’s not just us…”Bookmark here

“It could be the negative energy,” Chris said. “I hate to think it’s the ghost flu, but…”Bookmark here

“Or,” Sandra said quietly, “it could be something Regal did. I think I first noticed it when we got into that fight with him.”Bookmark here

“You mean like something got taken from you?” Chris asked. “That’s kinda how I feel.”Bookmark here

“Yeah.” Sandra nodded. “That driver acted weird, too,” she muttered. “I wonder if there’s some evacuation effect.”Bookmark here

“That is possible,” Excalibur said, “but if there is as much negative energy nearby as I estimate, then humans and animals may be compelled on their own to leave.”Bookmark here

“I think it is negative energy.” Chris rubbed his arms as he and Sandra walked toward the marked indicator on his GPS. “I feel something…something similar to what I always feel against malicious entities,” he hung his head, “including humans with those kinds of abilities.”Bookmark here

“I am using this opportunity,” the app said, “to analyze, forecast, and calculate the various energy activities in this area. With this data, I may be able to request an update that allows me to directly detect this type of signal, thereby expanding my detection parameters.”Bookmark here

“Nice,” Chris replied, trying to sound enthusiastic.Bookmark here

Every step closer instinctively felt like a mistake, but Chris and Sandra forced themselves to ignore the doubt and malicious pulsations growing stronger. Nothing was visibly out of place, making it different from Erik’s smoggy aura of disease.Bookmark here

“Christopher,” Excalibur said, “the absolving bullet is now available with Gunnhildr.”Bookmark here

“All right, looks like I planned it right.” Chris looked around as he kept walking. “I wonder how different Regal’s powers are from Erik’s,” he said to himself. Excalibur and Sandra didn’t reply.Bookmark here

A block away from the marked destination, the color-coded indicator showed they were on the cusp of the deepest red zone. There wasn’t much farther to walk, yet Sandra stopped. She stared ahead down the empty street. Streetlights, signs, and traffic signals were lighting up a totally deserted path.Bookmark here

“What’s wrong?” Chris asked her.Bookmark here

Sandra trembled. Her pulse quickened as her breathing grew harsher. She bit her lip, taking another step, and stopped again.Bookmark here

I…I don’t want to keep going.Bookmark here

The prying abrasions of vicious vibes held her in place, and her instincts kept kicking at her, screaming to run away. The cab driver was correct: it didn’t feel safe there.Bookmark here

No, Sandra thought. I gotta keep going. I’m capable of keeping everyone safe. But…I really don’t know what to do…Bookmark here

“Christopher,” Excalibur said. “You are close. The destination should be on the screen.”Bookmark here

“I know,” Chris replied, looking at Sandra.Bookmark here

“If you say so,” Excalibur said. “I am merely speaking because you stopped for no apparent reason.”Bookmark here

“Hey,” Chris said to Sandra, “don’t push yourself. That negative energy can mess with you.”Bookmark here

A shiver ran up Sandra’s spine. “I’m scared.”Bookmark here

Chris put his hand on her shoulder.Bookmark here

“I’m scared too, actually,” he said. “It makes me a little ashamed to admit it. Do I really have a right to be afraid?”Bookmark here

While the boy battled the conflicting feelings, an unannounced calmness embraced him from behind, which he didn’t notice until the loving light covered him.Bookmark here

“Did I just hear you say you’re scared?” Lavi’s voice said from no single point.Bookmark here

The glowing angel floated down next to Chris and Sandra, his head glowing with a glorious halo of enlightenment, his white wings spread out.Bookmark here

“It’s you!” Sandra squeaked when she saw the divine display. “You’re Lavi…”Bookmark here

When Lavi’s brown suede shoes touched down on the sidewalk, he smiled at Chris and Sandra, and clasped his hands together.Bookmark here

Chris looked away. “Yeah, I am, and I don’t know if…um…”Bookmark here

“Don’t be ashamed of having fear,” Lavi said as if reading the boy’s mind. “It’s a natural reaction programmed into your (dare I say it) lizard brain.” He grinned. “The real shame comes from being dominated by it.”Bookmark here

“Is that so?” Chris asked softly. He looked down the street toward the source of wickedness. “What’s going on here?”Bookmark here

“Hmm, how to say this?” Lavi touched his index finger to his chin for a few seconds. “There’s somebody around here who needs you.”Bookmark here

“I figured that much…”Bookmark here

“But, to further answer your question,” Lavi added, “the keyword is ‘ascension.’” When Chris looked at him longingly, the angel said, “It’s a curious word, really, but I think it appropriately fits this situation.”Bookmark here

“What do you mean?”Bookmark here

“That man, Regal Landers, has done what many humans have been dreaming of throughout history.” Lavi held his hands behind his back, rocking back and forth on his toes and heels, seeming like he’d been wanting to give that explanation for a long time. “To say someone has ascended from mankind to something else is a vague, controversial topic. For good reason, though. Where do you draw the line that must be crossed to cease being human?”Bookmark here

Chris shrugged. “I really don’t know.”Bookmark here

“That’s okay, I don’t expect you to know that answer yet,” Lavi said.Bookmark here

“You’re saying Regal isn’t human anymore?” Sandra looked at the angel directly.Bookmark here

“That depends on where you draw the line between human and elsewise,” Lavi told her.Bookmark here

“That’s kinda freaky,” Chris murmured, “if Regal is…something else now.”Bookmark here

“Yes, it is. Believe it or not, this is a mystifying experience for me as well.” The blond angel gave Chris a sideways glance, smirking. “Now, with that subject behind us, I’m curious as to why you came here without your other allies.”Bookmark here

Knowing the answer right away, Chris replied, “I don’t want them to get hurt. This is my fate and duty. You said yourself that I’m the special one…the savior of mankind.”Bookmark here

“I did say that,” Lavi said, “however, ask yourself this: How much do you believe that?”Bookmark here

“I absolutely do. It wasn’t a new thought that occurred to me when you revealed your identity, but was always there.”Bookmark here

Lavi nodded, satisfied. “Excellent. But you screwed up.”Bookmark here

“Huh? How?”Bookmark here

“You forgot and dismissed your most valuable asset. Your friends and relationships are absolutely essential to your journey.”Bookmark here

“But they’ll be in danger!” Chris protested. “I can’t let that happen.”Bookmark here

Shrugging flippantly, Lavi said, “Meh, you’ll learn.”Bookmark here

“You don’t sound convincing.”Bookmark here

“I don’t need to be convincing. Anyhow, you should probably get going. The negative energy here is positively sweltering, and is growing every second.”Bookmark here

Chris baulked at the thought of proceeding.Bookmark here

“Will you come with us?” he asked the angel.Bookmark here

As expected, Lavi shook his radiant head.Bookmark here

“Nope, I can’t come with you because I don’t have permission. I can’t be a party member. Angels are incapable of breaking the rules, you see.”Bookmark here

“But you showed up here anyway,” Chris said, “or did you get sent here just now?”Bookmark here

“Don’t try to understand how we angels work. You’ll hurt your noggin with those concepts! But I’ll say this, Christopher, you needed to have this chat with me before going any farther, so that’s why I’m here.”Bookmark here

“Oh.” Chris gulped. “Well then…I can’t let fear stop me!” the boy declared with confidence. He closed his eyes, finding the courage to forge ahead.Bookmark here

I don’t just have to do this. I want to do this! I’ve always wanted to…and this negative energy is only messing with my head. Yeah, thinking about it like that makes it much better.Bookmark here

He opened his eyes and turned to thank Lavi, but the street was lit only by the manmade illumination and first signs of sunrise; the divine glow was now gone.Bookmark here

“He left,” Sandra said flatly.Bookmark here

“Way to just leave,” Chris muttered, irritated.Bookmark here

“He’s kinda flaky.”Bookmark here

“Kinda.”Bookmark here

Taking a deep breath with his phone pointing the way, Chris ventured into the regions thickest with villainous intent, Sandra beside him.
Jio Kurenai
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