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Blood. More blood. Sacrifice. Pride. Ego. Lots of ego. Betrayal. Revenge... Typical, I suppose. Humans and their fickle minds. Have they no idea how to handle their disagreements with less dramatics?

 

Ares rolls his eyes, turning from the small bubbling fountain positioned beneath him. The images of battlefields painted with deep-red blood and bits of flesh flash like a movie reel in the rippling water, visions of a violent invasion bubbling up from its depths.

 

Ares snaps his fingers. The water's glossy scene changes – a man stands over a table, furiously pounding his fists on the wood. The candles and coins on the table's surface shake from the rumble of his erratic behavior as he screams Ares' name over and over again. Ares lets out a sigh. 

 

"Yes, I hear your calls," Ares says aloud, though no one can hear him. He's alone in the fountain's room. "Don't curse me for your problems, human. Have you no self-acceptance of your fate?"

 

The man continues to fume, his face so red steam could be emanating from it. He paces back and forth, knocking over anything he can and kicking it about the room. His armor rattles with each stomp, clinking like a melody to his barbaric growls and groans, angry and feral. His brown hair tousels with his sporadic movements, wild and untamed, like his current attitude. 

 

Ares places his hands on either side of the fountain, studying the man intently. "Why must I deal with humans like you?" he says, tenderness in his voice. He scrunches his brows together, then touches the rippling water gently with his fingertips. The water turns metallic, and it slithers up his arm. It engulfs his body and sucks him in, sliding him through the realm's many avenues and entryways, stretching and pulling his existence to the other side until he's leaning on the stone wall of the room pictured in the fountain only seconds before.

 

"If it weren't very obvious you are a grown man, one might think a child was throwing this tantrum," Ares says to the man. The man turns his attention toward him, teeth bared.

 

"You promised me a victory! I want my victory!" the man demands, walking up until his nose nearly reached Ares' chin, millimeters away from making contact. Ares could feel the flames burning under the man's skin. He felt pity for such a lack of control over one's emotions.

 

"I promised you no such thing, mortal. I promised you the war you so seek." Ares stands, collected and unphased, straightening the collar of his eccentric suit. "Your measly specifics do not fall in my area of expertise."

 

"You are the God of war, are you not? You try to tell me you do not hold our fates in your hand? I will believe no such thing!" the man exclaims. "If I have learned anything during my time in war it is that you have the answers. You supply the victories."

 

"Mardonius, I do supply the victories, but I am under no obligation to give them to you." Ares narrows his eyes with the last word, digging deep through Mardonius's eyes and down into his soul. 

 

Mardonius looks away, twitching around the lips. "Have I not proven to be a worthy warrior? I have led many men onto the battlefield, conquered the city of gold, won hundreds of fights-

 

"And that's why I have awarded you the victories you have already claimed. You must push on, Mardonius; you must keep going, keep fighting. More blood must be shed for your cause! If I do not feel that you are loyal to your commitment, I will find someone else who is." But Ares already knew he would find someone else. Eventually. He has been alongside war commanders for years, persuading them to battle. As soon as Mardonius meets his fate, Ares will find another power-hungry man to take under his wing. It's his duty. Without hatred, there would be no love.

 

Love. 

 

"You know I am your most loyal associate. I have done all that you have asked of me. And still, blood is shed from my men!" Mardonius turns and storms to the other side of the room. He stops, and his tone weakens. "Maybe I am not the warrior you praise me for being."

 

A cloud of uncertainty rolls over Mardonius's cryptic eyes. Ares can sense he is slipping off course, unsure of his abilities to lead an army. "You are exactly the warrior we need. The Gods need you. We need you to fulfill your destiny." Ares walks over to meet him. "Without you, the world will crumble," he continues, a tiny lie in the name of persuasion leaving his tongue.

 

Mardonius straightens. "Yes. Of course. It is I who will conquer. It is I who will win the war. I will lead my men to victory, and I will take what is mine! With you by my side, I can have all that I want, all that I desire, and all the power that comes with it. I doubted you, and for that, I am sorry. I will trust your wise words. I will continue my course," Mardonius says, locking his pupils to Ares' compelling gaze. "And I will not let you down."

 

"Very well," Ares responds, turning toward the table. He waves his hand over the wood and golden light streams around the surface like fireflies dancing in the wind. Their trails conjoin like canals flowing into each other and begin forming roads, trees, mountains, and full landscapes, until a map of Greece glows so bright it lights the entire room. A trail of red paints itself from their location to Thassos, illuminating a destined passage. "Send your men this way. They will find their next battle there."

 

The man falls to his knees, worshiping Ares, thanking him for his next move, assuring him he will make the Gods proud. But Ares knew the poor men's fate already – and it made his stomach feel as heavy as stacked bricks.

 

I have a job to do, Ares thinks. Push your empathy for the mortals aside. You have a balance to maintain. 

 

"Go on now. Gather your men and let them know their plans," Ares says, unable to hold eye contact. Their plans for death. 

 

Mardonius strides out of the room, a vicious grin plastered on his face. Ares leans against the table, arms crossed. He hates to send men to their doom, but sometimes, his expertise requires he make difficult choices - dreadful choices. After all, there is no good without evil. He fights off a sting at his eye, wishing he could have been the God of something else. Anything else. Anything but death, hatred, and agony. Anything but urging war.

 

Ares stands, shakes his head, and straightens his already straightened jacket once more. He lifts his arm at the elbow and snaps his fingers.

 

Now surrounded by a garden full of roses, carnations, lavender, and honeysuckle, Ares stares at a woman tracing the outline of a pink rose petal with her forefinger. Her blonde hair flows to the small of her back, curling wildly down its length. Her olive skin glows in the sunlight, a bronze doll dressed in all white. The scent of floral delicacies floats in the air with the pollen from a nearby cottonwood tree, depicting a living image of a portrait one would expect to see in an art gallery. 

 

"Atossa," Ares whispers, drawing the wind toward him so her hair leaves her bare shoulder uncovered. She turns to him, her blue eyes gleaming at the notice of his arrival.

 

"Ares! My love!" she exclaims, leaping to her feet. She throws herself at him, falling into his arms. He wraps her in an embrace, lifting her from the ground. His peace. His happiness. His love. He knows he shouldn't be here, but he can't stand the empty hole burrowing inside him after sending hundreds of helpless lives to their retirement. She's the only thing that has filled that hole for him. A human. The only one who can wash his dread away, at least temporarily.

 

"You look ravishing," he says into the nape of her neck. She smells sweet, like freshly picked berries. She nuzzles into his chest further.

 

"I've missed you," she says, muffled by his jacket. He pries her body from his, creating space between them so he can see her face. He locks his golden eyes with hers.

 

"I yearn for your presence more than these flowers crave the sun," he says, cupping her face in his hand. The weight of her head falls into his grasp.

 

"Why are you here? Is everything alright?" she asks, placing her hand on his.

 

"I've simply missed the peace you bring me, my lovely Atossa." He looks down, unable to tell her the whole truth. If only she knew the fate of her son-in-law, Mardonius. If only she knew the fate of her kingdom.

 

"I will always be your safe haven, Ares. As you are for me." He can feel the adoration in her tone. She had called on him in the past when her husband, King Darius, was in a drunken madness. He took a blade to her delicate skin, threatened to slice her throat while in his belligerent fury, accusing her of cheating on him with another man. As if that wasn't hypocritical of him - he had brought dozens of women into their bed over the years. But that wasn't the first time he had laid his hands on her. Darius had tossed her down two stories of stairs only months ago after she was found roaming outside of the castle's walls. She would have bled to death that night had Ares not been there to save her, an engagement he must keep secret from his immortal family. "But Darius is here today. You mustn't stay here any longer. He will see you. You know how he gets when he's angry."

 

Ares presses his lips to hers, silently reminding her how much her touch is worth it. He pulls back, her body sinking into his once more. "I will find you. Soon, we will be together again."

 

Her hand runs through his dark curls, tangling her fingers in its mess. "I will wait for you – for a million moons, I will wait."

 

He smiles, then kisses her forehead, tenderly closing his eyes to fully embed the moment into his memories, etching it into his heart. "I won't make you wait that long," he says, then snaps his fingers. 

 

Standing on the balcony of a small stone building perched atop a mountain's peak, Ares now looks out at deep valleys in the immediate distance. Clouds fill their crevices and trees carpet the land protruding out of the fluffy mist. The walls enclosing him, covered in paintings of the Gods, have crumbled slightly from years of wear, letting fragments of light stream through tiny holes between the layered rocks. Bits of sand sprinkle the ground and dust gathers in the corners. Spiders have spun their webs along the ceiling, laying claim to the building's abandonment. An old worshiping temple, lost and forgotten after hundreds of years, now acts as a sanctuary for Ares when he's on Earth. He doesn't have to worry about any mortal interaction this far from all the self-aware. Ares wanders over to his portrayal illustrated colorfully on the wall. His eyes scan the depiction, hardly noticing any resemblance. 

 

A familiar voice chirps behind him. "You're diddling with the human woman again, aren't you? Father will not be pleased."

 

"I am only doing my job, Athena."

 

"Your job is to make war. With no war, there is no peace."

 

"She is relevant to this war. She is wedded to King Darius. Without her influence, there could be resistance," he responds, but he knows it's much deeper than that. It always has been.

 

"Then you won't mind that I already informed Father of your whereabouts."

 

"You what?!"

 

"But it's just your job, right?"

 

"Must you always be a thorn in my arse, Athena? I can do my job without you."

 

"On the contrary. I'm the brains behind it all. Without my aid in strategizing, there would be no war. Without a motive, no one will wage a battle."

 

Ares rolls his eyes. "Just get out of here before Father arrives."

 

"Oh, I'd rather stay," Athena says, wearing a devilish smile. Ares cuts his eyes at her as a figure appears across the room. Zeus.

 

"Ares. What have you been entertaining yourself with?"

 

"War, Father. Only war."

 

"I have received word that you may be becoming intimate with a mortal. You know what comes with that. It is never good."

 

"She is simply a pawn in the game. Nothing more."

 

"Is that so? Well, then it shouldn't disturb you to know that her death will take place within the hour. Alexander is after her. He will murder her this evening as a warning to King Darius."

 

Ares stiffens, a million thoughts running through his mind. He has to save her. He promised her he would see her again.

 

As if Zeus knew where his attention had wandered, he continued. "If you disturb her fate, you will suffer dire consequences, Ares. Do you understand what I'm saying to you?"

 

Ares can't contain his distress anymore. He tosses his restraint aside and launches himself at Zeus. He tackles him to the ground for no more than a second before Zeus has him on his back, roped in lightening, sparkling like electrified glitter. Ares struggles under the constraints, but he is no match against the most powerful of all Gods.

 

"You can't take her from me, Father! I love her!" Ares exclaims, unable to control his intensifying emotions. They build up inside his chest like a haunting crescendo.

 

"Why did you lie to me, son? You said she was only part of the war," Zeus clarifies.

 

"She is! I mean, kind of. She-"

 

"Isn't a part of the war," Athena finishes from behind.

 

"Stay out of this, Athena," Ares growls.

 

"Athena, please, allow me and my son to deal with matters alone," Zeus says. Athena nods and evaporates into a silver fog, dispersing silently throughout the room. "You cannot be distracted by a mortal woman, Ares. She has to be removed from the equation."

 

"You made this her fate! It wasn't her fate before this, was it?" Ares shouts.

 

"No such thing matters, Ares. What is will be. Do your job - War. That is your only duty in life."

 

"I don't want to be the God of War. I despise what I know so well! Take my powers, take my life, I don't care. I no longer want to serve this purpose!"

 

"Your fate has already been decided. You must maintain the balance in the mortal world. There is no peace without war. You are destined to make that sacrifice. You must face it, as all of us have done before." Zeus flicks his hand at Ares and sends him to a place he knows so well. Back to his home. Back to his fountain.

 

The ropes no longer tie his limbs against their will, but they retain their vibration from the friction only moments before. Ares stands and dusts off his pants. Tears sting his eyes as he debates watching the ordeal occur through the fountain's water, but he doesn't budge. He could never view such a scene without disobeying his father.

 

He turns and sits with his back leaning against the fountain's body. His head falls into his hands. He should have never gotten involved with a mortal. He knew deep down that only this end could come of it.

 

Why must I be an expert on a subject I loathe so much? Why must I accept this reality? 

 

Ares' expression changes, and he lifts his head high, tears wetting the skin around his eyes. He wipes the moisture off with the back of his hand. 

 

For the greater good, I must prevail. 

 

Ares stands and turns to the fountain to watch Mardonius's men walk into a deadly storm, the storm he led them to, the storm that will claim most of their lives.

 

"This is my job. And I will do it well," he states to himself, pushing his mortal emotions aside. His spoken words convince him for now, but the heaviness in his heart refuses to lighten. "I will absorb the dark so others can see the light. I will make my family proud."

November 14, 2019 23:57

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