Wednesday, December 31, 2014

More Giveaways!

I'm also having giveaways for The Game Called Revolution ( and The Revolution Beyond Time ( Both copies are signed by yours truly.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Incident 27 -- Chapter II

Here's more Incident 27 goodness for you to gobble up, courtesy of yours truly. Again, I don't recommend reading this if you haven't read God School, as it contains spoilers. With that being said, please enjoy this work in progress.

The following morning, Ev met Maya in the hangar. The cavernous room was primarily used for storage, but every so often they cleared the floor to make room for airplanes which the faculty members created using their highly advanced conjuring skills.
       Brandon and Freya were just finishing creating a large passenger plane when Ev arrived. It was an amazing thing to see in action. The various pieces of the massive vehicle simply materialized out of thin air, like reverse-disintegration.
       As usual, once it was completed, Brandon and Freya dropped to their knees, exhausted. Even for veteran gods, the process was very taxing. They always recovered fairly quickly, though.
       When Brandon saw Ev and Maya, he made a grand gesture to the newly-created plane and said, “All aboard for Morovia.” Throughout the day the gods would be creating various planes and taking students to each continent where they would then make separate arrangements to go wherever they were headed. This particular plane would be going to Ev’s homeland, the crescent-shaped continent Morovia, home of the great metropolis Seraphim City.
       “Thanks a bunch, Professor,” Ev said. He then added, “Professors,” remembering to recognize Freya’s contribution as well.
       Freya got back to her feet. “Our pleasure, Ev. I’m just glad we don’t do this every day.” Usually the Academy just had to ferry one or two students to and from Mt. Orleia. In such cases, they employed small sleighs pulled by otherworldly tigers Freya summoned from her chest. Ev still had no idea where those cats came from.
       “Good—I’m not too late.”
       Ev and Maya turned. Jaysin was standing there. “What are you doing here?” Ev asked him. “Your plane doesn’t leave for another hour.” Jaysin was going back to his homeland of Chrichton.
       “Just wanted t’say goodbye.”
       Ev rolled his eyes. “Cut the drama. We’ll only be gone a week.”
       Jaysin extended his hand. “Still…think I’ll miss ya, mate.”
       Ev shook his friend’s hand. “Well…as much as I hate to admit it, I’ll miss you, too. Probably.”
       “Get a room, you two,” Maya laughed.
       “Hey, hey, hey—watch it, missy. In case you’ve forgotten, I know your weakness. You. Have. A. Boyfriend.”
       She turned red and whirled away from Jaysin. “S-Shut up.”
       “Hey, no worries. I didn’t mean nothing by it. Just having a poke at my friends, that’s all.”
       Ev laughed. “You’re all heart, Jaysin.”
       Jaysin shrugged. “I try.”
       From behind them, Brandon coughed. “Sorry to interrupt, but everyone else has finished boarding the plane.”
       “Looks like it’s time to go,” Ev said.
       “Take care, Ev,” Jaysin replied.
       “You, too.”
       Jaysin then added, “You take care as well, Maya.”
       Without turning around, she said, “Same to you, Jaysin.”
* * *

They boarded the plane, and by the afternoon, they had arrived at Seraphim City International Airport. Ev couldn’t help but be reminded of the last time he had been at a major airport. That was in Stiftung. Belial had just unleashed the Nephilim into the city, and the students, who were on a field trip, had to fight their way back to the airport in order to get on their plane and escape. Unfortunately, they had to overtake another plane—also attempting to escape—which ended up being destroyed by a Nephilim. At the time, Brandon and Freya justified the sacrifice by saying they had to get back to the Academy to summon reinforcements to fight the angelic giants. On a purely logical level, Ev agreed, but that incident still haunted him. Seeing all those people go up in flames only a few feet away was something he would never forget. It seemed it was his fate to take part in the deaths of others.
       “Ev? You OK?”
       He snapped out of it and looked around. They were walking through the terminal, and Maya was attempting to talk to him. “Yeah. Sorry. I was just remembering our escape from Stiftung. Oh, wait—you weren’t with us.” In fact, Maya had gone over to Belial’s side after shooting her friends with arrows. They had had to flee Stiftung without her.
       “No,” she said. “I guess I wasn’t.” She went quiet. She deeply regretted her actions, but no amount of apologizing would ever undo them. Both of them simply had to live with the things they’d done.
       He took her hand. “It’s OK. As long as we’re here for each other, we can keep moving forward.”
       “Thank you, Ev.”
       They said their goodbye to Brandon and Freya and headed to another terminal. From there, they would catch another plane to another airport further to the south.

* * *

After another hour of flight, their plane landed in Grantz Municipal Airport about forty-five minutes outside Ev’s hometown of Upton. They took a cab the rest of the way, and before long they were in Upton.
       “Nice place,” Maya said.
       “Yep,” Ev said. “10,000 people, one police station, two fire stations, one high school.”
       The cab drove them through town, up Main Street, past a collection of businesses that comprised downtown Upton. Here and there were parks with walking trails, nice-looking playground equipment and dilapidated buildings—a study in contrasts. Some of the tax money was spent well, and some of it wasn’t.
       They went past Upton Middle School, which was three large white buildings built side-by-side. Each building housed a different grade. One of Ev’s few fond memories of growing up was attending here. He had loved school, mostly because he didn’t have to fear his father during the day.
       Behind the middle school they entered a neighborhood. It was strictly a middle-class residential area, not too rich and not too poor. The Bannen family probably would have made more money if Ev’s father had let his wife work full-time. But no, he (violently) insisted the bulk of her life be dedicated to serving him.
       They came to a brick one-story house at the end of the block with a two-car garage. As it was when Ev had grown up here, nothing about it stood out at all. The lawn was well-maintained by a man Ev’s mother periodically hired. You’d never know this house had once been the site of constant fear and, ultimately, a gruesome death.
       Ev paid the driver and they strolled up to the house. He rang the doorbell. A middle-aged woman with fading brown hair answered. “Ev! It’s so good to see you again!”
       They hugged. “It’s good to see you, too, Mom.”
       “Come inside,” she said to the two of them.
       When his mother had shut the door behind them, Ev said, “Mom, I want you to meet a…uh…special friend of mine. This is Maya Brünhart. Maya, this is Anni Bannen.”
       The two women shook hands. “Nice to meet you,” Maya said.
       “My son has a girlfriend!” Anni exclaimed happily.
       Ev was suddenly embarrassed. “Well…that’s…I guess…”
       “It’s OK, Ev,” Maya said. She turned her attention back to his mother. “We’re still feeling things out.”
       Anni nodded. “I understand. It was the same way with…” Her mood abruptly darkened. She was going to say, It was the same way with Dom and me. But that would have been a load of crap. Ev had long ago vowed never to resemble his father in any way, shape or form. “Never mind. It’s not important. Please, have a seat, you two. We have so much to talk about.”
       Ev and Maya sat down on the couch in front of the TV. Anni retreated into the kitchen. Maya looked around and said, “There aren’t any pictures of your father. That’s no surprise, I guess.”
       Indeed there weren’t. There were photos of Ev and his mother which varied in age. There were photos of baby Ev, middle-school Ev, high school Ev, young Anni and present-day Anni. But there were absolutely no pictures of Dom Bannen. Ev explained, “After he died, he burned every last scrap of his existence. He never deserved to exist in the first place.”
       Anni returned from the kitchen with sodas which she offered to Ev and Maya. She then pulled up a chair and sat down in front of them. “I’m sorry my husband isn’t here to meet you, Maya, but he ran off years ago—”
       “Mom,” Ev interjected. “She knows.”
       “Oh.” Anni’s face was melancholy. “I’m sorry you had to be burdened with that knowledge, Maya.”
       But Maya said, “It’s OK, Anni. Ev felt he could tell me because I told him my dark secret. We found one another because he both had similar experiences.”
       That seemed to satisfy Ev’s mother. “Well, I won’t ask you what you’ve been through. People have a right to their privacy, after all. Still, I will never forgive myself for what happened.”
       “It wasn’t your fault,” Maya said.
       “But it was. Poor Ev lived in constant fear because I was too weak to do anything. I kept telling myself Dom would change, that he would eventually see the light and stop abusing us. I was such a fool. And then came the night where he actually decided to kill me. I was so scared, I couldn’t move. Because of that, Ev had to do the unthinkable, the thing no child should ever have to do. It’s my fault he has to live with that for the rest of his life.”
       She was in tears now. Ev went over to comfort her.

* * *

After Anni had calmed down, Ev returned to his place on the couch beside Maya. “I’m sorry about that,” she said.
       “No, it’s OK. You have a right to be human. That’s something I didn’t learn until last year,” Maya said.
       Anni smiled approvingly at her. “Thank you, Maya. I can tell you’re a good match for Ev.
       “Let’s change the subject, shall we? Tell me about this university. You suddenly ran off to it, and I never really got the details. To tell the truth, I’ve been so worried, wondering if you chose a good school.”
       Ev sighed. He had not been looking forward to this. He didn’t know how she would react when he revealed the truth. Nevertheless, he decided it needed to be done. “Mom, were you following the news last year when that evil god took over Stiftung in the Murnau Islands?”
       “Of course I was. It was unbelievable, really; a real, live god who isn’t Bethos! But what does this have to do with your college?”
       Ev told her everything, starting with how he had been saved from refghasts by Brandon Strong, to his sudden enrollment in Divine Protector University, to their field trip to Stiftung and the subsequent attack by Belial, to their journey through the Tower of Babel. Anni stared at him, dumbstruck. Finally, she said, “I think I need to lay down for a bit. This is a lot to take in.”
       “Sure, Mom. I understand.” But did Mom understand? Could she accept the reality of her son as a god-in-training? Only time would tell, he supposed.

* * *

In the backyard, Ev and Maya stared at the indistinct patch of grass. It looked no different than the rest of the grass. “This is it,” Ev said.
       “This is where you buried him?”
       “Yeah. Luckily it happened at night, so were able to dig up the grass without anyone seeing us. I still see it clearly when I close my eyes. His blood was on my hands and I was going crazy with fear. I had just killed my father. I had taken a life. I knew what it was like to be a killer. For the love of Bethos, I was eight!”
       Maya put a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “It wasn’t your fault, Ev. There was nothing else you could have done. If you hadn’t done it, your mother would have been the one to die, and your father would have been the one to live. I’d say that’s an even worse scenario. Wouldn’t you agree?”
       “Yeah. It definitely would have been. Still, it doesn’t change what I went through. It doesn’t change what I go through every single day.”
       She squeezed his hand. “But you don’t go through it alone, Ev. And you never will again.”
       Despite (or because of) everything, he smiled. She was right. He wasn’t alone anymore.

* * *

Captain Arnold Schmitz stood on the deck of the DRM Blitzkrieg, one of several destroyers stationed at the giant tower which had appeared off the coast of Stiftung last year during the attack by the sinister stranger who called himself Belial. He claimed to have been a god, and with everything he was able to do, few doubted him. Having grown up in an atheist home, Schmitz had never been very religious, and still didn’t know what to make of Belial. It was certainly difficult to argue with what his eyes saw. After all, Belial had summoned angelic giants to terrorize the people of Stiftung. And if that wasn’t bad enough, he also had called down this behemoth of a tower. What exactly it was or what might be inside, no one knew. Not long after Belial went inside, three mysterious individuals were seen flying up from the depths (apparently, the tower’s entrance was underwater). When the Murnau military sent divers down there, however, they reported finding no means of entry. The only conclusion to be drawn was that there had to be a secret method of entering the structure, but so far no one had been able to find it. Schmitz and his crew tried using a blow torch to cut a hole inside, but that didn’t even make a scratch on whatever material the tower was made of. Ditto for D5 explosive charges. Next they tried shelling the place with the destroyer’s guns, but that produced no results as well.
       Thus they could not get inside. With that being the case, the Murnau government decided to bow to mounting pressure from other governments to allow them access to the site; they had nothing to lose at this point. Therefore, the Blitzkrieg was now part of a joint operation to study the tower and prevent any unauthorized entry. Of course, Schmitz suspected his superiors would be secretly pleased if someone could get the damn thing open.
       So, with nothing to really do, he just stood there on the deck, staring at the tower in the vain hope it would reveal its secrets to him. There was full cloud cover overhead, and it looked like it might rain. Schmitz hoped it would. At least then something would be happening. This was incredibly boring.
       Suddenly, a private ran up to him. “Kapitän! Radar is picking up a high-speed object heading this way from the east.”
       Well, that was something, at least. “How big?”
       “About the size of a missile.”
       Could one of the other countries be launching an attack on the site to gain control of the tower? That, he could not allow. “Are we sure its not one of ours?”
       “Positive, Kapitän. Central Command has nothing in the air.”
       Schmitz ran to the bridge. He told his first officer, Friedrick Gastoff, “As soon as we confirm the unknown object isn’t nuclear, I want it blown out of the sky.”
       Gastoff looked worried. “And if it is nuclear?”
       They both knew the answer to that question. If it was a nuke, they would wait for it to pass by the major population areas and then destroy it over the ocean. Unfortunately, they would likely get caught in the explosion, as close as they were to Stiftung.
       But Schmitz just said, “Tell me when we have confirmation.”
       A few minute later, one of the officers on the bridge announced he now had a clear radar return. Schmitz asked if it was a known nuke type. The radar operator shook his head nervously. “I don’t think it’s a nuke. It doesn’t even look like a missile.”
       What the hell was that supposed to mean? “What does it look like?”
       The operator hesitated for a moment. “A person.”
       “A what?”
       “Take a look sir. Two arms, two legs.”
       Schimitz studied the display. The unknown did indeed resemble a human being. And it was coming in even faster than a missile. He had a sickening feeling the events of last year were about to be repeated. He had to prevent that at all costs. “Shoot it down.”
       Gastoff nodded. The object had been close enough to lock onto for quite some time, but they hadn’t fired for fear of unleashing a nuclear holocaust. Now, though, they locked on and fire away with every non-nuclear missile they had. Schmitz wanted that thing shot down, but not bad enough to utilize the final option. If he was wrong, a finished career would be the worst of his worries.
       The Blitzkrieg unloaded a volley of warheads at the unknown. After thirty seconds, a series of explosions lit up the eastern sky. “Did we get it?” Schmitz asked.
       His hopes were high that they had just ended a threat before it could begin. However, movement in the direction of the smoke cut that hope short. The thing was still coming in, and fast.
       He ran out onto the deck for a better look. It was almost upon them, now, and Schmitz could see it was, in fact, a person. It had to be another of those gods (or whatever they were) flying in to do who-knew-what.
       The dark blur slammed into the hull of the Blitzkrieg, and the ship rocked from the impact. The whole thing tipped sideways as water rushed into the punctured vessel. Schmitz grabbed onto the railing to keep from falling off. Aboard the bridge, Gastoff was shouting for all hands to evacuate.
       The Tru Republic’s ship, Emerald Valiance, pulled up alongside them. “D’ye be needin’ assistance, Blitzkrieg?” one of their officers asked in their sing-song accent.
       Schmitz thought about it for a moment. “It depends on how bad the damage is. For now, you should keep an eye out for the guy that hit us.”
       “Oh, it was a guy now, was it? Didn’t realize you could be taken out so easily.”
       “This is not the time for jokes. Those gods—or whatever the hell they are—are back. He’s probably going for the entrance to the tower. You’ve got to do whatever it takes to stop him.”
       If they failed, Bethos only knew what would happen.

* * *

From miles away, on a deserted building in Stiftung harbor, Heimdall watched the events unfold. A fellow god just crashed through a Murnau ship standing guard at the Tower. Heimdall knew almost all of the players in this game, but he didn’t recognize the man that had now put his token in.
       Following the Stiftung Crisis, Bethos had stationed Heimdall here to watch over the Tower in case someone tried to enter. Evidently the Blood Key was still out there somewhere and could be used to open the entrance. As the god with the greatest eyesight, Heimdall was the logical choice.
       He gritted his gold teeth nervously and contacted Bethos via telepathy. Someone’s trying to get into the Tower. He’s making an unnecessary mess of things.
       Bethos responded, I’m sending reinforcements. Wait until they arrive. Don’t try taking them on by yourself.
       By the time they arrive, it might be too late. If this person has the Blood Key, we can’t afford to wait.
       Don’t do it. Wait for reinforcements. And with that, Bethos was gone.
       Heimdall stood up. He knew what he had to do. Orders or no, he wasn’t able to wait around while some unknown god made his way into the Tower of Babel and helped himself to all the goodies inside. The most dangerous weapons on the planet were stored in there, and a twisted mind could do almost anything with them.
       And there were plenty of twisted minds in Zero Grade.
       Heimdall launched himself off the building and towards the Tower.

* * *

The three of them once again sat down in the living room. Ev’s mother had suitably recovered from the shock of his revelations and was now willing to talk about it. “It’s certainly a lot to take in,” she said.
       Ev nodded. “I know. Think of how much it was for me to take in, being the one who had to go through it all.
       “But at the same time,” Anni said, “I’m so proud of you. My son, a god! Not only that, but you fought to save the world.”
       He looked away, sheepishly. “Well, I really didn’t do that much to help Professor Strong…”
       But Maya said, “That’s not true, Ev. You distracted Belial long enough for Professor Strong to pull the spear out of his chest and hurl it at him, piercing him in the heart and killing him.”
       “And what was your role in this?” Anni asked her inquisitively.
       Maya squirmed, afraid to admit the truth of her involvement. Ev decided to help her out by telling his mother the truth. “Maya was by my side at the time. She healed me after Belial struck me with lightning.”
       Anni rushed over and took Maya’s hand. “Thank you so, so much for everything you’ve done for Ev. He’s so, so lucky to have someone like you in his life. He’d be dead if not for you.”
       Looking uncomfortable, Maya averted her gaze. She was clearly tempted to admit the truth, that she was the one who had put Ev in so much danger in the first place. “Please, Misses Bannen—”
       “Call me Anni.”
       “Please, Anni. I really didn’t do that much. Ev’s done so much more for me than I’ve done for him.”
       “Really? Like what?”
       Before Maya could say what she was thinking, Ev intervened. “I just helped her out with some things. No big deal.”
       Perhaps sensing she was wading into sensitive waters, Anni backed off. “Well, I won’t pry. I’m just glad you two are there for one another. I worried about Ev for years, but I now I think he’s going to be OK…”
       His mother’s words were droned out by a ringing in their ears. It was Freya. Attention, all students of Divine Protector Academy currently on leave. An emergency has been declared. Everyone is hereby instructed to return to the Academy immediately.
       “Sorry, Mom, but something has just come up. We need to get going.”
       Ev and Maya rose to leave. Anni looked confused. “Those giants aren’t invading again, are they?”
       “I’m sure it’s nothing,” Maya said.
       “Well, OK.” Anni hugged the two of them and told Ev to keep in touch.

* * *

They returned to the plane. A bunch of students were crowding in and around the cockpit, pressuring Brandon to tell them what the emergency was. He danced around the question as best he could. “I don’t know all the details. You’ll find out once we get back to the Academy. I can’t tell you any more than that.” The students pressured him further, but he kicked them out of the cockpit, telling them to take their seats.
       Ev and Maya took theirs. “I wonder if the Nephilim really are back,” Ev said.
       “But who could be controlling them? Belial’s dead.”
       “Maybe, but he used that Blood Key to control them. It disappeared when he died. Professor Strong was evasive when I asked him what happened to it. What if someone else now has it?”
       Her face grew clouded with worry. “That would be a very bad scenario, Ev. Whoever controls the Key controls not only the Nephilim, but the Tower of Babel as well. You saw just a few of the dangerous Artifacts stored in there. They nearly killed you and Professor Strong.”
       “Yeah, but we survived.”
       “But rumor has it on the top floor is the most dangerous Artifact of all. It makes all the others look like toys.”
       “I wouldn’t put too much stock in rumors, Maya. And even if it’s true, Professor Strong told me it takes time to unlock the most dangerous ones. The Academy won’t simply let some lunatic make off with them.”
       She looked out the window of the plane. “I hope you’re right, Ev.”

* * *

Heimdall materialized from the Bifrost into another chamber. The Bifrost—or Rainbow Bridge—was a system which enabled quick transport throughout the Tower of Babel. Normally one had to fight the skeleton Keepers to get to it, but Brandon and Ev Bannen had destroyed them during their fight through the Tower last year. Heimdall considered that very fortunate; he didn’t have to waste time facing the Tower’s defenses. He simply stepped into the multi-colored wall and willed it to take him to where the intruder had gone.
       However, upon materializing, Heimdall’s eyes went wide as he realized where he was. Unlike the other chambers of the Tower, the floors, wall, and ceiling were a pure white color. Large wooden crosses lined the circular wall. No doubt about it; this was the top floor and home to the most dangerous Artifact of all.
       He cursed inwardly. He had allowed himself to be distracted. He needed to find the intruder, and fast. He could be anywhere.
       Suddenly, his chest exploded. A magnificent spear had impaled him from behind. A torrent of blood burst forth, drenching the floor in crimson. Heimdall hacked up the stuff.
       “Hope you don’t mind me using Gungnir,” someone said behind him.
       With tremendous effort, Heimdall turned around to see his attacker. It was the same man who had struck the Murnau destroyer. “Bastard. Who…are you?” He struggled to talk despite all the blood filling his throat.
       “Sorry to do this to you,” the man said casually. “It’s necessary. But don’t worry; I’ll bring you back later. Maybe.
       “Idiot…you mean to use…” Heimdall weakly gestured to where the ultimate Artifact lay. “…that?”
       “Of course I do. Wouldn’t you, if you had the chance?” He didn’t seem to have a care in the world, no understanding of what he was doing.
       “It’s a bit too late for that. For me, there’s no turning back now. A new world awaits. A better world.”
       “Hmph. I disagree. This world’s a failure, just like all the others. I’m going to end it.” But Heimdall did something surprising, even to himself. He laughed. “What’s so funny?”
       “Just…remembered—urk. Can’t…use… it…even if…you—urk—want to.”
       “Yeah, I guess you’re right. I can’t use it. Not here, at least. I’ll have to move it.      
       “I gotta say, you’re a lot tougher than I thought you’d be. I pierced you through the heart, and you’re still not dead. I wanted to give you a quick death, which is why I did it. I guess I’ll have to try again.”

       The spear was ripped from Heimdall’s chest, and everything abruptly went dark. The Norse god knew no more.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Incident 27 -- Chapter I

God School just came out, but I'm already looking to the future with the sequel, Incident 27. So without further ado, here's the first chapter to tantalize you. Sorry about the formatting; Microsoft Word 2003 doesn't fully translate well to Blogger.

Oh, and I'd wait to read this if you haven't finished God School yet, as it contains spoilers.

Chapter I


Hor 22 of 3022 NY (Narska Year)
Ev Bannen looked down at the emaciated shell before him. The withered thing could barely be called human at this point. It was mostly bones and long, white stringy hair. She couldn’t even breathe on her own.     What are you feeling right now, Ev? Freya asked via telepathy. The blonde goddess stood next to him, her radiant curls a stark contrast to the corpse-like figure lying on the bed.
       Sadness. I guess. This might be the most depressing thing I’ve ever seen. Unlike Freya, he was merely a student at Divine Protector Academy, a secret school that trained people with certain potential to become gods. As one of his professors—and a full god—Freya had accompanied him here to this nursing home today. They weren’t physically here, though; Freya had used her powers to astral-project them from the Academy’s Prayer Chamber. Nevertheless, their business here was deadly serious.
       Take a good look, Ev. Remember when we told you gods had the responsibility of choosing when it’s someone’s time? For this woman, that time is now. She proceeded to read off what she knew about the elderly woman they had come to see. Nora Clark. Age ninety-three. Permanently hooked up to a respirator. No chance for recovery. This is it for her. She’s lived her life and it was a good one. Married twice, had four kids, twice as many grandkids, and lots of close friends. She had a successful career as a school principal. But that’s all over now. Do you understand?
       Ev nodded solemnly. He hadn’t been looking forward to this, and now that he was here, he was scared to death.
       She perhaps sensed his doubts. This isn’t murder, Ev. There’s no quality of life for Nora anymore. We’re here to give her the peace she deserves. This is the ultimate mercy.
       That all made sense to him. Still... It doesn’t feel right to me. Killing her, just like that. He snapped his fingers.
       I share your distaste. But we’re gods. We have a responsibility.
       He sighed. Let’s just get it over with.
       Freya held out her hand.  A dark glow radiated from her palm. Watch closely. This is the opposite of what we use to heal people. It saps the subject’s energy, gradually, until they die. So gradually, there’s no pain. But we can only do it on someone who is in a catatonic state or otherwise unconscious. And we must make absolutely certain there’s no chance they will ever recover before we do it.
       She laid her palm on the elderly woman’s chest. The dark energy spread out over Nora Clark’s upper body.
       The machine next to Nora’s bed began registering her weakening life signs. After about thirty seconds an alarm went off, signaling to the nurses something was seriously wrong. They soon rushed into the room, but Ev and Freya weren’t really there and so the nurses could neither see nor interact with them.
       After another minute all her vital signs were at zero. Nora Clark, who had lived a rich and fulfilling life, was dead. The nurses attempted resuscitation, but to no avail.
Ev knew Freya was right. This was the best thing they could have done for her. Still, the memories of the night he had killed his father weighed heavily upon him. Dom Bannen had been a violent bastard, and one night he had decided to do away with Ev’s mother once and for all. Ev did the only thing he could think of to stop him. He grabbed a knife off the table and stabbed him in the side. His father went down in a pool of blood. Ev Bannen had become a killer that night, and that was something you could never undo.
       They returned to their bodies in the Prayer Chamber. Freya asked, “Do you understand now?”
       He nodded. “Yeah. It’s a necessary evil.”
       “Exactly. We don’t want to do it, but someone has to.”
       “I just wish that someone didn’t have to be us.”
       “It wasn’t always this way,” she explained. “The shinigamis used to be ones responsible for ending the lives of mortals.”
       He cocked an inquisitive eybrow. “Shinigami? The god that worked for Zero Grade?” Zero Grade was the organization of rebellious gods that had long been at odds with the Academy.
       “His name wasn’t originally Shinigami. There used to be a whole clan of shinigamis—the gods of death. However, almost all of them died out in the last great war. The last surviving member took on the name Shinigami in order to honor them.”
       “But then, why did he join Zero Grade?”
       “Let’s just say it was personal. It’s nothing you need to concern yourself with. The past should be left where it is.
       “Now, then. I have work to grade. I’ll see you later.”
       Out in the hallway, Ev met up with his kinda-sorta girlfriend, Maya Brünhart. As usual, she wore a white sweater to hide the scars on her arm where she used to cut herself. Her dark bangs still had a bad habit of covering up her beautiful face. “Hey, Ev. How did it go?”
       He shrugged. “About as well as can be expected. I’d be a horrible liar if I said I enjoyed it.”
       She smiled at him. “And I wouldn’t find that a bit funny. We both know you’re too good of a person to take pleasure in death.”
       They had met during their first year at Divine Protector Academy. Ev had taken an instant liking to Maya. No one knew it at the time, but she was actually a double-agent for the vile god Belial. Belial had rescued her from the streets of Stiftung, the capital of the Murnau Islands, and helped her awaken to her god-powers. After that, he had her infiltrate the Academy as his spy. Her mission was to lure a number of students into an ambush so Belial could collect their blood and open portals to the dark realm of Gehenna and release the race of giants known as the Nephilim. The Nephilim wreaked havoc in Stiftung before the Ev and the rest of the Academy stopped them and put a permanent end to Belial. Ev was just happy he had been able to achieve his true goal—to save Maya and bring her back to the Academy. Since then, they had been incredibly close. Ev hadn’t actually asked her out; to them, it was simply an unspoken understanding.
       “So, have you thought about what I asked you?” he said.
       “You mean, about going to your house for Lorntz Break and meeting your mother?” Lorntz Break was the mid-year week where students were able to go wherever they wanted and not have to worry about classes.
       “Yeah. What do you think?”
       “Sure. I’d love to. I mean…” her mood darkened for a moment. “It’s not like I have any other family to visit.”
       Ev gently stroked her cheek. “Hey, hey, hey. No more of that, OK? You’re not alone anymore. I want you to be happy.”
       Her smile returned. “You always know what to say to cheer me up. You’re right; I’m not alone anymore. I have friends now and people who care about me. I appreciate you reminding me of that.”
       “You’re very wel…uh-oh. Here come the Asshole Three.”
       A trio of upperclassmen came striding confidently over. They were the absolute best of their class, and always wanted everyone to know it. They took their status as elite students so seriously, in fact, they made their own school uniforms (even though the Academy had no such thing). Their uniforms were dark like their souls, with matching, ties, vests and pants. They called themselves the Awesome Three, but very few people used that name.
       “Well, well, look who it is: Maya Brünhart, the Divine Protector Traitor.” Jorg Trident had closely-cropped black hair and skin only a mother could love. It was widely believed that before enrolling at the Academy, he had been in a fire and received skin grafts from someone who was of a considerably darker complexion than himself. In any event, larges patches of his arms, face and neck didn’t match.
       “The woman, feigning goodness, blights the land she travels.” Relm Masters was the highest-ranked student, even in his own class. He loved more than anything to remind others how intelligent and cultured he perceived himself to be, and that meant speaking in prose. He had stylish red glasses and copper-colored hair.
       “Seriously, why does the Academy keep you around?” Priscilia Elipsen was the only female in the trio. As such, her uniform had a skirt. Her beautiful silver hair was bobbed-up in the back.
       These three lived to make Ev’s blood boil. “Why don’t you three piss off,” he suggested.
       “We have every right to be upset with the Traitor,” Jorg argued.
       “That’s right,” Priscilia said. “Because of her, mankind was almost brought to its knees. She should be in prison somewhere. Too bad there isn’t a prison for gods.”
       Ev had heard more than enough. “Listen, you—!”
       But Maya intervened. “It’s OK, Ev. They’re right.”
       “Damn right we are,” Jorg said.
       “The ruined princess, her actions wrong, yet her words full of truth,” Relm added.
       Priscilia laughed. “Even the Traitor acknowledges her crimes.”
       The Asshole Three continued on, laughing at Maya and Ev’s expense. Jorg said over his shoulder, “You should kick her to the curb, Bannen. You’ll be a lot better off.”
       “Don’t mind them,” Maya said. It was obvious, though, that she did mind. Their words cut her to the bone, all because they were true. She had done everything she was accused of. Both she and Ev had committed crimes they could not make right.
       Still, that didn’t mean the world should continue to make her suffer for it. “Those guys don’t know what they’re talking about. They didn’t even step foot in Stiftung during the Crisis.”
       “We have to face the truth, Ev. Professor Strong said there would be consequences for my actions. People can’t simply forget what I did.”
       But Ev wasn’t buying it. “Why can’t they see what a good person you are? If they just got to know you…” He didn’t finish that thought. Even he could see the absurdity of what he had just said. After what Maya had done, who would want to get to know her?”
       Nevertheless, Maya did have friends, including…
       “Maya!” Great timing, Ev thought. CiCi Decker came over and gave Maya a hug. “I just saw those upperclassmen giving you a hard time. You want me to go kick their asses for you?” Her pink pigtails were her most distinguishing feature.
       Maya perked up, shook her head. “That’s OK. I’m just glad I have friends like you to look out for me.”
       “Hey guys.” Deep Matthews and Sahara Aloto came over to join them. They were first-year students, having enrolled at the Academy following the Stiftung Crisis. Deep was a black youth with a shaved head, while Sahara was white with long auburn hair.
       “How’s it going?” Ev asked them.
       “Great,” Deep said. “I love it here at the Academy.”
       Sahara concurred. “Everyone’s so nice here, and we’re accomplishing far more than we ever would have at a school for mere mortals.”
       “Have you given any thought to what kind of gods you want to be?” Maya asked.
       Deep replied, “Not yet. We really just started, after all.”
       “Don’t feel bad about it,” Ev said. “Even I don’t know what kind of god I’m going to become.” All students of the Academy eventually had to choose the type of mortals they would represent. Some, like Freya and Maya, chose to be gods of love, while CiCi wanted to become a goddess of relaxation. Ev wasn’t sure how the latter was going to work out, but it was her choice.
       “You’d better decide soon, Ev. You don’t want to end up changing your major midway through,” CiCi said.
       “I’ve got a few ideas I’m feeling out. It won’t be much longer before I have it pinned down,” he said.
       “So, what is everyone doing for Lorntz Break?” Sahara said.
       “I’m going to Ev’s house to meet his mother,” Maya replied.
       CiCi got excited. “So it’s finally happening. You two are officially a couple now.”
       Maya’s race turned positively red. “Stop it, CiCi. You know I get embarrassed when you say such things.”
       Grinning, Ev said, “If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear you were embarrassed of me.”
      She turned even redder. “You know that’s not true, Ev. You’re the most important man in the world to me. You saved me from slavery. In fact…” Her face achieved maximum redness. “I-I have to go!”
       She ran off down the hall. “Is she always like that?” Deep asked.
       Ev laughed. “She’s still not used to having a boyfriend. In fact, for a good chunk of her life, she didn’t have any friends. This is still very new to her. When I first got here, she was just Belial’s puppet. She had trouble expressing—hell, understanding—her emotions. But after some more time passes, I think she’ll have everything under control.”
       “Assuming the Asshole Three leave her alone,” Deep clarified.
       Ev sighed. “If they don’t, I’ll have to make them.”
       CiCi’s face took on a look of concern. “If you plan on fighting them, you’ll need help. For all their haughtiness, they’re both experienced and extremely talented students. Just say the word, and I’ll be there to back you up.”
       “Me, too,” Deep said.
       Sahara nodded. “And me as well. I still don’t know Maya very well, but CiCi and the others saved us in Stiftung. I owe her my life, and her battles are my battles.”
       “Thanks, guys,” Ev said. “But hopefully that won’t be necessary. Maybe we can find a way to avoid a fight with the Asshole Three.”
       Or so he told himself. But he knew deep down that the way things were going, a physical confrontation with those upperclassmen was only a matter of time. Still, some time away from them would do everyone a world of good (Maya especially), and Lorntz Break provided just the escape they needed.

* * *

Ev returned to his dorm room to wait for the next class. His copper-skinned, vest-wearing roommate (and future god of money) from Chrichton, Jaysin Marx, greeted him as he entered. “How’d it go t’day?” he asked in his Chrichton accent. That particular continent lay far to the east, isolated from the rest of the world by an extremely long mountain chain which ran the length of Narska.
       Ev threw up his hands in an exaggerated display of exasperation. “Just great.” He told Jaysin about watching Freya figuratively pull the plug on the old woman, and about their latest run-in with the Asshole Three.
       “A sorry lot, those three,” Jaysin said sympathetically.
       Ev decided to voice his concerns to his friend. “The way they keep harassing Maya, I may have to do something, and soon.”
       Jaysin cautioned, “Better be careful around them, Ev. They’re the highest ranked—and therefore most dangerous—students here. Not that you didn’t handle yourself well in Stiftung, but those guys are in a class by themselves. They’ve mastered just about everything in the textbooks.”
       Ev rolled his eyes. “Thanks for the vote of confidence. In case you’ve forgotten, I went up against a full-fledged god in the Tower of Babel.”
       “Yeah, and he immediately put a smoking hole in your chest. You were completely helpless, and Professor Strong had to stop Belial. That about sum things up?”
       “Look, whatever. Strong said himself that if me and Maya hadn’t shown up when we did, Belial would have finished him off. The point is, I survived and we saved the day. Oh, and you left one thing out: Belial had a ridiculously powerful hammer with which he put said hole in my chest. It wasn’t a fair fight by a long shot, but I’m still here.” The hammer in question was Mjölnir, one of the Artifacts stored in the Tower of Babel from the previous universe.
       “You’re only still here because Maya was able to perform healing on you in time. Otherwise, you’d be a corpse, mate,” Jaysin reminded him. Just to show he wasn’t doing it out of spite, he gave Ev a wide grin.
       Shaking his head, Ev said, “There’s just no winning with you today.”
       “I’m only looking out for my friend. If you do decide to take on the Arsehole Three, give me a call first.”
       “We live in the same room. I don’t have to call you.”
       “Enough with the semantics, mate. Just let me know, and I’ll have your back.”
       Ev chuckled. “You and everyone else around here. The line to kick their asses is getting very long.”

* * *

Quandisa rummaged through the ancient trunk in the castle’s cellar. She had to move quickly before Zero Grade found her. On this occasion she wore a dark cloak instead of her usual skimpy attire.
       Not too long ago, she had been a proud member of the organization. However, during the Stiftung Crisis she had fled following the deaths of her comrades at the hands of the brutish Nephilim. She didn’t want to end up cooked alive like Shinigami, or stomped into chunks of ice like Hera. She’d be lying if she said she felt any real kinship with them; they were simply (former) associates of hers. Still, their deaths had thoroughly demoralized her and she ran for it. Desertion was a capital offense within Zero Grade, looked down on even worse than outright betrayal as Belial had committed. She knew as soon as she ran that her life was forfeit.
       She had spent the past several months moving from place to place in an attempt to avoid being caught. She made sure to keep a low profile, not getting involved in any incidents that might occur.
       But sentimentality had finally gotten the best of her. She returned to Zero Grade’s castle in the Murnau Islands to retrieve a few keepsakes she had brought with her from the previous universe. Fortunately, the place had really only been used by her, Belial, Shinigami and Hera. With the rest of them dead, this was her opportunity to get in and out unnoticed. Still, it was better not to dawdle.
       “What are you doing here?”
       She whirled around to see a figure at the top of the staircase, standing in the doorway. Despite the low lighting provided by the torches on the walls, she instinctively knew who it was. She would never forget him as long as she lived. “Arcturus!”
       The stunningly handsome young man, with his long black bangs and chiseled body, descended the staircase. He wore a dark t-shirt and matching pants. She immediately ran and embraced him. They exchanged passionate kisses for a full minute before he got to the business at hand. “You shouldn’t have come back here.”
       She remembered her cowardice and looked away, ashamed. “I-I’m sorry. I just wanted to get a few things.”
       Arcturus said, “Everyone in the organization has standing orders to either kill you on sight or drag you before the Flawless Few so they can do it themselves.”
       “I know,” she said sadly. “But I’m so glad it was you who found me. You would never turn me over to them. Wait—why are you here? We were the only ones who ever used this place.”
       Still holding her, he explained, “After the rest of your team died, I decided to help myself to the castle.”
       She looked around the empty basement. “Yes, I suppose we won’t be needing it anymore.” An urgent thought suddenly occurred to her. “Come with me. We don’t need Zero Grade. We can have the life we’ve always wanted.”
       He shook his head. “I can’t. My work with the organization isn’t done yet. I need to stick with them for a little bit longer.”
       She grasped onto the hope that was being offered. “So, then…soon? We can be together then?”
       He reached in and kissed her deeply. Because of this, she didn’t notice the strange sensation in her chest at first. When he pulled back, however, she saw the blade piercing her body. Arcturus had conjured a sword right through her heart. She tried to cry out, Why? but only blood emerged from her mouth.
       He looked at her with intense sadness. “I told you, you shouldn’t have come here. They’re watching the place. If I let you leave here, they’ll kill me as well.”

* * *

Arcturus watched as Quandisa dropped to the floor. He had known his best hope of killing her would be destroying her heart, the most vulnerable part of a god’s body. And even though she was a woman, she was still a full-fledged god. She would have put up quite the fight if he hadn’t struck quickly.
       She stared up at him eyes full of shock. Under normal circumstances, he would rather have been the one to die. However, with such a vital undertaking ahead of him, he couldn’t afford to take any chances. Zero Grade had to be appeased for the time being.
Soon, though, they wouldn’t matter anymore. Once he got what he wanted, everything would be made right again. “Don’t worry,” he said to the lifeless corpse of his lover. “I’ll bring you back soon. Once I have that…”

* * *

Ev arrived at his least-favorite class—Conjuring—dreading what would soon take place. That was because he sucked at the skill. Everyone else around him could create kick-ass weapons. Ev, however couldn’t. The only reason he had gotten this far was because his conjuring skill technically existed. He could create ashtrays, cups and crude utensils. That had carried him to this point. Unfortunately, if he didn’t create a functional weapon or defensive item by the time of the final exam, he would flunk the class. Some god he would make then.
He took his seat in the middle of the room. The professor soon entered. Brandon Strong had been the one to save Ev from attacks by Zero Grade when this all began and invited him to enroll at the Academy, acknowledging his latent god-potential. Nevertheless, he, too, was probably dreading Ev’s performance today.
       Brandon sat behind his desk. “As you all know, today is mid-terms. Those who pass receive a qualifying grade and don’t have to take the class any further. Those who fail…well, I’ll have the dubious honor of teaching you again after the break.” Ev’s friends had all taken this class last year and passed with relative ease. Ev himself had held off on taking it, realizing his own lack of talent. Now, however, he couldn’t avoid it any longer.
       Brandon continued. “I will now call you up to the front of the class in alphabetical order.”
      The first two students called up managed to conjure impressive-looking weapons that functioned perfectly. Unfortunately, being a Bannen, it wasn’t long before he got called up. He cursed his last name for coming so soon in the alphabet. Not that it mattered, though; he knew his chances for pulling this off were slim.
       “All right, Ev,” Brandon said. “I trust you’ve been practicing?”
       “Yes, sir.” He neglected to mention the fact his practice hadn’t amounted to much.
       “Well, then, let’s see what you can do.”
       Ev held out his hands. He closed his eyes and visualized a sharp sword materializing in his hands. At first nothing happened, and it looked like it would be another failure. Gradually, though, something began to appear in his grip. There was a handle at first, followed by a guard and then a blade appeared.
       He rejoiced. “Yes! I did it! I…”
       His revelry was cut short, however, when he noticed the blade was warped and wobbly. Somehow he had made it out of a rubber-like material. He just stared at it in disbelief. Another failure, after all.
       The class got a good laugh out of this. Brandon simply shook his head and wrote something down in his notebook. Something negative, no doubt. “Looks like I’ll be seeing you again after the break, Ev.”
       Ev returned to his seat, dejected. How was he supposed to become a god if he couldn’t do something as simple as conjuring?
       After class, Maya met him in the hall. “How’d it go? Did you pass?”
       He sighed. “’fraid not.”
       She hugged him. “Cheer up. You’ll get it. You just need to keep at it.”
       He looked away. “But what if I don’t get it? What if I never get it?”
       She forced him to look her in the eyes. “You can’t think like that. You, Ev Bannen, are going to get it. Tell me you’re going to get it.”
       He said weakly, “I’m going to get it.”
       “I’m going to get it.”
       “I’m going to get it!”
     Everyone in the hall turned to look at him. Maya seemed satisfied. “Well, you made a fool of yourself, but at least you got the point.”
       “You’re the one who made me do it.”
       She smiled. “Let’s not argue who made who do what. We’re going to your house tomorrow, and we need to make sure we’re prepared. Do you have everything you need?”
       “Yeah, I’m pretty well packed.”
      “Me, too. Remember—we leave in the morning. You want me to come to your dorm and get you?”
       “Nah, I think I’ll be OK.”
       “Good. Be at the hangar by eight.”

       Well, he might still have had problems, but at least he wasn’t depressed by them at the moment. Maya had succeeded in cheering him up.