The characters of Ares, Strife, and Hercules belong to Studios USA and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended. The other gods in this story owe more to Greek mythology than television, but just in case, no copyright infringement is intended with them either!
This story contains scenes of graphic consensual sex between a man and a woman. If you are under 18, or this is illegal where you live, please read no further.
This story is a sequel to (and probably the last of) my Brass Jar series. You'll need to read those for this one to make any sense whatsoever. Sequel to The Brass Jar Parts I and II, The Americanization of Ares and The God of War Takes a Holiday.
Again I have to apologize for messing around with Greek mythology (but it's SUCH fun!) There aren't many myths about Ares, but in my searches, I ran across a reference to Hebe, the Goddess of Youth, who was, for a time, Cupbearer of the Gods. She was also said to have drawn Ares' bath. That started me on a really weird train of thought, which ended up as this story.
There are two stories about Hebe and her job as cupbearer. The first is that when Hercules became immortal and came to live on Olympus, he and Hera made their peace, and Hera gave him her daughter, Hebe, as wife. Because of this, Hebe gave up her job. Another myth, however, says that Hebe was dismissed from her duties because she fell one day while serving the gods.
Hebe's successor was Ganymede, a Trojan boy who was so beautiful that Zeus fell in love with him. The King of the Gods turned himself into an eagle and brought the boy to Olympus to take Hebe's place as Cupbearer of the Gods. Supposedly, the myth of Ganymede was the religious justification for homosexuality within the Greek culture.
As for my use of Thanatos, I have to give a nod to both the classic movie, The Seventh Seal, and the not-so-classic movie, Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey. In both films, a mortal plays a game against Death, so in my story, I have Jess playing against the Greek God of Death. I added my own little twist to all of the above myths, and I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.
You can find more stories by JinXavier at Hercules After Dark
Send feedback to JinXavier@aol.com
The Great Mount Olympus Ambrosia Contest of 1999
Jessica Albritton entered the small antique shop, her mood immediately improving as she gazed at the treasures all around her. Ares had left her rather abruptly this morning without making love to her, and she'd been out of sorts ever since. She definitely needed this little excursion. She loved this place more than the fanciest of antique stores. It was small, dark, and dusty, but oftentimes she ran across the most beautiful treasures here. Today, however, she was on a specific quest. She just prayed she wasn't too late.
Since she shopped here quite a bit, the proprietor usually gave her first choice of any new merchandise in which he thought she might be interested. Unfortunately, when the last shipment had arrived, Jess had been in Florida for a holiday. She'd only discovered his message on her answering machine yesterday, and she'd listened with growing excitement as the shop owner had expounded on the virtues of a vase he was sure she'd want. She just hoped he hadn't sold it while she was gone.
"Dr. Albritton!" the proprietor cried happily when he saw her. "I've been worried about you."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Lovejoy," Jess said. "I've been out of town. I only got your message yesterday."
The owner of the shop was a stooped little man with precisely cut snow-white hair and a perfectly clipped Vandyke beard. A large smile wreathed his chubby face, but then his delight at her entrance faded, and he began to stroke his chin nervously. "You've come about the vase, haven't you? Oh, dear. Oh, dear."
Jess' face fell. "You've sold it," she said, disappointed.
"Oh, my. I'm so sorry, my dear, but you see, you didn't return my call, and one of my other customers saw the vase and wanted it. Oh, dear." The old man was becoming quite agitated.
"Is it still here?" Jess asked.
"Oh, yes," Lovejoy exclaimed. "If you'll wait for a moment, I'll bring it out."
Jess nodded, and the old man disappeared through a thick black curtain behind the counter. Jess glanced around to see if he'd acquired anything new during her absence, but nothing jumped out at her. The place was grubby, and the lighting was terrible, but Mr. Lovejoy had an amazing knack for locating some really incredible antiques from all over the world. Jess smiled softly in remembrance. When the old man had discovered that she had a degree and had worked in a museum in Dallas, he'd immediately offered her a job. Even though she'd turned him down, he still seemed to have a soft spot for her.
"Here it is," he announced, bringing out a small two-handled vase about twelve inches high. It was a fairly simple white amphora with a black figure etched on the front, but the detail was exquisite. The painting depicted a woman in a long flowing sleeveless gown bearing a cup in her hands. Jess put on her glasses and bent down to examine the vase closely.
She sighed deeply. "Well, it's not real, but it IS old, and it's a good copy." She ran a finger over the surface of the vase lovingly. "It's not even cracked or chipped." She gazed up at Mr. Lovejoy pleadingly. "You don't think you could talk this person out of buying it? I'd really love to have it."
"Well, now, I just don't know," the old man began to hem and haw. "He's a special customer too, you see. He's also a Greek aficionado." He gazed down at the vase sorrowfully. "It is lovely, isn't it? Do you know who the woman on the front is supposed to be?"
Before Jess could answer, however, a voice spoke up behind her. "Hebe, Goddess of Youth and one-time Cupbearer of the Gods."
Jess straightened from her perusal of the vase, startled. She recognized that voice! She turned slowly, dreading what she knew she was going to see.
Kevin Sorbo stood in the doorway of the shop, the sunlight filtering through the grimy window casting an aura around his light brown hair. His bright blue eyes seemed to glow in the darkness of the shop, and a large smile warmed his face as he looked her way. He was casually dressed in loose blue jeans and a button-down chambray shirt, but it was obvious that the body beneath the clothing was extremely muscular. Jess' heart skipped a beat. Ares was going to throw a royal fit when he found out. He'd warned her time and time again to stay FAR away from his brother.
"Oh, Mr. Sorbo!" Lovejoy exclaimed. "I'm so happy to see you! This is . . ."
Before he could complete the introduction, Sorbo took a step forward and extended his hand. "Dr. Jessica Albritton. Yes, I know."
Jess stared at the legendary hero. He knew who she was? Without thinking, she held out her hand, and she watched nervously as his rather large one completely enveloped hers.
"Oh, you know each other," Mr. Lovejoy crowed with delight. "How lovely."
Jess managed to disengage her hand from the hero's, but she didn't contradict the shop owner. She certainly didn't want to go into any of this in front of him.
"You've come for the vase?" the old man inquired of the actor. "Dr. Albritton was interested in it as well, but I told her . . ." He trailed off and looked up at Sorbo expectantly.
The actor's lips curved into a wry smile. "Well, it's too bad she was away in Florida when you received it then, isn't it? Finder's keepers and all that, you know." He winked slyly at Jess. "How was the con? Did you two have fun?"
Jess gaped up at him, completely stunned, and finally she stuttered, "I . . . that is . . . we . . . that is . . . it was fine." She shook her head, sure that she must be dreaming all this. This encounter was growing too weird for words.
"I hear my brother won the costume contest too. Imagine that."
"Brother!" Lovejoy exclaimed. "So you know each other well. How wonderful."
"Thanks for letting me know about the vase, Mr. Lovejoy," Jess said in a slightly strangled voice. "Please let me know if you receive anything else like it. It was very nice mee . . . um, seeing you, Mr. um, yes, I really must go." Jess ducked her head and practically ran for the exit.
She slammed through the door and headed for her car, but she hadn't gone more than a few steps when she heard Sorbo hailing her. She considered running, but then she realized how stupid she was acting. She stopped and turned, trying to calm the beat of her runaway heart.
"I didn't mean to scare you off," he said in an amused tone. "Actually, I've been hoping we'd run into each other."
"Have you?" Jess inquired faintly.
Sorbo nodded. "Look, there's a sidewalk cafe down here that sells coffee. Let's go get a cup and chat for a minute."
Jess stared up into his beautiful blue eyes, torn between what she knew she should do and what she really wanted to do. Ares was going to FREAK when he found out about this, but some small part of her was fascinated by the meeting. Imagine. This man wasn't really a man. He wasn't an actor. He was HERCULES! The REAL Hercules. An immortal Hercules. In other words, a god!
"Come on," Sorbo entreated. "I promise, no matter WHAT Ares says, I don't bite."
"He'll be furious," Jess said quietly.
"Are you afraid of him?" the hero asked, his tone holding nothing more than polite curiosity.
Jess shook her head quickly. "Oh, no. Not at all. I mean, he has a temper, but he usually turns it on inanimate objects." She paused, and then she added, "Or Strife. I've seen him blast Strife a time or two."
Sorbo chuckled. "Sometimes Strife NEEDS blasting." He took her gently by the arm and began to lead her toward the cafe. "Look, if he gets mad at you, just send him my way. Tell him to come take it out on me."
Jess allowed herself to be led to the cafe, and soon they were seated and had two steaming cups of coffee before them. She was having a hard time meeting his rather direct gaze, but still, she kept sneaking glances at him. He was extraordinarily handsome. His light brown hair had been cut recently; it no longer brushed his collar. There were faint lines around his eyes, but just a few. He was large; as large as Ares. His hands dwarfed the cup they were currently wrapped around. She could see a hint of the muscles in his arms through the thin cotton of his shirt, could almost feel his strength permeating the air around them. How anyone could get close to him and not realize that there was something special about him was beyond her. She supposed, however, that people saw what they wanted to see. Everyone was too busy with their own lives to notice the magic inhabiting the world alongside them.
"How'd you know about the con?" she asked once she'd added sugar and creamer to her coffee and taken a first tentative sip.
Sorbo laughed. "Oh, word gets around. Plus I had a call from Kevin Smith. He was quite . . . upset. It seems the winner of the costume contest not only blew a hole in the ceiling of the room, but he passed along a message to the writers as well."
Jess blushed hotly. "I still can't believe he did that," she said.
"Well, he did win," Sorbo pointed out.
Jess couldn't help but grin. "Yeah, he did. He was quite . . . impressive." She studied the hero curiously. "How'd you know about me?"
Sorbo shrugged. "I've known about you since right after you left Dallas. I had a little talk with Poseidon."
Jess groaned. "Otus is out?"
Sorbo nodded. "Yep. Poseidon was not a happy camper about that little incident. He was trying to take care of an oil spill, and he had to drop everything to come change his son back to his normal form." The actor laughed. "But don't worry. When Poseidon heard the whole story, he threatened Otus' life if he came after Ares again. Or you."
Jess heaved a sigh of relief. "How's Mahrina? Are they still together?"
"Yep. Otus is a little more . . . subdued these days."
"Good," Jess muttered under her breath. She had no use for the giant who had threatened to kill her since he couldn't kill her lover. "You know, Ares had every right to do what he did. Otus killed the foreman of his factory because the man lost the brass jar, and besides, the jerk kept Ares locked in that jar all those centuries."
"I know the whole story, Dr. Albritton," Sorbo said. "And I'm not blaming Ares for that. Otus had it coming to him." He laughed softly. "Actually, I thought it was kind of fitting. Otus is a lot like a slimy eel."
Jess joined in the laughter, and she relaxed somewhat. "Why were you hoping to meet me?" she asked.
Sorbo took a sip of his coffee, his blue eyes intent on her. "Well, I have to admit I was interested in why someone as obviously intelligent as you would hook up with the God of War."
Jess shifted uneasily in her chair. "You know, he's really not all that bad."
Sorbo said nothing. He continued to gaze at her with those unwavering eyes.
"Just in case you hadn't noticed, Mr. Sorbo, war didn't stop while he was locked away. Men still found things to fight about. So don't get on my case for letting him out."
Sorbo held up his hands in surrender. "I'm not getting on your case. I just wonder if you know what you're in for."
Jess cocked her head, curious. "In for?"
Sorbo sighed and idly began to trace the rim of his coffee cup with a finger. "Dr. Albritton . . . may I call you Jessica?"
"Just Jess," she supplied with a nod.
Sorbo smiled softly. "Okay, just Jess. It's all true, you know. Ares is a god and he is immortal. He'll live forever. You, on the other hand, are very mortal."
Jess stiffened. "I'm very aware of that fact," she admitted grudgingly.
"What's going to happen in a few years when you get older? Do you think Ares is going to stay by your side as you grow old?"
"You're one to talk," Jess flared. "What about that girl you married? That actress."
Sorbo's expression sobered. "That's different."
"How is it different?"
Sorbo looked up, his blue eyes full of some long forgotten pain. "I'm not Ares."
"He's not a monster," she said vehemently. "He's been very good to me. He loves me."
Sorbo sighed and shook his head. "Jess, he caused an earthquake to keep me from doing my show."
"I know that," she snapped. "And I know about B. S. Hollingfoffer, too."
"And you condone his actions?" he asked.
"No," she protested. "I didn't know about them. He always manages to send me away when he pulls stunts like that." She glared at the hero sitting across from her. "He'd be fine if you and your studio would leave him alone. Things will be very calm, and then he watches your show and he's treated so terribly that he explodes!"
Sorbo chuckled. "Well, I don't have a whole lot of control over what they write."
"That's not what Ares said," Jess retorted. "He said you were feeding them all ideas during that corporate retreat y'all went on."
"Well, maybe," Sorbo admitted grudgingly.
"So, you DO encourage them to make Ares look so stupid," she asserted.
A slightly guilty expression crossed Sorbo's face. "Maybe a little bit. But if you'll notice, in the last episode of the season he helped save the world."
Jess snorted. "By running away. And this is after he got hit on the head by a bird and made to look like an idiot because he didn't know the fourth element." Her eyes flashed with anger. "And by the way, that was a major plot hole, bud. How in the hell did Hercules and Iolaus know that Michael found the seals in the earth, water, and air? Earth I can see, maybe even water. They were tracking the footprints after all. But if they didn't watch him pluck that seal from the air, how'd they know that, huh?"
Sorbo grinned sheepishly. "Hey, complain to the writers. I just give them ideas. I can't write the scripts for them, too. But you have to admit the scene at the end was great. When Ares came back after it was all over, I actually thanked him."
"But HE didn't thank YOU."
Sorbo's eyebrow shot up. "Did you really expect him to?"
Jess frowned slightly, and then she shook her head. "Actually, no. He'd be just like that. Unable to even say the word." She picked up her spoon and idly began to play with it. "Well, I don't want to hurt your feelings or anything, but I'm relieved the show is being cancelled. Maybe he'll calm down now."
"What about Xena? It's not being cancelled."
Jess shrugged. "I don't know. For some reason, Xena doesn't bother him as much as Hercules. Although he did get a little bent about the Dahak business. We had to get a new television after they showed that scene of him on his knees before Dahak. He shattered the thing into a million pieces. I've learned to make sure there are vases or something like that around for him to blow up during the shows. I was getting tired of replacing television sets."
Sorbo gazed at her incredulously for a moment, and then he began to laugh. Jess watched him with a slight smile on her face. She supposed it really was a bit funny.
"I bet it's never boring around your house," he said after he'd regained control. "And Strife is still hanging around too, eh?"
Jess sighed. "Oh, yeah."
Sorbo glanced at his watch, and then he quickly drank the rest of his coffee. "Well, I have an appointment, so I need to be going. I just wanted to meet you." He smiled warmly. "I hope my brother realizes how lucky he is to have you."
Jess returned his smile. "Thanks. I hope he does, too."
The legendary hero stood and pushed his chair under the table. "You know, I didn't mean to upset you or anything. I just wanted to make sure you fully understood the situation. I know life's great now, but later . . ." he trailed off as Jess stood as well.
"I'm an adult, Mr. Sorbo," she said, and then she added, "Or should I just call you Hercules?"
Sorbo chuckled. "How about Kevin?"
Jess grinned. "Okay, Kevin. I'm very aware of the situation I'm in, and I appreciate your concern, but I can take care of myself."
The man nodded. "All right. I'll stop worrying then." He dropped some money on the table to pay for the coffee and a tip. "But Jess, if you ever need anything . . ."
"Thanks," she said quickly, cutting him off. "I'll be fine."
He studied her for a moment with those beautiful blue eyes, and then he must have been reassured by what he saw in her expression, because he nodded. "Okay, then. It was nice meeting you." He held out his hand and she took it. He squeezed it softly, held it a moment longer as if he was going to say something else, but then he let her go. "Ares IS lucky," he said softly, and then he headed off down the street toward a little red sports car.
Jess watched as he climbed into the car and drove away, and then she headed back toward her own Jaguar. Despite what she'd said to Sorbo, she DID have her doubts about Ares, especially after his unexpected disappearance this morning. Oh, she knew he loved her now, but how would he feel in years to come when she aged and he didn't? She reached her car, but the sight of her pride and joy didn't lift her spirits as it usually did. Was Sorbo right? Would Ares abandon her when she got old?
Several days later, Jess came out of her bathroom tucking her red T-shirt into her blue-jeans with one hand and attempting to brush her long black curls with the other. She was in a particularly foul mood. Ares had vanished for parts unknown this morning without making love to her again. That was twice in one week. Something was definitely not right.
She went over to the mirror to finish her hair, noting idly that Ares had left his latest National Enquirer on top of the dresser. She shook her head ruefully. She couldn't understand why he wasted his time reading that garbage. She dropped the offending tabloid into the trash where it belonged, and then something in the mirror caught her attention. She leaned closer and raised a finger to her eye. Right at the corner, so faint it was almost undetectable, was a tiny wrinkle. Jess stared at the thing in absolute horror.
Strife's shout startled Jess so much that she dropped her brush. "WHAT?" she yelled back, irritated.
"You've got a package!"
Jess frowned in confusion. She didn't remember ordering anything. She left her room and went to the head of the stairs. Strife was standing on the bottom landing, shifting nervously from foot to foot as if he had to go to the bathroom and holding a brown paper covered package.
"Where's it from?" she asked as she began to descend the staircase.
Strife glanced down and squinted to read the tiny print. "Killjoy's" he replied.
"What? Oh, you mean Lovejoy's. Jeez, Strife, can't you read?"
"Killjoy's. Lovejoy's. What's the difference?"
Jess reached the bottom and took the box away from the godling. "I didn't buy anything from Lovejoy's," she murmured, perplexed. She glanced up at Strife, and then her mouth fell open in shock. "What happened to you?" she exclaimed.
Strife was dressed in his usual attire of black T-shirt and black jeans, but the normal sickly pastiness of his features had been replaced by a red so intense that he almost seemed to glow.
"What did you do? Go to sleep on the tanning bed?" she asked incredulously.
The flush on the godling's face seemed to increase. "Yeah," he admitted sheepishly.
Jess snickered. Strife looked SO silly; she wondered if it would ever cross his mind that since he was a god, he COULD fix his appearance. Shaking her head ruefully, she went into the huge room she had dubbed the 'den' carrying her package from Lovejoy's. A massive television set took up most of one wall. A top-of-the-line VCR and a Nintendo game system occupied slots underneath the TV, and thousands of videotapes and game cartridges filled a case beside it. A long black leather couch sat opposite the television, and a score of large multicolored vases lined the opposing wall.
Jess walked over to a small table and put the box down on top. "Do you have a knife?" she asked Strife.
As if by magic, the godling produced a sharp dagger and handed it to her. Jess grinned as she took the proffered weapon. "Do you two have those things hidden all over you?" she inquired curiously.
"Yep," Strife agreed amiably.
Jess quickly cut the packing tape and opened the box. She pulled out the item inside, but even before she'd removed the packing material, she knew what the box contained.
She unwrapped the white amphora and placed it on the table, gazing at it lovingly. Sorbo must have told Mr. Lovejoy to let her have the vase. How sweet.
"Hey, that's Hebe," Strife exclaimed. "It's a pretty good likeness, too. She's a babe."
Jess sighed. "It's really beautiful, isn't it?"
"Yeah, it is," Strife agreed. He glanced at her, and a faint frown of puzzlement crossed his face. "What's that?" he asked, reaching over and plucking a hair from her head.
"Ouch!" Jess yelled. "That hurt. What'd you do that for?"
Strife held up a long white strand of hair. "You're getting gray hair," he announced with a devilish grin.
Jess stared at the offensive hair in growing alarm, but before she could comment, the entire room began to shake. A loud roaring filled her ears. She glanced down to see her new vase rocking back and forth on the table. She grabbed the amphora before it could hit the floor and shatter. "Earthquake!" she yelled over the horrible rumbling noise.
"Uh, Jess," Strife said as some of the reddish coloring seemed to drain from his face. "I don't think that's an earthquake."
"What?" she asked, confused, but then she realized that she was hearing a voice deep inside the rumbling. A voice saying one word, her name, each syllable pronounced with excruciating slowness and unbelievable anger. "JESS - SIC - CA," the voice roared, and with a mighty flash of bright red light and a glaring explosion of flames, Ares, God of War, appeared inside the room. For some inexplicable reason, he was wearing the same black leather outfit he'd worn when she had first discovered him inside the brass jar: tight pants, sleeveless vest, and calf-high boots. At his side hung his long shining silver sword, symbol of his godhood, something she hadn't seen since his early days here in the twentieth century.
One look at his face was enough to frighten Jess to death. She had seen Ares angry before. Every time his character appeared on the television show "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys," his fury seemed to grow. That's why she kept vases in this room, so he'd have something on which to take out his anger. But he'd never, not once, turned that rage on her. He was glaring at her so hard right now, that sparks seemed to be flying from his dark eyes.
"Ares?" she asked breathlessly, placing the vase down on the table carefully. What had she done to elicit such a reaction?
The god held up a paper for her perusal. Jess furrowed her forehead in confusion. It was another one of those damned National Enquirers. Then she read the headline and saw the picture below, and her heart seemed to drop to her toes.
"Hercules' Star Caught Holding Hands with Mystery Woman - New Wife Devastated," the headline screamed. Below it was a grainy black and white photograph of Jess and Sorbo standing beside a table at the cafe‚, their bodies leaning toward each other in an intimate posture, their hands entwined.
"Oh, God," Jess groaned. "Ares, it's not what you think."
"Are you trying to tell me this isn't you?" the god roared. He looked at the picture again, and his fury seemed to grow to new heights. "This isn't you holding hands with my BROTHER?"
"Ares, it wasn't like that. We were just shaking hands, saying goodbye."
Ares stared at her incredulously. "I told you to stay away from him," he growled.
"I did. He found ME! If you'll just let me explain . . ."
"There's nothing to explain," the god snapped. "I'm not stupid, you know. It's perfectly obvious what's going on here. But I can tell you right now, it's going to stop." With one last furious glare, he winked from existence in another roar of flame.
"Wow," Strife breathed. "It's been a long time since I've seen him that mad. He only does the flame thing when he gets REALLY angry."
Jess stared at the spot so recently vacated by the god she loved with all her heart, and then she burst into tears. She plopped down on the leather couch and began to sob bitterly.
"Oh, hey, don't do that," Strife said uneasily. He sat beside Jess and began to pat her awkwardly on the back. "Look, Jess," he said, "he'll get over it. Just give him a few days. Uncle Ares has a short fuse, but once he explodes, he gets over it real quick. He'll be back. You'll see."
Jess couldn't even acknowledge the godling; she was crying too hard.
"I know!" Strife exclaimed. "I'll do something REALLY stupid and make him mad at me. Then he won't be mad at you anymore."
The godling's unexpected kindness just made her cry harder. "You don't understand," she said through her tears.
"It's not just Ares being mad at me."
Strife gaped at her in confusion. "What ELSE is wrong?" he asked.
"I'm old!" Jess wailed.
"Huh?" the godling blurted incredulously. "You're not old. You're not even thirty. That's practically a baby."
"I found a wrinkle this morning," Jess explained, pointing to her eye. "See?"
Strife leaned forward, squinting to try to locate the indicated defect. "Uh, no, not really. Where?"
"Right here," Jess insisted. "And what about that gray hair you found?"
Strife shrugged. "Maybe you just got some powder in your hair or something."
"Right," Jess muttered. She sniffed wretchedly. "I'm getting old, Strife, and he doesn't want me anymore."
"Oh, that's not true," Strife replied. "Uncle Ares really likes you. He's got it REAL bad. I've never seen him like this before."
"Really?" Jess asked softly.
"Really," Strife asserted forcefully.
Jess sighed deeply. "But it still doesn't change the fact that I'm going to grow old and he'll stay young. And when I get really old, he won't want me around."
Strife studied her quietly for a few moments, and she could almost see his brain working, could almost hear the squeak of the seldom used wheels of his cognitive processes.
"I have an idea," he said after a minute.
"What?" Jess asked, intrigued by the note of suppressed excitement she heard in the godling's tone.
"It's a surprise," he said, standing. "Come on." He held out his hand for her to take.
Jess stared at the proffered hand. "Where are we going?" she asked.
"Just trust me, okay, Jessie? It'll be a kick. I promise."
Jess gazed at him thoughtfully for a moment, but then she slowly raised her hand and placed it in his. He grinned, pulled her up from the couch, and then he shut his eyes and began to concentrate mightily.
Jessica felt a familiar funny feeling in the pit of her stomach, a wave of dizziness that was terribly close to nausea. She shut her eyes tightly, fighting off the dizziness, when suddenly it vanished. When she reopened her eyes, her mouth fell open in wonder.
The room in which she now stood was vast; she could barely see the other end of it! The surface of each wall had been completely covered with beautiful brightly colored paintings. Massive white columns held up the building, but the ceiling above her was almost completely open. She looked up, and she could see fluffy white clouds and occasional glimpses of bright blue sky. Every thing about the room glowed, and even the air around her seemed to sparkle. Jess turned to Strife in wonder.
"This is Mount Olympus," she breathed.
He nodded his head. "Yep. Come on," he said, tugging on her hand.
Jess went with Strife, and the two of them ran through the place like two small children, laughing and pointing at everything. They passed a huge room that held twelve thrones placed in a circle, and Strife held a finger to his lips for quiet. Jess peeked inside. All of the thrones were empty save one, and in that one, an ornately beautiful gold throne embellished with every gemstone known to man and then some, sat an incredibly ancient old man. The hair on his head and face was as white as the clouds drifting past the open window behind him, and his beard flowed over his lap and down until it trailed on the floor.
"That's Grandpa," Strife whispered. "Don't wake him up."
The King of the Gods exhaled, and the room shook around them as thunder rumbled in the distance. Jess grabbed on to Strife to keep herself upright, and the godling snickered. "He snores. Go figure."
Jess had to bite back a giggle, and she and Strife ran off again, traversing the beautifully painted corridors of the home of the gods atop Mount Olympus.
Strife finally pulled her to a stop at a door made completely of pure white mother of pearl. An image of a beautiful woman had been carved into the surface, a young woman wearing a long flowing sleeveless gown and carrying a cup on her shoulder. The godling raised a hand and knocked softly.
"Come in," a musical voice called from inside the room.
Strife opened the door and gestured for Jess to precede him. She entered the room, and then she gasped. Never in her life had she seen so much opulence. A huge round plush bed covered with pink satin occupied the center of the room, and deep soft chairs and pillows were scattered here and there around the bed. Every available surface was covered with mirrors, and against one wall sat a long table full of a multitude of bottles and jars. Behind the table, peering intently into one of the myriad mirrors, sat the most beautiful woman Jess had ever seen in her life.
"Hi, Strifey," the woman said in her musical voice as she turned and beamed at the little godling.
"Hey," the godling said, his already red face glowing even brighter as he blushed hotly.
Jess couldn't help but stare. The woman looked to be under twenty. She had soft reddish hair that flowed in natural waves to below her waist. Her skin was golden, her cheeks bright pink. Her red lips were curved in a lovely welcoming smile, and her light blue eyes seemed to dance with merriment. This could only be Hebe, Goddess of Youth.
"Well, who have we here?" Hebe asked as she rose gracefully from her seat. "You look SO familiar." She inhaled sharply and came to stand before Jess, eyeing her curiously. Hebe made a complete circle around her, and then she stopped in front of her once again. "Wait a minute. You're the mortal who let Ares out!" she announced.
Jess glanced at Strife for help, but the godling was too busy leering at Hebe to notice. "Yes," she agreed, hoping that the goddess considered Ares' release a good thing.
Obviously, she did. Hebe's face lit up with pleasure. "Oh, goody. I've missed Ares so much." She leaned forward and spoke in a low, conspiratorial tone, "You know, he used to let me draw his bath. Oh, my. Those MUSCLES. You know, in MY opinion, he's the best looking god on Olympus. But don't tell Apollo I said that. He gets SO jealous."
Jess didn't quite know what to say, but thankfully, Strife butted in before she was forced to reply. "Uh, Hebe, do you still have a key to the ambrosia chest?"
The beautiful goddess' brow furrowed in a slight frown. "Now, Strifey, you know I don't." She glanced back at Jess and sighed theatrically. "It's really very sad," she explained. "I gave up everything for Hercules, even my job, but after a few hundred years, he got bored and divorced me." She sighed again. "Then I get my old job back, and I swear. I trip ONE time and spill a little nectar on Hera's new peacock gown, and you would have thought I'd threatened to overthrow Zeus or something. They took my job away from me again and gave it to . . . Ganymede," she finished with a small toss of her head, leaving no doubt as to her feelings for her replacement.
"Okay," Strife cut in quickly, putting an end to Hebe's tirade. "Thanks, Hebe. We'll go find Gany then."
Hebe eyed the godling curiously. "What'd you want the key for anyway?" she asked.
"Um, well, you see," Strife began, his face undergoing various contortions as he tried to think up a plausible excuse. Suddenly, he brightened and said, "Jess is a big fan of those Xena and Hercules shows, and she wanted to see if real ambrosia looked anything like the ambrosia on the show."
Hebe frowned again. "Oh, my, you mean you LIKE those awful shows? I can't stand them myself. Especially Hercules." Her beautiful full lips drew up into a pout. "They've never even MENTIONED me, and I was MARRIED to the guy!"
"Oh, well," Strife said. "He's not a god yet on the show. Maybe they'll mention you next season."
Hebe shrugged gracefully, and Jess and Strife bid their good-byes.
"It was nice meeting you," Hebe called after her. "Tell Ares 'hi' for me, and tell him to stop by any time. I'll be MORE than happy to draw his bath for him." She winked slyly at Jess.
Strife dragged Jess away from the Goddess of Youth, a silly grin wreathing his face. "She's something, isn't she."
"Oh, yeah," Jess muttered. "Remind me NOT to mention her to Ares."
Strife laughed heartily, and then he led her to yet another door. This one was formed from thick red wood, and the figure of a beautiful man with long curls and a very muscular body had been carved into it. Strife knocked, and a deep voice bid him enter.
When Strife opened the door, Jess gazed around in confusion. The place looked more like a gymnasium than a bedroom. A weight bench with all sorts of gadgets and attachments stood against one wall. A rowing machine and an exercise bicycle sat beside a fairly large but simple bed covered with a deep white coverlet. Weights, bars, mats, and all sorts of exercise paraphernalia filled the room. A chair that looked suspiciously like a recliner faced a wall that glowed with moving images, and Strife led Jess around to the front of the chair.
Ganymede, the Cupbearer of the Gods, reclined in the chair, his eyes glued to the flickering images on the wall. He was absolutely gorgeous. Striking violet eyes shone from a strong face with high cheekbones, firm jaw, and a slight cleft in the chin. His long blond curls hung to his shoulders, held back from his face by a pristine white sweatband. He was dressed in white shorts and a white tank top that showed off his powerful legs and muscular arms in all their glory.
The god glanced up at Jess and Strife, but then his attention was quickly reclaimed by the screen. Jess suppressed a hysterical giggle when she realized that the god was watching WWF wrestling.
"Hey, Strife. What's up?" Ganymede greeting the godling, and then he did a double take. He looked back up at Jess and asked, "Don't I know you?"
Jess shook her head quickly, and Strife said, "Hi, Gany. This is Jess. She's a friend of mine, and I wanted to show her what ambrosia looks like. Do you have the key?"
"Huh? The key?" The god looked around the room, obviously slightly confused, and then his handsome face lit up so much that Jess could almost see the lightbulb going on above his head. "Oh, yeah," he said. "Here it is." He indicated a silver key that hung around his neck on a fine platinum chain.
"Can I borrow it for a minute?" Strife asked.
"What?" The god's eyes were riveted to the screen as one of the powerful wrestlers slammed his opponent into the mat. "Damn! Would you look at that? Isn't he AWESOME? I would love to have a go at that one. I bet he'd give me a run for my money on the wrestling mat."
Jess fought to keep her mouth closed. She didn't know if the god was talking about wrestling or sex, and she really didn't want to know.
"The key, Gany?" Strife prompted.
"Oh, yeah. Sure. No problem." The god slipped the chain bearing the key off over his head and handed it to the godling. "Just bring it back when you're done. I have to go serve the head honchos in a few hours."
"Okay," Strife agreed willingly, and then he pulled Jess from the god's room. The last thing she saw before Strife closed the door was Ganymede sitting forward in his chair, urging the wrestler on as the man tossed his opponent over the ropes.
"What a dope," Strife muttered under his breath. "That god may have a lot of muscles, but he has NO brains."
Jess had to agree. She still couldn't believe Ganymede had relinquished the key so easily.
Strife led her to another room, but this one was almost completely empty. The floor was white, the tile was white, the entire room seemed to glow with a bright white light, and in the center of the room sat a large white box. The box had a silver chain wrapped around it, fastened by a huge silver padlock.
Jess eyed it curiously. "It sort of looks like a refrigerator."
Strife laughed. "Yeah, it does, doesn't it." He went over, slipped the key into the padlock, turned the tumblers, and loosed the chains. He glanced back at her, and then with a small flourish, he opened the door.
Jess peered inside. Although the box was quite big, inside there were only two objects, a large silver bowl and a beautiful golden pitcher. "That's it?" she inquired. "That's the ambrosia and nectar of the gods?"
Strife nodded. "They replenish themselves," he explained. He pulled out the bowl containing the ambrosia, and Jess peeked inside. It looked nothing like she'd expected, and nothing like the pink glob they'd showed on the television shows. This ambrosia was white, but it sparkled so that if you looked at in from one angle, it glistened amber, from another, rose, from another, azure. It looked lacy and delicate and just a little bit like ice cream.
When she mentioned this to Strife, he grinned. "Yeah, imagine Haagen-Dazs multiplied by about a million. That's how good it tastes."
"Wow!" Jess breathed.
Strife stretched out a hand, and a spoon magically appeared on his open palm. He used it to scoop up some ambrosia, and then he held the spoon out to Jess. "Here you go," he said.
Jess stared at the offering, suddenly full of doubt. This had all been something of a game up until this point, but now that the ambrosia was right in front of her, she didn't know what to do. "I don't know, Strife," she said. "Ares might not . . ." she trailed off as a familiar whooshing noise came from behind them.
The mortal and the godling turned to behold a very irate God of War. He was still wearing his black leather outfit, and his eyes were glowing balefully with anger. "Ares might not what?" he growled. "What do you two think you're doing?"
"Uh, well, you see, Uncle Ares," Strife began to stutter, but Jess waved him to silence. She wasn't going to let the godling take the fall for this.
"It was my fault, Ares," she said quietly. "I was upset because you got so mad about Sorbo, and I was worried about getting old. Strife was just trying to help."
Ares stared at her for a moment, and his rage seemed to diffuse just a bit, but before he could comment, two women came into the room behind him. The older woman was tall and stately, and she had short black hair and kind brown eyes. She wore a lovely light blue gown with a high collar made from peacock feathers and a long skirt that seemed almost alive as it flowed to the floor. The younger woman looked like a female version of Ganymede. She wore white exercise tights, a leotard, armbands, wristbands, and a headband, and her light brown curls were pulled back into a ponytail that bounced as she moved. She would have been beautiful had her face not been screwed up in anger. Her green eyes glared hotly at Jess and Strife.
"See, Hera!" the younger woman shrieked. "I TOLD you. They're stealing ambrosia." Then she noticed Ares, and her lovely face blanched. "Ares," she breathed in horror.
"Hello, Artemis," Ares said to his sister in a silky voice full of so much menace that the goddess took an involuntary step backward.
"Ares!" the older woman cried. She stepped between the God of War and the Goddess of the Hunt quickly. "Where have you been? We heard you finally got out of that jar, so WHY haven't you been to see me? Come here and give your mother a kiss!"
"Hello, Mother," the god said, bending forward and giving Hera a quick peck on the check. "I'm sorry. I've been busy. I did stop by once, but you were out shopping."
"And this must be Jessica," Hera continued happily, coming forward and embracing Jess warmly. "The one who released my son from that jar. Welcome to Mount Olympus."
"Th . . . th . . . thank you," Jess stuttered. Her head was reeling. This place and these people sure weren't what she'd expected.
Hera cocked her head and gazed at Jess curiously. "Now, WHY do you look so familiar?" she asked.
"HERA!" Artemis whined, calling the Queen of the God's attention back to her. "How can you welcome her here? She was trying to steal from us."
"Oh, that's ridiculous," Hera said. "So what if she was. It's not like we don't have enough."
"Hera," Artemis snarled through clenched teeth. "If we let every mortal who wanted to be a god come in here, we'd be overrun with the creatures. It's against the rules, and you know it. I demand that we tell Father."
"Oh, very well," Hera said in obvious disgust. She took Jess by the arm and began to lead her from the room. "Don't worry," she said softly, leaning toward Jess so that Artemis wouldn't overhear. "Zeus is an old softie. He won't punish you TOO harshly."
Jess looked back in a panic for Ares, but the god simply shrugged ruefully. His anger seemed to have evaporated, and a small smile quirked his full lips. Realizing that she would get no help from that quarter, Jess had no choice but to go with Hera.
The Queen of the Gods led her back to the main throne room. As they walked into the room, all manner of gods and goddesses began to pop into the room. They began to whisper excitedly between themselves as their eyes crawled over Jess in a most disconcerting fashion.
"Don't worry about them, my dear," Hera said, patting Jess on the arm. "They're just excited. We haven't had this much excitement around here in CENTURIES!"
Hera released her and went to stand beside the main throne. She bent down and called softly, "Ze . . . us."
The old man shifted in his sleep, but he didn't wake.
"ZEUS!" Hera screeched in his ear, and that did the trick. The King of the Gods jumped, startled from his doze, and his eyes flew open wide.
"What is it?" he demanded. "You don't have to scream at me. I can still hear."
Artemis ran forward to the throne. "Daddy, Ares' new mortal was caught trying to steal ambrosia."
"What? Who? Where?" the old man sputtered. He glared around the room until his blue eyes fell on Jess, and then they began to glow with a vaguely lustful light. "So this is the little girl who freed my boy." He glanced at Ares, then back at Jess. "You always did have good taste, son." The King of the Gods cocked his head, studying her curiously, and then a broad smile crossed his wrinkled visage. "Well, well," he said softly. "Now, isn't that interesting."
Jess gazed at the King of the Gods in confusion. She had no idea what he was talking about.
"Come here, child," Zeus commanded, crooking a finger toward Jess. When she'd done as ordered, he asked, "So why'd you try to steal the ambrosia?"
Jess glanced at Ares and then at Strife, but she saw no help forthcoming, so she turned back to face her fate. She squared her shoulders and said, "I was worried about getting old, and I didn't want Ares to stop loving me," she said softly.
She heard the God of War's sharp intake of breath behind her, but Zeus cut off anything Ares might have been about to say. "Well, we just can't have any old mortal come up here and take ambrosia, now can we?" The King of the Gods studied her closely, and then a bright smile broke across his aged face. "But we could have a CONTEST for it. That's the ticket. We haven't done that in at least a millennia."
"A contest?" Jess echoed, a sudden feeling of dread rising inside her.
"A contest!" the gods and goddesses repeated with growing excitement.
"Oh, yes," Hera exclaimed. "We LOVE contests."
Zeus nodded and looked to his daughter. "What do you say, Artemis? Will that do?"
The Goddess of the Hunt eyed Jess' small form up and down critically. "Well, it can't be a physical one, that's for sure. Even I have to admit that wouldn't exactly be fair."
Jess bristled, but before she could retort, the goddess' green eyes began to glow. "But I bet she could play a game."
"A game!" the gathered throng exclaimed. "Let her play a game."
"Wait," Jess began, but the King of the Gods waved her to silence.
"Very well," Zeus said, rubbing his hands together in anticipation. "A game it will be. Call in the Champion."
A fanfare sounded from nowhere, filling the room with the brassy noise of trumpets and coronets, and all heads turned toward the main entrance of the throne room. A dark figure appeared there, a tall thin creature completely enveloped in a black robe with a high hood. He shuffled forward, leaning heavily on a crooked black stick, and when he was a few feet short of Jess, he stopped and slowly pushed back his hood.
Jess gasped in horror. The newcomer was totally bald. He was ghostly pale and ghastly gaunt. His eyes glowed yellow and were so rimmed with red that they almost seemed to be bleeding. Their baleful light seemed to bore right through her. He grinned then, showing long pointed teeth, and Jess backed up a step to get away from the monstrosity.
"Oh, knock it off, Thanatos," Zeus ordered grumpily. "Stop trying to scare the girl."
Jess glanced back at the King of the Gods in confusion, and when she looked back at the newcomer, he had become more normal looking. He was still very pale, but his eyes were a more ordinary dark brown and his teeth weren't pointed.
"Ah, you're no fun, Zeus," Thanatos, the Greek God of Death complained. Then he turned to Jess and eyed her carefully up and down. "So you want to play a game, do you?" he asked in a scratchy voice. "How about chess?"
Jess shook her head. "I don't know how to play chess."
Thanatos' brow furrowed in consternation. "Well, what about checkers?"
Jess shook her head again.
"Well, great. What CAN you play?"
Jess thought hard for a moment, and then she offered, "Trivial Pursuit?"
Thanatos' mouth split in a wide grin. "I can do that."
"Star Wars edition," Jess clarified.
The grin wavered for a moment, but then it returned in full force. "That works for me. Are you sure?"
Jess nodded quickly.
"Okay," he announced, clapping his hands together with glee. He waved a hand, and a round marble table appeared in the center of the ring of thrones. Two plush chairs sat on either side of the table, and a Star Wars Trivial Pursuit board perched on top, already set up and ready for play.
"Okay," Zeus announced. "Listen up, Thanatos. There will be no cheating from you. No using your powers to read the answer to the questions. I'll know if you do."
"Yeah, yeah, whatever," the God of Death muttered.
Zeus looked around at the gathered throng, and once he was sure he had everyone's attention, he raised his hands in the air. Before he could speak, however, Hercules appeared beside the throne. The King of the Gods paused for a moment, and a long look passed between father and son. Zeus inclined his head slightly, and then he turned back to the crowd and cried, "Now, let the game begin!"
"Wait!" Artemis cried, pointing at Jess. "What about her?"
Zeus groaned. "What about her?" he asked pointedly.
"Well, if she wins, she gets to eat the ambrosia, but what if Thanatos wins?"
There was silence in the room for a moment, and then someone whispered, "Death." Soon the entire room had taken up the cry. "Death. Death to the mortal."
"NO!" Ares roared suddenly, startling the crowd to silence. "I won't have that."
All heads turned to gaze curiously at the God of War, but he didn't back down. He advanced on the King of the Gods, reserving a special glare for his hated half-brother. "She's my mortal, Father. I won't have her killed for your sport."
"She has to be punished if she loses," Artemis insisted.
Ares glared at his sister. "You know, Artemis, you'd probably be a lot easier to get along with if you'd just get laid."
Jess heard Strife snickering behind her, and soon the entire room was shaking with laughter. Artemis sucked in her breath in shocked outrage. She cocked back an arm to attack her brother, but before she could complete the gesture, Zeus raised a hand and called a halt to both the argument and the laughter.
"Stop it, you two," he commanded gruffly. "Everyone, shut up!" He started to say more, but then Hercules bent down and whispered something in his father's ear. Zeus listened closely, and then he nodded. "Okay. Now, here's the deal. If Jessica wins, she gets to eat the ambrosia and become a goddess. If she loses, she goes back to earth. She'll lose her memory of Ares and go back to her life in the museum as if none of this had ever happened. Is that acceptable, son?" he asked Ares.
The God of War's gaze flicked back and forth between his father and his brother, and then he looked at Jess. She stared at him with wide eyes, begging him silently to help her out while wondering how in the hell she'd gotten herself into this mess in the first place. Her heart seemed to shatter into a thousand pieces when her lover nodded. "Yes, Father. That is acceptable."
"Very well," Zeus said. "Now let's get on with this." He waved a hand at the contestants, and the God of Death and Jess took their seats at the round table as Ares took his own place on his ebony throne.
Thanatos leaned over and grinned widely at Jess. "I have a confession to make," he informed her in a low voice. "I own all three sets of all three movies: the originals, the enhanced version, AND the Special Edition."
Jess just smiled softly. "So do I."
Thanatos' grin dropped away. With a sour expression on his face, he chose the Darth Vader token to play with. Jess reached for Han Solo. Thanatos placed the R2D2 unit that served as the game's electronic dice in the center of the board, and they each pressed its head. Jess won the toss for first turn. She moved her piece and then waited for her question.
"Who was Luke Skywalker's gunner during the Battle of Hoth?" Thanatos asked her with a small smirk on his thin face.
"Dack," Jess replied confidently, smiling slightly as Thanatos' face fell. She certainly wasn't going to make this easy for him.
She pushed R2D2 again and moved her piece.
"How many engines power an escape pod?"
Jess stared at the God of Death, thinking hard, but that was one fact that had slipped by her. "I have no idea," she admitted at last. "Two?"
Thanatos grinned triumphantly. "Wrong. Four. My turn" He raised a finger and zapped the R2D2 electronic dice, and then he moved his piece to a blue square. He looked up at Jess expectantly.
"What color is a blaster's stun bolt?" she asked.
"Blue!" the God of Death announced confidently.
"Right," Jess agreed.
Thanatos zapped R2 again, but before he could move his piece, a faint tinkling noise drew both his and Jess' attention. They turned to stare as a pair of gods appeared on two of the twelve center thrones. The woman had long curly blond hair and bright blue eyes, and her face was perfectly flawless. Her pink gown was almost completely sheer and left absolutely nothing to the imagination. Her companion's face was horribly scarred, but his deep brown eyes gazed kindly at Jess. The woman giggled, and then she turned to Zeus. "Sorry we're late, Daddy. We were a little tied up. At least, I was." She giggled again and ran a finger lightly down her companion's arm. His face began to turn an interesting shade of scarlet.
"Hello, sweetheart," Zeus said. "I'm glad you made it. Now, be quiet. We've already started."
"Hi, Ar!" Aphrodite called, wiggling her fingers back and forth and batting her long eyelashes at the God of War. Ares inclined his head slightly, but he did not smile. His dark eyes were intent upon the game.
"Question?" Thanatos growled, drawing Jess' attention back to him.
"Humph," Jess heard Aphrodite snort. "I don't know what he sees in her. I'm MUCH more beautiful."
"Shut up, 'Dite," Thanatos snarled. "We're trying to play."
"Okay, okay. Jeez, Thanny. Chill out."
"What world's landmarks included a dish-shaped shield protector," Jess asked the God of Death.
Thanatos stared at her for a moment, and then he said, "Hoth?"
Jess began to shake her head, and the god swore. "Hell's Bells. It's Endor. I KNEW that." He sighed hugely, then glanced at one of the seated gods. "No offense, Hades."
Jess glanced over to see a dark-haired man slumped dejectedly on a throne so heavily encrusted with jewels that it was impossible to tell what the chair had originally been fashioned from. His handsome face was marred by a huge frown, and he rested his chin on his hand and sighed loudly.
Thanatos waved a hand in front of Jess' face to call her attention back to him. "Just ignore Hades. He gets that way during the summer when his wife is off visiting her mother. I guess I have to concede that last question, so it's your turn."
The game continued, and Jess and the God of Death were just about evenly matched. Jess won the first of her six pies, but Thanatos soon won his as well. They raced around the board, winning one pie right after the other, until they were each down to one missing piece.
Jess glanced up to see Hera smiling at her. The Queen of the Gods winked, and then she reached over, took her husband's hand, and squeezed it lovingly, then turned her smile on Hercules. Jess shook her head in amazement.
"What?" Thanatos asked, following her gaze.
"I thought they all hated each other," she said.
Thanatos snorted. "You've been watching too much television. Zeus and Hera have been married so long that they're the only ones who can put up with each other anymore. And Hera made her peace with Hercules a LONG time ago. Why'd you think she gave him Hebe to marry? Not that the marriage lasted all that long." He smirked a little, and then he demanded, "Now ask me my question. I'm trying for my orange pie here."
Jess immediately complied. "Who did Obi-Wan claim was responsible for the 'death' of Luke's father."
"Darth Vader," Thanatos answered triumphantly, raising his arms above his head in a victory salute. "And that's my last pie!" With a crow of delight, he zapped R2D2 and headed for the center of the board. He missed the next question, however, and Jess managed to get her last pie as well. She pushed the electronic dice's head and headed for the center herself.
Unfortunately, Thanatos reached their common goal first. "Ask me the final question," he announced. "And let's get this nonsense over with."
Jess slowly took the card from the top of her stack. For some odd reason, it looked just a bit different from the others. "What city does the Queen of Naboo hail from in The Phantom Menace," she read.
Thanatos gaped at her. "What? The Phantom Menace. I haven't seen that yet. The lines are still too long. I don't go to movies when the theater is full of mortals. They smell bad. How did THAT get in there?"
Jess smiled softly. "The game comes with a few special cards from the new movie."
"Well, that's just not fair. I haven't seen it. Pick another card."
"No," Zeus thundered. "It IS fair. Answer the question, Thanatos."
"But I don't know the answer," the god wailed. He turned and glared at Jess. "I tell you what. We'll make a deal. You can go ahead and move to the center spot, and I'll ask YOU a question from one of these special cards. If you answer correctly, you win the game. If you miss it, you lose. What do you say?" He leaned forward, expectantly.
Jess gazed at the board. She knew how hard it was to reach the center on exact count. Her next card was a regular card, and Thanatos would more than likely win. Also, unlike the god, she HAD seen the movie.
"Okay," she agreed.
"Great," the God of Death exclaimed. He placed her piece in the center of the board beside his, and then he shuffled through his stack until he found one of the special cards. He read through the questions, and then he looked up at her with a feral grin. "What was the name of Anakin's mother?"
A hush descended upon the throne room. All eyes were riveted on Jess. She took a deep breath, and then she said, "Zeus, may I speak to Ares privately for a moment?"
"No way!" Thanatos roared. "She's trying to cheat."
Jess glared at the God of Death. "Give me a break. Ares has never seen The Phantom Menace. I went with Strife."
Zeus looked back and forth between Jess and Thanatos, and at last, he nodded. "Very well. But just for a moment. I want this game over with. I'm tired, and I want to get back to my nap."
Jess stood and walked over to the God of War. He rose from his throne and led her behind one of the massive white columns, out of eyesight and earshot of the other gods.
"I'm sorry, Ares," she said miserably. "I didn't mean for all this to happen. And I'm sorry about Sorbo. I should have told you immediately."
Ares shook his head. "I talked to my brother earlier," he said in a low voice. "He told me what happened and promised that it wouldn't happen again."
"I've just been so upset lately," Jess explained. "You've left me two mornings this week without making love to me."
Ares stared at her for a moment, and then a vaguely guilty expression crossed his face. "Well, you see, I've been . . . well . . . " He trailed off and looked out the window at the passing clouds as if unwilling to meet her gaze. "I've been checking in to doing a spin off."
"A spin off?" Jess echoed incredulously. "Of HERCULES? You? Acting? You've got to be kidding!"
Ares nodded stiffly. "I think it's a good idea."
If Jess hadn't been so concerned about her present situation, she would have laughed, but just then, Zeus cleared his throat warningly, and she realized that their time was running out.
Ares glanced back toward his father, and then he looked at Jess. "Do you know the answer to the last question?" he asked.
Jess smiled slightly. "I think the real question is, do you want me to be immortal?"
Ares said nothing for a moment. He gazed at her with dark eyes full of pain, and then he said, "Jessica, I cannot give you an answer to that question. I love you now, yes, but who can tell how we'll feel eons from now." He sighed harshly. "You have no idea what it's like; you've lived less than three decades, and I am older than you can possibly imagine." He shook his head sorrowfully. "Eternity is such a long time, Jess."
Jess gazed up at the god she loved with all her heart, hot tears filling her eyes. She raised a hand and lightly touched his beautiful face, then stood on tiptoe and gently pressed his lips with her own. "I love you, Ares," she whispered. "I will always love you."
She turned and reentered the ring of thrones. She retook her seat, then faced Thanatos bravely. "Could you please repeat the question?" she asked.
The God of Death complied immediately. "What was the name of Anakin's mother?"
Every eye in the room was upon her. The room was completely still as everyone waited with bated breath for her answer, and in that awful hush, Jessica Albritton said softly, "I don't know."
Jess replaced the repaired black and gold askos inside the glass case and shut the door gently. She turned the key in the lock, then stepped back to recheck the display one last time.
"I'm leaving for the night," Harry Weems called. "Be sure and lock up when you leave, Jess."
Jess waved goodbye to her boss, and then she wandered back toward her office. She was in no real hurry to get home to her lonely little house, so she took her time and let her gaze travel lovingly over each item in the Greek exhibit. She stopped at last in front of her very favorite piece, a large brass jar that had been donated to the museum six months previously by an anonymous donor.
It was a beautiful jar, an incredibly large jar, large enough to hold a full-grown man easily. On the front, depicted in stark relief, was a gorgeous painting of the Greek God of War. He was completely nude, a fact that had almost brought the board members to blows before they'd agreed to display the thing. The jar was much too beautiful to hide in some dark closet somewhere, though. Jess touched her fingers lightly to the glass case surrounding the jar, her gaze traveling over the long curls of the god's hair, the beard and mustache that framed his sensuous lips, the unusual pendant that lay on his muscular chest. For some odd reason, tears filled her eyes, and she felt an almost overpowering surge of sadness and loneliness course through her body. She shook her head in self-disgust, and then she whispered, "Good night, Ares." The slight sound seemed to echo in the stillness around her, and with a heavy heart, Jess left the museum.
She drove home slowly on the freeways of Dallas, ignoring the honking of irritated drivers, and once she'd reached her house and changed her clothes, she fixed herself a ham sandwich. She wolfed it down quickly, barely tasting it, and then she decided to treat herself. She opened the freezer to check the ice cream situation.
What the hell? She turned the brightly colored carton around, staring at the front in confusion. It said Haagen-Dazs, but she'd never heard of "Ambrosia Surprise" before. Maybe it was a new flavor. She must have picked it up at the store by accident. She pried off the top and sniffed, and then a grin of delight crossed her lips. This stuff smelled heavenly! Forsaking a bowl, she grabbed the whole pint and a spoon, then headed for the living room to watch television.
She sat on the couch, curling her legs up underneath her, and flipped on the television with the remote. She dug into the ice cream, anxious to try the new flavor, but before the spoon reached her lips, she stopped and stared at the small screen. Something wasn't right.
"And now, contestants," the host was saying. "It's time for your final Jeopardy question."
Jess' brow furrowed and she glanced at the clock. It was too late for Jeopardy, and that was certainly not Alex Trebeck. This guy was totally bald, extremely tall, and incredibly gaunt. It was obvious too that he'd never spent much time in the sun. He looked . . . well, to be honest, he looked like death warmed over!
"And the final Jeopardy question is," the host announced, "'In the Star Wars movie The Phantom Menace, what was the name of Anakin's mother?'"
The show began to play the irritating Final Jeopardy music, and Jess snorted lightly. "That's easy," she said aloud. "Shmi Skywalker." Then she put the spoon full of ice cream into her mouth.
Suddenly, her tongue began to tingle. She swallowed, and the tingling followed the ice cream down her throat. She could feel it spreading down into her stomach and outward. She looked down in shock; the tingling was spreading, and soon even the tips of her fingers and toes seemed to be vibrating.
"What the hell?" she breathed. She jumped up, dropping the pint of ice cream to the floor, and ran for the mirror. She gazed at herself in alarm. It looked as if she were caught in some kind of windstorm. Her dark curls were drifting about her as if lifted by a strong breeze, and as she watched, her entire body started to glow!
"What is going ON here?" she yelled.
A chorus began to hum, filling the room with a glorious noise. A small ball of warmth had formed inside her stomach, and it began to expand, wider and wider, until suddenly, it seemed to explode within her. Jess gasped as a bright light surrounded her like a corona and then immediately vanished. The room became still again, and she stared in the mirror in wonder.
Her face was different. There wasn't a flaw on it anywhere. Even the tiny wrinkles that had seemed to be appearing overnight lately were gone. Her hair shone with health and vitality, its normal darkness so black that the light reflected blue highlights in its ebony depths. "What happened?" she breathed.
"Jessica," a deep voice said from behind her.
Jess turned slowly to behold the most beautiful man she'd ever seen in her life. Coal black curls drifted softly to his shoulders. Dark eyes seemed to bore right through her. A dark beard and mustache framed full, sensuous lips. Black leather sheathed an incredibly muscular body.
"Who are you?" she whispered.
He smiled softly and raised a hand. He waved it back and forth once, and memory flooded back into Jess' brain. She remembered everything. Finding the brass jar and discovering the hidden treasure inside. The incredible battle of gods between Ares and Otus. The son of Poseidon, turned into an eel, swimming frantically inside the aquarium. The earthquake that her lover had caused to keep Hercules from filming his show. The incident with B. S. Hollingfoffer. The trip to Orlando and the Creation convention. The visit to DisneyWorld. Finally, the meeting with Hercules, the jaunt through Mount Olympus with Strife, and the Trivial Pursuit contest.
"Ares!" she cried, throwing herself into his arms.
The God of War held her tightly and buried his face in her hair. "I couldn't bear it, Jessie," he said in a muffled voice. "I couldn't spend eternity without you. I love you."
They held each other for a long time, and then she pulled away and glanced down at the upended carton of ice cream. "What happened?" she asked.
Ares grinned. "Well, Ms. Trivia Queen, I knew you knew the answer to that question. When you answered it correctly this time and ate the ice cream, you were actually eating ambrosia."
Jess' eyes widened. "Then I'm a . . ."
Ares nodded solemnly. "You are immortal, Jessie. You're a goddess now."
"Oh, wow," she breathed, but any other comment she might have made was cut off as the god covered her lips with his own and began to kiss her deeply. She felt a familiar dizzy sensation, but she wasn't sure if it was because he'd transported her somewhere or because his kiss was so intense.
He lay her back gently on an incredibly soft surface, and when she opened her eyes in surprise, they were surrounded by lacy netting so fine it seemed to have been woven by spiders. The bed on which she lay was covered with a white lacy coverlet as soft as air. She gazed up into Ares' handsome face in awe. "This is Olympus?" she asked.
He nodded. "I thought it only fitting. It will be different now, you know."
"Different?" Jess echoed.
"Yes. You're a goddess now, with all the powers of a goddess." He bent down and brushed her lips gently. "Open your mind to me, Jessie," he whispered.
She gazed up into his dark eyes, and then she felt the last walls of her mortality tumbling to the ground inside her head. Suddenly, he was within her, a part of her. She could feel the beating of his heart, the whisper of his breath, the movement of his blood within in veins, even the love he felt for her as his feelings and thoughts entwined with hers.
"Oh," she breathed. "How beautiful."
'You don't have to use your mouth,' he said inside her head. 'You don't even have to use words. Just feel.'
She did as he requested, opening herself up to him, awed at the incredible feelings he invoked inside her. He touched her, and she could feel him touch her, but she could also feel herself being touched. His mouth found hers, and he moved his body so that it lay atop hers.
She wished fervently that she could feel his naked skin pressed against hers. As if in response to her wish, her clothing disappeared, as did his. She could feel the warmth of his skin against hers, the welcome weight of him pressing down on top of her.
'It WAS in response to your wish,' he chuckled inside her mind. 'You'll have to learn to control that, Jess. It just wouldn't do to strip me in front of people, now would it?'
Jess laughed, but her laughter quickly vanished as his strong hands began to move over her body. Her own hands joined in, touching him, feeling him in a way she never had before. They explored each other as if it were the first time they had been together, and soon they were breathless from pent-up desire. Ares positioned himself to enter her, and he pulled away to gaze down at her. Jess looked up into his dark eyes, amazed at the love she saw there, the love she felt all through her body. Then he plunged into her and she screamed from the intensity of the sensation. He filled her completely, not just with his body, but with his very essence. They were truly joined together, one mind, one body, one heart, one soul. She would always be a part of him, as he would always be a part of her. And with her entire being, she told the God of War just how much she loved him.
Hera and Zeus exchanged amused glances as the cry of pleasure that had rocked Olympus to its foundation died away. They reached across the space between their thrones and clasped hands, both remembering how wonderful that first time together had been.
Artemis slumped in her own throne, her chin on her hand, her lips bowed in a most unbecoming pout. "Are we going to have to listen to that all night?" she complained.
Hera laughed. "She's young. She'll learn. I think it's rather sweet."
Zeus nodded. "It's about time that boy found himself a nice girl and settled down."
Artemis snorted, but she made no comment.
Suddenly, Hera snapped her finger. "THAT'S who she reminds me of!" she announced.
"Who, dear?" Zeus inquired.
"Harmonia! That naiad Ares had a thing for eons ago. The mother of the Amazons!"
Zeus chuckled. "You're only now realizing that? I knew it as soon as I took a good look at her."
Hera gazed at her husband of thousands of years and smiled softly. "Darling, have you decided on her title yet?"
Zeus shifted in his throne and cleared his throat. "Well, I've been thinking a lot about this. A new millennium is upon us, and I think it's time we embraced it. Jessica is a child of the modern age, and she loves television, movies, and computers, so I've decided that she will be the Goddess of Multimedia."
Hera clapped her hands together in delight. "Oh, I like the sound of that!" she exclaimed. She leaned over and kissed her husband softly on the cheek. "Thank you for giving them another chance, Zeus," she whispered. "I do adore you, old man."
Zeus chuckled lightly. "And I you, wife. And I you."