I stared at the man who stood in my office doorway, shocked at his sudden appearance. Then I felt intense anger. This…person had stood by while my wife had been kidnapped in broad daylight and had done nothing to help.
“I know what you’re thinking, and there was nothing I could have done,” the man said. “Things played out the way they were intended.”
“You don’t know that for sure,” I retorted. “She could have been saved.”
“The same way you saved Kara on your wedding day? What about Cassie? Could you have saved her?”
“Don’t you dare bring her into this,” I said angrily. “She has nothing to do with this.”
“Au contraire,” the man in black replied. “She is as much a part of this as Kara and your alternate reality wife.”
“That’s a damned lie.”
The man held up his hands. “I did not come here to fight with you, Ares.”
“Then why are you here? Are you even real? You existed in that other reality.”
He cut me off. “I’m able to cross different planes. Even you should understand how that works, being a God and all. I am here for a reason, one I would like to discuss with you, civilly if possible.”
I looked at him for a moment, my mind at war over the logic of letting a perceived enemy into my office versus the curiosity of wanting to know what was going on. Finally, I acquiesced and motioned toward one of the chairs in front of my desk. Closing the door, the man crossed the room and sat down. “This had better be good,” I said.
“So skeptical, so mistrusting,” the man gently chided me. “You need to learn to loosen up, Ares. Did your other life not teach you anything at all?”
I thought about what he said. During my brief time in that other world, I had been married with two children. We had a wonderful life, which was the total opposite of what my real life had been like all these millennia. I had been happy and content, whereas here I was edgy and moody, always looking for a fight, another battle to win, another enemy to conquer.
“You’re afraid to live,” the man said, interrupting my thoughts. “More accurately, you’re afraid to love.”
“That’s not true,” I said. “I had a great love, and I have children.”
“Ah, yes, Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love, who happened to be your brother’s wife. But even you grew tired of that and let her go, did you not? And then Cassandra appeared, fresh and new, full of life. She stood up to you, wasn’t afraid to tell you off, and opened your heart to the idea of love and marriage. A great song, by the way, by a 60s crooner. I do miss the 50s and early 60s. Excellent music, exciting times…but I digress. Cassandra allowed you to believe in the possibility of happily ever after, even though for her, it would have only been seventy years or so. You were ready to marry her.”
I simply stared at him, unwilling to say anything.
“Marcus changed all that, didn’t he?” the man continued. “Perhaps we should blame this on your father. After all, you were living a carefree life before he demanded that you return to Olympus, did you not? Yachting around the world, a different woman every week, a skirmish here and there to satisfy your bloodlust. If he hadn’t insisted that you return home, you would have never run into Cassandra again, and she would still be alive.”
Picking up a letter opener, I started to stab my desk with it.
“Now, now, no need to let your blood boil, Ares,” the man said. “You don’t want to kill me. You can’t. Well, you can try, but it’s impossible. I’m immortal like you.”
“Why are you rehashing the past?”
“Because the past has affected what happened on your wedding day, which in turn had a part in what happened to Katharina in the other reality. And it plays an important role in what is to happen soon. You need to learn from it to move on.”
“The only thing that concerns me right now is finding my fiancé and bringing her home.”
“And then what? Will you go ahead with the wedding, or will you walk away to keep something from happening to her again?”
It was annoying that he knew what I was thinking. I had been considering doing just that once I brought Kara home. My life wasn’t one that a mortal should live. There were always enemies out there, people who didn’t believe that we, the Gods, should be here. They didn’t need or want us around. Two years ago, when we had first returned, a group had risen and tried to undermine our work. There had been casualties on both sides, but none more devastating than Cassie, who had been murdered in her own home simply because she was involved with me.
“See, I know you better than you think,” the man said. “Because of what happened to her, you put up a wall around your heart. But Kara found a way in. She’s a remarkable woman, certainly your equal. She has a bit of Cassandra in her if you stop to compare the two. They both stood up to you, and didn’t allow you to treat them with kid gloves. Cassandra, I feel, was more delicate. She brought out your protective nature, something the God of War should not show because it’s a sign of weakness. You believe that weakness is the reason she died. But that’s not true. Marcus had marked her as a target early on in that first battle. She would have died anyway, either because of her connection to you or because she worked for your father.”
“Is there a point to this trip down memory lane?”
“Patience has never been your strong suit.”
“You seem to know quite a lot about me, considering we’ve never met before,” I retorted.
“We have met many times, not that you would remember. But that is a story for another time. Kara came to you as a damsel in distress, and you believed you needed to protect her. But what you discovered instead was a strong woman who could fight side by side with you, who could be your equal. And now, she’s been taken, ripped from you like Cassandra was.”
“Are you saying that Kara is dead?”
“No, she is very much alive,” the man assured me. “You need not fear that.”
“Since you’re playing psychologist, what about Katharina?”
“Aw, Katharina. For starters, you seem to have forgottent that is Kara’s real name.”
“I…” I stopped myself and thought about it for a moment. He was right; she had told me that when we had applied for our marriage license. She said she felt the name was too stuffy, but since Nike’s beloved assistant and friend was named Cara, she was willing to go by Katharina so as not to confuse people.
“What did you have in that alternate reality? A beautiful wife, who looked like Kara, and two children. You had the married life you’ve always wanted but were afraid to claim for yourself. Your real-life bled over into your alter life. Your greatest fear is losing it all. It’s hard to imagine the God of War being afraid of anything, but there it is. I think you have watched Eros and Clio become this loving couple with two children, and you’re a bit envious of what they have. They aren’t ruled by what might happen. They choose to live life to the fullest with each other. Theirs is pure, true love, something you desperately want, but Cassandra’s death has made you afraid to try for. You might feel guilty about Kara’s kidnapping, but at the same time, relieved because you believe it means you don’t deserve the kind of happiness your son has. To quote a movie character, Snap out of it! You can still be the God of War and still have a home and family. The question is, do you have the courage to go after it?”
“I’m hardly a coward.”
“You sound more like a whiny brat, to be honest,” the man said.
I threw the letter opener at him, and he caught it before it could pierce his heart. “You’re an ass.”
“I’ve been told that many, many times,” he chuckled, placing the weapon back on my desk. “To answer your previous question, my point is that an old enemy of yours has returned in a new form. The Ultimate Power, the group who tried to run you and your family out of Olympus when you first came back, has regrouped. They’re going by a different name now, although I’m not sure what that is exactly. However, their intent is still the same, to get rid of the Gods.”
“Are you saying they’re responsible for Kara’s kidnapping?”
The man in black nodded. “They’re bigger and stronger than they were before, Ares. They’ve worked out a plan and have started putting it into play. Kara is just a small piece. Getting her back won’t stop what is going to happen, but you will need her for what’s to come.” He stood up.
“I thought Kara’s kidnapping was part of the trafficking group my sister is investigating.”
He shook his head. “No, it’s not, although you should help her with that as well. It’s a terrible business that needs to be stopped.” He walked toward the door.
“I need more information on this group,” I said. “Surely you know more than you’re telling me.”
“I’m not the one you need to get the answers from, though.”
“Then point me in the right direction.”
He turned and looked at me. “I’m afraid you won’t like the answer.”
“Just tell me.”
Sighing, the man shook his head again. “Your father.”