Story time!

Hello,

First story for the anniversary! Don’t what to say – just enjoy and don’t forget to comment and do other awesome stuff!

Umbra

3 – Walhaz

Weekends were the only days Linck was able to be free; free from schoolwork, free from scrutinising eyes of school peers, and free from Mr. Maverick for half of the day or more. Usually, Linck would organize a hangout with Teddy or go to Walhaz to meet his friends – it was a good thing he declined the offer for the basketball team, else he’ll have to sacrifice his freedom for practices. Linck would always be back for dinner because Mr. Maverick would most certainly beg the police to search for him if he didn’t.

Because of some situations, Linck was not allowed to venture out the city anymore and just last week, he understood why exactly why. Apparently, some kind of serial killer had been walking around Basildon for some time, targeting practically anyone in his reach. His alias was John Doe and depending on what you might think, fortunately or unfortunately, Linck had seen a glimpse of the man: around early thirties with a healthy build, a mop of curly dirty blonde hair, narrow angled face with sharp chin, straight nose, thin lips, and dead icy blue eyes. If you were to compare him with Mr. Maverick, you’ll see some similarities, though Mr. Maverick was more of a copy of Severus Snape than John Doe, dark eyes and equally dark hair kept neatly unlike the unruly blonde of John Doe. The dark alley that Linck had encountered before was soon forgotten like it was a place of a child’s imagination. From that day and forth, Linck had been going back and forth school without minding anything.

Linck had told Mr. Maverick that he knew how the culprit looked like, to which Mr. Maverick responded with a shoulder twitch and a plea of silence on that subject when Linck offered to tell the police about John Doe. Didn’t Mr. Maverick want the killer to get arrested? Linck asked about why Mr. Maverick refused to tell police and he said “This man can kill a whole city in a blink of an eye if he wanted to; the police is aware of him, but his identity shall not be confirmed, for he’ll surely annihilate the city if he were to be made public – he sent a letter to the law enforcement department not long ago about this.”

“How do you know about these things, Mr. Maverick? You work in an ordinary office!”

“…A friend told me,” and that was the end of the conversation.

Linck hadn’t brought up the subject about John Doe since because of Mr. Maverick’s clear discomfort on the subject. He didn’t even tell Teddy about it, insisting that it was when Linck had fallen into a ditch when walking home. But never underestimate Teddy, because he knew that there was no ditch anywhere near Linck’s neighbourhood. Okay, Linck had made a mental note to never go out of Basildon until the coast is clear.

However, Linck was still struggling to grasp the reason as to why he’s going to Walhaz with Mr. Maverick on a clear Saturday.

First, Walhaz had reported the most amount of missing people that was linked to the John Doe case; second, the alley Linck discovered not long ago turned out to be on the border between Basildon and Walhaz; lastly, Mr. Maverick was the one who pestered Linck into coming with him – it was as if Mr. Maverick wanted a double suicide.

Thankfully, the journey to Walhaz was not coloured blood red. The Mavericks travelled to a part of Walhaz Linck hadn’t discovered the place full of unfamiliar faces and equally unrecognisable buildings and cultures. He recognised some though, like stone heads of Lemuria and decorated skulls of Tenochtitlan. The Mavericks then passed the Westernmost North America of Walhaz, full of bull skulls and coloured eagle feathers, as well as the people native to the west. Though the eastern side of US was more modern and dominated by Caucasian, the western side maintained the traditions of old North America after the peace treaty between the locals and the European conquerors. They drove further to the north and they finally stopped at the Eastern North America, the proud flag waving at the tallest building in the area.

They parked the car at a parking lot and walked for the rest of the way, enjoying the smell of barbequed meat, the recognisable traditional music and the lovely ladies of the west, looking merry and very much at home in the district. Linck absorbed as much information as he could because they hadn’t stop for a break since they walked into the district and Mr. Maverick made to sign of incoming rest, so Linck had to cope with just the brief sightseeing.

Past a barber, past some diners, past a few clothes shops, the Mavericks walked on and on until they reached a pharmacy. No, not just a normal pharmacy – if it weren’t for a small sign near the entrance, no one would notice the thumb scanner. Mr. Maverick stopped and placed his thumb on the scanner, receiving a small beep and waited in front of the door, despite the shop being open for business. The pedestrians behind them seemed to give them odd eyes, judging from how some would falter in their path and give an eyebrow raise at the customers in front of the obviously open shop like visitors waiting for someone to answer the door – there were even buyers inside! Why would they need to wait for someone to let them in?!

Linck looked around and nudged Mr. Maverick. “Sir, I think we can just go in; it’s weird to wait in front of a shop like this,” he said.

“Elodie wouldn’t know the importance of our visit if we don’t behave properly,” Mr. Maverick responded.

Linck was quiet for a moment and then he said “Okay, you are most certainly keeping something from me. Even about the John Doe thing – you didn’t even bother to fully enlighten me about the whole thing. Why are you doing this? I feel like you want me to just obey what you say without a purpose, which is completely stupid because no one likes to do things without a reason.” Linck held his gaze on Mr. Maverick, who showed no sign of emotions. “So? Will you tell me or should I put myself in danger to understand, like what happened recently?”

“…I…Elodie will explain better,” Mr. Maverick said.

“Who’s Elodie –?”

“I’m Elodie.” Linck turned to the shop door and regarded the dark olive-skinned woman. She had her dark brown hair pulled back in a messy braid while her bangs hung loose in front of her right eye, the blonde highlights standing out like neon lights at night. She had a face the shape of an inverted triangle, almond-shaped honey brown eyes and slightly chapped lips. Despite the warm weather, she wore long-sleeved dress shirt topped with thin brown cardigan and swamp green baggy pants. She nodded to Mr. Maverick in greeting and then turned to Linck. “Elodie Moreau, nice to meet you,” she said, voice carrying a slight Francic accent.

“Linck Maverick, miss,” Linck said in return, “I take it you are Mr. Maverick’s colleague?”

“More like old friends; we’ve gone separate ways in terms of occupation, no longer working under the same roof,” she said, giving a lopsided smile. Elodie then moved aside to let the two in. “I really should move the finger scanner inside to avoid suspicion; my customers usually come at night when there’s not much people – that’s why the scanner’s outside.”

“What’s the scanner for?” Linck asked.

“It activates a bell down in my room so I know it’s not just an ordinary customer, else they’d just come right in,” Elodie explained, walking past buyers and workers, through a rusted iron door, down a flight of stairs and through a narrow corridor that smelt like rugs and boiled cabbage, mould a normal sight where the floor met the walls and on the ceiling, “See, I seldom come out because this pharmacy’s not mine –”

“Then who owns it?”

“The owner, of course! I rent the basement because it’s cheap, and the owner won’t mind me running my own business down there as long as I pay the rent.”

“Doesn’t he get suspicious? I mean, what if he suspects you a terrorist? Or a drug dealer?”

“The owner himself’s a drug dealer so why would he not allow me to do an equally shady job? Besides, he owes me his life.”

“…Okay, I’m missing a big part of this situation,” Linck said, stopping in his tracks. Elodie stopped and leaned on a wall, arms cross and waiting for Linck to continue; Mr. Maverick stood beside Linck, listening, “Alright, so what you’re saying is… you’re an illegal dealer with a mix of undercover spy who saves people’s lives? Then, does that mean Mr. Maverick’s an ex-spy – Wait, I bet he’s not actually an office worker.” Linck turned to look at Mr. Maverick quizzically. “Actually, I don’t get any of this and I also don’t get why he’s keeping lots of stuff from me –”

“Wait, you didn’t tell him?” Elodie asked Mr. Maverick.

“I didn’t think it’ll be like this and even if I told him, it’ll sound absurd,” Mr. Maverick said.

“But you still have to! What will happen if he were to get killed? They’ll go after our heads!” Elodie’s tone was now scolding, her hands on her hips and eyes narrowing dangerously.

“Umm, I actually nearly got killed just a week ago, so…” Linck confessed.

“See?! It’s because you’re not being specific and understandable that he doesn’t regard you seriously!” Elodie said in a hard voice, “I specifically told you to take care of him and be a proper foster parent but all you did was shoving the important things under the bed and leave him defenceless! I bet he can’t even wield a gun –”

“Wait, what? –”

“ – or even break a man’s neck – ”

“He’s still too young, Elodie. It’ll scar him,” Mr. Maverick said tiredly.

“’Too young’? We started younger, Daniel, and he needs to start soon or else we’ll be bringing Scarlett a corpse instead –”

“You know Scarlett?” Linck exclaimed. Elodie ceased her scolding and looked at Linck. “No, Mr. Maverick didn’t tell me about Scarlett, but I remember some things like images and sequences, but they’re all the same each time.”

Elodie drew in a deep breath and straightened up. “Okay, kid. What’ve you got?”

“Corpses, piled up on me. My mum, saying something like no one’s coming back – a red robot, called Scarlett. Pretty much that.”

The corridor was eerily quiet. Elodie stared blankly at Linck and Mr. Maverick looked as if he was reminiscing something. Finally, Elodie sighed and continued her walk towards her room. “True on all that, but only the side notes,” Elodie said.

“Will you tell me all of it, then?” Linck said as he followed Elodie alongside Mr. Maverick.

“Yeah, but it’ll sound absurd.”

* * *

“Do you know Umbra?” Elodie asked.

“Shadow?”

“True meaning, but not what I’m looking for; Umbra is an organisation, a secret one with rumours orbiting it. I assume you’ve met John Doe, looking at your wound – does it still hurt?”

“Yeah, but not as much,” Linck said, flexing his hand and rolling his shoulder experimentally. They were seated in a relatively small room that housed a single bed placed the farthest from the door, two plastic chairs, a desk piled up with papers, folders and research books, and a big drawer across the bed. Across the bedroom was the kitchen and beside it was the bathroom; further down the hallway was a room Elodie didn’t introduce. Linck was seated on the bed while Elodie and Mr. Maverick occupied the two chairs. Mr. Maverick was leafing through a folder, choosing to leave Elodie and Linck to converse important matters, both having a mug of sweet black tea. “The big cut on my back wasn’t that deep so it didn’t hurt as much as my arm,” Linck continued, “Is John Doe with Umbra?”

“No, he’s working for the government,” Elodie said, “Umbra is actually responsible for the Termites – no, don’t’ say anything; let me finish.” Elodie held up a finger as Linck opened his mouth, eyes wide with disbelief. “Anyhow, the government is actually hunting you down because you were once a part of Umbra – you were one of the people who took the vaccination to counter the Termites. Umbra injected a special type of antibody called aneantir into your body. Aneantirs are the only substance in this world that can destroy the Termites and Umbra gave this vaccine to a specific group of people only.

“Now, as to why they released the Termites – for the Perfect World Project, apparently. They’re trying to kill the so-called ‘worthless beings’ and let the ‘perfect beings’ live. The specific group of people mentioned earlier is a group of people who are included in the Millennium Monarchy; these people are geniuses, prodigies in different areas and in Umbra’s eyes, they are the representation of perfect human beings who they believe will make the world a better place than the current one. It was a good plan, to tell the truth, but their plan was leaked out by a spy and now the government is in search for every people who possess the aneantir so they could get the antibody to cure everyone… and you just happen to be one of them.” Elodie pointed at Linck for an emphasis, her other hand bringing the mug to her mouth.

“Who else has the aneantir?” Linck warily questioned.

“Daniel and I, and other Millennium Monarchy members. Note that neither Daniel nor I are in the Millennium Monarchy; we stole samples.”

“Well…am I?”

“Your whole family is,” Elodie said as she set her mug onto the desk, “Your family is actually quite special because Umbra seemed to have been monitoring your family for a long time. Well, I’m not sure about the details but I heard that your family is very much alive and well.”

“Then why am I in Anglia? Where was I from?”

“Eastern North America, also known as ENA. The whole Millennium Monarchy had been split up before the Rise of Termites and its members are now scattered all over the world. This is to prevent them from dying at the hands of the government. Since there were no specific characteristics of the people, they were forced to use vague information they got from some Umbra workers.”

“And why do you have to keep me alive?”

At this, Mr. Maverick closed his folder and sat up straight. “We made a promise,” he said, “to your mother, to take care of you while she’s gone. She was…an important person to a lot of people including us, so we won’t hesitate to do her a favour, no matter how big or strange it may seem. Another favour aside from keeping you safe was to end the Perfect World Project by activating the Cabbage Bomb –”

“You’re going to bomb the world with cabbages?!” Linck gasped, horrified but also finding the idea laughable.

Elodie barked out a laugh, “No! Okay, so maybe the name is stupid – all credits goes to your mum – but it’s basically a bomb filled with aneantir. The location of the bomb is hidden somewhere in ENA but the only ones who know where the exact location are your mum, Solomon, Daniel and I.”

“Who’s Solomon?” Linck never got his answer. Instead, they continued to explain the situation.

“Since we’re not allowed to immigrate, we’re developing a portal that will allow us to travel between places freely. Just a few more tweaks and we’re done – maybe it’ll be ready by next week, hopefully,” Elodie beamed.

“So, you’re going to leave me?” Linck asked in a low voice.

“No, kid – you’re going with us; Anglia’s not safe anymore ever since John Doe saw your face so it’ll be bad if we leave you here. Maybe we can drop you off at a friend’s place or something. Who knows? – maybe you’ll meet your mum when we reach the place!”

So much for a well-thought plan, Linck thought.

Then Elodie said, “Well, now that’s done, I guess you all should be home before it’s too dark.”

The Mavericks walked back to the parking lot after bidding farewell to Elodie and drove to their house, feeling tired despite the lack of actions done during the day. Mr. Maverick cooked pasta for dinner and the two sat in comfortable silence during the meal, now understanding each other after meeting Elodie. When Linck was washing the dishes after the meal, he asked “Sir, will your plan work?”

Mr. Maverick set his book down and twiddled his thumbs, furrowing his brows as the thought about an answer. “…If you ask me if it ‘will’ work, then I can’t say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. If you were to ask me if it ‘can’, then I can confidently answer ‘yes’, for we can’t be definitely sure that it will work accordingly but we know that with effort, it can.”

“What will happen if you fail?”

“We’re not sure – either death by the hands of the government or nothing.”

“What will happen if you succeed?”

“Everything will live and despair will cease to exist; we will all continue our lives as if nothing ever happened.”

“…Oh.” Linck wanted to meet his parents badly, to know who they were and to have a normal life for once, but the thought of living without his closest friend was worse than dying. He was left to ponder if Mr. Maverick will miss him after the whole charade but forced the thoughts out of his head in favour of living the comfortable life he knew then. After all, ignorance is bliss.

-rookieMANGAKA

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