It was strangely calm top Mount Olympus. The Gods and Goddess had retired to their private rooms unaware of what had taken place on earth earlier that day, unaware or just didn't care. Everyone but Ares.
The God Of War paced around his chambers like a caged panther; his mind reeling over the death of his nephew Strife at the hands of the psycho bitch Callisto and the demon known as Hope. No one, not even he, could have predicted how such a simple plan had gone so terribly wrong and who would pay the ultimate price. He had sent Iolaus back in time in a feeble attempt to stop the blonde lunatic from killing Alcamene and keeping his half-brother Hercules from ever being born. He had little faith in the blonde hunter's abilities. He was after all only mortal.
"What am I going to do?" he questioned himself as he crossed back and forth in the center of the room running his fingers through his long, black, curly hair. His steady footsteps echoing off the black marble floor. He was on his own and he knew it. He'd get no help from Zeus or anyone else. They would immediately blame him for the Godling's death. His heart raced frantically adrenaline pumping through his veins.
He stopped before the large stone fireplace on the far side of his chambers. Inside its hearthstone the fire blazed; flames jumping up, licking the upper grating, grabbing at it like a greedy child. It sent an red-orange glow across the floor; offering the only light in what at this moment was a dark cold room. Ares hadn't bothered to light the torches or open the shades to the warm night air. The mood of the room reflected his mood; dark, cold, angry. He had lost not only his nephew but his partner in crime. Leaning his right elbow on the mantle; he smiled thinking about how easy it was to get Strife to do exactly what he wanted. All he had to do was bark his name and the young Godling would jump. Strife wanted to please him; to be like him so much that Ares could order him around and it was done.
As he was about to move away, his hand hit a small dark purple rectangular case that was almost invisible in the near pitch black room. It had been left as an offering in one of his temples and it had caught his attention. Its inside was lined with light purple silk with gold hinges and the symbol for his name carved on top. Slowly the God of War lifted the lid and reached inside, gingerly pulling out a single silver earring. Strife's earring. He had taken it off the Godling before…
Ares stopped himself, turning the piece of jewelry over and over. It shimmered in the light of the fire. He remembered when Strife had decided to get one like he wore. No one bothered to explain to the young Godling about how the hole was put in his ear. He remembered Strife screaming in pain as the procedure was done. But his Uncle wore one and if it was ok for the God of War…He tightened his fist around what was left of his nephew, his partner…his best friend; fighting the hot tears that welled up in his chocolate brown eyes threatening to fall on his bearded face. The memory of Strife's expression as Callisto buried the knife inside him was burned forever in his mind. With the assistance of Hope, Callisto had managed to defeat him in a fight that he had won; steal the hind's blood medallion; coat her dagger and use it to end the Godling's life.
Now the God of War stood in the darkness; his jaw clinched as hard as his fist. "Strife," he managed to say; his voice harsh and filled with hate."I will get you back and together we will take care of those two once and for all."
Returning the earring to the tiny box, Ares headed to the one individual who he knew could help him.
Vanishing in a burst of bright blue light, the God of War reappeared seconds later in the dining area of Hades, God of the Underworld. The room was bright and airy with sandy brown furniture strategically placed at various angles. Three out of the four walls were draped with the tapestry of warlords who had died in one of Ares' battles.
As his brown eyes scanned the wall hangings, he remembered each and every battle he had begun to give Hades these drapings. It gave the room a grand, regal look. Even better then the dining room on Olympus though not as nice as his own. In the middle of the room was a long, rectangular dining table large enough to accommodate everyone on Olympus. Its surface shone like a well-polished sword with a silver candelabra in the center holding twelve white candles. Beads of wax dripped down the side as the tiny flames ate their way down hungrily. Around the candelabra as well as various points around the room were elaborate flower arrangements. This meant only one thing; Persephone was here.
"Hades!" Ares shouted in a strong clear voice hoping his uncle was around. The last time he had to chase him down in the Elysian Fields before finding him. It had been his first time there and he had been completely taken back by its beauty. Everything was warm and green; wildflowers of every color in full bloom; their bright faces turned upward towards the sun. Birds of every kind sang their sweet songs from the treetops and everyone there wore long white flowing robes. A feeling of pure joy and happiness glowed on everyone's face that he passed. They didn't seem to mind that he was there and they didn't back away from him in fear. Instead he was greeted with a "hello" and a warm smile.
A couple of little children ran past him and he decided to follow them. They lead him to a lake not too far from where he had first appeared. It was the bluest water he had ever seen. Cool and crystal clear, it sparkled like gems in the morning sun. He had stood by one of the trees, his arms folded in front of him, watching little children playing and feeding the ducks. Children who had been victims of war; his wars. It was secretly the one thing about his job he hated. Knowing that children would be killed every time he started another conflict. Warlords and soldiers were one thing but women and children were another. They were the innocent victims of the whole ordeal. It had sometimes taken a great deal of self-control not to think about what would happen to them. Now he knew they wound up in a better place. It made the guilt he had always felt a little easier to bear.
It was also on that day he saw his half brother's wife and three kids--killed by his mother and Hercules' stepmother Hera. They were having a picnic near the lake. Seated on a green blanket under a tall willow tree, Deanara read to the three of them from a scroll that she held in her hands. They looked like the perfect family minus one person. It brought an ache to his heart. He had always longed for a family like that. A wife and kids to come home to after a long day on the battlefield instead of an empty castle or Temple. Sure he could get any willing female into his bed, but…
Shaking his head he pushed the memories back into the recesses of his mind where no other God could get to. He never told anyone about that day. Luckily Hades didn't question him when they finally found each other. He would never tell anyone how he felt; not even Aphrodite or Cupid. They would just get mushy on him. The rest of Olympus would just rip him to shreds.
Taking a deep breath, he tried again. "Hades!" he shouted even louder, "Hades, I need to see you now."
"Good evening Ares," came a sweet voice behind him. Ares turned to see Hades' wife Persephone standing in the doorway. She wore a long flowing gown of bright yellow with puffy sleeves and a light blue sash around her waist. Her long, flowing, blonde hair that hung loosely down her back was woven with daisies; her blue eyes shining as bright as her smile. To look at her, it was hard to believe this cherub of springtime was the wife of the God of the Underworld, the Lord of the Dead.
"Good evening, Persephone," the God of War said walking over to her and kissing her hand politely. "I'm here to see Hades. It's a matter of great importance."
"Hades is just finishing up the last of the soldiers you sent here earlier. Can I get you anything while you wait?"
"A glass of red wine," he suggested watching her expression.
"Of course. I'll be right back."
With a smile, she turned and headed back. Ares watched her willowy figure disappear from view. He often wondered what Hades saw in her. Sure she was sweet and nice but she sometimes came off as a bit flaky. But she was his aunt and if he had any hope of getting Strife back, he would be as polite as possible even if it killed him.
Persephone returned moments later carrying a golden goblet encrusted with jewels. It looked like Hades' personal drinking glass, something that was for his use only--not something she would offer a guest. Ares took the goblet from her resting it in the palm of his hand before raising the rim to his lips. The red wine was cool and sweet on his tongue as it cascaded down his throat. It was the first thing he had to drink since the fight with Callisto. He hadn't been aware of how thirsty he had been until the tingle of the elixir tickled his tongue.
"It's from my best stock," came another voice behind him.
Ares turned to see his uncle standing in the doorway. Persephone had quietly left without being noticed. Hades entered the room with an easy gait. His long, black-sleeved, silk shirt was open to his belt, exposing his well muscled chest; black leather pants and boots added to the effect of his dark lord image. His brown hair was slicked down so it stayed in place no matter how he turned his head. His hazel eyes focused on his nephew as if he already knew what brought the God of War into his domain. Ares picked up on it in an instant. It made his uneasy but he didn't dare show it. He was still Ares, God of War and not even the Lord of the Underworld would rattle him. "I can see why." Ares commented tilting the glass back to get every last drop, "I just might take a bottle back with me."
"I'll see what I can do about that, though I doubt that you came her to sample my wine."
"No," Ares said glancing around for a place to rest the goblet before handing it to Hades. "I came on personal business."
"Strife," Hades said before Ares could elaborate on what he had meant.
Being cornered, the God of War nodded to his underworld partner, though he knew he shouldn't be surprised. After all, anyone who dies has to go through Hades, so why shouldn't he be aware of Strife's death? "I want him returned to me, Hades. He was killed by one who isn't a true god so there is no reason for him to be here. Hades stood there listing to his nephew. Ares had always come across as a bit of a hothead bur this time there was something behind his demand that caught Hades' attention. What was it?
"I'm afraid it's out of my hands, Ares. I can't just hand him over like that."
"Why not? Callisto isn't one of us. She's not under the same rules that Zeus stuck us under." Ares snapped angrily, his temper rising to a boiling point. He didn't come all this way to get turned down by anyone. "I want him now!" His voice rung with a viciousness that would have dropped the bravest warlord to his knees.
But not the God of the Underworld. "You're in no position to make demands here, Ares. You're in my domain now."
The two Gods faced each other. Hades could feel what was coming off Ares. Maybe he could work a deal with his nephew that could benefit both of them but he wouldn't be pushed around by anyone. Not even Ares, Zeus' son or not.
Ares scowled as his fury rose. He would get Strife back if he had
to tear Tartarus apart piece by piece to locate him.
"Alright," Hades said leaning against the table folding his arms. He had to defuse his nephew and fast without losing face in his own realm. "Why don't we make a deal?"
"What sort of deal?" Ares snarled. He had no time for his uncle's little game.
"I can't just hand him over, but I'm willing to make a trade."
"Fine, " agreed the God of War. "Name the Warlord and I will dispatch him to you."
"I don't want a Warlord. I'm after something different."
"Take a seat Ares, and I'll tell you."
With a wave of his hand, the two Gods disappeared. Ares found himself in Hades' main throne room seated on Hades throne. Immediately the God of War jumped to his feet. Now he knew something was up. Hades wouldn't even let Zeus sit on his throne the last time the King of the Gods came to the underworld, yet it was nothing to place Ares there. His uncle wanted something from him and he wanted it badly.
The two gods stared at each other. Ares frowned as he saw Hades' amused smile. Crossing his arms in front of him, the God of War waited, watching as his uncle made a show of crossing the room and sitting down on the throne next to him. His uncle always enjoyed making a production out everything. Whatever this was, was Strife worth it? "I'm waiting Hades," Ares snapped sounding annoyed. "What is it you want from me?"
"What I'm looking for is something that will swing the power of the underworld to my side, rather--"
"What do you mean swing the power," Ares interrupted. "You're the God of the Underworld. What power are you lacking?"
"The power I am lacking, dear nephew, is the power to control the dominions of the seventh ring."
"Seventh ring?" Ares questioned, completely lost as to what his uncle was taking about.
Hades rose to face Ares with the utmost seriousness. This may be the last chance to balance the scales not so much in his favor but in the even kilter that should have been there from the very beginning. "These creatures," Hades continued, "reside in the lowest parts of Tarartus, a dark, empty void set aside for only the most evil of beings. They were imprisoned there before even the Titans were born." Hades turned and walked a few feet from where his nephew stood, taking slow, deliberate steps.
This was the first time he was telling this story to anyone. Not even his wife knew about it. He wrestled with himself trying to decide if he was making the right decision in telling his nephew about the dealings of the elder Gods, especially since it involved his father. The God of the Underworld looked up at his nephew who stood waiting. The anger had gone out of his brown eyes being replaced by one of curiosity. Even as a child, Ares had always been fascinated by the stories of the Titans and the early existence of the Elders. Hades smiled seeing his nephew's passion hadn't diminished with age or position. "Please, nephew," Hades said, pointing to his throne, "sit down."
With only the slightest hesitation, Ares sat down taking a deep breath before releasing it. Part of him was dying to hear what Hades had to say and part of him said to forget about his uncle and just tear Tartarus apart until he found his nephew and just take him. Hades wasn't as strong or as powerful as the God of War, so what did he have to worry about?
Minutes passed before Hades continued his story. "When the world was first created, the original Elders fought with evil creatures for control of the world. In the first great battle, Chaos, Uranos, Pontos along with Mother Earth and the others fought these creatures in a battle that should have ended all battles. The fighting went on for a millennium until these creatures were finally defeated. They were cast into the void, the emptiness from which they came. It was supposed to be the last of them but when your father decided to overthrow the Titans, Cronos called up the most evil of these demons to help the Titans. Unfortunately, what Cronos hadn't counted on was the Demon didn't want to be a team player. He was out for himself. Not only was Cronos fighting your father, your uncle and I but the Demon wanted to take control as it felt it should have."
Ares sat back listening. The thought of such a battle send adrenaline racing through his veins. He gripped the handles of the throne as his head began to swim. Dizziness threatened to take him but suddenly the golden goblet appeared once again in his hands. Without a word Ares knocked back the wine his uncle had given him. The cool liquid tasted good and it calmed his speeding pulse.
"My nephew." Hades said with a smile. "You would have enjoyed it. It was the most exhilarating feeling I've ever gotten to experience."
"What happened with this demon?" Ares asked, breathless.
"Your father, your uncle Poseidon and I cornered the entity in its lair when it was the most vulnerable. As your uncle and I fought with this creature your father snuck up behind it and stole his soul destroying him and sending a second entity who had joined the first demon ready to aid him in the fight back into the void. The second demon swore revenge but with the soul of the head demon; we knew it would never happen. This soul once outside of the creature grew cold and hard turning a dark red; becoming known as the Bloodstone. Because of its infinite power, the other demons were imprisoned into exile. It wasn't hard after that to take the Titans out having that extra advantage--"
"The Bloodstone helped you overthrow the Titans?" Ares asked, not believing what he was hearing.
Hades nodded. "Ares, what I'm telling you must never leave here. I'm entrusting you with this knowledge. Your father must never know I've told you about it."
"No problem," Ares said with a sneaky grin, "I'd never dream of letting dear old dad know I know the source of the power he used to over throw the Titans. Isn't this the same power he threatened me with many times when I was younger and he wanted to keep me in line?"
"Ares…" Hades began. He was getting nervous fast. He knew the animosity between father and son. Strangely enough he couldn't blame Ares for how he was feeling. Zeus and Hera had done a real number on this guy growing up. Then after Hercules was born, Ares was all but forgotten by his father.
The God of War took another deep breath. This was becoming too much even for him. He leaned back against the headboard, his arms wrapped around himself. His face was a blank mask. There was no way he was going to let his uncle know what he was thinking or feeling. But deep down he was unnerved. He had never dreamed that there was so much he didn't know. It was a feeling he hated. He had to be in control no matter what the circumstances. But how could he control this?
Hades smiled. Just like when he was a boy. Whenever his nephew got nervous he assumed this position as if holding all the fear inside himself rather than letting it out where others could see it. "After the Titans were also overthrown, your father and Uncle and I drew lots to see who would rule what. Your uncle got the seas, your father the heavens and I the underworld with the three of us supposingly splitting earth between us, though if you ask your father he'll tell you something else. It was agreed upon that the Bloodstone would be turned over to me but when the time came, your father refused." Before Ares could ask, Hades explained, "Your father felt that if I had the stone than I could use it to control these demons and overthrow him one day."
Ares scowled. Just like Zeus. King of the Gods, King of the Lunatics more like it. He was so paranoid that what he did to Cronos would be done to him that he reneged on a promise to his own brother. "Sounds like good old dad." Ares said sarcastically, "So what your saying is if I get this bloodstone back for you, you will turn Strife over in exchange. Am I correct?"
"Yes, and I swear to you. I WILL keep my word, unlike your father." Hades sighed, finally getting the story out in the open. He had been wanting to tell someone and now he had. But would it do any good or will it make matters worse?
Ares rose from the throne. His mind was reeling faster than it ever had. What could he do? Does he agree to get this stone, whereever his father may have hid it? What would happen if he didn't find it? What would happen to humanity? To the Gods?
"Ares," Hades said placing his hand on his nephew's shoulder, "The decision is yours. I know what I'm asking. If you can't do this, maybe we can try and find another way."
The God of War turned and glared at the God of the Underworld. Not be able to do something? He was kidding. Fine, if this is what he wanted, how hard could it all be? "If that's what it will take to get Strife back, I'll get your precious stone. I have another demon up there to take care of and I…"
"I know. I'm afraid if she succeeds in her quest, the threat of the second demon will become a fatal reality for Gods and man."
Ares drew in a sharp breath. Threat of a second demon...No. This wasn't possible. His mouth went dry but he knew he had to ask. "Hades, by what name was the second demon called?" When Hades spoke the dreaded name, the blood of the God of War ran cold. He knew what he was up against and that he was in it alone.
"Dahak," Hades whispered.
"Dahak, has been waiting for a thousand years to reenter the world." Hades said to his nephew. "For some reason, he has been able to penetrate the void, at least mentally, and reach out to those whom he feels are weak minded enough to be controlled."
"No!" Ares contradicted. "If this was just mental control then that...that..." he sputtered trying stay in control, "that thing he calls a daughter wouldn't be here. He would never have been able to..." he was unable to say the word, "to do what he did to Gabrielle."
"Ares, as long as the stone is still where your father hid it, there is no way..." But something in his uncle's words stopped him cold. It was a thought he didn't dare to entertain. The expression on his nephew's face sent a shot of terror though the God of the Underworld. No, there is no way this was possible.
"Ares, if you're thinking what I think you're thinking…"
"What if the stone isn't where dear old dad put it? What if it was somehow stolen?"
"I…" Hades said, but cut himself off. The two Gods glared at each other, knowing full well what Ares was implying. If the stone was not where the King of the Gods placed it, then there was nothing stopping Dahok from taking his revenge on Gods and Humanity.
"Ares, you know your father as well as I do. There is no way he's
going to let that stone out of his possession; the source of his power
over the Titans? You said it yourself how paranoid he is. Nothing gets
past him when it comes to anything that could possibly cut short his reign.
He knows exactly when you get any new weapons, he knows the entire stock
Ares turned away facing the door. His mind was spinning almost out of control. Memories of his childhood, growing up with Zeus and his distrustful nature towards the other Gods. No there was no way the stone would have been stolen, but what if that wasn't how it happened..
"Talk to me nephew. Something is going around your mind. I can feel it."
"What if the stone wasn't stolen? What if dear old dad just let it slip through his fingers?"
Before Hades could interject, Ares continued his mind flipping backwards to his childhood; to growing up on Olympus and watching his father making plays for one virgin maiden after another until he had felt there would be none left for him when he would get his chance. How many times did he or one his brothers or sisters catch their father in a drunken stupor going after some gullible mortal woman who would let him do what he wished?
"Then that would mean.."
"Then that would mean, " Ares cut in gripping the handle of his sword facing his Uncle who had become quite pale, "That I would have no idea where even to begin to look."
Ares turned away in sheer disgust. The more he thought it over, the more it felt right. Dahok was developing quite a following. He managed to rape an innocent young girl and spawn a half-demon daughter to help bring him back. There was no way he was still locked up. He was out and just waiting for the right moment to return. Damn you Zeus for being so selfish that you couldn't be faithful to Hera.
"Dahok's weak." Hades said reading his nephew's mind." That's why he needs the worshipers, he feeds on their adoration. It will help him gain strength until he is strong enough to return."
"Then I guess I better get started. Gods know I don't have a lot of time before we may be fighting another Great Battle. One we may not survive through."
"Where are you going to look?" Hades asked his nephew. God of the Underworld or not, he was scared now. He had hoped this would have been over a long time ago. Now he was facing not only the extermination of mankind but of the Gods as well.
"I don't know Hades." Ares answered taking a deep breath, "For the first time in my life, I don't know."
"Ares, Don't. I know what you're thinking. Zeus would have a fit. He must never know I told you about…."
"Look Hades!" Ares shouted back, "If that stone is gone and that thing gets loose, then it won't matter what Zeus thinks because we'll all be dead won't we?!"
The last part of his sentence coming out with an icy viciousness that was loud enough to shake the walls. Ares turned and walked over near the table. He was just about at the end of his patience. All he had wanted was to get Strife back and now it seemed the fate of the Gods and Mankind rested on his shoulders. Beautiful, just what he needed.
The reverberating echo of his voice brought Persephone and a few underworld helpers running into the room to see what the argument was all about.
"Is everything alright?" his wife asked glancing at Hades then over at Ares and back, "We heard shouting and we thought…."
Hades turned to his wife and the others standing in the doorway; waving them away. The last thing he needed was to have this type of news speeding through the underworld. If word did get out it would cause such panic that he would never be able to get it under control. The worried expressions on his wife and two of his helpers told him immediately they suspected something was wrong. He had to defuse the situation and fast.
"It's ok, go back to whatever it was you were doing," he said trying to sound calm. But he was anything but. How could he have let such a thing slip by when he first heard that Dahok was gathering followers? Why didn't it dawn on him to confront Zeus? To have to face the fact that it may be over for all of the Gods was inconceivable.
"Ares and I were just having a discussion. It's o.k."
Hades glanced over at the God of War; his eyes begging for his nephew to back him up before it was too late.
Ares nodded; doing something that was rare for him.
Swallowing his pride he ran his fingers through his long black curly hair jumping into the predicament.
"One of our loud discussions. Sorry about that Persephone. I'm just tired and edgy I guess. Little things are getting to me."
"That's o.k Ares," his aunt answered her worried expression disappearing, "As long as I know everything is o.k"
"It is sweetheart." Hades said placing his open hand on her face, running his thumb on her cheek affectionately.
"Then we'll be getting over to the Elysian Fields. Goodbye Ares. See you tonight darling," she said nodding to her nephew and reaching up to give her husband a quick kiss before turning to exit.
The pair watched as Persephone and the other two walked away. Ares stood arms length from Hades with one hand wrapped around the hilt of his sword; the other gripping the back of the chair. That was too close and they both knew it. Hades turned back to Ares once the trio had disappeared completely.
"Thank you Ares." he said placing his hand on his nephew's shoulder. "I appreciate what you said. I owe you one."
"I'll make sure to remind you of it too." Ares retorted taking a quick breath. Swallowing his pride was never easy for him. He'd done it many a times in his life when dealing with Zeus and Hera, usually over a fight with Hercules. But at least it was one less situation he would have to deal with.
First things first. He had to know whether the stone was still there before contemplating his next move.
Hades watched the anger returning in his nephew's face. It wasn't hard to tell what the God of War was planning, but it was something he wished his nephew would forget about.
"Ares…" he started, his tone soft and uneasy, knowing his nephew's anger was something that had to be treaded lightly.
"Save it Hades!" Ares snapped back walking towards the door. "Zeus and I need to have a little chat."
Hades shuttered at the way Ares had spoken those words. The last time Ares had a "chat" with Zeus, Olympus shook for a week.
"Come back when you're done." Hades said walking over to his nephew placing his hand gently on his shoulder. More than anything now he needed his nephew. If there was to be another battle, he wanted the younger God on his team.
"For whatever it's worth, I'm here for you. As your Uncle and your alley if need be. I'll do what I can to ensure that things goes back to where it belongs once and for all."
For the first time since arriving in the Underworld, Ares smiled, nodding his head. There was at least one member of his family he could count on. It was what he needed to know now. In a flash of blue light the God of War disappeared.
The Grand Hall was empty when the God of War arrived. His brown eyes glazed over the room that was always the center of business on Olympus. Bright and airy; immense in size the room held a certain regal air of authority to it. There was no mistake that this was a room of verdict and judgment; where decisions that not only effected other Gods but Mankind below were passed or denied without hesitation.
Lining the golden marble walls on three sides were colorful portraits of the Olympian Gods and Goddess at their best. His own portrait, depicting him with a glorious battle in the background stood on the east wall between Aphrodite and Apollo. Five pictures hung on the east and west sides with Hera's image behind him sandwiched between a pair of oval shaped stained glass windows that told the story of the beginning of the world. Through the colorful windows the early morning sun shone; reaching like fingers towards the twelve thrones that stood on a platform before him. Erected directly behind them was a towering white marble statue of Zeus holding a lightning bolt in one hand and the world in the other. An ever-present reminder that he was the ruler of this realm to whoever passed through the golden double doors. Above his head was a high dome ceiling that held a crystal chandelier in its center that cascaded downwards like a frozen waterfall.
In front of the walls, lined up like soldiers waiting for their commander stood statues of the minor Gods and Goddesses that also inhabited Olympus. A long red carpet stretched from the door to the platform stopping in front of his father's throne. The gold and white floor gleamed in the light of the torches that burned brightly from all four corners. Ares took a few steps forward; his footsteps reverberating all around him. He glanced around the room remembering the past and wondering if there was a future for any of them.
"Ares!" came a lilting voice behind him. He smiled recognizing the sound. Turning he spotted his sister Aphrodite and his nephew Cupid coming towards him. He forced himself to put on a pleasant smile for their sake. No need to upset either one of them until they absolutely needed to know the truth.
"Hi big brother!" the Goddess of Love sang out as she ran over and gave her brother a hug. He wrapped his arms around his little sister and pulled her close. She was one of the few members of his family that he was not only fond of but seemed to be fond of him too. Hephaestus, her husband and Olympian blacksmith, was another. He was one of his closest allies on and off the battlefield. So was Hades. Hephaestus cast the weapons, he manipulated the soldiers and Hades collected the spoils. They were quite a trio when they chose to be.
Now as he looked down into his little sister's big blue eyes he felt a sadness come over him that he thought he wouldn't be able to fight off. She didn't deserve what could happen to all of them if he failed to find the stone and stop Dahok. He glanced over at his young nephew, the God of Love and a picture image of his mother. Blonde, blue-eyed muscular and handsome. Even though he and Cupid didn't always see eye to eye he didn't want to see anything happen to him either.
"Is there something wrong big brother?" Aphrodite asked seeing the expression on his face. Cupid stepped in closer to his mother feeling what was coming off of his uncle.
Ares smiled at the pair before him.
"Nothing I can't take care of. Don't worry about it."
"But," Aphrodite started to say but Ares cut her off."
"Shh." he said softly placing his finger on her lips, "No buts. Have I ever failed to deal with a situation before."
Aphrodite stared back at her older brother; tall, dark, broodingly handsome and strong. Not just physically but emotionally. Even when they were kids, Ares could always be counted on to keep his head; even when everything else was going crazy. But something in his dark chocolate brown eyes was telling her something was wrong. Something was terribly wrong but knowing Ares, he would keep it a secret in order to protect her as he always did.
"No, never. You've always handled it." Dite said giving her brother another hug closing her eyes squeezing him as hard as she could. He had been her protector when they were kids and though she was a full-grown Goddess, she still saw him as her champion; ready to pick up his sword in her defense.
"If there's anything I can do." Cupid said; his blue eyes almost
The God of War glanced over at the God of Love. How many times did he wish his nephew would trade that bow of his in for a sword. The young god balked at the idea of learning to fight. The idea of taking a life was unheard of to him. How could he even begin to tell the young God that he may have to shed all his ideals and kill; to give up all he believed in if he wanted to save himself and his wife and baby. It was no way for him to become a warrior.
Reaching out he clasped his hand on Cupid's shoulder.
"Hold that thought Cupid. I just may take you up on it. By the way, where is Zeus and Hera?"
"In their chambers." Dite said in a tone of voice the indicated that it was a place everyone was avoiding."
"I'm gathering," Ares cracked in a low voice, "That I won't have to worry about any new brothers or sisters around here, will I?"
"Nope." Cupid answered with a mischievous smile."
Ares laughed, glad he had run into these two before doing what he had come to Olympus to do.
"I'd better get going. Dite when you see Hephaestus, telling him I need to speak with him."
"You got it big brother. Tootles!"
With a tiny wave the God and Goddess of Love disappeared a mist a shower of dust and rose pedals.
Seconds later, the God of War appeared outside his mother and father's private chamber. From the opposite side of the solid, oak door, the enraged shouting of the Queen of the Gods could be heard plain and clear. In turn, Zeus's furious ranting shook the walls around him. He stood there listening to the fight. Though he had only heard seconds of it, it was clear that Zeus had been caught playing around again. This time by Hera herself. Sometimes as a teenager, Ares wondered why his mother put up with his father's behavior. She said it was for the sake of him and his brother's and sisters but even then he was sure there had to be more to it. Year after year, century after century he listened to his parents tearing each other apart.
When his siblings and he were young, they learned to get out of their father's way or wind up becoming the brunt of his anger. Later as they all got older, it usually wound up falling either on Apollo, Hephaestus or himself. It wasn't until they were full Gods did Zeus stop taking his wrath out on his sons, or should he say his immortal sons. Hercules was always spared his father's fury. It was another reason the God of War hated his brother like he did. If Zeus had treated the half-breed like he did his own flesh and blood, he and Hercules could have probably become friends, sticking together in safety again Zeus's attacks instead of becoming bitter enemies.
Without knocking or waiting to be invited, Ares grabbed the doorknob throwing the door open. Zeus and Hera stopped in the middle of their screaming match to see their son enter the room. Ares slammed the door shut behind him glaring at his parents.
"Get out Ares!" Zeus ordered, "You have no business here!"
"That's where your wrong Zeus. You and I have a great deal of business to discuss."
Zeus saw the fury in his son's eyes. He was ticked off about something but right now he had his wife to deal with.
"Come back later!" the King of the Gods said taking a few strides towards Ares.
The God of War raised his hand and threw an energy ball that knocked Zeus back into the dresser that stood just feet from where he had been standing. The King of the Gods grabbed the furniture to keep from hitting the ground as he glared over at his son. How dare he come in here and treat him like that.
"Shut up Zeus!" Ares shouted with enough anger to silence his father, "You and I are having a discussion, Now! Mother, I'd appreciate it if you left us."
Something in the tone of her son's voice took Hera back. Her son was fit to be tied and it showed. What could be wrong now? Her pale green eyes scanned over her warrior son before nodding to him. Without a word, she left the room closing the door behind her.
Ares waited until his mother's footsteps could no longer be heard to turn back to Zeus who remained where he stood. It took every ounce of strength to keep from killing him. But he had to find out about the bloodstone. If his worst suspicions were right or wrong.
"You had better have a damn good reason for your behav…"
Ares cut his father's sentence off before he could finish.
"I want to see the Bloodstone." the God of War said his tone icy cold. He approached the King of the Gods aching to strangle him with his bare hands.
Zeus stood there, a stunned expression on his face. Did his son just say what he thought he just heard? If he did it meant only one thing. And that brought a whole new wave of anger to the King of the Gods.
"That no good…" Zeus stuttered trying to find the words to express the feeling of betrayal that overtook him. "He promised me he would never tell…"
"Like you promised to turn over the stone to him after the battle with the Titans" Ares taunted, armed with the story his uncle told him.
Zeus's face had begun to turn a crimson red. He was becoming furious and he was more than willing to let his son know how he felt about being deceived.
"It's none of your business!" Zeus shouted back throwing a lightning bolt at the God of War. Ares sidestepped it with ease; allowing it to break a vase behind him. As enraged as Ares was, he was still able to keep calm enough to hold onto his own advise about keeping a cool in a fight and focusing on the enemy. He knew very well who his opponent was and that he couldn't be trusted for even a split second.
"It's very much my business!" Ares shouted back hitting Zeus with another bolt of energy that sent him flying backwards onto the bed. A second blast of energy opened a portal to the world below.
"Look what's happening down there Zeus! Take a long hard look. Something I'm gathering you haven't done in a long time."
Ares walked over and pointed to the hooded figures in white.
"See them, want to take a guess who they belong to? Does the name Dahok ring a bell?"
Zeus turned to stare at his son then back at the portal at the half dozen men and women who were bowing before alter with what appeared to be a fresh sacrificial goat being bled by the leader. The pair watched at the priest raised the goblet filled with the goat's blood and drank deeply before handing it to his followers who eagerly took it and drank.
Zeus closed his eyes, hoping this was Ares idea of some kind of sick joke. But glancing over at him, he knew that it was all too real.
"How could this have…" Zeus started waving his hand to get rid of the site before him.
"Maybe if you had behaved more like a king and not a curr in heat this whole thing could have been prevented!"
"How dare you speak to me like that!" The King of the Gods shouted back, "How dare you blame me for this!"
"There is only one way that monster could have resurfaced and you know it. Don't stand there and play innocent with me Zeus. I'm not that naive little boy you use to lie to to keep under your thumb. Now I want to see the stone now! Or do I have to rip Olympus to shreds to find it?"
The pair stared at each other. Rage and Fury rising beyond the point of reason or control. Minutes passed but neither party moved.
"Fine!" Zeus said walked towards the far side of the room, "If it will shut you up and get rid of you, I'll produce the stone. Then you can go tell your Uncle I want to see him."
Ares followed Zeus to the back of the room behind a series of statues. The King of the Gods waved his hand and another opening appeared. It was a kind of magical safe that each God had in their chambers for keeping offerings that were special to them. Like Ares had figured, his gateway could only be opened by that particular God or Goddess. There was no way anyone could have gotten in there without Zeus opening it for them.
Zeus stepped inside holding his hand out to Ares. It was his way of keeping his son out of there. Without Zeus's permission, Ares could not have walked though the portal even if he had to save Zeus's life. If he had tried, the entry would have closed in on him.
The God of War waited, growing more impatient by the moment. Zeus was stalling and he knew it.
"Zeus!" Ares shouted, "Let's go! I don't have all day!"
The King of the Gods returned several minutes later carrying an egg shaped golden box encrusted with jewels. It was beautiful to look at and easy to see why it was so closely guarded. He watched as Zeus laid it on the table.
"If this will satisfy your childish whims," Zeus said with a condescending tone that Ares wanted to silence with his fist.
As the King of the Gods reached down for the latch, Ares drew in a breath fearing the worst yet hoping for the best. He could figure out how to take care of the creature. Just let the stone be there, then he could go to Hades and tell his Uncle that he worried for nothing.
But when the latch was flipped and the door opened, all of Ares hopes
were smashed to the floor in a single instant. Inside was a red satin pillow
with a strange indentation in its center where something once sat. The
Bloodstone was gone.
Time seemed to stand still as the two Gods stared at the empty container. Neither could believe it was empty but for different reasons.
Knowing if he didn't get out of there at that moment, Zeus wouldn't breath his next breath, Ares disappeared in a burst of flames leaving the King of the Gods still staring dumbfounded and stunned.
Reappearing in his temple the God of War curled up his fist and shot a lighting bolt splitting a shield in half that was hanging on the wall.
"Why so bummed bro?"
Ares turned to see his brother Apollo lounging on a table that was against the wall. The God of Music and Healing rose to a seated position, his golden leather clad legs handing off the edge.
The God of War glared at his brother ready to make him disappear. The last thing he needed was the "Shining One" as his brother was known getting in his way. Opposite to Ares dark hair and eyes, Apollo had long flowing blonde hair that just brushed his broad shoulders. His eyes were a piercing blue and rock hard chest that was covered by a gold and white vest. The fact that the handsome, muscular young god spent time in the sun was betrayed by his flawless tan.
"Not now Apollo!" Ares snapped, "I have too much on my mind to deal with you."
Something in his brother's voice brought Apollo to his feet. He had seen Ares angry but this was different. There was something else in his tone that told the blonde God that his older brother was troubled.
"What's wrong? You look like Tartarus has just frozen over."
"Get lost Apollo!" Ares snapped, shooting a lighting bolt at his brother. The God of Music and Healing put up his palm and deflected the strike.
"Ares!" Apollo shouted walking over grabbing the War God's arm before he had the chance to strike out at him again. Ares was loosing control. That he was sure of. But why? Zeus? Hercules? "What's wrong? Come on bro. Tell me. Maybe I can help."
Any other time Ares would have laughed in Apollo's face. To entertain such a thought; the God of Music and Healing helping the God of War. But now, facing what had become the inevitable, the offer from the blonde God didn't sound as ridiculous as it would have in the past.
"You want to help me?" Ares asked pulling his arm from his little brother's grip. "Do you have any idea what that would mean? Do you really think you could handle what I might ask of you?"
Apollo stood there silent. His emotions going from anger to insecurity. Here he was offering to help and his brother was mocking him.
"Fine!" The God of Music and Healing snapped taking a step back. "If you don't want my help, just say so. Don't make fun of me."
He hated when Ares did that to him. Ever since they were kids they had been at odds with each other. Yet, it was Ares who taught Artemis and himself the skill with the bow and he had shared his gift of music with the War God.
Though Ares no longer even admitted to it, he had a beautiful singing voice and his ability with the lute rivaled his own. He remembered the hours they spent as kids, he, Ares, Dite, Artemis, Athena and Hephaestus sitting around sharing songs, stories, just entertaining each other. It wasn't until they had become adults that the music stopped. Once Ares took his place as the God of War, Zeus put an end to Ares even thinking about music let alone playing. It was then, when their parents drove a wedge between the younger Gods.
As Zeus and Hera had once put it,
"They each had their own job to do. There was no reason for anyone to cross into another God's territory."
Gaia forbid any of the younger gods were to share talents rather than keeping them like a guarded treasure.
"Apollo," Ares said realizing he had hurt his brother. His voice softened as he took a step towards him. "I'm not making fun of you. All I'm asking is are you prepared to get blood on your hands if I were to ask you to fight? Are you prepared to kill if that's what is called for?"
A cold chill ran down Apollo's spine. Kill? He was the God of Healing. Mortals turned to him for cures. Sure he's hunted with his twin sister but…
Ares watched as his little brother's face grew paler despite his tan. This had rattled him to the extent that the God of War expected his little brother to disappear that second. But he didn't.
"What's going on Ares? I can't give you an answer as long as I don't know what's at stake."
"Our very existence." Ares answered.
Pointing to his throne, the God of War motioned for Apollo to sit down. Without mincing words or leaving out a single detail, Ares related the entire story from the death of Strife to his discussion with Hades to his confrontation with Zeus. The God of Music and Healing listened without interruption feeling his blood turning colder than the deepest recesses of Tartarus. This was impossible. Ares had to be playing a sick cruel prank on him. He wanted to believe it but this was too serious to be anything but the truth.
When the War God finished, he waited for his younger brother to say something. Could he count on him to stand at his side. It was going against everything that Apollo stood for.
"Ares…I…" Apollo stammered rising to his feet. Never in his life had he ever contemplated such a situation but now it was here. He had two choices, fight or flight. "I'm with you Ares." Apollo said extending his hand to his brother. Ares smiles, shaking hands with him. It was what the God of War had hoped the God of Music and Healing would say.
"Thank you." Ares said, his own uncertainty beginning to melt. He had at least on ally to call upon if needed.
"We're with you too." came a disembodied voice.
The pair turned to see Cupid and Hephaestus appear.
"We heard what you said to Apollo." The God of Love said glancing over at his uncle. "That's what you didn't want to say in front of mom before, wasn't it?"
"Did you want me to upset her?" Ares questioned his nephew. Something about Cupid was different. The soft mischievous smile was gone. He stood before his uncles serious and determined.
"I meant what I said earlier. I'm ready to join you if I'm needed."
"You are." The God of War said to the God of Love shaking hands.
"I'm in too." Hephaestus said holding out his hand to Ares, "You'll have the finest weapons I can manufacture, made of my most indestructible steel. No one will be able to defeat us."
"No one." Apollo said stepping closer holding his hand out, palm down."
"No one." Cupid said placing his palm on top of Apollo's.
"No one." Hephaestus repeated hand on Cupid's.
"Your not leaving me out of this."
In a flash of red light, Hades, appeared and added his palm to the group.
Ares smiled as a renewed feeling of assurance poured over him. His brothers, his uncle, his nephew and him. They would annihilate Dahok once and for all.
He stepped in placing his hand on top.
"For all of Olympus, for all of Mankind." Ares said sealing the pact.
After the others had gone, Ares sat down on his throne. He had his army now all he needed was that damn stone. It could be anywhere. His father could have given it to whoever he was bedding down at the time; which means it could be with anyone; Goddess or mortal.
Leaning his head back Ares closed his eyes reaching back in his memory to the many times he had caught Zeus or overheard Hera screaming about another one of his father's conquests. He ran the ones he knew about over and over in his mind. Alcemane was his particular favorite. He's been to see her more times than even Hera knew about. Zeus could have given it to her. No Alcemane wouldn't know what to do with such a treasure; Leto, Apollo and Artemis' mother? Danae, Dione, Europa, Leda, Maia; Damn what was Zeus trying to do? Repopulate Greece on his own? He had very few choices at this point. He would go to each one of his father's immortal conquests hoping one of them had the stone. If he failed there he would have to start searching the mind of every mortal female in Greece.
His anger had reached a boiling point. It was like searching for an oyster that would contain a pearl. Who knew how long this would take him. Meanwhile Dahok grew stronger with each passing day.
He slammed his fist on the arm of the chair wanting nothing more than having it been Zeus's face.
"Damn you!" Ares shouted in fury; "Damn you Zeus!"
Rising to his feet, the God of War walked back over to the fireplace. The flames had begun to die down from the blaze it had been hours ago. Kneeling down Ares picked up the poker and nudged at the logs allowing the flames to breath and grow again.
Watching them for a moment he sat back on his left leg wrapping his arms around his right. He stared into the flames; the warming colors of red, yellow and orange dancing before his eyes.
"Where do I go from here?" He thought to himself. "He had never had trouble dealing with an enemy but Dahok was different. The fate of Olympus and …..
As if something inside snapped, Ares began to smile. The Fates. He would go to them and check his father's life thread. It had to be recorded there somewhere. Without bothering to rise to his feet, the God of War vanished.
The sound of the spinning wheel echoed off in the distance. Ares walked through the arches seconds later to where the three fates stood. Clotho, Lachesis & Atropus. The trio of women worked silently each performing their individual tasks.
"What is it you desire, Ares God of War?" Atropus asked without even glancing up from her cutting sheers. She was the old woman who cut one's life thread when the appropriate time came. Her voice cracked with age. Her grey blue eyes reflecting the wisdom of the ages.
"I want to see my father's life thread. I need to know when a particular incident happened in order to prevent a tragedy."
Lachesis, the measurer of life, glanced up at him. Her middle aged face almost hidden under her hood. She smiled shyly at the War God as she motioned for him to follow. Turning away Lachesis walked towards another part of the room.
A golden spinning wheel appeared off in the distance. The thread woven tightly around the wheel was the purest of white silk. Lachesis sat down and begun the wheel holding the thread in her fingers as she tapped on the pedal.
"Here is the thread of the Gods." She said to Ares. "It contains the history of the Elders, The Titans and the Olympians."
Ares reached out and gently touched the threads. It was so soft and delicate. Along its woven path he could see the history of the world as it was laid out so long ago. He ached to study it in detail but he was running out of time and he knew it.
"I wish to see my father's. Zeus King of the Gods." The God of War requested. Lachesis nodded as she turned her attention back to the threads. Almost in an instant, Zeus's lifeline appeared recording every moment from his birth, Gaia hiding him from Cronos; his childhood, his young adult life, marriage to Hera…"
"Slow down when you get to the period of three to five years ago. That's what I need to see in detail."
The thread kept rapidly spinning running smoothly across her fingers for a few more moments until at one point she stopped it. Holding it in her hands she glanced over at Ares.
"This is what you requested. The lifeline of Zeus beginning five years ago."
Ares stepped forward taking the thread into his hands, studying it carefully. Reaching midway, the God of War pulled back glancing over at Lachesis who just smiled up at him. What he was seeing wasn't what he had expected. Taking a deep breath he nodded taking her hand and kissed it before making his exit.
He had feared he was short on time was now a realization he was out of time.