Wooden Horses – A Modern Retelling of The Iliad

956928-trojan-warAlex stopped outside the mansion. After seeing the seven-story limestone building, he frowned and looked down at the scrap of paper. Under a streetlight, it read 57 East 64th Street, NYC. “That can’t be right.”
“Is this not right the place?” a familiar boyish voice echoed in his head.
“It’s the right address…” Alex’s eyebrows knitted together. “But this is the Lenox Hill Mansion. It hasn’t had an owner in years.”
“Then why did the man on the phone tell you to come here?”
“You already know as much as I do.” That was not entirely true, but Alex didn’t want to waste time explaining to Paris that the place was so expensive that even the most wealthy buyer wouldn’t want to live there. Yes, the voice in his head had a name. He didn’t give it a name, the voice appeared fully aware of what to call itself, but not much else.
“Go ring the bell,” Paris said.
Alex nodded and climbed the steps to the gate. He couldn’t find a button in the darkness and was thinking about climbing the fence when a voice made him jump. “Alexander?”
He whirled to find a tall doorman standing on the other side of the bars. He wore black, the same shade as his hair and deep set eyes.
“I apologize for startling you. You are Alexander Hecuba, are you not?” The doorman’s tone was cordial, if slightly impatient.
“Alex.”
He nodded and the gate swung open. “This way, please. We have been expecting you.”

Alex made his way inside. The lack of furniture and decor made the wooden-floored interior look even larger than it already was.

This hinted at what he had read about no one living there, but it didn’t explain who the doorman was working for. His tall stature glided across the empty wooden floor toward a winding staircase that led to the upper-levels.

“You are the last one to arrive. We have been waiting.”

Alex furrowed his brow in confusion as the doorman stopped at the stairs. “You mentioned others. What others?”

“Others like you. You shall meet them soon enough.” The doorman put a polished shoe on the first polished step. “Follow me, if you will.”

“This guy is suspicious.”

“No one’s denying that.” Alex murmured to himself. “Nevertheless, we need answers.”

He moved to the stairs and began to climb them at the doorman’s heels. Intermittent balconies parted each set of stairs, winding upwards with each floor they ascended.

“This is a very exciting occasion you will be joining us for.” The doorman said as they reached the second floor and climbed another set of stairs to the third. “This will be your first reunion in nearly three millennia I think.”

Alex cocked an eyebrow. “So I’ve met these people before?”

“You?” The doorman shook his head. “Oh no, him.”

“I think he’s talking about me, Alex.”

Alex ground his teeth. “So you know about him?”

“You must consider him just a voice in your head, and you would be partially correct, but the people you are about to meet suffer from similar conditions.”

Reaching the fifth floor, Alex stopped. “They’re like me?”

“Come now, don’t dawdle. I’m sure they are just as eager to make your acquaintance as you are to make theirs.”

They ascended the final two floors, coming out into a large lounge area with a window overlooking the city from a wide, art nouveau framed window. It was the first room Alex had seen with furniture, three circular, cushioned seats without backs.

Sitting on two of the seats were men, both older than himself by a few years. The first was tall and blonde with the tanned skin and build of a natural born athlete. His gym clothing only made this more obvious. The second had darker hair similar to his own, also sporting a solid frame, but he wore a suit and had the straight posture of a military man. Their expressions both looked pensive, although the blonde man looked more laid back.

“They don’t look like a very happy bunch.”

“He has arrived.” The doorman gestured Alex toward the empty seat. “Let us begin. Please, take a seat.”

Alex sat down as the blonde man leaned forward. “Good, then you can finally tell us what the hell is going on here.”

The doorman shook his head. “That will come later. First I think it’s only polite to introduce ourselves. I’ll begin, my name is Mikym and I am the one to arrange this little get together.”

“And here I thought you were just the doorman,” the dark haired man said.

“That’s what we thought.”

“If this is your doing, then you should really tell us why you’ve brought us here,” Alex asked. “You said before that these men have voices in their heads as well, didn’t you?”

The blonde man sat up. “What, you too?”

“Now, now, that’s quite enough. Introductions, people, introductions.” Mikym pointed to the dark haired man. “You first.”

“Commander Marcus Priam, United States Marine Corps. Started hearing this damn voice in my head when the village I was protecting in Turkey fell to foreign invaders. From the name, I thought I was being haunted by the ghost of some ancient hero.”

“Hah! Which one?” The blonde man raised a mocking palm. “I bet its Achilles. Everyone thinks they’re bloody Achilles.”

“But Achilles wasn’t from Turkey, he was a Greek,” Paris spoke up in Alex’s mind.

“No.” Marcus gritted his teeth. “Quite the opposite actually.”

Mikym nodded. “Alright, alright, what about you, my fair haired friend?”

“Josh Stragen, UFC fighter, also known as the Ragin’ Stragen.”

Alex held down a laugh. “Hey, I’ve heard of you! You’re that famous cage fighter! I saw you win that fight against… ah, what was that guy’s name?”

“Does it matter?” Josh shrugged. “That’s not why I’m here. I haven’t been able to focus in the ring ever since I started hearing that fucking arrogant bastard in my head.”

Alex sighed and nodded. “Hah, I can relate.”

Josh shot Alex a look. “No… you really can’t.”

“How would you know?”

“Because…” Josh turned away from him. “Unless you’ve been in the cage with another fighter before, you have no idea of the level of focus you need to get to my level.”

“You really think trying to win is as intense as trying to survive on a battlefield?” Marcus shook his head. “Stop trying to intimidate the kid. The voice in his head is obviously giving him problems as well. Go on, kid, what’s your story?”

Alex looked around as they both turned to him. “I’m just a boy who loved the wrong woman.”

“That’s putting it lightly, Alex, but I guess there’s no point in spilling all the beans until you at least get some answers.”

Marcus’s brow shot up. “Did you just say woman?”

Alex nodded, trying to hide the hurt he felt with embarrassment.

Josh grinned. “Hah, now that’s more like it! Go on, kid, give us all the juicy details.”

“I really don’t—”

“Come on! We both told you what happened to us! It’s only fair.”

Alex looked to Mikym, who was nodding sagely, as though this was the very reason they were called here.

“Alright, fine. It’s not like either of you would know her anyway. Have you ever heard of the gang leader, Schylus?” They both nodded, their eyes suddenly gaining focus. “Well, let’s just say that he and I were once good friends.”

#

Although much older than me, Schylus was originally a skinny wimp who only got bulkier over time. Although he kept his curly hair and kind face, I began to see a different meaning behind his expressions the more time I spent with him, like he considered every insult or slight against him a serious grudge.

What I first thought of as just a few japes between friends quickly became something you would have to account for as soon as he had a reason to remember them. If you didn’t account for them with an apology before he had the power to make you want to, it was far too late to do so. I guess I was one of the lucky ones.

“This is the first time I’m hearing this story as well, Alex. Don’t leave anything out.”

I still have memories of Schylus before he gained all that weight and power. He was an intensely spiteful young man who would usually come off as cordial, even jovial to others. His hair wasn’t so long back then, but it seemed to grow out at the same rate as his chest, arms and gut. His smile seemed genuine back then as well, maybe that’s the reason Helena fell for him, along with those who still follow him to this day.

It was in the stages between being thin and average-weight that Schylus truly seemed to be my friend. It was in the stages between average-weight and stocky that he started dating Helena. It was in the stages between stocky and overweight that he started surrounding himself with other dangerous people, and it was in the stages between overweight and looking like he had diobesetees that Helena started cheating on him… with me.

It happened very gradually. The more time Schylus spent scheming with his new friends, the less time he would spend with us, the less time he spent with us, the more time Helena and I spent alone, and the more time Helena and I spent alone, the closer we became. As his best friend and his girlfriend, we both started to feel like his prisoners, so it was inevitable that we would only find comfort in each other.

The risk of being caught may have even added to the excitement, like a gambler’s close call. The guilt created a satisfying catharsis when we finally started having sex. The emotional bond from sharing this secret brought us even closer until it was the best thrill and physical connection I’ve ever had. Life had never felt so passionate as in those first days of our affair, and to me, this was love.

Young and in love… I honestly thought that any physical torture they may have put me through would have no comparison to the emotional torture I was putting myself through. I honestly thought I was in love, as I had felt lust before, but nothing this powerful. It was like it had been marinating in our excitement and fear. We both knew what would happen if we were caught, but we didn’t care, we were happy.

“That’s not entirely true, Alex. You and I both know it.”

Actually… I wasn’t happy, and I knew I wouldn’t be happy until Helena was mine and mine alone. I did not want to share her with Schylus, no matter how dangerous he had become. So I decided to give her a choice, leave Schylus with me or remain with him, alone. By this time, Schylus had already gained enough influence to make our lives a living hell if he found out, so I assumed she decided to leave secretly out of fear.

There was no doubt at this point. Who we were fleeing was no longer just an old school friend, but the head of a major gang with influences in the media and the drug cartels. Coming before him to express my own desire to leave, I was excused on all accounts but the one I refused to share with him. That night Helena I packed our bags and left for another city.

I would be lying if I said that Helena leaving him wasn’t without repercussions and it would be an understatement to say that her leaving left quite a stir in the ranks. For Schylus, knowing Helena would be there for him when he needed her was enough for her to be of limitless importance. Finding her, and later myself, became his obsession.

I had underestimated Schylus’s influences across the country. Although we jumped from city to city, I eventually received rumor that word of me being seen with Helena in the different locations we had been hiding had finally reached him. Luckily, conflict with another cartel was limiting the men he could send looking for us. We couldn’t fool ourselves, it was only a matter of time.

The stress of being in hiding got to the point that I thought I was going insane, and right on queue, that’s when I started hearing this voice in my head. It called itself Paris.

“Ah, so this is where I came into things. It seems that this is where things truly started to become interesting.”

I knew that if I was caught by myself, I could easily talk my way out of any trouble Schylus might have suspected me of. That was so long as I was brought straight to him. I assumed the same was true if Helena was caught by herself, but if we were caught together, it would only confirm whatever rumors about us that he had heard.

The voice was coming more and more frequently and I knew I was no longer in my right mind. While I still had my wits about me, I decided my smartest option was to part ways with Helena before we were caught together.

“The most idiotic decision you’ve made so far, I’d say.”

Against the voice’s judgement, I had Helena sign into a women’s refuge center while I fled to yet another city. Turns out, when a gang is looking for a woman fleeing from one of their men, the women’s refuge is one of the first places they look. Apparently Schylus had the place besieged like a medieval castle.

I was left helpless, hoping things would blow over eventually. My news source from back home was soon cut off and there was nothing I could do but sit, wait and listen to my ever growing madness take over from this voice in my head. I was running low on both money and hope when I received an anonymous phone call to come to this place. At first I thought it was Schylus who had called for me and was hesitant to come, but decided I would have to face the music sooner or later. Now I’m stuck in a room with you two.

#

“Hah! And you’re still stuck in that situation?” Josh asked, leaning forward on his seat as though Alex’s story amused him. “Well, you’re right up shit creek without a paddle, aren’t ya?”

“You could say that.”

“That sounds rough.” Marcus crossed his arms pensively. “And you say the name of your voice is Paris, right?”

Alex nodded. “Does that mean something to you?”

“It might.” Marcus turned to look at Josh. “Does the voice in your head have a name it goes by? If so, say it.”

Josh smirked. “Is that an order, Commander?”

“Whatever suits you,” Marcus said impatiently. “Just tell me.”

“Why should I?” Josh’s voice became belligerent. “Why don’t you tell me the name of yours first?”

Alex’s brow furrowed. “This is just immature. Why are you two being so secretive about this? I told you mine.”

Marcus’ eyes went cold. “Because if I’m right, I don’t know if I can trust this man.”

“Likewise,” Josh said but then shrugged.

“I think I’m starting to have an idea of what’s going on here,” Paris spoke up. “I’m also interested to to know the names of these voices.”

“I tell you what, though.” Josh’s face showed that he thought he was being lenient with Marcus. “I’ll share with you my own story of how I came to be here, and from it you can guess the name my voice calls itself. If you guess right, I won’t deny it.”

“Alright, tell us then.”

Alex peered around the empty room. The doorman was no longer there and only the three of them remained in the living area. It had been night outside when he had arrived, so he assumed it was going to be past midnight by the time they were finished.

Josh spread his hands. “As I said before, I’m a famous UFC fighter, the Ragin’ Stragen and you’ll never guess who I represent in the ring. Who my boss is.”

There was silence as Marcus’ eyes narrowed. “I’m going to say Schylus.”

“Ah, I see…”

Alex’s gaze shot to Marcus. “Are you kidding? How do you figure that?”

“My voice is telling me that’s the case.” He turned to Josh. “Is it true?”

Josh breathed out a nasally laugh. “It is.”

“What?” Alex got out of his seat.

Josh put his hand out. “Sit back down! I don’t want any misunderstandings here. Our situations are more similar than I would like to admit. I’ll explain.”

#

Last night I had a fight with everything riding on whether I won or lost. A cage match against someone much less famous than me, everyone cheering my name, no one cheering his.

However, the fact that I had gotten this far at all was because of Schylus and his influence. I first met him back when I was still instructing my own team. I had always been good and I had a decent team, but nothing ground breaking. He showed up at my gym after training. At first I thought he was just another suit trying to lose weight after seeing a match on ESPN. I was not looking forward to telling him that he should focus on cardio first.

His proposition to fund us was a shock to me, and to my team when when they heard it from my lips the next day. At first I thought it was to use us as hired muscle, but he confirmed to me that if we won, we would end up paying for ourselves as well as making income for him on the side. He was connecting us with advertisers and personal trainers before we had won a single match.

All the while I had constant communication with him. Despite his size, Schylus was not lazy. I would go so far to say he was the most focused man I’ve ever met. He was straightforward with me, letting me know that our first matches would merely be a test. He told me that if we failed he would not hesitate to move on to another team. For someone using us solely for money, this made sense.

Because of the disconnect between our world and the world we saw on television, my team couldn’t comprehend that the people we were against were merely decent fighters. So we overcompensated with our training and overestimated our opponents. We had prepared ourselves to fight Superman, and all we got was your average bruiser. I think this is why we won so easily in our first matches.

With how quickly I got my opponent into a full guillotine, you’d think someone had paid him to throw the match. The fact that one of my teammates lost was the only evidence I could find to make me think this wasn’t the case. Although it was possible we won purely on merit, I had a sneaking suspicion that Schylus had much more influence than I gave him credit for.

I shared this suspicion with my teammates after the match. As high as they were on victory at the time, I made it clear that winning wouldn’t always be so easy and that we shouldn’t let up on our training. I had to cut one of them that week when he wouldn’t take my warning seriously. The rest understood, one even going so far to say fame had gone to his head.

We won the second rounds as well, but it wasn’t until the third round that our winning streak hit the television in a big way. It seemed that my last name rhyming with the words ‘cage’ and ‘rage’ was enough to make me a household name. The Stragen Cagin’, the Ragin’ Stragen, you name it. For a long time I was worried people would think I was from Louisiana, that they meant Cajun.

I would be lying to say that the fame didn’t go to my head as well, but because I had cut my own teammate for the same arrogance, I double-downed on how I dealt with it the first time. Now that I could afford personal physiotherapists, I had no reason to hold back anymore. I wasn’t out to be a winner, not really. I was out to be the best, to be a champion.

That was when I had another meeting with Schylus. At the meeting was some of his actual muscle. I’m not talking about fighters, but people who knew how to wield a gun. I had a right to be nervous about talking to him because he showed me, literally showed me through the receipts and contracts he had collected over the years, the amount of money he had invested in our team. It was more than I could imagine even now that I was becoming wealthy myself.

He went on to tell me the difference between a gamble and an investment. If a gamble succeeds it pays out all at once, if an investment succeeds it should pay out over a long period of time. I had become an investment for him. Succeeding had made me his prisoner. So long as I kept winning, I had nothing to worry about. My own body had become a ticking time bomb.

After an intense conversation, I told him I could give him twenty years max. I had no idea that my words were being recorded, and that this was our new contract. The man was beginning to scare me, and I returned to my training with a fear that drove me further than suppressing my narcissism ever could. When I said I would give him twenty years, I think he thought I meant twenty years of winning.

Wanting to win and needing to win are very different things. The stress was enough to make me lose sleep the night before every match. Alcohol and other depressants became close friends, and I was beginning to think I should add antipsychotics to the mix after I began to hear a voice in my head before every match. At first it was only arrogant questions simply asking why I was fighting for this fat bastard, that he was holding me back.

I could handle that, so long as it stopped during the match itself.

Then that bastard Ajax made me lose my feet. That’s probably the fight you were thinking of: Ajax versus Stragen. I should have seen it coming, as focused as I was at the time. One good punch, that’s all it takes to lose your head. It’s a miracle I still won, but I knew the honeymoon was over. How did I know? Because while my ears rang, cutting out the cheering crowd, I heard the voice again.

The questions started to become a distraction and the fear I started feeling for Schylus began to recede in the terror that I was no longer sane. I told myself that this was what happened to every famous athlete, and they turned out fine. I asked my teammates and their confidence in my leadership started to waver. The more I listened to the voice, the less terrified of Schylus I became.

My last meeting with him was over the phone. I snapped at him, my mouth a mere sock puppet for the words screaming directly from the voice. When I hung up, I knew I was a dead man. Nothing is worse for a calculating man than an asset he’s spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on becoming a liability. My next match was for tomorrow, a Sunday, and I was six bottles in. I had reached my peak. I should’ve considered myself lucky, not many people achieve their dreams within their lifetime.

Instead of going to the fight, I went to mass at my local church. It was the only place that the voice would shut up. Whoever had invaded my mind, he was a pious bastard. It allowed my thoughts to calm. As hungover as I was, I could’ve left right then and only been a little late. I would have lost, but I would have given Schylus his fight. But I knew that as soon as I left the church, the voice would return, asking me why I was fighting for the fat man.

I ended up going, and I won, but I felt worse than ever. I couldn’t do it again, I knew that. When I returned home I was wrung dry and I knew that Schylus had me by the balls. Maybe he would still kill me out of principle. I was at the end of my tether when the phone rang and I was told to come to this place. As rich as Schylus was, I couldn’t imagine he owned this mansion. I was either being led into a trap or some wealthy pioneer was offering me a way out.

I decided to take my chances.

#

“My next match is in seven days.” Josh shook his head. “I’m not going to fight. If I lose, I’m going to lose on my terms.”

“It’s Achilles,” Marcus interrupted. “It makes sense. An arrogant athlete who hated working for Agamemnon, and that’s why it went quiet for you in the church. Despite what Hollywood shows, Achilles was incredibly pious.”

Alex nodded as though thinking this made sense. “That’s why you said before that you thought my own voice called itself Achilles. It was a slip. You were actually referring to yourself.”

Josh grinned and raised his palms.

Marcus bit his lip and leaned forward. “So?”

Josh raised his brows. “So… what?”

“You said that if I guessed right you wouldn’t deny it!”

“Marcus is starting to get frustrated. Maybe you should try and calm him down, Alex,” Paris spoke.

“Hey, Marcus, just—”

“Well?” he cut in.

Josh’s grin widened and he sat back. “Am I denying it?”

Marcus’s jaw clenched. “I knew it.”

“What do you mean?”

“Great Apollo Alex, haven’t you figured it out yet?”

Marcus’s eyes went from his to Josh. “Paris… Achilles… two names directly out of the story of the Trojan war. My father’s a Classics teacher, and with a last name like Priam you can imagine that I’ve heard the myth a hundred times before. I would’ve said there are too many coincidences, that this is ridiculous, but the fact that the voice in my own head can tell me things I never could’ve imagined on my own, it only makes sense.”

“Paris of Troy… Hah, so I’m actually the one who started the most famous war ever? What a twist!”

“So what? You’re saying the voices in our heads are actually the spirits of people that died two thousand years ago?”

Marcus nodded. “As much as we know that those events actually happened.”

“So who are you in this story?” Josh asked slyly. “From a last name like Priam, I can only assume you’re Priam, the last king of Troy. Or maybe Hector, that would explain why you’ve been so hostile toward me. Who wouldn’t be a little hateful of the person who killed the voice in your head?”

Marcus nodded. “Well, considering you’ve both gone into detail about how you received your voices. I might as well delve into the situation that gave me my own. Besides, love and competition may bring out their own little tensions and heartaches, but they are nothing compared to living on a battlefield.”

#

They say war is hell, but it isn’t for the people who are good at it, or those who enjoy death, or for those who simply want to die. I must have been the only person in the Turkey unit that only fell into the first sect. At least I liked to think that I was good at what I did. There were three types of soldiers, the soldiers that had too little to do, the soldiers who have too much to do, and the dead. I was in the second category.

There was another soldier in my unit I truly believed was like me, that was good at it but didn’t enjoy what he did. His name was Patrick and I’m beginning to think there’s a reason it was him that helped me see the follies of war. Even compared to most of the soldiers in my unit, Patrick was incredibly fit, and although he liked to showboat, it wasn’t until after I had left Turkey that I found out that my superior officer had put him in my unit to secretly keep an eye on me.

The missions we took part in together involved fighting what we considered terrorists, but who considered themselves as freedom fighters. The irony wasn’t lost on me. Being Islamic fundamentalists, freedom was the last thing they were fighting for. The freedom to oppress other people isn’t freedom at all. If anything, this was the belief that drove most of the men in my unit and united us. I didn’t realize how important this was until someone without it joined up.

When we received a new bomb analyst he asked my team each of our kill counts. When Patrick and I refused to tell him, our teammates joked that we had killed so many people that we had lost count. The truth was that we had, but we took no pride in that fact. The bomb analyst had his own motive for joining our team. He claimed he had worked in a unit that had been too careful and had heard of our straight-forward approach, however, I would later discover that ours was actually the first unit he had been in.

I saw this first hand when he came with us on a mission to raid a radical group’s base. After we had done our job clearing the dilapidated house of any hostiles, our orders were to tie up any remaining combatants and then leave the house to allow the analyst to take a look. As always, we followed orders and guarded the perimeter while he worked, before we could search the place more thoroughly. When he finally returned, I thought he had found nothing, but then screamed at us to move across the street.

The explosion blew us halfway across the road. Safe to say everyone in the house died and a few from my unit suffered burns from the blast. Patrick’s third degree burns were so bad that he ended up dying from the shock alone. That was when I first heard the whispers that I tried to ignore. My unit was outraged that our superior officer, Julius, had gone behind our backs to pick someone for our unit who would sabotage us. Knowing Julius personally, I used my rank to get a meeting with him. It was a month later that he arrived to give me that meeting.

Julius was a fierce commander with just as fierce an expression and posture. His bald head shone with sweat when he moved from the chopper as I led him to my tent. The coolness inside did nothing for my anger reddened face. I asked him about his decision to add such a wildcard to my unit to which he reprimanded me that the job of my unit was to wipe out any insurgents. I realized then that Julius wasn’t aware of the full uprising that had begun thanks to his bomb analyst’s actions. He simply held steady to an analogy that such actions would merely drive the cockroaches from the woodwork.

It wasn’t until later that I realized that ‘woodwork’ didn’t mean from hiding but instead bringing out every extremist’s reaction from the civilian population. This became clearer as our next missions were met with more and more resistance. No matter how much I pleaded with Julius, more sabotage groups were brought in. When I said before that the city we were protecting was invaded by a foreign force, I should have made it clear that we were that foreign force.

The freedom-fighters upped their game and we escalated our counter attacks in return. We brought the full weight of the US Marine Corps. down on the resistance with fistfuls of bullets and bombs, essentially leveling the city. I saw some horrific things that I would later blame for the post-traumatic stress, and of course, the god damned over analyzing voice that had haunted me ever since Patrick died.

By the time I returned home, we had been occupying little more than ruins. I couldn’t help but feel there was something off about not only how the mission went, but the fact that none of it was covered in the media. So I started asking questions, questions that anyone below my station wouldn’t have gotten answers for.

First, I found out that the bomb analyst that was recruited by Julius was once a bodyguard who worked for a man named Schylus. Second, I found that Patrick was also recruited by this man’s agency after he was thrown from a UFC team. Whatever it was, there was something between Julius and Schylus that made Julius use him for many of his recruits.

As shocking as this revelation was, I was not surprised in the least. The whispers in my head had become more dominant. The war I was fighting for was not our fault, it was not Turkey’s fault. It was merely a violent display of arrogance from foreign powers, and Julius was the lynchpin of the things that had come to give me nightmares.

I kept digging, and although I discovered much about Julius using Schylus as a special scout for strong young men, I realized that the deal went both ways, as most deals do. The money Schylus was getting was money that Julius made disappear from America’s massive military budget. I thought this must have been the thing I had been looking for, a war being fought both at home and abroad, but I wasn’t satisfied. My superior using a gang leader as a scout for dirty money… worse things had been done.

Before I could dig any further, however, the voice in my head began to tell me that I was being followed. I could only assume that I was close to the truth. It didn’t need the several back alley fights with men in suits to realize my investigation had been caught on to. Schylus wanted me off his tail, to keep his income from Julius consistent, but there was more to this than that, I knew it.

The voice, Hector he called himself, explained to me that when someone who wants power is working for someone who has power, people in his way will always suffer. Like myself, Hector had been one of these people. From what my father had told me, Paris stole Helen from the Spartan ruler, Meneleas. He went to Agamemnon, the leader of the Greek army, demanding he help invade Troy to him get her back. In doing so, he forced Achilles to fight in the war, in which he took Hector’s life. In some ways…

#

“They were trapped. Just like both of you.”

Josh leaned forward in thought. “We each have the same enemy then.”

“Enemies…”

“Enemies,” Alex echoed. “From what you said, Marcus, Schylus seems to be just another rung in the ladder.”

“Julius is funding Schylus,” Marcus stroked his chin and nodded. “He should be our first target.”

“Target?” Alex did a double take. “You mean we should kill these people? This isn’t war here, you know? You can’t just take people out like that.”

“Can you think of a better plan to get Helena back?”

Josh smirked. “A wooden horse in front of the women’s refuge perhaps?”

Alex turned on him. “What, you’re in this as well?”

Josh shrugged. “Remember when I said that Patrick was once my good friend before I cut him off my team? I just found out that Schylus introduced him to the circumstances that led to his death. My resolve needs no more answers than that.”

The edges of Marcus’s mouth rose a little. “The Trojan horse… that might actually work.”

Alex cocked an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”

“Schylus never met me and Julius never met Josh.” Marcus’s eyes went cloudy, as though lost in his own thoughts. “You can claim to be another recruit from Schylus to get close to Julius, and in turn, I can get Alex here to get me near Schylus.”

“So… if I kill Julius for you, you and Alex are going to kill Schylus for me.”

Alex shook his head. “This is crazy.”

Marcus put a hand on his shoulder. “This is war.”

Josh sighed. “I’m not a killer. But I’ll kill if it means my contract with Schylus is over. You said yourself, Alex, that you had no power to get Helena back, that you felt completely hopeless. Three on two is good odds.”

Alex nodded, catching the gleam in Josh’s eyes.

“Well, now you have a US Marine Commander helping you and you’re still hesitating? You said yourself that Schylus would give you a chance to talk if you came by yourself to speak with him.” He gestured to Marcus. “You’ll be Marcus’ Trojan horse! And I’ll be his.”

“He’s got a really good point, Alex.”

“Of course you would say that! You just want Helena back.”

“Is that Paris?” Marcus asked.

Alex bit his lip. “Yeah…”

Marcus grinned. “Listen to him, he was the only one who got out of the Trojan war alive… he left Troy with Helen. I’ll do all the messy stuff and I’ll be with you every step of the way.” Marcus’ hand on his shoulder felt good, brotherly. “So are you in?”

Alex looked from Josh to Marcus and nodded, feeling slightly relieved that he was no longer by himself in all this mess. “Alright fine, I’m in.”956950-trojan-war

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