Flame and Shadow

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Chapter 48

“That’s impossible!” Milo declared. “That is just. Not. Possible.”

I shook my head. This gracefully twisting edifice was a marvel of modern construction. After Calmingo was nearly destroyed by some kind of terrorist attack four years ago, a number of buildings were toppled in the center of the city. They had also suffered an EMP attack, rendering all of their electronic devices useless. A brilliant young inventor named Will Eisenberg had emerged as The Azure City’s savior, developing a new technology which caused the effects of the EMP to be reversed.

This had made him a hero in the eyes of the people, and he used his newfound fame to launch a company of his own: Eisenaki Corp. This technological company specialized in electronics, but also had divisions for various other areas of research. It was founded for the purpose of making the world a better place through technology. The founder also worked through local universities to encourage scientific advancement. The Skypyramid was erected as the new headquarters, and construction had been completed just the previous year.

“How is it possible that this book, written three thousand years ago, could include an illustration of a skyscraper, just completed within the last year or two?” Sera marveled. “That doesn’t even make sense, does it?”

I nodded slowly.

“Whoever wrote this certainly knew what they were doing.”

“Well, our next step is to go there.” Milo stated. “That’s the only lead we have, so we might as well see what it means.”

“Agreed. California here we come!” Sera cheered.

“Do you remember where we left the motorcycles?” I wondered.

“Yeah. We parked pretty close to the river. Since we were washed here by the current, they must be upstream. If we head that way, we should come across them.” Milo concluded.

It took a few minutes for us to find them, but find them we did. This time, they weren’t vandalized in any way. As we climbed onto the seats, I asked aloud:

“Do either of you have any money? It’s around two thousand miles from here to California, and we’ll need to refuel and stay the night somewhere.”

“Not to mention food.” Sera pointed out. “I’m broke, how about you, Milo?”

“I’ve got a little money,” he disclosed. “but it’s going to be close.”

With nothing else to prepare, we embarked on our long trip

Our first heading was west, then southwest into Minnesota. From there, it was a long haul across two-thirds of the United States aiming for Southern California. On this journey, we hopped from gas station to gas station, only stopping long enough to refuel and find water. When nightfall hit, we were all too exhausted to continue, and needed to get some sleep. We pulled off the interstate into a small town. Once there, we found a place to stow our vehicles and spend the night in a patch of trees. It was a lovely summer evening, and sleeping outside felt perfectly refreshing.

The next morning, we were on our way again. During the course of the travels, I think that there was only a stretch of about 40 miles where I did not have the song “Life is a Highway” in my head. It was fairly late in the day when we made it into California, and the sun was dipping low over the horizon when we reached Calmingo. The Skypyramid ruled the skyline, standing proud and resolute above the city. The evening sun lit up the structure, making it shine like the beacon of hope it was supposed to represent. The enormous fountain, which had been repaired following the terrorist activity, glittered in the sunlight as well. It looked like some type of utopian paradise, a futuristic technological oasis in a hopeless desert of society.

The highway led us under the mighty aqueduct into the city. We entered after the rush hour was over, so traffic wasn’t too terrible. We then made our way into the heart of Calmingo, toward the Skypyramid. When we arrived, it was surrounded by a large commotion. There were scores of well-dressed people entering the building. The men in their suits and women in their dresses were obviously there for some kind of party. Apparently Eisenberg was hosting some kind of ball, and the first floor of the Skypyramid was the venue.

Milo and Sera pulled the motorcycles off to a side road, and we discussed our next course of action.

“Well, what now?” She asked.

“I think we need to lay low. We’ll never be able to get into the building with all that going on. And even if we could, we’d never be able to find whatever the prophecy wants us to find.”

“I’m not so sure.” I added. “If the prophecy could predict the existence of this tower three thousand years ago, it may also have known we would arrive during this party thing. Um, my vote is that we check it out.”

Sera nodded.

“She’s right. Plus, it could be fun! I’ve never been to anything like this before. I’ll bet they have some pretty good food in there!”

“Alright.” Milo sighed. “But they’ll never let us in like this. Come on, follow me.”

The young man restarted his bike, and we backtracked several miles through the city, to a somewhat shadier part that we had passed by before. He led us around into a side street, and we followed that until we came to a series of storefront businesses, including a thrift store.

“I saw it from the main road earlier.” Milo shouted to Sera and me.

What astonished me was just how fast degeneration could set in. Calmingo was constructed from the ground up to be the perfect city; a place of peace and hope for humanity. The intentions were pure, but these are humans after all. In just our short drive through the city and down the side roads, I could see corruption, poverty, and crime. Despite the best efforts of the designers and law enforcement, Calmingo was quickly decaying just like every other metropolis in the history of civilization. The Azure City still appeared to be a pristine oasis to the public eye, but the jewel-like surface belied an underworld rotting from the inside.

We drove around behind the buildings, and parked in an alleyway nearby. When we climbed off, I heard the sounds of a scuffle some distance deeper into the corridor. I went to check it out, and found a disturbing sight. A large man had a young boy of around 11 pinned up against the wall, and was threatening him with a knife. I couldn’t make out any specific words, but when the boy tried to fight back, the man kneed him in the stomach, and pulled back the knife to gut him.

I had to act fast. I dashed in, and shoved the big guy away.

“Stop!” I cried. “Don’t kill him!”

The man stumbled, and the boy broke away.

“Get outta my way!” The man roared. “That little brat deserves it! He broke his word, and stole from me!”

“Is that any reason to kill him? He’s just a kid!”

“Just a pain-in-the-ass is more like it!”

He pushed past me to give pursuit. The boy had hidden behind Milo and Sera, who were standing not far away. The man growled and rushed them with a knife. Milo was ready to fight him, but the man crashed into an invisible barrier just before reaching him.

He regained his senses, and turned back around to face me. I had formed a bubble, trapping the man and myself together.

“Easy, there, easy. Calm down. There’s nothing worth fighting over here. Just let it go.”

The furious thug glared at me.

“I don’t know what makes you more of a freak. That force field thing, you helping that brat, or puttin’ yourself in here with me! Either way, you’re gonna regret it!”

There was no way I was about to let him attack my friends or the young boy, so I confronted him in the confines of my own force field.

I put my hands out in front of me.

“I don’t want to hurt you. I just want-“

He obviously wasn’t listening as he rushed toward me, swinging viciously with his knife. Moving quickly, I ducked backward away from the attack. He reversed the direction of the slash back toward me. I was able to block his forearm, twist his wrist, and flip his body over, simultaneously confiscating the knife.

I stood, calmly holding his weapon, as the big man glared up at me. My shimmering force field dissipated, allowing him to run away. As he disappeared into the alleyways, I felt a nasty pain in my hand. The knife had cut me as I was defending against the attack. I smiled grimly, thinking about how closely I was following in Tabal’s footsteps. Hopefully I’ll diverge from her path before…

Meanwhile, Milo and Sera were talking to the boy we had rescued.

“What’s your name, kid?” Sera asked.

“I’m Judash.”

Milo put his hand on the scared child’s shoulder.

“You know; I was in your exact position once. Stealing and begging to make it through every day. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Just hold on. You might just catch a break.”

“I wish there was something else we could do.” Sera lamented. “Unfortunately, we’ve got a job we have to do.”

The boy shook his head.

“You saved me. That’s the best thing you could do.”

As he started to walk away from us, he called: “I’ll never forget you!”

The three of us then reconvened.

“Are you OK?” Sera questioned, noticing that I was nursing my right hand.

“I’ll be fine. This’s nothing I can’t handle.”

“We need to get that thing cleaned, and stop the bleeding.” Milo stated. “We’re right outside the thrift store. We’ll get some cloth we can use for bandages there.”

A few moments later, we were inside the building. I promptly grabbed a shirt from the cheapest rack, and headed to the bathroom to clean the cut on my hand. It looked worse than it felt, actually, and I wasn’t too worried about it. While washing my hand in the sink, I wondered something. Why exactly was Milo so insistent on going to the thrift store, anyway?

After tending to my wound, I left the restroom with the shirt wrapped around my hand like a bandage. What greeted my eyes was an absolute shock. Milo was wearing a jet-black three-piece suit and tie. He looked a bit uncomfortable, but very handsome. Sera was wearing a sleeveless red dress that reached down to the floor. The sequined material accentuated her bold orange hair nicely. Suddenly, I felt extremely childish and awkward. These two were what, 18 or 19? Still, they looked very mature and attractive, and made me deem myself completely insignificant and inferior.

The twins saw me looking nervously around, and Sera waved her hand to beckon me over. I hesitantly complied. When I reached them, I looked down and complimented:

“You guys look really great.”

“Hey, thanks!” Sera accepted the praise. “I think that’s the first time anyone’s ever said that to me!”

Milo did not respond directly.

“Can you believe that a lot of people will spend a small fortune on clothes like this? And I’m getting them for 15 bucks, in perfect condition.”

“Are you planning on sneaking in to the party with those?” I asked, putting things together.

The boy nodded.

“Yep. We’ll blend into the crowd, and see if we can figure out exactly why the prophecy sent us here.”

“Yeah! This’s real James Bond crap! Infiltrating a fancy party with the black tie disguise. It’s perfect.” Sera added excitedly.

“Should I, uh, get…um…never mind.” I stuttered quietly.

I was thinking about asking if I could have some pretty clothes, too, but I didn’t know how. Plus, a girl dressing up as a woman would only make me look more ridiculous and stand out more. Not to mention, I really should keep my markings covered, and it was highly dubious that there would be any suitable dress clothes that would conceal every inch of my body.

“Alright, then. Is there anything else we need?” wondered Milo.

Sera twirled her hair around, fastened it into a fashionable bun on top of her head, and stuck a pen through it.

“I don’t think so. Let’s get to the party! I’m starved!”

We headed up to the front counter to check out. The plump woman took a look at what the twins were wearing and acquired a strange condescending expression on her face.

“Um, we’re buying what we’re wearing.” Sera explained, and held up their old clothes. “Could we get a bag for what we wore in?”

The woman rolled her eyes.

“Whatever.” Then, she punched some stuff into the computer.

“That’ll be thirty-two dollars.”

Milo quickly looked through the wad of money. “Thirty-two? How?! My suit was twenty, the dress was ten…”

“That shirt she’s holding.” She pointed an olive-skinned finger at me. “That’s another two bucks.”

Milo glanced around exasperatedly

. “I’ve only got thirty! What am I supposed to do?”

I didn’t want to make things more difficult, and I certainly didn’t want to draw more attention to ourselves, so I unwrapped the shirt from my injured hand.

“Here. We don’t need this. You can keep it.” I handed it over. “That’ll be thirty, right?”

When the miserly lady reached to take it, she observed that it was stained with blood. Then, her gaze traveled to the nasty looking gash on my hand. Her eyes widened.

“Nonononono. On second thought, you can have that one. Free. That’ll be thirty dollars.”

I smiled as I wrapped the shirt back around my cut. Milo handed over the last of our money to the woman, and we headed out the door. Instead of climbing on the motorcycles, Milo directed us to walk on the sidewalk back toward the location of the party.

“We wouldn’t want to draw attention to ourselves. I guarantee we’d be the only ones roaring up there on motorcycles. We shouldn’t be seen on them.” He explained.

“Yeah! Especially not pink and white ones with rainbows and hearts on them!” Sera jabbed, laughing.

“Shut up, sis! It wasn’t my fault-“

“Don’t call me that!! Seriously! I’ll flambé your arrogant stuck up-“

“Bring it! Come on!”

Will they ever get along? In an attempt to circumvent hostility and get their minds back on the business at hand, I jumped in between them and quickly proposed a question.

“So, what’s the battle plan, guys?”

The siblings glared at each other for a few more seconds, before Milo pulled his attention away.

“Right. Honestly, there isn’t too much of one. We blend in with the crowd until we can find an opportunity to break away. Then, we’ll just search around for anything that could possibly be what the Book of Prophecy sent us here for.”

“Hopefully it’ll be super obvious.” Sera said. “I don’t really have any idea of what we’re looking for. Do you?”

“Um, no. None of the oral descriptions of the prophecy had very much detail. Your guess is as good as mine.”

“Gotcha. I guess we’ll see what happens.” Milo replied, and we continued walking toward the Skypyramid.

By the time we reached it, the area around the building was mostly barren. I supposed the majority of the guests had already entered the party. Striding up the glass-paneled sidewalk toward our destination, I couldn’t help but marvel at the incredible edifice. Not only was the enormous spiraling tower an amazing specimen of modern construction, but the entire surrounding area had been designed as a work of art.

Following the destruction that had occurred four years previously, a number of skyscrapers had been destroyed. During the reconstruction, the entire block where they had stood was designated as a memorial of the tragedy. Eisenaki Corp.’s headquarters was the only building on the square. The rest of the area was occupied by sculptures and monuments dedicated to those who had lost their lives.

The most potent decoration was a number of stone statues of people frozen in absolute terror. The detail to every square inch of their face and bodies was incredible, as though they were once living beings. The looks on their rock-solid faces expressed real fear and pain. Apparently they were to represent those who were killed in the initial attack. The sculptures were very moving, but also quite haunting. I had never felt such a creeping shiver as when I looked into the dead eyes of these life-like statues.

As we approached the front entrance, it became evident that there was a doorman who checked people in by their names on an invited guest list. I began to grow a bit concerned. How would we get in? A quick glance around allowed me to see that there were a number of armed guards on the premises, in case anything were to go awry.

“Let me do the talking.” Milo whispered.

I nodded, but Sera made an objectionable face.

“I don’t think so!” She protested, but Milo shushed her as we reached the doorman.

The black-suited man eyed us suspiciously over his wire-rimmed glasses, then glanced down at his clipboard.

“Um, I don’t believe you’re supposed to be here.”

Milo scoffed, feigning indignation.

“Now, why would you say that?”

“Because I don’t recall Eisenaki inviting any children to this gala.” The man glared at Milo.

“Um, well, uh…” Milo was lost for words.

Sera rolled her eyes and jumped in.

“Are you saying I look youthful? Hee hee! Thank you! We get that all the time. Of course we’re invited! Let me see your list for a second.”

The doorman tilted his clipboard for her to examine.

“Ah ha! See! There we are!” She jabbed her finger down on the page.

He looked down at the name for a moment, before looking back up at us over his glasses.

“Mr. Arnold Bischoffshausen and Mrs. Ivanka Bischoffshausen?”

“Ah, yes.” Milo responded nervously. “I am indeed Mr. Bis…Arnold, and this is my wife, Ivanka.”

I suddenly flushed. Why did I wish that I could have roleplayed as his wife? I mean, it was just pretend, but still…

The doorman still looked skeptical with respect to our identities. Then, I found him staring at me, and I blushed even more.

“And who might this be?” He questioned pointedly.

“Well, um…” Milo again balked.

“THAT, is, um, my little sister.” Sera quickly inserted. “She has, uh…”

The girl pointed to the makeshift bandage wrapped around my hand.

“Hand cancer.”

Then, Sera began to fake tears.

“She was diagnosed seven months ago, and the doctor said she only had six months to live.” She sniffed and smiled. “Amazing, huh? She’s a fighter, that one. But she doesn’t have long to live. For her final wish, all she ever wanted to do was see the inside of Eisenaki Corp., or go to a fancy ball. I simply thought we could accomplish both right here, and she could finally pass away feeling fulfilled.”

The man looked coldly at us for a long moment, before suddenly breaking down in sobs.

“My…daughter…had hand cancer too. She fought it…before it finally took her! All she ever wanted was to visit Satoshi Tajiri’s grave, but I always had to work, and I never took her there! I’m such a horrible person!”

He then grabbed Sera by the shoulders, his clipboard clattering to the ground. He stared directly into her face through tear filled eyes

“Ivanka! Please! Let my daughter live vicariously through your little sister! Let her live her dream, and leave her life feeling fulfilled! Be a better man than I was!!”

Sera gave a large awkward smile.

“OK…thanks…we will….Thank you…”

The three of us pushed past him into the lobby of the building, while he called after us.

“Thank you! Thank you!”

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