Round Robin 3

1.   "Nothing More Need Be Said: Ares the God of War Is Dead."
     By Kelly

Everyone gasped at the sight laying before them.  Ares...draped over his own altar, his chest split in half with a long bloody gash running from the base of his throat down to the waistband of his pants.  A knife was protruding from his chest, and the other gods in the room recoiled... all recognized the vicious smell of Hind's blood.  None of the other gods dared to touch or remove the knife, but were still transfixed by the spreading pool of blood under the obsidian altar.

Eleven gods circled the dead Olympian as his body lay sprawled out against the altar.  His skin was waxy and pale, cold to the touch.  His limbs were casually thrown over the stone, stiff now in death.  Zeus moved forward from the circle, touching the still face of his son.  "I will find a way to bring you back, my son.  I am the king of the gods, I will find a way to bring you back.  Your job is not done, there is no other who can fill the role of the God of War."  He cupped Ares' cold cheek in his hand, and then kissed it.  "I will avenge you, Ares... no one kills my son.  I will find who did this and they will pray for death."  Zeus stepped back into the circle, and looked around.  His siblings and his children stared back at him.  "We will find who did this."

"How can we?  None of us felt this, none of us knew this.  It wasn't like when Strife was killed, we all knew it then.  But now, nothing... no one knew of this until Aphrodite found him like this."  Hephaestus' tone was quiet.  "And look, Hind's Blood...but all the Blood has been destroyed."

Zeus nodded in agreement.  "Yes, I know all this.  But we must find out who did this, find out what happened.  Until we do, none of us are safe from whomever did this.  We don't even know if Ares was a single target, or if he was just the first in a long line of twelve assassinations.  We will all have to work together."

"Then the first thing that we need to do is find a way to temporarily replace Ares," Athena said calmly.  "The world cannot be without a God of War.  I am not my brother's biggest fan, but still, Peace cannot exist without War.  And after we find someone to take this godhood over, then at least one of us needs to go to the Otherworld and find out if the God of Love is dead.  And if he is, then maybe Ares God of War wasn't the real target after all."

Zeus sighed.  "All right.  You're right.  There are too many possibilities to explore right now."  He rubbed the bridge of his nose as he thought.  "The first thing we do is find someone to take over Ares' godhood.  And then... the search begins."  Zeus held out his hands, and a bright light glowed, and a crystal fragmented into eleven shards.  "Each of you, take a shard.  If someone attacks you, or if you find something that we need to know immediately, use this... it connects all of us as long as we have our shards.  Call to one or all of us and we will come to your aid."  Ten other hands reached out and took a crystal sliver from Zeus' hand.  "Fortune be with you all."

Ares' body lay washed in the glow of eleven gods vanishing from his temple.

2.  Otherworld
     By The Huntress

Iphicles was still waiting.  Ares was here every other night like clockwork.  But not tonight.  Iphicles was worried at first, but he figured that Ares was in the midst of a sudden war, and that explained his absence. There was a knock on his door.
"What is it?"

"Your highness, your brother and Iolaus are here.  They say it's urgent they speak with you."

"Tell them I'll be right there."  Iphicles had a bad feeling about this.  Herc and Iolaus in Corinth, in the middle of the night? Something was definitely wrong.  When he got to the main room, he saw Iolaus, leaning against the wall, but no sign of Hercules.  "Iolaus," he said, "What's wrong? And where's my brother?"

Iolaus nodded to the balcony.

Iphicles went out and found his brother sitting on a bench, looking liked he'd aged overnight.  "Hercules, what's the matter? Why are you and Iolaus here so late?"

"Sit down, Iphicles.  I have to talk to you."

Iphicles sat next to his brother awaiting an explanation, but Hercules wouldn't meet his eyes.  He spoke, very worried now.  "Herc, please, you're scaring me.  What's happened?"

Hercules looked up and there was great sadness in his eyes.  "Ares is dead."

Iphicles just stared at him. "What do you mean 'dead'!! He's a God!! Gods don't just die!!!"

Hercules spoke, his voice breaking.  "He was found on his altar, stabbed to death.   Hind's blood on the knife."

"But who...."

"We don't know.  All the Gods are trying to find out."

Iphicles looked at Herc. "But why come here?  Why make a special trip to tell me."

"Because you love him, and he loved you," Hercules said.

At Iphicles' shocked look, Hercules continued.  "Yeah, Iphy, I knew about your relationship with Ares.  I never said anything because I felt if you wanted me to know you'd tell me."

"I'm sorry, Hercules. I guess I should have.  But there's another reason you've come, isn't there?"

 Herc looked at him, a small smile on his face.  "Zeus has a theory that 'our' Ares may not have been the target.  I came here because Iolaus and I are going to the other world.  We need to find the Ares from there.  Dead or alive."

"But you told me that when one dies on the other world, their counterpart dies here."

"Yeah, well, I've been wondering about that.  Now we get to find out."

"We??" Iphicles asked, confused.

"Yes. You're coming with me and Iolaus.  I figure you've got as much at stake as the rest of us."

They arrived the next morning at Ares' temple in Thrace, where the vortex had originally opened.  Artemis and Apollo were there.  They were going to use their power to open the portal.

"Good luck little brother," said Apollo, grasping Hercule's hand.

Hercules nodded, and he, Iolaus, and Iphicles watched as the two gods threw energy bolts, opening the doorway.  "Well here goes nothing," Herc said, and the three men disappeared.  They arrived on the other side, all a bit shaken.

"Well where to now?," said Iphicles.

"This way," Iolaus said, and the two men followed him.

"How does he know where to go?" Iphicles asked Herc.

"The last time he was here he got a look at some maps of the area.  You know Iolaus. He never forgets things like that."

Iolaus' memory served them well.  They arrived at what appeared to be a temple, but whose?

A voice behind them gave them their answer.  "I thought you were dead Uncle.  Nice to see you're still breathing."

They turned and saw a very handsome youth, whose eyes belied his looks.

"Cupid," Iphicles shouted, and began to step forward.

"No," said Iolaus stopping him. "Not ours.  He's the God of War over here."

Iphicles stepped back.

Cupid stared at them and spoke.  "God of....wait a second.  You're from that other world.  The one where Ares does my job."

"Did your job." said Hercules.

"He's dead?" asked Cupid.

"Yes, killed by a Hind's blood dagger, on his own altar."

Cupid looked confused.  "I thought that upon death, our counterparts died as well."

"That's true," said Iolaus.

Cupid looked at them strangely.  "Then how come HE'S still here?"

They turned and saw a man standing there, dressed in white, looking distressed.

Hercules turned to Iphicles, who was staring in shock.  "Iphicles, meet Ares, the God of Love."

3:  Iphy Comes of Age
     By foxmonkey

The shock of Ares' death had barely registered and now Iphicles had been sucked through a whirling vortex to another world where he was standing face to face with his dead lover's twin.  He felt as though he were still in the vortex, because his stomach seemed to be refusing to stay put and the room was spinning wildly.

"Is anyone else dizzy?" he asked before crashing to the ground.

* * *

The king of Corinth burrowed more deeply into the rose-scented cushions that cradled his head.  Mmmm, rose.  That was nice.  He'd have to let the palace staff know that their king appreciated the gesture.

Smiling, he snuggled more deeply into the extremely comfortable bed he was in.  *The housekeepers must have beaten and re-fluffed the mattresses. Nice job.*  He sighed contentedly.  It was good to be the king.

Dozing, he heard voices around him, but aides, advisors and counselors were always roaming the palace halls.  Some of them thought nothing of trying to awaken him when *they* thought he needed to be up and at it.  He ignored them as he did many mornings.

He heard a familiar soft rumble, and his smile grew slightly wicked.  Areeeeesss...  He turned over again, on his stomach, legs and arms sprawled slightly.  It was Ares' favorite position to find him in.

"Ares," he drawled softly.  "See anything you like?"

The bed shifted as another body joined his.  He arched his back into the hand that playfully caressed his buttocks through the soft brown leather of his pants.

"I do, lover, but first we've got work to do."

Iphicles chuckled.  "If you insist.  I..."  His eyes flew open.  *Pants? Why the fuck am I fully dressed and in bed?*

He flipped over, looked up into the concerned brown eyes he knew well.  No beard...white leather?

"You shaved!"  Then it hit him.  Not his world.  Not his Ares.  *His* Ares was...  "Dead."  It was a whisper, became a moan.  He dropped his head in his hands, fighting tears. *He can't be dead.  He can't be dead.*

The bed shifted again and strong arms cradled him gently.

"Iphicles, I know what a shock this is.  I wish I could sit here and hold you all day so you could cry and grieve properly; unfortunately we don't have the luxury of time.  We've got a mystery to solve and we need to move quickly.  We have to find out who killed Ares."

As nice as it was to be held, Iphicles pushed himself away from his brother.  He wiped his eyes on his sleeve, then accepted a soft handkerchief from the Love god.  He felt the old familiar anger stirring.

"It's easy for you, Hercules, you didn't love him. But you're right, I'm being self-indulgent; my grief will have to wait."  He hoped the blockhead caught his sarcasm.

Hercules tried not to sigh.  It was true.  Other than feeling slightly mournful that a blood relative had died - *half* he reminded himself, even in death putting distance between them - he honestly felt numb about the whole thing.  He was more worried about the implications of the murder than the fact that Ares had been its victim.

There was a chuckle from across the room.  Cupid, the god of War, was standing with his hands folded across his chest.  His glossy black wings stirred a little as he laughed.

"A little melodramatic, but I'd say he's got the 'tude for the job."  Cupid walked closer to the bed, scrutinizing Iphicles carefully.  His calm green eyes swept over the king from his head to the toes of his boots.  "He's a dead ringer, no pun intended. Other than the smooth face, of course, and...that...*hair.*"  He cocked his head, a wicked grin on his face. "Is that natural?" he asked.

Iphicles raised furious eyes to the god and slowly rose to his feet.  "A god is dead and you're making jokes?"

Cupid stepped a little closer, his voice low and threatening.  "You only *look* like a god, mortal; I wouldn't forget that if I were you.  Wouldn't want to wake up and find yourself dead, now would you?"

Hercules stood to separate the two. "Guys, we're getting side-tracked. We've got a killer to catch.  Iph, we need your help."  Cupid was right. Iphicles' anger and brooding nature would be perfect for the job.

Still glaring at Cupid, Iphicles snorted.  "I'm mortal, remember?  You three have divine blood.  What can I do?"

The god of Love answered.  "You can be him."

Iphicles turned to look at Ares.  "Be who?  Be  *Ares*?"  Their silence answered his question.  "Why?"

"Well *I* can't do it, obviously," the Love god answered.  He opened his mouth.

"He's a lover, not a fighter," Cupid, Iolaus and Hercules chorused.

Ares gave an annoyed wiggle.  "Well, it's true.  I could never pretend to work up all that anger.  But *you.*"  He eyed Iphicles appreciatively. "You, on the other hand, have just enough rage inside to pull it off."

"Be Ares."  Iphicles dropped to the bed.  He looked up, his eyes unfocused.  "The killer sees me, wonders what in Tartarus has happened, and maybe tips his or her hand?"  He looked at Hercules.  "Something along those lines?"

Hercules and Cupid traded glances.

"That's it.  Doesn't matter if it was someone from this world or ours." Hercules said.

"When the killer spots the big bad god of War strutting around quite alive and very pissed off, I think we can count on some kind of reaction," Cupid agreed.

Iphicles gazed at god and demigod, then looked past them to the only other mortal in the room.

"What do you think?" Iphicles asked.

Iolaus, uncharacteristically quiet until this point, nodded.  "I think it's a good place to start."

They had been lovers briefly, and Iphicles knew that Iolaus was probably worried for his safety.

Iphicles nodded.  "I'll do it.  Let's get started."

Hercules almost smiled.  When he got down to business Iphicles was ever the king, no matter what the setting.

* * * *

Changing his hair and adding a beard was easy; the gods made the cosmetic changes, Hercules supervised the fine-tuning of the moustache and beard.

No matter how many times he had seen the two of them, no matter that Hercules already knew that the two were essentially twins, seeing Iphicles with Ares hair and beard was eerie, especially since his brother was dead.  A shiver ran down his spine.

Cupid and Ares looked pleased.

"Let's not forget..." Ares waved a finger and Iphicles was suddenly dressed in a white leather vest and pants.  "Oooooh, you *are* dreamy," the Love god squealed.  He studied Iphicles as if looking at his own image in a mirror.  "Hmmm, maybe *I* should try facial hair."

"Please," Cupid muttered, obviously annoyed with the god.  He raised an eyebrow and the white leather deepened to black.  "Yeah."  He nodded and grinned approvingly.

His heart pounding, Iphicles moved to study his reflection in a full-length mirror.  His heart stopped.  Ares wasn't dead.  Ares was standing right there in the mirror, looking at him.  Hysteria rose in his throat, and tears to his eyes.  The room began to spin again; laughing and crying, he fell to his knees and vomited on the floor.

"Sorry," he whispered, his voice ragged.  "Sorrysorrysorry."  He rose to his knees, avoiding the mirror as Hercules gently helped him to his feet.  Wiping his mouth and face with his hands, then his hands on his leathers, he squared his shoulders and took a shaky breath.  "All right," he said, a tremor in his voice.  "What's next?"  Behind him, the Love god waved away the mess.

Unnerved by the bout of hysteria, it took Hercules a second to answer his brother's question.  "Ares and Cupid are each going to give you a little of their power, just enough to be able to convince anyone who might question your authenticity.  Then you're going to get a little sleep; you're scaring me."

Hercules stepped back as Cupid and Ares stood on either side of Iphicles, their hands extended.  The static charge in the room began to build, and Hercules felt the hair on his balls stand on end.  He shielded his eyes as twin flashes of light ran through Iphicles and lifted him to his toes.

As quickly as the light entered the king, it left.  There was a faint buzzing in his ears, and his skin felt alive.  He shook his head.  "Wouldn't want to do *that* everyday," he muttered.

Cupid grinned, his eyes dancing.  "OK, godling, this is the fun part.  Think about what you want to do and do it.  Go ahead, try."

Iphicles looked down at his right hand, flexed it open and closed.  He turned to look at Hercules, and his eyes narrowed.  He raised his hand and flicked his fingers.

Startled, Hercules gave a little cry as a sharp, stinging pain rocked his shoulder.

"Fucker," Iphicles hissed.  "That's for not mourning your brother."

Cupid collapsed on the floor, rolling with laughter.

* * *

Cupid had offered the use of his bedchamber, and Iphicles had gratefully accepted.  Fussing over the godling like a mother hen, the Love god had shooed the others from the room and then set about to make Iphicles more comfortable.  He lit a couple of candles and blew out the brighter torches and lamps that lit the room.

Iphicles sat on the bed to remove his boots.  "Why do the pillows smell like roses?" he asked, tugging at his feet.  "I wouldn't have guessed that Cupid went in for things like that."

"He doesn't but I do," Ares said meaningfully.

Iphicles' eyebrows raised.  "Ah," was all he said.

"You're doing that the hard way," Ares offered.

Iphicles looked down at his feet.  "So I am."  He concentrated for a second and found himself barefoot.  He did the same with his clothes.  Naked now, he imagined the leathers neatly folded on a chair by the bed.  He was surprised and pleased when they appeared just as he imagined.  He looked up to find Ares watching him, a slightly hungry look on his face.

"I can't." Iphicles said softly.  "I'm sorry.  You look too much like him.  Another time, perhaps?"

Ares smiled.  "It's a date. In the meantime..."  He tapped a finger on his chin.  He smiled slyly.  "I know just what you need.  Sweet dreams."  He exited in a cloud of pink and red hearts and flowers.

Iphicles ran his hand over his face, ruffling his chinwhiskers.  A bittersweet smile edged his lips as he remembered doing the same to Ares on more than one occasion.  He fought the tears.  "Got to be tough.  Catch whoever killed him.  Cry when you get home," he said to himself.  He closed his eyes, repeating the words.  He felt a touch on his shoulder.


"Ares *is* the Love god so I guess he knows what he's doing.  He said that you need to be with the god of War.  On my world, I'm it."

Iphicles felt more naked than he was.  "I...he...he shouldn't have done that.  I'm fine, really."  He moved quickly, trying to get into the bed before Cupid could see that his cock was rapidly inflating.  He only succeeded in getting his legs tangled in the sheets.

Cupid's wings fluttered.  "Come on, godling.  Don't you want to play?"  He winked away his own brief leather outfit, settled on his hands and knees on the bed, his green eyes glittering.  "I have all kinds of fun toys.  Manacles, shackles, chains, whips...what did you do with *your* War god?"

Iphicles swallowed a sudden lump in his throat as Cupid crept closer.  His erect cock bounced on his stomach as he approached, and Iphicles couldn't tear his eyes from it.  "We...I...sometimes chains..."  (The cock got closer.)  "Whips once, but too hard to explain to my court advisors..." (And closer.)  "And then we..."  Cupid rose to his knees and the thick cock was right in front of Iphicles' face, inches from his lips.

Tangling his hands in Iphicles' newly darkened hair, Cupid pulled the king's head to his crotch.  He watched, silent, as Iphicles closed his eyes and opened his mouth to receive his shaft.  His tongue probed the slit gently, ran in little circles on the head, around the rim, and then the length of it disappeared between his beautiful lips.   His tongue continued its motion, and Cupid growled.  So warm and wet...those fuckable lips...the eyes, with their delicious vulnerability, open now, looking into his.  Cupid trembled, looking at the king.  *I'm going to make you mine.*

He continued to watch Iphicles sucking and licking his cock.  Deep-throating him, fondling his balls with one hand and rubbing a nipple with the other.  He spread his legs a little, sighed with pleasure as Iphicles stroked the sensitive skin behind his balls.
*Already?* he thought as he felt his balls tightening.  Grunting, he pulled Iphicles close as he thrust deep into his throat, filling the king's mouth with his come.  The godling withdrew from the War god's spent cock.

Flushed and highly aroused, Iphicles rose to his knees.  Taller than Cupid and much broader, the king placed a hand on the War god's chest and steadily pushed.

"Hey!" Cupid started.  He adjusted his wings just before he fell on his back.  "These things *are* attached you know," he said.  His eyes widened as Iphicles leaned over him and grinned.

"I fucked our Cupid once; I'm well aware of the fact." He was breathing heavily.  *Forgive me Ares, I need to be with someone.*

Iphicles lowered his mouth to Cupid's, sighing, moaning, groaning as his need and Cupid's desire mingled and one's lips bruised the other's.  He reached down to grab the slender legs and parted them roughly; he caressed the balls again. All the while their tongues were exploring, teeth biting, throats growling.  Their eyes half closed, each watched as their hands roamed over one smooth chest, one downy chest.  Green eyes clouded by lust, mahogany eyes unfocused by need.   Fuckmefuckmefuckme...

Moving quickly, his breath coming hard, Iphicles shifted Cupid's legs over his shoulders.  The god of War looked as though he were about to protest, but changed his mind.

"Next time I fuck *you,*" he whispered.

Iphicles nodded, not taking the time to speak.  He positioned his rock-hard cock at Cupid's hole and pushed.  No lubrication, but he didn't think the god of War would mind a little pain.  The winged god was warm and tight.  Yessssss...  Iphicles stroked into Cupid, the incredible pleasure from his thick cock blocking out all thought.

The king looked down at the god beneath him and lowered his lips to kiss the delicate mole on Cupid's cheek before returning to ravage his mouth.  "You're a wicked little beauty," he murmured.  Cupid's chuckle turned into a moan.

Iphicles' body tensed, his back arched.  He plunged savagely; he buried himself deep into the writhing form beneath him as he exploded.  *Ares, I love you.*

Careful of the War god's wings, Iphicles collapsed beside him, rather than on top of him.  He was a little dazed; he wasn't usually that forceful.  But then, he'd never been a god before.  He turned his head to watch Cupid rise from the bed.

The War god raised an eyebrow.  Ruffled feathers and fuck-tousled hair smoothed into place.  His black leather outfit reappeared.  He rolled his shoulders and stretched, then yawned pleasantly and grinned at Iphicles.

"Not a bad fuck godling, not bad at all.  Now get your gorgeous ass dressed and let's go catch a killer."

4:  It's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it.
     By Selursera

Now that everyone had been sent off to search for Ares' killer, Zeus had his work cut out for him. Before he could join them, he was faced with the dubious task of finding a replacement for the God of War.   There was only one person who he felt was up to the requirement's. Now to find them, and most importantly, once he did.would they even help?



That could be the only word to describe it - sheer ecstasy. She had been with many lovers before, but he was a master in bed.  His tongue... was an artist's tool which stroked her, time and time again, to mind blowing orgasms.

Now, as he lay above her, his tongue once again - artfully teasing between her lips, sucking, nibbling, and teasing her clit. She was once again in the Elysian Fields, her body responding to nothing but the pleasure.

His hands were wonderful, always able to find exactly the right pressure points to drive her wild. He told her it was something his brother taught him.  He was a patient lover, always willing to satisfy her needs, putting all her desires first; whips, chains, blindfolds. Nothing was too extreme for him, as long as it pleased her.

After her second orgasm, he worked his way slowly up her body, finding her mouth, Stopping at her breasts to pay them special attention. She loved it when he bit, and sucked her nipples hard. That alone could give her a delicious orgasm. Working his way up her neck, he paused long enough to make his mark; the crimson patch was already appearing as he found his way to her mouth. Plundering it with his, demanding entrance.  He claimed her as his own.  Yes - ecstasy!

He locked eyes with her and raised himself above her glowing body. Thrusting into her in one swift movement. Causing her to gasp from shock, and sheer pleasure.  "YES! Yes, my love, harder. Oh, yes, faster," she urged. He thrust into her with a burning desire only a few men were capable of. He pulled out of her and watched as her eyes glowed with anger. Then he quickly plunged back into her, driving both of them to completion. They collapsed in each other's arms, drained and completely satisfied.  She held him, playing with his soft brown hair. She liked the way it fell into his eyes.  It took several minutes before either of them could say anything, finally she spoke.

"Damn it, Joxer, Gabrielle really doesn't know what she's missing," giggled Xena.

Joxer blushed. "You know *you* are my warrior princess." He kissed her. "I only have eyes for you, now."

"Keep it that way!" Xena said in her most menacing tone.

A bright flash of light broke the darkness of the room.

"Xena, I need to speak with you."  Zeus said, his face looked grim.

"You could have picked a better time." Rolling her eyes, she pulled the covers over her and Joxer.

"Xena, this is serious. It has to be now--please get dressed and come downstairs. I'll get your friend Gabrielle. This concerns all of you."

Xena didn't like taking orders, especially from the Gods. There was something about the look in Zeus' eyes. She saw something there that she had never seen in any Gods' eyes before. It was fear.


The main room of the small Inn was empty now, except for the four figures standing by the hearth. The owner had set out some drinks and hastily disappeared. Gabrielle was still not fully awake, and she kept mumbling to herself about the Gods all having a lot of nerve.  Joxer was pacing back and forth, he had a bad feeling about all of this, and he could feel it in the air. Something was not right, Zeus looked nervous.

"Well, Zeus, we are all here now.  Do you want to tell us what this is all about?" Xena's words finally broke the silence.

Zeus looked pale; he had to support himself with one hand as he lowered himself into a bench. "There is no easy way to say this.its Ares. He's dead."

"Dead. No th..that's.impossible," stammered Xena.

"I'm afraid it's true."

"Don't you need hinds blood to kill a God?" Gabrielle asked.

"Yes, the killer did indeed use a dagger dipped in hinds blood," Zeus said wearily.

"I thought all of the hinds blood was destroyed," Joxer said.

"All of the Gods thought that.sadly, we were mistaken."

"The other Gods didn't do anything to help him?" Xena asked.

"We didn't know it even happened.  Aphrodite found him already dead. His body lying across his throne, at his temple in Thebes.," Zeus trembled--he couldn't go on.

"I am sorry for your loss, Zeus, but exactly why have you come looking for me?" Xena asked, her voice cold.

Zeus sat up a little straighter; he knew full well the contempt this mortal had for the Gods.  He however, had always held her in high regard.  "Xena, you, better than anyone else, knows the effects of not having a seated God of War. I need someone to take over his mantel.  I need you."

"There is no way she will do that. Fighting is no longer a part of her life," interrupted Gabrielle.

"Child, this decision has to come from Xena. You should not interfere,"  Zeus chided.

"I'll do it." Xena said.

"You'll WHAT!" Said Gabrielle, and Joxer both at the same time.

"I said.I accept. I will take the mantle of the God of War. Temporarily, of course."

"Fine, if all works out as planned, the need may only be, temporary."  Zeus noticed the faces of Gabby and Joxer. "I think you and your friends need to talk. I will return to take you to the Halls of War in a few minutes, this will give you some time together," Zeus faded from sight.

"Look, Xena, there is no way you can seriously be considering this.  You - as the God of War? Not after how hard we worked to get you away from all that."

Xena put her hand on Gabrielle's shoulder. "Gabrielle, I only agreed to do this temporarily. You were there when Ares lost his mantel. You saw the chaos, and destruction. I can't let that happen. I owe it to him."

"Him?" Joxer asked.

Xena avoided the question. She was extremely confused, and she started to pace. "No, something is not right here.I should have known that Ares had been murdered. I should have felt it." Xena turned from her two friends, trying to hide the tears welling up in her eyes.

"Xena, don't blame yourself. If the other Gods couldn't feel what was happening, why should you?" Asked Joxer.

Xena took a deep breath; she didn't want to hurt Joxer or Gabby, but decided the truth would be the best.  "When I became Ares ultimate warrior, I had to defeat him in a challenge. If you can accomplish this, then you become his warrior, and can wear his mark."

"Xena, we know all this, you defeated him, he made you his warrior, you wanted to rule the world..."

"Gabrielle, shut up and let her finish." said Joxer. She glared at him.

"Well, in that combat, even if you are victorious you still forfeit something, as a tribute to the God of War."

"Is this something he asks for?"

"No, it's something that is decided on by the Fates." Xena paused. "In this case, Ares and I were linked together. A link that can *never* be broken."

"You mean like a mind link? Yea...that's it, that's why you can always tell when he's around," Joxer said, nodding his head.

"No, Joxer, it's not that simple. Ares and I weren't linked that way, and it's not like way the other Gods are linked either.  It's much deeper than that. It's as if our souls are locked together. That's why it has been so difficult for me to leave him.  That's why he continues to try and lure me back."   Joxer looked away. "That's why I don't understand, how could I not have felt his death?"

"This conversation is over. Isn't it?" Gabby asked.

'Yes, I have made up my mind. ZEUS, I am ready!" Xena yelled. He appeared, in a blinding flash of blue light.

"Were are we headed now?" Asked Joxer.

"I am going with, Zeus."

"Don't you mean we?"

"Not this time, Gabrielle.  You two are staying put.  Once Zeus gives me Ares godhood, I need to check on a few things.  Then, I am off to help find out what happened. I can't be worried about you two. I have to focus on finding the killer. I have a few ideas I want to talk to Hercules about."

"You will have to join them in the alternate universe." Zeus said

"What in Tartarus are they doing there?"

"That's where Hercules, and Iolaus, have headed looking for answers. It's possible the killer may be from there. I plan to open the portal for you.  I would want to be with them."

"You thought right, let's go."

"Xena wait..this really."

"Now look, no arguments, besides I really need you two to do something for me. It may make all the difference in finding out who the real killer is.  Now listen we don't have much time."


The ceremony bestowing the mantle of the God of War on Xena was quick and to the point. There was no pomp, no celebration. All of the Gods in attendance were uncomfortable. Ares' body was hardly cold, and any one of them could be

Xena noticed many nervous glances exchanged between several of the Gods.  Discord couldn't help but look upset, and stressed. She was angry that Ares mantle didn't go to her, yet there seemed to be more to it. She kept looking over at Artemis, who was purposely avoiding her glances.

Even Hades was acting as if he had to be somewhere else. Xena knew he wasn't fond of Ares. His behavior seemed strange and she wanted to talk to him. As soon as the ceremony was over he disappeared before she had a chance. Maybe it was her nature to read too much into things. After all that just happened,  Xena was not convinced that the Gods of this world were totally innocent.


Zeus brought Xena to Ares temple. He threw the lightning bolt, and the vortex opened. Swirling the air around them, they struggled against its pull.  "Good luck, Xena." Zeus yelled. "Tell my son, I am hoping you will all be successful, all of the Gods lives may depend on it."

"I will," Xena managed to say, before she vanished into the swirling blue mist.


Xena landed with a thud fully convinced that she did not like traveling this way. As she stood up she drew her sword. She could feel something.something was not right. There were voices in the distance and someone was coming toward her.  She hid behind a tree sword drawn ready to strike.

As the person approached her she jumped from behind the tree yelling. "AAAAAAEEEEE." She froze in her tracks. She could not believe her eyes, It was.Ares - God of War. There he was standing before her in all his glory.

Someone had a lot of explaining to do.

 5.   Meeting of the Minds
       By Carrie

"XENA! What are you doing here?" Iphicles asked.

"I might ask you the same. Everyone thinks you're dead, Zeus gives me your mantle, and I come over to this Otherworld, and I find you alive?!?! What is going on?" Xena demanded.

Dropping his voice to a whisper, he said "It's me. Iphicles."


"Yeah...I'll explain it when we go someplace safer to talk. Do you know how to transport yourself?"

Xena nodded.

"Good. Follow me back to Cupid's Temple."

Iphicles flashed out. Xena followed, with Cupid, Ares, and the others trailing behind them.

As soon as she saw that they were all there, she asked again, "So what is going on?"

"Well, we decided that I would impersonate Ares so that it would make the killer think that they didn't succeed. It had to be me, because the other Ares wouldn't do it."

Ares protested "Well it's not *my* fault that I'm a Lover, not a fighter!"

Cupid and Iphicles just rolled their eyes, before Iphicles continued "So anyways the Gods changed my appearance and..."

* * *

He listened bemused as Iphicles explained what had been happening recently to the new Goddess of War. He was really surprised. He didn't think that everything would be happening as perfectly as it did. Xena was the Goddess of War, and the others were here in this world too. The fact that Iphicles was now masquerading as the God of War was inconsequential, since he knew the truth. He'd been right when he had assumed that the Gods would be scared shitless, they were so paranoid that they would be the next to die that they overlooked what was right in front of their eyes...

* * *

"And so that is where we are at now," Iphicles concluded.

"Sounds like a good plan in theory. Do you have any suspects?" asked Xena.

Hercules rolled his eyes. "Who *don't* we suspect? Ares has so many enemies that it isn't even funny. I can count the number of people that like Ares on one hand."

Xena paced; she'd suspected that. "Well we can probably assume that it is a god or at the very least, a demi-god. No one else would be so stupid try and kill Ares, even if they *could* get their hands on the dagger. You put it in the stone of Ares' Temple, right, Hercules?"

He nodded.

"That's what figured. No mortal could retrieve it without destroying the Temple, and of course Ares wouldn't allow that."

"So we agree that chances are, it's probably a God?"

Nods all around.

"Okay. Are there any Gods or Goddess that we can automatically eliminate from the list of suspects?"

"Gaea--she is one of the only people that likes Ares," responded Hercules.

"Aphrodite--even though she found him, which could mean that she did it, I can't see her wanting to get her clothes dirty, even if she did have the stomach for murder," Iolaus said.

"Hermes, maybe? He may have not liked Ares, but I know for a fact that he was scared to death of Ares. He's about as effective in battle as this Ares is," Iphicles suggested.

"HEY!" Ares protested.

"Well, it's true!"

Ares pouted.

"Stop sulking. Now where were we?"

"What about Hera?" asked Cupid.

"That's probably a good candidate. Ares is one of her closest allies. There is no way that she would kill someone as powerful as he is," replied Hercules.

Xena spoke up. "Those are good choices, but we still can't be certain. Killing Ares is very tempting, so we shouldn't put them out of our minds completely."

Cupid then asked, "What about gods from this world?"

Hercules asked in return, "Who in this world knows or knew him? Aside from the Sovereign, and this Ares?"

"I'm not sure." Cupid admitted.

"Great. So we've narrowed down the list of suspects by what, five, six people? We still have a lot of work cut out for us."

Everyone muttered their agreement.

"So what's the game plan?" asked Iphicles.

"We need to start questioning the others. Iphicles, Ares, I want you to go back to the other world and go around to some of Ares' temples. Make a few appearances like everything is normal, but before you do, go to Zeus and tell him what you are doing, so none of the gods ruin it."

"All right, Xena."

"Cupid, Iolaus. Stay here and start questioning some of the gods here, including Zeus. Hercules and I are going to question the gods on our world. We should meet back here every twelve hours, to compare notes, and make sure we are all still alive."

Variations of "Sounds good" were heard throughout the room, for none of them had any better ideas.

* * *

The three gods had reopened the vortex. He watched them make final plans on what was going to happen, and smiled. Winning was so much easier when you knew the enemy's strategy.

6. Celestial Guidance
     By Iphenys

As he watched the four disappear into the vortex he began to formulate a plan.  All that was left to deceive was the unstable God of War, Cupid, and that mortal sidekick of Hercules.  //Shouldn't be too difficult.  How much trouble could they be?//  As he watched the black winged God vanish with his new ally, he contemplated on where they would start.  //King.  Always start at the top.//  He too left his place of surveillance and made his way toward Zeus' temple.


Iolaus was beginning to become accustomed to "God-travel" as he nicknamed the winking in and out.  He rarely got nauseated and the dizziness left him quicker each time.  When Cupid and he left the vortex site, Iolaus thought they were going to Zeus' place, instead they were at Cupid's.

"Hey, why are we here?" asked Iolaus.

Cupid was pacing slowly up and down the length of his thrown room, trying to sort everything out in his head.  He looked toward Iolaus at the sound of his voice be did not answer immediately.  Iolaus knew that War Gods needed their space when they were like this.  Thinking. The last time he insisted on interrupting, he was grabbed by the throat.  So he waited.

Cupid stopped suddenly, making his wings flutter at the lack of movement.  "We have a problem."  He motioned to Iolaus to follow him.  The War God was walking up and around his throne to the shadowed area behind, there, Cupid moved aside some drapes to reveal a door.  Without a question Iolaus entered the small room, allowing Cupid to close the door behind him.

And still Iolaus waited.  Rushing a God was never a good idea, and even though the waiting was killing him, he somehow fought down the urge to speak.  He was almost through with all his techniques when Cupid spoke.

"I thought you were not one for patience."  Cupid stated with a smirk.  Before Iolaus could speak he continued.  "But I do appreciate it.  Your restraint that is, but I needed to think, and we need to talk.  Here is the best place.  Away from 'most' ears."

Iolaus cocked his head to one side, the War God was speaking oddly.  Such short sentences and barely hiding the anger behind them.  He walked to the farthest end of the room, since the room was only about ten feet wide at any given point, that wasn't as far as he would have liked.  He leaned against the wall and crossed his arms over his chest.  "What's up?"

"Well it seems that the element of surprise it no longer ours.  While we were explaining our plan, in detail as it were, there was an eavesdropper.  I don't know, what or who or where they were, I just *know* there was something there."  Cupid looked at Iolaus, his eyes brimming with hatred.

"Do you think it is the killer?"

An awkward chuckle escaped Cupid.  "Yes I do.  And what we set up is not going to work.  He knows."

"Knows…?"  Iolaus trailed off realizing the magnitude of their mistake.  They talked openly and freely of their plan, not thinking that anyone was around to listen.  "We have to get in touch with Iphicles, he can't be out like that…"

"It isn't going to matter.  Whether Iphicles is parading around as Ares or not has no significance.  I don't think it ever did, and since he already knows and isn't going to be fooled, there is really no harm.  I don't think he cares about Iphicles."  There was a short pause as Cupid's green eyes sparkled in the dim light.  "Although, he could help us flush out any accomplices.  A feat like murder may need two to pull it off.  It would help if we knew his or their motivation, what they want."

It was Iolaus' turn to smirk.  "What he wants?  Probably to rule.  What else?"

Cupid mimicked the hunter's pose and countered, "Why would killing Ares accomplish that?"

"It's a distraction, a trap.  While we all are out hunting for the killer, the killer stays concealed planning what to do next."

The winged God thought for a moment before changing his thought direction.  "I'm going to try to reach my Ares, tell him what is going on, maybe they can come up with something,"  stated Cupid.

"How are you going to do that?"

Cupid shrugged.  "Not sure.  I don't like mind links, especially to that flowery thing, but now seems like a good reason."  He started for the door when he looked back at Iolaus.  "You thought I was going to hurt you, didn't you?"

Iolaus chuckled, ran his fingers through his curly hair, pushed himself away from the wall, walked over to the winged God and placed his hand on Cupid's arm.  "Yep.  Can we go now?"

The War God laughed so hard his feathers started to rustle.  Iolaus did not find the scenario as funny, but couldn't help laughing.  Cupid's chuckle was contagious and the two of them continued to do so as they reentered the throne room.


After arriving in their own universe once again, Hercules and Iphicles separated parting with a hug.  Hercules and Xena immediately winked out and headed toward Olympus to begin questioning the Gods.  It was up to the "twins" to follow through with the masquerade.  Iphicles did not like the nickname that Cupid had given them, but didn't complain.  He had been called worse in his life, and he found it mildly amusing.

The closest temple was outside Corinth, which Iphicles found ironic.  Ares had been quiet for some time before Iphicles addressed him.  "You always this quiet?"

Ares looked up startled.  "Depends.  You?"

"Depends."  The King smirked at his own teasing as they continued walking.

"Why didn't we just transport ourselves to the temple?"

"I wanted to walk, too much winking and not enough exercise.  Plus I needed to try to clear my head.  You have no idea how strange it is to be walking around like your dead lover."

Ares sighed with sympathy and was quiet for a moment longer.  "How did you do it?"  asked the God of Love.  At Iphicles' questioning glance the God added, "Love the God of War?"

Iphicles shrugged, no one had ever asked him that before and he never thought about it.  It just *was* he didn't need to explain.  "I just did.  I don't want to say Ares was different with me, that is an over used cliché, but he wasn't as manipulative and condescending.  And he treated me as an equal after a while.  Stayed longer in the morning.  The little things let me know that I was different.  That was all that matter, that and I loved him.  I like to think I was able to help him with his stress or pent up anger.  That was all I needed."

"Weren't you frightened at first?"

"No.  I never felt at though he would harm me.  It was an odd feeling when I first had the realization, it after his first visit.  He just appeared in my bed chambers one night, and watched me.  I didn't actually see him, just knew someone was there, and when he finally appeared to me several nights later, I felt the same thing.  I was never frightened."  Iphicles studied his clean shaven self for a moment, trying to read the expressions on his face.  "Why do you ask?"

Ares started to fidget with his belt and looked everywhere but at Iphicles when he spoke.  "Well, um, I, ah, I'minlovewithCupid."

Iphicles grinned, he had almost missed the confession it had come out so fast.  "Really?"

The God of Love nodded.

"Have you told him?"

A fierce shake of the head.

"Why not?"

Ares stopped walking and put his hands on his hips.  "Why not?!  You haven't seen him in action… well ok, not *that* kind of action, but he is a little unpredictable."

"All War Gods are, it is up to you to mellow him a bit where you are concerned."

"Well you don't know Cupid,"  he said in a huff.

"Ok, but you should at least think about it.  The worst that can happen is rejection, and maybe some jesting and you already endure that so it shouldn't be too hard to cope."  Iphicles laughed at his own joke and silently wondered what was wrong with him.  This was no time for jokes or laughter for that matter.

Their journey begun again but was brought to a quick halt when Ares fell to his knees with his hands on his head.

Iphicles bent to one knee next to him trying to find out what was wrong.  "Ares!  What is it!?"  The God gestured for him to be quiet and the pain slowly went away.

Ares turned his head slowly toward Iphicles and grimaced.  "I think Cupid is trying to link with me.  He has never done it before he is using too much power, and giving me a headache in the process."

"I didn't think you could do that."

"We can.  It is not a common practice though.  Wait."

Ares closed his eyes and opened his mind.  //Cupid?//

//Yep.  Hope I didn't hurt you.//

//Small headache, it will go away.//

//We have a problem.  The murderer over heard all of our plans.  He knows about Iphicles, about everything actually.  I felt him at the vortex.  Go ahead with the masquerade, maybe it will draw out any accomplices.//

//Are we in danger?//

//How the hell do I know!!!//  Cupid yelled.  Ares winced at the raised voice that echoed in his mind more than he thought imaginable.

//No need to holler.  We will continue.//

//Good.  If you see Hercules, let him know.//  After a slight pause Cupid continued.  //And be careful.//

Ares blinked, twice, before he answered.  //I will, you do the same.  And thanks for the warning.  I know how much you hate this.//

Cupid laughed, and Ares was able to feel it, really feel it.  It lifted his heart to know that the War God was able to laugh, an emotion that was rarely seen.  //Yep.  See ya Lover-Boy!//

And with that he was gone, the mind link was ended and Ares was left kneeling on the ground with a radiating smile.  He looked at Iphicles and began to explain.  "I know I shouldn't be smiling, but I felt Cupid smile.  I can't explain anything more than that, however there is some bad new…"


Iphicles took the new developments with a stoic face, one he perfected since becoming King.  He did not like the idea of continuing the charade, but saw no other alternative.  As the temple came into view, the twins decided to transport themselves within the walls, a daily occurrence for Gods.

Upon materializing, Iphicles sat in the former God of War's throne. It was then he started to have doubts on whether or not he could succeed in mimicking Ares.  He watched as two priests precisely and quietly rearranged the daily offerings.  Iphicles tried to imagine what Ares would do.  //Probably nothing.  They are barely noticeable.//  The King of Corinth took in the temple's appearance when he felt the air change.

Iphicles recognized it and searched for it's source, but found none.  The air around him was warmer now, as though he were surrounded by 'something.'  Iphicles glanced toward the God of Love, who was invisible to mortals but still decided to stay hidden in the shadows.  Ares did not react as though something was wrong.  Iphicles looked around again, there was still was nothing amiss.

That's when he felt it.  Like a soft caress across his right cheek, so tender that Iphicles thought he imagined it, until he felt it again this time on his left.  He did not know what to do.  There was no one to be seen, yet he had the distant impression someone was staring at him, studying.  Iphicles felt his right side of his face go warm, like it was being cupped in the palm of a hand.  "Ares?"  he asked softly.

There was no direct answer, but the warmth left his cheek and brushed across his lips.  He shivered.  The King glanced at Ares, the God of Love, and figured talking to your dead lover while pretending to be him was not good protocol and decided to try something else.  He closed his eyes and concentrated on what Ares felt like to him when they were together, searching for the similar energy source in the room with him now.

A smile formed as Iphicles felt it.  //Ares?//  He felt, rather than heard the low chuckled that resonated throughout his entire body.  He gasped and his eyes flew open.  Still nothing there.

//You aren't afraid of me, are you Iphy?"  asked the invisible voice.

Iphicles sat rigid in the throne, he couldn't see him, but he knew it was Ares.  //Where are you?//

Another laugh, followed by,  //Around.//

//Oh that's funny.  Why are you here?//

//To help.  Seems there is quite a bit going on lately, all stemming from my…//  He left it unfinished, even now he was unable to stomach the word.

//Help?  How?//  Iphicles was trying to hide his emotions, but being in Ares' throne, hearing his voice was beginning to be too much.  He felt the warmth back on his cheek and he closed his eyes, imagining that Ares was there in the flesh and not just in spirit.

//No need for tears.  Can't have the God of War crying, now can we?//  Iphicles smiled.  //That's better.//  The warmth slowly faded from his face only to be replaced on his hand.  //I'm here to give you some pointers on being me.//

//Really?  What I'm not doing a good job representing you?//  Iphicles couldn't believe he was flirting with a ghost.

//Yeah.  First, I don't sit in the throne, I lounge.  Throw a leg over the side or something.  Play with a dagger, look a bit more menacing.//  There was a brief pause.  //I don't know who did this, don't ask.  I'm ashamed to say I was taken by surprise, and in my opinion, they did not do it alone.//

The King followed the directions and immediately felt different, more in contact with his dead lover than before.  He decided not to comment on the bitterness in Ares' voice concerning his 'surprise.'  There was nothing Iphicles could do to reassure him, and the King did not think it would do any good.

The voice continued.  //If you portray me well enough, I'll be able to help you more, be with you always.  I don't have the longevity right now.  Practice and see what you can do.  I'll be watching.  I have been since you reentered this world.  Your conversation with Ares over there was… touching.//  The compliment was given without any sarcasm and was as heart felt as Ares was currently able to be.

Iphicles smiled.  //I'll try.  I miss you.//

//I know, me too.//  With that the warmth was gone and the air seemed normal again.  Iphicles was renewed with a sense of purpose.  He was going to find the killer and get Ares back.  He didn't care what it took, he was sure Zeus was able to do something.

Iphicles was lost in his thoughts and did not notice the arrival of another God.  Iphicles slowly lifted his head to greet his visitor and was received with an eye full of Aphrodite.  "Sister, nice of you to pay me a visit."

7. ...And Your Enemies Closer
    By Erin

I never thought it would go this well. Oh, I knew *I* wouldn't mess it up, but you never know what your enemies will do. Although, I thought they'd come up with something better than this, or at least be more careful about where they discuss it. Kind of disappointing really. But, hey, less trouble for me. I'm not complaining.

So far it's all gone down mostly like it was supposed to. One dead body -- and did *that* ever take some work! Me standing around with the rest of them looking shocked and more importantly, innocent. And the others drawing all the wrong conclusions.

I knew they would. I mean, take Zeus for instance. King of the Gods, a really powerful guy and everything, but most of the time he couldn't see the obvious if it was standing in front of him doing the macarena. That works in my favor though, so I sat back and watched them head down the wrong path.

Not that it's all been a smooth ride or anything. I thought Zeus would make Athena the new God of War -- or is that Goddess now? Doesn't matter. He gave it to Xena and that could be a problem. I also didn't figure on them all taking that little trip through the vortex. They got help there and if I hadn't tagged along, I'd be in trouble now. Fortunately for me they decided to talk about their plans where anyone could overhear them.

So now it's all good. I know what they're up to, but they don't know that I know, and since I know that they don't know that I know -- oh, fuck it. It's working out and that's what matters.

I went along when Iphicles -- oh, right -- "Ares" came back through the vortex. I got what I needed there, so now I can just wait for them to make a move. Of course I've never been all that good at waiting. I need something to keep me occupied.

Okay, so maybe it's a risk, but I think I can use it. Besides, it's fun. He's so pathetically easy to manipulate, this king pretending to be a god. Sure, he's tough and determined and all that, but he's lonely too. He misses his lover terribly. And that's his weakness -- which I'm more than happy to exploit.

It's not exactly a good plan, but the fact that he actually falls for it says something about how desperate he is, clutching at any straw tossed his way. See, I know Ares. Now maybe he never noticed me much, but I spent years watching him, so it's not that hard to impersonate him. Or more to the point, his voice.

Just a light touch here and there, a few words of advice delivered in his lover's voice, and Iphicles is all mine. I only started this for something to do, but when he goes for it like that, I realize that I can get a lot more out of this than some quick laughs. I can use him. As long as he thinks he's talking to his lover's ghost, he'll tell me anything I want to know, especially about the plan to catch Ares' "killer". Damn, I'm good.

I have to leave sooner than I want to. The wimp over by the wall, Ares, God of *Love* -- gag me -- is no threat. He probably wouldn't notice me if I got down on my knees and blew Iphicles, but Aphrodite is a different matter. She's much smarter, and more powerful than most people give her credit for, and even my being invisible wouldn't stop her from sensing me. So when I feel her approaching, I get out of there. It's no problem though, I have a whole lot more than what I came for.

And now, after that little unscheduled vacation in the alternate world, I can finally start enjoying what I've been working so hard for here. For the moment anyway, I can let the others run around chasing their own tails. I have more fun things to do.

I arrive in one of my temples -- not the main one of course. I'm not that crazy. It's a tiny one in some remote town I can't ever remember the name of. The point being, it's isolated and pretty much unknown to everyone but me and a couple priests -- and my...guest.

He's glaring at me. Those lovely dark eyes filled with hate and maybe a bit of surprise. I think he's still having a hard time believing I'm doing this. He might've expected it from Discord, or maybe even Strife when that little weasel was still alive, but never from me. But he hasn't let that bother him too much. Naked and restrained, completely helpless and he still has an
attitude. I really love that about him. Nothing ever gets to him. But I will.

"Where the fuck have you been?" he demands.

"Miss me?" I ask with a grin.

"You left me chained to a bed!" He's shouting now.

Oh, he's definitely got some fight left in him. Good. That'll make this more fun.

"I told the priests to give you whatever you needed, and you look fine to me. More than fine." I let my gaze move slowly over his body, knowing how uncomfortable it makes him. But he's so gorgeous. And he's all mine. "So, how're you enjoying mortality, Ares?" I ask casually as I begin to pull off my clothes.

"Bite me!" he snarls.

"First things first. Don't you want to know what's going on? How people are reacting to your 'death'?"

That gets to him. He yanks at the chains holding his wrists to the top of the bed. There's no give of course, but he keeps trying anyway.

"Zeus made Xena your replacement."

He stops struggling and stares at me, disbelief momentarily overcoming his fury.

"You see," I continue, "not everything's as bad as you think it is. Xena's back on the path you wanted her to travel, right?" When he doesn't reply, I go on, telling him all about what's happening in the world without him, especially the plan to uncover his "murderer". Of course I save the best for last. "They have Iphicles impersonating you," I inform him as I move onto the bed, as naked as he now. "He's really pining after you. Makes him vulnerable, you know." I smile.

His eyes widen in comprehension and a brief moment of worry. Iphicles isn't the only vulnerable one I see. Mortality has taken some of Ares' control. He's slipping a bit, letting me see what he's feeling.

"Don't worry," I assure him, letting my hand rest on his stomach. "I'll take care of him, make sure he doesn't get *too* lonely." I wonder if I could pull that off? Fuck Iphicles while still keeping him convinced I'm the ghost of his lover. Apparently Ares thinks I can because he's struggling again. I don't want him hurting himself -- if there's pain involved, I'll be the one to inflict it -- so I straddle his waist to hold him down. "You really care about Iphicles, don't you?" I let my fingers brush back and forth over his

"Get off me!" He bucks up, trying to push me off, but he's mortal now and his strength is nothing to me.

"That's a 'yes', isn't it?" I pinch one of his nipples. He manages not to react, but it shuts him up for a few seconds. "But you want me, don't you?"

"You wish," he replies in a disgusted tone.

I chuckle. "Well, I can always turn my hair some horrendous shade of orange and you can call me 'Iphicles'. Will that make it work better for you?" Not that I'm serious, I just like getting a rise out of him, one way or another.

"Fuck you! You sick--" he's cut off by the leather gag that suddenly appears over his mouth. I love being able to do that.

"No," I smirk, "but how 'bout I fuck *you*?"

He almost hides it from me, but I see it in that second it takes him to put on his usual mask of arrogance. He's afraid. And I think I get why. I guess it shouldn't surprise me, knowing what I do about Ares, but it does.

"Thought maybe you would've put out for Iphicles," I comment, sliding my hand up his chest, to his throat. I can't help enjoying the fear I see in his eyes again when he realizes I figured it out. "S'okay though, I like virgins. And you'll enjoy this, if you want to. If not, well, that's your own fault." I hold his head still as I lean down to kiss his cheek.

I guess the gag is a better idea than I'd thought, otherwise I'd be tempted to stick something in his mouth, like my cock. But I know he'd bite no matter what the consequences, so I'll just have to settle for...other things.

I continue kissing him, his cheeks, nose, forehead; and then I start over with my tongue and this time I don't stop. I move down his throat, his chest.

He starts to struggle again, so I shift my position, stretching out on top of him, letting him feel all of me. He makes a sound, maybe one of pleasure -- or protest? Doesn't matter. If he enjoys this, great. If not...hey, as long as I get off, I'll have what I've been wanting all this time. Good 'nuff for me.

His nipples are really sensitive. I learned that from watching him with countless lovers, so I spend plenty of time on them. Licking, sucking, occasionally biting, and I know he likes it. He can deny it all he wants to later, but I can feel him stirring against my stomach. I remember then what a gorgeous cock he has. Long and thick and -- and I think I want a taste of that.

I move down, sliding my body over his, enjoying the friction on my own aching cock. And then I'm there, and he is beautiful. He's still not totally hard, but I can fix that. I lightly run a finger up the underside, smiling when he shivers at the touch. Then without any more delay, I take him into my mouth, all the way. I hear something from him, could be a gasp or a cry, and I ignore it. I'm sucking at him, drawing up slowly before plunging back down, a steady rhythm I interrupt every now and then to graze my teeth over the head of his cock. And he's hard now. Very hard. I knew he couldn't fight this, it's a talent of mine.

Yeah, he's making plenty of noise against that gag now and I think most of it is moaning. Every time my teeth hit him, his body jumps a bit and those sounds get louder. He'll cum soon, and I bet he hates that -- hates me -- and I don't care. Nothing matters right now except him cuming in my mouth. I've waited for this for so long.

I increase the pace a bit and feel him shudder in reaction. Fuck! I'm ready to cum myself just from the feel of him down my throat! But this isn't how I want to do it. I'll be in him when I cum -- oh, damn! Just thinking about that! And I'm doing more than thinking. Without breaking the rhythm I've set, I slide a hand down between his legs. My fingers brush over the small opening there. He tries to pull away but I suck him harder and that stops him.

He's tense now, despite me just about sucking his cock off here. He can't do anything about this and it's finally sinking in. I know it'd go easier on him if I took my time, talked him through it maybe, was gentle and patient and all that. Well, that's just too bad, isn't it?

I sit up suddenly, noticing the dazed and apprehensive look in his eyes and loving it, right before I flip him over onto his stomach. The chains on his wrist give me just enough room to do that without hurting him too much.

I grab his hips and force him up onto his knees as I move up behind him. He's trying to struggle again but he can't break my grip. I have to take a moment to admire his ass. It's -- well, I'm not going to say a work of art, but it's close, and I'm finally getting a piece of it.

A thought and my cock is slick with oil. I should probably prepare him a bit for this, it being his first time and all, but what the fuck. Pain makes it better. Or so I've heard. I shove into him.

Didn't think anyone could scream that loud though that gag. Well, I guess you learn something new every day.

Fuck! I've never had anyone this tight! Who would've thought the God of War -- or ex-god rather -- could feel this damn good? I pull almost all the way out and slam back in. Oh yeah....I keep up the rhythm, slowly withdrawing before thrusting in as hard as I think he can take.

And he's taking it. Screaming about it, sure, but damn if he isn't still hard. Once I realize that I grab his cock and start jerking him off as I fuck him. Oh, he likes that. He's pushing back against me and I bet he doesn't even know it.

"Can't one ever did you!" I gasp out, thrusting harder. "You're so fucking hot!"

He is. He's hot and tight and getting off on it almost as much as I am and -- and I think I'm about to cum. I hold back, just long enough to win this little battle -- and it is a battle.

I tighten my grip on his cock, working him harder, and then he's screaming through the gag again but it's got nothing to do with pain. He's cuming, hot semen spilling over my hand and the bed below him, and he's clamping down on my cock so hard....I pound into him fast and rough, shouting as I cum deep inside him.

When I can think again, I'm laying on top of him. My weight pushing him down into the bed, making it difficult for him to breathe. Not my problem. I'm comfortable. And I'm laughing.

"Have a good time, Ares?" I ask, my mouth near his ear. I think I hear a furious, but muffled, growl. It makes me laugh harder.

Maybe I should get up. I'd rather not suffocate him. Well, at least not totally, and not unless I'm fucking him. I pull out and roll to the side. I stretch a bit, feeling pretty damn good.

He's watching me, so much anger and hate there. I just smile at him and with a negligent wave, make his gag disappear.

"You fucking bastard." It's the first thing out of his mouth. He doesn't shout or anything, but if he were still a god, his tone would terrify me. As things stand now, I just grin.

"You're saying you didn't love it?" I ask, holding up my hand, still smeared with his drying semen. I begin to lick it off and he snarls.

"I'll kill you for this you son-of-a-bitch. When I'm out of here, you're dead!"

That makes me laugh again. "You don't get it, do you?" I think it's time to enlighten him. "You're here for good. There is no 'out'. Even if you did escape, you think you'd survive more than a few minutes?" Pushing myself up on one elbow, I look down at him. "You made a lot of enemies, Ares."

He frowns for a moment or two, then it dawns on him. The shock and horror on his face almost sends me into another fit of laughter.

"Now you see, huh?" I'm grinning big-time here. "You really thought I did all this by myself? I'm good, but not *that* good. What I wanted just happened to fit in with the plans of some other...people. But you don't need to know about all that. You're mine now and that's all there is to it. So let's have some more fun."

I don't wait for him to say anything, I just move over him again, pleased when he starts to put up a fight. Wonder how long he'll keep doing that. A few more hours I hope. Makes things more fun.

This is just so perfect. Ares is mine and everyone is clueless. They just better stay that way. I've got some suspicions about -- well, worrying about loyalties can wait 'till later. There's more...interesting things to do right now.

I love it when a plan comes together.

8.  An Effulgence Indulge
    By Taz

*"I mean to rule the earth-as he the sky,
  We really know our worth-the sun and I"*

The sun was setting as Hercules and Xena walked along the broad path that led to Apollo's home. Although the pain was only a memory, he absently rubbed the spot on his shoulder where Iphicles had stung him. He understood why Iphicles had done it, but his brother had been mistaken when he accused Hercules of not mourning. But he needed time to figure his feelings out.

Part of it was that he simply couldn't believe that Ares was dead; the God of War had been too vitally alive and the antagonism between them a part of his life for so long that it was impossible to believe it was gone. The relationship Hercules had had with Ares had been and complicated for simple pain; losing an old enemy shouldn't feel so much like losing an old lover.

Also, he knew Ares would appreciate having his killer brought to painful justice a lot more than spasms and sackcloth and wasting away. When the killer was caught and Iphicles was safe, they could hold a rowdy wake with too much wine, sing songs and tell scurrilous stories. Like the one about the time Ares got caught with the Junior Virgin at Hesta's temple and still managed to talk them out of burying her alive-even though his pants were down around his knees and it was obvious she was on longer qualified for the job. Then later, when he had a massive hangover to justify it, some tears.

It had been a mistake not to tell Iphicles he had known about the affair with Ares, but it had seemed like a better idea to respect his brother's silence; he couldn't force a confidence that Iphicles didn't want to make.  But it was another misunderstanding in a lifetime of misunderstandings between them. He sighed and Xena looked at him.

"In a situation where we have too many suspects, do you mind telling me why we're starting here. I didn't think Apollo had any particular antagonism toward Ares but I know there's no love lost between the two of you." They had arrived at paved court between a pair of domed buildings, one of pale marble and one of gold, the homes of the sun god and his twin sister.

"There isn't, but Apollo is in the best position of anyone to see what's going on in heaven and earth." Hercules looked at the new-made goddess. Xena was magnificent in tightly cinched black leather and polished bronze bustier. Her whip was coiled in one hand and the four-inch heels on her new thigh-high boots brought her almost to his eye-level. "Look, only Artemis has anywhere near his view of things and you said she was acting fishy at your investment."

"Yes," Xena said, "I couldn't put my finger on it but she was sure avoiding Discord like the plague."

"Well she's not an idiot," Hercules said. "Look, it's still an hour until moon rise and Artemis is notoriously man-shy," he knew he was blushing a little, "I doubt she'll open up to me; I think we better split up. I can deal with Apollo, but it might be better if you talked to Artemis alone."

"Herc," Xena gave him a look, "if you were anymore transparent, you'd have birds flying into you."

He got very hot. "All right, she scares me."

"Good enough, hero, I'll go question the big bad woman with the bow," Xena said. "But, Herc, when you're talking to Apollo don't try to be subtle, you're no good at it." She laughed and started up the steps of the pale building. He glared at the warrior goddess's back reflecting that maybe it was just as well things hadn't worked out between them. Then he turned to climb the steps to the sun god's gilt home.

Ares' ego would have been offended to know that Apollo, for all his golden beauty, was actually Hercules' least favorite brother. But the war god had always made his antagonism personal and it had always been clear that the war god enjoyed getting physical. Ares got down in the mud and scrapped.  Whatever part of Hercules that would always be a dirty faced child or an insecure adolescent knew that the solar deity held himself above all that and despised him for using his body more than his mind.

Inside Apollo's house, things were quiet and orderly, at first bright faceless wraiths offered him fruit and wine in supercilious tones. He rejected the refreshments and insisted on penetrating deeper into the sanctuary and they became agitated, swarming around, trying to dazzle and confuse him with their lights. He shaded his eyes and persisted until he located the god in the stables at the back of the house. Apollo had just unhitched the horses that pulled his chariot and was backing them into their stalls. He looked up as Hercules and the wraiths all piled in, the wraiths started singing 'neener, neener, neener' and giggling. The horses started to shrill and kick. "Call them off, Phoebus," Hercules yelled, "we have to talk."

Apollo waved an arm, the wraiths disappeared with a pop, "Damn it, I'll be done here in a moment." The sun god had to calm the horses and Hercules was forced to wait while Apollo finished drying his horses and gave them water, oats and a handful of horse nuts apiece. They were beautiful powerful animals with glossy manes, spirited even after their days run. Apollo handled them confidently and it wasn't until he had hung the last of the tack up that he sauntered over to Hercules wiping his hands on a towel.

The sun god was as brazen as he ever was, and his blue eyes mocked.  "Alcides, Alcides," he said deliberately taunting Hercules with his baby name, "do you always have to be so impatient?"

"Ares." Hercules started.

"Is food for the crows, and Zeus is crying crocodile tears over the corpse,"  Apollo said. "If you're checking on alibis, I should have thought Hephaestus would be first on your list. "

"No," Hercules said, "I'm here because you're one of the few I'm sure didn't do it." Apollo raised his eyebrows in fake surprise. "I haven't said anything to anyone but it wasn't raining in Thrace yesterday." Hercules explained and the other god laughed.

"I had no idea you cared," he said, looking Hercules up and down. Apollo always made him feel he'd left something unlaced or untucked. The god was standing so close that Hercules could smell the sweet smell of Hesperian oranges above the scent of the fresh hay that was piled around.

"I came to ask if you would consult your oracle," he said, trying to take a step back unobtrusively.

"Delian, only consults on the affairs of men," Apollo said, smugly.

"But this will affect the affairs of men and if we knew who benefited most from Ares' death and what god was their patron." Hercules started to explain his thinking.

The god's blue eyes darkened and a nimbus flared around him, Hercules took another step back and put up a hand. It was so rare that he had seen Apollo in anything other than his most indolent aspect that it was easy to forget the golden god was much more. "Alcides, little brother, you're doing this wrong. I'm the god of truth, nothing hides from me, now ask me if I saw anything unusual yesterday."

"Did you?" Hercules said. He backed as far as he could, but there was a straw crib behind him.

"Yes," Apollo said and there was triumph in his voice. "But not nearly so interesting as this." Apollo hooked a leg behind Hercules' calf, gave him a shove and knocked the demigod into the pile of golden straw. The sun god was on top of him and pushing a knee between his legs before Hercules could sit up. "I knew you would come see me sooner or later, almost a premonition of it you might say. That plodding methodical mind of yours would find a reason."

"Apollo, stop fooling around, Ares--"

"Will be just as dead tomorrow, as if I fuck you today," Apollo said.  Hercules was struggling trying to dislodge him but it was like trying to move Mt. Pelios. "You made a mistake, coming into my seat of power without an invitation." It was too easy to forget that Apollo was the second most powerful god on Olympus. The god was rhythmically pushing his groin against Hercules'. "But I saw something interesting and you know I can demand any price I like for the truth."

"You're insane." Hercules twisted and Apollo let him roll until he was face down beneath him.

"No, I'm a god. This is what we do. I watched you play with my war-like brother for years." Apollo's hand was pressing the back of his neck and he had reached under to unbuckle Hercules belt.

"That's a lie!" he yelped as Apollo jerked the belt from around his waist.

"Pull the other one, that one's got bells on it." Apollo said. "You should have seen him when you were a kid. He'd go complain to Zeus about you, raging up and down, totally oblivious to the Olympic sized hard-on in his pants." Hercules tried to push up but there was no leverage in the straw it only gave Apollo room to push his pants down over his hips. "I think you must be the biggest cock-tease on earth," he said. "But you do have a great ass."

"You're making a mistake," Hercules said, aghast to realize what the 'god of truth' had assumed and that somewhere in all of this Apollo had gotten naked.

"I don't think so," the god said and he could feel the god's hand roaming possessively over his butt and a finger slipping down his crack to exploring the opening. Then an arm was under his waist pulling him up and something hard and blunt was pushing into him. He tried to hit Apollo but he couldn't do any damage even when he connected with the god's flanks. He scrabbled in the straw picking up handfuls and throwing them back at Apollo but the god just laughed and kept pushing inside him. It felt like he was being split in half.

The god's body was hot on his back and there was a brand inside him that seemed to ignite a liquid fire in his gut. Between one moment and the next, he was burning and hard, thrusting into the hand Apollo had cuffed around his cock, groaning mindlessly with a dumb need to be mastered and ridden. Completely lost in the white blaze that consumed him until a brighter, wetter heat exploded inside him and he came. His mind throbbed; his body convulsed and he poured a hot river over Apollo's hand that overflowed into the straw. Briefly he was unbounded, then a weight collapsed on his sweat-slick back, arms slid around him and they collapsed into the pile as bits of yellow chaff flew up. Apollo was laughing in his ear and still hard in his ass.

"Was Ares this good?" the god demanded, flexing his hips. "I know he couldn't have been. There was no way he could control himself. Our brother was too passionate by half." The god's cock brushed something inside and he was getting hard again. Apollo's cock moved in him easily, sliding in and out in long slow strokes. Tears leaked from his closed eyelids, Apollo kept talking. "You're so tight, you could be a virgin." Apollo bit his shoulder and Hercules wished that he had really died at that moment of orgasm; each gliding stroke the god took tore him apart anew and he cried when he came the second time.

He awoke on his back in a nest of straw; Apollo had turned him over and opened his shirt, exposing his entire front from neck to thighs and was obviously enjoying the view as he idly played with himself. Hercules felt sticky: the god's gism was leaking from his ass and he wanted to rip the self-satisfied look off of Apollo's face. "You raped me," he said.

"Yes." Apollo didn't deny it. "That's the name of the god game. Don't worry: if I ever see Ares again, I'll tell him how much I've come to admire his good taste."

It would be pointless and even more humiliating to explain to Apollo how wrong he was. And, furious, looking at the bright god, Hercules acknowledged some part of him that wished it had been the truth. But he had to focus on the job; information was the one thing Apollo had left him an undisputed right to. "Tell me what you saw."

"Ah, that," Apollo said, looking at his face. "Does King Iphicles have a twin? I mean other than Ares, someone who looks 'exactly' like him?"

"No," Hercules said, surprised. "Ares in this world and the god of love in the other looked a lot like him, but there were differences." Apollo's too-knowing gaze made him uncomfortable, he looked away. "What are you getting at?"

"Well, when I think of people who might have a motive for killing Ares, the Sovereign would be at the top of my list-assuming he wasn't already dead of course." Hercules looked back in shock; Apollo touched a finger to his lip to forestall the objection he was about to make. "Or someone who cared a great deal about the Sovereign."

"There wasn't anyone in the other world who wasn't glad to see him dead," Hercules said.

"Oh?" Apollo said. "You're sure about that? You don't think that King Iphicles loves you enough to try and avenge you if you were murdered."

"The Iphicles from the other world! That's who you're talking about!" Hercules realized.

"That's my bright boy," Apollo smiled, "and they say you're thick."

Hercules ignored the sarcasm. "The Sovereign murdered his entire family."

"Perhaps they meant his entire 'acknowledged' family. Over here, it's well known that King Iphicles has mixed feelings his half-brother but everyone is different in that world I'm told. Over there, I'm god of the dead. Can you imagine me in that dreary place doing accounts day after day, never getting any fresh air?" Apollo gave him a light punch on the shoulder. "Didn't you ever wonder who the Sovereign's General of the Army was?"

"What did you see?" Hercules demanded.

"In Thrace yesterday morning I saw a well armed man who looked exactly like King Iphicles, except for a scar down one cheek. If it was King Iphicles' counterpart, he had to have help from here to get to this side of the vortex. I don't know who that is. But you, little brother, if I were you, I'd keep an eye over my shoulder because you would a very good candidate for number two on his hate list." Apollo looked up. "Hold on, I'm getting a call." The god held out his hand, his portion of the crystal that Zeus had given him appeared in it and he stared at it for long seconds while Hercules tried to absorb what Apollo had said.

When Apollo made the crystal disappear, he was looking amused, but he responded to Hercules look of inquiry. "Your plans to trap the murderer must be the worst kept secret since the answer to the sphinx's riddle. Cupid on the other side's discovered someone overheard your planning sessions to trap the murderer. Now somebody is pretending to be Ares' ghost and coming on to King Iphicles. The god of love spotted him. Who ever it is an arrogant fool. Even you and that refugee from the Isle of Lesbos should be able to track him down."

"Iphicles is in danger!" Hercules sat up and began to wipe the dried semen from his belly with a handful of straw. Apollo laughed, stood up, reached down and pulled Hercules to his feet. Furious with the god for playing games and humiliated by his body's betrayal, Hercules turned away to pull his pants up. Apollo slipped an arm around his waist and turned him back. "The game's afoot, Hercules," he said. "Go save your brother, and find out who killed ours." Apollo pulled him closer and kissed him hard. Hercules' body responded to the god's power as though it had been imprinted. His cock began to fill. Apollo looked down and patted it. "I'm already starting to think it 's more than just the mystery in it for you." Apollo's laughter followed him
as he fled the stable.

Xena was waiting for him on the steps outside, stalking around impatiently and obviously bursting with news. "What took you so long?" she demanded. "We 've got to get to get to go see Athena!"

"We've got to get to Iphicles!" he said. "He's in danger."

Xena saw a piece of straw on his shoulder, plucked it off and held it up. He'd done his best to make himself presentable but apparently, he'd missed a few. "Were you wasting our time rolling in the hay with that sun beam?"

He could have killed her. Then he noticed how pink and swollen her lips were, and that her hair was mussed and that she didn't look quite as neatly put together as before. There was a long silver hair caught in the bronze whorles of her breastplate. He slowly pulled it free and held it up. Over the trees that edged the courtyard the moon was rising full bellied and bright. Xena, at least, had the grace to blush.

*"Ah, pray make no mistake-we are not shy;
   We're very wide awake, the moon and I"*
  (lyrics courtesy W. S. Gilbert)

9.   The Judas Kiss
     By Nemetona

"I don't like it, I don't like it at all." Iolaus kept his voice low so that no one could overhear their conversation.

"And you think I do?" The goddess asked. "You think I trust my brother's good intentions in this matter?" She paced back and forth across the small room, her agitation clear.

"Look, Iolaus, we don't have a choice. We're both in this too far to back out now. I need you to go to the temple and check if that's where Ares is being held. Between Hercules' interrogations and Discord's suspicions, I'm being watched too closely to do it myself and I won't be left in the dark."

Unconsciously her sharp white teeth worried her lower lip. "We're all supposed to be partners in this - we have too much to lose if the plan goes wrong and I'm scared my brother's arrogance will undo us all."

Iolaus was appalled by the way this goddess, normally the epitome of cool and calm, was going to pieces in front of his eyes. If she kept this up she'd draw suspicion from every quarter. He knew damned well that if they were discovered that he, as a mere mortal who'd plotted against a god, would be made to suffer in the deepest, darkest levels of Tartarus. How in Hades name did he manage to get himself into these messes?

Iolaus placed a comforting hand on the goddess' arm, ignoring her instinctive stiffening at his touch. "If you can send me to the temple I'll check it out, but I need to be back here before dawn. We're all meeting to exchange the information we've uncovered so far."

"Don't worry, just call me when you're ready and I'll transport you back without anyone being any the wiser. And Iolaus..." she paused and met his eye "... I really am sorry I got you involved in this whole affair."

Iolaus' face froze masking his anger. "Me too." //And you're going to going to pay for it, bitch// he thought as he was transported half way around Greece to the stone temple.

It was the dark of night as Iolaus climbed the temple steps, pausing beside one of the pillars. The overwhelming sounds of the night deafened him as he tried to listen intently for any sign of human life: the buzz of the insects in the grass, the calls of nocturnal birds, the faint whisper of a breeze that did nothing to relieve the oppressing heat left over from the day. Iolaus leant back against the cool pillar, letting the marble chill his sweat soaked back as he familiarised himself with his surroundings.

It had been remarkably easy for his co-conspirators to embroil him in their plot. The promise of a reward if he helped, coupled with the unspoken threat if he refused and he'd fallen in with their plans. At least so they thought. It had been he who had contacted the other Iphicles and led him to the Halls of War armed with the Hind's Blood. He knew he should feel bad that he had brought about the other man's death but Iolaus knew he couldn't afford the sentiment. Before this was over there was going to be a great deal more blood-letting.

Iolaus realised he was wasting time -- he needed to get moving if he was going to locate Ares and get back before dawn. He moved stealthily into the temple. It took a little time before he found the room he was looking for: deep in the inner sanctum. Peering inside, he saw that the room had only one occupant.

Ares was asleep, his arms and ankles chained to the bed. He was smeared with blood and dried semen. Bruises, welts and bite marks covered his body. Iolaus stared down at him, taking advantage of Ares' sleep to study the man.

Maybe because he was mortal or perhaps because he was asleep and had his guard down, Ares looked different, more vulnerable. Iolaus stood and stared at the former god, remembering all the pain and suffering that he'd gone through because of this arrogant fuck -- he could feel his anger wealing up, consuming him.

"Wake up, you bastard!" Iolaus shouted, kicking the bed.

Ares woke, instantly on guard. Seeing Iolaus standing above him, he relaxed and permitted himself a small smile. "Well well...The rescue party. About fucking time. Don't just stand there gaping--get me outta these chains!"

Iolaus let his loathing for Ares show in his eyes. He said nothing, waiting.

Ares moved impatiently, wondering why Iolaus wasn't moving. He took a hard look at the expression on Iolaus' face. Understanding dawned.

"Ahhh...Then I take it you're not here to rescue me." Ares assumed an arrogantly bored demeanour. "Then what're you here for, Iolaus? Come to get some payback? Now, I wouldn't have figured you and Hercules for this type of betrayal...My baby brother must be more like me than I ever thought."

Iolaus shook his head. It was important that he distance Hercules from his actions. "Hercules knows nothing about this. He thinks you're dead and he's doing his best to find those responsible."

"My brother - ever noble." Ares gave an exaggerated sigh. Even naked, beaten and chained he still managed to exude a condescending attitude.

"So half my family's trying to kill me, and the other half's trying to catch them. It would be amusing if I wasn't fucking chained up here."

Ares surged up, pulling against his bonds, causing Iolaus to take an involuntary half step back.

"So what's your part in this, little man? I didn't think you even took a crap without getting Hercules' permission. Why are you suddenly siding with the other half?"

Iolaus shook his head, unable to answer that question. "Maybe it's because I hate you," he growled at Ares. "I hate all you thoughtless, power-hungry bastards. Always playing your stupid games without a thought for the lives you ruin." Iolaus could feel the bile rise in his throat and struggled to continue. "Well, I've had enough. I'm not going to be anyone's play soldier ever again. I've died too many times because one of you thought it would be fun." He leaned down, moving his face close to Ares'. "Never again, do you hear me? Never again. I'm not going to die ever again. That's what I'm getting out of this. Immortality. Never to have to go down into that darkness again."

Iolaus was shaking badly but continued to loom over Ares. "Do you have any idea what it's like - to feel your life ebbing away, to feel yourself fade into nothingness? You start to lose pieces of yourself that you never get back, even when you're revived... and this last time with Dahak was the worst." Iolaus' entire body shuddered at the memory. "And you’re the one who let Dahak have passage into this world ... and you’re the one who's going to suffer for it now."

Iolaus stopped speaking. His rage was white hot now and he felt strong and empowered. Lifting his fist, he drew it back and struck Ares in the jaw with all his might. The force of the blow snapped Ares' head back and he roared in pain and anger. Iolaus backhanded him again, snapping his head in the other direction.

Ares started laughing, his tongue darting out to lap the blood from his own lip. "You’re a bigger fool than even I suspected if you believe for one moment that my brother and sister will let you live after this. Immortality? Huh. You've just assured your own death."

"Don't you think I know that, Ares? I wouldn't trust any god to keep a promise. They think they're using me and can get rid of me whenever they want. Well, I've got a bit of a surprise for them. A little trick up my sleeve courtesy of Dahak."

The mention of the foreign god's name sobered Ares up. He stopped laughing. "Just what do you intend, Iolaus?"

"With you supposedly dead, Xena was made the Goddess of War."

"Yeah, so?"

"And how did she become a Goddess?" Iolaus asked, much like a centaur tutor demanding answers from schoolboys.

Ares narrowed his eyes. He didn't like where this was going. "All the other gods give up a piece of their power and it's focused on whoever is being inducted."

"And what happened to your powers when you were stripped?"

"I don't know. I assumed my brother absorbed them."

Iolaus shook his head. "No, it would be too much of a giveaway - the others on Olympus would recognise the change in his 'signature'."

"You seem to know a lot about this."

"Let's just say I was an interested spectator to a lot of what Dahak was plotting. Now, all the gods knew that when they gave up a bit of their power they'd all feel a bit drained. Suppose a little bit more energy was taken from each of them than was needed to empower Xena. Suppose I knew a method of storing that surplus?"

"But you can't do that!" Ares was appalled. "If you store too much power in one place it starts to act like a loadstone and absorbs even more power from its surroundings - the more you put in, the stronger the force. Eventually it'd absorb all the power on Olympus - there'd be none left - all the god's will be helpless."

"You say that like it's a bad thing." Iolaus mocked.

Ares was coming to realise that this little sidekick of Hercules might actually be the most dangerous of his enemies.

Iolaus smiled down at Ares. He bent his head and softly kissed the stunned lips of the former god. "Don't worry about losing your powers, Ares. Soon you're going to have lots of company." With that he quickly slipped out of the room.

Iolaus fled down the steps of the temple and kept on running. He ran until his heart was pounding in his ears and his legs would take him no further. Sinking down beside a tree on a riverbank, he drank huge gulps of air into his screaming lungs.

He didn't know if he'd pulled it off or not. Wasn't sure of how much Ares had believed. He was taking a huge gamble that Ares would react as he predicted. In fact he was pinning his whole future on what the ex-god of war did with the information he'd planted.

The lightening of the sky told him that dawn was approaching. He needed to get back to attend the council meeting.

"What a mess." Iolaus felt sick. He didn't think he was going to feel anything other than sick for a long, long time. Raising his head he called to his co-conspirator to return him to the Halls of War.


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