“I see you brought some help,” Markos said when he got closer.
“And you lost a lot of your help,” I replied. “You should have trained them better on how to be warriors on the field of battle.”
“Yes, you know all about that, don’t you, God of War?” he retorted.
We started to slowly walk in a circle. He twirled his sword in his hand; I had seen that move in hundreds of movies. Amateur. Mine was firmly grasped in my hand, blood dripping off the end of it. “Why? Tell me that.”
“You and your kind became irrelevant thousands of years ago, and mankind was better for it,” Markos said. “We have thrived. Without you lot around, we learned about fire…”
“…that was given to you by Prometheus,” I reminded him.
“Against the wishes of your father,” he threw back at me. “At least there was one amongst you to stand up to the old blowhard.”
“Technically, Prometheus is a Titan, not an Olympian. But I will give you that he did stand up to Zeus. He did pay for his disobedience, however.”
“I know for a fact that he walks the earth again. I might even know where he is,” Markos said. “I wonder what that information is worth to Zeus?”
I heard Artemis gasp. “Not as much as you think at the moment,” I replied. “You may have gotten along fine without us, but you’ve made a mess of things. We’re here to help you clean it up, and put you back on the right path.”
“Meaning you want us all to worship at your feet again,” Markos scoffed. “That will never happen.”
“I have never asked such a thing from any mortal.”
“Who would worship you?” he laughed. “You’re a bully and a coward. Your concubine is your brother’s wife. And that stupid woman I killed this evening was a foolish twit who fell under your spell.”
“Cassandra was her own woman who did what she wanted. I cast no spell over her. She was not afraid to stand up to me and tell me off. Unlike you, who hides in the shadows, making threats, killing the people who were helping you.”
“I didn’t kill Charlie; Cody did that. He said Charlie was getting cold feet. I believe you were responsible for that. He actually started to like you fools. Said that we were all wrong about why you had returned. Even Ophelia told him he was an idiot. That’s one thing you should never say to him; she knew that. He followed her back to her office, killed her, then planted her body in Zeus’ office. I thought that lightning bolt was a nice touch,” he laughed. “No matter; Bill is a better soldier than Charlie.”
“Bill is currently sitting in Hades’ waiting room,” I informed him. “Are we going to talk all night, or are we going to fight?”
Holding out his hand, he waved his fingers at me. “Bring it, coward.”
We both rushed forward at the same time, swords swinging. The clash of metal on metal sent sparks flying into the air. He feinted, which I followed, and he brought his sword up and sliced a cut deep into my right arm. It stung a little, but I ignored it. “What are you planning to do, slice and dice me to death?” I taunted.
“If that’s what it takes,” Markos said, lunging at me again.
I stepped to the side, swinging my sword in a downward motion. It sliced into his leg. He gasped and grabbed it with his free hand. I swatted him on the butt with the flat side of sword. “What’s the matter, mortal? Afraid of a little blood?”
Spinning around, he came at me again, yelling like a banshee. This time, I cut him on his left arm. The anger on his face when he looked at me was pure evil. “I will not die today, Ares,” he growled. “It will be you who is defeated this day.”
“Is this the best you can do?” I said, faking a yawn. “Your men gave me a better fight than this. Makes me wonder who taught you how to fight, your mother? Perhaps it was your wet nurse. You should have suckled at her breast more.”
He charged at me. I had had enough. Bracing myself, I met his incoming swing with a parry move and kicked him in the chest, knocking him to the ground. Quickly moving to stand over him, I stepped on his sword hand before bending over, yanking it out of his hand and tossing it aside. I placed the tip of my blade against his throat. “Why did you really kill Cassandra?”
“Because I knew it would be the one thing that would piss you off enough to fight me.”
“Well, that was the only thing you’ve been right about.” I raised my sword in the air. Looking him in the eyes, I said, “This is for her,” and drove the sword into his chest, just as he had driven his knife into her chest.
Gasping, his body tensed up, then relaxed as I yanked the sword out. He coughed up some blood as he put his hands over the wound. Suddenly, he started laughing. “Killing me won’t stop this,” he said, spitting out some blood. “There are more of us. And we aren’t just here. We’re everywhere. You’ll never see it coming, coward. Someone will find a way to kill you.”
“You forgot the part about immortality, mortal.”
He laughed again. “Anyone can die, even an immortal.” He coughed, took one big breath, then died.
The other three joined me as I stood looking down at his body. Nike reached into her small pouch, pulled out a bandage, and wrapped it around my wounded arm. It would heal on its own in time. “Are any of you hurt?” I asked.
“Just the usual bumps and bruises,” Artemis said. “Nothing that a nice, hot bath and a cup of Hestia’s special tea won’t cure.”
“Is what he said about Prometheus true?” I asked her.
She shook her head. “This is not the place for that conversation. Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. Why wouldn’t I be?”
She started to say something, but changed her mind. “We need to get rid of these bodies,” she said. “A funeral pyre would be the best way to do it.”
As we built the pyre, I gave no thoughts to the families of the men we killed. Half of them had fought bravely, if for a foolish reason, and therefore deserved to be honored. But I refused to throw Cody’s or Markos’ bodies on the pyre. They had killed innocents; there was no honor in that. Even I knew that, although I knew that in the old days, I had done the same thing. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.
By the time the funeral pyre had burned itself out, it was dawn. Wild animals would soon be foraging for food. I left them the bodies of Cody and Markos. Rather appropriate that animals should be eaten by animals.
I shook Dinlas’ hand. “Thank you, son. What you did for me this night…it meant a lot.”
I watched the emotions flash across his face. He was unsure of how to handle what I had said. “You’re welcome. It was an honor to fight next to you. But let’s not make a habit of it. People might think we actually like each other.” Whistling to his she-wolves, he walked off.
Nike gave me a hug. “I’ll be there if you need to talk, brother. You’re not as tough as you’d like people to believe. I can feel your pain.” She gently touched my cheek, stepped back, spread her wings and flew off.
“What will you do now?” Artemis asked me as we walked toward Sayeh.
“I don’t know. Clean up the mess at the forge, I guess. Run my security company. I’m sure I’ll have plenty to keep me busy. Maybe I’ll go drag Hephaestus back here by his ear to take care of his own business.”
“Nike is right, you know,” she replied. “You’re a bit vulnerable right now. You let love into your heart, pure love. Now you’re feeling the loss and the pain. Let us help you deal with it. Don’t do your usual macho thing and take off to deal with it yourself.” She gave me a hug before climbing onto Sayeh’s back. “You know how to find me. You can always spend some time here in my forest if you seek peace and quiet.”
“Thank you, Arty,” I replied. “I’ll think about it.”
“I love you, my brother.”
“I love you too, my sister.”
She flew off, leaving me standing alone at the edge of the field.