Gabrielle stepped down from the stage with a big smile on her face. She held a shiny golden trophy in her hands, the top part shaped like an open scroll. Out of all the bards there, Gabrielle couldn't believe she had won this prestigious award! She enjoyed writing about the adventures she shared with Xena, but she had no idea her stories had became so popular so quickly! Searching the crowd for her friend, she spotted Xena way in the back. The Warrior Princess knew this was Gabrielle's moment and didn't want to steal the spotlight. The crowd parted before her and she started off towards her friend, her heart bubbling with pure joy. All the terrible things that she had seen in the last three years was worth it now, just for this moment. She had almost reached Xena when a woman stepped in front of her, an angry expression on her face. Gabrielle recognized her as one of the bards from the competition.
"Why did you have to win for?" The woman asked angrily. She had long dark hair and wore a simple white toga. She waved a bag of scrolls in front of Gabrielle's face. "I spent years working on these and I didn't get anything! You travel with that murderous warlord and you win! It's not fair!"
"I didn't expect to win at all. I just mainly came here to share in the fun." Gabrielle explained to her, hoping to ward off an argument. "And Xena changed. She's not like that anymore."
"So you say!" The woman snorted, a look of disgust on her face. "It still doesn't change what she did...or that you won! Mass murderers should not be changed into heroes!"
"Look, I don't want to argue." Gabrielle told her and moved to step around her. She could see this person wasn't going to change her mind. She could talk herself blue in the face and get no where at all. Besides, she was tired from being out in the hot sun all day, reading from her scrolls and sitting up on that stage. All the excitement of winning had faded with this accusation. The only thing she wanted to do now was to get Xena and go get something to eat. "If you'll excuse me."
When Gabrielle reached Xena, she turned around and looked behind her. The woman was still staring at her.
"Anything wrong?" Xena asked, her blue eyes seeing everything.
"Just a sore loser, I guess. It's nothing." Gabrielle told her best friend as she pulled Xena towards one of the local restaurants. "Let's go eat! I'm starving!"
Long after the two had disappeared into the restaurant and the crowd faded from around the stage, the woman still stood there alone. Until Discord appeared in a flash of blue light. The Goddess wore strips of black leather with bits of red, her long black hair trailing straight down her back. Her nails were long, painted black and as sharp as daggers. Discord was full flung into the gothic vampire mode and even sported black lipstick.
"Oh, did that nasty Gabrielle upset you? Why don't you let me help? I'll be glad to!" Discord crooned in a sweet voice that turned hard at the end. Her black eyes sparkled with mischief...and something a bit more.
"Who..who are you?" The startled woman asked, her eyes filled with fear. She nervously clutched her bag of scrolls, her fingers twitching. Although she had worshipped the Olympians her entire life, she had never seen one before. She had always pictured them in beautiful gowns, like a princess or queen would wear. This creature in leather did not fit her idea at all. Surely she could not be a Goddess?
"Why, Ludiana, I'm the Goddess Discord!" Discord said with a wide grin. "And I know just how to help you. I'll tell you what to do so that pesky blonde won't ever write another word, ever! That's what you want, isn't it?"
Ludiana thought about it. She was still angry at Gabrielle. That trophy should have been hers! She had worked years on perfecting this epic story, often staying up nights just to get it done in time for the contest. Then it had been cruelly snatched from her fingers, handed over to someone else. But yet she did not want Gabrielle killed or anything like that. Yet something in Discord tugged at her, bringing out a morbid fascination. "What would you do to her?"
"Hmmm....I have the perfect plan!" Discord leaned in closer to Ludiana until she could whisper in her ear. "We'll just give her a permanent case of writer's block unless she can do a very embarrassing task! A task that involves my brother Ares. And trust me, that little blonde pest would never do it!"
"Are you sure?" Ludiana asked.
"Positive!" Discord laughed gleefully. With a little help from this mortal, her plan to annoy both Xena and Ares was falling into place. She was sick of Ares behavior and how he was always punishing her for her great ideas. After all, it wasn't her fault if a few of her plans went bad, because of Xena! That stupid Warrior Princess was always interfering! Discord knew she couldn't take on Xena and win, so she'd mess with her sidekick, instead. Better yet, this plan would be untraceable. There was no way Xena could figure out it was her who had placed it on Gabrielle. She had snatched this special stone from Zeus that scrambled her signature. The old coot never used it anyway. She'd just put it back after the spell was on the bard and no one would be the wiser. And the way Ares had been moping about lately, this love-stricken expression on his face was making her sick. More than once she had caught him watching Xena on his God TV. That behavior had to stop!
"Why would you do this for me?" Ludiana asked the Goddess. She knew very little of Discord and only knew she was Ares sister.
"Because your story is so much better than that garbage she wrote!" Discord told her and from Discord's viewpoint, it was. The Goddess loved all the sordid details in Ludiana's epic: the betrayals, incest, murders and all that other stuff Discord brought to the world. It was a story right up her alley! Of course, none of it was believable and it was poorly written but no reason to tell Ludiana that. Discord was doing this for herself, not the Bard Want To Be. "Who wants to read about Xena? People want *fiction* not fact!"
Ludiana's confidence was growing with every word. "What do I do?"
Discord whispered the instructions into Ludiana's ears and the woman nodded her understanding. Then Discord made herself invisible. From a high vantage spot atop a nearby building, Discord watched Ludiana approach the restaurant. Just as she neared the door, it opened. The Warrior Princess emerged into the bright afternoon sunlight, her friend trailing behind. Gabrielle stopped, surprised at seeing Ludiana was still there. After all that time had passed, Gabrielle had thought she would have gone home by now!
Before Gabrielle could utter a word, Ludiana spoke in a clear voice. "I curse you, Gabrielle! You will not write a single word until you kiss War in Love's temple and walk War's dog!"
Just after the curse was spoken, Discord zapped Gabrielle with an invisible ray of red light. No one could see it except Gods and she was the only one in the entire city. The blonde bard did not feel a thing, except a slight chill down her back. Discord leaned back and laughed.
"What?" Gabrielle blurted in confusion. "What are you talking about?"
Ludiana did not reply but darted down a narrow alley and soon disappeared from sight.
Gabrielle turned to Xena in concern. "Did you understand that?"
Xena wrapped an arm around Gabrielle's shoulder. "Don't worry about it. She's just some kook blowing off steam with that nonsense. Probably took her all the time we were eating to think that up. Just forget about it."
Still gazing down the alley where Ludiana had disappeared, Gabrielle couldn't help but think about it. How could Xena expect her to forget getting cursed? And what did she mean, kissing War and walking his dog?
Gabrielle's face paled. Surely Ludiana didn't mean Ares, did she?
That night Gabrielle rested on her blanket near the campfire. Her thoughts were in turmoil. They kept going around and around, tumbling out of control like a maelstrom. No matter what she did, she just couldn't forget what had happened. Reaching into her bag, Gabrielle pulled out her scroll and quill. Writing had always calmed her and she hoped it would work this night when she desperately needed it. But as soon as she placed the ink filled nib against the paper, all words flew from her mind. Oh, she knew what she wanted to say, she just couldn't decide how to say it. She thought of one opening sentence, discarded it and thought of a new one. Nothing was any good! And so the scroll remained blank.
With a sudden revelation Gabrielle knew it was the curse. "Xena! We have to do something! That curse is really on me. I can't write a single word!"
Xena rolled over in her bedroll and sat up. She could tell by Gabrielle's tone of voice that her friend was really upset. "You're just upset. Just forget about it for a few days and I'm sure your muse will come back better than ever."
"But I can always write when I'm upset and now nothing. I just stare at the blank scroll and can't decide how to word things. My thoughts just go around and around and around! Oh, Xena, this is terrible! I can't live like this, not being able to write!" Gabrielle bowed her head, her long blonde hair hiding the tears in her blue eyes. When she lifted her head to look at Xena, her face was wet. "How could she do this to me? What did I ever do to her?"
"That woman has no power to put a real curse on anyone, let alone you." Xena told her as she moved to sit by Gabrielle's side. "You're letting her words influence you. Because you believe them, you're letting them come true. That's all it is."
"Are you sure?" Gabrielle asked, her face brightening a bit with hope.
"Of course. Try to get some sleep." Xena sat next to Gabrielle until her friend fell into an uneasy slumber. She knew she would have to sit up all night with her again. Gabrielle was prone to having nightmares, one of the bad side affects from traveling with her. Xena tried to protect her from seeing things, but it always didn't work. Her heart broke every time Gabrielle suffered something because of her, which was happening more and more often it seemed.
Xena, of course, did not express the possibility that it *was* a real curse put there by some God. She knew if it were Ares, she would have felt his presence. Still, she had managed to annoy lots of the Gods lately and any of them could be taking their rage out on her innocent friend. The Warrior Princess stared into the fire, a sour look on her face. "Who are you?"
Days passed and Gabrielle didn't feel any better. Every night she tried to write and accomplished nothing. She knew she was doing all the proper things. She was in a quiet spot, with nothing to disturb her. She set a daily schedule and kept to it. But nothing helped. In fact, it was getting worse.
"Xena, we have to do something about this curse!" Gabrielle blurted out that night to her friend. She threw the empty scroll and quill onto the ground far away from herself. For the last few days she suffered from mood swings. She seemed to only have two emotions: the deepest of despair and intense anger. She was beginning to hate herself and felt guilty every time she threw something but yet did it again the next time. She guessed since she couldn't express herself in writing, her emotions had to find a different outlet. "This curse is really destroying me from the inside out! I have to do something about it before I do something I regret. I feel frustrated and there's no relief in sight. Before, when this curse just started, I could at least think what I wanted to write. I just couldn't put it on paper. Now I can't even do that."
Xena knew Gabrielle was right. She had watched her usually calm friend deteriorate into a stranger and she hated to watch it. "How did that curse go again?"
Gabrielle blushed and concentrated on her hands in her lap. She mumbled something that was incoherent.
"What?" Xena asked, confused. Why in the world was Gabrielle blushing? Xena kicked herself for not paying more attention when that woman had uttered the curse! Instead, she had been thinking of the meal they had just finished. Things had been calm and peaceful, so she had not expected any trouble. Certainly not the type of trouble when you had to remember curses. She usually dealt with problems involving swords or fists. "I can't understand what you said, Gabrielle. You have to speak up."
Gabrielle took in a deep breath, filling her lungs with the cool night air. She gazed up at the stars in the night sky for a moment, asking them to grant her peace. She had no idea how to explain this to Xena. It was so embarrassing! Worse, she knew that Xena hated Ares. "I have to kiss Ares! And walk his dog. I didn't even know he had a dog! Are you happy now, Xena?"
"Kiss Ares? Ares, as in the God of War Ares?" Xena asked, shocked. "I don't remember that woman mentioning Ares."
"She didn't use his name, Xena. She said War. War is Ares!" Gabrielle brushed her long hair away from her face and twisted it into a cord. She let it go and it instantly released itself into a thick wave of gold. She climbed to her feet and started to pace around their small campfire. Her stomach was a tight mass of fluttering butterfly wings. "I can't kiss Ares! He's a God! He'd probably just laugh at me. How in the world would I explain this mess to him?"
"Look, I'll just call him down here and explain it for you." Xena offered. "I know how to deal with Ares. But walking the dog would be a lot harder."
"Why?" Gabrielle asked. "Does he have a dog?"
"I wouldn't call the thing a dog but Ares thought it was." Xena explained to her friend as she remembered the great ugly beast. "It was this huge ugly lizard thing, some monster. It was called the Dog of War. That is, until Hercules killed it. I was there when the thing died. It ate one of my ex lieutenants named Darfus. Darfus had been brought back from the dead to kill me and when the dog ate him, it destroyed both of them. That was years ago, before I met you."
"So how can I walk it if it’s dead?" Gabrielle moaned. She slumped against a nearby tree and sunk to the ground, her knees pressed against her chest. "This is terrible, Xena! I'll never get free of this curse now!"
"Well, you can still do the first part." Xena told her. She didn't like the idea of Ares kissing Gabrielle, but if it would lift the curse than she would go along with it. She would just have to keep a close eye on that scoundrel, that he didn't get any other ideas. She knew for a fact that kissing gave men, especially Ares, ideas. She also knew Gabrielle had very little experience with men in that area. She figured that's what was causing Gabrielle to be so nervous. "Look, just walk up to him and kiss him one."
"I can't do that!" Gabrielle said wide-eyed. "Besides, it's not that simple. I have to kiss him in Aphrodite's temple."
"Hmmm...." Xena said as she rubbed her chin in thought. This was getting more and more complicated by the minute. "Anything else?"
"No, that's it." Gabrielle sighed. "Isn't that enough?"
From what Xena had heard of the woman's terrible plot, she knew that Ludiana had not thought up this curse by herself. "I think some other God is involved in this. I just wish I knew who so I could go smack em one."
"Xena," Gabrielle sat up straight and looked her friend in the eyes. "I don't want you telling Ares about this curse. The two of you just don't get along and I need him to cooperate. I can handle this on my own."
The Warrior Princess frowned. She didn't like the sound of this at all. She certainly didn't want Gabrielle to be alone with the War God. Who knew what he might do? "What are you planning?"
"I was thinking of going to Ares temple, try to explain this somehow. There's one near here. You could wait just outside." Gabrielle said quietly. She didn't look forward to seeing Ares. No, that wasn't right. She *did* look forward to seeing him, it was explaining this thing she had to do that she did not look forward to. She knew a simple thing like kissing him shouldn't have her so frazzled. But it did. And maybe it wasn't because he was a God, either. Maybe it was something else entirely, something she didn't want to examine too closely because she was scared of what she might discover.
"Fine." Xena agreed with a worried expression glued to her face. "But if you get in over your head or if he tries anything, you call for me right away!"
"Don't worry, I will!" Gabrielle promised.
The next day Gabrielle arrived at Ares' temple. It was a gray stone affair with a big round dome. Wide stairs led up to the double doors and the shapes of crossed swords were etched into the stone just above the doors.
"You sure you want to do this by yourself?" Xena asked her again, hoping her friend would change her mind. She didn't like the idea of Gabrielle going in there by herself. Who knew what Ares would do!
"Yes, Xena. I feel this is something I have to do on my own. So would you wait out here for me?" Gabrielle patted the thick stone railing that lined the steps. At the top of the steps it was flat and wide, perfect for sitting on. She watched Xena climb the steps and hop onto the perch. "Thank you, Xena. I know how you feel about Ares, but I don't need those mixed feelings right now. I have enough trouble with my own right now!"
"I'll be right here." Xena assured her with a smile.
Gabrielle pulled open the heavy temple doors and stepped inside. She had never been inside of one of Ares' temples before so she didn't know what to expect. She soon discovered the place was dark and lit with flickering torches. Swords and other various weapons decorated the walls, which made sense to Gabrielle. It would be odd for a temple of the War God not to have weapons! Near the door she spotted a statue made of marble. Examining it more closely, Gabrielle saw that it was a fair likeness of the God of War and she wondered briefly if he had posed for it in the past. Her boots clicking loudly on the marble floor, Gabrielle headed towards the front of the temple. There she found his altar, made of black basalt. And past it, his empty throne. A light beam from a nearby window shone directly on the chair's seat. Gabrielle was glad that the temple was deserted. She didn't want a bunch of nosy warlords knowing about her problem!
"Ares!" Gabrielle called, not knowing if he would answer her or not. She was pleased when he appeared with a flash of blue light.
"My, this is a surprise!" Ares said as he saw Gabrielle standing before his throne. "I don't suppose you changed your mind about peace and want to become a warrior, do you?"
"No, Ares. It's....something else." Gabrielle replied. Now that she had his attention, she didn't know how she would ever find the courage to tell him. It had seemed like a good idea last night, but now it was a different matter. But she had no choice. "See, last week I was at this meeting of bards and someone had put a curse on me so I can't write anything at all."
"And you want me to remove the curse, I presume? Well, my dear, I'm sorry to say only the God who put the curse on you can remove it." Ares held out his hand and made a white ball of power appear in the air. It floated towards Gabrielle and went around her body. The War God studied what he saw there and frowned. Waving his hand, the white energy vanished. "Well, it seems as if someone from my demented family has put a curse on you. Unfortunately, they covered their tracks so I can't tell who did it."
"Um, actually, there's a bit more." Gabrielle added. She studied Ares as he stood before her, dressed in his tight black leather. The upper part of his leather vest was open, revealing a tantalizing piece of his well muscled hairy chest. His silky long wavy hair was neatly combed and his facial hair trimmed. With her heart pounding just looking at him, she thought what it would be like to kiss him! Her face felt hot just thinking about it.
"Really?" Ares asked, intrigued. He slowly strolled around Gabrielle, looking her over. "And that would be?"
"Well, according to how the curse was worded..."
"Yes?" Ares asked.
"I have to kiss you." Gabrielle finally blurted out. Then she quickly added the rest. "But not here. In Aphrodite's temple."
"Hmmm, if you didn't actually have a curse on you, I'd say this was just a story you made up so we could kiss!" Ares teased her. He could see Gabrielle was a bundle of nerves and that she was clearly attracted to him. And he had to admit, she looked pretty good herself. Perhaps he was wasting time mooning over Xena when the innocent bard was clearly excited by him. And he had certainly been fascinated by those three naked Gabrielles in that enchanted scroll mishap. Perhaps this curse was a blessing in disguise, if it got him a lover! "Trust me, Gabrielle. I don't bite. Let's go see Dite and see if I can get this curse off you. I think I'm going to really enjoy this!"
"Bite? Wait, what do you mean, bite?" Gabrielle asked but it was too late. Ares had already wrapped her tight in his strong arms, pressing her against his wide chest. Then her stomach felt funny and she realized he had popped them out already.
A few seconds later, they appeared in Aphrodite's temple. Everything was pink. Bright pink. The Goddess of Love relaxed on a curved armless sofa, sipping some kind of frothy white drink in a tall shaped glass. A small table was within easy reach and held dozens of tasty treats, like squares of assorted fruits drizzled in chocolate sauce. Aphrodite glanced up at the two in surprise. "Hey Ar, Gabrielle! I certainly didn't expect to see the two of you show up here together! Separately yeah, but not together. So, what can I do for you? Wait! Don't tell me. You're in love!"
"Um, not exactly, Aphrodite." Gabrielle said when her stomach returned to its normal spot. She wasn't exactly used to traveling like a God and it seemed to not agree with her stomach. For some odd reason, Ares still held her tightly to his chest. Perhaps he was scared that if he let her go, she might decide to live with the curse instead of kissing him. "We're here to cure a curse that's on me."
"A curse! Who would put a curse on you?" Aphrodite was up instantly, her big eyes sad. "Why, you're one of my favorite mortals! Do you know who it was?"
"Some mortal said the curse but a God was behind it actually working." Ares explained further. "One of our siblings, but they scrambled their signature so I can't tell who it is."
"Oh, I bet it was that Discord!" Aphrodite said as she thought of their other sister. "She just loves causing all sorts of problems, for both mortals and other Gods!"
"Tell me about it! I keep blasting her but it doesn't do any good. She never learns." Ares lifted Gabrielle's chin and stared into her blue eyes. "But it looks like she goofed this time. Apparently all I got to do in order to remove the curse is kiss her in your temple."
"Ar, I wouldn't do that if I were you!" Aphrodite said quickly as she reached in between them to stop the kiss. She quickly pulled Gabrielle away from Ares. "It's a very serious thing for two mortals to kiss here. It's even more serious if one of them is a God!"
"How serious?" Gabrielle asked, confused.
"Very serious!" Aphrodite explained. "People who are deeply, truly in love come here for that something extra only magic can provide: a connection between their souls. Only a very few brave couples dare do it. It's permanent. Sometimes unknowing couples come in here to neck and get the shock of their lives! It’s sad, too, because their not meant for each other at all! And with one of you a full God, who knows what would happen? You both better consider this very seriously!"
Aphrodite stood there for a moment, one long fingered hand by her pink lips. She carefully studied both her brother and her friend. They made a cute couple and that they were right for each other. She knew she could have kept her mouth shut and let them kiss, but then both of them would have been angry at her for not telling them. No, it was better to tell them and let them discover each other at their own pace. The trouble is, both of them could be so...blind!
The Goddess of Love knew *everyone* thought she was a real airhead. The truth was, she *wanted* everyone to think she was an airhead! It was a persona she had created for herself a long time ago. In fact, she actually was very shrewd and clever. Ares still thought that scroll incident was a clumsy accident caused by his ditzy sister. In truth, Aphrodite had carefully planned it that way to get Ares together with Gabrielle. She had even mentally suggested to Gabrielle to write that famous line "And War lost all its Powers" to make Ares mortal. The Love Goddess knew as long as Ares was a God he would continue to ignore Gabrielle and lust after Xena.
The problem was, Xena was all wrong for him! The blue-eyed woman was a great warrior but she just wasn't right for her bro! Being the Goddess of Love, Aphrodite just knew these things. And Xena knew it, too. But her brother just couldn't see it and it broke Aphrodite's heart seeing him alone and unloved. Chasing Xena would only cause Ares more pain, as the two would do nothing but fight most of the time they were together. That's because Ares just rubbed Xena's nerves the wrong way and she would loose her temper every time, striking out at her annoyance.
Then there was Gabrielle. The blonde bard was happy traveling with Xena, or so she thought. She didn't realize it had became a habit with her and she was just blindly following Xena wherever the warrior led her. This in the long run was not good for Gabrielle. She would get killed. And her spirit would get bogged down with all the horrible things she witnessed, things that Xena didn't even bat an eyelash at. Aphrodite dreaded the day the sensitive bard would become as hard as Xena!
So Aphrodite had hoped that during the enchanted scroll incident the two would see the light. And it *had* seemed to be working, for a short time anyway. The two had really warmed up to each other and started to realize they would be good together. They had been thinking with their hearts. Of course, their thick skulls had interfered! They both thought the whole thing was too weird!
Oh, if only I have had my powers on that day! Aphrodite thought as she watched the two of them now. According to her plan, only Ares was supposed to become mortal. She never dreamed that Gabrielle would take her powers, too!
"Well, Gabrielle, I really wanted to help you but I'm not ready to become your soul mate." Ares told her. "Besides, Dite said she doesn't know what might happen since I'm a God. What if I loose my powers again?"
Gabrielle bit her lip. It had seemed so simple! Just kissing Ares and now this new surprise popped up. But maybe there was still a chance, if only she could just convince him! "Look, Ares. I really don't understand everything Aphrodite said, about this connection between souls. I'm sure you know more than I do, but I know I can't ask you to do that. It wouldn't be fair. But maybe there's something else you could help me with?"
Ares raised one eyebrow. "And that would be?"
"See, this curse had two parts." Gabrielle started to explain. "The kissing was the first part. The second part is....."
"Exactly how many parts are there?" Ares interrupted, getting a bit annoyed.
"Just the two!" Gabrielle quickly assured him. "The second part is I have to walk your dog? Do you have a dog?"
Ares started to laugh.
Aphrodite gasped, her hands flying to cover her open mouth. The Love Goddess quickly went over to Gabrielle and gripped her by the shoulders. "Trust me, you don't want to go anywhere near that horrid thing! It's an evil beast that would eat you in a second! Ohhhhhh, I get stressed just thinking of it! I'm glad it's gone off Olympus!"
Ares snarled at his sister. "Hey, that's my dog you're talking about! I don't make remarks about that....that...fluffy thing you got!"
"Ohhh! You leave my Poochkums out of this!" Aphrodite wailed and she weakly hit Ares on his chest.
"Wait!" Gabrielle quickly stepped between the two Gods. "Can we get back to my problem here? Do you have a dog? Because Xena said it was dead, that Hercules had killed it."
"Graegus is immortal. He can't really die, as mortals do. He was just...indisposed for a few years. He's down in Hades right now, resting." Ares explained to her. His dark eyes examined her from head to boots and back up again. "Don't tell me you're actually thinking of trying this, are you?"
"Well, I do want this curse off me." Gabrielle glanced from Ares to Aphrodite. She knew Xena said it was some lizard thing, but how bad could it be? "Maybe doing half of it will be good enough. I'm willing to try, at least."
"Sweet Pea, Graegus is not the kind of dog that one takes for walks!" Aphrodite shivered, wrapping her arms over her ample bosom. Her eyes were large with fear. "He is the Dog of War. He is bloodthirsty. He is a killer! Cows are just snacks to him. Now, if it was my Poochkums..."
"That Poochkums is a menace!" Ares growled. "It left white fur all over my black leather last time I saw it. And it drools!"
Gabrielle snickered, picturing Ares covered in slobber and white fur. She tried to hide her laughter, but her body quivered with each stifled laugh.
"So, you think that's funny, huh? Well, I'll show you Graegus and then we'll see how much laughing you'll be doing!" Ares reached out and grabbed Gabrielle by her wrist and yanked her over to him. He wrapped his arms securely around her waist, pressing her body against his chest. The thrill that raced through him at the close contact both surprised and annoyed him at the same time. His heart raced and he even felt the urge to kiss her. He just managed to stop himself in time before he did anything stupid. Gabrielle was always doing funny things to him that he didn't understand.
"Ar, wait!" Aphrodite pleaded to her brother. She was all for the two being together, but Graegus was another matter! "If we can just find out who placed the curse on her, like if Discord really did it."
"And you know Discord would never admit it." Ares glanced down at Gabrielle. "I'm just going to show her Graegus. No harm in that. Trust me, Sis, I know what I'm doing."
"I hope so, Ar." Aphrodite watched the two pop out as they headed down to the Underworld to see Graegus. "Be safe, Sweet Pea!"
Outside Ares temple, Xena was getting very annoyed. It seemed as if she sat on this stone railing for hours. In fact, her butt and thighs were getting numb. Grumbling, Xena jumped down and almost fell over. Her feet were asleep from dangling in the air too long. "Great! Just great. Here I'm the Warrior Princess and my lower body went to sleep. How does that look?"
After walking up and back a bit, Xena yanked open the temple door and stalked in. She let her eyes grow adjusted to the dark and soon saw the temple was empty. "I knew I couldn't trust that rat! I bet he's got her in a back room, doing who knows what."
Xena ran past the empty throne and quickly searched every room in the temple. Nothing. She was about to call Ares, demanding to know what he had done with Gabrielle when it dawned on her. "Aphrodite! They were supposed to kiss in Dite's temple! I bet that's where they went!"
Running outside, Xena jumped on Argo and took off towards Aphrodite's nearest temple. There just happened to be one close by. If she hurried, she might be able to catch up with them. Ares just couldn't be trusted and Gabrielle needed a chaperone when she was with him. The thought of Aphrodite being the chaperone made Xena sick and she urged Argo into an even faster gallop. Sad to say, the Love Goddess' morals were just not that high, not from some of the more wilder stories Xena had heard anyway.
Reaching the temple in record time, Xena leaped from her horse's back and did a triple somersault, landing right in front of the temple doors. She kicked them open and raced inside. Bright pink assaulted her eyes and Xena winced. "Aphrodite!"
Spotting the Love Goddess moping on her curved armless sofa, Xena hurried over. She knelt in front of Aphrodite. "Aphrodite, what's wrong?"
Aphrodite sat bent forward, her face resting in the palms of her hands. Her hair hung limply around her face. Her eyes were red and puffy, as if she had been crying. She sniffled loudly. "He took her to see Graegus and I'm worried she might get hurt!"
"But Graegus is dead. I saw it die." Xena said to Aphrodite, confused.
"Yes, but Graegus is down in the Underworld, with Hades." Aphrodite pulled a soft pink tissue from a box next to her and loudly blew her nose. "It's immortal, just like us."
Xena frowned. She had thought that Gabrielle had been safe from the second part of the curse so she never gave it any serious thought. "You're saying that Graegus could be brought here, to the surface? And Gabrielle might try to walk it?"
Wiping her wet eyes with a second pink tissue, Aphrodite only nodded. "Oh, I really hope that she doesn't try it! She really wants that awful curse off and since the kissing part didn't go through."
"What do you mean?" Xena asked, surprised. "I thought Ares would be glad to kiss her. He likes anything in a skirt!"
"My brother isn't a pig!" Aphrodite exclaimed loudly. "I know that's what you probably think of him, but it's not true. Yes, he likes woman. He is a man you know. But he doesn't sleep around like Zeus does. And as for not kissing her, that's because of what would happen if they did that in my temple. Their souls would get connected. Only people in love are supposed to kiss here."
"WHAT?!" Xena screamed. "I got to find Gabrielle! I got to stop her before she does something really stupid!"
Xena paced up and back, her boots striking the floor loudly. All the pink was beginning to give her a headache. The bright colors seemed to stab her right in the eyes. She thought of how Gabrielle had acted when she had told her about the first condition of the curse, how she had blushed. "Oh my Zeus! She's attracted to him, isn't she?"
The Warrior Princess spun around and grabbed a startled Aphrodite by her upper arms, stared into her eyes. "Is Gabrielle attracted to Ares? Tell me!"
"Well, like yeah!" Aphrodite giggled. She was surprised that Xena hadn't noticed. She seemed to see everything else. "They make a cute couple!"
Xena shook Aphrodite roughly, pulling her from her sofa to standing. The Goddess' blond waves flew around her face wildly. "And Ares? How does he feel about Gabrielle?"
"Hey! Stop that!" Aphrodite wailed. "My brother loves her and he'll realize that if you ever stop interfering! They belong together!"
"I can't let Gabrielle ruin her life with that cold hearted rat!" Xena grip on the Love Goddess got tighter. Her fingers dug into soft skin. "Take me to the Underworld! I got to stop them!"
"Heck, I'm not going down there! That nasty thing is down there!" Dite thought of Gabrielle but trusted her brother to do the right thing. Maybe just seeing Graegus would be enough to drive the crazy idea from the bard's brain. It would have to be, for walking Graegus would be a suicide mission.
Xena pushed Aphrodite back onto her sofa and the Love Goddess landed with a loud plop, falling off the back onto the floor. It was a backless, armless sofa. Turning around, Xena stalked out of the temple. She needed to plan her next move and quickly, before Gabrielle was lost from her forever.
Ares appeared in the Underworld with Gabrielle still clutched to his broad chest. She swayed for a second on her feet and then caught her balance. She was thankful for his strong arms around her or she might have fell on the rough uneven ground under her feet. She looked up at him, smiling. "I guess I'm still not used to this popping travel yet."
"I wouldn't expect you to be. It can be unsettling to most mortals." Ares slowly let go of her and glanced around at their surroundings. He pointed towards one of the tunnels and started to walk that way. "Here in the Underworld I don't have most of my powers, you know. Its a courtesy to my Uncle Hades. He generally doesn't like letting live mortals into his realm, so don't be surprised if he's a bit rude. He doesn't like visitors, especially me."
Gabrielle followed closely behind Ares. After a few minutes, she realized there was nothing to see down here. It was just one dark stone tunnel after another. In fact, it could have been any of the dozens of caves she had been in during her life. She was a bit disappointed. Yet Ares revelation about himself surprised her. "Don't you and your Uncle get along?"
"Not really. Hades is always saying my wars keep him too busy, that he falls way behind schedule." Ares explained as they rounded a corner. "But war is my job. I do my job right. It's up to him to do his."
"Do we really need wars?" Gabrielle asked.
"It's human aggression that causes war. Even without me, war would still continue, except it would be worse. Without a sitting War God, you'd have more murders and other wild violent crimes. I help channel those aggressive feelings into organized combat." Ares spotted Hades office and led Gabrielle inside with him.
Hades, the God of the Underworld, sat behind a huge desk piled with paperwork. He had short brown hair and wore a golden crown on his head. He looked up when he noticed someone in his office. "Ares, why did you bring this mortal into my realm?"
"I have come to show her Graegus." Ares told his uncle.
"I have been meaning to talk to you about Graegus, Ares, so I am glad you have come." Hades rose from his chair and led the two of them down another rock hallway. "Your War Dog is healed of his wounds and ready to return to the surface world. He has been causing problems of late, getting into fights with my dog. I'm afraid Cyberus doesn't like him at all."
They stopped before a huge door and Hades used his magic to open it. They went inside and Gabrielle saw it was a giant cavern. Torches hung from the walls, throwing flickering shadows everywhere. Then she heard a sound, like nails scraping on the rock floor, only much louder. Then a second sound, the snuffling of a great beast. The floor trembled under her feet and she moved closer to Ares. The dark shadows before them wavered and a giant head appeared.
Gabrielle gasped when she saw it and locked her fingers around Ares' bulging arm. Her fingers dug into his flesh until she was certain she would draw blood. All the color faded from her face and her heart pounded in her chest. She was certain the beast could hear it!
She knew Xena had said that Graegus was big, but this! So far all she could see was its giant head but even that was too much! Its head was the biggest thing she had ever seen. It was like some giant boulder come to life! In structure, it was similar to a lizard, with a jaw that stuck outward. It was covered in green scales that provided protection from most weapons. Its mouth was huge, big enough to easily swallow a grown man without problem. And the teeth! Gabrielle didn't want to think too much about those teeth. As she watched, horrified and unable to move, it came closer. Hot fetid breath moved over her and she could smell the most foul rotten stench unimaginable. It twisted her stomach and she felt like being sick. She breathed through her mouth and gulped, hoping to stave it off. Now she could see ichors dripping from between its open jaws, its horrible eyes. One giant foot moved into sight and she saw the giant claws that scraped the ground, leaving deep grooves.
Ares actually smiled at Graegus. She didn't think anyone could smile at such a terrible beast!
"Hello, boy! Are you ready to go home?" Ares asked his Dog of War.
Graegus growled loudly, the sound vibrating around the cavern until Gabrielle thought she would surely go deaf!
Ares turned his head to look at Gabrielle. "Well, this is my dog. You still want to take him for a walk? Looks like Hades is kicking him out."
Gabrielle just stared at Graegus. "How do you take something like that for a walk?"
"Is that a hypothetical question or a real question? I mean, do you really want to walk Graegus?" Ares asked as he looked down at the frightened blonde bard clinging to his arm. He thought for sure after she had seen his dog, she would give up on the crazy idea. After all, she was just Xena's sidekick, right? Oh, he had to admit the three naked bards was nice to look at but Gabrielle was no warrior. Could there be more to her than just being an annoying bard, the thorn in his side that kept stopping Xena from being his Warlord again? Perhaps this would tell him what Gabrielle really was made of, deep down inside her. Pondering the idea, he was curious to see what she would do now.
Slowly Gabrielle pushed away from Ares' strong arm and raised her head to look at Graegus. She had no idea why Ares called the thing a dog. It didn't look anything like a dog at all! But could Ares be right? Was this huge beast really a dog no matter how it looked? It reminded her of that old saying: one shouldn't judge a scroll by its appearance. Taking a deep breath, she stepped away slightly from the War God. She had a job to do and it wasn't going to get done by clinging to Ares!
"Yes, Ares. I'm serious." Gabrielle told him. "I need to get this curse off so I need to walk your dog. Besides, I'm sure he's tired of being down in this dark dreary cave, don't you think? The fresh air might do him good."
Surprised, Ares turned to look at Gabrielle. She was a bit pale, especially the skin around her lips. And he could hear how fast her heart was beating from fright. Being a God meant he had extraordinary senses. He could even smell the cold sweat on her skin, not that it bothered him. All in all, he thought the bard was taking it very well. She had been given a challenge and she was rising to meet it. Nor had she run screaming the other way. Perhaps he was beginning to see a slight glimmer of what Xena saw in her.
"You really want to walk Graegus?" Ares asked again. "You know, this is no simple task. If you accept, I'm not going to be with you. You'll have to walk him from the cave mouth above to my temple. There are no towns or villages in between so you don't have to worry about that but it doesn't mean it will be easy. You'd have to get Graegus to go where you want him to go, which could be quite tricky. And if any other people are out and about, you might have a serious problem! Are you willing to take on this responsibility?"
Gabrielle thought of being left alone in the countryside with the huge beast and shivered. It was bad enough with Ares here and now being alone! "Yes, I'd like to try."
"All right." Ares waved his hand and Gabrielle felt the shift in location. She looked around and found herself near the surface. The cave mouth was just a few steps away, bright light shining in. Beyond the cave entrance, a green field dotted with wild flowers and clover waited, a perfect romping ground for any normal dog. But Graegus wasn't a normal dog! Sensing a huge lurking beast behind her, Gabrielle turned and saw Ares’ War Dog waiting. It was crouched in the narrow tunnel, its back up against the ceiling. Either the tunnel was far bigger than what she had thought or some magic was involved that allowed it to fit in that spot. Its hot fetid breath washed over her and she wavered from the stench. Ares’ dog had a severe case of bad breath! Whew!
Ares led her out of the cave and Graegus followed, the ground trembling with each step he took. Once outside, Ares called his dog over. The War God turned to Gabrielle. "Now, he has to get to know you a bit."
Graegus pushed his giant head right against Gabrielle, almost knocking her over. His nose sniffed at her and it took all of her control to stand there. Everything inside was telling her to run for her life before the thing ate her but running wouldn't solve her problem. She pulled up every bit of bravery she had within her and stood there while Graegus snuffled loudly. Its snout was hot and dry against her bare stomach. She smiled weakly and patted him on the nose. "Nice Graegus, nice boy."
"See? He's nothing more than a big puppy!" Ares laughed. He turned his attention to his pet. "Graegus! Now you listen to Gabrielle here and you do what she says. You do that and Daddy will give you a nice treat when you get home. So you be a good boy!"
Graegus growled, a deep rumble that came from within his chest. Unfortunately, it gave Gabrielle a very close up look at his teeth! His teeth were long and pointed, like giant stalagmites and stalagmites. Most of his teeth were yellowish and a red line followed his gum line right next to the teeth. The wind that came out of his mouth knocked the bard right off her feet and she fell on the cool green grass. Graegus licked her with his wet sloppy tongue and she frantically covered her face with her arms. "Ugh! Stop that!"
"OK, so maybe he's a bit sloppy." Ares admitted. The War God, was in fact, very surprised. Graegus normally didn't get along with mortals at all. But then, most mortals hated the Dog of War. He could tell that Graegus had taken a real liking to the innocent bard. Hmmm... another point in favor of Gabrielle. Turning his full attention to Gabrielle, Ares started to speak. "Now, you just have to remember he's a dog. A very big dog but still a dog. And he's smart. He knows everything you say and oh, he has a very good memory. Once he meets someone, he remembers him or her. So you ready to go for a walk?"
Gabrielle pushed Graegus' snout away and got to her feet. Her arms, clothes and body was covered in dog slobber. Ick! She gripped her Amazon staff in slimy hands and smiled weakly at Ares. "As ready as I'll ever be."
"Good! See you at my temple!" With that, Ares flashed out.
"So, it looks like it's just you and me now, huh boy?" Gabrielle said as she took a few steps in the right direction. She had been in this area once before, so she knew the way to Ares' temple. She just hoped no one else was around. She had no idea what would happen if Graegus encountered other people! She didn't even want to think of that! "Come on, let's go!"
Graegus sniffed at the ground, then followed after Gabrielle. He dashed ahead of her and stopped to inspect a tree. The tree looked funny next to him due to his size. Everything seemed the wrong size when Graegus was around. Gabrielle soon realized she had to run to keep up with Ares' dog, as he took big steps. She tried to stay in front of Graegus so he would follow her, which wasn't always easy.
As Gabrielle and Graegus passed through the countryside, a man hid in a thick clump of bushes, terrified. He had heard stories of the Dog of War and knew what this creature was. That Graegus was back could only mean bad news for his village. After the beast had passed, the man slunk out and headed towards town as quickly as he could. He had to tell someone, someone who could slay the monster! And if he acted quickly enough, perhaps the blonde woman could be saved from the awful beast that was chasing her.
Reaching town, the man hurried inside the local bar. There he found Hercules and his best friend, Iolaus. The two heroes were enjoying a meal of roasted beef, vegetables and some of the local ale. Hercules, of course, was only drinking water. The man pounded on their table with his fists, his face drenched with sweat. "You have to help! Graegus is loose and is chasing a woman!"
"What?" Hercules spitted water all over the table in shock. "Graegus is dead! I saw him destroyed a few years ago."
"That may be so, but he is back! The Dog of War lives again!" The man insisted.
Hercules leaped up from his chair and headed towards the door, Iolaus right behind him. They raced for the countryside and soon encountered the deep footprints left by Graegus.
Iolaus bent down to examine them and glanced up at Hercules. "It looks like Graegus, all right. Looks like they came from the Cave Entrance to the Underworld."
"And heading for Ares' Temple. Great. Just great!" Hercules started to run in the direction the prints led. He just hoped he would be in time to save the woman the War Dog had been chasing. The two ran side by side and dashed up a steep hill. At the top they skidded to a stop, shocked at what they saw.
Graegus was at the bottom of the hill, lying on his stomach with his great paws stretched out in front of him. His great head was resting on the ground with his mouth wide open. A pair of female legs stuck out of the mouth, the boots moving up and back as the woman struggled.
"He's eating her!" Iolaus shouted in panic.
Hercules charged down the hill, Iolaus hot on his heels. The big hero ran right up to the War Dog's mouth and gripped the legs sticking out. With a great yank, he pulled the woman out before she was swallowed or bitten in half. She landed on the ground with a thud, her long blonde hair spilling onto the grass.
"Gabrielle?" Hercules said, shocked.
"What's the big idea? I was trying to clean his teeth!" Gabrielle complained as she slowly sat up, rubbing at her head.
"What?!" Iolaus said, his mouth hanging open and his blue eyes wide with shock. "Are you kidding? That's Graegus! He's Ares' killer Dog of War!"
"You can't go crawling half way into that ... that thing's mouth!" Hercules informed her. "It'll kill you! Where's Xena?"
"I'm not sure were Xena is." Gabrielle admitted as she climbed to her feet. "We got separated a while ago."
Graegus bent low and focused his eyes on Hercules. He sniffed at the Demigod and a deep growl emitted from his big chest.
"Uh-oh. I think it remembers me!" Hercules backed up as the War Dog's growl grew louder and stronger. "RUN!"
"Come on!" Iolaus grabbed Gabrielle's wrist and started to run, practically knocking her right off her feet.
Gabrielle stumbled and fell, landing on her knees in the soft grass. She picked her head up just in time to see Hercules and Iolaus running as fast as they could, Graegus bounding after them. The War Dog growled angrily as he chased them back up the hill.
"Come back here with my dog!" Gabrielle scrambled to her feet and started to chase after them. She clutched her Amazon staff in her right hand as she ran. "Ooh, wait until I catch up to you two! Graegus! Come back here! GRAEGUS!"
"Up the tree!" Hercules dashed to the thick trunk of a big oak. Gripping Iolaus around his waist, he hurled his friend up into the upper branches. Iolaus caught a branch and hauled his body onto it. Standing, he started to scramble higher into the boughs of the tree. Hercules didn't waste a minute. He quickly leaped up, caught a branch and followed Iolaus upward. A few seconds later, the War Dog rammed into the tree. The tree shook and Iolaus almost fell. His hands slipped on the rough bark and his body started to slide off the branch he was sitting on. Luckily, Hercules caught him by the back of his tunic and pulled him back up.
Graegus put his front paws against the tree trunk and tried to shove his giant snout into the upper reaches of the tree.
"Herc? Do you think Gabrielle is all right?" Iolaus asked as he hung on for dear life as the tree shook again. "What did she mean, she was cleaning his teeth?"
"I haven't the slightest idea!" Hercules admitted as he wrapped his big arms around the tree's main trunk. "I just hope she escaped from Graegus. I wouldn't want to be the one to tell Xena that her best friend got ate by the Dog of War!"
Gabrielle reached the top of the hill out of breath and was relieved to see Graegus by a nearby tree. She had been worried she'd have to chase him all over Greece! She walked over to the overgrown lizard Ares called a dog. She tapped him lightly on his foreleg with her staff. "Graegus, come down from that tree!"
"Look!" Iolaus pointed towards the ground. He could see the blonde bard through the green canopy. "There's Gabrielle!"
Hercules leaned over and sure enough, there she was. The bard was standing right next to Ares War Dog! "Gabrielle! Get out of there before it eats you!"
To his shock, Gabrielle shot him a dirty look!
"Don't be ridiculous! And you two better not interfere anymore!" Gabrielle called to them angrily. "I had Graegus behaving until you two came and upset him!"
"What?" Hercules said. The Demigod couldn't believe his ears! "We saved you! It was eating you! I saw it! You were in the War Dog's mouth!"
"I was cleaning his teeth!" Gabrielle yelled up at them. She shook her head, her long blonde hair flying around. Sometimes those two could be so dense! "Look, he was down in Hades all these years, right? Well, no one took care of him down there. He has terrible breath and all yellow gunk on his teeth. And there's this red line along the gumline...."
"But it's a monster!" Iolaus pointed out. "Who cares if it has bad teeth?"
"Yeah." Hercules agreed. "Maybe if all its teeth fall out it couldn't eat anyone then."
"And maybe if his teeth didn't hurt he wouldn't have to eat anyone!" Gabrielle pointed out. She looked up at Hercules and Iolaus hiding in the tree. She shook her staff at them. "You two better not interfere again! If I want to get this curse off me, I need to get Graegus to Ares' temple and I can't do that if you lead him in the wrong direction!"
"Sorry." Hercules shrugged. He didn't understand it at all but it was clear Gabrielle needed no help with Graegus. To his astonishment, she actually led the War Dog away from the tree and soon disappeared.
"How...how does she get that thing to listen to her?" Iolaus asked.
"I haven't the slightest idea!" Hercules glanced towards the ground and shook his head. "You know, I think I'll stay right here for a while."
"Good idea!" Iolaus made himself more comfortable on the branch, as he wasn't planning on coming down until at least an hour passed.
Gabrielle strolled through the countryside, Graegus following her. She had been worried that he might have eaten her two friends, but luckily they had managed to escape. It also surprised her that Graegus had listened to her, coming away from the tree. She was sure it was going to be a big problem! But perhaps the War Dog was just glad to be outside and free, to roll around in the grass. Gabrielle figured it must have been pretty boring living down in Hades’ dark cave all those years, with nothing to do.
Soon they reached Ares temple and she opened the door. She didn't see how Graegus was going to fit inside, as he was way too big! Turning to look at the big dog, Gabrielle spoke to him in a soft voice. "Now you be a good boy and wait here while I go find Ares."
Graegus sat down in front of the temple, looking at her.
Satisfied he would stay put for the moment, Gabrielle went inside. "Ares?"
"So, you made it in one piece I see." Ares appeared in a flash of light. He had to admit that she had really surprised him. The entire time Ares had been watching on his God TV and the teeth cleaning business had really confused him. He had laughed when Graegus had chased his dear Half-brother and his curly haired friend, but had laughed even harder when Gabrielle had yelled at them! He could easily imagine Gabrielle whacking Hercules on the side of his head with her staff but he doubted if she would do that. But it was becoming clear that Gabrielle was far more than a simple bard she pretended to be.
Walking outside, Ares went over to his dog. Graegus bounded forward when he saw his master, his big tongue hanging out. Ares noticed that his pet's breath was a lot fresher and most of the teeth were white now. He had no idea what had inspired the bard to clean Graegus' teeth but he was glad that she did. Now he could stand in front of his beloved pet without holding his breath, which was a major improvement! Of course, he would have to keep Gabrielle around now to clean Graegus' teeth every so often or the doggy breath would return. Hmmm.... but how to do that? And what other ideas lurked inside that head of hers? He would have to find out!
Waving his hand, Ares popped both Graegus and himself inside his temple. Turning, he smiled at Gabrielle. "So, what about that first part of the curse? You up to fixing that?"
Gabrielle's stomach twisted nervously. "I thought you didn't want to do that?"
"Well, I thought about it while you were walking Graegus and I thought we could give it a try. If you want to, that is." Ares moved in front of Gabrielle and smiled down at her. He had to admit she was beautiful, even if she was covered partly in dog slobber! "You really impressed me today, Gabrielle. Not very many mortals would have the guts to walk Graegus. You were given a challenge and you passed it with flying colors. Not only that, but my dog likes you and as far as I know, that never happened before."
"But what if you loose your powers and become mortal?" Gabrielle asked, concerned. "I couldn't ask you to do that."
"But you forget we'd be right there in Aphrodite's temple." Ares pointed out. In fact, even he had forgotten that! "Dite would just give me Ambrosia and I'd be back to being a God again."
Graegus pushed his snout into Gabrielle's back and she was shoved forward right up against Ares.
The War God laughed. "See, Graegus thinks we belong together!"
"Look, I just want to get this curse off me, that's all." Gabrielle tried to squirm away but she was stuck between Ares and that dog! Twisting her head, she noticed Graegus had his big head resting on his paws and had gone to sleep!
"Are you sure that's all you want, little bard?" Ares asked as he wrapped his arms around her. "Because like Aphrodite said, you might get a lot more."
Gabrielle found herself staring at his chest, which is what was at her eye level. For some odd reason, she didn't feel like looking Ares in the eyes right now. She knew he had very beautiful eyes though. Zeus! If Xena could only hear her thinking things like that! Then Gabrielle paled. What if Ares could hear her? "Of course that's all I want. What else could I possibly want?"
"Oh, I don't know....how about a boyfriend?" Ares grinned. He knew Gabrielle was attracted to him but was being shy about it. Well, sooner or later she had to admit it! "Tell you what, how about we go pay Dite a visit? Then you can make up your mind."
Without another word, the two popped out in a flash of light.
Xena had hurried to Hades Cave that led to the Underworld. By the time she got there, she saw the giant footprints leaving the cave. Not bothering to get off Argo, she galloped across the flower dotted fields in search of her friend. If the footprints were any indication, Gabrielle HAD tried to walk the monstrous beast. Horrible images with amazing detail fluttered through Xena's mind. She imagined Gabrielle trapped somewhere as the War Dog tried to eat her, the giant teeth crunching on her bones. The Warrior Princess was so deep in thought she almost didn't see Hercules and Iolaus walking her way. Pulling up Argo, Xena came to a halt.
"Did you see Gabrielle?" Xena asked instantly.
"Yeah." Hercules told her, a slight breeze blowing his longish brown hair. "She was with Ares dog, Graegus. The thing almost got me and Iolaus! But she just called it and it followed her...somewhere..."
"She was cleaning its teeth, too!" Iolaus added with a shiver. "I guess she wants it to have clean shiny teeth when it chomps on people!"
"That can't be right." Xena said, confused. Gabrielle couldn't have been cleaning the War Dog's teeth, could she? "Are you sure it was Graegus?"
"Oh, it was Graegus all right!" Hercules told his friend. "Trust me on that one. It remembered me from last time. Besides, no other monster could be that ugly!"
"Say, what's this all about anyway?" Iolaus asked. "I mean, what's Gabrielle doing with Ares' dog?"
"It's some stupid curse caused by the Gods!" With that, Xena flicked Argo's reins and leaned forward in the saddle, squeezing the horse's middle with her legs. Argo leaped forward and they were off, following the deep tracks left in the earth. In a few moments, they were out of sight.
Hercules looked at Iolaus. "Hmmm...I should have known that."
"Yeah, we should have guessed it was your wacko family." Iolaus started forward again.
"It's always them." Hercules sighed. His face brightened. "Hey, you want to stop in town and get some supper? I'm getting kind of hungry again. We didn't really get to finish that last meal we had."
"Great idea! Let's go!" Iolaus picked up the pace as he hurried to keep up with his best buddy's longer strides. Things were looking up for them.
Gabrielle blinked and opened her eyes. Pink. Lots and lots of pink. They were once again in Aphrodite's temple. Part of her was surprised she had managed to return here alive in one piece.
"OH, you're alive!" Aphrodite wailed as she raced forward and hugged Gabrielle. "I was so worried about you! You were gone so long I thought you had actually tried to walk that horrible thing!"
"But I did walk it, Aphrodite." Gabrielle admitted her chin held high. "Graegus wasn't all that bad, once I got used to him."
"WHAT?" Aphrodite's hand flew to her red lips. "You walked that thing and you survived? Oh, you could have been killed! That thing hates mortals! He thinks their doggy biscuits!"
"Graegus likes her." Ares informed his sister with a smile. "And he isn't the only one that likes her."
The Love Goddess' eyes flew to her brother. Could Ares have figured out that Gabrielle was right for him? "And you're here to do the other part?"
"I'm willing. It's up to Gabrielle now if she wants to." Ares walked until he stood in front of the blonde bard. "So, you want to get mentally hitched or whatever Dite said would happen? The more I think about it, the more interesting it sounds. Yeah, very interesting."
Gabrielle gulped. This is what she had set out to do in the first place. Kiss Ares. It shouldn't be that hard. People kiss each other all the time. Yet the idea of it was making her a nervous wreck! Then there was the thing Aphrodite had said. If she kissed him now, in Love's Temple, something would happen. Dite wasn't exactly sure what, but in the case of two mortals their souls would get connected. She wasn't sure if she wanted to be connected to Ares.
Looking at him, she realized how beautiful he was. The thick black hair, those intense eyes staring at her, the silver earring glinting in one ear, the neatly trimmed facial hair which added a sense of nobility. And he definitely looked good in the black leather outfit that hugged his well muscled body. A thrill raced through her body as she realized that he could be hers. All she had to do was agree to kiss him. One tiny kiss and she would have an immortal lover who no one in their right mind would dare oppose!
Stepping forward shyly, Gabrielle wrapped her arms around Ares' neck. He stared into her blue eyes for a moment, to be sure that this is what she wanted. Being assured that it was, he lowered his head and kissed her. As their lips touched, a golden glow passed from his body into hers. Gabrielle tightened her grip around his neck, deepening the kiss. Her whole body tingled as a pleasant warmth surrounded her. Joy filled her heart and she felt him whisper her name inside her mind. In reply, she whispered his name back with a single thought. Slowly they parted and the warmth stayed with her as did the pleasant tingle. She felt different but wasn't sure why or what had happened.
"Ooohh! You're immortal!" Aphrodite squealed with happiness. The Love Goddess gave Gabrielle a tight hug, then pulled back. "Congratulations! I knew you two were right for each other!"
"Come on," Ares held out his arm to Gabrielle. "Let's go home."
She took it and they disappeared together in a flash of light.