Round Robin 1
The townspeople milled about the square. They were angry and scared. The two opposing armies were converging and soon their homes would be a battleground. Panic reigned as people tried to bundle together all their belongings and load them onto any available transport.
Trebor, the town elder, tried to restore some calm.
"My friends, listen, you cannot run away, cannot abandon all we have worked so hard to build. We must stay and guard what we have". He grabbed the arm of the local smithy. "Jarrod, your grandfather build this forge. Your father worked all his adult life here to leave you something. You and your family have roots in this town. Don't run. We can find another way."
The smithy stood, torn between his instinct to run and his desire to believe Tremor's words. "What can we do? We cannot hope to stand against one of these armies let alone two. I want to defend what we have but not at the cost of my wife and daughters."
Others who had gathered to hear Trebor nodded their heads at this. "What good is a house if you're hung from the rafters?" one shouted.
"Or a field of corn if your throat is cut." Another one agreed.
Trebor held up his hands for quiet. "Friends you are right, we can not hope to survive if the armies fight here. But I think we can stop them. We must go to the temple of Ares and make a sacrifice to the God of War. Ask him to spare our village from destruction and have the armies meet somewhere else."
Heads nodded all around. It might work. Ares could save them. "What can we sacrifice?" a voice asked. "One of old Stephens goats?"
"No. If we hope to save the village Ares will require a special sacrifice. We must offer a life."
Jarrod looked shocked. "But who, we cannot sacrifice one of our neighbours."
"No," Trebor agreed, "but there are several strangers in the village. We must offer one of them to Ares' glory."
CW sat at a table in the inn; his feet propped up on the top as he leisurely drank from his mug. An oasis of calm in a sea of chaos. A gold coin had managed to procure him a hasty meal from a landlord who was busy packing. He would have time to finish his repast while his horse rested and he would still be out of this god-forsaken hole before it was wiped off the map. He felt a certain smug satisfaction at his good fortune. He had managed to buy one or two rather nice pieces from townsfolk who were desperate for cash. Pieces he could resell in another town and make a tidy sum. He felt no qualms at making a profit from the misfortune of others, after all, you had to look out for yourself. No one else would. He looked across the room at the only other occupant. He was a small man with blond hair but very nicely put together. He could see his chest through the open vest; hard muscles spoke of a physical life. Pity that time was so limited, he would have liked to become better acquainted.
A handful of locals came through the door. They spoke to the landlord. CW saw them looking in his direction and he thought they might be talking about him but they left again without stopping at his table. He caught the landlord's attention and demanded more wine. After a few moments the landlord came back to the table with a fresh mug. CW took a deep swallow and almost choked as the bitter taste coursed down his throat; he rose to his feet to berate the host when suddenly his legs felt peculiarly heavy. He sat back down and seemed to keep falling
Iolaus looked up at the loud thump. The young man was slumped at his table. He shook his head. People with no head for wine should be careful how much they drank. Pity. He had caught some of the interested looks the young man had sent in his direction and had decided that a quick fuck would be just the thing to set the afternoon off.
Looked like he was out of luck; he liked his partners awake and responsive. He watched as the landlord organised for the youth to be carried out of the inn. Iolaus finished off his own drink, picked up his belongings and head out the door as well. When he got outside there was no sign of the landlord or his drunken customer. With a shrug of his shoulder Iolaus headed out of the village.
CW came to with a groan. His head was pounding and his eyes felt as if they were glued shut. He could feel the cold hard surface below his back. He must complain to the landlord. This bed felt like a rock. Bed? Wait a minute. He had been having a drink at the inn. There had been a beautiful man and then. He couldn't remember anything. CW started to sit up and discovered he couldn't. Something was holding him down. He managed to open his eyes but soon closed them in disbelief.
He cautiously opened them again, expecting the nightmare scene to have disappeared. But no. He was lying on a cold hard flat surface. His arms were shacked above his head, his legs chained to a post. He was naked. Around him, made strange by the flickering torchlight, several people stood with arms outstretched. They were chanting but he could not make out the words. CW tried to speak but his tongue and lips could not form any words. One of the figures drew nearer to him and he could see that he held a long knife in his hand. CW tried to scream, to protest, but his throat remained locked as the priest raised his arm and stood poised to plunge the dagger into him.
Suddenly, there was a flash of blue light--
CW breathed a small sigh of relief as the knife stopped its descent and tried to blink his eyes into focusing. The priest and the other figures he could see were staring somewhere past him with expressions of awe. He twisted his head trying to catch a glimpse of whatever-it-was, but in this position it was impossible and the movement was setting off an unpleasant pounding in his head. He closed his eyes again, trying to will the drug-haze away as the priest's voice sounded too-loudly in his ears.
"My lord Ares, have you come to oversee the sacrifice yourself? We are honoured."
"You should be." The new voice - //Ares' voice?// - was deep and rich and arrogant //and if he looks half as good as he sounds... Damn. I suppose I'll still be dead...//
"A sacrifice, hm?" Ares continued. CW felt a large hand slide down one shackled arm and opened his eyes again, but Ares remained maddeningly out of his line of sight. "For what?"
"That the town might be spared, my lord Ares."
"Oh?" The god sounded bored. "Spared from what?"
Trebor stepper forward diffidently. "From the war, Ares." That must not have gone over well, because the man blanched and started stammering, "Th-that is, not that we want you to *stop* the war, it- we- it's just- when your two mighty armies finally meet in battle our town will be part of the battlefield. We- generations have raised families, set down roots, made their livelihood there and-and-and this sacrifice is to humbly beseech you to spare our home in the forthcoming c-conflageration, Ares. Sir. My lord. Your worship."
"I see." The god finally strode into view, looking CW over appraisingly. Suddenly the young man was glad the drugs were interfering with his body reacting properly, at least in front of these cursed villagers. "So what you want," Ares turned his attention back to the townspeople, "is for me to re-route an entire *war*, *thousands* of men and horses in a conflict that's finally hit critical mass after *years* of intricate build-up, so your town is spared."
They nodded hesitantly.
"And to convince me to do this, you're sacrificing this man."
Trebor nodded eagerly. "Yes, Ares. As a sign of our devotion."
"Your devotion..." The god nodded slowly then raised an eyebrow. "And I'm sure that this is an important and well-loved member of your community, as befits the magnitude of the request you're making, yes?"
The elder blinked nervously. "Um. Is that important?"
"Of *course* it's important," the priest hissed. "Who do you think you're *talking* to?"
"You mean he's *not* from your village?" Ares asked, voice thick with ersatz surprise.
"Um, well, not exactly, that is, we *brought* him from the village-"
Ares snorted and turned to the potential victim. "And how long have you lived in this town?"
CW tried to answer, but all that came out was a strangled cough. "Can't imagine why you can't talk," the god murmured, and waved a negligent hand over the young man. CW felt the drug haze dissapate, and wasted no time grinding out hoarsely, "I'd never seen that godsforsaken pit before today. They drugged me and brought me up here."
Ares turned back to the hapless town elder with a growl. "This is your devotion, is it? You call offering the life of a drugged stranger a sacrifice worthy of my diverting a war?"
Trebor looked frantically from Ares to the priest, who gave him a decidedly smug smirk, saying calmly, "The townspeople did not consult me, Lord Ares. They simply requested I perform the sacrifice. I assumed given the gravity of their plea they would have chosen appropriately."
"Well it's *not* appropriate!" the god roared, projecting magnificent fury as he turned to the cowed townspeople. "Your request is denied. Now LEAVE, and don't bother me again if you can't come up with a sacrifice meaningful enough to be worth my consideration!" He gestured, and a bolt of blue-white electricity flew from his hand to explode at the feet of the town's spokesman.
The dark god smirked as they fled his temple, dismissed his priest with a casual wave, then turned to the still-bound man on the altar, voice dropping to a low, sultry purr. "I'd say you owe me for saving your life, mortal."
CW grinned slowly, flexing a bit. "Anything you desire, Ares, I'm yours..."
The townspeople trooped back to the inn, settling around the tables in glum silence.
"May as well start packing," Jarrod sighed. "We're done for now. Ares isn't going to help." The other men and women murmured agreement.
"We can't give up so easily," Trebor insisted. "This is our *home*."
Maia, the town's tanner, practically choked on her wine. "And what do you suggest, Trebor? Do we go over Ares' head to Zeus himself?"
"He didn't say he wouldn't do it. He just said we have to make it worth his while. A *real* sacrifice."
Jarrod stared at him. "You realize what you're saying, Trebor..."
"I know. But which is the greater loss, one life or our entire-"
"Greetings, fair townsfolk! Your worries are over for Joxer the Mighty has arrived!" They all looked up as a young man in outlandish armor strode through the doorway with a flourish that was slightly marred when his hand thwacked into an empty beer mug, sending it flying behind the bar and into a stack of clean mugs with a clatter.
As the warrior(?) apologized profusely to the innkeeper, Maia said sourly, "It's a shame he won't accept strangers."
Trebor sighed. "He made that far too clear." He lowered his voice. "But again I say to you, which is the greater loss -- one life or our town, our land, our entire *way* of life?"
"And who would you sacrifice, Trebor?"
The town elder shook his head. "I don't know..."
They drank in glum silence, then Bellas the miller said slowly, "Terrible as it is, I can think of one... unattached, no children, no family to speak of what might object..."
The others looked up with guarded interest. "And that would be..?" Maia prompted.
"...Kathryn," he said softly into his mug. "He can't say she's not local."
There was a long pause where the only sound was Joxer the Mighty going "Oops! heh- sorry!" in the background. Then, "She is a bit of a square peg in this town," Maia offered. "Always so interested in the goings on in other parts of the land."
"I'm sure she'd see it's for the greater good," Jarrod added. The others nodded.
"Then we agree?" Trebor asked. "For the good of the town?"
Again the others mumbled assent.
"Then it's to be Kathryn," he said with heavy finality. "And we'd best do it soon. Those armies are coming closer every day."
Kathryn's Section Part 1
Brilliant sunlight flooded into the room, illuminating the couple that lay together peacefully. The bed in the old tavern was not as comfortable as Thamiris would have liked it to be, but Iphicles was more comfortable than she had imagined. Half-lying on her new husband, she stared him through hooded eyes, watching him sleep. He was so handsome, so gentle, so giving, so loving... she never wanted to be with anyone else. The idea appalled her, and a shiver crawled up her spine. He was all she had ever craved, and she finally had him.
As if he could sense her scrutiny, the King of Corinth opened his eyes. He immediately sought her out, and his gaze turned smoky as soon as he found her. Thamiris sucked in her breath sharply when she saw the sudden longing flare in his eyes. Iphicles pushed her down into the hard mattress, rolling on top of her. He captured her lips in a devastatingly passionate kiss that sent fire searing through both of them.
Iphicles' insistent lips trailed across the side of her face and down to her ear, the urgency in his need to possess her making his kisses hot and hungry. "I've dreamed of this every second of the long ride here," she heard him whisper hoarsely. A throaty moan escaped her lips when his teeth raked her ear.
"We just got here," she protested weakly. Instead of words, the king chose to use force to choke off her protest. His lips met hers again, and passion engulfed her. Throwing caution to the winds, she wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him down onto her. Kissing the object of his obsession harder, Iphicles stripped her and tossed her riding clothes to the floor. As he made short work of his own clothes, he finally pulled away from her mouth and ran his eyes down her body.
Thamiris felt every cell in her body burst with the heat, and her breathing became harsh. She ached for him, and felt the hardness of him against her thigh. The position the king had eased her in brought her full breasts into relief, and he took one into his mouth while teasing the other one with his fingers. Thamiris moaned again as warmth spread through her entire being. Despite his pressing need for her, he savored each ripe and erect nipple, aiming to give her pleasure.
Neither of them could take this teasing any longer. Molten heat surged through Thamiris as Iphicles moved his hot, wet mouth down her body. Wrapping his arms around her waist, he turned so he lay on his side, taking her with him. The king continued to kiss his way across her. His ardor increased with every kiss, and Thamiris felt as if the heat would burn her.
Carefully spreading her legs, Iphicles lowered his head between them. Thamiris felt a scream rise in her throat. The movements of his tongue were controlled, deliberate. Her body began to quiver uncontrollably as he continued to trace the outline of her womanhood with his heated tongue, torturously slowly. She gasped when he guided his tongue slightly deeper inside of her. Thamiris sucked in her breath sharply and twisted her fingers in his gorgeous red hair as his hot breath fanned into her and warmed the exposed areas of her femininity.
Iphicles continued the torment, his arousal growing larger with each stroke. Thamiris felt the blood rush into her head, dizzy with anticipation. When he reached her sensitive clit, he sucked on it softly, chewing it just enough to drive her wild. "Please," she whimpered pleadingly. He withdrew his tongue, and then plunged it into her repeatedly, deeper each time. He teased her sensitive bud mercilessly, not allowing her to reach satisfaction. Thamiris removed her hands from his tangled hair, reaching down to play her fingers over his wide shoulders. She was rewarded with a passionate moan into the very core of her feminism. Iphicles' patience ran out, and he pulled his hot tongue out of her.
With a long-suffering groan, Iphicles reached up and pulled Thamiris into his strong arms. He trailed finger slowly, seductively down to her breast, which swelled in anticipation of his passion, filling his large hand. His sweet lips descended on her swollen ones, and he kissed her so hard their teeth grazed. Thamiris could feel the demanding hand behind her head that put pressure on her, as if he intended to hold her lips crushed to his forever.
His tongue was hot, wet, and slippery as he explored her mouth. Thamiris did the same, and she could taste herself on his breath. Then their tongues lay still, and the two lovers shared a feeling of the most profound intimacy.
Iphicles kissed his new wife again with mounting passion. He removed his hand from her breast to reach down and part her, inserting a finger into the velvety folds he had explored with his tongue. Startled, Thamiris began to close her lips and end the kiss, but he wouldn't let her, pressing her head to his. In calm indulgence, Iphicles inserted another finger into her womanhood. When he found her tight bud, he squeezed it hard. Their bodies stimulated to an unbearable state of arousal, the lust of both man and woman spiraled to a point of intolerable intensity.
Withdrawing his hand from Thamiris' womanhood and ending the kiss abruptly, Iphicles put a swift stop to the slow-moving foreplay. Spreading her legs again, this time more resolutely, he entered her. After finding his rhythm, he thrust into her again and again, deeper and farther each thrust. Thamiris reached up and brought his lips down on hers, feeling the sweetness of their lovemaking in the kiss. This was right--this was how their lives should be. They had finally found each other, and she would *never* leave him.
Thamiris felt him penetrate deep into her, and she thought she could endure it no longer. Her pliant flesh called out desperately for relief. Her body burned with need for release, its brutal force drowning out the pure luscious feeling of him inside her.
Iphicles' thrusts became less rhythmical, less measured, and Thamiris knew he was loosing his firm control over his passionate need. As the web of desire began to weave itself up through her fervently burning body, she ached for satisfaction. Her muscles tightened around his cock, silently begging for the beautiful heavens she knew he could take her to.
Iphicles and Thamiris spiraled upwards, toward the place only the luckiest of lovers go. Their love was overpowering, and it strengthened their sexual compatibility. Thamiris recognized this as a gift Iphicles chose to share with her, no matter how much sooner he could have reached satisfaction on his own if he didn't consider her at all.
Higher, higher, higher... Iphicles took them on their path to fulfillment. Thamiris' body was fiery and inflamed, her hunger unbearable. She put herself completely in his power, clinging to him in blind trust.
With a violent intensity that can only be imagined, the world exploded around them both. Sensation after pleasurable sensation washed through them, cascading around them and enveloping them in its warmth. Together they crested on waves of ecstasy in the golden shimmering light. They belonged to each other for all time, for eternity. Nothing--and no one--could separate them from each other, for she was finally his, and he was hers after all.
Thamiris cried out her joy into Iphicles' cavernous mouth. They had reached it! Together, they had reached the heights of pleasure, and found the exquisite heavens again. She smiled and floated back down to earth.
Iphicles held her in his strong arms and kissed her sweetly, tenderly. "I love you."
Thamiris smiled at his words, seemingly incapable of speech for a few seconds. Then, "I love you, too." One of the many things she loved about him was that she could always talk to him. Iphicles was her world, her rock, her confidante. She had no qualms about telling him her fears, and she did so now. "Iphicles, I don't know how to rule."
He just looked at her, his soft gaze understanding. Something in his eyes compelled her to go on, to explain her dilemma to him. "I don't think I can be the kind of Queen your people need."
Iphicles nodded. "That's why we're here, my love." Smiling at the puzzled look she gave him, he reached down and brushed a stray strand of her blond hair out of her eyes. "So you can learn how to rule."
The textures of her husband's voice struck a current of desire deep inside her, and she struggled to concentrate on his words. Feeling the fire burst from its banks again, she looked up at Iphicles.
He pulled her into his arms again, giving her a passionate kiss full of promise, commitment, and a fair amount of lust...
Kathryn stood staring at her scroll, looking over the accounts of Kramia's current rule. Her dark hair fell across the words, and she impatiently brushed it out of the way, tucking the lock behind her ear.
Kenitos and his wife Litara were managing well, and she was sure this new structure would work out well enough that they wouldn't need her help for a few more years, at least--if ever. No one power could take over the other, for the system she had worked out was well balanced. Still, she sat and observing the scroll closely and looking for any signs of trouble in the reports. The war could be invading Kramia at this moment, and she wasn't there to see it.
Gritting her teeth in an unusual show of emotion, she threw the scroll down on the large table and stalked over to the window. Opening it wide, she let the cool breeze fan over her, soothing her frustration.
"Oh, damn." The Queen muttered the expletive under her breath. Turning from the window overlooking the fields, she reflected over the problems the situation presented.
For her, Kramia was a two-day ride from the small, peaceful village she had chosen to settle in. She had always thought it enough time to travel to her country and smooth out any tangles in its rule. Now, she wasn't so sure.
To see conflicts approaching, a simple account of the goings-on in Kramia didn't quite achieve anything. Kathryn had to *be* there. See the attitudes of people, and assess them with her calm glance. Watch how her subjects carried out orders, and differentiate between those who were loyal to her and those who were not trustworthy. Observe them on the battlefield, and use her accurate judgement to decide for herself whether they would run from battle. As intelligent as he was, a report through Kenitos' eyes wouldn't help her now.
The explosive war between the Salecians and the Pritosians--Kathryn had seen it coming for three full years, and she didn't need the heavy Pritosian army spotted moving through the main road route of Kramia to confirm it. Her country stood right in the center of the fertile Hexon River Valley, and the city of Pythia was the heart of flourishing trade. Salecia and Pritosia stretched out on either side of the valley, and Pythia offered the only bridge over the Hexon River. If the roads to the two warring cities and the bridge over the Hexon were barricaded in order to maintain peace in Kramia, Pythia would suffer greatly during the length of the war. It was the capital of the country, where her home was, and the queen couldn't allow that.
Palindryas, the current ruler of Pritosia, was a daft barbarian who believed pure manpower and a large army would win the war. Ceresys, the dictator of Salecia, didn't have the mighty army of Pritosia to command, yet Kathryn knew he stood a fair chance of winning the war. Quietly observing the happenings, she had noticed armed boats heading up the Hexon River. She also had no doubts that Ceresys had an army waiting in the mountains at the end of the valley--after all, as the warrior woman knew from experience, large armies are rather hard, if not impossible, to conceal. Kathryn concluded that Ceresys was planning to meet Palindryas with his main cavalry at the site of the battle, blockade the Hexon River with his navy, and cut off the last escape route--which was west, through the mountains--with his hidden army. It was a tactic she had used before, and it hadn't ever failed her.
Tolesa, the unimportant village Kathryn had made her home in the last few years while she watched as Kramia functioned without her, was at the end of a small tributary of the Hexon River. Before leaving her people, Kathryn had announced Kramia's neutrality in any conflicts that might brew in her absence, obviously foreshadowing this clash of their neighbors. Kramia was a powerful country, and it had a strong alliance with the Amazons. However, this war had been brewing for years, and Kathryn knew both parties would do foolish things to triumph. Palindryas and Ceresys were not irrational enough to openly declare Pythia a battleground, so the intended battlefield had become Tolesa.
Without question, Pythia and its bridge over the Hexon would have to be blockaded to stop the conflict from seeping back along the Hexon's small tributary and into Kramia.
This drastic action would not only stop trade in Pythia, but it would also cut off the retreat route for the Pritosian army, should they wish to go back over the Hexon River and to their home. Therefore, an alliance could be formed with Salecia. However, Kathryn had declared neutrality, and she had no intention of aiding Salecia because it could lead to war with Pritosia--and she could not afford to leave anything to chance. Furthermore, she had no intention of blockading Pythia at all, for all of Kramia would suffer from their neighbors' war if she *did* give the order.
No matter how many angles Kathryn viewed this war at, there were no solutions to the perplexing issue of keeping Kramia completely out of it--only lesser evils. The queen couldn't stop the war, for it was too late in the game. She had seen the attitudes and mannerisms of both the Salecians and the Pritosians--the centuries of betrayal, revenge, and hatred ran too deep.
The queen had planned to use this war as a challenge for Kenitos and Litara's ability to rule in her absence. If they were able to pull Kramia through it unscathed, then she would continue on to join Lilla at the head of the Amazons. If the couple should show difficulty in accomplishing the important task, then Kathryn would ride down to Kramia and intervene. If this should be the case, she had planned to reassert her position as Queen of Kramia, and then train Kenitos and Litara further--to the point where they could rule properly together if she went to join Lilla. Now, she doubted that she was still welcome at her friend's side, for it *had* been a long time.
Kathryn doubted this war was an appropriate choice for a test. If *she* could not find a thorough way out of this, there was no way either Kenitos or Litara could. Stopping the war was the best course to take, and there was only one way to do that...
A hesitant knock at the door pulled Kathryn out of her detailed musings. "Come in!" Her sharp commander's order cut clearly through the air.
The door opened slowly, and a medium-sized woman walked in. Kathryn's evaluating gaze flickered over her briefly. Blond, beautiful, delicate, feminine, moderately muscled, shapely figure, easy smile, passive... she seemed to be everything Kathryn was not. Motioning toward the chaise, the queen gestured for her guest to sit down.
"What do you want?" Kathryn remained standing, her tone no longer harsh and commanding, but her voice still emotionless.
"I was wondering if you could teach me how to rule." The woman's voice was much softer, gentler, than the queen's.
"Right." There was nothing questioning, disbelieving, or sarcastic in either the warrior's voice or the look she slanted her, but Thamiris felt compelled to explain.
"I just got married to Iphicles, the King of Corinth, and I'm to become Queen of his people."
Kathryn nodded. "I'm Kathryn, the Queen of Kramia, but I suppose you know that."
"Yes. I'm Thamiris, the Queen of Corinth."
Kathryn gave the woman one of her rare smiles to put her at ease. "If you're to rule the people of Corinth, you must stop thinking of them as your husband's people, and start accepting them as *your* people."
Thamiris returned her smile. "I guess I *should* become more familiar with them," she replied.
"No, that's not enough--you have to *love* them. To rule people, you have to understand them. You must know their--" Her sentence was cut off by more sharp rapping on the door. This time, it was much more insistent.
Kathryn cast her glance heavenwards, making no effort to conceal her annoyance. "Come in!" Her acute irritation made her voice sharper and louder, and it was if she were snapping out a direct command.
Trebor, the town elder, walked in. He seemed to have the entire village at his heels. The warrior woman noticed with a slight bit of amusement that Thamiris' eyes widened considerably. "I've been expecting you." Kathryn could see her calm words surprised the people gathered.
"You have?" Trebor looked at her hesitantly, unnerved by her perfectly relaxed tone of voice.
"Yes, I certainly have. You want something from me. Tell me what it is." It was an order, and she fully expected it executed perfectly.
"Ahhhhh... ummm, you know there's been some trouble about... well, armies coming here... and Ares--Ares is responsible... he can divert the war if only..."
Kathryn considered his character in one glance. Old, shabby, desperate, unwilling to accept change... there wasn't much to him. Still, she wouldn't kill the old man--Lilla had taught her too much for that. It didn't mean she had to have patience with him. "Tell me what it is that you want from me." The queen's voice didn't lack authority, but it was still cool and indifferent
"Well... we want you to--we want your... ahh, we want you to give--" He stuttered, looking up at the unbelievably tall woman.
"You want me to give you my life." Her calm tone was stunning. Kathryn stood perfectly still, and Thamiris' shocked gasp could be heard.
"Why did you choose me?"
"Ares wants a person who's a resident of this town. And, well... you are a little different. Ummm... not like the rest of the women around here. Living alone, unmarried, with no family at all... no one who would--no one who would
actually object if--"
"No one who would care if you sacrificed me to Ares." Although Kathryn's statement was matter-of-fact, it took some self-control not to snort at the absurdity of the idea. A few years ago, that may have been true... but then, she had never told these poor villagers who she was.
"Yeah." Trebor's voice was eager... and a little guilty for the emotion. "So will you come as a willing sacrifice from the town of Tolesa to spare us from the war?"
A fraction of a second passed before Kathryn replied, "Yes." Not waiting for his response, she strode out of her temporary home and to Ares' Temple.
Kathryn tried to loose herself in the crowd of villagers when she entered the temple--no easy task because of her sheer height and commanding presence. However, she quietly watched, hidden in the crowd, while Trebor talked to
Finally, the priest announced formally, "I shall now perform the sacrifice to my Lord Ares, the God of War."
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, there was a booming peal of thunder and strike of lightning. The sharp crack of a whip resounded in the temple, and a flash of blinding blue light announced the appearance of the God of War.
"What kind of pathetic sacrifice have you brought me NOW?" The last word was shouted in a raging fury--so overwhelmingly loud that it made the very foundations of the temple tremble, not to mention the villagers. Kathryn figured he had been busy with the previous sacrifice of that morning and didn't want to be distracted.
"Sorry t-to... disturb you, my Lord. Our sacrifice isn't pathetic." Catching the look on Ares' face, he hastily added, "Even though the last one was. This time, we have brought a... well, actually a very well loved person of the community. And she's willing to sacrifice herself." Kathryn was trying not to fall prey to boredom, but she could tell that at least Ares was interested in this foreplay.
"A *woman* sacrifice, and a *willing* one. I have to say--it is original."
He stepped down from the alter and folded his arms, continuing, "However, this woman herself must say that she is well-loved."
**He didn't say loved by the people in the town itself,** Kathryn observed to herself. She tossed her head slightly, and the crowd parted for her. As the Queen of Kramia emerged from the group of villagers, she declared, "Yes, Ares, I am quite well-loved." Her calm, confident voice sliced cleanly through the stuffy air in the temple like a sharp sword through soft skin.
"Kathryn." It was a statement, nothing more. If Ares was surprised to see her, she couldn't tell.
"Hello, Ares," she replied. Her voice didn't suggest she was happy to see him--in fact, it didn't suggest anything at all. The greeting was as empty of meaning as a fresh parchment with no words written on it yet.
"What are you doing? Allowing yourself to be killed to divert a war? To help a bunch of villagers who care nothing about you? Abandoning your position as Queen of Kramia for a bunch of worthless mortals?" The God of War's words were furious, filled with a seething rage that seemed to mock his low tone--and the shiver of desire Kathryn felt spiral through her.
The queen tried to suppress her undeniable lust for him once again, but her iron control failed her. It took her a few moments to force herself to think clearly again, to block the incredibly sexy image of him standing there with such power and arrogance, to quell the passionate and ardent response his voice always aroused in her. When her mind was cleared of her forever-denied wanton fantasies of him, the villagers had gotten over their initial shock that she was a queen--the most powerful one, at that. Trebor was stammering his apologies to her, insisting that she wasn't aware...
"SILENCE!" Her sharp command raced through the temple like wildfire, and every villager stepped back in fear of the woman standing before them. Kathryn redirected to Ares. "If you stop the war between the Salecians and the Pritosians."
"The villager's request was that I reroute the war." His voice was so low, so sexual, that Kathryn couldn't concentrate on her negotiations. She shook herself out of her reverie, once more submerging the feelings he forced her to recognize.
Kathryn turned on her heel, fixing Ares with her heated gaze. "I am changing their request." Every word was emphasized, enunciated clearly. The power in her voice and the authoritative look she cast Trebor dared him to challenge her. He didn't.
The God of War strode across the floor to the tall woman. She tried not to focus on his overconfident and erotic stride, and turn her attention to his words.
"You want me to destroy a significant war between two mighty armies for the death of a mere mortal--and a woman, at that?"
Anger flared inside her, the flame almost as hot as her desire for him. Yet, she banked it. "Ares, I've fought you since the day I was born, going against everything you planned. I refused to give in, depriving you of control of Kramia--"
"If you're trying to stir my anger against you, it won't work. I could kill you in an instant, if I so wished."
"True," Kathryn acknowledged. "Of course, then you couldn't say that I had willingly sacrificed myself to you--on your alter, with your name on my lips. You could never say that I had finally surrendered." She couldn't help but wish she had surrendered, that she had his name on her lips for other reasons, for the painful aching for him had become too much for her. Desire flared up again, so sudden and so overpowering that she had to take a set back from him. From his knowing eyes, she knew her longing for him was visible on every one of her features, and, for the life of her, she couldn't get it under control.
His intense gaze penetrated her. She couldn't seem to tear her eyes away from his. When he spoke, his voice was veiled with the barely controlled lust she saw burning in his eyes. "You're a virgin."
Kathryn knew what he was suggesting, and she longed to say yes. She couldn't. Ares could seduce any man or woman that he wanted. The urge to throw herself into his arms, and his seduction, was strong, but she had convinced herself that she was stronger. She wanted him--*needed* him. That was a fact that she had been forced to acknowledge. She could never have him. The nightmare was all too real.
Looking into his eyes, her world swirled around her. He was her world--but then, he couldn't be. She didn't need any man at all. No one had ever made her feel anything other than friendship or hatred--no one other than him. She wanted to drown in the God's eyes, forever become his--but she wouldn't. Her life was a game. A game she couldn't stand to lose.
"Yes, that is a commonly known fact." She was flinched at the desire in her own voice. **Control. Ha. What an illusion.** Sexual tension wound itself around them like a spider web, sticky with anger.
"As the Queen of Kramia, your compassion has been stirred often, but never your passion." Staring at him, all her emotions portrayed on her face, she denied it. The inflections in his voice made her quiver with need. **You are the only one to stir my passion.** She wanted to tell him, but she knew that he had always known. She wouldn't allow herself to admit it to him.
"I know." Ares' response was aloud. Startled, she realized he had read her thoughts. Silently, Kathryn cursed herself for not realizing that he could, and cursed him for doing it. She shook her head. In the long run, it didn't matter. She would do everything she could to win the game. Once again, she clamped her iron control over her desire, waiting until it lay dormant inside her.
"Give me your word that you will stop the war between the Salecians and the Pritosians if I sacrifice myself at your alter." Her words were precisely articulated again, calm and serene.
"I give you my word." Then, Ares looked at the queen standing before him. "The question is... will you sacrifice yourself to me?"
Kathryn had an instant to reconsider everything. It wasn't too late to turn back... no. She wouldn't do that. She had already made her decision. The warrior woman would do everything she could to defeat Ares in this war, for it was *her* life that had become the battleground. Then again, she had everything to lose...
Kathryn stood sedately, tranquilly, never loosing her perfect composure. When she spoke, her voice was cool, impersonal. It held no inflection, and affirmed the idea that her word was law. In a quiet voice, but a strong and confident tone, the Warrior Queen of Kramia gave him her answer. One word that would ring in the ears of these villagers forever. "Yes."
She could *feel* the great force of his triumph. Dear Athena, Ares was a conceited, egotistical jerk. The long knife, still held immobile in the priest's hand, exploded in a flash of blue light. "You won't be needing that," he explained offhandedly.
Kathryn turned, following Ares and stepping up to the alter after him. Facing the God of War, every single sensible thought flew out of her mind. He was gorgeous, sexy, handsome, passionate, desirable, tempting, evil, naughty, disagreeable, wicked, self-serving, arrogant... everything she couldn't resist. The lust that raced through her roared in his blood as well. For the second time, she considered turning away from her duty... and turning toward him.
How Kathryn craved his touch! If only Ares would satisfy this searing fire inside her, quell the fervent desire he had created. Heat spiraled between them, the conflicts only intensifying it. His gaze was electrifying, and he used it to reduce her to a trembling mass of aching hunger. She longed for God of War to take her in his dark and dangerous embrace, to fill the gap inside her that only he could. The tension in the temple was palpable. Even more tangible was the wanton lust between the two people standing on the alter.
With a groan, Ares finally dragged her into his arms, claiming her as his. For tantalizing moments, he stared into her eyes to see if she would give up the fight.
Sensations overwhelmed Kathryn. The feeling of his strong arms around her, his eyes capturing hers, his delicious full lips so close to her own, his powerful chest crushing her breasts, his hard cock pressed up against her... the flaming sensation of his insistent hand tracing her firm jawbone plunged her into the depths of erotic desire.
The queen desperately hung on to a shred of steadfast information, an island of sense in the inflamed sea of lust. She must not give in. She could not give up. She must make the right choice. Lilla's words came back to her: "Your virginity is the one thing you have that will redeem you someday." *She must keep her virginity at all costs.* Never would she lose the game. She couldn't lose the game of life, even if she had to lose life itself. Kathryn had to turn away from temptation. Ares' heat was too intense, his lust too strong. Faced with it, she couldn't resist him. So she struggled, trying vainly to escape his grasp.
The God of War was furious. "Willingly!" The reminder was a snarl of fury, asserting that he was the commander in this war, the leader in this game. He loosened his hold on her, and she knew he was waiting for her submission to him.
"Yes, willingly," Kathryn replied in a voice that was sensual, seductive. She was going to save herself from him, fulfill her vow of sacrifice to him, and she had to do it now. They both may yearn for each other, but it could never be that way--*would* never be that way. Ares had plenty of people to fuck along the way to satisfy his carnality. That young man who had been about to be offered to him... yes, he would go see him to indulge in his appetite. The God of War may want her, but he didn't need her. Oh, but how she needed him! In her state of intoxication with his physical appeal, she swayed in his arms.
As if mocking her instability, Ares didn't tighten his arms around her. Instead, he loosened the clasps on heavy metal armor she wore, letting it fall to the floor. All she wore was her leather bodice. Kathryn took advantage of the situation. Even though satisfaction was so near, she tried to resist his magnetic pull. Through her haze of lust for him, she managed to do what was right. Fulfill her one-word vow.
Gathering her energy and redirecting it, Kathryn pushed herself through the air, doing a single flip. She landed a few feet away, remaining on the altar of Ares' Temple. She barely noticed the look of violent rage on the God of War's face or heard the steady stream of fierce curses that he growled at her.
Kathryn unsheathed her sword, hardly watching as Ares started toward her. In a slit second, he reached her. She was already plunging the sword into her body, inflicting a fatal stomach wound that would mean instant death.
She had done it. She had saved her beloved country from war. She didn't feel the bloodied sword fall to the altar with a resounding clatter or her blood pour out from her open wound and onto her hand.
In the few seconds before she lost consciousness, the queen considered if sacrificing herself to Ares had been the right thing to do. Would he keep his word to her after her death? Then she was falling, falling... falling into utter blackness and surrounded by foreboding gloom; beginning her long journey to Tartarus.
Before she succumbed to the dark, Kathryn had a stunning revelation: it had been wrong. She had put her pride in the way, persisting to win the game and be victorious in battle. Ares' seduction was right--being with him was right. Now she could never go back, for her choice had been irreversible. Tartarus claimed her, when her God's arms should have. Her last thought was out loud: "I should have surrendered."
If she had lived just a moment longer, Kathryn would have known that Ares caught her before she hit the cold and blood-soaked floor of the alter. The lifeless body of the Warrior Queen of Kramia lay in the God of War's arms.
Thamiris' Section: A Day in the Life
It's not easy being Ares, god of war.
Really. You see the glamorous job, the incredible looks, the gifts, the sex...Hey, I've read your stories. I know what you think. A picnic. A walk in the park. Let me tell you: it's not all it's cracked up to be. Everyone wants a piece of me. There's only so much god to go around.
I'm flossing my teeth, trying to get out that last bit of ambrosia, and it's: "Ares, please vanquish my enemies with one blow from your mighty fist."
I'm getting fitted for a new pair of skintight pants--you wouldn't believe how fast the crotch wears out--and it's: "Ares, smite off the head of my deadly enemy with one stroke from your fiery two- headed whip."
I'm peeing, for Hades' sake, and it's: "Ares, reroute the army's path so our pathetic village won't be destroyed."
Especially the last one. I'm the war god, people--I'm not interested in your petty problems. I LIKE watching you get splattered. It's fun. I get off on it. You want mercy, talk to Hercules. You want mayhem, destruction, gore and violence, talk to me. But not all the fucking time!
And the sacrifices these idiots make! Ok, some of the war toys are cool, but more often it's just crap. Goats. What the hell am I going to do with a goat? Or a medallion. Like I need another fucking medallion, or another bottle of chocolate syrup. I have enough syrup to drown an entire continent. Grrrrrr.
But you hafta hear the latest. If you ever needed reminding that mortals are essentially stupid, here it is.
I'm polishing my earring one day, and I hear the usual calls for my attention. Some little village. Toledo? Tolesa? Whatever. "Mighty Ares, here's a sacrifice...Please appear...You're so great..." Blah blah blah. Like I care.
Only this time I realize that these fools are gonna sacrifice a human!! Like I'm not in enough shit with Zeus already. If he starts thinking I'm demanding blood sacrifices, my ass is grass. So I show up in this grungy little temple--hardly fit to honor me--to stop it.
They've got some young, good-looking guy drugged and strapped down on an altar. They have no clue, these people, no clue. "This is your devotion, is it? You call offering the life of a drugged stranger a sacrifice worthy of my diverting a war?"
There's the usual trembling and fawning. I zap a few asses with some well-directed lightening bolts, and they all flee, shrieking in terror. The young guy's still there, though, grinning. I like a mortal with some energy, so I smile back. I let him blow me. Pretty good. I'll keep him in mind for later. Then I head back to Olympus. I meet with Hephaestos; he's made me a special new sword, one that's invulnerable to all spells. It's going to be a gift. The weapon's a beauty, and I thank him. He can't take praise, ducking his scarred face away from me. Poor bastard.
Then I hear those dumb-ass villagers. You'd think theyd've learned a lesson after I seared their butts- -but no. The idiots think I objected to the "stranger" aspect of their last attempt. This time, they're going to sacrifice a local queen. Some virgin. <sigh>.
I could use some mortal help, and I know just where to go. Thamiris. She recently married the king of Corinth, so I pop down to see her. She and Iphicles are going at it. Again. I decide to watch.
His head is between her legs. He's holding open the wet lips of her cunt, plunging his tongue inside her. She likes that. Trust me.
She's writhing under the pressure, one hand clutching the king's hair, the other gripping the mattress beside her. Her head's thrown back, green eyes closed. Suddenly, they open and fix on me. She smiles. Her eyes never leave me, as she begins to moan. What a slut. No wonder I've always had a soft spot for her. And a hard one. Speaking of which...my hand slowly caresses my cock.
I love watching a man lick a woman's cunt, finger it. His face and hands get so wet, and that warm, musky smell fills the room. And the sound....gets me really hot.
My cock is free now. I'm stroking it more quickly, watching her squirm under his tongue and fingers while she watches me. She blows me a kiss, spreading her thighs wider apart, while the king sucks her clit.
"Please," she begs, skin beginning to glow.
She wants him to fuck her. So do I, although I consider sending him off somewhere, and taking his place. But they're newlyweds, after all. Instead, I rub my fingers over the engorged head of my cock, squeezing it, as Iphicles mounts her. She gasps when he thrusts into her. So do I.
I remember what it's like to fuck her, feel her legs wrap around me, nails rake my back, hands grab my ass, like she's doing to the king right now. I start keeping time with Iphicles' strokes: long, hard, almost violent. She's panting now, kissing him deeply, always watching me.
His pace is almost frenetic, his back slick with sweat and blood from the scratches. He calls out her name. Iphicles is so aroused by his beautiful, sweet wife. I know he's scared to come before she does--he loves her, wants to please her. He takes her left nipple in his mouth, desperate to gratify her. But her moans are growing louder, and she arches into him. I do what will give her release: I come, spurting hot semen into my hand, thinking about her hotter cunt. It works. She starts to thrash, calling on the gods, calling me. The king's body, so taut over her, tenses even more, as, shuddering, he spills his seed inside her.
She smiles again.
Iphicles, resting his head against her breasts, says softly, "I love you."
Thamiris brushes back his damp hair. "I love you, too." Her eyes have never left my face.
She joins me in the sitting room a few minutes later, closing the bedroom door softly behind her. She's wearing his robe, casually fastened at the waist. The neckline gapes, exposing her still flushed breasts. I run a finger over one hard nipple, and she sighs with pleasure. Her arms encircle my neck, and she kisses me.
After several minutes, she reluctantly pulls away. "What do you want, Ares? You didn't interrupt my honeymoon just for this." She takes my still damp fingers in her mouth, licking off the drying semen.
"No." I nuzzle her neck, just to hear her moan. I love the way she's so incredibly responsive after sex, her whole body raw. She always claims the second time is better than the first. "No, that's not the only reason." I push the robe over her shoulders. It falls to the floor, and she stands naked before me. My clothes vanish, and I sit in a large chair, pulling her onto my lap.
"Is everything ok, Thamiris?" Iphicles calls from the bedroom.
"I'll be back in a few minutes!" she replies, voice wavering as I slide two fingers into the dripping cunt in front of me. She retaliates by taking my erection in her warm hand. My thumb finds her swollen clit, and I rub my nail across the wet surface, back and forth. I know what she likes.
And she knows what I like. Her fingers are probing, squeezing, teasing my cock until I can hear the blood pounding there. "There are some stupid villagers...need a lesson...you'll have to switch bodies with a queen they're going to kill..."
"Will you save me?" she asks.
I take my fingers from her, and replace them with my cock. I grab her hips, and start fucking her slowly, deliberately. "Of course."
"Then I'll do it." She kisses me, whispering my name against my mouth.
"You...can tell Kathryn...the queen...that you need guidance....on ruling. Heard you....say that to Iphicles....Why?"
"Don't want to rule..." she pants in my ear. "Trying to convince him....to let me continue fighting."
I lick the sweat that trickles down her neck, feeling her muscles tighten around my cock. When Iphicles calls to her again, asking her to join him, she comes, body shaking, teeth sinking into my neck. It must be love.
Then I come inside her. It lasts for hours...Just pulse after pulse of sensation. When I'm done, I explain what I want. She's to meet with queen Kathryn, go with her to the temple for the sacrifice. As they enter the building, I'll switch their bodies. Tham is a good actress; that's one of the reasons I chose her. The death has to look real to fool the moronic peasants. They'll see the dead body, scream and shout in guilt, then leave me the hell alone.
She kisses me quickly, then scoops up the robe. "I'll go see her tomorrow." She hurries back to her waiting husband. What a woman.
The next day, remaining invisible, I watch her visit Kathryn. She's playing it sweet and demure. I try not to laugh. I'm not sure the queen buys it entirely, but she offers to help Tham learn how to rule. Tham as a ruler--I have to laugh. She has no patience; she'd be executing people all over the place. Hopefully she'll convince Iphicles to let her keep fighting. I need her on the battlefield.
The two women are talking when Trebor, the town elder, walks in. The rest of the villagers trail at his heels. Kathryn, of course, has no idea that they plan to kill her, but doesn't scream or faint when she finds out. Her calm impresses even Tham, who's already itching to whack off Trebor's empty head.
When Trebor asks the queen if she's willing to sacrifice herself to spare the village from war, she responds simply: "Yes."
Tham's shaking her head. Self-sacrifice isn't high on her list of favorite things. But she keeps quiet, and follows the blood-thirsty mob to the temple, allowing herself to fall behind the others. When Kathryn passes through the heavy black doors, I switch them. The queen is disoriented, and the press of villagers swarming about her keeps her far from the action.
As soon as the priest announces his intention to perform the sacrifice, I appear, lightening flashing, thunder booming. I like to make an entrance. Let the play begin.
"What kind of pathetic sacrifice have you brought me NOW?" I shout. The villagers flinch. Good. Cretins. The priest babbles an apology. I ignore him.
Tham says nothing, going for regal, majestic, calm. Perfect. It's so NOT her.
For the next few minutes, we spar, me in the role of furious yet seductive god, she in the role of icy virgin queen melting under my heat. We've played this game before, in slightly different circumstances. There was one night on a ship outside of Megara...I drag my attention back to the present.
"Ares, I've fought you since the day I was born, going against everything you planned. I refused to give in, depriving you of control of Kramia--"
"If you're trying to stir my anger against you, it won't work. I could kill you in an instant, if I so wished." I'd never kill her. She's too much fun.
"True. Of course, then you couldn't say that I had willingly sacrificed myself to you--on your alter, with your name on my lips. You could never say that I had finally surrendered."
Where's she getting this stuff? It's great!
"You're a virgin." We both try not to snicker over that one.
We throw around some more words, and I think about the different ways I'm going to thank Tham for doing me this favor.
"Give me your word that you will stop the war between the Salecians and the Pritosians if I sacrifice myself at your altar," she order, her voice ringing through the temple. Villagers gaze at her in awe.
I've fucked Tham on my temple altar. On a few of them She says the sacrilege turns her on.
"I give you my word. The question is... will you sacrifice yourself to me?"
The way she says it, so intently, so seriously, goes right to my cock. Even in that different body, I'm overcome with desire for her, and I can't stop myself. My arms are around her, my tongue in her mouth, my cock grinding into her.
Then she starts to struggle. Right. Almost forgot what we were supposed to be doing. I growl something about her willingness. We're about ready to wrap it up. Good, because my desire is getting pretty intense.
Tham "forces" me back, then flips up onto the altar. Here it comes: the big death scene. By the look on her face, I know she's doing Sophocles. Jocasta. She always said Jocasta was an idiot. ‘So she made a mistake and fucked her son. Get over it'. I love her sense of humor. I think that's why I always go back to her.
She pulls out Kathryn's sword. When I see the shiny new blade gleaming in the candlelight, I realize the mistake I've made. The terrible mistake. I leap toward her, but she drives the sword into her stomach. But it's the wrong sword.
I'd replaced Kathryn's weapon with the new one from Hephaestos--a gift for what we were putting her through. That sword that's impervious to spells, even the power of a god. I forgot. The lust...the game... So the sword, supposed to retract against Tham's flesh, splits it open, and she falls to the floor.
By the time I reach her, it's too late. Her blood covers me, her dead eyes stare at me. I howl.
Artemis, wiping her bloody sword on her skirt, pushed her way toward the two women, shoving aside the brawling bar patrons. The violence was inescapable, even in here. The streets were worse. She sat down at the small table.
Gabrielle spoke first, uncharacteristically aggressive. "We need your help. You've got to talk to Ares. He's refusing to do his job, and the whole world's going to Hades in a handbasket."
"You know why. You're Tham's sister."
Artemis' Section: Picking Up The Pieces
Throwing the accursed sword onto the table, I glare at this brazen young woman. "You expect me to talk to my brother about doing his job? It appears to me he's doing his job quite well," I spate out. "And your colorful metaphor is indeed accurate: Hades appreciates every handbasket' he's receiving."
"But your sister. . . ." Gabrielle stammered.
"Half-sister," I corrected. "Ares will be dealt with, I can assure you. I only came to retrieve Tham's body to bring her to Olympus at our father's request."
"She's to become a god?" Kathryn queried.
"No," I sighed. "This sword, forged by Hephaestus dealt a fatal wound, one that none of the gods can change. She will be mourned, however, as is her due as one of father's children."
"What's to become of the villagers? Ares was going to stop the war between the Salecians and the Pritosians." Gabrielle continued to needle me.
"I'm the goddess of the hunt, for Zeus sake," I shot back. "What do I know of war?" Seeing the worried look on both of their faces, I quickly add "Don't worry, Queen Kathryn, even as we speak, my sister Athena is taking care of that little detail. Your precious villagers are safe. Although, for the life of me, I can't figure why you want to protect them. These are the same people who volunteered you for the sacrificial altar pretty quickly."
"As Queen, it's expected of me to do whatever it takes to protect my subjects." She tried to straighten up, trying to appear as regal as possible under the circumstances.
"Oh, please. . . ." I sighed. "Your thinking is about as sound as my brother Ares's is. And we all know that he doesn't think with his brains, rather somewhere much lower in his anatomy. "
Noticing the redness creeping over the faces of both women, I decide it's time to leave the tavern to complete my unwelcome task. "I leave it to you to deal with my sister's body you have inherited, Your Highness. For the villagers, Queen Kathryn has ceased to exist; however, the City of Corinth and its King still believe they have their Queen...." Kathryn nodded, but I doubt she realized the complications this knowledge brings.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Upon my return to Olympus, I sought out my sister Athena. Finding her in a secluded hall, polishing her helmet, I approached cautiously.
"Ares has to be punished," she said deliberately without missing a stroke on the shiny metallic surface.
"I agree. His fun and games attitude has gotten way out of hand. The death of our sister is unacceptable. What do you suggest?"
"First, you should realize this will be just the two of us. Zeus is too distraught; Hera, of course, is too delighted, Aphrodite is too much in love with him, and the others can't be bothered," Athena observed.
"We can get recruits," I volunteered. I suddenly smiled at the idea that began to form.
Athena finally put down the polishing cloth and lowered her helmet onto her head. "Lead on," she encouraged.
Grabbing my bow, we disappeared simultaneously; only to reappear in front of one of Ares's temples.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
"Isn't this where . . . ?" Athena looked around quickly.
"Yes," I finished. "Now focus. This will take our combined strength."
Our outstretched arms shook as we took aim on the unforeseen portal. With lightening flashing around us, the skies darkened and suddenly the dimensions became one. A lone bearded figure tumbled out, dressed from head to foot in black leather.
Standing up, he looked at Athena and then at me, shaking his head in disbelief. "Yet again it's the same, but different. Athena, why does our goddess of beauty wear a warrior's helmet? Shouldn't you be making love instead of war? And Artemis, the hunter's garb becomes our good mother earth."
"Enough fool," Athena barked at him. "This is not your world but ours." She held her spear at the ready.
Taking her lead, I drew my bow and nock an arrow. "Sovereign, we have brought you here to help punish an injustice."
"Why should I help you?" He began walking away.
Athena threw her spear toward him and he barely jumped aside. "Because we freed you, you ungrateful dog," she growled.
"Because we want you to help us punish Ares," I said simply.
"Ares? That overblown, obnoxious God of Love?"
"No, Ares, the overblown, obnoxious God of War. . . . who is responsible for the death of Thamiris." Athena exclaimed.
"Noooooo!!!! Not my sweet mistress Tham?" He closed his eyes, possibly remembering his lost love.
"Here she was our half-sister and Queen of Corinth. If she's dead here, she's dead in your world as well," I reluctantly pointed out.
"Then Ares must die as well," he began.
"You great fool," Athena said with disgust. "You may look like our brother Hercules, but intelligence is sorely lacking on your part. Ares is a god; he can't die. At least not by your hand. Your pendant is gone, remember?"
"Just how do you propose I punish him?" he queried us.
"That's for you to decide," Athena offered. "Zeus won't allow us the satisfaction."
"What's in it for me?" he looked suggestively at each of us.
"You should be honored. . . ." Athena began
"Lady, it's you who should be honored," he laughed.
"Hmmmph . . . " and she was gone.
"I'll ask again; what's in this for me?" he grinned.
"I can make you the greatest hunter/warrior in your own world," I said brightly. He yawned in response.
"What do you consider to be fair compensation?"
"Nooooooo!" I quickly exclaimed. "I'm not a reward."
"I never said you were a reward," he grinned wickedly. "You are to be my payment. And since I know gods aren't necessarily trustworthy, payment will be in advance. . . ." He grabbed my arm before I had a chance to react fully.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Throwing me over his shoulder, we entered the vacant temple. I felt a warm flush covering my cheeks as he set me down. Two seconds didn't pass before he realized the state I'm in. He held my face with his right hand, my arm with his left and then he brushed his cheek against mine and blew into my ear.
It might be corny, but sometimes corny things work too. I practically sank into the stone floor. His hand began moving further down and takes hold of my left breast. My nipple sprung up right through my soft leather bra in response.
He kissed me roughly, all over my face and neck. He was talking to me, but I couldn't hear him; so involved was I with my feelings. He untied my bra, caressed my exposed breast. "I want to be between your legs," he said while lowering me to the hard floor. Now I was listening.
Removing my skirt, he spread my legs apart and lowered his head. I began moaning as I felt his tongue find its mark. I could feel fingers entering me and it felt so good, but I wanted more.
Sensing my ever growing need, he raised himself "I can't wait to get inside you," he said while removing his impossibly tight leather pants, letting his glorious cock spring free.
Sitting up I grabbed for it, wanting to lick every tantalizing inch of it. Sensing he was close to the edge, I released my prize. As I laid down again, he bent to lick each of my nipples in turn. I reached down between his legs and took hold of his cock again, steering the tip of it toward my opening. I tickled myself with it, rubbing it up and down my slit; over my clit until I had to have him inside me. He moved his hands down to my ass and pulled me toward him, shuddering as he thrust into me.
"Easy," I murmured. "Slow and easy."
And slowly and easily he began pushing his cock into my cunt, then drawing it out, then pushing it back in. "You feel so damn fucking good," he screamed. "I don't know if I. . . ." Then it happened, as I'd known it would. He came. As he did, I could feel his hard shaft in the roof of my cunt. I watched his face contort and his chest muscles flex.
He pulled me up onto him by my hips. I was about to try and extricate myself when I realized he wasn't through. His cock didn't shrivel, and as soon as he recovered from his massive orgasm, he began moving in and out of me again. This time, it was I who was saying how good it felt. My body caught up with my desire, releasing me from my inhibitions, and how I wanted to come too. Concentrating all of my energy on my cunt, I felt it getting hotter, and suddenly I lost my ability to move. An orgasmic spasm took hold of me so strongly I was paralyzed. Sensing my need, he thrust his cock faster and harder until I screamed out his name as I collapsed against his massive chest.
Finally sated, he surrounded me with his strong arms as sleep claimed him. I allowed myself to remain by his side for the time being, deciding not to have to explain the silly smile on my face to my family on Olympus.
Several hours later he awoke to find me dressed and pouring two glasses of mead. I handed a glass to him, as he begins pulling on his leather pants. "Do you have any ideas of how to punish my big brother?" I asked.
"No, but I'll figure out something." He took a long drink.
"You should contact Dawn in the village. She probably could help," I volunteered.
"Will I see you again? In this world, I mean," he looked at me hopefully, and perhaps a trifle wickedly.
"Perhaps," I said quietly, trying desperately not to look too long into those clear blue eyes.
Standing directly in front of me, he clasped me to him, capturing my mouth in a deep searing kiss. When he finally released me, I discovered my eyes had begun tearing. I willed myself to disappear.
DAWN'S SECTION: A New Dawn
There once was a Round Robin story
With input both detailed and gory
So Dawn wrote her part
Aimed it straight at the heart
Leaving others to claim future glory
"How is it," Dawn turned smiling to the man who lay at her side, "that you always know what it takes to make me feel better?"
Cupid smiled back smugly, "Love is my business."
Dawn snorted, sitting up. "Yeah, whatever." She stretched. "As crazy as the past couple of weeks have been around here I'm really glad you came for a visit."
Cupid flexed his wings, brushing her bare shoulder lightly. "Me too. So why do you stay if things are so stressful?"
Dawn shrugged. "This is a great setup. Living in a small town like Tolesa gives me privacy and running the inn makes it easy to keep track of what's going on."
"Not to mention the steady stream of studs that wander through your door."
"You behave." She swatted his thigh as she climbed out of the bed and pulled on her clothes. "Although, I'll admit, having access to a continuous flow of travelers does allow me a certain - latitude - in satisfying my - urges." She grinned at him.
Cupid was always amazed when he saw her dressed like that. Dawn, the young, unremarkable innkeeper was a far cry from Aurora, goddess of the Dawn, he'd known all his life. He remembered the first time he came to visit her here when he asked her about the disguise.
"Well, I couldn't very well be myself, could I? But with a little work, the right clothes and the right story they see what I want them to: a young widow with the means to keep the tavern running. I'm sure they've noted my eccentric habits, but as long as I keep everyone happy they don't bother to look further. The name helps; Dawn is somehow more *common*, isn't it?"
The decidedly uncommon woman in front of him was fastening the laces to her plain tunic and tucking her golden curls under a drab scarf. "You know, " she sighed as she finished dressing and sat in a chair across the room, "I'm afraid this all may be my fault."
"How's that?" He could tell she wanted, or perhaps needed to talk.
"Well, I knew I wanted to be in an out of the way place, but I didn't want to be quite so isolated, so I took steps to make the place a little more desirable. Did you ever wonder why we have more than the average quota of powerful and well-known people passing through?"
"And you think this has something to do with your current troubles?"
"Not the war, maybe, but look at the facts. The Queen of Kramia chose to live here, of all places. The King of Corinth chose my very own little inn for his honeymoon. Do you really believe in that much coincidence? And if they hadn't been here, none of this would have happened."
"Yeah, and the village might be a battleground right now."
"Oh, I don't know. I was actually getting ready to see what I could do about that when the villagers came up with this idiotic sacrifice plan."
"So, why didn't you stop them?"
"You think they'd listen to me? Dawn the innkeeper? Besides, I figured Ares would straighten them out and it would give me somewhere to start when I went to talk to him. How was I supposed to know he'd screw it up so badly?"
"You were going to talk to him yourself?" he sounded a little incredulous.
She smiled secretively. "We still - speak - from time to time. What your mother doesn't know won't hurt her. Besides, if she's going to curse me with an insatiable desire, just because I spent some time with Ares, she's got to expect I'll try to quench it at every opportunity."
Cupid grinned, "Actually, I was more concerned about what she'd do to *him* if you got caught."
Dawn chuckled, "Which is why I don't see him more often. There's no one Ares fears more than Aphrodite, but under the circumstances it seemed like an appropriate occasion for a visit."
She sighed, serious again. "Now, we have real problems. I'm glad to see Athena taking care of the war issue, but what were the girls thinking when they unleashed the Sovereign? Not thinking at all if you ask me. As if we didn't have enough trouble keeping the peace with the crazies from our own world! Still, he might come in useful."
"What are you - " Cupid was interrupted by a raised level of commotion in the outer room of the tavern. Between crashes, a loud voice was bellowing: Daawwwnnn."
She tilted her head. "That would be for me. Can you stick around for a while, I might need you later?"
"I won't be far," he promised as she opened the door and walked out.
The main room of the tavern was a disaster. It had been wild since the incident in the temple, but having a few *heroes* on hand did wonders for toning things down. Those heroes, though, were having a little more trouble with the latest visitor. And what a visitor.
Dawn took a moment to admire the sight, feeling the desire rush through her. The others were familiar to her and could be appreciated from a distance, but this newcomer was another story. Understanding the nature of her curse allowed her some control under normal circumstances, but when an unfamiliar man of such power and strength walked through her door it was all she could do to maintain a semblance of civilized behavior. She needed him to herself, *now*. Besides which, it would be nice to get him out of the room while she still had *some* furniture intact.
"Excuse me." Her voice wasn't overly loud, but as she stepped forward her commanding presence stopped all activity. All eyes riveted to her. Even in her disguise, the sight of her caused the men in the room to stand a little straighter and breathe a little faster. The Sovereign looked stunned.
She walked up to him and laid a hand on his arm. "I believe you were looking for me. Why don't you come into the back room where we can talk."
He followed her without a word. When the door to the back room closed, the patrons turned to one another full of wild speculation.
As our heroes settled back to their table in the corner, Kathryn (in Thamiris'body) shook her head in amazement. "I've never seen Dawn like that before."
Iphicles gave her an odd look, obviously uncomfortable with the current situation.
"She's awfully nice. Maybe we should go and help her," Joxer said cheerfully.
Gabrielle exchanged a thoughtful look with Iolaus who said, "Something tells me Dawn can take care of herself."
As soon as the door closed behind them, Dawn pressed the Sovereign against it, claiming his mouth with hers, desperate to taste him. Surprised by the sudden move, he responded instinctively and then with increasing enthusiasm.
Releasing the last of her control, she drew him toward the bed, practically tearing the vest from his body as she explored his chest with her mouth.
Catching on quickly, he ripped her dress to the waist and plunged his hands inside to fondle her full breasts. Frustrated by the limited access, he growled and pulled at the waist, shredding the rest of the garment and throwing it aside.
They tumbled to the bed, bodies pressed together, hands and mouths exploring naked flesh. The Sovereign didn't even seem to notice when his pants disappeared, courtesy of Dawn's haste to feel his skin against hers.
They came together mindlessly. Looming over her prone body, his mouth and hands on her breasts, he entered her without further preliminaries.
Gasping her pleasure, her fingernails scored his back as he found a rhythm, pounding into her faster and harder until they were both quivering.
Reaching down between them, a single stroke of his thumb between her folds was enough to send her over the edge, crying out as she felt the orgasm rush through her body, mingled with the feel of his own release as his seed spilled into her body.
As he collapsed beside her, Dawn smiled faintly. Not terribly romantic, but certainly effective.
Lust temporarily satisfied, Dawn was ready to move forward with her plans. Rising from the bed she smiled fondly at the unconscious figure she left behind.
"Cupid," she said quietly as she dressed.
He appeared beside her. "You called?"
She ignored the leer on his face. "Darling, do you think you can keep this gorgeous lunatic out of trouble while I take care of some things?"
He grinned at the naked figure on the bed and unconsciously licked his lips. "Well, I'm sure I can think of something." He looked back at her and noticed what she was wearing. "You're going to visit Uncle Ares?"
She didn't pause, "I don't think I have a choice. Something has to be done and if the best help they can come up with is *lover-boy* over there we're all in trouble. So how do I look?"
She twirled in front of him once, a vision in silk and jewels, and smiled at his appreciative look before taking herself away to Olympus.
Dawn walked quietly into the throne room of Ares' main temple. All around her ceremonial weapons were crushed, tapestries torn and walls scorched - evidence of the fierce temper tantrums the acolytes had reported. Even the great throne was toppled to one side, leaning crazily against the dais.
Ares sat among the ruins, on the stairs in front of the throne, his head in his hands, unmoving.
As she watched him, she felt the familiar flood of desire threatening to overwhelm her. Not desire. Desire was what she felt for other men. Her feelings for him ran on another level altogether. Even now she could remember their time together: the feel of his soft curls in her hands, his mouth on hers, his hands on her body.
Struggling, she firmly blocked those thoughts off. Ares was suffering and she was here for him today. She concentrated on that. Certainly, she understood the pain of loss as well as anyone. But could she get through to him?
Slowly she walked toward him, waiting for him to acknowledge her, even to send her away, but he didn't move. When she stood in front of him she quietly called his name. Still no response. Gently, she put her fingers under his chin and lifted his face so that his gaze met hers.
His eyes were dull - lifeless. He acknowledged her with a blink, but said nothing.
"Oh, Ares," she put her arms around him, holding him close. After a moment he started to cry.
Dawn had no idea how long they sat like that. It could have been minutes, or hours. After he had been quiet for a while, she pulled back a little and brushed the hair from his face, wiping away a tear. Now she could see the pain and guilt in his eyes.
This was not something that was going to be solved by a good cry or a little comfort from an old friend. There was nothing more she could say or do here, but maybe she could find another way to help him.
Gently, she kissed him and gave his shoulders a final squeeze before she left.
Returning to the tavern and her persona as innkeeper, she was relieved to see a familiar figure sitting alone in the corner. "Erin," she called as she made her way across the room.
"Dawn," the woman replied, "I came as soon as I got your message."
"I'm so glad you did," she said as she sat down. "It's even worse than I thought."
"You mean the Ares situation?" The other woman prompted.
"Exactly. Something needs to be done and I'm hoping you'll be able to help. The close family is all pretty much useless, except for Artemis and Athena who feel he should be punished for their sister's death. I think Ares has probably already been punished enough, but something needs to be done to shake him out of this now, before things get any worse."
"So, what do you think I can do?" Erin sounded skeptical.
"I'm not exactly sure, but I thought between the four of us we might be able to come up with something."
Dawn smiled, "That's right. Come with me."
She led the way into the back room, closing the door behind them.
Erin stopped just inside the door and stared thoughtfully at the naked figures of Cupid and the Sovereign, tangled together on the bed.
ERIN'S SECTION: Let the Show Begin
The Sovereign awoke to the smell of almond oil and the feel of skilled hands massaging his back. He grinned in expectation, remembering his recent encounter with Dawn. That had been one wild ride, a fast one too. He wanted to take this time a bit slower, she had a gorgeous body and he wanted to do some exploring.
He tried to turn over, wanting to take the woman into his arms, but the body straddling his prevented it.
"So you're finally awake. Took you long enough. I thought a son of Zeus would have a better recovery time."
The voice even while laced with a touch of sarcasm was incredibly sexy, but it sure wasn't Dawn's.
"What the...?" the Sovereign turned his head as much as he could, trying to see who the man was. He couldn't turn enough to see the face but he didn't really need to, the large white wings were enough to confirm the man's identity.
"Cupid," the Sovereign growled.
This situation wasn't too unfamiliar, on his world where Cupid was God of War he and the Sovereign had occasionally been lovers. This Cupid was being...gentle though, that was something the God of War had never been. In fact the Sovereign couldn't recall a time he'd been with his Cupid when chains and other little "toys" hadn't been involved somehow. None of that was in evidence here though. What exactly was this Cupid god of here on this world?
"Love," that deep, seductive voice whispered near the Sovereign's ear.
"*Love*?!" the Sovereign didn't know whether to laugh or feel disgusted. It was so absurd! Cupid? the God of *Love*?
Cupid's fingers dug into the muscles in the middle of the Sovereign's back, insistently massaging away the tension there. The Sovereign couldn't help the moan that escaped him. It felt wonderful. His Cupid would never do this. He found himself wondering, if the God of Love here was so good at this, would Ares on his world be as good? He'd never paid too much attention to Ares, but maybe there was potential there.
Cupid chuckled, a sensuous sound that seemed to go straight to the Sovereign's cock.
"Ares is good at this on this world, not that he'd want that to get around or anything."
The Sovereign failed to suppress another moan as Cupid slid down his body. The god was now straddling his thighs, strong hands working the oil into the Sovereign's lower back.
Moving off of the Sovereign Cupid nudged the demi-god's legs apart, kneeling between them. For a few minutes he concentrated on massaging the hard muscles of the thighs, making the Sovereign moan and shift restlessly beneath his ministrations.
The Sovereign was growing impatient, his cock ached and he was about ready to grab Cupid, throw him down on the bed and bury himself as deep inside the god as possible.
Cupid chuckled again, sliding his hands up the Sovereign's thighs back to his ass. He kept one hand there while he slid the other farther up to rest on the Sovereign's back.
"What...!" the Sovereign gasped as oil-slicked fingers entered him, gently stretching. He started to push himself up but Cupid's hand on his back held him down.
"Shh," Cupid whispered. "just relax."
The Sovereign's problem wasn't that he hadn't been in this position before, on his world the God of War would never consider letting anyone but himself top. But that was the problem, this *wasn't* the God of War and the Sovereign wasn't sure he could stomach the thought of being fucked by the God of *Love* of all things.
But gods it felt good. He moaned as Cupid added another finger. The Sovereign had never had it as gentle as this and he was surprised at how much he was enjoying it. He found himself pushing back against those fingers without meaning to. Cupid's hand slid down from his back to rest on his ass, freeing the Sovereign to move away if he wanted to, but he didn't.
What the fuck, he decided. It felt great and it wasn't like there was anyone around to judge him for it.
Cupid withdrew his fingers and pressed his lips to the Sovereign's back. He slowly kissed his way upwards until he reached the back of the demi-god's neck.
The Sovereign moaned again when he felt Cupid lightly nipping at his skin. Oh, this was nothing like his Cupid, those would have been actual bites and by now he would have been bleeding in a few dozen places.
"I'm not into pain," Cupid whispered as he braced himself up on one arm. "pleasure is so much more fun."
The Sovereign was about to explain that given the right circumstances pain could be pleasure, but all he could do was gasp as Cupid slid into him. It was something of a shock, the almost total lack of pain. His Cupid never bothered with the preliminaries this Cupid did. The God of War usually just bent the Sovereign over the nearest convenient object and shoved into him. It always hurt but the Sovereign liked pain, he both expected and wanted it, or at least he had until now. This felt...wonderful.
Kissing the Sovereign's shoulder Cupid began to move, thrusting slowly. Once the Sovereign grew accustomed to pleasure without the pain it didn't take him long to decide he wanted more of it and a lot faster.
"You gonna take all day or are you waiting for something in particular?" the Sovereign growled, pushing back against Cupid.
"*That* was what I was waiting for," Cupid replied, running his tongue up the back of the Sovereign's neck before picking up the pace, his thrusts becoming faster and harder.
Yes! This was more like it! The Sovereign rocked back against Cupid, loving the feel of the god's cock pounding into him.
"Oh, yeah..." he breathed when Cupid worked a hand beneath him, grasping the demi-god's cock and pumping it in the same rhythm as his thrusts into the Sovereign's ass.
The Sovereign closed his eyes, splitting his concentration between the hand tight around him and the cock inside him that seemed to go deeper with each thrust. He heard Cupid's moans, felt the god's breath warm on his neck. Then suddenly Cupid's teeth sank into his shoulder again, much harder this time, muffling the god's cry as he came.
As Cupid trembled against him the god's hand tightened further around the Sovereign's cock, that was enough to bring the demi-god to orgasm. He came hard, crying out Cupid's name.
Through a haze of exhaustion Cupid gradually became aware of the sound of whistling and enthusiastic applause. With a groan he rolled off of the once again unconscious Sovereign.
"Yeah! You go, babe! Encore! Encore!"
Cupid forced his eyes open and glared at Dawn and the warrior who leaned against the opposite wall, grinning suggestively at him.
Well now, that was an unexpectedly...pleasant show. Cupid apparently wasn't expecting an audience, he's glaring at Dawn and I. Not that I'm all that absorbed with his face at the moment. Gods but that boy's hung.
"You wanna go for another round?" I ask nicely. "Dawn and I don't mind waiting, do we, Dawn?" I glance over at her, she looks like she's caught between amusement and arousal. I know the feeling.
Cupid sits up and suddenly he's clothed. Damn.
"Guess my job here's done," Cupid says as he stands up.
"Not yet," I reply, getting serious. "We need to talk." I glance over at the Sovereign to make sure he's still out. "Quietly," I say, dropping my voice.
In order to talk as quietly as possible we gather near the door. I have to confess that it isn't too much of a hardship to be in close quarters with Cupid. I can't help looking him over. He smells of almond oil and sex and his muscled body is still gleaming with sweat. He clears his throat and I focus my attention back on the current problem.
"First off, any ideas from you two?" I ask.
Dawn shakes her head.
"I think I've taken care of one of our problems," Cupid says, mildly surprising me. "I may've managed to convince the Sovereign that he'd be better off making nice with Ares instead of trying to hurt him. Told him Uncle would be a better ally instead of an enemy. Don't know if I totally sold him on the idea but he said he'd think about it."
Amazing. The boy can fuck someone until they pass out and still take care of business. I like that in a man.
I find myself looking him over again and have to force myself to think about the subject at hand.
"Okay," I sigh. "You should be here when 'Tall, Dark and Violent' over there wakes up. See if he bought into your idea. If he didn't then keep trying to convince him." I pause for a moment, smiling sarcastically. "Think you can handle that." I glance over at the Sovereign then back at Cupid.
"Yeah, I can 'handle' it," he replies, his smile reflecting my sarcasm.
"Great, then I've got an idea about how to solve the problem with Ares."
When Dawn had contacted me I hadn't had a clue. While I was watching the little 'performance art' bit with Cupid and the Sovereign though an idea had occurred to me. Sometimes I do my best thinking when I'm turned on.
"There's no way to resurrect Thamiris, right?" I ask them both, just to make certain.
"Okay then, the only solution is for it to never have happened."
They both frown at me.
"Look; don't all gods possess the power to travel in time?"
Again they nod, then Dawn understands.
"We send someone back in time to make sure Thamiris doesn't use the sword Hephaestus made."
"Right," I nod.
"Who?" Cupid asks.
"Not me," I reply. "If I don't make it back I've got a small army that'll be leaderless. Knowing them they'll probably burn and loot a few dozen villages before they decide on a new leader. You can't go either," I tap Cupid on the shoulder then give into temptation and leave my hand there, feeling the hard muscle there and thinking about how exactly I'd like to put it to use. It's far more difficult this time to drag my thoughts back to the matter under discussion. "Just in case whomever is sent fails you'll still need to be here to keep the Sovereign in line."
Thoughts of just what Cupid would do to keep muscle-boy in line fill my head and I lick my lips, letting my hand slowly run down Cupid's chest.
"Then who should it be?" Dawn asks thoughtfully. I can tell it's a rhetorical question, she needs a few moments to think. That's fine, I'll just stand here and feel up Cupie. He doesn't seem to mind.
"Marina," Dawn says suddenly. "and she's just over in the neighboring village."
"Okay," I say. Hades, I'd probably agree with her if she said Meg right now, I'm a little too involved in my exploration of Cupid to pay much attention.
The sound of a groan comes the vicinity of the bed. Great. The Sovereign's waking up. I guess that means I'll have to let go of Cupid. Don't want to, love the feel of those biceps.
"I'd better go take care of him," Cupid says pointedly.
"Uh-huh," I reply.
Grabbing the back of his neck I pull the winged god down into a deep kiss, sucking his tongue into my mouth.
Another groan from the bed convinces me to pull away.
"Maybe we could both keep him busy?" I say hopefully against Cupid's lips.
"Better not," Dawn replies, taking me by the arm as she opens the door. "Let Cupid handle it."
But I wanna handle it. Oh well.
I don't resist when Dawn leads me out of the back room, shutting the door firmly behind us. She's right, it's better left to a god to handle a demi-god. Still though, I can't remember the last time I was this turned on. Only one thing to do about that.
"I need a man," I sigh. "or a woman." Or both. I'm open to possibilities.
"Good luck," Dawn says. "there's not much to chose from in here."
Dawn leaves me here, I assume she's off to find Marina.
A quick look around at the patrons of the inn confirms Dawn's assessment. The pickings are pretty slim.
Damn. Is Dawn hosting a "village idiot" convention and forgot to warn the rest of us?
I know there was a lot more here a few minutes ago, Iolaus and Iphicles to name two, but they're both gone. Gabrielle's still here but that means Xena has to be around somewhere and I'm not about to mess with Xena's woman.
Well, fuck. My choices seem to range from old-blind-and-toothless to short-bald-and-ugly. Maybe I just need to get a room and take care of matters myself. I'm in the process of convincing myself that it's a good idea when someone catches my eye. He's certainly not in line with my usual tastes but he's cute.
Making my way through the crowd I reach the guy just as he's starting to sit down at the table Gabrielle was occupying. Currently the little strawberry-blond is across the room getting her drink refilled. Good.
I grab hold of the guy, startling him.
"You're Joxer, right?" I ask with a smile.
"Yeah. You've heard of me?" he returns my smile, his laced with curiosity and a bit of hope.
"Yeah, I've heard of you," I reply, blatantly looking him over.
"Oh, um, good, I guess," his voice trails off as he sees the way I'm looking at him. "Is there something I can -- I can do for you?" he asks, visibly nervous now as he stumbles over his words.
My smile widens. "Oh yeah," I drop my voice, pulling him up against me.
I kiss him hard. At first he doesn't respond but after a few moments he begins to hesitantly return the kiss. After a few more moments he has his arms around me and his tongue in my mouth. This guy can kiss!
When we come up for air he'd obviously turned on as much as I am.
"Let's find a room," I say.
He just nods before pulling me into another deep kiss.
Yeah, I decide, this is gonna be fun.
MARINA'S SECTION: Secrets and Lies
Kathryn spun around with a start, feeling the blood drain from her face. Iphicles stood a few paces away, one hand stretched out toward her beseechingly.
"I've been looking for you for hours," he said softly.
Kathryn knew that. She'd gone walking in the woods specifically to avoid him. It was easier then lying to him.
For the thousandth time, she wished that she'd never let Xena and Artemis talk her into this charade. It all seemed so reasonable when they discussed it. Iphicles had been madly in love with Thamiris. To lose her so soon after their marriage-- after Rena and Alcmene, it would likely prove the final straw. And with fighting breaking out everywhere, a full-fledged war already in progress between Salecia and Pritosia, and the gods squabbling among themselves, Corinth could not afford to have its king incapacitated by grief.
So she'd agreed to keep up the pretense, only to find that she couldn't carry it through. Iphicles wanted to spend time with her, to talk to her, to make love to her-- but it wasn't really her, and she couldn't do it. She hadn't known Thamiris long enough. What if she said the wrong thing, made the wrong gesture? And how could she sleep with him under false pretenses? So she avoided him.
It hurt him. She could see the pain in his eyes now, as he walked toward her.
"Won't you tell me what's wrong?" he whispered. "Is there something I can do? Are you angry with me?"
She shook her head, not trusting herself to speak.
"What is it, then? These past few days-- you've been a stranger. I don't understand."
"I'm sorry." Kathryn's voice sounded strained and unconvincing to her own ears. "I'm just-- upset over everything that's happened, that's all." *Gods, how lame!* "I need some time to myself, Iphicles, please. Just--just leave me alone!"
His head snapped back as if he'd been struck. Kathryn cringed inwardly. That hadn't come out the way she'd intended.
"All right." Iphicles' voice was flat. "If that's what you want." He turned on his heels and walked away.
She almost called him back. Almost told him the truth right there. But she hesitated too long, and he was gone. Kathryn sat down on the ground and put her face in her hands.
Marina breathed a deep sigh of content as she spooned another mouthful of spicy stew into her mouth, and drank it down with a sip of excellent wine. The Golden Cup was the most expensive inn in town, but it was also the finest, and after nearly a month of sleeping on dirt and eating trail rations, she was ready for good food and a comfy bed. And it wasn't like Iphicles didn't pay her enough, after all. The King of Corinth had always known the worth of her services. Good spies didn't come cheap.
She had spent the past few weeks running back and forth between the Salecian and Pritosian armies, sneaking into each camp in turn, taking careful inventory of their forces, learning their plans. If either side decided to make a move on Corinth, Corinth would be prepared. It had been an exciting, dangerous game, living in shadows, knowing that a slightest misstep meant death, or worse. Marina had enjoyed it, in a way, but she was glad to have it over for the time being. Now all she had to do was wait for the message that would tell her where she was to go to make her report. And then she would see Iphicles.
The thought filled her with a pleasant warmth that had nothing to do with the wine. She could see the king in her mind's eye -- those warm, beautiful eyes, the soft hair, the broad shoulders and strong arms--
*For the Gods' sake, woman, stop mooning! You're like a school girl with a crush.* Marina shook her head, and poured herself another drink. It was an old dream, and destined to remain a dream forever. Iphicles liked her, trusted her, respected her skills. But he had never looked at her with even the slightest hint of romantic interest.
And now he had a gorgeous new wife, and everyone said he was crazy about her. So even if he'd ever contemplated shacking up with one of his hired spies, the notion was out of the question now.
"Ma'am?" A child's voice roused Marina from her depressing thoughts. She turned to see the innkeeper's son standing by her table, clutching a pink carnation in one grubby hand. He handed the flowers to her, blushing. "A man said to give this to you."
"Thank you." Marina handed the boy a coin and let the carnation fall to the table next to her plate. The flower was a message. She knew where to meet Iphicles now.
Her bill was already paid. Marina dropped a few extra coppers on the table for a tip, and left the inn at a leisurely stride. For a few minutes she wandered with no apparent aim, circling one block, then another, retracing her steps, changing directions unexpectedly. When she was sure no one followed her, her steps took a more purposeful turn. Within a few minutes she stood at the back door of a perfectly unremarkable private house, shielded from prying eyes by several taller buildings. She knocked three times fast, paused, knocked twice more.
There was a grating noise as a bolt slid aside, and the door swung open just enough to let her slip through.
His voice sent a jolt of heat down her spine. For a moment, she couldn't breathe. She bowed to cover her discomfiture, and by the time she lifted her head she could smile at him with every semblance of ease.
"My Lord King."
Iphicles rolled his eyes. For as long as they'd know each other, he'd tried to get her to drop the title, but Marina could never bring herself to do it. She needed that extra bit of formality to help her maintain her distance.
They were in a small, comfortable sitting room lit by half a dozen candles. There were two overstuffed armchairs, a banked fire in the hearth, a bowl of fruit on a small wooden table. Peaches. Her favorite.
That small kindness nearly broke her composure again. He was always so nice to her. And he was never anything more than nice.
She sat down and took a peach from the bowl, not because she wanted one, but to give her hands something to do. Iphicles sat across from her, and stared into the fire as she began her report.
Marina watched him as she spoke, and felt a growing concern. He looked awful. Haggard. There were dark shadows under his eyes, as if he hadn't slept in a while. He didn't look at her while she spoke, and he asked no questions when she finished. She wasn't sure he'd heard a word she said.
She handed him the packet of dispatches she'd stolen from the Salecian camp. He took it mechanically, still not looking at her. Marina waited for him to dismiss her, but he continued to sit in silence.
"My Lord?" she prompted him finally. "Is there anything else?"
He looked up at her with haunted eyes.
"I have another job for you. A-- *personal* assignment."
That was new. "What is it?"
He grimaced, obviously disgusted with the request he was about to make. "I want you to spy on my wife."
Marina's breath caught in her throat. She didn't know what she'd been expecting, but this definitely wasn't it.
"On Thamiris? Why?"
"Something's gone wrong." Iphicles stood up abruptly, and paced in front of the fire, looking nervous and unhappy. "You've heard about that whole mess at Ares' temple, the sacrifice, Kathryn's death?"
"She's changed since then. She won't talk to me, she won't see me. She's moved into a separate room, and eats all her meals there by herself. When I--" He broke off, and closed his eyes. A muscle in his jaw twitched. Marina wanted to reach out and hug him, wanted to kiss that hurt look off his face. "When I try to touch her, she flinches. We had been so happy--we didn't have a fight, she says there's nothing wrong-- I have to know! I have to know what's wrong so I can fix it, you understand that, don't you?"
"I understand," Marina said softly. It sounded bad. It *must* be bad, for Iphicles to even consider spying on the woman he loved. Marina's heart ached for him. In the past, she'd entertained uncharitable fantasies that his marriage would fail, that he would turn to her for comfort. But that was selfish and stupid. He needed Thamiris to make him happy.
Marina took a deep breath and stood up.
"I'll do it," she said.
She returned to the Golden Cup, once again taking a roundabout route. It was late now, and the inn was dark and quiet, though a few servants still bustled about in the kitchen. Marina got a candle from one of the maids, and slowly climbed the stairs to her room.
She reached the landing and froze, one hand outstretched toward the doorknob. She could see a light, flickering under the door. She hadn't left a light. Someone was inside.
Slowly, silently, Marina bent down and lowered the candle to the floor, then pulled a dagger from her boot. Straightening up, she reached for the door again--
"Come in, Marina," an amused voice called out from inside the room.
Marina swore softly as she slipped the dagger back into her ankle sheath and entered the room.
"Dawn. Don't startle me like that, damn you. How'd you know where to find me?"
"I'm a goddess, dear, I know things. Sit down, we need to talk."
Marina sat on the bed and glared at Dawn, who smiled back prettily.
"Don't frown, dear, it will give you wrinkles."
"*You're* gonna give me wrinkles," Marina grumbled. "And white hair, and a bad heart. What do you want?"
Dawn's smile faded. "Thamiris is dead."
Before Marina could react -- before she could even decide *how* to react -- Dawn was speaking again. Marina could only sit and listen in increasingly shocked silence as the situation was explained to her.
There it was. The answer Iphicles was so desperate to find, handed to her on a platter. Marina didn't know whether to laugh or cry. *He's free. He's free and he doesn't even know it. When I tell him...* She felt cold at the prospect. *Oh, Gods. This'll break him.*
"Well?" Dawn was staring at her with a trace of impatience. "Will you do it? Will you go back in time and stop this whole disaster from happening?"
*You're asking me to bring her back to him.* The irony was just sickening. Marina sighed.
"I'll do it. But this is too important to entrust to one person. I'd like to have someone as backup in case I fail." *Or in case I give in to temptation, and let it happen.*
Dawn's look was far too understanding for comfort. "Of course. Who do you want to bring along?"
"KitKat. We've worked together before. I trust her, and she's good."
"Very well. I'll go find her." Dawn stood up, and gave Marina's shoulder a reassuring squeeze. "Thank you for agreeing to help." She disappeared in a shimmer of pink light.
Marina leaned back against the wall and closed her eyes. She felt exhausted, but there was no way she'd be able to sleep now. She wanted a drink. Or two, or ten.
She opened her eyes and stood up. Maybe she could bum a bottle from the kitchen...
She returned downstairs, only to find that the dining room was no longer empty. A single newcomer sat at one of the tables, picking at a piece of cold roast chicken. The man was cloaked, the hood pulled down to conceal his face, but Marina thought she recognized his build, and the strong, elegant hands left uncovered by the cloak sleeves. She walked toward him, a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth.
He looked up with a start, then relaxed as he recognized her, and pulled the hood back from his face.
"Marina! Long time no see. What are you up to?"
"Oh, the usual." She gave him a quick hug before sitting down across the table. Autolycus. Her longtime friend and sometime lover, the man who'd taught her so many of the skills she now applied to her profession. "It's great to see you again. Good thing I decided to come down and get a drink before bed."
"Is that what you've decided?" Autolycus gave her an exaggerated leer. "May I join you?"
He obviously wasn't talking about just the drink. Marina's smile grew wider. Autolycus was really sweet, though he'd be terribly offended to hear her say though. He was also a great lover, and always easy company in the morning. No demands, no expectations, just pleasure and easy laughter. Exactly what she needed right now.
"Sure, handsome." Marina ruffled his hair, and planted a quick kiss on his lips. "Come on up."
Probably to remain unfinished.
If you have any questions, contact Thamiris