GODSWAR 1 – The Mask of Ares – Chapter 13
He turned towards the call, seeing one of the Ekprospos coming towards him. With an annoying effort, he recalled her name. Artemisia Igemon, that was it. “Lady Artemisia,” he said, inclining his head. “How can I be of service?”
She smiled slightly up at him; General Aloysius, his incarnate form, was a man of heroic stature indeed, so even the fact that the night-haired woman topped six and a half feet left her nearly four inches below his height. “I wanted to say how your speech inspired my entire regiment. Some few of my men and women had been unsure of the need to march against Velos, but now there isn’t a single word that fails to approve.”
He returned her smile. “Most gratifying, Lady,” he said. “It is, of course, a sad thing that it is necessary, but Velos has lost its way; despite their supposed patron, they have begun inroads into the great forests, untouched these centuries; they have forsaken much of their hunting and fishing, letting farmers supply their meat while they turn their skills of bow and sword to war; they worship less in the moonlight. We are not the only one of their neighbors that Velos has tested, but we are the one that can stop them, set them back on the course appointed to them.”
She nodded. “I know, and you may believe that I am ready.”
“Excellent.” He smiled again as another thought struck him. “And take this command to the others: it is in my mind that your regiment will lead the way, for is there not perfect symmetry in that one who bears the name of my sister of the hunt should lead the forces that liberate her city-state and return them to her fold?”
Her eyes widened, and her arms rose up, first in an upright fist, then brought to her heart, in salute. “Lord Ares! It shall be as you say!”
“Then go now, and prepare. With the plans made, the people behind us, we must not delay, else Velos may learn of these plans and give us far more difficulty than we expect.”
“Sir!” The tall woman turned and strode away, a proud bounce to her step at the new honor.
He maintained his usual thoughtful, pleasant expression with difficulty as he made his way up the hundreds of steps of the Aegeian Path, through the Temple of the Guardians, where he nodded at the statues and the worshippers, and then up the second staircase to the High Temple with the Throne in the center. There were fewer worshippers here, but still a few, so he restrained himself from a sardonic glance at the Statue of Athena – her glittering silver spear held in one hand, her great golden Shield raised in the other.
Finally, he entered the private quarters, sealed them, and allowed his face to relax; at the moment, that meant it held an expression somewhere between a grin and a sneer.
It really was extraordinarily difficult to maintain this act. But Ares’ image was mostly that of a passionate hero – one who might turn to a dangerous fanatic, true, and thus eventually need to be brought down by his sister – but always one acting on his righteous passions. While he had already begun – starting a decade or two ago – setting the foundations for changing that, becoming an “Ares” much more to his own taste, it was not something he could hurry.
This was even more true with the more important people at the top, such as Lady – currently Undergeneral – Artemisia Igemon. They had grown up before he could have begun the changes; getting them to become the oppressors of his empire would take time, even with the godly aura to influence them.
On the positive side, the Lady of Wisdom had yet to manifest her God-Warriors; neither the Spear nor the Shield of Athena had appeared, which always brought a real smile to his face. The pre-emptive work done early paid many dividends indeed, and not having to hide his true nature from emissaries of Athena was a major benefit. One of her epithets, the Clear-Eyed, referred to how her agents were endowed with often-supernatural abilities to see through deception and disguises. While not even the goddess’ power could pierce his disguise, he was much less sanguine about the ability to disguise deep and subtle plans from her sight, or that of her true agents.
He glanced towards the door. Deimos is still not here. That was … annoying. Yes, hunting a moving target was difficult, and with multiple teams searching there was the strong chance that it would be another team that captured the target, but once the target was found, Deimos would know, and would undoubtedly be the one to notify him.
Still, there was no great hurry; as long as this last obstacle was eliminated, it did not matter greatly if the elimination happened today, tomorrow, or three months from now.
But it was tiresome to have to remember names and faces and such. These beings thought they were so important, and treated even their lessers, children and poor and otherwise, as though they were important as well. He found this infuriating, and likely hypocritical. How could they be so stupid as to actually believe that? Still, the game must be played as it was, not as he might prefer it; his forebear had done so for thousands of years in a single role, so he truly could not complain about a few decades.
His extended senses tickled, warned of the approach of someone far more interesting. By the time they reached the door, he was already seated, sipping essence-laden tea. “Enter.”
The figure closed the door behind it and stood for a moment, tall and slender and noble in countenance, a faint glow emanating from his golden hair and skin and the gold-and-silver armor he wore. His bow was also of gold, with a crystalline string, and arrows of diamond and auric leaf protruded from his quiver.
He bowed. “Lord Ares.” When he rose from the bow, his expression was far less noble, much more akin to the knowing grin on his patron’s face.
“I see you have progress to report.”
“Much progress, my Lord,” said Arquetani, the Sun of Apollo. “The Oracles within Lyra, Apollo’s city, have been shifting their messages subtly for all this time. Now, for the first time, the messages are guiding them towards their own holy war, this one for the preservation and control of knowledge, since that’s one domain of Apollo, and one that can conflict with Lady Athena’s, as ‘wisdom’ of course requires much knowledge to be gathered.”
“Excellent. There are no questions?”
“Few, my Lord. The groundwork has been laid for a long time, the increasing gathering of works from surrounding lands, the promotion of security around the Libraries, and so on. I believe they will be ready to become the next target – most likely, they will enter once Velos begins to totter, ostensibly to protect the city of Apollo’s sister, but with the underlying motive of seizing their archives and secure the city for themselves.”
“What of the other God-Warriors?”
“No word of either of Athena’s – I would presume you would know that better than I.” Arquetani’s smile flickered with good news. “Geryotrin was able to insinuate himself into the mind and soul of the Anvil of Hephaestus, so we now have an agent in Amoni Agapis who is properly placed to start that city on its way.”
He laughed. “You hid that card well, Arque. Any others?”
“Not yet. You already have Apollo’s Sun – myself – and his Harp. But I’d expect that we’ll see more soon. My main worry is that more gods may incarnate shortly. I admit to being particularly concerned about…” he nodded towards the exterior.
“My dear Athena? Not to worry.” He smiled, and this time allowed his teeth to glitter like crystal blades. “She is entirely taken care of. There is only one path for her to manifest now … and that shall never happen.”