Disclaimer – All rights belong to Marvel and DC. I own nothing.

Chapter 32 – Odyssey

Aeaea, Mediterranean Sea – June 1st, 2011

Clint was stunned.

To be fair, that seemed to be his default state ever since he found out gods walked among them, but even so, the marvels he was seeing in front of his eyes were simply amazing. He was on Aeaea, the island where the sorceress Circe ruled, the same one where the hero Odysseus had passed through in his way to Ithaca after the Trojan War.

And it was every bit as impressive as Clint imagined a place taken straight out of the myths to be.

The island could very well be a slice of Heaven itself. The beaches were bright, their sand almost white, the sea was calm and so very blue, the old trees grew around the buildings and its tall pillars, the flowers glowed, showing so many colors that Clint was certain he had never seen some of them. The sound of water flowing was everywhere, from the sea waves, to the rivers and fountains they passed through as they went on.

Then, of course, there were beings Clint knew only from mythology books.

Nymphs frolicking around them, laughing and singing, so beautiful that Clint was mesmerized for a few seconds. Harpies flying high up in the sky, alongside birds Clint had never seen before, and he was certain he'd spotted what he thought to be a lamia hidden behind the trees, the half-woman, half-snake slithering away when they got too close. Around them, a guard composed by what Diana referred to as Bestiamorphs, watched them close; men turned into half-animals by sorcery.

What was attracting almost his entire attention, however, was Circe herself.

She guided them to her palace and sat upon her throne, and for the first time Clint had the chance to truly study the sorceress goddess in front of him. The world "beautiful" did little to convey just how gorgeous she was; much like Diana, it was as if her beauty had been enhanced by her very godhood, and even the most beautiful of mortals could barely compare. She had long red hair, purple eyes, and was wearing a silky purple dress that not only was see-through, but also left very little to the imagination, exposing much of her pale skin.

It was no wonder that the myths about Circe always talked about men being stunned by her beauty; Circe was so gorgeous that it was almost easy to forget the fate of said men.

There was a reason Diana was so reluctant about going to Aeaea, after all, and Clint did his best to keep that in mind. Circe was not someone to be trifled with, and her track record with mortal men spoke for itself of how dangerous she was; without Diana there, Clint was pretty sure the witch would have already turned him — and maybe even Thor — into animals.

Pigs, most likely, or so Diana theorized; pigs that would be cooked to perfection and served during a feast later on.

Luckily for him, however, Circe completely ignored him. And she completely ignored Thor as well, after staring at him for a few seconds. No, the Goddess of Magic only had eyes for Diana, and to be honest, it was beginning to freak him out a little bit.

Circe was staring at Diana almost as if she wanted to eat her; Clint wasn't sure if he meant that literally, sexually, or both.

"Diana of Themyscira…" Circe finally spoke, her purple eyes unblinking; the tip of her tongue darted out and she licked her lips, as if savoring the name. "What a pleasure to have you here."

Instinctively, Clint knew Circe wasn't speaking English or any other language he understood, but despite that, he could understand the words perfectly. Magic?

"Thank you for welcoming us, Circe," Diana answered, her voice tight but respectful; it was clear even to Clint that Diana was tense, however, ready to react to anything.

Circe's purple eyes turned to Thor.

"Thor Odinson… I tasted the storm that announced your arrival." The Sorceress closed her eyes and made a big show of smelling the air. "And yet, I sense none of that powerful essence now." Her smile was predatory. "You seem almost… Mortal."

"Just a small setback, I am sure I will be back to impressing you soon enough," Thor retorted, grinning. Then he also bowed his head; respectfully, but not that much. "My brother spoke a lot of you, Queen Circe. It is good to finally put a face to the name… And what a lovely face it is."

The compliment, as cheeky as it was, was well received; Circe laughed.

"Such a flirt!" Circe's eyes suddenly acquired a dangerous glint. "I could just eat you up."

So it wasn't Clint imagination, after all.

The laughter seemed to defuse some of the tension, however, and it became easier to breathe in the throne room. Nymphs entered the place carrying trays full of fruits and silver goblets, one of which Circe grabbed and sipped.

Clint was neither spoken to nor acknowledged by the Queen.

On one hand that was actually a good thing; the last thing he wanted was to be on her thoughts, and he was certain Diana agreed with that line of thinking, because she also did everything she could not to draw attention to him.

On the other hand… Ouch! Clint felt like a piece of furniture or a particularly insignificant bug, something beneath anyone's notice. He had the feeling, though, that this was the usual feeling mortals had when they interacted with gods. Diana and Thor were not the norm.

Not for the first time, Clint was glad they at least had some gods on their side.

Despite being ignored by Circe, however, one of the Nymphs approached him, giving Clint a coy smile and offering him a bunch of grapes; for what seemed to be the thousandth time since he stepped on that island, Clint had to remember his unruly brain that he was happily married.

Clint would sooner stick an explosive arrow inside his eye rather than cheat on his wife, but damn if his hormones weren't working overtime telling him to just go for it. He felt like a teenager all over again, but worse! He was a trained, experienced agent, more than used to temptations of the kind, but when the Nymph smiled at him, he actually blushed.

Almost automatically, his hand went for the grape… Only to be grabbed by Diana in a vice grip before he could touch it.

The glare Diana aimed at the Nymph was so powerful that the supernaturally gorgeous minor goddess shrunk into a terrified little girl, scurrying away close to tears. Then Diana turned to Clint.

"Do not eat or drink anything!" she warned, and Clint felt like a scolded child.

Yep, Diana had warned him about that, probably more than once, before they left the Quinjet. Apparently, Circe had the habit of enchanting food and drinks, making it easier for her to transform her victims into animals later on if she so wished.

Odysseus' crew had fallen victims to that trap, and they were far from being the only ones; Diana had ranted for almost an hour on the Quinjet when she was unable to find the antidote for that particular enchantment in her stash, a rare herb with white flowers and black roots named moly.

There was a sudden silence in the room, and all the tension was back. The Nymphs were scared, looking from them to Circe, and when the Sorceress Queen got up of her throne, all of them got out of her way.

Diana released his hand and put herself in front of him, waiting as Circe approached; she didn't touch her sword or raised her hands, but it was more than clear she was ready to fight.

Circe, however, continued without hesitation, her purple dress swaying at each step, until she stopped right in front of Diana, their noses almost touching. And without saying anything, without ever taking her eyes out of Diana's, the Queen slowly touched the lasso on Diana's waist.

The Lasso of Hestia glowed golden.

"You are all guests here," Circe announced, never taking her eyes away from Diana. "Eat, drink, be merry, you have nothing to fear. No harm will come upon you while you are on Aeaea, and you will be free to leave when you desire."

Clint let out a breath he didn't know he was holding.

Perhaps too soon, because when Circe finally stopped staring at Diana, she looked at him.

"An archer…" She drawled, seeing the bow on his back. She glanced back at Diana, grinning. "We seem to have similar tastes, Princess. But now it is time for us to talk." Circe gestured at the nearby Nymphs. "Take the mortal away, feed him, bathe him, show him a good time."

Clint gave Diana one last look, a look that was probably more desperate than he intended, while the Nymphs surrounded him and dragged him away, giggling like a bunch of tipsy girls in a frat party.

Yep, he definitely preferred to be ignored.

Diana pondered for a moment if she should rescue Clint or not, but decided against it; Circe had given her word — compelled by the Lasso — that they were safe. It would not help their conversation if Diana chose to ignore what she knew it to be true only because she had her concerns about how much trust she should put on Circe.

And Natalia had been very emphatic when answering she was not dating Clint, nor had any desire to do so, so that was something she would not have to worry about. Nymphs could be remarkably insistent when they felt attracted to someone, after all, but maybe an unattached man would enjoy that.

Circe's word was absolute on Aeaea, in any case, so Clint was safe, even from unwanted attentions; now it was time to worry about Thor's problem.

"Circe, there is a reason why we chose to come to you," Diana started, deciding to go straight to the point. "Thor had his godhood sealed by Odin and we need to break that seal. Fast." She looked at Thor, and then back at Circe. "Herakles somehow broke the seal that kept him in Mount Olympus, and now he hunts Thor."

There was a moment of absolute silence.

"Fascinating," Circe exhaled, as if watching something particularly interesting instead of someone about to be murdered.

"Not really," Thor disagreed, immediately. "At least from my point of view."

The Sorceress Queen was barely listening to him, however.

"Since Thor is still alive and you know he is being hunted, might I assume that you faced Herakles?" Circe asked Diana, assessing her. "And lived to tell the tale?"

Diana nodded, slowly.

"I did. And that is why I know I cannot do it again if I have to defend Thor at the same time." She stopped, choosing her words. "When Herakles comes, I need to be ready to kill him."

"As you should," Circe readily agreed. "Many things can be said about that brute, but only a fool would deny his battle prowess." She glanced at Thor. "As you are now, you would last less than a second if you are caught anywhere in the vicinity of such a battle."

Thor was visibly bothered by the comment, not in small part because he knew it to be true.

"That is why we need that seal gone," Diana affirmed once again. "So Thor can defend himself when the time comes."

Circe's purple eyes went from Diana to Thor, and then they fixed themselves on Diana once again.

"And what would you give me if I help you?" Circe finally asked.

Diana sighed; there it was, the moment she was dreading all along.

"What do you want?" Diana asked, simply.

The smile on Circe's lips did not put her at ease.

"Thor, why don't you go see how Diana's mortal is doing?" Circe said, opening a portal by Thor's side without moving an inch; her eyes were still on Diana. "Let us speak, goddess to goddess, Daughter of Zeus."

Thor looked at Diana for a moment, as if asking for confirmation, and Diana just nodded; visibly worried, but obviously knowing there was no way around this, Thor crossed the portal and disappeared.

There was only Diana and Circe in the throne room now, and the Queen of Aeaea just stared at her, as if she could peel every layer around Diana and gaze at her very soul.

It was extremely disturbing, but Diana refused to flinch.

"When I said I wanted to meet you, Diana," Circe started, leaning forward, "I fear that my words failed to convey the truth behind that statement. I waited for this moment with bated breath, for when the Godkiller would finally leave Themyscira and fulfil her destiny. Thousands of years of expectation, to know if Zeus' plan would work, if Ares could truly be vanquished, to see if this universe had a chance of survival."

Circe's eyes had a manic glow, and she never once took them away from Diana.

"And you were perfect!" Circe exhaled. "Every bit of the goddess I hoped you would be. Diana, when you destroyed Ares, you sent ripples across the universe: the Heiress of Olympus had arrived. It was the beginning of a new Era, the time for a new Queen, the rise of the Skymother."

She raised her hand as if holding a long note.

"And then… nothing," Circe concluded, letting her hand fall down. "You did not conquer a new kingdom for yourself, you refused to be worshipped, there was no rallying cry to bolster your forces, no preparations to reclaim your rightful throne…" Circe raised a single eyebrow. "You did not even claim a domain!"

"What I do with my life is up to me," Diana retorted, forceful.

"There are consequences to killing a god, Diana!" Circe exclaimed, getting up of her throne. "Especially one as powerful as Ares. The God of War had to be stopped before he reclaimed his full powers, but in doing so you created a void. All that power, the unbelievable strength of the bond connecting Ares and War, was gone in the blink of an eye. And all that was left was chaos." She raised both her arms. "The mortals nearly destroyed the world in yet another war soon after."

"You dare blame me for the Cold War?!"

Circe just waved her hand. "Mortals are more than capable of killing themselves over stupid things, they've been doing so even before they found out sticks and stones were useful to bash skulls." She lifted a single finger, staring at Diana. "But that does not change the fact that you could have stopped them, if you had done what you were meant to do."

Diana was outraged by the accusation, so much that her body was shaking. She very nearly lost control of herself and smacked Circe. The only thing that kept her from doing so was a simple question.

Could Circe be right?

"As Goddess of War, ending that abhorrent little conflict would have been child's play," Circe continued, not even remotely bothered by the furious glare Diana had fixed on her. "As would any other conflict. War would be yours to command."

"I have no desire to rule over War," Diana snarled.

"It is not about what you want, it is about fulfilling your duty," Circe replied, hard. "You are not mortal, Diana, you are a Goddess. The responsibilities are far greater and so are the consequences of ignoring them. By doing so, you have allowed a corrupted and twisted domain to spin out of control and the lower life forms have nearly destroyed this planet because of it."

Circe walked to her, still unblinking, still staring.

"You have been pretending to be a mortal for far too long, Diana, and it is time to stop. While you frolic with humans, ignoring your duties, the throne of Olympus lies empty. Hestia is ruling in your stead, and while she does not lack the power to do so, she lacks the will. Sooner or later, in the absence of its rightful ruler, others will be encouraged to claim the throne. Can you imagine what would happen if the wrong being rules Olympus?"

With a wave of her hand, the image of a planet appeared in the middle of the room, surrounded by a what seemed to be a raging storm.

"Zeus knew that the Olympian Council would perish against Ares, so he prepared for it. Olympus is guarded behind the Perpetual Storm, a barrier that would shatter anyone foolish enough to try to breach it. But sooner or later, there will be those willing to try, those who will do anything to claim the empty Throne of Olympus... And someone is bound to succeed eventually."

Circe turned to her.

"While the Council is dead, Olympus is still a force to be reckoned with. There is a powerful army behind that storm, weapons that could wreck galaxies, knowledge that could undo this entire universe… And the only thing between Olympus and the madmen who will try to claim its throne is a storm and your indecisive and unambitious aunt Hestia."

With another wave of her hand, the magical image of Olympus was gone. She looked at Diana, her voice far softer now.

"With Herakles' banishment, you are the last true heir of Zeus. That throne is yours by right. But if you refuse it, if you turn your back on your responsibilities, others will claim it. Poseidon's descendants? Persephone? Or maybe Zeus' other side of the family, the Titans?" Circe raised her eyebrows. "Zeus might be known as Zuras in those parts, but that does not make his Titan half-brother, A'Lars, any less connected to the Olympian line of succession. And while A'Lars is long dead, his sons are still very much alive. And trust me, the last thing you want is the Mad Titan with the full might of Olympus behind him."

"Enough!" Diana interrupted. "I am not here to be lectured on my life choices. If you do not want to help us, then say so and we will leave. Or tell me your price and be done with it."

"My price?" Circe repeated, looking deep into Diana's eyes. "I want you."

"I beg your pardon?" Diana retorted, the tone of her voice leaving no room to misinterpret just how offended she was.

Circe merely smiled, and despite Diana's clear rage, she walked to her.

"I want you, Diana… As my apprentice," she said, and Diana's surprise was evident. "My student, my pupil, call it whatever you want. Hippolyta and the Amazons have taught everything you needed to know to fulfil your responsibilities… From your mortal lineage. The divine one?" Circe shook her head and approached even more. "I do not blame you in the slightest for ignoring your duties. How would you have known? The Olympians were long gone when you needed them."

She touched Diana's face, softly.

"But I am here." Circe smiled, kindly.

Diana was so shocked by the foreign expression on the Queen's face that she did not move.

"I loved a mortal too, Diana," Circe said, eventually, caressing her cheek one last time before pulling her hand. "Despite what I think about most of them, I loved Odysseus with all my heart. I gave him three sons, and I was nearly wrecked with grief when he left… Even more so when I heard of his death."

She looked down.

"My sons perished as well, one by one, when they decided to leave Aeaea to build their own lives. While they possessed the strength of gods, they inherited their father's longevity." Circe looked at Diana, a bitter smile on her face. "My children grew old and died, and I am still here."

The purple eyes glowed for a second.

"We are not mortals, Diana. We are more than that, and no amount of wishing will change that. One hundred, two hundred, a thousand years? It makes no difference to us, but it is more than enough for mortal empires to rise and crumble into oblivion."

She walked back to Diana, so close that they were almost touching.

"If you care for them, become who you were meant to be. That is the best way to protect them."

Saying this, Circe walked back to her throne and sat down.

"I will help you to the best of my abilities, if you agree to return later on and learn from me. What you do with my teachings is your choice, but I beg you, use my knowledge. And become who you were meant to be."

Diana stared at Circe for a long time, thinking about everything she said. She did not trust Circe one bit, not only because of her reputation, but because of her own feelings; something about the Sorceress Queen made her skin crawl.

And yet, Diana was having a hard time ignoring what she said.

Could it be true? Was the state of the world after WWII really her fault? Could she have stopped that war, all other wars, if she had claimed Ares' domain? And what about Olympus? People had referred to her as heiress of Olympus before, but never once the thought of actually becoming Queen of the Gods had crossed her mind.

But what would happen if she refused?

Circe was right about the dangers of the wrong King sitting upon Olympus' throne. The sheer power behind that position would be enough to shift the balance of the universe, even more so with Odin's death.

Whoever sat upon the Throne of Olympus would rule the cosmos.

Diana did not know what scared her more: the idea of someone like the Mad Titan doing it or the possibility of her becoming Queen.

Ultimately, however, obtaining the answer to those questions was not the reason she was there. Diana was there to help Thor survive Herakles' wrath, and the only way of doing so was to agree with Circe's demands.

Anything else could wait.

Without saying anything, Diana nodded; the smile on Circe's lips sent a shiver down her spine.

"Nice job, by the way," Circe mentioned, after she had sent her Nymphs to retrieve Thor. Diana accepted a glass of ambrosia from her, looking confused. "Your whole scheme with the Son of Odin. I approve."

If anything, Diana was even more bewildered.

"I am afraid I do not understand," she said, slowly, sipping the ambrosia.

Circe rolled her eyes, playfully.

"Of course you don't," she said, winking. "Worry not, princess, I am on your side. It should not be a problem, you know how easy men are. A little bit of ambrosia, a little skin, and before you can say 'Valhalla!' you will be carrying the rightful Heir of Asgard in your womb!"

Not even her legendary self-control could prevent Diana from spatting the ambrosia she had unwittingly drank.

"What?!" Diana exclaimed, eyes wide, trying to wipe her chin.

Circe grimaced at the small pool of spit and ambrosia, willing it away with a wave of her hand. She turned back to Diana.

"It will greatly increase your power," Circe continued, excitedly, once Diana's mess was dealt with. "For the first time, one single Goddess will rule both Olympus and Asgard. Imagine it: on one hand the full power of Olympus, and on the other, the full might of Asgard! The Three Olympian Spheres — Underworld, Sea and Sky —, allied to the Nine Realms of Asgard!" She shook her head. "What a sight!"

Diana was so stunned that she couldn't speak.

"I commend you for seizing the opportunity, Diana," Circe said, giving her a respectful look. "You would have to kill Herakles sooner or later, but by choosing to do so now, before the brute rips Thor apart into little pieces, you will gain his trust and admiration. It will be far too easy to seduce him after that."

Circe chuckled, sipping her ambrosia, while Diana stared at her, still without words.

"I admit, I would not have bothered myself to go to such lengths. He is basically mortal now, I would rip out his clothes and be done with it. You could even use him as bait to kill Herakles more easily, after the deed was done." She shrugged. "Though I suppose you want him by your side, to strengthen your claim. Also a good strategy. He seems like a complete oaf, but he is handsome and he is powerful, so I imagine you could find other uses for him." Circe gave her a sly look. "If anything, you would have someone to warm your bed as you conquered the cosmos. Ah, I was once young too, I cannot fault you for the thought!"

The Sorceress studied her shocked features for a moment.

"I cannot even imagine the sheer beauty a child conceived by you two would possess," Circe sighed. "A little girl, blond like Thor, with your smile? Or perhaps a boy with your dark hair and his towering size. The eyes would surely be the most powerful shade of blue ever imaginable, if we go by the eye colors you and Thor have."

Diana caught herself imagining Circe's descriptions for a moment, a pang of pain in her heart; would a child of her and Steve be like that too?

Circe, of course, brought her back to reality in the next second.

"And the power!" Circe exclaimed. "Princess, a child sharing both Thor and your bloodline would be the most powerful god or goddess in existence, I have no doubt of that. The blood of Zeus and Odin, intertwined in a single being… The Godkiller and the God of Thunder, brought together... I shudder to think of the potential of such a being." She smiled at Diana. "And as the child's mother, you would have his or her utmost loyalty… The universe would be yours for the taking." Circe stared at Diana's belly with a longing expression. "I simply cannot wait to see you swollen with child, my dear."

Diana blinked, shaking her head fast; enough was enough.

"No one is impregnating anyone!" Diana exclaimed, horrified that the thought even occurred Circe. "Why would you think I am doing that?!"

For the first time, Circe looked confused.

"Why wouldn't you?" she asked, simply.

Diana nearly screamed in frustration.

"Because I would never force someone or use lies to conceive a child? Because I would never use someone like that? Because Thor does not deserve such a fate? Because the child does not deserve such a fate? Because I have no interest in the throne of Olympus, Asgard or any other in the universe? Because it is wrong? Pick one!"

Before Circe could, in fact, 'pick one', they were interrupted by Thor's arrival; by a very naked Thor.

Diana was so surprised that she did a double take; and then forced herself to look only to his face. Nudity was something normal to her, it was to most gods, but Circe's previous talk was still resonating in her ears and, for some reason, Diana caught herself having thoughts she should not be having.

Curse Circe!

"What happened?!" Diana asked, surprised, as Circe ogled him unashamedly.

"The Nymphs stole my clothes," Thor explained, far calmer than she would have expected, as if that was an everyday occurrence; which, given the stories, it probably was.

Diana felt her eyes lowering for a moment, and forced herself to bring them up again. Wait a moment…

"What about Clint?!"

"Clint is fine, he climbed a tree and managed to fend them off," Thor answered, again, as if that were a normal occurrence. Then he stopped in front of them. "So? What you ladies have decided?"

Instead of answering, Circe turned to Diana, a single eyebrow raised, as if saying: "you see what I'm talking about?"

Diana rolled her eyes.

"Circe, please get him some clothes, we need to talk," she said.

"Are you certain you want to go straight to business, Princess?" Circe asked, wiggling her eyebrows. "We could have some fun first?"

Diana just stared at her, unamused.

"Oh, no need to be jealous, Diana, there is more than enough for everyone," Circe affirmed, once again ogling Thor.

And Thor, instead of getting offended by being stared at like a piece of meat — stupid male that he was —, puffed up his chest like a proud peacock, smiling broadly.

"I am certain," Diana answered, simply, and Circe rolled her eyes.

The Sorceress clapped her hands once, and Thor was suddenly dressed again.

"Fine, be like that," Circe said, walking to Thor. "Now, let me see this seal trapping your godhood."

Saying this, Circe pointed a single finger at Thor; there was a purple glow, and then a phantom image of Thor was created in front of him, composed by purple strands of light. Exactly in its center, where Thor's heart would be, there was a glowing golden symbol, an Asgardian triquetra; three interlaced arcs forming a triangular figure.

The same triquetra branded on Mjölnir's surface.

"He used the hammer as an anchor, I see…" Circe muttered, pensive. "It uses your own godhood as a power source to suppress your godhood. Clever, very clever. It drains your strength, numbs your senses, diminishes your durability… You are basically reduced to a mortal."

Circe kept muttering as she studied the seal, forming theories as quickly as she shut them down. All the while, Diana and Thor watched, anxious, waiting for a verdict. And before either of them imagined, they had one.

It was not what they wanted to hear.

"I cannot break it," Circe announced, vanishing the phantom image.

There was a moment of silence.

"Are you certain?" Thor asked, his voice barely hiding his desperation. "There is not anything you can do? Nothing you can try?"

"Hmm… Are you terribly attached to your hammer?"


"Then no. I can break this seal right now," Circe informed them, "but only if I destroy what is anchoring it. Unluckily for you, that means destroying Mjölnir." Circe paused. "To be clear, with enough time and effort, any magic can be countered. This one is no different. But can I do it before Herakles shows up on my island and destroys everything? No."

Diana sighed, severely disappointed. It always had been a gamble, certainly, but to actually know that there is nothing Circe could do…

What now? The only other sorcerer Diana imagined had any chance breaking that seal was the Sorcerer Supreme, but she was not available; the damn Fae, as usual, were causing problems for her. Waiting for her to come back was simply impossible.

The only thing they could do, then, was prepare to fight. Or so they thought.

"There is an alternative that might work," Circe suddenly announced. Both her and Thor turned to Circe, expectantly; the Queen grinned. "Apotheosis."

Reaching godhood? Thor was already a god, and even if he weren't, they had no means to turn him into one.

"There is something that can be used to give the powers of a god to a mortal," Circe went on, looking at Thor. "Asgardians, if memory serves me well, are used to eating them every century or so to keep yourselves from aging, are you not?"

Diana understood what Circe meant at the same time Thor had.

"Golden Apples!" he exclaimed, eyes wide.

"Golden Apples," Circe agreed. "Powerful little things, full of concentrated cosmic energy. A single bite is said to be enough to cure any wound or disease and a full Apple can turn a mortal into a god, giving power and immortality to even the frailest of beings… Or immolate them to the very soul, it's more of a gamble for them." She glanced at Thor. "You are already a god, though. The power contained into a Golden Apple might be enough to supercharge you and break this seal from the inside out."

There was a moment of silence.

"But there are no Golden Apples on Midgard," Thor said, losing his sudden happiness. "Only on Asgard."

Circe looked knowingly at Diana.

"That is not true," Diana slowly corrected him. "There is one place on Earth where Golden Apples grow: the Garden of the Hesperides."

Thor's eyes widened.

"Hera's very own orchard," Circe completed, "tended by the daughters of Atlas, the Hesperides Nymphs."

"But no one knows where it is," Diana argued. She frowned, bitterly. "No one but Herakles."

The Eleventh Labor of Herakles: steal a Golden Apple from the Garden of the Hesperides. A Labor that it was said Herakles fulfilled with joy, since it involved desecrating a place sacred to Hera. Usually, King Eurystheus, the man responsible for giving Herakles his Labors — a man Herakles absolutely loathed, and for that very reason had been chosen for the job — would have never risked offending the gods by giving him such a Labor.

The only reason he did so was because he doubted Herakles would be able to fulfil it.

For one, the Garden's location was unknown. Hera was the only person who could find it, and Herakles had a better chance of finding it by accident than convincing the Queen of Gods to reveal its location to him.

And then there was the Garden's guardian: Ladon, the Hundred-Headed Dragon.

A golden dragon, son of Typhon and Echidna, that protected the Golden Apple Tree with such fierceness that it was said that only Hera, the Hesperides and their father, the Titan Atlas, were able to reach the Golden Apples.

Anyone else would be killed on the spot, torn apart by the one hundred heads of the dragon.

Herakles himself had been defeated the first time he faced Ladon, and had been forced to trick Atlas into getting one of the Apples for him; he still faced and supposedly defeated Ladon on his way out, but if he actually killed the dragon or simply hurt it, the legends did not say.

An impossible Labor; one that Circe was suggesting they undertook.

"There is one who knows where the Garden is," Circe pointed out. "The same god who told Herakles in the first place."

The Old Man of the Sea, the shapeshifter god Nereus, Achilles' grandfather. A god famous for his visions, which was why he knew the location of a secret, sacred garden.

Diana rubbed her forehead, dizzy at the very thought of acquiring that information.

"Herakles found and wrestled Nereus until he finally told him what he wanted to know," Circe continued, far too amused for Diana's tastes, "but I suppose you have a cleaner way of doing this, with that Lasso of yours. You just have to find him first."

"Find a shapeshifter sea god that can be anywhere in the ocean," Diana said, seeing Thor's eyebrows shoot up. "Not a very easy task."

"I am sure you have your ways," Circe brushed off, grinning. Then she looked at Thor. "Find the god, find the garden, get to tree, eat one of the Apples. That should restore your godhood."

"And then all we have to do is kill Herakles," Diana concluded.

It was far from being an easy task, but at least they had a plan now.

"I wonder why he is hunting me," Thor suddenly said. "I would relish to meet him in combat once my godhood is back, do not misunderstand, but I still do not know the reason I am being hunted. I never even met him!"

That was an excellent question and Diana had no answers; Circe, however, apparently did.

"That should be obvious," the Sorceress Queen said, as if it really were. Thor and Diana simply stared at her; she sighed, looking at Diana. "Diana, we just went over this, but refresh my memory: what is the last defense Zeus left Olympus with?"

"The Perpetual Storm," Diana answered, remembering the small replica of Olympus Circe had created with magic not long ago.

When neither she nor Thor finished the thought, Circe groaned.

"And what, pray tell, is Thor's domain?"

"Storms…" Diana exhaled, finally getting it.

Thor was the God of Thunder, the God of Storms, and the last line of defense of the very planet Herakles wanted to invade was a storm.

"He wants to kill me so he has a claim over my domain?" Thor asked, reaching the same conclusion Diana had.

"Easier than start mastering it from scratch," Circe agreed, "though I do no doubt he would, had you not provided him with such an opportunity. By killing you, Herakles would be able to claim every bit of the control you have over your domain. Add that to his already unbelievable power, and there is no doubt in my mind that he would be able to punch a hole through that storm and finish what he started: killing every Olympian god."

She turned to Diana.

"I have no need to tell you how bad that is, right? Genocide aside, if Herakles reaches Olympus, he will also reach all its secrets. He will have access to Zeus' celestial weapons, Poseidon's fleets, Hera's curses, Hephaestus' Forge and his automaton army, Athena's Library and her arsenal, Artemis' moon buster arrows, Apollo's healing artifacts, Aphrodite's Genealogy Codex and her godly pheromones, Demeter's war plants, Hermes' Star Maps and Dionysus' Asylum."

Circe lifted a single eyebrow.

"And then Herakles will use all that to start hunting the rest of the gods in the universe." She glanced at Thor. "There is more than your life at stake, Thor. Remember that."

Herakles was bad enough by himself, Diana thought, her mind racing; armed with all that, he would be unstoppable. It was no longer a matter of protecting Thor, it was a matter of protecting the very universe.

If the Son of Zeus killed the Son of Odin, it was over. It would be the beginning of the "Ragnarok" on a universal scale.

"How could he have escaped?" Diana asked, more to herself than to anyone else. "That monster was supposed to rot in Mount Olympus to the end of days! No one but the King of Gods should be able to release him from his sentence, that is known!"

It was subtle, almost imperceptible, but Diana noticed something on Circe's expression.

"You know something," Diana accused, and Thor turned to stare at her as well.

Circe did not confirm or deny, she simply sighed.

"Know? No. But I have my suspicions."

"Share them," Diana ordered.

The Queen of Aeaea considered her words.

"I studied the seal Zeus created to chain Herakles in front of the gateway to Olympus, just as I studied the seal Odin used to trap Thor's godhood. I chased ancient manuscripts, read divine scrolls, learned from entities older than Time itself, some of which taught Zeus when he was younger." Circe looked at them. "It all comes down to the words engraved in the seal."

"I do not understand," Thor said, frowning, and Diana was right there with him.

"Zeus did not decree that only 'THE' King of Gods would be able to free Herakles from his torment… He decreed that only 'A' King of Gods would." Circe turned to Thor, her purple eyes focused on him. "Do you know any 'King of Gods' that visited Earth recently?"

It was a terrible thing to witness the emotions going through Thor's expression.

First there was nothing, as if he had not made the connection Circe suggested yet. Then a twitch of pure shock, followed by a frown of doubt.

Until all that was replaced by the dreadful realization.

"No… It cannot be. NO!" Thor barked, sheer fury in his eyes. "You are lying!"

"Thor?" Diana asked, more than a bit surprised at the sudden rage.

"She is implying Loki did this!" Thor yelled, his voice echoing in the throne room. "My own brother! She is saying Loki freed Herakles!"

Diana's eyes widened, and she looked from Thor to Circe, not knowing what to do. Could it be true?

"Loki was here," Circe went on, her voice serious for a change. "Earlier today."

Thor stopped struggling against Diana, staring at Circe as if he had been slapped.

"I believed, then, that he was here merely to inform me about your banishment, as a courtesy," Circe said, staring directly in Thor's eyes. "Maybe so I could look out for you during your time here." Then she looked at Diana. "Loki had questions, however, about you."

"Me?" Diana asked, surprised.

"He probably saw you when you approached Mjölnir," Circe theorized, pensive, "and knew it was a matter of time until you met his brother. A prudent decision on his part, I thought, to learn more about you, especially when Thor was so vulnerable."

Circe shrugged.

"I saw no harm in telling him what I knew about you. Nothing I knew was a secret, anyhow, and if it would give him some peace, so be it." Circe shook her head slowly. "I told him about your battle against Ares, how you defended the world ever since… And I told him about your Amazon origins."

Her eyes glowed for a moment.

"I realize now I may have told him too much about that."

Diana turned to Circe, completely forgetting about Thor for the moment.

"You told him about Herakles," she accused. "About how he defeated the Amazons."

Slowly, Circe nodded.

"Ancient history… Or so it was, until Herakles was freed once again, ready to meet an Amazon in combat."

"Why would Loki do that?" Thor interrupted, snapping at Circe. "What reason could he possibly have to let that murderer go free?"

The Sorceress Queen looked at Thor for a long moment, almost as if pondering what to say.

"Tell me, Son of Odin, who would be King of Asgard if Odin passed away?"

Thor's expression made Diana's heart clench.

"No, no, no! My brother would never do that!" he exclaimed. "And what would be the point?! I was banished! He is already King!"

"Only until the moment Odin forgives you," Circe interjected, almost casually.

"My Father is dead," Thor countered, his voice wavering for a second. "He will never forgive me."

Instead of surprise or even acknowledgement, Circe's reaction was to simply raise her eyebrows.

"Is he? Truly?"

Thor stopped breathing for a moment.

"He is! Loki told me himself!" he argued.

"Well, if the God of Lies himself told you, who am I to argue?"

Once again, Diana had to hold Thor so he wouldn't get in Circe's face. At the same time, however, she turned, glaring at Circe and silently demanding answers.

"I forget how young you two are," Circe sighed, completely ignoring Thor's wrath. "The death of a god as powerful as Odin does not go unnoticed. If Odin was truly dead, believe me, you would know," she said, bluntly. "Loki lied to me about that, and he apparently lied to you too. Your Father lives, Thor, and your brother knows it is but a matter of time until he forgives you. And when that happens… Farewell King Loki." She glanced at him to reinforce her point. "Unless you are too dead to take the crown, that is."

Thor lost all strength when he heard that, his face a mask of shock and pain; Diana, also, could not believe her ears.

Odin was alive. And Loki, Thor's only brother, had freed Herakles so he could kill Thor.

"It cannot be," Thor muttered, so weakly that it almost sounded like mumbling to her ears. "He is my brother, I love him, why…"

Gently, Diana helped Thor to sit down; then she turned, the Golden Lasso in her hand.

To her credit, Circe did not even hesitate: she stepped forward and grabbed the Lasso, the golden glow taking the entire room.

"Loki was here earlier today, asking about you," Circe declared, her eyes never leaving Diana's. "And he lied about Odin's death."

Saying this, she released the Lasso.

"For what's worth, I am sorry," Circe said, turning back and giving them some privacy.

Thor had never felt such pain; it was as if Herakles himself had grabbed his heart and started squeezing.

Loki, his own brother, had plotted to have him killed.

This was not like in their past adventures, it was not a prank played for laughs. He had lied about Odin being dead, most likely lied about not being able to revert his banishment, lied about his mother not wanting to see him again.

And then, as if that was not enough, he had freed one of the most powerful and dangerous gods in the universe to make sure Thor could not find his way back for good.

Was Loki's ambition that twisted? Or did he simply hate Thor that much? Thor knew he and his brother were two very different people, he knew that more often than not that brought conflict between them, put them at odds, made them lash out sometimes more cruelly than they should.

But they were brothers!

Thor would have died for Loki without hesitation. They grew up together, they played together, they fought together… Did that mean nothing to him?

"We do not know if any of this is true, Thor," Diana said, softly, kneeling close to him. "We can only know what Circe thinks its true. She might be completely wrong."

"We know Loki was here, asking about you," Thor retorted, his voice weak. "We know he lied about my Father being dead. And we know that he is the only 'King of Gods' capable of releasing Herakles' chains that stepped on Midgard recently." He gave her a bitter smile. "I know I am not known for my intelligence, but not even I am that stupid."

He stared at nothing.

"My own brother wants me dead," Thor said, barely recognizing his own voice.

Diana shook him.

"We know he visited Circe, and we know he lied to you about Odin," Diana argued. "Everything else is only a theory born from Circe's own life experiences. How could Loki know that Herakles would come for you? Do you think Herakles would allow a god to influence his decisions? He would have snapped Loki's neck the moment he was freed, had Loki tried to manipulate him."

Slowly, Thor looked at Diana, listening.

"No, it is far more likely that Loki freed Herakles so he could attack me, the Amazon, to keep me from helping you regain your godhood. Herakles just… Saw the opportunity and decided to act on it."

Diana touched his shoulder.

"It might not be what you wanted to hear, but at least—"

"At least he would not have tried to kill his own brother," Thor completed. Then he sighed. "Maybe."

Diana sighed too, grabbing his chin and forcing him to look at her.

"Thor… Your Father is alive. Your Mother does not hate you. I do not know the truth about Loki, but you owe it to yourself to find out. Do not give up now, please."

Slowly, Thor nodded, feeling the familiar strength burn inside him again. She was right. Regardless of what Loki did, they needed to reach the Garden of the Hesperides before Herakles found them. Like Circe had said, it was not only about him anymore. If Herakles killed him, a lot more people would die too.

First the Apples, then Herakles… And then he would get the truth from Loki himself.

Accepting Diana's hand, Thor jumped back up.

"So, have I fulfilled my end of the bargain?" Circe asked, once Thor left the throne room to join Clint and go back to the Invisible Jet. She stared at Diana from her throne, sipping a goblet of ambrosia. "Or do you require… more?"

Diana sighed, her back still turned to Circe. She had hoped Circe would be able to break Thor's seal, true, and while that hadn't happened, the Sorceress Queen had provided them with precious information.

A way to break the seal, knowledge about Herakles' goal, Loki's betrayal… It did not solve their problems, on the contrary, but it gave them direction.

Circe had promised to help them "to the best of her abilities" and Diana believed she had done so.

Slowly, she nodded; Circe's smile was sharp.

"Then do be careful, my dear. I would hate if that brute killed you before you could fulfil yours. Farewell, Diana of Themyscira."

Diana hoped she would not regret this decision.

Hey guys, how are you?

Like I said, here it is, the following chapter. I really hope you like it ^^

By the way, lots of people have been asking me what I plan to do with the Eternals' lore in Avenger Goddess. This chapter here probably gave you a clue, but to be clear: in this story, the Eternals will be the Titans/Olympians.

To be honest, it's not that far off. While in the comics Olympians and Eternals are two very different things, the lore about the Eternals was HEAVILY based on Greek Mythology.

- They come from Olympia (in the comics, that is);

- Their names are based on the names of Greek Gods: Cronus, Uranus, Zuras (Zeus), Thena (Athena), Makkari (Mercury), Phastos (Hephaestus), Ikkaris (Icarus), Eros…;

- In this story, some of the Primordial Gods like Gaea are indeed Celestials, so they are also connected to the whole thing.

Anyway, I will of course elaborate this in the story, but since a lot of people have been asking, this are my plans. Just so you know.

Hope you are all doing great!