From what the enchanted ceiling told her, it was only just into the dark of evening when Athena found what she had been looking for. Among the many different sun symbols listed in her library, she found one that matched the bags design perfectly. It was that of Achilles, the great fallen hero. It was strange that he chose the sun, considering that he had little to do with Helios, and Apollo had given Paris the strength to kill him in Troy.
But this only intrigued and worried her further. Why would Kratos have a sack with the emblem of Achilles upon it? It had been years since his death, and he was no longer a public figure. So the question also became how did Kratos find such a thing, and where?
Further investigation provided only more answers, and more worries. Achilles's remains were placed on the Isle of Leuke, nearby to the temple of Apollo. A final jab, apparently. There were no records of Achilles's wealth being moved elsewhere. And while his son was given his famous armor, that symbol was not associated with him. And considering the age of the bag she had seen, it had been made quite some time ago and had not seen much upkeep.
Therefore, she concluded, Kratos must have gone to the Isle of Leuke. But why? With his duties here on Olympus, and his mortal life behind him, what could possible lure him to a shrine island? Surely he wasn't going against Zeus's wishes and challenging Apollo for the island... Perhaps that is why Apollo was laughing? And why Kratos was so sensitive? Could Apollo really have dissuaded him so easily? Part of her wanted to believe that Apollo had simply used the rules and bureaucracy to defeat Kratos; a type of combat he was yet unfamiliar with. This was a simple enough solution that addressed all of the factors.
However, she knew that if Kratos had gone up against Apollo in any fashion, Apollo would not have been quite so jubilant afterward. Which led Athena to assume something else brought Kratos to the island. The question was: what?
For this, her library could no longer help her. So she decided to do with her day what she had originally planned. Closing the secret gate to her sanctum, she returned to the elevator and ascended to the near-top of Olympus, where resided her friends the Muses.
Using his own agalma, a golden ram, Kratos had finally been able to locate the passage he had used to find Morpheus. The werelight of the chamber seemed as dreary as before, and the shadows surrounding the Sleep God's confinement, just as sinister and foreboding.
But unlike last time, Kratos could hear whispering echoing in the darkness. As he approached, he could see Morpheus twitching under the light of the strange plant. He was talking to himself. But as Kratos's sandal echoed on the rock of the cavern, Morpheus froze.
"I have returned, Morpheus" Kratos announced, in any attempt to stay the god's hallucinations and paranoia.
"Kratos?" he replied. "Kratos. The new god of war?" Morpheus began to giggle, as if the idea were amusing to him. "I'd actually believed you hadn't been real at all. Using you as a vessel for hope would have been Zeus's masterstroke."
Kratos looked upon the fallen, unwashed creature and felt pity. The idea of hope was so terrible and untrustworthy that it was not even considerable. But now was not the time for sentiment. "I've come to honor our bargain." He lifted the sack from the knotch on his belt and placed it as close to Morpheus as he dared. He opened the sack, revealing the skull within.
"I asked for a companion. Right? Yes" Morpheus muttered. "And you bring me a bag of bones? Hehehe." Morpheus's mad cackling rose again. "A clever joke. Creatures may age but bones never die."
As if on-cue, the ghost of Achilles emerged from the bones. His form seemed to glow with its own dim light, off-setting the depressing glow of the plant. "Ooooh" Morpheus cooed like an impressed child.
The form of Achilles circled the fallen god, evaluating him. "Well" he began, looking to Kratos. "When you said companionship, I wasn't expecting this. Though I am honored to meet the lord of dreams." Achilles gave a short bow.
Morpheus chuckled. "I would bow, Achilles, were I not chained to this rock. Indeed, Kratos, I had not expected this. Have you added grave-robbery to your list of sins?"
Kratos took the insult in-stride. "Achilles accompanied me by choice. He is a valuable ally, and a wise man even after death. I'm sure the pair of you will have much to talk about.
Morpheus's lips pursed, seeming to consider the arrangement while Achilles hung in the air. "A master of combat, and the god of dreams. Hmm." After a long, silent moment, Morpheus spoke again. "I think we will have much to discuss. I accept."
"Very good," Achilles remarked. "But I tire. I will leave you gentlemen to your business." He turned to Kratos and bowed, before dissipating into smoke, and returning to his skull.
Kratos could not help but smile. At last, the moment he had been waiting for. "Then you will speak to your brothers, so that they may free me from my nightmares?" Kratos fell to one knee and bowed his head. "Thank you."
Morpheus small laughter once again echoed in the cavern. "No."
Kratos's head snapped back up. "What?"
Morpheus made a gesture with his hand. "Rise, Kratos. For there is yet more for you to do."
Kratos's brows furrowed and his jaw clenched. "More?! We had a deal, dreamwalker!"
"Silence!" Morpheus's voice suddenly took on an edge Kratos had not heard before. "I am a prisoner here. You have nothing to use against me. You are helpless to negotiate, 'god of war.' You will not have your peace until I have mine! You are powerless to free me, so I will have here what I am denied out there!"
Kratos could only stand there, paralyzed by rage and control. Morpheus's fury glowed in his eyes. His hands longed to grip his blades, and his muscles nigh-demanded to make the familiar motions, and cut the trickster in twain. But he knew this was his only chance. An eternity of suffering, or a few more dark deeds. The choice was simple, if not easy. "What do you want?" he asked through clenched teeth.
Morpheus leaned his head back, against the stone. "Water. I want some of Poseidon's magic water. If I may not walk the earth, I will at least see it." Kratos could only glare at the fallen god, drunk on what little power he held over him. "You may go now. Bring the water tomorrow."
With that, Kratos stalked out of the cavern, rage plaguing his thoughts.
A small table covered in a white cloth held a jar of ash and burning incense, the smoke from which wafted bout the room in strange shapes, and changed the light from place to place. Deep red carpeting sat below identical drapes, which hung around the circular room, converging on a viewing window to the heavens directly above them. It gave the illusion that the room itself was the entire world. She sat on a large couch of fine white silk, surrounded by her step-sisters, the Muses.
Athena chuckled as Erato and Thalia concluded their latest tale of comical romance. Each of the nine sisters looked nearly identical, bearing the same dark skin and hair of their mother Mnemosyne. However they each held small things as their own. Terpischore danced about, with her individual curvaceousness, interpreting the story as best she could. Her hair flowed long from a knot in the back of her head, just another tool in her dance. Erato was also very well physically endowed, but preferred her hair to run freely over her shoulders. Thalia's personality and bright eyes were her most valuable traits, looking very different from the others with her long, thin frame.
Melpomene remained silent, as always. Though she smiled politely to respect her sisters, she always seemed to carry a weight of mind that the others did not. Euterpe and Urania were absent, as per usual. Stargazing was indeed Urania's godly duty, but Athena could not understand her reasons beyond that. She seemed to value her privacy very highly. Euterpe had been in and out of the room throughout the evening, consistently leaving to write more of her music and returning to consult with Polyhymnia, who had enjoyed the tale and laughed along with Athena and Calliope.
Athena enjoyed Calliope's company most, second only to Clio. Calliope was the opposite sister she wished she could have had. While Ares had been the war to her peace, and the instinct to her reason, Calliope opposed her on a personality level. She was cunning, spirited, and otherwise very expressive of her thoughts and opinions. Whether they are popular or not. She kept her hair cut short and, despite her childbearing frame, preferred the company of both women and men. She had collaborated with her to write Kratos's epic story. An odd coincidence that Kratos's daughter shared her name.
Clio at last returned, bearing a golden tray. "More wine, ladies?" And despite all of their little differences, each of them refilled their glasses. Even Euterpe and Urania emerged from the red drapes, which masked each of their rooms, to take a glass for themselves.
When the tray was empty but for two glasses, Athena stood and faced Clio. They each claimed their own, and Athena followed the muse of history beyond the veil into her own room. It was small, but tastefully decorated. The walls were simple stone with portrayals of the great events of history: the battle of the Primordials, the Titan War, and Zeus's establishment of dominion over mortals. Shelves of books stood from floor to ceiling in some places, while other places were home to stands, sporting open books yet to be filled.
With a flick of her wrist, two white silken chairs rose from the stone floor. "So Athena," Clio began, "what brings you to my chambers? Don't you have your own library?" Clio chuckled into her glass. Athena joined her. Spending time with the Muses was among the few occasions that Athena felt she could let herself go.
"Of course, dear Clio. But what is history before it has happened?" Athena quipped.
Clio smirked, curling a finger in her dark hair held up in a bun above her head. "Well, some might call it 'the present.' But we here call it 'gossip.'" The two descended into light laughter again, but the tone was more serious.
"Yes," Athena continued, holding her glass aloft. "That is what I've come to ask about."
Clio quirked an eyebrow. "I was wondering if you've heard anything about the Isle of Leuke recently."
"The resting place of Achilles, and location of Apollo's temple? Last I'd heard, it was going by Snake Island." Clio stood up, walking over to one of her many open books for consultation.
"Why such a dreadful title?" Athena asked.
Clio sipped her wine and set it down, focusing on her pages. "Apparently when your man Kratos..."
"He is not my man" Athena quipped.
Clio, however, gave her another flick of her eyebrow that made her blush only slightly more than her wine. "When he killed Medusa, the youngest of the gorgon sisters, it shifted the balance of their power. As you may remember, she and her sister Euryale had imprisoned their elder sibling Stheno in stone, so that they may share her greater powers. But when Kratos killed Medusa, Stheno awakened. She freed herself and escaped the Isle of Creation in search of a new domain. Leuke, abandoned and unguarded, became her new nesting grounds."
"That's terrible!" Athena replied. But what of Achilles's grave? "Has no one risen to strike her down? Stheno was quite a beast, if I remember Aphrodite's tales correctly."
"It IS Aphrodite," Clio remarked. "She does tend to... embellish things. Hahahaha." The two once more giggled into their glasses. "But, now that I think of it..." Clio trailed off, looking to another set of books. "Ah yes! The island was actually recently reclaimed. It was only last night, in fact. How the time does seem to fly and crawl."
Athena stiffened in her seat. "Oh?" she asked as simply as she could. "By whom?"
Clio flipped through the book she had stopped with. "Artemis and Hippolyta of Themiscyra. I remember her actually speaking of it last night and... oh..." Clio gave Athena a positively venemous smile before retaking her seat and crossing her legs. "Kratos was involved, as well. Seems he helped to slay Stheno, at the cost of Apollo's temple."
Athena's mind was ablaze now. Kratos had gone with Artemis on some bloody hunt for glory, and likely taken of Achilles's treasure as a souvenir. She thought he would have had more respect than that for a fellow warrior. She thought he had finally seen the futility of combat and had begun to come around to the way of Olympus. Clearly she had been wrong. However, Artemis had made no secret of her attempts to seduce Kratos. She would deal with her sister in time. She sipped from her glass, thinking deeply.
"I think I know what interests you so about Leuke" Clio commented, bringing her out of her revelry.
"I don't know what you mean" Athena said nervously, sipping her wine further.
"Oh come now, sister. The stones of Olympus themselves could not be blind to your affections for him."
Athena blushed hard, having run out of wine to sip. "...Do you think he knows?" she asked timidly.
"Oh my dear, Kratos is... a very special kind of stone" she smirked. "I'm sure he hasn't the faintest idea. The man may now have godly vision, but I think his heart is still blind."
Athena was both relieved and pained at the same time. She felt horrible, attempting to sway his affections while he still apparently grieved over his family. But at least she still had her freedom. The freedom to choose her moment, that was the important thing.
Athena stood, holding her glass humbly to her stomach. "Thank you, Clio. I can always trust you."
Clio nodded, smiling with a matronly air. "Of course, dear sister." Athena turned to leave. "However," Clio continued. Athena stopped to look at the Muse before she could pull back the curtain. "Do be careful to avoid Calliope. You know how Kratos's exploits... excite her." Athena smiled and nodded in thanks once again, before pushing away the curtain, heading back down to her hall.
Vile, traitorous worm of a man! Serves him well to be buried, Kratos thought as he stalked the halls of the castle. Morpheus had made a fool of him, and he was helpless but to comply. His every muscle ached to destroy, to rend something to pieces and pretend it to be the now flightless god of dreams.
But he suppressed it. Anger would solve nothing. Blood would not change the world, and Morpheus's death would not end his nightmares. He must focus on his task at hand. He was to obtain some of Poseidon's enchanted water from his prayer well and bring it to Morpheus. However, the hour was late. He would bring the wretch his tribute tomorrow.
As he finally returned to his hall, shoving the door open and slamming it closed, he began to tire of his rage. Each step toward his throne felt heavier and heavier. He could not even summon the will to craft a stone monster to destroy. And as he turned and sat on his throne, he sighed deeply.
"How far will this go, Kratos?" He asked himself aloud. "How much more will you take?" He leaned forward, leaning his chin into his laced fingers while his thoughts drifted back to the island. He had killed Aerim. In the moment, he hadn't had a choice. Kill or be killed. But he had harbored a hatred for her since their first interaction. And even before she had been possessed, she would have revealed his grave-robbing. Would he have killed her just for that? To keep the secret? Would he have killed an honest soldier to hide his own discrepancies? Achilles held a place of love or respect in the hearts of most Olympians. Disgracing his tomb would not go over well with the other gods.
No. He would not become the very thing Ares wanted of him to escape what he did to him. He would find another way. The question was, how?
Just as he thought this, a mighty knock came on his doors. The presence felt familiar, and he needed a break from his thoughts. He allowed the doors to swing open, revealing the Wine God in his usual attire. However is attitude was rather reluctant. "Kratos," he began with a mere shadow of his usual bravado. "How goes?"
Kratos himself felt dour as well. He had not been kind the last time they had spoken. "It goes, Dionysus." Kratos exerted a bit of will and summoned a chair from the stone. A comfortable, high-backed chair with a fur-like design. The larger god accepted it gratefully.
"You've been to see Morpheus, then?" he asked. Kratos merely nodded. "How did that go?"
Kratos snorted. "As well as could be expected. As you said, I offer him no threat. And now that he sees the depth of my need, he seeks to take advantage of me."
"But he can rid you of your nightmares?"
"Indeed. But he demands favors. And who knows when they will end." The two sat in silence for some time, seeming to stew in their own miseries. "I am sorry for my earlier behavior, Dionysus," Kratos said. "I have not had a good companion in what feels like a lifetime."
Some of the color seemed to return to the Wine God's usually cheery face. "Think nothing of it. You were desperate. I would have done the same. I did not want to allow you to destroy yourself, as I did with Midas. But you are a man, not a young billy growing into his horns. So I too, apologize."
Again, the two sat in silence. But it was a kind of peaceful, reflective one.
Kratos began again. "I consider joining Hades's tournament."
"Why? You'll pardon my saying so, but he is a monster. Even if it is just to feed your sense of adventure and need for combat, you know that he would set he odds ever against you. Inner peace is not measured in blood spilled or dreamless nights, but in yourself."
Kratos chuckled darkly. "The gods have been against me my entire life. And I have cheated Hades many times. I would expect nothing less." Kratos found himself smirking. But his thoughts drifting back down to earth. "And if I am to properly lead Sparta, I must feel combat. A dull blade and an unfit god have no place on a battlefield."
Dionysus leaned back in his chair, smiling and folding his arms. "Or as I always say, tis better to rend pride from self with a glass than limb from body with a blade."
Kratos could not help but smirk. "Perhaps that is true. But my duties are to conquest. The world must change. Just as the tides flow in and out, so the world must fight."
Dionysus gave one of his famous belly laughs, standing up from his seat. "Are you only this philosophical when you're brooding? Or am I to expect one or the other when next we meet: depth or fun?"
"We shall see" Kratos added, rising from his throne. He walked the enormous wine god to the door.
"Do let me know when. I'd very much like to know," Dionysus said with a smirk as he opened the door. "Good evening, Kratos."
He nodded in return as his friend left the hall. It had been good to laugh.
But before he could retire, another knock came to his door. According to the enchanted ceiling, the sun ha set long ago. Who else would be about at this hour?
Kratos once again opened the door, and found Hermes waiting for him. Did the messenger god ever grow tired of being denied? "Yes?" he asked the wing-footed immortal.
"Zeus's patience is running thin, Kratos. He'd very much like to speak with you on private matters. Three times have I been to you, and three times have you sent me away."
"And I'm afraid I must do so a fourth time, Messenger" Kratos said bitterly. "It is late, and I've had precious little rest."
Suddenly both doors to his hall flew open as if struck by hurricane winds. Kratos's eyes widened as Zeus himself stepped into his hall. "Then you will be pleased to know that this will only take but a moment." The great bearded go turned to Hermes. "Leave us." And as quick as a flash, the messenger god was gone.
Kratos backed up toward his throne, trying to keep a civil distance from the king of the castle. "Lord Zeus, had I known it was you who knocked, I would have been more inviting."
"Hmm" was all the god king said. With a flick of his wrist, the doors of the hall closed. Placing his hands behind his back, he stepped down the hall of the god of war, toward the throne. His empty white eyes examined the room once held by his treacherous son. His white beard seemed thick and powerful, like one of his muscular arms. Yet it bounced as he walked, like a thin layer of down. "You have done much with your time here, Kratos" he said, voice seeming to reverberate throughout the hall. "Athena has taught you well. And you seem to be adjusting... effectively."
Kratos's eyes narrowed. "Thank you, my lord."
"However, I would not have bidden your presence so often were this meeting not important." Zeus's hands came forward, and he tented his fingers before him. Thunder rumbled lowly in the ceiling-sky. "Very little happens in this castle without my knowledge and consent. I have become aware that you have been exploring the older areas of the castle, and some of the darker caves within. And I will stress to you now, Kratos:" Zeus leveled his white gaze on him and narrowed his brows. "Leave him be. I care not how you became aware of his presence here, or what your intentions are. Morpheus's crimes were heinous, and his punishment is just to them. You of all people should understand that."
Zeus stepped past the silent Kratos toward the door, lightening his tone significantly. "I am trying to make this a new era of peace for my kingdom. Help me do so." Zeus opened one of the large doors with his mind, turning to give Kratos another look and placing his hands behind his back once more. "Do not dwell on the dark days of the past. Instead, look to the future. If you do, it will be bright. For all of us." And with one last rumble of thunder and thump of the door, the king of the gods was gone.
Kratos scowled. Returning to his throne, he summoned up a writing stand with pen and paper.
He stood alone on his balcony, overlooking his damned kingdom in the bright light of the sun, having set for the world of men and Olympus above. He sipped wine from his own stores, crushed from the sweetest grapes and the hearts of the greatest soldiers. The Titans were riled, and their roars and bellows of pain echoed in his kingdom. And just as Poseidon had described of whales in his realm, he could almost hear a mournful song. Beautiful.
He felt a small presence behind him and turned. The hellhound at his side snarled, as a small servant man from Olympus stood before him. Mortals were such tiny, pathetic things. But it held out a piece of parchment. "A message from the God of War." Hades snatched the scroll from the mortal's frail hands. To it's credit, the servant did not flinch or cower, and himself or his beast. Though he did sweat, and that alone made Hades smile. He gestured with his hand, sending the small creature away. Had he bothered to watch, he would have seen the servant's steps hasten ever faster to the Hyperion gate. And had the mortal been able to see beneath his helmet, he would have seen an almost child-like glee on Hades's scarred face. He unrolled the scroll carefully, taking in Kratos's handwriting.
As he finished, he carefully re-rolled the scroll and handed it down to his hound, who wrapped his teeth carefully around it, and carried it away.
The King of the Underworld looked out over his kingdom of misery and pain, and laughed.