Warning: This work has been rated 16+.
A war general stepped out of her tent on the hill and looked out over her troops. They looked like ants, milling around between tents, organizing themselves for the invasion that was to happen in the morning. A burly man approached the general from the side.
"The ceremony is ready, ma'am," he said.
"Good," the general replied. She turned away and walked briskly toward the very top of the hill, where one of her men stood nervously, holding a mewing lamb-- a newborn one that was as white as the clouds above. The general took the lamb from the man without a word. She held it to her chest, warm and soft in her hands. She could feel its heart beating.
"Leave me," she told the man, who was looking at her expectantly. "And remind everyone that this area is to stay clear. I'll come down when it's over."
"Yes, ma'am," the man said and scuttled away.
The general positioned herself at the very top of the hill and looked around to confirm her solitude. Satisfied, she knelt on the ground and set down the lamb. She tipped it so that it lay on its side and she held there with one hand. With her other hand, she drew a knife from her belt. The lamb bleated delicately in protest.
The general pushed up her left sleeve and breathed in deeply. Without further hesitation, she carved a horizontal line on her forearm. She watched the blood run down her arm onto her hand and the lamb beneath it. The tiny animal kicked its feet, nervous from the scent of blood.
For several minutes the lamb thrashed, and the general watched her blood stain its white coat. Its kicks grew weaker until the lamb stilled. Its breaths rose shallower under the general's hand, and then they stopped.
The general pulled her hand away from the stiffening corpse and wrapped her arm with the cloth she had brought. Adrenaline and anticipation masked the pain. She stepped back from the lamb and was hit with a wave of dizziness. She fell to her backside and closed her eyes in an attempt to make the world still.
When she opened them, just moments later, her eyes focused on the very human figure kneeling at the other side of the lamb's body.
He was young-- just a boy, she realized. He had messy dark hair and raggedy clothes covered in old blood and dirt stains. He was staring down at the lamb, his hair blocking the general's view of his face. Whoever he was, he wasn't supposed to be allowed up here. Somebody was going to hear some words from her when this was finished.
"What are you doing here?" she asked the boy. He didn't look up.
"You summoned me," he said quietly.
"I summoned the god of war," said the general. The boy looked up from the lamb. His eyes were red, watery, and ringed by dark, tired circles.
"I am the god of war," he assured.
"I. . . what about Ares?" asked the general. She had expected to be confronted by hulking god covered in armor, not a boy who looked ready to drop dead at the slighted poke.
"Ares," the boy repeated with a frown. "Ares is the god of violence and slaughter," he said. "Not war itself."
"Athena?" the general asked. The powerful goddess was her second choice.
"The goddess of war strategy, among other things. Not war itself."
"If you're the god of war, why haven't I heard of you?"
"Because nobody thinks about what really goes on during war until they become the victim of it," the boy-- the god of war-- said sadly. "I was the first victim of the first war. I was human. My family sent me off when I was thirteen. I was thirteen," he repeated. He held the general's gaze fiercely. A tear slipped down his cheek and dropped off his chin to land on the lamb.
"Every time a child's life is taken from them on the battlefield, I'm there," the god continued. "Every time an infant starves to death during a siege and every time a girl is raped by invading troops, I'm invoked. When mothers cry out I hear them. When houses and schools and churches burn, I hear the crackles of those fires, and I've been hearing them since I was slaughtered in Troy."
The boy god stood. He glanced down at the lamb and then back at the general, who still sat with her knees folded under her.
"Every time an innocent is sacrificed so that some general can gain power through bloodshed, I am summoned," said the god in a voice that was neither loud nor soft, only hot and piercing and even.
"How dare you call upon my name," the god of war said with the last of his strength before sinking back to the ground. His hair fell back into his face and he laid a hand on the lamb's bloody flank.
The general closed her eyes again to shut out the heartbreaking sight. When she opened them, both the boy and the lamb were gone.
She stood, shaking, and fetched her knife. The sight of the blood dripping on it nearly made her sick. She stuffed it back in her belt and stumbled down the hill. Gruesome visions of the battle to come flashed in her mind; a parting gift from the god of war.
She grabbed the shirt of the first person she saw to keep from falling over. The visions continued to appear in bursts, making her dizzy.
"Madam General," exclaimed the person she had grabbed. "Are you all right?"
The general let go of the shirt clutched in her hands and willed her head to stop spinning. The person, a young man looked at her with concern.
"No, I'm not," said the general honestly, as she knew this soldier was only that, and wouldn't attack her for being spooked.
He was a young soldier with a soft face.
"How old are you?" the general asked.
"Fifteen, ma'am. Did you meet the god of war?"
"Fifteen," the general repeated, rubbing her forehead with her non-bloody hand. "When I was fifteen, I spent most of my time riding through the woods with my brother, or terrorizing the local shopkeepers."
"That sounds fun," said the boy good-naturedly. The general looked at him sadly.
"I'm calling off the invasion," she said after a moment.
"The invasion. I'm canceling it," said the general, harder this time.
"Spread the word," she said. "Tell everyone we're retreating. You're going home."
"Madam General. . ." The boy's brow creased.
"I'm making that an order, soldier. Now go."
The boy jogged off. The general sank into the hillside. She held her head in her hands and watched scenes of soldiers mindlessly slashing at each other on the backs of her eyelids.