Message of Fate

 

Message of Fate

                The winds tore around the mountain with a ferocity as great as any Hermes had ever seen. It couldn’t really do anything other than slow him down and that not by much. As messenger god, few things aside from a direct forbidding from his father could bar Hermes’ way, and this time, it was Zeus that had summoned him.

                He flew up into the clouds and a dark blue sky greeted him on the other side. Faint stars twinkled above. He set down on the cloud he’d passed through a moment ago. Mist swirled around his feet. The landscape before him could’ve been mistaken for snow. A brilliant tower rose from the clouds. It shifted from the color of the sky on a spring morning to deep midnight blue. It looked like it was made from glass or crystal, though Hermes knew it to be air made solid. A few lights glowed in the upper reaches. The palace of Zeus shone with an electric blue light, and power sizzled underfoot with every step Hermes took. A door of solid gold stood in the entrance. It had neither handle nor hinge, but as Hermes approached, a seam appeared in the middle and the doors swung inward. The throne room was as big as most mortal palaces. The images of clouds danced across the ceiling. Seated on a throne of air and lightning was Zeus, King of the Gods.

                White robes ran down a heavily muscled formed. Snowy white hair gave way to a well-trimmed beard that fell halfway down his chest and almost blended into the robe he wore. His eyes gleamed so brightly as to make it look like they were made of light. He looked at Hermes, and electric bands power flowed up from the ground and held the messenger in place. The doors slammed behind him. Hermes set his jaw and tried to stand up straight, but his knees quivered. Zeus stood up from throne and walked down the half dozen steps to the ground. Every step sounded like thunder.

                “The paths out of Greece are being closed one by one.”

                Hermes’ throat went dry. “Being closed, Father? Not by you?”

                Zeus shook his head. “No, they are being closed from the other side.”

                “By who?”

                “I don’t know. There is only one in this realm who can see through the boundary between worlds.”

                Hermes swallowed. “You want me to go see the Oracle?”

                Zeus nodded and turned around. With each step he took, the electricity holding Hermes in place lessened. By the time his father had seated himself on the throne, Hermes was free.

                “Go.”

                Zeus’ voice thundered through the hall, the doors flew open, and wind strong enough to uproot a mountain threw Hermes out of the throne room. He spun through the air for half a mile before righting himself and heading off in the direction of the Oracle of Delphi.

                It only took Hermes a few minutes to cover the hundreds of miles between Olympus and mountain city of Delphi. When the Oracle’s city came into view, he uttered a stream of curses. For the first time in the history of the city, Delphi was under siege. It soldiers had taken a stand outside the city. The men, many little more than boys, had been chosen for their beauty more than for any skill in combat. They were doing as well as could be expected, but they were outnumbered many times over. An army of men who bore no standard were attacking the city. The covered the mountainside like a living sea. Many of the invaders carried scars that said they had seen battle before and often. Amidst them a dozen wingless dragons slithered toward the city.

                They looked like giant snakes more than anything else, though each was as long as ten men. Bone ridges jutted out from their faces, and the moved through Delphi’s defenders like green fire on dry grass. Sometimes, they encircled groups of men and squeezed until the soldiers fell dead with a sickening crack. Others, they crushed with the sheer size of their bulk. A few times, they lashed out with their fangs. The men tried to defend themselves, but even the shallowest cut held enough poison to kill a man where he stood. Hermes reached out at the largest one with his power. The monster could have wrapped itself around a small house with room to spare.  He willed it shrink, to lose it poisonous bite, and become a harmless lizard. He’d done it before. It was one of the favored punishments of the gods.

                Nothing happened.

                For a moment, he stared dumbfounded while the dragon swallowed three men in quick succession. Hermes tried again, but the dragon didn’t even seem to notice his efforts. For the first time in his immortal life, Hermes broke out in a cold sweat. The only way these would be resistant to his power was if they’d come from beyond the ream ruled by Zeus. Hermes flew to the center of the city. A gold statue of Apollo riding his chariot with a drawn bow stood before the temple where the Oracle of Delphi resided. The battle hadn’t yet reached this courtyard, but it wouldn’t be long.

                “I could use your help, brother,” Hermes said.

                The metal groaned as the gold horses began pawing at the platform on which they stood. As they did, gold flecks drifted off revealing a gleaming white coat. Their manes rippled in the wind before bursting into flame. The wheels caught fire a second later, but they weren’t consumed. Color flowed into the statue painting it into a man while suntanned skin and a childlike face. Only the bow and the arrows in his quiver remained gold. The figure who had been a statue only a moment ago stepped down to the ground and smiled at Hermes. Apollo hadn’t bothered to take on his normal size and stood just as tall as the statue once had, a full nine feet.

                “Hermes,” he said as if he didn’t have a care in the world. “I never expected you to call me from here. Is there something you need?”

                “It’s not what I need,” Hermes said. “There’s an army about to conquer your city.”

                “Don’t be ridiculous,” Apollo said. “Who would dare try to conquer Delphi?”

                At that moment, the dragon Hermes had failed to change came into the courtyard with a roar. Blood and gore dripped from is teeth and arrows protruded from its scales.

                Apollo’s eyes narrowed. “This? You called me for this?”

                He focused on the serpent for a second. Then, his eyes went wide. With one fluid motion, he drew a golden arrow and loosed it at the beast. It streaked through the air, leaving a trail of flame behind it. It cut right through the dragon and burned across the sky. For a second, it looked like nothing had happened. Then, its eyes began to glow. A second later they became candle flames. Glowing orange cracks spread out from the dragon’s face until they covered the entire body. The scales blackened. All at once, the creature collapsed into a pile of ash.

                “At least they’re not immune to that,” Apollo said. He turned to Hermes. “I take it there are more?”

                Hermes nodded. “Them and an army.”

                “Excuse me then, brother. I have to see to my city.”

                Without waiting for a response, Apollo leapt back into his chariot and seized the reins. The horses reared and surged forward. When they reached the edge of the platform, their path curved upward and the chariot shot into the air. Hermes hesitated only a second before his wings on his sandals buzzed, and he leapt into the air after them.

                As soon as he could see the battle, Apollo loosed arrow after arrow at the dragons. Every one found its mark. In one instant, the arrow curved in the air to pierce a particularly fast beast. Less than a minute later, the creatures were nothing but piles of ashes. Apollo didn’t stop there, though. He dove down into the invading army and ran over them. The burning wheel left charred husks in its wake, thought he flames didn’t touch the defenders. In a few minutes, the battle was over. The defending army looked to Apollo and fell to their knees.

                “You could’ve left some of them alive to question,” Hermes said. “They probably had some of the answers Father is looking for.”

                Apollo shook his head. “No, brother. Delphi is sacred. More than that, it is mine. No one who defiles it can be permitted to live. The Oracle can give you whatever answers Father needs.”

                Hermes nodded. Apollo shrank to normal size, and the two godly brothers approached the massive doors to the temple of the Oracle. The two child guards, chosen for their resemblance to Apollo and trained from birth to be deadly with the bow they carried, bowed and stood aside. The gods strode into the temple and walked around the bronze brazier in the center of the room. They stopped before a set of double doors with a gold sunburst, one of Apollo’s symbols, embossed on them. A torch burned on either side of the door. The red robed priestesses gave them a deep bow, but didn’t move out of the way. Apollo cleared his throat. A priestess with flame red hair long enough to drag on the floor whimpered.

                “Forgive me, milord,” she said in a small voice. “The Oracle will not see you.”

                “Me?” Apollo’s voice shook the room and the flames on both the torches and brazier shone with a blinding light. “The Oracle will not see me? This is my city. I go where I please.”

                “We cannot stop you, Lord Apollo,” she said, “but she will not speak to you even if you should go through that door. She told us to tell you that she will leave your city if you wish, but she will not speak to you.”

                Apollo’s eyes blazed like glowing bronze, but they faded to deep brown a second later. He shook his head. “Let’s go, Hermes.”

                “But Father…”

                “Father does not control the Oracle any more than I do. He’ll have to accept that.”

                Hermes let out a breath.  “I don’t suppose you’d like to explain that to him.”

                Apollo went a little pale and shook his head. “No, I don’t think so.”

                “Somehow, I thought you’d say that.”

                Apollo inclined his head and the two walked out. The sun god got into his chariot and drew his bow. Gold spread out from the bow until the entire chariot shone in the sun. Apollo grew quickly until he’d returned to the size of the statue. The horses started to move forward but froze in midstride, leaving only a statue.

                “Thanks, brother,” Hermes said before leaping into the air.

                A few minutes later he flew through the clouds obscuring Olympus’ peak. Mist obscured Zeus’ palace and lighting flashed behind it. Hermes remained in the air for several seconds before finally landing and approaching. The doors swung open, and his father sat on his throne, waiting.

                “Well?” he asked.

                “I’m sorry,” Hermes said. “The Oracle wouldn’t give me an answer.”

                “What?”

                The palace shook so hard, Hermes was thrown from his feet. Lightning arced up from the floor and ran through him. Pain coursed through his body. He didn’t even feel it when he hit the ground. After a second, it faded, but Hermes still couldn’t stand. The electric energy held him in place.

                “I sent you to get an answer,” Zeus thundered. “Why did you return if you haven’t gotten one?”

                “Release your son, Lord Zeus,” a quiet voice said.

                Thunder crashed outside. It took all Hermes’ strength to roll over to see who would dare intrude on the throne room if the king of the gods. The energy released him just as his eyes fell on the three figures in the doorway. Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos. The Moirai. The three fates who were beyond even Zeus’ power.

                Hermes scrambled to his feet as the fates moved forward. Zeus stepped off his throne and walked down the stairs in silence until he stood face to face with the fates.

                “You were wise to seek the Oracle,” Clotho said.

                “She is firm in her resolve not to give you the answers you seek,” Lachesis said.

                “She will speak only to a hero,” Antropos said.

                “I’ll send one of my sons then. Heracles is more than equal to this.”

                “No,” the three said in unison.

                “This threat comes from beyond the borders of your realm,” Lachesis said. “No hero of your realm can face it. You need a mortal.”

                No one said anything for a long time. Zeus finally broke the silence. “A mortal hasn’t walked in this world in centuries.”

                Lachesis nodded. “This is the realm of their stories, but there are a few who can still cross over.”

                “One was imagined before he was born,” Clotho said.

                “He is partially imaginary and partially real,” Lachesis said.

                “Only one such as he can keep the paths open,” Antropos said as she pulled an envelope out of her robes and handed it to Hermes.

                “Travel to the mortal realm, Messenger,” Lachesis said. “Find this mortal and bring him to us. We will await him in Atlas’ shadow.”

                Hermes throat went dry. “How do I find him? What is his name?”

                The three spoke at once. “Henry Alexander Gideon.”

                Then, the three fates vanished.

Get the rest of the story in the Oracles of Kurnugi trilogy.