When the daemon returned, Ares would be ready to deal with him.
It wouldn’t be the first time he had gone into battle injured and drained, and it wouldn’t even be the worst. Life in the mortal world was making him soft. He had once battled a legion of daemons with one arm broken and several arrows lodged in his left thigh, and he had decimated them.
Ares smiled. The good old days. It had been centuries since he had gone to war together with his brothers, unleashing the hunger for violence and destruction that made the god his parents had named him after so proud of him.
He focused and the street whirled and disappeared, replaced by his apartment. He flicked the light on, illuminating the pale coffee-coloured walls and dark furniture in the open plan kitchen and living room. He looked down at his boots and the puddle already forming around them on his wooden floor, and toed them off and kicked them into the kitchen on his right. They tumbled across the tiled floor, hit one of the oak cupboards and stopped. He reached over his shoulder with his right hand, grabbed the back of his ruined wet black t-shirt, pulled it over his head and tossed it onto the tiles with his boots.
The water around his feet evaporated, steam curling off his already drying black jeans. He needed to get his mood in check before something bad happened.
He closed his eyes and drew in several deep breaths, holding each one before slowly expelling the air, and reined in his temper together with his power, restoring the usual rigid control he kept over it and stopping his flames from emerging. The heat that always surrounded him settled to a more manageable, and safer, level, and he released another breath, this one more a sigh of relief. The last thing he wanted to do tonight was set his apartment on fire. Again. It had been a shitty enough night without that added cherry on top.
When he felt calm enough to maintain control over his fire, he walked into the open living room and pushed the second door in the wall to his left open. He switched the bathroom light on, turned and frowned at his reflection in the mirrored wall on his left above the vanity unit and sink.
He looked like hell.
The female daemon had done a number on him. Long gashes darted across his chest and forearms where she had caught him with her claws. He touched the deepest one of the three on his pectorals and beads of blood broke to the surface.
He frowned and the gold flecks in his eyes darkened to red, glowing against their earthy brown backdrop.
The daemon shouldn’t have been able to land a single blow on him, let alone several. He had been too complacent tonight. He had been dealing with low level daemons for so long that he had forgotten there were stronger ones out there, just waiting for him to drop his guard.
It wouldn’t happen again.
Ares stared at the tip of his right index finger and slowly released the iron grip he had on his power, allowing his control to slip little by little until the air around his hand shimmered and he could feel the heat of it against his chest. He slammed his hold over his flames back into place, locking them down at their current level and stopping them from burning out of control.
He ground his molars together, grabbed the edge of the oak vanity unit with his other hand to steady himself and drew his finger along the first cut across his chest. Fire blazed in the wake of his finger but he didn’t stop or make a sound, not until he had reached the end of the wound and had cauterised it.
He drew a deep breath, blew it out and flexed his fingers around the edge of the unit. His arm trembled and ached, his shoulder socket throbbing madly. Two more slashes to seal and he could rest. Pain tore through him with each one but it was necessary. He needed to regain his strength as quickly as possible and that meant helping his healing process along in his own way.
His finger reached the end of the final cut and he lowered his head, breathing hard to stifle the pain as he struggled with his power, wrestling it back under control until it was nothing more than an aura of heat around him. He could leave the cuts on his forearms. They were shallow and would easily heal without his assistance.
He flicked the steel tap on, waited until the water was frigid, and then doused his chest and arms with enough of it to clean the blood away. The water heated and steamed the second it touched his skin, and would have evaporated immediately if it hadn’t been ice cold. When the blood was gone, he settled his hands on the edges of the sink, leaning over it.
The water swirled as it reached the drain, ribbons of red streaking the maelstrom. Pain pulsed through him, stealing his strength and focus.
Motionless, he watched his blood snaking down his arms as it continued to trickle from his wounds, immune to his heat because it ran as hot as the rest of him, and then the sink, sliding down it to join the running water. It mesmerised him and time slipped past him as he lost himself in listening to his steady breathing and staring at the swirling water.
The taste of iron in his mouth slowly grew stronger, drawing his focus back to the world, and he probed each tooth with his tongue. It brushed one of his molars and the flow of blood increased. He closed his eyes, reached into his mouth and tugged the loose tooth free, turned it in his fingers, feeling nothing, and then let it fall. It clattered around the white porcelain bowl and stopped in the drain. It didn’t bother him. It would grow back in time.
His temper faded, emotions falling back into place and calm washing through him at last.
He rinsed his arms again, grabbed a white towel off the ones scrunched up on the side of the oak unit and patted himself dry, careful to avoid the cuts and keeping an eye on the soft material. With his temper back under control, it should be safe but he never could quite trust himself. It just took one wrong thought, or a momentary slip in concentration, and he had to go shopping for new linen or new towels.
Or sometimes a new couch.
His hands heated and he dropped the towel next to the sink. Tiny flames flickered over his fingertips. He shook his hand, willing them to behave, and they disappeared.
Ares turned on his heel, exited the bathroom and stalked straight towards his bedroom to his left. The world beyond the bank of windows that formed the exterior wall of his apartment was dark despite the lights from the streets and the buildings surrounding Central Park.
He banked left in his bedroom and slid the oak door to the closet open. He flicked on the light and his weapons greeted him, gleaming steel and death. The sight of them always brought a smile to his lips. There was nothing more beautiful than knives and guns.
He stepped into the closet and ran his hand over the leather and metal circular shield hanging on the back wall, and then the hilt of the matching sword that hung behind it. Metal of the gods. It was warm beneath his fingers, vibrating with power that had him closing his eyes as he absorbed it.
How long had it been since he had wielded his blade?
He missed the feel of it in his hand. The weight of it. Only steel forged by the gods could channel his power, and his father had deemed the weapon too destructive to use in the mortal world. Ares hadn’t been pleased to hear that, and neither had his brothers.
He pulled a circular silver and black amulet from the pocket of his jeans and hung it so it lay in the centre of his shield. It would be safest here while he went out to hunt.
He grabbed his black leather shoulder holster, backed out of the closet, switched off the light and slid the door shut. Two gleaming silver knives sat in their sheaths above two equally bright guns. He slung the holster over his bare shoulder and checked each gun, sliding the clips out to check they were fully loaded before slotting them back in and ensuring he had a round chambered.
It wasn’t often that he had to rely on mortal-made weaponry to assist him in his nightly battle against the daemons in his city, but it was reassuring to have them on hand in case he needed them. In his weakened state, they were a blessing from Zeus himself. He could use them to slow daemons down and it was far easier to kill with these weapons than it was with his power. Mortals turned a blind eye when they saw people fighting with guns. They tended to stare if he used his powers.
Ares crossed his dark bedroom to the long ebony chest of drawers that lined the dividing wall, set his weapons down and grabbed a fresh t-shirt. He slipped into the black top and then settled his holster around his broad shoulders.
Dry, armed and no longer bleeding. Things were looking up.
He veered right and skirted around the short length of wall that divided his bedroom from a smaller open room on the other side, walking between it and the red armchair of his suite. The single overhead light from the living room cast pale streaks over the fuel tank of his motorbike. He ran a hand over the paintwork as he passed, promising he would polish it soon, and then opened the French doors onto the balcony.
The city stretched before him, shrouded in rain and darkness, a panorama of a world on the edge.
Only it didn’t know it.
Only he and his brothers knew how close to destruction this world was, a curse from the Moirai so they never forgot or questioned the importance of their duty.
Its fate depended on them and their mission to protect the gates to the Underworld.
He moved forwards to the railing, his eyes scanning the city, searching it and hoping that the feeling in his gut was wrong and he wouldn’t be needed again tonight.
Lightning forked across the sky, throwing the buildings into stark relief for a split second before descending them back into darkness. With each brilliant flash, he saw a different city.
The future of this world should they fail.
It balanced on the brink of ruin, the buildings hollow shells, torn and shattered, and the trees ablaze in the fiery darkness. The hot air carried the shrieks of the creatures responsible for the horror and the wails of suffering mortals.
Ares gripped the railing of his balcony, every muscle tensing as he caught flickers of that world in each lightning strike.
Rain lashed the dark scene, falling as water in this world and fire in the next. The wind drove it hard, so nothing could escape the inferno sweeping the land.
Lightning slammed into the earth again, causing another flicker between this rain-soaked night and what he and his brothers had termed the otherworld. It was getting worse and had been for the past decade. Something was growing in the darkness, a threat he and his brothers had been waiting to take form since the oracles had spoken of it to their father centuries ago.
Time was running out. Soon their unknown enemy would reveal themselves and the battle to prevent his world and this mortal one from colliding would begin.
A boom shook the ground and his head snapped up.
The lights across the city died, as though eaten by Nyx herself, plunging the landscape into shadows that seemed unholy and spoke to his senses. He spotted nothing in the darkness though. No sign of daemons or his prey.
Silence wrapped her arms around him, comforting and tender. Ares embraced her in return, savouring this moment of quiet, all too aware of the storm that was coming and that the battle this time would be to the death.
War was on the horizon.
Bloodshed was on his mind.
It was his duty.
He leaned forwards and glanced at the street several storeys below. Cars passed in both directions, their lights the only mortal-made ones in this dark world tonight. Thunder raged overhead and lightning ravaged the land. The scent of earth and rain filled the charged air.
A blackout of this magnitude would draw daemons out. They would want to feed on the fear it created.
He would see to it they paid for their vile hungers.
This was his city. Maintaining the peace here and protecting it were his responsibilities, ever since his father had banished him and his brothers from the Underworld two centuries ago.
A dark curse rolled off his tongue in the mortal language and the lightning struck with more force, blazing purple-white and shaking the ground.
Had they sensed his desire to speak in his natural tongue?
The gods of Mount Olympus hated it when those with his power spoke the language of the Underworld on Earth.
Tranquil silence rolled over the world in the wake of the thunder.
The sound of his cell phone ringing shattered it.
It was muffled and distant. He had probably left it with his coat in the living room when he had gone out tonight. Whoever was ringing would give up soon and peace would be his again until the first daemon surfaced to take advantage of the storm.
The phone continued to fill the apartment with a sombre melody and then stopped.
Ares sighed and returned his attention to his city. Each explosion of light revealed it to him. Not the otherworld this time but the current one, full of perfect buildings and unharmed nature, and no daemons crawling around. For now. They would emerge soon enough.
His phone started ringing again.
They were persistent. Only one person could annoy him so thoroughly without trying. His anger rose again, his temperature rising along with it.
Closing his eyes, he reached a hand out behind him and pictured his phone. It whipped into his hand. Being a son of Hades had certain advantages. The power to manipulate his surroundings and the ability to teleport were just two of them.
The bright screen of his phone held a picture of his youngest brother grinning like a fool.
Ares wasn’t in the mood for Calistos’s usual brand of mischief tonight. He swiped his thumb over the option to ignore his call and waited for it to begin ringing again. Nothing annoyed his little brother more than being ignored. Once, Ares had declined a call three times in a row and Cal had teleported from Paris to New York just to give him an earful.
The phone remained silent this time. Maybe his brother had got the message.
He tossed the phone back into his apartment, using his power to guide it back to the crimson couch. The storm began to abate but the electricity showed no sign of returning. Would it be out all night? Now that would be the perfect end to a perfect night. He would be working until dawn to keep the daemons in check.
Rain continued to sweep across the city. It beaded on the back of his hands where they grasped the balcony railing. The droplets steamed and shrank, his body too hot for them to withstand.
Being a son of Hades had disadvantages too.
The heat inside him rose until the water on his skin evaporated. He took a deep breath and reined in his anger. The last thing he wanted to do was set fire to his apartment on a miserable night like tonight. He cursed the rain.
His insides tingled.
The rain slowed at last, causing the earthy scent of the storm to thicken, but it couldn’t mask the coppery stench of evil.
The daemon was back.
Ares rolled his shoulders, stepped back from the railing and turned his hands palm up. He channelled his power towards them. Fierce pale flames rose from his fingers, casting light over the balcony.
Time to hunt.