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.

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