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Dismissing the sunset behind them, iron-gray storm clouds draped over the big island of Crete when I hurled to the courtyard of Eastern Crete Lower Academy. Salty air hung damp with moisture. A familiar, yet foreign, sensation passed through me like spiritual residue as my gaze trailed around the empty courtyard. A landmark stood out in the twilight, the music hall, the site of the last class I'd ever taken at the school, the site of my final showdown with the headmasters.
I remembered with fondness the pranks I'd pulled on the faculty. They were funny, not menacing. Their lack of humor was not my problem. I still didn't know why they'd taken things so seriously.
My friends and siblings from Mount Olympus Prep — still couldn't get accustomed to calling them that ... siblings — encircled the single blue Hurler post in the center of the square. Siblings, all but one. Metis sidled over to my side and threaded her fingers between mine. I reveled in her softness, the calm to my storm.
A whirlwind had whipped me about over the past months. First, the expulsion from Eastern Crete. Then, Hyperion's attack on my home and killing Anytos. A ragged sigh escaped my lips. Anger seeped into my veins. Forced to leave the only mother I'd ever known, I had vowed vengeance on Hyperion. That is, until I met Kronos. And then I despised them both.
Then my new school, Mount Olympus Preparatory Academeia, came under attack. Friends were abducted. Our headmaster, Ouranos, was murdered. And Kronos was the one responsible. I knew in my ichor he had done it. All that remained was to face Hyperion and Kronos in court. Their time was running short.
Headmistress Tethys of Eastern Crete appeared through a far doorway of an administrative building. She stopped abruptly upon noticing us, tilted her gaze toward the western sky for a moment, and then walked briskly toward us. Concern wrinkled her brow.
"I was just heading to housing for the night," she said. "It's rather late in the evening for visitors from faraway lands." Tethys' ice blue gaze traveled over the lot of us before landing on me. "Thought sure I'd never see you again after the shameful manner in which you left."
"Shameful?" My heart thudded against my chest. "What does that mean?"
Tethys' face tightened. "Well, for one thing, you weren't the most serious pupil, were you? You pulled more pranks than you had passing grades. I have no idea how you made it to Mount Olympus with your scholastic record. I guess they let anyone in up there now. You took leave of us as a bringer of trouble, now you're the bringer of lightning."
Stunned, I twisted my head. "How did you ..."
"News sails fast on ocean wind, young man. You don't exist in this cosmos alone."
My tone softened. "So, the drama from the mainland has reached you?"
Tethys crossed her slender but athletic arms. "About the murder of my father, Ouranos? Yes. I've heard bits and pieces." She sighed. "I don't know the full story. But I know enough. You have been a busy little bird, haven't you?" Her gaze trailed off into the distance, northerly if I had to guess. Her pointy chin tightened. "My brother, Kronos, is a fiery sort, but he's no murderer. I really don't think he would've done it. Do you?"
I paused. Memories flooded my mind. Ouranos' last words in the Armory. He tried to warn us.
"F-f-find K-Kronosss ... Stick together. Remember all we taught you. A leader shall emerge. Follow them through the fire. But ... beware —"
I then recalled Kronos' own arrogance, and his shapeshifting into Ouranos, which was itself, unforgiveable, not to mention his near admission of guilt for Ouranos' death.
My next words were crucial, if I opened my mouth at all. My body temperature ticked upward. I could've used Rhea's calming touch.
"Well do you?" Tethys snapped. "I know my brother. And I know what an overbearing rectum Ouranos could be." Her lips pursed. "But I also know ... you. Shall I have a problem with you on this visit?"
I gazed directly into Tethys' ice blue eyes, darkened now by the twilight. My teeth clenched. "An investigation was conducted —"
"And you were the primary suspect, yes?"
"I thought you didn't know much?"
"Like I said ... bits and pieces." She glared at me.
Metis gripped my hand tighter. My siblings circled around us. Tethys stepped backward, eyeing us all warily.
She opened her mouth and uttered something sounding like a whale. In moments, a concentrated torrential downpour of water noisily wound its way down the hillside, launched airborne, and flew sideways ... stopping beside Tethys as if it had hit a wall. The water reformulated into the towering figure of Okeanos, Headmaster of Eastern Crete Lower Academy and husband of Tethys. It sounded like a tall wave crashing against the shore. A faint but undeniable scent of algae filled my nostrils. His silvery blue hair writhed around his head like sea snakes.
Flexing his huge biceps, he spoke, "The serenity of our campus has been assaulted, I see." His eyes flashed with anger. "And yet again, Zeus, you're at the eye of the storm."
My muscles tensed. I'd never seen him do that before. The strong scent of salt in the air grew in intensity. I turned back to Tethys. "As I was saying, all evidence points to Kronos. Not to mention Hyperion for attacking Anytos and Amalthea. So, we shall have our day in court."
"Yes, we shall," Okeanos said. "Eight hemeras from now, if I'm correct. That is, if the trial actually occurs. Witnesses may get scared and not show up, suddenly unsure of what they thought they saw. We've never seen a trial of this magnitude. Murder is serious."
Hera's mental fingers gripped my brain and willed me to steal a glance at her. She spoke to me mentally, These Elders know more than they're telling us. Be careful here. Interesting how, in my mind, her mental voice was as raspy as her speaking voice.
"It's Hemera Selenes tonight. Classes for new term begin tomorrow. Why are you so far from home? It is quite late." Tethys swirled her hand in the gathering darkness to emphasize her statement. The only light to illuminate us all at that point was the eerie blue produced by the Hurler post. And to think, I once thought it was a simple artistic installation. She continued, "And who are your friends?"
I turned and introduced everyone, my newfound siblings; Hestia, Hera, Demeter, Hades, Poseidon, and the girl I'd fallen for, Metis.
"Impressive lot. Some names I ..." Tethys turned to Okeanos. "No doubt we ... have heard of from various comings and goings." She paused for a moment. Her gaze drifted to the fierce girl still holding my hand. "Wait ... Metis? Our daughter, Metis?"
"Yes, Mother." Her curt tone could've sliced through a mountainside.
"You look so different." Tethys covered her mouth. "Whatever have you done with your hair? It used to flow unrestrained like the turquoise waters of the Aegean. Now it's a tangled thicket of bleached straw."
Metis stepped forward out of my grasp. "Don't like it, Mother? Tough. This is what happens when a person is abandoned by her parents and tossed to the waves by them."
"You were in good hands at Kithira. We visited often."
"You don't even exist to me." Metis crossed her arms. Her eyelids tightened around her hazel eyes.
"Don't talk to us that way, young lady," Okeanos blared. "We are still your parents."
"You don't even know the half of what's been going on my life. Some parents."
"Well, aside from shunning your beautiful, natural, seaborn hair, you look well. Are you at Othrys Hall Academy?" Tethys asked.
"Don't even act like you care now." Metis propped her hands on her hips. "And, no actually, I'm at Mount Olympus Prep."
Okeanos spread his arms wide, distant firelight dancing off the cuff bracelets that sheathed his forearms. "With all that's going on ... you turned your back on your siblings? Even if you're angry with us, don't leave your support structure."
Tethys pointed a long finger at Metis' face. "You're going to find out the hard way that all you have in this unstable cosmos is your family. Any manner of ills may befall those who abandon their bloodline."
"Listen to yourself. Did that even come out of your face?" Metis snapped. "No disrespect, but as far as I'm concerned, I have a new family now. And you're looking at them."
After several moments of silence, Okeanos said, "I have no idea why you've come tonight, but you're no longer welcome on these premises. None of you are!" He huffed and folded his massive arms, but then pointed a thick-knuckled finger at me. His bluish-green nails reached beyond his fingertips, piercing my personal space like talons. "I tolerated you at our school as a favor to your caretaker, Amalthea. Now I see she was simply harboring a future murderer. We may never know what happened to your friend, Anytos. But we will discover the truth about Ouranos. My father will be avenged."
I stepped toward him, immediately unsure of what action I should take. My arms shook with a pulse of energy. Hera's hand touched my right shoulder. She spoke to me mentally, Careful there. We need to make it to the trial, remember?
Metis grabbed my other hand and pulled me backward, enough for me to reconsider anything embarrassing. At once, I calmed. "You may not believe me, Okeanos, but I am innocent. But you're correct. The trial will absolutely bring the truth to light." As soon as I'd said those words, images flashed into my mind from Hyperion's attack. The spear that flew in, deflected off my shield, and killed Anytos, the first brother I'd ever had before discovering that most of my friends behind me were in fact siblings. Even though I didn't throw the javelin itself, I had to own that eventual outcome. I had to own it because, if we had not gotten back home late, it wouldn't have happened. My shoulders slumped.
Okeanos' gaze tightened on me. "Looks like you have a quarry's worth of stones weighing on your mind, boy. You better not be here in the morning when I wake." He turned his back to us and strode away.
I needed a good comeback. "I didn't return for your sake. Actually, the whole reason I came back was to introduce Metis and my siblings to Amalthea and the rest of my adoptive family."
Okeanos wheeled back around. "Good luck with that."CHAPTER 2
I turned to my crew, surprised in a good way that they'd remained silent through the Okeanos-Tethys encounter. "Shade, Hera, Don, Tia, Meter ... ready to see my home?"
"What was Headmaster Okeanos talking about?" Demeter asked, tightening her leather arm bracelet. Her thick eyebrows knitted together in concern. "Murderer? Anytos?"
"I thought surely I had told you all about this." I sighed. "Yes. My best friend died when Hyperion attacked my home a while ago. It's the entire reason I ended up at MO Prep mid-term." I turned to Demeter. "It's safe to say that the Eastern Crete headmasters and I don't exactly like one another."
"That makes two of us," Metis interjected. "Pay them no mind. Their brains are water-logged."
"I remember now, Zeus. The entire crazy ordeal you told me about last term," Hestia said. "Justice will be served for both your friend and for Ouranos. Good always prevails."
"But that interaction just now with Headmasters Okeanos and Tethys was downright disrespectful, if you ask me," Poseidon offered. "We should definitely tell Headmistress Rhea about this when we get back to MO Prep."
"We have a long past, the headmasters and I," I said.
"Look," Meter interjected dryly, "you know what's not long? Me in this place. And with these clouds, and that encounter, this whole adventure is riding up high on my creepy scale. Let's hurry up."
"And as much as I like the dark, how far away is this place we're going?" Shade asked. "My bed is calling my name."
"And this girl definitely needs her beauty sleep," Hera chirped.
I thrust my hands in the air. "Hold it. We should just hurl there from here and not waste any time travelling. Without a chariot, it's a long walk. And, once there, we can borrow a chariot to get back because there's no Hurler post there."
The teleportation was rough, especially without a Hurler post to anchor the reformulation. I stumbled a step in the bleak, murky nightfall. Perhaps it was because, for the first time, I'd ever hurled somewhere not anchored by a Hurler post. My stomach clenched as memories of my first hurl last term to Othrys popped into my head. Ugh.
We reformulated in the clearing just outside the cave I'd called home for so many years at the base of Mount Ida. Owing to thick clouds, Selene's moonlight had no opening to illuminate the scene. Scents of charred wood and earth surrounded us when the wind didn't whip down off the mountain. Something felt off. Amalthea, Aristaeus, and the Kouretes never went to bed this early. And even then, torches would still dot the landscape, near both the cave and the goat pen.
I knew this place like the top of my foot but could scarcely get my bearings with no visible landmarks on a shrouded, moonless night. I looked toward where I thought the goats' pen should've been and only saw dark fog.
Don interrupted my thoughts. "What's going on here?"
"Is this even the correct place?" Shade asked.
Had I hurled us to the wrong mountain? I gazed into the despair of the cave, my eyes still struggling to adjust. "Shade, give me a hand here?"
"Thought you'd never ask." He produced a dull blue flame, rising from the palm of his right hand. My friends and I all gasped in unison at what became illuminated. My heart sank. The bodies of dead Kouretes lay strewn about like fallen timber after an epic storm. I paced back and forth, unable to trust my eyes. Ash piles lay all around. Our feet kicked dust into the air as we walked.
"What in Tartarus happened here?" Shade exclaimed. "Do you know these people?"
"Y-yes," I stammered. My throat constricted. "These men are the Kouretes ..." I paused from the shock of the scene. "They were my protectors when I lived here. They practically raised me along with Amalthea ..." My voice trailed off.
"Oh my heavens," Metis said as she embraced me. "This looks awful."
"Amalthea ..." The name escaped my lips in a whisper. "Where's Amalthea?"
Additional words failed to form in my throat as I grabbed Shade's arm and pulled him around the morbid scene. I led him inside the cave where I'd lived my entire life. Various personal items lay undisturbed, looking up at me as if to question their sudden lack of use.
Back outside, Shade followed me to where the goats were kept. Nothing stood. No wooden pen. The chariot had been tipped on its side. No goats roamed. Either they were dead, stolen, or running free across the island.
"I'm so sorry," Hera whispered. "Why ... who would do this?"
My blood's temperature rose so high, I could've set fire to my tunic, as we walked back to toward the cave entrance. Finally ... I found a body that looked to be Amalthea, my adoptive mother ... the woman who raised me when Rhea had sent me away. She lay on her side. Motionless. Lifeless. I knelt slowly to inspect her. My jaw clenched tight. She'd been burned severely. "Amalthea?" A tear formed at the corner of my right eye.
I held her close and rocked. I thought I'd never get the charred scent out of my nose. Images and memories of Hyperion's attack smashed into me, hitting me so squarely that I nearly fell backward from my kneeling posture. Moisture clouded my vision. I turned to scan the scene again while still holding Amalthea.
I stared down at my balled fists. My shoulders drooped. I knew these people. There's no way they'd all die and not give one another a ritualistic pyre soul service. My breathing suddenly became noisier. They would've at least honored the fallen, unless there'd been no time to do so ... unless their deaths had come so swiftly, they had scarcely been able to put up a fight.
"Zeus, look!" Tia said.
Suddenly, a lone, fully-grown goat trotted over to us from off in the distance. My focus had been so intensely on Amalthea, that I hadn't noticed from what direction the goat had arrived. I embraced the goat like an old friend, running my fingers through its pelt. At least one had gotten away. "Talk to me. What happened here?" I asked the goat.
My body temperature spiked again with rage. My fingernails bit into my palms. Metis slid next to me and put an arm around me. She offered no words. None were necessary. I needed to find who was responsible for this.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The High Court"
Copyright © 2018 Chris Ledbetter.
Excerpted by permission of Month9Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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