Son of War


The tension in my arm was like nothing I'd ever felt before, and between you and me, that was saying something. I felt the very fibers of the bow straining as my eyes fought the icy wind. The golden hue of the arrowhead was only a blur near my fingertips. I concentrated and took one slow breath after the next. The clouds plumed from my mouth feebly, like a dying steam engine before being swept away into the void that clung to me. Oh, I could have used a rifle, or even a crossbow. Laser sights and digital tracking sensors were all the rage, but it just didn't feel the same. Besides, love was supposed to be personal.

Karen was typical enough among young mortals. She was bright, cared about her health, and was generally thoughtful of her fellow beings...but, she was also a believer. She didn't light candles or go to Sunday assembly for that other God, but she radiated the glow of belief nonetheless. We could all see it from our solace above the clouds: those little embers that every believer had among the ashes of the mortal worlds.

She didn't exactly believe in me, per se. Things would have been so much easier if she had. No; I had been reduced to an ornament on a gift shop card. A passing notion used to sell candy, or some other cheap token of affection. I suppose you could say she believed in me- if only because Karen believed in love. She wanted it so desperately she could taste it in the morning air. She could see it in the couples she passed on the streets, or on the inter-planetary shuttles. It was obvious in the quiet moments she stole from the street-side cafe windows while waiting for her bus. It was there when people held hands walking home together. I blinked away the frost from my eyes again, and kept searching. She needed a golden arrow more than anyone I had seen in a long, long time.

The damned wind started to turn harsh and I could feel a lump of ice forming in the meat of my thigh. A sheen of frost had formed along the arch of my foot, but after a quick flex, the feeling subsided. I heard a faint crack, and then a soft sound, like tinkling glass. My hair felt stiff and windswept and after the countless days, the only company I had apart from the chill wind was the sound the bow made as it creaked under the strain. My fingertips held the string taut, but I lost feeling in them long ago. When I thought about it, I couldn't honestly remember how long I'd been there waiting; days at least, weeks, maybe even longer. I blinked back the frost again.

I could see movement out in the mortal worlds. They churned like colonies of ants burrowing on a tide of shifting sand. It used to be teeming with light, pinpoints glowing like suns against the black, but now it was rare to see even one faint ember in every thousand pits of darkness. That was why finding a believer like Karen felt so priceless to me, and why finding a believer that wasn't already paired to someone else was so daunting. I looked constantly from world to world, searching through every tide of shifting bodies and faithless husks until I caught the faintest glimpse.

In a small corner of a hive-like planet called Nexus, I saw him. My heart almost stopped and I questioned my senses. Was he really there at all? I blamed my fatigue and boredom-but he was there, at least for a moment before he was swallowed up again by the masses. I turned a fraction on my heel and broke the ice off my fingertips. He moved like a bobber in a river being dragged down by an angry fish. I waited until he resurfaced, and when he did, I saw my shot. His heart was exposed and laid wide open to me: so I let the arrow fly. I screamed as my arms relaxed and the pent up force was released. The bolt streaked through the void of time and space, and as it crossed into the mortal thread it became more than any mere bolt. By the time it reached Nexus, it traveled faster than light and carried the weight of a megaton bomb. Shame that it hit Jack in the middle of the best dream he'd ever had.

It took me a few minutes to get the feeling back in my arms, and then nearly an hour to regain the strength I needed to stand up without falling off the edge of Olympus. The rocky outcrop I occupied was windswept and layered in ice, but after I got the blood pumping in my feet again, I was able to step as lively as ever. By the time I reached the braziers of the temples' square, I was dry enough not to leave footprints from the melted ice.

Revelry was common among the palace square these days. Most of the Elders were so eager to celebrate anything that every solstice celebration lasted nearly to the next. The Winter solstice held on longer than the Fall, but it finally seemed to reach a fever pitch. Music and dance, laughter and joy: they reverberated off the walls while cups overflowed onto the marble stones underfoot. I found my wife in deep celebration with Ceres and Vestal. A servant spied me moving through the crowd and pursued me with a cup in her hand. When I reached for Psyche's side, she stopped short and turned around, ready to apologize for the infraction. Then her eyes lit up, and she threw her hands around my shoulders. She also immediately recoiled as shivers ran down her body.

"By us all, you're freezing!" Psyche said, and handed me her cup. The servant scowled at me, and retreated into the crowd. I drained the cup and handed it back.

"I did not mean to interrupt for long, but it is done. Karen and Jack are to be united. My arrow struck true not but a moment ago."

To her credit, Phsyche did not laugh the way the others often did. She smiled sweetly at me, and I felt warmth begin to radiate out of my core. To everyone else, it seemed my ministrations into the mortal thread were an antiquated fantasy. It was something to be left behind the way a child might leave a crib toy at marriage. She hugged me again despite the chill that was evident through her gown when we parted. I bid her to return to the festival, and headed toward our home where I could lay my bow in its cradle.

As the sound of merriment dimmed behind me, I felt a sense of jubilation start to creep into my veins. Karen and Jack were just two of but a small handful of souls that I had been able to influence this year. And no matter what anyone else chose to think, the fact was that true mortal believers were getting fewer every season. The evidence was right above our eyes, if only they would look up from their drinks long enough to see it. In truth, we were dying just as much as the mortals' belief in us was. However, the memory of the ambrosia on my lips helped drive the thought from my mind. After changing my clothes and ensuring my bow was as it should be, I heeded the call of the Elders and returned to the celebration.

The sky above the Pantheon was beautiful that night. Apollo and Diana were dancing in the center of the square upon my return and I took my place among the onlookers. Apollo stood a full head over the moon goddess, and their dance was an amazing spectacle of light and shadow that cast a brilliant spectrum of color into the heavens. I watched the beams of light spiral into the darkness and burst into gorgeous blooms. With my eyes upward, a goblet was thrust into my hands and nearly half of its contents splashed against my toes.

"This is no time to be somber, my boy, feast upon the bounty!" Bacchus laughed as he sidled up to me. His nose was as red as ever and a sheen of sweat made his face shine.

"Overjoyed, yes, my friend, and not a bit somber. Maybe just a bit sober is all," I said and raised the glass he handed to me to drink.

"Well, we can certainly fix that, can't we?"

Even as I sipped, my glass refilled. We toasted time and again until the dance of Apollo and Diana ended, and the crowd applauded. Psyche and I joined and parted like waves crashing on the beach, and I allowed myself to be swept around the crowd. At some point, I came to rest near my mother's seat at the main dais and took my rest. I felt the rush of the festival in my veins, and the damn cup Bacchus touched just wouldn't drain. I tipped it over and watched it dribble out over the stones. I started to count off the seconds, but the steady stream just wouldn't relent.

"It isn't wise to be so wasteful, Child" my mother said from beside me. How long she'd been there, or even watching over me was impossible to say.

"I am sorry to say I don't think I will ever be able to finish what my friend has set before me," I said and smiled. I handed her my goblet. She raised an eyebrow as she took a sip, then glanced down and watched it refill.

She handed it back to me and sighed. "I see you have your work cut out for you then."

I got the distinct impression she wasn't only talking about the cup. "You don't think I'm wasting my time, do you?"

She regarded me for a moment that was prolonged by the festival air. "If you regard a task worthwhile, even once, then it is never a waste of your time."

I smiled, and a moment later, I was ushered to the main floor to dance with my wife. We circled among the other couples and remained at each others side for the rest of the evening. I remember vague images of staggering home, of her skin pressed against mine in our bed, and then sweet nothingness.

It was dark when I awoke to the sound of Psyche's gentle moan. I felt her stir in bed next to me. I whispered her name, but I already knew she was still fast asleep. I rolled over to face her and kissed her forehead softly. When she didn't stir, I kissed her cheekbone, and then her pliant lips. Still no response. I caressed her, from shoulder to hip and back. I felt the line of her form under my fingertips a thousand times before, but she still evoked such a powerful response from me.

She stirred, and moaned so faintly I might have imagined it. My hand retraced the path, over and over again. I reached behind her to touch her spine, and then moved to feel the swell of her breasts. She rolled onto her back and I kissed her chin as she stretched, but she only fell deeper into her slumber. Less than half-covered by our sheets and bathed in moonlight, she looked like no finer goddess I had ever known. I rained soft kisses down on her: from cheeks to chin, neck to chest. I was languid with softness over her nipples until they stood tall with a purpose of their own. My hand traveled as light as a warm breeze over her legs and finally slipped between.

Behind her eyes, she was lost to the sensations of her body. She was being carried away by dragons, ravaged by maidens and princes alike. She mewled a sound of need that was joined only by her legs parting ever so slightly. I kissed my way down her chest, past her navel, and parted her lips with my tongue. Her sharp hiss of air was a sweet passion that inflamed me and drove me to work faster with short urgent strikes. My tongue jabbed at her; it poked, prodded, and then gently licked the sweetness away before attacking her again. Her hips twisted under me and her thighs opened fully. I drank from her for as long as I wanted and her soft cries were like music to my ears. As her body began to spasm, she startled awake only to feel a crashing wave of pleasure slam into her. She groaned, a deep and resonate sound that left her clawing at the bed. I kept my lips pressed against her until she kicked me away.

I crawled up beside her and kissed her eyelids, and then her tongue sought mine. When her heartbeat finally slowed, her hands began to explore my body. In the dim moonlight, she found my cock waiting for her touch. She coiled her hand around me and she kissed me deeply. She pushed against me, and then pulled on my cock in urgent waves. It served to inflame me even more. I groaned against her mouth but no matter how hard I pushed up to meet her hand, she maintained that same slow steady rhythm that I used on her. It felt like an eternity before she finally pulled back and leaned over me so that her hair blocked my view.

I felt her mouth on me, the heat of her tongue and the wetness on my cock. Her hand never stopped, it only pulled or pushed at her lips whenever she moved. I felt eternal, glorious, and so full of desire that I nearly screamed. Only after I began to thrust up at her over and over did she pause long enough to climb atop me. She ground her wetness against me and I tried to shift our bodies, but she wouldn't have any of it. She kept her own pace, and pulled my face to her breasts to keep me distracted. But I wasn't distracted! I felt her sliding up and down the length of me, and no matter how I struggled; she would not allow me in. I moaned and took her nipple between my lips, then pulled hard. She leaned forward to keep me from hurting her and in that moment, we aligned at last. I released her nipple and as she settled back down, we both groaned as I felt her warmth cover me completely. She wrapped her hands around my shoulders and I held tight to her hips as we rocked together. I kissed her neck and put my forehead against her collarbone. I felt her tense, and a second later I groaned as I felt my cock being squeezed inside her. I felt like everything that I was left me in that instant, and spilled into her. It was easily the most memorable night we shared in years.

When the light of dawn awoke me next, I heard a sound like water dribbling into a small brook. I opened a bleary eye to see that the goblet Bacchus had given me had been knocked over on my nightstand. The spilled wine snaked like a river across the floor. I turned it upright and rolled onto my back. I wanted to go back to sleep, but my eyes remained open and I stared up at the ceiling. Psyche turned and clung to me. My mind began to run in circles: first it lingered on the pleasure of the night before, but it drifted to the festival. Then my mind settled on the mortals, Karen and Jack.

I felt my brow furrow at the thought. My task was completed, so why did their union haunt me? It was done, and not even Jupiter himself could undo it. I willed myself to forget them and tried to concentrate on the beautiful woman at my side, but the thought of the mortals persisted. I groaned and slipped from the warmth of my bed and dressed.

The walk out to the outcrop was a lonely one. Not even the servants were awake yet among the Pantheon. People slumped in archways, some half-clothed and others bare. Pairs of limbs lay tangled where they slumbered. I moved out into the cold and instantly felt the wind bite at my skin. I looked out toward the worlds of mortals, but I really didn't know what I was expecting to see. I strained my eyes against the monuments they built. I looked into their ashes again. They thought their concrete giants kept them safe, but they were just ornate coffin lids. It took me a fair while to find them, but I finally did. Karen was right where I'd left her, helping those near her as best she could. I yawned and shifted my eyes toward Nexus. I rubbed the cold out of my arms as I squinted through the haze until I found Jack. My heart stopped; he was certainly not where I had intended him.

I turned and raced back to the Pantheon. After searching the square for Jupiter and discovering he wasn't among the throng, I made my way past the columns toward his home. I had just turned the corner at a full run when I found my path blocked. Two centurion soldiers flanked Pluto, who glanced over his shoulder to me at the sound of his soldiers' snap to attention.

"What has happened, Sir?" I asked, holding my breath for news I didn't want to hear.

"It would appear, that we are all in good company this morning," he said coolly. I looked ahead of him and saw that my father's own centurions were standing just outside Jupiter's counsel room. A lump formed in my throat and my mind raced. It only took a few moments before I saw my father take his leave. His men followed close behind while he issued hushed orders. Pluto filled the vacancy Mars left behind, and I was left alone with his soldiers.

I tried to sort my mind through what I had seen, and what I was going to say that could somehow stop what had been done; or rather, what was being done. But the time I needed to think clearly had already left me. Pluto swept from the King's hall as if Cerberus itself was at his back.

My feet felt leaden as I stepped inside Jupiter's hall and at first, all I could smell was death and war, but it faded into ozone and fresh rain by the time I reached his sanctum. Jupiter stood facing an open space between two columns where I could see the worlds of men before him. His hands were clasped tightly behind his back and he didn't turn to face me when he spoke.

"It would appear that your father's warning so many years ago has been wasted, son of War. And, my brother has just been to seek my blessing for his preparations, which I gave readily."

"Preparations for what, sir, what has happened?" I asked, and felt my gaze fix on the pinpoints of light over his shoulder. There was so little of them left in the mortal coils.

"We have too few believers as it is to slay them without just cause. But there may be no other way, now."

"Kill him?" I gasped, and took a step forward. "But why? How could this have happened? I saw straight into his heart. I searched for what seemed like an eternity for an unclaimed believer to strike!"

He turned, and I saw twin storms brewing in his eyes. I felt a shudder of fear reach through me and take hold of my spine. "It was not your carelessness. It was not your desire to do right, or wrong. At the moment your arrow struck the man's heart, he was in the hold of Somnus. This mortal, this...'Jack', is in thrall to whatever it was he saw in his mind at that moment."

My mouth felt so dry I feared my tongue would crack. "What did Somnus say it was, Sir?"

"Nothing, yet. Your aim, son of War, is astounding."

Jupiter's words were like a hammer blow against my heart. "What are you trying to say, Sir? That my arrow struck hard enough to harm my brethren?"

Jupiter shook his head and lightning flashed in his eyes. "I am saying that you struck through him. The shaft that pierced the mortal's heart, passed first through the hand of Somnus. There is already a storm brewing among the stars. Somnus now slumbers and all attempts thus far to awaken him have been unsuccessful." Jupiter held his hand up high and a globe of light filled the room. "The mortals lives will be thrown into chaos. Dreams will become reality, reality a dream. Nightmares, untold..."

I watched as the globe filled with images of humanity throughout the ages. There were wars, battles on land, at sea, and in the air. There were clashes among stellar species, genocides, famine, and pestilence. I watched helpless as things began to turn even more horrific. Demons and creatures from the darkest corners of mortal minds, nightmares made real. Fear incarnate.

"What can be done?" My question was barely more than a whisper.

"We are prepared to reap the souls of a war that will make Troy look like a gentle breeze. You can start by praying that the few believers we have left are not crushed beneath this beast before we can put it down."

I remember feeling a crushing weight of anxiety, of blame, and I spoke without a thought of the consequence. "I can stop this!"

Jupiter stared at me coldly. The smell of ozone filled the room. "You, son of War? How."

"If I may be allowed, Sir." My eyes were frozen at the orb, watching the visions of what may be unfolding even now as the uncontrolled dream-state of Somnus spread across mortal worlds. "The hearts of Jack and Karen have been linked. The arrow, my arrow, has been drawn and as you have said it struck true, too true it would appear." I swallowed hard. "If I can reach Jack, and then show him the difference between his dreams and his one True Love, and then do the same with Karen by showing her the True Love of her dreams, maybe reality can be tempered against their dreams." I stumbled through my thoughts, not wanting to let go of Jupiter's attention. "Focus on reviving Somnus, Sir, and by all that is good, battle down the phantoms if or when they should appear. If any part of Somnus has indeed been passed to Jack, he may well be the only one who can hold the line for us. Let me at least try to heal this rift before we lose even one more believer." I closed my eyes against the stinging light. "If nothing else, I may be able to buy you time enough to awaken Somnus before things can grow out of our control."

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