ANNO DOMINI ~Allium~
This is not a Christian/Religious story. Although it uses a lot of Christian imagery and ideas (as many Japanese stories have done), it is not intended to preach or blaspheme.
Hope you enjoy!
BOOK 1: PROLOGUE
Chicago, Illinois. The United States of America.
This sprawling and illustrious metropolis fits snuggly into the heart of the Midwest region of the United States, resting against the southwest tip of Lake Michigan and at the eastern reaches of North America’s breadbasket. Serving as one of the U.S.A.’s major hubs of finance, commerce, transportation, and communication, Chicago has certainly earned its recognition as a reputable and important entity; not just for its ten million residents in its metropolitan area, but for the entire country.
And in the depths of this illustrious metropolis, amidst the towering skyscrapers, noisy traffic, veiny and skeletal infrastructure, and countless affairs of individual persons, the ball is now set in motion. This metaphorical ball in question starts as a single cue ball, ready to strike the tight, motionless huddle of the future players in this chain reaction, sending them to the farthest pockets of this billiard-like world.
Within the central hub of Chicago’s downtown in The Loop, somewhere between Adams Street and Randolph Drive, a homeless man wanders aimlessly down one of the many alleyways after sunrise. He is often seen meandering this way and that throughout the entire city, not favoring one particular area as his natural sense of adventure keeps him moving around. He has probably been down this alley before, but the years of being on the streets has muddled his mind to the point where he no longer pays attention to various locations, and every alley blends together in his eyes.
There was a period in the man’s life when he walked alongside the general population as a successful and honorable citizen from England, during which his name was Nigel Westfarren. After moving to America, he became the unfortunate victim of fraud and theft, reducing him to his current state of rags and dirt. He assumed the moniker Biscuits N’ Gravy, although it is uncertain if he chose this identity for himself or if it was given to him by someone else. There are no reports of him actually eating biscuits and gravy once in his life, but it is speculated that he is an avid fan of eggs benedict, which someone could mistakenly think is a nobleman’s version of biscuits and gravy. Despite Biscuits N’ Gravy’s current circumstances, he has maintained his respectful and noble demeanor, earning himself a bit of recognition as “everyone’s favorite bum” in these parts.
And it is on this morning and in this alley within the heart of Chicago’s downtown that Biscuits N’ Gravy will be given a new role as part of the opening act of a grand new performance. This is the day he encountered the holy angel known as Lavi.
While ambling slowly down the alleyway to stretch his legs, Biscuits N’ Gravy noticed a bright light from above. Noon was still hours away and he realized that this light couldn’t be from the sun. Looking up, he froze, his eyes widening as his jaw dropped. A young man with flowing golden hair descended from nowhere and touched gently down in front of the homeless man. Even after his sun-like aura faded away, there was no denying the large, feathery, white wings extending from his back. He wore a white suit with golden trims and ivory buttons, brown suede shoes, and a gentle smile that calmed the homeless man only to the point of not being scared enough to run away. The halo radiating from his head was bright enough to light the alleyway on a moonless night.
“Good day to you, Sir Nigel Westfarren,” the angel told him with a warm voice.
Biscuits N’ Gravy had not heard anyone refer to him as such in years. He trembled uncontrollably, trying to maintain his balance as he backed against a trash can.
“H-how do you know that name?” he replied breathily, doing his best to form cohesive words through his fright.
“You’re just the person I need,” said the angel earnestly. “My name is Lavi. I am an angel who was sent to you.”
The angel Lavi did not seem threatening or dangerous in any way. Perhaps it was his grand appearance that got Biscuits N’ Gravy shook up. Or perhaps it was the angel’s air of holiness and greatness, something that often struck people with such an impact as to leave them speechless and overwhelmed. At any rate, Lavi was understanding of the homeless man’s reaction and responded accordingly.
“I won’t bring you harm or misfortune,” said Lavi. “I just want you to pass on a message.”
Biscuits N’ Gravy did nothing to reply other than listen intently. There was nobody else around, nobody in earshot, no cameras or microphones. No other person would witness this encounter.
“The time is ripe for change!” Lavi announced, stretching out his arms as if standing before an audience of millions. “Let it be known that the rusted gears are once again beginning to turn. Far and wide, the masses will know that the course is set and all the world is on its way to a wondrous future. However, the path is laden with peril and is long and winding. Have faith ye who tread this journey, because we are on the cusp of a new era!”
The angel’s voice seemed to carry with it the power to reach every corner of the city, resonating through the homeless man like soundwaves through a wine glass fighting not to shatter, warming him with a temperature-less energy that felt like a culmination of every human emotion all at once. In joyous terror, the homeless man fell to his knees as tears dripped on the concrete ground beneath him. He trembled still, not knowing anything but the divine words that wrapped around him.
Lavi, smiling gently, thrust out his hand and pointed toward the nearest exit of the alley, leading out to the street.
“Now go, Sir Nigel Westfarren,” he said brightly. “The message is yours to pass on. Speak of it freely wherever and whenever. Let it be known! Let my voice be heard through yours!”
Biscuits N’ Gravy scrambled to his feet, knocking over the trash can which hit the ground loudly and spilled out. Not looking back, frantic and overwhelmed with the full spectrum of human emotion, he emerged on the street, running down the sidewalk faster than he had in years. A newfound strength carried his feet. Pedestrians looked at him, some questioningly and others with contempt, as he blew past them. His raggedy outer layer of clothes fell off him, revealing the expensive tuxedo (now faded, stained, smelly, and tattered) that he had been wearing on the day of his fall to the bottom of the social structure. Not knowing where he was going, the words finally found themselves in his mouth as he made it to the intersection of Madison and State.
“The time has come!” he shouted in bewilderment. “Change is coming! The new age approaches! The time has come!”
Many people were within earshot, most of them choosing to ignore the delirious bum and his nonsensical announcement. Of the crowd waiting at the crosswalk, only a few acknowledged him, whispering amongst themselves.
“Isn’t that Biscuits N’ Gravy?”
“He was always quiet before.”
“Guess he finally cracked.”
“What’s he going on about? Some apocalyptic-sounding mumbo jumbo?”
“Glad I’m not a bum, they all seem to lose it eventually.”
As Biscuits N’ Gravy continually repeated himself in a fit of hysteria, fueled by whatever energy the angel seemed to have bestowed, a man recorded a short video of him on a smartphone and uploaded it on a social media website with the accompanying comment, “Crazy bum has something to say! LMAO.” The homeless man took only a second to catch his breath before running down Madison Street, noisily purveying his message every step of the way.
The sound of running footsteps echoed loudly down the cobbled corridors of the Saint Baptiste Monastery, accompanied by the heavy breathing of the person whose feet were creating said echoes. Brother Samuel was filled with terror and had to locate Father Buck Dood, the priest of Saint Baptiste. There was no time to waste.
After rounding several corners connecting the arterial monastery corridors, Brother Samuel saw Father Dood making his way to the courtyard. With weary ankles, sore lungs, and a parched throat, the distraught monk stumbled toward the priest, who had turned around at the sound of labored breathing and sharp footsteps.
“Father!” Brother Samuel managed to call out between breaths.
“What is it, Brother Samuel?” The priest could immediately see the seriousness of the situation. As the monk tried to impatiently catch his breath and explain, he was comforted by Father Dood’s hand on his shoulder. “Take your time. Calm yourself.”
But the monk did not wait until he had the breath to power full sentences.
“The Chashman Artifact …,” he gasped, “is missing.”
Saint Baptiste Monastery was a cluster of large, beautiful buildings featuring dominantly Romanesque architecture with subtleties of the older Gothic style to give visual accents to would-be rounded arches and colorless windows. Such was the habitat in which the residents lived, sworn to a life of poverty, chastity, and pursuit of true existence beyond the material world. Such was the environment that housed a well-guarded taboo that was hidden and locked away, not to be spoken of lest an unworthy and innocent ear should fall prey to its consequences. Such was the circumstance befalling the first targets of the universe’s cue ball, aimed directly at the residents within the monastery walls with the Chashman Artifact as the centrifuge.
Father Dood, a sturdy man in his late-forties, moved down the corridors with a stride and pace he had not used in recent memory, Brother Samuel at his heels. The elaborately crafted ceilings seemed to stretch into the sky above them, filling with disharmonic vocals as the two men spoke of the unfolding event.
“I was doing my monthly routine inspection of the artifact chamber this morning,” Brother Samuel explained. “It was during that time when I realized something was amiss.”
“What did you notice?”
“The lock sealing the chamber was broken. Not unlocked, as it would appear if my key had been used, but DAMAGED, as if smashed.”
“You have the only key to the artifact chamber,” said Father Dood, coming to a halt before a stone staircase that descended into a candlelit underbelly beneath the monastery. “That means anyone other than you would need to break the lock to get in.” The priest gazed down the dark staircase for a moment. “Myself included.”
The two men headed down the candlelit staircase toward the artifact chamber. The number of cobwebs and amount of dust increased on the way down, despite periodic dusting and cleaning that took place throughout the entire monastery. Although it was only speculated, many believed the uncleanliness was due to the proximity of the Chashman Artifact; the closer the artifact, the more its cursedness would be applied to the space surrounding it. However, this was only speculation.
“Father,” said Brother Samuel during the long descent into an increasingly mildew-laden place, “what reason would somebody have for the Chashman Artifact? I know that it has potential for evil … but that is only POTENTIAL, right? From what I’m aware, the Chashman Artifact, because of the nature of the thing, could backfire on the user, whether the outcome be good or evil.”
The priest did not answer right away.
“Perhaps the thief is unaware of the artifact’s nature.”
“True,” the monk replied humbly, “but I am still curious.”
“Man can find a use for anything,” he replied. “It is that very POTENTIAL of the artifact that makes it dangerous.”
“We are very blessed to have hidden it away for this long,” said the monk, “but I feel we have failed.”
At the bottom of the dusty stairs, the priest looked straight ahead at the large door meant to be the physical protective barrier between seven billion people and the Chashman Artifact. Candle flames danced in the stir of air caused by the men’s arrival, illuminating the perpetually unkempt dungeon-like corridor, the trickles of candlewax down the stone walls to the stone floors, the spider-less cobwebs hanging overhead, and the eight-foot titanium door engraved with all sorts of symbolism with meanings that the priest wished he could forget. On the ground in front of the door were shards of metal, and with a quick examination, the priest realized they belonged to the large double-cylinder deadbolt that had been thought to keep the door shut.
“See how it looks broken?” said Brother Samuel as Father Dood examined a piece.
“This couldn’t have been done by striking it.” Father Dood touched the hole in the door where the deadbolt once belonged. “It looks like it exploded from inside itself.”
“But how?” The monk considered some possibilities. “With explosives?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Surely somebody would have heard something that loud.”
The priest remained quiet. He looked at the door, at all of its inscriptions, at the hole where the deadbolt was, at the deadbolt’s pieces at his feet, at the candles with their dancing light, at the wax pooling on the ground, at the cobwebs with no hosts, at the bottom of the stone staircase that had given access to an intruder, at the monk who was opening his mouth to speak again.
“You can see our footprints,” said the monk. “You can see how my footprints from just earlier are already getting covered in more dust. If it wasn’t for this cursed dust, then we’d at least be able to see the intruder’s footprints if they were here recently. But there’s nothing.”
“Brother Samuel.” The priest’s voice was deep and resonated slightly in the dusty corridor. “Do you remember what the Chashman Artifact looks like?”
“Of course,” Brother Samuel replied, confused by a question with such an obvious answer. “All of us have seen it, but I’m responsible for its monthly inspection, so I should be most familiar with its appearance.”
“You know what sort of object it is then.”
“A chalice. Gold, decorated with colorful gems and silver. Father, why are you asking me this?”
Father Dood straightened his back and looked at the monk.
“If it is a chalice, then why is it not referred to as such?” The expression on his face was stern, more so than the monk could remember it being. “Why does it have such an ambiguous name like “artifact”, rather than simply “chalice” which is what it is?”
Thinking briefly, the monk answered, “To protect its identity. It’ll be difficult for somebody to know what we are referring to if it is called something ambiguous. So, it’s an extra level of protection.”
“That is true,” Father Dood told him, “but incorrect.”
“It is not called a chalice, because it is NOT a chalice.” Father Dood looked at the inscriptions on the door again, then back at Brother Samuel. “It is a shapeshifter.”
With a heave, the priest pushed the large titanium door open. Its weight was impressive, and it was all thanks to its well-designed hinges that it could be opened by a single man. When the door was opened enough to let the corridor’s candlelight inside, for there were no lights inside the chamber itself, the priest entered, pressing into the darkness with the monk behind him.
“Is it really a shapeshifter?” said Brother Samuel quietly, looking into the heavy blackness directly in front of him. The blackness glared back. “It changes its form?”
“Yes,” Father Dood replied, looking at the altar in the center of the room that no longer held the artifact. “I am told that it is not alive, nor does it have a mind of its own. It is, indeed, an inanimate object and can’t change its appearance without an outside force.”
Brother Samuel was dumbfounded.
“This … is surprising.”
“As such, I believe it could not have escaped on its own. There was an intruder here …,” the priest glanced around the room that was shrouded in shadow so that its forgotten details were still unrevealed, “… if what I am told about it is the truth.”
The monk stared at the bare altar.
“Why would you be lied to about the artifact?” he asked the priest, intently wanting to hear the response.
“Because the roots of evil spread farther and deeper than I would like to admit,” Father Dood replied firmly. “Either that, or to protect me from things that even I would be better off not knowing of. Perhaps it is both.”
The priest made for the exit with the monk.
“Father,” said Brother Samuel quietly, “Father, what should we do now?”
Father Dood put his arm gently around Brother Samuel, saying, “Go inform the others. Have them meet in my office. And tell Sister Farrah that we’ll be needing her skills again.”
A large clock ticked audibly and repeatedly, mounted on the wall in Father Buck Dood’s office. The room was rather large, yet fitting all thirty-four of Saint Baptiste’s residents was a bit of a squeeze. Father Dood waited until the twenty-five brothers and eight sisters were present. He was standing patiently, occasionally glancing through one of many books on the only bookshelf he owned. When everyone was accounted for, the priest wasted no time in addressing the current events.
“I gathered you all here to share some rather bleak news.” He scanned the room, collecting eye contact with his entire audience in a matter of seconds. “Brother Samuel has informed me that the Chashman Artifact is missing. I have confirmed this for myself.”
There was a flurry of whispers and gasps accompanied by shocked faces. The priest gave a moment to let his message root itself deeply. Sister Farrah Elaina was amongst them, a young nun in her mid-twenties with light brown eyes and a seemingly tan complexion inherited from her Afghani parents. The shock of the news had come to her as well, but she remained calm and attentive; she was aware that she would be essential to solve this sudden mystery.
“The artifact was most likely stolen,” Father Dood continued. “The thief must have snuck into our monastery during this past month sometime after Brother Samuel’s previous inspection of the artifact.” He cleared his throat, thinking about his words. “We do not know who the intruder is, where they are, or what intentions they would have for the artifact.”
Although there was great silence in the office at this time, the uneasiness was highly obvious and prominent. Not one of the Saint Baptiste residents had ever worried about a breaking and entering into the monastery, and this sole occasion had cost them the most valuable and well-guarded material possession they owned.
“Father, what does this mean?” asked one of the elderly nuns. “I do not understand the reasons behind the Chashman Artifact’s importance.”
“It is difficult to explain,” Father Dood replied, “and I am not entirely sure myself. Protecting and isolating the Chashman Artifact was a task passed down to me through countless generations, since a time so long ago that the origins of its history are poorly documented, and the veil of secrets have obscured much information.”
This lack of a definite answer did not sit well with the brothers and sisters, though they did not outwardly show it. Father Dood crossed the room to Sister Farrah and stood before her. They locked eyes.
“Sister Farrah Elaina,” said the priest softly, finding it within him to still smile, “I ask of your assistance today.”
Sister Farrah smiled back, humbled and eager to help.
“I will be honored to offer my assistance, Father.”
The large clock continued to set the tempo of the office, a soft metronome keeping the larghetto pace at sixty beats per minute as a cold and indifferent observer to the quickening heartrates of every person within its audible range. Sister Farrah stood in the middle of the room, hands clenched tightly, eyes closed, sending out her prayers. Her prayers drifted to every keystone, peak, and nook within the monastery, relaying the answers back to her. Like sighs of dreams, the answered prayers ebbed back to the young sister. Satisfied with what she had learned, Sister Farrah stopped praying, her eyes opening slightly wider than usual, a deep breath entering her lungs.
Sixty beats per minute remained the tempo.
“Did you find anything?” Father Dood asked her quietly and straightly.
“Yes,” she said. “There was, in fact, an intruder that made off with the Chashman Artifact.”
This was heartbreaking to hear. However, the priest was more concerned about the worried look on the young nun’s face due to the answers she had received from her prayers.
“Anything else?” he added.
Sister Farrah looked at him with solidity in her gaze.
“The intruder has returned.” Silent gasps and silent prayers churned through the room. The priest looked around for nothing in particular, just AROUND. Sister Farrah remained still and said, “We need to cast it out.”
“Cast out?” The priest considered this. “It isn’t human then.”
“We should be successful in doing so,” said Sister Farrah. “It’s alone.”
The priest nodded, acting quickly. “Let’s proceed. Everyone, to the chapel. On the double.”
As the monks and nuns were ushered out of the office, Sister Farrah obtained her cubit rod from the priest’s desk. At eighteen inches long and forged from a meteorite centuries ago, the antique measuring tool was abhorred by its wielder. Even after many uses, the young nun still had a distaste for the arduous tasks she accomplished by using it. For her, the tool represented struggle and conflict, yet she pushed onward again and again to strive for what she thought was true and righteous. Through adversity, there is redemption; this notion carried her on currents greater than those of the ocean.
Her knuckles were hot from the measuring rod’s indignant, deific energy. A feeling of weightlessness chased away all of her inhibitions. The walls, floors, and ceilings of the entire monastery, with all of their stones, tiles, slabs, pillars, moldings, and ordinates, became her eyes and ears. Her soul was linked to this holy ground, and while she felt the writhing and crawling of the defiled intruder throughout the corridors, she hurried from the office with the rest of her fellow residents as the priest closed the door with a rigid slam on his way out.
The chapel of the Saint Baptiste Monastery was the most hallowed place on the premises, yet the journey there from Father Dood’s office was significant enough to provide an opening for the wicked to intercept the residents. Sister Farrah was aware of this, as she could detect the intruder rapidly approaching them.
That was when the darkness arrived. Descending from the stretching ceilings, it seemed to push away the light as it fell. There was aim in its motions, and intent in its actions. Just the way that Sister Farrah could foresee its confrontation, it was drawn to the clairvoyance and blinding spirituality with which the young nun flooded and saturated the stone passageways.
Raising the meteorite-carved antique tool against the encroaching evil, Sister Farrah was able to stave off any harm it had intended to inflict on her and everyone with her. Yet, the intruder’s blackness was as encompassing as air and behaved even more erratically and heavily than surging water. The light in the corridor was effectively being blotted out, as if eclipsed by hands over a lantern. Futile were the defiled darkness's attempts, however, since Sister Farrah’s weightlessness was able to push away the darkness with ease. This was a powerful darkness, but it was not the worst she had vanquished.
With an instinct that had developed from many previous similar scenarios, Father Dood herded the defenseless group away from the danger.
“This way!” he shouted, his voice difficult to hear not because of excess noise, but from the vacuum of the intruder’s negative energy. “Sister Farrah will hold off the assailant!”
As everyone else was whisked away to the chapel, the counteractive assaults from Sister Farrah’s measuring rod continued to bat away the darkness, which recoiled and tremored with a sort of shuddering elasticity that dismissed physics. This beleaguered shadow, with its birthright of passing between the atoms and measurable forces, could not overcome the young woman. She had sworn herself to a life of poverty, chastity, and pursuit of existence beyond the material world. Resistance against the sorry assailant was the fruit of her oath made real.
With a violent upward flux away from the conflict, the darkness fled and phased through the floor. Light and sound rushed back into the corridor as the negative energy migrated elsewhere. Although Sister Farrah could follow its movements, its destination could not be determined and she had to join up with the others as soon as possible. Her resistance was superior to the intruder’s, but her speed was not.
Father Buck Dood shoved through the large chapel double doors, making both of them bang loudly against the wall on both sides, and entered the hallowed area with his fellow followers of faith. He too could feel the heaviness of the wicked darkness pressing down. Although he felt this particular nemesis was not the most formidable he had witnessed, it was still a great threat to the defenseless monks and nuns who possessed none of the grand blessings instilled within Sister Farrah Elaina and himself.
Each person swiftly bathed their hands in the carved stoup containing holy water, drawing crosses across their own torsos. Sister Farrah arrived moments after, sweating slightly and breathing heavier due to how fast she had ran to rejoin the others and intercept the intruder. Despite the reclusive nature of her life in the monastery, she had always made time to exercise her body and take care of her health. If anything, this short jaunt of sprinting only revved her muscles and mind, making her even more astute to the current crisis. And the same could be said for Father Dood, whose rock-solid demeanor could be felt through even his softest and most gentle actions; who had been honorably discharged from the United States Army Special Forces in the mid-eighties; who had been disgusted by the ugliness of the war-torn agendas of the ever-fading line between barbarism and fellowship; who had dedicated his mind, body, and soul to the promotion and spreading of spiritual connectedness and harmony through peaceful enlightenment as a priest.
The intruder, being the embodiment of corruption and vileness, was greatly at odds.
A great shadow overtook the chapel from above. Through sheer will power, Father Dood commanded that the surrounding air be saturated with heavenly purity. Before anymore darkness could spill itself upon the monastery residents, the priest stretched out his arm toward the defiled intruder and tightened his fingers slowly, as if trying to clutch the shadows from afar.
“You are not welcome here,” he said.
There was a binding energy that entrapped the shadows in midair. The priest, his hand now appearing to be squeezing some invisible, unstable object, suddenly yanked his outstretched arm toward the ground. As if tied to a leash, the shadow fell sharply to the floor in front of Sister Farrah, who was ready before the command had been issued.
“Now, Sister Farrah!” the priest ordered. “Everyone, offer your words of prayer!”
With the meteorite-carved measuring rod firmly in her grip held out in front of her, Sister Farrah directed the pure and righteous energy at the incarcerated intruder. The light around the floor seemed to be swallowed up, but the light from the young nun’s tool replaced it three-fold. The shadowy figure moved violently, lashing and gnawing with its tides of emptiness, all in vain, trapped inside the cage that held the keys to its demise.
Through the dying vacuum of the defiled intruder’s void, the praying voices of the nearly-three dozen faithful followers battered the shadow and plundered its stability. Sister Farrah’s energy, now glowing with more colors than the visible spectrum could allow, continuously razed the writhing wickedness. Now with a complete hold on the intruder, Father Buck Dood addressed every ear in the chapel.
“My fellow companions of faith, do you see for yourselves what this foul creature is? We have no home among any other denominations of the church, because in their eyes, we are evil. Our traditions are not to their standards. Our path is said to be one of falseness and blasphemy. Can they who seek to excommunicate us not see the TRUE EVIL of this world?” With the one hand still clutching the invisible binding force, he thrust a pointing finger with his free hand toward the intruder. “This is the true evil! Right here is the very existence that threatens our own! Our very truth is that of understanding what this evil is … and ridding it from every corner of the universe.”
The praying monks and nuns had fallen to their knees, hands still locked tightly, rocking themselves back and forth, tears streaming down their faces, eyes squeezed closed with the effort to shut out the oppressive image of the true evil in front of them, all while the priest’s words were still hot inside their minds. Father Dood and Sister Farrah looked directly at each other, unspoken, feeling peaceful and unified, like there was no evil in the room at all. And in fact, from the outside standpoint of an individual with great wisdom and experience, it was easy to see that there actually was no evil at that very moment in the chapel.
By the priest’s command, the intruder was nullified into oblivion without a shred of remains. Silence snowed over the monastery. From the many skyscrapers in Chicago, there was a terrific view of a beautiful glowing painting on Lake Michigan provided courtesy of the morning sun.