The Offer Series
Ares walked around his Olympian home, in and out of every room. Never stopping, never settling. Touching things, lifting them, moving them, putting them in strange places. He explored the courtyard that his home surrounded. Dipped his fingers into the cool pool of water that held the fountain. Let that cold shower of water cascade down on him as he leaned over looking into the depths of the water. Looking beyond the water to what he wanted to see.
As always the room, the bed he was looking at, was empty.
With a scream of rage he continued to wander. This time beyond his own home. He walked the precinct of palaces that all clung to that other world mountain top. Radiating like bursts of power from the sun's disk. All these homes looking in towards Zeus' own palace.
Walking the untrodden path to his father's home he looked around him. Looking at the outsides of these homes, these houses that his family built themselves in a place no one ever came, no one ever saw them. Empty promises of an empty life. Finally his footsteps had brought him to his father's home. With no chance that his father would even be there he didn't even have a reason to be there. Just a need. Such a burning, deep need to be somewhere other than his own home, his own empty home.
Ares walked in. No door was left locked to a God on Olympus. It brought him into rooms he had not seen in such a very long, long time. Again he began his fruitless search. Room after room he walked through. Looking, seeing what was new, what wasn't. The emptiness, the loneliness that was as new as it was so old and familiar, a friend too. He had thought it a demon long banished from his life. Yet here it was, like an old cloak, fitting his body so well, as if made for only him!
He never noticed the echoing of another set of foot steps as a father shadowed a son. A grieving son. A heart broken son. Wanting to reach out, to comfort, yet unsure how. After all he had put that son through in his life, he had no idea of how to help this child. So he followed him. Had followed him ever since it had happened.
Touching what Ares touched, hugging what Ares hugged. Looking where Ares looked. And like Ares, seeing nothing. What memories haunted his distraught son he did not know. No one would tell him. And before this horror he had never bothered to find out what memories his beautiful child was setting in his heart.
What memories did he have? Of a squalling brat that no one wanted, least of all his mother. And Ares picking the terrified, lost and lonely baby up, holding him close and announcing that he would take him.
"Come child, I'll be your father. Everyone deserves at least that." And they had left that council meeting together. For ever afterwards you would see them together. Father and son. Such a happy, lucky child. To know his father loved him like that.
If only his father had been so lucky. Ares' father looked into the past, beyond his own son's pain to his youth. Ghosts danced in those rooms they haunted. Ghosts of memory, of treatment he would damn mortal man for dishing out to the lowest dog. And he had done these things to his son.
And echoes of Ares with his adopted son, his precious Strife covered those harsh memories. Memories of joy and games. Of Ares running wild through Olympus with the squealing, laughing child on his heals.
Letting that child catch him.
"Now you've caught me, whatcha' going to do with me?" Ares' deep, tear ridden voice whispered out as he ran with the memories. Watched the game his Strife had played. Watched him grow up.
Far older ghosts played out, obliterating the happy memories, drowning them as they in turn drowned Ares.
"Little foreign bastard, come here, take it. You gonna take it all in!" and rough hands held the crying child as he begged for death. The Egyptian man behind him raping him. Again. Beating him till his whole skin was raw and hanging from his five year old frame. "You gonna take it all!" Raping him again. Always again! Always to the sound of that lost Greek child, who should have been running, playing, laughing, begging to die.
The echoes of the five year old Strife bouncing around his father. Giggling, happy safe.
"Can I go to Earth?" He asked between giggles.
"No Erin you can't, it's just not safe." Ares replied.
ERIN! The only one to ever use Strife's given name rather than his designation.
"Okay daddy." And little Erin complied. Running around again, chasing a brightly coloured ball up and down the halls of the Gods. His hall.
And Ares sat there in those images, remembering; just as he stood there in that hall actively remembering that remembrance. His little Erin, his Strife. His own childhood and all he vowed his Erin wouldn't have to suffer.
And his own inability to protect him.
Ares walked away from that hall. Unable to take the memories any more. And once more the Hall of time just pulsed by itself as it waited for another request, another memory to play out Zeus followed Ares, silent, invisible as he took his grief with him. As Zeus passed through the Hall of Time as his son's eternal shadow the Hall played out its ugliest memory.
The day he himself had woken up to find his son was missing, presumed dead. Dead by his own hand. What rage had entered him, what horror he had performed he didn't know, the Hall of Time didn't record it. But he had then lived the life of a grieving father. Twisting that emotion to his own selfish means. He wandered around the mortal world asking if any had seen his son. Asking pretty women if they had seen his baby boy! Always getting his own way. Knowing them, enjoying them, using them.
Never caring if he did find his boy.
Not really knowing what his son was going through. Never having lost someone he truly cared for.
Ares had lead them back to his own home. The empty halls echoing nothing. The rooms silent of their incessant laughter. This home was always associated with joy and laughter. Now that was gone and Ares was once more alone. As he had been when he returned to Olympus, an already grown, bitter man.
Ares stood in that room that would never again ring with laughter, with joy, with the sounds of his nephew, his adopted son enjoying his life. Making mischief, making love. Making the noise that told Ares they were both still alive.
He was gone. After all this time his little Erin was gone, with him the strife, the mischief maker, the light in his life was extinguished. Finally he wept.
Silent, heavy tears rolled down his face, even now he wouldn't let the world share his grief. Keeping it inside himself, where he kept every hurt and pain he had ever received. But this one was so much bigger. So much stronger than all the others.
Crushing Strife's favourite brightly coloured blanket in his clenched fists Ares finally fell apart. He collapsed beside that bed he himself had made his boy when he had reached .. what had it been? Zeus tried desperately hard to remember. It was so important that this time he didn't forget that missing child. Yes, Stri .. Erin had been about , no, not about, it had been for his twenty first birthday. Ares had given him this entire wing of their home. Just for him. To come and go from as he wished.
Zeus looked to the door, wishing, in his deepest heart of hearts that that very door would open and the one being that could comfort Ares would, could walk through those doors.
"Little Erin..." Ares whispered. "You should be asleep by now!" He comforted a child that no longer existed, that lived solely in his heart and memories.
"What's wrong little Er?" Ares asked, whispering his comforting words. "Oh, they called you that did they? Well, you just get them back for it. Careful planing and get them back!"
Then Zeus heard it. The flash of an echo of a child's laugh. Strife, little Erin had laughed, his sorrow forgotten.
If only Ares' grief could be so easily cured.
Turning away unable to offer his son any real comfort. Leaving Ares in his grief for his dead son. Leaving that tableau behind him he did the only thing he could do. He went to his brother and made the only offer he could.
"Hades, please give Strife back."
"You know the rules!" Hades always said that. Funny how he only held Ares and Zeus to it though.
"Give him back and you can have me in his place." Zeus finally offered the only thing Hades had ever desired.
It almost broke his heart to do it, but Ares had had his Erin all his life. Finally, his only blood son was with him and Zeus wanted him back. His heart did break for Ares, but he was strong, he would love again, have his own sons again and again.
"You know the rules!" He snapped and faded from Zeus' sight, back to his own family. Leaving a father and son behind him, unable to comfort each other.
Zeus turned away, he'd try again, as he always did. Tomorrow he would follow his son again. His son would break his heart again, and he would offer himself to Hades again. As he had yesterday, and the day before and before. Tomorrow would be no different.
"Why won't you give him back?" He whispered to Hades' no longer there image. "Do you hate us that much?"
He returned to his own home, ready to wait for tomorrow and Ares' grief to be reborn.
When he reappeared in his own Halls, his son was there, waiting for him. Not smiling, not welcoming, not wanting to be there at all. When the soul of his only child had presented itself for judging he couldn't let him pass on to Tartarua or even the Elysian Fields. All Strife's life Hades had promised himself that he would tell his son, reveal the truth to him. All Strife's life he had played out the dream that his son would welcome knowing the truth, would welcome him into his life.
Reality was a bitter pill to take after so much sweet fantasy.
His son wanted nothing to do with him. He wanted to either return to his 'father', Ares, or to go on to where ever was adjudged as his final destination. Hades told himself that all they needed was time. Time to get to know each other, time to let the past fade into nothing, time to learn to like each other.
Like, such a weak word, but Hades knew, in his deepest heart of hearts that there was no way Strife would ever learn to love him. He loved his father and that was not he, but Ares who had taken the unwanted child in and raised had him as his own.
"Did you find things to do?" Hades asked as he removed his heavy black cloak and sat at their table, facing his son over an expanse of food that neither of them really needed. Yet it afforded Hades a sanctuary, if he was looking at his meal, he could avoid looking at his son's eyes. Pretend that there was no hate there for him.
"What do you care what I did? I did the same as I always do, tried to get out of here, tried to get away from you!" Strife did not shout, he found his quiet, plainly spoken words worked like the sharpest daggers with this God, the God that claimed to be his father. He didn't bother trying to engage this God's interest in his speech and mannerisms, he wanted nothing to do with him. All he wanted was to go home. His home, the only home he knew. He wanted to go home to Ares, his real father, not this fake that claimed him as his own son. Everyone knew Hades had no children, but why did he chose to play this game at his expense?
"Please, Strife, don't fight against me, you'll find I won't be beaten. Not here, not where I rule supreme." Hades flicked a glance at his angry son and wished he could recall his words unsaid.
"So here I sit and await your pleasure and power trip then. Fine, I know where I stand." He sat back from the feast of plenty that separated him from the God that had claimed him as a son. All he wanted to do was run from the crazed God of the Dead and go back to his own God of War, his home. "Why can't I go home?"
"This is your home, your life is now here, with me!" Hades did look at his son at that moment, trying to impress on him his place, by his side.
"No, this is my death. Callisto killed me, my place is out there, in Tartarus, in Elyssia anywhere the dead people go. Not sitting down to dine in your palace. I am dead am I not?" Strife stood up, moved away from the table and his host, there was no way he could call this God, Father!
"Please Strife, give me a chance. And, no, you are not dead. I couldn't stand it, that he had let you die before I had ever told you that I was your father." Even as he spoke Hades realised he had said the wrong thing yet again! He did not know how to speak to this young God, his own son. Flesh of his flesh and yet alien to him in a way no other being ever could be.
"He let me die? He let me die as a plot against you? I LET ME DIE!" Strife turned on Hades, anger showing in every line of his body. "Don't you ever criticise him ever again! You are not my father, HE is!"
"Strife!" Hades reached out to his child only to be rejected yet again as the young God moved away from him, maintaining his distance physically as well as emotionally.
"Strife!?" The younger God mimicked, brutally. "Strife!? Is that all you can say to me? Can't you even call me by my name?" His challenge was set, he watched intently as Hades stood, staring at him.
"What's wrong 'daddy', huh?" The amount of hatred he could get into the word daddy left the God of the Dead reeling, as had his challenge. "Why don't you call me by my name?" he asked, very slowly, very clearly.
"Strife, please..." Hades was shouted down for that attempt at placating him was even begun.
"AH HA! That is my designation, not my name!" Strife's face showed such hatred, such dark feelings all ranged against the senior God standing before him, claiming him as his own. Unable to even name him.
"Please, can't we sit, talk, get to know each other?" Hades tried to lead the younger God's actions by sitting down himself.
"What? Talk!?" Strife quizzed, he couldn't believe what he was hearing. "Talk about what? I ask questions and you answer them?" He crossed over to the table again and leaned over it, his face inches from Hades', eyes shining with pure hate. "What is my name? What date does my birthday fall on? How old am I?" Strife did not move away he waited for his 'loving father' to give him his answers. He did not wait patiently however. "Well, got any answers for me?"
Hades looked at his son, met his eyes and saw the hate for what it was. Justified. After a lifetime of neglect he finally claimed his son when he had died, in agony, in the arms of the God he thought of as his father. Only after the pain that had been his life was over did he, his own flesh and blood father, lay claim to what he believed was truly his. And he couldn't get Strife to believe him. Would he believe him, were the tables turned?
Running through all he knew about his child he realised that if he wanted to answer his son's questions he would have to review the records of Strife's life. There he sat before his own son, and he did not know his real name off hand. Did not know the exact date of his child's birth Only knew how long he had lived with the pain.
"You are five hundred and forty six years, nine months and some days old. I do not know the exact date you were born on. Your mother never told me and I couldn't ask Ares without facing so many questions as to why I was interested. I made your mother a promise that for as long as you lived I would never approach you, never reveal that I was your father. And no one has ever used your real name in my hearing. I have lived with the secret of my son's life, and never once did anyone call him by any name other than Strife in my presence. I did ask, in an open council meeting too. I asked Ares what he had named you. He looked at me and asked why did I ask. I had no answer, so I shrugged my shoulders, mumbled something about idle curiosity and he never told me." Hades stood again, unable to remain seated.. He leaned over touching Strife's face with his lips in a fleeting there and gone again kiss.
"What did Ares name you?" Hades asked, hoping against hope that he would finally know his son's true name. The Name that would define him finally in his heart as a real being, not just a dream he had yet to awaken from.
Strife looked at Hades, his face still tingling from his fleeting kiss to his cheek. Reflexively a hand came up and brushed his face as if wiping that kiss away.
Hades couldn't stand it. The rejection he could see in his son's face yet again.
"Do you have any idea what it is like watching another man raise your child? To hear your son run to another man and call him Daddy? To see your son seek comfort and praise in the arms of another?" Hades' voice trembled with pent up grief and rage.
"Yes, I do. I have never once been allowed, by Zeus' order, to acknowledge my half mortal children. Not once! No airy fairy promises to keep eternal fucking secrets. Just straight forward refusal to allow me to know my children. All I ever had were half mortal children, no fucking Goddess would spread her legs for me, let me squeeze off a ball of cum in her, allowing me to claim the more than fucking shaky, moral high ground centuries later!" Strife's face was red, deep fiery red, and Hades knew he was not finished yet! He had so much more he needed to finally say. Now, at least, he had someone he could say them too. "And do you know what it feels like to grow up knowing that, feeling that, your blood parents hated you so much they abandoned you. Publicly, just a day old. I lay there, on that fucking table, like a slab of fucking meat! She squeezed me out her fucking cunt. Slammed me down like the garbage she thought I was and in front of the whole fucking council, you included, not one of you would lift a finger to help me! Not one, except for Ares!" He could say no more, tears unshed for hundreds of years threatened to drown him, to wash away the anger that was his shield.
"What is my name?" Strife whispered so quietly that Hades had to strain to hear him speak.
"I don't know." Hades moved the air around him, preparing to leave that emotionally charged room, but before he could escape Strife spoke again.
"Then listen to Ares' prayers, they're all I got left of him. Stuck here, with you, wanting me to play happy families when my dad's up there, needing me, and I'm stuck down here with you wanting me. Well, I don't want you, I will never want you, I have no need of you anymore! There was a time when I would dream of my mysterious father, and he would come and live with me and Unk. 'Cos, see, in my dreams my father was always an exotic foreign God that had not known I existed. And, when he did, he came looking for me. But, see, he saw how happy Unk an' me were together so he'd never take me away, just be with us, ya' know!" Strife held his blood father's eyes, letting him see the anger he felt, the pain of Ares' prayers, the grief his true father was feeling, missing him, as he missed Ares too. "If I'm alive, then I want to go home. If I can't go home, then I'm dead, so send me to Elyssia."
Hades extended his power and Ares' thoughts and prayers echoed around the room.
"Be safe my little Erin, and never forget, one day, I will find you, and on that day I will bring you home again. Nothin's gonna stop me. Nobody's gonna' stop me. I promise!" Ares' voice was heavy with his grief. Unlike Hades' tone throughout their discussion, Ares' voice was the true sound of a father grieving for his son. That truth was unmistakable.
"Erin!" Hades tried out his son's name for the first time in his life. And found that he liked it, it fit him somehow.
"Hades!" Strife pleaded. "I want to go home."
Hades shrugged Erin's hand off his arm, looked at his son and vanished, leaving Strife to sink to his knees and try praying, one more time!
"Father, find me, please!" His voice carried his plea to the ceiling, Hades had shielded the place, done something to negate his powers. He had no way of telling if his prayer got beyond his own ears...
Iolaus watched as Hercules rejoiced in his freedom, freedom from an eternity trapped with his evil twin the Sovereign. The hunter wore an indulgent smile on his face as his friend looked around himself. Reminding himself of what the real world looked like.
They had dealt with much since his actual return, but Hercules had waited, as Iolaus knew he would, to celebrate his release when he had time to enjoy the act. It was good to see his friend, there, in the flesh, free, happy, ready to hear the latest news from his family perhaps? As he pondered whether and how to tell his friend that his family, his Godly family, had shrunk Hercules pre-empted his deliberations.
"I want to find Ares." He said, so matter of factly that Iolaus almost missed the significance of his words.
"Why?" He enquired, hoping against hope he was wrong.
"Because all this is his fault, I want to knock some sense into his head or rather just knock his head clean off his shoulders!" Hercules' voice raised at the end of his short speech. He did indeed want to do his brother physical harm.
"I don't think that would be either a good idea or possible. I don't think you'd find him any way. See.." He was interrupted by Hercules, the hero had an idea in his head and nothing would shift it. Or so it seemed to Iolaus.
"I can find him! Just watch me, I'll go in his temple, smash it up, scream abuse at him. He can never resist coming and trying to 'chastise' me. Don't worry I can find him no bother at all!" Hercules did head off towards the nearest of Ares' temples. Iolaus stood, frozen to the spot unable to watch as his friend headed off towards his probable death.
Shaking free of the fear that had held him so still he ran after his friend, caught him, swung him around to face him and tried to reason with him.
"This is not a good idea. See..." Again he was interrupted.
"Iolaus, I've beaten him time after time after time, there's nothing that could make this time any different. He can't harm me, Zeus' protection order sees to that, stop worrying. I'll be fine!" That was enough to galvanise Iolaus into direct action. That Hercules believed that this was all about him, wouldn't let him explain.
"What protection order? You think Zeus would enforce it, given the circumstances? Given what's happened?" There, now he had Hercules' undivided attention.
"What's happened?" He asked, voice devoid of emotion.
"Strife's dead." Iolaus finally managed to tell him.
"Is that all!" Hercules laughed, genuinely amused that his nephew was dead. "I thought it was something important you were going to tell me. Bad news, since when would the death of Strife be bad news?"
"Hercules!" Iolaus was shocked by his friends attitude.
"What? You forgotten that he killed Serena? That he's tried several times to kill both of us? Huh?" Hercules' face had made the transition from amused to angry.
"No, nor have I forgotten how you felt when your family died, when Serena died, how Ares looked when Strife died!" Iolaus could not forget the look of anguish on Ares' face. It had been him that had helped Ares lay out the body. Ares had insisted that Strife's body be laid out properly before they chased after Callisto.
He could still hear Ares telling him how he had raised Strife, his little Erin, when Eris, Discord, had abandoned him a day old, and his real father hadn't come forward to acknowledge him. He would always remember the grief he had seen in Ares' eyes
"So he's finally discovered how the rest of us feel when he's killing our families!" Hercules pulled away from Iolaus' grasp and headed off towards Ares' temple once more.
"Yeah, just the same as he felt when you killed his sons when you were doing your bloody stupid tasks!" Iolaus shouted at his friends back.
"Stupid tasks?" Hercules asked for clarification, had he heard Iolaus say what he thought he had heard.
"Yes, stupid tasks, if you had controlled your temper you would never have had to perform like Eurystheus' trained dog!" Iolaus could clearly see his words breaking Hercules' resolve to torment his brother over his loss. Or was he?
"That was different." Hercules turned to the temple doors before him, and pushed them open.
"Was it? You killed your family, did your stupid tasks and what had Zeus promised you at the end? Absolution and to be counted amongst the Gods! Neither things you rejected. If he didn't offer you that protection and extension of his protection where would you be?" The hunter asked, begging his friend to think again.
"With out Zeus' interference in my life I'd be at home, with my family!" Hercules snarled.
"Which family? Which wife, which children?" Iolaus hated to do this but he had to reach the Hercules he had thought he had known. "The ones you killed, or the ones that Ares had absolutely nothing to do with killing either?"
"That was low, I never realised that you could be this bitter, this deliberately hurtful! What happened to you while I was gone, what did Ares do to you?" Hercules let the doors swing shut again and faced Iolaus once more.
"What happened to me? Let's see, I helped your brother prepare his adopted son for burial. I helped carry that dead God to this temple and helped Ares lay him out in honour of his life. I shared the first vigil with him. Then he broke every fucking Law preventing Gods from tampering with time, medling with the natural progression of the world, and all to save your sorry ass!" Disgusted with his friend he pushed past him and into the temple, and came face to face with that same dead, young God. Now, however he lay in a glass coffin surrounded by some sort of mist.
He felt his friend collide with his back as he came to an abrupt stop. At the sight of that coffin all the memories of that day flooded Iolaus' mind.
As he careened into Iolaus his head jerked up and he saw Strife lying in glass cage, his body cloaked in a whitish mist. His physical shape appeared to be slowly melting into that mist.
And he remembered his own sons, all of them.
"It burned him." Iolaus said as he reached forward and laid a hand on that glass case.
"What burned who?" Hercules asked, no longer longing for a fight, unable to look away from the present or the past.
"The hinds blood. As he died, he said it burned." Iolaus still wouldn't look at Hercules, and without those so familiar features to look on, that temple held no comfort for him.
"It wasn't instant then?"
"No, and no doubt you'll be overjoyed to know that in his death he suffered!" Iolaus turned to his friend and glared at him, daring him to call him a liar.
"Oh!" Hercules replied, unable to actually say anything to that statement, to the look in his friends face.
"Here, why don't you start with this?" Iolaus lifted a large, ornate candle stick from the side of Strife's coffin, he thrust it into Hercules' unresisting hands. "This is big, heavy, it'll do a lot of damage. You can start with Strife's coffin. Desecrate that!" He turned back to look at the face he had washed, the hair he had combed into an almost unnatural neatness as they had placed him in that box. "I put him in there, I suppose it's inevitable that you take him out!" Not wanting to witness his friends last living act of desecration before all the Gods would destroy Hercules, he turned and walked from the temple.
All that could be heard in Ares' temple was the slow, heavy tread of Iolaus' feet as he walked out of there. Leaving Hercules to make up his own mind. Leaving him to face his own fate, alone. For the first time in his memory Hercules had had his cause abandoned by his greatest friend.
Unconsciously he hefted the candlestick until it was grasped from his hands. Hercules turned to face his would be attacker, expecting Ares, he found Hephaestus.
"What do you think you are doing?" The fire God whispered.
"He killed my wife!" Hercules' voice almost whined.
"No, he did as he and Ares were told to do. Zeus wanted all Hind dead!" Hephaestus easily took the candlestick from Hercules' tight grasp and put it back. As he resited it he looked at each candle around the coffin and lit them with a glance. "Sleep well little sprite." He whispered. His voice thickening as he spoke.
"But her powers, my powers, they took them from us. Why didn't Zeus say something? Why would he want her dead?" Hercules looked at the Fire God, begging an explanation. His eyes fell from the God before him to the body, encased in glass bathed in that ethereal mist.
"Serena was pregnant. The baby would have had your powers, her powers to kill us. So Zeus decreed she would die before the baby could be born. He told Ares and Strife to deal with it. You were never supposed to know, Ares thought it would be easier for you to hate him and Strife than all of us." Hephaestus looked at Hercules' slumped shoulders and twisted his emotional knife. "What's wrong Hercules? Your blood thirsty brother not being unfeeling and psychotic enough for you?"
"NO!" Hercules saw that his cry had been misunderstood and before he could right that terrible wrong he was alone, his last glimpse of the Fire God showing his disgust clearly written on his face.
"I didn't mean it that way!" He shouted, screamed, but got no answer. He spun round, over balanced and crashed into the glass coffin, knocking it to the floor, smashing it.
At the crash of glass Iolaus ran back in and saw Hercules picking himself up from the shards of glass that had been Strife's coffin.
"Herc? NO!" he screamed and ran towards his friend, disgusted at his act of vandalism. "Why?"
"It was an accident. I fell against it." Hercules picked up the empty shape that had been his vital, alive, nephew and heard faint, whispered words.
"Father, find me, please!" Then Strife's body crumbled to dust and blew away, leaving Hercules holding nothing but a memory in his arms.
"Did you hear him?" He asked, bemused, not looking up. "Did you hear Strife's plea? He's frightened, hurt possibly. Did you hear him?" Then he raised his head, looking up into Ares' face. An image of such raw hurt, rage, anger, and all focused on him.
Ares continued to stand and stare at Hercules as he squatted in the dust that had been his beautiful Erin. Hercules had destroyed all that remained of his beloved little Erin. As his final showing of just how much Hercules hated them both, he had lost Erin to him, forever. No more could he come to his temple and look on his son, his special, chosen son. That was what he had told Erin when he asked about it, why had he adopted him?
"Why do I live with you? Why are you my daddy?" He could clearly hear Erin's voice, could see the need to know in every line of his little body.
"Because I chose you." Ares whispered aloud. No longer seeing Hercules before him but his Erin, aged a little more than four years old. His amazed face looking at him with love clearly written large in his eyes.
Then reality crashed in around him once more. That joyous child slowly dissolved into the hunched over shape of the person that had destroyed his Erin's rest. Hercules had robbed him of his Erin. Robbed his Erin of his peace.
If he had been robbed of his son, and his father was nowhere to defend him, or his lost Erin, then it was only fair that he should rob his father of his preferred son, wasn't it?
As he readied the fireball that would kill Hercules, the biggest concentration of power he had ever generated, two surges of power warned of the imminent arrival of two more Gods. Not that Ares paid too much attention, he just wanted Hercules to die.
Hercules could see his death in Ares' face. He didn't even stand up, he just stayed there, squatting in the dust. Not even able to form the words to beg for his life, if he thought that such a possibility even existed.
The hero saw the energy glowing in Ares' hand, the closeness of his death causing him a moment's fear, not for himself but for Iolaus. He would surely die there and be leaving Iolaus to the mercies of a far less than stable Ares.
"Ares, no, please?!" Iolaus' voice plead for his friend's life. At that plea Hercules witnessed a miracle, Ares hesitated. Iolaus' voice had caused the distraught War God to hold back that killing blow.
"Ares, don't!" Hephaestus cried out, stepping up to his brother, touching that fireball the Fire God took it within himself, dissipating it safely.
"Hercules, what have you done!" Zeus sounded so disgusted with his youngest son. He surveyed the debris that had been his grandson's coffin.
A fireball detonated and took Hercules in the chest and threw him across the temple, to smash bodily into the distant wall. None too gently either, the look of pain on the hero's face was genuine.
Every eye, including Ares', turned to look at Zeus and the anger so very evident in every line of his body.
"Son, everything will get sorted out, I promise!" Zeus spoke softly to his grieving son and took him in his arms. For the first time since Strife had died Zeus could offer Ares the comfort he needed, was permitted to offer that comfort. This time he could not let his son down, if he did it would surely be for the last time. He would have no second chances with this child he had hurt so much in the past. "Hephaestus, would you be so good as to clean away the glass and .." Then he noticed what Hercules had been squatting in. "Where did all that dust come from?"
"That dust was what Erin became when the coffin came crashing down." Iolaus spoke up, making his presence known.
"But he shouldn't have!" Zeus continued to hold his son, stroking his shoulders, gentling him as one would a distraught child. For the first time in Ares' entire life he was receiving that love and protection any father was due their child. "Oh my dear sweet boy, no wonder you were so angry." He was overjoyed that his comfort was being accepted, that Ares was settling in his embrace.
Empty wishes for the hugs he would have had from this son as a child filled the King of the gods. If he could break his own laws, go back in time, save his son from that fate, that horror, what would Ares' life have been like for him? Who then would have been condemned to be War?
Hercules rose from his position against the far wall, his chest hurt, his head throbbed, but the pain at least told him he was still alive, still had a chance to explain, to apologise for his original misinterpreted remark, to clear up Hephaestus' misunderstanding. To make his peace with Ares. He saw only too clearly now, what Iolaus had been trying to tell him. How devastated Ares was by Str.. Erin's death.
"It was an accident." He whispered. As his brother stiffened in their father's arms he knew he had been heard, knew too that his very presence was hurting Ares. Yet, he had to stay, had to tell what he had heard, before he could convince himself that he had heard nothing. "I heard ... Erin's voice, it was faint, he sounded frightened, desperate for his father to find him. You have to believe me, I didn't imagine it! I'm not making it up." He looked to his father, his normal source of support within the family of Gods, for the first time that he could ever remember his father's comfort and support were not for him.
"Enough, you will have your chance to speak, later!" Zeus looked at him, quelling him with a glance. His threat implicit in his tone.
Not knowing what to do for best Iolaus crossed to where the King of the Gods stood with Ares, there he lifted a comforting hand to Ares' shoulder. He had been the first to comfort Ares, the one to help him with the body. Ares had been so lost, so unsure of what to do. He remembered Ares' whispered admission that no God had ever died before .. not since Uranus .. way before even Zeus' lifetime.
Of all the Gods to die, it had been Ares' adopted son.
"I'm sorry Ares. I never thought he'd actually do it. If I had even suspected I'd have never left him with Erin." He squeezed the shoulder beneath his hand and saw an almost imperceptible nod from the grief stricken War God. As Ares turned his face away from Iolaus, and away from any chance sight of Hercules, the blond hunter shared a concerned glance with Zeus. Even Iolaus could see the physical change in the War God, and what he saw frightened him. So many times in his youth, and as an adult, he had fought in wars, and each time he had come through unscathed, thanks in part to this God's protection.
Who now would protect Ares?
Hephaestus struggled down to kneel in the dust that had been his little mischief. A favourite nick name used by many of the Gods when Erin had been a young child, he touched that dust and felt no echo of life. Nothing, it had never been alive, ever! Confused and wary of giving false hope he lifted another handful of dust from a different location. Then another, and another, all reported to him the same fact. This, whatever it had been, was not and never had been their little mischief.
"Zeus, can I have a private word with you please?" He asked, looking the King of the Gods in the eye and trying to let him know just how important it was.
"Oh, of course, if you must." He released his son to the comfort of Iolaus." Take care of him for me, I'll be right back." And he walked over to the lame Fire God and knelt in the dust beside him. "What is it Heph?" He asked, as quietly as he could.
"Hold this, tell me what you find!" Hephaestus handed him a handful of Erin's dust and waited. As he expected Zeus dropped that handful and took another, then another, each time a wild, almost frantic look built in his eyes.
"What does this mean? What is going on here?" He demanded explanations of the
lame God. Explanations he simply couldn't give. Hephaestus merely shrugged at the elder God.
All the while Hercules stood, isolated, alone and reliving that desperate plea, over and over. The echo of those emotions were making him twitch, he needed to do something, anything, the need just would not be ignored. He held that plea from the dead, young God of Mischief and there was only one place he knew that held most answers to his questions about the dead. Hades' domain.
"I'm going to Lake Olympus!" He announced, reminding all that he was still there. Iolaus felt Ares stiffen and try to pull away, but for the God's sake the mortal managed to hold him. That told Iolaus so much about how weakened the God of War was by his unbearable agony. Never having truly known death, then to lose a child? The hunter could only imagine, but he had seen enough in the world to have a very close idea of what that would feel like.
"Steady Ares. Seems that there's more here than meets the eye. Stay calm, for Erin's sake, stay calm, okay?" He whispered, looking directly into the troubled eyes of the angry War God. "There's something going on here that your father and Hephaestus aren't telling us. And if Herc is telling the truth about hearing Erin then that's yet another mystery." The hunter thought about Hercules' words. "Is there anyway to hear what Herc heard?" He asked.
Ares stood straighter, turned and faced towards Hercules. Finally he raised his head and looked at his half brother, the half brother that wanted to destroy Erin's lying in state. Bile rose into his mouth at the thought of the action that lay ahead of him, but if he was to get to the truth of that matter it had to be done.
He was going to have to touch Hercules, touch his thoughts. The very idea of touching someone who so hated his precious, lost, Erin revolted him Oh, Ares was well aware that hate, revulsion, disgust were the emotions most mortals had for him and his son but at that moment he didn't care to have to face those emotions that close
Slowly, step by painful step he moved closer to Hercules, the Demi God did not even think of trying to move away. He stood there, welcoming Ares to him with as calm thoughts as he could manage. All he could think about was how Erin would laugh, every time they had met, he had been laughing. Over shadowing that thought was the plea that echoed in his mind and soul.
Zeus and Hephaestus noticed what Ares was doing, where he was heading.
"Ares, please, don't!" Zeus stepped beside his dark son, touching his cheek with a gentle finger. "You want to know the truth then I will find that truth for you." And father and son stood there, looking at each other.
"No, I have to do this. No one else but me." Ares neither snarled nor even raised his voice, his quiet, determined tone won out where all his shouting would have failed. Zeus stepped back and let him pass.
Once more Ares lifted a hand to Hercules, this time to touch him, not strike him. As he cleared his mind, as best he could, of all other thoughts but the sound and feel of his Erin's voice. He let Hercules' memory supply the words, he just felt their truth, in his soul he felt their absolute truth.
As Ares dropped his hand he looked directly at Hercules and saw understanding there. This was a pain his half brother knew far too well, the loss of a child. But this was a lost child that Hercules felt he could return to his rightful place. By his father's side.
"Well?" Iolaus asked from his position, rooted to the spot lest he break some spell and put everything in danger.
"He spoke the truth. He heard Erin's voice, begging me to find him. He's trapped somewhere and I gotta find him." Ares spun away and made to step into the ether, only to be stopped by a hand on his arm. Turning he looked into Hercules' faces.
"Let me help you, please?" He asked, quietly, gently.
Iolaus crossed the temple floor almost instantly and touched Ares' arm getting his attention. As the God looked at the hunter there was hope in his eyes, for the first time since Callisto had killed Strife, there was hope in Ares' eyes.
It was a thing of beauty.
"Let me help." He offered.
Not looking at Hercules, Ares nodded, slowly, letting his head drop with exhaustion, his shoulders slumped in defeat.
"Good, that's settled then!" Zeus sounded almost cheerful, his optimistic tone raised a slight smile even from Ares. "Now, I want a word with Hades, he's the only one who could do such a thing without any of us noticing. And for this pain he's caused, he's going to pay!" Nno one doubted Zeus' anger or his ability to make Hades account for the anguish he was causing.
Ares laughed, it sounded a little out of practice, but it was a genuine, soft, laugh.
"Somebody'd better warn Granddad he's getting a visitor then?" He observed, seeing how determined his father was to help.
"Damn right he is!" Zeus summonsed his power and relocated them all, not to Hades however, but to Olympus. "But first you rest, eat, and we plan this."
"No, first I try and reach Erin!" Ares set his shoulders, unwilling to back down.
Zeus nodded, looked at Hephaestus and gestured him over. The he drew in Hercules and Iolaus.
"Might as well give it added power. Everyone, after three ... We're coming! OK?"
"One, two, three ..."
In his room, alone since his so called father had walked out on him, leaving him trapped and knelt in prayer to his real father, Erin felt something, heard something, someone, somehow. And he knew. Without a doubt he knew.
Ares was coming for him! All he had to do now was wait.
"We're coming!" the one voice had said.
As he sorted that one voice in his mind, telling him he, no it told him 'we' were coming. We! More than just his father. More than just Ares coming to take him home! That needed some thinking about. Who could that 'we' that had promised him salvation be? Ares, most definitely, but who else?
Thinking about that gestalt voice, feeling it's every inflection, looking for familiar patterns kept the captive young God occupied. Gave him something other than Hades' pointless claims to think about. Why dwell on who came in his mother's cunt, when he had a real life, his life, mystery to solve? And one that gave him such promise and hope for his future no less!
That drew him up short. Did he really hate his mother and whomever had 'fathered' him on her? His answer was short and immediate. Yes, to both, he hated her and whomever that 'him' had been. Whether it turned out to be Hades or not, he didn't really care, not anymore. His rage had long since died down to a slow burning hatred. A fire he refused, point blank, to even try to put out. After all, why should he? Where had Hades been all his life? Every time Eris had attacked him, every time things had gone wrong for him? Where were his precious fatherly feelings then?
He knew, more than anyone else ever could, just how volatile Ares' temper could be! He had been on the receiving end of it way too often to not know that theirs was not the perfect father/son relationship. Then again, who amongst the Gods did get on with their parents? Certainly not Ares!
That thought alone made him giggle. He slapped a hand over his mouth, quelling the sound before it could truly form. Not wanting Hades to think he was relenting in his stand against the elder God's claims of paternity.
And now Ares was on his way to save him. With allies no less!
So he returned to his original task of deciphering those other voices. Who would help Ares? We're coming! Not a great deal to go on but enough to give his heart and soul a cause to rejoice. Who would help Ares? That was enough to give his mind and soul a headache, if he let it!
Who would help any one? Hercules, that was who; but would he help them, him, after what he had had to do to him and his wife?
Did the hero's voice fit the bill? There was a deep tone to that message, but Hercules' voice was quiet, not deep. He had quite a melodious voice. If he could get over his innate shyness he would make a good singer. Or so Erin thought, but what did the God of Mischief know of harmonies and melodies? Quite a lot actually. Ares had always said the best way to understand how to work against something was to know how it all worked in the first place. A credo he found fit almost every situation.
So, had Hercules been part of that group voice, that gestalt? He was sure he could feel the echoes of the Demi-God in his memory. And, where there was Hercules there would be Iolaus too! He recalled that as he had died, he had heard the sound of Iolaus' prayers for the dead. The hunter had been with Ares when he had died. He knew that voice so well, it had joined with his real father's as they had calmed him into the after life. One filled with such powerful grief, and one with such terrible shock.
It had amazed Strife to feel that shock from Iolaus, that the hunter had had to discover that Gods could truly die. He had at that moment realised why Iolaus had been so affected by his death. If Strife, a full God, could die so easily, then Hercules could die even easier! It had been Hercules' mortality that had affected him, but his death that had given those fears focus.
Ares, Hercules, Iolaus, all fighting on the same side? His side! That was a lot to think about, but not everything. As he fitted those voices together in his head he knew they were only part of that one great voice. So who else? Cupid?
Erin thought about his adoptive brother, and tried to fit him into that group. And failed. Would Cupid risk anything for the likes of him? Probably not. They had always gotten along, but that was about it. After his brother had wed Psyche the winged Love God had had no time for their games and tricks. Somehow Erin doubted that Cupid had noticed he was dead yet?
He could just picture the scene. In Ares' home palace on Olympus. The War God sits his eldest son down, hand clasped comfortably on Cupid's shoulder.
"Cupid, one of your brothers has been killed." He would say, as gently as he could.
"Oh Gods!" Cupid would exclaim. "You mean, I've got brothers?" Not that Strife would accuse Cupid of being self absorbed, but ...
Again he laughed at his elder brother's expense, doubting the lovesick Love God had actually noticed his demise at all.
How long had he been dead? He had no idea of the passage of time? How long since Hades had given him his life back? Had Hades lectured himself to boredom telling himself how irregular he was being? That this was against all the rules? His own rules?
Was he being unfair to Cupid? To Hades? Probably and no, in that order. He had a good idea that given a week, a month, a year .. whatever lifetime lay ahead of him Hades would never tell anyone that he was alive. Probably not even Persephone.
Even after he had lived, died and lived again he was still Hades' guilty little secret!
What had he seen in Eris anyway? A grand passion? The psycho and the necromancer! The girl and the ghoul! The unattractive and the undead! The torrid and the torpid!
The epithets had Erin rolling on the floor, clutching his sides as the images slid past one another. A never ending pageant of very bad synonyms for his so called beloved flesh and blood parents!
Well it took far more than spunk in a cunt to make one worthy of a child's love, even of their time and patience. Where had either of them been when he had been picked on by his fellow Godlings as a child? Made to feel less than even the lowest mortal, just because he had no known blood father and even his blood mother had abandoned him. It wasn't Eris or Hades that had helped him plan his revenge, but Ares, his real father. The father that raised him, loved him, in his own peculiar way, but still his father.
Given that Hades would hardly join in a rescue attempt, where was his mother? Not caring about him, that much he was sure of. No, she'd be off boffing her irritating little mortal, that damn hunter she was so fond of. Not his idea of a real man. After all, how many rabbits had anyone ever seen armed to the teeth, ready, willing and able to fight back? Outside one of Ares' bedtime stories that was?
That idea certainly amused the captive God. Yet, he was still no further forward with his task of deciphering the gestalt voice. So Cupid was out, as was his ever loving mom! So who else could it be?
Hermes? That image had Strife rolling on the floor once more. The very notion that Hermes would ever lift a finger to help him, let alone come riding to his rescue like some great poetic hero was ludicrous. Not to say hysterical too.
Apollo? No way! Strife thought, Apollo would only do it if they could guarantee that his tan wouldn't fade. The very idea that his freedom could rest on Apollo and Cupid getting over themselves to form a rescue mission with Hermes in the lead both amused and depressed him. It would more likely they themselves that would need rescuing from Ares, Herc and Iolaus .. before they could rescue him!
Hephaestus? Now there was an idea. Did his voice fit in with the others? He ran that sound mix through his imagination and saw that the big Fire God was a definite possibility. Yet, why Hephaestus would rescue him from anything was not obvious. Not beyond him, not beyond a God figuring it out.
Why would Heph help his little brother rescue a lost nephew?
Just because he was Ares' brother and his uncle. To Hephaestus, family was everything. Like him, he had been abandoned by his mother at birth, with an unknown or non-existent father. Strife had always had such fellow feeling towards the big, lame, Fire God. When Ares wasn't around, or he was having problems with Ares himself, it had been to Hephaestus he would go to and they would just be together, silently. Heph's forge was such a great source of comfort to him, a refuge.
Yes Hephaestus' voice was one of those he had heard, and if anyone, in the entire universe, could restrain Ares from doing something rash and stupid it would be Hephaestus. The promised rescue was so much more a reality, simply knowing the big Fire God was involved.
Even with that added voice to the rest of the group in his head the final voice was still a little light. Maybe one more person, one more God or could it be a Goddess? No! He dismissed that one out of hand. As far as he knew he was almost universally hated by the Goddess' of his own family. The only exceptions being possibly Aphrodite, seeing as it was usually him and Cupid that 'saw' to those mortals that 'dissed' her.
The image of 'Dite leading a force of Gods and heroes to his rescued convulsed Strife. The idea of her getting so angry that she would threaten Hades' cock to impotence for the rest of eternity, not because he held 'him' captive, but because she broke a nail!
"Eeww! Gross! It's full of dead people!" He could hear her voice, clear as day in his head. The laughter was cleansing, calming, a source of comfort.
So, not Dite then. Definitely not his 'mother' either. That went without saying. Harmonia was a maybe, after all he frequently acted as go-between when she was having problems with both her parents. When she had 'difficulties' it was somehow his skin that took the brunt of her parents bad feelings.
She would have missed him, no doubt, but as she never risked herself while he was alive, then she no doubt wouldn't start now he was supposed to be dead. Somehow he couldn't see Ares letting her come on a rescue mission anyway.
Athena? No, definitely not her, she was still upset at losing an argument to him. He had proven to her that he understood the logic of a child's mind better than she ever could. She wasn't due to stop sulking for another century or two, at least! Anyway, she couldn't 'sneak' if her life depended on it. No glory and greatness to be gained by no one seeing that genius at work, now was there?
So, as always, he came round to who else completed that voice? Poseidon, no, he wouldn't loan him a cup of sea water if he was thirsty. No love lost there what so ever, but did he care? Not really, after all, all that bad feeling went way back before his birth. Not him then. Hera?
The very idea of Hera lifting a finger for him was beyond funny. It was definitely a sign of insanity if he could even consider her doing anything for him. Hera was absolutely not your archetypal cuddly grandmother, just not her bag. Strife had to admit to himself that he was actually glad that she didn't take an interest in him.
She liked Apollo and see what had happened to him?
Strife gave up at that point. He had to conclude that the very idea of Zeus, King of the Gods, coming to his rescue, his of all people, was insane. Zeus hated Ares, so by extension therefore, Zeus hated him too. Thoughts about Ares relationship with Zeus always made the young Mischief God wonder why Zeus had allowed Hera to have Ares in the first place? Fertility was regulated by Gods and Goddess' so surely they could regulate their own fertility too? Old, powerful ones like Zeus and Hera at the very least! Them and their brother Hades!
Thoughts about his grandfather were depressing him, so Strife deliberately tried to turn his thoughts away from Zeus and back to his rescuers. As much as he tried his private inner voice kept egging him on, trying to get him to at least 'try' and fit Zeus' voice into his composite. With each resurgence of that idea Strife tried to bury it deeper and deeper in his subconscious.
He would just have to wait and see who the last voice was that fit the gestalt voice that echoed its hope in his head and his heart.
As he reached his conclusion the door opened and Hades stepped in. Before the God of the Dead could close the door Strife sent one more prayer, as quickly as he could.
"Come soon!" He begged, silently, directing his thoughts to those he had identified in that voice.
"Are you ready to be more willing to listen to me now?" Hades asked as he retook his seat at the dinner table once more. His tone one that wouldn't work on a delinquent five year old mortal, let alone a five hundred year plus God.
"No, why should I be? I am your captive, your toy. All I have to do is wait for you to get bored with me and either release me or kill me and let me go on to where ever I'm going next." Strife didn't sit down, he crossed to his bed in a far corner of that large room and he lay down, closed his eyes and pretended to sleep.
"Why won't you give me a chance here?" Hades asked.
Strife laughed, genuinely amused that Hades could be that stupid.
"You have to ask?" He sat up, looking and sounding amazed.
"If I knew the answer I would be asking the question would I?" Hades demanded.
Strife's answer was to laugh till tears flowed down his cheeks. Again Hades stood and crossed to the door, opening in as he stepped outside.
"Come soon, please!" Strife prayed, begging for release.
The door closed behind Hades and closed Strife's hopes and dreams in with him once more. Confining his reality to that room yet again. Not knowing where he was, how long he'd been there, or how long until his rescuers would come for him.
As they watched the exhausted War God sleep, Iolaus and Zeus also watched Hercules. The Demi-God was also watching his brother sleep, yet his expression was almost predatory, guarding his brother in his rest.
Hephaestus was dozing happily on a couch as far from the group as possible in Zeus' study. He sometimes watched the others but saw little point to it, it was all so obvious, if you took the time to look. The constant fighting between Hercules, who actually didn't want Zeus' attention, and Ares, who actively needed it. His brother didn't really see the need as such, he knew Ares was aware that Hercules was taking attention he thought rightly his. Whether he was or not, was debatable, what wasn't was the ache that Ares
carried around, hidden deep inside where he probably didn't see it himself.
While Hercules and Ares were destroying each others plans and schemes, there was Zeus, the one with the greatest need of all - the need to touch Ares' heart, and not the slightest idea how he would or could do that very thing.
Seeing no immediate resolution to Zeus' unvoiced dilemma, Hephaestus dropped into a deeper doze and decided ignored them, at least until he knew Ares was once more awake, or something worth waking for happened, whichever would occur first.
Unaware of the scrutiny, Zeus, along with Iolaus, continued to watch Hercules..
The hunter was amazed at the companionable silence that existed between him and the King of the Gods. He was amazed too at just how innocent Ares looked while asleep, as if all the evil that the God let loose on the world had just drifted away from him.
"He doesn't loose evil on the world you know?" Zeus whispered.
"What!?" Iolaus spun to face the elder God, shocked and more than a little angry that Zeus had read his mind like that.
"I monitor all thoughts about Ares these days. I intercept those that I can. He doesn't need any more reminders of how much he is hated on the world. But, if you were in Greece the last few times he has lost his powers, for whatever reasons, I'm sure you'll see what he does for the mortal world." Zeus didn't look at the Hunter, he just continued to watch Hercules watch Ares. It was almost as if he didn't trust his youngest son with his most damaged son.
"I remember the people's madness. Did he cause that?"
"No, his absence did. He controls that violence, well, Bia's more prone to letting it run riot. How did Dite put it? It's his bag, I believe she called it." Zeus held his breath as Ares rolled over, one arm falling off the couch he slept on. The King of the Gods got up to see to his son, Hercules got there first.
With extreme gentleness the hero lifted his brother's arm and laid it over the sleeping God's belly, pulling the covering he had dislodged in his sleep back over the sleeping God's form. Half his mind was listening to his father and his best friend talking, half was thinking about his own reaction to Ares.
How he had deliberately tried to cause Ares as much pain and suffering as he could.
How he had taken a great deal of delight in ensuring Ares had no contact with his son, Evander.
How he had made it almost impossible for the War God to do his duties by the mortal world.
How he was so very jealous of his brother having grown up with their father, having everything he longed for in his childhood.
Zeus heard his mortal son's thoughts and shied away from them. Unable and unwilling to tell these mortals the truth about the God that slept so fitfully before them.
It had taken Ares his entire life time to put his childhood into some sort of perspective, and he still wouldn't forgive his parents their actions against him. Which was why this joint venture to rescue Strife, Ares' precious Erin, from Hades' clutches was so important to him.
"What kind of father is Ares, anyway?" Iolaus asked, little more than a whisper.
"A damn sight better at being a father than I ever was, that's for sure." Zeus whispered back. His tone of voice telling Iolaus as much of the unspoken history between father and son as his words had not.
"Oh!" The hunter returned to his silent watching.
Hercules heard what was said and also what wasn't said. As acutely aware of the overtones to Zeus' words as his friend was. Just as he was aware that those very same words might have been said of him too, that he and Ares shared something. It was there in their father's voice. They shared neglect.
More questions raised themselves. Looking for answers, no need for them to be profound, just simple answers would do.
How long had Ares been neglected then?
"So, what did you do to fail Ares then? I know your neglect hurt Hercules to his heart, what about Ares?" Iolaus was pushing his luck , but felt the risk was justified. He needed to know, needed to understand his best friend's estranged brother. To understand the God that had allowed him to offer him comfort when his adopted son had died.
Zeus didn't speak, he finally looked away from his sons and directly at Iolaus.
It was all there for Iolaus to piece together, in every tear he saw a new and worse horror. He prayed to the Fates that he was wrong, prayed with every ounce of strength his soul possessed.
His prayer was answered when a mirror appeared before him, its surface given over to a pageant of swirling mists. Almost instinctively Iolaus knew that this mirror would show him the truth of Ares' past. What he couldn't face was the choice, should he view what the Fates so evidently wanted him to see, or should he ignore that temptation. What changes would that knowledge make to his life? To his friendship with Hercules? To Hercules' sanity?
Iolaus thought long and hard, could his friend survive that revelation? Somehow, the smaller man knew that things might never be the same again if Hercules witnessed what the mirror held.
The only sound Zeus made was a sharp indrawn breath, even that was cut off, not wanting to alarm anyone in his fear of what that mirror would show. His very control telegraphing his concern better than words ever could.
"What did you do to him? What do you fear being shown?" Iolaus couldn't help it, he had to ask those questions of Zeus and in so asking he got more of an answer than his friend could stand to know.
The mirror started to play its horror story:
"Little foreign bastard, come here, take it. You gonna take it all in!" And rough hands held the crying, terrified child as he begged for death. The Egyptian man behind him, raping him. Again. Beating him till his whole skin was raw and hanging from his five year old frame. "You gonna take it all!" Raping him again. Always again! Always to the sound of that lost Greek child, who should have been running, playing, laughing, begging to die.
Iolaus knew, beyond any doubts, that that child was Ares.
He knew too that there was nothing he could do to save that child from that act of violence. However much his heart screamed out at him to try!
"Why was he there?" He asked, no longer asking Zeus, he asked the mirror. Unaware that the dozing Fire God behind them, was now awake and watching and relaying all he saw to his wife, to Ares' oldest son, Cupid. They too would finally know the truth.
The mirror clouded briefly and when it cleared again, it was the very room they all sat in. The image showed Ares and his father. Only Zeus was not the mellow, watching, guarding, caring father in that scene.
He had Ares dangling from one hand, all the while he was laughing as he sliced his son's belly open, and ripped the child's heart from his body. Once done he threw the now dead child and his lifeless heart to the floor, and laughed.
Then he licked his own hands clean of Ares' blood.
As the body lay cooling, Hades appeared, a glowing crystal in one hand a powerful fireball in the other. He detonated the fireball in Zeus' face and watched calmly as his brother flew into the study wall, only to collapse in an unconscious heap.
The God of the Dead, the very God they were going to have to fight to get Erin's freedom, knelt beside his dead nephew and healed that small body. Finally, he placed the crystal onto the child's flesh and watched the pulsing light as Ares' soul once more entered his lifeless frame.
Ares looked to be no more than maybe three, maybe four? Iolaus couldn't tell the child's age.
"He was three." Hephaestus whispered. "Fuck it Zeus, he was three years old!"
"I know." The King of the Gods whispered back to him.
"Shut the fuck up!" The voice commanding obedience belonged to the hunter, not Hercules, there was no sound Hercules could have made, not if his very life depended on it.
The mirror clouded again.
This time it cleared to show Hera, she was standing to one side watching her son being raped. Watching that child's heart and soul wither and die. As the images of Ares' childhood played out, Hera was always watching, always crying. And as always, her non interference was saving the child Ares from more of Zeus' strange games, from his torments and deaths.
Images came and went from that mirror. Not all of them such horror, Ares' first kill. He was seven years old and the slave overseer was going to rape him yet again, this time the young God got a knife and killed the Egyptian.
All the years of pain and fear and torment erupted in that seven year old's heart and soul and he mutilated the mortal's corpse beyond recognition.
As the Godling ripped the eyes from the corpse he was surrounded by a pure white light, as it faded he was no longer alone. A Goddess stood with him.
"Child, why do you dishonour the dead?" she whispered to Ares.
Ares stood his ground and just looked at her. Meeting her gaze with a quiet strength no child of his young years should have. Godling and Goddess looked long into each other's soul.
"Oh, child, where is your protection? Where is your mother and father?"
"I don't have any." Ares finally spoke.
"Come here, little one." She stretched her winged arms out to that lonely child. Hesitantly, Ares stepped forwards until he was in her arms, and she then knew the truth of this child's life.
"Ares, little one, you have much to learn, and I have much to teach you. Come child." And she destroyed what remained of the overseer's corpse and vanished, taking the young God with her.
"Isis!?" Zeus whispered as the image faded once more. "She had Ares and always denied any knowledge of his existence. I asked her myself, so many times, had she seen my Ares. She lied to me!"
"You blame her?" Iolaus snapped. As he turned back to the mirror he witnessed Ares' upbringing in the hands of Isis, the Egyptian Goddess of Birth and Death. They saw as she taught him what he needed to know about being a God. As she taught him how to love others, how to show kindness. And Ares did, until hat day he returned to Greece and was brought before his own father, in to that very study once more.
That time the sentence pronounced on the young God was not death, but a life sentence of hatred and revulsion.
"Welcome home Ares, God of War." Zeus had handed him his sword and vanished,
leaving his son to figure out for himself what he was to do next.
The mirror faded one last time and as it fell blank, into no more than a normal mirror, Ares was finally released from the sleep that had held him so still all during the revelations gifted to those watchers that had guarded his rest.
"Are we ready then?" The War God asked, stretching.
"Whenever you are!" Hercules stood beside his brother, Iolaus crossed to his other side.
"Now is as good a time as any." The Hunter grinned, a little strained, Ares saw that weariness though.
"Are you up to this? I can go alone.."
"I'm up to it, I'm fit and ready to go." Iolaus grinned, a little more convincing than he actually felt, good enough to fool Ares.
"We all are ready." Zeus stood before his dark son, Ares looked at his father, a quizzical expression playing in his eyes.
"Ya' know, I just don't get it! What're you helping ME for?" He never broke eye contact with his father.
"Because it's something I should have done a long, long time ago." Zeus told him, confusing him.
"What?" Ares asked, perplexed by his father's aberrant behaviour.
"I should have had the courage to face Hades for the return of MY son, the least I can do is face him for the return of your son, adopted or otherwise."
"What ever.." Ares moved away from Zeus, and subsequently Hercules and Iolaus, he had long since stopped trying to fathom out his father's mental processes, if he actually had any. "Let's get on with this.." And Ares created the gateway to the underworld they would use to go after his Erin.
"Isis taught him well?" Hephaestus pointed out to the King of the Gods.
"Yes," Zeus absentmindedly agreed. "But it should have been ME he learned from."
"But it was, Zeus, it was. He learned to hate, to fear, to loath, to hurt and to die from you. And he learned those lessons very well indeed. Come on, if you're coming!" And the Fire God limped forwards to join the others at the gateway's threshold.
Zeus walked forward to join his sons, determined to find a way to make things up to his dark natured son. If he ever could.
They stepped through and reappeared inside Hades' protected palace.
"I am that which is, has been, and shall be ..." Ares quoted as he stepped forwards. "This way!" He announced, almost cheerfully, as he set off towards his Erin.
The fighting started as soon as the group of would be rescuers stepped through the gateway Ares had created. None of the Gods had spent that much time in Hades' palace, the God of the Dead was not the most gracious host, but they did suspect that he had significantly increased the number of guards in his domain. To make things worse, the Gods were not able to use their powers with out letting Hades know.
"Res, I gotta ask, how did you hide the gateway from Hades?" Hephaestus asked
"Isis taught me how to work in the Underworld." Ares did not offer details, and as always Hephaestus did not push for answers.
"Duck!" Hephaestus advised his younger brother and punched a guard that had been about to stab his little brother. "Oh no you don't!" The Fire God was livid, that these guards would try to hurt his baby brother; Ares had been hurt enough, in his opinion.
The guard went flying into a wall and slumped down, his head at an odd angle, his neck obviously broken. The sight of the dead guard gave the Fire God a sense of satisfaction and guilt. Satisfied to finally be doing something, and guilty that he had killed the guard. Relief, though, that his brother was safe, was by far the strongest emotion coursing through his soul, for that he refused to feel guilt.
"Thanks!" Ares nodded once to his big brother and headed off towards Hercules and Iolaus and the group of guards attempting to kill them.
Just as Iolaus thought his end had come a sword swung over his head and decapitated the man before him. Then a black leather clad leg swung out and connected with another attacker.
"Thanks Ares!" The hunter smiled, briefly, and turned back to the fighting.
"It's okay.." Ares mumbled, some what surprised at Iolaus thanking him like that.
They reached one of the long halls that made up the inner sanctum of Hades' home, but, where there should have been doors to a myriad of rooms and chambers the walls were smooth and whole.
"Shouldn't there be several doors along this hallway?" Zeus asked his sons.
"Yes!" Ares snapped back. Hephaestus and Hercules both nodded in agreement.
"What do you mean? There are doors here, about a dozen of them!" Iolaus was
confused, he could see doors, why couldn't the Gods?
"There are?" Zeus asked, his voice a reflection of his surprise at the incredulous oversight on Hades' part. When guarding himself from intervention from the Gods, he had obviously forgotten all about mortal sight.
"Yes!" Iolaus snapped back, still not happy about having to work with the King of the Gods, not now he knew what he had done to Ares.
"I can't see anything. What does this mean?" Hercules asked.
"Hades is hiding things from all Gods, but he can't hide them from living mortals." Zeus grinned at the others in the rescue party. "Iolaus, you will have to open each door and check out each room for us." He looked at the hunter and saw the disgust in the man's eyes.
"Ares, is he right?" Iolaus turned to the War God for clarification, showing Zeus just what little trust he had in anything the King of the Gods had to say.
"Yes, he is, duck!" Ares swung his sword as Iolaus ducked, another guard fell to the War God's blade.
"What if they're locked?" Iolaus asked, bracing his hand on Ares shoulder and swinging his body around the now crouching God to kick the guard behind Ares into the far wall, where he fell with a satisfying thump.
"Take Hephaestus with you, he's better with locks than I am." Ares got to his feet, holding on to the hunter and swinging him feet first into yet another group of guards, felling them, but not rendering them out of the fight just yet.
"Okay! Come on Hephaestus!" Iolaus reached for the first door on that corridor. As the hunter and Fire God turned away from the fighting, their companions closed in to protect their backs.
All the time his companions had been talking, the hero had been fighting, as Hephaestus and Iolaus made for the first door, Hercules redoubled his efforts. Ares, Zeus and himself forming a rearguard for the two attempting to open a door that only the fully mortal man could see. There came the click of a door opening from directly behind them, but the hard pressed fighters could not spare the time to look to see what their companions had found. Had they been successful or found a less than well Strife they would surely know all about it.
"Nothing!" Iolaus whispered as he squeezed past the others, dragging the Fire God towards the second door.
"Shit it's locked!" Iolaus whispered and stepped away to let Hephaestus work on the lock. The Fire God looked towards the door he simply couldn't see, then looked at the hunter and shrugged.
"Shit!" Iolaus swore and reached around the Fire God and lifted his companion's hands onto the door lock. "Here, can you feel this?"
"Yes, yes I can." Hephaestus stood before the door with his eyes shut and worked on the lock he now knew was before him. Within a few seconds the door swung open, the Fire God held his breath and felt Iolaus do likewise.
"Strife?" Iolaus whispered his question as he stepped through the door, into a well lit stock room. Checking it out, thoroughly, he exited the room and mad his way to the next door way.
"Is it locked?" Hephaestus asked.
"Seems to be, here, what do you think?" Iolaus once more put the Fire God's hands on the lock.
"It's locked all right, but it's locked by Hades' own power signature." The Fire God whispered back to the hunter. "Which, of course, looks more promising than the other two."
Iolaus watched as the Fire God turned his attention both inwards and outwards towards the lock at the same time. Trying to circumvent Hades' lock outs. Behind them the fight continued to rage, infact the sounds of battle were increasing, almost as if they had found the right door.
"How you doing?" Iolaus asked.
"Getting there.." Hephaestus mumbled, taking the hint, the hunter stepped back a pace and held his tongue. Just as he heard the click from the door he heard the tell tale sound of another God arriving. Obviously the Fire God had heard this too, as the door popped open, he turned away and went to help the others face Hades. "You go!" He hissed to Iolaus in passing.
The first the room's occupant knew of any activity outside his room was the sibilant hissing as someone hissed something, right outside his now open door, right before Iolaus entered.
"Strife?" The hunter whispered.
"Iolaus?" The Mischief God answered, incredulous, amazed that rescue had come so soon, and he had been so accurate, Iolaus had been part of that one great voice.
"Are you okay?" Iolaus ran over to the young God and without a second though, he hugged him. "Come on, let's get you out of here!" he took one of Strife's hands and lead him towards the door.
"Ares?" Strife asked, his voice cracking on the name.
"Outside, protecting our rear, come on before Hades can lock the door again!" And they both ran for the door. As they cleared the room, Iolaus called forwards, towards the fighters. "Ares, he's here!"
As the War God heard those words his world narrowed down to him, Strife and the guards keeping him from his son's side. No longer having to hide from Hades, he burned them away and crossed the distance to Strife and took his adopted son in his arms.
"Ares!" And the younger God hugged back.
"Let's get out of here, while we still can." Hercules hissed, then clasped Strife's shoulder. "Welcome back Erin."
Hearing his own true name from Hercules distracted the Mischief God, he looked away from Ares and around the rescue party, finally seeing that he had been right about those voices he had identified, and that Zeus was actually one of those rescuers. That astounded him.
"No!" Hades cried and ran forward, creating more guards as he went. "Get him back! Strife, their deaths will be on your head if you do not return to your room, now!" Hades pointed at Ares and the other rescuers, trying to influence the Mischief God with guilt, not realising that there was only one God who could do such a thing, and that was Ares, Erin's real father, not his biological one.
"Are you going to say why you want me? Tell them what you told me?" The mischief God teased the God of the Underworld.
"He's going home with his father, Hades, nothing you can say could change that!" It was Hercules that challenged Hades for Strife's right to go home. Strife couldn't say anything, he was amazed by the Demi-God's tone of determination.
"Ares is not his father, not his real father, he has no real home!" Hades prevaricated.
"Of course I do! The home I grew up in, of course!" Strife laughed, and moved into position, shoulder to shoulder with Ares, where he knew he truly belonged. "What's wrong Hades, can't speak one truth? So I'm still a guilty secret after all this time?"
"No, but I promised, I promised your mother." Hades shrugged, as if his promise to Eris was by far of more import than his son.
"You bastard!" The scream of outrage did not come from Ares but from Zeus, as the King of the Gods realised that the father of his daughter's son was his own brother. Zeus picked up the nearest weapon and swung at the God, trying to cut him in two.
Zeus received such a blast of power from his rage that he staggered backwards slightly. Looking for his brother, intent on his death. Zeus remembered the joy of blood shed, and forgot why he had avoided this for so very long. He knew what he would do to Hades, and before long he knew he would be holding his brother's still beating heart in his hands. As he had held Ares' heart all those long centuries before.
Too involved with their own struggles to survive, the others didn't notice until it was too late. Swinging his sword in broad arcs, Zeus continued the relentless pursuit of his mindless carnage, paying no heed as to whether he went for allies or enemies, as his true quarry fled behind the rest of the fighters, trying to avoid his brother at all costs. Zeus swung back and forth clearing a swathe before him, he came to his sons. Ares and Hercules stood before him, Ares facing their father over his brother's shoulders, the War God saw and recognised the Blood Curse in his father's eyes. It was a curse
he himself had only ever placed on one or two mortals, never a God!
"Herc, in there!" The God of War had to protect his brother, he remembered now, finally, that he had faced this once before and lost to that rage. This time, however, he would face that rage and master it!
Rolling over with the force of Ares' throw, the hero rolled through the door Iolaus had brought Strife through, he rolled on to his feet and turned to watch Ares approach Zeus. A Zeus he now saw was insane, possessed or something. His attention was interrupted as his companions and Strife also rushed into the sanctuary of that room. Even Hades entered with them, yet stood apart from them, not immediately turning and looking at the fight he had left raging on outside. A fight of his making.
Hades' guards ran for their lives, not wanting to risk anything in the face of that insane attacker. Ares though, stood his ground and watched his father circle him.
As Zeus turned and moved, facing towards the doorway, and their audience,
Hephaestus finally saw what Ares had seen, and now he too knew what his brother knew.
Finally, the reason why.
"Who could have done such a thing?" The Fire God whispered.
"Done what? What's wrong with him now?" Iolaus asked.
"It's a Blood Curse, until he performs some predetermined act, some specific act of violence, oh fuck! Iolaus, Hercules, remember that attack on Res? When Res was three years old? What if ...?" He left his last question hanging, not needing to fully spell out his theory for his companions.
"So, you think Ares will die, again? What?" Iolaus tried to get out of that room, to assist the War God, only to be dragged back by Hephaestus.
Not knowing fully what it was they were talking about, only that they mentioned Ares dying at his own father's hand, Erin tried to push forward through the group of his rescuers, to go to his adopted father's side.
"Ares, die?" He panicked and pushed, to no avail. Hephaestus held him firm.
"No, don't go out there, Little Mischief, don't distract Ares from this fight." He deliberately used his childish pet name for Erin, reaching that part of the Mischief God that would trust him, know that he wouldn't hold him back without good reason.
"I gotta go, he's my dad! He needs me!" He pleaded, the tears in his eyes testament to his true feelings of love and loyalty towards the God that had raised him, taught him, grieved for him.
"Stay in here Erin, Ares is trying to protect this room, and us, so we stay here and wait till he's through with Zeus. Blood Curses became one of Res' weapons when he became God of War, mark you, I've never heard of him using them. Not on Gods, not on Greeks either for that matter!" Hephaestus held his nephew close to his heart and turned them so they could booth watch the fight outside that room.
Hades stood as close to the doorway, and the others, as he dared and finally he too watched Ares' dance with Zeus. Not sure who he wanted to win, not sure what other truths would be brought to the light of day before that day would finally be over.
Ares was dancing round his father, looking for that opening that would spell doom to the King of the Gods. His sword arm never wavering, never dropping, always on guard against a second defeat at the hands of his father.
The rage burned in Zeus' eyes, the sheer joy of violence singing in every atom of his being. The adversary before him, standing between him and his true target. Slice after slice his sword flashed through the air, each one blocked, time after time.
As Ares caught yet another of Zeus' random blows on the upper edge of his sword he circled his arm, pushing his father's blade up and away from him. At the top of his arc, he suddenly changed direction, bringing his weapon down against his father's, now unprotected, neck.
As the tip of the blade cut into that vulnerable flesh, Ares was sprayed with his father's blood. Zeus staggered back, dropping his sword arm, but not the sword.
Behind the God of War, those he was desperately trying to defend in this fight with his father, thought the fight to be over. Surely, even for a God, that was a felling blow? As they took a collective breath they moved slightly forward, in time to fully witness Zeus healing himself.
Raising his sword arm once more to the attack he advanced on his son..
Remembering the sheer animalistic joy of ripping his still beating heart from his three year old son's chest; drawn to the pleasure it would be to repeat that action, now that he was an adult. More fight in him, more pain, more terror, more capacity for struggle against his fate.
Ares wondered at the strength of the Blood Curse fuelling his father's rage. A Blood Curse could have several triggers, it could be triggered by any act, normally a violent one. It could have any resolution, also normally a violent one. It might not even be controlled without a specific target dying. Yet, at that moment of realisation the cursed person was at their most vulnerable to him and his powers.
It was certainly a risk, and even after all Hades had done to keep him and Erin apart, for whatever reason, he was due him this most basic of debts. Why his father would target his own brother ... then he remembered what Erin and Hades had been saying.
"I promised your mother...."
"Oh Fuck!" Ares swore as he stepped back a pace and altered his appearance.
Hades and Hephaestus saw what Ares was doing before Hercules and Iolaus could
fully grasp his intention. Where Ares had once stood, Hades now took his stand against the irate King of the Gods.
As Ares dropped his sword arm, letting Zeus strike freely at him, the real Hades ran forward.
"No! Ares, for Erin's sake, no!" As his words were heard by the fighters in the corridor, Zeus was momentarily confused. The angle of his strike altered. Only slightly though. Ares' glamour still fell as his father's sword pierced his heart. As he fell, dying, he saw his father's shock and horror and saw too the blemish that was the Blood Curse. Marking it with his own touch, he died.
Hades stood, frozen for only a few seconds, before he ran to his nephew's side, catching him as his body fell away from Zeus' bloodied sword. Gently, he lay him down, containing his nephew's soul with in his body. Trying desperately to rebuild the connections between God and corporeal form.
Certainly, Hinds blood would kill a God, so too would their King's hand if raised against them. Ares had died in his place, even after he had kept him from Erin, their son, Ares' son, the son Hades had longed all his life to be free to acknowledge.
Realising what he had done dissipated the rage in a powerful blast of energy. One Hades' halls were not meant to withstand. The power of that guilt, grief and rage detonating within Hades' shields ripped them apart, letting the dead of the Underworld roam freely in Hades' inner sanctum.
As chaos broke free within the safety of Hades' home, the God of the Dead could spare no time or attention to rebuilding his protective shields. His full attention was focused on restoring Ares' life force. Rebuilding his nephew's whole life, memory by memory, heart beat by heart beat. Finally knowing his own son's life through his nephew's memories of that time. Knowing too, the truth of Ares' childhood that Zeus had kept hidden from the rest of the Gods all these centuries.
A flash of light heralded the arrival of a very familiar Goddess to all there, Persephone.
"Hades! What's happening? What's wrong?" She looked at her husband but got no
response. "Hades, we've got to get out while we still can, the shields, they're gone!" She screamed, pulling at the senior God, trying to get him from his nephew's body, little caring if Ares was alive or dead, her own survival much more important to her. Only Hades could get her to safety, only Hades controlled the power of the Underworld.
"Leave him alone!" Strife moved forward, grasping both Persephone and his blood father. Touching Hades' bare flesh for the first time as he prised Persephone's hand away from hid father's shoulders. As he touched Hades, his father's knowledge of the Underworld filled him. All Hades' control over the power, held in tight check by the shields of the Underworld, was also his...
Reaching out with his own mind, he rebuilt the shielding holding the three areas of his father's domain apart. Tartarus, Elyssia and Asphodel all rebuilt themselves, not in Hades' image, but Erin's. The shields were not prisons but fortresses, separating each area from the others, holding back the dead where they belonged.
Once done, Erin reached out and located each soul touched by Elyssia or Tartarus and found to be out of their allotted place, he returned them. Only then could he turn himself towards the palace shields and remove all unwelcome souls from within that final enclave.
Persephone could see what Strife was doing, they all could, they all saw the
Underworld return to normal. All except Ares, Hades and Zeus.
"Ares, my son, what have I done?" Zeus dropped to his knees, trying to reach for his son, only to be blocked yet again by Hades. "Please, Hades, let me help?" Zeus begged.
"Haven't you done enough?" Hades finally whispered.
"Almost as much as you, it would seem." Zeus looked into his brother's eyes. "Why, my daughter?"
"What is going on here?" Persephone demanded, not knowing why all these other Gods were in her husband's domain, angered too that Strife was permitted the power she had been denied, power of the Underworld and all its energies.
"Oh shit!" Hephaestus turned from her anger to Erin's shock. "Oh, Little Mischief, come here." He held his arms open to his now shaking nephew.
"Unc?" Erin questioned, desperate to know he had done the right thing. That his actions hadn't endangered Ares, or his rescuers.
Slowly, Hercules put the facts together, one by one. All he knew of Gods, their powers, and a lot of guess work when he realised he simply didn't know as much a he had always thought he had.
"Erin handled Hades' power?" He looked to the maimed Fire God for conformation and was rewarded with a tight nod. "Erin should be dead, but is very, very much alive." Again Hephaestus nodded, agree with Hercules' statement. "Hades promised his mother? Promised her what? That as long as Erin lived he would never acknowledge his birth?" This time Hades himself nodded.
Finally finished rebuilding Ares' life, once more, Hades held his nephew close to him, sharing his body's warmth as Ares fought against the shock that threatened to overwhelm him.
"So, once Erin died, he was fare game, all bets were off, all promises null and void? So you brought him here and kept him shielded, locked up, even Persephone didn't know he was here?" Iolaus asked, not far behind Hercules in figuring things out.
"Yes, yes, yes, what do you want me to say?" Hades snarled.
"The truth would be a good place to start." Erin offered.
"I suppose it would." Hades sounded so exhausted, so defeated, almost lost.
"Yes, well, let's leave the sentimentality till things are properly resolved, huh?" Ares groaned as he forced himself to his feet, only to stagger and be propped up by, of all people, Zeus himself.
"Son, I don't know what came over me. I never wanted you to suffer, never, not then, not now. I'm sorry, Ares, truly sorry." Zeus touched his hand to Ares' cheek, letting the dark God of War know what he felt, that what he was saying was the truth.
"I know, and I know who did it to you, what it was that they did, but what I don't know is, why?" Ares stood away from his father's touch, but not before he let him know his lack of feeling towards him as a son to a father.
"Please Ares, give me a chance?" Zeus begged his son.
As Ares stood before the King of the Gods, the father who had killed him twice now, he wondered at the nerve of the God!
"Why? Give you another chance, what for? Third time lucky and this time Hades won't get there in time and I stay dead?" That Ares wouldn't give him the benefit of the doubt, even though he knew his father was being controlled, surprised the King of the Gods. He was unused to people denying him what he wanted.
"Never that!" Zeus stood before the group and thought of a world with no Ares. Despite all the hateful things he had said to and about his son, he was still his son, the God of War. Left wondering what he had lost as Ares turned from him to the God of the Dead.
"Thank you, Hades, but we still have unfinished business between us." Ares looked hard at Hades, letting the senior God know he meant every word of his statement.
"I know, and for what it's worth, I know I went about things all wrong, okay?" Hades smiled, the irony not failing to reach Ares, Ares smiled back.
"He had every right to know, to choose his own path. Anyway, let's get out of here and get this all sorted out, once and for all, okay?" Ares looked at the group, his fellow rescuers, as well as Hades, Erin and Persephone, he desperately needed to get out of there.
"I'm kinda exhausted, you might have to wait a while for me to get the energy up to relocate us all." Hades shrugged and turned to face Erin. "What about you? Feel up to relocating everyone out of here?"
"No, that little lot drained me. I've never handled that amount, or type, of energy before." Erin kept his voice flat and his face devoid of emotion as he faced Hades.
"Remind me later to show you how to manage it, okay?" Ares grinned at his adopted son, so very glad to have him alive once more, and not caring who knew it. "Okay, watch this Erin, and learn something. War Gods know just about everything, ya' know?" Ares created another portal between Hades' domain and Olympus.
"What the fu..!" He looked at his widely grinning nephew, as he gathered Erin to his side and they stepped through the portal. Even though he had watched his nephew doing it, Hades couldn't feel the energy being manipulated. He felt every ounce of energy in his domain, why then couldn't he feel Ares' energy?
Everyone else stepped through too, including Persephone.
"How did you do that ?" Erin asked his stepfather.
"I got my own link to the underworld ... only I'm linked to the Egyptian Underworld not Hades' Greek version!" Ares laughed and spoke once more, in unison with Erin.
"Isis!" They both said at the same time. Showing clearly that there were no secrets between them.
A flash of light heralded the arrival of another God or Goddess, right before them, in Zeus' study.
"You called sweetling? I felt your death, I came as soon as I could, are you all right?" Isis herself stepped out of that nimbus and on to Olympian soil for the first time, ever.
"Mama!" Ares greeted his own stepmother and felt peace, for the first time in more than a thousand years, he felt safe, wanted, loved..
"Haven't you done enough damage to my family?" Zeus snarled, still hurting from the discovery that Isis had lied to him all those times, all those centuries ago.
"Not nearly as much as you have!" Isis replied and turned back to Ares. "Now, have you need of me sweetling or shall I await your next visit home?" Her voice was so obviously chiding him, teasing him for their lack of contact, but not resenting him for it.
"Actually, I do. I could use an impartial judge on things around here!" Ares smiled at the Egyptian Goddess, begging her with his heart and soul to stay with them.
"As you wish, sweetling. Tell me what you want me to do." It was as simple as that, just asking her and she would stay to help Ares.
"Okay, we'd better go into the Assembly chamber, this is going to get big and noisy, and possibly very ugly indeed." Ares lead the way, with Isis on his arm.
"Will Hera be there?" Isis asked.
"Probably, why?" Ares replied.
"Then I have to agree with you, this will get ugly, very ugly indeed." But Isis didn't sound in the least bit worried or concerned at the prospect of meeting Hera.
"Wow, Grandmother and Step-Grandmother, in the same room, this is going to be fun!" Erin laughed, as he followed his stepfather and Isis out of the room.
"Erin! That will be enough!" Isis laughed in turn.
And Hades knew such bitterness, that even Isis knew his son's real name when he hadn't!
The Judgment: Conclusion
Isis walked to Zeus' own throne, and sat down. The King of the Olympian Gods took umbrage at her usurping his place like that. Even if she had done nothing, he would resent her being there. She, who had stolen his son from him, from him and his real mother, all those years ago.
Zeus stood silently as he watched Isis draw Ares to her, their heads bent close together as they discussed something of mutual interest. Making a movement towards them, Zeus brought every eye in the room to Ares and Isis.
"Can't we get on?" He asked.
"Why, certainly, we shall look at all the facts." Isis stood up, extending her arms, which were half wings too, pushing her powers out into Olympus, summoning those who would have their say in her judgement. As she stood there, few of those witnessing this inquiry could doubt the image that gave Ares' eldest child form and shape.
"First, I ask Ares, God of War, to tell us what was done? How it was done? Who did it? Then we shall see the why!" Isis looked at her adopted son, then to his adopted son. "Second, lies the nature of Erin's status. Is he alive, or is he dead? What secrets drive his life, or death, so out of his control?"
"Third, who put you in charge?" Hera entered the room, crossed to her arch rival's chair and challenged her, with a look.
"Ares, he asked me to sit as an impartial judge. Had you been paying any attention to his life, then you would know this." Isis' hatred of the Goddess before her was unmistakable, even to Hercules and Iolaus. Also, Hera's hatred for Isis was just as obvious.
"Did he now? What gave him the authority to do this?" Hera demanded.
"I killed him, not an hour ago, in Hades' realm." Zeus whispered, from his position standing by her left shoulder..
"You what?" Hera demanded, moving from her husband to her arch rival's side.
"I did it again!" Zeus admitted.
Hera's eyes glowed, malevolence shining out of her face. This would be her chance, al long last, he had broken his own law, the law he created to protect Ares from him, himself. Now, finally, could she wrest power from Zeus' hands, legally.
"But that act was not of his own volition, that fact alone keeps him alive. Do not doubt me, Zeus of Olympus, any of you, I will protect my sweet one from all of you." Isis looked around the assembled Gods and saw that her words were being headed, for now at least.
"Now, Ares, tell us what you know." Isis smiled at the God of War, lifting a gentle hand to his cheek. "And remember .. I always know!" She smiled, warmly, reminding him of his place in her heart as her adopted son. Also, it reminded him that he had never been able to lie to her, she did always know when he tried. Ares smiled in response, nodded and moved to stand before his half brother, Hercules.
"Over the years, you have accused me of so many acts of cold blooded violence, of murder, rape, pillage.. Just about every act of violence known to mortal man. And I let you. Mostly because, well, I figured that who would believe me, huh? Against 'little mister very favourite son,' I knew I stood no chance." Ares looked at Hercules, the hero was dunb-struck. He was possibly only half a thought behind Ares, all his 'false' accusations could now be shown as just that? And this was linked to their father killing Ares.
"Who was it?" Hercules demanded. "Who made father kill you? Who has spread such lies in your name?"
"You accept that? Without proof?" Ares asked, somewhat amazed at his half brother's reaction.
"I know you have proof, and I will look at it before finally making my mind up, but, yes, basically, I can accept that you are not what, or who, I thought you were."
"Oh!" Was all the War God could say, totally stunned by Hercules' support. He looked around, briefly, seeing every eye upon him and Hercules.
"Go on, Ares. Tell us who put that Blood Curse on your father, tell us who had him kill you, twice now?" The hunter encouraged the God to speak, of all those present, Iolaus thought he, perhaps, knew the War God better than almost all of them. He, and only he, had sat the death vigil with him.
"I declare Bia as the source of that curse. Only he and I have the knowledge to place one, only he has the will to use one. Yet, his was not the only touch of power fuelling that curse. Enyo, Goddess of Mindless Wars, Phonos, God of Murder, Cratos, God of Force. They each had a touch to that curse. It is them I accuse of my murder, twice, they have caused Zeus to take my life, against his will." Ares turned to face Isis, to see her reaction. As always his stepmother remained calm.
"I demand to know why! Why they did this, what did I do, that caused them to want me dead, and only in my third year of life?" He saw that Isis too wanted the answers to that question, all Ares' life she had desired to know who to take into the Underworld, and give her special attention to. Now that she knew who, all that remained was why.
Hercules stepped up to Ares, standing by his brother's shoulder, lending him his quiet support. Then he looked at the bright nimbus of power that grew in the centre of the room.
Three Gods and one Goddess fell out of the nimbus as it faded, obviously unaware of why they had been summonsed, or even how they had been summonsed. The shock on their faces as they saw Isis sitting in Zeus' chair spoke the truth about their total surprise.
"Which of you is Bia?" Isis asked, softly, gently, a tone Hercules was begin to fear ever being turned on him.
"I am, Egyptian witch, what do you want with us? Why have you given yourself Zeus' throne?" The God of Violence reached forward and tried to grab the Egyptian Goddess, Isis was neither weak nor stupid. She reached out towards him, touching his soul and making a demand of him, herself.
"Show me what you desire most?" And she pushed her power at him, making him
change shape to reflect his true desire. As did his companions, all of them. Before the assembled Gods stood four more Ares, God of War's.
"You all want Ares' Godhood?" Zeus demanded, moving to stand between the four
newcomers and his son. "What did he ever do to any of you?"
"He replaced us, you old fool, took what was ours by right, and controlled it. Spoiled everything, so he did, with his armies, and warrior ethics, and codes of conduct, rules of war. There are no rules of war, never were before him, never should have been!" It was the Ares who had been Bia that screamed the accusation at Ares and Zeus.
"But, I explained it to you, all of you. We needed the destructive force of mortal man's basic nature controlled, and none of you seemed able to control it. So, we had to create a God who could control it. Ares was born for that role. What did you hope to achieve?" Zeus felt lost and confused, he felt the pulse of violence dance through his soul, but this time there was the touch of control too. Bia's touch was overlaid with Ares' sure touch. "Get out of my mind!" Zeus shouted, trying to purge the energy of that curse from his heart, mind and soul, but it was not his power to control.
"We don't want control, if mortals learn to control themselves then we all lose, they won't need us anymore!" Enyo hissed her fears at Zeus.
"Perhaps, perhaps not, that is the risk we all take, daily, as Gods, some new God or Gods will replace us, and in time, be replaced themselves. Shit, but we might come back to the fore again, or those we replaced. That is progress, ours as well as theirs." Zeus spoke, as if to simpletons, and, he felt they might as well be, he had had this discussion so many times before. Why couldn't they accept things, and leave his Ares alone?
"Was I supposed to return from Egypt? Was Hades part of this conspiracy to kill me?" Ares asked, quietly, so softly that Hercules knew his brother was in a deep, blazing rage.
"Hades!?" Phonos screamed, then laughed. "What would we want with him? He's a
sterile, useless, excuse for a God.." The God of Murder made his opinion of Hades so very clear.
"Sterile?" A voice squeaked in something akin to hysterical laughter.
"Who..?" Phonos queried.
"Oh, just me, Strife, Hades' son. That's all. You'd better ask my mom about whether he's sterile or not!" Erin, known as Strife, God of Mischief, stepped forward, stand at the other side of Ares from Hercules, and right behind his grandfather.
"So that is why you are alive again, my sweetling?" Isis purred at her step grandson.
"Yup, got it in one gran'ma' seems, dear old dad didn't like his boy being dead, so he brought me back." Erin grinned when he saw the title he gave Isis annoy his real grandmother. Not that he cared for Hera's feelings, she, after all, didin't care at all for him, or Ares. Not really.
"Discord!" Ares cried, summoning his sister, determined to get to the bottom of everything.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, what you shouting about now?" She looked at the two beings
flanking Ares. "My, my, my, what strange company you seem to be keeping these
days, dead Gods and idiots!" She smiled as Hercules bristled, ready to slap her, as did Strife too, it was only Ares touching them both on their nearest arm to him that held them both back.
"Look, you're here to answer questions, not throw insults, you can't justify around. What I want to know is, why did you (a) Have an affair with Hades, (b) Not let him claim Erin as his son and (c) Lie to us all this time that you had told Erin's father but he refused to acknowledge his child?" Ares glared at her, he let her see just how much Erin's death had affected him.
She had the sense to be scared of that rage and pain.
"I am Discord, and that one act caused so much Discord it powered me for a century. I followed my nature, so what? Who cares?" She shrugged, carelessly, deliberately provoking Ares. Yet is was Erin who responded.
"You're such a shit, ya' know? You're so full of it, your breath reeks of it. Sorry, mother dearest, but the only mother worse than you is Hera. Keeping up a family tradition were you? Fuck a senior God and not know what to do with the resulting offspring?" Then Erin thought of something, something so wonderful he couldn't wait to use it as a weapon. "Fuck!" He swore, almost laughing. "Where in Hades' name did you think my powers would come from? Whose domain fuels my strength?" He enjoyed the look of abject confusion on her face. "Well, let me give ya' a big clue, ya' sure are too stupid for a small one!" Again his face screwed up in a delighted fit of the giggles. "You threw me away, you denied me to my blood father. Father dearest wanted nothing more than to acknowledge his son. So, he thought a lot about me.. getting any clues here? Who has the biggest single power base in all the pantheon?"
Erin saw realisation dawn in his mother's eyes, far too late to help her any.
"Yeah, my father, great idea there mother, reject me, reject my power source!" Finally Erin gave in and fell into hysterical laughter, turning to Ares for physical support. His adopted father held him while he laughed himself out.
"Well, you know now, so what do you want to do with this knowledge?" Ares asked, hoping his beloved Erin wouldn't go into the Underworld permanently.
"I haven't the foggiest idea, dad." Erin finally managed to say, between hiccups.
"Well I have an idea." Isis announced from Zeus' throne. "These four, will be confined to the Underworld as servants of Hades, their powers will be restricted. Zeus, you will have the curse lifted, in fact, Ares do it now, my dear!" She smiled at her adopted son as he did just that, he removed the final traces of the cures from his father, protecting him from any future attempts to control him like that. Ares was none too gentle about it either, he ripped it out, causing both the cursed and cursers pain, more so the fools
that had placed such a curse on Zeus.
"Enough sweetling!" Isis admonished, Ares had the grace to blush.
"And, finally, Erin, you too will go to the Underworld, your time will be split between Hades' domain, and mine. I will monitor his dealings with you, but you and your father have to spend time together. I judge, oh, five years working for Hades to be only fare. You may return home to Ares' home every evening, if you so desire, but you will not work for him, in any capacity, for said five years. Clear on this everyone? Ares?"
"Yes, mother." Ares muttered as everyone else mumbled general yeses. Erin remain silent, stunned by her judgement. He had been so certain Isis would have let him get right back to working with Ares. Now this?
"Erin?" Isis prompted.
"Yes, it's clear, but why?" He needed to know.
"Simply because he is your father, and he honoured your mother's hateful condition, that shows much honour, does it not?" Isis asked, never looking away from Erin's eyes and face, watching his thoughts chase around after one another.
"I suppose!" He mumbled. "Do I have to do this, dad?" He asked Ares.
"Yes, you do. It's only five years Erin, nothing to a War God!" Ares grinned, he looked confident, but Zeus saw the doubt in his soul. Ares doubted whether his son would ever come back to him, not when he had all his blood father's domain to play in.
Isis saw that her task was complete, she leaned over to whisper in Hera's ear. When the Goddess of Marriage reacted, Isis vanished, Hera hot on her heals.
"Will they fight?" Hercules asked his brother.
"Yup, sure will." Ares told him.
"What'll happen?" Iolaus asked.
"Well, last time, Alexander the Great happened!" And Ares laughed. "See, Hera lost that fight too, so she created Alexander to do her bidding, only, when he got to Egypt, he was a liberator, not an invader. Boy, was she pissed!"
The assembly was dismissed by Zeus, until only the group that had come from Hades' palace remained in the hall.
"Hades, you choose, it's either him, or me!" Persephone demanded. Not liking the idea of her husband having a son, an heir to his powers.
For his part Hades knew which he would chose.
"Persephone, my love, I have loved you for years, four, five, however many. I have longed to acknowledge, and know, my son for five centuries and more, you go figure out which one you'd choose." There it was, Erin's blood father had chosen him over his wife, and Ares knew he had lost his Erin to Hades. Oh, not permanently, he would still be his boy, but Hades had proven his desire to know him, and Ares knew too Erin's desire to know who his real father was.
"Cool!" Erin muttered.
"Not quite the solution we thought we'd get, was it?" Hephaestus asked.
"No, was not, have to agree with you there." Ares mumbled.
"So what now?" Iolaus asked. "Any one fancy a party to celebrate Erin's new status as once more alive?" The irrepressible hunter offered his idea to the group.
"Why not!" Ares smiled at him, a party, sounded like just what he needed. "Why not indeed!" He lead them out of the hall and to his home.
A minute or two after they arrived there, Erin flashed in too.
"Hey, you ain't havin' a party without me, now are ya?" The Mischief God almost whined in complaint, not wanting to miss a moment of the party. "How could ya' think of celebrating my return with out me, huh?"
Ares finally relaxed, knowing his son had chosen him over his own blood father. At least, as far as his spare time went.
"Welcome home, son." He whispered as he held Erin close.
Erin just stood there, grinning like a maniac, too happy to speak, for once!