Times of War

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Times of War
BY
LISA BETH DARLING

Book #7 in the Of War Series

Moon Mistress Publishing
New London, CT 06320

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual or fictional events, locales or persons/characters, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All Rights Reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or any portion(s) thereof in any form whatsoever. 

Copyright 2022 Lisa Beth Darling

Visit http://www.lisabethdarling.com

Chapter Two
Times of War
by Lisa Beth Darling
All Rights Reserved Copyright 2022

Not knowing what he would find, Raven climbed the steps slowly with a heavy heart.  As he walked, he listened to the sounds coming from above. People talking and laughing. Music playing—some old 70s love song that his Mother used to sing to him when he was a small child. The Rose, was that it? He couldn’t quite seem to remember. The strange sounds were confusing him. Ares’ island was almost always quiet and serene. A large picnic gathering seemed so out of context for the God of War.

Never mind one like this.

Reaching the crest he saw bouquets of balloons dancing in the air while colorful one of flowers adorned nearly every inch of his sight from the long white clothed tables to archways he’d never seen before.

Stunned into utter silence, Raven just stood there with his eyes wide and his mouth agape taking in the sight of his Relatives-the ones always bitched, fussed, and back stabbed each other—dancing to the music, as they cheerily chatted, drank from red Solo cups, and ate from the finest Chinet plates.

It looked like a perfectly ordinary Memorial Day Picnic at any American Mortal’s home. There was even a group of people off to the left of the cave playing croquet while another group to the right pitched horseshoes. There was a keg of beer sitting in a tub of ice next an open bar where people served themselves without bother and a shining stainless steel grill the likes of which he’d only seen in magazines before the world ended. It was smoking away with his Father standing before it…in an apron…a big grin on his face while he flipped burgers.

“What the fuck is going on here?” Raven muttered nervously to himself as he stood sequestered in the tall grass. Not one Olympian was being waited on and they certainly weren’t being handfed. There wasn’t a single piece of gold in sight or any other shiny bit to show off their stature and opulence. “Wow, this can’t be right.”

There was something even stranger about the happy picnic. There were a lot of big bellies around him. It seemed that Aphrodite, Alena, Trinity, Onya, and even Athena—the Eternal Virgin—and Hera—The A Tad Bit Older Than Dirt—along with two women he didn’t recognize were very heavily pregnant. “What did you?” He turned his stare back to the beach where he’d stood with Kronos wondering what the old man had to do with this.

At that point he sharpened his attention on the males. There was his Father, of course. Poseidon and Hades had been invited to the festivities. Eros appeared to never have lost his love for Onya as they were wandering around hand-in-hand unable to take their eyes off each other. That made Raven smile for a moment. He had always been saddened by the fact that his raucous Bacchanalia had been the end of their relationship. It seemed, without that event, their love affair continued and Eros never fell out of favor with Ares by doing whatever he may or may not have done as he watched over Alena.

He looked back to those playing lawn games and stared them hard from his place in the waving beach grass. The males and females hitting balls with mallets or tossing shoes were all rather willowy and they all had slightly overly large eyes. They were Fae, or rather Fey. They were not from the Dark Kingdom.  They were the remnants of the Fey from The Golden Lands where Alena was born. It seemed that in this time line, his Mother had not found her way to the Dark Kingdom, he felt certain of that even as he wondered what fate those in The Dark Kingdom met.  Were they still cowering under their tree?

Most important of all; how had she found what Zeus claimed did not exist and how did she convince them to come here and, goddamn it, how did she talk Ares into letting them?

So many questions rattling around his brain it started to pound flooding the unfamiliar sensation of urge through his taut frame making him wanting to run.

“Raven? Earth to Raven, come in please.”

The sound of his Mother’s voice brought him around as he stood frozen to his ground for a moment not knowing how long she’d been trying to get his attention. From the phrase she used it was enough to put a concerned smile on her radiant face as she slowly waddled the short distance between them. Telling himself it was Show Time he exhaled a long breath and smiled for her. “Hey, Mom, what can I do to help?”

Laying her soft hands on his bare arm, Alena leaned in as she asked, “Are you alright? Where were you?”

Raven wasn’t given time to come up with a quick lie. It seemed his Mother’s notice of him had brought his Father’s with it. “It’s about time you showed up,” Ares boomed as he wiped his hands on his apron while making his approach. “Where’s the….you had one job.” Ares admonished with a sigh. “Where have you been and where are my steaks? The chicken? Ribs?  Can’t you see we have hungry people here?”

Watching Ares from a distance under these strange circumstances was one thing but to be confronted by it so harshly was quite another. Raven suddenly found the sight of Ares God of War playing Happy Backyard Host very unnerving. Ares wasn’t even wearing his usual black leathers. No, completely unarmed he stood there, tongs in hand, under the bright sunlight in well-fitting blue jeans,  a black t-shirt and matching black apron that read; Kiss the Cook.  Not only that, but Ares was barefoot and he was never without his favorite boots. There were his toes wiggling in the sand. Raven didn’t think he could get any closer to the Twilight Zone than this moment. “What? Oh, ah, I, umm….” He scratched the back of his head trying to come up with a good excuse.

“You want something done, you have to do it yourself, get out of my way, boy,” Ares growled as he pushed past Raven.

“Don’t mind him; his lamb isn’t coming out right, that’s why he’s grumpy.” Alena said sweetly as she watched Ares go. Then she took in her Son and thought maybe something wasn’t right. She took a step back to gauge him better and found his eyes glued to Ares’ back as the God of War made his way down to the meat locker. Raven looked as though he’d never seen it before. “Are you alright? Is something wrong?”

Raven couldn’t get his head around the fact that his Father was…cooking. Ares didn’t know how to boil water without his powers. He tried to tear his eyes away and back to his Mother but before Raven could answer he felt a weight crash against his side nearly knocking him to the ground just before two slender arms wrapped around him and a happy voice chirped, “Pissed Pop off again, did’ya bro?”

He looked behind to see a woman who filled him with awe, who made heart soar as the sadness and guilt that had weighted it down for so long fell away. Without any thought at all, Raven muttered the first words that came into his head, “Gods, you’re beautiful, did you know that?” She was the spitting image of Ares if the God of War were a beautiful woman. She had his eyes and those thick waves of midnight hair hung past her waist which burgeoned now but was normally quite athletic when she wasn’t so pregnant.  There was something else, something even more fantastical: Standing next to her, Raven felt the power radiating from Trinity and knew they’d all been wrong. Trinity was an Olympian. She was a Goddess. It was just that, for whatever reason he didn’t yet know, her power laid dormant inside of her until something woke it. Thanks to his little Time Trick she’d lived long enough to discover it.

“Ah, awkward,” Trinity chided as her dark brown eyes lit up, “but, um, yeah, thanks.” She laughed as she pulled him in a little closer, “You feelin’ ok?”

With concern Alena replied, “I just asked him that,” she tilted her head as she reconsidered him and the look upon his face, “Are you? Are you alright, Raven?”

Silently reminding himself to be as careful as possible and get with the goddamn program already, this was real, this was happening, and he damn well better deal with it, Raven forced a warm smile even as he tried to stop staring at their round bellies, “I’m fine, really, I’m just…got a lot on my mind.” It was a standard excuse used by people the world over for thousands of years. Quite generic. He thought it was safe.

“School?” Alena asked as she reached for his hand. “I know you’ve been worried about that.”

Raven’s eyes widened as he cheeks bulged and his lips began to open to ask about school but he pulled it back at the last second. Out came a deflated rush of air as he nodded, “Yeah, school, that’s it.”

“Ugh,” Trinity groaned as she rolled her eyes, “Give yourself a break, bro, they’re gonna do great because you’re an awesome teacher, right?”

Teacher? Raven thought. I’m a…teacher? Oh, what the fuck is going on? This just cannot be right!

Outwardly he gathered his composure to stammer, “Yeah, right, thanks…sis. They’re gonna ace this. Let’s forget about it and get to the party.”  Taking each pregnant lady by the arm, he led them the short distance to where everyone was gathered.

They were all greeted with warm smiles, most of which were above big bellies. He couldn’t avoid the people here but Raven knew he had to be much more careful. If he slipped and told them about the previous time line they wouldn’t believe him, would they? It was best just to keep his mouth shut, to get through the party and tonight. When Eos came he would be right as rain, just as Kronos promised. He’d be in lock-step with this time line and the old one wouldn’t matter anymore.

Feeling as though he should be hearing Rod Serling’s voice narrating his current situation, Raven smiled until his cheeks hurt and shook hands with people he didn’t know as he tried to greet them like the old friends they appeared to be.  He met the Fey husbands of Trinity, Rose, Aphrodite, Athena, and Hera. He met the new Fey wives of Hades and Poseidon. All of them were pregnant, very pregnant. Sitting there taking it all in trying to appear as though he fit with the situation Raven became alarmed at the fact that all of the soon to arrive children were half Fey and half Olympian. Except, of course, for the children of Alena and Onya whose Fathers were pure bred Olympians.

It took everything Raven had not to say anything about it and start blurting out inappropriate questions as his desire to know what the hell happened grew to tidal wave force. It took a lot to restrain himself so that he could just sit and listen, to smile, and nod. Soon he found all of the strangers were perfectly lovely. They were happier than he’d ever seen any of them and more content than he ever thought possible. That made it all the worse.

Silently retaining his composure, all he could do was continually tell himself that tomorrow none of this would matter. He wouldn’t even remember that he had questions.  Until then, Raven found the party with all of its merriment and laughter was a most excruciating experience, one he hoped never to repeat.

He was…introduced…to his new brothers in-law. Trinity’s new husband was a lanky Fae by the name of Eagan who had a shock of fiery red hair and saucer-like glistening blue eyes. Rose’s new husband was large for a Fae, unpossessed of the trade-mark willowy frame known to male and female Fae alike, he was rather stout and broad going by the name of Tarrin. Like the land he came from, his hair was pure golden from the top of his head to the small of his back.

After a while, Raven found he had to get up and move. Most of all he needed a drink and that open bar looked really good. Excusing himself from the table, he made his way over it, poured three fingers of Johnny Walker Black into a red Solo cup, downed it, and then poured it again. Clutching the sides of the table he tried to catch his breath before making his way back to the midst of the party. Feeling steady enough to return even as he looked to the bright sun in the clear blue sky to see he had several hours to go he turned around and was immediately confronted by the person he least wanted to see.

She stood in front of him with her balled up fists on her hips blocking his path he found he couldn’t look at her, just the sight of her filled him with so much guilt he might burst into tears and bawl like a baby. That didn’t stop her from speaking.

“What? I don’t even rate a ‘hello’ anymore?” Rose asked through perfect lips that were matched by perfect cheeks, perfectly even legs, and shinning gray eyes. “Geez, what’s up with you? You’re stumbling around here like you’re hungover or something.”

Raven couldn’t speak, if he couldn’t he wouldn’t know what to say. He’d seen her earlier, he’d watched her nearly floating around, at first he didn’t know who she was but when it dawned on him the guilt he felt was worse than when he was confronted with Trinity. Alena always told him that Rose’s condition wasn’t his fault, he wasn’t due to her fall down the stairs, he shouldn’t feel guilty about it. Rose was the way she was because the way the Gods wanted her to be.

That wasn’t true.

Here she was more beautiful than Aphrodite. Her face was perfectly symmetrical as were her lovely legs. There was no stutter as the words flowed effortlessly from her full lips. The lips of a woman, the woman she should have been but never grew to be on Blue Mountain. No matter how many years passed, Rosie always looked like she was no more than six years old. The big belly attached to the beautiful woman in front of him told him this one grew up just fine. There was a lump in his throat roughly the size of Texas that prevented Raven from answering her.

The more he remained silent with his eyes cast to the grown, the less playful Rose became and the more concerned she grew as she took the last few steps to him, “Raven? What’s goin’ on? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” She whispered in his ear.

“Couple of ’em,” he whispered back before he knew it. Raven tried to recover as he forced himself to man-up and look at her without tearing up or falling to his knees so he could beg her forgiveness. “It’s nothing, Rosie, I’m good.”

“Bullshit,” she hissed as she pulled him aside and away from the earshot of their guests, “what gives?”

She might look different on the outside but she was the same Rosie on the inside, always more concerned with others than with herself. Exhaling mightily, Raven straightened his spine and found the strength to look at her, “I’m fine, Rosie, just tired, that’s all. Come morning I’ll be back to my old self, you’ll see.” Without thinking about it, he’d done what he’d done a million times before or more, he laid a soft kiss on her forehead. He started to walk away but she grabbed his hand to keep there a moment longer.

“If something’s wrong, you can tell me. I won’t tell them.” She looked past Raven to where Ares and Alena were standing arm-in-arm chatting with their guests, “you know I won’t. So c’mon, what gives?  What is it?”

No, he couldn’t tell her or anyone else. He just had to ride it out, hold on, and come dawn this nightmarish rollercoaster would pull into its station and it would all be over. The aroma of meat laid over a burning flame began filling the air again and it called to his stomach, “I’m starving.” He grumbled.

Rose didn’t believe him but if he didn’t want to talk she couldn’t make him, not here, not today, anyway. “Well, let’s get you something to eat and maybe you’ll feel better,” Rose advised as they made their way back to the gathering.

Before they could reach it, another thought slipped from Raven’s mouth as he looked around to notice someone was suspiciously absent from the party. “Where’s Hunter?” He asked.

“Hunter?” Rose looked at him with blank eyes. “Who’s Hunter?”

Raven held back the urge to laugh and shout out with victory at the fact that Hunter, his wicked half-brother, had never been born. Not in this time line. Raven cut him off at the pass when he went back in time and eliminated the need for him altogether. If nothing else, he could definitely content himself with that fact.

There was nothing else to do but eat, drink, dance, and enjoy the rare party atmosphere. He had to admit it, it was good to have all of his Relatives around him like this and there wasn’t one single argument. Not even a nasty sideways glance. Everyone—Fey and Olympian— got on just fine…without Zeus and Apollo to stir the pot.

The music and the laughter rang out on the island until well past midnight when Ares sent his guests home and he did so by standing up and saying, “I believe Alena is tired, our twins will arrive soon and it is time for her to rest.”

Alena looked up and pulled on his arm in protest, “I’m fine,” she uttered with a smile although the weariness of her tone gave her away.

Twins.

Raven sat there staring at his parents. Alena had been pregnant with twin boys when Hunter killed her, it seemed maybe Kronos was right about Fate and all that Que Sera, Sera stuff. So maybe he would meet Lenore, one day, hopefully soon, and they would start their own family with Maggie.

“Happy Anniversary!” Hera called out as she rose unsteadily and her new Husband put his hand under her arm to keep her in place. “Fifty years! To Ares and Alena, may they love another thousand more.” She held up her glass in toast and all the guests did the same as they gave out a round of applause that gave Raven cause for big pause.

Fifty years?

Fifty?

His parents had been married just under forty years when they died. Raven spent five years freezing his naked ass off on that goddamn iceberg.

Kronos was said that if the plan worked Raven would wake up in the exact moment in this timeline that he left the other one.

Therefore, none of this could be right because seven years were missing.

 Raven saw but hardly noticed when all the guests began saying their good nights. They walked up to Ares and Alena, shook his hand, kissed her cheek, congratulated them on their achievement—which for some reason seemed monumental—and thanked them for a wonderful night. One by one, beneath the light of glittering stars and burning torches, the guests left the party the same way.

They did not teleport off the island and return to Olympus as part of Raven thought they might. Instead, they walked down the sandy path leading away from the mammoth cave and toward the waterfall in the center of the island.

“It’s not possible,” Raven muttered to himself feeling as though he were caught in a dream. Maybe that was it. Maybe he’d done something wrong and the timeline, reality as he knew it, shifted somehow.  For all he really knew, he’d knocked the entire Space/Time Continuum thing on its Cosmic Ass.

The party had been a truly wonderful unexpected surprise. However, all of Raven’s life, Ares wasn’t much of a gracious host and it was clear that he didn’t like company especially the long unexpected variety. Before they left Olympus—in his timeline anyway—other than the grand Dysfunctional Family Dinners Hera threw such gatherings were limited to three per year.  Alena insisted on those three and she brought them with her to Blue Mountain. Together the citizens of Blue Mountain celebrated Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. All of which were slightly altered by Alena to suit the times and needs of the celebrants. Ares allowed her to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas in their home. Like a normal family. They sat at a normal dining table with normal china, normal silverware, and (mostly) normal food.

Twice a year, on Blue Mountain, Alena held picnics for all. She had her first on Beltane, May 1st, and the second on what had once been Labor Day in the United States. Raven loved those picnics, they were a lot like this one but bigger so much bigger. As he recalled, Ares never once ran the grill for these events. He never showed up without his hardened leathers or his boots. He sure as hell never wore an apron that read; Kiss The Cook!

Ares, Alena, and Rosie lived by themselves in their big Victorian home with its 7 bedrooms and 8 baths. They had no servants. They never had an overnight guest.

The God of War was weary of company and noise after so many thousands of years battling amongst the screams of the dying. All he wanted was peace and quiet.

Yet, there they were, right here, right now, right in front of his eyes, that throng of Relatives old and new, walking off toward the center of the island. Toward their homes all cozy and nestled in a little village by the waterfall. Although he didn’t know exactly why, he did know he was absolutely sure of that fact. At some point in time, all of the Olympians except Zeus and Apollo abandoned their mountain home. Ares had allowed them to come and live here on his treasured island.

“What the fuck have I done?” Raven stammered under his breath as he continued to watch all of them smiling, waving, kissing good night.

“Raven!”

Ares booming voice brought Raven’s eyes to his Father, “What’s up?”

“Come help your Mother while I finish saying good night to our guests,” Ares ordered a rather kind tone.

Raven got up and went to Alena who looked dead on her feet even as she tried to shoo him away, “Knock it off, Mom, come on, let me get you to bed.” He advised turning her away from the departing guests to escort her through the mouth of the cave where he found another surprise. He literally tripped over it as he tried to help her inside, “What the hell?” Raven turned around in a circle looking all around the entrance to see wood flooring which was well worn with character. There was never a floor in here unless you wanted to consider dirt a floor. It stretched down the entryway and branched off into every room where it may remain or it may turn into carpeting, thick and lush, or even a linoleum kitchen floor. Rooms that were no longer harsh and Spartan but warm and cozy filled with colorful soft furniture sitting below paintings hanging on, “I don’t believe it,” he whispered to himself as he took in the sight of the Throne Room with its flush plaster walls painted a lovely shade of blue.

Trying just to stay on her feet for the rest of the short journey, Raven’s words escaped Alena’s ears as she said, “I keep telling your Father to fix that piece,” Alena sighed as though it happened all the time. “It’s on his Honey-Do List.”

“His…what?” Raven couldn’t hide the shock at the unexpected words. Ares never had a Honey-Do List because Alena never gave him one because Ares always fixed everything before it went to shit. He was really good like that and always had been.

Gently stroking her massive belly, Alena smiled at Raven, “You know your Father. He’s been so busy making things and preparing things for their arrival…” she sighed and leaned against Raven’s arm.

That sounded like Ares and it did not sound like Ares.

“Yeah, sure, Mom,” Raven put his arm around her as they walked up the narrow staircase to the Master Bedroom. He prepared himself for the surprised he was bound to find behind the new oak door at the top.

Raven was not disappointed.

Gone was the massive stone bed and its rather nasty animal hides. It was replaced by a bed even bigger than the one they shared on Olympus. It took up a full quarter of the room as it stretched against the far wall—a most inviting shade of yellow—under the new bay window rich with plants. No more dirt floor here. No. Only the best for Alena, the God of War’s Queen, here was a carpet so thick his bare feet sank into it like warm sand. The bear skin remained by the hearth but over it where once hung daggers, swords, and trophies precious to Ares was now covered in family photographs.  Photographs of every type from candid to posed and size from 16×20—the centerpiece of the work, which was a black and white photograph of Raven as a boy with Trinity at his side and Rose on his lap, a picture he never took but somehow remembered—to collages of color and smiling faces. Everyone was there, except, of course, Zeus and Apollo.

Holding her hands to the small of her back and trying to stretch without falling over, Alena reached for the side of the bed while Raven reached out quickly to help lower her down gently. “It was a good party, wasn’t it? I think everyone had a nice time, don’t you?”

He didn’t like the uncertainty in her voice that shone in her eyes. It was almost as though she was looking for his approval and that was very odd, “It was great, Mom,” he smiled for her as he swung her legs onto the soft mattress, “Happy anniversary.”

“Thank you. It wouldn’t mean half as much without our children,” she reached up for a hug that Raven readily gave. “I love you.”

That hadn’t changed. Raven was suddenly glad of that. Whenever she left someone, even just for the night or an hour, Alena always told them she loved them because, as she would tell him many times over the course of his life, life was fragile and one never knew when they would not get another chance to say it. “I love you too, Mom. Dad will be up soon, I’m sure. Get some rest and I’ll see you tomorrow.” He kissed her forehead and was delighted when she let out a little giggling sigh. “Good night, Mom.”

“Good night, Raven. See you tomorrow.”  She watched him walk out the door and wondering if he was alright. There was something terribly off about him tonight but she just couldn’t place it.

 The cave was empty and quiet as Raven darted from room to room taking in the new décor and finding it to be quite the upgrade from the dark dreariness he grew up with here. Still, as much as Ares loved Alena, this seemed too much for him to abide. All of these plants and this color, knick knacks where weapons used to hang, the place looked like it came out of Olympus Beautiful or something.

It appeared the cave had undergone its transformation a while ago, while everything was in wonderful condition he didn’t get the feeling that any of it was brand new. “This is fucked up,” he ran an unsteady hand through his long hair as he continued looking around in a mixture of awe and disgust. “I mean it’s great but it’s fucked up.”

One thing was for certain, none of these rooms belonged to him. Therefore, he did not live here. No, he lived in the village he was going to find by the waterfall. Glad the night was over but dreading what would happen come dawn, Raven sauntered through the mouth of the cave to find Ares and Rose just finishing clean up duty.

“Need any help?” Raven asked.

“No, we got this, almost done,” Rose returned as she dumped the last of the trash into a big black garbage can.  “Go home, get some sleep.”

Raven wondered who they were expecting was going to pick up the trash but at this exact point he couldn’t be say he’d be shocked to see some sort of garbage tuck pull up tomorrow. “Yeah, good night, guys.”

“Good night, Raven, love you.” Rose said easy as you please.

“Love you too,” Raven returned and started walking off.

“I love you.”

Ares words froze Raven in his tracks, his Father was never one to toss out ‘I love yous’ to anyone other than his Wife and certainly not so casually. Raven turned to glance at Ares from over his shoulder, “Yeah, ah, love you too, Pop. See ya in the morning.” Hanging his head and continuing his walk, Raven knew better than to say what he thought even in a whisper, not with Ares and his ears so close. Instead he just mouthed the words; this is so fucked up, as he made his way to his new old home by the waterfall.

 Raven was not disappointed when the path widened and in the very abnormal site of what amounted to a small town on his Father’s pristine secluded island. Raven was unable to take his eyes off the sight of eight large sleepy houses nestled in an arc around the waterfall.  Again, the idea that Ares would ever allow all of these people to live on his island was mind blowing. His Father loved War but more than that Ares loved Alena and their Peace and Quiet. Why would he ever let all of these people—with several more on the way—invade the inner sanctum of his island home? Especially when there were so many other islands right nearby where they could live and come to visit?

Yet, they did live here, it was undeniable. Not only that, they did so in normal homes that didn’t show off their Godhoods and egos.  All of the houses were perfectly lovely two floor salt boxes but they were not opulent, they were not temples, or towers, or palaces, just the type of homes one might find in an upper scale suburban neighborhood before the world burned.  He again wondered what made them leave Olympus, but that answer was easy; Zeus or Apollo—or both. That lead him to wonder what his Grandfather and Uncle had done to cause such a desertion after so many eons of them sharing the same cold snowy mountaintop. Whatever it was, obviously, the change in timelines had done little to nothing to change their behaviors.

Walking slowly toward his own salt box home, Raven told himself that all of this change was due to his Mother’s influence. After all, she’d never fallen down the stairs, so she’d never been in a coma and those lost years were never lost at all.  Perhaps, in that time, she’d been able to open Ares to Family and, well, people in general.  Yet, it still seemed so unlikely. Ares loved his space and hated to have it invaded—especially by his Relatives. He hated frilly nonsense décor but his cave was full of it.

Once inside the new home, searched for the light switch and found none. This was Ares’ island, in a hesitant voice he called out, “Lights!”

“Good evening Raven.”

Raven jumped and instinctively reached for a dagger on his belt that wasn’t there anymore, “What the fuck? Who’s there?” He shouted as the lights came up to reveal the plush new surroundings of his home.

“Is something wrong, Raven? I heard you ask for the lights.”

Olympus, Blue Mountain, or here on Ares’ island…the place never talked back. But it did now. The voice wasn’t coming from a living person it sounded a tad bit AI and familiar from a place long ago and far away. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” he mumbled as he looked around for the device and found it sitting on the big maple desk under the window overlooking the west shore.  The one with the computer and kickass speaker system, “Alexa?” He whispered to air.

“Yes, Raven.”

Running his hand down his face harshly to keep from screaming he grunted, “Oh, I gotta get outta here. This is too much.”

“Where do you wish to go? I will chart an itinerary although I should remind you that you have to be at the college by 10am on Tuesday morning to proctor the midterm exam.” Alex informed him.

College? Was that the school Alena and Trinity spoke of earlier? Midterms? Seriously?  Suddenly he was exasperated and tried not to be angry with the stupid machine, “Thanks for the reminder now go to sleep, Alexa.” Raven uttered through gritted teeth.

“Sleep mode activated,” Alexa said sweetly, “Good night Raven.”

He stood there for half a second fearing the stupid machine was going to tell him that it loved him. He let out a long exhale when that didn’t happen. “What the fuck?” Raven muttered for about the hundredth time that night.

He turned attention back to the computer feeling the urge to not let go of his old timeline grab hold of him in a death grip. He couldn’t let it rest. This place was too fucking weird for that. He had to put it all down, as much as he could, and keep it safe. There were dangers lurking out there and Raven was beginning to fear that if those dangers ever showed up here his Father, the God of War, might just invite them in for tea.

Raven felt there wasn’t enough time before Eos kissed the sky to sit there and type. He had to have something faster than that. Sitting next to the round gray disk that called itself Alexa was a more wondrous thing. A cell phone, at least he thought it was a cellphone. It was hard to tell and it was either that or a very small tablet with its black glass face and little blinking green light.

Before the world ended, items such as this and frickin’ Alexa were only for the richest inhabitants of the planet. Other, lesser folks, had to get by with the flip variety of a cellphone.  He ran his fingers over its smooth glass surface before picking it up with nervous fingers. Holding it firmly, he started pushing the buttons on the sides until the screen sprang to life showing him that he had three text messages and two missed phone calls. The damn thing was asking him for PIN to unlock it.

“Shit,” he groaned as he ran his hand over the side of his head.  “What PIN would the new me use?” He thought about it for a few seconds before deciding it wasn’t worth agonizing over and he used his power to force the phone to unlock. There on the brightly lit screen were several colorful icons that he hoped to recognize one day. Maybe tomorrow.

But for tonight…for tonight….

Raven flipped to the next screen and smiled when he found what he was looking for.

“Yes!” He cheered exuberantly, “let’s get this show on the road before it’s too late.” Raven dashed into the kitchen, grabbed two cold Cokes from his shiny stainless steel refrigerator that matched his double sink, fancy stove, microwave, and dishwasher. “Christ,” he stammered looking around for a quick moment at everything a serious chef could ever want, “I don’t even cook. I gotta get out of here, I gotta get outta here,”  the walls of his new home felt as though they weren’t just closing in they were crashing down to smother him. Raven let himself out the back door and sprinted down to the west shore of his Father’s island.  

II

In Ares’ bedroom, as he sat on the end of the bed with Alena’s little feet in his warm hands, he wasn’t surprised when she protested.

“You don’t have to do that, I’m fine.”

“Shut up, woman,” Ares growled with a roll of his dark eyes, “it’s my job to pamper you, especially now. I do it well, yes?” He ran his thumb up the arch of her foot, watched her eyes close as he mouth dropped open and a long satisfied exhale slipped from her lips. “Yeah, that’s what I thought, be quiet.” Her feet like her ankles were nearly double their size with swelling and Ares earlier declared that tonight was her last night for company, he wouldn’t deny her a big party for their fiftieth wedding anniversary but after it was nothing but bed rest and being weighted upon until after the twins arrived. He meant it and he wasn’t going to take any guff over it with so much on the line.

Alena decided not to argue but rather to enjoy and she settled back into the soft pillows, “Did Raven seem a little off to you tonight?”

“Hummm,” Ares grunted as he continued massaging her tired feet, “a little I suppose.”

“A little?” She asked quickly, “he drifted around like he didn’t even know where he was, he tripped over the entrance and he knows that loose board is there. He’s been avoiding it for weeks.”

“I’ll fix it tomorrow,” Ares promised thinking she was subtly reminding him of the things on his Honey-Do List.

“No, you don’t get it,” she whispered in open confusion, “Raven, he looked around at, well, at everything as though…as though…” her voice trailed off in huffing sigh.

That was her sign that she afraid he was going to think she was crazy when whatever the next bit was slipped out of her mouth. “As though what?” Ares encouraged a bit gruffly, “Whatever it is just say it.”

Shaking her head while holding her hands palm open in surrender and staring at the ceiling she said, “Like, I want to say like he’d never seen the place before but that’s not right. It’s more like he’d never seen it like this before like he expected something else and was trying not to show it.”

“Something like…what, do you think?” The God of War led with smoldering eyes as his hand worked the bottom of her foot.

“It’s nuts,” she cackled helplessly, “like, like, he expected our home to be like it was when he was a little boy before we left Olympus behind.”

Ever since the moment Ares met up with Raven at the precipice of the cliff side, that was exactly the type of vibe that Ares got from his Son all night, as though Raven didn’t quite fit here, not in this time and he was desperately trying to hide it. It gnawed at Ares all through the festivities as he kept the corner of his eye on Raven and watched him stumble his way through conversations as though he’d had too much to drink. “Whatever’s wrong, if there is anything amiss, Raven’s an adult, if he wants us to know something he will tell us.” Ares tried to sound reassuring but he too was concerned about his Son’s behavior tonight.

“Do you…” Alena ventured quietly, stopped, considered, and then began again in a rush, “do you feel a little off? I do. Like there’s something different, something important maybe we’re forgetting? Something….I don’t know…just something? Like maybe…you’re just the tiniest bit out of synch with the rest of the world? Does that even make any sense?”

Her stuttering words made his Ichor grow cold in his chest and he tried not to show it, but yes, that was how he felt; out of synch. There could be many benign reasons for that, a thousand of them, and just as many malignant ones. Not wanting her to worry over something she couldn’t control, Ares did something he almost never did, he lied right to her face, “No,” was the curt word from his full lips. “If you feel strangely, well, it’s been a long day, and you are very pregnant. Hmmm?”

“Thanks for noticing,” Alena huffed feeling as though he was giving her the brush off but deciding to ignore it considering the lateness of the hour. “Yes, I’m babbling, I know. You’re right, I do have a headache and my back hurts and they never stop moving.”

Ares, who only wanted to quell her growing fears not dismiss her feelings entirely,  put his hand on her belly to feel his Sons squirming around in their confined space, “Knock it off you two give your poor Mother some rest.”

Alena was not surprised when they did as he told them, instead she just smiled, “They always listen to you they never listen to me.”

“Well, they know who’s in charge,” he huffed.

“Do they?”

Ares grinned and went back to his work with her aching feet even as he used his powers to stoke the burning hearth taking the chill out of the room. “You are not to worry about anything other than what we are going to name them. Understand?”

“Yes, it’s pampering time,” she grinned, “go on, pamper away, I won’t fight it.”

“That’s better,” Ares smiled at her as he watched her shoulders fall away from her ear lobes and she settled deeper into the bed.  It wasn’t long before she was asleep and he crawled in next to her wrapping her up in his strong arms and cuddling her into the warmth of his side. “I love you, Alena,” he whispered in the dark. “Nothing will spoil this for us.”

END of the Sneak Peek for Times of War by Lisa Beth Darling

This novel is coming in spring of 2022

Find out more about the Of War Series and other novels by visiting www.lisabethdarling.com

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