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uncivil the blood beneath my skin

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hunting blades

The difference between war and the hunt is that Ares embraces crowds, while Artemis eschews them. To him, a crowd played just right is a precursor, if not to the wars he loves, then at least to an undignified brawl that makes Olympus wince, and Ares has long learned to claim those winces as the compliments to his work neither of his parents will ever give. To her, a crowd played any way at all is a precursor to failure, the prey lost and escaped amidst the incessant noise and overexcitement. Their domains, in this sense, are distinct: his lonely half-sister the huntress in her wild forests and mountains, Ares in his populated towns and cities and battlefields.

Their domains, in another sense, overlap; at the end of the hunt lies his bloodshed and butchery, efficiently distilling the essence of a life down to a select few traits common to all that death awaits. There is the will to live, of course, to stare down chthonic darkness until sun-bright Apollo harnesses his horses once more. There is the speed left in one’s legs, and the strength left in one’s arm – though to Artemis’ prey these are one and the same – and, crucially, the smile of fortune, for neither Ares nor Artemis can defy the Fates at their most steadfast. Ares may rarely hunt, but the process is as familiar as his own skin.

(Artemis, for her part, rarely goes to war – but Niobe and Actaeon, for all their foolish mortality, prove full well that the huntress is merely unwilling, not unfamiliar, with the action.)

Their paths rarely intersect. That is how Artemis prefers the world around her; that is how Ares indicates his respect, however little and worthless, to this Olympian half-sister of his. On their rare meetings – and they are rare, for Artemis’ solitude is enforced through not only her own stealth but also through Apollo, who bends sunlight around his sister and her company until they are hidden from even the eyes of Zeus – it is sometimes her who offers to improve his marksmanship, and sometimes he who offers to increase the rate of her hunts. In either case, the hunting blades that result gleam with pleasant violence.

 

vengeful mood

Everyone on Olympus loves Zeus.

Well. That is the official line, which Ares knows represents a significant population of either one or zero, depending on whether the newest recipient of Zeus’ affections is mortal. Perhaps two, if whatever is going on with Ganymede can be considered love; the topic is an amusing point of contention between Aphrodite, himself and Dionysus. Dionysus maintains it is madness, and Ares maintains it is resentment, and Aphrodite maintains there is an element of affection tangled somewhere underneath it all. The triple combination of the immortal cupbearer’s emotions is as richly turbulent as any ambrosia.

Ares, fortunately, has no such conflicted emotions on his lord father – though the title is as ill-fitting as any on Zeus. Bitterness stains his end of their relationship, and disdain stains the other end. His lord father does not appreciate the kind of war Ares incites, vicious and bloodthirsty, the kind fought to the beat of the blood pounding in one’s ears. He prefers Athena’s kind of war, orderly and soulless, the kind that is a mathematical construct from start to end assuming it is fought at all. Ares purposely avoids seeing eye to eye with Athena on a great many issues; the blatant favouritism, if he is being truthful, is the largest reason why.

(And, yes. Athena wins more battles than him. More wars than him. But only one of them cares for being victorious in a war. Ares loves war for its physicality, for its destruction, for the way it opens the raw depths of a heart. That Zeus has never recognised this rankles all the way into his bones.)

My oft-misunderstood son, Zeus calls him, whenever Ares needs to be introduced. In those situations, it is all Ares can do to smile, thin politeness veiling his irritation. As if there are misunderstandings present other than Zeus’ own, which his lord father has never sought to rectify. The reminder has the taste of ash, bitterly choking with disdain; Ares walks away in a vengeful mood, each and every time.

 

curse of longing

The thing about Ares is this: when he commits to an action, he commits with every fibre of his being. On mortals and most gods, this reckless devotion would be a problem, the kind that leads to broken promises and regrets and grief-stricken wars. On Ares, this reckless devotion is a problem – but he is just revered (or feared or avoided) enough for the consequences to slide off him like fresh blood on steel, and as for war, when has he avoided that?

The day Aphrodite stepped onto Olympus, fresh from the sea with pearls still adorning her hair, was the day Ares fell in love. He had no doubt it was a ruinous one. But Aphrodite had smiled as she raised her throne, and Ares did not question further the impulse to offer all his reckless devotion to her.

And Aphrodite accepted.

“We are not so different, you and I,” she murmured to him once, her voice the same ringing sweetness as a sword against stone. “Love and war. All warriors are in love. All lovers are at war. Every choice that has ever been and will ever be made… they are always choosing between us, my lord Ares. How fortunate we may also choose.”

Here is what a man will do, if he is well-trained and has enough stomach to continue; here is what a man will think as he does it, what will haunt him and console him in his dreams. Wars are about love – the love of being alive, of family, of friends, and the love of honour, of pride, of glory. Love is about war – the war to stay together against the odds, the war to fit each other enough to make the stay worthwhile. Ares, more than any on Olympus, understands this intimately.

The war aspects of love he defers to Aphrodite; they cause more entertainment in her domain than his, and Ares would gladly commit to more reckless actions in her name. The love aspects of war, Ares keeps. The wars joined by the armies he curses with longing conclude quicker than the wars without, but they are also more vicious things, love burned into bloodlust and slaughter in their determination to return home quicker. A fair trade, Ares believes.

Aphrodite, crowned in roses Ares has bled for himself, agrees.

 

curse of nausea

After a war, there are certain procedures to be followed. Ares, always, removes his armour, and waits amidst the ruined ground and battered corpses for Thanatos to arrive and the Keres to complete their work. Though mortals fall all the time, Thanatos only ever comes at the end of a battlefield, as his sole concession to the violence his sisters are due. Ares removes his armour, and sits, and waits for death to grace him with the immense, implacable mountain of his presence, basking in the certainty of a task well done.  

The mortal survivors are to commiserate, muted in their shared grief and uncertainty. The victors are to celebrate, loud and living in their shared relief as they ransack for a feast. And where a feast goes, Dionysus is sure to follow, grape-sweet and wine-sour like a mirror of the mortal lives he came from.

Ares has seen his wild half-brother at three types of feast, and the immediate, post-war celebration Dionysus is the one he likes best. Not that there is an unlikeable Dionysus to find, not at Olympian feasts and not at the ones mortals hold in peacetime, but the Dionysuses there are firmly rooted in wine and celebration. The Dionysus strolling through the firelit camp with him now, though, has more than a tinge of madness in his smile, and the arm looped around Ares’ own holds him firm with power.

Very likeable, this Dionysus, with the stride of a conqueror and the eyes of something much, much worse.

Ares’ power wanes at the end of wars, when the mortals are temporarily sated by their own brutality even as they curse his name for their grief. But it does not leave him powerless, and to insult a god comes with its own risks. As far as retaliation goes, the nausea Ares curses on them is relatively mild; no lasting effects and no permanent damage, but certainly an awful thing to wake up to. Anything stronger might well be below his station.

And the next war is always coming.

 

curse of drowning

Poseidon, Ares avoids.

Fortunately, the task is not difficult, seeing as his uncle prefers the sand and the seas to his seat on Olympus, and their cooperation in warmongering needs little in terms of conversation. His tempestuous uncle always takes his side when a war is formally declared, an alliance that owes no small part to the choice of the people of Athens, yet Ares cannot help but be wary around him. Poseidon, after all, is the only god with a temper as destructive as Zeus, and while temper is hardly rare on Olympus, the matching destruction, on the colossal scale, certainly is.

After Ares’ rage is spent, the mortals pick themselves up and rebuild, and concoct alliances and pacts and laws to avoid becoming his rampaging grounds again. Civilisational progress, as his dear half-sister would call it. After Poseidon’s rage is spent, after whole fleets are swallowed by the sea and villages devoured by the splitting earth, there is nothing to recover and nobody to rebuild. The emptiness is unnerving; heroes are remembered in story and song, their shades gone to Elysium, but those who fall by earth-shaking Poseidon’s hand are simply erased altogether.

There are some benefits to that. Those that Ares dislikes with passion, he can curse with the fate of drowning, and his ocean-terrible uncle will take care of the rest. He is perfectly aware that Poseidon, like all of them, can be kind, can offer the mortals the boundless bounty of the wine-dark oceans for little more than a pittance, and that there is a certain hypocrisy in the focus of Ares’ judgement. And yet.

Ares counts his blessings that naval warfare, strategically demanding, prioritise Athena’s blessing over his own. That, really, is all that needs to be said.

 

freezing vortex

The goddess of seasons is by far the aunt Ares is most distant with, through no fault of his own. For one, Demeter has taken an extended leave of absence from Olympus, the one place Ares can reliably find his kin; for another, her favoured places are the fields and farmlands, which armies raze and burn when they cannot ensure the harvest will not be delivered to the enemy. Someday, in the future, Ares will have an agricultural aspect himself; somehow, he cannot see it endearing him to her, when their domains are already so compatible in death-dealing.

“She is punishing the mortals for no good reason,” his queen mother says, when he asks about Demeter. “The winter is vengeance for them causing her mourning, or so she says.”

Ares considers it. “We have all done worse, in the name of vengeance,” he says. He is quite familiar with all those done worses; their brutality falls squarely within his domain, as he likes it. Next to him, her steady brown hands peeling an apple, his aunt Hestia snorts. She offers him a slice.

Hera gives him the look that tells Ares he has not only missed the point, but has let it fly halfway across the world. “Demeter,” she says, painstakingly slow, “is mourning the death of her daughter, the immortal goddess Persephone, or Kore. How is that a good reason?”

Ares has disappointed his mother more times than he can count. Hera’s question, fortunately, turns out to be rhetorical, sparing Ares from having to add another to the list. “Demeter is my sister. I could sooner forget the sun than I could forget the shape of her divinity. Would that I could forget the sun. Regardless. Persephone has her divinity in full, a goddess in her own right, certainly incapable of death by mortal hands. Her disappearance is for reasons of her own. As a goddess, I imagine she has no shortage of reasons.”

“So cold-eyed Demeter’s rage is misguided,” Ares says. “Has anyone tried to tell her this?”

Hera ignores him. “Consider the alternate possibility. I am wrong, and Persephone is mortal. Then she would be dwelling in the Underworld, and Demeter should focus her energies on retrieving her from foster-brother Hades. It can be done, as Dionysus proves.” Her smile is very bitter. “In any case, Demeter’s eternal winter has no sound basis in reason.”

“Has anyone tried to tell her this,” Ares repeats.

His aunt Hestia sighs. “She will not listen, little Ares,” she says, her voice the crackle of fire. “I think… if she knows, she will have to face Persephone leaving her of her own will. Leaving Demeter because of Demeter. It is easier to put logic aside, as you well know.”

Ares does. His frost-bringing aunt is choosing violence for its own sake, and though there is no fun to be found in half-frozen mortals the goddess’ choice is a respectable one. The next snowstorm he comes across, he blesses – and watches the freezing vortex spiral through towns, leaving razor icicles in its wake.

 

merciful end

It is a common fact on Olympus that Ares does not get along with his father’s dearest daughter. Apollo sees the future; Poseidon rules the seas; Ares hates Athena, just one of the handful of immutable facts that govern the universe until the universe is unmade. Athena, of course, does not hate Ares, as in her own words he is simply not worth the effort to hate. Instead she holds him in ‘high disdain’, and how like the wisdom goddess indeed to believe polished words make any difference to her base feelings when Ares is the very god of those base feelings.

He argues against her points in counsel purely for the sake of argument, and she in turn retaliates the same, until more than one Olympian rubs their temples for relief against the shouting. There is a particular pleasure to be obtained in that, for Ares. And though Athena’s stormfront eyes betray nothing, he knows it is the same for her, if rationalised to different reasons. They are more alike than Ares would like to admit; they are nothing similar, and far too similar.

(Both related to Zeus, for one.)

Sometimes, however, they do agree – mostly by accident, when one of them is not paying enough attention and their arguments stumble into the point in different words, and quicksilver Hermes points it out before they can correct themselves. In those cases, Ares always mimes his disgust, if only to see Athena’s face contort in silent rage. If his family calls him immature and barbaric and impulsive, then Ares will be, and he will drag this lofty half-sister of his with him.

(Although, really, it’s best for everyone if they disagree. Especially for the mortals. When war and war are on the same wavelength, a merciful end is a kindness. Gods are capable of such things.)

 

+hermes

Swift Hermes is possibly Ares’ favourite half-brother. He is possibly everyone’s favourite half-brother, or nephew, or Olympian. There are certain advantages to keeping out of the mortal affairs that strain so many Olympian relationships, and for being responsible for the single most necessary service amongst the gods. Falling on his father’s bad side simply means avoiding him for a century or two, but falling on Hermes’ bad side has simply unimaginable consequences. With the sheer volume of messages flying out of Olympus each day, and the distinctly undesirable reactions of some members of their family to messages with no reply, every last one of them relies on Hermes’ good graces to stay in everyone else’s good graces.

“Ares, I’m a consummate professional. You don’t need to flatter me like this,” Hermes says, when Ares tells him that. “Come on, let’s have it, what’s the awfully embarrassing message you want delivered this time?” His wings are fluttering and twisting, which indicates their shared ambrosia is about to become the sole property of Ares. A pity; if he wanted to drink alone, he would be in Thrace.

Ares does not actually have a message in mind. Though, if Hermes wants something embarrassing, he is sure he can oblige. “Well,” he says, dragging out the word until his quicksilver half-brother is vibrating in his seat, “you could ask your, ah, professional associate to deliver my sincerest regards and deepest admiration to his mother the Night? I have already asked our hell-born kin, but an extra direction may emphasise my sincerity.”

Hermes’ mouth falls open. “I will deliver you to Charon and watch him beat you up myself,” he breathes, the words slowed by horror.

Ares waits for three beats before he gives in to the laughter, Hermes spluttering at the sound. “Why, Hermes,” Ares teases, “are you not proud? How many are successful in their tricks on the divine trickster?”

His flighty half-brother’s shoulders sink in relief, though his eyes remain wide. “Message for you, Ares,” he chirps. “It says, ‘Not many, but that was awful, please never do it again, I nearly had a heart attack and you know what Apollo’s like about those! Good work.’ Really, I believed it.”

“There were no falsehoods to disbelieve,” Ares says. “The Night herself deserves much more than my deepest admiration. Much more, indeed, than all our deepest admirations.”

“Ares, as much as I love you, I don’t think I want to keep listening to this,” Hermes decides. “I have to run. Last check, no messages?”

Ares presses the opened bottle of ambrosia into his hands. “Message to Hermes,” he says, leaning in. “Take care out there.”

Hermes’ eyes glitter. “Message received, loud and clear. See you around, Ares!”

Ares waves, his heart perfectly light, and Hermes disappears.