Authors: Angela B. Macala-Guajardo
Once Aerigo was even with the back wheels he turned around and settled the bus along the back of his neck and shoulders. Balancing on one foot, he tentatively kicked at what remained of the Mustang’s nose. The car stayed stuck so he kicked it a little harder and made both bus and car wobble. Aerigo shuffled to get both feet back under him, then kicked the car with the ball of his foot and it came unlatched. He caught the vehicle on the top of his boot and helped it fall slower, and at the same time the bus tipped toward his left. Aerigo set the car down with a metallic thud and bent lower as he side-shuffled. All that metal groaned as it was forced upright. It was like watching a big blue twinkie-shaped boat teeter between swells.
A young boy of maybe six with a buzz haircut breathed, “Whoa! I didn’t know Superman was real!”
“Me neither!” voiced a second boy clutching to the strap of his Spider-man backpack. Roxie took him to be the first boy’s older brother.
Aerigo carefully backed out from underneath the bus, sidestepped away from the sports car, and lowered the bus to the ground. Most bus passengers, along with unaffiliated bystanders, had cameras and cell phones out. Roxie lost count of how many pictures had been taken by the time Aerigo had lifted the bus to his shoulders.
Well, this is going to have an interesting impact once all these pictures reach the media...
People began cheering and clapping.
“Yay, Superman!” the two boys shouted between cupped hands.
Aerigo ignored his positive appraisal and stood before the sports car.
Roxie jogged up to the mangled vehicle.
No one had tried to leave the car and Aerigo discovered why when he tried opening the passenger door. The handle snapped off in his grip and looked at the broken rectangle of plastic, surprised, then tossed the thing on the ground. He made a fist with one hand and held his other arm openhanded between himself and the car, then shattered the window with a jab. Aerigo reached for the inside handle and tried tugging the door open from the base of its window frame at the same time. The whole car lurched once with a hair-raising screech. Then the door creaked ajar after the second tug. Aerigo peeled back the door as if it were a sardine can lid and peered inside. The airbags had gone off and were deflated. An African American couple sat inside, unconscious. “They’re still alive,” Aerigo said, straightening up. “But there’s something suspicious about this crash.”
“How so?” Roxie asked. “Car crashes happen every day.”
Aerigo shook his head and studied the car’s exterior, working his way to the rear bumper. He reached down to touch a dent in its bumper.
“Maybe the car was in another crash before today,” she said. The dent was more of a hole. It looked like the car had backed into something. The car’s lights were intact and no other part of the bumper was damaged.
Balancing on one leg, Aerigo made a kicking motion and inserted his foot into the hole. He shook his head and stood even with the bumper, then tried a side kick. He set his foot back on the ground and glared at the bus. “Why is he going to such extremes to slow us down?”
“Daio did this?”
“I don’t sense him anywhere right now.” He headed for the other side of the bus, where everyone was still watching on. “He must have run into hiding, but I don’t get why. Now’s a perfect time for a confrontation.” He searched the growing sea of traffic. “What are you trying to do, Daio?” he wondered aloud.
Roxie recalled her on-the-run encounter with him. Someone he’d referred to as his master was pulling his strings; however, he seemed to be acting upon his own agenda as well. “When I met Daio earlier today, I confronted him about his intentions to follow us.” Aerigo gazed at her. “He said something about seeing if he can learn something from you, but he didn’t say what.”
Aerigo clenched his jaw. “He still hasn’t given up. Persistent fool. But that still doesn’t explain why he’s slowing us down.” He looked at the bus. “Unless those were Nexus’s orders.”
“Who’s Nexus?” Roxie didn’t like the sound of that name. “His master?”
“Yes,” Aerigo said with distaste, then in a softer voice said, “But don’t you worry about him right now, okay? It looks like he’s just trying to buy time. Let’s just get to New York first.”
You’re so easy to manipulate, Aerigo, especially with that kid around. It’s such a joke.
Daio sped ahead on a stolen kulinga, scanning the foliage on the side of the highway for a good place to vanish for a little while. He pulled over to a spot with plenty of room between the breakdown lane and a green wood wall covered in creepers, and let the bike flop onto its side in the overgrown grass, scaring a large brown rodent thing in the process. Many vehicles whooshed by mere feet behind him.
Daio reached out a hand and tried to find a door that would lead to another world, but could only feel warm air weaving between his fingers. The failed attempt came as no surprise. Back in the city, he’d sensed the absence of Earth’s magical qualities. The second attempt was just to make sure that part of the world wasn’t a magical dead zone. Now he was certain particular types of magic weren’t available to him. Earth was half-dead.
Daio sized up the wood wall and steep slope leading up to it, then bent his knees and jumped for the top.
Not wanting to leave in the hole in the wall, he overdid the jump, grabbed hold of one of the many dead branches stretched barely within reach, and the toes of his carpenter boots made the briefest of contact with the two-inch-thick wall before the branch snapped. He chucked the limb aside, shielded his face, and threw his legs forward as he crashed through more branches wrapped in dead vines. Daio landed in a thick blanket of decaying leaves and sprung to his feet. His fall had made a clear aerial path leading back to the wall. If his luck held, the hole wouldn’t look obvious from the other side of the wall.
He trudged to a spot free of tangled bushes and parked himself cross-legged at the base of a tree with a thin white bark, placing his palms on his knees as he closed his eyes. He let all his limbs and muscles relax, slowed his breathing, and cleared his mind of his surroundings and unimportant thoughts. Daio was putting himself in a vulnerable state, however he had a feeling his luck would last long enough.
Daio felt weightless and as if he were floating upward. When he opened his eyes he was looking down at the trees and freeway. He gazed skyward and sent his spiritual body to Nexus.
After a moment of darkness, a smooth granite floor, bordered with an ancient calligraphy script in each large tile, appeared beneath his spectral boots. His spirit felt heavy, like the atmosphere was pressing down on him. Lightning flashed outside the many vaulted windows, then was replaced by a muddy amber glow. Daio looked up from the base of several steps leading towards the open dais. Centered up that dais sat a granite throne. It, too, was marked with script, along with woven and knotted lines.
Nexus sat on his throne with his feet dangling over one armrest, his back reclined against the other, arms hanging behind him. Although Nexus was hundreds of thousands of years old, he looked no older than a man in his early twenties. He had a lean build, short black hair, and brown eyes almost dark enough to be called black. The god wore a pair of cargo shorts and a belt—the same outfit as his father, Baku. This similarity amused Daio, despite not knowing the motives behind a son dressing just like the father he loathed. Nexus turned his bored, tired gaze to Daio’s spirit, then hastened to a proper sitting position. Aerigo’s movements were an obsession of his.
“This is an interesting surprise,” Nexus said, eyebrows raised. “Why did you come only in spirit?”
Daio fought the urge to scowl. His master had to have conveniently forgotten to warn him about the lack of Crea. There’s no way he couldn’t have known. Typical.
Thanks for almost getting me killed, boss
“The planet you sent me to has lousy Crea.”
Nexus didn’t smile. “Did you find the being my father created years ago?”
“She’s just a girl. However, she’s also an Aigis. I saw her eyes glow.”
“So my father
create another. This is problematic.” Nexus stared off towards his tall windows. “But... I don’t understand how he expects such an inexperienced Aigis to pose as a threat to me.”
“I wouldn’t underestimate her, Nexus,” Daio said, the pain he’d experienced hours ago still vivid in his mind. “She kicked me in the groin and left me incapacitated for a good handful of minutes.”
Nexus laughed loud and hard, his voice echoing throughout the vaulted chamber. “How in infinity did you let her do that to you?”
The air inside the palace felt lighter and the room itself grew brighter. A lush voice that could make any man feel feeble filled the air.
“Is everything alright, Nexus?”
Kara, Nexus’s mother, and the most beautiful goddess Daio had ever seen appeared beside the throne. No woman, goddess or mortal, could match her tall and slender body, and creamy moonlight skin. Her emerald eyes peered at Nexus between strands of flowing black hair that fell past her petite waist. Oh how Daio wished to put his hands around that waist and press their hips together, then run his hands through her hair, which waved about as if there were a breeze.
Her hair always moves like that... so strange and mesmerizing.
Maybe he could help her out of her dress that matched her eyes and clung to her flawless shape. Maybe just once...
Nexus rose to his feet and took one of Kara’s slender hands in both of his. “Welcome, Mother,” he said tenderly. He kissed her hand.
Daio imagined himself running up the dais steps and punching his master. That ego needed reducing. He felt his eyes lose their angry glow the moment Kara spoke.
“I was going to visit you later,” she said, avoiding eye contact with her son, “but I’d sensed Daio’s presence on your realm.”
“His spirit is here. He’s not staying long.” Nexus appeared unruffled by his mother’s lack of eye contact, yet still held her hand.
Daio dropped to one knee and bowed his head when Kara looked at him. It was his way of showing respect toward her. It was exactly how Nexus wanted him to behave.
“And what are you up to this time, little Drifter?” Kara asked.
Daio inadvertently raised his head. Being called “Drifter” always bothered him, and that being coupled with “little” made him feel like he was five again, some lost child with no home or family.
Kara gazed at Daio with the softest of smiles, her eyes enriching that smile. Daio knew the goddess’s expression meant she was pleased to see him, in spite of calling him “little Drifter.” Kara had started calling him that when he began taking orders from Nexus alone. Other than that, she treated him no differently. She was the only one who treated him no differently than before.
Nexus grinned at Daio, too, although his expression was possessive. “He’s up to the usual.”
“It’s never been clear what the usual is,” Kara said without losing her smile.
“Taking orders from me, Mother. We’re working toward something
“And you’re saving the final result as a surprise?”
“Perhaps. We’re almost done. However, Father’s trying to interfere.”
“You mean the girl?” Kara’s smiled waned every so slightly that, if Daio hadn’t been staring at her the whole time, he wouldn’t have noticed.
Nexus broke from his mother’s arms. “How did you know?”
“I was there, too, remember?”
“And you know the girl’s an Aigis as well?” Nexus said, anger in his voice.
“I do. I know your father very well. You forget that often.”
“But I was right there! I was even closer than you. I’d detected only an attack.”
“Wait!” Daio interjected. “I’m confused.” He wasn’t usually this demanding of his master, but Nexus didn’t have the emotional breadth to be angry with him and infatuated with his mother at the same time.
Nexus said, “Years ago I gave my father one last chance to grant me the power to create worlds of my own. As you’re both aware, I didn’t expect him to cooperate, so we fought a bit.”
“A lot,” Kara said disapprovingly.
“Yes, Mother,” Nexus said. “Once he and I were spent, I let my father know about the war I’m planning. The end result is the real surprise though. You see, I’ve found a way around having to wait for my father to grant me the power I want. Now he’s scrambling to find a new way to stop me.”
“The girl?” Daio asked skeptically. After his master nodded, he added, “Why create another Aigis in hopes of foiling your prophecy?”
“A good question. Which is why you’re following Aerigo and the girl. Daio, you mentioned her being a little more than you could handle.”
“That’s not what I said!”
“I’ll recruit a few adept spies for you from Vancor.”
“His Elves?” Daio said, catching himself. Extra spies on hand would be useful, especially on a world he couldn’t readily escape from. But still, something didn’t sit right with the sudden shift in minion deployment.
“I have a hunch Aerigo isn’t planning to stay on Earth for long. Find out where he’s headed, then report back to me. I’ll dispatch the Elves with you at Aerigo’s next destination. Can I trust you to handle Earth by yourself?”
Like you’re going to let me
“Of course, master.” Daio bowed.
“Good. And feel free to continue stalling their progress.”