book 2 in the petros chronicles

War of the Ashers

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CHAPTER ONE – HERMES

For the first time in thousands of years, Hermes felt tired. He’d been tracking the mortals’ scent all night, his winged sandals fluttering through the trees, his golden wand lighting the way. He knew it was only a matter of time until the Asher’s invisibility wore off, and then they’d all be as good as dead.

The Moonbow had been waning for the last half hour as warm streaks of sunrise sprayed its arches with the rosy foam of dawn. It had been watching him since he emerged from Lake Thyra with his treacherous heart set against his brothers, the hell-bound lords of the Underworld, who would doubtless condemn him to a century of torture once they learned of his present errand.

But the Moonbow had bewitched the wandering messenger. Hermes could feel no fear nor contemplate remorse as long as its peaceful bands hovered over him. What he was doing was undeniably out of spite for his brothers, yet for some reason, he couldn’t help but feel that the Moonbow was smiling on him, nudging him onward even as his immortal limbs grew weak and heavy in the air.

Hermes’ mind drifted as he stared through a net of leaves into the fading Moonbow that filled it. His thoughts traveled back to the last time he could recall ever feeling so weary. It had been immediately after The War against the All-Powerful, the night he and his brothers, the bold triumvirate, were expelled from heaven along with countless other rebels, all of whom had been hypnotized by Apollo’s promise of unending power and a paradise of their own to rule as they pleased.

Hermes had been in on the lie from the start. Together with Poseidon, Apollo, Zeus, Hades, and the Titans, he had been plotting the coup for what seemed like eons within the timeless stretch of eternity. It was called The War, but no swords were wielded nor chariots mounted until the dreaded end, which each black-hearted devil knew full well was coming.

Before word of their treason reached the All-Powerful, the weapons had been innocuous words, whispers of rumors that infected heaven’s streets like an insidious plague. The symptoms were mild at first, hardly noticeable. A few complaints, a few disputes, a furious brawl here and there when the devout grew defensive and could stand the heresies no longer.

In the beginning, the revolt comprised only a few small circles of murmuring adherents. But little by little, even the most pious ears were tickled and the strongest minds corrupted. To Hermes’ surprise, there was soon enough of them to form an entire army that could rise up, dethrone the All-Powerful, and make greedy gods of themselves. It was then that the faithful took up arms against the rebel forces and drove them outside the city walls, ruthless and swift as when a ferocious squall besets a sailboat.

Spirits every one of them, the rebels awoke in one piece, their wishes granted. Around them now was a kingdom all their own, far from the stifling sovereignty under which they’d served and worshiped for untold ages.

The world was a newly created planet called Petros, meaning stone, named for the rocky terrain and jagged mountains that defined it. The atmosphere was so dense to the rebels, that many swore the fingers of Death, which did not yet exist, were wrapping around their throats. For millennia, they’d been accustomed to the pure, rarefied air of heaven; now, their lungs labored and burned with every breath.

The anemic color of the clouds hanging low over the sickly green hills was a sore to the rebels’ eyes. They kicked the weeds and cursed the thorns as they hiked to the highest peak on which the three would erect their thrones and the rest their flimsy shelters, all pigsties compared to their former abodes.

Hermes, one of the few with the gift of flight, had fallen from the sky halfway to the top of the summit and awoken half a day later, hoping it had all been a terrible dream, a hallucinatory warning from his subconscious. His conniving mind stopped scheming, slowing to assess the bruises and aches racking his body, this frightening pain he had never experienced. His ichor blood felt frozen as regret gripped his muscles and sorrow seeped into his bones.

He wanted to cry out to Duna, to confess that he’d made a grave mistake and that he’d do anything to escape this loathsome world and reenter heaven’s gates. But the darkness within him would tolerate no remorse, nor would his brothers let him lie down idly for long, pitying his wounds and rethinking his choice. Give it some time, they’d said, for we have it here. And in time we shall all be kings.

They had been right. In time, the fatigue had worn off, the bruises had healed, and repentance had become as vulgar a notion as revolution once had been. Petros had become home, and Hermes had made himself one of its sovereigns.

For thousands years, he had been an indispensable part of the oligarchy, and then of the counterfeit trinity after Apollo imprisoned the Titans and his siblings within the bowels of Tartarus and adopted Hermes and Hades as brothers. It was then that Hermes, true son of Zeus, began to prove himself more clever and cunning than his two “brothers” combined. It had been his duty, his greatest pleasure, to bend mortals to his will, to convince even himself that his gods-breathed, grandiose lies were true.

And then the Vessel had arisen, just as the Oracles had prophesied they would two thousand years before their birth. The whole Underworld knew the Vessel would be an Asher, one of the gifted mortals who received supernatural abilities when they reached eighteen. And because the All-Powerful had ordained long ago that there could only be one Asher per family, Hermes was sure the girl called Chloe was the one. He didn’t consider her twin brother could be a threat as well.

That oversight was Hermes’ undoing. 

Apollo and Hades blamed him for the Ashers’ escape. He was their eyes and ears, they’d said, but he might as well have been blind and deaf and unforgivably brainless. He wasn’t needed anymore. They had their blessed Fantásmata, their brainwashed, power-crazed disciples with whom they communicated through drug-induced channeling and cataleptic trances.

He was nothing but an underling now, an impotent peon like the other rebels who stood guard around Hades’ gates, as if they could ever fend off the All-Powerful for even a second were he to descend to their sulfuric depths. If he chose to, he could thresh them like wheat and grind them to grain with a single breath. The question of why he didn’t had settled over Hermes’ mind like a fog, filling the void where his ruses and plans once dominated. He’d rather be annihilated than continue living with countless gallons of mortal blood staining his conscience.

Perhaps this was his punishment, one much worse than being bound in Tartarus or cast into the Vale of Mourning.

Just hours ago, he’d been certain that the greatest torture was to possess a hubris matched only by two other spirits in the universe, and have no purpose or outlet with which to gratify it. But something in the air this night, perhaps the Moonbow itself, had convinced him otherwise. The greatest torture was not to be deprived of satisfying his pride, but to recognize its repulsiveness, to feel the unbearable weight of blood caked onto his hands, to carry guilt like a yoke upon his shoulders, and to remember a peaceful existence before any of it.

Hermes’ heartbeat quivered, one side fighting to beat fast with swelling offense and anger, the other side resisting, for it knew that blaming his brothers for his dismal fate was futile. Evil had been stagnant within him all along, and they’d known how to draw it out, capturing it like sap from a tree. But he wasn’t dumb; the All-Powerful had created him to be one of the shrewdest of all. While others might have been manipulated and deceived, Hermes was fully aware of the choice he was making. There was no one to blame but himself.

Unable to fly any longer, Hermes grabbed onto the nearest tree branch and sat down. He leaned his head against the trunk and breathed in the Petrodian air, air that had once tasted so vile; now it was nectar compared to the choking swelter of hell.

The amber glow surrounding the Moonbow dissolved into the clear blue canvas of sky. He pointed his wand at it, commanding it to stay, but, of course, it was impervious to his magic. It came and went as it wished, offering solace, delivering warnings, chasing down destinies, answering only to the All-Powerful.

Who would Hermes answer to now? He’d betrayed the All-Powerful. He’d been ostracized by his brothers. But the Moonbow, that silent messenger overlooking the deeds of mortals and spirits both, he had not antagonized. Perhaps by helping the Ashers it loved, he could win its favor. He could do something noble, something that might reach the All-Powerful’s ear and lighten the load of guilt bearing down on him.

Hermes jumped as his reverie shattered like glass at the sound of a man’s voice a short stone’s throw away.

“Damian, look!” the man shouted.

Hermes looked down through the density of looming Folóï oaks, but saw nothing but a red fox scampering past. And then he saw it, a faint glimmer spanning four feet of air on which transparent waves rippled and shook as if pebbles were skipping across it.

“It’s fading again,” came the same disembodied voice, much lower this time.

Slowly, the see-through apparition became obscured as flesh tones and flashes of clothing suffused them. Hermes could make out four human forms, all still hazy as they regained their corporeality. Only one was familiar to him, the one named Ethan, whose voice he’d heard.

Ethan and an older man and woman had their hands planted firmly on the fourth’s shoulders and wrists, clinging to him like children to their mother. Reluctantly, as they regarded the sunshine and shadows on their skin and crunched the leaves beneath their feet, they removed their hands and stepped away.

So this was Damian, the Asher who had escaped his notice. The one responsible for his demise.

“No one to blame but yourself, old man,” Hermes muttered to himself. Then he rose from the branch and flew down to the ground, smiling softly at the thought of both vengeance and redemption irresistibly within reach.