a story by VC Noble
This is my "entrance" story to the Temple of Ares message board set up at SciFi.com. It's a story about a woman who finds out she is much more than she realized...
I / II / III / IV / V / VI / VII / VII
Part I... A mystery unfolds...
Deep within a lush forest stood a temple of simple magnificence. Around the vast building grew a garden of beautiful flowers. The fruit orchard was plentiful and the vineyard's grapes yielded the sweetest wine made by mortal hands. Not too far off, the stables housed horses that ran wild during the day, then came back for food and rest at night. The temple itself was of simple design with many rooms, including a grand throne room, a music hall, and a hot bath chamber. The keepers of the temple were women, lovely priestesses dedicated to serving the god of war, Ares.
The ladies of Ares did not mind that few visited the temple. They preferred to have their god for themselves on the visits he made. On the days without him, the priestesses busied themselves with their daily routine in maintaining the temple. Each priestess had a particular area under her care so that the temple would always be ready for Ares. Hence, the hot bath was always warm, the baby oil on hand, the food ready to be made, the temple sirens eager to break into song. The horses were fed and brushed, the gardens were always blooming, and the vineyards were tended to. The priestesses worked hard throughout the temple.
When Kiari arrived at the temple, the priestesses welcomed her. When she revealed her intention to serve in the temple, she was immediately put to work. Sura, the assistant High Priestess, directed her first to the kitchen. Carnation, the temple chef, shooed Kiari out when she botched up baking. High Priestess Fireheart sent her to the weapons room, but Sei claimed it as her duty and Kiari was sent away again. She floated around, helping Kriket one day with the hot bath, carrying the body oil for KimD another day, watching in envy when Ped gave Ares one of those massages. (Of course, Ares ordered Kiari out whenever Ped got to the good part.)
So Kiari languished in a sort of limbo until she came upon the weaving room. She started weaving and Sura saw her there. Kiari was pronounced Priestess of the Loom. One of the more enterprising priestesses suggested using Kiari's products as merchandise for trade for things they might need. So it was.
Ares paid little attention to this new priestess. He welcomed her, but hardly ever called upon her for anything. In fact, he seemed more annoyed with her than anything. He caught her weaving a tapestry about Hercules and he set her straight on what was acceptable and what was not. Hercules, suffice it to say, was not an acceptable subject for a tapestry. Kiari, duly scolded, instead wove a gorgeous tapestry depicting Ares attended by his lovely priestesses. The priestesses were delighted and hung it in the banquet room.
Ares liked to surprise his priestesses and so one night he came unannounced as they were sleeping. He noticed a light coming from the weaving room, so he quietly walked in. Kiari was working at the loom, quite mesmerized by her creation. Ares crept up behind her and was surprised to see the god of the underworld the center of her tapestry. Annoyance creased his brow. Why did this priestess of his continue to try his patience?
"Kiari." He said her name softly.
She didn't jump at his voice. She took in a quick breath and her hands ceased their motions. She stood up quickly and faced him. A smile almost turned Ares' lips, but he maintained his stern expression. He admired her control. She always managed to keep a calm demeanor, but he could very well see the flush on her cheeks and hear the rapid pounding of her heart. He wondered what kind of passion he could ignite in her.
Kiari curtsied. "My lord Ares. I hope you are well tonight."
Such deference, he thought. "I am. And you? Everyone else is asleep, yet I find you here, working."
"I couldn't sleep. I seem to have so much energy. Perhaps it's the season. I don't seem to need as much sleep in the spring."
He approached the loom and studied the tapestry. "You are a priestess of my temple, yet you weave a tapestry featuring the god of the underworld. Why is that? I thought I made myself perfectly clear in our discussion of Hercules. Need I remind you that Hades is hardly a favorite of mine?"
Kiari's eyes widened in confusion. "I... um... the god of the underworld?"
Ares gestured at the face on the loom. "There, an almost perfect likeness of Hades. What do you mean by weaving this?"
She followed his gesture and stared at the face she created. Then she looked into the smoldering eyes of her god. She straightened her back and answered him as honestly as she could. "My lord Ares, this face is one I've never seen before except in dreams. If you say that it is Hades, then I must apologize. I did not wish to offend you."
His stern expression darkened. "A face from your dreams? What kind of dreams?"
Her cheeks flushed anew, but she answered him. "Intimate dreams."
His eyes narrowed and his jaw set in an angry line. Why was Hades sending one of Ares' priestesses intimate dreams?
"Wait for me in your room," he ordered. Ares turned away and walked out the door.
Kiari stared after him. What was that all about?
Ares did not find Hades at Olympus, so after a moment's hesitation, he headed for the underworld. He had to know what was going on.
"Hades!" Ares called out in the main hall of the palace.
The god of the underworld strolled in, his black cape flowing behind him. "Ah, Ares. Nice of you to drop by. Visiting some dead generals?"
"Cut the pleasantries, Hades."
"Fine, what are you doing here? I thought we agreed that you would be off-limits here for awhile. That order came by way of Zeus, if I remember correctly."
Ares got to his point. "What are you doing with my priestess?"
Hades raised an eyebrow. "Now, which lady would that be? You have so many, though I can't imagine why. Beautiful too, I might add. I'm afraid I haven't met any of them, although their handiwork reside here. I must say, you trained those priestesses well."
"Oh, you've met one of them," Ares insisted. "In fact, you know her pretty well, from what she told me."
"And who is this mysterious lady?" Hades asked.
"Her name is Kiari."
Hades was still for a moment. When he spoke, he was somber and serious, more so than usual.
"Give her back," Hades said.
Ares was incredulous. "What did you say?"
The god of the underworld stood firm. "She belongs to me. Give her back."
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Part II... Demands and memories...
Fire lit Ares' eyes. "Only these dead souls and that perky spring goddess belong to you," he sneered. "My priestess does not. Tell me why you're sending her intimate dreams. Or maybe I should ask Persephone."
"Leave my wife out of this," Hades said. "This has nothing to do with her."
"Doesn't it? Wouldn't your innocent little woman like to know that her beloved is sending another, a MORTAL, intimate dreams? I think she would be very interested."
"She doesn't need to know anything. And if she even gets a hint of this, you'll think your trip as a mortal was a walk in the Elysian Fields compared to what I could do to you. Remember where you are."
"Don't threaten me, Hades," Ares warned.
"Then leave here and bring your priestess to me. She belongs to the lower worlds, which means she's mine. Whatever hold you have over her, release it."
"Kiari is bound to me and only I can send her away, which I would never do." Ares stood toe to toe with Hades, trying to fathom his intentions. "She doesn't even know you. What is she to you?"
"That is none of your concern, Ares."
"You're wrong. Everything about her concerns me. She belongs to me."
"Duty will bring her to her proper place, which is here, in my realm. The sooner you realize that, the easier it will be to let her go."
"Kiari would never leave me. I know that."
"You don't know her very well, do you?"
"And you do?"
"Actually," Hades said, his expression deathly serious. "She knows me better than she knows you. She just doesn't remember."
Ares turned away in frustration.
"She will remember," Hades assured him. "And when she does, you'll have to let her go."
"And what," Ares turned to face Hades, "exactly will she remember?"
"This," Hades answered. He waved his hand and a vision appeared between them.
Ares saw the underworld sometime in the past. Kiari stood in a white gown, a sheer, hooded cape about her shoulders. Morpheus' palace loomed in the background. A bird flew by and dropped a small scroll into Kiari's waiting hands. She read the instructions, drew the cape over her head, then disappeared in a ghostly haze. She appeared in a dream and gently guided the dreamer to the answers he sought... Then she was back in the underworld, beside a river. Her cape lay crumpled on the grass as she knelt down and dipped her cup into the water. After a moment, she drank... The vision ended.
"The river of Lethe usually works well to obliterate memories from mortal souls, but it's only temporary on a god or goddess," Hades said. "Kiari's dreams are memories of her former life. It's only a matter of time before she realizes her duty."
A goddess? Ares didn't believe him. How could one of his most unassuming priestesses be a goddess? And how could he not know?
"Kiari is a goddess?"
"She was a goddess."
"I don't remember her."
"Why should you? She was a lesser one. You never take the time to notice any of them unless they can serve you in some way. But I remember her."
"Apparently. What do you mean she was a goddess? Isn't she now?"
Hades shook his head. "She renounced her position as goddess the moment she took the drink from Lethe. She's still immortal, but has none of the powers that came with her status."
The implications were enormous. Would she become a goddess again if and when she remembered her past? Would she stay with Ares, in his temple? The balance of power could shift if she did. He would have total control over her if she stayed. But he still had another question for Hades.
"You say these dreams are of her former life, but you still haven't explained why she's dreaming of you."
Moonlight slipped through the open window of Kiari's room, bathing her bed in silver shadows. She was resting against her pillows, gazing at the moon as the cool breeze brushed against her. She held her cup in her hand, her fingers running over the lifted metal. Even with her eyes on the moon, she could see the little scene depicted on her silver cup. A quiet stream, two figures hand in hand, a grand palace behind them. She could almost see it as a tapestry. Why did it fill her with such sad longing?
She thought of Ares. His face filled her mind as she fell asleep. Where was he?
A lady in white stood before her, her hand outstretched. Kiari took her hand and suddenly they were flying through the air towards a thick mist. She felt a wondrous freedom that was strange, but not unfamiliar.
"You will remember soon," the lady in white said as they landed near a river's edge.
"Remember what?" Kiari asked. Suddenly, she became the lady in white as she drew the hood back and unhooked the cape. She wore a simple white gown. She was waiting for someone to come to her.
She turned around. He stood before her, tall and proud, all in black. The usually somber face lit with a smile. Her beloved.
He took her hands and leaned over to give her a gentle kiss on the lips. But once their lips touched, she deepened the kiss and felt his laugh as he hauled her into his arms and lowered her to the ground. The grass was cool and soft beneath her and he was warm against her.
A little later, she snuggled in his arms, a deep satisfaction in her soul. This was right, this was the way it was supposed to be.
"Am I really your Imzadi?" She asked him, propping herself up beside him.
He gazed back at her, brushing her dark hair from her eyes. "Yes."
"Your first?" She teased.
He took her hand and placed on his chest. "The first to touch this heart."
She could feel the steady beat of his heart against her hand. She leaned over him and brought her lips to his...
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Part III... Strange dreams...
Their lips met in a sweet kiss of eternal promise. She felt the tentative touch of his mind against hers. She reached out for him and as their bodies melted together, their minds merged in a powerful bond. Words passed silently between their hearts.
Even as time passes
This remains unbroken
Together when apart
our love speaks
The sated abandonment faded away as a mist enveloped them. Suddenly he was gone and she was standing in a thick fog, in a silence broken piercingly by a battle cry. The scene cleared and she found herself standing on the edge of a battlefield. It was the moment of retreat and victory, although it looked as though both sides suffered greatly.
She wore again the white gown and the sheer, hooded cape and she knew that she could walk among the dead and dying. She held a replica of Celesta's candle and suddenly remembered she was here to retrieve the soul of a fallen warrior. Celesta had asked her the favor and Kiari was happy to oblige. She knew the man from his dreams and grieved a little that he should die.
In the distance stood the god of war. Deep satisfaction etched his features, filling his dark soul. He took no notice of the goddess in white, his mind was on the men before him. Oh, the battle had been long, but the fighting was glorious. He spoke.
"You have served me well, gallant warriors. This battle shall go down in your history, bringing glory to all. Your names will be remembered with respect and reverence. Go now to the other side knowing that your deaths have brought honor to me and to you."
She watched as the man she was sent to bring over stood up on his own and led the others to the other side. She glanced at the war god, surprised by his speech. He walked over to her.
"Not a word of this, goddess. I do have a reputation," he said quietly.
She nodded, a new respect for him sparking in her. She had always considered Ares to be bloodthirsty and cruel, yet here he had just shown respect for the mortal souls...
A far-off look came over Hades' face, causing a snort of impatience from Ares.
"Are you going to answer me, Hades? Why are you in Kiari's dreams?"
He answered as if in prayer. "We are joined in a way that no one can break. Even if we stand on opposite ends of the universe, our souls are pieces of one another."
Ares had heard those words before. Once, while watching the marriage between a general and his lady, the duo uttered those same words. It spoke of a connection that went beyond life and the gods, of love so deep and pure that it could not be matched by anything else even if broken by circumstance.
"You and her?"
Hades turned haunted eyes to Ares. The thought of bearing his soul to the god of war was abominable, but it couldn't be helped. "It was long before Persephone. Kiari was my counselor to the newly dead. She listened to their concerns and was a very calming presence for them. We worked well together and eventually, we realized that we had feelings for one another. As with all lovers, we had an obstacle-- she was a virgin goddess."
"But it didn't stay that way," Ares cut in, remembering the scandal a decade or so ago. The deflowered daughter of Morpheus banished from his palace, then disappearing aboveworld. Was this Kiari, his priestess? Was this why he knew so little of her? Ares glared at Hades. "You deflowered a virgin goddess?"
"Please, it was mutual," Hades huffed. "I wanted her to be my queen, but for some reason, Morpheus refused and banished Kiari. She stayed with me for awhile, but--" He stopped.
"But what? Why did she leave, drink from the river of Lethe?" Ares asked.
"I don't know," Hades answered. "She just decided one day and surrendered most of her powers to me. She can still mind speak with some, but her ability to step into dreams is severely limited."
"And you never tried to find her?"
"We agreed that if it was meant to be, we would find our way back to one another. I can still feel her, I know when she remembers me and I know that she's all right. I also know that you and her haven't..." He didn't say.
Ares' jaw tightened. To have one of the gods tied so closely to one of his priestesses was maddening. He would not stand for it. She would have to choose.
Kiari awoke with a start, an uneasy feeling in her soul. Dawn was approaching and the moon's glow was fading in the light of the coming day. Her dreams, why were they so fleeting? She vaguely remembered Ares and more clearly the man he said was Hades. Hades, the god of the underworld. How was he tied to her?
Kiari got up, her mind filled with questions. She had never been bothered about the fact that her memories were few and far between. She never wondered about who her parents were or if she had any brothers or sisters. She only knew that she awoke in the forest one day, spent a couple of years training with a warrior, and eventually found her way to the temple. During all that time, her dreams had a prophetic quality that she didn't question. But now, the dreams were hinting at something she didn't want to face. But what was it?
A quick knock, then her door opened as she was braiding her hair. Ares walked in and she stood up quickly and curtsied.
"My lord Ares."
His eyes were dark with emotion, but his voice was cool, matching hers. "I have a special assignment for you, Kiari. Hades requests your talent. He wants a tapestry. Since I owe him, I agreed to give you leave to see him. You're to go to the underworld after breakfast."
Her dark eyes widened. How could she go to the underworld? A mortal could not--. The thought stopped. She wasn't mortal, she realized.
She nodded at him. "As you wish."
He came closer, his eyes searching hers piercingly. He cupped her chin and she felt a strange awareness, almost as if she could see into his very soul. He was troubled somehow. Then something else... His lips came down on hers, possessive and hungry, driving away all her thoughts. Her lips parted against his and he deepened the kiss. Her heart seemed to stop for that moment. Then he tore his lips away from hers and stepped back.
"Not now," he whispered. "But soon." With that, he turned and walked out her room.
Kiari managed to keep her balance the whole time he was in her room, but the moment he walked out, she quickly sat down. Confusion was never more present...
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Part IV... To the Underworld...
Kiari didn't eat much at breakfast. The chatter of the other priestesses went over her head and she avoided Ares' steady gaze. No one really seemed to notice her discomfort.
After breakfast, Ares stood up and motioned for Kiari to follow him. A few of the other priestesses glanced over at them curiously, but no one said anything. Outside the temple, he took her hand and they walked towards the waterfalls.
The morning was bright and clear. A soft breeze whispered through the leaves and grass. Kiari felt strange holding hands with Ares and walking through a spring meadow setting. It just seemed too pastoral for the god of war. She glanced up at him, but his eyes were ahead, toward the gurgling waterfalls. His face was unreadable. They stopped by the water's edge.
He faced her, his dark eyes studying her face. "What was your life before you came to my temple?" He asked, his voice quiet.
She wanted to look away, to hide her confusion, but his gaze held her fast. "I trained with a young warrior for a few years and came to you a few years after I left him."
"But before that? Where did you learn to weave the tapestries? Surely not from a warrior," he said.
She opened her mouth to answer, then closed it again. She had no explanation. She didn't know how she came to be a weaver. "I don't remember."
Ares seemed to sigh. "Are you ready to go to the underworld?"
"Do I need to bring anything?" She asked.
He shook his head. "He will have whatever you might need. Now close your eyes."
She obeyed and was surprised by his soft kiss on her lips.
"Think of the underworld and turn around slowly." His voice was curiously gentle, almost guiding. "Now, Hades."
As she turned around, the rush of the waterfall was silenced and the morning sun turned to a sudden darkness. The air was cool and still and she opened her eyes.
She knew this place and knew that it was the palace of Hades. She had been in this room before. She turned around slowly, recognizing this and remembering that.
Hades watched her slow study of the room in silence. When her eyes finally met his, it took all his self control not to take her in his arms. Neither of them said a word, but they could feel their thoughts reaching and touching. One word whispered between them.
"Welcome to the Underworld," Hades greeted, his eyes searching hers.
-I know you,- her mind whispered. -Like my very heart.- She managed to find her voice and manners. She bowed. "Thank you, Lord Hades."
A slight smile turned his lips. "I have no need for your deference, priestess. You may just call me Hades."
Her smile was hesitant, unsure. "As you wish."
-I have missed you. Do you remember me?-
Missed her? She stepped back a little, trying not to show the alarm racing through her. Remember him? Had she heard him, in her head? Why should a god deign to mind speak with her? Even Ares didn't do that with his priestesses.
"Don't be afraid," he said quietly, touching her arm.
Kiari was flustered. "Why should I be afraid? I'm not--" A strange memory flashed in her head. Hades holding her hand, gazing down at her with an expression of love.
-Kiari, don't be afraid.-
She stared at him, an almost wild expression in her eyes. More memories came flooding back. Yes, she knew they were memories now. Her father, Morpheus banishing her from the house of dreams. Her sister Ilaria taking over her duties. Her short, sweet time in Hades' palace, then a warning about her destiny from an unlikely source. Her mother, Speranza, coming too late, after she drank from the river of Lethe.
-Imzadi,- she whispered to him.
He whispered back. -Imzadi.-
And she knew that he heard her as clearly as she heard him. It was too much and her mind shut down and for the first time in her very long life, Kiari fainted.
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Part V... Remembering...
Ares sat in his main throne room, his frustration rising. He had given in to Hades' request, but now he wondered if there could have been a better way to jog his priestess' memory. He should be there, Ares realized. He should be there when she finally remembered, so that he could remind her of her present duties. She was his, goddess or not.
Ares did not like that he knew very little of his priestess. He remembered the first time he saw her. She and her warrior friend were retrieving the dead bodies of their comrades. She caught sight of him in the distance, her wide dark eyes piercing his, the whisper of his name on her lips. He hadn't meant to show himself to the living, yet she saw him. He hadn't even considered that she could be a deity. He should have remembered her, but Hades had been right. Ares did not pay any mind to the lesser gods or goddesses unless they could serve him in some way.
It had taken a few years before she finally made it to his temple. But he had been aware of her the whole time. She would appear after particularly bloody battles, as if she knew he would be there. No words were exchanged between them, just one intense look. He felt as if she could see into his very soul, yet all he saw was the darkness in her eyes, the unchanging beauty of her face. The mystery of her had intrigued him. She was one of the few who chose him, rather than the other way around, as was the case with most of his priestesses.
The messanger appeared before him without any ado. "Hades bids you to Mt. Olympus, in reference to your priestess."
He disappeared before Ares could question him. Fire burned through him as he made his way to Mt. Olympus.
It was fortunate that Hades and Kiari were so connected. He anticipated her sudden loss of consciousness and caught her before she hit the floor.
"Damn," he whispered. This wasn't what he envisioned when he thought of having her in his arms. When she didn't awaken, he took her to the only place he could think of.
Hades did not say a word to the curious residents of Mt. Olympus, but headed straight for the healing room. He could feel their curiosity, first at his presence and second at the identity of the woman in his arms.
Ares was immediately called for, as she was his priestess. He was angry when he saw her on the bed, still and asleep.
"What did you do to her?" Ares demanded. "I send her to you and not a half hour later, she's unconscious!"
Hades sighed. "I didn't do anything."
Ares started pacing. "I should have never agreed to send her to you. She belongs to me, no matter what you two had before. Her loyalty and duty are to me!"
"Loyalty, duty. Is that all you care about? Well, she has duties in the underworld," Hades told him. "Her sister is overwhelmed by the job load, especially with all the recent battles and sickness. I need Kiari back."
"What, no talk of the heart now, Hades?" Ares sneered. "Afraid the walls might whisper and justify Demeter's distaste for you?"
Hades smarted at that, his face flushing. But he didn't say a word.
The gods' physician was looking Kiari over. "Well, she'll be all right. Probably just stress. What did you do to this poor girl? I've never heard of a goddess fainting."
No use for either of them to tell him that she wasn't actually a goddess, he remembered her from long ago.
"Is all her memory back?" Ares asked.
The physician shrugged. "We won't know until she wakes up. I've never had to deal with a god or goddess losing their memory on purpose. I just know that theoretically, it's only temporary. Ask her when she wakes up."
Ares glared at him, but the physician was unruffled. He soon left.
Hades was gazing down at Kiari's peaceful face. She looked different as a non-goddess. A paler version of her former self. Yet he still felt the same for her. It was almost enough to drive away any thought of Persephone.
Ares hated that lovesick look on Hades' face. Did the god of the underworld really believe that he could have his wife and Kiari? Ares was sure to the very core of his being that Kiari would not go back to Hades. Her place was with Ares.
"Do you really think she'll come back to you?" Ares said. "You have Persephone and the whole underworld to deal with. Could you handle a mistress, too?"
Hades shot him a deadly look. "Haven't you ever cared for anyone? We may not be able to have what we had before, but that doesn't mean that I don't still care. She would have a place in the underworld, one that would use all her talents. Have you ever considered that she was made to be more than just your priestess?"
Had he? Ares did not want to think about it. "What did you have that was so special? Something must have been lacking, for her to leave," Ares goaded.
Hades' jaw tightened. He glanced back at Kiari's face. So peaceful. -Why did you leave me?- he asked. -What do I tell him?-
She stirred, as if hearing his impassioned plea.
Kiari was altogether in a different place, a level removed from the mortal world and the palace of the gods. She heard Hades' plea as if a whisper and she could hear Ares in the distance. Here time stood still. This was a place of remembering. And remembering she was.
Her memories seemed to flash before her eyes. All her memories. Even the ones separate from this lifetime. She was surprised to find that this lifetime was only the latest of several. Her eyes widened as she recognized one of her fellow priestesses. Her sibling. They were meant to meet again after so long between their lifetimes. Why hadn't Kiari recognized her when she first arrived at the temple? She should have known.
Everything seemed so clear here, but Kiari knew that it would not last. Once she awakened, these memories would fade until she wasn't even sure that they were real. But one thing was for sure, she would have to choose between the underworld and the temple, between Hades and Ares, between love and duty.
She felt the gentle touch of Hades' mind and knew that it was time for her to awaken. How much of this would she remember? And what would her choice be?
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Part VI... Awakening to Swords...
In the still of the healing room, Hades realized that there was a way to rouse Kiari. Without a word, he went to her side. He took her right hand and placed it over his heart.
"What are you doing?" Ares sprang forward, but Hades held a hand out to stop him.
He bent over and kissed her softly. Then he drew back and waited.
With a shuddering sigh, Kiari's transformation began. A billowy dress the color of moonlight suddenly fitted over her body. Her hair lengthened, then sprung back into dark curls. A glowing light hovered over her, then plunged into her heart.
Her eyes fluttered open and she sat up. She blinked at the sight of the two gods, then rose from the bed. She looked down at her body, surprised to find herself in goddess form. Yet, was this not Mt. Olympus? Who but the gods visited Mt. Olympus? Yes, she knew the healing room. And the two before her, the god of the underworld and the god of war. She recognized them too. Something more to Hades, a connection.
Hades was marveling at her transformation. Just as her memories were rushing back to her, so too the god of the underworld was remembering. This was Vasia-Kiari, the first to ever light his dark soul. The first time, the first kiss, the first time he told her he loved her. The last time he kissed her, the last time he said the words from his soul. He could feel his heart breaking.
Kiari's transformation triggered a memory in Ares as well. Once, long ago, he had noticed her. She was doing Celesta's job, retrieving a soul to take to the other side. She had heard his speech to the dead souls. He remembered the mild attraction he felt when he looked into the darkness of her eyes. Now, to see her like this, he wondered how he could have forgotten.
Kiari regarded the two gods before her, her dark eyes unreadable. A soft smile curved her lips as her eyes met Hades'.
"What do you remember last?" Hades asked.
She was thoughtful for a moment. The memories still weren't in the right order. She concentrated. The last thing she remembered. A darkness still and familiar, yet somehow new. The underworld.
"I fainted," she said, bemused. "But I wasn't as I am now."
"You didn't wake up right away. I brought you here to Mt. Olympus," Hades explained. "Your powers are restored."
She nodded, then glanced at the god of war. "Ares. Why are you here?"
Ares looked ready to bite, but he kept his temper in check. He was unsure of this person, this goddess. He felt the ancient power in her dark eyes, but there was a strange innocence as well. Power and innocence that belonged to him. "I am here because you are my priestess."
"Your priestess," she repeated. The temple. The day of her admittance. He presented her with a necklace. Her hand came up and fingered the medallion. Yes, she remembered that.
"You'll come back with me," Ares started.
"No, Kiari, you must make a choice, now," Hades cut in.
Ares turned on him. "There is no choice, she is my priestess, she belongs to me. Her home is the temple."
"She has responsibilities in the underworld..."
"Which she gave up the moment she went aboveworld and left you," Ares reminded him, temper rising. "She made vows to me, she is mine."
Ares faced her. Gone was the passive deference of his priestess. In its place a gentle, but commanding aura, as befitted a goddess. She had no fear of him.
"I have a choice in this," she said in a quiet voice.
Irritation flicked in his eyes. "Your choice is already made. You are mine."
"Then I take back her powers," Hades said behind them.
"You can't do that," Ares growled, slowly returning his attention to Hades.
"I can and I will," Hades promised.
Ares drew his sword. "Perhaps we should settle this once and for all."
Hades' eyes glinted as he drew his sword as well. "With pleasure."
The walls of the healing room shimmered away and the three were in the gardens. Admist the gentle beauty of the flowers and trees, the two gods attacked each other with a fury, their swords reflecting the lights of the heavens, clashing with unearthly power. One would have an advantage only to lose it in his arrogance as the other threw him back and swung.
"She is mine," Ares ground out.
"She will never truly be yours," Hades hissed.
Their swords met once more, then again. Kiari felt the power awakening within her as the memories righted themselves. She must stop this.
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Part VII... The Arbiter...
A surge of energy knocked Ares and Hades to the ground. Kiari stood before them, fury lighting her eyes. Just behind her, Athena appeared.
"This will not accomplish anything!" Kiari's voice vibrated with anger. "I am not a prize for the victor in your fight."
"You belong to me!" Ares said hotly, standing quickly. "I will not allow you to surrender your vows, just to return to the underworld, to his realm. You are my priestess. No one else shall have you."
"You will not allow me? The choice is mine, Ares. I will not have the two of you fight an eternity over me!"
"Kiari," Hades tried to calm her.
"No," she turned her furious tirade to him. "What would your precious wife say if she knew you were fighting Ares for another goddess? What would she think?"
Athena stepped forward, putting a hand on Kiari's shoulder. The goddess had come at Kiari's request, a request made long ago.
"What are you doing here?" Ares demanded.
"Calm yourself, brother. I am here on Kiari's behalf," she said. "The gardens have been sealed off from the other deities for your visit here. Zeus thought that this might be a private matter."
"We can settle this ourselves," Hades said, sheathing his sword.
"A fight to the death would hardly settle things," Athena drawled. "I am Kiari's arbiter. Since her choice will have an effect on the balance of power of the heavens, I am here to be sure that everything stays even."
Kiari and Athena consulted, leaving the two gods to glare at each other. Ares had confidence in his sister's judgment, but was determined to change her mind if she did not choose in his favor. Hades also trusted Athena, but knew that ultimately the choice was with Kiari and he wondered now what hold Ares had over Kiari.
Athena nodded and Kiari went to stand between the two gods.
Athena faced the three before her. "The evidence is highly in Hades' favor. Kiari as goddess belongs irrevocably to the underworld. But since she allowed her powers to detach from her, she is also only immortal. Still, if this was just the case, she would still belong to the underworld. But she gave herself to the temple, made vows, and promised herself to Ares. This pulls her immortal self to Ares. If she chose only the underworld, I would support that choice as well. But her sense of loyalty will not allow her this." Athena directed her gaze at Ares. "She feels obligated to you, Ares. And since she gave her word to you, I must uphold that. She is foremost your priestess. But there are conditions."
The triumph in Ares' eyes was tempered. "What conditions?"
"She will be your liaison to Hades, thereby giving her leave to carry out her duties as a goddess of the underworld. From what I understand, she is still needed at times."
Ares saw the advantage to that. It would be an asset to have one of his own so closely tied to another's realm.
"She will only be immortal as your priestess. Her inherent qualities of dream prophesy and some mind speak will remain intact. She will only be goddess when performing duties for the underworld. The rest of the time, Hades will hold her power."
"That is unacceptable! She comes to me as is. If she can be goddess in his realm, then she will be goddess in mine." Anger lined his face, but he kept his voice even.
Athena shook her head. "In Hades' realm, Kiari is equal to him. She does not follow his orders. She is there to take her share in the work. But in your temple, she is under your command. By choice, yes, but she is essentially there to serve you. No, the gods would not allow another god or goddess to be so subjected to another. The balance of power would shift, as you well know."
Yes, he knew, but he had hoped no one else would think the same. "So be it," he allowed grudgingly.
"Hades, does this agree with you?" Athena asked.
Hades nodded curtly, his eyes on Kiari. She saw the pain, but there was understanding too.
"Then it is settled. Kiari is priestess of Ares, his liaison to Hades."
Kiari gave Athena a grateful smile. "Thank you."
"You know, if you ever tire of Ares' temple, I would not mind taking you under my wing. Your weaving has improved quite dramatically," Athena said. "And I understand you're not too bad with the sword." With a wave, she disappeared, leaving the other three alone once more.
Kiari held her hands out to Hades. He took them, his grip tight. Their connection strengthened with physical touch. She could feel the anguish in his heart, although she tried to keep her own at bay.
"It probably wouldn't have worked out, having you in the underworld all the time. It's better this way," he tried to convince himself.
"Yes, it could get a bit crowded in the autumn and winter months," she half smiled at him.
"I am glad you remember once more, Vasia-Kiari," he said softly, using her full name. "I missed you, even when I found another, my thoughts were always with you. You still have my heart."
"As you have my soul," she replied. She saw the question in his eyes.
-Why did you leave me?- Hades asked. -I accepted it when it happened, but I still want to know why. What drove you to such measures?-
How could she tell him the oracles and their prophesies? She shut her mind to the answer and he felt her withdrawal.
-You will tell me one day,- he said.
-Perhaps,- she demurred.
Kiari placed her left hand over his heart. He sighed, then brought his lips to hers. Softly, gently he took what she surrendered to him. Even after her powers transferred, his lips continued to remind her of what she left behind.
They parted, eyes locked. She took a step away and felt Ares' hand on the small of her back. Hades glanced at Ares and they exchanged a long look. Ares nodded. Hades gazed back at Kiari and touched her cheek, then turned away and disappeared.
Kiari faced Ares, trying to gauge his emotions. But his mind was blocked from hers, his darkly handsome face unreadable. Except for his eyes. He offered his hand and she took it. Mt. Olympus disappeared.
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Part VIII... Confessions of a Priestess of Ares, Liaison to Hades...
Ares and Kiari appeared in his chambers at the temple. She stood before him, back in her priestess garb, a fainter beauty compared to her true goddess form. Ares regarded her in silence, his eyes searching hers. She wondered what he hoped to find.
"An explanation," he said quietly. "The one you wouldn't give Hades. Why did you leave him? You wouldn't answer."
Something flickered in her eyes. How had he--?
"You may have been a goddess, but there is also a bond between us," Ares said smugly. "The moment you took your priestess vows, you allowed me into your mind. I could hear almost everything you and Hades said." He smiled at her obvious outrage. "Ah, and anger brings such a becoming light to your face."
Kiari took a calming breath. "You had no right."
"I have every right where you're concerned," Ares reminded her softly. "But I will allow you your privacy when it comes to him."
She cleared her mind and felt it, Ares' hold on her. She hadn't noticed it before, but it had been there the whole time.
-So, my priestess weaver, why did you leave your Imzadi?- Ares treaded gently.
As a mere immortal, Kiari knew that she could not keep her thoughts from Ares too long. She began her story without ceremony.
"Hera denied the petition for marriage between me and Hades. I was in a fit and flew up to Mt. Olympus, determined to change her mind. But one does not cross the queen of the gods."
Ares listened, eyebrows slightly raised. He had no idea that his mother had a hand in Kiari's life.
"Hera told me that she would never allow a marriage between me and Hades. She and my father had been grooming me to be the bride of another. That explained why my father banished me. He would rather lose his daughter than face the wrath of Hera. My association with Hades had somehow tarnished me, but Hera was willing to overlook it as an act of youth." She laughed bitterly at that. "I've lived longer than her! But my purity and the fact that I lived among my mother's people did make me a sort of innocent. No, Hera wanted to marry me to another, to one just as powerful as the god of the underworld. To her son."
Ares' eyes narrowed. A god as powerful as Hades had to be one of the twelve. And Hera had only two sons in the twelve...
"I detested this son above all others. Cruel, bloodthirsty, manipulative, I could not marry such a god, although I had caught a glimpse of his compassion. How could I have been made for something like that? I raged at her, told her that I would never ally myself with him, but she only laughed at me. The ancient oracles would not be denied. I was destined to him. I couldn't believe her, didn't want to believe her.
"Then the dreams began. I saw Hades with another and I was serving the god I hated. I felt so haunted. I suppose that's how I came up with the idea of drinking from the river Lethe. I knew that it would be temporary, but I had to silence the visions somehow. I was desperate. Even my love for Hades could not keep me with him. I had to leave, to prove that I could cheat my fate. I should have known better. I apprenticed with the Fates, knew their power. Even the gods cannot escape their influence."
"And your lack of memory led you straight into the temple of the god you detested," Ares finished for her. "What did Hades call you, Vasia-Kiari. Vasia?"
"It means beauty among my mother's people."
"And Kiari means dark.," he mused. "So, my dark beauty, born of hope and dreams, have you hate for me in that heart of yours?"
Kiari gazed steadily into Ares' eyes, hating not him but the desire spreading through her. "No. I would not be here still if I did."
He inched closer to her, a smile turning his lips. "No? So, what do you feel?"
She wondered if this was the moment he promised. "Do you really have to ask?"
He grinned. "No." He felt it, without touching her. She was fighting it, the attraction to him, but he knew better. Her eyes would always tell him. "It kills you, doesn't it?" The tips of his fingers caressed her cheek. "Your heart is so connected to another, yet you stand here, wanting me." He licked his lips, delighting in the way her eyes were watching his mouth in a kind of hunger. He liked her poise, her control. He wanted to break it, feel her wild in his arms. The challenge excited him. He drew closer, taking her face in his hands, lowering his lips to hers.
Kiari expected an onslaught of force from him, but was surprised by the gentleness of his kiss. His tongue traced the fullness of her lips, then drank from the warmth of her mouth. She could feel her control weakening. She kissed him back, needing so much more. She wanted him, she wanted to feel all of him all over her. Her hands took on a life of their own as she touched his chest, pushing away the leather. She broke their kiss and his mouth found the sensitive spot on her neck, then up to her ear, tickling her. He pushed her dress from her shoulders, his lips following down.
They headed for his bed, their clothes dropping on the floor. She pushed him onto the bed and climbed up after him, her hair falling over him. She lay on top of him, her desire darkening her eyes to almost black.
His hands trailed up and down her back, causing her to shiver. "Say it," he demanded. "Say you want me."
"Damn it Ares, just take me," she whispered fiercely.
He rolled her onto her back, his body throbbing and hard on top of hers. His mouth came down on hers once more, his tongue thrusting into her inviting mouth. She ran her fingers through his thick hair, then sighed raggedly as his mouth left hers and his lips began a journey of discovery. She never thought that surrendering to Ares could be so delicious.
In the darkness of the underworld, Hades stared out at the river Lethe, wishing he could sip from the beckoning stream and forget the ache in his heart.
Much later, Kiari felt at peace for the first time in a long time. Imagine finding peace in the bed of the god of war, she smiled. Ares lay beside her, his body curved against her back, his arm tucked over her. Just before sleep took her, Kiari felt Hades reach for her in his mind, then recoil in realization. As Ares' arms tightened around her, she closed her eyes against the sudden tears. Ares opened his eyes, felt the sorrow fill the heart of the woman in his arms.
"Quiet your soul," he whispered in her ear, leading her mind toward sleep. She sighed and cleared her thoughts. Soon her even breathing told him he succeeded.
Ares closed his eyes, his thoughts following Kiari's dreams. The full moon shone down on them through the open window, bathing their bodies in silver shadows. And so the temple slept...
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