Something was changing in the world. Hermes could feel it like a growing anger in the air. He had pulled over and sat on the motorcycle as he looked at the city sprawling on the distant horizon, pinpointing the place he needed to go. He could deliver the note to his half-sister and leave. The city was filled with distractions for him. So many businesses, so many opportunities for someone who had been, among things, a robber, a cattle driver, a bringer of dreams, a watcher by night, a thief at the gates. . . .
He missed the days when they wrote poetry about him. He missed the simplicity of the old life, which was why he still delivered messages for the others.
Cars passed him by, more than a few slowing to take a closer look at the cycle. Custom built, of course. Heph, his half-brother, had done most of the work and he was really good with metals.
Hermes had and unusual family, but he also had enemies.
Sometimes he could go for years without crossing paths with one of the people he'd annoyed in the ancient past. Sometimes he even got lax, and this was one of them. Hermes had started the cycle and pulled out into traffic, determined to get the work done and get on with whatever it was he wanted to do. A few minutes later he saw the antelopes running along the edge of the desert and hardly gave them a glance until they got nearer and he felt the magic --
By then he was already forcing the cycle to stop, swerving out of traffic amid the blasts of horns and screeching tires. The creatures ran straight at him and he heard startled cries of humans where there had been curses a moment before. Circe's work! He could feel her touch and he lifted his hand to carefully (and without much show) send the animals darting away from the open road where they would have been killed and likely taken some of the humans with them.
He saw her standing out in the desert, hands on her hips, her hair flying. No one else could see her, though. He wanted to go grab her and shake some sense into that brain. What a stupid thing to do just to try and hurt him. He would have survived --
Something hit him just below the knee --
And the teeth sunk in.
"Son of a bitch," he whispered. The words brought a surge of power and a flash of wind. His leg was already on fire. He wasn't certain the snake would survive, but he would. It just wouldn't be pleasant.
Circe was gone.
He still had hold of the cycle but wasn't certain it was safe to drive it into town now. What would he do instead? Fly?
He climbed on, started the cycle with a bit of magic rather than the usual way, and then put enough magic into the all-too-normal tires to keep them balanced on the road. He headed for the city because if he could reach Athena, he could get help. She was very wise, his half-sister.
Besides, he still had the message to deliver to her.
The poison sent waves of pain and fever through his body as he rode away. He thought for a moment that he heard Circe laugh, but he wasn't sure. Why had she suddenly taken up the old disagreement? Was he imagining the feel of trouble growing again?
The storm that came suddenly was not his imagination. Lightning flashed across the sky and Hermes looked up, letting the rain fall across his face. He couldn't think clearly, though. He could only look ahead and watch as the night fell across the land and the stars rose in glory. Poetry, he thought. There used to be poetry and ships and battles that he really didn't want to see again. He thought he saw trouble playing out in the skies above him --
Athena found him. Good. He didn't have to go find her in the city after all. She strode down the now empty road, larger than life of course, and he stopped the cycle. There were still cars around, but not where they stood, in a slightly different place. He heard them as whispers and saw them as the fleeting ghosts of humanity.
"Message from father." Hermes drew the sealed packet from inside my jacket. "I think there is trouble."
"No shit, Sherlock," she said with a nod up at the sky.
She took the packet and tore it open while Hermes leaned forward over the handlebars and thought about crawling off into the desert.
"Who did this to you?" she asked. Her cool hand touched the side of his face. They'd never been very close, but they were not enemies. "Hermes?"
"Circe," he said and forced himself to sit up. "I wish she'd get over it. Find a new hobby rather than annoying me. Anything to keep her busy."
"We are all going to be busy soon," Athena said. Hermes looked at her, worried. She met his stare with a nod of her own, her gray eyes sparkling. "A war is coming. I think Circe has already chosen her side. What side will you choose?"
"Not the one with Circe," he mumbled.
"Good decision," Athena said. She took his arm and pulled him off the cycle. The storm had already passed, or perhaps simply wasn't here. It had likely been a portal and he stood now with Athena in a place of stark sky and bright stars, beyond the world of technology. An old and ageless place.
"A war?" he asked. "I wish he'd said something to me."
"Father left choosing our warriors in my hands, Hermes." She stopped and shook her head. "We go to war like the old days. There will be glory --"
"And blood and death," Hermes said. And poetry. "Sing, Goddess, Achilles’ rage. . . ."
The battle was coming.