Chapter
VII

She had been excited for this visit. A chance to teach the ever-confident Kratos was a rare opportunity. She had worn one of her favorite aqua-green robes, and her emerald-laden tiara as well. When she found Kratos's door open, she had been concerned. He was not the sort of man to be inviting, and careless even less so. She should have expected one of her sisters to start in on Kratos, but she would have believed Aphrodite, even Nike or Nemesis, before Artemis. As she walked with Kratos through the shining marble halls of the castle, Athena only just realized how affected she had been. Not only affected, but angry. It surprised her. Kratos was a man, and he could allow whomever he liked into his chamber. As she attempted to turn a corner, Kratos spoke.

"Is this to be a tour, or shall we walk in silence?"

Athena blinked and realized where she was. She had once again become lost in her pondering. She was supposed to be showing Kratos the ways through the castle. Think, Athena. You have been awaiting this since last night. Focus yourself! After a moment of internal speaking, Athena dismissed her quandaries and assessed her position in the castle before turning and speaking to Kratos. They had exited his chamber and gone to the right, opposite the way Artemis had gone. They had now reached a four-way intersection.

"My apologies. This hall to the left leads to a veranda that continues along the outer walls of the castle. This hall to the right goes further into the castle, and turns to the left. First you will reach Apollo's chambers, followed by Asclepius, god of Healing, Helios, so on and so forth until you reach the other side of the castle. And this hallway ahead of us continues around the castle, as an interior pathway beside the veranda."

"Why is there so much empty stone? I should think a castle of the gods would have more to it."

Athena could hear the usual disdain in his words, but it sounded more like an honest question.

"The large halls and empty space is for the benefit of the gods, so that they may expand their chambers as much as they like without encroaching upon one another. It was a funny story you could ask of Hephaestus."

Kratos made no comment as she continued forward, leading down the hall through the castle.

"The chambers of the God of War, your chambers, accompany those of the other male gods on the left side of the castle. From the main gate, that is."

"Why?"

Once again, honest interest pervaded his voice. She must be getting used to ignoring his flippant tones. But soon she would break him of his foul attitude. She made that oath behind a small smile on her lips before answering.

"Many of the goddesses have taken vows of chastity, and so Zeus saw fit to separate the sexes. To deter... unproductive thoughts."

"And I am sure all of the gods are happy to obey this unspoken rule."

Kratos replied in a falsely-virtuous tone. Athena chose to ignore it.

"It is also to keep the opposing forces apart and peaceful. The castle is more or less identical on both sides, with each god having his opposing goddess opposite the castle in the same position. For example, my chambers are on the opposite side of the castle from yours."

"And Artemis's chamber is behind yours?"

Athena waited a beat to answer that. Artemis had given her a knowing, perverse look when she had found her in Kratos's chamber, and her sister was not among her pleasant thoughts at the moment. How dare she imply that she had plans or interests of that nature for Kratos! He had served her loyally for many years, proving himself a powerful, valiant warrior. She was merely repaying the debt owed to Kratos that she could not provide with the removal of his dreams. But as she thought on, Athena remembered exactly what Artemis had done. She had simply raised an eyebrow. And perhaps given a smirk. So simple. She had barely said anything at all. How could she have possibly let such simple things get to her so deeply? She realized they were once again approaching an intersection and dismissed her troubled thoughts before Kratos could raise another complaint. White marble walls met golden columns and the white ceilings met a deep blue center, depicting constellations in the sky. Red banners hung from the ceiling at the connecting sections of the hall, and the three sets of massive silver chains ran inside the golden columns, exposed only by a quarter of the surface. Finally, a lever sat at her left, reaching down into the floor.

"This intersection leads to the upper and lower floors."

Kratos looked to his left and right, puzzled.

"You've lost your head. There is only the hallway before us."

Athena felt like giggling and slapping herself at the same time. She had completely forgotten how primitive the world below was, compared to Olympus. And it was beginning to wear on her. She, the Goddess of Wisdom who rules over mortals with her brethren, knows so little of the world below that she governs. She swallowed back the faintest of bad tastes in her mouth before Kratos could ask another question.

"What are these chains here for?"

He stepped over and grasped the cold metal, as if testing its strength warily.

"It is an elevation system for the castle. When called, the enchanted chains will raise or lower the floors and take the rider to the desired level of the castle."

"Ingenious."

"Yes, indeed. Originally there was only a single floor between all levels, but the idea was not met well. Gods would come and go at all hours, and there are several who reside here. Eventually the floors became too-often occupied and inefficient. Hephaestus finally added a second and third floor to each shaft, allowing for much easier transport."

She reached for the lever and grasped it. It was time to sample the lower floors. But once again, Kratos questioned her, drawing her attention away.

"What of the rest of this floor?"

"This floor is inhabited by the major gods, and a few of the less so, like Asclepius. You've already seen the Grand Viewing Room, which sits at the right side of the gates, and the Gathering Hall, which is center with the gate. To the left-hand side is the wine store, and the opposite side of the castle is a large servant quarters. The true treasures of the castle are yet to be seen."

Athena could not help but smile. She was about to show Kratos her pride and joy. Not only to her, it was a treasure to Olympus itself. And Kratos was becoming more and more... open, it seemed. Less restrained by his abrasive shell, allowing his curiosity, and it seemed some of his other emotions, to at last float to the surface. Athena felt excited at that. It proved that she was finally making some progress. Kratos would be a well-adjusted god in no time.

"I think you'll find the lower floors quite..."

"What is on the upper floors?"

"The floors above this one are for Poseidon, Zeus, Hera, the Muses, and Hermes. As well as several of their personal chambers."

"Can we not see them?"

"Father and Uncle are very busy, and I fear an unanticipated visit may only be a distraction. There is very little of interest up there, regardless."

Athena shifted somewhat. She was eager to show Kratos the lower floors, almost greedily so. She knew that Zeus and Poseidon had no extremely pressing matters at the moment, and Hera's garden was a fine sight to see, but she knew that if they visited they would be inevitably delayed with conversation. As she explored her reasons, as she had become accustomed to doing since Kratos's arrival, she realized that it seemed she wanted Kratos... all to herself. Of course she would never dream of thinking about him in any lewd terms, but she could not help her cheeks turning somewhat pink at what another might think.

Waving away her internal conflicts, she grasped the gilded lever and pulled it to the left. Mechanisms clicked and banged beneath her, and within seconds the floor began descending. The seconds stretched into minutes. And the minutes together seemed to last an hour. Kratos had said nothing, and she could think of nothing to talk about. He simply leaned against the wall opposite her with his arms folded, while she stood with her hands crossed next to the lever. Finally, he spoke.

"What is so impressive that you would forgo a tour around the castle and bring me down here to see?"

"Just be patient, Kratos. You'll see."

After another moment the mechanism came to a halt, and a hallway almost identical to the one they had just left lay before them. Kratos watched as Athena quickly stepped back in the direction they had come, looking back to ensure he was following. He did so. From what he could gather, they were on the south-facing wall of the castle, directly in-line with the main entrance. He could see pride grow in every step she took, just as his curiosity did. What could possibly be so grand that Athena would lead him down to the lower floors of the castle? Perhaps it was the treasure vault. The gods no-doubt held some manner of wealth in this fortress. Or perhaps it was a vast armory. Weapons made from the strongest, lightest materials in existence. As he walked just behind Athena, his mind burned with wonder. A feeling, Kratos realized, he had not felt in many years. As he made this revelation, he also noticed that Athena was staring back at him out of the corner of her eye; the smallest of smiles on her face. And while the sight was a pleasant one, he stiffened himself up a bit. They walked in silence for several moments, until Athena stopped before a hallway on their left, leading toward the center of the castle. She waited for him to stand just behind her before addressing him.

"Follow me closely, please. You can, quite literally, lose yourself in these halls."

With an eyebrow arched, he followed Athena down the new hallway. He noticed that the design of these walls differed from those of the previous hall. These walls were painted the deepest shade of black, with only the slivers of the golden square-vortex designs keeping him from feeling as if he had entered total darkness. As he admired the strange design, Athena turned a corner ahead of him. He cast it off absent-mindedly, knowing he would simply need to follow the wall. But as he came to the wall ahead of him, he realized that there was no turn. He was boxed in. He whipped around, half-expecting a wall of spikes to begin closing in on him out of pure reflex. But as he looked down the hallway from which he had come, he saw Athena poke her head from beyond one of several adjoining hallways.

"This way, Kratos. Please stay behind me."

Kratos hurriedly joined her in the next hall, insuring that he keep her in his sights as best he could. These halls were somewhat narrow, and every wall looked identical.

"Is this a maze?"

"Correct, Kratos. A maze to protect one of Olympus's most powerful treasures."

Athena's words fired his imagination anew, although he now made certain to keep his thoughts in check as the goddess guided him. He followed in silence for several minutes, wondering whether noise was a factor in the maze's path. They made endless left and right turns; even those he was certain would merely move them in reverse. At last, Athena stopped before him and spoke again.

"And here we are, sir."

Kratos looked around them. A hall sat behind them, and at either side. But there was no hall before them, as Athena seemed to gesture toward with her body.

"What trickery is this?"

Athena merely gestured to the floor with her emerald green eyes. As he followed her gaze, he saw it. If only just. Embedded in the black marble floor was a carving of a lightning bolt surrounded by a square. The bolt was outlined in gold, only scarcely visible at the edges. Kratos knelt down to examine the marking. It looked as if the bolt could be pressed into the floor, and so he did. The indentation depressed gently into the floor. But there was no sound of a mechanism moving. As he stood again, he realized that Athena had stepped forward, into the new, dark, hallway that had opened before them. He stepped up beside her in the strange, curtain-like darkness. He groped for the walls beside him, but found nothing of but air. He felt Athena grasp his hand in hers. It was soft. Smooth. Delicate. Much like the magical sheets from which he had awoken.

Her hand led his own to the wall at their left, which seemed to have spread out somewhat. With her fingers guiding his, he found yet another indentation of a lightning bolt and pressed it. At once the heavy curtain of darkness disappeared, leaving a blinding light in its place; as if the light being kept from the room were suddenly thrust inside all at once. Kratos squinted his eyes and stod blindly for a moment as Athena spoke.

"Observe, Kratos. The greatest treasure the gods possess. Welcome to the Library of Olympus."