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Salutatio

 

WAR.  The word is immoral and forbidden on Arcadia. 

WAR.  It is the word blamed for the corruption of ancient Earth and the obligatory exodus from our home world. 

WAR.  It is a fearsome word that fills all righteous hearts with dread. 

WAR.  The ugly word that has defined who I am and what I might become. 

 

WAR is the word the Olympians use to hide the truth.

The truth they would rather mankind not understand.

War didn’t cause the fall of Earth – the Olympians did. 

                                                           

Alexander, the Son of Ares

                                    Two thousand six hundred and forty-five years Ab Terra Condita

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

It is only the dead who have seen the end of war.

Plato

 

The valley of Artemis was eerily silent as the lone caravan ship returned to the stone haven it called home.   The majestic oaks of the surrounding forest sheltered the lush valley, dividing the lands of Metropolis from the golden fields of Demeter and the rocky foothills of New Athens.   As the caravan ship moved closer to the circular fortress, which was its destination, the wind tore across the grassy landscape causing the newly emerged blooms of spring to dance and sway in a lively earth bound rainbow.

The metal craft hovered for a moment then gently lowered itself to the ground.  A lone figure in black emerged from the ship.  If the gate had been guarded, as it should have been, the watch would have announced the safe return of the city’s Strategos.   Metropolis, the city he had created with his imagination and almost a decade of hard work, loomed above him.  Normally the site filled him with pride.

Alexander was the Son of Ares - the most feared and hated mortal on Arcadia.  His ambition and resourcefulness were legendary and would someday fill the dusty tomes of Athena’s Academy, but there was something those historians would never know, or hopefully even suspect - the Son of Ares was only human.  He was a man filled with doubt, fear, anger and frustration.  He was a vulnerable as any mortal – even if he let the world believe otherwise.

He had been told riots broke out when the citizens of Metropolis believed he had been captured by the Amazons.  His head had understood the news back then, but it only touched his heart as he stood here now.  Alexander sighed as he saw the smoke rising from within the city.  “What have they done?” he whispered in a low voice touched with pain.  The distant peal of thunder answered his query and his face flushed with raw anger. “Come on then, Athena.  I know you want to gloat!”

The inferno of the Son of Ares’ anger brimmed over at the next peal of thunder.  Metropolis was home to outcasts and refugees.  In a world controlled by the Gods of Arcadia, it was mankind’s only hope for freedom.  The high cyclopean walls had been built to protect the mortals from the Olympians, but today they had provided no safety.  Today the danger had come from inside the walls; today the danger had been the anger and frustration trapped within weak mortal hearts.

As the flowers dancing in the wind of the approaching storm caught Alexander’s eye, he marveled that the fates could so quickly remove the evidence of the recent battle.  Had only a few weeks passed since the automatons of Hephaesus had tested the walls of this fortress?   The Son of Ares had never been more proud of the citizens of Metropolis than on that day.   The cyclopean stones and the blood of 22 defenders had preserved city and unified the citizens against a common enemy.   

 

Alexander’s lungs burned from his sprint across Metropolis and rapid ascent of the cyclopean wall.   His heart beat rapidly against his chest like the wings of a caged bird trying desperately to find its way to freedom.  Even if he could never allow his men to suspect the truth, the Son of Ares knew his runaway pulse was caused as much by fear as by his recent exertions.  Fear was one of the less desirable traits of his mortal heritage, but at least his Olympian father gave him the strength to overcome such human frailties.

At last reaching the ramparts and looking out over the plain of Artemis, Alexander saw the formation of troops marching toward the gate.  Confusion won out over his lingering fear.  Something was wrong.  No more than fifty men were attacking Metropolis.  He saw no siege weapons with which this insignificant party could breach the gate.  Soon they would be within the range of his archers and even the armor they wore would not protect them entirely.  He couldn’t imagine what they hoped to accomplish by this futile attack, and that worried him.

“That isn’t many men!” Peleus yelled.

“They can’t even breach the gate with so few,” Therin agreed.

“This doesn’t make sense, Alexander.  Why would they attack without some chance of success?” Kern asked.

“I was wondering the same thing,” Alexander replied.  

“Do they think their armor will help them?” Peleus asked.

“What Olympian sect would have so many suits of armor?” Therin asked.

“Hephaestus,” Kern and Alexander replied, simultaneously reaching the same troubling conclusion.

“You don’t think?” Kern gasped.

“Only one way to know for sure,” Alexander said and then called down the wall, “Archers, prepare to fire!”

“Archers, prepare to fire!” echoed down the ramparts.

“Fire!” Alexander cried and watched twenty flaming arrows arch through the air toward the marching formation. 

Terror tore through his heart as not a single member of that formation slowed or stopped despite the deadly fire landing all around them.  Human troops would have displayed fear or at least taken evasive action.

 “How is that possible?” Therin cried.

“They’re automatons,” Alexander answered with a raw edge to his voice he usually hid from his raiders.  

Although Hephaestus did have a few human followers, the majority of his sect was composed of human-like automatons.  They worked the mines and performed other tasks considered too dangerous for men.  Alexander knew these creations of Hephaestus were without fear or mercy – thus would be almost impossible to stop.

“By the Goddess,” Kern whispered in horror.

 “Why would Hephaestus send his automatons to attack Metropolis?” Alexander wondered aloud.

“It doesn’t make sense.  We have never raided Erebus.  He has no reason to do this,” Kern mumbled.

Alexander looked over at his second-in-command curiously.  Kern was the only raid captain he had ever sent into the mountains of Hephaestus to obtain the Gaia stones that supplied the energy for every electronic device on Arcadia.  He had never questioned Kern about the exact details of his mission, since he had always come back successful.  Perhaps that had been a mistake.  The Son of Ares decided he wanted to discuss Kern’s raiding methods in greater detail – assuming they survived this battle. 

Alexander could sense the unease among the archers on the battlements as they realized their usefulness as the primary means of defense along the wall was negligible.   As the formation of automatons moved closer and closer to the walls of Metropolis the mumbling among the archers grew louder.  Alexander knew they needed encouragement – he certainly did.  The Son of Ares took a deep breath and allowed a satisfied grin to spread across his face.

“Don’t worry.  Arrows may not stop automatons, but our walls will.  They are trapped outside of Metropolis, unless you think we should open the gates and invite them in?”  Alexander mocked.

Muted laughter could be heard from all sides.

“Leave them to rust on the plain of Artemis,” Peleus shouted.

“Therin, take your contingent of archers down and find a way to reinforce the gate from the inside – just in case they try to break through,” Alexander ordered.

“Yes, Strategos,” Therin replied. 

Six of the archers from the right side of the ramparts followed Therin down the stairs to carry out the Strategos’ command just as the troop of automatons reached the gates of Metropolis and came to a halt in perfect unison. 

If he had not already known they were the automatons of Hephaestus, then that would have revealed the truth.  There had not been a visual or verbal command to coordinate the end of the formation’s forward movement and the strange silence that followed made the hairs on the back of Alexander’s neck stand up straight.  No human soldiers could have accomplished such a perfectly coordinated maneuver without some overt means of communication and maybe not even then.

“Alexander!” a voice from within the formation shouted.  “We have come for your surrender!”  The voice sounded human.

“I don’t think you brought enough men!” Peleus shouted.

The laughter of the raiders on the wall rang across the crisp morning air dissipating some of the fear and unease caused by the automaton’s approach. 

 “Every one of my automatons is worth ten of your raiders.  My troops are not bullies and cowards, but unstoppable machines,” the voice called.

Alexander strained to see any difference among the automatons to determine which one spoke.  The sun gleaming off their metal skin stung his eyes and thwarted his efforts.

“They are designed to be miners,” Kern called to Alexander, “I doubt they have any fighting skills at all.”

“But when you knock off one of their arms, an automaton will simply fight with the other.  They have no hearts to hold them back; no pain to stop them.  If I commanded them to attack, they would not stop until everyone in Metropolis was dead,” the voice taunted.

“Why would Hephaestus send his miners to kill everyone in Metropolis?  Just the attempt will cost the lives of his followers.  The Great Law of the Olympians forbids war,” Alexander shouted.

“I am surprised you would try to hide behind the Great Law, Alexander.  You can’t tell me the Son of Ares plays by the Olympians’ rules,” the voice scoffed.

“This isn’t a game.”

“The dead of Argos would agree with you, even if the Olympians are too timid to avenge them.”

            “Then Hephaestus didn’t send you to attack Metropolis?” Alexander speculated.

            “No,” the voice said.  “You could say I borrowed his automatons. They are not all that hard to reprogram.”

            Alexander looked over at Kern.  His nod suggested the stranger’s claim could be true.  If it wasn’t Hephaestus, then it was time to find out who they were really facing.

            “Who is clever enough to reprogram the automatons of Hephaestus?” Alexander asked.

Silence. 

“Unless you are too afraid of the Olympians to reveal your identity?” Alexander goaded.

            The raiders on the wall laughed. 

“I don’t fear you, Alexander, or the Olympians.  I am Rafe, an exile without a home or the protection of any of the Gods.  And yet, I am the servant of all the Olympians.  I am here to do what they cannot.  I am the man who will go down in Arcadian history for defeating the Son of Ares.”

            “You are very confident for someone down there, while I am protected by the walls of Metropolis,” Alexander replied.

            “You may think you are safe hiding behind your walls, but you couldn’t be more wrong.  Alexander, this is the last day of your life,” Rafe bragged.

            “Our Strategos isn’t scared of your tin soldiers!” Therin cried.

            “Are you willing to die to protect the Son of Ares?” Rafe asked.

            “We will fight for our Strategos and for Metropolis,” Therin replied.

            “For Metropolis!” echoed down the wall.

            Alexander smiled his heart overflowing with pride that so many now believed in his crazy dream. Metropolis was the home of the outcasts of Arcadia and they would not give it up without a fight.

            “Metropolis” resounded across the plain until the last whisper sputtered and vanished like the desperate flicker of a dying candle.  A blanket of silence fell across the plain.  Every man on the wall stood transfixed – waiting.

Rafe’s command broke the spell, “Automatons bring me the head of the Son of Ares!  Kill anyone who tries to stop you!”

            In confused dismay the men of Metropolis watched one automaton step from the formation and marched toward the gate.

            An intense feeling of danger unexpectedly filled the Son of Ares.  Why?  There was nothing one robotic miner could do against the massive gate of Metropolis.  It had taken a dozen men and a crane to erect the monstrosity.  The only thing that could bring it down again was... an explosion.  A single automaton filled with explosives might be able to do it.  

Finally understanding his adversary’s plan Alexander ordered his men into action, “Archers, fire at will.  Don’t let that automaton reach the gate!”

            Running toward the stairs Alexander cried, “Therin, get the men away from the gate.  Get them back, or ...”

            The Son of Ares was unable to finish his sentence as a concussive blast ripped through the air, and he was knocked back onto the stone steps.  The sound of screeching metal drowned out all of the noise and chaos around him as the massive iron gate shuttered and tiny pieces of stone rain down.  The gate still stood - barely, but Rafe and his automatons had done what he had thought was impossible; they had breached the walls of Metropolis.

 


            “Strategos,” Kern said quietly drawing the Son of Ares from his remembrance. 

Alexander looked back to see the bravest and strongest of his raiders pouring down the ramp of the caravan ship like the Myrmidons of Achilles storming the beaches of Troy.  They were the best Metropolis had to offer and he was glad they were with him.  He knew they would be vital to regain control of the city.

“Where is the watch?” Kern growled.   Alexander’s second-in-command frowned as his hazel eyes flashed with anger.  Kern was began life as a Son of the Earth but had wanted more than his Olympian could offer.  He had proven to be a formidable warrior and strategist, and the Son of Ares knew his life would have been wasted in the fields of Demeter.  

“I was wondering the same thing,” Alexander commented.

“Don’t the fools realize what could happen if we had been a hostile force approaching Metropolis?  Have they already forgotten the automatons?” Kern grumbled. 

Alexander nodded his head in silent agreement.  Hadn’t he just been thinking about the same thing?

“Have Byron and Cameron close the gates behind us and restore the missing watchmen to their post,” Alexander ordered. 

“At once, Strategos,” Kern nodded.

“Tell Captain Arius he will have to secure the caravan ship with just the twins.  I will need the rest of the raiders with me,” Alexander added. 

 “May the Goddess protect us from fools and mad men,” Kern muttered as he hurried back toward the caravan ship.  

“Tomas,” Alexander called to the young raider just descending the ramp. 

The dark haired teenager was tall and thin.  He had appeared alone at the gates of Metropolis two years ago.  He claimed he was an orphan, but would never say what sect he had come from.  Since Metropolis was a place of new beginnings, Alexander had never pushed the issue.  Still more boy than man, he was not really useful as a raider, but he had unusually long legs and was one of the swiftest runners in all of Metropolis.  Tomas’ speed had earned him the favor of Hermes who often employed him as a messenger.  Which was fitting since that was exactly the task Alexander had in mind. 

            “Yes, Strategos?” Tomas answered.

            “Run to the citadel and sound the bell to convene an assembly.  Don’t let anyone or anything stop you!” Alexander ordered.

            Without hesitation Tomas turned and raced toward the gate with a grace and speed that once again astonished the Strategos.  It was as if he were flying; carried by the legendary winged sandals of Hermes.  The Son of Ares shook his head and for the first time since he had learned of the riot, allowed himself a smile.  No wonder Hermes was so fond of the gangly youth

            “The rest of you with me,” Alexander called as he started toward the gates.

            “I hope it isn’t as bad as it looks from here,” Kern commented as he returned to Alexander’s side.           

            “I shouldn’t have taken so many of our best raiders with me.  I knew it was a trap,” Alexander muttered as the two comrades strode through the cyclopean walls into the unknown chaos of the city.

            “You were expecting an Amazon attack on you, not the city.  Taking a caravan ship full of raiders with you was a smart precaution.  You had no idea what would happen in Metropolis while you were gone,” Kern sympathized. 

            “I should have anticipated all possibilities and left someone behind with at least a little common sense,” Alexander scoffed.

            “I still don’t understand.  Why would the Council play Lady Ardella’s message for the people knowing their anger would turn to violence?” Kern wondered

            “Because the Council of Hermes is made up of idiots!” Alexander replied.

            “Kern!  Kern!” the small ragged boy running toward them cried. “You’re here!  You can save her!”

            “Logan, what is it?” Kern asked kneeling to catch the terrified child in his arms.

            “They’re hurting Amazons.   I told them she’s wasn’t an Amazon, she was my Mom, but they didn’t listen.  Please help her,” he begged.

            “Don’t worry Logan.  We’re here now.  Which way?”  Kern responded.

            “That way,” he said pointing toward the closest column of smoke, “By the sign with the snake lady.”

            “The Medusa tavern,” Alexander said knowing that was where the Amazon spy Kendra had worked.  

 

 

***

            The bitter smell of burning wood filled their nostrils as Alexander and his party reached the Medusa tavern.  Broken chairs and tables littered the street, while deep red puddles soaked the dark earth.   Let it be wine.  But as his foot slid on the slippery substance, he became aware of several bodies that lay unmoving amid the chaos.  

            “Kern, have the wounded taken to Apollodorus in the hospital,” Alexander ordered.

            “What about the dead?” one of the raiders asked.

            “Take everyone to Apollodorus,” Alexander insisted.

            Suddenly a woman’s scream echoed through the air.  

            “Inside,” Alexander cried as he rushed toward the door of the Medusa Tavern.

            “If you don’t stop protecting those Amazons, Titus, then we might just have to kill you, too,” Alexander heard the threat even before he could get through the rustic wooden door. 

The Strategos wondered how many times the men and women of Metropolis had walked through that very same door to find comfort in the arms of a strong drink and the company of others who understood their struggle against the Gods of Arcadia.  Titus and the Medusa Tavern were part of the fabric of Metropolis.  How could they turn against one of their own?

            The sound of the wooden door slamming into the adjacent wall echoed through the disarray of the normally friendly tavern.  Alexander stepped into the chaos angry and a little fearful of what he might find.  “What in the name of Hermes is going on here?” he roared.

Everyone in the room froze at the sound, giving the Son of Ares a moment to take in his surroundings.  Titus, the huge bear of a man that owned the Medusa Tavern, stood beside the bar at the far side of the room.  The bloody body of woman lay sprawled across the bar unmoving.  Titus’ bulking form half blocked the Strategos’ view of the other woman who still cowering behind the bar.  She was disheveled and terrified, but unlike the woman on the bar, at least she still looked alive.

            Alexander found himself hoping the woman behind the giant barkeeper was the boy’s mother and regretting he was not certain.  Although Kern had known the boy’s name, the Strategos could not recall if he had ever met the youth or his mother.  He spared a moment to acknowledge a pang of guilt.  So many outcasts and refugees had flocked to Metropolis in recent years that he no longer recognized every face in his city.

            “It’s the Strategos,” someone gasped.

            “He’s alive,” another man shouted.

            “Alexander,” a raider named Simon exclaimed.  As he turned to welcome the Strategos, the Son of Ares could not help but notice the bloody dagger in his hand.  At least he knew who is responsible for the poor woman on the bar.

            “What have you done, Simon?” Alexander asked with an angry edge to his voice. 

            The raider stopped suddenly and his brow furrowed.  Simon glanced down at the bloody dagger in his hand and doubt flash in his eyes.

            “She was one of the Amazons who set the murderer free,” he said defensively.  “They said Amazons had captured you.”

            “So you stabbed a defenseless woman?” Alexander asked in hushed voice cold with fury.

            Simon swallowed hard, but said nothing.  Alexander saw the hand holding the dagger tremble slightly.   Simon was afraid.  Good.  

“She’s an Amazon!” Simon mumbled at last.  “She deserved it.”

            “What proof did you have that this woman was an Amazon, before you attacked her?” Alexander asked.

            “I ...” Simon sputtered.

            “Kendra,” one of crowd called out.

“Yeah, Lily was friends with the other Amazon, Kendra,” Simon argued. 

“They were always together,” a man behind Simon added.

“Yeah.  Since Kendra was an Amazon, Lily must be an Amazon, too,” Simon reasoned as if that explained his actions.

“So you want me to believe she was guilty because of who she was friends with and that justifies your stupidity?”  Alexander roared.

“He thought she was an Amazon,” the man behind Simon said in his defense.

“Yeah,” other voices in the crowd agreed.

Alexander felt Kern and the other raiders behind him tense as the mood of the crowd changed slightly.  The Son of Ares knew they were struggling with the consequences of their recent actions, and that could make them defensive and perhaps even violent.  He hoped at least a few of them were beginning to doubt the wisdom of following Simon’s lead.

“So you all believe I should allow guilt by association to be the precedent here in Metropolis?” Alexander said turning away from Simon to address the crowd. 

Although he turned his back on the dagger and the ever more desperate hand holding it, he was not worried.  He knew Kern and the raiders would watch his back.  He trusted them with his life.

“So since all of you are friends of this idiot, I should take your heads at the same time I cut off his for the crime of murder?”  Alexander roared.

The crowd stirred uncomfortably.

“I’m not a murderer,” Simon whined.

“If she is dead Simon, so are you.”  Alexander said without even looking back at the raider. 

“I won’t let you execute me,” Simon roared. 

From the collective gasp of the crowd, Alexander suspected Simon had turned the dagger towards his back.  Even though every self-preservation instinct in him demanded he defend himself, the Son of Ares simply took a deep breath and glared at the crowd - waiting.

The sound of a struggle and the sharp snap of bone proceeded the echo of the dagger bouncing across the tavern’s floor.  Alexander turned expecting to find Kern had saved his life, but instead it was the innkeeper Titus who had one arm pinning Simon’s unbroken limb while the other was wrapped tightly enough around the poor raider’s neck for his face to be turning blue.

 “My thanks, Titus.  I am proud to have you in Metropolis,” Alexander said.  Glaring at the crowd again, he added, “Which is more than I can say for the rest of you!”

“I tried to protect her,” Titus mumbled his eyes downcast.  “There were too many of them.”

“I know you did,” Alexander offered.  He knew better than most the frustration of not being able to save everyone. 

“It wasn’t enough,” he whispered. 

“I think he is unconscious.  You can let go,” Alexander commented noting Simon’s eyes had rolled back into his head and his body was limp.

Titus let go, and Simon’s body slumped to the floor with a vulgar thump.

“Atticus, get Lily to Apollodorus as quickly as possible.  Hopefully she can be saved,” Alexander said.   Then turning back to Titus, he added, “If she dies, so does he.  I promise.”

“Good,” Titus grunted staring at the unconscious form of the raider.

“Is there anyone else here who you feel should be held responsible?”  Alexander asked. 

The old innkeeper’s eyes glowed with understanding and a grim look crossed his face as he turned toward the men and women who had destroyed his tavern and accosted his employees.  Titus looked out over the crowd who fidgeted under the scrutiny.   Many looked down either in shame or fear; none dared to meet the giant’s gaze.

“No,” he whispered at last turning back to Alexander.  “Some of them kept me from stopping Simon, but he was the leader and the one who stabbed her.”

Alexander nodded in understanding.  “Marcus, will you and Demetrius see that Simon is locked up until the Council of Hermes can pass judgment?”  Alexander ordered.  “After he is secure in Rafe’s old cell, see if you can locate the Council members.”

            “Of course, Strategos,” Marcus replied.

            As the two raiders carried away the unconscious Simon, Alexander remembered to ask his second-in-command the question that had bothered him since he entered the Medusa Tavern, “Kern, which of the two women is the boy’s mother?”

            Kern’s face went white.  “Lily was... is Logan’s mother,” he replied.  “We were too late.”

            “It would seem the Hound of Hades is running wild today,” Alexander sighed.

The distance echo of thunder rumbled through the air reminding Alexander the Olympians were watching the mortal drama unfold.  Enjoying the show?  Alexander swore he could hear laughter carried with the next peal of Athena’s thunder and he shook his head in disgust.

“So what do we do with the boy?”  Alexander wondered aloud. 

            “Deidra and I will take him in,” Kern replied.  Alexander nodded.  There was no orphanage in Metropolis, so it fell to individual families to take in children in need.  He knew how much Kern and Deidra missed their daughter, Breanna.  He hoped having someone to take care of would bring them comfort.

“I have stopped the bleeding,” Atticus said lifting Lily’s unmoving body.  “Hopefully Apollodorus can do more.”

Kern and Alexander watched the large Hermian carry Lily from the Medusa Tavern in a weary silence.

The silence was broken by a frightened voice outside the door.

“Mom, Mom,” Logan called.

“I need to check on him,” Kern started to explain.

“Go!  I will see you and Deidra at the citadel,” the Son of Ares encouraged.

            Alexander looked back at the crowd and his anger came rushing to the surface.  “As for you lot.  You are lucky Titus is a better person than I am.  If he had pointed the finger at any one of you, I would have taken him at his word, and you would be sharing a cell with Simon.”

            “But I didn’t do anything!” one man whined.

            Why did there have to be one in every crowd?  Part of the Son of Ares’ reputation had been earned dealing with threats to his authority decisively and severely, but it was not really something he enjoyed.  Nevertheless it was necessary and in this case gave him a target for his growing frustration.   The idiot in question found himself face to face with Alexander’s ire and his rock-hard fist.  The crowd surged away as the man fell - blood streaming from his nose. 

            “That’s for doing nothing while Lily was stabbed!” Alexander roared and then turned toward the cowering crowd.  “As for you – Titus may have shown mercy, but I am the Son of Ares and I have none!  I expect each of you to help with the rebuilding of the Medusa Tavern.  You will provide the materials and labor Titus requires or I will see you in the cell with Simon.  Is that clear?”

            “Yes, Strategos,” several voices in the crowd called.

            “It’s not fair I have to help.  I didn’t do anything,” one man whined.

            This group is not too bright.  No wonder they were following a fool like Simon. 

Alexander resisted the urge to use his fist again, and instead grabbed the man by the front of his shirt. Shoving him against the blood soaked bar, Alexander replied, “You did nothing.  Perhaps helping rebuild will teach you to take action next time.”

            “Next time?” the man croaked.

            Alexander released his hold with a weary sigh.  “May the Olympians have mercy on us, there will always be a next time!”  Alexander replied.

            As the sound of a bell tolling from the citadel echoed through the streets of Metropolis, all eyes toward the center of the city.  Alexander smiled.  Tomas had done his job quickly.  The Son of Ares looked out over the confused faces of the crowd in disgust.

            “You know what that sound means.  Get to the citadel at once.  Tell everyone you see along the way that the rumors of my capture by Amazons were lies.  All violence has to stop immediately,” Alexander reminded them.

            “Yes, Strategos,” several murmured and quickly exited the ruined tavern.  Two younger raiders came over to where Titus stood comforting the still trembling woman behind the bar.  Alexander knew Drake and Jason were brothers who were regulars at the Medusa Tavern, and he wondered why they had participated in its destruction.

            “Sorry about what happened … with Lily,” Drake offered, his head hung fretfully.

            “I’m glad you’re sorry, but that doesn’t help Lily, does it?” the old bartender replied gruffly.  Alexander saw both young men flinch, but said nothing.   From their miserable expressions, he knew they at least regretted what had happened.  Even more promising was that the old bartender’s opinion seemed to be important to them.  Perhaps there was hope they might still learn from this mistake.

            “We’ll make up to you.  We’ll be here first thing in the morning to help you clean up,” Drake promised.

“We didn’t realize Lily was the Amazon Simon was after,” Jason admitted.

            Titus turned abruptly and glared at the boys.

            “After all the time you have spent with her, did you really think Lily was an Amazon?”  Titus asked.

            They shook their heads.  A knowing look passed between the two young men.   “No,” they replied in unison.

            “I don’t think Simon really believed she was an Amazon either.  He just wanted to get back at her,” Jason said.

            “Get back at her?  Why?” Titus asked.

            “You let your girls choose their customers.  Lily turned Simon down more than once,” Jason said.

            “Simon didn’t take it too well,” Drake explained.

            “You knew this and didn’t try to stop him?”  Titus asked.

            “He got the crowd all worked up.  If we had tried to stop him...” Jason started to explain but his face turned red and he looked away. 

            Neither Drake nor Jason could look old Titus in the eye.

            “He might have turned them on you,” Titus finished for him.

            “Something like that,” Drake admitted.

            “So better Lily than you, right?” Titus growled.

            “We’re sorry,” Drake said.

            “I am sure Logan will be glad to know his mother died to save your worthless lives,” Titus said.

            “What can we do to fix this?” Jason asked.

            “Nothing!  It is too late to fix it.”

            “Titus, please,” Drake pleaded.

            Titus looked over at Alexander and raised a single eyebrow as if seeking his opinion.  The Son of Ares was impressed by the insight of the two youths and the willingness to admit they were wrong.  There was potential there that they might grow into better men because of this day.  Alexander nodded, certain that the old bartender had come to a similar conclusion.

            “Can you both make me a promise?” Titus asked.

            “Anything,” they replied almost in unison.

            “In the future think before you follow some fool calling for blood, and for Dionysus’ sake pick the right side next time!” he barked.

            “We promise,” they swore.

            “Now get to the citadel with the others,” Alexander ordered.

            “I’ve known Jason and Drake since they were boys.  I expected better from them,” Titus said to Alexander after the two youths were gone. 

            “I expected better from the citizens of Metropolis.  I’m afraid were both disappointed today,” Alexander agreed.

            As Alexander turned to leave, Titus called after him, “I’m sorry.  I had no idea what Kendra planned to do.  I didn’t know she was an Amazon.”

            “Don’t let it bother you.  None of us suspected her.”