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Apotheosis (Chapter 1)

Trumpets bellowed throughout the day and continued into the late evening.

“Make them stop… Make them stop!”

Mercury had already spread the message of the tournament to every corner of the world. Did he have to continue to hear these damned horns?

“Master Mercury, you know the trumpets will be going all day.”

“I am well aware, I heard them the entire time I was out!”

Mercury laid down and sighed.

“Why so glum brother?”

Mercury lazily lifted his head. “Ares!?” “What are you doing here?”

“Came to check on you. You must be awfully tired.”

“I was just about to rest when you barged in.”

Ares laughed. “Well, I was just curious if during your mission you found anyone of interest?”

“Already scouting hmmm? The preliminaries aren’t even for a while.”

“After the last tournament, I don’t plan to leave anything to chance.”

Mercury eyed him suspiciously.

“Well as you already know, I’m not allowed to scout anyone during the announcement.”

“Yes yes, one of Ra’s silly rules.”

Ares walked closer to his half-brother.

“What is it you want Ares?”

“Want?” Ares paused, studying the word with a foul grin on his face. His hand shot out like a serpent seizing Mercury by the throat. “Need, brother! The deepest of desires, festering in the pit of my being.”

Mercury struggled. ‘What an idiot I am,’ he thought. ‘How could I let my guard down in front of the god of war?’

“Wh..whyyy?”

Ares slightly raised his other fist. A strange glow seemed to be leaking out of the cracks between his fingers. And in a split second, Ares shoved his fist straight into Mercury’s stomach.

Mercury had braced for the pain, but it never came. And after a small pause, Ares released his grip.

“Making a deal with those beats was unbecoming of a son of Jupiter…” Ares’ face contorted and his voice filled with venom. “yet so predestined for a grandson of Saturn.”

“What madness are you spouting, what did you do to me?”

“I removed your right to pick a champion for the tournament. And inserted a phial into your body that will release a poison that can kill even a god. It will only disperse the poison if you attempt to remove it or if I so desire.”

Mercury was stunned. “What the hell’s the matter with you brother? You would go so far for a tournament meant to pass the time?!”

“This tournament holds a greater value for me than any of those that came before. I will raise a champion to win it at any cost. And you, brother, will be helping me.

A wicked smile formed on Ares’ face.

Wham!

A young man fell to the floor after a merchant punched him square in the face.

“Skyrus run away if you’re not gonna fight back!” shouted one of three small raggedy children.

“You’re the ones who should’ve run. Now go already!” Skyrus had a look of fierce determination on his face that brooked no argument.

The kids scurried away, but they took turns glancing over their shoulders.

“Now are you gonna pay me or not?!”

“I told you already, I have no coin. I can only offer myself in service to your shop.”

“I don’t want no street rat working in my shop! Those kids stole from me and clearly you’re their leader. Now either you cough up the coin, or I’ll have your hands.”

Skyrus looked down at his hands, he thought it’d be funny if he was the type to be so noble he’d be willing to trade his hands for the kids’ honor.

“I’m grateful they finally left.”

“Hmmm”

Skyrus had a faint smile on his bruised and busted face. “You see I want them to grow up to be better people than me.”

“Those little urchins stole, hid behind you, and then ran away.”

“They’re only children. Starved children with no parents. Someone like you who only insults them and feels nothing for them could never understand.”

“You sure like talking now that you’re alone. Guess you still need more of a beating.”

Skyrus stopped slumping and suddenly stood straight and tall.

The burly store owner came charging at Skyrus like a bull. When he raised his arm for another punch, Skyrus grabbed it and hurled him against the back wall.

With the store owner on the ground wedged between the floor and wall, Skyrus loomed over him.

“I’ve beaten and been beaten by much stronger men and women than you. I may not be that strong, but it’s easy to use a wild animal’s momentum against itself.”

“What did you call me you filthy orphan thief!?”

Skyrus knelt next to the man, with all his weight on the tips of his toes.

“Three starving children stole one loaf of bread from you. Racked with guilt they came back to apologize and you thought beating them to death was the only response… Who’s filthy?”

Skyrus stood up and looked down in disgust. He lifted his foot over the man’s hand and then slowly came down on it.

The store owner began howling in pain.

“How is it that a fat man like you who grew up with parents, inherited a shop, and has had a full belly his whole life, is a slimy piece of shit? While those three kids still feel guilt for taking just enough food to survive!”

“Owwww I’m sorry, let me goooo!”

And just like that Skyrus lifted his foot.

“I’ll be taking three more loaves of bread as payment for your awful behavior.” Skyrus looked over at the cellar wall. “And this bottle of wine as payment for me leaving your hand intact.”

“I was sorry they stole from you, but I don’t tolerate anyone raising a hand to my family.

Skyrus walked down the street whistling. ‘I was pretty cool back there,’ he thought, letting out a chuckle.

Suddenly he heard a loud blaring sound. ‘Is there some royal procession at the town square?’

‘This is loud enough to make Mt. Ignatius erupt,’ he thought while covering his ears. It did no good though. It was like the sound was coming out and back into his head. Until suddenly they quieted and a voice began to speak.

“Listen closely mortals to what I have to say. The high council of the Gods has decided to once again hold the Apotheosis.”

‘What?!’

Skyrus looked around, thinking this was some sort of prank. No matter how hard he looked, he couldn’t find anyone from whom the voice could belong to.

‘I hear him so clearly though. A god speaking to me in my head. Not just to me though, to all of us.’

Skyrus quieted his mind to better hear the god.

“If you desire to compete, know that your life will be offered up, and the decision to join grants you no favor upon death’s judgment. Seek out your preferred place of worship and beseech your chosen God to judge your worthiness to compete. The criteria for judgment is only on your fitness to compete and not your past deeds or moral character.”

‘Hmpff, even scumbags can compete huh?’

Skyrus tuned out the god.

‘The gods never listened to me, why should I grant them what they denied me?’

Continuing his march home, Skyrus did his best to block out the wretched trumpets.

‘Attention seekers, those gods are. I hope many a fool goes to compete. It’ll be easy to come by work with fewer people around. They’ll be fewer arrogant pricks about as well.’

The thought of it made Skyrus laugh.

‘Thousands. Tens of, no hundreds of thousands will seek to compete. If the tales are true, the Apotheosis is a global event with all pantheons of gods involved. Eternal life must be pretty boring. Every second spent trying to occupy the next. My life may be lowly, and poor as I am, I wouldn’t stoop so low as to give these petty gods any form of amusement.’

Before he knew it, he was back at the hideout. The noise died down along with the sun, leaving an orange hue seeping in through the cracks in the makeshift house. He could see the mighty Mt Ignatius that overlooks the town in the near distance, surrounded by the orangish gray glow of sunset.

Skyrus entered the shabby wooden house. “You guys here? You better be!”

One large shadow cast out across the floor followed by three small ones.

The large one spoke first. “They told me what happened. How bad are your injuries?”

“Not too bad. The fellow felt remorse after seeing our siblings flee and gave me some extra bread and wine to make amends.”

“No way!? That big meanie gave you bread? But he was beating you bloody!”

“Hahaha, this?” Skyrus pointed towards his purpled cheek. “This’ll heal by the morning.”

“It certainly has been an interesting day,” said the tall shadow.

“Yea you should’ve seen how all the townspeople looked at me carrying all this bread and even a wine bottle Mar.”

“You know that’s not what I meant.”

The smile faded from Skyrus’s face with the remaining sunlight.

Trying to change the subject Skyrus said, “It’s time to light the candles. I believe it’s your turn Sanora.”

“You were right big sis, Sky must really not have liked hearing the god in his head. He only refers to us by our full names when he’s annoyed.”

“I don’t think the loud trumpets helped either,” said the youngest of the children.

The girl of similar age to Skyrus looked displeasingly at him. “We both know no one gave you a second look on your way home.”

“Uhh Maria, look at this bread and wine. Can’t we have a pleasant dinner and let the moronic rabble fantasize about glory and riches?”

“Half this town loves you, while the other half wishes you’d leave and never come back.”

“So?” Skyrus asked after taking a bite out of one of the loaves. He then began to pass out the others to the children.

“You’re so hard-headed. You return every kindness, yes, but you also hold onto grudges for eternity. Some of the hard feelings people have towards us are because you won’t let anything go. You think anyone who’s ever slighted us is irredeemable.”

Skyrus chewed while making pretend thinking faces to annoy Maria.

Switching to a more serious face Skyrus answered, “You know how I feel Mar. We’re the orphanage of this town. And don’t get me wrong, I love all my brothers and sisters, no matter how mischievous they can be.” Skyrus muffled the hair of the closest sibling as he spoke.

The small boy giggled and said “Hey sto–haha–opp!”

“But I’ll never look favorably on people who can so easily turn away from a child in need. Now I’ll admit there are those who help us, but it’s not like they give us anything for free. The only reason I get any work is because people know I’m reliable.”

“And the reason you always have to accept work, no matter how difficult, is because your choices are severely limited.”

“Hey Mar, I’ll stick with my difficult and severely limited, and leave the easy and plentiful to you. Now can we enjoy this wine?! It’s not every day we have such a thing.”

“Us too, us too!”

“Now that’s the spirit El!”

“Only a little for them Skyrus!” Maria shouted.

“Oh Mar, we’re celebrating the Apotheosis. It’s been what? Seventy plus years since the last one?”

“We both know you couldn’t care less about the tournament.”

“Big brother Sky would win though!”

“Hands down yeah. Sky can take a beating better than anyone else.”

“Hahaha cheers to that! To my beatings! Even you couldn’t resist that Mar!”

Maria tried to restrain herself, but the grin came unbidden.

She grabbed the bottle and raised it, “To your beatings.”

They all laughed, eating the bread and drinking more wine.

“Which god do you think would back Skyrus?”

“Eldan, you know big brother hates the gods.”

“I think that any god would be lucky to have Sky as their champion.”

Skyrus paused for a bit, but accepted the love he knew was in the words.

“Thank you San, but those gods are only interested in their own personal glory. I’d prefer a tournament where they rid themselves of their power instead of giving it to others. Then I’d show them what humans are capable of.”

“Stop it Skyrus! Apologize, quickly!”

Maria stood up and gave Skyrus a harsh look.

“Do you really think they’re listening? That they even care?”

“Yes I do, and with the Apotheosis there’s an even greater chance one may have heard.”

Skyrus did an over the top bow with one hand under him and the other on top.

“Apologies oh mighty gods, I assumed you all were not petty enough to bother with the likes of disgruntled orphans, but my dear here has reminded me just how petty you can be.”

With tears in her eyes Maria fled from the house.

“Wa-wait. Mar. I’m sorry!”

Skyrus looked sadly at the door and then turned to face the three children watching silently.

“Sorry guys, I went too far. San you’re in charge of bedtime. We’ll be in shortly.”

Skyrus followed Maria outside as Sanora got the two others ready for bed.

Skyrus gently closed the door behind him and walked up to Maria.

Without speaking he stood by her side.

“I’m sorry,” whispered Maria.

Skyrus looked over at her with a look of longing and deep admiration.

“Heh, you’ve always been like this. Apologizing to the person who was at fault.”

“No, I knew how you felt and I got too angry. It was the wine,” she said looking off into the black distance.

“You do know how I feel,” he said, putting his arm on her shoulder. “And while I’m no fan of the gods, I should know better than to seek any more misfortune than we already have.”

She looked over at Skyrus with a faint smile and nodded.

“Things could be worse. We’re lucky to be able to live out here and eat every night. Things weren’t so easy when we were their age.”

Skyrus hardened. He didn’t like thinking about back then. When he could hear Maria’s stomach growling even as she tried to pass him extra food.

“You deserve better…”

“Sky -”

“You deserve so much better,” tears silently fell down Skyrus’s face.

Maria instinctively held him. Skyrus wrapped his arms around her, tears still flowing.

“One day I promise I’ll build you the house you deserve.”

“Is that why you spend time everyday watching the masons work.”

“You knew?…”

“If I don’t keep tabs on you, who knows what kind of trouble you’d bring down on us.”

“Yea haha,” Skyrus said, wiping the tears away.

They stood holding each other in the silence of the night for a while.

“You know…”

“Hmm?” Skyrus looked down at her.

“They’re not wrong. I believe you would do great in the tournament.”

“No god has ever helped us before, and I don’t plan to gamble my life on their mercy.”

“They choose based on skill and potential, not whether you deserve it or not.”

“And that’s why I hate them. Come on, enough of this. Let’s go to bed Mar.”

They walked back into the house together and went to their beds. Though all was quiet, the sound of trumpets blared in Skyrus’s head.

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