Monday, August 22, 2016

Where Gods Dare -- Chapter I

Here is the first chapter of Where Gods Dare, book four of my Divine Protector series. It picks up right where Until We Break left off, so SPOILERS.

“What do you mean,” Ev said as they marched through the hallways of Divine Protector Academy, “you’ve lost your powers?”
            Ahead of them, students milled about nervously. Many of them gathered in the corridor to watch the returning victors of the God Games. Ev saw fear in their eyes. They were scared and looking to them for some sort of deliverance from this nightmare they had suddenly found themselves in.
            Bethos shrugged irritably as the diminutive god waddled along. “It’s like I said. A flash of light came from the sky, and the next thing we knew, we were as weak as mortals. Now, you say the attack came from Zero Grade?”
            Maya nodded. “Carnaval told us when we won the God Games: Olympus is on the moon.”
            “Or inside the moon, most likely,” Daryn said. “Since no telescope or probe has ever found anything on the surface.”
            Brandon Strong kept pace alongside them. “I guess it doesn’t really matter now where their base is. They’ve pretty much won. I don’t know what they hit us with, but we’re powerless to stop them now.”
            “It’s not over ‘til it’s over,” Jaysin reminded him.
            CiCi raised a defiant fist. “That’s right! We’ve still got our powers, and a battleship! We can still fight them.”
            “A ship?” Freya said with astonishment. “Do you mean the Midgard?
            “Yeah,” Ev said. “We managed to take it over after we beat the Zero Grade team. I’m the new captain, by the way.”
            Bethos whirled around to face him. “Where is this ship? It’s not hovering outside, is it?” He sounded almost panicked.
            Ev replied casually, “Yeah. Don’t worry; we engaged the cloaking device. Man, I always wanted to say that!”
            “Listen to me!” Brandon said urgently. “Even cloaked, Zero Grade might still be able to detect it. We have no idea what kind of technology they possess. Until a few hours ago, we didn’t think they could hit us with a light from the sky and take away our powers.”
            Freya agreed. “Ev, you’ve got to get that ship away from here before Zero Grade finds us.”
            “What are you saying? I can’t just abandon you…”
            Bethos dismissed his concerns, saying, “You won’t be abandoning us. Just… lay low until we come up with something.”
            Ev reluctantly admitted they were right; the Midgard was too dangerous to leave in their front yard. With that in mind, he turned around and headed back to the hangar.
            “Wait,” Maya said. She, Jaysin, Daryn and CiCi trotted after him.
            “Shouldn’t you four stay here and guard the Academy?” Ev said.
            “I’m more worried about you,” Maya said. “You could be a big target in that ship. And if Zero Grade does launch a full-scale attack, I doubt all of us combined would be able to fight them off.”
            Daryn said, “I agree. We’ll present the strongest force together aboard the Midgard. If our enemies attack, we can rush back here to fight them off as one.”
            “What he said,” Jaysin added.
            Ev grinned. “All right, then. We’ve got ourselves a big-ass ship to move.”

* * *

They soon had moved the Midgard a few thousand miles to the west over the Paseik Ocean. They then gathered aboard the bridge. Ev remained seated in the captain’s chair while everyone else stood around him.
            “Looking real good, mate,” Jaysin said to him.
            Ev shrugged happily. “It feels real good.”
            “That’s all well and good,” Daryn said, “but now what are we going to do?”
            Ev thought about it for a moment before something occurred to him. “I just realized… what happened to my mother’s body? I got so caught up in our battles with Zero Grade and Carnaval, I completely forgot.” It shamed him to forget like that; it almost felt like an insult to Anni Bannen.
            Maya replied, “We weren’t sure what you would want to do with her, so we took her to Upton General and put her in storage at the morgue. Morovian authorities have since taken charge of the entire town.”
            “Will they know whose body it is?” Ev asked.
            Jaysin nodded. “We left a note in case… well… in case you never came back and someone else had to deal with it.”
            “All right, then,” Ev said. “Let’s head to Upton and get my mother’s body.”
            His friends gave their assent; they were more than happy to help Ev in these dark times.

* * *

Upton General Hospital was located several miles north of the Bannen house in the northernmost part of Upton on the crescent-shaped continent of Morovia.
            Built about fifty years ago, the hospital was a seven-story, compact brick structure. Ev had been born in this building, and he held it in some regard.
            As Maya had said, Morovian authorities had recently taken over the town after its liberation from Zero Grade. The military had gone from house to house and street to street, picking up bodies left over from Zagreus’ senseless slaughter. Initially, the government bigwigs kept the bodies for study—and to make sure they didn’t contain any pathogens or deadly chemicals from the blanket of smoke that had enveloped the town. Even after they had determined the bodies were safe to handle, they still refused to release them to the victims’ families. Only after much public outcry did they relent. Now, family members from all over Morovia poured into Upton to collect their loved ones’ remains.
            Ev and friends walked into the main lobby of the hospital and found a huge crowd of people inside. Everyone was doing so much talking, crying and shouting that Ev couldn’t even hear his own thoughts.
            Soon, though, a man in a navy-blue suit stepped out of the elevators, flanked by members of Exodus Squad, the anti-god unit of the military established by the late president Joe Lambda. Wearing their distinctive exo-suits, they were a force to be reckoned with, even to full-fledged gods. Ev and Maya had previously fought alongside them during negotiations with Zero Grade, but due to recent events, Ev was glad they showed no signs of recognition today.
            The man held up a bull horn and spoke into it, immediately grabbing the throng’s attention. “Attention, family members! If your loved one’s last name begins with A through N, they have been moved to the fairgrounds. There simply isn’t enough room here at the hospital to store all the bodies. I repeat—everyone here is O through Z.”
            “Dammit,” Ev said. “Guess we have to go to the fairgrounds.”

* * *

The fairgrounds were located on the southern edge of Upton. It consisted of several buildings around a fenced-in dirt field used for livestock exhibitions and rodeos.
            On this day, countless large tents had been set up all over the fairgrounds, making it look like some sort of music festival. However, there was nothing festive about it; crying family members were everywhere, and dry eyes became hard to find. As they waded through the crowd of people, Ev felt as if he were walking through a disaster area (which he was).
            They soon learned that each tent and building housed people with particular last names. A’s were in one building/tent, C’s were in another, etc. After a while, they found the “B” tent and got in line. After what seemed like an eternity of waiting in the sun, they finally managed to get inside.
            It was very cold inside the massive tent, and countless body bags were piled atop one another in macabre stacks. In addition, numerous large machines seemed to be keeping the place chilly.
            It took a while more to get to the center of the tent where a man in a heavy fur coat sat behind a desk. “Name?”
            “Ev Bannen. My mother was Anni Bannen. B-a-n-n-e-n.”
            The man had a laptop in front of him and he typed in Anni’s name. “Got it.” He turned to a fresh-faced boy sitting next to him. “It should be near the back. Block 9-F.” Despite the grim, cluttered appearance of the place, it seemed it did indeed have some system of organization. The teen went to retrieve the body and soon returned with a filled bag over his shoulder. “I’m really sorry for your loss.”
            The man behind the laptop simply said, “I’ll need to see some ID.”
            Ev handed him his driver’s license. It was ironic; Ev hadn’t driven at all since he learned to fly. The thing was practically coated in dust.
            The man looked it over before handing Ev a clipboard. “Just sign these release papers and you’ll be good to go.”
            Ev did so, and they handed him the body bag. A wave of dark emotions washed over him as he took it, and he felt as though he might break down on the spot. Nevertheless, he managed to take Anni’s body and proceed out of the tent. On the way, they passed many more people who had come to collect their loved ones. Ev recognized several of them, but they were so engrossed in their sorrow that they either wouldn’t or couldn’t acknowledge him.
            He couldn’t wait to get out of here to some place less bleak.

* * *

They took Anni’s body back to the Bannen house and buried her in the front yard. The group talked about giving her a proper burial in a cemetery, but Upton Meadows was currently swarmed with people looking to do the same and would probably run out of spaces real soon. Then they discussed the possibility of putting her in cold storage aboard the Midgard, but Ev was intent on putting her to rest as soon as possible. The thought of having his mother’s body with them on the ship made him uneasy, and he really just wanted to be done with this.
            When they had filled the grave, Maya whispered to him, “Is it really OK putting her in the same place as your abusive father?”
            Ev shrugged sadly. “He’s in the back yard. And anyway, it’s not like he can hurt her anymore.”
            “Does someone wanna say a few words?” Jaysin asked.
            “I will,” Ev replied. He then cleared his throat. “Anni Bannen was born in this town about fifty years ago. She was raised here, went to school here, and worked as a secretary at Upton High. She also met my father here…” He decided to skip any further mention of his dad. “Later, I came along, and she raised me with all the love a kid could ever want. Despite her circumstances, she was the perfect mother. And even after I did something horrible,” he said, reflecting on the night he killed his father before the bastard could kill Anni, “she still loved me. And I loved her. I don’t think any son loved his mother any more than I loved mine. She was… an angel…” He felt a lump in his throat, and his control threatened to shatter that very moment.
            Maya decided to take over for him. “I only met Anni Bannen a few times, but to me, she was every bit the mother Ev says she was. She was kind, thoughtful, and above all, caring. She reminded me of my own mother before my parents were killed in that car crash. I know Ev went through some tough times with his father, but I wish I had had the chance to grow up with my parents the way he did with his mother. And I know she was so proud of her son becoming a god of justice.” She turned to him. “Ev, your mother would be even more proud to know how you fought for all of us during this war.”
            He nodded, his eyes becoming watery. “I wish she was still here.”
          Maya took his hand in hers. Despite the embarrassment of his friends watching, he let her. “So do I,” she said.
            “Here, here!” Jaysin said.
            CiCi began clapping, and Daryn followed suit. Soon all three of their friends were applauding.
            “Thank you, guys,” Ev said. “I never would have gotten this far without friends like you.”
            “It was our pleasure!” CiCi happily declared. The others nodded.
            Looking around the property, Daryn asked, “So, what’s going to happen to this place?”
           Ev said, “I honestly have no idea. The entire town’s population was wiped out by Zagreus, so every house might soon be for sale. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to live here after what happened, though. Maybe Upton’ll be abandoned.
            “That’s awful!” CiCi said.
           “There have been a lot of casualties in this war,” Daryn said. “Every country with an Ultimus Point’s going to need time to heal.”

            Ev said, “That reminds me. Let’s get back to the ship. I want to check something.”

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