"Are you sure we should be down here?" Strife asked. He swatted at thick cobwebs that hung like curtains from the ceiling. The sticky mess clung to his hands. "I mean, it's so creepy! No one ever comes down here."
"What's the matter? Are you scared?" Discord smiled at Strife as she followed him deeper down the dark stone hallway. "The sub basement of Olympus is the perfect place to find what we want. Zeus has stuff stored down he that he never looks at."
"Oh, I don't know. Stealing from Zeus." Strife twisted his hands together nervously. "I mean, that's a biggie. It's not like getting Uncle Ares mad at us. Zeus now...eerrr, that's a whole new ballgame!".
"Stop your whining!" Discord pushed her way past Strife and marched up to a large door. She gripped the handle and yanked at it. The door rattled but refused to open. So she blew it apart with a fireball. "Zeus never comes down here, remember? No one does. So he won't miss it when we take it."
"But what are we looking for?" Strife asked as he followed her into the dust covered room. His eyes shown with greed as he saw mysterious bottles and boxes on shelves. "And how's it going to destroy Uncle Ares?"
"This!" Discord snatched a large bottle off the table in the center of the room. She blew the grime off it. She laughed as something pink swirled around inside the glass. "I bet this will work good."
Strife reached for the bottle eagerly with both hands. "Oohhh, I can't wait to be the God of War!"
"What do you mean you? It's going to be ME!" Discord twisted her body so Strife could not reach the bottle. She hugged it against her chest. "A little jerk like you can't do the job. You don't have what it takes!"
"Hey! I'm not a jerk!" Strife shoved Discord against the table and wrapped his pale fingers around the bottle's long neck. "Give it to me!"
"NO! I found it! It's mine!" Discord yanked the bottle back against her chest. Strife yanked it towards his. A tug of war was on. The two fought for several minutes until they heard a loud crack. Both froze and glanced down at the bottle. The long neck had broke off and was in Strife's hands. The round base was in Discord's.
"Oh-oh." Strife said as they were enveloped in a pink cloud. "What did you say this stuff would do?"
"I don't know!" Discord yelled back. "It was the only one sitting on the table, so I figured that meant it was important!"
"I...I don't feel so good." Strife swayed up and back several times, then he collapsed onto the floor. A few seconds later he felt Discord fall on top of him. The Goddess was out cold. Strife struggled for a moment but soon gave up. He felt too tired. He closed his eyes.
The pink cloud had grown larger and darker. Swirls of mauve and white moved through its misty surface. It floated out the door and down the hallway, leaving the bodies of the two Gods behind.
Ares sat in his temple and scowled at the scroll in his hand. Why did Zeus always insist on having these parties? It was stupid. And this one would be even worse! The scroll said it was to be a formal get-together. That meant he would have to bring a date. Zeus had even scrawled across the bottom of the scroll ARES: BRING A DATE as if he didn't know what formal meant! It was worst enough he had to spend several miserable hours with his family. The family that hated his guts.
He tossed the hated scroll on the floor and ran a hand through his hair. Who could he bring? He knew Aphrodite was going with Hephaestus. The Goddess of Love was the only one that treated him decently. Most of the time they got along very well.
"Athena?" He asked himself. "No. She's always telling dear old Dad I'm not doing my job right. Artemis? Nah, she hates all men. Discord? Hmmm...better than nothing I guess."
Ares sprawled back in his thrown and called the younger Goddess. "Discord!"
He waited several minutes and she didn't appear. "Great. She must be ignoring me on purpose. Probably wants to get me in trouble with Zeus for not bring a date to the party. Well, I'll just have to bring someone else! But who?"
He raked his brain for another Goddess but kept coming up blank. Then a grin spread across his face and he laughed. White sparkles flew across his body and he vanished.
Gabrielle stood in the barn with Argo. She had just finished brushing him down. She had turned to go out the door when Ares appeared in front of her. She sighed. "What do you want Ares? Xena's not here. She's in the inn ordering us some supper. Now if you'll excuse me, I'd like to go eat."
"I'm not looking for Xena. I'm looking for you." Ares explained.
"Me?" Gabriele stared up at the handsome War God in confusion. "Why do you want me for?"
"You owe me a favor, Gabrielle, and I'm here to cash in." Ares walked around the bard and studied her from all sides. "Yeah. I think you'll do nicely."
Gabrielle crossed her hands over her chest. She didn't like the way Ares was studying her. He was acting like he was buying an animal! He was making her nervous. "What kind of favor?"
"Zeus is having a formal party. I need a date. You're it." Ares reached out and crushed Gabrielle against his chest. Before she could protest, he popped out. They reappeared in Ares' personal quarters on Olympus.
"Let go of me!" Gabrielle squirmed out of Ares' grasp and backed away a few steps. "You have no right to kidnap me!"
"I'm not kidnapping you!" Ares sprawled across his huge bed. "I'm just....borrowing you for an evening. How bad can that be? You'll have a nice dinner. It's food fit for the Gods! A lot better than that stuff you were going to eat at the inn, I bet. Besides, you'll get to keep me company. A little dancing, listen to some boring speeches from my dear old Dad, mingle with the other Gods. How bad can it be?"
"Ares! I'm a mortal! Mortals are not allowed on Mount Olympus! If any of the other Gods see me..." Gabrielle glanced around Ares' bedroom. Everything was in gray, black and red. He really needed some flowers and green plants to cheer the place up! "Look, Ares, I really would like to help you."
"I'll protect you from the other Gods." Ares told her. He waved his hand in her direction. Her Amazon outfit disappeared. It was instantly replaced by a long shimmering white gown. "There! Now you look like a Goddess."
Gabrielle gasped. She looked at herself in the mirror and couldn't believe what she saw. She looked like a fairy princess! A small diamond studded tiara rested upon her golden hair. Her smooth shiny hair cascaded down past her shoulders. There was a beautiful diamond necklace around her neck. The dress was sleeveless and had sparkling fibers sewn into the weave. When she lifted her hand, she saw a matching diamond bracelet around her wrist. Even her boots were gone and replaced with fancy shoes. "Oh, Ares! It's beautiful!"
"You're beautiful." As Ares said it, he realized it was true. Gabrielle truly was beautiful. He was so used to seeing her as Xena's sidekick, that her beauty had escaped him. But now, it was clear. "So, since you're all ready, you might as well go to the party with me."
Gabrielle closed her eyes and sighed. "All right, Ares. But if I get in trouble with Zeus or anyone, it's your fault!"
"Relax. I got it covered." Ares held out his arm and Gabrielle took it. "Zeus can't say anything because he was the one insisting I have a date. I got it in writing right here."
That made Gabrielle felt a bit better. It should grant her some protection. Her stomach fluttered nervously. Soon she would be the only mortal in a room full of strange Gods. What would she say to them? Would they get angry at her being there? She clung tighter to Ares' warm muscular arm.
Strife opened his eyes and moaned. He felt terrible, like a herd of elephants had ran him over. In fact, one was still sitting on him. He could feel its massive body pressing him into the stone floor. He raised his head and saw it was only Discord. "Oh, man! You need to go on a diet!"
After several feeble attempts, he managed to push her off. His body felt so weak. It was almost impossible to do the most simple things. Like standing up. His knees wobbled and shook. He feared he might fall and break something. Then it clicked in his head what was wrong.
"My powers! They're gone! I'm MORTAL!" Strife's scream echoed down the deserted halls of the Olympus sub-basement. No one heard him.
Apollo strolled down the gleaming corridors of Olympus. He had just put on a brand new golden outfit. Every hair was in place and his teeth were snowy white. He knew he looked good! He couldn't wait for the party to get rolling. It was always kind of dead at the start, but soon everyone relaxed as they drank Dionysus' special brew. He had to admit, that man knew how to make wine!
He was thinking what he was going to say when he got to the party. He stopped when he saw some smoke hanging in the corridor ahead. "Don't tell me that Ares is in a foul mood again! He's always going around and blasting stuff with fireballs. Or killing stuff. I mean, it's OK to do that stuff to mortals, but not up here! He is such a party-pooper! Now I'm going to have to go all the way around. If I go through that smoke it'll ruin my new clothes."
The smoke swirled and took on a pinkish color. It sped down the hallway at Apollo.
"What the...?" Apollo formed a fireball and threw it at the cloud. The cloud absorbed the fireball and rapidly grew larger. Before Apollo could wink out, it was upon him. A few moments later the cloud, now a dark maroon, continued its way down the hall. The Golden One was left lying face down on the cold marble floor.
Ares and Gabrielle had finally reached the banquet hall. He pushed open the heavy golden doors and led her inside. Gabrielle couldn't help but stare. This room, like almost everything else she had seen of Olympus, was beautiful. There was already several Gods and Goddesses inside, talking to each other in small groups. She relaxed a bit when she recognized Aphrodite. Ares led her over to the Love Goddess.
"Sweet Pea!" Aphrodite cooed. "I'm so glad you could make it! We'll have lots of fun! You'll see. I want you to meet Hepheastus, my husband."
The God of the Forge blushed as he reached forward to shake Gabrielle's hand. His dreadlocks shook as he pumped her hand up and down with vigor. "Glad to meet you! It's nice that Ares finally has a date!"
"Well, it's very nice to meet you too." Gabrielle was relieved when she saw that the Gods appeared to act just like mortals. Hepheastus seemed to have accepted her. Maybe it wouldn't be as bad as she had feared. But she still was nervous about meeting Zeus and Hera. What would they say about her being here?
A bell rang and they were all seated at a long dinner table. She was sitting between Ares and Aphrodite. She also noticed there were several empty places at the table. A few of the Gods whispered among themselves and others threw glances her way. Everyone grew silent as an older man with gray hair approached the head of the table. He wore long white robes. She knew this was Zeus and gripped Ares’ hand under the table. Perhaps the King of the Gods wouldn't notice her.
Zeus stood at the head of the table and looked out over his family. He frowned when he saw the empty places. "Where is Apollo, Discord and Strife?"
"I saw Apollo earlier today," Artemis said in a clear voice. "He was getting ready to come here. I have no idea what could be keeping him."
"And Strife and Discord?" Zeus asked. "Ares, have you seen them?"
"No, Father, I have not. I was busy following your instructions." Ares said.
"I'm glad to hear that, son." Zeus smiled. "Many of the other Gods have been complaining lately, that you are too wrapped up in your duties. Gaea said that several of her best fruit orchards were ruined by one of your wars. And Hades is neck deep in dead people. He is months behind in sorting them out."
"Well, what can I say? I love my job." Ares saw that most of the other Gods were giving him dirty looks.
"You love your job too much, brother." Athena said from her place at the table near Zeus. "There are more things than war."
"Athena is correct." Zeus agreed. "Life is more than fighting and killing. Plus you always seem to be in a foul mood. Only last week you blasted a hole in one of the corridor walls and broke several columns."
"Hey! I didn't start that fight!" Ares protested as he pointed a finger at Athena. "She did! She said I didn't know how do to my job!"
"Well, if you did you wouldn't let a mortal woman beat you up." Athena stated. "Things like that give all of us Gods a bad image."
"Ares," Zeus said. "It's about time that you settled down."
"Hey, I'm not doing anything." Ares said. It always went like this. His entire family ganging up on him. He hated these get-togethers.
"I meant settle down with a wife." Zeus clarified. "That's why I asked you to bring a date to this party. I'm glad to see you did, even if she is a mortal. It shows you are trying. Perhaps if you dated this mortal more, it would keep you out of trouble."
"Me? Married?" Ares was shocked. He started to rise up out of his chair. "And who am I supposed to marry? I don't know anyone! Besides, I'm related to all these Goddesses."
Gabrielle grabbed the back of his vest and yanked him back down. "Shut up, Ares!" she hissed at him. "You're causing a scene!"
"Did you hear what he said?" Ares asked her.
"Yes I did." Gabrielle told him. She turned to the other Gods and Goddesses. "You know, he's just really shocked." She nodded her head and smiled at them. She was hoping to get off Mount Olympus tonight in one piece. She noticed Zeus was staring at her. He was rubbing his gray beard thoughtfully. It caused a sinking feeling in her stomach, like the floor had dropped out from under her. She never should have agreed to this!
"I...can't....go....any.....further!" Strife collapsed on the granite steps and gasped for air. His body was wet with sweat, a really disgusting feeling. There was something pounding in his chest. And his feet ached!
"Aahhhh!" Moaned Discord as she plopped down next to Strife. "And we're not even out of the sub-basement yet! Who ever would have thought anyone would actually have to climb all these stairs? It's real misery!"
"Tell me about it!" Strife said as he pushed his damp hair out of his eyes. "How much further do we have to go?"
"Believe me, you don't want to know." Discord stretched out on the cool stone step and shoved her booted foot at Strife. "Rub my feet! They hurt!"
Gabrielle picked at the food on her plate. It was the most delicious food she had ever tasted, but she was too upset to eat. She couldn't forget how Zeus had stared at her. She had the feeling he was planning something she wouldn't like. She noticed Ares wasn't eating very much either. He was fuming. She didn't blame him. She would be angry, too, if her father had ordered her to get married!
"Really, Ar." Aphrodite said to her brother. "You'll love being married. You just got to find the right girl. I guess Dad just doesn't understand these things take time. Maybe if you just lay low for awhile he'll forget about it."
"Yeah. Until next time." Ares said.
There was a sudden commotion on the other end of the table. A woman who Gabrielle had presumed to be Hera, had collapsed on the floor. Then two more Gods fell off their chairs. Another Goddess went next.
Gabrielle leaped to her feet.
A blood red mist rose up off the floor and began to spread scross the table. As it touched Gods, they fell to the floor. She did not know if they were dead or alive. Or what this creature was.
Zeus gasped as he saw the mist. "Who has let the Eater of Magic loose?" he boomed. His voice was like thunder and the room shook.
Gods fled from the room in panic, many being knocked to the floor and ran over.
Gabrielle felt helpless without her staff. She picked items off the table and threw it at the mist. She didn't think it would do any good, but she had to try. Ares was next to her, his sword out. She could tell he didn't know what to do, either. What good was a sword against mist? The only one who had recognized the thing was Zeus.
He was standing at the head of the table still. It looked as if he were in shock. Gabrielle raced over to him. She grabbed Zeus's royal robes in her hands and shook him. When that didn't work, she slapped him in the face. "Wake up! How do we fight that thing?"
Zeus blinked his eyes. "Salt" he croaked.
Gabrielle leaped up onto the table and ran for the salt container. She saw Aphrodite and her husband go down. She hoped they were OK, as Aphrodite was her friend. And Hephaestus had seemed like a great guy, although a bit shy.
She froze as the red mist enveloped her, but Gabrielle felt nothing. It was like a hot wet breeze. A moment later, it was gone. It headed further down the table toward Zeus. Gabby saw Ares was trying to get Zeus out of the room. There were bodies of Gods lying everywhere.
Reaching the salt, she tore the lid off and threw the crystals at the red mist. The mist twisted as if in pain, shrinking in size. Encouraged by this, Gabrielle threw more at it. Its color changed from red to maroon to pink to white, and finally clear as glass. Then it exploded in a blast of white fury. Gabrielle was knocked off her feet and thrown onto the floor. She blinked her eyes as tiny balls of white energy floated down through the air. As one touched Aphrodite the Goddess woke up and climbed to her feet.
Gabrielle saw one of the white balls was going to land on her. She tried to avoid it, but her back was killing her. Being thrown off tables onto marble floors was not good for one's spine! It landed on her chest and sunk inside her body. Instantly her back stopped hurting. In fact, she had never felt this good!
Apollo woke up as his powers returned to him. He popped over to banquet hall to warn the others about the dangerous smoke. But when he got there, he saw they had already found out.
Strife and Discord were so exhausted from climbing stairs by the time their powers returned that they both popped off to their rooms and fell fast asleep!
All the Gods and Goddesses, except Strife and Discord, gathered around the new Goddess who had saved them.
"But how can this be?" Gabrielle asked with confusion. "I'm not a Goddess, I'm a mortal."
"The Eater of Magic absorbs magic powers." Explained Zeus. "But it also increases the power inside its mist. So it must have created enough extra power to make you a Goddess."
"Ooohhh! I'm so happy for you!" Aphrodite hugged Gabrielle. "You'll be a great Goddess! You'll see!"
"Yes." Agreed Zeus. The older God grinned as he looked at her. He threw an arm around Ares' shoulder and hugged his son. "A Goddess who is not related to us. Now you can marry your girlfriend!"
"What?" Ares said as he squirmed out of Zeus' hold.
Gabrielle's mouth dropped open. Was Zeus for real?
"But...We're not....he's not...." Gabrielle stuttered.
"This is great!" Zeus said as he fixed the room with a wave of his hand. "You two can get married right away! Of course, she'll have to learn how to use her powers. But you can work on that later. Dionysus, go break out your best wine! That special stuff you keep locked away."
"Right away!" The God of Wine popped out to do as Zeus said.
All the other Gods and Goddesses were running around. They used their powers to get things ready for the wedding.
Zeus threw his arm around Gabrielle. "Welcome to the family!"
"Xena," Gabrielle told her a few days later. "I have something to tell you."
"Where were you? I was worried sick about you!" Xena exclaimed. "I searched everywhere!"
"Well, see, it goes like this." Gabrielle said as she stared down at her boots. "See, I owed Ares a favor so I had to go to this party with him and there was this mist creature and I sort of became a Goddess. Oh, one more thing. I'm married to Ares."
"WHAT???!!!" Xena yelled as she leaped to her feet.