God(s) Of War: Ascension
Disclaimer: All characters belong to their respective owners, the only things I own are the plots.
Dedicated to all past and future pioneers!
Summary: One costume provided by a certain chaos mage pisses off the wrong god - someone who knows what it’s like to be manipulated, and makes sure to rectify that situation.
Author’s Note: This is a revised version of my earlier work, it’s a bit longer, and I’ve changed a few things this time around. And that includes the title of the sequel. Read, review, and enjoy!
A Glimpse into the Future: Five years hence.
Xander stared at Glory as they circled each other, waiting for some unseen signal. Feeling a calm he did not feel, he unsheathed both of the blades of chaos at his back – the semi-sentient blades reformed and upgraded personally by Artemis and Hepheastus, were joined by the mystic chains that lead from it and wrapped around the arm bracers adorning his wrists. The bracers were a gift, courtesy of Hercules.
"This is it." He thought to himself. The entire weapon seemed to glow with golden light, eagerly waiting for its master to unleash it upon those who dare defy them.
Glory rushed forward, almost a blur towards the foolish mortal who had been a thorn in her side ever since she started hunting for the key. Her smile was feral as she drew near, arms outstretched to rip him limb from limb.
Xander dodged backwards and unleashed the blades, hurtling them with uncanny grace in retaliation. The blades sang as it gouged deep furrows along her body. And wherever it struck the deranged hell-goddess, she would cry out in alarm.
Glory was starting to panic for the first time, never had a human been able to make her bleed such as this. Never had she been in such pain. "What are you?" She cried, staggering against the onslaught of someone she thought of as a mere mortal.
"Lady," Xander replied, his tone cold as arctic ice as his eyes glared at her with silver light. "I’m the one you wrongly pissed off by going after my friends. I am no one of great importance, save the one who shall give you everlasting pain. And that’s before I destroy you."
"No one can kill me," Glory ground out through the pain. She rallied for another attacked and lashed out, knocking Xander a few feet back. "I am a god!"
"Gods can be killed." Xander said, recovering from the blow that would have instantly killed a normal man, let alone a slayer. "I should know. It’s not the first time these blades have crossed paths with a deranged god, or the fools that call themselves as such. And I swore to put you down like the mad dog you are for hurting my friends."
Xander felt the energies building within the blades and at the precise moment, he flung them as he leapt skywards, dodging another blow from Glorificus. At the apex of his jump, he angled the blades into an arc as they sliced off both of Glory’s arms. The moment he touched the ground, he launched one blade to spear Glory in the gut and dragged her to him.
The hell-goddess at that instant knew fear. Unable to wrench free of the blade now impaling her midsection due to no longer having arms, she watched, helpless as the young man reeled her in like a sportsman in a fishing competition. A very small part of her that was Ben’s consciousness begged for mercy from the savage beast before her.
Xander would have none of it. Gathering his strength once she was near enough, he gripped the other blade in his right hand and decapitated her with one blow, a snarl of defiance echoing on his lips.
All the energy keeping Glory’s corporeal form together blew outwards like an immortal’s quickening, throwing Xander backwards. Once released, the energies sought out their original hosts – the ones still among the living, of course. - While the rest of the energy was absorbed by Xander’s bracers and blades, restoring the man to full vitality.
Dazed, and a little blinded from the light show, the young man got to his feet as he heard the sounds of running feet. He turned – blades at the ready, towards the sounds behind him.
Gasps of shock and surprise filled the air between his friends as they gazed at the former Scooby. Beyond him lay the decapitated body of the former hell-goddess.
"Xander?" Willow asked, unsure of the apparition in front of her, while trying to hold upright her lover who had just recently regained her sanity.
The young man paid her no heed, instead opting to turn and walk away.
"Xander!" Buffy called out, voice plaintive.
That made Xander almost turn around. Almost.
"What do you need of me, Slayer?" He answered, the coldness never leaving his voice. "From our last discussion, you wanted nothing more to do with me. And Willow never even contested that."
Both of the girls winced at that. They were about to speak except Giles beat them to it.
"Glorificus," The Watcher asked, having just arrived in time to hear that the young man speak. "Is she...?"
"She’s dead Giles."
"I see." Giles looked at the body, and indeed found her head a few feet away. "Thank you."
"You’re welcome." This time, the youth turned, a smirk gracing his features. "Thanks yourself for the head’s up." Then he turned away and bolted, leaping through the wreckage of the south wall with the grace of the hyena within him.
Giles watched the young man go, halting Buffy in mid-stride as she made to go after him.
"Leave him be, Buffy." Her watcher said, "He’ll come back when it’s time."
"He can’t just leave us again!" The slayer said, anger rising, looking at Willow as she simply cried and held on to Tara.
"And who," His Ripper persona slightly showing through as he glared at his young charge. "Pushed him out of the fighting in the first place? Granted I may have been part of it due to my lack of foresight before, but at least I owed it up to him to explain my stand before he left the first time."
"I already said I was sorry!" Buffy said.
"Sorry may have been enough if you didn’t add insult to injury, Buffy." Giles responded, "You’ll have to re-earn his friendship and his trust the hard way."
Glancing back at the direction the young man left, his thoughts turned back to that fateful day that started it all.
All Hallows Eve: present day.
As Ethan Rayne finished the spell, he felt a tremor pass through him. A feeling of dread filled him even as the spell started to take effect. He checked his surroundings and then shrugged, disregarding the notion of impending doom as this night was after all, in the hands of chaos.
The being that was currently inhabiting Xander’s body was glaring around him in mute rage. Someone will be in a lot of pain for this, he growled. No one dares trifle with me and gets away with it without gross consequences. Although this situation ranks of Janus’s doing, he’d deal with the caster first before he’d move on towards that idiot god himself. He vaguely heard someone calling out to him. He looked towards where the voice was coming from and was startled to see a scantily dressed redheaded spirit running to him.
"Xander!" Willow gasped, nearly out of breath in spite of her spectral form. "Something hellmouthy is going on. I fell down on someone’s doorstep and when I woke up and I’m a ghost. I don’t know what’s going on but it’s really, really, really, freaking me out."
"Xander" arched an eyebrow at the spirit’s non-stop verbal spewing, chuckling at how this mere slip of a spectral girl spoke to him.
"This is NOT funny!" Willow stamped her foot in annoyance. "Stop laughing already!"
"I apologize, spirit." The being inhabiting Xander’s body said in ancient Greek, "But I am not this Xander you speak of. Perhaps we bear a passing resemblance?"
"Oh no! Not you too!" She exclaimed, trying to reply in passable – but albeit, slightly garbled Greek. "If you’re not Xander, then who are you?"
"My name?" The man replied, thinking about it for a short time. He’d rather not be known by his better-known moniker here lest others might be watching. Besides, the young spirit thought him to be simply a costume turned reality, a man out of time. The mind of the boy whose body he now possesses was in suffering as it relived most of the being’s life. The nightmares he strove hard to forget now laid bare before the soul of the child whose body he now shares. Which was another good reason why he should disembowel the chaos mage and his foolish god for causing needless suffering. In every war, there must be a cause. This however, was senseless madness. In a split-second decision, he prepared his answer. "My name is Kratos. And I am but a humble Spartan. So how come I to this place?"
Willow just goggled. "Oh boy…"
Kratos looked around, momentarily ignoring a shocked ghost, finding more than the usual mill of monsters roaming the area. Keeping in character in pretending to be not from this time period, he asked the young ghost a question. "Why are most of Echidna’s children out and about? It looks as if she’s been busy."
"Who?" Willow asked, trying to shake herself from her stupor at the surreal idea of talking to a man who lived before the time of Christ.
"Echidna," The ashen clad warrior explained. "Is the queen mother of all monsters. And I also espy different species of Bacchae. "
"The ones with deformed foreheads, fangs, and the weaker of the species have a strong aversion to sunlight, and holy relics." Kratos said, pointing to some said creatures farther down the road trying to stay out of sight.
"Oh," Realization dawned on the redhead. "Vampires. We call them vampires nowadays."
"How amusing." Kratos said, a hint of sarcasm rounding his voice. He glanced around, suddenly noticing a muted energy spike that was steadfast around the entire town. Curious, he turned to Willow. "I know you haven’t answered this yet, but you mentioned something about a hellmouth. Do you speak the truth as to where we are? "
At Willow’s affirmative, the warrior threw a fit of curses in Greek and Latin that made Willow shudder when she recognize some of what he said. That can’t be physically possible, right? Unconsciously, she edged away from the dangerous looking Spartan.
Kratos was now seething, cursing in his native Greek, Latin, and a host of other long dead languages. Of all the irresponsible things for Janus to do, a high chaos spell over a hellmouth was the least of smartest things to do. Most spells here were amplified in either direction that a 100% certainty is not guaranteed. Any number of side effects would come out. His fists clenched and unclenched in outrage at the audacity of it all.
Someone was definitely going to die horribly at his hands before this night was over.
"If this is a hellmouth, then that would mean you people have a Slayer stationed here, correct?" He asked, unsheathing the chaos blades from his back.
"Yes," She replied, looking at the wicked blades with worry. "Why?"
"Because," Kratos said, moving with predatory grace towards a monster terrorizing some unchanged children. "She has her work cut out for her this night."
"Wait!?" Willow cried, aghast as he filleted what looked like a zombie. "What are you doing? Those are probably just kids whose costumes turned them into monsters! We’ve got to find Buffy!"
"Who?" Kratos asked, shrugging off the blood from his blades. The child was right; he could "feel" some of the children inside a few of these creatures. Bah, he told himself, the sooner they find the Slayer, the sooner they can start searching for the caster, the better. "If this Buffy is the Slayer, then lead me to her. This night’s madness must cease."
"Ok," Agreed the budding witch. "She had on a dark wig and a wearing an 18th century noblewoman’s costume." Then she thought Kratos wouldn’t even have a clue as to what she was talking about, she amended. "Ah, never mind, just follow me and I’ll let you know when we see her."
"Very well, spirit." The ancient warrior said, "Lead the way."
They waded through the chaos laden streets, Willow yelling every so often from the close calls she made trying to keep Kratos from disemboweling every other demon he ran into in dozens of creatively disgusting ways. All the while, the ashen Spartan was smirking at getting a rise out of the transformed teenaged ghost. By the time they were able to find Buffy, Willow was almost a frazzled wreck.
If I ever get out of this alive, the future young witch swore. I’m gonna yell at Xander so loud for choosing such a rude, bloodthirsty costume, his ears will ring for weeks. In spite of her frazzled nerves, she was already on her way to being pissed enough that were she completely corporeal, she would have slapped Kratos.
They found the Slayer huddled at a nearby building, in tears, and screaming "Demon!" every time a car went by. The Spartan chuckled out loud as Willow tried to convince Buffy it was safe to be with them while the slayer called her a dozen different names from harlot, to whore – all in the french language. He even understood her calling him a dumb ox of a brute, a barbarian, and his personal favorite: "I’d sooner die than bed you, you uncouth lout!" And that was when her eyes were roaming his tattooed body.
Finally having had enough, the ancient warrior invaded her personal space and snarled out a whisper in french right into her face. "You whine too much." And pressed a nerve cluster at the back of her neck.
"WHAT THE HELL DID YOU DO TO BUFFY!" Willow shrieked as the Slayer slumped down, unconscious.
Kratos sighed. "Would you rather I hit her?"
Willow was silent after that.
It took five full minutes for her to start another tirade on him, only to shut up again once her gave that look once more.
By the gods, Kratos thought. Only Hercules had this much trouble with women, and he’s in Los Angeles shooting a TV series for Zeus’s sake!
It took a while, but Willow calmed down enough to direct them to Buffy’s house. The currently transformed young woman was partly thankful that the Spartan was carrying Buffy. His normal penchant to hack and slash with those weird blades of his every chance he got was grating on her resolve to either have a nervous breakdown – or settle for months of therapy after committing first degree murder on Xander when all this was over. For the hundredth time that night, Willow wondered whatever possessed Xander to choose that costume. His love for Greek mythology aside, she knew almost next to nothing about the man who currently is in possession of Xander’s body. She knew all about Spartans as a whole of course, but vaguely about Kratos. She knew the young man wanted to go as a soldier, but she thought something like GI Joe or something else from THIS century, she didn’t expect him to go as a soldier from ancient Greece of all things.
It was bad enough he looked yummy with those new muscles he’d slowly acquired from all those times helping out the slayer, but with someone else in the driver’s seat, the yuck factor the attitude Kratos had was curbing her desire down 100%. And did she mention Xander, as Kratos looked way scary when he looked pissed while brandishing those swords?
Kratos for his part was glad the verbal attacks from the redheaded spirit had tapered down to a semi-occasional barb. He really didn’t want to throw the slayer at her considering the fact it would do nothing since she was intangible and the only one getting bruised would be an already unconscious slayer. The Spartan frowned; the eighteenth century vapid idiot the slayer had become due to the spell even nullified her slayer attributes. In effect, she was as useless and ineffectual as the ghostly female leading them to her home. Someone really was going to die at his hands because of this.
They were able to reach the Slayer’s house with no discernable trouble. After probing the silly costume the slayer wore, much to Willow’s protest – standard verbal barrage included – Kratos was able to find the key to the front door. Once inside, he instantly laid Buffy down on the couch. Looking around, he saw a hallway mirror and walked up to it.
The face staring right back at him in the mirror confirmed what the young ghost had said. While it did bear a striking resemblance to him, he noticed a few differences that told him he really wasn’t in own body. The face staring back at him was twenty years younger. The scar across his right eye was gone. He also lost a lot of weight, but the muscle tone was there, slowly developing. And the young man had a full head of hair as well, while he, did not.
And even through the same ashes that clung to this boy’s body, he can also see faint scars that definitely did not come from battle. He growled upon realization that this child was abused. Kratos may have been a monster, but he only killed within reason now. It was then that he made the decision to make this boy his very own avatar. The gods may not interfere too much nowadays with the lives of mortals; they weren’t once mortal to begin with.
Yes, he thought. This man-child will do nicely. It was time for a champion who can be unbound by the machinations of fate and destiny to arise.
Turning back from his scrutiny of the body he currently possessed; he heard a scream from outside. Willow stuck her head through the door and saw Cordelia in a cat suit being chased by a man-dog thing. Thinking fast, Willow retreated back inside and asked Kratos to help her, minus massacring the one chasing her.
The ancient Spartan laughed out loud, sheathing his already drawn blades, he raced out the door and attacked the thing chasing down Cordelia Chase.
Using an ancient combat art he first learned in the pits and around the Egyptian campaigns, he effectively rendered the thing unconscious (and broken in some places, as he knew he cracked more than a couple of ribs).
Cordelia was wide-eyed and slack jawed as the person she knew to be loser-boy Harris all but killed the thing chasing her.
Kratos wasted no time for a useless dialogue, in Greek he said, "Get in the house." Was the terse command that brooked no argument from the cat-suited clad brunette as he gestured towards the slayer’s abode.
Once within the confines of the slayer’s home once more, Willow went straight to Cordelia, rather than chew the Spartan out for almost crippling the boy outside for life. "I know this is strange," She began. "But you’re not a cat, you’re Cordelia Chase, human."
Cordy just stared at her. "What is your damage? And since when the hell did Harris turn into a tattooed Tarzan?"
Kratos eyed her blankly and asked, "What?" while Willow was surprised as she asked aloud, "You mean you haven’t changed into your costume?"
"No, and Never mind." The exasperated socialite said, eyeing her costume in front of the mirror, moaning. "Aw damn, this costume’s trashed, now I’ll never get my deposit back. So will anybody tell me what the hell is going on?"
"A spell of chaos has seemed to turn select people into their costumes." Kratos said, face in deadpan amusement as Willow translated what Cordelia was asking to Kratos. He laughed inwardly as he did already understood what the young socialite said, but for appearance sake, nodded to Willow at the translation and translated back to Cordy.
"Like that helps, dweeb!" Cordelia snarked, "Like you would know."
Willow automatically translated that and winced after the fact, regretting it.
"At the moment," Kratos began, entering her personal space like the predator he was, making her shiver in fear. "I am not Xander, nor this other title you call me. I am Kratos, captain of the Spartan army under the god of war!"
The socialite backed away in fear as she saw his anger mount with each step towards her, she didn’t understand a word, but the meaning was clear: Don’t piss him off. Willow, who understood most of it, paled.
"I demand respect and everlasting loyalty to those before me. So you will treat me as such, you wench, or I will be mightily…" he stepped up to her and breathed the last word into her ear, sending another thrill of fear down her already frightened countenance, damn near wetting herself. "Displeased."
As the last word left his lips, his right arm whirled outwards. The Blade of chaos chained to that arm flew out and went through the redheaded ghost and impaled the wall two inches from the face of the figure hiding in the shadows by the kitchen door.
Angel yelped and backed away in shock, while Willow shrieked and looked about ready to faint at the sight of the mystic chains passing through her non-corporeal body.
"What do you want, you low level Bacchae?" He asked the souled vampire, eyes never leaving a pale and shaking Cordelia Chase.
"I… uh…" Angel stuttered, automatically speaking out of surprise towards the thing that didn’t smell like Xander, demanding an answer from him in Greek. The mystical blade imbedded in the wall in front of him unsettling the demon within him. "I came to see and maybe help find out what’s going since its kinda going crazy out there."
"A cursed Bacchae helping out a Slayer?" The Spartan asked in amusement, recalling the blade he’d thrown the vampire’s way back to him, sheathing it behind his back despite of his bare back and torso. "A rare sight to see. My name is Kratos, and my blades tell me much of your status, but should you let loose the demon in my presence and you shall taste the steel of my blades more than the blood your kind so craves."
Angel nodded, walking slowly towards the unconscious slayer; not making any sudden moves that might be interpreted as hostile. "What happened to her?"
"Buffy turned into her costume, an eighteenth century noblewoman, and annoyed Kratos over here." Willow said by way of explanation, pointing at the current bane of her ire.
Angel had no response to that; he knew what they were like. That fact that his demonic side found them easy marks and ate them for breakfast, lunch and dinner, so he just kept his mouth shut on that regard.
"So what do we do now?" He asked instead.
"First, we must find the root of all this madness." The ancient Spartan said to Willow as he moved to bar the door with among the heaviest furniture he could find.
"Giles would know," Willow said in response to that statement. "He’s Buffy’s Watcher, if anyone would know, he would."
And keeping in character that he supposedly didn’t know english, he also asked Willow to speak to speak to the vampire for him as he jerked his head Angel’s way.
"What did he say?" Angel asked, wary of the Spartan as he hauled whatever was sturdy towards the front door.
"He said he wanted you and Cordelia to try barricading any possible entrance to this place while I go get Giles."
"Why you?" Cordelia huffed, pointing at Kratos. "He’s the he-man with the swords."
"Uh.." The redhead said in a "duh" voice. "Because I’m currently a ghost and nothing can hurt me?"
"JUST GO ALREADY!" Kratos roared, "Gods, you women dawdle too much!"
Willow "Eeped" and got out.
Angel and Cordelia moved about the house, checking every possible entrance and making sure they were locked. As soon as Angel entered the kitchen, the door leading to the backyard blew inwards as a throng of mini-demons in the forms of transformed children rushed in to cause mayhem.
"We need a stronger, defensible location." Kratos muttered, unsheathing the mystic blades. Children or no, if they should seek to grievously harm him, he would retaliate ten-fold. As it stood now, he was simply deflecting attacks with the flat of his blades, while delivering incapacitating blows rather than fatal ones.
At that point, the unconscious slayer woke up. Upon seeing so many "demons" around her, she did the only thing a "Lady" of her station could do other than fainting: she screamed and ran out of the door leading to the kitchen as if the hounds of hell were right at her feet. Which was almost the literal truth as close as it could get.
After most of the children were subdued, they looked around to take stock of the situation. Angel was the first to notice that the slayer was missing in the ensuing melee, so without further prompting, they all rushed out to find her. They split up with Cordelia staying with Angel as being with "Kratos" for any length of time scared the shit out of her. Kratos didn’t mind, he always did work best alone nowadays rather than leading his old army to war.
Once away from his current irritants, he doubled his pace and tracked the slayer’s aura. Even though the former Ares was a war-mongering bastard in his later years, he did have a little hand in the creation of the slayer lines. Besides where else would a slayer get her ability for instinctual battle savvy? Certainly not from those idiot Powers That Be.
In his search, he passed assorted "monsters" and real monsters. Those who he could tell were simply transformed children; he knocked out, those that were real; he tore apart whenever he could. He was, however, surprised to find complete satisfaction as he almost mauled a pirate to death for annoying the hell out of him.
Totally immersed in his controlled slaughter, he almost forgot his original intent of tracking down the slayer until he passed a store reeking of magical energy - a familiar sort of chaotic, magical energy.
"This is no doubt the center of all this insanity." Kratos mused. "The slayer will have to fend for herself until I find the means to stop all this." And he kicked the door in, blades drawn and ready.
Ethan was expecting his old friend "Ripper" to come through the door, so it was a shock to him since he wasn’t expecting the boy he’d sold the unique costume to. Not many of them were based on real historical figures, especially one that was just as old as the legends involving the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Plus the fact that the history of "The Ghost of Sparta" was so obscure that the potential chaos it would create would balance things out nicely. Unfortunately, he didn’t realized just how smart the Spartan would be to figure this out. And was that blood on those blades?
The chaos mage shivered as cold mercurial eyes glared at him from the transformed teen.
"YOU!" Kratos snarled in Greek. "Cease this insanity at once!"
"Hello yourself, Spartan." Ethan replied back in the same language, swallowing the lump on his throat as the Greek warrior stalked towards him. "But I cannot. The god Janus’s will must be done."
"I’ll deal with that god later myself." Kratos said in english, starling the man before him, lashing out with a chained blade.
The action itself was so sudden; the mage had no time to move before the blade impaled him to the wall with the force of a wrecking ball. It also unfortunately killed the man instantly before he could say anything else.
"Oops." Kratos said in chagrin, he’d have thought a disciple of Janus would have a hardier endurance than that. He sighed, then started checking for anything that might resemble as the focus for the spell.
It took a few moments for Kratos to recognize the bust of Janus as the focus, and another to smash it into pieces just as a certain Watcher was entering the shop.
The shockwave of energy as mystic blade met mystic powered bust threw Giles to the floor and out the door. Once the Watcher got back on his feet, he quickly re-entered the shop, preparing for a fight. What he found within was something he’d never want to see again.
Down a few feet from the counter by the far wall, was the mutilated body of the late Ethan Rayne. A few more feet behind him near the back of the store, but in full view, was Xander wearing the remnant of a Spartan costume. The aforementioned young man was busily throwing up whatever food he had eaten previously as the horrors of what he had done earlier was still vividly playing in his mind.
"Janus," A dark voice said to a cowering god. "I would like to have some words with you regarding some prank of yours."
Forty minutes ago:
Giles was hurrying towards Ethan’s shop at the best speed possible he could coax from his car and through the chaos that littered the streets. After having heard the whole story from Willow. Imagine his non-surprise that it was his old "friend" Ethan was where they bought their costumes from, well, he was definitely going to have more than a few words with his old colleague.
And he was also a little disturbed at the costume Ethan sold to Xander. Kratos was a real historical figure who helped save and rebuild the ancient city of Athens when the god of war went on a rampage. Records had it that Kratos was in the service of the Greek pantheon, trying to atone for the sins he caused. It was said that he was once the favored of Ares, god of war, conquering most of the ancient world long before the world had even heard of Alexander the Great. In one of his campaigns, due to the machinations of Ares, Kratos unwittingly slaughtered his own family. Realizing what he had done, he foreswore to oppose Ares’s growing bloodlust, putting himself into the employ of the rest of the Greek pantheon for atonement. As part of his curse and search for redemption, the ashes of his wife and child became permanently fastened to his entire body, giving rise to the title: "The Ghost of Sparta" as he was literally a dead man walking. His last recorded quest for the gods was to save Athens from the wrath of his former master, Ares. He succeeded, but at a great price. There was nothing more after that, Giles thought to himself as it was widely speculated that Kratos had sacrificed himself in order to succeed in his final task.
Rousing himself from his musings, he parked outside of the Ethan’s shop. His very being was tingling as he sensed a very high-level spell still in effect. He eyed the broken front door with a worried glance and stepped forward with trepidation.
The shockwave of energy being disrupted so violently blew him back out of the door the same moment he set foot inside. Landing unceremoniously with a loud groan, he picked himself up and marshaled whatever mystic energy he had for a confrontation with his former colleague. But nothing could have prepared him for the sight that now lay before him. Rupert Giles felt the world come crashing down on him as he took in the horror before him.
Ethan Rhayne, chaos mage par excellence, lay on a pool of his own blood on the floor by the wall. Most of his innards were exposed to the open air; his entire torso resembled so much like a carved beef at a meat packing plant. A few feet near the back of the store he could see the young man he was starting to think of as a son wearing the remnant of a spartan costume, retching on the floor, face pale and in shock. Blood adorning the fake plastic blades chained to his arms were the only evidence that it was Kratos – not Xander – had been the one to take his revenge against the chaos mage and banished the spell.
After Xander had had enough of retching, he tried to stand up and was rewarded with such a feeling of nausea as pain exploded inside his head. His battle-fatigued body could no longer stand the strain, so it did what any normal body would do, it seized up and shut down.
Meaning he would have fallen down and drowned in his own bile if Giles hadn’t quickly stopped him from doing so.
Lifting the young man up, he lay Xander on one of the couches in the back room. Once done, he did a spot check on the lad to see if he had suffered any physical trauma while possessed. Finding none, he once again carried Xander out of the shop and into the passenger side of his vehicle, securing him and driving out of there as fast and as safe as possible without jarring the young man beside him.
He could only pray that this was only a one-time thing, the nightmares of past sins the ancient Spartan supposedly had were not to be taken lightly, and if the boy had them now as well, then the damage to his inner psyche would be irreparable.
He should have saved his prayers for it only fell on deaf ears this night.
While Xander’s body was simply "sleeping" to recover from the night’s activities, his mind was another matter - countless images of a life he knows isn’t his but also was in a way "his" keep flashing by….
Xander/Kratos remembers the harsh desert sands, how he and his brother were taken from them at an early age to train. And in trying to seed out the weak from the strong, he made sure to survive at all odds. Unfortunately for them, he and his brother were separated for his brother was found to be weaker. And so he toiled day and night, trying to get strong enough till he could one day seek out his brother.
Over the years, Xander/Kratos lost count of the campaigns and small wars he took part of. He grew in the ranks for one so young, for a time, he even joined the ranks of Xena’s army only to leave after the Warrior princess changed her ways. By the time he was a captain, he was already married to a woman of such strong will and who bore him a daughter, by then he was also given command of fifty soldiers.
In the following years, his army grew to the thousands. In one of the campaigns, he came across strange barbarians that hail beyond the barren wastelands. In that instant, his mighty army were not prepared for the sheer savagery and brutality the barbarians had at their disposal. At worst, they were more than the spartans could ever be.
His army was losing! Facing defeat was not acceptable, so with a desperate cry, he called on his patron: ARES, the god of war.
Time stopped as the heavens opened and out stepped the mighty god of war. Ares saw before him, a man with the makings of a god. A man whose raw potential must not be wasted, and it couldn’t have been better if he had planned all of this himself.
And maybe he had.
"What would you have me do, mortal?" The god asked.
"My life is yours," Xander/Kratos said, pledging his allegiance. "For the glory of Sparta!"
Ares laughed. "Granted." He said, "But no avatar of mine shall be without a true weapon of war!"
Summoning his harpies to fetch something for him, he sent them to go beyond the fires of Hades and into the great void of chaos.
Xander/Kratos stared in wonderment when the harpies returned, for they carried with them, chained blades of such a design that he had never seen before.
"These," Ares said by way of explanation as he gave them to Xander/Kratos. "Are the blades of chaos. Mystically forged in the deepest pits of Hades and chaos, only a few such weapons exist that a mortal can wield."
And then the chains wrapped themselves to Xander/Kratos’s forearms; pain searing him to the very bones the mystic chains bonded themselves to him. He grunted, but did not cry out, as the chains became his.
"Arise," Ares said, heralding the changing of Xander/Kratos’s life forever. "My magnificent warrior!"
Then time sped back to normal as Ares used his powers to destroy the enemy army, granting Xander/Kratos automatic victory that day. And so, the army of the favored champion of the god of war grew as their fame spread. And Xander/Kratos’s bloodlust equally matched his master’s, conquering all he saw before him.
The being that was once solely Alexander Harris suddenly realized that each atrocity Xander/Kratos did, did more than overshadow the scourge of Europe’s swath of destruction. It sickened him to the core, but he could not do more than watch the life that he did not live. The life that was now slowly becoming his as his own merged with Kratos, the Spartan Champion of Ares.
The Xander Harris many knew was dying, for innocence as such will never make it through the horrors that soon unfolded.
As time went, Ares had Xander/Kratos and his army to destroy villages gathering Athena’s favor. On one such attack run, he came across a village with a temple built to Athena, intent on burning it down, he strode forwards.
But as he drew closer, a sense of foreboding and no small amount of fear still him for the barest of instances.
The village oracle bared his way, saying: "Go no further, for within lies a danger you have never before faced."
Saying nothing, he roughly shoved her out of the way. Kicking the temple doors down, he immediately set to work. Without even a conscious thought, he slaughtered everything in his path as he moved towards the altar. So blind was he in his bloodlust that he did not realize exactly who were the last two souls he cut down until the blood had stopped flying, and the red haze of a man gone mad suddenly stilled at the sight before him.
The only thing heard thereafter, was the tortured, anguished scream of a blackened conscience waking up for the first time since it had been burned. For before him - among the slain - lay the two most important things he possessed aside from his obsession with conquest.
His wife, and child.
Their lives destroyed by his two hands. It was then that he realized that the god who saved him – giving everything, was also the one who damned him – and taken everything. His soul cried for justice an eternity after that.
"ARES!" Xander/Kratos screamed long into the night.
As the temple was slowly consumed in the flames of a funeral pyre, the former spartan moved to leave the accursed village, scattering his army to the four winds with his grief and rage till not a man under him was left.
The village oracle once again moved to bar his way, and this time, he stood before her, mute and dumb. "From this day forward," she began, "The mark of your terrible deeds will forever be upon your soul. Let the ashes of your wife and child stay fastened to your skin as a sign for all to see. And for you to remember it always."
And from the heavens, the ashes of his cremated wife and child rained down on him, enveloping him, changing him. So after the village oracle had said those words, the "Ghost of Sparta" was born. A man who was the walking dead!
So for the next ten years, as the nightmares of that day continually plagued him. He strove to atone for his sins, placing himself at the mercy of the gods. Becoming their champion, including Athena, the one being other than Hercules, whom Ares also hates.
But ten years was for naught. For no matter the task he did, or whatever wrong to set right, his sins were still unforgiven, and his ultimate desire was forever unfulfilled.
For he desired revenge, he wanted to kill a god.
He wanted to kill the god of war.
Ten years had passed. And then the gods called upon their champion once more for one last task. For Ares had decreed to lay waste to the ancient city of Athens.
Back at the waking world:
Giles was worried, as was the rest of the current Scooby gang were clustered around Xander’s still form in Giles’s apartment. Xander looked to be sleeping peaceably, but from time to time, they could see his face scrunch up in frustration and speak in a variety of languages, Greek foremost among them. It had been especially disturbing when he arched upwards and screamed out in anguish and anger, then cursing the name of the Ares. And equally disturbing was the fact he seemed to glow as a ghost like apparition of a Grecian Battle dress armor enveloped his supine form for a few seconds of his raging in his sleep, thus making Willow faint at the sight while the Slayer felt powerless at the situation.
After that episode, the young lad became eerily silent, resembling a man deep in slumber.
Back in Xander’s mind:
Xander/Kratos was not at all pleased as time passed, and the promises of the gods seemed to hold little meaning. For ten years since becoming their champion, not even once were his desires addressed. Despair and hope silently warred within him. He swept those thoughts for another time as concentrated on his current task.
Poseidon had tasked Xander/Kratos to rid the oceans of an insane King Sea Hydra as the creature started terrorizing the seven seas for unknown reasons. Appearing on the deck of one of the trapped ships, he readied himself for battle once again.
"Foul beasts!" He cried, as the ships were overrun with undead legions and some of Echidna’s brood. "I will send you back to the depths of Hades!"
The fight wasn’t overtly spectacular, he dealt with these kind of creatures before. As he swept them off the ship he was currently on, then he crossed over into the hull of the next one and came across a seaman as he trapped himself in the ship’s brig in hysterics at the sight of Xander/Kratos.
"Stay away!" the man screamed. "Stay away from me!"
The pale warrior neared the cage to see if he needed any help, only to draw back in surprise as the man’s madness focused on him.
"I know who you are Spartan!" the seaman backed away from the bars in fright. "I know what you’ve done. I’d rather die than be saved by you, Ghost of Sparta! So stay away"
And with that, the Spartan gave up and moved further into the upper decks of the ship, leaving the raving lunatic to his fate. A very small part of him wished he could join him in his madness, if he wasn’t already mad himself in his own personal quest.
As he made his way upwards, he encountered another ship latched beside this one via collision. This one was besieged by undead archers, while what was left of the crew huddled behind some very large cargo crates.
One of the crew looked up at the sound of someone landing near them, hope briefly flickering in his chest at the sight of one of the god’s champions.
"It's… It's you!" He said halfway in disbelief, "The visions, they were real! The gods came to me, told me that their champion will come and rescue us from the Hydra."
Xander/Kratos looks to the other side of the ship to see a row of undead archers striking down desperate sailors that were trying to take cover from the renewed onslaught.
"But your too late, we're pinned down!" the man continued in despair, grabbing hold of Xander/Kratos’s shoulders. "These creatures, they came from nowhere, the ships are all destroyed, all hope is lost Spartan, even for you." His next words were halted as a lucky arrow found its way onto the back of the man’s skull, killing him instantly.
Sighing at another wasted effort, he slid the body down and dodged his way towards the attackers, using the cargo crates as cover between his target as he moved onwards. Once he reached the end of his current gauntlet, he did a running jump as he dug in one of his blades onto the ship’s walls and hoisted himself up.
Once airborne for a short time, he whirled both of his blades out towards the opposition, dealing massive casualties even before he landed in an astounding display of airborne combat acrobatics that would make a Hollywood director puke-green with envy.
Once he landed, he could hear feminine screams coming from the upper deck cargo hold. Upon nearing the huge doors, he could make out what they were saying.
"Please! Is someone there? Someone get us out! Find the key! Find the key! They’re coming! No! No! Get us out! Get us out! "
Her pleas gurgled to a stop as he heard the muffled sound of a sword swinging as it hit its mark.
"Slavers." He spat out in disgust as he realized where he was by the mark on the door. "I’m on a damned slave ship!"
Spotting a nearby crow’s nest, he leapt up and leaped again as he made his way to the next ship in search for the captain of this slaver fleet. If that Hydra didn’t already eat him, Xander/Kratos would finish the job and kill that bastard himself!
His anger-fueled flight came to a stop as he reached a ship’s hold bearing the mark of Poseidon. Suddenly the room came alive with light, announcing the presence of Lord Poseidon, god ruler of the oceans and weather.
"Kratos," The god said, "This beast, this Hydra, it has terrorized my seas for far too long. Your skills are admirable, but you will need assistance, you will need the power of the gods. I gift to you the power of undersea lightning! Take this weapon Kratos, take this power, and use it to defeat your enemies."
Golden light surrounds the champion as the power known as Poseidon’s Rage fills him, allowing him to throw chained lightning blasts around a limited area of space. Limited as it may be, but whatever it touched will fry inside out without pause or mercy.
"Go with the gods, Kratos!" Poseidon said as he bid farewell, his presence fading into the mists. "Go forth in the name of Olympus!"
And so he went, using combinations of Poseidon’s Rage with good old-fashioned bladed attacks as he cut a swath of destruction until he reached the upper deck and found pandemonium when he arrived.
Two of the Hydra’s heads threw the ship’s crew in disarray, each of them praying, wailing, and desperate to escape their fate.
"Back, back!" One of them screeched as tried to run away, nearly running down the other as he, too, tried to scramble out of harm’s way "Get them away from me!"
"Why won't they die?!" the seaman who just threw a harpoon at one of the heads, seeing it hit but had little effect.
"It's the giant one, he keeps healing the others! Gaahhh!!"" his partner replied, gesturing out to sea before one of the heads swooped down and ate him.
"No." a voice said mournfully.
Kratos turned towards the sound and saw the person who he was looking for. The slave fleet’s captain, and around that misbegotten worm’s neck was the key to the cargo hold that held the female slaves!
"God..." A sailor who threw the harpoon said as he breathed his last, his wounds finally overcoming him.
The slave fleet captain, upon seeing this, became frightened and rans for his life, screaming rather piteously. "No! We'll never get out of here! Doomed, were doomed, were all dead!!"
The captain stops and begins beging Poseidon to save him, as an even greater Hydra rises from the sea before him.
"Poseidon..." He whispered "Save me!" Then the mammoth sea hydra swooped down and swallowed him while he screamed for help for the last time.
The final sailor was devoured soon after. Then it set its eye on Xander/Kratos.
The warrior grinned a death’s head grin, and charged the head that peeked from the deck of the ship, hitting it with chained lightning as the head’s wet body increased the damage. He sent one of the mystic blades flying overhead as it cut one of the large harpoons hanging above it, sending the heavy object crashing down into the head of the creature, pinning it to the deck. Once done, he did the same to the other head a few meters away, careful not to cut the head clean through because another would take its place. And then he went for the true head, the largest of them all, barely within reach from the ship. He climbed the main mast and then the battle was on!
The battle was as laughable as it was dangerous. The large sea hydra was smart enough to keep the rest of its body away from the ship, which made attacking it a little harder than most, only going in for the "lunge and bite" tactic. It could be also said that its bark was just as loud as its bite. The beast’s roar was enough to almost completely drive him off the narrow platform of the mast he stood on. And the stench was such that it could drive a saner man away faster than any chariot driven race at the coliseum.
Using a combination of the undersea lightning and the mystic blades’ chains stretched to their limits, Xander/Kratos was able to stun the creature, hook his blades across the jaws and ram the huge head onto the top of the mast, breaking it. While the creature was still dazed, he sought purchase as he lashed one chained blade deep into the upper neck and pulled himself towards it. Sailing through the air, he aimed his other blade and slammed it into one of its eyes, gauging it out in a bloody mess.
Not quite satisfied, he leaped back, throwing his blades once more to hook the jaws again and dragged it down with him as he fell, his target, to skewer the creature onto the broken mast with the weight of the fall.
And he did it! He felt the impact jar his very bones, but he had to hold on just to be sure that the creature would not get back up, EVER. So with a final roar, the great beast enraged by unknown means, finally died.
Chest heaving in exertion, he thought he heard a faint human voice coming from the mouth of the dead carcass of the once great beast.
"Help, help me!" the voice cried. "Gods help me! Please! I'm begging you, help me out of here!
Xander/Kratos then proceeded down the hydra's throat and finds that the ship captain is still alive, so he pulled him up by the key hanging from his neck.
"Thank you!" The old mariner said. "Thank the gods you came back for me!"
Xander/Kratos pulled the captain so they are face to face as he remembered why he was after the key in the first place. "I didn't come back for you!" And without mercy, the battle-hardened warrior ripped the key from the captain’s necklace and let him fall to the Hydra's acidic stomach.
"Noooo!!" The doomed mariner wailed all the way down the dead hydra’s gullet.
With the captain's key in hand, Xander/Kratos made his way back to the locked door where the women were last taking refuge. Slipping the key on the outer door, he strode inside in a dead run, hoping it wasn’t too late to free them. As he neared the hold, he heard more screams for help.
More speed poured from his feet at the sounds, Xander/Kratos crashed through the door to find the women being slaughtered by undead legionaries. And without thought, the spartan viciously sliced through the undead soldiers, then looked down at those he couldn't save. They were slaughtered like animals, the victims laid before him, a reminder of his own past, a past that would most likely haunt him for eternity. Shaking his head, he left the doomed vessels for his own ship anchored nearby to continue his quest for redemption and release from his cursed madness. For the sea was his only solace. Endlessly sailing from one harbor to the next, in service to the Gods of Olympus, all his hopes rested with them.
Xander/Kratos sat at the edge of a bed, woken up by restless nightmares from his past, he jerked to the right as he remembered the two naked women lying next to him as an empty wine cup fell on the floor from the ship’s gentle rocking. No matter how much wine he consumed or how many women he took to his bed, nothing on earth could rid him of the horrors that plagued his mind. Still he could see them, still he could see HER.
Frustrated, he screamed the name of the god that had become his patron over the years, no doubt watching over him this very minute.
"ATHENA!" With that, on the deck of the ship, a statue of Athena comes to life. The wariior felt her arrival and rushed towards the upper decks.
"Ten years, Athena!" Xander/Kratos growled as he burst out of his ship’s hold, stalking towards the glowing statue. "I have faithfully served the gods for -ten years
-. When will you relieve me of these nightmares?"
Athena then spoke, "We request one final task of you Kratos, your greatest challenge awaits... in Athens. Where even now, my brother, Ares lays siege. As we speak, Athens is on the verge of destruction. It is the will of Ares, my great city falls."
The Spartan looks on impassively, his curiosity allowing Athena to continue uninterrupted. "Zeus has forbidden the gods from waging war on each other. That is why it must be -you-, Kratos. Only a mortal, trained by a god has a chance at defeating Ares."
The chance he had been waiting for had finally arrived! Excited, he spoke to her in measured tones of determination. "And if I am able to do this, to kill a god, then the visions, they will end?"
Athena nodded, "Complete this final task, and the past that consumes you will be forgiven."
The unknown spirit within Kratos, whose name was Alexander smelled something fishy about that promise. It was too broad a statement for one thing; she did not specify just what exactly that kind of reward that would entail. But Xander had no choice in the matter, he was just an "observer", his spirit riding inside the memories of another.
Athena said, "Have faith Kratos, the gods do not forget those who come to their aid." ending her visit the way she came, the glow of the statue fading
Leaving the rotting carcass of the Hydra behind, Xander/Kratos set sail once more. His greatest challenge; and freedom from his growing madness lay before him, in the ancient city...
The city of Athens...
The moment Xander/Kratos reached the harbor, the fight was already on. He had encountered a slew of undead legionnaires that moved to bar him access to the city. Quickly dispatching them, he was then attacked by a band of Minotaurs after they had killed the two fleeing guards.
"Merciful Zeus!" the Xander part of his collective mind said in dumbfounded shock. "Ares is going all out in trying to eradicate Athena’s city. This is insane, even for him. This petty jealousy simply makes no sense."
The moment he reached the outskirts of the city gates, which lay towards Athens, he got a big surprise. The guards were screaming for help behind a wrecked gate, warning all for all and sundry that Ares was slowly decimating the city. Their manic cries were cut short as a pair of undead legionnaires jumped them from behind. Then he had his next surprise; four lower classes of Cyclops, over ten feet in height were patrolling the area between him and the broken gate leading to the city.
Xander/Kratos let loose a chilling battlecry and charged the closest monster, letting fly the enchanted blades tied to him through equally enchanted chains.
He struck the beast hard and fast, never giving it an inch in which to retaliate. Jabbing it across the mid-section, Xander/Kratos quickly rolled underneath the Cyclops and attacked it from behind. Digging his blades into the creature’s tough back, then he hoisted himself up, and using the thing’s neck as an impromptu trampoline, he leapt and slammed both blades into the Cyclops’s eye on his way down. The blades digging deep enough to reach the beast’s brain as well, killing it instantly.
By then, the remaining Cyclops had noticed his spectacular arrival and lumbered over towards him to do battle. The "Ghost of Sparta" did some fancy footwork, using their slow speed against them; he darted in and out of their combined charge, often times letting them hack each other’s bits off. Once done, he moved in to finish them off, roughly going for the eyes whenever he could. That done, he quickly stormed the side passageways that opened up and out to the upper floors of a building beside the gate. Using a siege harpoon with ropes found on the edge of the building; he made his way inwards and beyond the wrecked gates while battling whatever forces Ares set up to guard them.
The grand scope of Ares’s madness was not clear to him until he reached a place called "Suicide Bluffs" that overlooked the grand city. There stood the mad god of war, towering over the ancient city; trampling whatever army Athens had under his enormous feet, watching in glee as his own armies tore the city apart piece by piece.
"God of war," Xander/Kratos muttered over the carnage unfolding before him, whilst remembering clearly the same carnage he once wrought as Ares’s former champion, and the grave consequences of his rash allegiance to the mad god. "For what you did that night, this city will be your grave."
Clearing his head from his reverie, he continued inwards in his quest. At present, he set his goals to reaching the Oracle of Athens for a way to stop Ares’s advances, for surely, the Oracle would know of such a way. But therein also lies the problem, Ares might have already been alerted to his presence, so his way would undoubtedly be filled with Ares’s vermin – excuse me, the "Army of Ares".
A part of Xander’s sarcasm surfaced for a short while as they both shared a universal thought; they both hated being right on that score all the time.
Crossing the war-torn city was a challenge in itself as he had to find alternate routes in search for the Oracle. Along the way, Aphrodite had gifted him with the power to freeze his enemies for short time after he killed the current reigning queen of the Gorgons and offered her head to the goddess. Then as he roamed inwards, he was again gifted with another power, this time from Zeus himself. The almighty king of the gods had personally gifted him with the use of his mighty thunderbolts.
And on a slightly strange side-note; Xander/Kratos also came across a creepy sort of gravedigger as he was passing the city proper, destroying a battalion of harpies as cleared the square.
"Good." The gravedigger said, eyeing the Spartan with a calculated gleam. "Very good. Athena has chosen wisely, I knew it was so."
"Who are you?" Though while Kratos didn’t even know this old man but he seemed to know everything about him.
"So you have the blades," He gestured towards his apearance. "The skin as pale as the moon. But you are not one of the dead, perhaps Athens will survive at that." Then the gravedigger laughed as if the destruction of Athens is a joke.
"Hahahaha," He bellowed, "But be careful! Don't want you dieing before I'm done with this grave."
"A grave?" Queried a confused champion. ":n the middle of a battle? Who will occupy it old man?"
"You will my son."
A shocked look appeared on Kratos' face upon hearing the utter conviction from the strange gravedigger.
"Hm," The old man said. "I've got a lot of digging still to do indeed. All will be revealed in good time, and when all appears to be lost Kratos, I will be there to help."
Out of curiousity about the grave, Kratos tries speaking with the gravedigger again, only to receive this as a reply.
"Don't disturb me now, son! I've got my work to do, and you have yours! And precious little time left to do either!"
But Xander/Kratos couldn’t stop thinking about the grave in his morbid curiosity, so he talked to the man again.
"Don't forget me, Kratos." He said, turning his back on the warrior, a plain signal that the conversation was at an end. "We shall meet again, when you need my help the most."
Xander/Kratos, more puzzled than ever decided to concentrate on his main quest of finding the oracle rather than the ramblings of some non-sense drivel about a lunatic gravedigger digging a grave for him. Only then after applying the gifts the gods gave him at opportune times, the search had become a bit easier until he finally found the Oracle.
And it pissed him off when right just when he had found her; Ares’s damned "pet" harpies swept her off away from him. Letting loose a groan in annoyance, he gave chase, momentarily ripping one of them to shreds with his bare hands when they dared to get too close. He impaled another harpy with one of his blades; using the creature like a flail, he swung the impaled harpy in a wide circle, clearing a path before him as he slammed it bodily against its kind until it and the rest died.
He almost lost sight of her for a few minutes until he heard a scream by one of the courtyards. When he stepped out, he found that the harpies left her hanging, literally, from a length of rope high above what used to be an enclosed garden/waterfall. Wasting no time, he quickly made his way towards her just in time to break her fall.
And with that simple act alone, he had set in motion, events that would lead to his own downfall.
"Kratos," The Oracle said, "As Athena herself had foretold, but you are late, perhaps too late to save Athens. Or is it Athens you have come to save?"
After thanking the "Ghost of Sparta", the Oracle was a bit curious, so she touched her rescuer’s face. In that instant, the Spartan’s past was laid bare to her. And when the Oracle looked into his soul, she saw a beast as well as a man. Once a captain of a spartan army, Kratos had begun his command with only fifty soldiers, but soon his numbers grew to the thousands. His tactics were brutal, but effective. Drunk by power, he was feared by all, except one, his wife was the only one to brave his fury. His desire for conquest knew no bounds, but that which he desired would ultimately consume him.
"By the gods!" The oracle gasped. "Why would Athena send one such as you?"
To which, Xander/Kratos replied; "Stay out of my head, woman." He growled, grabbing the hands touching him.
"Chose your enemies wisely, Kratos." The Oracle admonished. "Your brute strength alone will not be enough to destroy Ares. Only one item in the world will allow you to defeat a god: Pandora’s Box. Which lies far beyond the walls of Athens, hidden by the gods across the desert to the east. But be warned, Kratos. Many have gone in search for Pandora’s Box, none have returned."
And then she showed him to an abandoned entryway, which led to the sewers of Athens.
"Follow these sewers till you reach the end of the tunnels that leads to the east." She said. "And once you have reached the exit leading to city entrance, go up and turn right, towards the mystic walls that point to the Desert of Lost Souls. There you will find the first clues in finding Pandora’s Box.
Nodding to show his understanding, Xander/Kratos stepped through the doors and went on his way. He should have stayed a little longer, for if so, he would have heard her last words meant only for the other soul joined to his: Xander Harris.
"Take care, young Alexander." The Oracle said, for not only did she see Kratos’s life, but also glimpses of the young man who would one day share the Spartan’s memories in the future. "For the mantle you will don will be both a great blessing, as well as a great curse."
The city sewers and aqueducts were easy enough to traverse, and the Oracle was right. Around the exit, which lay beyond the sword-bridge lighthouse, he came upon huge gates that slowly opened to bid him an ominous welcome.
On the way across the desert, he came upon Athena’s statue facing towards the vague direction of Athens. Xander/Kratos went towards it and spoke. "The Oracle spoke of Pandora’s Box, can it be real?"
The statue glowed, announcing the presence of Athena as she answered. "The Box exists, it is the most powerful weapon a mortal can wield."
"And with such a weapon," Xander/Kratos said. "I could defeat Ares."
"With the Box," the goddess continued. "Many things become possible, and so it is hidden well; far across the Desert of Lost Souls. There is safe passage through the deadly sands, but only those who hear and follow the Siren’s song will discover it. You must find the Siren’s Kratos, for only they can guide you to Cronus, the Titan."
The already pale Spartan paled further in shock. "A Titan lives?!"
"Cronus is the last." Athena explained. "Zeus has commanded him to wander the desert endlessly. The temple of Pandora chained to his back, until the swirling sands rip the very flesh from his bones. Stay true to the song of the Siren, Kratos. Your journey begins here. Pray it leads you back to Athens, with Pandora’s Box."
So Xander/Kratos gritted his teeth and shielded his eyes against the harsh winds as he strode through the Desert of Lost Souls, the howling winds and poor visibility made tracking anything a near-impossibility. He could only hope that the Athenian Oracle and Athena herself were right about this. Those blasted Desert Sirens ought to be around here somewhere. He grunted in surprise as he tripped over a piece of broken masonry directly in front of him. Staggering upwards, he was able to make out a broken-down statue of a forgotten king, finding the head he tripped over lying on the ground beside it.
Resisting the urge to kick it into oblivion, he plowed forwards once more into the desert sands until he came upon another statue – this time, it was Athena’s. And around the area was a haunting melody that permeated the air – driving a chilling calm in the face of the sandblasting winds. Barely visible beyond it were huge doors that appeared out of the sands as if by magic. Loitering around the area was what made that sound as well - a svelte looking female, her windblown hair covering her face, her body covered with tattered clothes – and she was singing. Curious as to what a woman was doing here, he neared her enough to be able to touch her. The warrior immediately stepped back as she lurched forward, allowing him full view of her distorted face.
The Desert Siren attacked, her windblown hair revealing the distorted face of nightmares. Grotesquely shaped mouth full of fangs opened wide in a silent scream of perversity, eyeless sockets seeking nothing and everything all at once – and this time, they sought the interloper known as the "Ghost of Sparta", hands and claw-like fingers outstretched in a manner that was neither benign nor beseeching. Xander/Kratos dodged a hastily thrown plasma burst coming out of her outstretched hands. Reacting instinctively, he used low powered charges of his thunderbolts to stun her, then closed in for the kill – ripping the Siren’s head off with hi s bare hands to effectively silence her. Once done, the Siren’s essence or spirit exploded out of her body and flew straight to the huge doors barely visible in the distance, setting alight one of the hidden jewels imbedded in the doors’ recesses. He neared the statue of Athena once more and heard Athena’s voice saying that he must first destroy the rest of the Desert Sirens guarding the doors as sacrifices for safe passage beyond the swirling sands. And he’d have to find them first to do so, two more to say the least.
"Great." Xander/Kratos said. "How in Zeus’s name do I find anything in all this?"
The Spartan sighed; it seems there was no escaping this. So with a doubtful, yet determined stride, he went in search for the last two of the Desert Sirens guarding the doors leading onwards for hi quest.
Once all of the three guardians were dead, their released spirits served as the key to open the hidden doors, showing him the way even from a great distance. Satisfied that his eyes were not playing tricks on him, he ran through it and came out of The Desert of Lost Souls.
The chambers within gave him a brief respite, but he knew he had to carry on. Getting back on his feet, he came to the rear of the building and saw a large horn sitting in front of a perpetual sandstorm that glared behind it. He blew on the horn and the sands blocking his egress parted before him like the red seam, allowing him safe passage through. Mildly pleased at the blatant show of power from the gods, he made his way across the sands, his own personal Moses between the walls of sand. On the other side, he saw an even bigger horn standing close to the edge of a very high cliff. Shrugging, he blew on that as well and beheld the most awesome sight ever witnessed.
Cronus, the Titan defeated by his own son, Zeus, came lumbering into view from out of the swirling desert. The huge giant was crawling on all fours, with Pandora’s Temple chained on his back, as Athena had said. The area that housed the temple itself, was a veritable mountain with sheer cliffs on either side. And the temple, the temple looked to be work of art; a combination of madness and sheer brilliance. The vision left him in awe. He waited for the lumbering giant to come near, he then took a running leap and snagged one of the smaller, broken chains pinning the mountain to the titan’s form. Once finding a safe handhold, he began to climb.
The ascent took three days for him to even reach the outskirts of the entrance to the temple grounds, resting briefly at certain intervals, he continued his way upwards. Once at the landing leading upwards, the desolation he saw around him brought home the reality that this was a journey in which he would have to succeed, or die trying in the attempt.
As he was about to attempt scaling the huge gate leading to the entrance of the temple, caught sight of a figure hauling corpses into a bonfire just off to the side of the far right of the temple. Curious, he moved closer to better inspect the morbid task. Upon closer inspection, he found an animated corpse dragging another corpse and showing into the bonfire.
Now that, he thought to himself, is a cruel sense of irony: a cursed corpse burning other cursed corpses that either littered the temple grounds or that the "body burner" (as he dubbed the animated bag of flesh and bones as it flambé’d his dead comrades) had carried them here. As soon as that thought gathered, it was quickly dismissed as he saw harpies arrive and deposit a few more bodies into the pile while the "body burner" hoisted another corpse into the flames. He also noticed that a few of them had been fairly recent, indicating that he was not the only one who had braved the temple in the last few days.
The body burner looked up at the unexpected noise of someone drawing closer and was mildly amused that another benighted fool was once more about to do the dangerously impossible: attempting to plunder the Temple of Pandora of it’s carefully guarded secrets.
"So, you think you can conquer the temple of the gods do you?" Body Burner said to the Spartan. "It's never been done you know. Sooner or later, the harpies will bring what's left of you, back for me to burn"
As the body burner talked, two more harpies passed and dropped a body for him to burn. "The gods hid Pandora's Box in here so no mortal would ever claim its power." The body burner continued. "And yet, year after year I open the gate for more and more soldiers and place more and more bodies on these fires.
As daunting as the scene looked, it did nothing to dissuade the former Spartan. In fact, it made him even more determined to do whatever it took to get Pandora’s Box and confront Ares once and for all. Seeing the look on Xander/Kratos’s face, the body burner leaned in for some advice, and his confession. "It's always the same." He said, "Madmen and fools seeking glory, I know. As you can see by my... somewhat disheveled state, I was the first to attempt the temple and the first to die. The gods punished me for my failure and now I must tend to all who have followed me and perished."
"Pathos Verdes III, The architect who built this temple was a zealot. He lived only to serve the gods but went mad trying. The rumor is that he's still alive, still inside... still trying to appease the gods who abandoned him years ago... " He continues, "If I were you, I'd leave now. But I can see you are determined, very well. " Then body burner had threw a skull up towards the harpies circling the pyre, commanding them to open the gates leading to the temple proper, he bid Xander/Kratos farewell and returned to his duty of disposing the other dead warriors.
"May the gods grant you strength to conquer the perils that lay before you, good luck spartan."
Once inside, he immediately set himself to task the dangers of Pandora’s Temple.
The challenge of the gods awaited him as he entered.
Out in the real world:
Giles was getting worried, it had been at least over a day since Xander had collapsed, and there was still no sign of him waking. Another thing to be worried about was that the young man was undergoing some sort of physical change. Whereas Xander began as a young man on his way to having a muscular physique prior to this incident, to actually getting the build most athletes trained for months almost overnight as his body was surrounded by a soft golden glow. No, while he didn’t actually become overly large like that Arnold chap who played in the Terminator movies, he looked to be more like a world class athlete. Judging by whom Xander went as, Giles could only surmise that Xander would eventually have the physique of a true, natural Olympiad.
Back in Xander/Kratos’s memories:
No sooner had he stepped within, the challenges the gods laid inside gave new meaning to the term "Bored beyond belief". The chosen warrior shook his head, the gods need a new hobby, he thought as he gazed at the first of a series of puzzles both planned and devised by the gods and the mad architect, Pathos Verdes III. This is going to take a while, he thought.
And so with a burning determination, he tackled the puzzles and dangers within the labyrinthine temple with a single-minded obsession.
From what seemed like an eternity later, the cursed Spartan had survived all of the dangers the mad architect had devised into the Temple of Pandora, at last he stood in front of his goal. The insane traps, and puzzles festooned inside this mad place brought together by the gods and their chose architect "Pathos Verdes III" severely strained his abilities above and beyond the breaking point.
At least the dangers were justified by its rewards. On several points, some of the gods lent him a hand in some ways. The goddess Artemis had given him, the very sword she used to slay a Titan. Poseidon again bequeathed him with another ability, one that would allow him to breathe underwater indefinitely. And lastly, Hades, lord of the underworld, gave him command of one of his armies.
As challenging and perilous the journey towards his goal, he quickly learned of the continuing madness that plagued the architect when he incorporated into the making of this insane temple that grew with each task. Pathos was a rare genius to have built this grand a monument. At last he understood why Pandora’s Box was so sought after. For as Xander/Kratos rose through the massive temple constructed to guard Pandora's Box, he realized it was a monument, not only to the gods of Olympus, but also to the growing madness of the warden who designed it. He conquered the lower floors of Pandora's Temple, but what lay in wait above would detest even both Xander and Kratos.
Strewn amongst the mad locale, were the mutilated bodies of Athens’ very own soldiers, sent here by the Oracle in advance to help stem the tide of battle. He knew by whose hand they slain by.
He could easily recognize his former master’s deft touch laid amongst the carnage before him. A grim reminder of the price he paid for personal glory, and what bitter fruit he had reaped.
"By the gods," he breathed, "What have I become?"
After all the traps, puzzles, and hindrances from a certain mad god of war, and the huge cyborg-like Minotaur, he had finally found Pandora’s Box.
Xander/Kratos’s inner mind was awhirl with awe at the size of the thing. This Pandora chick must’ve been over thirty feet tall or more, he thought. The box’s itself looked like a grand coffin that was nearly chest level to him. It was made out of some unidentifiable metal that gleamed even in the dim light of the torches surrounding the chamber keeping it from the outside world. Its glass-like sides barely showing the unfathomable energies within that glowed with a fiery kind of divine light. A foreboding sense of unease rippled through his very core and he wasn’t sure if it was his own thoughts or Kratos that sensed that this box was too much power for either man or god to wield alone.
"Now how in Hades am I going to get THAT thing out of here?!" The sudden thought struck the combined spirits of Xander and Kratos. The was no way he was going to drag that huge box back through all the traps, puzzles, and monsters that still littered his way to get to the box in the first place. The fact that at least a fourth of the way to this very chamber were water hazards made him groan out loud. Not to mention the damnable fact that he was inside a man-made mountain which was affixed on the back of a dethroned Titan sentenced to spend its last days crawling across the desert floor. If only the one who designed this accursed temple was still alive, he’d strangle him with his very own entrails! As it was, Xander/Kratos used that certain mad architect’s own petrified skull as one of the keys for entering the box’s final chamber. Too bad he didn’t have Icarus’s wings to help him out, but it was doubtful that he’d be able to even lift it and fly it out of here.
Just as he reached out and touched the box, a loud rumbling reverberated across the temple and the chamber he was standing in lurched and sank downwards. The Xander part of his 20th century mind hazarded a guess that the entire Box chamber also doubled as a freight elevator.
At least getting it through the temple would be easy, he thought, so now he’d only have to worry about getting it beyond the temple doors, and off the mountain, and off the Titan’s back altogether.
Yeah, right. As if anything about this latest mission was a walk in the park.
Once the freight elevator settled down in the entrance chamber, he slowly began pushing the huge box out of the temple. The cursed Spartan was thinking of ways of how to bring it back to Athens. But then the next thing he knew; something massive struck him, sending him slamming back into the far wall, pinning him above the entrance leading into the first of the temple’s insane puzzles. The pain sending him screaming as he futilely struggled to free himself from what appeared to be a piece of a massive broken pillar.
Back in Athens as short while ago, when Ares had gotten wind that his former chosen avatar had found Pandora’s Box.
"So little Spartan," Ares said. "You have recovered Zeus’s precious box. But you will not live long enough to use it. I will see to that."
Then the god of war picked up one of the massive fallen pillars that strangely looked like an oversized stake, and let fly with a slight grunt towards the direction of the temple. The pillar flew straight and true.
"Goodbye, Spartan, may you rot in the depths of Hades for all Eternity."
Piercing the air like an ancient guided missile, it struck the surprised Spartan without warning as he was pushing Pandora’s Box towards the exit. The broken pillar slammed into him, sending back and pinned him to the far back wall. And as the life bled out of him, the nightmares that plagued him for ten years never leaving him even in death. The Ghost of Sparta had failed.
And with that failure: his death.
Out in the real world:
Giles was alarmed when the glow surrounding the young man suddenly grew brighter and then started pulsing, acting like a heartbeat. Xander’s face was screwed into extreme pain and for a few seconds, he sat up, eyes slamming open and he screamed. The glow flared, engulfing the young man completely. Then suddenly, he vanished, and then reappeared with a soft steady glow as it was before the flare-up, seemingly asleep once more.
But Giles also noticed one thing, which made him cry out in shock.
Xander wasn’t breathing.
For once, Xander couldn’t feel the omnipresent memories of Kratos joined to his own consciousness. And as much as the memories were disturbing at best, the current predicament he was in didn’t help him any. It wasn’t every day you get stabbed by a freaking huge pillar thrown, he guessed correctly, by a demented war god. He could have sworn he saw and felt Kratos die and drag Xander down with him in his death throes. Now the young man found himself in free-fall over what looked like and ocean of blood and fire, complete with a bizarre looking boat off in the.
Hades, his mind supplied. This place almost looked just the way Kratos’s mind pictured it would look like. Since he was in free-fall without a parachute, there was nothing he could do. But then all of the sudden he came to a jarring stop in mid-fall as a voice spoke to him from beside him.
"Well, now you’re kind of early to be here aren’t you?"
Xander was confused and a little amused at the same time as he took in the figure before him. What the fuck was Alan Rickman doing here, he thought, with all four huge wings stretched out behind him? The wings were not at all out of place with the custom tailored suit he wore, making him look all the more impressive.
In answer to his unspoken question, "Alan Rickman" introduced himself with a smirk. "I am Le Metatron, the Voice of the one true GOD. Welcome to the Grecian Underworld."
Xander’s jaw hung wide open, and it would’ve hit the ground if there were one within reach.
Back in the real waking world:
Giles was beginning to panic; he’d tried most of the minor spells in trying to revive the young man caught within a cocoon of golden energy. Spell after minor spell had no effect, so in desperation, the man formerly known as "Ripper" – a mage of terrible power and reputation amongst the European demonic underworld – embraced his old mantle of power once more, this time to save a life rather than to end it.
Just as he was about to release a phoenix spell of revival, a soft, yet commanding voice halted him.
"Please don’t." The voice said in gentle, yet firm tones. "At least not until they’ve finished having a word with him."
"And who are they?" Giles said, eyes alight with mystic energy waiting to be released. Hands poised to both for attack and self-defense if need be. "And for that matter, who or what are you?"
"You can call me Michael." The being said, unfurling two large wings from under his long trench coat as proof of what he was.
"The Archangel?" Rupert Giles said in astonishment, his powers momentarily leaving him as he got the second shock of the night.
"Of course," the Archangel said, eyes twinkling in secret mirth. "Who were you expecting, John Travolta?"
"Let Xander finish what is there to be finished." Michael said, "Take care of him and his friends, Rupert. The world may soon have need of his new gifts."
And without another word, the Archangel Michael vanished, leaving a stunned librarian with an unconscious Xander alone in his apartment.
It was all too much for the normally unflappable Englishman to take in, so he fainted.
"You have got to be kidding me!" Xander exclaimed as he hung in mid-air in stunned disbelief, "You’re for real? I mean, I know I’ve seen Dogma for the over a dozen times, but this is ridiculous. Oh, man. I really must be losing it."
The Seraph actually barked in laughter at the mere mention of the movie. "The movie was quite fascinatingly funny, and it could be taken with a grain of salt or two in some areas." He said. "But that’s what you get for visiting someone who was drunk up to the gills while trying to fulfill the thirteenth apostle’s request."
Xander just continued staring at the obvious Seraphim in mute disbelief, an effort of pure will in trying not to piss off an angel with his smart mouth.
"In any case," The Voice continued. "We just wanted to see how you were doing in all of this. And besides, the Lord only knows why this had to happen. And then not to mention that some of the PTB had you slated for early termination before this, only to have their plans dashed by your costume choice. They figured you going for a soldier, but none of them could have foreseen you going as that particular soldier though."
"Hey, don’t blame me." Xander replied, "I thought it was cool to be some sort of champion until I actually found out firsthand just how badly needed Kratos’s redemption was from his point of view."
The head Seraph nodded in understanding. "And that is why some things are never meant to be known after all. Personally, I’d blame the muse for this. You’d never have found that ancient Greek tome in that Watcher’s cache if she hadn’t conveniently placed it under your very nose when you opened the delivery crate when inspiration hit you to seek out Watcher information for costume ideas."
"Huh?" said the confused young man.
"She knew of your fervent desire to help the slayer out and decided to see if she could do something about it." Metatron explained. "She enlisted Janus in setting the whole thing up, but they could never have thought it would turn out this way. But then again, It’s a good guess that our "Boss" might have had something to do with it. Lord only knows what else can happen."
"God?" Xander said, eyes going wide as diner plates. "But why me?"
"And why not?" The Seraphim countered. "Granted its not something I would like to have happened, but there you are, gifted with the strangest sort of luck any mortal should never have, aside from Chance Harper, that is."
"The cryptic bullshit is getting kinda old," Xander groused, folding his arms across his chest, trying an air of annoyance while suspended high above the fabled river Styx. "Especially when I’m sorta hanging up here, literally."
"There will be time enough for answers later." Le Metatron said. "I just wanted to have a look at you before you moved on to finish this part of your journey. And to wish you luck, for not many get this type of dubious honor. You won’t remember much of this conversation anyway until we see each other again. Now off you go, time to finish this and learn all you need to learn."
Xander just stared at the Voice of God blankly, confusion and anger warring on his features. Before he could ask another question, whatever was holding him up suddenly let go and he continued his downward plunge into the river Styx – this time, he was once again joined as an observer/unwilling participant into Kratos’s memories as the cursed Spartan fell into the depths of Hades.
."AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH, you sonuvabitch!" Xander screamed in his seeming mental prison as he saw through Kratos’s eyes the ever-nearing river of the dead.
Downwards, Xander/Kratos fell. Frustration and anger at such an ignoble death pouring from him in waves at the way Ares had cheated – yet again. This latest cowardly act bore fruit within to do what he can to make sure the god of war will pay, even if he had to fight all the beings in Hades by himself to do so.
As he fell, he spotted something that looked like a bone ledge with a man trying to climb up. Said person was also slipping as his own sweat was mixing in with the already slick surface, his hold almost loosening as the wayward Spartan made a grab for the man’s legs. Xander/Kratos began to climb up and over the hapless person, who surprisingly, was the captain of one of the ships being attacked by the sea hydra Poseidon asked Kratos to take care of. It was no question why this particular captain was here after Kratos sent him plummeting down the dead hydra’s acidic belly, for the ship captain was naught but a slaver.
And all spartans hated slavers.
"Let go fool!" The ship captain said in desperation. "You will drag us both down into that cursed river!"
"There is a task left for me above." Replied Xander/Kratos, using one of the mystic blades as leverage, he sank it into the dead captain’s back and climbed all the way up. "I will see it completed."
The ship captain was shocked to recognize the voice and looked up to see the very man who sent him here in the first place.
"You again?!" the doomed captain exclaimed.
The ashen-clad warrior’s only response was to kick the dead man straight into the river below, heedless of the other man’s pleas, then turned and almost let out a loud groan. The entire way was littered with death traps, platforms, and most of all, the monsters that guard against egress from Hades’ domain. Was this really Hades, or some sick fool’s twisted idea of a nightmare? He sighed and started the arduous task of battling and outwitting his way out of the underworld.
"There’s got to be an easier way out of here." Xander/Kratos thought, remembering the stories of how Hercules braved the underworld more than once, coming out relatively intact. But then, you probably have to be the son of a god to do it.
After what seemed like hours, Xander/Kratos finally came upon the steps leading upwards, tired, but never spent enough. He would face down Ares, or die again in trying. He did not care for himself as long as the god of war died by his hands.
At the base, Xander/Kratos looked up, and up, and UP. And they weren’t exactly steps either, they were handholds – with all manner of obstacles all around it to make sure you think more than twice about climbing out of the underworld. This time, he really did let out a groan.
"Oh come on!" Xander cried within his silent position as he watched and felt Kratos’s annoyance once again. "This is just as worse as it was going through that damned temple!"
But Kratos was resolute in his resolve to see this to the very end. So he began to climb to the highest peak in all of Hades. When he reached the highest point, he saw a portal open up above him and a rope dropped from within, easily reachable from his position.
Not looking a gift chariot in the mouth, Xander/Kratos took a deep breath and began to climb once more, for beyond the portal he saw a glimpse of Athens burning.
Time was running out for Athena’s fair city.
When Xander/Kratos finally returned from emerged from the portal leading out of Hades, his eyes widened as he recognized where he was in Athens. There before him was the very same old man he had met outside the temple of the oracle that said he was building a grave for him. And that meant that he did just came out of the self-same "grave" the old man was laboriously digging a while back.
"Ah, Kratos, and not a moment too soon, I only finished digging just a moment ago." The gravedigger said, happily greeting the Spartan back from the underworld.
"Who ARE you?" Xander/Kratos asked in hushed tones of disbelief.
"Ah, now that is an interesting question." The old man hedged, looking to his right, a distracted air about him as he saw Ares continue to destroy the city. "But for now, you must hurry, Athens needs you."
"But how did you know I…" Xander/Kratos began, very confused about how the old man knows so much.
"Athena isn't the only god keeping watch on you, Spartan." Was the only reply he receives from the old man, his eyes taking on an affectionate look that unnerved the warrior for a second. "Complete your task, Kratos, and the gods will forgive your sins!"
Xander/Kratos was then distracted by the chaos and looked away from the old man to take stock of the situation. And when Xander/Kratos turns back to the old man, he finds him gone.
The very silence that signaled the elderly gravedigger’s mysterious departure sent the coldest chill up his spine. Shrugging it off, he turned his thoughts to the task currently at hand once more, his quest to kill a god.
Elsewhere, the elderly gravedigger smiled; his eyes alight with tendrils of pure power. "And good luck to you too, young Alexander."
As the cursed warrior made his way through the rubble-strewn city, dispatching monsters in his mad rush to get to that part of Athens Ares was currently destroying, he could only pray that he wasn’t too late. As he passed the area leading towards the desert sands, he took a left and came to a grim tableau. The very sight of the person writhing pitifully upon the marble floor reminding him of what he had lost in his insane quest for power and glory.
There, the Oracle of Athens lay, dying from several wounds. She looked up at the sound of approaching footsteps and saw the last thing she thought she would see in Athens’ final hours.
"Kratos..." she coughed, choking in her own blood. "Returned, but too late... Ares has taken Athens... there is no more hope... no hope... "
"Ares… is victorious… we… failed…" The cursed Spartan was struck dumb as the Oracle of Athens died at his feet, flashes of his own wife dying in a similar fashion striking him into immobility. The full horrors of the night returned, fresh as the day he struck them. The emotional agony almost driving Xander/Kratos to his knees.
Xander, in his hapless connection to the ancient warrior, was nearly gibbering as emotions and nightmares that weren’t really his crashed into him again and again. The very act tearing apart large pieces of the innocence in his soul.
As both souls righted themselves without being aware of each other’s doing so, both with similar cries for vengeance at the injustice done to Kratos’s family. With an inhuman snarl of defiance, the warrior quashed down the horrors plaguing him and stalked off to finally put an end to the madness attacking Athens – and his own shattered soul.
It was time for the god of war to die.
Xander/Kratos had traversed the Desert of Lost Souls, bested the deadly traps of Pandora's Temple, and escaped Hades itself. There was but one task left. Xander/Kratos finally reached the cliffs overlooking the Aegean Sea, the view showing Ares laying waste to the seaports below.
The god of war paused in his rampage, gazing up at the stars, and began to gloat. His voice echoing all over Greece, his arms showing all that he had laid in ruins "Zeus! Do you see now what your son can do? You cast your favor on Athena, but her city lies in ruins before me!" He dangles the Box of Pandora in his other hand, holding it upward in triumph. "And now, even Pandora's Box is mine! Would you have me use it against Olympus itself?!"
Then something made the god of war turn, and he saw a familiar face gazing up at him with hate-filled eyes, standing upon the nearest cliff.
"Kratos?" Ares said, surprised. "Returned even from the underworld." Turning his gaze once more skywards, he bellowed. "Is this the best you can do father? You send a broken mortal to defeat //ME//? The God of War!"
While Ares continued mocking the very gods themselves, Xander/Kratos charges a lightning bolt of Zeus’s Fury and aims it at the chains holding the Box to Ares’s hands. Once free, Pandora’s Box plummets towards the Athenian shores. Quickly, Xander/Kratos dashed downwards, running for all it was worth towards the enchanted Box. Grim determination, and desperation urging him to go faster - lest the insane god retrieves the Box once more.
Once down by the beach, Xander/Kratos wasted no time in reaching the fabled box. And without question, or reservations, he opened that which was said to give him the power to defeat a god.
And after thousands of years, Pandora’s Box was finally opened once more. Eldritch energies spilling forth, engulfing Kratos entirely. The power of the gods, unleashed.
And by no small feat, it also engulfed the very soul of the young man currently tied to Kratos’s own. And with it, the gift that was long denied to the world of man - went straight into the unsuspecting young soul that would soon change the fate of mankind.
The Hope that was locked away inside the box was finally free!
Like a sentient thing, the power unleashed from Pandora’s Box swirled around the champion of the gods, making him grow to the size of a Titan. Now, he was just as large as the insane war god that was destroying Athens.
Ares showed no fear as he studied the man before him. "You are still just a mortal, every bit as weak as the day you begged me to save your life."
Xander/Kratos drew the Blades of Chaos, the very same instrument the god in front of him gave that day when he asked Ares to save his life. "I am not the same man you found that day!" He said, the fires of vengeance burning bright in Xander/Kratos’s eyes as he finished answering his former master, his intent for all to see. "The monster you’ve created has returned, to kill you!"
"You have no idea what a monster is, Kratos." Ares scoffs, summoning spiked wings from within to appear on his back. "Your final lesson is at hand!"
And then did the long-awaited battle begin. Each combatant gave no quarter, no remorse, and no mercy. The Aegean Sea upon which they fought was in turmoil as each blow; each attack and defense, created tidal waves never before witnessed since creation. The very heavens itself thundered with a war cry as the gods on Olympus bore witness to a battle raging the like to their war with the Titans and with the giants long ago.
Far beyond the walls of Athens, Hercules and his erstwhile companion strove to hurry to the great city. Word of Ares’s madness had reached them far too late, the only hope lay within the former avatar of Hercules’ stepbrother, Kratos, who they heard was already there. As the sky rumbled with thunder, the heralding battle cry of two combatants beginning their dance of death rang across the clouds.
"It’s begun." Hercules muttered, pausing in their run towards Athens. The demigod prayed the city would still be standing when they arrived.
In another part of Greece, Xena, who was still recovering from her brush with Dahok, felt a foreboding sense of death, which lay in the direction of Athens. And though it chilled her to the bone, she could not make the trip to try and help whoever needed it.
And though she had heard of one of the gods’ new champions, Kratos, like herself, was once a follower of Ares. She knew the Spartan had once been in her army, right by her side at one time as she led her troops all over the ancient world. The man, himself, was just as cruel as the Warrior Princess was in the old days. Their bloodlust for power and glory was unparalleled, but then she changed. Xena saw the error of her ways, and in time, she heard that Kratos did the same.
Both had finally found out the price of Ares’s loyalty. Both had mourned for lost chances. Both had also become former enemies, and now allies to Hercules. And both grew to hate their divine benefactor, Ares, and Xena knew that Kratos had more reasons to hate the damned war god then she ever did.
Though not too much of a religious woman herself, she sang a prayer of deliverance to whomever would listen that it would soon be over.
Xander/Kratos fought like a man possessed, using the knowledge of warfare taught to him by the gods, the former avatar of the war god used them all to play in this very battle. And though victory was a remote possibility, even with the power released from Pandora’s Box, he knew only one outcome: one of them will not live once this battle is over.
The battle raged for what seemed like an eternity until Xander/Kratos saw an opening in Ares’s defenses, so he took it and savagely cripples the god of war. Ares cried out in pain, summoning a portal to whisk the bothersome Spartan away. His words echoing around the hapless warrior as he was sucked in. "I have taught you many ways to kill a mortal, Kratos. Flesh that burns, bones that break, but to break a man’s spirit, is to truly destroy him!"
As Xander/Kratos fell downwards once more through the air, spotting what seemed like a small floating island amongst the sea of stars. The Spartan landed on the island, creating a small crater around him upon impact. Dread filled him as he saw a familiar temple; the nightmares that had plagued him for ten years have now taken full substance. Trembling, he staggered towards the temple doors, fear growing with every step as he drew nearer. With an inhuman effort of will, he cleared the last few steps in a dead run, smashing the doors open to find his wife and daughter standing by the alter. His past now stood before him.
"Kratos!" The sweet voice of his long-dead wife tore through his shattered core, igniting a hope long since abandoned. She was clutching their child in a tight embrace as she stood in front of the main altar, looking around in fear. "What’s happening? Where are we?"
"By the gods!" The Spartan couldn’t believe his eyes. "Can this be real?"
Suddenly, before he could tale another step, the very temple walls came alive as a stream of darker versions of him, stepped through, surrounding his family.
Kratos’s wife paled in fright, but it was his daughter who spoke for both of them - fear etched in a single word. "Daddy!"
That single word galvanized the real Spartan into action, the fear completely vanishing as he unsheathed the Blades of Chaos. And this time, the very blades that once killed them, will now be the ones to save them.
"Ares!" The Spartan bellowed. "There is nothing you can put in my way that can stop me! I WILL save my family!"
He fought valiantly against the hordes of false Kratos, massacring them with a zeal he had never felt before. This is what it means to be a protector; this is how it feels to be a man once again. This is what it feels to be whole, for Kratos had done the impossible; he had saved his family!
"Do you see, god of war?" Kratos cried, triumphant. "You took them once, but you’ll never have them again!"
Then, Ares’s voice thundered from all around the temple. "You cannot save them, Kratos, you gave them up in your quest for ultimate power. There is a price for everything you gain."
"But not that price!" Kratos snarled in defiance. "I didn’t want them to die!"
And the ground shook with the full fury of Ares’s reply, throwing the Spartan to the ground. "No price is too high for what I offered you!"
Xander/Kratos was never given time to get his bearings as he was lifted off his feet to dangle in mid-air as the enchanted chains holding the blades to his wrists lifting him aloft like a marionette.
Ares then released and unbound the chains bonded to the Spartan, effectively stripping him of his powers. "Now," Ares said with a malicious grin. "You will have no magic, no power."
"And all that you have," Ares roared, "Is dead!" The god of war then commanded the blades to fly towards Kratos’s family, slaughtering them again.
Broken, Kratos fell to his knees, muttering the same phrase over and over. "No, not… not again." And the spirit of the Xander quailed, shaken into senselessness.
When Xander/Kratos came to, he found himself back on the Aegean Sea; his emotions spent as his body was racked with the grief of seeing his family die a second time. Then something caught his eye. The giant lighthouse statue of Athena used a huge sword as a bridge, gigantic in comparison to a normal sized human, but completely perfect for titan-sized one. And it glinted brightly against the moonlight presiding over the battlegrounds.
The battle is not over, it seemed, the gods had sent one final gift to Kratos.
The Titan-sized Spartan walked over and reached out to grab the hilt, pulling the sword "Athena’s Blade" free from its moorings. Emboldened by the final gift, he strode towards his enemy once more, with one mantra repeatedly hammering through his very bloodstream: VICTORY OR DEATH!
"I still have allies in Olympus, Ares." Kratos said, readying for the final battle. "And now you will see just how strong I am!"
Both combatants roared as Ares also summons his own sword. Blade met blade, the sounds pealing across all of Greece as loud thunderclaps as the two charged at each other.
Up in Olympus, a figure of immense power looked upon Athena, saying; "We have done all we can. It is up to him now. And should he succeed, prepare him."
"At once." Athena replied as the two returned to watch the battle raging below.
The battle they fought couldn’t even be described as such; a more accurate description would be two people trying to brutally massacre the other. Gone was the graceful, yet deadly formality of a duel, and in its place stood something as primal and as old as time itself. When Kratos once again found an opening in Ares’s defense, and again he took it, crippling the god of war once more.
Ares staggers back, blood frothing from his lips. "Remember Kratos," He reasoned. "It was I who saved you, in your time of greatest need."
"I haven’t forgotten, Ares." Kratos growled. "I remember how you saved me."
"That night," Ares said, his mighty strength waning, sanity seemingly returning to the insane god’s countenance. "I was trying to make you a great warrior."
Xander/Kratos snarled as he lunged and thrust the huge blade through the god’s chest.
"You succeeded." He said, bitterly, and withdrew the sword. He stepped back, chest heaving with exhaustion and pent up grief.
Ares staggers downwards, for one final time, blood exploding from his chest as he roared, huge spurts painting the sea crimson. And, as if in slow motion, he falls, his body engulfed as a golden glow blew outwards, creating an even more massive tidal wave that reached for miles, creating floods and drowning several small islands. Kratos had done the impossible, a mortal defeating a god. Ares, the god of war, was no more.
Athens had been saved, though most of it in ruins, it will grew and thrive again. And far into the outskirts of the city, Hercules had just arrived to bear witness to that impossible fact. A part of the demigod was saddened at loosing a stepbrother, even one as insane as Ares. And he was now concerned for Kratos as well as Athens. Athens can be rebuilt, but a soul torn asunder by Ares’s machinations would take longer to mend, if they ever will.
Aimlessly wandering the desert, the still Titan-sized Spartan watched Kronos in the distance, understanding a bit of the god’s own torment akin to his own. It took a few days before the powers released from the box to settle down, and he returned back to normal size. As normal as any grief-stricken mortal could be.
And as he sought to rebuild his soul with the help of the gods, the truth was revealed to him as he faced Athena once more on the deck of his ship.
"Athena," Xander/Kratos begged the goddess. "Rid me of the memories that haunt me still."
"You have done well, Kratos." Athena said, thanking him. "Though we mourn the death of our brother, the gods are indebted to you."
Her words of thanks and praise warmed the seasoned warrior, but the words that followed sent him crashing back down into the depths of despair.
"We promised that your sins would be forgiven," she continued. "And so they are, but we never promised to take away your nightmares. No man, no god, could ever forget the terrible deeds you have done."
With weary resignation, Xander/Kratos bowed his head in acceptance of his fate. Once his ship landed, he immediately set foot inland, aimlessly walking in a state of fog. In the end, knowing that the visions of his past will never leave him, Xander/Kratos made his way back to the bluffs overlooking the Aegean Sea.
The wind whipped around him, tears that would never come forth filled his eyes. "The gods of Olympus have abandoned me." He said, his voice hollow, as ghostly as his very title. "Now there is no hope..."
And then the warrior cast himself from the highest mountain in all of Greece. After ten years of suffering, ten years of endless nightmares, it would finally come to an end. Death would be his escape from madness.
The winds howled as he plunged downwards; his soul attaining a moment of peace as the raging waters below rose up to meet him. He slammed into the waves at the speed of fifty-five miles per hour.
The shock of the impact was enough to jar Xander’s soul free from the confines of Kratos’s consciousness. He floated head over heels as a ghost over the Aegean Sea as he saw the Spartan sink down.
The once innocent young man looked down, saddened beyond words at Kratos’s fate. But then he saw movement from below the waves; his eyes alight with wonder as he saw the fallen warrior lifted aloft towards the clouds.
In an instant, he felt his ghostly form follow.
The fate of Kratos was not as it seemed, for the gods had other plans. Brought aloft like a feather, he was magically lifted from the Aegean Sea to stand back at the very cliffs he dove off of. A hidden archway with golden doors coming into view, along with another statue of Athena now stood before him.
"You will not die this day, Kratos." Athena told the bewildered Spartan. "The gods cannot allow one who has performed such service to perish by his own hands. Ares’s tactics were brutal, he had to be stopped."
Kratos saw the doors turn and open, the confines shimmering like an upright pool of water, and what lay behind was distorted as a multitude of lights flickered around the shimmering event horizon. He could have sworn it was Olympus behind those doors.
"But now there is an empty throne in Olympus," Athena continued. "And a new God of War is needed. One who can strive to overcome his madness from within him. Take these stairs Kratos, they lead to your ultimate reward."
Disbelief washed over the mortal-turned-god, he stood rooted to the ground he landed on.
"Your battles are at an end Kratos." Athena said, now urging the former Spartan onwards. "Your Journey is over, take these steps to Olympus and your place among the Gods."
Kratos looked towards the gates, then turned his head back towards Athena’s statue, still not sure.
"Take these stairs, Kratos." The goddess repeated. "They lead to your ultimate reward."
Kratos nodded once to show he finally understood, then walked through the portal. As he was about to enter, he felt someone watching him, but when he looked towards the left, he saw nothing there. Shrugging, the former spartan marched straight into Olympus.
And from that point forward, throughout the rest of time, whenever men road forth to battle for good cause or for evil, they did so under the watchful eye of the man who had defeated a god.
They were driven forward by Kratos, the mortal who had become the new God of War.
The ghostly form of Xander shivered as he felt the Spartan’s gaze fall on him for the briefest of moments. He could’ve sworn that Kratos somehow knew he was there. Once the ancient warrior entered the portal, the doors closed and the entire archway vanished, leaving only the statue of Athena.
Curious, Xander walked up to it, studying the exquisite detail. Suddenly, as he got too close, the statue glowed, heralding the presence of Athena in the statue once more.
"Greetings, Alexander." Athena greeted the spirit in unaccented english, shocking the man as she saw him yelp and fall down on his spectral butt. Then the goddess laughed. A melodious laugh as only a goddess can attain.
"Gaah!" Xander yelped, as he fell back in surprise at the appearance of Kratos’s patron. "I thought nobody could see me!"
"Nobody could, not completely." Athena said, chuckling as she gazed at the spirit of a young man not of this time. "At least not until you had absorbed the last remaining gifts of Pandora’s Box. It surprised us to find a mortal from the far future sharing space inside an unwitting Spartan’s skull."
"Yeah, well," Xander said nervously, gesturing at his current condition. "It’s not like I planned all of this. And what the hell did you mean by absorb the last of Pandora’s gifts? I am very un-absorby here. As a matter of fact, I look like a frigging ghost!"
"Pandora’s Box has the power to affect everything." Athena explained, "It can affect time and space. So it is very possible that while this may or may not be only a memory of simply your spiritual journey into the past, be rest assured that the Box has indeed changed you."
"How?" Xander asked, half-afraid of the answer.
"The power of the gods now flow within your veins, young Alexander." Athena replied, "You have ceased to become mortal the very moment the untamed powers within Pandora’s Box entwined itself into your very soul."
"What!? How? Why?" Xander panicked, hopping from one foot to the other, then stopped as he heard the goddess laugh again at his antics. "Huh?"
"Be not afraid, young Alexander." Athena said, "I see a great many things that lie in your journey, but first, you must return to whence you came. Have faith, Alexander. Until we meet again."
"Wait!" Xander cried as he felt himself fading away. "Why me?"
As Xander vanished, Athena’s voice echoed in english as she too withdrew her statue and her presence from the mountaintop.
"There truly is a price to pay for everything you gain, young Alexander." The fading voice whispered to no one. "And though you know it not, I welcome you, little brother…"
(Cue end theme from "God of War")
The tale of Pandora’s Box remains to this day. After the weapon was taken from the temple, the structure endured. Cronus, the Titan, lived for another thousand years wandering the desert floor, but that was long ago. The temple has grown silent, and the beast who wore it for so long, has died – relics of a world long past.
But all myths may not be for the ancient times. Soon, a band of explorers will someday make their way inside the giant, forgotten structure, and find that the dangers, and many of its secrets, still remain.
And as with all greatness, a new hero will emerge to brave the dangers within, and claim that which has long waited for its master to wield.
Out in the desert, around two hundred miles beyond the walls of where ancient Greece once stood, a joint military exercise open to the public led by the United States were practicing a series of international war games. It’s goal is to conduct an experiment of how well the weather guidance systems would fare in desert conditions - for commercial, and military use. In this case, two newly state of the art Apache helicopters were outfitted with the new systems and currently flying across the sands, constantly testing themselves against the sudden sandstorms that habitually littered the particular region. And with them, David Jaffe, a top-notch reporter with his news crew was along for the ride on separate helicopters.
"Damn," David said over the pick-up from behind the pilot. "I can hardly see out there. Are you sure the new guidance systems are working fine?"
"It’s working fine, Mr. Jaffe." Replied Lt. Joan Andersen, keeping an eye outside the canopy while glancing at the digital readouts on her console. Then her eyes narrowed as she saw a spike in the screen showing that showed an alarming build up of what appeared to be a localized tornado heading straight for them. "Ah shit!"
"Shit?!" The reporter shrieked, "Don’t give me that shit, I don’t do shit! What the hell is happening out there."
"I don’t know sir," She responded, her voice tight as she concentrated on getting them through the ordeal in one piece. "Hang on!"
After radioing her chase ‘copter, she felt the first wave of airborne sand slam into the helicopter as she struggled to fly over the sandstorm. With no visibility and the rotors whining in protest as she coaxed whatever power they had, she gritted her teeth as struggled with the yoke. Nature and machine battled for dominance for at least ten minutes; then just as suddenly as the spike in her readouts appeared, it vanished.
The chilling calm that followed made them all uneasy as the sands started to fade and die down. All of a sudden, proximity alarms from the guidance systems blared out a warning, signifying they were too close to an object larger than the craft itself. Trying to get a clear view from the sand blasted canopy, Andersen slowed the Apache to a hover, letting the rotors help in blowing the excess sand off to allow better visibility. When they could see, they saw that they were a few meters off from smashing into the base of a mountain – but that wasn’t what shocked them silent.
Instead of the natural uneven slope that all mountains had at their base, they saw an exposed skull larger than a four-story building buried halfway in the desert floor. And further down, skeletal remains of a titanic hand that could have easily swiped the advanced machine out of the air.
And on top of the mountain, uncovered from the sands for the first time in thousands of years, lay an ancient temple.
Meanwhile, back in Sunnydale, Xander finally awoke from his three-day mystically enhanced sleep.
Cast of Universes used in this fan fiction: God of War
= one of the best ps2 video games there is! Great graphics, storyline, and gameplay mechanics ever! Hercules, The Legendary Journeys
= one of the more humane TV series about ancient myth with a smattering of 20th century sensibility thrown in Buffy, The Vampire Slayer
= one of the rare TV series which engendered a legion of fans all across the world Dogma
= one of the most intriguing movies of its time.
Special thanks: to Sony Entertainment of America and the game’s creators for creating a kick-ass epic of a game! And three cheers to David Jaffe, whose insane sense of imagination to kick-start the creation of this game - also created a loyal and rabid fan base for "God of War". And thanks also to Raul Copaciu for posting a remarkably sensible game script copy over at Gamefaqs.com
Xander will return…
Music listened to while inspired in making this fan fiction: God of War OST
Wild 9 game OST
from Matrix Revolutions OST "Twilight of the Gods"
A glimpse of things to come: Excerpt from God(s) of War: Spartan Reborn.
…..Xander had finally reached the entrance of the ancient temple. His eyes swept the desolate ruins with a feeling of déjà vu. While he may not have been here personally, he felt as if he knew the place intimately via Kratos’s memories of his quest in here. And while the long forgotten Spartan never truly had time to fully explorer the temple, in part due to his goal of only getting the weapon that would allow him to destroy Ares, he knew that a temple of this grand a scale held more secrets and "treasures" to claim.
Xander’s musings were cut off as a sound echoed far overhead, his newly enhanced hearing picking up the near-silent noise of a stealth plane jetting past the area. A few minutes later he saw a black dot above grow larger as something fell from the sky. Whoever it was, the skydiver was an expert. Or flat out crazy, the jump itself looked like a high-altitude low open deal.
The young man’s eyes narrowed as he began to make out the telltale figure of a woman as she began to spread her body to slow her fall and then opened her chute. Seconds later, she landed hard, tucked into a roll while detaching the chute from her pack in a single smooth motion. She stopped a few feet from him, startled that someone had gotten there first.
Xander smirked as he saw exotic features gracing the face underneath the helmet. Long braided hair cascaded from behind her as she undid her flight suit, revealing a functional skintight body suit that could double as a diving suit if need be.
The young warrior had to fully resist a gut-busting guffaw as he recognized the woman immediately from Giles’s photo album shown to him before he left, for standing in front of him was Rupert Giles’s very own niece.
"Greetings, Lady Croft." He said.
(Cue "NAVRAS" theme from Matrix Revolutions)