For Joseph, American college had been a rather interesting experience thus far.
He finished school in the UK, the remaining funds having been provided by his parents' insurance after their vacation incident, paid in advance to cover any costs so any other caregivers wouldn't have to fork out anything.
The kids at his old school were certainly kind enough to him after they heard what happened to his parents, and even though he knew they were all feeling sorry for what had happened, it didn't do much to quell the hurt he had been feeling.
Mr. and Ms. Merrick had taught their son enough responsibility to take care of himself, but there came a time where foster care had become an option for him.
He knew of the system and how it helped, but he seemed split whether or not he should go into it, given the sketchy results. He proved the representatives that spoke to him about foster care that he had the fortitude to take care of himself, but, given his youth, simply taking care of himself was not an option. Or at least in the government's eyes.
It was explained that when he turned eighteen that he had the free will to drop out of the system if he absolutely wanted to, but until the insurance money was released he had no way to support himself. In retrospect, he had to agree.
For the next two and a half years he stayed with a woman in her late thirties.
They both had their differences and hard times. When Joseph first arrived; she showed him around the house and the neighbourhood, took him out to dinner on the first, and was just there for him when he needed a shoulder to lean on when he felt down.
She respected Joseph's privacy, figuring that he needed his own personal space. One day she took Joseph aside and wanted to talk to him about his parents, thinking it would be good for him to get it off his chest so it's not being bottled up where it would fester.
It hurt, reliving the events through story. During the chat, he joked and said he should write it down and print out copies to hand out so he wouldn't have to recount his story every time someone asked.
When he turned eighteen, that's where he had to make a hard choice.
He could've stayed with the foster mother for as long as he wanted, and serious thought was put into that decision. She had taken him in during a time of mourning and done the next best thing a surrogate mother could.
However, it was his eventual decision to travel abroad and finish studying in America, and to fulfil a desire to travel. Now would have been as good of a time as any. He loved books, and often spent time cooped up in his room reading adventure and fantasy novels. It was a mode of escape from the real world for a period of time, helping him to calm down and readjust to life after his parents took a second, unexpected vacation to the pearly gates.
Literature was his chosen field, and from all his reading he had grown an affinity for mythology from the fantasy books he read.Thus, he wanted to have an emphasis on myth and legend in his literature studies, although nothing beat an awesome adventure book from time to time.
He gave his foster mother a big farewell hug, leaving her with a handsome cheque to both say thank you, and Joseph cheekily added: "To replace all the food I ate."
He had to put much thought into the house and its possessions, what to do with them. He opted to sell the house for a bonus few hundred thousand pounds, but when he chose a new place to stay he'd bring items he wanted to keep, to America.
He first chose his father's armchair. That thing wasn't going to collect dust in a storage locker or be drawn on by some snot-nosed kids after their parents bought it. No way in high hell that was happening. Something of his mother's was a bit of a difficult decision. She had her jewellery, but was more attached to the family portraits than anything.
Joseph had talked to the doctors at the hospital where his parents were cremated about taking their ashes back with him, but they explained that while they burned the ashes to keep the unknown diseases from spreading, there could still be a chance of contamination if some of the disease cells somehow survived.
He thought of having their ashes compressed and made into diamonds, which he'd then put into a pendant to wear around his neck so he'd never be without them. Something else he saw while watching a documentary about Viking Swords was that they often used the ashes of deceased relatives in the forging of their blades. It was thought that adding in ashes of family members empowered the blade with the strength of their beloved.
The fact of the matter, as was explained on the TV, was that the ashes helped remove impurities from the steel used and adding a toughness to the blade. But that didn't take away from the sentimental value by any means.
The doctor he spoke to thought the rings would have been a lovely idea, but couldn't help but raise an eyebrow when he mentioned forging knives with the ashes, adding that if any trace of the virus were present in the ashes, anyone that was cut with the blade had the chance to catch whatever afflicted his parents.
The doctor's comment reminded Joseph of video games, but he didn't mention this part to the doctor. He thought of blades, swords, and other weapons that had "poison damage". Having a blade right out of a videogame that closely mimicked its digital counterpart in what it accomplished would be every nerd's wet dream.
He sold the vast majority of their possessions; the television, furniture, kitchen appliances etc etc. He was almost tempted to say to the buyers of the house that they could have everything inside for a little extra cash once he took what he wanted.
He put everything he thought he'd need for his new place, keeping his bed, computer, every single family photo, his fathers' armchair, his parent's wedding rings and mother's engagement ring were a must have (but he kept those on him), into a shipping container that he'd send for when he found a suitable place to settle down in. He was fortunate enough that the doctors removed their rings early on, so they were willing to release them to Joseph having been thoroughly cleaned and disinfected first just to be on the safe side.
The crate with all his belongings would take weeks to get across the ocean on a boat, so for about a month he was living out of a suitcase in a small apartment in a dodgy part of town while he searched for a house and a school to go to.
He had the finances to last several years, but he knew those would run out sooner or later if he didn't get a job for the security if something happened to the insurance money.
When he finally managed to settle down into his new, two-bedroom terrace house, he started looking for a school to enroll in and for a flatmate. The logic being the flatmate could help cook, clean, and pay a little bit of board to cover the expenses. A bit of friendly company was nice now and then, and it was his first roommate that introduce Joseph to his group of friends.
At Joe's discretion, his flatmate invited his friends around one day just to have a few drinks and chat after work, and Joseph kept to himself while they were over. Joe went to the kitchen to refill his water bottle at one point after it ran out, and everyone that was sitting in the lounge saw him, and wanted to chat. One thing lead to another and they managed to squeeze his story from him. Afterwards, it was unanimous that Joe spend more time with them instead of holed up on his computer. That wasn't going to do him any good, but spending time with people, would.
Joe started working at a beach-side cafe on one or two days during the weekends while studying where he could. He wasn't quite sure where he wanted to go in the long run with studying literature, but for the time being he had a job, was educating himself, and had begun to forge new relationships in friends.
But this particular job was a bit of a nightmare for him. The sous chef there had a bit of a grumpy demeanour, often aggravated when the cafe would get slammed with orders during the lunch period on the weekends, and sundays were the worst in that respect. Once, he even caught the sous chef doing crack in the back room where they stored all the food. The thing is, the back room had a garage door to access for deliveries and they would leave it half open during the day for the ease of getting food, and as a sort of a break room for smoke breaks. Had the garage door been opened any more, any passing customer would have seen the chef snorting the nasty stuff.
He told the manager who was also the head chef, but what seriously scared Joe was his reply: "You should have asked him where mine was.". He saw the humour in it, but that didn't excuse the fact that the boss essentially condoned the use of Class A Narcotics. Eventually the stress from having to deal with a coked-up, perpetually angry chef took its toll on Joe and he had to leave. Joe even made the comparison of Gordon Ramsay high on methamphetamine–it was that bad.
It took the good part of a year, but he eventually found another place to work at: also a beach side cafe. These guys were much more sociable and easier to get along with, and he enjoyed it there until the place was forcibly shut down because the owner was using profits from the business and investing it into more drugs.
Joseph elected to forego jobs until he had the time and dedication to invest in them when he wasn't studying. And to find a place that he was certain wasn't involved in any illegal trade.
He didn't mind weed though, but that was as far as he was willing to go.
But on this particular day at school, things were taking a turn for the worse.
Through a means that he never found out, news of his parents death managed to leak into the school. He really only told the Dean and a couple professors, and he guessed that someone either overheard them talking about it or told other students, but he still wasn't sure.
It didn't take him too long to make enemies, specifically bullies. They always seemed to have it in for the new kid for some reason.
Yes, he was in his early twenties and dealing with bullies at school.
By nature, Joe was a nice guy. A pacifist, some would call him. Didn't hurt anyone, never picked any fights, and preferred brains over brawn any day. He tried nipping the situation in the bud by telling the Dean about the bully, but it didn't go any further than having them both called into the office where the Dean stressed what would happen to the bully if he kept knocking Joe about, figuratively speaking.
But that was about as far as it went, and unfortunately the bullying didn't stop there.
He didn't know how, or why, but Michael, as Joseph aptly nicknamed the bully, had him cornered against a locker in an empty hall and was threatening him.
"Awww, what you gonna do? Go running home to your mommy and daddy?" he teased. "Oh, wait, you don't have any! You're such a nerd for choosing books over sports." The insult was punctuated by Mr. Asshat laughing at his own cruel joke.
"You know," Joseph began. "I'm writing an essay that correlates playing sports like football and so on with the decline of brain cells and brain damage. You should read it some time, you'd like it."
That comment must have struck a chord within Mr. Asshat, because the next thing Joseph saw was stars. Struck by Asshat's fist, he fell to the ground in a daze.
Joe took a moment to shake the stars out of his vision as he picked himself up and brushed himself off, ready to ignore Mr. Asshat and get on with his day. He wasn't about to pick a fight with someone that could out punch him.
As soon as Joe got up, he saw the bully rear back with his fist and thrust his fist at Joseph's face. He ducked out of the way just in time to hear a sickening crack on the metal of the locker behind him, followed by a howl of pain.
"M-my hand! My hand is broken!" exclaimed Mr. Asshat as he bent over, cradling his hand.
"Your own fault, num-nutz. I'm sure you've heard of the adage 'You are what you eat'? That would explain why you're the biggest dick around. Now leave me alone, I've got class. Oh yeah, go see the nurse and get some ice on that. You're going to need a cast."
Joe walked away while Asshat was still writhing in pain about his hand. He found it very amusing how some people would act all high and mighty then wimp out when something happens to them. He went to the nearest mens room to check the damage on his face, and other than what would become a black eye and a small cut just under his eye from where Asshat's thumbnail had caught him, he'd be alright.
Joseph was half an hour into his next class when someone knocked on the door. The professor was handed a note, and just simply told Joe to go to the Deans office. Figuring it was what happened forty-five minutes ago, he'd be in and out in five minutes when he explained what happened. But he was new here, and the Dean would likely give the students that have been there the longest more credibility because he 'knew' them longer.
So for insurance, he made a pit stop at his locker and took out the half a bag of weed he managed to procure from his room mate, hiding the joint he already rolled inside his pen by unscrewing it and removing the ink, screwing it back together. Joe then stuffed the baggie through the slits in his attacker's locker.
He knocked on the frosted glass pane of the door leading into the Dean's office. "Come in," was the response.
He entered, seeing Mr. Asshat sitting in one of the seats with arm in a sling and ice on his hand. Joe sat down in the vacant chair.
"Joseph Merrick," the Dean greeted. "Care to tell me why Michael claims you broke his hand?"
That question caught Joe off guard. He had to do a double take. "I'm sorry, what?"
"Why have I got another student, in my office, claiming that you broke their hand? This kind of thing is grounds for expulsion, and I'd hate to have to do that. You're a smart kid Joseph, you've got a bright future ahead of you."
"I didn't break his hand. He hit me, as you can see by the cut on my face and the bruise. I just ducked out the way before he had the chance to turn my jaw into powdered bone, and he broke his hand by punching the wall."
The Dean's gaze turned to Michael. "You told me that Joseph broke your hand by twisting it."
"He did! He must have been reading about something that told him how to do it, because the next thing I know is he's bumping into me every chance he gets, then today I find my wallet missing, and I figured that Joe lifted it from my back pocket after he bumped into me. He twisted my arm and told me to fuck off when I asked for it back!"
The Dean's head mechanically turned to look at Joseph.
"Think about what he said for a second. His hand is broken but he said I twisted his arm."
"Now he's trying to nitpick at what I say to discredit me!"
"Look at this," Joe said, gesturing up and down himself with a hand. "He's got fifty pounds on me. How could I get the jump on Michael when he plays sports and thus could easily overpower someone like me? Lets think about this for a moment. How many times have I been in trouble here, strictly speaking?"
The Dean shrugged as he tried to recall. "Nothing that comes to mind. Either you're good at hiding what you get up to"–he said with a slight smirk–"or you just aren't one for trouble."
"Ok, now how many times has Michael been in trouble?"
Joseph could tell by the look on the Dean's face that he struck a chord within him.
"Actually, there's been a few incidents over the years where you've been in here for starting fights, Michael. But I've swept them under the rug for the sake of your football scholarship. If what Joseph is getting at is true, then you're trying to place blame elsewhere to save your own bacon. So tell me, what really happened?
Joe looked on at the sight of the Dean giving Michael the third degree. He felt rather satisfied with himself, seeing Michael look down and away, clutching at his hand as the ice dripped from the sling and onto his lap, drip by drip as deafening silence filled the room, wondering what Michael would say.
"Consider yourself suspended until further notice. This is going on record, as is all the other times you've been in trouble." Michael looked up at the Dean fearfully. "Oh yes, I might have swept them under the rug but I still kept a record of what happened in your file. Go back to the nurses office and wait for the ambulance. I'll be phoning home when I'm done talking to Joseph."
A grim spread onto Joe’s face. Since Michael has a bung hand, he’s probably have to get one of the professors to help him clear the locker, that or the Dean would help. Either way, Joe wouldn’t need to mention the baggie he put in Mike’s locker. Having it found by other means only adds further insurance to Joe’s wanting to get rid of him.
Defeatedly, Michael got up from the chair, head hung as he used his good hand to open the door, letting it swing closed of its own accord. It hung slightly ajar, but nothing else said was of any importance from this point forward so the Dean didn't bother to completely close it.
"Sorry about that, Joseph. It seems I was playing favourites.”
"That's something I've never understood: it's just an extracurricular activity. Like the chess club, how the art department sometimes paints murals on the school walls. Why does football and sports get glorified while the others are left in the shadows?"
The Dean just heaved a slight chuckle. "I don't even know. You should be able to finish class if you hurry back."
"See you later, then." Joe gave the Dean a curt, farewell wave as he left the office and turned down the hallway to go back to class. He was glad that making the Dean actually evaluate things rather than just did what he normally did, saved his ass.
Joseph made his way back to class to catch the last fifteen minutes of the lecture. They were covering Greek Gods; researching the Gods themselves, their home, the Titans etc. The titans were a curious bunch by themselves. The students were asked to name what gods they could. A lot of them said Zeus, King of Olympus and God of Thunder. Joseph said Chronos was the God of Time, but someone piped up that Chronos, Atlas, and so forth were Titans. Joseph remarked they were Proto-Gods, they they spawned several of the Gods of Olympus before they turned and cast the Titans out, ruling Olympus for themselves.
The professor asked a question that caught everyone off guard: "How do you kill a Greek God?"
Joseph wasn't much of a video game nerd, but he did remember one particular series of games. "A blade either dipped in, or forged in ichor," was his answer.
The professor only smirked. "And you know this how? Books with that kind of information are few and far between; rare to find. You won't find much information on how to kill gods in a college textbook."
"If there's anything I like to do, it's read. I remember playing a game where the player's blades were forged in ichor, thus is why they could kill any creature—or monster—he encountered. Be it sirens, harpies, revenants, and so on. Rather, I read it in the game's guidebook."
The professor gestured swept an open palm across the room, saying: "For those that don't know what ichor is, could you please explain what it is?"
"Ichor is the golden, ethereal blood of the gods. Also in medical terminology, a blood-like discharge. But"—Joseph stated before the professor could continue—"the real question is how would a mortal kill a god? Sure, god-made weapons can do the trick, but universal methods aside what other options are there?"
"Good question. Anyone care to answer?"
One fellow a few chairs down looked to be contemplating something given the look on his face. "So, if the blood of the gods can be used against them as a whole, maybe they can be taken out with methods pertaining to their individuality?"
"An equally good answer; both right and wrong at the same time." The professor then pulled out an old, leather bound book wrapped with a string of leather to hold it together. He unwound the strip while Joe looked on with intrigue, the rest of the students mumbling over the strange book. Using a bookmark, the professor opened it to a specific page. "The God of Thunder shan’t be slain but by the wood of a tree struck by one of his bolts, or by a knife carved from a finger of frozen thunder," he read.
One student spoke over the others. "So Big Daddy Zeus zaps a tree and you stab him with it, so what the hell is a 'finger of frozen thunder'?"
“In mythology,” the professor began, “there were specific gem, rocks, and minerals used for certain purposes. Some were used in summoning rituals, while others were used as warding against demons etc. But, as people found out, when lightning struck sand it fused the particles together in the shape of the bolt. Fulgurite is extremely brittle, but it's relatively common to get these days. A lot of Crystal shops use it to make cheap necklaces and to sell as a novelty item.
“After a lightning storm, the fulgurite formed could be at least a foot long in size and up to a couple inches thick. Given the brittle nature of the stone, it was often deliberately broken up into several smaller pieces and given to family and friends by those that found the hunks of the stuff. It was seen as a blessing from the gods themselves, and thus having a piece of the divine magic—lightning—in their homes believed to bring good luck.”
Before the class itself left for lunch break, the professor gave them an assignment: "To research any methods of killing Greek Gods."
Joseph had a good head start. All he needed to do was play through his games again and cross reference any weapons mentioned against real-world historical data to see if it had any basis, or if it was just a contrivance.
With a smirk on his face, Joe headed to the school's library to begin his research.