Malus: World of War I
By The BlackPhoenix100
The Son of Hermes
Stories you should be familiar with:
God of War
Kung Fu Panda
Percy Jackson and the Olympians
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Kratos stood like a mighty automaton above a city before a round table of marble, looking down upon a large map upon it which detailed all of Greece. His soldiers stood beside him, drawing circles and X's across the map, X's for where they were likely to find suitable children of Olympus or such mighty beings strong enough to aid them in the great assault that was to come, and circles for cities that may have a gateway to Olympus or some other great power strong enough to defeat the Mountain hidden within them. Kratos could have very well left the Spartans to chart the courses themselves, but as he saw it, he would not have been fit to be a leader unless he avidly participated in whatever he ordered his soldiers to do. Tai Lung was leaning against the glass window nearby, which depicted the greatest and proudest of the Ghost of Sparta's accomplishments, and the cornerstone of very nearly every mortal's fear of him: his slaying of Ares. Meanwhile, Meta Knight stood at Kratos' side, studying the map before him intently. He knew that Kratos was the one the prophecy had spoken of, and he needed to stay by his side to see it through to the end. The salvation of all worlds depended on it.
The cold focus of the room was barely broken when a Spartan messenger, beads of sweat gathered across his face, walked in, only a couple of Spartans barely paying him any mind as the vast majority of the hardened, life-long warriors continued their study of the map. He walked up to Kratos, still standing unflinching above the map, and whispered what he had to say in his ears. With their prodigious hearing, Meta Knight and Tai Lung could both hear what the messenger was saying. Tai Lung walked away from the window, his eyes widening slightly as he heard the name of a legendary demigod, while Meta Knight, despite also recognizing the subject's name, barely reacted.
"Luke Castellan?" said Tai Lung.
The entire room suddenly stirred as every Spartan turned toward the snow leopard, growing suddenly eager as they heard his words. There was astonished muttering heard throughout the room, such as,
"The son of Hermes?!"
"The wielder of Backbiter!"
"He's never lost a battle!"
"Let's pray he's our ally."
Kratos' eyes were widened slightly, but he was still as calm as ever.
"It's unlike the boy to announce his presence, even as subtly as this."
Meta Knight had a glare in his eyes.
"I somewhat doubt the validity of his claim, Lord Kratos."
Ulgius, who stood by Kratos' right, put his hand beneath his chin, listening carefully to what was transpiring. He knew very well the importance of what was at hand, and he knew how great an ally or great an enemy the great Luke Castellan could be.
"What is his word?"
Kratos crossed his arms. He didn't so much as stare into Ulgius' eager eyes with his own, which looked as barren and fierce as a rippling desert as he remained deep in thought, as he almost always was.
"He knows of our exploits. What others are calling the Battle of the Storm. He wishes to join us against the Olympians."
Ulgius widened his eyes, in bewilderment of Kratos' doubt in Luke.
"How could you take his claims as a lie? He despises the Olympians as Frollo despises the Gypsies. And his prowess as a warrior shouldn't be neglected, even by the likes of you, Lord Kratos. He'll be all but the best asset."
Kratos continued to remain as still as a gargoyle as he thought this idea over. The only problem was, Luke was a hard man to predict. He was a manipulative and crafty man, and was not the easiest to sincerely get along with, for reasons that the God of War could perfectly understand. However, the King of Sparta was more than willing to take the word of Ulgius, his most trusted and faithful soldier. The Spartan general had befriended Luke during a brief skirmish against Persia during their second attempt to conquer the city-state, and the former seemed to know him and emulate him like an older brother, despite Ulgius being the eldest of the two by a small gap. If this was Ulgius' word, he should trust it.
"I'll leave it to you to recruit him, Ulgius."
Tai Lung stepped forward.
"Leaving a mortal to confront a legendary demigod? That's a fool's errand. Let me go. I'm good with persuasion, be it with my fists or my words."
Kratos raised an eyebrow. Tai Lung was indeed one of the most legendary warriors of all time as the first to master the Thousand Scrolls of Kung Fu, and had demonstrated his more than prodigious skills already, removing any doubts he'd originally had about his skills. But he quickly made his decision.
"Ulgius is no demigod, but he is of kindred spirit."
Tai Lung took a quick glance toward Ulgius, who looked back with a slight edge of defiance in his eyes. Tai Lung merely pushed him to the side slightly, locking gazes with Kratos' ever fierce expression.
"We don't win allies through negotiations. We win them through broken bones and split skulls. You of all people should know this... Ghost of Sparta."
Kratos' eyes suddenly widened as he heard that horrid title, that eternal reminder of the mistake which continued to deny him solace. As the painful images of his wife, Lysandra, and his daughter, Calliope, flashed through his mind like a jolt of pain, he clenched his fist in resentment and anger, closing in toward Tai Lung. The snow leopard quickly reached out toward Kratos' throat, only to be swiftly and easily grabbed by the arm. Then, the room rang with the swords of Spartans being unsheathed in a haze of steel.
Tai Lung looked around, an incredibly cocky and confident grin that seemed to oil through his ferocious eyes.
"No," said Kratos calmly, regaining hold of himself. He knew this was his outburst, not Tai Lung's.
"Ulgius will be the one to do this," he said, his voice seeming to exude terrifying fury that would instill dread into even the most courageous of men and women.
Tai Lung continued to smile, but his grin was wavering. He was doing his best to hide the slightest fear in his heart of hearts, but Kratos could sense it like an animal sensing its prey.
The snow leopard backed off slightly, cracking his knuckles. The motion was so powerful that everyone else in the room, except for Kratos and Meta Knight, were knocked off balance for the briefest of moments. However, the fierce valor ever present on their faces didn't fade in the slightest.
"Fine," Tai Lung said slowly and with menace creeping into his voice.
He stepped back, eying the Spartans around him nonchalantly as they continued to hold their weapons up. Looking around himself, Ulgius sheathed his sword.
"Sheathe your weapons," he commanded.
The rest of the soldiers did as they were commanded almost instantly, aside from a bit of hesitance, the steel of their swords slithering across the metal of their sheathes as the weapons were stored back at their sides. But the Spartans were still holding onto them like cherished pets, ready to draw them on the martial artist at any minute.
Kratos' eyes moved across the room, observing everything, from his soldiers' movements, to Tai Lung's battle-ready eyes, to Meta Knight's ever apathetic expression. He then turned to his messenger, intense silence in the room.
"Give Ulgius the map."
The messenger, looking uneasily at Tai Lung for a moment, slowly reached toward the map. Like all Spartans, he trusted Tai Lung well enough. Another thing he shared in common with the rest of them is what he truly feared: the destruction that would be brought about should Kratos and the snow leopard become enemies. It was a fear gripping all of the soldiers ever since the Battle of the Storm, after which Kratos had become slightly even more bitter, and therefore, his relationship with Tai Lung slightly more volatile.
Ulgius took the map calmly and gave a long, decent look at it. Kratos looked behind him at the rest of the Spartans, who quickly resumed work, trying their best to hold on to the dignity expected of them in the presence of two such powerful entities. And they hadn't even seen what Meta Knight was capable of yet, so that made three powerhouses to worry about.
Ulgius looked up from the map after a couple of seconds.
"I'll ready the horses and ride as soon as I can."
Ulgius then bowed to his king with the utmost respect and turned to leave. However, he instantly turned when Kratos spoke again.
"Take Aether and a few others with you."
"Yes, Lord Kratos," said Ulgius as he took one more bow, turning once again to leave the room.
Kratos himself walked away, passing Tai Lung without even looking him in the eye.
"A word," he quickly said to the leopard, who still crossed his arms.
Tai Lung cracked his neck, readying himself for whatever the God of War might have to say, or do, to him.
They left through a wooden doorway into an outdoor hall overlooking a garden. Then Kratos stopped, reaching his arm out in front of Tai Lung to signal him to stop.
"Question me. Question an order if you see fit. Any wise soldier knows to do that."
Kratos spoke his words calmly, but with a tone of intimidating ferocity creeping in. But then he raised his head, continuing with a more bitter and spiteful tone in his voice.
"But call me by that epithet again, you'll spend an eternity in the Underworld wishing you hadn't heard the slightest whisper of my name. Do you understand?"
Tai Lung arched his neck backward, walking underneath Kratos' arm. His arms were at his side, looking broad and deadly, like he was prepared for a fight at any moment, as he always was.
"I understand that you're forgetting who you are," responded the leopard. This time, it was his turn to not look him in the eye.
Kratos raised an eyebrow, his fists curling with such force that Tai Lung, with his incredible senses, could feel the grip of his hands, even from the distance he was standing from.
"We're warriors and conquerors, Kratos."
Tai Lung turned all the way to face the king of the land which he stood within, leaning against a pillar immediately to his left.
"Trust is assured and gained through might, not hollow words."
"Ulgius and Luke are friends. There is no force required in something as simple as that."
Tai Lung laughed, as if finding what Kratos said to be a ridiculous concept.
"Friendship. If there was truth in such a word, do you think any of this would have ever happened? People who were once friends devour each other like rapid wolves. They'll continue to do it. Treachery is the innate nature of those that live and breathe."
"Spare me the lecture," Kratos responded apathetically.
"Believe what you will. But Ulgius may not return alive. And if he does, he will return having learned just how valuable friendship truly is, when Luke drives Backbiter through him. Then, you can tell me I'm wrong."
Tai Lung then grabbed onto the pillar, pulled himself around it, and pushed his hands off it when he had performed a two-hundred-seventy degree spin around it, flying across the hall and back to where the door to the chart room was. And without another word, he simply pushed the doors aside and walked through.
Kratos merely stayed. There was truth in Tai Lung's words, he tried to deny. But he had felt the brunt of treachery from those he called his own, and had dealt the worst caliber of it toward those whom he loved and loved him in return, without condition. How could treachery and war possibly not be the world's regulation when it was all he had ever known, and all that he was?
THE PRINCESS ANDROMEDA, ITHACA, GREECE, 2:11 PM
It had been a ride of several hours from which Ulgius still soared. But his horse, a creature with as great a heart as any a soldier, had carried him through the road to Ithaca, which the great hero Odysseus ruled years ago, with barely any cease. This was where Luke had assured his location would be. And the Spartan rode alone, against Kratos' orders, for he wished to greet his good friend as a fellow companion, not as a warrior, despite the atypical Spartan garb of brass armor, a sword, and a shield that he bore. And there were suspicions that he'd had that he needed to confirm himself. After a few more minutes of riding, his view trembling as his horse's hooves shook the ground harshly, he pulled the reins of the animal, bringing it to a steady halt. Stepping off the horse, Ulgius now stood at the bay of Ithaca, looking forward at Luke's modern day cruise ship, the Princess Andromeda. Luke had taken to being a businessman as of recent times, and had been so successful in his dealings with organizations such as Xanatos Enterprises and the League of the Black Sands that he had become a multi-millionaire. Luke was standing at the top of an inclined plane leading up to the ship, wearing an blue, open vest, revealing his eight-pack and muscular structure underneath, and gray cargo shorts, his usual attire when he was out on vacation. He proceeded down the ship with his hands in his pockets, a cheerful expression on his face marred only by the scar he had received from the dragon Ladon in the Garden of the Hesperides, to which he had been sent several years ago by Hermes, a father he now resented.
Ulgius took a bow as his friend reached the end of the inclined plane, Luke only chuckling in response.
"Kratos still making you get blood all over your face?" asked Luke in a jolly mood.
Ulgius stood up straight and extended his arms out. For once in a while, he was beginning to feel the splendors of a life beyond the one as a Spartan.
"Only where it gets too clean," he responded.
"The last thing the Spartans need is a general with a woman's face."
Luke then extended his own arms out. The two gave a friendly hug to the other, Luke patting Ulgius on his armored back. Then Luke backed away quickly, pulling Ulgius' sword with him as quickly as lightning, twirling it about before pointing the tip straight at his friend's neck playfully. He had inherited his raw speed and knack for stealing from his father, as much as he disdained admitting it.
Ulgius walked toward the ship, in a far more carefree nature than usual, snatching his sword back nonchalantly.
"And here I was believing that you were done with that."
"Old habits," Luke replied slyly, wrapping his hands behind his head. However, as Ulgius was looking away and marveling at the Princess Andromeda, Luke's eyes were narrowing. The demigod could only hope that he would not have to make an enemy of his friend this day.
As the two reached the top of the inclined plane, there were several workers and servants in togas and Roman armor either doing their parts to keep the vessel in cleanliness and amp condition, or on their breaks enjoying arm wrestling matches, ping-pong games, Poker, simple chats, or other countless things to do on the ship. The bright sunlight was glistening off the polished ship and the shimmering sea, adding to the Princess Andromeda's already regal appearance. But Luke and Ulgius paid them no mind, as the former of the two led the general to his cabin.
"I've gotta admit, you're not the one I was expecting to come down here. But it's still good to see you again."
"I presume you were expecting Lord Kratos himself?"
"No. A messenger. There's no way I'd let that ash-coated hunk of carnage on any ship of mine."
Ulgius frowned slightly. Friend or not, he would let nobody talk that way about the closest thing he had ever had to a father.
"Careful who you insult, Luke. Lord Kratos is a hero."
"There aren't many heroes around anymore. And I don't count a man who murdered his own flesh and blood as one of them."
Anger began to grow inside Ulgius at those words, but he chose to merely brush it off. He had no wish to make his visit with Luke one filled with arguments.
"You intend to aid us in the coming battle, do you not?" said the Spartan, careful not to mention Olympus aloud so as to avoid the omnipotent wrath of its rulers.
Luke rolled his eyes. His friend had pathetically devoted himself to a butcher.
"We'll talk about it when we get to the cabin. Who knows? I don't think you'd like me saving your life twice, anyway."
Ulgius laughed at the memory.
"That skirmish against the Athenians doesn't count. The arrow would have struck my shield had you not been there."
After a few more minutes of walking through the exterior, and later, interior of the ship, worthy of wealth and royalty, their surprisingly amicable chatting coolly ringing through the halls and corridors of the marvelous ship, they soon arrived at Luke's cabin. The cheerful decoration of the ship that welcomed Ulgius like a warm and caring mother to her tired and weary child, and the rare friend that he was able to find in Luke charmed him like a lethal serpent.
The cabin, large for even a captain's cabin, had an illustrious bed right next to a window overlooking the sea, adorned with fresh sunlight. There was a shelf of several large books of different kinds to the bed's immediate left, in front of which was a desk built from polished oakwood. A red carpet was laid over the floor, forged from gold. There was also a bar in the corner, the wall to its immediate right bearing an intricate collection of weaponry and works of steel, bred for war, and vast enough to fill a large portion of an armory. Ulgius was impressed by most of it, but the rest of the cabin's design was null to him compared to the assortment of armory mounted on the cabin wall. He stared on for a moment, having never seen an armory so well cared for and untarnished by the bloody trials which consumed his culture. But this did not distract him in the least from the matter at hand.
"So, the Ghost wants a soldier?" said Luke with a tad of venom in his voice, walking with his hands in his pockets over to his desk. He rubbed his fingers across the desk as he walked to a chair.
Ulgius took in Luke's words, but also took his time to look around at the room he was in. It was not often he was in the presence of such wealth, and though he found it not nearly worthy of a Spartan, it was still a difference from the regulation that he had been immersed within since he began.
"You and I both know that you are more than just a soldier," said Ulgius with slightly forced cheerfulness. He was still at ease around Luke, but the hint of tenacity he had just heard in his voice gave him an ill feeling that the demigod would not be so easily swayed to Kratos' side.
"You rebelled against the ruling powers of this world, made your own power. It's your accomplishment of forging your own divinity that I find myself envying from time to time."
Luke chuckled, the cynicism seeming to grow in his blue eyes, ferocity latching its way into them.
"Real divinity is making the world a better place. That's something too many people with power can't realize."
Ulgius took a seat at the other end of the desk, still unable to help but look around with continued intrigue at the wealth of the cabin.
"That is something you do. Yes?"
"It's been made harder. Most of the businesses that I worked with were bankrupted by LexCorp or torn apart by that so-called Joker. Thing about Lex, he's a good partner, but he tends to spread his power a bit too far. Cobra Industries... well, their dispersion speaks for itself. Xanatos Enterprises went dark on me a couple weeks ago. The League of the Black Sands vanished when Mozenrath died, as you well know. What I'm looking for is power that won't go awry. Power that can be trusted and will serve the world for the better."
Ulgius nodded his head. The words of business that seemed to spew from Luke's mouth were an alien language to a Spartan general with no expertise in that kind of world, but their views on power and how it should be properly wielded were entirely mutual. It was a perspective that they had known each other to share for years.
"I know that you lack the utmost respect for him, but Lord Kratos is the leader that you seek," said Ulgius, choosing his words carefully so as to not inflame Luke's bitter feelings toward the god.
Luke's face seemed to darken for a second, but then returned to its more pragmatic and calm exterior. He felt that if he heard one more pronouncement of loyalty toward a savage god, then he would have to pillage a temple.
"He's not my leader, Ulgius," said Luke.
"Like I said before, he uses his power to betray and murder. That's not the kind of future this world needs. Not the kind that I'm planning to offer it."
Ulgius winced a bit, trying to hold back an intense scowl at hearing his king, his idol be denounced as such. He would have held his sword up to Luke's throat and threatened him not to say such thing if it had not been for their friendship. Because of the anger that he was holding back, what really mattered about what Luke said failed to sink in immediately. And when it did, the anger wore of like water absorbed into a sponge.
"Are you saying that you have your own plans?" Ulgius asked. Could his suspicions be coming true before his eyes?
"Of course," Luke responded coldly as he rose.
"To destroy the rulers of this world and create a new supremacy. One where humanity can finally reach its perfection. There will be sacrifices, but we can finally make a world rid of all this evil."
Ulgius himself rose. He tried to look as calm and friendly as he could, but the words coming from Luke's mouth were beginning to sound extreme, even for the likes of him. He kept the fingers of his left hand wrapped around the handle of his sword, ready to draw it if the situation were to become too dangerous.
Luke suddenly smiled. But this smile was barely charming, and certainly not amicable. It was bitter and conniving, almost evil.
"What I'm looking to do Ulgius, is create a utopia that can truly, finally prosper. But that can't be achieved with the world's current regulation. With billions of people on this earth, mankind only thinks of the individual interest. They scramble and vie for power and betray each other for their own selfish ambitions. Politics, religion, money, nationality. They're all considered the great powers of this world. Look at what they've done. They've torn everything apart over and over again. They've ruined this world. And what is the root of all this evil?"
Ulgius' eyes were widened. He had never seen so deeply into this side of Luke. What he was suggesting was dangerous.
"What is the root?!" Luke shouted in a sudden, unanticipated bout of rage, his smile quickly fading to a snarl.
Ulgius tightened his grip on his sword.
"You should tell me."
Luke's snarl faded slightly, but still remained.
"Humanity, Ulgius. Humanity is the reason this world has suffered so much."
"What madness has bled your tongue, Luke?! Humanity has rose above the clouds, through a storm that constantly rocked it and tore it off balance. They have the ability to corrupt, but it is their ability to change for the better that has preserved them where animals have failed!"
"They should have stayed below the clouds. When an animal with fur and claws evolves, they become more capable of countering what the world has to throw at them. When man evolved, they took their new power as a declaration of superiority, of dominance. They took it as a right to destroy and pillage, Ulgius! When they evolved, they became more and more dangerous, and ripped the equality of this world apart! And the gods?"
Luke chuckled cynically, almost sounding insane.
"The gods! They push those beneath them down when they become threats! They say that they help the world, but how could they? They threaten others and idolize themselves and do nothing while man tears itself apart every day. Their image is ten times the menace that man is. They created them to flex their muscles, but for what else? That's why it's not just them who have to die!"
Ulgius didn't know what to say. He always suspected that Luke would go down this path, but it couldn't be true.
"You plan to destroy humanity?"
"Of course not. What we need to do is take Olympus. Remold the world the way it was meant to be by the Creator before he passed his reins to tyrants and killers. I'm in league with the kind of people who can make these things happen. We're going to thin the dying tree down. Bring humanity to its knees so that they can no longer oppress and butcher the man or woman at their side. We're going to weaken them beyond the point of evolution. Without their power, they'll be subservient to people like us, who want what's best for the world. Who want to nurture it and bring it back to its rightful place. We're going to create our own leadership. Chain man together so that they can no longer destroy each other. If we do this Ulgius, we can finally know a world rid of imperfection."
Ulgius barely knew what to say. He was appalled by Luke's ideals and his clear contempt toward mankind, yet he couldn't help but truly share his friend's beliefs.
"This is the talk of a madman, Luke," said Ulgius, unable to look his friend in the eye, for worry that he might be forced to agree.
"You know it as much as I do. You've been raised as a butcher your whole life alongside an entire city of butchers."
"Don't mistake warriors of Sparta for bloodthirsty cowards, Luke! There is no greater honor than death on the battlefield."
"Yet you told me in Athens that you had qualms about it. About taking lives from other humans who were just fighting for what they believed in. For pillaging, raping, and slaughtering alongside bronze-clad barbarians who pretend to be heroes when they kill for something as selfish as conquest. That's what your people do. It's what your ash-charred king has led you to do. The Spartans have always been evil, Ulgius. But the Ghost has turned them into animals."
Ulgius' eyes bulged as the final straw was pulled. Quickly reaching behind him toward his chair, he picked the heavy, cloth ridden seat up with his right hand alone and threw it over his head toward Luke's torso. But the son of Hermes, without so much as looking toward the makeshift projectile, drew his sword with speed of lightning and knocked the chair to his right with a lazy flick of the blade. The chair landed with a heavy thud, rolling across the floor and into the bar, causing it to shake and knock down and shatter a couple of well-designed drinking glasses.
"You were the cloaked shade in the storm!" shouted Ulgius in regret, betrayal, and anger.
"What other man has ever deflected an arrow into an abyss? Who else could have manipulated an entire army to his side? Kratos slaying the king is part of your plan, isn't it?"
Luke chuckled in what seemed to be a very subtle hint of contempt mixed with anticipation.
"Hopefully he'll just kill Zeus. I want to kill dad myself. But how will that stop him, even if he knew?"
Ulgius was too consumed by his conflicting feelings that he barely took what Luke said in. But he exclaimed anyway,
"He's a murderer and a cutthroat, but he's like me in one way. He'd do exactly what I'm trying to do. He'll do it for different reasons, but he'll make no resistance. He won't disagree. You think that my actions are the work of a monster? I dare you to tell me that Kratos is doing anything better."
Ulgius opened his mouth to argue that his king would indeed do something better. But no words came from his mouth, gaped open and with nothing he could say. But Luke could tell just by looking him in the eyes that Ulgius realized the bitter truth: There was truth in the demigod's words.
"You're giving your allegiance to a villain, Ulgius. You're better than that, aren't you? You can be better than this," Luke continued, with what seemed to be genuine concern and sympathy in his eyes and in his voice, which now lacked the hint of rage that was so dominant before.
"I'm a Spartan," said Ulgius, turning away and grabbing at his hair in futile conflict and frustration.
"What does that word mean? They're going to do terrible things in this war. People will suffer because of them. Then, when you realize that I'm telling the truth, you can choose."
Ulgius turned, the burning and confused rage of an animal in his eyes.
"Who and what you'll put your life on the line for. A father figure, a brute king who will tear this world apart. Or your oldest friend, a man who wants to end the suffering."
"What you offer for this world is not salvation!"
"But it's not what Kratos offers either," said Luke very calmly.
"Try and think about what he'll bring to this world. Will he even try to save it when the Olympian King's dead? What will happen to mankind? He'll let them drown while he wallows in his own misery and futile lust for power. What good will the name of Sparta be then? Not only will he let his own soldiers die, but he'll let the name of your nation die too."
Luke's words crept into Ulgius' head like unshakable, relentless emotions of negativity and doubt of what he had known since birth.
"Lies!" was all that he could think to say.
"Fine then. Go back to Sparta. Tell them that I'm going against them. See what they'll do. See what Kratos will keep making them do. See how man is brought even lower than it is now because of him. You'll see. I guarantee it."
Luke then sheathed his sword, going back to the chair of his desk casually, as if nothing had happened.
"And bring a couple of drinks for them if you'd like. Just leave a drachma on one of the bar shelves."
Ulgius, still shaking the shock of this encounter from his wearied mind, stepped back toward the door as if treading on thin ice, as Luke merely picked up his cellphone, beginning to search through a number of his very many speed dial contacts. But rather than leave immediately, the Spartan turned to address his old friend, now a possible enemy, one more time.
"If I join the Spartans, will you have the gall to kill me? Or will it mark your final loss?"
Luke took his thumb off the phone, the words of the man that he hoped would continue to be his ally striking a worried chord in his conscience. But then, trying to hide his hesitance from Ulgius, as well as himself, he continued to search for the client he sought to call, his focus on business washing away his doubt all too slowly. As Luke continued to search through his numerous less than honest associates for one of his foremost acquaintances, Mr. Wilson, Ulgius proceeded toward the door, but took one more moment to look back. He looked into Luke's blue eyes, and though he did not see them look back, he could have sworn he saw them struggling with their current gaze. Hoping the best for whom he had always known as the best and most noble of any companion, Ulgius left back to Sparta, his whole journey back bearing him with a solemn face, a struggling conscience, and two tenacious crossroads that lied before him.
DETROIT, MICHIGAN, 7:36 PM
Albert Simmons drove his fire-red ferrari through his birth town, his heavy and burdened eyes peeled without cease to the road, his hands placed calmly on the black, leather wheel, and his mind set in grim thoughts. Though his reputation as a military man and a mercenary was formidable, to himself he was but a common man, rarely happy and merely doing what he felt was the right thing within a world in which he wanted to make a difference. And though he always despised the repulsive normalcy of his hometown as a boy, now it seemed to be the only kind haven for him. For not even his conscience could provide him complete comfort anymore. The only place where he could seem to find peace was in the very hometown he once loathed, and with the wife with whom he expected a child.
Detroit was now a quiet and run-down place. Not ridden with poverty or crime, but with much less life in it than it used to have as a child. Especially in the dark night sky, it seemed like a primitive place, despite its relatively civilized and peaceful nature, a nature which appealed to Simmons' usually cold demeanor. It was neither wealthy or poor. It was modest, with shortcomings that once pushed Albert away from it now bringing him back to the humanity which he felt slowly escaping his reach every day.
Simmons brought his car to a slow and steady halt on the left of a sidewalk. For he had arrived at his home in the suburbs, which had not seen his presence in over a year, besides the occasional company of brief phone calls and emails to his beloved wife, Wanda Blake. Stepping out of the car, he felt the asphalt of the road beneath the soles of his boots, giving him a surprisingly welcome feeling to be back home. A welcoming feeling still damaged by his self-doubt, for he was not sure that this was a feeling he deserved. Walking around the black flame spray-painted hood of his exotic car, he kept his chin up and his back straight as best as possible. For despite being an unwaveringly cold being in the world which he primarily functioned in, away from it he felt different. Vulnerable. Away from his high reputation as a skilled soldier and prodigious tactician, he only bore repressed regret toward the home which he had left behind, the home that he spent every day trying not to miss. Walking up the concrete stairs, still drying from the rain which had fallen hours ago, he arrived at a wooden door painted red, his knocks on it exuding hesitance rarely felt by an otherwise brooding mercenary. He could hear an old wooden stool be pushed back on the marble kitchen floor, and Wanda's sandal clad footsteps announcing her approach toward the door, growing closer and closer. Then, Simmons straightened himself out as best as he could when the brass doorknob turned and the slab of wood that kept him from seeing his wife was pulled open.
To see Wanda after all their months apart was a welcome back to a better world for him. Away from all the carnage, all the corruption that he was forced to endure in the ever-growing war. Wanda herself felt at untold relief to see her husband well and alive, and to know that he still cared to visit her and Cyan, the unborn girl who still lied in her womb, waiting to be born into the world. Her eyes squinted slightly upon seeing Simmons, as if struck with a scarcely familiar sight, then widened with joy. She rushed toward him and gave him a tight, warming hug, which Simmons returned, finding it in him to smile happily as well, something which he did not get to do so often anymore.
"You're alright!" said Wanda, choked up with tears.
"Albert, you're alright!"
"You didn't forget who you're talking about, did you?" he said in a bittersweet tone as his mind flashed back to the hardships of the battlefield which he returned to every day.
Wanda slowly let go, seeming as if it was hard to do so, and walked inside, Simmons following. His eyes wandered about as he looked at his house. It was once a very simple house, just like the town. But with her own business savvy as an executive for LexCorp and the various small fortunes made from her husband's successful, but dangerous career, she had turned the once simple home enough for a husband and a wife at the most into a relatively extravagant house where Cyan could be raised happily. And though it was the box of a homeless vagrant compared to all of palaces and war fortresses he had stayed in during his time as a mercenary, it was Heaven for him. And yet, he always dreaded the ever-growing desire of returning it, for reasons that he hated to explain.
"I've taken good care of it," said Wanda, seeming to struggle to find the right words to say to her long-gone lover.
"You always do," replied Albert, still taking in the grasp of being back in his home for the first time in months.
Wanda walked over to the nearby dining room and sat down at the far head of the table, twiddling her thumbs as she continued to wonder what right words she could say to ease the discomfort that she and Albert shared. Though Albert was skilled at hiding his emotions, she could always read him like a book.
"When do you think you'll come back?" Wanda finally said, looking up at Albert.
Albert jolted his head toward Wanda, pulled from a very deep thought.
"I am back."
"But for good," said Wanda with a hint of sadness in her voice.
"When will you come home?"
Albert sighed, having just heard a suggestion which he spent day after day wishing it could happen, wondering what it would be like. But after nine years spent in the soldier's career and in the basking sunlight of a quickly gained reputation for his capabilities, he had found a sense of immortality within what he did. Every day spent as a mercenary seemed like a step closer to gaining a name that would live forever, and to finally gaining a purpose; making an accomplishment that he knew mattered and doing what he knew was right. These thoughts raged through his mind as he took his own seat at the dining room table at Wanda's left. They were now in the exact same positions that they always were back when they ate as a family.
"It's... it's complicated. You know what's going on. The war, everything. I can't quit now. Not until I wipe this slate clean. Make a world where we can really be a family again."
But Albert wasn't looking Wanda in the eyes as he said this. He was making an excuse toward her and himself alike, Wanda quickly realized. Though he was telling the truth about the meaning of his intentions, there was more to it. But Wanda didn't wish to interrogate him on it, rather ease his way into describing the full account of what worried him. Find a way to help him.
She took her own seat, joined her right hand with Albert's, which seemed to jolt with a sudden burst of anxious and startled energy as they met, and looked him in the eye.
"You don't want to yet. But why?"
Albert put his left hand against his temple, messaging it as he tried to find the right words with which to reply. If he ever told Wanda the truth, he greatly feared that he would lose her, as he already felt that he had lost his right to become a father and a husband through all that he had done. Though he tried to find the strength to tell the one he loved most at what he feared he had long since become, he failed to do so, once again. It was the only thing he had ever lacked the courage to do. So he fled the subject, opting to tell Wanda what he had truly come back home to tell her. For it was of the utmost importance.
"Your position at LexCorp. We've gotta keep it under wraps. My new client has it out for them."
Wanda squinted her eyes. Not so much in concern this time. But confusion, and for slight frustration that her husband was clearly running away from the truth again.
"Your new client? You make it sound like this person will kill me if I don't."
Albert took his hand away from his wife's, crossing his arms as he always tended to do when forced to delve into his less than morally ethical career in front of the only person who kept him from being completely immersed in it.
"I didn't want to tell you this, Wanda. Frollo thinks that Luthor's a criminal. If he finds out that-"
Wanda suddenly stood, backing a step away from Albert with shock in her eyes. Not out of disgust, but merely shock at something she did not expect to hear.
"The Judge of Paris?! That's who you're working for?!" she yelled. Though she still had a relatively genuine and gentle nature to her voice, there was clearly anger blooming inside it now.
"Keep your voice down," said Albert.
"He could have people of his walking right by here."
Wanda glanced the briefest glance behind her toward the door, taking sudden head to what her husband said. For if her husband was worried about the Judge's influence, even in a town such as Detroit, then Frollo was truly to be feared as she had heard.
"I know it's just your job. But you know what he's done."
"My contract says I don't kill innocent people. No bullet or knife of mine is going into a Gypsy."
Wanda stepped forward toward the table, her concerned eyes continuing to push Simmons like no opponent on a battlefield could ever do.
"I don't care what you do. You know what he is. You must have seen what he's done. The man you're working for is a genocidal monster."
Simmons leaned his head forward, trying to think of a way to make this conversation easier on himself. It was hard enough that his conscience had to remind him of the misdeeds that he had become entangled within often, but when he had the one who he tried hardest to hide it from learn of it, that's when it barely seemed bearable for him.
"Say what you want. The world would be Hell without him. Try meeting him for yourself, you won't see a monster. All I've seen is a broken man with one of the biggest empires of all time as his crutch."
"This isn't about him!" said Wanda in an only relatively scolding manner, merely trying to force him into the truth of matters rather than further away from them.
"A long time ago, you would have never put your sway with someone like him. You're becoming more desperate to do things like this. Why?"
Simmons looked away from Wanda, toward the window which looked out toward the asphalt street, lit in orange within the dark night, trying his best to distract himself.
"That window didn't ask you the question, Albert. I need to know why you're so drawn to this."
Simmons merely flinched uncomfortably in response. He continued to look out the window for a while longer, his incompetent and evasive attitude in front of his wife baffling even him. That was part of the answer in itself, he refused to admit. He was a giant in the field of a soldier. But in the world that he had left, that he had been absent from for too long, and he spent every day regretting that he missed it, he was just a failure of a family man.
Albert then stood, pushing his chair back softly and then tucking it back into the table.
"If you don't want to talk about it, that's fine. But there's a world here that I know you miss. And it needs you. I'm not talking about me. I'm talking about Cyan. I just want you to be there to become a father. Every day that you go out there is a day that our daughter risks growing up without you to be there."
Albert continued to look away from Wanda. He could feel every word she said piercing him like a knife. But he couldn't make it as simple as that. Even if there really was a world worth the while for him here, how he could face it as what he had become?
As this train of thought passed, Albert stood, running his hand over his military jacket to adjust the wrinkles in it, and walked over to Wanda.
"What's happening now is..." Albert started with doubt and contempt for himself compressed behind his voice.
"You don't even know if you want to come home, don't you?" Wanda said, her eyes taking on a harsh tone to them that continued to sink Albert down.
"I don't know how long you'll put this up Albert. But sooner or later-"
"I've got to go now," interrupted Simmons, placing upon himself a mask of aloofness as he said it. He then turned toward the front door.
"Albert, what's out there that you have to return to so badly anyway?!"
"Remember what I told you about Frollo and LexCorp," Simmons continued without so much as turning his head.
He then reached the door, turning the knob and pulling it open slowly. Though he tried to seem as cold as possible, he ultimately did feel pain inside.
Albert placed a single foot outside of the door, but then forced himself to stop in his tracks. Biting down on his bottom lip briefly and inhaling a deep breath, he turned toward the only person in the world he had left with a heavy heart.
"I'd rather die in this war than have to watch you and Cyan do the same. When it's all over, I'll come back."
But he was lying to the both of them once again. And Wanda was able to see and realize it better than even he could. So as he closed the door behind him and began his journey back to the world which he had all but immersed himself in, he left with his reputation and recognition intact, but with a family still in pieces, because of his inability to face what he now was.
Lex Luthor shut down his computer, having sent his message to the ally who would play a predominant part in the next phase of his plan. Though his face remained as cold, determined, and pragmatic as it always seemed to be, what lied beneath that facade was resent and tortured ambition, which he had carried with him forever, and sought to finally rid himself of once and for all.
Lightning flashed and crackled outside fiercely. And in his tall tower, it seemed as though he stood within the storm as a key power within it. He stood as proud and tall as his building, a gun he had saved for one person since childhood tightly in his right hand, still waiting to be fired, and his eyes wide with eerie perseverance. And as the lightning flashed on, shaking the city with its thunder, he felt another presence in the room. Yet, he wasn't nervous or fearful at all, despite who he knew was now with him. For he knew that he would have arrived at some point.
"The best of mornings," Luthor said without even peering his eyes away from the storm. He couldn't hear the footsteps of his associate, but he knew that he was approaching him.
"Your role has been served well," the man started in a dark, otherworldly voice,
"Luthor, son of-"
"I have no father," interrupted Luthor, just as calmly as ever, but his anger rising like the tides for a moment.
"It pleases me to know that you are satisfied thus far," the CEO said.
There was no response from the man he was speaking to, who slowly came into view. He wore a black cloak, designed in the ways of a realm beyond, with a hood concealing his entire face, except for his mouth, which grinned subtly.
"All that I ask, my lord, is that you continue to hold up to your end of our arrangement. You can only receive your heir so long as I wield the weapon."
The hooded man's hands, concealed by gauntlets, stretched and flexed their fingers in a calm, yet less than settling manner.
"My word is given," he replied, his voice now enough to send shivers down any man's spine.
But Luthor stood toward the storm undeterred. For the man could not harm him in his current state.
"Is this all that you have then?"
"Has Xanatos' mantle been proven?"
Luthor scowled slightly, to make sure that the cloaked entity did not see his anger at being rivaled as the heir to a great power by one he despised more than most. But it failed to escape the latter, as very few did.
"My lord, I would advise that-"
"Has his mantle been proven?"
Luthor swallowed hard with contempt, another thing that did not escape the one who was testing him.
The lightning flashed yet again, this time its azure tint so bright that it briefly illuminated the eyes of the cloaked figure. The eyes that saw all.
"The trials draw ever closer," he warned.
Then with another flash of lightning, Luthor was once again the only one in the dark, storm-lit room.