Ares looked at the road stretching in front of his pick-up truck, the dusting of snow that had fallen now scattered on the dusty road that showed scant tracks of other vehicles from other farms. Glancing to his right in the fading sunlight, he saw Tamara in red coat over an outdoors outfit of old boots, lined jeans and a black plaid shirt. Her sunglasses reflected the road ahead of them and the air from the heater cleared the fog from most of the door window.
"It was an unexpected request," he said, "but a fair one. No one should be in such dark to take that step forward."
She turned to him and smiled, shifting in her seat shifting her feet together and moving them towards the sidewall of the truck.
"I've had time to think about it, Aaron, and I know you are a personal man who doesn't easily talk about himself and what he has done. Yet all that I've seen from you, done with you..." she sighed, "...all of it is telling me to be closer to you."
Shifting his head to pay attention to the road ahead he nodded.
"This is not easy for me, Tamara. And my brothers and sisters makes this... different. If it was just myself, I would have fewer worries. Now you will have to know more about what happened and how we have dealt with it. All that I can ask is that you understand why we have chosen these paths and respect them, even if you disagree with them."
Her lips tightened and she nodded.
"I don't think that any of you, even your brother I haven't met, can be bad people, Aaron," she shivered not from the cold but the description that she knew from Mason of what had happened to Aaron and then from Regina of what Diana had done. She knew that even as she picked up Aaron at the airport and then asked him to let her join him in life. She did have to know what was going on before she would commit and so, for Thanksgiving, they would now see if they would find reason to give thanks together. "But, knowing you and them, I can't see how you could have been so awful in the past and become such good people, now."
He brought the truck to a stop at the gate to his ranch and he opened the door to get out and unlock the chains holding it closed, swinging the gates open and securing them with the chains before getting back in the truck. Slowly he brought the truck through the gate and through the light powder of snow on the loose gravel packed road that curved towards the main house. He went by the house and turned the truck around, and then pulled to a stop in front of the house. When he shut off the truck he leaned over to her and she to him and they kissed.
"Welcome to my home, Tamara. One of them, at least. I'll let you in and then come out for the luggage."
She smiled and took off her sunglasses as he turned to step out of the truck. He waited for her at the front steps and she left the truck to join him and he put his arm around her shoulders and her arm went around his waist as they went up the stairs together. Shifting the keys in his left hand he opened the lock on the door and opened it, and as they stepped in he left her for a moment to go to the closet under the stairs to turn on the main breaker for the house. Lights came on in the entryway, living area and kitchen. When he came back he hugged her and then turned to look into the house.
"I'll get the groceries in as well. If you want some heat the furnace controls are in the livingroom and there should be enough wood to get the fireplace going."
As she let go of him and looked at the simple home she nodded.
"Furnace, first, to get the chill off the place, I think."
He kissed her forehead and then left to start bringing in their luggage and groceries as she walked carefully on the carpeting over the wooden floors to the living area. She found the simple dial control for the heating system and turned it to HEAT and set it to 68. She saw another set of controls next to it with a key lock that simply said 'AUTOMATIC PIPE HEATERS' which had a green indicator lit above it. She walked around the room and saw that the windows were shuttered and the drapes were thick and a simple brown material with a thinner set of curtains between those and the windows. Turning a table lamp sitting on a table between a sofa and an easy chair she saw a bookcase filled with books save for a shelf with pictures on it. She stepped around to take a look at the bookshelves. She heard Aaron putting the luggage down and then going back out to the truck, closing the door as he went out. As she looked at the old photographs in frames the heat came on and it started to blow cold and then warm out of a floor register next to her. She turned on another light between the first easy chair and the second and then another on the table beyond the second one. She noticed that there were well fitted rough hewn logs making the peaked ceiling over the living area and smiled looking at the handiwork that went into making it. She heard Aaron come in and she went around the second chair and in front of the fireplace and then back to the entry area to help him unpack the groceries.
Getting to the bags on the dining table she took in a set of canned goods and set them down on the counter next to sink as Aaron started to put items in the refrigerator and freezer.
"Most of the canned goods I moved down to the cellar to keep them from freezing, so just find empty cupboards and put things where you can find them."
"OK. We'll have to go down and get up those things you left in the cellar."
He nodded as he pulled out ice trays from a small cabinet over the sink and turned on the water to let it run to get fresh water before filling them.
In a few minutes they had finished putting the food away and the temperature had started to get to the point where they could no longer see their breath in the air. Ares took his coat off and went to the closet and he took Tamara's coat as she handed it to him and hung that up next to his. After closing the door they embraced and slowly kissed each other, enjoying the feeling of warmth of each other.
"Thank you for having me here," she said as the hugged each other.
"My pleasure," he said softly.
"So should we get started on dinner?"
He chuckled and nodded and both were soon at work baking the dressed game hens they had picked up from a small supermarket on the way in and putting their simple meal together while Ares went down to the cellar to get a bottle of wine which would be at nearly the right temperature to have with it.
The meal was finished, they had unpacked their bags and had a good night's rest with the heat cycling on and off to keep the house merely warm enough to need shoes or at least thick slippers to protect the feet from the chill. She had let her boots air out over night and put on a pair of the outdoor light hiking boots that Ares had recommended. She had gotten coffee from the simmering pot on the stove and knew that Ares was already up and working around the home for the things that would make the few days they had there more enjoyable. She marveled that he could get by on so little sleep, while she was barely able to stir with the rising of the sun. The opened shutters now let in more light all the way around the house, and more heat fled from them as well though the air near them did have a distinct chill. He had worked quietly, or as quietly as he could, and she hadn't seen him since she had gotten up. While sausage links he had made up were now cool, she decided that with some toast and an egg, she would have a decent breakfast and one quickly finished.
In the main living area she looked at the pictures over the fireplace, one featuring a man in a flight suit getting into a Harrier, another a faded and yellowed black and white picture of a family sitting in for a portrait, all stiff necked and not smiling. Another picture was of a peak in the Italian Alps with a date on it obviously taken high up and looking out over a valley and it too was in black and white but on better paper. A silk scarf with words in multiple languages on it was in another frame over the mantle, just below the large mounted moose head. She smiled at the family keepsakes and felt some affinity with someone who would keep such heirlooms on display. As she turned she saw that doilies were still on the sofa and each chair, with small knitted pieces under them to protect the furniture. The rough hewn log table was flat and what had started out as a glossy varnished top had been scuffed with years or more of use. Simple throw rugs were enough to give some scant protection from the cold wood flooring and showed that they had been cleaned at least within the last year but had age of them that spoke of resting for decades in the house.
Moving to the bookcase with her mug of coffee in her hands and simple and thick cotton jeans and blue shirt on, she moved back to other pictures she had seen the night before. As she did so the front door opened and Ares walked in with a double-armful of split logs. He stepped to the side and kicked the door closed and walked over to the wood bin by the fireplace which already had one load in it from his morning's work.
"Good morning, Aaron," she said smiling as he looked at her wearing a somewhat rougher outfit that was more well worn and showed hard use of it. Sweat had tried to knap his hair down but the rare gusts of breeze and high altitude had foiled it from staying, and only the redness of his cheeks showed that he had been exerting himself hard in the early dawn hours.
"And good morning to you, Tamara," he said, dropping the logs into the bin and then reaching in to re-arrange those that had not fallen as he had wanted them to, "I hope you slept well?"
"I did, very well, thank you," she said remembering how they had made up their room and by the time they had gotten the fresh quilt on the bed she was ready to plunge into the bed and fall fast asleep. She had been in places like this with her parents, but those were just stop-overs to further wildnerness or temporary cabins which didn't need much commitment in warm summer months. In the early winter days in Wyoming, things were different with hard work required, and only now was she truly waking up to what it must mean to live in a house like this, partly of modern construction and partly of original hewn logs.
He opened the front fire screens to the hearth and set kindling down under the grating, and adjusted the flue while lighting the paper in the kindling. Gentle flames nearly disappeared and then started to catch on to the shavings and wood scraps that had been piled around the loosely wadded paper.
"That's good to hear, I know that the drive here took a lot out of you and you were fading fast after dinner."
She nodded and stepped closer to him and then knelt with one knee on the floor beside him, smelling him and the first hint of pine smoke coming from the growing fire. He placed twigs into the growing fire which then grew more and she watched mesmerized by the warming fire. As it grew he opened the flue incrementally and she felt heat now reflecting off the back of the hearth and towards the room. She sipped her coffee and offered the mug to him which he knodded and took to have a sip and hand it back to her. He unbuttoned his work jacket and opened it then took a few smaller logs and placed them onto the growing fire.
"Thanks," he whispered as he looked at her and they stood together and she moved towards him and slipped her arms around him under his jacket. He moved his arms around her trying to keep the dirt, dust and wood chips that had gathered on the jacket off of her, but realizing that was a failure, then embraced her fully. For the first time this morning, between him and the fire, she was actually warm and comfortable. Nestled closer and he clasped her to him, and they stood for a minute like that until she withdrew realizing just how warm it could be near the hearth.
As she stepped back he adjusted the flue to slow the draw of air and then threw in two large logs and closed the screening off in front of the fire.
"That should hold for a few hours and heat up the house better than the furnace can," he said as she looked at him and then at the picture near him above the hearth on the mantel.
"That's you, isn't it?" she asked.
He turned to look at it and nodded. Yes it is. That was just before the Balkans started to heat up. I was getting my wings and such pictures are pretty much standard for any pilot in any of the services."
She looked at him and then the next picture, the fading family portrait.
"Relatives?" she asked.
He took his jacket off as he walked towards the kitchen to get himself a cup of coffee.
"In a manner of speaking, yes," he said as he went.
That puzzled her as she looked at the man and woman on a sofa with children sitting on either side of them or standing behind the sofa.
"That looks to be in the 19th century, maybe," she said as he returned.
He nodded sitting down on the sofa with firmly stuffed cushions and knitted throw in many colors that was draped over it from floor to over the back of the sofa. He had opened the two top buttons of his shirt, rolled his sleeves up and now unlaced his boots, taking them off.
"Yes, 1896, done in Denver. Warren and Elizabeth Parker, their youngest Ava and Oliver, then Karen, Michael and Jedidiah the eldest of the children behind them."
"How are they related to you?"
Having gotten his boots off he laid the oversocks next to them under the coffee table where he picked up the mug he had set down.
"Closely. You may want to take a look at the next one and turn it around."
She looked at the photograph of the Alps, so labeled in a yellowed paper under the glass, and then turned it around to see a picture of a small group of men in front of a wooden cabin in those same mountains.
"The man standing at the front door is Giuseppe Aldo, 3rd Alpini," he said.
She looked at him then at Warren Paker, then at the picture at the Harrier.
"Those were good men, there. The company got caught under an avalanche six months after that picture was taken. No one survived. The Germans did it, using dynamite to get things started and fired into the white wave to make sure of their work. Nasty business. Only a couple of bodies were found, most of the troopers were missing presumed dead by then."
"Elizabeth was a good woman and knew that at some point that she would be alone, but not lacking for anything save a husband."
Tamara turned to look at Ares.
"You," she said in a low voice that wasn't a question.
"She was hard to convince," he said quietly, "she had come out to be a school teacher and found out that wildfires could be more than somewhat dangerous in the West. A smallpox outbreak took enough of the children that it made rebuilding the schoolhouse a moot point. The cholera outbreak was not good for them either, or many of the adults. I was running a farm just north of Cheyenne and met her in Denver when everything seemed to be running out for her. We met at a boarding house where I was staying waiting for supplies, had dinner there a few times, walked out under the stars together, and we talked about farming, ranching, and what we expected out of life."
Tamara looked at him as he stared at the fire over his mug of coffee.
"She wanted to get another teaching job in Denver, teachers were always hard to find, especially those that had survived a year or two in the West. Still her family had raised horses in Virginia and we passed a livestock auction and she started pointing out which horses would be good for ranching, which for farming, and one good for racing if it had been a few years younger. I knew a few things about horses, and was impressed. Mutual love of the animals led to finding mutual love," he looked at Tamara, "and she took a bit of convincing, too."
"Did you... live here?"
"Yes, we did. Got the place from a family that couldn't make it, took over their claim, and we turned it into a horse ranch with a bit of farming on the western side of the property."
He turned to look back at the fire and put his feet up, with the silk liners still on them.
"What's that?" she asked pointing to the piece of silk with printing on it.
"Blood chit. My plane went down in '44 and washed up on a beach of a small island. Found the remains of a B-26, probably went down doing shipping raids and took a shell that ripped the wing off at low altitude. Buried the men, took their blood chits and tags with me. Got back to Australia the long way by American and British agents, and then the Abo's vouched for me so I could do a bit of recovery. Then I went back to Hawaii just after the war, watched with binoculars as ships came in and stayed in a boarding house and did odd jobs. I hung around long enough to get on a ship towed out to the Bikini tests. It's always worth knowing what the worst is that can be fielded," he said in a flat voice, "That chit would get you 10 lbs of rice if you got it to a US agent in the theater. Amazing how you can get from the middle of nowhere to Australia for just 60 lbs of rice."
"You're... what are you saying? What do you mean?" Tamara looked confused as she looked at him.
"Over on the shelf is a small painting of a cavalry soldier, Guy Montard, late of Napoleon's march to and then from Moscow. Died in some mass grave in Poland on the way back. Freezing to death is not the best way to go, but then none of them are."
She glanced at the bookcase and then stepped over to the sofa and sat down at the other end on his left.
"You aren't saying that you... died there? That you're reincarnated or something?"
He looked at her with a soft smile on his lips.
"You saw the photos, the painting, would you call those reincarnations or the same man?"
"Well its hard to tell..." she said and then realized what he was saying, "... they all aren't... can't be..."
"I was hung during the last of the cattle wars, trumped up charges, but enough for a nothing town that doesn't exist any more and getting me into their Boot Hill. I could have come back, but I had talked with Elizabeth of an expedient death giving a clean break to things. I didn't want our family to have their father run out on them. Better it be through an Indian attack or from bandits or by just standing up to some bullies who needed it. That was a rough time. She was a good woman and left me a trunk of my clothes and even the old Winchester and ammo out in one of the caves in the foothills."
Tamara caught her breath and saw the sad expression on his face.
"How did you... you said she was hard to convince..."
He gave a brief raise to his eyebrows and looked at her.
"45 Long Colt through the head usually convinces anyone, I would think. Took a day to reintegrate after that, even with all the parts pretty close by. Nature prefers to use what's closest. She was heartbroken, then horrified. I had told her what would happen and that she wouldn't want to see it. Or that it would disgust her. I expected it would do one or the other and I would be a week in reintegrating. Instead I woke up under the small blanket we had set up, the fire going, and she was reading the Bible by firelight. She was a much stronger woman than I thought she was."
She shivered hearing him describe it and saw the resignation on his face, the sadness and then the relaxing of his face as he talked.
"But that's not..."
He gestured with his mug of coffee.
"I have a few other pictures, sketches, a locket painting...I don't have vanity in the normal sense, and if this house burned down I would still have the memories. I will always have the memories. I realized that when you may be stuck with them forever, you had better get some good ones amongst them."
"Forever?" she asked very quietly.
"Or so I thought and still do at some level. I hope my sister is right and that once we are no longer bound to the Earth-Moon system, that we will finally be able to die once and for all. Makes risks actually mean something again."
This shocked Tamara more than anything else. More than the pictures. More than his reactions to his memories. Nothing he said until then made sense, and while what he was implying sounded insane, she could see that to him it was a fact of life. Not an attempt at normalcy to cover for insanity, just a plain fact, like how much a bullet drops over a certain distance given an initial muzzle velocity.
"Aaron... who are you?"
His eyes took a slow blink as he looked at her.
"My name is Ares, Tamara. I was once the God of War. I was the last standing against our father who had turned on all of us. Zeus stripped us of powers, of dignity, inflicted horror that he intended to be everlasting on those of us who survived the initial rampage and harrowing. He could take all that from us and even our lives if he so desired. He sent us on the last ferryboat on the Styx, alive. Blasted but slowly reintegrating, Gods fallen without power, just with our affinity which sustained our bodies. That affinity brings us back. And no more will ever cross the Styx by the ferryman anymore," he shook his head from side to side, "my brother said that other river openings were created but the Styx is no longer accessible. The Lethe is in one or two places and those were unstable because of the change in mastery over the underworld, so those are likely gone as well. The dead must find other places to go, now."
Tamara suspected that she was in a house with a mad man, but saw the emotions that darted over the face of Ares as he talked. There was no hint of madness.
"What happened? Why did... Zeus...?"
Ares pressed his lips together and looked down.
"Artemis had warned that there would be a day of reckoning. She had implored Zeus to do something about it. Then Hera. Aphrodite. Her twin Apollo loved her but he only said he would think about it. She came to each of us, any who would give her time to talk with them. No one listened to her, mere girl amongst us..." he trailed off as he looked into her eyes, a tear trailing out of the corner of his right eye. "I was most hated amongst them, still accepted just... hated because of war. I had sided with the Achaeans against those of the plains of Ilios and many friends. Artemis couldn't understand how such few men without horses in great number would overcome that bastion of the sea. Afterwards she was especially... spiteful...but when she had warning, she did not stint with any of us. We were all brother and sister to her. I thought her unschooled in the world... yet she could see a battlefield amongst us before we could even discern we were on it. When Hera asked for help to keep her husband faithful after Heracles... we could all see what that had cost her. Even Heracles, newly amongst us, realized just how badly she had been treated because she had caused him to do worse to his wife and children. This would come to no good if it continued."
Watching as he remembered she could see that he could only give her a part of those memories because they had to encompass so much.
"Oh... he... Zeus..." she remembered all the stories of all the women who had given birth to children by Zeus and how few by Hera there were in comparison. "Yet she was his wife and that, surely, must count for some loyalty."
"Few of us were truly prepared for what would happen. I was, but then I always am prepared for war. Artemis, of course to the extent she foresaw no good coming of it. Hermes was, having been companion to so many escapades with our father. He knew that this could not go on. The rest? I think it was the glory of us all, brother and sister, so many sons and daughters, plus our uncles and cousins, we would show just how great we were. Not to overawe but to ask... simply for Zeus to understand the pain he caused to so many for his moments of satiation."
Tamara sucked her lips in and licked them watching Ares who sipped at his coffee.
"I can't see how that would go too wrong..." she said wracking her brain to remember more about the Greek Gods.
"Asking Zeus, who had saved his brothers and sisters from their father Kronus, who had rallied and won against the Titans, who had divided the major realms with his brothers and taken Heaven as his own, to actually control himself? Yet what could we do? Hera was being driven to hatred and disgust, perhaps true madness by each new affront to her from Zeus. Many of us had grown complacent, of course, after the fall of Ilios and then the Achaeans, but the Dorians loved us just the same and if we had to exchange Bronze for Iron, that is not such a bad leap and all made it easily. Some distance had grown between each of us, surely, and yet we all knew Hera well or at least well enough to admire her. While she had been involved in some of her own... ahhh...impetuous events, they were not on the scale of Zeus. Our powers were not on his range," Ares said and then shook his head, "No, Apollo stood on that range of power with Zeus, Hades and Poseidon. Perhaps, just perhaps, the sun would overcome the Lightning, Storm and even Death itself. Apollo was the best of us. After Hera was transfixed with lightning, her body invaded in every part most intimately, blasted from the inside as she was elevated to the sky.. it was Apollo who was closest and first to try and stop our father. His death in the struggle with our father would take those standing near him down with his fall, and leave Zeus with that most raw of powers of Heaven that he did not have before that."
He grimaced with half his face.
"Shield up from my back, sword in hand, helmet on I came up behind Apollo and moved to sidestep him. When I did... I could feel the searing heat of light and lightning, power washing over all who were close. My shield deflected much of it but when Apollo was released from this realm and sent to that of the dead directly... Olympus shook and I was thrown hundreds of miles to the north. Hermes had landed where I had stood, clinging to the Mount was the swift one of reaction. I had seen as I was thrown that Artemis had lost her footing on the edge of the Mount and had tumbled down with the death of Hera... with her twin's death she was lost in the roiling lightning strewn haze that settled around Olympus and tumbled down its slopes. I did what is natural to me, and gathered heroes and used what artifacts could be found to prepare a killing ground for Zeus. Hermes went to gather any he could after bringing back Apollo's body, warn the few who he knew were not on Olympus... and try to find anything that would help us against our father enraged now gone mad."
"You said you were the last standing?"
He raised his eyebrows and nodded.
"Heroes, good men, fought off Hundred Handed Ones, Cyclopsians, and other creatures allied with Zeus. Many died, but the ranks of those allies had been thinned trying to go after Dionysus who had survived and joined us. Others, we thought, had perished going after brothers or sisters, uncles or cousins, all of whom we knew were falling to Zeus. He, of course, had gotten to Haphaestus first, for those artifacts of power he could use, going after his brothers and then taken out his dearest part, Athena, opening a split to the Lethe and left her brains dashed into its waters. Hermes had done what he could to make her comfortable and taken her spear, armor and helmet to help us, though they would do little good. Most, we knew, were gone and quickly, and after the minor confrontations he took on the last of the Titans and then to us, the surviving children. By then he was gone for nearly two weeks and we didn't know what was going on beyond some encounters with his allies. We thought it was a trap to draw us out for a finishing stroke and so we remained on our killing field. And then Artemis was dropped... a twisted bleeding wreck of a body... in chains... and barely breathing... from the sky."
He looked through her and as she gazed at him and saw him shudder.
"The gathering clouds told of the storm which would be squalls and sunshine together and mixed. Maelstrom. Which Zeus now commanded. We sent one or two who volunteered to get to Artemis but... sun or lightning... and our only salvation, the living night, was there before us, stripped of power. I could see that she was in living agony, yet recovering, slowly, even as the clouds scudded overhead and the wind picked up. Zeus did not trust what few things we had found, the men gathered and his test of earthquake power was a rippling shock that tumbled boulders, closed caves and killed thousands in towns nearby. The only saving grace was that Hundred Handers, Cyclops and others were at an end. Then the attack of beasts from the air, Harpies and things less pleasant, was the most difficult thing we had to do. Hermes fought well amongst the skies, but he would be overwhelmed and when fallen just beyond our fighting area we could hear his screams as lightning and sunlight descended in turn upon him. For us arrows grew few, stones to shoot or just throw, diminishing, of javelins and spears we had used them all. In retreat they must land and of swords we had many. As we fought Zeus advanced, picking off one or two of our scouts that remained moving until he was on our killing field. And then it was the vines. He roared in outrage as the one who could drain his very power through life to earth started to do so and the vines climbed up his legs. Dionysus, so unready upon Olympus, now used the living earth against Zeus."
Tamara sat, trying to parse out what she heard and imagine the carnage, the sounds, and all that must go with such a battle.
"Alas, sunlight in mean can kill such life as does lightning. Still Dionysus was brave and this time without courage of the cup. He knew that he was to buy us time to fight our way out so we could engulf Zeus with deadly blades. As he stepped over fallen Artemis... she... bravest of girls... had gotten a sword that one of the fallen had left in trying to bring her to us... and cut across the backs of his legs...the howl... the roar... the rage... Dionysus struck and found that such rage had been concentrated... assuredly for Artemis but unleashed on him. Light so bright I could see his bones, then lightning to cleave through flesh. Pure fury unleashed at him, and into the backs of those attacking us. Zeus would merely cuff Artemis with a lightning bolt as he used the staff of Dionysus to stand up as we approached. What I saw in his eyes..."
He concentrated and looked into Tamara's eyes.
"Black fury unlike any I had ever seen. Typhon was not that black nor uncontrolled. He was trying to gain access to the powers of night but it was only the glimmering twilight then. Storm passed. Light fading. Moon not ascendant. That, we all felt, would be his last battlefield. Instead it was ours. I eagerly stepped into the heat of rage that was making the blood on my shield fume and flash into fire. The heat of battle, the heat of the forge, the heat of the sun, the burning heat of lightning, Zeus radiant and the ground charring beneath him and in a circle around him as he came at me with the staff that was, itself, suffering this heat. Stout hearts we stepped into battle with Zeus, blades flashing as we attacked. Armor cooking us within it. Sandals aflame, leather flashed into ash, swords going from cherry red to white hot. Twilight turned and then the cold, deeper than any ice field, radiated from him. Mere metal shattered, skin sloughed off bone and then, as we fell, his lightning played upon our bodies. I was last standing, last to fall, stripped of powers and on the ground. Of those we had tried to protect, only Aurora and Nike were with us and he used mere wind to concuss them and strip them of what little they had."
Closing his eyes he shook his head.
"We three brothers and the two girls were all bundled into the ferryman's boat, alive. All that survived save Artemis. In the hours we had each recovered some and I can still see him handing coins to the ferryman before his sandled foot pushed the boat from shore. Looking back there was Artemis, body barely moving and still in chains. I do not want..."
He opened his eyes with a pleading look. She slid closer to him to sit next to him. She knew this is not something he ever wanted to talk about and the pain of it was obvious.
"To tell you what it takes to tempt the skeleton with living flesh. Hermes... knew... how to remind bone of flesh... what we did was not, good, Tamara. We survived, used bones for oars and the coins we used to gain shelter. The girls would grow up, grow old, have children, be loved and beloved and die. We each went our ways once we puzzled out that, somehow, Zeus had truly died. Those were not happy years, Tamara, and what was done will weigh heavily upon me all my life. If I had but listened and worked with Artemis...slowly helped our father to learn of the pain he was causing..."
Shaking his head he gave a lopsided grin, she held out her hand to his shoulder and he moved his to hers.
"But that is not what we did, one and all. Instead Zeus intended eternal torment for our living selves in the realm that was once that of Hades. Unable to die we would wish we were dead. The dead would be ever mindful that their death is much better than living imprisonment and to stay their place. In that, at least, our father was thwarted. With him gone at least each of us might be able to do some little good for our kin of mankind. Our brothers and sisters of flesh and if not in spirit it is because the lacks are ours, not yours. That is what you get with me, one of the last of the Olympians and the knowledge that I..."
She felt his hand grip her shoulder and she moved closer to him looking at him.
"What is it... Ares?"
He started blinking and used his free hand to run his fingertips over her cheek.
"I was about to say as I did with Elizabeth... that I would have to leave some day. But that isn't..."
Pressing closer she put her hand over his to hold it to her face.
"I would accept that to have years with you..." she whispered.
"But I don't have to offer that, any more, Tamara. Artemis came to me to help Ascentech to open... space. She thinks that once we are out of the reach of Earth and Moon, then the curse of this eternal life will end. We will become as the rest of humanity is."
"That's why you agreed to rejoin with her and your brothers? To become... mortal?"
Gently he pulled her closer and kissed her.
"To join you fully as human in flesh. Humanity will... no is... greater in power than we were as Olympians. Not in form, no, but in magnitude..." he looked into her eyes, "...the only reason I was not destroyed, vaporized by a thermonuclear device is that the absolute power holding me in life cannot be broken so close to that source. And if not the Earth-Moon space, then assuredly beyond this star system. Artemis had to tell me and I know this is true. Once we are beyond the abode of our birth, beyond this oasis of life, we will be free of its grasp. Eternal things of life and humanity tether us here. The things I've done in the past to avoid notice will come to end once we are off of Earth for good."
Smiling she shivered.
"If you wish, Tamara. Be warned that at the rate humanity has been extending life expectancy, you just might find that a very long life."
Regina was stunned at the good looking older brother of Herman and his wife Gemma. Together with Diana they had pulled in the early in the evening and they had gone out to dinner with her and husband, plus Brent, Nuada, Mel and Karl. No matter that it was a decent restaurant and it had been the end of yet another day of slogging through getting the Athena made, it had been a fun night. For the first time their simple set of rooms had been put to fullest use, extra bedding put out and towels stacked up after being pulled from boxes so that there would be at least enough for the next few days for all concerned. It was only late at night Regina realized that Diana had slipped off to her Chevy Suburban. When she asked Herman quietly, so as not to wake Brent, where she had gone he had just answered softly to her.
"I'm sure she has a place to stay on short notice. A culvert maybe, or out under the trees, or even in her vehicle. Don't worry, my love, she prefers it like that."
That night, with those she loved with her, she missed the one who wasn't there. Restful sleep would not come to her and only when she thought of that night on the plateau, overlooking the valley, did her thoughts still enough to finally allow slumber.
'I am no enemy of yours...' she dreamt and saw the barest glimmer of a pale face encircled by darkness.
Morning arrived before sunlight and Regina awoke, took a brief shower and went down the stairs quietly so that the noise of the elevator wouldn't wake up the guests. As she padded down the stairs in her stocking feet, carrying her boots, she smelled the aroma of coffee that came from the far too fancy machine Herman had purchased while at the club. Mostly they just set it on automatic to keep on making coffee during the day and it shut off at 3 PM. It wasn't that hard to work and she hoped that Mel or Karl had gotten up early from the main reception room that had been turned into a crash pad.
On the main level, however, that door was closed and when she got to the office she saw Diana and Gemma on the business sofa with the coffee table pulled up to them. Gemma looked at her with the single overhead fixture giving a diffuse glow to the room.
"Now you're up early," she said in a low tone so as not to wake the others.
Diana turned and put her coffee mug down and stood up, stepping towards her, smiling.
"It is good to be back with you, Regina," Diana said softly as they hugged. Regina found herself relaxing and then pulled away slightly to look at Diana and they kissed not for the first time since she came back, and Regina felt warmth, again, flowing up from her feet, her legs and into her body.
Regina sighed as they broke their kiss and looked into Diana's eyes.
"I... Diana... I told Tamara what happened... a few days ago..." she stuttered and felt Diana's hands move over her back.
"That is fine, Regina. I had only asked for you to keep what happened until after you knew I was back from the trip. Really, I had expected you would have talked with Herman," Diana's eyes danced as she looked over Regina's face, "but talking with one who loves my brother..." she nodded slightly, "... there is no harm in that."
Gemma had quietly moved up around the table and came closer as they ended their embrace.
"Really, it will need to be talked about, won't it Diana?"
Diana held Regina's hands for a moment and nodded.
"Yes. Herman is... well perhaps too guarded in these matters in this time. I understand that," letting go of Regina's hands she turned to go to the coffee table and retrieved her mug.
Regina held Gemma in a softer hug, smiled and as they let go Gemma looked at the coffee machine.
"That took a few minutes to work out for something other than coffee. Thankfully you have heavy cream so that can be frothed up. This is much better than one of the industrial Bunn machines, which I had expected would be the norm for this sort of place."
Walking over to the machine, Regina pulled a stainless steel pitcher off of a stand, poured cream into it and used the steamer to froth it, and then poured that into the bottom of a mug and filled it off with coffee. She joined the others by pulling up a chair next to the coffee table and sat down, taking the end closest to Diana.
"I hadn't meant for things to be much of a mystery, Regina," Diana said leaning slightly forward, "but it was obvious that my brother hadn't... that you weren't told much by him. That isn't cowardice on his part, just part of his... her... understanding of the world."
Regina looked at Gemma who had shifted to look at her, pulling her legs up under herself.
"Gemma, you know... what she is talking about, don't you?"
"I do, Regina, yes. Dennis made sure that he was open with me as our relationship got moving along past the 'its great to have a partner' stage. I was incredulous, to a degree, but there was much that he had done that indicated something a bit unusual about him. I really thought he was a wonderful man, handsome, smart and loveable. I did need... final convincing..."
Diana turned and nodded, then turned back to Regina.
"We've talked on the way here," she said turning looking at Regina,"I don't have that kind of need or experience for this. And I wanted you to be left without room for doubt. I hoped that what I had shown you... would... help to let you understand things."
"Diana... when you jumped like that... without screaming... just..." Regina shivered and set her mug down. Diana moved to her, down to the floor on one knee and held Regina's hands, looking up into her face.
"Forgive me, Regina. I know you had no love for me when we first met, but there is no easy way to do this."
"It beats falling off the top of a rail car in the Andes," Gemma said smiling at the other two, "or that unfortunate accident involving a power line and a landslide. Jumping off a cliff into a river is really quite sweet compared to falling off the roof after installing the satellite TV dish. Not that Dennis is accident prone!"
Regina looked up from Diana and then to Gemma.
"What?" she asked softly.
"Regina... Diana, Dennis, Herman and Aaron aren't in much of the same situation as you or I. They are just as human but their condition is..." Gemma shook her head.
"It comes from our family, Regina," Diana said, "we are Olympians. Born with powers but now... stripped of them... what remains is human with the legacy of who we were, the echoes of power, not the real thing at all."
Her breath grew shallow as Regina looked from Gemma to Diana.
Diana nodded, smiling.
"Not like the gold, silver, bronze sort, huh?"
"No, Regina, they are that other sort. You read about them at some point as you grew up, didn't you? Mythology texts?"
"Oh," she said softly, looking at Diana who was smiling up at her.
"After we were..." Diana's smile disappeared as she looked deeply into Regina's eyes and pressed her lips together, "... we stood with Hera who often was more a mother to each of us than our actual mothers could ever be. Because we outlived them when they were human, and outgrew them when they were other, and needed someone who could help us from that generation before ours. I consider them all, even those Titans that were left, as my brothers and sisters although they were often parents, grandparents and cousins. The sons and daughters of the Olympians, we were the youngest. As a family it... failed."
"But... but..." Regina said softly as she saw the memory of pain and conflict play over Diana's face, "...who are you?"
"My name, then, was Artemis. My twin brother was Apollo."
Regina looked at Gemma with a blank expression on her face.
"My husband is Dionysus. Your husband is..."
"Hermes," he said as he padded into the room with Brent holding his hand, "and good morning to each of you," he turned to look at Brent, "I think you will be able to figure this out as we go along, Brent."
Brent squeezed his hand as he looked from Hermes to Regina, then Diana and Gemma.
"Hermes?" he asked softly, "Like the god?"
"The very same, in the flesh, such as it is," Hermes said, "I think we need to pull the other chairs here so we can talk about this a bit more. But, yes, Brent, we are the fallen Olympians, stripped of our powers by our power hungry father, Dux."
Regina licked her lips as she turned from looking at Hermes and then back to Diana.
"I think it would help if I had actually studied more in english class or history class," she said, "I mean after Zeus, Hera, Apollo, and, uh, Ares..." she trailed off and gasped.
"I do look forward to meeting the God of War," she said looking at Hermes who was getting a chair from behind his desk while Brent pulled another one from the side wall towards the table.
"We don't have those powers, exactly, any more," Diana said softly, looking at Regina, "Zeus took that from us with his lightning and then augmented that with those powers he stripped from others, my brother's foremost amongst those of his children. We had to confront him after what had happened with Heracles and his ascension. Hera was feeling more than somewhat neglected, even abused, cut off from the love of Zeus as he drifted more and more to siring children amongst our human kin. Hera deserved to have more than the title of Zeus' wife. She turned to us, the many children, for help as well as those of her generation and even the Titans."
"My sister here," Hermes said as he gave Regina a hug as she sat in the chair and then held out his hand to Diana who stood up to hug him, "she had warned us of change coming. Large change. Sweeping. She had warned all of us... and no one would listen. She was so young, never to truly grow up, always the maiden, huntress under the Moon, that it was always hard to remember that she was... one of us as an adult even when she looked and acted the girl."
Diana shook her head as she let go of her brother.
"I don't think... one listened... the one who laughed while I was on his knee. Zeus... he listened," she said very softly.
"What?" Hermes said as he looked at her. "That can't be..."
"Good morning, all," Dionysus said in low tones as he looked back into main area where Karl, Nuada and Mel still slept, and he closed the door behind him, " and I would believe that, Diana. We had stood to confront him..." he said giving Brent a quick hug and then one to Hermes and Diana. Gemma had gotten up to step over to the newcomers giving and getting hugs and kisses with him.
Regina watched them and sighed with the man, though somewhat heavy of frame still looking keenly handsome and his older looking wife who glowed as only a wife and mother could when she was still in true love with her husband.
"Yes we did, my brother," Hermes said, "although I think most of us were prepared for an argument."
"Oh, my, yes," Dionysus said, letting go of his wife, as he went over to the machine and simply drew some coffe from it in a mug. Brent and Hermes followed him and then everyone went back to the chairs and sofa, with Dionysus and Gemma sitting together on the sofa, with Diana sitting next to her brother.
"But you think something else was going on with Zeus?" Gemma asked.
"Yes, my love, I do. I agree with my sister, Zeus was obvious with a plan and ready to execute it. You don't whistle up the Hundred Handers from Tartarus very quickly. He must have understood that he had an opportunity and he was going to exploit it. He had to have some inkling of what was needed, and what was going to happen."
"Wait... this is a lot to take in..." Regina said, looking at the others, "isn't it Brent? That Diana and Herman... Hermes... were... are... well not what they were but..."
Brent looked at her and smiled.
"Yes it is. And yet Tamara had indicated that Aaron wasn't a man who had recovered from a sucking chest wound. And from my own experience with Herman..." he said turning to look at Hermes, "...you know not just flight, race cars, but also how to build a business from the ground up. And a hermaphrodite. You don't have calluses on your hands from some of the types of things you do and you are very quick with your mind, yet are also soft in a way no man can be. All of those pieces were leading somewhere."
"So, what happened?" Regina asked, "What did you do to... make your father hate you enough to do this?"
"We stood with Hera," Dionysus said, "our mother of Olympus, she who sat beside Zeus and yet had so few offspring from him as to need to mother all of us youngsters. She brought the Titans who survived their downfall and lifted those who were not shackled or banned to duty before our time into our family of Olympus."
Hermes, Brent and Regina arranged themselves on the sofa, with Regina at the end, close to where Diana pulled up a chair. Across from her and close to Brent were Gemma and Dionysus, in chairs side by side holding hands, each with mugs of coffee with them. Regina could see that the clock above the main entrance, an ancient Simplex, still had not reached 6 AM as its soft clicking ticks continued as they spoke softly.
"She even made peace with Heracles of the Ascension," Hermes said, "and that warmed Dux no end but he never truly understood what the pain was of Hera to lose in that contest of wills. She was no longer even getting attention from him, no more children of her own and these step-children were now at the point where they needed intervention by Hades to ascend not having the true power on their own. She had given so much to make us a family, but no mother and wife had even been so neglected as Hera."
Regina held his hand and squeezed it, his smile and squeeze in return her reward.
"You loved her, didn't you?"
"As a mother, yes. I was... beloved when Hera and Dux were barely able to speak to each other, I was the one to go between them. Messenger I was though, ultimately, not peacemaker."
"Ah, peace," Dionysus said looking to Gemma, "more than just lack of being hostile, but friendliness and sharing. Not love is required, but loving respect for each other, that you are different and that for there to be accord amongst you there must be accord within you."
"She couldn't have that, could she?" Gemma asked.
"No, beloved, Zeus was her husband and after initial glory of that couple he forgot that husband is not a title, but a job. The job of a craftsman, a lover of the work, and willing to devote some large portioin of his time to becoming good at it. He had the lightning at hand, but it never could more than give a glimpse of light into that chasm of darkness that was his inner self."
Regina looked at him as he talked not even to all of them, but most of all to his wife.
"I will stomp grapes with you any time, Dennis," she said, "but I can imagine the lot of Hera, Queen of the Gods in name only. Mother to few she must become mother to many. That cannot go on forever."
"I tried to tell Dux the very same," Hermes said, "and he just laughed and clapped a hand on my back and asked if I would like to see if humans had remembered their devotions." Hermes had the face of one just biting into a lemon, any of the sweetness covered by such sourness that nothing else could get through.
"Why didn't she..." Brent started and then caught himself, "She couldn't leave, could she? Not and retain her position. And there was no divorce as we have it, was there?"
Diana nodded and brought her feet up under her on the chair, sipping at her mug.
"You do understand, Brent," she said smiling, "of all my brothers and sisters, greater and lesser, even though we had Ares as the one we disdained because of his brutal nature, I was the one who would be distant as all the others concentrated on men and women in cities and towns, in their congregations. Nature is unbounded, and I crossed barriers of distance to see more of humanity and remain unobserved to others. Not just from on high did I see changes, but even on low. Only now can I see what those changes were, but the first hint of that storm was showing up in many places. Of all my family, I warned. I really do believe that only my father listened to me, his beloved daughter as he, too, could have nearly a lofty a perch but none of what my travels gained me. Dimly, I think, he saw."
"I don't understand," Regina said, "saw what?"
Diana looked at her and then the ground, shaking her head slowly.
"Of us and our domains. Concentration of power."
"Oh! Like Abraham in his father's shop!" Gemma said.
Diana looked at her and nodded.
"Now consider what Abram did not. Which is superior: storm or sea? Amongst wine, women and song, which is superior? Death, Life or Deathless Life or Lifeless Death? Like all things these are domains, Gemma, and only in conflict, direct attack, can they come into such simple pressure, thus when one power steps in another's true domain it is the power of the domain that rules. Zeus used direct conflict which is not within every power's true domain, although an adjunct to all there are few that relate directly to it. That is what happened, but Zeus found that having a power is not the same as mastering it."
"With time he could," Brent said, "and come after each of you with those newly mastered powers."
"Not all of us were unprepared," Hermes said, "and the shield of Ares protected me enough so that I only suffered from the destruction of Apollo to take his body away. That shield and that of Athena, both, benefit and bane as the fury of the storm caught them up and hurled them far distant. Others... some flashed into dust, their powers, ultimately, unable to cope with such domains unleashed and made raw. Demeter, at least, her staff and power allowed the gale to blow around her, though the sun flash had hurt her she lived to lash out at Dux. I had time with recovering eyesight to see her and the body of Apollo and I had not the equipment to fight, a messenger was not needed for one willing to deliver them personally, and the dead... our beloved brother... the best of us all...."
Hermes closed his eyes. Regina squeezed his hand then leaned back to put an arm around him.
"You loved him..." she said softly.
Tears streamed from his eyes and down his face.
"I can still see his body laid open, the wind and storm swirling over him, the ground black where he had stood...."
"He was the closest to try and stop our father," Dionysus said, "put hands upon him as Hera was blasted skyward by lightning..." he looked at Gemma, "I never told you of that, Gemma, simply that she was killed. Lightning flashed into her through every opening as she was lifted far above me. I could feel that power in the air, the trembling of the ground, Poseidon had tried... he rushed to the sea to stop the storm... Hades wide eyed unable to move... only I could see and I was..."
Pressing his lips together grimly he squeezed his mug with white knuckles showing.
"Drunk," Diana said flatly, "still, even I was mesmerized as there had been no sight of power like that, not even in confronting Typhon before I was thrown from on high because of it. Our father was of the purest power, and the violation of the one I would call Mother was without equal. For all he had done that..."
"I hadn't expected such fury," Hermes whispered, "controlled fury with a purpose. I could barely even see over the shield Ares held but in the blackness that opened up in the sky, I saw Hera in the airless depths until, her body... yielded. Then the swiftest to move with that clap of thunder was not me, nor Diana or Ares or Athena... Apollo. He was swiftest, surest, for one moment all that he had learned pierced through clouds, made steam of rain and boiled upon Dux. For an instant. Then the fury turned and nothing save light is as swift as lightning and the lightning had caught up to the light."
Hermes opened his eyes, looking at Regina.
"I saw where her body went and it never came back to Earth."
"My brother," Diana said, "I never... knew that. I... no wonder then..."
He shifted from Regina to Diana, sadly smiling.
"I will find her body, my sister, this I do swear and swore the moment I saw her dwindle beyond sight of anyone as the sky itself closed after her yielding."
"She deserves better than that, my brother," Dionysus said having relaxed the grip on his mug and now shivered.
Regina looked at Brent who had his arm over hers around the back of Hermes and they had a hand on each other's shoulders and each squeezed the other's gently.
"Is she in orbit, Herman?" Brent asked.
He turned and looked at Brent and shook his head.
"I dimly understood what went on, when I saw it, Brent. Dux, who would have so much more power when he removed Atlas still had a great amount in that lightning. Enough to power cities for years went into her, through her. Still there was something clinging to her, discharging, before the sky closed. A mighty upwelling of a ball of lightning engulfed her and then exhausted from her towards the Earth. I wracked my brains once the calculus was created, Brent. I can only guess at the limits of Dux and what he did, crudely to fashion a charged plasma jet of ball lightning. Like mankind's Voyagers she is headed out of the Solar System, slowly, but surely."
"What is its course, dear brother?" Dionysus asked.
"Where do you think? The belt of Heracles, his final trophy that he flashed into dust for being just too close to Apollo when fallen."