Chapter 54:

Book 2, Ch. 29: Most Devoted

ANNO DOMINI ~Allium~ [Beta version]

***THANKS FOR READING!***Bookmark here

Hey, Honeyfeeders! I had expected to exceed the character limit for this chapter, as the previous chapter gave me the same concern, and this one is slightly longer. Being where the story is now, I felt it would interrupt the flow if I divided these longer chapters. Fortunately, I didn't need to.Bookmark here

*******Bookmark here


“Marilyn Collins?”Bookmark here

“Here.”Bookmark here

“Lori Elway?”Bookmark here

“Here.”Bookmark here

“Dan Evans?”Bookmark here

“Here.”Bookmark here

“Chris Findale?” Ned Jackson looked up from the list of students’ names during Monday homeroom roll call. “No Chris?”Bookmark here

“Oh, here. Sorry.”Bookmark here

“Anne Foster?”Bookmark here

“Here.”Bookmark here

“Erik Hawthorne?”Bookmark here

“Here.”Bookmark here

There was always noticeable awkwardness whenever Erik was present in school. Feeling this familiar air of subtle attention, Erik kept his head low and stared at his desk. To make matters more uncomfortable, Chris was also in class that day, although he didn’t react to Erik’s presence; it was as if Chris didn’t acknowledge the sickly boy’s return after a weeklong absence.Bookmark here

My first day back, Erik thought, and it already feels like I’m out of place. He looked at the back of Chris’ head and dark brown hair. I need to get over it, but it’s not easy.Bookmark here

Marilyn Collins bounced her leg under her desk and tapped her pencil on her history test study worksheet. Glancing at Chris, she saw that same lackluster demeanor he’d carried for the past couple weeks, and she wondered if there was anything she could do to cheer him up.Bookmark here

After roll call, Mr. Jackson looked around the room and sighed.Bookmark here

“I know some of you are sneaking snacks in here,” he said to his class. A sudden rustle of plastic and cardboard resulted from several students attempting to conceal their crackers, chips, and veggie sticks. “Save it for lunch, and no eating in the halls outside the designated commons.”Bookmark here

When homeroom ended, Marilyn headed straight up to Chris’ desk. However, Erik made it there seconds before, as if he’d been waiting for the opportunity to speak.Bookmark here

“Hey, Chris,” Erik said.Bookmark here

Chris looked at Erik and smiled. “Hey, what’s up, Erik? Glad to see you’re in school today.”Bookmark here

Erik nodded with a meager smirk.Bookmark here

“Yeah,” he replied. “It’s all thanks to you, man. For your support, I mean, and everything you did.”Bookmark here

Noticing Marilyn standing there, Chris said, “No problem, dude.”Bookmark here

“It was a huge problem!” Erik retaliated, raising his voice enough to catch other students’ attention. He shook his head and chuckled. “But…it’s over now.”Bookmark here

Chris patted Erik’s shoulder.Bookmark here

“I have your back, Erik. Ask me if you need something, all right?”Bookmark here

“Awww!” Marilyn pushed her puppy dog face into the conversation. “Did I just witness a friendship being born?”Bookmark here

Both boys looked at her, surprised at first, and chuckled.Bookmark here

“I think you did,” Chris replied.Bookmark here

Erik grinned at the thought, but soon turned sullen.Bookmark here

“I really need to make up with Robbie.” Erik sighed, looking at the interactive whiteboard for no reason. “He helped me through this, too.”Bookmark here

“I’m sure he’ll forgive you,” Chris said. “Just be honest.”Bookmark here

“Yeah,” Erik said, finding his confidence.Bookmark here

*******Bookmark here

As Chris stared at his history test, he regretted his decision to research conspiracy theories rather than fill out his study guide. Adding to that, only one multiple choice question featured “Illiniwek Juncture” as an answer (which Chris believed was incorrect).Bookmark here

I didn’t really study with Marilyn that time, he thought with dismay. I wonder how she’ll do on this test.Bookmark here

The rest of the day dragged by. With the memories of Regal still fresh in Chris’ mind, focusing on school was impossible. The teachers’ lessons disappeared as soon as they entered his ears. The worksheets and homework assignments meant nothing.Bookmark here

“What is wrong with you guys?” Garret asked Chris, Robbie, and Drake at lunch. “You all look bummed out and stuff.”Bookmark here

Chris and Robbie didn’t respond. They had been quietly eating their lunches that seemed too insufficient, too painful to ingest, overloaded with flavor and weight…although the portions were no smaller than previous lunches. Hunger, it seemed, was constantly unsated.Bookmark here

Drake, on the other hand, lashed out. “Maybe we just don’t feel like talking, Garret!”Bookmark here

“Whoa, didn’t mean to stab a nerve,” the pudgy Canadian boy replied. “Don’t be a hoser. I’ll let you play with Mont Blanc after school if that’ll make you feel better.”Bookmark here

“I don’t… Well, maybe.” Drake considered the cuddly beaver’s face. “We’re just in a bad mood, so don’t bother us about it.”Bookmark here

Garret shoveled a fork-load of pork curry loaf into his mouth and gulped it down, following it with an entire blueberry punch juice box in a single slurp.Bookmark here

“No lie, I’m used to you being moody, Drake,” Garret said flatly. “And you’ve barely touched your food. I’m not hungry, but this loaf is ratchet.”Bookmark here

“I don’t really feel like eating,” Drake muttered.Bookmark here

Garret looked at the other two boys at the table. “But Chris and this guy…Robbie, was it? You always seem to be immune to the badness that flocks around here. So, it’s weird seeing you two down, and it makes me kinda uncomfortable, like something really bad is looming on the doomy cliff side.”Bookmark here

Nobody replied.Bookmark here

Such was the sludgy trudge of the day, all the way up until Chris got out of woodshop.Bookmark here

Walking down the halls to his locker, Chris shook the sawdust from his hair and clothes. He stood in front of his open locker and stared at the stacks of books and folders. What were the homework assignments due tomorrow? Did it matter?Bookmark here

Sighing, Chris slipped on his hoodie bearing the Graveyard Shift Auto VI video game logo, and hoisted his empty book bag on his shoulder, leaving his homework behind, then closed the locker.Bookmark here

Drake wasn’t by the school statue of Frederick Randolph Lyons. Chris glanced around to look for him, but instead was met by Marilyn. Her cinnamon scent paired with her glowing expression, and she rocked on her heels and toes while talking to Chris.Bookmark here

“Hey,” she said with a melancholy-melting smile. “Whatcha doin’?”Bookmark here

“Uh, leaving.” Chris wasn’t sure how to answer something so obvious.Bookmark here

Marilyn laughed. “Yeah, I guess that’s true. Katie’s staying after classes today. Ms. Vaughn is helping her with math and stuff, so…” Marilyn brushed her burnt orange hair out of her face. “Do you wanna walk home with me? Not all the way, because we live in different places, but, like, ya know.”Bookmark here

Feeling glad to do so, Chris said, “For sure.”Bookmark here

“All right!” Marilyn nodded.Bookmark here

Amid the mass of students, Chris and Marilyn left through the main gate of Lyonbole Public High School. They were just two more students among the hundreds.Bookmark here

“So,” Marilyn said when the crowd had dispersed and they were around the block, “tell me something.”Bookmark here

“Hmm?”Bookmark here

Trying to find the words, she said, “Are you doing all right? You’ve been off, or something.”Bookmark here

Chris turned his gaze up at the sunny sky while they walked.Bookmark here

“You think so?” he asked, failing to cover the dimness behind that response.Bookmark here

“Well, yeah, kinda. Is it because of Drake? I thought because he’s been so down lately, you’ve been feeling it, too.”Bookmark here

How do I tell her this? Chris wondered, being put on the spot.Bookmark here

“No, not because of him,” he answered. “I’m…being more responsible these days. I guess that’s taking it out of me.”Bookmark here

Not replying right away, Marilyn said, “Yeah, I think I know what that’s like. I don’t wanna give up the things I know and love…but I’m starting to think that’s how it’s gotta be.” She smiled at Chris. “Maybe we’ll get better at it when we grow up.”Bookmark here

“I think we’re pretty grown up already,” Chris said with a smirk.Bookmark here

“Ha! Okay.” Marilyn turned her face away, suddenly feeling the need to sweat. “That’s what I like about you…”Bookmark here

Chris looked at Marilyn, who was looking off toward something in the distance.Bookmark here

“You what?” he asked, curious.Bookmark here

A ringtone interrupted whatever answer Marilyn was about to give. She removed her smartphone from her jacket and stopped walking, staring at the caller ID. The name displayed was “Ophelia.”Bookmark here

Chris watched her bring the phone to her ear and turn her back to him.Bookmark here

“Hi, Ophelia.” Marilyn’s voice was unlike how Chris had ever heard it; repressed…detained.Bookmark here

There was silence as Marilyn listened to Ophelia on the other end of the line.Bookmark here

“Is that…really?” Marilyn asked, confused, but still speaking as if she was afraid of conveying too much energy to the other person, even over the phone. “Okay. Yes, I will. I’ll hurry home now.”Bookmark here

She pressed the “call end” icon, and the small sound the phone made upon hanging up (a common, subtle sound) resounded definitively through the quietness.Bookmark here

Without turning to face Chris, she said, “That was my stepmother. It was about the photography contest I entered for the picture Eden’s Lance; I named it that from your suggestion.”Bookmark here

“Do you mean the one for the magazine?” Chris asked.Bookmark here

Marilyn nodded, slowly turning around, looking at the ground. “The results are in.”Bookmark here

“How’d you do?”Bookmark here

“I won.”Bookmark here

Chris was stunned. When Marilyn’s smile blew up on her face, he started to laugh.Bookmark here

“I won!” Marilyn repeated, her hazel eyes shining with jubilance.Bookmark here

The joy from the girl washed over Chris, making him chuckle.Bookmark here

“That’s great!” Chris told her, grinning. “Really, good for you!”Bookmark here

Marilyn’s face turned red from excitement and giddiness.Bookmark here

“I-I gotta hurry home,” she said, putting her phone into her jacket pocket. “Some of the magazine’s staff members are there to, like, take my picture, and stuff. Like an interview! They’re gonna feature me as part of the published results.”Bookmark here

“Then you better go now.”Bookmark here

“Yeah.” Marilyn hoisted her backpack straps up her shoulders. “Ooh, I’m so happy right now! ‘Eden’s Lance’ is the name for victory!”Bookmark here

She unexpectedly wrapped her arms around Chris, squeezing him tightly as she squealed with glee. Chris had to regain his balance as the excited girl rocked him in a hyper hug.Bookmark here

As he looked at Marilyn’s face up close, dazzling from her achievement, the homey scent of warm cinnamon circling around, and the energetic pressure of her hug…he received a glimpse of something hypnotically bright, something that starved the murkiness around it, something that possessed a verve vibrant enough to paralyze Chris in the moment.Bookmark here

Everything stood still as Chris experienced this temporary eternity, caused by the opened door leading to Marilyn’s soul…Bookmark here

…A soul that shined as bright as Lavi in all of his angelic, heavenly majesty. Deep inside, Chris could see how pure and sincere she was at that very moment.Bookmark here

Then Marilyn let go. The radiant light went away.Bookmark here

“All right, I’m going now!” she said. “Maybe I should, like, celebrate with a frazzleberry crepe. They’re so good! And I’m starving from this excitement!”Bookmark here

The sudden disappearance of the breathtaking, sunny ambience dazed Chris, and he almost forgot to reply.Bookmark here

“Uh, yeah! Definitely!”Bookmark here

“I knew my mother was right.” Marilyn put her hand on her chest, right where the gorgeous light had been nestled. “Good things are meant for me. I just gotta follow my heart, and it’ll take me where I need to go.”Bookmark here

Chris had nothing to say. For reasons he couldn’t explain, he did not want to say a single word in response.Bookmark here

“See ya tomorrow, Chris!” She turned and jogged away.Bookmark here

Now alone, Chris headed home. The smell of warm cinnamon stuck to his hoodie as he thought about the evening before him, devoid of homework.Bookmark here

*******Bookmark here

Plenty of daylight remained when Bret knocked on the door to the messy house in the Canaryville neighborhood. He stuffed his hands into the pockets of his dirty blue jeans, leaning his back against the side of the house while staring across the street.Bookmark here

The door opened as a tall man in his early twenties stood in the doorway, eating a huge slice of taco pizza. He rubbed his shaved head, greeting Bret with a blank look.Bookmark here

“Oh, it’s you,” Guy said to Bret with a mouthful of pizza. “What are you doing here?”Bookmark here

“I’m here to get something from you,” Bret replied, hardly looking up from the old porch floor.Bookmark here

Guy narrowed his eyes. “You know to call me ahead of time.”Bookmark here

“Can’t. Phone’s dead.”Bookmark here

“Dude, I’ll buy you a charger.”Bookmark here

Bret raised his chin. “I won’t say no.”Bookmark here

Inside the house, Guy closed the door and looked at Bret.Bookmark here

“So, how much do you want?” Guy asked. “I just got some powder in two days ago. It’s not the best, so I’m charging the regular price.”Bookmark here

A familiar smell of old food and dirty carpet hung in the living room, but Bret was already used to it. He took a deep breath and turned to Guy.Bookmark here

“The premium.” Bret pointed at Guy. “I’m here for that.”Bookmark here

Staring at Bret, Guy gave a dead serious look.Bookmark here

“Are you for real?” he asked, lowering his voice, letting some ground beef and cilantro tumble off his pizza and join the other dried, unidentifiable crumbs on the carpet.Bookmark here

“Yes, Guy, I’m for very real.”Bookmark here

Guy looked around the cluttered living room for a moment.Bookmark here

“You must be going through some deep shit, then,” he told Bret. “Are you okay to handle it?”Bookmark here

“Yeah, yeah, I am,” Bret grunted. “Things are just…intense right now. I need that to help me.”Bookmark here

“Well, if you say so,” Guy replied, “I’m not here to judge, but I just want to remind you, ya know…it’s dangerous.”Bookmark here

“I know, dammit. I just have something to take care of at school, so it’ll help.”Bookmark here

Stepping back, Guy was appalled by what Bret had said.Bookmark here

“For fuckin’ real, you’re gonna use it at school?”Bookmark here

Bret’s blood pressure rose into his head. “Hey! You just said you ain’t here to judge! I’m giving you cash for it, fair and square.”Bookmark here

Guy groaned, then shrugged.Bookmark here

“Right, okay,” he said. He crammed the rest of the pizza slice into his mouth and gestured for Bret to follow him. Walking through the living room, Bret snagged a slice of pizza from the box on the saggy couch and scarfed it down.Bookmark here

The two walked up the stairs to one of the rooms. Unlike the rest of the house, it was organized and clean, although loaded with shelves, drawers, and boxes. Guy retrieved a small wooden box with a hinged lid attached, which he showed to Bret.Bookmark here

“Here it is,” Guy said. He opened the lid to let Bret see inside. “Same price as I said. Comes with everything you need…for a school day.”Bookmark here

Bret’s face showed nothing as he took a wad of money from his pocket, staining the bills with taco pizza grease.Bookmark here

“Good,” he said, handing the money over. “It’s all there.”Bookmark here

Guy counted the cash and gave the box to Bret, who tucked it under his arm.Bookmark here

“I swear, Bret,” Guy said sternly, “I better not hear something about you for stupid-ass shit.”Bookmark here

“Whatever.” Bret walked out of the room.Bookmark here

“I’m for real!” Guy called. “Don’t be a jackass.”Bookmark here

“Thanks for the business!” Bret shouted back, not stopping.Bookmark here

By the time Guy made it back downstairs, Bret had left.Bookmark here

*******Bookmark here

Tuesday morning seemed to be a carbon copy repeat of Monday morning as Chris walked to school. His book bag felt odd, being so light from having nothing in it. When he made it to the main gate of Lyonbole Public High School, he stood and stared at the school building, ignoring a loud growl from his belly.Bookmark here

“Lavi,” he said to himself before joining the flow of students.Bookmark here

Robbie was already at the main office when Chris arrived.Bookmark here

“Talkin’ to Mr. Kampton?” Robbie asked.Bookmark here

“Yeah. You too?”Bookmark here

“Yup. He wasn’t here yesterday, so I’m checking today.”Bookmark here

Mrs. Brown wasn’t at her desk, so the boys headed straight to the vice principal’s office. The door was open, so they walked in.Bookmark here

Lavi was sitting behind his desk, probably doing nothing and already smiling before the door had opened. Already, he appeared chipper.Bookmark here

“Oh,” Lavi said, “good morning, boys!”Bookmark here

“I want to talk to you,” Chris said.Bookmark here

“Of course, no problem. Just close the door, will ya?”Bookmark here

As Chris reached for the door, Bret appeared.Bookmark here

“Oh, hey,” Chris greeted.Bookmark here

Bret ignored him, brushing past. He stood in front of Lavi’s desk.Bookmark here

“Okay, angel,” he stated firmly, “I’m here for answers.”Bookmark here

Lavi cocked his head.Bookmark here

“Of course you are,” he replied with a smile. “I know you have a lot of questions, especially because things have been hectic lately.”Bookmark here

“Damn straight, it’s been hectic.” Bret’s voice grew louder. “That’s why I’m here for answers.”Bookmark here

“Don’t worry,” Lavi told the teen, “whatever you need to know, I’ll help.”Bookmark here

“I don’t believe you!” Bret shouted. Chris and Robbie looked at each other, thinking the other office workers could probably hear. “You always say something stupid about trusting ourselves, or that the answers will come on their own. Well, I’m done with the runaround!”Bookmark here

The angel raised his eyebrows.Bookmark here

“Are you really done, Bret Taurus?” Lavi asked. “Or are you just frustrated?”Bookmark here

Bret clenched his teeth. “That all depends on if you’ll answer my questions, angel.”Bookmark here

“Bret!” Robbie hissed. “Watch what you say too loudly.”Bookmark here

When Chris reached for the door to close it, Bret pushed him away, forcing the door open with one hand.Bookmark here

“No,” Bret muttered, “it’s time to shove your secrets up your ass, Lavi.”Bookmark here

The angel smiled and stood up.Bookmark here

“Hey, hey…I know this is difficult for you, but—”Bookmark here

“Shut up!” Bret yelled. He slammed his fist on the desk, spittle spewing from his lips, his face shiny with sweat. “Only speak when I ask you a question, and only say the answers to my questions. Got it?”Bookmark here

Now with a straight face, Lavi gave his undivided attention to Bret.Bookmark here

“Very well,” the angel replied.Bookmark here

“Why are we the ones doing your dirty work?” Bret demanded.Bookmark here

“It is not up to me why you are responsible,” Lavi said straightforwardly.Bookmark here

“I said answers! That is not an answer!”Bookmark here

“I do not have the answer to that question, Bret Taurus.”Bookmark here

Bret trembled, his breathing shallow and audible.Bookmark here

“Then what are we really fighting?” the delinquent asked, glaring at Lavi. “We fought Erik, we fought Regal, we fight weird monsters made up of some kind of evil. What is it, really? What are we really up against? Why do we have to fight things I never knew existed until the other day?”Bookmark here

“You are fighting against that which threatens mankind,” Lavi said, interlocking his fingers. “Chris is the savior of mankind, and you are Chris’ companions. Together, you will fight the threats to the human race.”Bookmark here

“It’s bullshit that I’m involved!” Bret yelled.Bookmark here

“That’s one opinion,” the angel replied.Bookmark here

“Why do I have negative energy inside me? How did I get it?”Bookmark here

“I do not have the answer for that,” Lavi said. “Humans should not wield negative energy, so you should be careful.”Bookmark here

Bret wiped the sweat from his flushed face. His breathing grew heavy. “Was it because of that thing I met? It tried to bargain with me, and I know it did something to me, even though I turned it down!”Bookmark here

“I am not sure what you are talking about.”Bookmark here

“Yeah, of course you ain’t sure… And the Illiniwek Juncture,” Bret pried, “…what is it? Why’d you tell us about it?”Bookmark here

“I see you didn’t do your homework like I said.”Bookmark here

Kapow! Another dumbass reply!” Bret pounded his fist against the open door, slamming it into the wall, chipping the drywall. “Are you ever gonna answer my questions?”Bookmark here

“I just did,” Lavi told him.Bookmark here

“You’re a damn liar!” Bret hollered.Bookmark here

“Bret,” Chris grabbed the delinquent’s arm, “calm down!”Bookmark here

Pushing Chris away, Bret spat, “Screw you, Chris. From what it sounds like, this is all your fault! Everything me and Robbie and everyone else are stuck with…it’s because of you, Chris!” He turned to Lavi. “Ain’t that right, Lavi?”Bookmark here

“Yes, it is,” the angel replied.Bookmark here

“And you’re part of it!” Bret added, pointing at Lavi. “Really, I think you’re the kingpin of this shit!”Bookmark here

“You can say that,” Lavi said.Bookmark here

Bret shook with rage, fuming and seeing red as he stared at Lavi, who returned a rock-solid look of expressionless observation.Bookmark here

“Well, here’s what I think of that!” Bret reached into his jacket, sneering with violent anger, and removed a Beretta APX Compact pistol and pointed it at Lavi; ten rounds in the clip, one in the chamber. “Burn in Hell, you holy fucker!”Bookmark here

Pak! Pak! Pak!Bookmark here

The second and third bullets went through Lavi’s neck before getting stuck in the wall behind. The first bullet was the only one to hit Bret’s target, lodging itself inside Lavi’s head, having entered between his eyes.Bookmark here

Chris and Robbie flinched from the gunshots. Bret kept the gun aimed at Lavi, who remained standing with his arms held behind his back, a clean hole in his face, and two holes in his neck. The smell of gun smoke only made the situation more tangible and harder to erase from memory.Bookmark here

Bret tightened his hold on the gun. “Heh, figures you ain’t dead,” he huffed.Bookmark here

Another pistol was brandished, this time in Chris’ hands, sleek and chrome-like with no discernable features. Keeping the angel at gunpoint, Bret looked at Gunnhildr and furrowed his brow.Bookmark here

“Enough!” Chris shouted. “That’s it, Bret.”Bookmark here

What’s it?” Bret growled.Bookmark here

Entangled knot-work became bundled and crocheted inside Bret’s soul, making him suddenly pay uncanny attention to Chris, whose mean-looking eyes were bladed with anger. The delinquent wanted to deny the ropes of kinship connecting them both, but it was difficult to fight.Bookmark here

“I’ll free you of your darkness,” Chris told him, his voice solid with resolution. “That’s what I’m here for. We’ll share your pain together!”Bookmark here

A small puff sound filled Bret’s ears as he witnessed the silver beam from Gunnhildr pierce his chest. His breath locked and a feeling of being dipped in liquid silk wrapped around his body.Bookmark here

But the silver beam of the absolving bullet did not disappear. Chris sensed the distressful energy emanating from Bret while the delinquent tried to pull the beam from himself. However, the beam could not be grasped.Bookmark here

“Gaahh!” Bret groaned. He wasn’t in pain, but the unpleasantness was debilitating.Bookmark here

Starting from Bret’s chest, the silver beam turned black, and a dark shockwave surged back into Gunnhildr. Instantly, the holy handgun shattered into sparkling dust. Chris thought his hand had been blown off. He fell to the ground, but there was no injury. Gunnhildr had disintegrated.Bookmark here

Bret examined himself, assuming he was unharmed, baring his teeth.Bookmark here

Soul Ripper!”Bookmark here

The Beretta APX Compact fell to the floor. His hands mutated into scaly claws, and he plunged them both into Lavi’s torso.Bookmark here

In seconds, he yelped in fright and yanked them out, then cancelled Soul Ripper. His hands returned to normal as he stared at the bullet hole in the angel’s head.Bookmark here

“What are you?” Bret said almost in a whisper.Bookmark here

He grabbed his pistol, then dashed from the room, pushing past two office ladies who stood in the hallway, covering their mouths. Frantic whispers from the other office workers came from outside the room as Bret escaped, still brandishing his pistol.Bookmark here

Robbie pulled Chris back to his feet, who appeared unharmed.Bookmark here

“What the hell?” Robbie squeaked. “Wh-what…what…?”Bookmark here

“Calm yourselves.”Bookmark here

Swishing his hand, Lavi slammed the office door shut from afar, locked it, and established a magical barrier to ensure absolute privacy, all without moving from his spot.Bookmark here

Inside the quarantined room, the two boys watched the angel take his hand and squeeze his fingers into the bullet hole between his eyes. Disgusting suction and cracking sounds accompanied something they did not wish to witness, ending with Lavi holding the 9-millimeter bullet between his thumb and index finger. There was no blood.Bookmark here

“He should’ve known that gun would be useless,” Lavi said, looking at the bullet. His face had returned to normal, as with the two bullet holes in his neck, and he appeared as if nothing had happened.Bookmark here

“Bret just screwed everything for us!” Robbie shouted in despair. “The cops are coming! They’re gonna find out everything!Bookmark here

“This will not prevent your paths from continuing,” Lavi said, his tone deep and emotionless as he placed the bullet on his desk.Bookmark here

“H-he’s gonna be expelled and arrested,” Robbie continued, “and get thrown in prison!”Bookmark here

“I assure he will not get arrested for this,” Lavi replied, “although he will be expelled. My influence has its limits.”Bookmark here

Robbie grabbed his head with both hands.Bookmark here

“How can I be sure?” he whined. “How can I…?”Bookmark here

Summoning Gunnhildr, Chris was relieved the holy handgun was not destroyed, as it returned to his beck and call without delay.Bookmark here

“What happened there?” Chris asked, bewildered, checking over Gunnhildr. “I thought for sure that absolving bullet was on the right wavelength.”Bookmark here

“It was on the correct wavelength,” Lavi told him, “however, that was not an absolving bullet.”Bookmark here

“Huh?”Bookmark here

“Gunnhildr is more than just a purifier and cleanser of unholiness,” the angel explained. “As you grow into your role, your tools will grow with you, Gunnhildr included.”Bookmark here

Chris bit his lip. “Then, if it wasn’t an absolving bullet, what was it?” He further asserted himself, stepping toward the angel. “Lavi! What did that bullet do?”Bookmark here

“That particular bullet resulted from you wanting to share Bret’s pain,” Lavi said. “You took some of his negative energy for yourself.”Bookmark here

Shivers ran up Chris’ spine. He had heard correctly.Bookmark here

“What? I took his negative energy for myself…?”Bookmark here

The angel gave a look the boy could feel humming in his ribcage. It was not a feeling of Chris’ imagination.Bookmark here

“It’s the mark of a true savior,” Lavi explained. “You are embracing mankind for all it is, embracing with all its good and bad…”Bookmark here

“But—!”Bookmark here

Lavi stepped up to Chris, getting face-to-face.Bookmark here

“In that moment,” the angel told the boy upfront, so close that Chris’ skin tickled from the divine radiation, “when you pulled Gunnhildr’s trigger, your desire wasn’t to erase the dark energy from Bret, because you accept it as half of him and part of him. Instead, you wished to understand him, to feel his pain, and share that darkness with him. Your desire to understand his darkness is what attracted you to him from the beginning.”Bookmark here

Lavi pressed his palm against Chris’ chest. The angel’s light blue eyes had a peculiar shine, irises like rings of sunlight; it actually hurt Chris to look directly into them.Bookmark here

“That is what makes you most special, Christopher. You don’t want to annihilate the evil in people, but to embrace it as part of the whole, and stand beside those who are lost in the dark, facing the trials together. I will reiterate this: you are not a destroyer, but something much grander.”Bookmark here

Chris was lost for words, but retrieved his speech, saying, “That doesn’t make sense! Why did I use the absolving bullet on Erik and Regal, then? How do I know to use Gunnhildr correctly?”Bookmark here

“You don’t know,” Lavi replied, stepping back. “You just do it. Excalibur, send Chris a comprehensive list of Gunnhildr’s features.”Bookmark here

Chris’ phone vibrated as he received a string of text messages. “Upload complete,” Excalibur stated.Bookmark here

A stressed chuckle filled the pause. “What the hell, Lavi?” Robbie grunted through his teeth. “Do you ever listen to what you say? Like, ever really listen? Being real with you, I kinda understand Bret. He’s an idiot for shooting you, but I really feel his frustration! It’s because of your stupid word plays, Lavi!”Bookmark here

“Robbie!” Chris snapped. “It’ll be okay. Just trust in yourself, and trust in us.”Bookmark here

“Shut your damn mouth, Chris!” Robbie barked. “Why do you gotta be so wishy-washy and carefree about everything? Don’t you see what we’re involved in now?” He pointed at the closed door through which Bret had run away. “There’s no way we can keep this on the down-low! We’re busted, man. Open your eyes.”Bookmark here

“If you walk out now, Robert,” Lavi told the black boy, disengaging the magical barrier, “then I promise you nobody will fully remember your association with his event.”Bookmark here

“I don’t give a damn,” Robbie muttered, flinging the door open. “I’m done.”Bookmark here

When Robbie was gone, the door slammed shut with a wave of Lavi’s hand. The barrier was reinstated to seal the room.Bookmark here

“Christopher,” Lavi said firmly.Bookmark here

“Uh, y-yeah, sir?”Bookmark here

“My abilities to hide things from the populace can only go so far. Keeping people out of danger and your actions out of sight is one thing, but once they notice something for themselves, there is only so much I can do.”Bookmark here

“Okay…”Bookmark here

“Still, I will attempt to keep this event a secret, although it will be impossible to completely erase the suspicion the witnesses have of you three boys. No matter what, you, Robbie, and Bret will be somehow associated with a school shooting and the violent acts against the vice principal. The typical effects of such actions may not manifest as they normally would; you would be under police surveillance otherwise.”Bookmark here

“What are you saying?” Chris asked, trying to keep cool against his nervous pulse.Bookmark here

“Some school workers have witnessed something just now that they shouldn’t have,” Lavi explained, looking at Chris with a stern expression unfitting for the usually-smiling face of an angel. “There are bullet holes in the wall behind me. Innocent bystanders watched it happen. The more that happens, the more irreversible the effects will be.”Bookmark here

“Oh, I think I understand,” Chris said, “but I’m safe, right?”Bookmark here

“You are never safe, Christopher.”Bookmark here

The words hit Chris. He hadn’t expected such a harrowing revelation from Lavi, who had always been full of positivity and good news.Bookmark here

“It’s okay to continue this conversation, though,” the angel added.Bookmark here

“Well,” Chris said, thinking about his response, “I want to believe what you always say about the answers eventually coming to us. Actually, I do believe that, in some crazy way. I think I’ve been making progress to become what I need to become, and doing what I need to be doing. My powers are growing a little, and I’m making more friends involved with this stuff…”Bookmark here

“But?” Lavi pressed, seeing the hesitation Chris wore.Bookmark here

“But…I still feel lost. I don’t know what it takes to be a good superhero, and it seems like I’m not meant to be one, based on stories and everything. A writer girl who knows a lot about stories and writing told me that I’d be a terrible superhero, so…what do I do? What do I do next? It’s confusing, because I’m constantly moving in a direction that’s different from what it seems it should be.”Bookmark here

Lavi moved forward, giving Chris his full attention, which was intimidating, and Chris was wholly submerged within the presence of a holy entity.Bookmark here

“Having doubts is normal,” Lavi told the boy. “You will be plagued by your own mind throughout this journey.”Bookmark here

“I figured…”Bookmark here

“You have Excalibur,” the angel continued, “a highly advanced piece of technology far surpassing anything else that exists in the world, but there are things you can observe that Excalibur cannot. And then there’s me, an angel, a divine being that exists on a plane that isn’t higher than humans, but outside the hierarchy altogether; and you come to me for answers, yet there are answers you can find that I cannot, even with me being what I am. That’s very much proof that you’re capable of extraordinary things.”Bookmark here

Hearing that made Chris feel better.Bookmark here

“I didn’t think of it that way,” Chris replied.Bookmark here

Lavi continued, “Everything you know about ‘superheroes’ won’t help you. You are not a superhero. Perish the thought, and be yourself. The sooner you understand that you have nothing to base your actions off of…no guide, no reference…the sooner you will realize that you, and only you, ultimately define yourself. You set your own limits, be there any limits at all.”Bookmark here

Cracking a smile, Chris said, “Yeah…I didn’t think of that that way, either.” He looked at Lavi, who did not return a smile, but a firm expression.Bookmark here

“Is there anything else you’d like to discuss here today, Christopher?” Lavi’s voice had no friendliness.Bookmark here

“Um, no.”Bookmark here

“In that case, I’ll leave you to your own devices.”Bookmark here

The barrier around the room vanished, and the door unlocked. Chris walked away from the angel, who watched quietly, then exited the room. All of the office workers had returned to their usual duties. Everything was normal as Chris passed through the office and left.Bookmark here

Seconds later, the phone on Lavi’s desk rang. The angel stared at it, knowing exactly who it was, and left it ringing while walking out of his office. He approached the door to the principal’s office and stepped in without knocking.Bookmark here

Baal was sitting at his desk. He placed his phone back on the terminal upon seeing the person he was calling enter the room.Bookmark here

Closing the door, Lavi grinned. “You need something, boss?”Bookmark here

As soon as the demon sealed the room with magic, he cleared his throat and leaned forward, staring at Lavi with spite.Bookmark here

“I heard gunshots.”Bookmark here

“Funny. I heard fireworks.”Bookmark here

“Nobody else seems to care about the gunshots,” Baal grunted, “even though they were panicking just a minute ago.”Bookmark here

“People get used to fireworks really quick, I guess.”Bookmark here

Baal narrowed his eyes. “I’m not gonna get a straight answer from you.”Bookmark here

“Anybody rarely does, don’t feel special,” Lavi said with a shrug. “Our interactions are pointless, Baal.”Bookmark here

“Pointless from a human perspective, I guess.”Bookmark here

“Well,” Lavi said, clasping his hands together, “considering the humans’ perspective is what’s important, it’s a problem that they don’t like how we transcend them. As an angel and a demon, we do things they’ll never understand.”Bookmark here

His white, feathery wings suddenly snapped out with great force, releasing a shockwave. The flash of light and gust of holy pressure gave Baal some equivalent to hives on his imitation human skin, all while his office shook from Lavi’s quick energy outburst.Bookmark here

Giving the demon a sideways look, Lavi continued, “People refuse to accept that we, as higher beings, have our role to conveniently lay things out so the lesser characters navigate through a pre-planned storyline. They are ruthlessly opposed to dusting off their seemingly entitled ‘suspension of disbelief.’”Bookmark here

Enough!” Baal dropped the magical barrier surrounding the room. “If you’re gonna spout idiocy, then get out.”Bookmark here

“Then I’d best be on my way.” The angel did a small curtsy, folded his wings out of existence, and bowed out of the office with a smile.Bookmark here

The demon growled, squeezing his fat fists.Bookmark here

“I know he’s behind something,” he muttered. “Somebody is defying my plans…and it has to be Lavi. Damn…the worst part of being a purveyor of fate is that I can’t act outside my boundaries, otherwise I’d rip his little angel head clean off his shoulders.” Calming down, he leaned back in his chair and stared at the ceiling. “Even in all of this, he and I are still only middle management in the destinies of this shitty world.”Bookmark here

*******Bookmark here

Chris walked down the empty hallways, feeling light and afraid at the same time, his empty book bag hanging from his shoulder. He headed toward the side exit where he and Bret had left to skip school last week, pushed the door open, and walked away. Outside the small side school gate, he kept walking.Bookmark here

The first rule of skipping school: Never look back.Bookmark here

Therefore, Chris didn’t look back.Bookmark here

“Excalibur,” he muttered into his smartphone, “show me the locations of Shocking and Home.”Bookmark here

“Here you go.”Bookmark here

Two generic monster face icons appeared on the phone GPS, and Chris immediately went after them.Bookmark here

In Hyde Park, a murky stain inked its way into an old, quiet roadway intersection. As Chris approached it, an acidic atmosphere burned the skin on his hands and arms. A single beam of Eden’s Lance ended the encounter before it could get into his eyes or airways.Bookmark here

‘Eden’s Lance’ is the name for victory.Bookmark here

West down I-290, Chris entered Cicero. He left a liberal tip for the Lyft driver, who didn’t seem to notice the subtle spine-tingling ripples of negativity in the area. Across the street from a convenient store, the boy used an absolving bullet (proof of him not using one a few hours ago on Bret) on an invasive shade only he could see; he swore it resembled a two-headed primate. He also swore Gunnhildr smelled like gun smoke, the newest addition to his other familiar-for-life smells.Bookmark here

With a GPS free of negative energy targets, Chris went home, not giving the trip much thought. He found his old duffel bag in his closet, which he filled with as many clothes as he could fit. In his book bag, emptied of all school supplies, he packed extra shoes and items that would be useful. All of his video games, movies, vinyl records, and unnecessary possessions remained in their places.Bookmark here

For the next several hours, Chris waited in his room, gradually eating through an entire pack of Oreos. He viewed Excalibur’s task manager on the phone app, watching the hundreds of mysterious processes depleting petabytes of data by the second. And he waited, staring at the walls, floor, and indefinite imaginary space beyond.Bookmark here

When his parents were both home, he walked downstairs with both full bags hanging from his shoulders. They saw their son and questioned what he was doing.Bookmark here

“Mom, Dad… I’m dropping out of school. I’ll be living in a monastery to seek spiritual enlightenment.”Bookmark here

His parents yelled. They warned him of the dangers of being on his own, and the downfalls of not completing high school. They begged him not to go, asking what they could do for him, asking where they’d gone wrong.Bookmark here

“It’s nothing you guys did wrong.” Chris spoke so formally and with so much resolve that he questioned whether or not he was being too heartless. “I need to find my own path, and do what I think is best.”Bookmark here

His father told Chris he was a fool and careless, to ruin his life as he saw fit if that’s what he wanted. His mother hugged Chris and told him he’d always be her baby, that she loved him more than anything, and although she was against the idea of him leaving, he would always have a home there.Bookmark here

And then his parents fought. Chris heard them screaming and arguing with each other about Chris’ validity as a worthy child and as an honorable American citizen, and about which parent was most responsible for their son’s delinquency.Bookmark here

I’m a delinquent and an outcast now, Chris thought as he opened the front door.Bookmark here

When Chris closed the front door behind him, he could hear his mother crying and father slamming things in the kitchen, but he didn’t look back. He never looked back.Bookmark here

*******Bookmark here

At the large gate in front of Saint Baptiste Monastery, a young monk was repairing the lock mechanism. He noticed someone approach, and looked up to see Chris, strapped with two stuffed bags.Bookmark here

“Ah, you’re the boy, Christopher Findale,” the monk greeted warmly. “Do you have business here?” He wore the same simple robe as the other Saint Baptiste residents, and his head of white hair suggested he was older than most others, including the priest.Bookmark here

“I do,” Chris replied.Bookmark here

“Come on in. I am Brother Benjamin.” The monk opened the gate enough for the boy to enter. Its hinges were still in perfect condition. “It is a pleasure making your acquaintance.”Bookmark here

I don’t care what involvement they might have with the Illiniwek Juncture theories, Chris thought, stepping through the large gateway. They may need my help.Bookmark here

The teen smiled. “Thank you. Is Father Dood available?”Bookmark here

“Perhaps,” Brother Benjamin said. “Please feel free to enter. I am busy fixing this broken lock. An intruder last night damaged it when they broke in.”Bookmark here

“An intruder?” Chris asked. “What do you mean? Is everyone okay?”Bookmark here

The monk took a deep breath. Before he could respond, Father Dood called across the front courtyard.Bookmark here

“Christopher!” The sturdy priest hurried over. “What great timing.”Bookmark here

Chris could see the deepened stress lines under the priest’s eyes. “Father, I’ve heard about the intruder.”Bookmark here

“Yes, I’m afraid we were attacked last night. Aleph-Naught and I had to use violent force against them. We succeeded in scaring them off. However, Sister Farrah Elaina is…” His voice trailed off. “I’m afraid she has suffered a nasty affliction.”Bookmark here

“What can we do?”Bookmark here

“Come.” Father Dood gestured toward the monastery entrance. “We’ll speak about it inside. Aleph-Naught is waiting for you, as well.”Bookmark here

“I’ll contact the Desphelmers.” Chris heard the gunshots from school echoing in his memory. “I don’t think all of them will come, though, but Sandra might be able to do something.”Bookmark here

“The more, the better,” the priest replied. “Follow me.”Bookmark here

Chris followed Father Dood through the monastery to the women’s lodging, making him feel uncomfortable at first for entering an area usually restricted to males. Down the long corridor, Chris saw Al sitting on the floor outside one of the doors. Her hood was over her head as she heard footsteps.Bookmark here

“You’re here!” she said to Chris, standing up. “Have you heard what happened?”Bookmark here

“Yeah,” Chris said. “An intruder broke in, and they did something to Sister Farrah.”Bookmark here

“That about sums it up,” Al muttered with a nod. “We’re at a loss as to what’s wrong with her, but we think it’s a mental breakdown caused by severe spiritual damage.”Bookmark here

Chris didn’t know what that meant, but it sounded horrifying.Bookmark here

“She’s very unpredictable at the moment,” Father Dood said in a hushed tone. “Proceed carefully and try not to startle her.”Bookmark here

The priest gingerly opened the door, as to avoid loud creaks to Sister Farrah’s quarters. It was a minimalistic room identical to the others, but only with one bed instead of two bunk beds. The young nun was sitting on her bed in a position that reminded Chris of cavemen or monkeys, her body and limbs at odd angles that appeared uncomfortable. She was dressed in a cloth gown rather than her nun habit. Her dark, reddish-brown hair was as short as Chris’ and was matted with sweat, shining in the sliver of sunlight coming through the lone, small window.Bookmark here

An elderly nun sat in the chair in the corner, keeping watch on Sister Farrah, and she smiled at the visitors. She was putting the finishing touches on a small trinket she had been making, fixating a thin chain to it.Bookmark here

At the sound of the door opening, Sister Farrah skittishly turned her attention to Chris, Father Dood, and Al, her light brown eyes bloodshot and bulging out. Just as Chris prepared for her to pounce, she dismissed their arrival, clutching the bedsheets tightly, rocking around while moaning and sobbing.Bookmark here

Strange, unfamiliar symbols were scrawled across the walls and floor in black ink, and the furniture appeared to be damaged and jostled.Bookmark here

“Sister Farrah,” Father Dood said softly, “Christopher is here. He will help us find a way to cure your ailment.”Bookmark here

The nun did not reply. She collapsed onto the bed, squirming and giggling as she pressed herself into the mattress.Bookmark here

“Was this caused by negative energy?” Chris asked solemnly as he watched Sister Farrah’s behavior.Bookmark here

“I am not sure,” the priest replied, “but I believe negative energy had a role in this. When she attempted to use her prayers to learn about the intruder, she went into a fit, and has been like this ever since.”Bookmark here

“It seems like whatever her prayers told her,” Al added with her arms crossed, “was enough to break her. Also, the intruder asked what we knew about Regal and Erik.”Bookmark here

“Why would they ask about them?” Chris asked. “Who was this intruder?”Bookmark here

“We don’t know,” Father Dood said. “We’ll begin looking into things soon.”Bookmark here

Chris looked at the odd scribbles on the walls. “What’s written there?”Bookmark here

“They seem to be many of the symbols inscribed on her cubit rod,” the priest explained. “It’s a fascinating and ancient tool carved from a meteorite, and possesses phenomenal attributes. However, only Sister Farrah is able to call out the tool’s full potential, because only she knows how to decipher the symbolism. She has once said that explaining the meaning of the symbols is akin to a mute person explaining colors to a blind person who cannot read braille…yet she immediately understood them.”Bookmark here

“But she’s been writing them like mad,” Al said, glancing at the walls with a grimace. “We had to take the ink away from her, because she was using it like finger paint to do all this.”Bookmark here

“It’s possible,” the priest said, “that the meanings within these symbols are so important to her and her prayers that they are what’s left of her mind after the attack. I believe this is a language that goes beyond her mind, and speaks directly to her from God’s domain.”Bookmark here

Chris approached the nun as she gripped her mattress.Bookmark here

“Sister Farrah Elaina,” he said. “We’ll do what we can to help. You’re in good hands now.”Bookmark here

His words had no apparent effect as she ignored him, hunched over with her face in the mattress, gripping the sheets, rocking rhythmically, and mumbling to herself.Bookmark here

“Let’s leave her be,” Father Dood said. He turned to the elderly nun sitting in the chair. “Thank you, Sister Agatha, for keeping her company.”Bookmark here

“It is my pleasure, Father,” the elderly nun replied with a wrinkled, but soft grin. She held up the trinket she had been working with, which was a necklace with the aleph-naught symbol on its pendant. “Aleph-Naught, it is complete.”Bookmark here

“Oh, cool!” The blonde girl took the necklace and put it on. “It’s different from my old one, but I like it. Thank you, Sister Agatha.”Bookmark here

Sister Agatha remained in the chair as the others left. Outside Sister Farrah’s room, Chris got right to the point.Bookmark here

“Father Dood,” he said, “I wish to stay here at Saint Baptiste.”Bookmark here

The sturdy priest gave the boy a hard stare.Bookmark here

“Is that so?”Bookmark here

“Yes,” Chris said. “I have all of my important belongings in these bags, and I already told my parents that I wanna live here. It’ll be good for what I’m doing, and good for spiritual enlightenment.”Bookmark here

After a silent moment of consideration, Father Dood smiled and nodded in an underwhelming, humble manner.Bookmark here

“Very well,” he replied. “I’ll see to it that you receive your own room.”Bookmark here

Chris blinked. “Really? That’s it? I don’t have to, like, take a test?”Bookmark here

“No,” Father Dood said, waving his hand. “I don’t expect you to adapt to our faith entirely. If spirituality is what you seek, then who are we to tell you what you should do. There will be rules, but you may require exceptions due to your status as a Desphelmer and your actions alongside Aleph-Naught.”Bookmark here

“Thank you, Father. I’m happy you’ll have me.”Bookmark here

“As am I.” The priest gave Chris a hug…firm, gentle, inescapable. “I am sure there is much we can learn from you as well.”Bookmark here

“Yeah!” Al slapped Chris on the back. “I’m gonna make your life awful!”Bookmark here

“What’s that mean?” Chris muttered.Bookmark here

“Training and stuff,” Al replied with a tilted smirk. “You’ll be a fine mortal of significance. There’s a lotta stuff for you to learn. I’ll pass to you what I learned from my education and sparring mentors.”Bookmark here

“Expect strict lessons and conditioning exercises,” Father Dood added.Bookmark here

Chris hoisted his stuffed bags onto his shoulders, grinning.Bookmark here

“That’s what I’m going for,” he told them.
Jio Kurenai
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