The Mask 1-3
By Oshun Anat
Disclaimers: Joxer, et. al. belong to Ren Pics. Firesong and other Valdemar folk belong to Mercedes Lackey.

Part 1

"WILL YOU SHUT UP for just *one* minute and use that pea-sized brain of yours for *once*!?" Firesong yelled at the councilor.

"HOW dare you yell at me!"

"Well, diplomacy doesn’t work. So the direct approach is the only way left." Firesong said coolly.

"Herald Talia, *please* talk some sense into this man!"

"Herald Talia, may I speak?"

She sighed. It seems like Firesong was *always* fighting with someone—but unfortunately  he always seemed to be right. This man *was* an idiot—the only reason he was on the Council was because he was the eldest male in the area, and refused to give up the seat, even if it meant living with his backward view of things.

"Firesong has not stepped out of line, and furthermore he has permission to speak. You *will* stay quiet until he is finished, Tareth." Talia spoke  Firesong, bowing while dressed in his robes of blue and lavender silk that matched perfectly with a mask of crystal and hints of gold and silver, with his silver hair and clear blue eyes cut quite a figure—one which could never be ignored. One who had a deadly elegance about him, for no one ever forgot exactly how powerful he was—nor the fact that if  it wasn’t for him, there was a very good possibility that they would be dead right about now. That didn’t stop the Councilors from arguing though—especially Tareth, who had been opposed to Firesong from the beginning, and didn’t want to admit that he was wrong.

"The way I see it, is this. For the first time in years, all is as it should be. The weather is finally back to normal-we have normal rain the winter, and summer heat in the summer. Although what we can do with magic has been weakened since the destruction of the nodes, it is finally stable enough for anyone with the barest hints of the Gift to use it, which is all the more reason that we should find and teach every single person who has the Gift, to use it! Why should we let ourselves get attacked by a magic-using enemy, such as the Empire, unprepared, if we don’t have to! Remember, the smallest magics are sometimes the most powerful. As our friend Tareth seems to forget, of all the mages here in Haven, or those with the Gift in potential, that have been Chosen, there is maybe one other person with an Adept level Gift. No one here has the power to become another Ma'ar--or even Emperor Chaliss."

"What about the Herald-Mage who was repudiated by his Companion?"

Silence filled the chamber. To all Heralds, Vanyel’s first lover was something of a boogie-man. The first and only Herald to have ever been rejected by his Companion after being Chosen. Ironically, it was his death that had given Valdemar its finest Herald ever.

Firesong seethed."How dare you bring that up! This has *nothing* to do with anything."

Tareth smiled and said, "Sure it does. He was a Mage, and he went crazy."

Mumbling filled the Council room. Firesong knew what Tareth had hoped to accomplish. Tareth was one of the old guard who was brought up to believe in nothing but mind-magic, and was scared of anything else. He had only accepted it during the Mage Storms because there was little other choice, since science could only go so far. Now, because those were gone, he wanted to stop the Mage’s training and go back to the old ways. What made it more difficult for Firesong was that there were still enough older members on the council to agree with him.

"First off, " Firesong started coolly, in a voice that they all knew could be more dangerous than plain anger, "He had other problems that led to his eventual death. He did *nothing* to harm the others of Haven-only to get justice for a brother. Although the thought of revenge is an anathema for Heralds, I can understand it. Secondly, you are worried about a dangerous Mage. Surely you know that there is *nothing* more  dangerous than a half-trained mage,especially as you go up the scale of power. Even a half-trained Apprentice could do a great deal of damage. One spell gone wrong and you have the room, and then the building on fire, for nothing his hotter or more difficult to put out than Mage fire. Think of this. If an Apprentice could burn Haven to the ground, would you want an Adept like me untrained?"

He saw several members shudder at that thought before continuing "Also, of all the people screened here at
Haven, perhaps there are one or two others who could possibly become Adepts. Most are Journeymen  level, so you don’t have to worry about a whole bunch of us running around the place chanting strange words and making odd gestures that are going to turn you into a toad!"

The younger members who were familiar, and comfortable with Mages laughed at Firesong’s speech, fully understanding Firesong’s meaning.

Tareth was not one to give up and said, "I still object to opening up a Mage school here…"

Firesong slouched in his chair and rubbed his forehead. This argument never seemed to end. The only reason he was still in this room was that he enjoyed the few moments were he could nail that old fool Tareth, but today he couldn’t even do that properly… Goddess, he needed a vacation…

* * *
Trena dosed in the field, basking in the warm summer sun , resting after quite an exhausting visit with Rolan, Talia’s stallion.

She was startled awake by a tingling in the back of her head.  Recognizing what it meant, she trotted over to the stable hand. She was ignored until she started nudging him again and again.

"Oh, so it is *that* time Lady. I’ll be sure to have you looking so pretty that your new Chosen will be jealous of your beauty."

The stable hand wasted no time braiding in the ribbons to her tail and mane, brushing out any visible dirt, and putting on her formal tack that tinkled like a bell when she walked, though he finished not a moment too soon for her taste.

"All done, Lady. Good luck." With that he opened the stable gate, and waved her out.

She was finally on her way .

* * *
Firesong was on his way back from visiting his parents. It had been far too long since he'd seen them, and even for his mother's dominating personality, visiting her was still more relaxing than sitting in those Council meetings. Still, all good things had to end, and all to soon he started back to Valdemar.

He was enjoying the beauty of the Vale when suddenly his Earth-sense acted up and made his stomach do flips. *Goddess how I hate this part of being an Healing Adept.* He knew that so long as the land was in danger he would feel it, so he turned his dyheli, Errita in the direction of the disturbance, and prodded him into a full gallop.

* * *
Joxer landed on the other side of the vortex hard. He was in so much pain that the he wanted nothing more than to fall asleep right there. However, the still rational part of his brain told him that sleeping in the middle of a open field probably wasn't the smartest of ideas.

He struggled to pull himself to sitting position, and when he did, he noticed that the world was spinning around him.

He moaned with pain, and then saw a pure white horse coming towards him, but it was so quiet, that he couldn't hear the pounding of hoofs against the dry land.

"Great. Now I'm hallucinating."

::No, you're not. I'm a not a horse. I am a Companion, and you are my Chosen.::

Joxer looked around. Someone was talking to him, but he didn't see anything except the horse that he swore didn't exist.

::Look at me, Joxer. I am the one talking to you, and I really do exist. Touch me, if you feel you need to.::

Joxer was sure that all the pain he felt was causing this fantasy, and touching this…Companion would prove it.

He hesitantly walked up to the beautiful creature, and touched her. To his shock, she was solid! He stuttered "Tre-Trena? Is that your name? You really are real!"

She chuckled in his mind. ::Of course I am. But don't worry about that now. Get onto my back, and I can get you somewhere where you can sleep, if not heal.::

Joxer was stunned. How did he know her name? Better yet, how did she know his? He still wasn't fully convinced that this was real but didn’t have any other options at the moment. He struggled to stand up, and once the world stopped spinning, opened his eyes. He fumbled at the saddle, and painfully put one foot in the stirrup, but couldn’t find the strength to propel himself up onto the Companion. Finally, several minutes later with Trena’s help, Joxer found himself on her back.

Trena turned and headed for the nearest grove, where her Chosen could rest comfortably for a few hours.

* * *
Firesong couldn't figure out what was wrong with the land, as he didn't see anything. He closed his eyes, and with his power, reached out to touch the land. He felt the earth, the flowing water, the wildlife, but nothing out of the normal. All he had to go on was a nagging feeling in his stomach that something wasn’t right. Whatever it was, it would have to wait to be discovered, as he suddenly spied a young man leaning against a tree, and a Companion. He arched his eyebrow. The man wasn't in Whites, so that meant that
this one was newly Chosen. Something unnerved him, and he rode over to take a closer look.

As he came closer, he understood what was happening. Whoever this was had been beaten up horrendously. There appeared to be very few places with healthy flesh, everywhere else was covered in bruises and dried blood.

The Companion jerked and walked in front of Joxer, to protect him from the stranger.

Firesong bowed, and said, "Do not worry, Lady. I will not hurt your Chosen. My name is Firesong. While my talents lie with healing the land, I do have some Healing gift. I can not heal him completely, but it should be enough to get him back to Haven in one piece."

Trena whinnied, and stepped aside. She recognized the name, it was common enough on the tongues of certain Companions. She knew that he wouldn't hurt him, and if he tried, she would hurt him just as badly as her Chosen was.

Firesong was troubled by the extent of this man's injuries. Who ever had done this to him, had certainly done a good job of it. It was obvious to him that the damage was intentional, but what puzzled him was how he got there. He understood the logic of dumping bodies so that you couldn't be implicated, but no one lived anywhere near the area, and no one went this far out of their way to dispose of anyone. Too many questions. Questions that would have to wait.

As he Healed some of the bruises and welts, he studied the young face. It wasn't really handsome, even compared to Firesong after the accident, but there was something about it that was attractive, although he couldn't put his finger on it. It pained him to see those brown eyes, that seemed to show such pain and betrayal.

He smiled sadly in his mind. Maybe he would be lucky. Maybe this man would be shaych. Maybe he would even be his lifebond, though he doubted it. Silverfox was so kind to him, but it wasn't the same... "Stop that." He chided himself. "You’re just lonely. If anything is going to happen between us,  it is because he wants it. I’m not going to force him." He stopped muttering when he heard the man babbling in a strange tongue. "What is he speaking? It is nothing I have heard in the Court…I’d better fix this. If he is to be a Herald, he’d better be able to speak the language." Turning to Errita, he asked her to make him capable of speaking Valdemaran, although the process was never easy on the person,most agreed that the ability to understand a given language was much preferable to studying it, and that it was worth the cost, and considering the fact that since the man was already out, it wouldn’t hurt him any more than he already was.

Turning to Trena, he said, "Lady, I have done what I could. I've healed the bruises and set the bones, but he is still going to need a lot of rest. I suggest we return to Haven so that we can get him into the hands of a real Healer."

Trena nodded in agreement. Firesong lifted the sleeping man onto the Companion's back, mounted up himself, and the pair headed back to Haven.

* * *
Joxer woke up with a blazing headache, and moaned.

Firesong looked up from the cooking fire. "My name is Firesong. I’m sorry that cooking isn’t my forte, but you need to eat something. Healing takes a lot out of you."

"My name is Joxer." he winced at the pain.

"Eat this, it may not taste good, but you will feel better, promise."

Joxer hesitantly took the bowl of stew and took a bite, then nearly spit it out. This stuff tasted awful! Even he could cook better than this!

Firesong chuckled at Joxer’s look of disgust. "I know it doesn’t taste good, but the herbs will make you feel better, I promise."

Joxer looked skeptical. "Are you sure?"


"I’ll hold you to that." Joxer finished the stew by not dwelling on the taste too long. Too his surprise, he felt better, although drowsy, which he communicated to Firesong.

"It means the herbs are taking effect. We have a few days of travel ahead of us, since I can not Gate us back to Haven, and you need all the rest you can get."

Joxer nodded sleepily, and as he prepared to fall back asleep, he asked, "How come I understand you?"

"I had a little help from my friend, Errita," he said as he pointed at the dyheli. "The exact *how* is a long story, which I’ll save for another day. Now go to sleep."

::Don’t worry chosen, you aren’t missing anything that exciting anyway. Take his advice and sleep. I’ll be here to protect you.::

Joxer muttered something incoherent as he fell asleep.

Firesong smiled, the trip would be rough, but he knew that Joxer would be fine.

* * *
"Don't get up too fast young man. You got yourself beat up real well, and although Firesong has done an admirable job of healing you to the best of his ability, you still have quite a few days ahead of you before you are completely back to normal," said a cheery young Healer.

Joxer just winced, but was glad to notice that not only was he in a real bed, but he was feeling a lot better than he was just a few days before.

"Speaking of Firesong, you have a visitor."

Joxer was surprised. He didn't think Firesong would have come to visit him. Sure he helped him back to wherever here was, but he wasn’t under any obligation to see him any more.

::Relax, Joxer. Firesong is a good man, and he is concerned for you. He’s only here to see that you are doing better.::

Joxer visibly relaxed, finding the presence of Trena comforting, and then asked aloud, "Where's here?"

"Haven. The Healer's Collegium." Firesong glided into the room, wearing several shades of green silk, much flashier than Joxer had seen in him less than a day ago.

"What's that?"

"You've never heard of Haven?" Firesong was surprised. Even the distant clans of the Tayledras had heard of it.

"You might say I'm not from around here."

"Where are you from then?"

"Corinth. In Greece."

"Greece? What's that?"

"A country."

Firesong closed his eyes, concentrated and tried to remember if he had ever heard of Greece. He couldn’t think of anything vaguely related to it, and was going to ask Joxer about it, but never got the chance as Joxer suddenly asked,

"Who is that voice in my head? I mean, I find her to be very comforting, but why is she there?"

"That would be your Companion. She Chose you."

"What does that mean?"

"Only those with good hearts, with a concern for all others before them are Chosen. They serve the people of Valdemar as Heralds, protecting her and the lands.  It is considered an extreme honor."

"Are you a Herald?"

"Goddess no!" a bemused Firesong laughed. I'm a Healing Adept Mage. For now, just know that means that I am the most powerful Mage in the area. To make life simple for you, there are two tell-tale signs that you are seeing or speaking to a Herald. One, they are in abhorrently dismal uniforms called Whites. Two, they have a tendency to speak out loud to their Companions, which appears like they are talking to thin air. Don't worry, soon enough, you will too, everyone is used to it, and it just saves time. But do not worry about the clothes. As soon as they give you your Whites,  I’ll get you a few sets that were designed by the hertasi, they make wonderful clothes.

Joxer was sure that all this information meant something, but his mind was still too fuzzy to deal with it, and instead asked, "Firesong?"

"Yes, Joxer?"

"Why are you wearing that mask?

Firesong frowned for a second. He was still touchy about it. "It's a long story…I'll tell it to you one day, promise." Firesong grinned and said "I’ve got to go before those Healers chase me out. "Get well soon, Joxer."

"I’ll do my best." Joxer smiled, "See you later?"

"I’ll be by later tonight, to see how you are doing." With that Firesong smiled warmly, and left.

* * *
Firesong walked deep in thought as he made his way to the Council chamber. He really didn't want to leave him alone, but he had to. The voice sounded so light, and oddly innocent, but something about the look on his face told him otherwise. He wanted to find out more about this man known as Joxer.

* * *
As soon as Joxer was healthy enough for the Healer’s taste, he started his training. He took classes in history, religions, geography, as well as language lessons for the more common tongues of the Kingdom. He took weapons lessons with Captain Kerowyn, a fellow Herald, the only Mercenary captian to have ever been Chosen. She still griped about these "Shoot me now" uniforms, but everyone had to admit that she was the best fighter in Haven. She was pleased to discover that he had some skill, and in the intervening weeks he became a good fighter, one who would be capable of fighting off most attacks, while instilling in him a sense of self-defense, one where he would automatically line up things next to him in order of usefulness from weapons to things that could be thrown, the trademark of her training. Although Joxer didn't realize it, with each passing lesson, his confidence grew. She was the only one who had ever taken the time to teach him to fight, and was constantly praising him, even her criticism served to help him, not to mock him. All this and equestrian training occupied his days, but the few moments he had were always lonely. For all his acceptance, he was still considered an outsider. An oddity. All the Heralds were used to avatars of gods, they had Companions, had seen the occasional Fire Cat strolling around, but none had ever met their God or Goddess. The closest any one of them had gotten was to speaking to their God, as Karal or the Son of the Sun Solaris did with Vkandis, Sun Lord, so the thought that Joxer had met not one, but several Gods, combined with the fact that he was Ares’ lover was a mind boggling thought. Although they had never heard of these gods, they believed Joxer for no one could tell a lie to them, not with the Vrondi at hand for a truth spell. Every day he wished he hadn’t met Ares. If he hadn’t, he wouldn’t have ended up here. If he hadn’t, he wouldn’t be an outcast.

* * *

Joxer headed out of the Healer’s Collegium after a few hours of training in MindHealing. Of his gifts of Mindspeech, MindHealing and Empathy, this by far was the most difficult to learn to use and control. Mindspeech and Empathy were similar in control: it was all in the shields that he kept around him, and knowing when and where to let them down. MindHealing was different. He had to learn to go into people’s minds to see what was really wrong, without drowning in the problems himself, as well as being able to learn how to get people to open themselves up. As much as he enjoyed gaining control of his powers, and taking pride in the fact that he was going to be one of the strongest Mindhealers among the Heralds, a day didn’t go by when he didn’t wish he didn’t have the gift so strong, sessions in control and using it always left him tired.

* * *
Joxer walked over to the mini-vale in the Companion’s field that Firesong called home. From the first day that Joxer had gotten a clean bill of health from the Healers, he had offered him the hospitality of his vale as a mini-retreat, an offer that  Joxer found impossible to refuse, and today was no exception. Once he got inside, he found Firesong, and soon both had stripped down to nothing, and were soaking in the hot spring that Firesong had created with his powers.

"How was your day?" asked Firesong as he sunk deeper into the hot water.

"Better. Herald Skylark stopped staring at me, and finally said hello. She seemed surprised when she didn’t burst into flame for talking to one who had been with the gods so casually."

Firesong chuckled. "So things are getting better, then?"

Joxer replied. "Yes, much. Most of them have finally started to loosen up around me, especially since it seems like Ares will not be popping in on us anytime soon. There is still a long way to go, but I finally feel as if I’m starting to fit in."

Firesong smiled. "I’m so glad to hear that. I have a surprise for you."

"Oh really?"

"You know how for weeks I have been threatening to burn those leather pants?"

"Yeah?" Joxer wasn’t sure where this was heading.

"I’m finally going to have the opportunity to do so."

"Why? I *like* those pants!"

"I’m going to get you some new clothes, no if ands or buts. I’m going to make you the most desirable male in Court. Well, next to me, of course."

"Firesong, do I have to?" Joxer mock whined.

"Yes you do. You have no choice. If you noticed, I hid your pants, so unless you cooperate, you’ll have to walk back to the living quarters half naked."

"That’s cheating!"

"Oh, is it?" Firesong chuckled.

"You know it is!"

"True enough, but I figured I wouldn’t get you to do it any other way."

Joxer sighed, and gave in. "Fine, I’ll let you get me some new clothes, but I want pants, no robes. Pants are so much more practical for everyday work, especially riding."

"Three robes, one pair of pants."

"Two and Two."

"All right, deal."

Joxer stared briefly at Firesong’s handsome nude form, before chiding himself , *He hasn’t shown any interest in you. Keep your eyes in your head!* Stepping out of the water, he wrapped himself in a big towel that Firesong handed him, and sighed, "So what colors did you have in mind?"

* * *
Hours later they finally agreed on outfits in blues, greens and silver.

"Could I ask you a favor?" Joxer asked.

"Sure. You’ve been very good tonight."

"Don’t burn my pants. As a matter of fact, I’d like them back."

Firesong laughed. "I wasn’t really going to burn them, after all, it will take a few days to get those new clothes of yours made."

"Good, aside from my pendant, these," he waved his hand at his clothes, "were the only gifts I ever got from Ares. I’d like to keep them."

Firesong was startled by the sudden seriousness in Joxer’s tone.

"Of course. Joxer, are you okay?" he sounded concerned.

"Oh yeah," Joxer lied "I’m just remembering what happened on the last day I was with Ares."

"You never did tell me what happened. Do you mind telling what happened? It will feel better to get it off your chest. As a MindHealer, you know that the longer you keep it inside you, the longer it will eat away at you."

Joxer nodded. If anyone else had asked him about this, he probably would have brushed them off...but not Firesong. Firesong had shown him a kindness that no one else had. He felt comfortable around him, and felt like he could trust him. "I think…I think it is time that I told the story. Promise not to interrupt?"

"I promise. Take your time. I’m in no rush."

"All right." He took a deep breath and started the story of how he came to end up in Valdemar.

* * *
Joxer looked up from the perfect fire. The one that never crackled on him, never produced any smoke, was just the right, and produced just the right amount of heat,when he felt Ares come in.

"Is everything all right?"

"No. Everything *is not* all right," Ares angrily replied.

"What's wrong?"

"Is it true?"

"Is *what* true?" Joxer was thoroughly confused by now.

"That you slept with him?"

"Him who, Ares? I did have other lovers before I came to you."

"I meant Cupid. You know that side fuck you had a few days ago."

"I did no such thing Ares! You know I wouldn't cheat on you!" Joxer denied.

"That's not what Discord says."

"You believe her over me?" Joxer said incredulously.

"Why shouldn't I? Sometimes the best causes of Discord are served when the truth comes out.."

"But Ares, I didn't sleep with him, I swear!"

Ares grew white hot and lashed out at Joxer, sending him flying against the far wall.

Ares shot at him again and again each time sending Joxer farther back into the Temple, each time another bone breaking. All was still for a minute. Joxer dared to look up, only to find him standing over his head.

"Enjoying yourself? I know I am."

He followed up by punching Joxer square in the jaw. He hit him again and again until Joxer was nothing more than a bloody mess. Eventually  Ares tired of this, and wanted to end this once and for all. Gathering his energy, he shot one last bolt of lightning up above Joxer's head, opening the vortex. It was impossible to avoid it, and Joxer got sucked in, to end up in the field.

* * *
"And that is where you found me."

"He did all that to you? Because you slept with another man?"

"Another God." Joxer corrected.

"Yes, yes. Man, god, whatever. You mean you really did sleep with Cupid?"

"I did--but that was *before* we became lovers."

"I can't understand it...if he loved you, how come he hurt you so badly?"

"I don't know. Maybe because I'm the first person he's ever admitted loving, and the thought of losing me was too much to bear."

"It still doesn't excuse it."

Joxer just sat there mute, not answering. Though he had been Healed, and felt no more pain, the damage done had been so much that he still felt it on his soul.

Firesong watched Joxer crawl back into himself.

*How could this bastard do this to the man he loved? Joxer did nothing. I swear...if I ever get my hands on that bastard* He stopped himself from cursing any further when he saw his bondbird, Aya trying to hide on his perch in the tree. *Calm down, Firesong. You will avenge Joxer some day. No point in burning down the Vale* He shuddered at that memory. This was not the time to break down. Not when Joxer needed him.

He scooted over to where the young Herald sat, he lightly hugged him and said "Go ahead and cry. I'll be here for you."

That was all that Joxer needed to break down and sob.

* * *
It had been months since the conversation with Firesong about his past. He realized that ever since he had let it go, he had been happier. It still hurt, he doubted that the pain would ever go away completely, but now it was bearable, now that he had someone who understood what he had been through, and what he had felt. Was he falling in love with the Adept? He thought the he was, but it had been so long since Ares, since a person will real readable emotions that he couldn’t be sure. His musings were interrupted by a gentle voice in his mind.

::Going to visit Firesong are we?:: Trena asked with a sense of amusement.

"Yes, if you must know." It hadn’t taken Joxer very long to realize that Companions were incurable snoops.

::Oh, lighten up, Chosen. I think it's cute.::

"I'm sure you do, but he is still seeing Silverfox." Joxer said a little sadly.

::Have you talked to Firesong about your feelings?::

"Why should I? He's happy with Silverfox. I can feel it, I'm an Empath, remember?"

Trena gave him the feeling of her shaking her head. ::Silly Joxer. That's just on the surface. And you must be in love, if you can't see what lies beneath it.::

"What are you talking about?"

::Next time you talk with him, look deeper, and I think you'll find what you are looking for.::

"Why would he love me? I'm not half as handsome as Silverfox."

::Have more confidence in yourself! Physical beauty isn't everything, as Firesong had to learn the hard way. If anything, the mask has earned him even more respect and fear from the Court.::

"Still, Trena, why would he leave Silverfox for me?"

::Before you came here, Firesong was pining away after An'desha became independent. Silverfox came to help, because the poisoned land was poisoning his mind. He lost control of his temper, snapping at the merest provocation, was extremely moody and dangerous. So dangerous that his Bondbird, Aya started to avoid him in fear for his life. At the peak of his problems, he came close to burning down the vale in anger.::

"Is that why Aya was acting strange earlier today?"

::I assume so, he was incredably angry at Ares for what he did to, but he managed to get himself back in control.Now, I as I was saying, Silverfox came into his life, and helped him regain his balance within. Silverfox was to Firesong, what you are to most people that need MindHealing. A centering force that grounds them. Silverfox knew that Firesong was lonely, and offered himself completely, including sexually; he, like all Tayledras, has no problems with doing this. Their society is very open, in terms of accepting same-sex couples, as well as sharing partners. Back at the k’Treyva Vale, it wasn’t uncommon for Firesong to be giving out feathers every other day. Giving out feathers is basically an invitation for two people to get closer together. Sometimes it means a fling, other times a lasting relationship. Here at Haven, however, there were not many shaych males, and among those that were here, he could never form a lasting relationship with them, they were too scared of him and his power. In short, my sweet, he accepted Silverfox, because Silverfox was there, and understood him, but he would gladly leave Silverfox for real love.::

Joxer was still skeptical "Are you sure, Trena?"

::Of course I am! After all, Companions know everything::

Joxer laughed. "Yeah, you keep telling yourself that."

Trena just laughed in return.

* * *
Firesong saw Joxer walking up the path, and smiled. Whenever he came to visit, Firesong always felt
better. In fact he felt more than better...he felt complete.

*Stop it Firesong. Remember what Silverfox said. The only ones who lifebond are those who have a need of it most...Joxer can't possibly be that unstable, or depressed.* Despite his reassurance to himself, a nagging part of his mind told him otherwise. *Better not bring it up unless he does.*

* * *
Joxer walked into the Vale. "Firesong?"

"In here!"

Joxer followed the voice to Firesong's room.

"You're troubled." Joxer noted.

Firesong smiled. You couldn't hide anything from an Empath.

"I was just thinking."

"About what?" Joxer was genuinely curious.

""Firesong said nervously.

*Great, so much for Joxer bringing it up.*

"Us?" Joxer asked surprised.

Firesong mentally swore. "It's just that..."

"...I've been wanting you for a long time." Joxer said hesitantly.

"You mean it?!" They said simultaneously.

"Yes." Again the double response.

"But what about Silverfox?" asked Joxer.

"I love him as a friend, but I don’t *love* him."

"Trena was right.." Joxer muttered.

::Of course I was:: She said self-satisfactorily.

Firesong raised his eyebrow.

"She told me to admit my feelings."

"Annoying how they do that, isn't it?"

Joxer smiled. "Very much what do we do now?"

Firesong answered him by doing the one thing he had been wanting to for many moons. He grabbed Joxer and kissed him.

Joxer was caught off guard, and leaned into the kiss eagerly…Firesong tasted so exotic, he loved it. He deepened the kiss and started removing the voluminous robes that Firesong

::You are so beautiful::

Joxer had been so entranced with Firesong’s kiss that he hadn’t realized that Firesong had stripped him, until he felt the cool air against his skin.

::So are you::

Joxer reached up to remove Firesong's mask, only to have Firesong stop him.

::Why won't you let me take it off?::

::Because, you'll think me ugly.::

::I could never think of you as ugly!::

::Please. Don't::

Joxer sighed and said ::Whatever you want::

::Thank you::

They fell onto the bed and started exploring each other.

::Goddess! No wonder that god of yours picked you. You are so gorgeous..::

Joxer merely moaned as Firesong nibbled at one of his nipples. Joxer tried to reach up so that he could return the favor, only to be pushed back onto the bed by Firesong.

::Don't move. I want to explore every inch of you, and I can't do that with you wiggling around::

Firesong grinned as he saw Joxer struggle for self control. He let up and instead moved to Joxer's neck, and nibbled the tender flesh there, and smiled as he saw the blood rush to the pale skin.

::Don't you dare get that Healed!::

::I wouldn't dream of it.:: Joxer reassured his lover.


Firesong moved down, nibbling every inch or so, and then licking it better, working his way down Joxer's stomach, and then thighs, while purposefully ignoring Joxer's raging erection.

Joxer loved this. Ares never took as much time as Firesong did now, and Joxer reveled in it.

::Gods Firesong! Fuck me please!::

::Impatient are we?:: Firesong chuckled


::Well, I guess I can't argue with that.::

Firesong found some oil that he kept on the dresser and applied some to his cock, and his fingers, making sure to stretch Joxer gently, not wanting to ruin their first time together.

After he was satisfied that Joxer was ready, he placed his cock at Joxer's puckered opening and entered him slowly, driving Joxer crazy with lust.


::Uh-uh. I listened to your first demand, so now I don't have to obey you anymore::

Joxer stared at Firesong with a mix of lust and anger, but all anger fled as Firesong found Joxer's sweet spot.

::Do that again. PLLEEASE!::

::Well, since you asked nicely::

Firesong aimed carefully, and with each stroke hit it, sending Joxer spiraling into ecstasy, only increasing it when Firesong started to stroke Joxer in time with his thrusts.

::Gods feel so good....I'm cumming!::

Joxer felt Firesong's essence pump into him, and was all that was needed for Joxer to come screaming.

::I have never felt *anything* like that. It is like I felt everything twice...::

::I bet it's your Empathy. You're picking up everything thing that I am.::

::It is just so intense...::

::It doesn't have to be like that...I can teach you how to shield yourself so that you can block it.::

::No! I like this. It is just different::

::As long as you are all right with it.::

::Believe me, I am.::

Firesong sent one final thought back of ::Good:: before falling asleep with Joxer in his arms.

* * *
Joxer hummed happily on the way to Firesong's Vale.

::You are certainly happy today, Chosen-mine::

"Are you complaining?"

::By no means. I love getting my tail braided.::

"I didn't think you'd object, Trena."

::You know I wouldn't, silly boy. But seriously, Joxer, I love seeing you this happy. Firesong has changed so much...lifebonding is good for him.::

"Lifebonded? Us? Surely you jest."

::I do not! Let me put it to you this way. What would happen if Firesong left you, say for Silverfox again.::

"I'd be's like I *need* him. Like he is a part of me."

::There you go. A classic definition of a lifebond.::

Joxer just chuckled at the Companion's smug attitude.

* * *
"You know Firesong, I think I know who could Heal your face."

"Don't get my hopes up, lover. Who?"


"That is your God of Healing, right?"

Joxer nodded.

"What makes you think he would do something like this for you?"

"He owes me a favor."

"A God, owes *you* a favor? You know, I can believe you sleeping with a God..but this is too much.."

"Our Gods are so much different from every one elses. They are almost human."

Firesong was quiet for a moment and said "What did you do to earn a favor from him?"

"Well, you know how I told you about Xena and Gabrielle, right?"

Firesong nodded.

"Well, there is more. Xena and Gabrielle went to a place called India. While there, Gabrielle became a pacifist. Not a great thing to be when traveling with the Warrior Princess. Anyway, she needed a way to defend herself. So she created this metal tin thing that when she blew into one side, a white powder would come out of the other and blind the enemy. At first Apollo ignored it, but after a while, he got real annoyed about his priests having to heal all these people who had been victims of her trick."

"So?" Firesong interrupted.

"I'm getting there! As I was saying, since I used to travel with them, Apollo approached me, and told me to switch her tin with one that he made. This one, when she blew into it, instead of the powder going into the enemy's eyes, it would go into hers. I agreed, since even when you are sleeping with a god, it isn't wise to ignore the request of others, and switched them. After two or three uses, she got so fed up that she threw it away, and hasn't used it since. Apollo was so pleased that he promised he would do me a favor."

Firesong thought about this for a few minutes.

"Let's assume that he will Heal me. How would we get there? I didn't see anything when I found you."

Joxer replied, "Iolaus told me that on his world, there was a permanent vortex, you just had to know where you are a Healing Adept, so you can feel it when things are wrong with the land, right?"

Firesong nodded.

"When you found me, did it feel as if something wasn't right, although you couldn't see it?"


"Then the vortex is probably still there."

::I've been talking with the Companions who are out on Circuit in the area where I Chose you. They have found a disturbance, but can't figure out what it is.::

Joxer relayed Trena's message to Firesong.

"Is there the chance that it is this vortex?" Firesong asked her.

::In all likelihood, it probably is.::

"How dangerous is traveling in a vortex?"

"Not overly so, you just have to keep moving."

::Can they fit a Companion?::

"Most definitely. When Iolaus first went to a mirror world, some five or six men on horseback came out of the vortex."

::Good, because then I am coming with you.::

"No you are not!"

::Yes, I am. I had to convince Rolan, who had to convince Talia, who had to convince Queen Selanay to let you go. And the only way they agreed is that if I came with you. Besides, I want to be around the next time you to sleep together. That was intense!::

"You spied on us?!?"

Firesong groaned "Makes perfect sense. The snoop. You have to tell them to butt out."

"Now you tell me!"

"I thought you would have figured it out!"

Joxer sighed. "Next time Trena..."

::Next time, what, Chosen?:: Joxer felt her smirk. ::Now tell him that I'm coming with you.::

Joxer shook his head, then told Firesong that Trena wanted to go.

"That would be a good idea. It will be good to have her along, even only if as someone to ride. We don't know if her Mindspeech will work there."

Joxer didn't looked convinced.

::He's right. I'll feel better just knowing that you are safe. It will be quicker for you too.::

"All right."

Joxer felt Trena’s smug smile. ::I knew it would be.::

"I guess we had better pack, then, shouldn't I?"

* * *
They arrived where Joxer had been found.

"Do you feel something?"

Firesong nodded. "It seems to be ahead of us."

Joxer dismounted from Trena, and Firesong from his dyheli. Joxer said, "Well, this is it...either it will work, and we will end up in Greece...or nothing will happen."

Firesong nodded. "Let's go."

They walked forward, and discovered that the vortex, did in fact, exist.

* * *

Part 2

Joxer took a deep breath. “This is it. Are we ready?”

Firesong nodded. “As ready as I am ever going to be.”

Joxer led the way into the vortex with Firesong following closely behind.

The vortex swallowed them up from behind to spit them out on the other side, what felt like a few minutes later.

“Trena? Can you hear me?”

::I am here Chosen. It is odd, it is as if nothing has changed. I would have expected us not to be able to speak with each other.::

“How are your powers, Firesong?”

“Let me check.” He closed his eyes and put himself into a light trance to read the energy lines, and minutes later opened them again.

“It’s amazing. There is so much energy here… I could not Gate on Valdemar because there wasn’t energy enough, but here I could Gate, without even using any of my own strength!”

They all fell silent, until something hit Joxer.

“When you found me, my centers for Mindspeech, MindHealing and Healing were open, right?”

“Yes, so what?”

“Well, I didn’t have these Gifts while I was here, but for them to become active, I must have had them latently, right?”

Firesong nodded “That would make sense.”

“So, what if there are people here with the Mage Gift? Hence the necessity for the pools of energy.”

Firesong thought about Joxer’s reasoning for a minute before saying, “Actually, Joxer, every world probably has the pools of energy, but not everyone can access them. Don’t you remember from your History classes that Valdemar didn’t always have the magics that they do now.  Although, some thing is wrong here. Since the gifts *do* exist on this world, how come more people haven’t manifested them? Most Gifts come into full use by the teenage years, or they are blasted open, like yours and Vanyel’s were, which if you were not aware, was the reason why you were in pain for a few weeks after you arrived, although the Healers had done all they could, raw channels hurt just like any other injury. ”

Joxer nodded, remember that someone had mentioned it to him when he given permission to leave the Healers Collegium, although at the time, he hadn’t understood what it meant. “Could something be suppressing them?”

::Theoretically, but who could be powerful enough to do that? And why would they?::

“The Gods. Unlike on Valdemar, the Gods here are very visible Deities, and some like Apollo, love to show off their mortal form. It wouldn’t be that impressive if mere mortals could do some of the same things they did, would it?”

“That’s brilliant Joxer!”

Joxer blushed.

::Very good Chosen, and you have a good point. Still, though, why would they bother stopping it? Even Firesong can’t transport himself from A to B without Gating, and he certainly can not create things out of thin air. Even Fetching requires the object’s existence.::

They fell silent for a moment and then Joxer said “Maybe we can ask Apollo later.”

Firesong smiled. “We will *after* I get Healed.”

Joxer smiled back. “Then we should get riding.” He turned around and saw nothing but the dusty road and the dead fields as far as his sight would let him. “I’m not sure where we are , but there should be a town somewhere nearby who can tell us where we are, and where we need to be.”

Firesong mounted his dyheli and Joxer lead the way.

The ride was uneventful. Joxer was trying to teach Firesong some Greek, but never got much beyond the basics. They decided that they would either use Mind Speech with Joxer speaking for Firesong, or that Joxer would translate for Firesong, which ever was easier at the time.  As night fell, they came upon a small town and found their way to the only Inn.

After tending to Trena and the dyheli themselves, they walked inside to find the Innkeeper.

“Hello, there!” Joxer called out cheerfully.

The Innkeeper looked up, startled “Oh, you startled me. Even though we are the only inn on this road, we don’t get many guests.”

“So does that mean you have a room that we can use tonight?”

“Certainly. I have two rooms if you prefer.”

“It’s okay, thanks. We are traveling on a tight budget.” Joxer smiled, and he was telling the truth. He only had the money that he had on him when Firesong found him, which wasn’t a lot. They had hoped that finding Apollo wouldn’t be too difficult or else they were facing a lot of nights on the road. This didn’t bother Joxer so much as it did Firesong. Even after the months in Urtho’s Tower, he was still one to revel in creature comforts and didn’t enjoy roughing it much at all. The fact that neither one were all that skilled at cooking only added to his reasons for disliking the outdoors.

“I understand. Don’t worry about it. We can work something out later. Business is especially light this time of year and any money I bring is appreciated. So tell me, where are you two heading?”

Firesong managed to get out that they were on the way to make an offering to Apollo. Seeing that he was struggling, Joxer broke in and added that they were not too sure of where the nearest Temple was.

“That’s not a problem. There is a Temple in the next major town over, about 40 leagues to the north. If you ride all day, you can make it there in about two, two and a half days or so. Just ask one of the locals, and they will be happy to tell you where it is.”


“No problem. I see that your friend there is a foreigner, I’ve never heard that accent before. Where are from?”

::What should I tell him, Fire?::

::Tell him that I come from the Isle of Eire, is it?::

“He’s from Eire.”

“Really? Interesting. Never meet anyone from the far north… if you don’t mind my asking, why are you wearing that mask?”

Firesong fidgeted. He wanted to tell the man that he did mine the question, but his Greek wasn’t good enough. ::Joxer, change the topic. Please!::

::Calm down, ashke::

Firesong startled. Where had Joxer learned that? He barely heard Joxer say, “It was a horrible accident, and my friend is still touchy about the topic. May we get something to eat? It has been a long day.”

“Oh, of course. I’m sorry. What would you like?”

“Do you have any lamb?”

“Certainly. I’ll be back shortly.”

They sat down at a table as the watched the innkeeper leave to get the food.

In Valdemaran, Firesong asked Joxer, “Where did you learn the phrase “ashke”?”

Joxer blushed. “I was reading some biographies on Vanyel. It said that the pet name that his lovers game him was “ashke” and I figured that since you are his descendent, and *I* am your lover that I could use it. I means beloved in old Talyedras, right?”

Firesong nodded. “It does, and I have no objection to you using it, I was just surprised to hear you use it.”

Joxer’s smile melted Firesong’s heart as Joxer sent love through their mental connection.

The lovers were enjoying the moment when they were interrupted by the innkeeper who was carrying two plates laden with lamb and freshly steamed vegetables.

“Here you go, gentlemen, enjoy.”

“Thank you, we will.”

They meal was spent in seeming silence, but was actually spent in light small talk about what Firesong could expect at the Temple, such as who they would see, how offerings were made, courtesies that needed to be followed . As Elspeth had pointed out before, that was the greatest thing about Mindspeech: you could talk with your mouth full without being improper.  They finished their dinner, enjoyed a light pastry and the rest of the wine while chatting with the innkeeper about trivial things before calling it a night.

“Thanks for your hospitality, we need to get to bed. We hope to get out of here a little after dawn.”

“In a hurry?”

“Yes, sort of.”

“Would you like me to send someone to wake you up?”

“That would be most appreciated.”

“Consider it done. I’ll also Cook prepare a lunch for your ride, if you don’t object?”

“Not at all. Neither one of us can cook all that well, and the longer I don’t have to eat trail food, the better.”

“I’ll see to it. Good night, gentlemen.” He told Firesong and Joxer where the room was, and the two went to bed without incident.

* * *
A knock at the door woke up Joxer.

“Sir? It is dawn.”

Joxer walked over to the door and opened it to reveal a maid laden with a tray of fresh bread and butter and cider.

“Thank you.”

The maid nodded and left.

“Wake up sleepy-head.”

“Mmmmph. Don’t want to.” Firesong grumbled.

::Is your little Peacock not getting up this morning?::

“Good morning, Trena. Did you have good night last night?”

::It was relaxing::

“Glad to hear it. FIRESONG! Wake up!”

“All right! You don’t have to yell.”

“Well you didn’t leave me any other choice..”

“Don’t worry lover! I was only teasing.”

::Don’t take it so personally, Chosen. Firesong isn’t a morning person. You’ll get used to it soon enough.::

Joxer relaxed, and said “Well, let’s eat and get out of here.”

“Sounds good to me.”

They made quick work of the food, and packed their belongings.  Firesong went to saddle his dyheli and Trena while Joxer paid the man.

“Thank you so much. This was great.”  He handed him the money.

“Please come back again sometime,” said the man as he handed Joxer lunch for the two of them.

“If I ever pass this way again, I will.” Joxer thanked the man again and went outside where Firesong was waiting for him. Joxer gave Firesong a quick kiss on the lips before mounting up on Trena. “Come on, let’s go.”

* * *
The trip was uneventful. Every now and then they passed a traveler, most commonly merchants who kept trying to sell them things, everything from spices to the odd trinket, so they had ample time to enjoy each other’s company.

“This is so refreshing,” Firesong commented.

“What is?”

“The peace. One thing I learned quickly about Valdemar was the number of enemies she has, so someone was always getting ready to attack, or some magical problem would be harassing us. I could get used to this.”

“But then you would get lazy,” he teased Firesong.

::So would you, Chosen.::

“Who me? Never! I was always on the road before I ended up in Valdemar!”

::Relax, Joxer. We’re just having some fun.::

Firesong pointed ahead. “That looks like the town.”

Joxer nodded. “I’m glad. If I ever have to eat your cooking again…”

Firesong pouted. “You mean you don’t like the way I cook?”

“I once made an army sick with my cooking. You could probably kill them.”

Firesong laughed ruefully. “Next time we get a room, lover, you are going to pay for that remark.”

Joxer leered. “I’m looking forward to it.”

They spent the remainder of the trip trading sexual innuendoes and learning that Trena knew a lot more tricks than Joxer would have ever expected her to know. He couldn’t wait to have a chance to try them out.

* * *
They arrived at the temple a few minutes after arriving in town, thanks to the directions of the kind townspeople. He tied up the horse and Companion without worrying about their belongings; Trena could easily take care of anyone who tried to steal from them.

They walked up to the steps and went into the main hall. They talked to the priestess in charge and were led to a private room. Making sure that they were alone, he said to Firesong, “If your power has increased because of the strength of the energy, I wonder if mine has too. I want to try something.”

“What did you have in mind, Joxer?”

He grinned, “Wait and see.”

::APOLLO!!!!!:: He Mindsent  the yell.

Firesong winced at the voice, and then said “Now what?”

“We wait and see if it worked.”

* * *
Apollo was sunning himself on his private island, glad to be getting away from his duties for a few hours. He was about to doze off when he heard the yell in his head.

“What the fuck? Who in Tartarus has the balls to do that to me?”

He knew his relatives were more inclined to just pop in without invitation, but he didn’t know of any mortals who had the ability to communicate by thought, especially since they had actively suppressed that ability. If this was a mortal, he wanted to know who it was. If it was a God, he’d kick their ass, and *then* find out why he was summoned.

He flashed out to find the source of the call.

* * *
Joxer was beginning to worry that Apollo hadn’t heard the call and was about to call to Apollo verbally, when the Sun God appeared.

From Firesong’s jump, Joxer could tell that Firesong was *very* surprised that the god had answered his call. Firesong was used to seeing the avatars of his Goddess, but not the Goddess Herself.

“Firesong, this is Apollo, the Greek God of the Sun. Apollo, this is my lifebonded, Firesong.”

Apollo couldn’t have been more surprised if he had appeared to discover Ares and Timor fucking.

“*You* Called me Joxer?”

“Surprised, aren’t you?” Joxer grinned.

“How the fuck? You’re not supposed to.. Who is he? Why is he wearing that mask? And what *are* you doing here? I thought Ares killed you!”

To Apollo’s surprise, Joxer just smirked. “You know how to fuck! I’ve seen you and Cupid in action! If you mean how I called you, it’s a side-effect of what happened after that fight between me and Ares.” He quickly explained how he had ended up in Valdemar, and how traveling through the vortex had blasted open his channels. “As for Firesong, he is an Healing-Adept Mage from the k’Treva Vale in Valdemar, he found me when I was deposited in Valdemar and helped to Heal me. As for why he is wearing the mask, I’m not completely sure of the tale, only that he is horribly scarred from an accident. This is why I came back here. To collect my favor and get him Healed.”

“I need to know what happened to him.”

Joxer spoke with Firesong quickly, and then said, “To make this easier, Firesong is going to do it in Mindspeech, since he doesn’t know enough Greek to tell the story.”

Apollo nodded.

::This happened about six months before Joxer and I first met.  A series of magical disturbances called Mage Storms were destroying the land. Animals became horrible mutated versions of themselves, and plant life was being wiped out, and the weather so severe that if we did have time to grow the crops, they would die from either too much or too little rain. The land was dying. We had created stop-gap measures, breakwaters that helped lessen the damage caused by each storm, and for a while it worked. The weather was still bad, but Valdemar wasn’t being torn up with each storm. The downside was that each storm got progressively stronger, and each one weakened the barriers a little more, and soon they would be destroyed and all would be lost. So to try and save the world, we sought out the Tower of one of the greatest Mages in our planet’s history, Urtho. Upon our arrival we found many weapons and tools that enhanced a Mage’s power. Because of the immense power it would take to set the world right, all the mortals had two spirits protecting them. One of the ones keeping attention on me was a sword called Need. I know what you are going to say, a sword is not a spirit, but in this case, the sword was imbedded with the spirit of a female mage who knew magics that no longer exist in our day. During the spell, Need began to melt, and I was burned by the melting metal, leaving this:: He pulled off the mask to revealed a face so scarred that no Healer could help. ::and that is why I wear the mask. I could not bear to let others see me like this.::

Apollo stood mute. He *did* owe Joxer a favor, and by all means, Firesong had certainly earned it, but he worried about going through with it. If Ares found out that he helped Joxer’s new found love, Ares would be pissed, and Ares was one God who you don’t want to piss off.

“So you will help, right, Apollo?” Joxer asked.

Apollo stuttered “I..I don’t know if I should…”

Joxer got furious. “You promised me this favor, and I will collected on it. You *will* heal my lifebonded!!”

Apollo felt Joxer’s anger and Joxer’s will. Even if he didn’t want to he could not help it. Whatever Joxer was doing it was too strong to avoid.

“All right! I’ll do it!”

Apollo concentrated, and as white light surrounded him, he traced the burns on Firesong’s face, smoothing them out, making the face flawless once again. After reaching the last scar, Apollo stopped to look at his work.

*By Zeus he’s beautiful! Joxer has marvelous taste! He could easily give Ares a running for his money.*

Joxer looked at his lover, who had tears in his eyes.

::Oh Joxer, thank you so much. I will always be so grateful to you for helping me.::

::Nonsense my love, there is no one else who deserved it more than you did.::

::You do realize Joxer, what you did to Apollo:: This came from Trena.

“What do you mean, Trena?”

::You forced your will on him. You sent your need and he could not avoid it.::

“But how, Trena? I just started lessons in that…I didn’t think that I was that strong of  an Empath…let alone strong enough to do that!!”

“Who are you talking to Joxer?” Apollo was worried;  any mortal talking to thin air was cause to worry.

“Oh, sorry Apollo. I was talking to my Companion, Trena. Would you like to meet her?”

Apollo nodded, expecting to see another human.

::We can discuss my powers later, come on inside, Apollo wants to meet you.::

She Sent her response, and a few minutes later entered into the Temple.

“She’s a horse?!?”

“No, Apollo, a companion. A human spirit reincarnated into the body of a horse.”

::I am fully sentient and am capable of many things. Keeping an eye on your conversation being one of them.::

Apollo groaned. *First mortals capable of Mindspeech, and now a sentient horse? Could this day possibly any worse?*

No sooner was the question asked, when Ares appeared.

“Joxer! How in Tartarus did you get back here?”

“The portal you forced me through didn’t close all the way *Ares*” He spat out the last word in disgust.

As the argument progressed, Apollo watched in amusement, and Firesong struggled to follow along. He was hopelessly lost until he heard the word “Ares.” *This is the one who hurt Joxer so? The one that sent him to my world?!* Firesong felt himself get angrier and angrier, and welcomed the warm rush of power that began to flow through him, the undiluted power was intoxicating as it seemed into every bone, every muscle, every nerve. He closed his eyes and concentrated as the power flowed through him, the amount growing stronger and stronger, threatening to burn up its host as he focused his energies on a single target. Ares.

Ares was about to make another snide comment about Joxer when he was hit by the great ball of fire and was sent flying across the Temple.

Apollo didn’t move to help Ares. He was too stunned. *How the hell did that happen?! Where did he get the control?* He looked over towards Joxer, who seemed surprised at the fact that Firesong lashed out so violently, not at the fact that Firesong had done anything like that.

“Where you going to tell me that Firesong was a Mage?”

Joxer smirked, “You didn’t ask, Apollo.”

Apollo was about to ask Firesong about where he got such control when Ares stood up, enraged by the attack, fired a bolt of power towards Firesong, but Firesong, who was used to magical attacks, let the energy hit his personal shield and deflect harmlessly,  then returned the favor.

“Apollo, I’d suggest we find someplace safe. This may take a while. Firesong is easily one of the most powerful mages on Valdemar.”

As he flashed out he said, “You’d be a fool to stick around, Joxer. I’m outta here.”

*Coward* Joxer thought as he found a hiding spot behind one of the many statues of Apollo. He watched as tapestries burned, ceramics broke, and marble scorched.

*Come on Firesong. You can do it. You have to.*

“Aww, look at who we have here.”

Joxer turned at that all too familiar voice.


“And the mortal wins a prize. Yes, it’s me, the one and only. You know, I would have thought you wouldn’t have been stupid enough to come back here, not after what Ares did the first time.”

“It was *your* fault that he did that to me.”

“So it was...I don’t know what your complaining about, since it seems to me that you got yourself a new boy-toy. He is cute isn’t he?” She pauses to study Firesong. “Too bad, you won’t see him again.” She grabs him, and calls out to Firesong, waving, which gives Joxer enough time to send one frantic message before he disappeared.

In the surprise of seeing  his lover being kidnapped, Ares was able to score a direct hit against him, sending Firesong sailing, and crashing into the wall.

“You know, Fire-whatever? I should just kill you right now, but I think I’ll enjoy seeing you struggle in world that you don’t even understand the language. In fact, I bet you don’t even understand what I am saying now, do you?”

Firesong concentrated on Ares’ words, but just didn’t have the vocabulary to follow what he was saying, but the evil laughter that preceded  Ares’ departure told him all he needed to know. He was in deep trouble.

* * *

Firesong struggled out of the Temple a few minutes later, sore from being thrown into the wall. He wished there were a trained Healer around here..

::Stop moaning about yourself, we have to find my Chosen!!::

“Couldn’t you at least warn me before you started talking to me?”

::No time for that.::

Firesong knew that once Companions meant business it was impossible to get their mind off of it, so it was pointless to try and lighten the mood.

“Do you know where Joxer is?”

::No, but before that Goddess took of with your life-bonded, he Sent me a message, telling me to find Xena.::

“That would make sense. From what I got out of Joxer, she seems to be used to dealing Ares, but how are we supposed to find her? Neither one of us has any idea where we are, let alone how to get wherever she is. Joxer has described her to me, but if I found her, how could I talk to her? I don’t speak Greek, and we can’t count on her being able to Mindspeak. Even if she has the channel, in all likelihood it is closed!!”

::We’d better find somewhere else to continue this conversation, yelling at a “Horse” in a foreign language isn’t likely to get us left alone, and right now we don’t need distraction.::

Firesong nodded.

::Ride me, it will be quicker.::

::What should I do about the dyheli?::

::We’ll have to let it go. There is no other choice.::

Firesong agreed it would be best. He transferred his packs to Trena’s back and then went back inside where the priests had come out of hiding, and told them the dyheli was now theirs. They assumed that it was in tribute for Apollo healing him, but he didn’t care. His mind was on trying to find Joxer.

* * *
Joxer sat against the wall of a cell in dungeon that was who knows where. He missed Firesong and felt so guilty about what happened. *All I wanted was for him to be happy, and now look what happened. I can’t do anything right, can I?* He brooded on these thoughts and waited for his captors to arrive.

* * *
Firesong sat on a log, staring at the fire he had created, finding small comfort in the familiarity of the spell.

::Stop that! We don’t need you getting depressed. That isn’t going to help any.::

“I know that Trena, but what are we going to do? I mean Joxer is Goddess knows where and what can I do to help him? Nothing! Absolutely nothing! I don’t even know where to start looking for this Xena…”

“Do you normally talk to horses?”

“Who said that?”

A scantily-clad Aphrodite came out of the trees. “The name is Aphrodite. I’m the Goddess of Love in these parts.”

“What are you doing here?”

“Whoa whoa. I *so* do not want to have to translate your gibberish.” She pointed at him and a stream of hearts hit him.

“What did you just do to me?”

“Listen to yourself. You’re talking Greek now, the way things should be.”

“Thank you…I’m afraid I didn’t catch your name the first time.”

“You can call me ‘Dite.”

“All right…’Dite…” *Goddess I never expected to be calling Goddesses by nicknames…then again before today I had never met a God* “What can I do for you?”

“It has been just so *majorly* bumming on Olympus these last few hours.”

“And what does this has to do with me?”

“All us Gods and Goddess can feel the emotions of the mortals who worship us, or who are using or feeling something within our domain, in this case Love. Well, someone was projecting their depression onto Olympus, and I’m not talking about the blues that wear off in a few hours, I’m talking about full fledged depression, I’ve been crying for the past hour, and I hate crying because it makes my eyes all puffy…I’m digressing, but anyway, I was really affected because the majority of the emotion was pure Love…stronger than I have *ever* felt before and I’ve been doing this for more than a few centuries, so that is saying something, but that didn’t explain why everyone else was affected too.”

“I’m sorry to sound impatient, but what does this have to do with me?”

“I’m getting there! I swear!” she said as she messed with Firesong’s wrinkled clothing, “Well, so I’m sitting in my Temple all bumming and stuff when Apollo comes in, and I swear he looked awful! I mean he let his nice white leather get all dirty and he had these really grody circles under his eyes, like *he* had been crying too, and he told me about how Joxer *made* him Heal you earlier. I was like really startled because *no* one makes Apollo do anything he doesn’t want to and…”

“You realized that Joxer had to be the one Sending the emotions because no other mortals from this world are capable of doing anything like that because of the dampening field you put on the Earth to stop their channels from opening, right?”

“Wow!! You are smart, not to mention handsome…no wonder why you and Joxie are an item. I have to hand it to him, he has good taste.”

“Yes, yes, thanks, but why did you come to me?”

“Once we realized what was happening, Apollo and I tried to find Joxer to try and get him to stop this, but we can’t find him. It’s like he’s disappeared or something. Whoever has him, must have him in a time-bubble or something. Anyway, Apollo remember that you were traveling with Joxer so here I am.” She put her hands on her hips, satisfied that Firesong was as neat as he was going to be in the given circumstances.

“Where is Apollo?”

“He is still looking for Joxer. Not that he cares to admit it, but he and a lot of the other gods liked Joxer. Because of him, Ares was finally a decent god to be around. When Ares sent him off to where-ever-you’re-from, Ares tried to convince us that it was Joxer’s fault, but a quick peek into the past revealed the truth. We feel sorry for the guy. He got the short end of the stick, and we feel like we should at least make sure he dies at an old age.”

“Well, as much as I appreciate the sentiment, you haven’t been doing that good of a job. Discord has him.” he said bitterly.

“That bitch!! I should have known!! When I get my hands on here I’ll…” She stopped because she didn’t know what she was going to do.

“Well, don’t you think we had better find her first!!”

Aphrodite finally took the thirty seconds to study Firesong’s emotions. “Wow! You really do love Joxer, don’t you?”

“Of course I do! If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be here in the first place, and Joxer wouldn’t be in trouble now! He was only trying to help me, and look what happened.” A fresh wave of guilt passed over him.

“Don’t blame yourself kiddo, even if Joxer had come alone, he’d be in this position now. That’s  just the type of guy Ares is. At least this way, he has a shot at being rescued!”

“By who, Aphrodite?! Forgive me, Goddess, but I am in a land with no friends, no clue as to where I am compared to where anything else is, let alone Joxer ,and very little knowledge of the customs! I don’t think I can be all that much help to Joxer.”

“Stop being so pessimistic! If we are going to rescue your lover, you need to be a lot more hopeful.”

“We?” He chuckled as he heard Trena’s echo in the back of his mind.

“Of course! I mean, you said so yourself. You don’t have any friends, so who better to help than a Goddess?” She shrugged.

Firesong looked up at Aphrodite. “Joxer told me to get Xena’s help.”

She waved her hands, dismissing that idea. “You don’t need Xena! She can’t even look in time bubbles! Trust me, Fire, can I call you Fire?”

“I’d rather you not…”

“Anyway, Fire, with me at your side, we’ll have Joxer back in no time.”

Firesong still looked doubtful.

“Don’t worry. It will work out for the best.” With a wave of her hand she created a small shelter for Firesong. “Get some rest, and we’ll head out in the morning. See-ya!” She disappeared, leaving a small pile of rose-petals.

Firesong sighed. “What do you think of her, Trena?”

::She’s enthusiastic that is for sure, and she is right, we don’t have anybody else to turn to..::


::Joxer was right. She does seem to be air-headed…::

“Somehow I don’t think she’ll take no for an answer.”

::You’re right, but we can put up with her. Joxer’s life is at stake.::

With that Firesong fell into a dreamless sleep.

Part 3

Firesong woke to a scantily clad buxom goddess peering over him.

"Morning, sunshine.  Time to get up and find your lover!"  Her tone was all too cheerful for Firesong's taste, but he sat up, knowing that this wasn't the time to argue over wake-up calls that were way too early.

"All right, let me change clothes, feed Trena and eat something before we go."  Firesong got up to move to his pack, but before he had finished standing, he was wearing a new set of his favorite silk robes, Trena was munching on a part of the store of oats he had brought, and he was holding some bread and a mug of cider.

"There you go, I've taken care of the rest, so now you can eat, and we can get going!"

Trying to avoid gets crumbs on his robes, he looked up at the Goddess, and asked grouchily "How in the name of the Goddess are you so damn cheerful in the morning?"

"I just love to be me, what other reason do I need?"

He felt Trena roll her eyes, and he laughed back mentally, then settled down to some serious eating as Aphrodite paced back and forth, impatiently waiting for Firesong to finish so they could go.

As soon as he swallowed the last bite, Firesong announced that he was finished, and then asked Trena is she was done.

:: I am, so Aphrodite, tell us of your plan to save my Chosen.::

"Whoa, I am *so* going to have to get used to you talking like that.  You want me to make you human while you're here?"

::No, thank you, I am happy in my current form.::

"Suit yourself, if you change your mind, just ask.  Anyway, for a plan...there isn't one.  I mean there isn't one *yet*"

"What do you mean yet?  There is or there isn't."  He was starting to think about going off to find Xena, every minute more that he spent with the Love Goddess made the Warrior Princess look better and better.

"Don't get mad at me, I was busy last night!"

"Doing what?"

"When the other guys found out that it was Joxie that was givin' them the sniffles, they volunteered to help us find him.  In fact, we shouldn't be standing here talking, they're waiting for us."

Firesong stood still, trying to decide whether having more gods involved was a good thing or not.

::We'll just have to wait and see, Firesong.  They can't all be as flighty.::

Firesong nodded his head, but before he could ask where the meeting was, he suddenly felt dizzy.

Aphrodite cheerfully announced, "TA DA! We're here!!"

As soon as he felt that the planet had stopped spinning beneath them he looked up and saw what "here" was.

Here was a giant room with no seeming walls.  The whole thing was open to the sky; various Gods and Goddesses were scattered about, lounging on what appeared to be clouds.  The only thing that assured Firesong that they were not clouds was the fact that he was standing on a solid white marble floor.

"'Dite, what is this place?"

"Like duh, Olympus, of course."

"Olympus?!" ::Olympus?!::

Both Firesong and Trena were shocked by this revelation, but then amused by the whole thing, not noticing that several of the Gods in the room had begun to stare at the newcomers, especially at Trena.

"What?  What's so funny?"  Aphrodite demanded to know, putting her hands on her tiny waist, trying her patented pout.

"Oh, it's just that this is something that should I ever get back to Valdemar will definitely stop any bickering about my right to be on the council in Haven. After all, how many people have actually *met* their Gods or Goddess, let alone been to their home?"

::And I'm just thinking about how all the Companions are going to be jealous of me. I *know* that I can get the new stallion to be with me now.:: She Sent an evil grin over her link.

Hearing Trena speak to them, even if not in words was more than enough to cause all the chatter to stop, and made them look at the duo even closer. Sensing that it was getting uncomfortable for them, Aphrodite decided it was time to start. She created a chair for Firesong to sit on, and Trena moved behind him. Satisfied that they were comfortable, she said, "Okay, now that Joxer's Companion has managed to shut us all up, which is no mean feat, we may as well start. If you haven't figure this out by now, this is Firesong, Joxer's lover, and the white horse, Trena, is Joxer's
companion, and before you demand to know why she is able to Mindspeak, she's is a fully sentient being, only in a horse's body."

Firesong heard murmurs of "I need a vacation" floating through out the room.

Aphrodite pretended not to hear them, and went on to introduce the various deities present. Most of the names flew by him, but he did manage to catch "Cupid" because of the wings, and "Strife" because of the unnaturally pale skin, and nodded back at Apollo when Aphrodite pointed him out. When she had finished, he leaned over to her and whispered, "I thought Strife is Ares' nephew, and Discord's son."

She nodded. "He is, what about it?"

"Then why does he want to help me? Wouldn't he help Discord?"

Aphrodite responded without a second's worth of consideration.

"By the time Joxie and Ares met, he was already sleeping with my son, Cupid. He realized how good Love was to him, and thought that Joxer was good for his uncle. He was totally pissed at what Ar did to Joxer, and hasn't spoken to his mom since."

Firesong was a little surprised at the answer, but was encouraged by it.

::Do you think that he might know where Discord might have taken Joxer?:: , he asked Trena.

Trena responded, keeping the link private. :: He might, we'll just have to find out. Hopefully with all these gods on our side, they'll be able to find my Chosen sooner. ::

Firesong nodded and sent his love and support through the channel. He felt her smile in return.

Aphrodite shook her head. "It's just *so* weird seeing you mortals doing that."

Firesong just shrugged and smiled. Aphrodite sighed and then continued, "As you know, my beloved Joxie has been kidnapped by that chicken-bitch, Discord."

Despite this being common knowledge by now, mutters filled the room. She had never been a popular Goddess, and many had rather enjoyed the months that she had had to spend as a chicken. This latest stunt of hers had done nothing to improve their attitude towards her.

"The problem is, we don't know where she's taken him to."

Strife looked up from where he was necking with Cupid. "Have you tried my mom's hideout?"

Apollo replied, "First place we checked. The place looked abandoned."

Strife shrugged. "It figures. Mom was always movin' from place to place. Didn't want Uncle Ar to know where she stashed her men."

A few gods that Firesong didn't remember the names of started to snicker which soon caused small pockets of laughter to break out.

:: What's going on Trena? ::

::I wouldn't know. Ask Aphrodite.::

:: I thought you knew everything. ::

::I do!:: Trena protested.

: Then how come you don't know this?

::These gods aren't from the same world as ours. How they behave doesn't fall into my realm of things I have to know.::

Firesong snickered. ::Good excuse.::

Trena's response was a mental raspberry.

Chuckling, he asked Aphrodite what was so funny.

"Well, Discord doesn't get men often, and when she does they are *real* dogs. I mean they are barely *sentient* let alone good looking. Why she would have to hide them from Ares is beyond me."

Firesong didn't pretend to see the humor in this, and didn't try. He just shook his head, and asked, "So what are we going to do about Joxer? The longer we sit her making fun of Discord's seemingly pathetic excuse for lovers, the bigger the chance Joxer is going to be hurt."

It took a few minutes, but the small assembly of gods did quiet down.

"Okay, peoples, now that I've introduced to you who we are saving Joxer for,it is time to start planning. Any one have any ideas on what to do?"

Athena stood up. "We should break up into small groups and begin searching the mortal realm and the favorite hiding spots of the Gods. Since we don't know where he might be, this is our best course of action. However, we can be thankful that Discord has not taken him out of this reality."

"Let me get this right," Firesong started slowly. "By my understanding, you are the Goddess of Defensive wars, and all you come up is a wild goose chase?!?" He shook his head. "Somehow I expected more." Several gods struggled to stop laughing, and Athena looked miffed. Firesong waited for everyone to settle down, before asking Athena, "How can you be so sure that they are still on this world?"

"It's simple. We would have felt the energy that was used to create the vortex." She sounded smug.

:: But couldn't Discord try to cover her tracks? We have to assume that she knows that we are going to come after her. ::

"Of course not. No one could do that." Athena was getting annoyed. This should have been common knowledge.

:: Then you don't mind if I have Firesong check? ::

"If you insist." She sounded bored.

::Thank you so much for your indulgence. :: Her thoughts dripped with sarcasm. :: Firesong? ::

He nodded and reached out to the land. His body convulsed as he found the bad land mixed in with the good, he tried to filter out the sensations so that he could feel only the odd energy pulses that he had felt when he first found Joxer. His eyes opened to a round of applause.

"Wow, Fire. You did that with more grace than some of the Gods here, not that I'll name names. I'm not that kind of Goddess." There were a few attempts to turn laughs into coughs as the assembly tried to believe that  Aphrodite would ever give up her job as the Gossip Princess of Olympus.

"If you say so, 'Dite. And don't call me Fire. I hate that."

Aphrodite waved her hand. "Yeah, sure, whatever. So what didja find out?"

"Athena is right. Discord and Joxer haven't left this world."

"Hhmph." Athena crossed her arms and sniffed the air.

Firesong gave her a look, and continued. "But that doesn't mean that she still can't leave. I counted five different vortex sites that were all dormant, and that was only a basic search. I'm sure that if I looked longer I could find more. My point is that, if she feels threatened she may very well jump into one as a means of escape."

A few people nodded, and Athena said tersely, "All right, we'll keep it in mind, but I doubt she'll do it. She doesn't have that kind of power."

Firesong rolled his eyes. "Do you have that written in stone? Just because she theoretically can't do it, doesn't mean she won't. Just keep it in mind, all right?" He was getting more and more irritated at the Goddess of Wisdom by the minute. He was used to dealing with her kind, but never before had Joxer's safety been a factor, and his control was slipping.

:: Calm down, the more time you waste fighting with Athena, the less time we have to find your life-bond. ::

Firesong almost began to laugh at himself. *Fighting with a Goddess? Of all the things I could be doing with a Goddess and I'm fighting with her.* He saddened when he realized that Joxer's disappearance was the cause for all this.

Thinking about the emotional pain of the possibility of losing his love, something finally clicked.

"Wait a minute. 'Dite, you said that Joxer's Sending of emotions was making you and Apollo, what was the term you used. "majorly bummed". right?"

"Yeah, so?"

"Why can't I feel him now? Joxer is easily one of the most emotional guys I know of. I doubt he'd stop feeling this way unless he was dead." Panic rose in his mind. "He isn't dead, is he?"

"Don't worry, Fire. Joxer is still alive. Trust me, if Joxer was dead, we wouldn't be standing here. He's fine, but we had to put a field up to block all this emotion. We couldn't function if we had to deal with Joxer's emotions."

Firesong paused, and then turned to Apollo. "If I remember what Joxer told me, your specialty is Mindhealing, right?"

Apollo nodded.

"So of all the gods, would you say that you were the best Empath?"

"Yeah, probably. As much as I love to gloat, this isn't gloating. My job means that I have to be very sensitive to Empathy, since that is the first hint of trouble."

Firesong nodded, he figured as much, it was the same way on Valdemar, the Mindhealers were also usually the strongest Empaths. "I know that us mortals can not do this, but you are a God, so maybe it is different for you. Is there anyway that you could link to Joxer, and use his depression as sort of a beacon?"

Aphrodite hit her head. "Of course it will work! You're brilliant, Fire! Whydidn't I think of that before!"

Athena snickered. "Maybe it's because you have too much air in your head. And, no, Firesong. It won't work. "

Aphrodite glowered. Now was not the time for retaliation, but as soon as her Joxie was safe in Firesong's arms, she would make sure that Athena was in head over heels in love with a skunk. Or a horse. Maybe both. She hadn't decided yet.

The others took Aphrodite's silence a cue to jump into the conversation, everyone adding their own opinion.

:: Goddess, Trena, this is worse than a council meeting! ::

:: Then why don't you shut them up, the way you have always wanted to? :: The companion responded with a mental smirk.

Firesong grinned. :: Great idea. :: While the Gods continued their bickering, he quietly called the power until he could carry no more, aimed at just above the tallest Gods, and let forth a huge ball of Mage Fire flying over the God's heads.

Some Gods ducked, some just stared at the mortal. Strife, however, began to laugh and clap his hands. "Oh, man, that was brilliant. You know, I've wanted to do that so many times, but never had the guts to do so. You ever consider promoting the ways of call me, you hear?"

Firesong nodded absently, shook his head to clear his thoughts, and continued. "Now, while I value what you have to say, I would like to hear from the God most qualified to answer the question. Apollo?"

"Linking with mortals is always a tricky business. They are so emotional, each one of them wrapped up in their own lives, worried about anything from where they are going to get their next meal, to what they are going to wear to Aphrodite's next orgy." He smiled as he said only to Firesong :: As if there is any need for debate on that. :: Apollo mentally snickered, before continuing, "When I link to a mortal, I become emotionally involved with them, and too many mortals and it can be an overload, and then I can not do anything, so I normally try to avoid linking if at all possible."

Firesong nodded at the answer. It made sense, emotional entanglement could bring down the Mindhealer, if that person wasn't careful. "Then, I guess the question becomes, is there anyway of linking to Joxer without having to have any physical contact with him?"

Apollo paused to think, while Trena and Firesong twitched nervously.

:: Can it be true, can we be getting somewhere? :: Asked Trena.

:: Hush, we will find your Chosen, but I do not want you to get your hopes up quite yet. ::

"I don't know, I haven't tried it that way."

Firesong, Trena, and Aphrodite all looked depressed at once.

"But I think there may be a way to trace him."

Firesong's face lit up. "How?"

"We all know how Joxer is an Empath, and was-is-still Sending his emotions, and that they are strong enough for any one with Empathy to feel."

Nods all around.

"I think I may be able to trace the link back to its source-Joxer. I could try to latch on to the emotions and follow them to Joxer. It will be dangerous, though."

Looks of hope spread across the room, and as happy as Firesong felt, he tried to keep his cool. "Dangerous, how so?"

"The closer I get to Joxer, the stronger the emotion that he will be Sending. What we were feeling was diluted, it had to travel great distances for us to feel it. Look at the what it was doing to us then, half of us  were so depressed, we didn't even have the energy to snipe at each other!"

Firesong raised his brow. The day had been filled with many firsts, but the most surprising thing by far had been how similar Gods and mortals were.

Apollo didn't notice Firesong's expression and continued. "I will need Strife and Cupid's help to anchor me."

Firesong nodded. "Good, so if you start to overload on emotion, they can carry some of it. We should have at least one or two more Gods waiting to help the three of you when we have found Joxer. You are going to be an emotional wreck."

Aphrodite stood up. "I'll do it. I can't bear to see my Cupie hurt, especially not emotionally."

"Mo-om." Cupid rolled his eyes.

"Forget it. As long as I'm your mom, I can call you Cupie."

Cupid sighed, and decided this was not the time to press the point.

"Athena, why don't you stay behind as well. We'll need someone with a good head on her shoulders to keep an eye on things, and you can help the gods as they return."

Athena nodded at Firesong. "Very well. I will make sure that everything goes as smooth as planned."

::Good, now she's out of the way. :: Trena sent to Firesong.


Trena pretended to be ashamed, but didn't put much effort into the charade. In truth, he felt relieved too.

"Now that we have decided who are searching for Joxer, we need to start planning the small details. As much as I want to, storming Discord's place won't do us any good."

There were nods all around the room and the planning session began.

* * *
Joxer stared at the white walls that made up his prison. Since he had been kidnapped he had been alone. Totally alone. When he was hungry or thirsty food and drink appeared. When he was finished, the empty dishes disappeared. The chamber pot emptied itself. The candles burned steadily all day and night. There were no windows or doors. Just a bed, a chamber pot and the perfect white walls. Nothing indicated the passage of time. He didn't know if he had been here days, weeks or years. He was depressed. He waited for Firesong to find him.

* * *
Discord preened in front a mirror. Kidnapping Joxer had been a necessity. She had wanted Ares to herself. The false story about Joxer's betrayal had done its job in getting rid of Joxer. Now that he had returned she had to take him again, so that Ares wouldn't fall for him again.

She couldn't wait to turn Joxer's new home into a wasteland. She went to Ares and waited for the signal.

* * *
Ares waited impatiently. Even before he had sent Joxer to that other world, he had been making plans, setting things in motion. There were no Olympians there, and what Gods did exist were only as strong as some of the minor deities. It was time to put his plan in motion, but he could not jump until the others were distracted. He waited for the signal.

* * *
Strife was anxious. He watched as the final preparations were made to go and save Joxer. He hoped that once he got Joxer back that he wouldn't want to return to Valdemar; if things went as his uncle planned, there would be no Valdemar left to speak of. He shook his head, and waited to give the signal.

* * *
"Are we ready?" Firesong asked the assembled gods.

Apollo answered confidently "Yes. Let's get Joxer back."

"Ready to drop the shield, Aphrodite?"

She nodded.

"Good. On my count. Three. Two. One. NOW!"

The shield dropped. Gods and Goddess dropped to their knees in depression, Strife gave the sign and Apollo became pure energy as the hunt began.