Monday, February 9, 2015

Incident 27 -- Chapter III

Here's the latest excerpt from the sequel to God School. Coming soon (I hope).

Chapter III

Back at the Academy, in Hercules Hall, the large auditorium used for assemblies and talent shows, the students took their seats. Ev and Maya had met back up with Jaysin only an hour before, when he had returned from his preempted trip to Chrichton. “Right strange business this is, interrupting my vacation. Better be a good reason for it,” he had said.
            Presently Bethos came onstage with a microphone in hand. The diminutive black god with the purple suit may have looked strange anywhere else, but here at Divine Protector Academy he was both revered and respected. “I’m sure you’re all wondering why we called you back here. Well, a certain incident is currently taking place at the Tower of Babel. A while ago, one of the faculty members stationed there reported someone—probably another god—trying to gain entry. There’s a strong possibility Zero Grade is behind this, and with them active again, you may have all been in danger while away from here. That’s why we called you back here until we can ascertain what is going on. And, unfortunately, that’s all we can tell you right now. Please go about your normal business on campus until further notice. Thank you.”
            In the hallway outside Hercules Hall, Ev, Maya and Jaysin stopped and discussed these latest developments with much interest. “So someone is trying to get into the Tower,” Ev said.
            “But who could it be?” Jaysin asked.
            Ev asked Maya, “Do you think it could be Zero Grade?”
            She shrugged. “I honestly have no idea. It could be, but Belial and I severed all ties with the organization when we went rogue. I can’t think of anyone he would have given the Blood Key to upon his death.”
            “Suppose you weren’t his only disciple,” Jaysin suggested. “Suppose he had another that he never told you about.”
            “I guess it’s possible. I know for a fact he kept secrets from me. He would never tell me where Zero Grade’s main base was, for one thing.”
            “That would certainly be a good thing to know,” Ev said.
            “Let’s keep supposing,” Jaysin continued. “Suppose Belial did have another disciple. When he knew his death was upon him, he couldn’t have given the Blood Key to Maya, since she had already betrayed him.”
            “It was not a betrayal,” Maya insisted.
            Jaysin replied, “Sorry. Poor choice of words. When he knew his death was upon him, he couldn’t have given the Blood Key to Maya, since she had already turned against him.”
            “Better,” Ev said.
            Maya nodded her approval, and Jaysin continued. “Now, then. We know he gave the Key t’someone because it didn’t stick around when he bit it. He clearly sent it off to someone else, someone he could trust.”
            “But who?” Ev asked.
            “Don’t call me a prophet, but I have a feeling we’ll find out soon enough,” Jaysin said.
            They spent the rest of the day with a dark cloud of doubt hanging over their heads, wondering just what was headed their way.

* * *

The Academy team had made their way into the Tower. They stepped into the Bifrost and mentally commanded it to send them to wherever the intruder was.
            Nothing happened.
            “The intruder’s gone,” Freya said. She was team leader.
            “But the entrance hasn’t been resealed,” Aphrodite noted.
            Atlas frowned. “Bastard probably didn’t even care. He got what he was after and then high-tailed it out of here.”
            A lightning bolt of fear struck Freya. “But then, where’s Heimdall?” They hadn’t seen any trace of the Norse god since arriving in the area. They suspected he had disobeyed orders and gone after the intruder, but couldn’t be sure.
            “We should tell the Bifrost to take us to where he is,” Dian Cecht said. As usual, the Academy physician offered sound advice without a hint of emotion.
            “Good idea,” Freya said.
            They gave the Rainbow Bridge the command, and immediately they were enveloped in its multi-colored brilliance. They materialized in a pure white chamber, and Freya’s anxiety skyrocketed. This was the top floor. Why had Heimdall come up here?
            They quickly spotted his lifeless corpse in the center of the room. Each of them—with the exception of Dian Cecht—uttered gasps of horror as they ran over to render assistance.
            “Shit,” Atlas said, his chiseled countenance in agony. “Bastard butchered him.”
            Freya covered her mouth to keep in the cry of anguish that desperately wanted to get out. Aphrodite put a comforting hand on her shoulder.
            Dian Cecht passively examined Heimdall’s body. “He’s been dead for at least an hour. Only thing to do now is decide how to handle the body.”
            Freya couldn’t think about that right now. “Atlas, please pick up Heimdall and let’s go. We need to get out of here and send a message to Bethos.” Their telepathic waves couldn’t get through the haradium lining the walls of the Tower,
            “Wait. We should see if anything’s missing,” Aphrodite said.
            They looked around. Their attention almost immediately settled on the open vault in front of them. Even without going in, they could see it was missing.
            Dian Cecht was the first to voice their thoughts. “The Ark of the Covenant is gone.”
            The worst-case scenario was happening right before their eyes. “But how?” Freya said. “It should have taken someone a hundred years to crack that lock.”
            “Doesn’t do any good thinking about that now. We have to get out of here, and fast.” Atlas gathered what was left of Heimdall in his beefy arms, and they went back to the Bifrost and left the Tower.

* * *

A few days later.
            First the Academy faculty used their powers to conjure a Viking ship from the previous universe. Then they put Heimdall’s body in it. They proceeded to lower it down to the sea, being careful to have it land away from the jagged rocks at the base of Mt. Orleia. Finally, Brandon Strong summoned a flame to ignite the ship. The only thing to do now was respectfully watch the whole thing burn.
            The faculty and students looked on from the hangar, their faces a solemn wall.
            “Did you ever meet Professor Heimdall?” Jaysin asked Ev. They stood amongst the throng of people.
            “Only once or twice. I hadn’t taken his class yet.” Heimdall taught Physics.
            “I know the Asshole Three took his class,” Maya said. “Yet I don’t see them here.”
            “They probably figured they were too good for this,” Ev said.
            “Not a lot of respect in those three,” Jaysin agreed.
            Wanting to change the subject, Ev said, “They still don’t know who killed Professor Heimdall?”
            “If they did, they wouldn’t necessarily tell us right away,” Maya said.
            Jaysin nodded. “They like their secrets, the faculty.”
            “What makes you say that?” Ev said.
            “Well, for one thing, they won’t confirm anything was stolen from the Tower.”
            Ev shrugged. “Maybe nothing was stolen.”
            “Ah,” Jaysin countered, “But if nothing was stolen, they would’ve said nothing was stolen. Instead, it’s this ‘We can neither confirm nor deny…’ nonsense. That means something was definitely stolen, mate. But what?”
            Ev said, “Having faced several of the Artifacts stored in the Tower, I can think of a few possibilities, none of them good.”
            “What if it was the legendary ultimate Artifact, the one that makes all others looks like toys?” Maya dared to ask.
            “But we still have no idea what it is or what it does,” Ev pointed out.
            She looked grim. “That’s what makes it so terrifying.”
            Someone shushed them and reminded them this wasn’t the time for chitchat. They kept quiet for the rest of the funeral.
            After a while, the ship burned completely and was lost beneath the waves. When that was finished, everyone gathered in a circle around Bethos in the hangar. “A great injustice has been committed,” he said. He then shook his head. “No—let’s call it what it is: a murder. An unknown enemy has taken the life of one of my dear friends. Heimdall was a good man. He didn’t deserve this, and I won’t rest until his killer is brought to justice. I want to make things very clear. This is not about revenge; Heimdall wouldn’t have wanted that. Instead, we are going to find the culprit, and we are going to bring him or her to trial. The trial of a god is a very rare event, but it does happen, and there are procedures in place. Once we have apprehended Heimdall’s murderer, we shall carry them out.”

* * *

“That’s all well and good,” Brandon said afterwards in Bethos’ office. “But we still have no idea who to look for. And if Zero Grade is responsible, they sure as hell aren’t going to be cooperative in our investigation.”
            “I say we take the fight to them. Make them hand the sonuvabitch over to us,” Atlas said.
            “You’re talking about another war,” Freya said. “Wasn’t the last one bad enough?”
            Atlas rushed to his own defense. “I’m not talking about war. I just think we ought to turn up the heat a little. You know, twist their arms so they’ll tell us what they know.”
            Aphrodite warned, “The slightest provocation could ignite a full-scale conflict. We have to be extremely careful. Our next move needs to be well thought out.”
            “Besides which—we don’t even know where to find Zero Grade,” Brandon said.
            “I’ll bet Maya BrĂ¼nhart knows,” Atlas said. “We should make her tell us.” Heimdall’s death had made him uncharacteristically aggressive. He was normally easy-going and wouldn’t even dream of interrogating a student.
            Bethos reminded him, “We questioned her thoroughly after the Stiftung Crisis. She was only able to give up one Zero Grade base to us, a castle in the Murnau Islands. We investigated it but found it deserted. If Heimdall’s killer really is Zero Grade, they probably won’t be dumb enough to go back there.”
            Atlas was growing more agitated by the minute. “So then, what are we supposed to do?”
            Brandon said to him, “I think you’re missing the big picture here. The enemy has the Ark of the Covenant, the most powerful of all the Artifacts. If he uses it, our world is finished. We have to get it back.”
            “Fortunately,” Bethos said, “the Ark is very complicated. It can’t be activated so easily. So here’s what we’re going to do. I want everyone involved in the search for it. Call all alumni worldwide have them actively looking. Be sure they understand the stakes involved. Tell them if they see the enemy to not engage. I won’t have any more deaths because of this. Furthermore, all classes are suspended while we deal with this. All faculty members must devote themselves fully to finding either the Ark or the killer.”
            They agreed, and left to spread the word. Bethos leaned back in his easy chair. He hadn’t been able to relax lately.
            Just who was behind all this, and why were they doing it? The more he thought about it, the more he felt these crimes just weren’t Zero Grade’s style. As the minutes passed by, he doubts mounted. What if it wasn’t Zero Grade at all? What if it was someone else, possibly someone with a grudge against the Academy?
            Could it be…?

* * *

Arcturus entered the sleepy hamlet of Blasdow, a remote village in the Tru Republic. Children were playing in the gravel roads, sheep were being tended to in the fields, and overall there was a strong sense of peace and normality.
Well, Arcturus, thought, time to for that to change.
He snapped his fingers, and a multitude of dark shapes rose up from the ground.
Soon he will come, and we can begin for real.

* * *

Freya rushed into Bethos’s office. “We have a problem,” she said.
            “What now?” he asked.
            “I’ve been in the Prayer Chamber monitoring the thoughts of the world, hoping to gain some clue as to where the Ark is. Suddenly there were very strong prayers asking for help. A village in the Tru Republic is under attack by monsters.”
            Bethos raised an eyebrow. “Monsters?”
            She nodded. “Yes. Dark; large upper bodies with spindly legs; claw-like hands. Sound familiar?”
            Giving a frustrated exhale, he said, “Refghasts.”
            “Request permission to send a team. Some second-years should be enough to handle a group of refghasts.”
            He leaned forward in his chair. “Granted. And I think I know who you want to send.”
            “That’s right,” she said confidently. “A group of students who have proven they can handle high-level otherworld enemies.”
            “Better get to it,” he said.

* * *

Ev, Maya, Jaysin, CiCi and Daryn Anders found themselves summoned to Freya’s office. “Thank you for coming,” she said from behind her desk.
            “What’s this about?” Ev said.
            “A village in the Tru Republic has come under attack by refghasts. Several people have barricaded themselves in the cellar of a house, but it’s only a matter of time before the monsters get to them. We need a team to fly over there and kill the refghasts.”
            Intrigued, Jaysin said, “You mean…?”
            “That’s right,” she said. “It’s time for your first official mission. Since you handled the Nephilim so well, this should be no problem for you.”
            “We certainly sent those refghasts packing in Stiftung,” Jaysin said.
            “Until Maya shot us,” Daryn added.
            “Watch it,” Ev said. True or not, he wasn’t about to let Daryn say such things. He had considered the ginger a friend up until recently, but now he wasn’t so sure. Daryn had been bitter about Maya’s betrayal even during the Stiftung Crisis, and that anger had only grown since then. Was this due to the developmental disorder—Ashbury’s Syndrome—Daryn suffered from? Ev just didn’t know.
            “Is this going to be a problem for you?” Freya asked Daryn.
            Daryn straightened up and adopted a professional posture. “No. No problem. No problem at all.” Ev seriously doubted his words.
            “Good,” Freya said. “Now, Daryn, since you come from the Tru Republic, I trust you know the way to Blasdow?”
            He shrugged. “I’ve passed through there a few times. It’s a ways from the major economic centers. Anything that happens in Blasdow won’t be noticed for quite a while.”
            She nodded. “Very well, then. Because of your military upbringing, and your knowledge of the area, I’m putting you in charge of this mission. Think you can handle it?”

            “Good. Now hurry up and get over there.”

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