The Anglic Gene

An orphan girl unsure of who she is or why a man wants her dead carries a secret. She will experience humanity.

Are you ready?

Join Sophia in a heart thumping adventure across England set in the 1870’s, exploring faith, doubt, love and fear. A story, quoted by the editor as “really something special”, you’ll continue to contemplate long after the journey unfolds

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43. Progress

1877 - Two years later.

On a custom-built obstacle course just outside the underground Order of Esdras facility, Sophia readied herself for the day’s challenge. She was prepared to beat her best time of six minutes fifty-two seconds. Next to her, Anne, shoulders thrust back, eyes narrowed, lips pursed, appeared more determined than usual. She was yet to reach the target time of seven minutes, however.

Sophia knelt on one knee readying herself for Jeremial to shout, “Go!” Sweat beaded on her forehead, part from the midday warm sun bearing down on her, and part from her earlier jog to the course following Jeremial on horseback. He encouraged them to run everywhere as part of their cardio training—to the dining hall, to the bath, to prayer meeting: everywhere. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Jeremial holding a golden timepiece in his hand. Anytime now, she thought.

“Go!” Jeremial shouted.

They both shot forward into a full-out sprint like an arrow from a bow. Sophia dug deep, racing to the first obstacle—a simple enough thigh-high hawthorn hedgerow. In her peripheral vision, she caught a glimpse of Anne just a little behind her. At times, Sophia believed Anne presumed she deliberately slowed down to let her to catch up. Nothing was further from the truth. Anne’s fitness and skills over the past two years had advanced beyond what Sophia considered possible. The dramatic progress made her contemplate whether Anne, too, carried the Angelic Gene. There was no present evidence to suggest that carrying the gene was what made Sophia herself stronger or quicker. Her speed, though exceptional for her age, was equivalent to the top one percent of athletes. All the gene appeared to have afforded her was telekinesis, which she avoided using due to the side effects, and a healing ability.

Without slowing, Sophia bounded over the hedge, gliding gracefully through the air. The next obstacle approached abruptly: a dense three-story high wooden wall made of stacked horizontal planks with a rope dangling over the top. A couple of strides away from the barrier, she braked into a forward jump. The height from the leap allowed her to grasp the rope’s tail a good six feet off ground. From there, she placed both feet on the planks and leaned backward. With her spine parallel with the ground, she bent her knees and climbed hand over hand up the rope pacing up the wall. By this point in the course, she typically led Anne by several yards. Not today. Anne was just two paces behind.

Standing on top of the wall, Sophia leapt to the ground, flexing her knees as she landed on her feet and shooting into a forward roll to absorb the impact. After the first rotation, she unwound into a sprint. Now, I should be at least a few yards ahead, she thought. In the past, Anne had never jumped from the top of the wall. She would lower herself over the top, face toward the wall, and drop to the ground and then turn and recommence running—costing her valuable time. Sophia glanced over her shoulder to gauge her lead. She stumbled slightly. In fine form, Anne was only marginally behind and gaining. A moment later, Anne took advantage of Sophia’s misstep and inched ahead. Impossible, Sophia thought.

Sophia readied herself for the next obstacle: a platform of stacked logs barely a head’s width above the ground. The objective was to crawl under the logs, but crawling was impossible because the low height of the space forced the person into a prone position. An arm’s length away from the entrance, she dived forward hoping her momentum would slide her a reasonable distance underneath the logs. The tactic worked, giving her a body length’s edge. Beneath the logs, in a prone position, she propelled herself forward using elbows and knees. Her breathing quickened. She could feel the pounding of her pulsating heart in the back of her neck. The armor she wore, a cloth shirt covered with a leather top, and matching skirt made progress ever more difficult. The sweat build up on her chest and belly caused the clothing to rub against her skin like iron wool, creating a burning sensation, and sometimes taking a layer of skin or causing a blister to form. Used to pain, which was all part of her training, she lumbered forward. She hated this part of the course. The restrictive space limited her movement to almost zero. A little more, she thought. I can do this. An inch at a time, she gnashed along the ground until her shoulders extended past the end of the platform. At this point, she placed her palms on the logs and pushed herself the rest of the way out.

Relieved to be free of the confines of the crawl space—the gnash space, really—she shot off into a sprint. The last part of the course consisted of a half-mile run back to the start. She did not see Anne in front, so she presumed she must be behind. She did not dare look back in fear of a second stumble. Knowing how Anne hated the crawl space even more than she did gave her a little solace. Her heart thumped at maximum. She focused on Jeremial standing at the finish, gold timepiece in hand. In her left ear, she heard heavy breathing and then, in her peripheral vision, saw Anne gaining. A few seconds later, Anne pulled alongside and then passed, leading into the homestretch by several strides. Sophia dug deeper. She can’t beat me, Sophia thought. I need to be the faster, stronger, one. To protect her.

Sophia accelerated, forcing her heart rate past its known maximum. She bore down, shortened Anne’s lead. Down to two strides, then one stride. Too late, Anne crossed the finish line—half a stride ahead of her.

“Congratulations Anne,” Jeremial said. “You set a new record.”

Sophia bent over, hands on knees, gasping for air. Between breaths, she said, “What?”

“Six minutes forty-seven seconds. Shaving five seconds off Sophia’s record.”

Sophia gazed at Anne, who was lying on her back with her knees in the air, recovering. Her chest rose high and fell hard with each breath. Her most striking feature at the moment: a radiant smile.

Jeremial checked his timing device a second time. “I’m impressed with both of you.”

After regaining her breath, dripping in sweat, Sophia asked, “How did you get so fast, Anne?”

“Extra practice with Michael,” she replied, rising to a sitting position.

“Oh,” Sophia said, “so that is what you guys have been up to in those long hours alone together.”

Anne nodded. “Yep.”

Sophia presumed there might have been a little romance going on between the two of them. Once or twice a week they would go off walking together and return some hours later. While she knew Michael was a monk, she was not sure whether that ruled out dating, and she felt too embarrassed to ask in case Michael got the wrong idea. She liked him and all, but she was not interested in forming a relationship with him other than friendship. Besides, she knew that deep down Anne had a thing for him. “Well, you deserved this win,” Sophia said.

“Thanks,” Anne replied.

* * *

Two hours later, they stood in front of Jeremial inside the training hall.

“I have something special for you today, girls.”

Sophia’s lips bowed slowly into a smile. “You do?” she asked, half curious, half wary. Jeremial’s surprises sometimes consisted of physically, and sometimes even emotionally, challenging training exercises.

“Well, I’m so pleased with your training with real weapons over the last year that we are ready to move to the next level.”

“And that is?”

“Ahh, Douglas,” he said, “right on queue.”

Sophia and Anne spun to face Douglas, who was walking toward Jeremial carrying the case in which  the Swords of Light were stored. A tingle of expectancy shot through Sophia’s body. She bounced on her toes like a child who had just won first prize. Is this the day I get to hold one? she thought. Anne, biting her bottom lip, appeared just as excited.

Jeremial opened the container. “Sophia, Anne, take a sword each.”

“Who’s is whose?” Sophia asked.

“Either or. They are both identical.”

“You take one, Anne.”

“Really?”

“Yes, you deserve to choose first after beating me today on the obstacle course.”

Anne reached into the case and retrieved a sword. After admiring the glistening blade in Anne’s hand, Sophia reached in and wrapped her palm around the hilt of the remaining Sword of Light. The handle’s texture was soft, almost as if the silver melted around her fingers to form the perfect grip. She raised the sword and held the glistening blade vertical before slicing the air to the left, followed by a swipe back to the right. Like the precision-crafted wooden swords, the balance of the blade was remarkable. She softly caressed the flat side of the blade, being careful not to touch the razor-sharp edge, knowing that the merest contact would slit her skin.

“Right,” Jeremial said, “let’s do the apple test to ensure you have them under control.”

Sophia recalled the first time they had done the test. Anne failed, missing the apple completely. As a result, she was not permitted to use a real sword due to lack of control. Eventually, after weeks of additional practice she got the hang of the timing.

Jeremial retrieved two shiny red apples from a bushel basket tacked to the wall. He faced the girls with an apple in each hand, said, “Now, you know the drill. I’ll toss these in the air, and you need to cut them in half and then catch them with your left hand.”

Both girls nodded, raising their swords.

“One, two, three.” Jeremial tossed the apples high towards the ceiling and stepped two paces back. The apples ascended at slight angles, requiring Sophia and Anne to reposition. Their swords moved faster than the eye could register, leaving a blur of light trails as the apples descended into their awaiting left hands.

“Okay,” Jeremial said. “Now, show me your apples.”

Sophia, with a gleam in her eye, held her palm out with two perfectly cut slices of apple.

“Very good, Sophia. And what about you, Anne?”

Anne swallowed hard, shaking her head side to side as she held her hand out. Did she fail? Sophia thought. Doesn’t look good. She’ll be heartbroken if she can’t keep the sword.

“You missed,” Jeremial said. He sighed heavily. “I expected better.”

Then Anne winked and her expression morphed from a frown to a playful grin. With her thumb, she rubbed the top of her apple. “Which piece would you like, sir?” The apple in her hand was split into eight perfectly cut slices.

Sophia’s eyes widened as she sucked in a quick breath. “Wow!” she said. “Let me guess something else you have been practicing with Michael.”

Anne nodded.

“I think I’m going to have to start coming with you guys on your field trips.”

“You’re welcome to,” Anne replied.

Jeremial stood speechless for a moment with a puzzled look on his face. He rubbed his chin. “Well I’ll be. I have never—never—seen anyone do that before. Congratulations to the both of you: The swords are yours to keep. Go see the weapon-smith to have custom sheaths constructed with mounting straps.”

“Thank you, Jeremial,” both girls replied.

“Wear them with pride,” he said as they skipped out of the room together.

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