Athena awoke, refreshed and prepared the following morning. After speaking with the dignitaries of Athens, she felt confident that her city would rise again as one of the great powers in Greece. This gave her good feelings for the day to come. And though Bubo was nowhere to be seen, he had left her a single feather at his perch by her bedside: a sign of good will from her favorite companion.
She filled her day catching up on all that she had been avoiding the past several days. News from the world below was ever-changing, and more wonders were born every hour. Athena knew it to be her place to catalogue all that she could. She read, wrote, and re-wrote through the long morning. And as the sun began its slow descent into evening, she laid down her quill and decided it was time to visit Dionysus.
As she dressed herself for the occasion, she wondered. Who was this man to her? Uncle? Brother? Cousin? What deference, if any, should she put to him for her purposes? After some thought, she decided to be simplistic and homely. She dressed in a muted blue dress that covered her well, with a translucent veil for her hair. She wore no bracelets or rings, merely her usual emerald tiara that held her veil in place. It would do better that he see her with more respect. All the more reason to draw his eyes to hers, and nowhere else. Who knew what debauchery lay beyond his doors. As the Goddess of Wisdom she was privy to many sexual acts, but she had no intention of seeing them firsthand.
She travelled the halls of Olympus, taking the normal, longer routes. She arrived at his hall perhaps three hours into the evening. Like some of the other halls, these doors were a mural to their owner. Dionysus's was a purely bronze affair. A great grapevine framed both sides and the top, with a single large grape protruding from above. A bull, carrying a large glass between its horns, stood beneath the grape, collecting its sweet juices. Gathered at the bull's hooves were several couples in various, yet reserved stages of coitus. And surrounding the scene was a vast audience of humans. Some wept, some jumped for joy, while others merely watched. And surveying it all, a single satyr played in the vines above.
Athena politely knocked, giving some thought to the mural. She waited for a few brief moments outside the hall, and was then greeted by the god himself, sticking his head through the door, as if to shield one side from the other. Her stomach took a turn. "Good afternoon, Lady Athena!" The eyes beneath his dark bushy brows lit up, along with his rosy cheeks, and he scuttled hurriedly the rest of the way through the doors. To her surprise, he was fully-clothed and seemingly quite sober.
Her stomach returned to its rightful place and she spoke. "Good afternoon Lord Dionysus. Am I interrupting something?"
The larger man quietly closed the doors. "Hmm? Oh, no. Just a new tragedy I was watching. Some fool named Dante has come up with a revisionist view of the Underworld. It's as meticulous as it is ridiculous. It will never last. But this is a pleasant surprise! What can I do for you?"
"I was hoping we could speak about certain matters." She stood very straight and businesslike with her fingers tented in front of her.
The portly god scratched his beard. "And what matters might these be? You'll pardon my ignorance, Goddess of Wisdom, but our circle of friends and interests very rarely coincide."
She returned his healthy grin with a small, amused one. "No, indeed they do not. Could we speak inside?"
Dionysus's eyes shifted, and his great arm reached to scratch at the back of his head. "Eh. Well. As you know, I'm not often invited to the Pantheon. And considering that I have been, I've taken several... liberties, to celebrate my occupation..." The large man stood there as his cheeks grew redder and redder before her. She avoided smiling, though she could imagine what he meant. But she took a small joy in watching him squirm. "I'm afraid we'd have no privacy in my hall. Are these matters... clandestine?"
She allowed herself a small smile. "No, not particularly. I wished to speak to you about Kratos."
"Aah!" He pronounced. "Yes, Kratos. You were the one who appointed him the God of War, weren't you?" She merely nodded. "Well in that case, I was going to visit him after the play anyway. But considering its dismalness in comparison to my current company, may we walk to his hall and talk along the way?"
"That would be fine." The two began walking. At first, Dionysus had looked toward the most direct route to Kratos's hall. But she had much to discuss with him, and nodded toward the opposite direction. He merely smiled and strode beside her.
"So, what exactly did you wish to speak about? Kratos is a fairly large subject."
"Indeed. I know that the two of you have shared good times together, yes?
The wine god laughed. "Oh yes. Such a short but sweet time we've had already."
"That is good. But as his appointer, it is my responsibility to ensure Kratos's full ascension as a god, and that it goes as smoothly as possible."
"Of course," Dionysus nodded.
"Though I understand he has long been tortured, by those around him as well as himself. And I fear he may not be making the best decisions in his quest to become the god he will become."
Dionysus placed his hands behind his back. "Perhaps. But you of all people should know that our tales of ascension are among the most important. We are who we are because of the mistakes we've made and the responsibilities we take up in order to rectify them. Perhaps Kratos needs to make a few bad decisions before he can become a true God of War."
"I would be less concerned were all the eyes of Olympus not constantly watching him. Forever is a long time to live. And as you may know, a long time to hold grudges. Good decisions early on here will make everything easier for him."
"Keeping an eye on your pet project, eh?"
Athena's brows furrowed beneath her tiara. "He is hardly a pet project. He has served Olympus well and deserved a just reward. Though I admit I was not aware of what a burden a life like ours can be, particularly to a man with so many regrets. So I took it upon myself to help... ease his transition."
"Hmmm. So what do you want of me?" Dionysus asked.
"I'd simply like to know what he's been up to. He's fairly... coy with me. And I am afraid he may be damning himself without knowing. Since Ares's betrayal, the pantheon has been on-edge. And I do not want them to take preventative measures with him."
"I understand" said the larger god. "Being one under such scrutiny, I can appreciate your intentions."
Conveniently, Athena stopped before the doors to Kratos's hall. Dionysus seemed bewildered, but did not question her. "Then will you help me?"
He nodded, placatingly. "We will see what can be done."
With one of his great hands, he pushed open the doors to Kratos's hall. Greeting them came the explosive crashing of stone and metal. The pair stepped through the doors carefully. Dust and rubble filled the air as though a war raged in its patron god's quarters. Dionysus threw an arm before Athena. "Stay back!" he warned. But with her green eyes, keen from scanning text, she could see through the dust: Kratos in battle.
She pushed past his arm and approached, covering her mouth to avoid the dust. Between the crashing of stone and iron, she heard Kratos grunt and roar as he attacked his foes. But who? Who would dare start a fight in the halls of Olympus?
As she ventured further, she saw beasts of all shapes and sizes emerge from seemingly nowhere to attack him. Snatching a lunging wolf from the air, he kicked the beast into the midsection of a minotaur with raised axe. From the dust an enormous club crashed down, forcing Kratos to roll to his left. A cyclops emerged behind the club, and Kratos leaped toward its eye, blades raised. The first blade was blocked by the beast's second raised hand. The second, however, found its mark. Kratos kicked hard at the creature's neck and vaulted himself back to his original position.
Athena began to step forward as the attacks seemed to cease. But as she was about to speak, an enormous barbed tail shot out from the dust like a bolt of lightning from the clouds. And just as quickly, Kratos sidestepped the attack, grasping the tail by its stinger as it attempted to pass him by. With a grunt of effort, he snapped the barb from the tail and grabbed the appendage with both hands. And with a mighty roar, lifted the beast from its place in the mist to crash agaist the right wall of the room, its other useless limbs flailing. And as it did, Athena witnessed the beast crumble into hundreds of pieces of rock.
"Stone!" she said, finally understanding. And as she spoke, she saw Kratos jerk toward her, as if expecting another opponent.
"Athena!" he said, surprised. He straightened, and made a lowering gesture with both hands. The dust seemed to seep into the floor, clearing the air. And as she looked, she saw that the stone from the giant scorpion merely melted back into the stone floor. He had used his powers over the construction of his hall to construct monsters to fight. She hadn't ever considered the application before.
"That was quite brilliant, Kratos." She said as he approached, the exercise seemingly over.
"Thank you. I've been working on my technique."
She sighed, almost disappointed, but retained an amused smile on her face. "No, not that. Your use of your hall. I'd never considered using it as a battle simulation. Very inventive. I am impressed." He smiled sheepishly, but it disappeared quickly.
"Yes, splendid dislpay my boy!" came Dionysus's booming voice. His great hands produced echoing claps in the now empty hall. "For a moment I thought you were actually under attack, and feared for the many 'innocent' lives here in the castle."
"A cold day in the Underworld predates that, I'm sure" Kratos smirked, wiping sweat from his brow.
"Preparing for another fight this evening?" Dionysus ventured.
"No," Kratos replied. "I fought earlier today. I was merely testing my reflexes. My next match is tomorrow. Allow me a few moments to bathe, and I shall return."
As Kratos disappeared into his own washroom, Athena exchanged glances with the wine god. "He seems quite enthralled in the tournament, as he has been for the past several days. The few times I've spoken to him since it began, he's talked of little else."
Athena knitted her brows in thought. "I'd like to get him into a serious conversation about his godhood tonight. Would you assist me? Keep him from escaping into other avenues?"
Dionysus nodded. "Of course."
Athena's concerns had abated some since entering the chamber. While she was still concerned as to Kratos's ascension, He seemed more comfortable than she'd ever seen him on Olympus. Perhaps she had been pressuring him too much to interact with the others. After all, a caterpillar must cloister itself in a cocoon before it can fly.
Moments later, Kratos returned, cleaned and refreshed. "Now to what do I owe your company?" he asked of them both."
Athena spoke first. "We were hoping to check on you. It's been some time and you've been so entrenched with the tournament, we hoped you would consider a break and appreciate some simple conversation."
Dionysus followed. "In short, we wanted to know how you're faring, my boy. Surely you've some time to relax, have a drink, and catch up." Dionysus made a gesture with his right hand in the air, and suddenly he held a golden goblet. And as simply as if he were holding three of them, he handed one to each of them.
Kratos looked surprised, and a a sullen smirk crossed his ash-white face. "Unfortunately I keep no wine close by. Shall we call a servant?"
"No need" relpied Dionysus. From somewhere beneath his colossal robes he produced a flask of wood and gold. He poured from it the darkest wine Athena had ever seen into each of their glasses. When he had finished and the flask had vanished, they each raised their glasses. "To us," he announced. She and Kratos followed him as they clinked their glasses together.
She spoke up, trying to start the conversation in Kratos's corner. "How goes the tournament?"
Kratos nodded as he swalowed his wine. "It progresses well. A few skilled fighters from here and there are participating. The rules of the tournament specify that an opponent is disabled, only killed if necessary. Although, between each round is a battle with several of Hades's beasts, and they all but require killing."
Dionysus chuckled. "I heard Hercules was refused admission."
"Oh really? On what grounds?" Athena asked, sipping her wine.
"Probably because the great brute gets enough attention!" Dionysus's loud laugh echoed in the chamber, drawing chuckles from Kratos and Athena as well.
"What is the prize, anyway?" The Wine God asked.
"A single favor from Hades," Kratos replied.
Athena raised her eyebrows, surprised. "Ooh. That's quite a prize. Lord Hades hardly associates with us here on Olympus, much less offering boon to mortals. Have you thought about what you may ask for?"
"I had honestly not given it any thought," Kratos said scratching the back of his head. "I participate primarily to sharpen my combat skills, and to acclimate myself to my powers. And, I had hoped that word of my victory would spread to Sparta."
Athena leaned forward with genuine interest this time. "And how is that going? I know Sparta was very attached to Ares."
"And not very fond of you in particular for a number of reasons," Dionysus chipped in. "Last I saw, at least."
"Indeed," Kratos nodded sullenly. "But I have managed to reach one mind. And I am hoping that by proving that I am no longer a monster, I can regain their trust."
Athena sipped some of her wine before offering a reassuring hand. "They are a hardy folk, but they are yours. They knew you once as a great general, and I'm sure you can win them again."
"That is my goal," Kratos replied, swallowing more of his wine.
"I hear that Poseidon is watching the tournament in order to find himself a new champion. The mystic waters do not sea into the Underworld, so he would be there in person. Perhaps this could be a chance for you to speak to him. You could strike a deal and earn his favor."
"I was unaware of that" Kratos replied.
Athena realized that she was growing giddy in her explanations and sipped wine to accomodate her enthusiasm. "Is Sparta currently making any conquests? Surely Poseidon's influence could aid them in naval battles."
"A fine idea. Speaking of which, did you still wish me to look over the scrolls of my adventures?"
Athena smiled. She'd completely forgotten. "Oh, yes of course."
"The Life and Times of Kratos," Dionysus interjected. "Now that's a tale I'd like to read."
Athena gestured with her glass. "Shall we move this to my chambers, then?"
"I have no objections" Kratos said, smirking.
"On we go, then!" The wine god roared, standing. "Would anyone like a refill?" He once again produced the flask and offered it to the pair of them. Kratos gestured for more and, emboldened by how well the evening was going, Athena did as well.
The walk to her chambers was filled with merry revels. Dionysus regaled them with some of his lurid tales, though noticeably refrained from particular language. Likely for her benefit, Athena thought. She appreciated the gesture. The god of pleasure had surprised her today, and she had found a new respect for him. She also noticed that Kratos did not share any stories of his doubtless countless conquests. She could not tell if he were simply not in the mood to recount them, or if he was holding back on her account. A small part of her hoped it was the latter. While she herself had no such stories to share, she managed to draw the other two into a conversation about the intricacies of belief. Because of this, she intentionally led them a longer route around the castle, and subsequently the group refiilled on wine more than once during their journey.
Kratos eventually began telling some of his own life story, and Athena raced to get them to her chamber before too long. The three passed through her doors laughing as Kratos recounted his clever use of an enemy soldier as a human shield. Normally, she would be mildly uneasy about the discussion of violence, but the wine was surely getting to her. She felt her cheeks burn, and more giggles poured from her mouth than she could remember.
Dionysus settled on a large circular couch in the main room of her chambers, sipping at his wine. Meanwhile, Athena led Kratos to her drawing room, where she only just kept herself from stumbling at her desk. "Now..." she said aloud to herself. "Now now now... where did I put those scrolls..." she trailed off as she checked each drawer, attempting to keep her balance. The wine had affected her much more thoroughly than she had anticipated.
As she reached down to check the bottom-most drawer, she lost her balance and fell to her knees with a small cry. She felt Kratos's body heat as he approached and knelt down, extending a hand. "Are you alright?" he asked.
She shakily lifted herself with his help, feeling foolish. "Yes, yes. I'm fine." She turned to him with a small smile, brushing a bit of fallen hair from her face. She gazed into his eyes. His dark, beautiful eyes. He stared back with a small smile to match. And just as her sense of propriety caught up to her, he spoke.
"Athena, I've just realized something" he said, extending his hand to her upper arm. His touch was unexpected, and her normally stone-like civility crumbled instantly. She felt the heat in her face begin to burn though her.
"Yes?" she probed dreamily.
Kratos's smile grew larger. "The scrolls... we've left the scrolls in my chambers." Her face twisted with confusion as he began to chuckle. "You... you delivered them to me some time ago, and I'd completely forgotten about them!" His chuckling descended into laughter. And as she remembered that evening, she could not help but laugh with him. Such a fool she was. But, if there was ever a night she would be glad to be a fool, this was it.