Hermes finally regained consciousness when they had him settled in an empty hotel room. Arachne was standing guard at the door, in case anyone was assigned this room or housekeeping decided to come by and make sure all was well with the room.
Athena had never seen Hermes this badly beaten before. Every line of his face was creased with wounds, every open spot she could see was either red with blood or blue and black with bruises. It was a miracle he hadn’t died. After we find out everything we need to know, I’ll ask him if he wants that particular mercy. Some gods preferred the quicker healing offered by dying and resurrecting, but others despised the surge of hungers – especially with the risk of becoming an Anthropophage. She didn’t know Hermes’ preference, and didn’t want to assume.
The first sign she had that he was alert and alive was a wet cough, followed by a low moan of agony. Athena rushed over to him. “Hermes. It’s okay. You’re safe.”
Hermes gave her a weak smile. Every word came out as though it was a boulder he had to push up sisyphus’ hill, and after every word he let out a rattling breath of the boulder rolling back down. “Athena…I didn’t expect to ever hear you say that.”
Athena flushed at the memory. Hermes had been the one to deliver the news of her exile, and she’d taken out her anger and frustration on the messenger, swearing that if she ever saw him again and he didn’t have a message to lift the exile, she’d slit his throat. “I didn’t respond in the most mature fashion,” she she admitted. “I’m sorry.”
“Please,” Hermes said, gasping out the words, “I’m a…messenger god. You think that was…anything? At least you…kept it to threats.”
The breaths in were taking on a wet, gurgling sound that Athena disliked. “I think you punctured a long,” Anansi said from behind Athena, his eyes locked on Hermes’ fractured ribcage. “You probably don’t have much longer left.”
Hermes nodded weakly. “Burn my corpse…when I expire. Slit my throat…and burn it if I don’t. “
“Of course,’ Athena said, relieved he’d answered that before anything else. “I’ll hold your nanoverse until you resurrect.”
“Good.” Hermes coughed, a phlegmatic sound, and had to pause his attempts to speak with another groan of pain. Athena winced in sympathy.
“I’ll be as brief as I can,” Hermes said. “Poseidon holed up in an old submerged fortress of his in the Adriatic. I believe you spent some time there, Athena?”
There was only one place Athena could think of that matched that description, and she nodded. She and Poseidon had planned a large chunk of the naval portion of the Punic Wars from that base, and even after all these centuries, she could picture its twisting coral passageways perfectly.
“We arrived. Artemis and those that remained of the Twelve, as well as Dionysus and Heracles. She even granted Hera a pardon if she would aid us. We didn’t know what to expect from Poseidon, but we were not too worried. His betrayal had just happened, and we’d been in the Elysian Rest for centuries. He couldn’t have built up that much.”
Hermes story was interrupted here with a bitter smile, and another round of wracking coughs and pained gasps. Athena helped him drink some water to settle his throat.
“We were very mistaken,” Hermes said, with a nod of thanks for the drink. “He must have been planning this before the retreat even happened. A hundred nereids, armed with modern harpoon guns and riding hippocampi or sharks. Two dozen ichthyocentaurs. Thirteen of his Cyclops awaiting us inside – and on top of all that, Charybdis, Scylla, and the Kraken, all overseen by Triton. We were hopelessly outmatched, and all but I were cut off from their doorways.”
Athena paled. Her earlier desire to save her fellows remained strong, but against these odds it seemed impossible. Hermes saw Athena’s expression and gave her a weak smile. “We managed to slay the Charybdis, and we’ve done a good job reducing the numbers for the others. But we’re losing, and Poseidon hasn’t even entered the fray yet. When I left, Artemis had encased the group in a dome. It should…hold him off…until help…”
His lips were still moving, and Athena leaned down to try and catch what the whispered phrases were. He was just repeating the message from the beginning again, like a broken recorder, and with each word the motions of his lips grew slower until they stopped moving.
“You still want to help him?” Arachne said as Athena stood up.
“Absolutely. I’ll understand if either of you would prefer to wait for the others.”
Anansi shook his head, and Arachne grinned fiercely. “Oh absolutely not,” she said. “I just wanted to make sure we were still going to do this.”
Now that she didn’t have to worry about injuring him further, Athena had no problems scooping up Hermes body. “Absolutely.” She wove bands of aether and air around Hermes corpse, then phased him through the window and let his body float up into the air. With a twist of her fingers, she lit him on fire.
She didn’t look away until the floating body had been burned to cinder.
“Come on,” she said. “I’ll tell you where we’re going. Don’t try to open your doorways in the citadel itself – the cyclops will tear you apart.”
Then, for the second time in as many weeks, Athena lead a few gods to rescue the entirety of Olympus from a madman.