Ares is not what I imagined her to be. The great man of myth, muscular and imposing, shining in his armour, with crested helmet and mighty spear, does not stand before me. Instead I face a young woman, hardly more than a girl. She is soft and delicate, with eyes so large they will soak up the world, and skin like spun glass that glitters in the darkness. A warm glow radiates from within her, not quite visible, but strong enough for me to feel the heat on my face.
The sound of traffic wafts up to us from the street far below. Heavy clouds block out the night sky, reflecting back the poisonous orange of streetlamps and office blocks. The rooftop is high above it all, and we are invisible. That’s why I chose it — to be alone. The last thing I expected was a visitor proclaiming to be a god.
“Ares?” I scoff, looking her over with something I imagine to be petulance. If not for the fact that she was so decidedly unhuman, and that she had materialised on the rooftop with no more warning than her introduction, I would have assumed she were just an idiot in costume. “You’re what sends men to war?”
“No. I am what they leave behind. I am what war strips from men.” Her voice tinkles like tiny fragments of glass. Yet, it is also soft, like the wind just after dusk.
“Why are you a girl?”
“I appear as you believe I should.”
I don’t have a reply to that. “Why appear at all? What are you doing here?”
She turns to the side and her gaze wanders over the man, bound and gagged at my feet. He’s still unconscious, but I see him twitch. “When you understand your reason for being here, you will understand mine.”
“I already know what I’m doing here,” I reply and my voice is low, almost like a growl. “I’m here to set something right.” I look down at the man again, trussed up like a pig on Christmas. My mouth turns down of its own accord and my grip on the gun tightens. I feel the trigger cut into my finger. “Is that why you came? To egg me on? Does the bringer of war come seeking blood?”
“Whether you seek peace or war, you shall find it.”
“Oh, how very profound,” I bite back. “If you’re not going to help, get out of here.” I raise the gun and point it at the man on the ground. He is stirring now, but I don’t think he is awake just yet. I want to get this over with before he comes to. I don’t want to see his eyes.
“You are not a killer,” Ares says, and she speaks with such certainty that for a moment I don’t know how to argue.
“Don’t pretend you know anything about me. He deserves this. You don’t even know what he did.” My voice rises and my hand on the gun trembles. I hope she won’t notice, but of course, she does.
“He murdered your sister.”
My jaw tightens. “Then you know why I have to kill him.”
“Will it help?” She asks the question with complete apathy. This whole conversation I have sensed nothing from her. Not anger, nor pity, nor mercy. She is hollow.
“Of course it will help.” My voice lacks the conviction hers held, but I stand behind the statement anyway. “This world is sick and he’s the poison. People like him are destroying us. And, for every one of him that I kill, the world becomes that much better.”
“Will it help?”
I stare at her large, translucent eyes, shimmering with the golden light behind them, and try to answer. I try to say yes. I try to mean it.
“Why are you here?” My words are a cracked whisper now. The gun drops to my side. “Did you just come to tell me that it’s futile, trying to change the world?”
“Sometimes you don’t have to change the world. Sometimes you just have to change your mind, and that’s the same thing.”
“Changing my mind won’t bring Eirene back.”
Her head cocks to the side and her eyes do not move from my face. The stare is disturbing, but I don’t look away.
“Did you ever ask him why?”
“Why he was driving so fast?”
“Does it matter? Arrogance. Impatience. It doesn’t change anything.”
The man stirs again and my eyes drop to him. Ares continues to stare at me, waiting for a better answer. I don’t have one. I don’t want to wake him up, or hear his voice, so I go through his pockets instead. His wallet has a picture tucked inside. It’s still new and hasn’t even been placed in its own slot yet. It’s a baby. New born. The date stamp is the same day his car hit Eirene.
“He stayed with her, until the ambulance came,” Ares said.
I tear my eyes off the photo and drop the wallet. “And that makes it better?”
I stare at her again, wondering how she can be so calm while my insides writhe, and surely the world must be screaming. But as I look at the soft line of her mouth, the curve of her shoulders and the warmth of her skin, I realise it is not apathy that fills her, it is calm. Because she is not hollow. She is what is left behind, after the violence and the anger have passed. She is peace.
“Did you take Eirene? When the ambulance didn’t get there in time?”
“And, is she happy?”
“She is content.”
I look down again at the man. He has stopped squirming and I think he is awake now, trying to figure out where he is. I kneel down and pick up the wallet and the loose picture. Tucking it back inside, I place the wallet by his head, and then I untie his hands. He unties his own feet and stands, backing away from me. I’m still holding the gun, but I don’t lift it.
I look around for Ares, but she’s gone. Only the sound of far-away traffic, and the muted light of the city at midnight surrounds us. I know he is waiting for me to do something, so I tuck the gun into my belt and turn away. He doesn’t call out, and I don’t look back, because in that moment, we both know that the world changed.