After Iphicles left, Hercules looked at Rynne, then Ares, and said, "OK, what's going on? Who is this woman, Ares, and what have the two of you got to do with my brother?"
"Why don't you ask her, brother," Ares sneered back. "She's quite capable of explaining things herself, and she knows the details a little bit better than I. That is, if she's willing to talk to you after the way you've treated poor Iphicles!"
Hercules looked at the woman -what was her name? Ah, yes, Rynne. "So, Rynne. What's the deal? My brother sounded very...fond of you. What exactly is your relationship with him, and how does Ares tie into all of this?"
Rynne stared at him for several long moments, her eyes flashing, yet hooded. Hercules started to feel uncomfortable, and shifted from foot to foot nervously. The fact that she was a follower of Ares didn't sit too well with him, either.
Finally, she spoke. "About two weeks ago, I entered Corinth, with no clear objective in mind. All I knew was that I needed to be here for some reason. I met the Captain of the Guard just inside the gates, and he suggested I stay at the King's Own, an inn set aside specifically for royal guests. I didn't know it, at the time, of course. While walking through the market, Iphicles rode through with his guards. I looked up, saw him waving and smiling, yet saw deeper, into the pain that shrouded his heart. After a few moments, he looked my way, and...I don't know how to explain it. I have a sense, that guides me, and when I looked into Iphicles' eyes, I knew, somehow, that he was the reason I had come to Corinth.
"So, later that day, the Captain came for me, and escorted me into the Throne Room, to meet the King. Iphicles seemed very depressed, speaking to me in monotones, not bothering to look at me at first. A woman on the street had warned me earlier that his queen had died, and he hadn't gotten over it yet. So I wasn't too surprised at his lack of interest. But then he finally looked up as I drew near, our eyes met, and instantly, he was a changed man. His eyes lit up, and he practically jumped out of his chair, crying, "You!", and pointing a finger at me. My presence...did something for him. Woke him up, made him see the world again.
He escorted me to dinner, then we went for a walk out in the gardens, where he showed me Rena's tree. He explained to me how he felt about her death, and how life didn't seem to matter until he saw me."
Rynne cleared her throat, uncomfortable under the close scrutiny of Hercules and his friend, Iolaus. Deciding that they'd heard enough detail, she simply said, "We became intimate. I taught him how to grieve, and then how to love again. But I knew it wouldn't be a permanent relationship. Eventually, I would have to move on."
"But that doesn't explain Ares' presence," Iolaus injected.
Rynne glared daggers at him, but replied, "Iphicles and I went out for a ride one afternoon, and were set upon by a small group of men. They turned out to be Ares', but they had misinterpreted his instructions, and tried to kill Iphicles. They shot a arrow forged by Hephaestus, and poisoned, at him, but I managed to push him out of the way in time. I caught it here, just below my right clavicle." She pulled aside the leather of her dress, and showed them her scar. "The poison was relatively quick-acting, and I felt myself go numb almost immediately, then I lapsed into unconsciousness. I awoke in Ares arms, exhausted, but healed. More or less. He did the best he could, and it saved my life."
Rynne looked at Ares gratefully, and he shrugged, trying not to show any emotions in front of his brother. Grinning knowingly, she continued, saying, "He saved my life, and the code of honor I live by demanded that I repay him in some way. He told me to come to his Temple and serve him when my obligations in Corinth were finished.
"As for his motivations, well, he'll have to tell you those himself. I only know the basic information at the moment."
Ares looked at Hercules, seemed to consider for a moment, then relented. "I was trying to save your brother's kingdom, Hercules. His lapse into depression made him weak, and half the peninsula was out to invade him. I saved Rynne because I wanted her as one of my Priestesses, but she was also instrumental in bringing Iphicles back from the point of destruction. I thrive on war, yes, but Greece couldn't afford to have Corinth destroyed. There are too many other countries trying to invade us.
"After Iphicles got Rynne back to the castle and in bed, I visited him in his wardroom, and told him this. I helped him build his army up, then, when his land defenses were ready, I sent him to sea to make sure his fleet was prepared, as well. Rynne left Corinth the day he put to sea, and came to me.
"Your mother decided to die the day after he left. I was busy elsewhere," he glared at Iolaus, daring him to say something, "and didn't find out until the following day, when Mother called me to kill Zeus. When I saw that building fall on him, I figured he was dead, so I left. When I returned to my Temple, Rynne was there. So I decided to bring her back here myself, to meet Iphicles when he arrived, in case he needed her to help again. It's important that Iphicles stays strong. The whole country rides on it."
"You amaze me, brother," Hercules said, shaking his head. Iolaus just snorted.
Anger deepened the War God's voice. "Why? Because I'm trying to prevent war? After all these years, Hercules, don't you know ANYTHING about me? Or does your hatred of me cloud your judgement? Perfect Hercules, the Hero. Must hate everything evil. War is evil, so must hate Ares. Do you hate Athena? She's the Goddess of War. How about Artemis, the Goddess of the Hunt? No, of course not! Just me. WHY?"
Hercules stared at him for several minutes in disbelief, then answered bitterly, "How many times have you tried to kill ME, Ares? Hurt the ones I loved, even killed them? Remember Serena? OF COURSE IT'S PERSONAL! I will fight you ‘til my dying day, brother, because you hurt people for the pure enjoyment of it. You are-"
"Enough!" Rynne thundered, and both god and demi-god looked at her in astonishment. Iolaus took a step back, clutching his sword. "We aren't here to discuss who's the good brother, and who's the bad! We're here because of Iphicles. Since we don't seem to get along with you, maybe we should - uuuhhhhnnn!" Suddenly crying out, she clutched her head, and collapsed to the floor.
"Rynne!" Ares shouted, and was immediately at her side, holding her. "What's wrong? Tell me!"
"...Temple...", she said brokenly. "Something's...wrong...at the...Temple!" She gasped, then said in a stronger voice, "Oh, no! Ares, the older Priestesses, they're trying to take over the Temple! Shen and Terissa are fighting with Thamiris and Rohanna! And....Arabella's fighting with another one, I don't know who...Ares, you have to stop it! I sense that Terissa and Shen have murder in mind! They want anyone who's a threat out of the way!"
Suddenly, in a flash of light, a young woman in black and silver robes appeared in the room. Ares recognized her immediately.
"Karesia! What's happening at my Temple?"
"Ares, you have to come now! Terissa says she's going to kill all the new Priestesses, and rule the Temple herself! All the older women are backing her up! There just aren't enough of us to beat them! And the fighting's too close for me to help!"
"Of course, Karesia, calm down! Rynne, I have to go. Are you OK here?"
Nodding, Rynne weakly got herself righted, then walked over to a bench, with his help. "Yeah, just need to rest. I'll probably stay a few days, just to make sure things are OK here. If you're not back by then, I'll just get Iphicles to loan me another horse!"
"Ares! Come on! I want to fry that bitch to cinders!" Karesia growled, fuming. "Rynne can survive without you for a little while!"
"She's right! Go! I'm fine!" Rynne agreed.
"Fine. But Rynne, I'm warning you for your own good," he added quietly, for her ears only, "Don't sleep with Iphicles! I'm not saying this because I'm jealous, mind you," he added quickly, "I just don't think it's healthy for you to stretch this out. The longer this goes on, the harder it'll be to end it. And it must end. Corinth needs an heir. Remember that!"
Straightening up, he nodded to Karesia, and they disappeared.
"Umm, do you need anything"? Rynne heard Hercules ask hesitantly.
"Call for the Captain of the Guards. He's a good friend of mine. He'll see to my needs, don't you worry." Rynne replied. Then she decided to be polite, and added, "Thanks for asking, though."
Iolaus went in search of the Captain, and Rynne and Hercules spent a few tense moments of silence together. Finally, he spoke.
"This is ridiculous! I don't judge people by who they serve. I judge them based on their actions. You have helped my brother a great deal, and I don't wish you to think ill of me. I'm sorry if I offended you in any way."
Rynne replied coldly, "The only thing you did that offends me has nothing to do with me at all. You didn't even think about Iphicles after your mother died, did you? Zeus came down from his mighty throne on Olympus, and offered to make you a full god. Did he tell you had no family left to worry about? For surely he doesn't consider Iphicles family! And you accepted, not even once thinking about using your powers to find Iphicles and tell him what had happened. Pah! I judge people by their actions, too Hercules. And I find you wanting."
Hercules stared at her for a few minutes, then stopped angrily off to the other side of the room. Rynne closed her eyes and slumped against the chair, truly drained from her prophetic experience. A familiar voice roused her quickly, though.
"Rynne! Are you alright? Iolaus told me what happened! What can I do for you?"
She opened her eyes and said, "Tirius, don't worry! I just need a place to sleep this off. I've never had a waking vision before, and it's given me quite a fantastic headache!"
Tirius nodded knowingly. "Ah, I know what you mean! My mother had visions on a regular basis, and they always put her to bed right quick! Come, I know just the remedy! She made me memorize it, so that I'd be able make it without her supervision Never forgot it, either!"
Iolaus joined Hercules as Tirius escorted Rynne out of the room. Looking at his friend, he noticed how angry, yet perturbed the big man looked.
"Herc, what's wrong? What did that bitch say to you?" Iolaus asked hotly. HE had no qualms about condemning anyone who served Ares! Even if it was his best friend's brother...
"Easy, Iolaus," Hercules replied quietly. "She accused me of forgetting about Iphicles when he needed me most, and she's right. I didn't think about him once while I was a god. He is my brother, after all. She has every right to condemn me. She's given him more love and support in two weeks time than I have during my whole life. Now that mother's gone, he's the only blood tie I have left that's truly worth caring about."
"Well, you'll get your chance, soon enough. I was stopped by a servant on my way back here, and told that Iphicles wants to meet with us first thing in the morning. In the meantime, our usual rooms await us."
Hercules grunted, then said, "Good. I feel like I just had a battle of wits with a minotaur, and lost. Let's go."
Iolaus grabbed their packs, threw one to the demi-god, then left the Throne Room.
Rynne was tired as hell, but despite everything she'd been through in the last hour, she couldn't sleep. *Probably because it's barely lunchtime!* she thought to herself. *I never could sleep with the sun up!*
But she tried anyway When she closed her eyes, however, instead of darkness, she saw the Temple in flames, Ares holding the limp form of Thamiris, tears of rage and pain coursing down his face, Iphicles dying heirless, a bitter old man who blamed her for everything, and Hercules, who, ironically enough, kept trying to defend her. The strangest part was, she never seemed old in any of these visions. *Hmmmmm. Must be my overworked imagination...*
She sat up and wearily rubbed her eyes when a knock sounded on her door. Figuring it was Tyrus, she said, "Come in," and looked up expectantly.
But it wasn't the Captain of the Guards. It was the King of Corinth.
"Iphicles!" she said, surprised by his presence. "I thought..." But then she saw his face, and quickly went to him, holding him close. He looked terrible! His eyes were all red and puffy from crying, the proof of that in evidence as wet streaks down his salt-covered face.
"I know I said I needed to be alone," he said softly in her ear. "But I realized that I needed you to hold me. This is all just too much! When will the pain end? How can I be a good ruler when my life is surrounded by tragedy?
"And, on top of everything else, my only living kin betrays me by leaving me behind, without a word, or thought! You're all I have left, Rynne. And you're not even mine, anymore!" His words dissolved into incoherent sobs. Rynne's heart ached for him, and she knew she wouldn't be able to heed Ares' warnings, if Iphicles sought physical solace.
He started leaning on her, and she had no choice but to steer him to the bed, and sit him down. She held him tightly, letting him sob his sorrows and pain out on her. She rocked him gently, hoping he would cry himself to sleep, but luck wasn't with her this time. Eventually, his sobs ceased, and he pulled back slightly, looking at her with red-rimmed eyes. He sniffed a few times, wiped his eyes, then looked at her, his heart's desire plain to see.
Rynne sat there, meeting his stare, knowing she should get up, move away, deny him somehow, but she couldn't. He was still fresh in her heart, and she wanted him, loved him, even though she knew it was impossible. At this moment, she didn't care. She would willingly give him whatever he wanted.
Iphicles saw this in her eyes, and pulled her in for a deep, desperate kiss. He needed to posses her, to make her his again, if only for a short time. That time would be theirs. His hands quickly found the catches to her armor, and soon he was tugging on the stays to her dress, impatient to have it off. She silently helped him when she could, then slipped her hands under his white silk shirt, caressing the hard muscles of his back.
Finished with her dress, he quickly slipped out of his own clothes, then joined Rynne on the bed, covering her body with his own. They lay like that for awhile, simply kissing each other, and enjoying the feeling of their flesh touching. Then Iphicles started exploring her body, running mouth and hands over every inch, trying desperately to memorize every curve, every line, every mark. He knew this would probably be the last time, and he vowed he'd never forget it.
Rynne responded urgently to his gentle love making, a fierce fire blazing through her body. She had driven herself mercilessly, these past five days, more to get through the endless, lonely night without him beside her than anything else. And now, here she was again, back where she started. *If only for a short time,* she thought, unknowingly echoing Iphicles. *I'm going to make the most of it, and suffer the consequences later!*
So she buried her hands in his beautiful hair, and urged him on, her sighs and moans turning to cries and grunts as he took her. At first he drove into her furiously, causing her to cry out continually. Then he would slow down, moving so softly, it was like he was caressing her with his whole body. Her hands flew across him, lightly touching every inch of his body, and slowly, he started losing control. He didn't want it to end, wanted to make it last forever! But he wasn't a god, his body couldn't handle the torture. Giving in, he let the wave crash over him, feeling Rynne shudder underneath him as she, too, succumbed.
They lay together for a long time, unwilling to let go just yet. Holding each other tightly, they whispered their love, and their sorrows, and their wishes of a future they could never have, until Tyrus knocked on the door, and quietly said that the King's presence was needed in the Wardroom immediately.
Sighing regretfully, Iphicles untangled himself from Rynne, sat up, and began putting on his clothes. Rynne got up, too, dressing quickly, forcing herself to keep from jumping Iphicles and pulling him back down to the bed. "Duty calls," she said bitterly, slamming her swords into her belt.
Looking up sharply at her anger, he replied, "Yes, duty. I have mine, and you have yours. That is our main problem. Duty will always be in our way, Rynne. There's nothing we can do about it. "So, let's go see what the problem is, shall we?"
"I wasn't summoned, Iphicles," Rynne said, still angry at life.
"Ah, but it's MY war council, now, isn't it? I want you there. So, let's go."
"No. I don't belong there. This is not my home. I came here to comfort you, not to fight your war. I'll only do that if Ares wishes it of me. Besides, I..." she stammered, and paused, trying to gain control of her voice. He waited patiently, understanding fully her predicament. Finally, she said, "I need some time alone. To pull myself together. I can't handle being this near to you, and not being yours! Please," she begged, grabbing his hand and squeezing it urgently. "Please, Iphicles, don't be angry with me. Don't argue with me. Just go. I...I promise, I'LL be there shortly. I just need some time."
Gently, he squeezed her hand, and replied, "Whatever you wish, my love. Always remember, no matter our fates, I will always love you. I said it once, I'll say it again, and again, and again, until you're mine once more, or I'm dead!" And then he was out the door.
Staring mutely at the door, she sunk to her knees, leaned on the bed, and sobbed her heart out.
The war council had been arguing for what seemed like hours, yet nothing had been accomplished. Athens was ignoring Athena's commands not to attack Corinth, and no one could devise a plan that even sounded plausible. Athens' army could easily wipe out any legion he sent against them, and he had too many outlying villages to allow a siege. And Ares was still quelling the uprising at his main Temple, so he couldn't help, either. From Iphicles' point of view, Corinth was doomed.
And to top it all off, Rynne hadn't show up of yet. He was worried about her, which distracted him from the council. He kept seeing her tear-ravaged face begging him to go. It cut to his very soul, ripping it to ribbons. He felt like falling back into the pit of oblivion she had found him in barely a week ago.
"Now, now, that wouldn't be a wise thing, King," a voice whispered for his ears only. Iphicles knew it was Ares, and also knew that none of the others knew he was present. The voice continued. "You start despairing, and all of this pain and hard work is for naught!" The god's voice was hissing, now. "Rynne chose to ignore my advice, and now she's suffering terribly. If you chose to ignore me as well, King, you won't suffer alone. The whole land of Greece will follow you down. You'll be known throughout history as the man who destroyed Greece! Do you want that? Well, do you?"
"NO!" Iphicles shouted, jumping to his feet. Ares materialized next to him, and the men sitting around the table all gasped, and nearly jumped out of their chairs. Iphicles stared wildly at them, then turned to Ares. "i left Rynne in her room. She promised me she'd come here when she was ready. Please go find her. I need her expertise."
Ares nodded his head slightly, and disappeared.
Turning back to his council, Iphicles said harshly, "Corinth will not die today! We will find a way to defeat our neighbors! With Ares help, we can not fail!"
Ares found Rynne huddled in a ball against her bed, fast asleep. Shaking his head in disgust, he prodded her with his boot. When nothing happened, he kicked her, and yelled, "Get up! Some warrior you turned out to be! Life is hard, Rynne! To survive it, YOU must be hard, too! You cannot be ruled by love. You-"
Rynne jumped to her feet, and snapped, "What do YOU know of love? You know about war, and you know about sex. But to love...don't tell me how to feel! I know I'M alive because I can feel pain! The moment I stop being able to love is the moment I truly die!" She flung herself down on the bed, and waited to be turned to ashes for her disrespectful outburst.
Instead, she felt her patron god sit down beside her, felt his arms gather her up, felt his strong hands caress her hair as he pulled her into his embrace. Stunned, she stopped sobbing, and buried her face in his vest. Metal studs bit into her skin, but she didn't mind. The pain helped clear her head. "i tried to warn you, Rynne," Ares said quietly, still caressing her hair. "i knew you'd end up alone with him. And I could see how much you love him still. I'm not jealous. I want all my Priestesses to be happy. But you can't be with him! I know it hurts. I can feel you pain. But you have to let go!" His deep voice, so soft and tender, calmed her, made her feel all warm and safe.
"Ares, my lord, please help me!" she begged. "Help me to let go!"
Placing both hands on her shoulders, he gently pushed her back, until he was looking at her. "Do you really want me to?" he asked softly. But there was something else, too, in his voice. Almost like...anticipation.
Nodding, she said, "yes, Ares. Please! Every time I see him, my love grows stronger! I'M caught in a trap I don't want to escape from! I can't do this alone. Please, free me from this spell!"
Shaking his head, he replied, "This is not a spell, Rynne. If it were, I could easily free you from it. This is true love gone very wrong. I can make things better. You will always love Iphicles. That I can not change. But I can give you a different fixation. Someone whom you can give your love to, without complication, and very few conditions."
"Who?" she wanted to know.
Looking deep into her eyes, to her very soul, he answer simply, "Me."
"What?" she asked in amazement.
"Rynne, right now, you are mine because you owe me a debt of honor. That's fine, for now. But you can't become a true Priestess, unless you give yourself to me, completely, mind, body, and soul. I already have your mind. Body can wait till later. Right now, I want your soul. Give me your heart, and you give me your soul. For a warrior, they are one and the same."
"But...how can I just up and...love you?" she asked, bewildered. "How can I transfer my love of Iphicles to you?"
"I don't want you to transfer your love from him to me," he replied patiently. He had no intention of screwing this up by rushing her. This was the only chance he was going to get. He was going to do it right! "I want you to...focus your attention on me, find love in me, want me back. DO you understand?"
Nodding, she said, "I think so, yes. But, again, how can we accomplish this? Sitting here now, I feel a sense of well-being washing over me, and I enjoy your presence. In time, I know I can learn to love you, if given the chance. But we don't have time. How can you make me love you now?"
"Do you want to do this? Honestly. Once it's done, it's done."
"Yes, I do. I swear, anything!"
He quirked an eyebrow at her, and said, careful of that word, my dear. Anything is a lot to offer. But all I require from you right now is a kiss. A special kiss. Open your mind to me as you open your mouth to me, and I will do the rest. Ready?"
Gulping, she nodded.
Leaning down, he looked into her eyes as their lips met. As his tongue passed between her parted lips, his eyes saw past hers and into her soul. As his mouth possessed hers, explored it, plundered it, his eyes delved deep into her soul, found the spot that hurt, and soothed it, wrapping it in his essence. She moaned in his mouth, the physical sensations warring with the...non-physical, she didn't know what else to call them. The sensations emanating from her soul filled her with a longing for Ares, not on a sexual level, though there was that, too, but on a spiritual level. She longed to be a part of him, and would never feel whole again without him. At the same time, she now felt complete, as if something she'd been waiting her whole life for had finally happened, and now she could move on. She knew, instinctively, that she would never leave Ares, as she had left her family, and her masters, and now, Iphicles. Ares was her destination. She was home.
Ares continued the kiss, and the healing of her soul, until he felt her mind come to its conclusion. Relief and pleasure at his success washed through him, and he closed him eyes, releasing her soul, and deepened the kiss, pulling her body even closer to his.
She responded eagerly, wanting him, needing him, badly. He
had her mind, and now her soul. She wished to finish her oath to
him by giving him her body, too. But he pulled back, eventually,
regret evident on every inch of his face.
"Besides," he added sarcastically, "Iphicles sent me here to bring you to council. He desperately needs some help against the coming invasion from Athens. We have to help him. Corinth doesn't stand a chance if we don't." He sat up, pulled his vest down, then stood. "Are you OK now?"
Rynne nodded in amazement. She had expected the pain to return when Ares mentioned the King, but all she felt was...well, she wasn't sure what it was, yet. She knew she still loved him, but it wasn't painful anymore. Ares' kiss had completely changed her direction. She no longer yearned for a life with Iphicles. Now, all she wanted was to complete the business a hand, and start her new life as a Priestess of Ares.
"Let's not keep the King of Corinth waiting any longer!" she finally replied, grinning at her God. *Flames, but he's beautiful! Why didn't I notice before?*
Before her mind could formulate a reply, Ares had grabbed her hand, and they disappeared in a blazing blue light.
They reappeared in the council room, still holding hands. As soon as she was oriented, Rynne looked around the room, searching the faces. She knew most of them, including two she wasn't too pleased to see. Hercules and Iolaus.
Turning to Iphicles, she said, "What plans have you come up with, Iphicles?"
She sounded business-like, matter-of-fact. Iphicles stared at her, shocked.
Looking closely, he noticed that Ares hadn't let go of her yet. Suddenly jealous, he searched her face, and his heart went cold. Her eyes didn't reflect anything for him, no love, no pain, nothing! No, that wasn't quite true. There was something, but he couldn't put his finger on it. But he knew she was truly lost to him, this time. Ares had finally gotten to her. She was his.
*Fine,* he thought, harshly to himself. *Two can play this game!*
Staring back at her, his features completely emotionless, he replied flatly, "Nothing has been decided, Rynne. No one, not even my dear brother Hercules, can come up with a plan that has any chance in Tartarus of working!"
Ares finally let go of Rynne's hand, and walked around to the head of the table, leaning down just to his right. "That's because our dear brother is not a strategist, Iphicles. He spends his time fighting evil, defending the good and honorable. But that does us no good when we're up against a large, well disciplined army bent on destroying a city!
"No, what we need to do is reach them before they get here, and send them packing before they cross the landbridge! Any ideas, Rynne? How would your Samurai masters deal with this threat?"
"Well, I don't know about my masters, Ares, but I'd set up everything we could move right on our side of the bridge, including men. Then, I'd ask you to make the Athenians see three times as many soldiers and equipment as what's really there. Then I'd start hurling some fireballs at them, and raining some arrows with Hephaestus-forged tips at them. Also, I'd like to see if Athena could lend a hand. You said she warned her citizens not to attack us, yet they ignored her. I would think she'd like to teach them a lesson, no?"
Ares nodded his head approvingly, while the men shook their heads in amazement. Scare tactics! How simple could you get?
Iphicles asked, "Ares do you think it'll work? Can we get to the bridge in time?"
"If you move now, and keep moving until it's done, with my help, we can pull it off. Now, I suggest you start putting Rynne's plan to work. I've got to see a Goddess about a war! Come on, Rynne, I want you to meet Athena."
Iphicles fumed as Ares disappeared, taking Rynne with him. But there wasn't a damn thing he could do about it, so he turned to his council, which hadn't budged, and bellowed, "Well? What are you laggards waiting for? You have your orders, now MOVE!"
He stared menacingly until the room was empty of everyone except himself, Hercules, and Iolaus. He sat, and waited for one of them to speak. His brother finally got up, and walked towards him.
"Iphicles, are you OK?" Gods, Hercules actually sounded worried! Hah.
"Well, Rynne didn't...seem herself there, to me. One wouldn't know that, only a few hours ago, she had thrown herself in your arms! She looked cold, and calculating. Like..."
"Like Ares. Yes, I know. I went to her for comfort, and we...well, we ended up making love. We both knew we shouldn't, but we just couldn't help it! Then Tyrus calls me away to council, and I left her sobbing her heart out in despair and pain. Ares showed up a while ago, reprimanded me for my dark thoughts, then went to bring her here, at my request. I don't know what happened between them, but she's put the pain behind her, and now she's not mine anymore. She'll never hold me in her arms, or kiss me, or tell me she loves me, ever again. I knew it would happen, but my heart wouldn't listen to my head. And so I set myself up for another fall. Only this time, I have to climb out of the whole by myself."
"No, not by yourself, brother," Hercules chided softly. "I admit, I haven't been the best of family to you, but I owe you, bigtime. This is my chance to finally help you, if you'll only let me."
Iphicles stared at him coldly, but seeing the anguished look in Herc's eyes melted something inside him. "I could never say no to you, brother, even when you hurt me. You are all I truly have left. Stay in Corinth, and help me get through these horrible times. The burdens of rule weigh heavy, sometimes. I need someone to talk to, someone who's not a court official, or an advisor, but who's just a friend."
"I'll do whatever you want, Iphicles. All you have to do is ask."
Iolaus, still sitting at the far end of the room, quickly brushed tears of joy from his face.
Athena was more than willing to help punish her disobedient followers. As Ares and Rynne were preparing to return to the city, she said, "Portray a larger-than-life image of your warrior here, and make her voice thunderous. Rynne, tell my warriors that I will personally come down from Olympus and punish them all severely if they do not return to Athens immediately. I doubt it will work, but it sets the stage for my...entrance!" the Goddess of War smiled fiercely, and Rynne couldn't help but grin back. By the Gods, this was going to be something to remember!
They appeared near then landbridge, hoping to find things well underway, and they were not disappointed. Iphicles was no slacker! Find him a solution, and he quickly put it into effect.
They stood off to the side, quietly supervising the preparations, and wondered where the King was. Although he had plenty of men to supervise the work, he should be there, making sure things were going according to plan. Rynne was just about ready to ask Ares to find him, when a cry rang out. "The King! Iphicles is here! Look sharp, men!"
Straining, Rynne managed to spot him, his golden-red curled standing out against the more drab colors of dirt, wood, and rock. He quickly rode up to them dismounted, and asked, "Well? Is Athena with us?"
Nodding, Rynne replied, "Yes. Ares is going to project my image to the whole army, and I'm going to make some demands, and say some specific things, either to make them flee, or get them riled up. If the don't go, Athena will make her appearance, and that should be that."
"Are you sure this is such a good idea? Won't you be in danger?"
Rynne smiled, and Iphicles' heart rose. Maybe...
"Iphicles, dear, Ares will be with me the whole time! If Ares can't protect me, who can?"
Shaking his head in wonder, he replied, "Well, I guess you're right. Far be it for me to tell you what to do, anyway, huh?" He grinned at her, and she smiled again. *Maybe I haven't lost her totally!* he mused.
Suddenly, a voice cried out, "The Athenians are almost at the bridge! Ready, catapults! At my signal, light ‘em and let ‘em fly!"
Iphicles, Ares, and Rynne watched from their vantage point, as hundreds of fireballs were hurled across the river. They could hear the distant screaming from the enemy camp as the burning pitch caught hair, clothing, and grass. The call soon went out for Archers to ready themselves, and the sky suddenly filled with arrows tipped by Hephaestus. The first four rows of Athenians went down under the tremendous onslaught, as the powerful arrows sliced through one man, and got buried in the one behind. Still, despite the death rate, the land on the other side of the bridge was full of the enemy.
"Time to put Athena's plan to work wouldn't you say?" Ares asked, grinning wickedly. He longed to do more, like take his mighty sword and wade through the enemy, hacking them into little pieces, letting the blood flow thick and hot, steaming as it covered the ground. But Athena said she would only help if Ares stayed away from them, so he kept his baser desires in check, and stuck to the plan. At Rynne's nod, he projected her image across the sky, adding an image of himself standing behind her for good measure, and amplified her voice. She spoke out strongly, saying, "Athenians, hear me! You do not know me, but I am a messenger from Athena! I have beseeched her, asking for help against your dishonorable attack, and she has agreed to give me aid! She told me that if you all did not leave the battlefield now, and return to your city, she would be greatly disappointed, and would come down from Olympus, and punish you all severely! Do not take her words lightly! She was very angry when she found out you had disobeyed her direct orders NOT to attack Corinth! Heed my warnings! Turn around now, before it is too late!"
Ares turned the volume way up towards the end, and her last sentence was deafening. Many of the Athenians threw down their weapons, and fled the field, but most stayed, defiant. Shaking her head, she signaled Ares behind her back, and he slowly faded her out. Moments later, Athena appeared, towering over both armies, causing the earth to tremble with each step. At the sight of their angry Goddess, the rest of the army turned tail and ran, leaving the victory to Corinth.
Back in the Palace, Ares and Rynne were saying their farewells. Actually, Ares was just standing there, and Rynne was trying to say good-bye to Iphicles. But he wasn't having any of it. he wanted some answers.
"Rynne, what did he do to you? What happened to that fierce love you had for me?" he asked, his heart once more in his eyes. Her answer almost broke it.
"Iphicles, I still love you. But it will never be a happy love. Ares...helped me to see that I-we- must move on. I am devoted to Ares now. I am truly one of his Priestesses. If you ever need me, just call Ares, and ask him. I will come, if I can. Things will never be as they were before, but that's as it should be. We've been through this before. It's the only answer."
"That's easy for you to say!" he snapped, losing control. "He...blocked your feelings, or something, took away the pain. But what about me? I still feel all those things he took from you! Your life moves on, while I'M still here, wallowing in despair and loneliness, and lost love. What about me?" This last he asked of Ares, who looked at him, amused.
"Well, I can't do to you what I did to her, but I think I can help a bit," He said, enjoying the game. "You have to trust me, or this won't work. ready?"
"Just do it!" Iphicles snapped again.
Shaking his head, slightly annoyed now, Ares placed his hand over the King's heart, and concentrate, his eyes closed. When he opened them again, Iphicles was staring at him in wonder. "Well?" the god asked, expecting some thanks for his efforts.
"Ares, I don't know what to say? Is this what she feels for me, now?" He asked, nodding towards Rynne, who was smiling happily.
"Yes, to a certain degree. I had nowhere to direct your love, so I rearranged it slightly, but the result is the same. Basically, I've left the feelings, and emotions, and taken away the physical desires that went along with them. You two should be able to get on with your lives, now. And it's about damn time! Now, Rynne, let's go. We have a Temple to reorganize!"
Rynne walked overt to Iphicles one last time, and hugged him. "All better now?" she asked, giving him her wide-eyed, innocent look. He burst out laughing, and said, "Yes, much! Now, go on! And don't be a stranger! I still need you."
Grinning, she nodded, then walked over to Ares, and soon they were gone.
Rynne and Ares appeared in her rooms, which seemed to have been untouched by the bloody conflict that had taken place yesterday within the Temple. She sat down wearily, and he joined her, leaning back against her pillows.
"Whew! What a crazy week this has been! In and out of love, battle, pain, despair, gods, heroes, and armies. And, if that's not enough, the Temples breaks out in war while I'm gone!
"Which reminds me, you never did tell me what happened!" she accused the god, who, for all appearances, was sleeping soundly.
He answered her, though. "Well, one of that bitch Terissa's followers was a seer, and she saw me returning to the Temple. She warned Terissa and Shen the other bitch, and they fled, leaving their followers to fight for them. Well, once those two had fled, the battle was won. Karesia fried the seer, and several other women who'd given her some trouble.. Tham, Thiel, Iphenys, Arebella, and Nemetoma are injured, though not badly. Rohanna and the others are fine. Nobody from our side died, fortunately, though Terissa's people were all wiped out. No mercy was shown. You fuck with the God of War, and you pay with your life.
"Out with the old, in with the new. The troublemakers are gone, and a new group has taken its place. We will be unstoppable! And now-" he paused, sat up, and pulled her into his arms. "Now, beloved, it's time to make you a full-fledged Priestess. Are you ready? Mind and soul you've a already given me. It's time for you to give me your body."
Rynne simply wrapped her arms around him and kissed him, saying with her body what they both already knew in their minds, and in their souls.