Day of Darkness
The village of Thebes sat dark and deserted. The wind howled through the empty streets, causing the torches that lined them to wink and gutter out. A quiet desperate whisper seemed to blow through Thebes.
The Day of Darkness.
*The Day of Darkness.*
*Seduction of the Sacrifice.*
*Tears on a blood-wet face.*
The assembled crowd shuddered almost as one body as those thoughts washed over them, the last one an image lingering in their minds' eye.
All eyes slowly turned to the bound figure on the altar. He lay on the cold obsidian, body unclothed, hands and feet bound to the four corners, mind fogged with drugs and potions.
And they waited.
The stillness of the temple remained unbroken, as children lay frightened in the arms of their mothers, babies strangely silent in the oppressive gloom.
As the thunder began to echo outside of the temple, the people inside huddled closer together; flesh pressed against flesh in fear. All crowding together into the hoped-for safety of the massive stone walls.
The winds began to howl, and the clouds churned as lightning forked across the sky in unnatural, jagged streaks. The thunder rolled louder and closer, shaking the temple walls with its ferocity.
The clouds began spinning with the force of the winds, turning clockwise and pulling more clouds into itself as the funnel-like shape grew larger and wider. On the ground, the water in the sacramental pool began to churn and darkened to the color of blood. Then slowly it began to rise, the water drawn to the clouds, an inverted funnel to meet its cloud-borne twin. The two funnels stretched and writhed towards each other, and the jagged streaks of lightning began to fork down towards the joining of cloud and water.
People inside began to cry out as the hairs on their arms stood, electrified by the closeness of the lightning. They clung to each other seeking comfort; screaming into the blood red darkness that threatened to overtake them.
The cloud and water met with a blinding fork of lightning and deafening roll of thunder. As the afterimage of lightning faded, the people blinked rapidly, clearing their vision as they saw the figure in the courtyard.
A bloody sun presided over a blackened sky.
The god had arrived.
The Day of Darkness had only begun.
Ares flexed his arms as he stretched them above his head. "Aaaaah," he sighed. "Freedom." He looked around in confusion, and then remembered.
"The Day of Darkness must not proceed as written, brother," Clio had cautioned. "It will mean the end of our world; the others do not realize this." She had motioned to the huge tome beside her. "Only War has the power to change the History written in my book. I will free you, and none of the Olympians will oppose you. In return, you must change the course of History; the Day of Darkness must not end with tears on a blood-wet face."
Then Clio began the storm that freed him, and returned to Mt. Parnassus with the other Muses.
Ares' head whipped around as he heard someone begin to speak. "Do you see now the power of the one god? He brought forth a storm, and that storm brought me."
"I don't think so," Ares called out, and the crowd parted the way for him.
"Ares is the one!" a man shouted, as the crowd started to get excited.
"He came out of the storm, not the man before us!" another yelled.
"The gods haven't deserted us!" the crowd chorused.
The crowd rippled as Ares moved through. "Hello, Khrafstar. Long time no see."
"Betrayer!" Khrafstar hissed. "You sided with the others against Dahok!"
"I don't share my power with anyone. The Day of Darkness is over; you have no business here."
Khrafstar smiled, vulpine teeth showing in a wolfish grin. "My business here has only begun." He drew aside his cape, revealing the figure on the altar. "Behold the sacrifice!"
Ares stared down into Iolaus' drugged features.
"He is strong, this one," Khrafstar hissed. "He is the One my master always wanted for his return to this world."
Ares stared at Khrafstar, but could only see the haunting image of Iolaus' face, covered in blood, broken only by the tracks of tears. Tears on a blood-wet face, this must not be!
Ares looked back to Iolaus. "It isn't going to happen--Dahok had his chance and he lost it; he won't get another chance."
"That's where you're wrong, Olympian," Khrafstar sneered. "Your time is past, your power weak for no one believes the gods' empty promises. The gods fled Dahok before, and now they send the coward of Olympus to battle for them!"
Ares felt himself bristling at being called coward, but refused to rise to the bait. "The gods also made a promise to protect the people from you! I am the living manifestation of their promise. I was imprisoned for my collusion with Callisto and Dahok; I was freed to right that wrong!"
Just then, Iolaus began to stir. Khrafstar laughed. "The Seduction of the Sacrifice begins!"
"The Seduction of the Sacrifice?" Ares asked, disgusted with the delay, and ready to get the ground rules in play..
"Ares, Ares, Ares...How quickly one forgets! For the Spirit of my Master to enter, the Sacrifice must be willing," chided Khrafstar.
As Ares gazed down at the waking mortal, he hoped Iolaus was strong enough for what lay ahead.
*Woozy.* Iolaus struggled to open heavy eyelids. *Shouldn't have had that last drink!* He tried to sit up, but found himself bound. He squinted at his blurry surroundings, willing them to sharpen into focus. He didn't recognize anything as his vision slowly returned to normal.
Then a face peered over his. "The Sacrifice is awake!" proclaimed Khrafstar as he broke Iolaus' bonds. "It begins."
"What begins?" asked Iolaus, rubbing his chafed wrists. He was barely aware of his nakedness when he saw Ares standing off to the side. He saw Ares make a negligible gesture, and a length of cloth draped around Iolaus' bare body. The mortal nodded warily, and then repeated his question. "What begins?"
Khrafstar remained silent, and after a moment, Iolaus turned his gaze to Ares. "Your seduction, Iolaus."
"My what? If you think--"
""Not that kind of seduction, Iolaus. It's a seduction of sides."
"Sides of what?"
"I'm not allowed to say; you must trust me, Iolaus." Ares hoped that Iolaus would believe him.
"If it's a choice between your side and someone else's, I'll go with someone else."
Khrafstar grinned maliciously, and reached out for Iolaus, but he jerked back when he saw Iolaus turn on him. "Wait a sec here. What is going on? And you--back off. I didn't say I was going with you."
"You said you chose whomever opposed Ares. That is me."
"Then I un-choose. I want to know more first."
"It is not allowed." Khrafstar reached out for Iolaus but stopped. "The flesh is no longer willing!" he growled.
Iolaus flipped his gaze back to Ares, who gave him a sad smile. "It's not that simple, Iolaus. This time, I'm the good guy."
"When Tartarus freezes over," retorted Iolaus. Ares could see Iolaus' face soften. "You're serious," he sighed. "I'll hear you out."
"Where to begin?* "After the end of the first struggle with Dahok, I was imprisoned by Zeus for my part in that. My half-sister, Clio, the Muse of History, came to me in my prison and told me of the coming Day of Darkness. She freed me on the condition that I try to change History, stop the outcome."
"Day of Darkness." Iolaus thought a moment. "I know that phrase. But I can't place it."
Ares' eyes flickered. It would have been so much easier had he remembered. In the end, it didn't much matter; he must convince Iolaus to choose him. "The origin is unimportant. But it is here, and the choice rests on you, as the chosen Sacrifice."
"Great. And who exactly chose me as this Sacrifice?"
In answer, Ares directed his gaze at Khrafstar, and the man answered. "My Master."
"And 'who' is your Master?"
Khrafstar was maddeningly silent, and Iolaus gazed back at Ares, who spread his hands helplessly. Read between the lines, Iolaus, Ares thought. "I can't tell you. I can only say, I am sent to right a wrong."
Iolaus seemed to be pondering something, but he couldn't quite grasp it; it was as if something prevented his normally quick mind from making the final connection.
Ares sighed and continued to speak, choosing his words carefully. "I am here to represent one of your choices, Iolaus. I embody War, but I also embody all aspects of humanity and Olympians. I appear before you in my chosen mortal form, to better present my cause.
"Humanity; I am the champion of god and mortal alike."
"You've got to be joking."
"No, I'm serious. Ask the people, they will tell you; I came out of a storm from the gods, I was sent to argue their case."
Iolaus turned to the crowd, who'd heard Ares' words. Almost as one they nodded, and thousands of voices rose to speak assent. "ENOUGH!" Iolaus yelled, and the crowd fell silent again, watching. "Then argue."
"I know you will not believe what I say because of our past history; I pray you can look past that to honestly weigh the value of my words. This man represents something very dangerous to life, as we know it. He threatens to take away the worship of the gods, spreads lies that we have abandoned them again. The gods fled Dahok once; they will not flee again. We protect the people, and in return, we ask for remembrance in the form of worship and service in the form of obedience."
"What right do you have to ask anything of mortals?" Iolaus' tone was harsh.
"The same right as you to ask favors of the gods. You give us gifts, ply us with sweet words, and ask favors of us. Afraid of losing you, the favor is granted in some form or other. We created you as our children, and we care for you as parents care for their children. It's a balance, Iolaus. One that is necessary for the world as we know it to survive."
"Fair enough," Iolaus said, after a moment of pondering. "But what does that have to do with anything?"
Ares indicated Khrafstar. "This man represents a rejection of that balance. He encourages the children to rebel against their parents, and causes them to be resentful of order and distrustful of prosperity. He proposes to entrust the care of all humanity to a single soul who has no feelings for the mortals of this world. All he has is a craving for power and dominion. He will leave humanity a battered shell, and when they try to return to the old ways, the penalty is death."
"Sounds a bit like you, Ares."
Ares could see he was not getting through to Iolaus. "Perhaps, but on a worldly scale, this will be disastrous. I bring order; he brings chaos. I may use ten people for my cause; he uses ten thousand."
"The lesser of two evils?"
"If that is what it comes down to, then yes."
"Give your godhood up. Become a mortal and become a part of your argument. Prove you mean what you say."
Ares unbuckled his sword belt and lay it to the side. "Clio--Please."
*Are you sure?* she asked.
*It may be the only way.*
*As you wish.*
Iolaus watched as Ares had some sort of internal dialogue, and then a glowing ball coalesced over Ares' head, and then vanished. He held out his hand, and the palm was lined. He drew a dagger from his belt and drew it across his palm, wincing as blood welled up. "I am a part of my argument," Ares whispered.
Iolaus tore a strip of cloth from his wrap, and handed it to Ares, who bound his hand as Iolaus turned to Khrafstar. "Your turn."
Khrafstar smiled. "I take it you and Ares know each other? Then you know he can't be trusted. His words sound beautiful, even I admit that, but how long will it last? It suits now, but what about tomorrow? Or the next day? Or next week, month, year even."
Iolaus wavered slightly, but came back with a challenge. "Dispute WHAT he says, not HOW he said it," he said shrewdly.
"How can I combat such gilded lies?" countered Khrafstar smoothly. "From the mouth of a god to ears hungry for his words."
"You're not even trying," accused Iolaus. Half of him wanted to be talked out of siding with Ares. "That must mean what he says is true." Even so, Iolaus rebelled at siding with Ares over anything, so ingrained was that reaction.
"No, what he says is a lie. You have a long history together; I trust you to make the right choice."
Iolaus stared hard at Khrafstar, and then swallowed. "I have been fooled by Ares too many times in the past to start trusting him now," he finally said. "You win, Khrafstar. I still choose you."
Khrafstar reached out, but stopped short of touching Iolaus. "So you say, yet you still have some doubt, some question that makes you unwilling. What is it?"
Finally the question in Iolaus' thoughts crystallized. "I have to know...Your Master--who is he that Ares was chosen to oppose him?"
"You have made your choice, I am free to speak. Dahak is my Master, the one you choose to serve."
"No!" Iolaus screamed. Suddenly Ares' remarks about righting a wrong, the significance of his exchange with Clio, everything fell into place, as a fog seemed lifted from his mind. "You tricked me!"
"You had to make a free choice, as the Sacrifice. And you made it." Still the barrier of Iolaus' unwillingness stopped Khrafstar from touching him. "The body must be willing, Iolaus."
"Never! I will never willingly side with Dahak! It was not a fair choice--you tricked me! Ares, please help!" Iolaus hoped it was not too late.
Ares finally moved from his corner, and stood between Khrafstar and Iolaus. "The choice is made, Khrafstar, he chooses against you."
"That's what you think. But I think he'll change his tune." Khrafstar's arm shot out, transforming into a javelin and spearing the now-mortal Ares.
Blood flowed from each side as Ares garnered enough strength to pull the lance out, spraying Iolaus with warm jets of his blood.
Khrafstar laughed as Iolaus cried out and lowered Ares to the floor.
Iolaus' bloody face hovered over Ares'.
Blood-wet face...Tears on a blood-wet face...It cannot happen!
Ares reached up and gripped Iolaus' chin. "Do not weep, Iolaus; if you cry then all is lost and Dahak wins. Life will end, and I will have failed."
"I don't understand!"
Ares coughed, blood flecking his lips. "Tears on a blood-wet face; it's his sign that he has won. If you weep you are vulnerable; your guard is down. He can enter you and it will be done."
"What do I do?"
"Don't cry." Then, Ares fell silent, his eyes glassy in mortal death. Iolaus rose, fighting tears.
"You lose, Dahak! Why should I cry over the death of a cheat and liar like Ares? I renounce you, Dahak! You're a fraud, a one-hit wonder who's outlived his purpose! You lied to us, and we reject you!"
Khrafstar's eyes turned to flame, and then his body. He disappeared with a single warning; "This has not ended!"
As Iolaus struggled to move Ares' lifeless body to the altar the crowd surged to the doors. "The sun!" cried out overlapping voices.
The sun was burning brightly; the last of the bloody sheen vanishing as puffy white clouds blanketed the blue sky.
Ares' corpse was bathed in a pool of bright sunshine as it lay on the altar. Iolaus used Ares' cloth to wipe the drying blood off both himself and Ares' body. "I'm sorry, Ares; I made the wrong choice. I should have believed you when you gave up your godhood."
"Yes, you should have. But it is understandable," said a somewhat stern female voice.
Iolaus turned to see a beautiful woman carrying a large book in the crook of one arm. "Who are you?" he asked.
"I am Clio, the Muse of History and Ares' sister. I sent him on this quest to save the world and change History. And he succeeded, at the cost of his life. But now you have another choice to make, Iolaus, and you must choose wisely."
"What is the choice?"
"Restoring Ares, by returning his godhood."
"But if he remains dead--"
"Then the spirit of war and aggression die with him. Choose well, Iolaus."
"If there is no war, then that means peace! No more fighting, bickering, or warring!" Then an ugly thought occurred to him. "No more drive to achieve anything. A peaceful, stagnant society with no aggression, no desire to go out and change anything or accomplish anything."
Clio said nothing.
"But to restore War to the world when I could abolish it forever..."
Clio still said nothing.
After a long, ponderous pause, Iolaus motioned to Clio. "Restore him."
Clio said nothing but the silver globe of Ares' godhood first assumed his form and then sank immediately into his body.
He sat up with a start, breathing in harsh gulps of air. "Clio!"
"You changed history, my brother. You succeeded."
"Made the right choices. For everyone."
Ares stood on a cloud, watching the mortal world below.
A presence appeared beside him, and he acknowledged it with a nod.
"No one ever said thank you," Clio started.
"Is that why you came down here? To thank me?" Ares smiled to soften his words. "I don't mean to seem bitter."
"You have a right. But no, I am here to show you something." Clio turned to the present page in her tome of History. The future was blank. "This is how it looked before." Then the illusion faded, and the book kept growing in size, every page, filled with words, filled to overflowing. "You gave us a future, Ares."
"I didn't do it alone."
"No. But you did change it. As I told you, War can change History. But History decides how War is seen."
"Read for yourself."
Ares took the book from Clio and began to read, and then began to laugh. "A hero! Ares as a hero of the people!"
Clio took the book from him and closed it. "You saved the future, rewrote History, and became a champion of humanity. Quite a feat for the God of War."
Ares suddenly became serious. "Quite a feat. War changed the face of humanity." Then he looked back out across the mortal world. "But a small part of humanity also changed the face of War."
Clio smiled, and made a small notation in her book, but when Ares turned back around, he was again alone on the cloudbank.