The darned boiled olive root was giving me fits. I had been pounding the stuff with my mortar and pestle for almost an hour, and the stringy fibers were still refusing to become a paste. My arm was tiring from the grinding motion. If this stuff wasn't absolutely great for stopping the bleeding in wounds, I swear I would throw it on the fire. If only the fruit of the olive was the active part instead, life would be much easier, by Zeus.
"I'm surprised that you haven't given up on that plant by now, Hellana."
"Yeow!" Startled, I clutched the mortar and turned to the speaker standing behind me, my dirk out and ready in my other hand. Zeus stood there, trying to look serene and dignified in those gray robes of his. The glint in his brown eyes and the feeling of smugness he gave off told me a far different story. The old fart had enjoyed scaring me out of this incarnation.
"Zeus! Don't sneak up on me like that. You about scared me into a shroud."
He smiled impishly. "Now is that the way to speak to your grandfather?"
I slipped my dirk back into its belt sheathe and folded my arms over my ches t. Then I remembered the mortar in my hand, and I turned and put it on the table.
"What do you want?" I knew my tone wasn't exactly polite, but gods, did the gods annoy me.
"Why Hellana, you would think that you aren't glad that I looked in on you. I haven't seen you in almost a year or so."
"Now why should I be glad to see you, you old lech? The last time you popped in, it was to try to get me to make a love potion so you could seduce some hapless mortal. The only time you stop by is when you want something." To tell you the truth, I was rather fond of the old curmudgeon, annoying as he could be. But when dealing with the Olympian gods, it was better to seem like you hated them so they wouldn't try to manipulate you into doing something that would get you in trouble. I had learned that lesson the painful way.
He laughed. "And I recall that you told me to go see Aphrodite if I wanted love potions, but if I was having trouble with readying myself for love, then you could do something for me." His eyes got steely with affronted male pride. "I have fathered over three hundred thousand children in my life, your father Hermes being only one of them. I never have problems readying myself for that."
"From what Herc says, maybe the world would be a better place if you did!" But I could feel myself smiling at him. "Since you're here, do you want something to eat or drink?"
The gleam came back to his eyes. "Ahh, yes. While I'm here you know I couldn't resist sampling your splendid creations. I swear, child, I should strip Dioneses of his powers and give them to you. It's you who cook like a Goddess." And the Father of the Gods licked his lips like a kid in anticipation.
"Dio's the god of the glutton and wine, eaters and drinkers, not cooks. Besides, I don't want to be a god, and you darned well know that. Come on, I'll whip up something for you while you tell me the real reason you're here." I turned to him. "First, though, would you use your powers to do me a favor? This olive root is being stubborn about turning into a paste. Could you smash it a bit for me?"
He eyed the greenish-brown mass warily, then waved his hand over it. The entire bowl was filled with olive bark paste suddenly! Enough to stop the bleeding of the entire Spartan army.
"Thanks. Come on."
We went into my kitchen and I scooped up some of the lamb stew I'd been cooking all day. Then I tore up assorted vegetables into a bowl, poured olive oil and wine vinegar over it, then added my special herbs and goat cheese to it.
While we ate he told me why he'd come. Because I was correct in saying that Zeus rarely visited me unless he wanted something more than a good meal.
"Hellana, someone's killing the gods."
I reached out with a rag and wiped oil off his beard. "Well, since they can't be killed except by hind's blood, and Serena's dead, that must be a real feat."
"I'm serious. Whatever the murderer is using on his or her knife, it's sending whatever god it touches to Hades. And they can't leave the underworld afterwards for at least ten mortal years!"
"Well, Pan and Dite's son Lust got it first, that was before you were born. We thought it was an anomaly, and since he was able to leave Hades after ten years, we just chalked it down to a cuckolded husband."
I nodded. "With Lust, that's probably a good guess."
"Then Fortune was stabbed in the back fifteen years ago. She was forced into the underworld, and the world's luck went completely wild while she was gone. Seven years ago Dioneses' son Glutton got stabbed, and Hade's having a real problem keeping the pig in food. Three years ago it was Athena's daughter Knowledge, a year and a half ago it was Discord and Ares' son Treachery, and now Cupid's been stabbed last week. I can tell you, Hellana, my son Hades isn't very happy at the moment."
"I bet not. Having that arrogant Knowledge around spouting facts to him, and Treachery stabbing people in the back, and Cupid making the souls fall in love? Poor Hades! I bet he's having a fit. Not to mention how the poor mortals are being effected without the gods to regulate things. But I don't see what you want with me, Zeus. It's obviously a god doing it. What I'd like to know is what the killer is using to force the geas of death on them."
"So would we. The senior gods are getting very nervous. The killer is striking more often now. We've got to stop it! Here." He handed her a wrapped knife. "This was found at the site of Cupid's murder. Be careful with the blade. It's coated with something."
"You know that no substance can hurt me. I'm assuming that's why you brought it to me." I unwrapped the knife. It was carved from a clear crystalline rock with leather wrapped around the hilt. Something glowed on the end of the point. I gently put my hands around the stained point, and as soon as the poison touched my skin I felt what the substances were. "It's a mixture of goat's milk, ambrosia, and sap from a fruit from the tree of life." Now I was definitely confused. "That shouldn't be killing anyone."
He looked thoughtful "No, alone they're all harmless or have positive effects. But together they must be the carrier of the geas."
"Yea, I guess so. So, was that why you came? For me to tell you what's in it?"
"Urh, no. Actually, I want you to find out who's behind these killings, Hellana."
"Are you kidding? If you gods couldn't find out, what makes you think I can do anything?"
"Because the gods' main problem is that we don't trust each other. I can't be certain that proper investigations of the attacks were done at all. And you've developed something of a reputation for solving crimes among mortals, Hellana after those two you solved in Carthans."
"Zeus, do you realize how much work would be involved with something like this? I'm not a full god, and I can't be in ten places at once."
"I know that. That's why I've asked my son Hercules to help as well."
"He's a good choice, but still, the legwork could be absolutely overwhelming."
"Well, I've also assigned Ares to help you. He's got warlords and warriors all over Greece and Italy. He can get them to do the legwork for you and Hercules." Now he was cautious as he looked at her.
"No. Absolutely not! I will not have Ares anywhere near me, and you know that very well, Grandfather." I never called him that unless I was really annoyed at him.
"Now, Hellana, you can't still hold a grudge against what happened twelve years ago, can you? The boy got carried away was all."
Now I was really pissed. "Carried away! You old goat, the man tried to force me to make love to him!"
"Now, Hellana, if my son had really wanted to force you, he would have done it. You couldn't have stopped him, and you know it. He wanted you, and he's not used to getting turned down, and he got overenthusiastic is all."
"Yah, so overenthusiastic that if Hephestus hadn't been there, I'd have been Ares bait. And I was still virgin."
As much as I hated to admit it, Zeus had a point. Looking back on it, Ares could have forced me easily if he'd wanted to. I'd been pretty naive then. The fact of it was that I had kind of liked the War God when I first met him. But, being Ares and not known for his sensitivity, he'd pushed me way too fast and scared the Tartarus out of me. And I'd never forgiven him for it.
"I punished him for his forcefulness to you, as your father Hermes asked me to."
"Well, this situation is kind of serious, I guess. But can't you find anyone else but Ares? Herc can't stand him either."
"He's got the most efficient followers, and you know it. You and Hercules will just have to."
"Hercules will just have to what, Zeus?" That came from behind Zeus. We both looked up and saw Hercules filling the doorframe. The man could really fill a doorframe, he could.
I got up and went to him for a hug. "Herc. It's good to see you again, big guy."
After giving me an almost bone shaking hug, he just held me and looked down at me with those blue eyes so many ladies were nuts for. "You look good. The herb and healing business agrees with you much more than the mercenary business did."
"Well, it's always tough for a merc who won't sacrifice to Ares. And I wasn't really in it for the fighting in the first place, and it got old. I've learned how to fight off the soldiers Hermes sends to grab me and bring me back to Olympus every few years, and to beat off Ares if he ever gets too enthusiastic with me again. Speaking of Ares," I turned to look at Zeus. "Your father wants us to team up with him to find this god killer."
The blue eyes turned cold as he looked at his father. "Ares doesn't work as a team member, Zeus, and you very well know that. And stabbing someone in the back is his style. I wouldn't be surprised if he's the one who's been doing it."
"Now come, come, son. You know Ares doesn't stab people in the back that often. He's too blunt for that. I know he hasn't been killing the gods. He was in my punishment room when Fortune was killed, and had been for three years. And no mortal who worked for him could have gotten to her without her sensing it. He's not our killer, but he's also not the best person to interrogate the other gods."
I smiled at that. "Right! He'd only piss them all off something fierce. And the others, with the exception of Hera, trust both me and Herc."
"Hera doesn't trust anyone, unfortunately. But I've ordered her to cooperate with you, and she will obey me."
Hercules and I went back to the table. I dished him out a huge portion, he always did have a big appetite, and finished mine up, thinking furiously all the while. But Herc spoke before I could.
"Zeus, why should I help you? Or Hellana either? We both don't care for the games you gods play, so what should we care if they're taken out of circulation for a while?"
I answered instead of Zeus. "That, at least, I understand. The effect on the mortals if the gods are taken out of circulation could be worse than when they're there causing trouble. And if the underworld gets too disrupted, Hades will have to start messing with the laws of death in order to handle it. That could hurt mortals as well."
Zeus finished for me. "That's already started happening, Hercules. The luck got so screwed up while Fortune was gone that it took her years to repair the damage. And many more mortals got hurt from bad luck than would have normally. And without Cupid, Dite is going to have to work double time to get her quota of lovers. Athena can't keep the scholars in knowledge as well as the lawyers in wisdom and justice. It's too much for her. The mortals need Knowledge to improve their lives, as you well know."
"But Zeus, Ares?"
The old god stood up. "Well you're just going to have to put up with each other, Hercules. He's the only god I can trust not to be the killer. Now I've told him to come to you after I leave. And I've told him to behave himself. He's rather afraid that he might be next, actually. So he has good reason to help the two of you."
I looked at Herc and nodded. "Ares does have the disciplined men to do the legwork we might need, Herc."
"Won't it bother you to work with him, after what he tried to do?"
I thought about it for a minute. "No, not really. Now that I've been a soldier, I'm not scared of him like I was when I was a kid. I guess I can see his point of view now, and why he does the things he does. And I feel sure that I can geld him if he tries anything with me, which certainly helps my confidence." I smiled at him, fingering the hilt of my knife.
He laughed. "Remind me not to get on your bad side, lady."
Zeus nodded. "Good. I'll have him come to you here, then. Thank you, you two. I really appreciate your help." Then he disappeared in a flare of light.
Herc went back to the table then. "Well, I think I'll have some more of this stew while we're waiting for brother dearest to come. It's great! What have you put into it to give it that tangy taste?"
"Now, you know I don't give away any of my cooking or lovemaking secrets, Herc."
He glanced up at me, the spoon halfway to his mouth, then smiled. We'd been lovers briefly before our lives had pulled us in different directions, and the old spark was still there. "Well, I know some goddesses and women who would kill for your secrets in both skills, Hellfire." The spoon plopped into the mouth and he chewed and swallowed. Hellfire had been my nickname when I was a soldier.
I dropped the wooden bowl I'd picked up from the table and it crashed to the floor, spilling oil, vinegar, and vegetables all over the tiles. "Damn it, I wish you gods would stop doing that!"
Ares sauntered over to stand way too close to me, waved his hand and all of the mess cleaned itself up and the bowl sat back on the table, then said, "Doing what?"
He was as big, black, and arrogant as always, with those sexy brown bedroom eyes looming above me. "Popping in and startling me like that. Zeus did it too. It drives me crazy!"
Now he smiled and moved even more into my personal space. He was tall, not as tall as Hercules at 6'7'', but at least a foot taller than me. He had the intense sexual magnetism that all the Olympians had, as well as the strength of personality of the born warrior, and he well knew it. I definitely didn't like the way he was checking me out. At least, part of me didn't like it. The other part couldn't help but respond to his animal attraction. Unfortunately, that's the way it had always been between us.
"It's nice to know that after all these years, I'm finally able to drive you crazy in some way."
Suddenly Hercules was there, getting into Ares' personal space and looking down on him pointedly. Gods and goddesses! Having both of those alpha males standing close enough to smell was overpowering! It had been too damn long since I'd taken a lover, I thought to myself as I tried to ignore the tingling response to their nearness.
"You aren't here to drive anyone anywhere, Ares. You're here to help us with this investigation. Now I suggest you quit being annoying and we can get to it." The challenge in Hercules' eyes was unmistakable. Male animal challenging another for the favors of the female. Only this female had other ideas!
The god of war didn't budge, but he did look down at me, the brown eyes smiling. "Am I bothering you, Hellana?"
I reached out and pushed him away from me abruptly. "Yes. Go loom over someone else, big boy." Then I pushed Hercules away as well. "I don't need a protector, Herc. I'm not some helpless mortal woman or a sixteen year old virgin overawed by the presence of the great God of War. Now, if you're hungry, Ares, sit down and eat something. If not, just sit down and let's discuss strategy."
"There isn't a god or goddess on Olympus that would turn down a chance to get some of your cooking, Hellana." He quickly straddled a bench and helped himself to a huge portion.
"You're as bad as Glutton, Ares. You should try chewing it first. They say food digests better if you do." Herc remarked dryly. I had to smile. He was inhaling it at the speed of an arrow from Artemis' bow. "Now seeing a healthy male enjoy my cooking definitely doesn't bother me at all. Have some more salad, Ares."
I looked at Herc. "I think the first place we should go is down to the underworld. Hades might have some ideas, and we can talk with Glutton, Knowledge, Cupid, and Treachery while we're there. Also, I'm thinking that poor Hades might need some cheering up too. He must be going nuts with all those gods running around being annoying."
"Just bring down some of this stew, and Glutton will tell us everything he knows and then some." Ares said through a mouth full of food.
Ignoring the outburst, Hercules said, "I agree with you, Hellana. That's the first place we should go." He looked at his brother. "Since you've now managed to inhale every molecule on the table, Ares, do you think you can take us down now?"
His half-brother leaned back and patted his flat stomach. "Now I feel like a nap!"
"Gods don't sleep!"
He looked at me and smiled. "Oh, some things can tire us out, at least for a little while."
Damnitall! I could feel my face heating up. I got up from the bench, went and picked up my medicine bag, thought about it, then put the olive root paste Zeus had made in a leather-padded jar and plopped it in the bag. With Ares around, blood would probably flow soon enough. I also put the crystal knife into the bag as well. I'd tell my partners about it after we interviewed the dead gods.
"Okay, War God, I'm ready to go. Take us to the other side, please."
He got up and walked up to me. "Hercules, come over close to me. Carrying two half-mortals that far can be tricky. It works better if we're all touching." I stiffened when I felt a strong bare arm encircle my waist as he moved behind me.
"Ares!" I growled as the other arm came around me from the other side and a warm body minimized the space between us. A very warm body. "We don't have to be that close, now move it or lose it!" And I elbowed him in his very full belly. He laughed from behind me, backed up about an inch, and murmured, "You can't blame me for trying, can you? You still drive me nuts, Hellfire!"
I plucked one of his overfriendly hands off my ribs where it had been inching upwards and dropped it. At the same time I took firm hold of the other hand to keep it out of trouble. Then I reached over to Hercules and slipped my free arm in his to bring him close enough so Ares could teleport us more easily. He wasn't lying about the difficulty of teleporting anyone with mortal blood. It could be done, but it wasn't an easy task even for a major deity like Ares.
Ares put his hand on his brother's large shoulder, then I felt the nausea that always hit me when I teleported with a god. When we materialized, we were in the Halls of Judgement, and I was, as usual, puking my guts out into the River Styxx.
Herc bent over me worriedly. "Are you okay?"
I wiped my mouth with my hand and nodded, swallowing against the sour taste in my mouth. "Ya. Gods I hate doing that!"
"Why don't you get someone to use their powers to cure you of that weakness?" Ares asked.
I straightened up and glared at him. "I'm mortal, Ares. We're supposed to have weaknesses. And I don't like you Olympians messing with my mind and body, is why. Let's go find Hades."
"You've found him." We all turned around and saw Hades standing there. He looked pretty haggard, his blond hair mussed and dark circles under his eyes. The poor guy. Having all those gods there was really working him over.
His brown eyes caught mine, and he smiled, walking up and gathering me into a big hug. "Hello you little hellion, you. It's good to see you again." Then he gave me a long, healthy, and very sexy kiss. By the time he let me go, my face was red and my body was humming, and his body was reacting in typical male fashion. Here was another old lover and present friend.
"Hmm. You haven't lost your touch, Hellfire." His smile turned sly.
"You haven't lost yours as well, Hambone." Hambone had been my personal nickname for Hades when I had lived here as his companion. "But if Persephone saw you kiss me like that, she'd skin you alive, then send me to Tartarus." My grin was even more sly than his then, I was sure.
"She's with Demeter right now. These fool gods finally drove her away!" The smile had turned to a frown.
"Zeus sent us to try to find out who's doing this god killing. We thought that we'd talk to the ones who were murdered first. Do you mind?"
"Zeus, no! Anything to stop these gods from coming into my demesne! I'll set you guys up with a conference room, and send them in one at a time. How's that?"
I smiled. "That would be wonderful, Hades."
As we followed him to our temporary office, Ares came up and grabbed my arm, pulling me into an alcove. "How come you let him kiss you like that? It was as hot as Hephestus' forge!" He demanded.
"We're old lovers, as well as friends. He was just playing, and he misses Persephone is all." I moved to leave, and he grabbed me again, this time with both hands and pulled me close. I could feel the heat of him against me, and smell the sweetwater he bathed in. Damn but the man was deadly!
"You were lovers? You let him love you, and you won't let me near you? I'm as good looking as he is!"
The man never gave up! "Actually, you're better looking than he is, Ares. But he asked me nicely, and he did me a big favor in exchange for me keeping him company for a while. The key is that he asked me nicely, and didn't try to force the issue after I said no."
He bared his teeth at me. "He has more patience than I do. And that was a long time ago, Hellana. I haven't done it since. And I didn't force you, no matter how much I wanted to at the time. I showed great restraint. Stop judging me for something that happened so long ago!"
"No, you didn't force me then. You've just pestered me for the last twelve years until you've driven me nuts, you pushy old thing!" I put my hands up to his chest to push him away. It was like pushing a ton-weight boulder since he didn't want to be pushed. He picked me up and kissed me, pulling me so that our bodies touched. And he wasn't gentle about it. His mouth and tongue took control of mine, and my treacherous lips decided they wanted to become a prize of war. Fortunately my mind didn't agree, and I finally managed to pull away and backed up from the disturbing contact.
"Why don't you go bother some other woman, Ares, one who might actually want to bed you?" I snarled. Unfortunately the impact of the snarl was mitigated by my heavy breathing and a face flushed with my arousal.
He pulled his leather vest down on his hips and flipped his hair back in annoyance. "You do want me. You just won't admit it to yourself! And I'm not old!"
I had to smile at his pettish tone. He was such a big kid! "No, just a few hundred centuries is all, you're just a baby." Then I turned and went into the conference room before Herc came searching for us.
The first person we talked to was Knowledge. She was tall and slender, with an intelligent beautiful face and a turned up pixy nose. I had only dealt with her a few times, and had found her pompous and know-it-all to an extreme. "Hello Knowledge. Zeus asked me to look into your murder, and all the other ones."
"Hello, Hellana. Why you? I would think Athena would have been a better choice, with her superior intelligence."
I could feel my teeth gritting, and concentrated on relaxing my jaw. "Because it was a god who did it, is why. Now, will you tell us about how it happened?"
"Yes. I was sitting in the auditorium at the University of Athens watching two of my priests discuss the meaning of life."
"I can see that your exciting social life hasn't changed much over the centuries, Knowledge." Ares purred with his most sexy and insolent grin. There was no love lost between those two dieties, that was for sure. Knowledge was a lot like the virginal Artemis in that she didn't care for men much. Having a man like Ares oozing testosterone and male sexual power at her from every gorgeous pore of him made her distinctly skittish. And the God of War had had centuries to perfect that smoldering effect, and it had become almost second nature. He did it even in the presence of men, though he preferred to couple with women. Hercules was almost as bad from nature's gifts, except that he was politer and less intrusive about his oozing. He sensed when a woman or a goddess didn't care for men, and toned himself down as much as he could, which wasn't much, really.
She glared at Ares. "I wouldn't expect a cretin like you to understand high learning, Ares. The only two things you understand are using your sword and your cock!"
Herc smiled and looked over at his half-brother. "She has you there, Ares. Those are your two favorite things in the universe, after all."
Ares smirked, but his eyes were on me when he said, "Hey, a guy prefers doing what he's best at, after all. And what else is there in life?"
Feeling my face heat up at his regard, my eyes went back to Knowledge. "Please, no more insults, Knowledge, Ares. Could you just finish your story?"
"Well, my attention was caught as they debated their theories of the meaning of life, until suddenly someone snuck up behind me and I felt a sharp pain in my back. I immediately started dissolving." She shuddered. "When I came to, I was here and I couldn't leave. It was horrible! I've never felt so much pain in my life."
"You didn't see him or her, I gather?"
"No. My attention was wrapped up with the debate."
Thinking of something, I asked her, "Did you feel anything weird, or smell anything before you were stabbed, Knowledge?"
Ares laughed at me. "Why, Hellana, do you expect that this killer doesn't bathe regularly or something?"
I glared at him. "You'd know all about not bathing regularly, wouldn't you, Ares? You're just annoyed you didn't think of it first. Now hush. Any facts we can get will only help us."
Knowledge looked thoughtful. "Maybe a sweetish smell, like some kind of fruit. But it was only a whiff."
Glutton came in next. He was huge, with rolls of flesh spilling everywhere. It was amazing that even his treetrunk sized legs could hold up that massive bulk. He stunk, and decayed food lay in splatters over his body.
"Hello there, Hellana! You're looking even more beautiful and delectable-looking than ever." He licked his fat lips and checked me out with beady blue eyes like he wanted to have me for lunch.
"You aren't, Glutton. You're fatter than ever. But I suppose you really can't help it, since eating's your job. Tell us about how you got here." By Zeus, he was gross!
He leered at me and said, "I'd rather pour honey sauce all over your luscious breasts and lick it off like I was sucking on ripe fruit. Then I'd move downward and." He proceeded to stick his tongue out and wiggle it in order to leave nothing to the imagination as to what he'd like to do to me.
At least he started to, that is.
Ares was up and over the table we were sitting at faster than I could follow. His sword was out and at Glutton's fat neck in not much more time. Through clenched teeth he said, "Apologize to the lady, Glutton, or I'll cut your fat throat permanently!"
Hercules wasn't far behind the God of War. He came up to Ares and put his big hand on his half-brother's muscular arm. "I sympathize with the way you feel, Ares, but this isn't the way to deal with it."
Brown eyes blazing, Ares faced down Hercules. "I don't like him speaking to Hellana like that. This fat slob doesn't deserve to live after that comment."
By now I'd manage to overcome my surprise and came up to them. I reached up and took hold of Ares' sword hand and pushed it gently away from Glutton's neck. At first he resisted and I, of course, couldn't budge it. Then he reluctantly let me move it out and down, the fierce eyes locked on mine.
I came over to him, stood up on my tiptoes and kissed his bearded cheek, making him flush. "Thanks for defending my honor, Ares. But we need Glutton alive until he tells his story. After that you can do whatever you want to him." From the side of my eyes I could see the fat god blanche. Good.
After getting the two overprotective males back around the table, Glutton told the story. It was essentially the same as Knowledge's was, except he was stuffing himself when he was stabbed. Because of the food aromas around him, he didn't feel or smell anything unusual. We dismissed him with relief. He'd smelled up the entire room with his rancid stink.
"Now, we'll see Treachery."
Sure enough, Treachery came in. He seemed like he scuttled in like a cockroach, looking around with shifty eyes until he stood before us.
"Father." He nodded at the God of War. Ares looked at this rather unpleasant product of his seed and nodded back.
"Treachery, Zeus has asked us to see if we can find out who murdered you. Would you tell us how you got here?"
His story was the same. The murderer snuck up behind him while he was setting up some poor sap for a business takeover, and the next thing he knew, he was in the Halls of Judgement.
"Did you feel, hear, or smell anything unusual before you were stabbed?"
"Right before I felt the stab, I thought I heard a funny sound, like leather or scales rubbing against stone. It wasn't loud, though, and nothing was there when I looked."
I thanked him, and sent him on his way. That god really gave me the creeps, he did.
I could feel the muscles cramping in my shoulder. Partly it was from tension, and partly from sitting on my butt in one place for too long. I stood up and stretched, then started rubbing the back of my neck. "Gods I'm sore from sitting in one place for so long."
Strong hands took over the massage, and I closed my eyes in pleasure at the feel of fingers biting deep into stiff muscles.
"Umm, that feels absolutely wonderful, Her." Right then Hercules came around and into my view. It was Ares who was rubbing my aches out of existence.
I reached back and took his hand to stop him, then turned to look up at him. "Thanks a lot, Ares. That felt great. I guess we'd better get Cupid in here." He just grinned down at me with a glimmer in his brown eyes. How annoying.
Aphrodite's son Cupid was a nice young man. Since he'd married the once mortal Psyche, he'd matured quite a bit. The story he had to tell was interesting.
"I was ready to shoot an arrow at someone, when I felt someone come from behind and between my wings and put this weird crystal knife to my throat. Then he cut my throat, and I ended up here."
I looked at Herc and Ares. This difference in modus operandi might lead to a vital clue. "I expect that the killer realized that your wing membranes would be too tough to get a knife through. Was the arm big, little, muscular, skinny, covered, bare, that sort of thing, Cupid?"
He looked down at me, his wings flapping a bit. "I couldn't tell because it was wrapped in a loose purple silk sleeve. Even the hand was gloved in purple silk."
"Any smell or noise, cousin?"
He nodded. "Yah, Hellana. It had a kinda sweet rotten smell, like fruit gone bad for too long in the sun. And whoever it was, it was strong as anything! I'm not a weak god," The young man flexed impressive biceps proudly. "But he or she had me cold. I even buffeted him with my wings, but it didn't help."
Suddenly I had an idea. I got up, motioning for Herc and Ares to follow. We went around the table and approached Cupid.
I pulled out my dirk and handed it to Hercules. "Herc, I want to try something. Get behind Cupid and hold the knife to his throat from behind him and between his wings."
The big man did as I asked. Now Cupid was about six feet tall, so his much taller uncle dwarfed him. "Cupid, was the arm at this angle around your neck?"
Cupid thought about it. "No. It was lower, and less space between the elbow and my shoulder."
"Ares, now you try." Ares took his half-brother's place. "Cupid?"
"No, not this either. The elbow was almost pointed down."
"Now let me try. Ares, could you lift me up about five inches from the ground behind Cupid?"
"Sure." He got behind me and with his hands on my waist lifted me up the prescribed height without effort. I put my arm around Cupid's neck and asked him, "How about this?"
"That's it! That's exactly the angle of the elbow, Hellana!"
Ares let me down to the ground gently and I thanked him absentmindedly. "That means the murderer was about five inches taller than me. I'm five feet one inch tall. The killer is five feet six or seven inches tall, and strong enough to overpower a fully grown and powerful god like Cupid." I smiled at my cousin. "Thanks, guy. Your sharp eyes gave us another clue."
His chest puffed out in pride at the praise and he answered, "Any time, cousin, any time." Then he sauntered out the door with a pleased strut that reminded me of his Uncle/father Ares.
I sat back down at the table and rummaged through my pack. The knife was there, and I took it out and unwrapped it, laying it on the table in front of me. "This was found at the site of Cupid's attack."
"What's it made of?" Ares reached over my shoulder for it, but I managed to grab his hand before he got there.
"Ares, no! It still has the poison on it, and might be able to kill you just from you touching it to your skin. Take it by the hilt, and be careful with it."
"Thanks for the warning." He took it up by the hilt, and looked at it closely. Then he carefully handed it to Hercules, who did the same. Herc then handed it back to me to wrap and put away.
"It looks like some kind of quartz rock to me." Herc ventured.
"That's what I thought at first as well. But now I'm not so sure. Quartz is brittle, and would have difficulty holding a point or an edge. This has no breakage on the edges at all. I think it's some kind of molded glass. The substance is a mixture of goat milk, ambrosia, and tree of life fruit sap. It acted as a carrier for some kind of spell, I think."
"Hephestus would know what material it was and where it came from! There's no one who knows materials and weapons better than him."
"That's a good idea, Ares. But I'm thinking for now that I'd like to keep our headquarters here. That way we can question the current victims if we need to with a minimum of fuss. And I'm tired. It's been a long day, and I'm thinking I'd like to take a bath and rest." I looked at Hercules. "Are you going to visit Danaera and the kids while you're down here?"
"I thought that I might, if you don't mind. I can stay there for the night."
I smiled. "Sure, go for it. Ares and I will meet you here in the morning, okay?" He nodded, then turned and left the room. It cost him a lot emotionally to see his wife and kids and then to let them go again, but it was worth it to Hercules.
I turned to the God of War. "I'm going to find Hades and get him to give me a room. If you have anything you have to do, feel free to do it, Ares."
"Oh, I do have a few wars to check up on. It won't take long." He disappeared and I went searching for Hades.
When I'd stayed with Hades as his companion, I had just loved the hot springs he had in his living quarters. I used to throw in various herbs to give it a nice smell and then soak for hours. Some of the time he'd join me, and we'd make long and leisurely love in there. It had been a nice interlude in my life. Until the day he fell in love with me. Then I had to break it off very gently. I cared for him, but somehow I knew our paths weren't meant to be together. Fortunately Hades was an easy-going god, and we'd stayed friends even after he finally fell in love with Persephone and married her.
Now I was up to my neck in hot mineral water that smelled like roses. My eyes were closed, and I could feel the tension leach out of me bit by bit. The hard tiles of the bath were smooth against my body, and my feet were floating gently. I sighed, and smiled.
"You know, you are absolutely gorgeous when you relax like that." I opened my eyes and saw Ares lounging against the wall and looking down at me.
"I don't remember inviting you into my personal chamber, Ares. Please leave."
"Hey, I'm a god. I don't need an invitation to go anywhere." He waved his hand, and suddenly he was naked. "In fact, I think I'll join you." And he did.
I thought of my dirk over on the bed with the rest of my clothes. Oh well. He didn't seem threatening, for the moment.
"You know that all I have to do is call Hades, and he'll wipe this place up with you."
"My Uncle has never been able to beat me, and he knows it. Besides, I'm not doing anything but bathing. I'm perfectly innocent of lecherous intentions."
I glanced pointedly down at his body under the water, which told another, although quite impressive, tale. "Why don't I believe you?"
He laughed, his long hair sticking to his head and neck in the steam from the bath. "Well, you always do have that effect on me. Always have had, for that matter. I can't really help it. This sword of mine has it's own mind, and always has."
"With all the children you've sired, that much is obvious to me." I closed my eyes, determined to ignore the tantalizing sight of his excited body so close to me.
Suddenly I felt a wave of hot water roll against me, and Ares had moved to the seat next to me. "Come on, Hellana! You want me, I can tell. Why do you keep fighting it? You know I want you!"
I looked up at him. For once the smirk was off his face, and I was again struck by how handsome he was. "Ares, of course I'm attracted to you. I always have been. But I'm damned to Tartarus if I'm going to become one of your many conquests."
"I've wanted you since I first saw you there on Olympus, and I haven't stopped wanting you for all these years. Isn't that enough proof of how I feel about you?"
"Right. The only reason you wanted me all these years is precisely because I wouldn't have you. I challenged your ego. As soon as I give in, you'll act the same way to me as you do to all your lovers sooner or later. It's the chase you want so much, War God, not me."
"Damn it, Hellana! You're wrong this time. I ." He looked away from me, his face flushing. "I used to think love was stupid, and only for the weak. My brother Hercules, and the way he felt about Daenera and Serena, I thought it was pathetic. Women were only there to satisfy my desires or have my children, nothing else. Until I saw you with Hermes that day you first came to us. You were so damn sweet and innocent, standing there with those big green eyes. I was drawn to you like a moth to a candle flame."
"Ares, you like to sully innocence. That's what attracted you. I'm not innocent any more, largely because of you. When you charmed me there on Olympus, and then showed me what you were really after, my eyes were opened completely."
Now anger flared up in his face. "Of course I was after that! All men want that from women. It's the way things are in this world. You act like there was something deviant in me desiring you."
"I was only a child! You were a very experienced man, Ares! It wasn't right, what you tried to do, what you wanted."
"You didn't look like a child, or act like a child, Hellana. You acted like a young woman. And you looked about the same age as Discord looks. And she's very much a woman."
I thought about it for a moment. In a way he was right. I had tried to act very adult, and as though I was savvy in the ways of the world. I'd tried to hide my awe of these magnificent relatives of mine. Maybe I'd succeeded too well.
"It was all an act. You all scared the Tartarus out of me. Especially you. You were so big, and fierce, and.and so, black! I thought you were like a beautiful animal, seemingly harmless but with big claws to catch a girl unawares. And that's exactly what you did, or what you tried to do."
"Come on, just let me show you that I'm not an animal. I'm a man, who wants you and who." He hesitated.
"Who what, War God?" Now our eyes were locked on each other's.
"Who needs you." I could tell how hard that was for him to say. He never liked admitting he needed anyone or anything.
"Needs me, huh? For what? Another notch on your swordbelt? As a lover? A healer? That would put a crimp in your War God style to have a healer as a lover."
He grabbed me then by the shoulders. "Don't mock me! I don't deserve that from you."
That shut me up with a surge of shame. "You're right, Ares. You don't deserve that treatment from me. I'm sorry."
He dropped his hands back in the water with a splash. "I need you because you've always seen beneath the War God side of me to the real person. Always. From the first day you met me you treated me as though I was a real complete man, not just a God of War. Damnitall, Hellana, you stripped away my mask the first time you talked to me as though it wasn't even there. I acted and felt different. Not a warrior only, or a war leader, or a killer. That's a big part of me, of course. But there's another part of me that I've never shown anyone before. And you looked right at me and saw that part, and brought it out to the surface without me meaning to have it there. Talking with you those times on Olympus and during these twelve years are the only times in my life that I could be completely myself without risking being hurt for it."
I looked at him, thinking of what life must have been like for him growing up as Hera's son. Hephestus had told me a little of what the Queen of the gods had been like as a mother, and it had been enough to send shivers down my spine. How much worse must it had been for Ares, who was ostensibly his mother's favorite? The woman was quite mad, in my medical opinion. And she had taken that evil and madness out on her children, especially Ares.
I smiled and reached up and pushed aside his wet hair from his face. "I liked that side of you very much, Ares. But the War God side of you frightened me to death when I was a kid."
"Does it still?"
"No. After facing enemies in battle, I guess I understand that side of you better. I'm not like Hercules. He often sees things as black or white, evil or good. You're like any other person or god in the world. You've got evil in you, and good in you as well. Because of what your job is, you've only been able to show the bad side. But I do know that the other side is there too, and have even seen it come out once in a very rare while. Like today, when Glutton was being so obnoxious and you stopped him."
"I felt like killing him for speaking about you like that! How dare he even think of loving you!"
He grabbed me then and pulled me on his lap and kissed me to within an inch of my life. The feel of his lips on mine was warm, no, was absolutely scalding. He wasn't gentle at all. His teeth bit my lips and his tongue took possession of mine. But this time I wasn't a timid woman-child. This time I was a woman who knew exactly what I wanted, once I'd made the decision to have him. I grabbed his hair and pulled it, and bit his lips right back until I'd tasted his blood. Then I moved to his neck and nibbled on that for a few minutes. His eyes were closed as though he was sleeping.
But he wasn't sleeping. His body was shaking with his internal battle to remain still under my attack with teeth and nails. Passivity was not his thing normally, yet somehow he sensed that I needed that control for my first time with him. There was plenty of time to let himself go later.
When my teeth sunk into his right nipple he gasped, and his eyes flew open. "You she-demon!"
He wrapped his arms around me tightly and went for my breast. When he took my left nipple in his mouth I groaned, and pulled his head closer with a yank of his long hair. The hair pulling only seemed to excite him more. I fought him for control of the lovemaking, finally winning when I straddled him and took him inside of me. He was huge, of course, most male gods were. The feel of him in me fired up my senses, and when he started pinching my nipples lightly it exploded into unbelievable sensation. It rippled through my body, and started me moving faster on him until he finally exploded too, releasing his seed inside me and yelling out his passion. It was only when we were finally still that I realized that in winning the battle for control over him, he had actually won it over me.
When our heartbeats finally slowed back down to normal, I started lifting myself off of him. His arms tightened, stopping my motion.
"No, don't move yet. I like the feel of me inside you." He ordered.
I traced his lips with my fingers. They were very nice lips, and I found the activity fascinating. "It is a lovely feeling." He was still flushed from lovemaking, and his eyes were glowing as he looked at me. I felt my heart contract a little as I realized that I'd never seen him look at anyone like that before. I'd seen rage, battle lust, body lust, anger, hurt, charm, sadness, and playfulness in those eyes, but nothing like this. I knew a powerful moment of fear right then and my mind turned away from the message I saw in those eyes.
My voice was shaking when I finally said, "So, War God, are you tired of me now that I've finally given in to you after all these years?"
"Never!" He hissed, tightening his hold on me until it was almost painful. Then he kissed me in reply, lifting me off of him and laying me back on the lip of the bath. Then he dropped his head between my thighs and found my most inner areas. With the skill developed over centuries of pleasing lovers, he stroked me with his tongue until I was moaning and pushing my hips into his face hungrily. Just when I thought I couldn't stand much more of it, he pressed the most sensitive spot with his tongue just so, and I soared into orgasm with a power I'd known only a few times before.
"Make love to me again, Ares, please?" I begged him. Gods and Goddesses, now he had me begging him for his favors!
He stood up between my legs, his hard cock tickling my privates. But he didn't enter me. He just stood there.
I reached down and took hold of him to guide him inside me, and he grabbed my wrist to stop me.
"Wha.what are you doing? Come to me."
"How much do you want me, Hellfire?" He tickled me with his erection again, and I groaned. The wanting had become a craving I couldn't resist, and the throbbing down there had become like a drum's beat.
"For the Gods sake, Ares! I want you now!"
Then he laughed. A low and sultry laugh which made me both want to screw the life out of him and kill him as well. "Now you know how I've felt all these years, sharing my bed with all but the woman I really wanted. And waking up with sticky sheets from dreams of loving you, only to find you weren't there and wouldn't let me near you if you were. Watching you with my brother Hercules, and that sissy healer you lived with! Knowing they tasted you and I couldn't. Tell me, Hellana, how much do you want me?"
I bit my lip in order not to say anything in response to his taunts. Then he reached forward and started rubbing my nipples with the palms of his sword-callused hands, and the drum got louder in my body till it was all I could feel.
"Please." It was all I could say, annoyed with myself for being so weak.
Then he plunged himself to full depth inside me, lifting me up off the tiles with the power of the thrust. I could feel his shaft knocking against my womb and there was both pleasure and pain in it.
"Now you're mine!" He growled, thrusting again. And again. Until I gave in, wrapped my legs around him and answered his demand with my own rhythm. I climaxed brutally, feeling as though my nerve endings were exposed without the protection of my skin all over my body. With my shuddering in orgasm, he climaxed as well with a groan that was almost a cry of pain. Then he collapsed on top of me.
"Would you mind moving a bit? I can't breathe with the weight of you on me."
"I can't. I couldn't move if I wanted to. I think I'm dead."
I laughed and pushed him up and back into the bath water. Then I slid my aching body into it as well and collapsed onto the seat next to him. "You're awfully lively for a dead god. Ares?"
"I'll pay you back for that, you know. If it takes the rest of my life." I said conversationally.
He smiled then, his eyes still closed. "You already have. You've just killed me."
I reached under the water and touched his half erect penis with a fingertip. "If you're dead, I guess some parts of you haven't figured it out yet."
Now the eyes opened and he reached down and took my hand away. "Woman, have you no mercy? Even a god needs time to recuperate. Even gods don't come back from dying real quickly."
I snuggled against him, running my hands up and down the hair on his chest. "I'll still get you someday." Then I reached over him for the soap I'd pulled from my bag at the beginning of my bath. It was a special blend made by me of lavender and chamomile. I dunked my hair, and started soaping it up. Once I'd cleaned and rinsed my whole very sore body, I started on his.
"Do I look dirty to you, that you feel constrained to wash me?"
"No. But you look like you don't have the energy to do it yourself, and I don't want to spend the whole night in this tub." The black hair was now enveloped in sweet-smelling suds. I wiped away an errant drop of soap before it went into his eyes, then said, "Dunk and rinse."
He obeyed and stood up, took the soap from me, and soaped the rest of his body up. I watched him, enjoying the sight of his naked build. He was built beautifully, even for a god. He didn't have Hercules' bulk, but the mixture of pure strength and sleekness was quite nice. After he rinsed himself, he came over, bent down and picked me up in his arms, then took me to the bed in the sleeping chamber. On the way he used his power to dry our bodies. Once he had put me gently on the bed, he climbed in beside me.
I was really sleepy, yawning from the emotional overloads of the day.
"Am I boring you?" He mumbled from where he was sucking on a breast.
I smiled sleepily, running my hands through his hair. "Of course not. But I'm not a god, and don't have infinite energy. I'm bushed, and I do need to sleep sometime." But my hand hadn't stopped it's stroking, and his body was reacting to the gentle touches.
"Sleep later." He grabbed me again, and we made love one more time.
Later I was lying in his arms and almost asleep. My thighs were sticky with his seed, and my overstimulated nerves hummed happily.
"What favor did Hades do for you that made you stay with him?"
"When I was a merc with the Spartans, I had a shield partner named Larac who was also a very good friend. Him and his wife Sara used to have me over when we were at base, and they felt like a family to me. One day the army was fighting against Thellonius, and Larac was killed by a chance arrow. I couldn't bear to lose him, or to see his wife and children without him, so I went to the other side."
"How'd you get past Charon and Cerebus? They're not supposed to let anyone with mortal blood pass if they're still alive."
I smiled. "I trussed that poor Charon up like a chicken ready for the pot. I still feel a bit guilty for it. He's really not a bad old coot, even if he does have poor taste in songs. And Cerebus is just a puppy dog, and I fed him some rabbit meat and petted him and made over him a little and he let me in. Anyway, I asked for an audience with Hades, and I told him that I'd do anything if he would just let Larac live."
Surprise was in his voice then. "That's against Zeus' law. He can't do that."
"Actually, he can, but only a few times. Zeus gave him a little discretion in the matter. Well, Hades was really lonely, having had trouble getting women down to the underworld to spend time with him. So he got me to agree to stay with him for three months as his companion. I did, and ended up staying for almost a year. I cared for him a lot."
I could hear the hurt jealousy in his voice as he asked, "Why did you leave then, and not marry him?"
"Because he fell in love with me. Then I had to gently break it off. I didn't love him that way, and somehow I knew that our paths weren't together. He took it pretty well, fortunately, and we parted friends. He even invited me to his and Persephone's wedding."
Ares tightened his arms around me until my ribs creaked. "I'd never let you go if you were with me! I'd make you marry me."
"Ease up, War God, I have to breathe. You can't force someone to marry you, Ares."
"Yes I can. I've done it before."
"To a mortal, I'm assuming?"
"And was she happy with you?"
Now the pain in him was clear as he said, "No. I finally killed her because I couldn't make her love me and forget her mortal husband."
I raised my head and shoulders and looked at him in shock. "You killed her because she was faithful to her husband? Ares!"
"I wanted her." To him, that was enough justification for his behavior.
"You really are evil inside there, aren't you?" I touched his left breast over his strongly beating heart.
His eyes met mine. "Yes. It's part of what and who I am. But, Zeus help me, you make me want to be different! Only I can't. I am who I am, Hellana." Fear of my rejection showed strongly in his eyes.
I leaned over and kissed him lightly on the lips. "Yes you are, Ares. And I expect that you'll make me very angry at times like you always have before. But I'm not Hercules, to judge things without seeing all sides. Or your mother Hera, to withdraw my feelings for you when you do something I don't like. Like you said earlier, I can see both sides of you. All that I ask is that you think about it before you do something evil. See both sides, who is going to be hurt by your actions, then consider whether the action is really necessary. Maybe then you'll find a better way, and let your good side get more practice. Who knows, it might even make you a better War God."
"Does that mean you'll stay with me?"
I looked at him thoughtfully. "I'm not sure. If I was to stay with you for any length, I'd need to accept that evil side of you. I'm not sure I can do that yet. Why don't we just take it as it comes for now?"
He pulled me to him and kissed me then. "I will have you, Hellfire. I swear I will."
"Silly! I'm not some simple shepherdess who you can awe with your magnificence, Ares. Don't rush this. To rush is to risk everything."
He made love to me again, though by then I was too tired and sore to really enjoy it. I floated passively on a cloud of pleasure until he had his climax and withdrew from me.
Not long after that I fell asleep in his arms, my fatigue finally catching up with me.
The next morning I woke up to the feeling of Ares' body wrapped around mine in spoon fashion. His arm was around me and his hand rested lightly but possessively on my left breast. I reached down and brought the hand up to my face and kissed it, then replaced it. But the movement was enough to waken him, and before too long he was making love to me from behind. I gasped when he entered me, my irritated flesh complaining at the further violation. But soon I was lost in a sea of sensations, and all minor annoyances dissolved in a flood of pleasure.
Afterwards I got up and went and bathed while Ares lounged naked on the bed and watched me. As I lifted myself out of the tub, a groan escaped me from the soreness in my muscles. And I could hardly walk!
On hearing me, Ares asked, "What is it? Are you all right, Hellfire?"
"I've just been made love to by a randy War God with a cock the size of a stallion six, no seven times in the last eight hours, Ares. No I am not all right. I'm sore, and I can hardly walk!"
He grinned, totally unrepentant. "Sorry. I can't help the fact that I'm big and can last all night. But I can help with the soreness, if you let me."
"Sure, go ahead. I've already let you do everything else to me, so why not?"
He waved his hand and light enveloped me. I felt my body heat up, then suddenly all the soreness dissolved. I felt great!
I walked over to him, leaned over the bed and kissed him. "Thank you. I feel much better." The kiss started getting more passionate, and I reluctantly pulled away from him. "No you don't, you satyr. We still have a killer to catch, and that won't happen if you keep luring me back to your bed. Why don't you clean yourself up and put your clothes on. I'm going out to scrounge some breakfast from Hades."
Hades was busy with the administrative details of running the underworld. He was drinking some hot drink and reading a scroll when I came in. He glanced up and smiled at me.
"Hi yourself. I'm starving! Did you already eat?"
"No. I thought I'd wait for you to get up first."
"You don't fool me, Hades. You waited because you want me to cook you breakfast!"
"Caught red-handed. I was hoping I could convince you to cook my favorite. Do you remember what that is?"
"Of course. How could I forget that? A feta, lamb and olive stuffed omelet smothered with wine and mushroom sauce along with griddle cakes smothered with honey and butter. I made enough of them when I lived here."
I went through the dining area and into the kitchen. All of the things I needed were there with the exception of my spices. Those I had in my bag, which I had with me. I broke two dozen eggs and put them along with salt, some herbs, and goat's milk into a bowl and beat the mix with a wisk until it was fluffy. Then I mixed some of the egg mixture with flour, more milk, honey, and olive oil to make griddle cake batter.
"Hambone, would you get me some more honey please? I'm almost out of my supply." I called into his office. A big jar of honey showed up on the counter and I smiled. Hades loved pouring honey on his pancakes, drowning the poor things in sweetness.
Breakfast was ready in about a half of an hour. I put it all on a large tray, then walked out into the dining area. The tray floated after me and settled down where I pointed. It was nice cooking for a god. Hades had already come in and sat down, drawn by the tantalizing smells. I set the table and served him, then set plates for myself and Ares. I served myself, and sat down. Hades' eyes were closed in bliss as he tasted his omelet. "Wonderful. Perfect as usual."
"Thanks." I started eating, then Ares sauntered in.
"What smells so good?"
"Hellana made breakfast!"
Ares came up behind me, leaned over, and kissed the back of my neck. "I'm hungry enough to eat a Trojan horse! Excessive exercise always does that to me." I blushed, but ignored his teasing and went on eating.
Hades' eyes opened wide in surprise as he saw the obvious intimacy between me and his nephew. Then he shrugged his shoulders and went on eating. He wasn't the type of man to let anything like the minor fact that his nephew had finally scored with the woman he'd been chasing for twelve years interfere with more important things like enjoying my cooking.
Ares scarfed down three of the omelets and ten of the griddle cakes while Hades and I watched with something akin to awe.
The god of the Underworld looked at his nephew and said, "I never have been able to figure out why you don't get as fat as Glutton with as much as you eat." He glanced at me. "He's always been like that, you know. When he was a kid, Hera used to complain that he would eat her out of Olympus if he kept going."
I smiled, trying to visualize Ares as a child. I couldn't. I shook my head. "Ares was never a child. He was only a smaller version of the War God."
"Oh, yes he was. And Hellana, the things he would get into! I remember one time."
Ares pulled out his god-sword, placed it on the table with a thump next to him, took another bite of omelet, then said, "One more word, Hades, and I'll send you to Tartarus as a resident instead of the administrator." His voice wasn't joking either.
The threat had absolutely no effect on his irrepressible Uncle. Hades then told me several hilarious stories of when Ares was a kid that had me laughing so hard I was practically rolling on the floor.
Hercules came into this upon the end of a story. I glanced up and saw him, saw his expression, and all laughter in me died. I got up and went to him. The blue eyes were so sad they tweeked my heart something fierce.
"Are you okay?"
He tried to smile, but gave it up. "Yes. It always gets to me like this after I see them. Are you ready to get going to see Hephestus?"
I looked back at the table. "Ares, have you finished eating?"
"Mmmph." He stuffed the last griddle cake into his mouth and chewed and swallowed it. Then he stood up and replaced his sword in his sheath. "I'm ready."
He came over to me, moved behind me like he'd done yesterday and put both arms around me, resting his chin on my hair. I caressed his bare arm, then motioned for Hercules to come over. He came, but I noticed that he was looking at the way Ares was touching me with a frown on his face.
The teleport to the entrance to the volcano that Hephestus used as a forge and living quarters was fairly smooth, and wonder of wonders, I didn't get even a hint of nausea!
"Hey! I'm not sick!"
"I took care of that while I took care of your soreness." Ares looked very proud of himself for that.
"Thanks. You were right before, I guess. I really should have gotten it taken care of a long time ago. Well, Hephestus probably knows we're here by now, so we might as well go in." Hephestus had a spell on his domain so that no one, not even Zeus, could enter except through the front cave entrance. The only exception was Aphrodite now that they'd become a hot item.
"Hellana, I need to speak to you. You go on ahead, Ares." Hercules was looking at me rather funny.
Ares looked at me for confirmation, and I nodded. "Go on, Ares. We'll be right in." So he did.
"What is it Herc?"
"What do you think it is, Hellana? Why are you letting Ares touch you like that, and what did he mean by taking care of your soreness? What did he do to you?"
I could feel my face heat up, but I just said, "He didn't do anything to me, Hercules. We became lovers last night, and I'm not used to making love to a god is all."
The surprise and disgust on his handsome face would have been comical if he hadn't been so upset. "You and Ares? Hellana, how could you? He's evil, and furthermore, he's a.a chump! He's put some kind of spell on you, hasn't he? Or did he get my sister to hit you with some of her power?"
Now I was getting seriously annoyed. He didn't have any right to criticize my choice in men. After all, he loved a dead woman and a deer! "No one put a spell on me, Hercules. I chose of my own free will to bed him last night, and will continue to do so at every opportunity! You have no right to comment on my love life, either! You lost that right a long time ago."
His blue eyes were glaring daggers at me. "I'm still your friend, aren't I? Can't I say something to you when you're making a mistake just because I care for you?"
That comment took away both my anger and my defensiveness. "Of course you can, Herc. But I'm an adult, and I wanted Ares. I see something in him that I saw a long time ago, but let the War God side of him scare me away from. But I'm not scared of that part of him any more. And he's wanted me for twelve years as well. I should know, he certainly pestered me enough during that time! Look. This might work out, then again it might not. But I've decided to give him a chance, okay? Now respect me enough to grant me the right to choose my own path in life, all right buddy?"
"Okay. I'll get off your case about him. But I swear that if he hurts you, Hellana, I'll take him out!"
I smiled and stroked his face. "You'd be the first one I'd come to, and you know it. Come on, let's go talk with Heph."
Hephestus' golden guard puma looked like it was going to come after us when we walked by it. It had never liked me much. I just turned to it, looked it right in its golden eyes, and said, "Don't even think about it, you hear me kitty? Or you'll be jewelry scrap."
The beautiful thing just hissed with its ears down and prudently stayed in its alcove. Actually, if we'd been enemies or unknowns, it probably would have attacked us. But I visited Hephestus often, and Herc did once in a while. It recognized that neither of us were enemies.
Hephestus, the God of Fire, was talking to Ares by his anvil. Seeing them together like that brought out the resemblance between the two half-brothers. Hephestus was the son of Hera and Poseidon and Ares was the son of Hera and Zeus. Both of them had their mother's black hair and brown eyes, as well as her swarthy skin. But Hephestus had burn scarlike birthmarks all down the left side of his face as a result of his specialty. He was a handsome man if you overlooked the marks. But because his mother only liked obvious beauty, she had sent him away from Olympus fairly early on. Also, the marks on his body had left his left arm and leg weaker than the right ones. As a consequence, the God of Fire had grown up painfully shy and with an awful inferiority complex.
They both looked up as Herc and I entered the forge. Heph had already lowered the heat of the place to a comfortable level for guests, and so it was only pleasantly warm in there.
"Hellana!" Hephestus came over to me with a big smile on his face. I watched his walk, and smiled up at him.
"You've been keeping up with your exercises, haven't you? I can hardly see the difference between your legs any more."
He scooped me up into his arms and kissed me soundly, then let me down. "I have been doing them exactly like you told me to. And Dite's been massaging them with the herbal cream you gave me as well. The strength in my left arm is almost equal to the right one now!"
"Excellent! I'll have to have you arm wrestle Hercules to test the strength later."
Ares had come over to me and I could see he was annoyed with Heph's affectionate greeting to me.
"Don't tell me. Another old lover of yours?"
I smiled and turned to look fondly on Hephestus as he showed Hercules a necklace he'd been working on for Aphrodite. "He was my first lover. After he rescued me from you, as a matter of fact. We got real close, then it just seemed natural."
Ares growled. Yes, he actually growled at me. I turned and looked at him in surprise. "Are you growling at me, War God? It was over a long time ago, Ares. We're just good friends now. Now stop being so jealous."
Somehow I got the feeling I was shouting in an echo cave for all the good my comments did.
The Fire God looked down at the crystal knife, his expression intent. He carefully avoided the poisoned area, but checked out the edge, the point, and the hilt. He looked up in question, his hammer poised over the blade, and I nodded. With an efficient whap he hit the blade, trying to shatter the stone it was made of. It shattered into pieces, and he took up a piece and looked at it closer.
"What is it made of, Heph?" Ares asked impatiently.
He looked at his brother thoughtfully. "It's a crystal silica from a quarry in Northern Italy. That's the only place to find this stone, as far as I know."
"So it would be useful for us to go to the quarry owner and ask about anyone who bought from him recently?" I asked.
"It might be useful. But if it was a god who bought some, they could easily have disguised themselves. I'd better go with you too. They know me there, and they might not give you the information without me."
Ares pulled out his knife from his belt. "Do you really think any mortals would be able to lie to me, brother?"
Heph smiled and clapped Ares on the shoulder. "Why waste the effort? If I come, it will be easier all around."
"If you come where, Heph?" A female voice came from behind us.
This time it was more than me who jumped. Aphrodite came to us and sinuously wrapped herself around Hephestus. I stared at her position in awe and wished I could figure out how she did that so gracefully. Me, I'd fall on my face. The sexual vibes between the two of them were hot enough to light a candle. She looked at the three of us and smiled.
"So, Zeus told me he made the three of you work together. I couldn't believe it. I'm surprised you haven't killed each other yet."
"We're getting along just fine, Dite. Heph was going to go with us to the quarry that mines the crystal that the knife that killed Cupid was made up of." I said.
"Oh. I have a great idea!" The Goddess of Love clapped her hands. "Why don't I go with you to the quarry, then we can all try out that new nightclub in Athens afterwards. Apollo told me it really swings! We could go dancing!"
Hephestus looked down on his lover. "Now Dite, you know I don't like to dance very much."
"Oh, Hephy, come on! You used to go out dancing once in a while when you were dating Hellana! I remember seeing you at it once."
Hephestus gave me a dirty look, and I shrugged. "Don't look at me like that. She's right, you know."
"We only went out because you said dancing would be good exercise for my leg!"
"Well, that's still true. It is good for your leg. And getting out of here once in a while is good for your mind."
"But my scars!" Now his real fear came out. He was afraid that people would laugh at him or cringe from him because of his scars.
"Come on, Heph," Ares said. "You'll have Dite on your arm dressed to kill! Do you think any of the men are going to be feeling anything but envy?" I smiled at him then. It was nice for him to reassure his brother.
"Come on, Heph, please pussy cat?" That, of course, cinched it. He never could say no to Aphrodite. Besides, I could tell that he really wanted to go.
Herc spoke up then. "I'll let you four have your fun, but I think I'll stay out of it. I'm not one for dancing either."
I came up to my friend. "Herc, do you really think it's a good idea to leave three gods and me by themselves around a bunch of mortals? Please come. You can help me keep them out of trouble. And it will help you get your mind off of things as well."
He shrugged his big shoulders. "Oh, all right. But I want us to talk to Fortune and Lust before we go off playing."
"Good idea. We'll do that. Now, to the quarry?"
"To the quarry!"
The Aphasian quarry was a grim place where slaves worked hard pulling rocks out of the earth. The overseer, Jons, was a fat gnarly man with shifty eyes. After his first fright on seeing all of the gods, he told them what he knew. Hephestus had reanimated the knife, and showed it to him.
"Ah, yes, we make these in a special shop out in the back of the compound." "Do you remember anyone who struck you as strange or odd buying one? Someone about five foot six, with a sweetish smell like rotten fruit about them?" I asked him.
"Yes, I do, as a matter of fact. It was about twenty years ago, but the man was really strange. I remember that his clothes didn't fit well, and his eyes, there was something weird about them. They had pupils that were more oblong than round. And they were yellow, like a cat's. Fair gave me the creeps, it did."
We thanked him, then went to find Fortune. She was helpful only in the fact that she corroborated the sweetish smell.
The last of the murdered gods, Lust, was in his temple in Carthans. We walked up the stairs and into the anteroom of it, and I could feel myself blushing and gaping at the carvings on the wall and the statues in the alcoves.
"Great Gods! Herc, Ares, look at this one!"
Both men checked out the really nasty statue of two men in an act that looked anatomically impossible, and Herc blushed as red as I was. "That's disgusting!"
"Oh, I don't know, brother." Ares moved behind me and slipped his arms around my waist. I could feel his erection against my back as he pulled me to him. "If it was a man and a woman, it might just be fun!"
"Not in this lifetime, Ares!" I said, but I didn't stop leaning against him. The darned place was really erotic!
Dite brought a blushing Hephestus up to us. "My son will be out as soon as he finishes his counseling session." She cast an experienced eye over me and Ares and said, "So that was you I felt so strongly last night, was it? I was thinking of coming and investigating, but I was busy at the time." She pinched Heph on the shapely butt, and he blushed even more. "Well, maybe you'll actually stop bugging me for love potions and stuff to get Hellana now, eh, brother? I'm proud of you. You did it all by yourself."
I turned to look up at him. "You didn't!"
He shrugged, then grinned. "Hey, I was desperate. But sis wouldn't do it. She wouldn't go against her friend. So I finally had to manage it on my own!" His pride over his conquest was so clear that we had to laugh. All except Hercules, who just glowered at us.
When Lust finally made his appearance, he made a bee-line for Ares and me. "Hey, do I smell the lovely scent of a new relationship?"
Great. Now news of us would be spread throughout Olympus in a heartbeat. "Just tell us about your murder, Lust."
He was a lovely blonde male who looked a lot like Cupid but without the wings. It was said he had the largest sexual organ in existence and I couldn't help but look down there to see if I could see the outlines of it. For professional medical interest only, of course. The rumors were definitely true.
The only thing he had to add was that he felt a coldness right before he was knifed, along with the sweetish smell. And he heard the same sliding sound as Treachery had.
We thanked him, then returned to the forge to get ready for our outing. Dite had put on this gorgeous red outfit that was cut down to here and clung to her every curve. To complement it she wore some beautiful ruby jewelry that Heph had made for her, and she really was breathtaking. She made me wear an evening dress as well, only mine was green to complement my auburn hair and wasn't cut quite as low. Even I had to admit that I looked really nice. Though the effect on the men was rather explosive.
"Dite, I forbid you to wear that dress! You're practically naked!" Hephestus said forcefully, while at the same time his eyes were popping out of his head.
"Why, don't I look good?" She pirouetted for him, making her attributes jiggle appealingly.
"That's not the point! The men won't be able to take their hands off you!"
"Heph," Hercules said reasonably while carefully keeping his eyes off his sister, "Her normal outfit is a pink negligee, and men can't ever keep their hands off her. She is the Goddess of Love and Beauty, after all."
Meanwhile, Ares had come over to me and was just staring down at me like he was contemplating the meaning of life or something. The brown eyes were hooded, and I couldn't figure out what he was thinking.
"Ares! Say something. Don't just stare like that. Do you think it's too low?" I tugged at the neckline nervously.
"I think you look good enough to eat." He purred, leaning to kiss my neck and get in a quiet nibble at the same time. "But you need something nice to go with it. Heph, leave sis alone and come and make an emerald necklace and earrings for Hellana, okay?"
The lure of making something nice shut Hephestus up, and he came over, studied my body for a while until I could feel my face burning, then waved his hand. In it was a stunning square emerald surrounded by diamonds in a gold filigree pattern necklace with earrings and a ring to match. He gave them to Ares, who put them on me, his big hands warm.
"Now you look like a goddess." He said, and that weird glow was back in his eyes. I swallowed and looked down then, not sure how to react to the warmth in them. No, the love that I saw in those eyes.
After a few moments of us women pestering the men, we managed to get them into nicer clothes. Hephestus looked darkly brooding in a Heathcliffish sort of way in an all black outfit which was sleeveless and showed off his marvelous shoulders and arm muscles. Ares wore black as well, but he had on black silk form-fitting tights and a short black silk vest embroidered with silver thread. His chest was bared as well as his arms, and now it was my turn to stare with my mouth open. The bulge of the muscles of his thighs made my mouth water and my groin thrumb. His God-sword was not in appearance, but I knew he could make it materialize in a heartbeat if it was needed. Double entendre intended.
It was Hercules that stole the best dressed show, though. He wore black tights like Ares which left absolutely nothing to the imagination. His upper body was covered with a blue silk tunic that clung to him like a second skin and brought out the brilliant blue of his eyes. Dite and I just stared at him, our mouths agape in shocked admiration until our jealous men started making discontented noises. He was the epitome of male beauty, he was.
The nightclub was a place for all types of enjoyments. It had an arm wrestling room for men to try their strengths, a drug room, a wine room, a dance floor, a sex wing, etc.
"Wow! This thing has everything!" I couldn't get enough of looking. It was really mindboggling.
"There's the dance hall! Let's dance." Dite dragged poor Heph out onto the dance floor and they started dancing. Male eyes all over the room became transfixed by the vision of the goddess, and women all over the room looked really pissed off, when they weren't looking lustfully at the male gods, that is.
"Dance with me." Ares had his hand out, and I took it. He pulled me into his arms and we were lost among the crowd and the rhythm of the music and the closeness of our bodies.
"Hey, I'd like to break in." A young man tapped Ares on the shoulder many dances later. The God of War was holding me closely and his huge erection was rubbing tantalizingly against my belly.
"Go away." He continued to dance with me, ignoring the angry face behind him.
"No. You've taken the pretty lady's attention all night. Give the rest of us a chance, buddy." The hand went to Ares shoulder again.
"If you don't remove your hand from my body, you're going to lose it." He was still dancing with me, but I could feel the rock hard body in my arms tense in a warrior's pose of readiness.
Suddenly a big hand attached to a blue sleeve appeared on the young mortal's shoulder. "You might as well give up here, lad, he's not going to let her go so easy. There's other beautiful ladies around, why don't you go find one?"
The man turned in a quick movement and his eyes moved upward to see Hercules looming over him. "Who are you to interfere?" He snarled.
"I'm Hercules, you idiot. And the person you're strong arming is my half-brother Ares, the God of War. If you want to take him on, I'll leave you be."
"No, no, uh, that's all right." He disappeared into the crowd quickly.
"Now Ares, stop hogging Hellana to yourself. Let me dance with her." Then he simply lifted Ares out of my arms and took his place.
I looked at my very annoyed War God and smiled. "Go challenge someone to arm wrestling, guy. You'll like that. I should dance with Herc at least once tonight." And he did, but only after glaring daggers at his brother's big blue back.
"This place is a real meat market. I can't tell you how many women have propositioned me already!" Hercules sounded shocked, and blushed. He always hated it when women threw themselves at him.
"Well, you do look rather stunning, Herc. You can't really blame them, can you? If I didn't have Ares keeping my attention, I'd probably have the same thoughts myself." I absentmindedly rubbed the silk shirt with my hand. Yes, he did look splendid.
"From the look of the two of you, I thought you were going to make it right here on the dance floor."
I laughed. "Oh, you're such a prude, Herc. Besides, that's Ares. He isn't very good at hiding his feelings."
"No he's not. I have to admit that I've never before seen him look at anyone the way he's been looking at you all night." His voice sounded thoughtful.
"I know. I've seen it too, and frankly it scares the hell out of me."
"What does? That Ares might be in love with you?"
"Yes. He's the God of War, Herc. He's not supposed to feel love."
He shrugged. "Like you said earlier, there's more to him than just the God of War. I guess you're bringing it out now."
"I guess so."
Later all of us ended up in the arm wrestling room. When Aphrodite and I walked in the men in the room turned to stare and to welcome us quite heartily. Soon cries were going up for a contest in which the winner would get a kiss from Dite and me both. I have no idea how the heck that got started, but my objections were quickly drowned out. Of course Dite was eating it up.
Some really strong men started arm wrestling. There were six groups at first, and slowly but surely the losers got weeded out until there was a winner from each group. Hephestus, Ares, and Herc were winners of their groups, and three very strong looking mortals the other three winners.
Now the winners played the other winners. Ares quickly beat one of the Humans, and Hercules and Hephestus beat the other two. There had been no contest, really. Now the three of them drew lots to see who would compete first. Hephestus and Ares won, with Herc to wrestle the winner.
Talk about the battle of the titans! But there really was no contest here either. As strong as Ares was, he couldn't hold a candle to Hephestus, who was the strongest god in the pantheon because of his smithing. Though Ares put up a good fight, Heph finally put his hand down to the table.
When Herc and Heph arm wrestled, we held our breaths. The arms just stood in the air, completely rigid while effort radiated out of them like heat waves. Finally the fists started moving, and Hephestus managed at last to put Herc's hand to the table. Their contest had lasted an hour, and sweat poured down both their faces.
Suddenly I got an idea. "Wait! I want to enter the contest!"
Hephestus looked down at me in that serious way of his. "Hellana, you know that you can't beat me."
I grinned. "Bet, blacksmith? Come on and try me." I sat down and put my elbow on the table.
Hephestus sat down, shaking his head. "I'm just going to embarrass you."
"We'll see." Our hands met and I could immediately feel the strength in the God of Fire's arm. I knew of that strength intimately, though he'd never used it against me. But I also knew of other things as well. Such as that Hephestus had a sensitive spot on his neck under his jaw which when stroked totally took his attention from anything he happened to be doing at the time. That had been useful knowledge for me when I had wanted to pull him away from his work to make love to me. So as I felt my arm being gently forced down, I reached over and stroked him there, and his startled reaction enabled me to put his hand to the table with a thunk.
"That wasn't fair!" He said, but he was smiling at me.
"I know. That's why you get to kiss Dite, and I get to kiss whoever I choose! We'll call it a tie!" To loud cheering Hephestus locked lips with Dite, and I went to Ares and did the same. There was no fighting for control now. I just melted into his arms and lost myself in the taste, smell, and feel of him.
When we finally separated, he growled, "Let's get out of here. Now!" I got the feeling that if we didn't go now, he'd probably drag me out of there, so I just agreed breathlessly.
We made our excuses, Ares whipped Hercules back to Hades' realm, and he and I went to the Hall of War for a very long, wild, and sleepless night.
I opened my eyes on a gloomy room with dark gray walls decorated everywhere with martial-looking junk. Where was I? Then I felt the soreness in my body, and felt the warmth of the man sleeping next to me and it came to me. We were in Ares' private chambers in the Hall of War. After going to the nightclub. The rest of the night came back to me, and I smiled. Ares could hardly wait to get me here, he'd been so impatient to have me. Or to re-mark his turf after all those men had eyed me in that dress, more likely, knowing him.
I turned and looked at his sleeping face. All men, even gods of war, looked so blasted young and sweet when they slept, and he was no exception. I reached over and stroked his hair back off of his face lightly so as not to wake him. What was happening to me? I'd never felt this way before in my entire life. My heart and spirit would soar to the clouds one minute, then fear and insecurity would plummet them down to the underworld in seconds.
And the way he'd looked at me last night, and the resulting terror. What was happening to me?
I threw the black satin covers off and started getting slowly off the bed. The soreness in my limbs reminded me that he hadn't been gentle again last night. But then, neither had I been. I could feel the silly smile on my face as I thought of what I'd done to him as well. He'd been begging me for my favors by the time I'd gotten done with him. Revenge is very sweet. Not finished yet, but very sweet.
"Don't get up yet!" I felt his hand on my back, and turned to smile into the sleepy brown eyes. That warmth was there in them again.
"You're going to end up killing me at this pace, love." Oh Gods and Goddesses! What had I just called him? Maybe he was too sleepy to notice. Please, please, please.
"What did you just call me?" He sat up, grabbing my wrist before I could run away. Fat chance in thinking that the God of War would miss anything that would give him an advantage in love or battle. And I had the distinct feeling that this was turning out to be both.
"Uh, dove?" I tried to bluff it out.
"No you didn't! You called me love, didn't you? Am I finally getting through to that hard heart of yours?" The triumph in his face irritated the hell out of me.
"I was sleepy, and didn't realize what I was saying, Ares. Women do that all the time. Take it as a term of affection just the same as dear, honey, or something like that. Don't read too much into a word."
"I'm thinking that you're protesting too much. And you're blushing! Come on, admit it, you're falling in love with me, Hellfire!"
I shook off his hand and grabbed his hair in both hands, bringing his face close to mine with it. Through gritted teeth I hissed, "No I am not, you conceited jackass of a War God! I still call Hercules love when I'm feeling affectionate or playful towards him. I'm not in love with him either!"
The triumph in his eyes changed into a weird mixture of anger and lust at my rough handling and my words. He rolled on top of me, grabbed me tight, and kissed me so hard I tasted my own blood where my teeth had knocked my lips. When he finally pulled them away he growled at me, "Never talk about my brother when you're in my bed again! And don't taunt me with your past with him again ever, Hellfire, do you hear me? You're mine now. Mine, body and soul!"
Now the only emotion I felt was a horrible boiling fury at the conceited ass whose naked body crushed me on the bed. I gathered all of the strength of my half divine ancestry and all my skill from my years as a merc and shoved Ares off of me. In fact, I managed to pitch him completely off the bed. I got up and reached for the evening dress, pulling it over my head and on.
"My body and soul belong to me, and me alone, War God."
Ares had bounded back up and was stalking around the bed and over to me. I could tell that he was really angry now, and I experienced a moment of fear, and, I'm ashamed to say, an overwhelming lust as well as I watched him approach. His hands were clenched in front of him showing corded muscles all up his arms. He walked like the epitome of a warrior, graceful and deadly. And he had a huge erection from the powers of his emotions. I wanted to take that stiff shaft into my mouth and bite it and. Appalled, self-disgust finally stiffened my spine.
"Send me back to Hades, Ares. Now." I was proud at the strength in my voice.
"No! You're not leaving me! I won't let you go."
Suddenly it became clear to me what was under the anger. The great God of War was afraid. He was afraid that I would leave him for good because he'd made me angry. And my anger at him dissolved upon that realization, mostly.
I took a deep breath. "Then come with me, silly. We've still got a murderer to catch. To do that, I need to talk with Hercules." He had reached me by then, and stood only inches from me. Close enough to touch. The anger had turned to confusion in his face now.
"You're not going to leave me? You don't hate me?"
"Oh, I think I did a bit earlier. But not now." I poked a finger in that beautiful chest. "Ares, I am not a mortal woman who you can force to love you. So stop trying. Either I will fall for you, or I won't. But I am the one who chooses. And never, ever try to take me again in anger. Our bodies will never be shared with each other in anger. That is one rule that I must insist on."
He looked pretty confused, the poor thing. "Hellana, you have me really confused now."
I smiled. "Of course I do. You're a man, and I'm a woman. We always confuse you poor things. Now, are you coming, or not?"
He nodded, but looked rather regretfully down at his still hard organ, then back up at me. "It would be a shame to waste this. Do we have to go this minute?"
My eyes on the pulsing shaft, I said casually, despite the fact that I wanted nothing more than to eat him alive because of overpowering post-battle lust, "No, I suppose we could stay for a few minutes. But could you use your powers to take away the soreness again?"
He came and took me into his arms, and I felt the familiar heat pour into my body. "How's that?"
I answered by kneeling down in front of him and taking his erection into both hands. "It's just fine now. Thanks." Then I did eat him alive.
His only response was a gasp of pleasure then a moan.
Hercules was talking with Hades when we walked in. He eyeballed us disgustedly and said, "You certainly took your time getting here."
I smiled, ignoring the jibe and the dirty look. "I've been solving the murders for us."
The surprise on my friend's face was wonderful, and I basked for a few seconds in the pleasure of it. I came to the table, sat down, and told him my reasoning.
"I had my suspicions as to who was doing it yesterday, but last night in the nightclub I became certain."
All of the men looked confused. "Nightclub?"
"Yes. That stupid sea monster float in the one room, remember that?" They nodded simultaneously, looking like the bobbing headed dolls people hung on their chariots. "Herc, think! Coldness, the sound of scratching at approaching, the rotten fruit smell, the height, the strength, and the yellow slit-pupiled eyes?"
Hercules looked down at the table thoughtfully. Then he looked up, the blue eyes understanding me now. "The Seamare and Leviathan had more children, didn't they?"
Ares and Hades were confused. "Leviathan? Poseidon's son by the Sea Witch? What's he got to do with it? He can't even come up on dry land." Ares pointed out.
Herc looked at his brother. "No, he can't. But remember that he married the Seamare, and she can come up on land or stay in the ocean. And their children can do both as well."
"They don't have any children, do they?"
I took it up. "They did have one that I knew of. Herc, Iolus and I, when we were traveling together, came across it trying to dismember a woman over by Cyprus. It took all we had in us to kill the thing. It was stronger than Herc! And it had a noise it made like scales against stone. Also, it smelled like rotten fruit, and was as cold as parts of Tartarus."
"We told Leviathan that they needed to watch their children more carefully if they had any more."
"Why didn't you just kill the parents so they wouldn't have another child?" Ares asked.
Hercules turned and just looked at his brother. "Because they aren't evil, Ares. And Poseidon loves his son. We don't just kill things if they get in our way. We're not like you."
"Hercules! That was uncalled for!" I glared at him.
"You're right. I'm sorry, Ares. I shouldn't have said that."
My God of War smiled a big grin at his half-brother. "That's okay, brother. You were right. I do have a tendency to kill first and ask questions later."
Hercules looked at me. "What should we do about it? Go to Zeus and tell him?"
"No. I think we should confront the parents is what. Then we'll go after the kid. I don't know why he's targeting the gods, but it has to stop. Then we'll tell Poseidon. He can do something to make sure they don't give him any more grandchildren. Zeus can hold him responsible for them."
"That could be dangerous, Hellana. We had problems killing the last one, and we had Iolus with us then."
"You'll have me there, Hercules." Ares said.
"And me! I want to pay this damn thing back for messing up my place!" Hades blurted out.
"This isn't a mission of revenge, Hades. It's a brutal necessity. But we could use your help."
The god of the underworld jumped up, bringing his sword into existence at the same time. I had to smile at his eagerness. I think he was just glad to get out of that god-hounded place for awhile, and was like a kid with a new toy.
"Ares, can you get my sword and belt from my cottage?" I asked him.
"Where is it?"
"In a chest under a bunch of old clothes. I gave up fighting, remember?"
He grinned at me. "From this morning, I'd say that you've kept in remarkably good practice."
Hercules glared at us. "You two are disgusting! Can't you keep your mind and your mouths out of the bedchamber for even a few minutes?"
Ares turned and gave his brother a teasing look that made me want to burst out laughing. One of Ares most favorite pastimes was half-brother baiting. "But Hellfire's mouth's one of the best things in the bedchamber, brother!"
"Ares! Quit teasing Hercules and get my sword. And don't forget my belt and sheathe!"
"Yes, my beautiful witch." He made a flamboyant bow and brought my sword and belt up with him when he straightened. "Here you are."
"I need to change out of this stupid dress first."
Once I'd changed and put on my sword, we were ready to face the Leviathan and the seamare.
Ares took me and Hades took Herc to the lair of the Leviathan and his wife the Seamare. It was deep in the ocean, and the two gods had to keep a bubble of protective air and atmospheric pressure around us half-mortals. We traversed inky dark seas with weird creatures who had no eyes and glowed in the dark. It was a remarkable experience, and I loved it. I would have to get Ares to take me here sometime when we had some time to kill.
The Leviathan was huge. He looked like a giant fish with eyes full of humorous intelligence. The Seamare was like a centaur, only half fish and half horse. The top part of her was a woman. She was decidedly odd-looking. But heck, she was married to a tuna with glandular problems. The eye of the beholder, and all that.
"Ares, Hades, what brings you into my domain?" Boomed the Leviathan, his voice almost bursting my eardrums.
"You know Hercules, and this is Hermes' daughter Hellana, Leviathan. Why don't we let Hercules explain, since you know him?" Ares said, smiling broadly at his half-brother.
"Thanks loads, Ares. Uh, you two have been having children again, haven't you?"
Now the two beings looked at each other rather sheepishly. If fish could blush, these two would be as red as salmon.
"Well, Hercules, that is the result of when two people, well, you know, you've fathered children yourself."
Hilarity bubbled through me at the ludicrousness of the situation. I had to bite my lip not to giggle at the sight of a big fish telling a blushing Hercules the facts of life. Or was it vice-versa? I felt Ares tensing behind me as he got ready to laugh.
I elbowed him in the stomach. "Don't you dare laugh!" I ordered out of the side of my mouth in a whisper.
"I can't help it! Look at Hercules blushing!"
I turned to look up at him, fighting not to burst out laughing like a fiend. "If you laugh, War God, I swear I won't go to your bed again for at least a month, no matter how you beg!"
He made a gigantic effort and his face grew serious. "Well, if you put it that way."
I turned back around to pick up the conversation again.
"Leviathan, you're a god. You can, uh, fix it so that you and the Seamare can, well, you know, and not have children at the same time."
Now there was interest in the nearest eye that was bigger than our whole bodies. "Really? How?"
Ares suddenly couldn't help himself. He burst out roaring behind me, and I elbowed him with all my strength in the belly. He bent over from the force of the blow, coughing and choking, and my air/pressure bubble started wavering and went out!
Before I was crushed under the tremendous pressure of the water, Hades, who had seen it happening, threw up a bubble for me as well, and I could breathe again. All laughter had been extinguished in me, I'll tell you!
Leviathan's near eye suddenly didn't look as humorous. He eyeballed his cousin and said, "Ares, are you laughing at me?"
"Ah, no, cough, cough, cousin. The pressure of the water got to me suddenly. I choked on it. Sorry. You were saying?" He glared at me and at the same time put his arms around my waist from behind and set up my bubble again. He pulled my body so that it was leaning against his insolently, then said, "I've got her again, Hades." Sotto voice, he said, "I'll get you for that, Hellfire!" and he rubbed against me. Ignoring the sexy friction, I turned back to the conversation.
Hercules said, "I'll tell you what. I'll ask Poseidon to explain it to you. I'm sure it's different for sea gods than for land gods. The problem we have now, Leviathan, is that we think your child is murdering the land gods and sending them to the other side. It's causing a lot of hardship in Greece."
Now both parents looked upset. "Oh no! It's probably children, not child, Hercules. We had four more."
"FOUR!" Hercules yelled, shocked.
"Well, urh, yes. They were all born at the same time, and they stick pretty much together. If one is doing it, then you can bet that they all are involved."
"We're going to have to kill them, Leviathan, Seamare. I'm sorry. You know that I'd spare them if I could, but they've caused so much hardship for the mortals on the land, that Zeus commanded us to kill them."
"Well, we really didn't like them very much Hercules. They were mean to us too. As long as we don't have to watch."
"No, just stay here until your father tells you it's okay to leave. I'll have him come down and tell you about the urh, you know."
"Okay, Hercules! Thanks. We're really sorry the children are playing pranks."
"That's okay. We've gotta find them. Do you have any idea where they might be hiding?"
The Seamare spoke up for the first time. Her voice was light and watery, it was a rather pleasant voice, actually. "There is a cave south of Cyprus that they've been staying in, Hercules. Please try not to hurt them when you kill them."
"Uh, I'll make it as painless as I can, don't you worry, Seamare. Well, we'd better go find them. Bye you two. And behave until you talk to Poseidon!"
Our ascent was much quicker than our descent, and before we knew it, we were in Ares' Hall of War.
As soon as we were safely in the Hall of War, I turned to Ares and slapped him hard across the cheek.
"Ow! What'd you do that for?" He yelled at me, holding his sore cheek.
"You almost killed me down there, you maniac!"
He grabbed my upper arms and lifted me up without effort so that we were face to face. "It was you who nailed me in the elbow, you harpy!"
"It was that, or you get eaten by that big fish. Heck, maybe I should have let you just get eaten after you pissed Leviathan off, you egotistical child-man!"
"I'll show you who's a child, until you can't walk, Hellana! And don't ask me to heal you again after!" Now he was growling, and the anger was moving swiftly into an intense lust. For Ares, this was bedroom talk of the most erotic sort, and the impressive bulge appearing in his tight leather pants made the pants even more snug.
Hercules decided to step in then. A big hand clamped around Ares' right wrist and squeezed. The god dropped me with a thump and I stumbled into Hercules, who steadied me in his arms.
"Cut it out, you two. You can do your love talking later. She's right, Ares. Leviathan is not a god to get angry. He could have killed all of us."
"What are those two? Morons?"
"That's funny coming from someone who has so many bastard children he can't count all of them."
"I'm virile, that's all!"
"You're irresponsible, is what you are. All of you gods are. Those two are very nice sea creatures who don't have the same outlook as we do. If there was any way to save their children, I would. Unfortunately, they all seem to be born psychotic." Hercules looked at his brother distastefully. "Like a few land gods I can name."
"Herc, that's enough with insulting Ares." I said to him.
"Did he hurt you, Hellana?"
"A few bruises is all. He wouldn't hurt me. He loves me."
Oh, no! I'd said the "L" word again!
Ares turned white, then red, then white again with such a look of terror on his face that it was almost comical. "What. What did you say? Lo..lov." He choked on the word.
I turned to him, all patience lost. "Yes, War God. Love. You may not want to admit it to yourself, but you've more than let me know about how you feel. So live with it! Now drop the subject! We have monsters to kill, ones that are stronger than most gods and psychotic to boot. We need to make plans." Then I walked away from them both, heading towards Hades.
Hercules took pity on his paralyzed half-brother. He patted him on the shoulder and said, "Don't worry, Ares. They always know before we do. It's a genetic advantage they have over us. And they're always right, too. I'm surprised at you, though. I didn't think you had it in you to fall in love with anyone but yourself, I'll have to admit it." Then he left his spluttering brother behind and joined me and Hades.
We sat around a table in Ares' chambers, ate a big meal cooked by me because I didn't trust Ares' creepy priests and acolytes, and planned our attack.
"I know the caves that the Seamare was talking about. There's a small valley there that opens up to the cave entrance. It's going to be hard to get in there undetected."
"For you and Hellana on your own, maybe, Hercules. But not for Hades or I. We can appear right in the caves behind the snakes."
"Can you bring us with you?"
"Herc, I don't think that a head-on approach will be the smart thing to do if there actually are four of these things this time. They are half gods, and as such, Ares and Hades' powers won't hurt them as much as if they were mortals. Remember the trouble we had with just the one?" I pointed out.
He looked at me. "What did you have in mind?"
"Well, instead of brute force, we might want to watch their lair for a few days and then see if we can catch them one at a time. Even if we only destroyed one or two of them that way, it would still mean less to fight at one time."
Hercules looked around at the other two men, who both nodded, then he said, "Let's get going then!"
The hot Grecian sun beat down on me as I lay in the grass on the ridge. The entrance to the cave was down below me where I could get warning when one of them left their lair. One of the creatures had a habit of going out alone to pick berries in the forest north of the caves. They'd get him first, then go after the other three together. It couldn't be helped because those three had a tendency to stick together like ticks on a dog. The odds still weren't great, even with two major gods and Hercules on my side. The fact was, I just wasn't in mental fighting shape anymore. I could defend myself, and could still use my sword because I'd kept in practice somewhat. But it had been five years since I'd used a weapon against another thinking being. I wasn't sure I could do it again. Oh well, I guess I'd just have to do it. The guys would need all the help they could get.
Ares appeared and dropped down next to me. "Hercules sent me to bring you back to the trap site. Any activity?" He put his hand on my lower back and started rubbing it lightly. Where he touched me felt like pricklies up and down my spine.
"No. These guys are pretty much creatures of habit. Our berry picker should be coming out in fifteen minutes or so." I whispered back.
The distracting hands started up my spine and dug at the taught muscles between my shoulder blades. "What's wrong? Your muscles are as tight as Artemis' twat! You're not afraid of those lizards, are you?"
I smiled at the obscenity. Trust a soldier to talk like that. "Yes I am, and if you had the sense of a chicken, you'd be scared too. But that's not the only reason I'm tight."
"What is it?"
"Ares, I haven't fought anyone for five years. I made an oath to help and heal people, not hurt them. I'm not sure I'm going to be able to do it. But you guys will need my help!"
He looked at me, his hands now just stroking my back gently. "I won't let them hurt you, Hellana. They'll have to go through me to get to you."
"Like I said, you just don't have enough sense to be afraid, my sexy War God. Those guys have killed seven gods!"
"Those were minor gods, and they snuck up on them. Now they'll be going against two completely aware Olympiads, and two half-Olympiads. They won't have a chance."
"They will if I let you guys down."
"You underestimate yourself, Hellfire. You won't let anyone hurt us any more than I would let them get you. You have the heart of a warrior, my little half-god, vow or no vow." His hand moved up from my back to my face, which he stroked gently. The warmth was back in his eyes. "Besides, you couldn't do without my fabulous lovemaking, so you have to make sure I'm safe." The warmth had been replace by a mischievous glint.
I giggled quietly. Then I reached over to him, grabbed him by the hair gently, and pulled him towards me. After I kissed him, I let him go just as abruptly. "The gods help me, War God, but I think I'm falling in love with you!"
"Well, you don't have to sound so upset about it!"
"I've broken a vow to myself never to become another notch on your swordbelt! Of course I'm upset. Oh well. It can't be helped, I guess. Aren't you supposed to take me back to the trap site?"
He grinned at me. "First I just want to gloat for a few minutes."
I grabbed him and rolled on top of him. "Take me to the site, Ares. Now."
And he did.
We rematerialized with Hercules looking down at us with a disgusted look on his face. "Can't you two ever stop thinking about that?"
I rolled off of the War God and came to my feet. "About what, Herc? I've just come up with a better plan to beat these things without killing them."
"What, have Ares seduce them? He'd probably not mind, since he usually jumps anything that moves, but somehow I don't think they'd be compatible."
"No, silly. Artemis' bow!"
"What about her bow?"
"Let's borrow her bow, and turn them into something harmless. Then we won't have to kill them, and Poseidon will owe us a favor for not killing his grandkids!"
Ares pointed out, "That's a good idea. There's only one problem. Artemis hates me, and she's not too fond of Hercules or Hades either. She dislikes all males. She won't give us the time of day."
I came up to him and ran my fingers down the hair on his chest, pulling it a bit. "But why is that a problem, Ares? Or have you forgotten that I'm not a man?"
He grabbed me tight, saying in a hoarse voice, "I could never forget that!"
"Will you two stop it!" Herc sounded like he was getting very testy, so I pulled reluctantly away from Ares and said, "Hades, will you take me to Artemis, since she doesn't hate you too much? I'll try to persuade her. She owes me a few favors. In the meantime, Herc, could we disarm this trap?"
"You're awful confident you'll persuade her, aren't you? Okay, I'll dismantle the trap with Ares' help, of course. I just hope I don't have to redig it later."
"Trust me, big boy. Trust me. Hades?"
"Let's go!" And we both dissolved.
Artemis' main temple was in the open woodland, as suited the Goddess of the Hunt. I asked Hades to stay outside and I went in to the place where no mortal man could enter without dying for it.
Artemis' High Priestess, an ancient Amazon crone, came up to me. "What do you wish in Artemis' temple?"
"I want to speak to her. She's my aunt." I turned to the statue of the Huntress. "Artemis! I need to talk to you! It's important."
Her voice boomed into the building. "I'm busy! Come back later."
"You owe me, Auntie, and I'm calling in the favor now. Come to me."
She appeared in a shimmer of green. She was blond like her twin Apollo, but slender with the fierce face of the hunter. "This had better be good. I was chasing the white hind!"
"I need to borrow your bow."
"No way. You know I don't lend it out."
"You will lend it to me, Artie, if you want the gods to stop being killed. I need it to solve the crime."
"What will you leave me in it's stead? It has to be something that you care deeply about."
I dug in my bag and took out the emerald necklace that Ares' had given me. "I'll give you this. It was a present from my lover." I felt a pang when the gorgeous jewelry left my hand.
"This is Hephestus' work! You didn't steal him back from Aphrodite, did you?" She was pretty shocked. No one successfully stole a lover from her sister Aphrodite.
I snorted. "As though I could. The man's crazy for her. My lover is Ares, Artemis, and he asked Heph to make this for me."
"Ares!" She hissed. "You'd foul yourself with that dungheap?"
I could feel my jaw stiffen as I reached over and grabbed her bow from her. "Yes. And you ought to try it before you knock it, Artemis, maybe having a good lover might sweeten your disposition. I'll return this to you when we're done with it. And I'll expect my necklace back then."
I left the green temple without looking back.
Once we arrived back at our camp site, I smiled and waved the bow. "I've got it."
"How in the world did you talk her into giving it to you?"
"Uh, I had to trade her something. The emerald necklace you gave me yesterday, Ares."
"I bet she loved that. So you told her about us?"
"Yes. You don't want to know what she said, either. I'm thinking I'll use the bow, since it does respond better to a female, and I really don't have the physical strength to go against these things one on one. Is that agreed?"
The men nodded.
"Good. Now you guys will only need to hold them off me long enough so I can nail them. Let's go."
We got the berry picker first. He turned into a seagull and flew squawking away. We teleported into the cave, which smelled absolutely horrible, and the creatures were on the men in a heartbeat! They each wrestled one, and I shot lizards as their backs were turned towards me. The first one turned into a cockroach in Hade's arms. He jumped back and dropped it with an oath of disgust, and it skittled away under the rocks.
The second one was trying to crush the life out of Ares. I shot it, and it turned into a rat and ran squeaking away. The War God pulled out his god-sword and started to skewer it, but I grabbed his arm. "No, Ares! We're trying not to kill them, remember?"
"But the damn thing bit me!"
"You've healed, though, haven't you?"
"Of course. But that's not the point!" He bared his teeth at me, filled with blood lust from the fight. A groan from Hercules pulled me to my last target.
The third and biggest one was grappling with Hercules. The half-god's muscles were standing out and his teeth were gritting from the strain. I shot it, and it turned into a frog and hopped croaking away.
I breathed a sigh of relief. "It's over. Thank the gods! Now, where were we, Ares?"
"I want to kill that rat!" The blood lust hadn't dimmed much, but at least he'd waited for me. That was an extraordinary example of self restraint on the War God's part.
I moved right up to him, our bodies touching, and reached my hand into his leather vest and ran my fingernails over his left nipple. Then my other hand started pulling at the hair on his chest. As I'd planned, the blood lust turned into body lust, and he grabbed me and kissed me until the breath ran out of my chest.
"Ares, let's return this to Artemis and get my necklace back! Then we can go to the Hall of War, okay?"
He visibly pulled himself from a lust haze and said, "You like stirring up trouble, don't you? She hates me!"
"Knowing you, you probably tried to seduce her, you silly thing. Let's go. I'll protect the big bad War God from the nasty little Huntress! And then I'll take him and do some hunting of my own, hmm?"
"I'll get you back for that!" He growled, but at the same time he forced his passion under control.
Looking at his lust-filled face, I said, "Herc, do you want to tell Zeus? I think I'm going to be kind of busy for the next few hours."
"Days, not hours!" Ares bragged.
"Uh, sorry. Days, Herc. Okay?"
Believe it or not, he actually smiled a bit at us then. "You two are incorrigible!"
Zeus' half-mortal son disappeared in a haze of light as my War God whipped me away.
We appeared at Artemis' temple again. As we went to enter, about a million amazons appeared from out of nowhere and put their swords towards us. "Halt! No man can enter the temple of the great Artemis or he will die!"
I came up to them. "In case you haven't noticed, ladies, this big black hunk isn't just any man. It's Artemis' brother Ares. And I expect that he'll go exactly where he pleases."
They actually had the nerve to attack us! Ares pushed me behind him and drew his god-sword. Then a goddessly command of "hold" rang through the glen. The amazons stopped as though frozen in place. Artemis walked out of the woods, and she was wearing my necklace! It looked odd against her deerskin outfit, but in some odd way it actually suited her.
Ares sauntered up to his sister. "Sister."
"God of War." She eyed him distastefully. "Still as disgustingly decadent as usual, aren't you?"
He grinned. "Always. You're still as intolerant of men as usual, aren't you?"
A smile came briefly to the green eyes. "Always. I'll take my bow back now, Hellana."
I put the bow behind my back. "Not until I get my necklace back, Artemis."
Now the green eyes so like my own turned dark with annoyance. "I do not want to give it to you. It's my price for the use of my bow."
I was about ready to rip it off her throat with teeth and nails when Ares laughed. The virile male laughter was strange in that very feminine place. "That was from me, Artemis. You'd wear a bauble given by the God of War? You must be mellowing. Let her have it, Hellfire. It matches her eyes, and makes her look beautiful. Who knows, maybe she'll come to her senses and actually find a man to make her into a real woman."
Now fury covered the face of the Huntress. She undid the clasp of the necklace and threw it at Ares. "Leave before I go against our father and take you out of this world permanently, brother!"
I threw her the bow and moved into my lover's arms and he got us out of there. We materialized in his chambers in the Hall of War.
I took the precious necklace into my hand and looked up at him. "That almost got you killed, you silly goose! I should have just let her have it."
"It's yours, and she has no right to it. Besides," The glint was back in his eyes. "I want to see you in it with nothing else on." Then he waved his hand and made it so.
I touched the necklace against my neck. "How does it look?"
He very slowly looked me up and down and all around, then came up to me. "Like something I could look at for the rest of my life. Marry me, Hellfire! Drink the Ambrosia and become a goddess and spend the rest of eternity with me."
I looked deep into his brown eyes. There was love there, and lust, and a fragile skin of something protecting a deep fear of rejection underneath. For the first time I realized how fragile Ares' self-esteem really was. My heart went even deeper under. But it was too soon to talk of marriage, and I knew it.
I pulled him down to me and kissed him deeply. When we finally came up for air, I held his handsome face between my hands and kissed his nose. "Ares, my God of War and my love, we'll marry if and when the time is right for us to do so. Until then, I want to get to know you better, and you me. I want you to take me to wonderful strange places that I've never seen before, and make love to me on the surface of the moon, and show me all the wonders of this world. Can you do that for our courtship, Ares? Can you take a vacation from your beloved blood and gore and open your heart to joy and love, and court me? Can you?"
His only answer was to take me into his arms and kiss me as though he would never let me go.
The courtship had begun!