After finding the information I wanted about Alastor, I headed back to my office. According to my notes, Alastor was the avenger of evil deeds, specifically familial bloodshed. I didn’t remember him, to be honest. It had been thousands of years since I had even heard the name.
When I got back to my building, I didn’t see Reginald sitting at his desk. I checked the time. It was only 3:30; too early for him to have left for the day. Perhaps he was upstairs with Kara. Deciding not to get upset about it – I mean, the poor woman had been through hell recently – I headed for my office.
Flipping on the lights, I was surprised to see the back of my chair facing me. I never left my chair that way. There was also an unfamiliar scent in the air – woodsy, a hint of cedar, but slightly charred. I looked for the sword I kept by the door in case of emergency, but it was not in its sheath.
“Looking for this?” a male voice said from my chair. My sword was being held out to the side by an arm covered in black leather. “Rather careless of the God of War to leave his sword casually lying around, isn’t it? Have you gotten soft, Ares?”
My hand went to the dagger on my right side, slowly sliding it out of its sheath. “Not likely,” I replied. “Who are you?”
The chair spun around. “Have you really forgotten who I am? How typical of you high and mighty Olympians,” he sneered. “You all have always had an over-inflated sense of self.”
He smiled. “Ah, you do remember me! That’s wonderful!”
“Actually, no, I don’t.”
His smile was replaced by a frown. “You got my message, didn’t you? I left it for you several months ago.”
“Yes, I got it. I’ve been busy.”
Alastor snorted. “Yes, I heard about the Titans returning. I have a source that keeps me updated on the news around here. Very delightful.”
I decided not to reply. “What do you want?”
He twirled my sword in his hand. “Oh, I just came by to tell you that your aunt is fine. She misses Persephone, of course. Demeter was terribly disappointed that she wasn’t around to welcome her home personally.”
My hand tightened around the dagger handle, but I kept my face as neutral as possible. “It’s not the first time she’s missed the homecoming. I’m sure it won’t be the last.”
“Oh, I’m pretty sure it is,” Alastor chuckled. “Demeter is going to be lost in the Triangle forever, although with Kara.”
“Are you sure about that?”
“Oh, quite sure.”
“Kara is upstairs right now.”
He quit twirling the sword. “You’re lying.”
“You should know me better than that, Alastor.”
“Manipulating the truth to suit your purposes…does that sound better than flat out calling you a liar?”
I pulled out my phone and dialed a number, making sure to push the speaker button as it rang. “Yes, sir?” a woman’s voice asked.
“Marta, how is our guest doing?” I asked.
“Oh, Ms. Kara is just fine, sir,” she replied. “She and I are in the kitchen, making some moussaka. Do you need to talk to her?”
“For a moment, please, Marta.”
“Ares? Is something wrong?” Kara’s voice came through loud and clear.
“Not a thing. I wanted to check on you, see how you are doing.”
“I’m feeling better…stronger. Selene and I went down to your training arena earlier, and one of your men showed me a few moves. He said I was a quick learner and is already talking about teaching me how to use different weapons.”
“Sounds like you’re a natural,” I replied. “I’ll let you get back to your moussaka. Let me talk to Marta again.”
“Yes, sir?” Marta said when she came back on the line.
“Make sure the triantáfyllis is protected from the wind. Chloris said we’re due for a violent storm later.” What I had told her was to protect Kara because she was in danger. It was a code that we had used for years. She would alert some of my men, and they would be in the penthouse immediately, prepared for trouble.
“I thought I felt something in the air. I’ll take care of it. We’ll save you some moussaka. I’m going to make some baklava, too.”
“My stomach is growling in anticipation already. See you shortly.” I hung up.
Alastor’s face had turned red during our conversation. When I disconnected the call, he launched himself out of my chair, jumping on top of my desk before vaulting off. I barely had time to dodge to my right before the sword sliced through the empty air where I had been standing. “How did she get here?” he yelled.
I circled away, my dagger pointing at him. “It does not matter how she got here,” I replied. “The important thing is that she is away from you.”
“NO!” He came at me again, the point of the sword aimed at my abdomen. Using the smaller knife, I knocked the blade away at the last moment. “I need her! I must make that sacrifice in order to secure my place in the Pantheon!”
“Dude,” I said, shaking my head sadly. “We haven’t done sacrifices in years. Obviously, you haven’t kept up with things as well as you think you have.”
Alastor spun around, swinging the sword as he did. He sliced my upper arm, the sharp edge cutting deeply. I growled, picked up one of the chairs in front of my desk, and hurled it at him. It hit him in the head, and he staggered for a moment. Seeing an opportunity, I rushed him, expecting to knock him to the floor before disarming him.
But he surprised me by quickly righting himself and swinging the sword again. This time, he caught me on the thigh, although the cut was not as deep. He moved to his right, twirling the sword. “I haven’t wasted all these years, Ares,” he chuckled. “I’ve learned to fight; I’m better than you are now. You’ve definitely grown soft.”
“This is hardly a fair fight,” I pointed out. “I have just a dagger, while you have my broadsword. If you wish to fight and prove your dominance over me, then it must be on equal terms. You can hardly declare a victory otherwise.” I looked at him. “Oh, I get it. You think by defeating me, you can become the new God of War and take my place.” I shook my head. “It will take much, much more than one fight to prove your worth to Zeus.”
“I have no intention of proving my worth to him,” he retorted. “I intend to kick him off the mountain and wear the crown myself.”
“Snowball’s chance in Hades of that ever happening,” I told him.
Alastor’s problem was his ego. Right now, he believed he had the advantage over me because of the sword in his hand. But he failed to notice that I had other weapons on the walls of my office. A couple of steps, and I had my hand on a spear. Yanking it down, I spun around and hurled it at him. It went into his left side, and he stumbled back. The sword in his right hand lowered slightly as he used his left hand to hold the spear. “You bastard!”
Ignoring his outburst, I crossed the room, intent on disarming him. But before I could, Hekate appeared in the doorway, her sword in hand. She swiftly flew across the room, and the tip of her blade was at Alastor’s throat before he realized it. “You will drop that sword, or I will run mine through what little brains you have in your head,” she said forcefully.
Alastor’s eyes widened at her words. I saw a look in his eyes, a wild look, like he was going to do something stupid. Hekate must have seen it as well, because she pushed the tip up slightly, drawing ichor. “It would be foolish to think I will not do what I said I would,” she told him. “I was listening outside to what you said, Alastor. I know who you are. This is not to avenge wrongs; this is crossing a line that you can’t come back from. If you truly want to prove you deserve a place here, then do it honorably. Not by kidnapping women or fighting a god we both know could kick your stupid ass in a fair fight.”
“Hiding behind the skirts of a mere woman now, Ares?” Alastor taunted me.
“She is a goddess, who has no need to prove that she belongs here. She is also one of my closest friends,” I said. The loss of ichor was starting to make me dizzy, but I was not about to let him know that. “I would strongly suggest that you do what she says. She doesn’t suffer fools gladly.”
I took a couple of steps closer, grabbed the end of the spear, and yanked it out of his stomach. “Besides, right now, I’d be more worried about that hole in your gut. A wise man knows when to walk away, to live to fight another day.”
Alastor’s face went pale as he pressed his hand over his wound. “Step back, woman, or I will not drop this sword.”
“If there is anything I can’t stand, it’s a bullshit ultimatum. Allow a Daughter of Zeus to show you how it’s done.” She smiled and set her feet, bracing herself, gathering her power. “If you don’t drop that sword, I’m going to skewer your head like a melon and feed your bones to my dogs. You have three seconds to convince me to change the menu. 1…2…”
Alastor drove the sword into the floor. “This is not over, Ares. I will be back for Kara, and I will have what I deserve. I am a god.”
“You’re a fool,” Hekate replied. “And do not go near Kara, or I swear I will help Ares find you and destroy you. I won’t tolerate anyone going after innocents.”
Alastor started to say something else, but decided not to and vanished with a loud pop. I sat down heavily in the other chair in front of my desk. Hekate looked me over, saw the two cuts, and frowned. “You let him do this to you?” she asked, putting her sword away and moving closer to examine the wounds.
“All I had was this,” I retorted, holding up the dagger. “Hardly effective against my broadsword, wouldn’t you agree?”
“I’ll give you that, but still…”
Neither one of us said anything for a few minutes while she treated my injuries. “What are you doing here, anyway? Not that I’m not grateful, mind you. Your timing was impeccable, although you could have come in sooner.”
“I came by to bring you the talisman I told you about,” she said, tying off the bandage around my thigh. “What you’re planning to do…I am concerned. I want to make sure you’re protected.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a necklace, the pendant of the four winds.
“I didn’t realize you cared so much, Kate,” I teased, taking it from her.
She looked flustered for a moment, standing up and taking a few steps back. “You know we have a good friendship, Ares. This is a talisman of the four winds; it will protect you from the forces you will encounter on your journey. The center spiral unwinds the opposite direction of the four winds, unraveling the powers in place. I don’t want any harm to come to you. Who would I have to spar with?”
I thought of teasing her about her situation with Hades, but felt that would be in bad taste, so I refrained. “Thank you…for this…and the friendship. It has been something I have always treasured.”
“What are you going to do about Alastor?”
“Find him. He knows where Aunt Demeter is; he intimated as much. I can’t help but wonder if she was the one who helped Kara find her way out of the Triangle.”
“It sounds like something she would do,” Hekate said. “But then why couldn’t she get out herself?”
“I don’t know,” I replied, shaking my head.
“Just be safe,” she said as she walked to the door. Turning back, she grinned. “While you’re gone, I can brag about how I had to save your ass in a fight.” She laughed as she left.
I was never going to live this one down…