In an instant Ares was back in his temple. He ran over to the mirror pool and ran his hand over it. He had to recreate what he had seen in the Temple of the Fates.
The water wavered for an instant as the image of a woman appeared. She was tall and stunningly beautiful with long black hair that hung around her shoulders. Her eyes were as black and cold as the night against her pale white skin. As the picture settled, Ares could see that her flawless figure was draped in the gowns of a high priestess; Dahok’s high priestess. He had needed to be sure of what the line had told him and now he was.
His father had given the stone to some bitch who was a high Priestess of Dahok. This was unbelievable. How could Zeus have been so stupid? Ares ran his hand through his hair nervously. Could this get any worse than it already was?
Drawing back the image, the God of War eyed her surroundings. The room she stood in was but pitch black. The single torch that burned brightly behind her cast an ominous shadow across the marble altar in front of her. A black silk cloth was draped over the top with two cylinder shaped black and red candles at each end. Standing straight as soldiers on watch; the luminescence of light dripped beads of wax down the sides as a glowing flame ate its way down like a starving beast. A blood-streaked dagger lay in front of her. Ares could see the stained blade was still wet; a sign that the kill was fresh. It was a sight that would have made his adrenaline flow at any other time. Now it turned his stomach in disgust. Ares closed his eyes trying to shake the thought that it had been a human sacrifice that has coated the metal a dark red.
Turning his attention back to the pool, the God of War caught sight of what he had been searching for. In the center held by a golden holder was the object of his desire… the Bloodstone.
It looked just as Hades had described it and now it sat like a prize next to a golden goblet encrusted with rubies. The strange women picked up the goblet before her lifting it into the air above her head. Ares could see her mouth moving but he was unable to understand the words. It was not a language he could make out. He repeated the ancient sounds in a effort to make sense of what she was saying; not that it mattered. The woman, whoever she was, was praying to Dahok, that he was sure of.
The woman lowered the goblet to her red lips and drank deeply; emptying the contents. As she placed the goblet back on the altar, Ares could see a tiny trickle of the red elixir that she had consumed still remaining on the side of her mouth. It didn’t take a God to tell that she had drank blood but there was no sacrificial animal in site. He continued to stare into the pool as he watched her wave her hands over the bloodstone; caressing it’s sides then moving to the front and back.
“By the Gods.” Ares whispered to himself as the realization made his blood run cold. She had gotten the blood from the stone. The blood of the first demon was coursing through her veins.
The woman threw her hands above her head; her eyes now glaring at the ceiling. Ares drew back as if she could see him as he saw her through the pool. His insides were shaking violently. Her eyes turned from an onyx black to a blood red as she chanted towards the sky. It was the most chilling thing the God of War had ever seen and he had seen quite a bit. Her whole body was enveloped in a glowing crimson illumination as lightning and thunder roared outside the window. The shouting continued as the radiance grew brighter until it was blinding.
Ares turned away covering his eyes with his arm as the woman and bloodstone disappeared. The room was still as the God of War turned back to stare into the pool. The soft image of his own reflection replaced the horror he had just witnesses. He leaned his elbow’s on to the ledge; taking a deep breath. He felt his whole body grow cold as he fought to stop shaking; cursing himself out at the time. He was Ares, God of War, not some puny mortal. This shouldn’t be affecting him in this way; but it did. As many time as his own parents, Hercules or even Xena called him evil, he knew he had observed what true evil really was. And now he was about to take it on; for the sake of all the Olympians and all humanity.
Taking a deep breath he waved his hand over the water.
“Show me the location of the room I seek.” he commanded, “Show me where I can find her, the woman in the pool!”
The water in the pool began to ripple as the sides began to drip blood into the marble basin until the translucent liquid became a cherry red. Ares stood there stunned repeating the command to reveal the location of the individual he had viewed. The water grew darker and angrier in color until it was a deep crimson. After a moment an image began to appear. As the water settled down, the shaky picture calmed to reveal the opening of a cave. Ares nodded; knowing exactly where to go.
“Let the battle begin.”
Ares stood before the mirror one last time before heading out. His sword of Power hung from his side, a dagger positioned under his vest in the small of his back, and a pair of knives tucked carefully inside each boot.
Adrenaline rushed through his veins sending his heard into a pounding frenzy. Every nerve in his body vibrated like the plucked string of a lute. He felt like a solider going into his first battle though in the back of his mind, he knew it could easily be his last.
He was up against pure evil, worse than anything that he had ever encountered. The woman in the vision was a mortal with the blood and most likely powers of a demon coursing through her veins; which meant she was capable of anything. Where he had to go to fight her was neither earth nor Olympus. It was a dimension separate from the Underworld that even Hades didn't have control over. To go after her meant entering the deep recesses of the seven rings. There he could count on nothing, not even is own powers.
Taking a deep breath, the God of War focused his mind and spirit on the deed ahead. His objective was to get the bloodstone and return it to Hades. When Strife was returned, he would join his army and defeat Dahok and his followers once and for all. If it meant taking out a follower or two in order to fulfill his goal, he thought drawing his sword of power from it's scabbard, then, so be it. What's a little blood between enemies?
His sword poised in front of him, the God of War swung in around in a circular motion, tossing it from one hand to the next without ever breaking it's swirling motion. His muscles flexed, ready for action. Glancing out the window, he caught sight of the last streaks of sunlight as the day drew to a close. A dark blue coating covered the light of day as darkness fell over Greece. The time was at hand to make his move. His army of Gods awaited his return and his signal to attack.
The sword slid back into its sheath as Ares turned to leave then paused. Something had given his heart a tug. He walked over to the table a few feet from the mirror, opening the purple box that he had removed from the mantle and drew out Strife's earring staring at its reflection in the glass for a moment before taking out the one he wore, replacing it with Strife's. Staring at himself once more.
"This one's for you Strife." he said as if the Godling could hear him before disappearing in a burst of blue light.
In a blink of an eye, Ares stood before the cave's opening that served as the entrance to the deepest recesses of the Underworld. Hades had a heart to heart talk with him earlier about the realm he would be entering.
"Only your Uncle Poseidon, your father and I know the way into the domain. Once you've crossed over into it, I won't be of much help though I will be watching you in the mirror pool."
Ares frowned, sighing. So he was on his own. What else was new.
"Don't worry, I'll get you precious stone. Maybe I'll bring back the head of that bitch I saw to hang on your wall, thought I don't know how your lovely wife would take to it."
"Ares, just get the stone." Hades said trying to control his temper. He knew his nephew was ticked off that all of this was falling on him instead of his father but there was nothing he could do about it.
"Once we've sent that demon back where it belongs, then it's followers will fall like flies. Don't worry about that. And whatever you do, remember; there is only one way in and one way out. Just because you’re a god doesn't mean that you can punch a hole and escape just anywhere; and make sure nothing follows you out. We can't afford to fight more than one demon at a time."
"Why not?" the God of War asked his voice dripping with sarcasm, "Maybe we can get dad to help us out this time."
At that moment, Ares wanted nothing better than to see his father doing battle with the same creature he let so carelessly loose in the world. Though most likely it would tear Zeus to shreds then go after the rest on Olympus but it would be nice to see. Maybe as Zeus was fighting to breath his last breath, Ares could quietly whisper in his ear that next time he should be more careful in choosing his lovers.
Anger crossed Hades face as he saw the satisfactory smile on his nephew's face. He wondered if they would ever get along as a father and son should. The possibility was unlikely. All those years Zeus and Hera had ripped his soul to shreds; belittling him, making him believe he wasn't worth anything, especially after Hercules was born.
Hade's memory flipped back to when his nephew was just a teenager and how he use to disappear into the underworld for days and neither his father nor mother even noticed he was gone. One time Hades had decided to see how long it would take his brother and sister-in-law to come looking for their son. It took them nearly six months. Even then they were far from the frantic worried parents they should have been. No one could blame his "foster son" for feeling the way he did. If Zeus and Hera weren't king and queen of the Gods, he might have taken Ares from them and raised him himself. Though he probably wouldn't have gotten any higher than an attendant in the underworld, Hades wondered if Ares wouldn’t have been happier.
But now wasn't the time to think of what if, now was the time for action since they were out of time. “Ares,” Hades said, “Be careful. Apollo, Hephestus, Cupid, Strife and I will be waiting for you. Once we have the stone then we can go after Dahok.”
Ares smiled at the mention of his nephew. He knew that Hades would keep his word, unlike his own father. It made what he was about to do worthwhile.
“Don’t worry about me, Hades. Just have the others ready to do battle when I return.”
“Your army will be waiting for you.” Hades said confidently extending a hand to Ares.
The God of War shook hands with the God of the Underworld before heading out into the unknown.
Now as the stars twinkled like precious jewels in the sky, the God of War stepped into the cave.
The darkness quickly surrounded the God as he glanced around at the opening. Unlike a mortal, Ares had no need for a torch to see where he was going. He was a God able to bypass all human weaknesses.
Shadows of different shades loomed up in front of him as he turned the corner stepping totally into blackness. The earth cast as sour smell upon his senses that reminded him of rotting meat. He reached up along the wall running his fingers upon the crumbling walls of the cave. Silence enveloped him save the soft crunching of the earth beneath his feet.
Taking a few more steps, he edged his way to the right. The tunnel twisted and turned, growing narrower at certain points, and then wider in others, knowing with each step he was going lower and lower, closer and closer to the outer reaches of the Underworld.
A high pitched screech pierced suddenly through the blackness that made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end as something collided with his boot. It took only a second for him to realize what had happened. He had stepped on a rodent's tail and the animal bumped into him trying to get away.
The air grew colder and the sour, rank odor grew stronger as he made his way towards the center of the cave.
The veil of death was all around him as his piercing brown eyes made out the sorry remains of human skeletons covered in cobwebs lying or sitting along the walls. Who where they? Thieves looking for a place to hide or merely individuals who had tried to take refuge in the cave and had gotten lost.
A sudden rumble shook the ground as the God of War balanced himself against the side wall with his hands.
He was getting closer, of that he was sure. Hades had told him what to expect when he had reached a certain point.
Another ground shaking jolt and Ares was sent flying against the rocks and dirt landing on his hands and knees. The ground shook for several minutes as dust and dirt from the ceiling and walls crumbled down around him. He covered his eyes with one arm as he protected his head with the other. Large chunks of rock bounced off his arm striking the dirt next to him.
He waited for the ground to become still again before rising to his feet.
Brushing the particles out of his hair, Ares glared through the darkness.
"Thanks for the warning Hades," the War God muttered under his breath. Though he really couldn't blame the other God. There was no real way he could have known about the earthquakes.
Taking a deep breath he moved forward. The air was beginning to grow warmer as a strong feeling of heat rose from the ground below. His destination was just up ahead.
A strong odor of sulfur, powerful enough or force him back a step struck him as he turned the corner like an unseen enemy on an ambush. Tears welled up quickly as his eyes began to burn and sting. Covering them with his left hand, Ares moved through the tunnel that was filled with hot air thick enough for him to cut through with his dagger. It was almost overwhelming. He was a God, impervious to the everyday discomforts that plagued humanity, yet he was reacting like one of them. A sudden frightening thought sprang into his mind that stopped him cold. "What if..what if…" Slowly raising his right hand, the God of War attempted to materialize a ball of light in his hand. It took several minutes and when he was able to, only a tiny glimmering sphere no bigger than a human eye formed in his hand.
"Damn!" he cursed realizing that his powers were diminishing as he drew closer. No wonder Hades didn't like to deal with this section of the neighborhood.
How much of his powers would be left when he finally arrived? If they disappeared, would they return?
The ground began to shake again, breaking his chain of thought. He had no choice but to move forward; running his hand along the wall to steady himself.
As he drew closer, the rumbling of the earth grew stronger.
An orange red glow penetrated the darkness ahead of him, drawing him forward as if it had him by an invisible rope.
Brighter and brighter, it grew until with one more turn, Ares found himself in the very center of the cave.
The God of War glanced around him. Stalactites and stalagmites longer and thicker around than a man, hung from the ceiling or shot up from the ground all around him like the teeth of a crocodile. The air was immensely hot and humid. Any human would have passed out from the lack of air and humidity. Even as a God, he was feeling a bit light-headed. He glanced down to see a pit of red hot lava oozing up from an underground volcano shooting up licks of fire and burning stone towards the cliffs edge brushing it's rim before disappearing back down in the burning lake of liquid stone.
Ares took a step back and drew in a deep breath of scolding hot air. An immense burning in his chest brought tears to the God's eyes. He peered down into the blood red fire pit. The lava coiled and festered like ooze from an open sore. Its stench was almost overpowering.
"One more time for posterity." Ares said as he attempted to shoot a bolt of lightning across the cavern to the other side. The bolt was weak at best. Seeing that he knew he would have to rely on more than his powers on the other side; saving what little he had left only as a last resort.
Taking another step forward, Ares closed his eyes and pictured his nephew Strife the last time he had seen him alive. It was all he needed. The agonizing cringe from his nephew as he was being murdered and the thought of all mankind and Gods being destroyed by Dahok. Without another thought the God of War dived headfirst into the lavapit.