Lovesick Gods - Chapter 1
One of the first teasers I posted on this author site was for The Royal Spark, a superhero novel idea I had that was intended to be my next title after Life as a Teenage Vampire. I may still return to that concept, but over the months, a very different superhero idea formed and I found myself writing the first draft of my actual next novel in only six months.
Deep in the throes of final editing for this book, Lovesick Gods, with MSP ComiCon coming up in a little over a month at the Minnesota State Fair Grounds (my favorite event of the year!), I felt it was time to give you all a new teaser. This, I assure you, is the next novel you will see from me later this year in 2017.
I am aiming for a Summer or Fall release, depending on how things go with finishing editing and the cover design (the artwork is complete and GORGEOUS, as you see in the teaser above), but if anyone wants to discuss more with me at the upcoming spring convention I'll be attending, or right here online, either through my contact form or on my various social sites, I'd love to field questions.
For now here is the synopsis below and the first chapter for your enjoyment!
The elements touch everyone on Earth—Fire, Water, even Light—but every so often someone becomes more attuned to their elemental leaning and develops true power. When an evil Elemental known as Thanatos arrived in Olympus City, it saw the rise of its first hero—Zeus. But the death toll caused by defeating Thanatos changed Zeus, who by day is young detective Danny Grant.
It’s been six months now since Thanatos terrorized the city. Danny should be used to his duty behind the mask, but the recent past haunts him, because his partner and his mother were among Thanatos’s victims. His girlfriend left him, he snaps at the barest provocation, his life feels empty—he needs an outlet, any outlet to pull him out of his depression.
Enter notorious thief Malcolm Cho, the Ice Elemental Prometheus. There was a time when Danny welcomed a fight with Cho, filled with colorful banter and casual flirtations that were a relief compared to Thanatos. Even as a criminal, Cho recognized the threat Thanatos posed and promised to help Danny stop him, but the day Danny needed Cho, he never showed. Cho was the reason so many people died that day.
At the end of his rope, desperate for release, Danny decides to teach the man a lesson by fanning the fire of their attraction into something more. At worst, he’ll get some no-strings-attached sex out of the deal and finally blow off steam; at best, he’ll get Cho to fall in love with him and then break his heart to spite him.
Danny doesn’t expect to fall for Cho in the process, and he certainly can’t predict the much darker threat on the horizon.
There was a time when the thrum of lightning surrounding him, the city blurring and then becoming telescopic in its distinction as he shot across an impossible distance faster than the human eye could catch, made Danny feel happier and more complete than he ever thought possible.
Now it was all just noise.
“Please tell me you have a read on this guy,” Danny said as he crackled into existence out of his lightning jump and looked around the empty lot where he’d lost his quarry.
“Not yet, Danny, hang on,” Lynn said over the comm link.
“And it’s Camouflage,” Andre said succinctly.
Danny gritted his teeth. Andre meant well, he always meant well, and he loved his job—both as a CSI for the Olympus City Police Department and as a technician for Danny’s patrols as his alter ego Zeus—which was…good. For Andre. Danny knew to expect the nicknames and lack of professionalism on occasion; Andre had been the one to name him Zeus when he first became an Elemental and embraced his role as the city’s superhero, but some nights it grated on him.
Like tonight. And the night before. And this past week—month. Danny was losing track of the days that he wasn’t irritated with someone.
“Guys, he’s getting away,” Danny said through clenched teeth. He scanned the parking lot again, looking for the faint, tell-tale shimmer like ripples of heat on a summer day that so far had been the only indication before this guy attacked. He could blend in perfectly with his surroundings, making him invisible to the naked eye, almost like—
“Or Predator!” Andre said, following Danny’s same line of thought. “Though that’s copyrighted and arguably less creative—”
“Danny, turn to your left,” Lynn spoke over them.
Danny obeyed. His Zeus emblem, a golden lightning bolt at the cross-section of his costume over his heart, had been outfitted with various sensors to pick up his vitals and readings from other Elementals. In this case, a Light Elemental who could not only alter his biochromes, but also the miniscule wavelengths of light reflected by the pigments.
In an empty lot on the edge of town, with no vehicles or passersby around, nothing but the villain of the week should cause Danny’s sensors to go off.
“Two feet in front of you!” Lynn yelled.
Danny swung, connecting a hard right hook with the side of Camo’s face. The Elemental’s image rippled into view, just a man at his core, with a shaved head, slim night vision goggles, and a simple skintight suit in black made out of a material that Andre was dying to get his hands on, since it could mimic the man’s natural biochromes when he used his powers to blend in with his environment.
If Danny knocked the guy out, he could get him back to the precinct, take his suit, and have him ready for transfer to the prison’s Elemental wing in the morning. He might even get six hours of sleep for once.
Danny readied his other fist for a sharp, successive left hook, summoning only a minimal amount of lightning to power his hit, but he was too slow. Camo had dropped the bag of stolen money and jewelry, but he recovered quickly from the first punch and both hands snapped up to catch Danny’s wrist mid-swing. Camo’s black suit sparked with an electrical charge, and Danny had less than a second to realize how much trouble he was in.
When he’d still been a normal human, merely Lightning leaning like an eighth of the population—the other seven-eighths leaning toward different elements—he’d already been impervious to most shocks and static electricity, but high voltage confused the charge of his atoms even now that he was an Elemental.
A painful jolt traveled up Danny’s wrist, up his arm, and right to his heart, where he felt the rhythm stutter.
The next thing he knew, he was on his knees.
“Detective Grant?” Lieutenant Liu said, drawing Danny’s attention back to her face.
“Huh? Sorry, what was that?” Danny asked.
It was earlier that same day. The severe woman looked at Danny over the top of her glasses and recrossed her legs with impatience, as though she’d repeated herself several times. “You and Detective Edwards were the lead officers on the Thanatos case when he first appeared. Correct?”
Danny shifted in his seat restlessly. Doing these Internal Affairs interviews in interrogation rooms always made him feel like the walls were closing in. “You already know that, Lieutenant. Rick and I had the case right up until his death.”
Liu nodded neutrally. “And after Thanatos killed your partner, you were taken off the case?”
“Nothing technical about it, Detective. Captain Shan pulled you from the case, the official report says so,” she tapped the file folder in front of her on the table between them, “yet you continued to pursue Thanatos on your own. Did you have a vendetta against him?”
Danny shifted again, twitching in want to scratch his neck or run his hands through his short, ginger hair, which was foofed enough on top that it tended to disobey him. “He killed my partner. What do you think?”
“Olympus had never seen an Elemental like Thanatos before.” Danny leaned forward over the table. A city like Olympus with close to two million people would only see a few dozen Elementals every other decade, though the numbers were unreliable since many of them chose to live in hiding. “The things he could do… He could drown someone in their own shadow, did you know that? Did you know that’s how he killed Rick? Right in front of me. Darkness shoved down his throat until he choked, and there was n-nothing I could do.” Danny grimaced at the catch of emotion in his voice. He could feel the tears forming. Twenty-eight years old and he was still so quick to cry. “Thanatos started to do the same to me, but then…”
“Then?” Liu prompted when he didn’t finish.
Then Danny’s latent Elemental powers had triggered.
Electricity had discharged from Danny’s body like a power surge, forcing Thanatos’s shadows away from him. Danny hadn’t been able to control any of it at first. Thanatos had reached for him and Danny had lightning jumped for the first time. One moment he’d been on the ground next to Rick’s body, Thanatos leaning toward him in all of his awful glory, tendrils of black and deep purple shadow slithering off of him like snakes, and the next moment Danny was blocks away in an alley near the precinct.
He couldn’t use that part of his powers too frequently in too short a time, but he could become lightning itself when the need arose and teleport long distances in the span of seconds. He’d saved himself that night from whatever Thanatos might have done to him, but his powers hadn’t triggered in time to save Rick.
“Detective,” Liu said with impatience again.
That had been a year ago. It was time to close the case against Thanatos for good, however many pieces to the puzzle remained unsolved, which was the only reason they were having these follow-up interviews now.
“Then he let me go,” Danny said, falling into the lie easily, “because it was more fun to let me squirm than bother killing me too.” He looked across the table at her and for once didn’t try to hide how wrecked he was.
The knit to the lieutenant’s brow smoothed out as she collected herself and maintained a professional tone. She flipped a page in her notes. “Let’s talk about how, six months ago, the night Thanatos was defeated by Zeus, among the victims that died in the explosion at the power station was your mother.”
Danny blinked dazedly up at Camo as the Elemental snatched the bag of loot from the ground and made a break for it around the nearest building.
“Danny!” Lynn cried again. “Your heart rate—”
“I’m fine,” Danny coughed. He sucked in air as he waited for his healing factor to steady the jagged rhythm of his heart, making his chest feel like he had a hot iron pressed to the inside of his ribcage. He was lucky he was one of the few Elementals who had accelerated healing.
Five seconds…ten…finally, the pain dissipated.
“A high volt electrical charge is how he controls the reflectors in his suit. But I think he shorted it out with that trick. I can catch him.” Danny lurched to his feet, wondering for the thousandth time why he had a mostly white suit, because now it was scuffed with dirt at the knees.
His costume was white leather head to toe, save knee-high boots and elbow-length gloves in gold, as well as golden lightning bolts at his hips and the larger one off-center from the top of his left shoulder down to mid-chest to mimic a toga clasp. Finally, the lenses for his eyes shone with golden light, and a second larger lightning bolt etched up the center of his cowl from his eyebrows over the crown of his head and down the back of his neck.
“Be careful,” Lynn said.
“You got this,” Andre assured him.
Danny bounced on the balls of his feet once, twice, then took off in the direction Camo had run. Three possible options for where he’d gone presented themselves to Danny once he rounded the corner. “Left, right, or straight up,” he muttered.
“Right,” Andre said.
“How do you know? You can’t even see what I’m looking at.”
“Dude, I’m Metal leaning. I have a great sense of direction.”
“What does that have to do with anything?” As far as Danny had ever heard, metal people were adept at technology and architecture, not navigation.
“Metal,” Andre said like the answer should be obvious. “Magnetic? Hello. It’s totally a thing.”
Danny shook his head as he gauged his options more carefully. Left down an alley back out to the street—likely not. Up a fire escape to the roof of the building—doubtful. Or right beneath a loading dock door that was just barely over a foot up from the ground—a tight fit, but it was possible the man had slid his lithe form underneath, and Danny could easily follow suit.
“Right it is. Going dark until I have him in my sights.”
“If we get any obvious biochrome readings, we’ll let you know,” Lynn said.
Scuffing up the suit as he crawled on the ground to get under the door was more of a nuisance than dangerous, but it still made Danny feel low and annoyed when every night lately felt like an exercise in dwindling patience. Someone whose best trick was being sneaky and giving off a one-shot electrical charge should not put Danny on his ass.
He just wanted to catch this guy and call it a night. Get some peace and quiet for once. He didn’t remember the last time he’d had a night off. Not since his girlfriend Vanessa left Olympus City. That was weeks ago and Danny didn’t even miss her. She’d been right to leave him. She didn’t know he was secretly Zeus, that he’d become an Elemental a year ago, but she still understood that he was nothing but trouble for everyone who loved him.
“Your mother was one of the victims caught in the explosion,” Lieutenant Liu said. “Coincidence or was Thanatos targeting you?”
Danny contemplated the question. Oh it had all been planned, to the minute, to the very last detail. Thanatos had known Danny was Zeus, of course he had, he’d witnessed his rebirth, he’d caused it. And it had become so much more personal after that, for both of them, even though to this day Danny didn’t know the man’s real name.
Thanatos enjoyed watching Danny suffer, but the final straw had been to take more loved ones away from him.
“Coincidence,” Danny said, “of course. Thanatos was too focused on Zeus to care about me.”
Liu studied him closely, revealing nothing in the thin line of her lips before she spoke. “Some people wonder if you have more of a connection to Thanatos and Zeus than you let on.”
“People wonder a lot of things.”
“Thanatos was your case. Your partner and your mother were killed. A good detective might guess that you know Zeus personally. Or that, maybe…you are Zeus. Or Thanatos himself.”
Danny clenched his fists beneath the table. He knew she was just doing her job, trying to wheedle out a confession if there was one to tell. But she didn’t really believe he was Zeus or Thanatos. No one did.
“I’m Lightning leaning,” he said with a simple gesture at his yellow eyes, “just like you, Lieutenant, not an Elemental. And Thanatos’s element was Dark. I couldn’t be either of them. As for some other connection, what more do you need than that I was on the case, I couldn’t let it go after Rick’s death, and Mom being there that day was just bad luck. Sometimes a coincidence really is just a coincidence.”
Liu nodded thoughtfully as she glanced down at her notes. “They never found Thanatos. Some think he might still be out there, waiting for an opportunity to return.”
Danny trembled at the thought that still haunted his dreams—that Thanatos would reappear someday from out of the darkness to seek his vengeance.
“At the very least you blame Thanatos for your partner’s death, but also your mother’s. Maybe you blame Zeus too. Plenty of people say that the victims that day were at risk because of the rivalry between them. Maybe you hate Zeus,” she said with an almost dismissive tilt of her head.
Danny hated himself all right. But he wasn’t the only one at fault.
“Zeus did everything he could,” he said. “He would have succeeded in saving those people if he’d had help. He was supposed to have help. If anyone besides Thanatos is to blame for those people dying, for my mother dying, it isn’t Zeus.” He centered his gaze on Liu’s yellow eyes, so similar to his own. “It’s Malcolm Cho for not showing up like he promised.”
Danny stifled a curse as he rolled to his feet inside the…factory? He couldn’t be sure. It was nearly pitch black inside. Pitch black for him, against an enemy with night vision.
Feeling outward with his hands, Danny walked slowly into what felt like an expansive room. Charging up his powers to light the way would only pinpoint his location, if Camo didn’t already know.
He tried to strafe the areas he pointed his chest at to give Lynn the opportunity to pick up any readings. Since he couldn’t see anything, he closed his eyes and focused on what he could hear. Scuffling feet…to his left!
Danny swung—but hit nothing. He turned to face that direction, listening for Lynn to give him any cues, but nothing came over the comms.
Danny swung again—still nothing. Once more, he turned to face where Camo had been, waiting, hoping…
Danny’s feet were knocked out from under him and he went down, flat on his face, smashing his nose into the concrete floor. Broken, bleeding—he’d have to reset that for it to heal right. He hated resetting bones.
Then, finally, Camo made an error in judgment and moved to pin Danny to the floor with his foot, only Danny had already rolled over and caught the man’s ankle in his grasp. He yanked downward and felt Camo falter, tumble, and hit the ground on his back with an oomph. Danny scrambled to get a better hold of him, but Camo righted himself and started to crawl away.
No, no, no… Danny felt so foolish grappling with a man in the dark, but damn it—damn it—he was not going home empty-handed tonight. Not again. Not another night with absolutely nothing to show for everything he put into this, everything he gave of himself to be Zeus, everyone who had been sacrificed so he could live and protect this city.
He felt when Camo reached a wall and tried to clamber to his feet, but Danny got to his feet first, keeping the Elemental pinned and unsteady as he whirled him around and slammed him hard into the wall. Danny couldn’t see anything but the faint shimmer from Camo’s suit. He reared his arm back for a swift punch to end this.
Another shock coursed through Danny. It was weaker than the first, but still hurt, and Danny was done, just done. He tightened the grip of his left hand on Camo’s suit and fueled every ounce of anger he had into his punch.
The crack of Camo’s nose breaking as Danny’s had was gratifying, vindicating.
The second punch made the man moan in pain. But he was still conscious.
Distantly, Danny heard Lynn and Andre yelling for an update, wondering what was going on, but Danny wasn’t done yet.
He swung again.
“S-Stop…” Camo sputtered in a rough, broken voice, spitting at the ground after he spoke, “I give up, p-please…”
Danny’s fist tightened. He wanted to scream and nearly did as he pulled his arm back again.
“Danny, answer us!” Andre cried in his ear.
His fist connected, but not with Camo’s face. Danny’s knuckles sunk into the plaster of the wall. He’d used too much of his lightning to fuel the hit. He’d punched a hole in the wall. It sparked and smoked—a fuse box. The damage triggered something in the building’s grid, and suddenly, faint blue emergency lights kicked on above and around Danny.
He took a breath that seared his lungs. He’d been holding it since the first punch, but he lost his breath again when he finally looked at the man beneath his grasp, illuminated as the building filled with light.
Camo looked like he’d gone three rounds with a prize fighter. Nose busted and bleeding; goggles destroyed with the bone around his eye likely cracked, already swelling; lip split; vision dazed as he struggled to stay awake. Then Danny looked at the hole he’d left in the wall and realized how close he’d come to caving the man’s face in like the plaster.
“Danny!” Lynn and Andre cried together.
“I’m okay. I’m okay. I…I got him.” Slowly, Danny loosened his fist and his hold on Camo. The man slumped against the wall and finally, blessedly passed out.
“Are you sure?” Lynn asked. “Your blood pressure spiked.”
“It just got a little brutal,” Danny said. But there was nothing little about it. And the worst thing was, he didn’t feel sick from what he’d done—what he’d almost done.
He felt numb.
“You blame Prometheus for your mother’s death?” Lieutenant Liu asked.
Malcolm Cho, the Ice Elemental Prometheus.
“You filed a report stating that you overheard Zeus and Prometheus strike a bargain, that the known criminal had agreed to use his powers to assist Zeus in the fight against Thanatos. But he never showed.”
“He said he’d help,” Danny spat, recalling the conversation he’d had with the man only days before the attack that resulted in his mother’s death and the deaths of countless others. Danny had filed the report to protect Cho, to make sure no trigger-happy uniforms interfered. “His powers combined with Zeus might have stopped Thanatos sooner, before anyone had to die.”
“You’ve worked several of Prometheus’s cases. You and Detective Edwards formed the Elemental task force. You even helped put Cho away last time, before he broke out of prison again. Why believe he had any intention of helping Zeus?”
“I don’t. Not anymore. But at the time…” Danny’s gaze flickered to the metal surface of the table. “Cho and his Titans are thieves. Most are powerful Elementals, like his sister, but they’re not killers. Thanatos was a monster. Cho recognized that. It was in his best interest to get rid of him. But he was just a coward. Zeus waited, but no help came.” Danny sat up straighter as he trained his gaze on Liu again. “So if I was some powder keg waiting to erupt, don’t you think I’d be tracking Cho down? That I’d take my anger out on him? I just want to do my job, Lieutenant.”
“Isn’t tracking down an escaped felon part of your job?” she asked.
It was, but Danny couldn’t risk that. He knew a few places where Cho might be found, but he couldn’t bring the man in. Cho knew Danny’s secret. Danny had offered up his identity when he first went to Cho for help. They’d struck a deal. Cho agreed to lend Danny aid and to keep his identity to himself, and Danny agreed to not hand Cho over to the police. But when the standoff with Thanatos arrived, Cho was nowhere to be found.
Danny had faced a nightmare all those months ago, and even with Andre and Lynn in his ear, he’d done it alone. He wanted to drag Cho into the OCPD by the scruff of his collar, but he couldn’t. If he did, Cho would out him as Zeus.
“There are more important cases than a thief lying low, Lieutenant. When Cho shows his face again, I’ll be ready. Now are we done here?” Danny gestured at the cramped, suffocating room, eager to be free of it. “I have paperwork to do.”