Read Strength Online

Authors: Angela B. Macala-Guajardo

Strength (10 page)

BOOK: Strength
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The next thing Roxie knew Baku and Aerigo each had one hand her shoulders and were gently guiding her to sit back down.

“I really wouldn’t,” he said.

She shook her head to clear her mind.

“I apologize. I should have warned you. That water is a little too potent for mortals.”

Roxie shifted so she sat closer to Aerigo and was looking at Baku, instead of out over the water.

“Now, listen closely.” Baku touched the pale sand. Hundreds of circles formed all over the beach, like an endless constellation bordered by water. “There are a good few hundred inhabited worlds in this universe besides your ‘Earth.’” The circles zipped across the sand until a particular circle reached inside their semicircle. This one grew and filled with continents that Roxie recognized as Earth. “These worlds are scattered all over your galaxy and many others.” The sand formation of Earth zipped off in the direction it came, and other smaller circles took its place. “The universe is infinite and endless, so sentient life is pretty well spaced out, whether anyone meant it to be that way or not. All their levels of development go as far back as the formative stages where single-celled creatures have begun to emerge.” The planets melded back into the beach, then were replaced by organisms Roxie recognized while looking through a microscope in Biology class. “And then there are worlds far older than Earth itself with societies and cultures vastly different from your own.” The primitive organisms leapt into air and transformed into miniature flying vessels and cityscapes that looked like they came from sci-fi novel covers. “This is the range of life you’ll be helping Aerigo protect, and every world is precious to one god or another.” The sand drizzled back onto the beach, forming a smooth surface.

“I don’t mean to sound rude or anything,” Roxie said, unable to take her eyes off the sand, “but who are you exactly?”

“I’m Earth’s Creator. Your god. I’m the one who purposely had you born as an Aigis, although things didn’t go quite as I planned.”

Roxie’s jaw dropped and she looked at Baku. Was this a joke? But they’d been magicked to wherever they were, she’d fought a giant and now had powers she didn’t yesterday. And her grandmother even knew about Aerigo. And the sand! But God never showed his face like this…

Baku leaned forward and said, “I know you’re thinking I’m acting out of character but I’m not any of the gods you’ve been taught about—well, I’m their inspiration and, inadvertently, so is my wife. But the point is I’m not what you expected. Please discard all your preconceived notions. I’m just me, and I need both your help.” He sat upright.

Her brain tried to wrap around the revelation. This was God—a god, genuine divine being. Was it true? Well, what would she have expected if she were to ever meet her maker? Pearly gates and lots of clouds, and a man with a beard that fell to his feet?
Eh.
Why not this man sitting before her? There was something otherworldly about his presence, something that made her feel like staring with her mouth ajar, but she politely refrained. True or not, she’d have to sort it out later and get to the bottom of this help thing first. “Why us?” The way Aerigo, Grandma and Daio treated her made it believable that anyone would come to her for help, but as far as what they expected her to do, she had no clue.

“Primarily because I and most other deities agree that things unfold better in the end when mortals help mortals, versus gods helping mortals. There are many other factors as well, but that primary reason carries the most weight. However, what you and Aerigo are helping me with right now is different.”

“Why’s that?”

Baku looked taken aback and turned to Aerigo, who said, “Later.”

Roxie didn’t miss Baku’s disapproving frown but paid it no more mind when he continued his explanation. Something about his presence compelled her to listen.

“Anyway, after a certain point in the most ancient parts of history, gods started having to
earn
the right and ability to create worlds, which led to a class of gods called ‘Creators.’”

“Why’d they start having to earn it?” Roxie asked.

“Choices, choices, choices.” Baku grabbed his ankles and studied his aurora sky. “You start off with infinite possibilities, but once you make a choice, all those possibilities collapse into that one. It’s how gods encounter limitations and new possibilities, but I’ll have to elaborate some other time.” He looked at Roxie. “Right now it’s more important for you to know and understand that most Creators choose to create multiple worlds and watch them grow, the number of worlds limited to an individual god’s own willpower. I have four of my own, counting Earth.

“On the other hand, some gods choose never to earn the status of Creator, for one reason or another. And then there are other gods who would become incredibly dangerous if they could harness such power. Some gods like to create; others like to destroy. But, in order to destroy, one must create first, and then send their creations off to destroy other gods’ worlds. It’s one of those limitations borne from choices gods made long ago.”

“Why can’t gods destroy other gods’ worlds themselves?”

“Again: choices that created limitations later on,” Baku said. “Which brings me to my next topic: Crea. Aerigo will be your true mentor here, but I’ll explain it to you a bit. Crea is what you know as magic, witchcraft, wizardry, sorcery and so on, but it’s also much more. It goes far beyond psychic powers, raising demons and doing amazing things that a normal person cannot. You already know a bit about your own special powers. That’s part of Crea. However, not all worlds have the same access to these energies. Earth is a perfect example.

“Every new world starts with access to Crea, but sometimes the planet’s inhabitants don’t use it, by choice or neglect, and the energies are slowly locked away. Crea doesn’t disappear or the planet would die. It’s as necessary as air to living things to have those energies hold planets together. One thing that mystifies even the gods is that sometimes, there are leaks in Crea-dormant worlds. You are headed to one of those leaks right now, called the Bermuda Triangle.”

Roxie turned to Aerigo. “Why
are
we headed to the Bermuda Triangle?”

“We’re a little stuck on Earth until we get there,” Aerigo said.

“Right,” Baku said. “And one other thing I feel you should know, Roxie, is that Crea leaks can also appear in life forms, like Luis, who’s sharing his cabin with you. It’s a phenomenon. Pay attention to people that stick out from the flow of things, like Luis does. These enigmas often have something valuable to offer.” Baku’s face grew serious and his gaze shot skyward. He studied the dancing aurora over the lake, and then a crimson band over the forest. He looked at both Aigis again. “There’s so much more I wish I could tell you, Roxie, but you’ve been here as long as it’s safely possible. Be careful, both of you. Farewell.”

Baku stood and his form began to fade.

“Wait! I have a question.” Roxie got to her feet and Baku’s form solidified.

“Be quick, dear child. I don’t want Nexus to sense that you’ve been to my realm.”

Roxie glanced about her. “What did you mean about my birth not going as you planned?”

“Surely Aerigo told you that you were born on the wrong planet?” Baku said.

“He did, but how the heck does something like that happen?”

Baku gave her a rueful smile. “I’ll show you.” His form faded into nothing.

What sounded like static coming from a television turned to max volume zapped the air. Roxie flinched. When she opened her eyes, Baku’s realm was in pieces, huge chunks of it floating and rolling independently from each other like a chain of colorful asteroids.

On hers and Aerigo’s chunk of realm stood a beaten and bloodied Baku staring down an equally beaten and bloodied young man twenty yards away, with curly black hair and eyes darker than Roxie’s. Both men wore the same cargo pants and belt.

A disembodied voice from above said, “This is my memory of the day you were both mentally and physically conceived. That young man you see is my son, Nexus, your ultimate foe that you must stop from getting what he wants.”

Nexus didn’t look overly intimidating; just a little older than her but… his eyes… they were full of cold hate. And this was another god she was seeing. How was she supposed to stop a god from getting what he wanted?

“Aigis begin as a thought, an idea. And then that idea turns into energy with the potential to become an Aigis.” The memory-Baku held his hands in front of his abdomen like he was holding an invisible soccer ball. A smaller ball of white light appeared between his palms. “That ball of light is you.”

Roxie felt butterflies in her stomach. This had to be a first in human history—er, mortal. When was the last time a god showed his creations the instant they were born?

The memory-Baku’s mouth moved but made no sound, and then he took the ball of light in one fist, feinted a throw at Nexus, and then launched the ball into outer space. Nexus shared Roxie’s confusion, then formed his own energy ball, a red one, and sent it after the other. The red one caught up, but right before impact, something made the red one explode, knocking the white one off its course.

Roxie’s ears were blasted by a second bout of static hiss. She and Aerigo now stood in the present, repaired realm, with Baku absent.

“And that’s how,” he said. “Unfortunately, I have no idea what protected you from my son, so you’re
very
lucky to be alive right now. I’d put the last of my energy into veering your new trajectory towards Earth, or else you’d have sailed on forever, unless a wormhole or something else crossed your path. Now, farewell child.”

Before Roxie or Aerigo could move, the realm vanished and they felt the sheet take hold of them again. Their motion was thrown into reverse as they flew among the stars.

Roxie found herself still standing by the railing and Aerigo sitting in his chair, as if nothing had happened. She crossed to the balcony door and stopped. Luis was still folding the same shirt he’d picked out earlier.
Weird.
She slid open the door and Mr. Herschel looked up with a smile.

“Guess he really meant ‘a second,’” he said. “If you’re done chatting, feel free to have a look around the ship. There are all sorts of things to do, or you can just relax, or whatever you feel like.” He put the shirt away and picked up another. “My family and I are going to catch a play later this evening, and you’re welcome to join us.”

“Maybe we will,” Roxie said. She needed to be alone to think things out before she gave Aerigo a chance to explain anything else. Her emotions needed to catch up with her brain, too. She’d just met God in person, for crying out loud, and seen how close never being born she’d come.

Luis fished a plastic card out of his wallet and held it out to her. “Here’s a keycard so you can get in if we’re not here.”

“Wow, thanks!”

“Don’t mention it. Are you alright? You look like a little shaken.”

“I’m fine. I just need to go for a walk.”

“Take care then.”

Roxie waved and did her best to pop him a genuine smile on her way out.

***

Aerigo crossed the room and headed after her.

“Going with her?” Luis asked.

“Keeping an eye on her,” he said.

“Want some different clothes so you’ll blend in better? Seriously; a person in all black during the middle of the summer? Aren’t you hot?”

“I’m used to it,” Aerigo said with a shrug and left.

Luis glanced at his wife, who looked at him but said nothing while she put her socks away. “Whatever,” he said to no one in particular, and then went back to unpacking.

***

The rest of the day went by in a blur. The Herschel family ended up going to the play without the Aigis, and returned to the cabin after a theatre supper to find Roxie and Aerigo lounging on their patio. They left them in peace and went to bed.

With the moon hugging the southern horizon and hidden by the stern, the night sky was glittering with more stars than Roxie had ever seen at once. The light pollution from Buffalo dampened such a sight. She had no idea the naked eye could, after adjusting to the darkness, see all those zillions of white pinpricks at once. She even saw a shooting star, and the faint smoky edge of the Milky Way cut the starry blackness in half. The sight made her feel insignificant and small. Where was Baku’s realm among all those stars?

“I talked to Luis briefly while you were wandering around,” Aerigo said in a deep, soft voice, as if he were trying to not break the magic of the sky’s beauty.

“Yeah?” she said back in an equally soft voice.

“Baku told me to go to Bermuda. This ship makes a couple of stops before there, so we have three days before we can get to Phaedra.”

“Fay-drah?” Roxie said.

“It’s home to one of my favorite cities. You’ll see why when we get there. The sights might help you clear your head while we’re there.”

Roxie nodded, not knowing what else to say. She returned her gaze to the sky and started thinking again about Baku the moment he conceived her.

After a while, Aerigo asked, “What’s wrong? You look upset.”

Roxie gazed through the one-foot gap between the top and middle railing at where the sky and sea met. She could barely tell where the night met the ocean surface. She sat up and raised her knees so she could rest her chin on them, and wrapped her arms around her legs. “I feel different,” she said somberly.

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