In the Flat Field
Lonliness hurts.

They never tell you that, you know.  But it does.  God, human, it doesn't matter. It hurts in a strange, enervating way.

Not that I advertise that fact.  I'm not in a position to admit such a weakness.  And even if I were, the solution wouldn't be the one I need.  The one I want.

It crept upon me slowly.  Probably the only way it *can* creep up on a God. Especially one like me.  The god of War *has* no feelings other than those devoted to conquest, right?

Well, don't believe it.  It's the intensity I crave. Always has been.  My Office is one aspect of that, and one I willingly embrace, but there's more to it.  I crave intensity.  Be it of feeling, action, or a combination of the two I don't care.  Physically and mentally, I am War...

"This is what you should feel, you are what you should feel..." I start out of dream to ...what?  Another phantasm?  I see the blonde warrior before me, offering himself in the form of a jewelled pyramid, and it is a dream come true, but not what I desire...  I observe his compact, muscled form before me, the shadow of his lover, my brother, behind him even without his presence, and cannot accept the vision.  As with so many others, it is tainted.  I turn away, much to the warrior's relief, with the appropriate phrases.  I know what is expected of me.

"When you are suffering, know that I have betrayed you..."  No truer words spoken.  I shut out the vision, preferring the pain of loneliness and alienation that has been both bane and balm to me for so long... so long...

The monkey taunts me in my dreams. He is the vassal of a king long dead and long forgotten, but the monkey (being a monkey) cares not for temporal restrictions; it delights in its new role as harbinger of... what?  I am a God.  I do not Die. But I Feel, and few mortals know that, as is proper.

The monkey knows I feel.

"I looked ahead and everything was dead... I guess that I am too..."

That is his message.  He wants me to believe it.  That I and all my kind will be subsumed by the new gods, so there's no use trying.  I can tap into that same stream, you know.

"I'm on my way down now, I'd like to take you with me..."  I'll take the monkey with me.  His vision is narrow.  He doesn't understand the sublime pleasure of suffering.  I am War.  War is suffering, and I know this suffering as both the torturer and the tortured, as befits my station.  Too many people think I am only the aggressor.  Not so.  War is part of the natural human condition.  It addresses wrongs that cannot be addressed through common diplomacy, and is painful in the same way that excising a stone from the body can cause pain, but with beneficent results.  But I am considered evil as Death, who is also misunderstood.

But back to the story at hand.  The monkey is peripheral to the fact that a certain king has laid his hands upon a precious jewel that has in its power to end war as it is known amongst humans.  And he means to use it, not realizing that he will usher in a new age of untold horror and destruction.

War does not die.  It adapts.  But there are some things that even I don't wish to adapt to.  It is too early.  Reaching into the realm of my cousin Morpheus (who is not my cousin, but something deeper), I set the monkey upon my shoulder where it chitters advice both ridiculous and sublime in the manner of dreams, a small conduit to something older and even more enduring than my own family, and will myself to the realm of this king.

"The minute that it's born, it begins to die...."

Returning to the Earthly plane, I find myself in a realm of bleak, grey devastation.  The king has done well in his manipulations of the jewel.  The dream-monkey whispers obscenities in my ear as I view the aftermath of a war never fought.  The land is colourless with the hopelessness of its subjects, separated from the fire of rebellion.  I search for the buried conduits of power, fighting the pall of despair that lays over this bleak land...

"There's not much left to love
 Too tired today to hate
 I feel the empty...
 I feel minute of decay....

 I'm on my way down now
 I'd like to take you with me..."

So easy to succumb, I can understand the lethargy of my warriors.  The pull of the jewel coupled with the will of the king is considerable.  True death doesn't lie in hate; it lies in uncaring.  And it's worked.  These people don't care.  There's no hold for love *or* war.  If something isn't done soon, this land and its people will be worse than dead.  They will be dead but still living, with no hope, no aspirations, no dream for a better *anything* and no will even if a rare visionary is spawned.  I need help.

The monkey snickers and whispers words of hopelessness from my shoulder as I search for a way to change the devastation in my valley.  I ignore him, concentrating on the power that I am, the power that is War.

"Let's jump upon our sharp swords
 Cut away our smiles
 Without the threat of death there's no reason to live at all..."

Partly true.  But --

"There is a dream inside a dream
 I'm wide awake the more I sleep
 You'll understand when I'm dead..."

Death is the razor wire, the edge that gives mortals that odd, dynamic power that even the Immortals envy.  They dance along the edge of it throughout their short, fiery lives, knowing there is more beyond whilst not knowing for *sure*.  Their passion is sharp like a knife, intense like the first beads of blood falling from a lethal wound, and utterly enthralling.  To be mortal is to Feel, and it is a gift all of us, even I look upon with a mixture of horror and envy.

"Prick your finger, it is done
 The moon has now eclipsed the sun
 Angel has spread his wings
 Time has come for bitter things..."

I couldn't let the monkey and its enthralled king win.  War isn't Death. And for that matter, Death isn't dying.  Misunderstood, she and I, but that's part of the job description.

"I went to god just to see
 And I was looking at me..."

Shoot shoot shoot, motherfucker.  Just as useful as phrase as any entreaty you might come up with if you're looking for help from Zeus.  Great allFather and the biggest slut in the history of several universes.  Loves my miscreant half-brother Hercules for reasons I can't quite fathom.  Sure as fuck doesn't feel the same about me.

"I feel so tangled in myself I cannot escape..."

Fuck the psychonalysis.  That's centuries after our story, and it has nothing to do with me.  I've known my old man was an asshole for centuries, and I don't give a damn if he likes girls and half-breeds better.

"Pray until you're numb now, asleep from all the pain..."

Quotes are nothing more than a literary device.  Small truths to be taken in context.  I had to find outside help.  As is suggested, I couldn't go to family. There aren't too many who understand my office well enough to listen to the God of War, my family foremost among them.

But one occurred to me.  A bit of a rebel, she was, and she'd shown herself to be more than usually open-minded in the past.  Known as something of a magician, with a ruthless edge I admired.  Perhaps it was time to speak to her in person; the king was getting a little too enthused in his manipulations of the jewel.  Today his kingdom, tomorrow the world, that sort of thing.  Waging his own war, but one ultimately more devastating than real war.  It had to be soon, before he discovered how to increase the scope of his power.

I concentrated, not on her looks (because to be honest I'd never seen her, only heard her testimony of devotion and her wicked sense of humour), but on *her*, letting her spirit, her wonderful imagination, her acerbic wit, draw me closer.

Surprisingly, I left Greece entirely, pulled across the barbarian lands, across what would be Gaul and Briton in later years, to a land with odd fashion sense and frightening concepts in what was to be considered edible, but *great* cinematic potential... and found myself in the inner sanctum of Nemetona.

She had the grace to look startled as I appeared in a flash of blue light.

Actually her first words were, "Who the HELL are you?!"

I introduced myself to a great deal of skepticism, and nearly became dangerously distracted with the process of establishing the veracity of my identity (electric play was possible *well* before the 20th century if you're a God, boys and girls).

Once we'd... established relations, I explained to her the situation.  By replacing war with magical enthrallment, the king was throwing *all* the forces off-balance, and the outlet all that pent-up energy would eventually take would be more than even I could absorb, but the edicts of the situation demanded a mortal for successful intervention.

The dream-monkey gibbered with amusement at my shoulder at the way she regarded me.   Like I might wish her as more than an esteemed colleague in every way.  War has no true love.  I fed it a dream-peanut that I prayed had dream-botulism. It chittered at me and ate it happily.

Understanding the real threat, the great Scots sorceress agreed to accompany me back to Greece, with the understanding that I'd help in similar situations in the future.  I agreed, regarding it as unfortunate that her people had yet to perfect dying leather black.  She was fascinating, in ways I cared not to examine at the time.  I found myself wondering how she felt about bloodletting in a recreational sense...

"He is the maker
 (He is the taker)
 He is the saviour
 (He is the raper)..."

We arrived back at the same bleak landscape.  Putting a glamour of invisibility upon us, I let her observe just what the king had done to his land.

Very few people understand what value War has to mortals.  They see nothing but the carnage, the lost sons and daughters and lands.  They don't see the ways it sparks their souls, the passion it inspires, the creativity, the outlet for the passions they build, including the violence of their species that *will* be expended.  In war, that violence has a bloody but useful outlet.  Too many years of peace bring aberration; the beast turning on its own in absence of an enemy. The wise understand this.  Violence, pain, blood... they're all a part of being human.  But humans try to pretend the darker side of themselves doesn't exist, pretend *I* don't exist.  Or they give it a new name and try to exalt it in the name of new gods.

War doesn't have a cause.  War is.  As I am.  Endless.  Dynamic.  Needed, despite humanity's rejection of its dark side and the energy, the creativity it holds.  War is not in itself evil, though war*mongers* may be.  War is change, in one of its most dynamic, demading forms, and as such it and I demand intelligent and creative followers.

As the foreign sorceress saw, this land had nothing.  Its people lived, but without life.  In removing dissension, its king had also removed the very spirit of the land and its people.

"Will you help?" I asked.

Nemetona turned to me, appalled.  "Anything I can do.  What do you wish?"

"The rules dictate that only a mortal can wrest the jewel from the king," I explained.  "You're free to take it back to your own land once you take it from him.  Just remember the power it holds."

Steeling her shoulders firmly, she nodded and headed into the valley, to the city of the king.  My dream-monkey chittered and threw dream-peanut-shells after her.

Constrained from intervening further, I settled back to wait against the shadow of a tree, feeding the monkey dream-cashews.

"A lack of pain a lack of hope
 a lack of anything to say..."

I suppose time passed.  Without mortals marking the moments of their life around you, time is fluid, endless, nonexistent.  I may have sat there for a moment, a month, a year.  It didn't matter.

"My world is unaffected
 there is an exit here
 I say it is and it's true..."

A corner of my mind noticed a piece of the mortal world intruding.  A young warrior walked through me, past me, and even I found his purity startling. Startling enough that I pulled myself out of the timelessness of waiting to observe.

He wasn't  attractive in the classical sense that I am.  He wasn't warrior enough that he should be worthy of my notice, and he wouldn't have been noticed if he hadn't walked through me like he did.  But...

"Jox-er the Mighty
 Roams through the countryside..."

There was something so insipidly enthusiasitic about his personal theme song I found it... compelling...  So different from... *everything* I'd known. Or at least anything I'd paid attention to.  So I followed him as he marched bravely and foolishly into the cursed valley, all unknowing that Nemetona was in the process of curing the evil.

"I was born into this
 Everything turns to shit
 The boy that you loved is the man that you fear..."

I tell myself I follow him to see him fall.  After all, I am War.  The softer emotions are long gone from my psyche.  I leave sentiment to Aphrodite.  Or that insufferable half-brother of mine.  Life is pain.  I learned that early on.  You better get used to it.

"Take your hatred out on me
 Make your victim my head
 I never ever believed in me
 I am your tourniquet..."

 And sure enough, though I can feel the flux as the foreign sorceress battles for the jewel, predators descend on my optimistic quarry.  He's no match for them, though I'm surprised at the bravery with which he faces them.  *He* knows he's no match for them too, but still he fights, his words sharper than his sword.  I should let him die a warrior's death but...there's something so ridiculously noble about the man.  I know him now, but before he was always playing the buffoon to Xena and her obnoxious sidekick. Alone he is something very different and very... exceptional, even as he deprecates himself, even as he goes down beneath their blades, even as he still tries...

"When the worm consumes the boy it's never ever considerate..."

And before I've truly considered my actions, I descend upon the thugs in a flash of blue light and red fury, leaving nothing but scorched shadows of all but one who I salvage to spread the message that he has incurred the wrath of Ares.  Feeling like I'm not even controlling my own body, I cradle the unconscious warrior against me...

"I fell into you, now I'm on my back

 Lift you up like sweetest angel
 I'll tear you down like a whore..."

I'm still holding him, jaggedly unsure what I'm doing as Nemetona finds me. She holds the jewel out for me to see.

"I've won.  Your land is safe."

I nod, oddly unsure what to say.

She looks at me just as oddly, with a tinge of amusement.  "I hope we three meet again, Ares.  I'll find my own way home."  With a wink, she walks away, leaving me feeling like I've missed something important.

I look down at the slowly waking warrior in my arms and my feelings, while still jagged and unfamiliar, take on a certainty I've never felt.  I watch him blink, first in befuddlement, then in nervous surprise.  "A-Ares?!"

I need to preserve some of my suddenly shredded dignity, so I say, "Yes. You nearly got yourself killed, you blundering fool.  And you would have if I didn't have business here."

But instead of reacting with fear, he gives me a huge, childlike grin, tinged with real embarrassment.  "I guess I miscalculated a bit.  Um.. thanks, Ares."

I find myself smiling (smiling?!) at him, my hands stubbornly not releasing him even as I say, "Joxer, with a hundred warriors like you I'd be the god of small throw pillows.  Do me a favour.  Take up another profession." Would I really destroy him if I took him as a- cancel that thought.

Incredibly, he just grins ruefully.  "I know I'm not much use as a warrior, but... no one's ever shown me how.  I've tried to learn from Xena and Gabrielle, but they just ignore me and-"

He bites his comment off before he says anything derogatory.  I know how they treat him.  Like the village idiot.  I hadn't been much better the rare times I'd met him.  But both he and I had been distracted.  I'd never noticed there was some real potential hidden in that deceptively soft frame. And off-balance, I suddenly blurt out, "Would you prefer to learn from the master?"

He gapes at me, but recovers admirably quickly.  "You mean it?!  B-but what would I learn?"

I regain enough equilibrium to give him a leer as I squeeze his delectable mortal ass.  "Everything," I say deep and sultry.

And am surprised again by an answering grin.  "Then teach me..."