Title: The Final Days of Young Hercules

Author: Smenzer

Rating: PG

Pairing: None. Young Hercules

Archive: Yes, please. Let me know if you take it, OK?

Teaser: A bad hat day

Disclaimer: The characters are not mine. They belong to Studios USA or

Whoever owns the Rights to Young Hercules. This is just for fun. No money is being made.

Dear Diary,

I still can't believe all that happened. Everything was going as it normally did at the Academy. Iolaus was thinking up new ways to cheat on the written tests, Jason was stressed out about becoming the King of Corinth and me...well...I was just enjoying school and looking forward to the upcoming weekend. The three of us didn't have anything special planned yet, but I'm sure something would come up.

And boy, did it ever! Things just kept getting worst and worst. In a few short days I went from being the Academy's top cadet to almost flunking! Heck, I was expelled! Yeah, me. Hercules, the mighty Son of Zeus. And now, that I think of it, that was the highlight of my day.

What caused all this?

A simple hat.

Yes, a HAT. But it was a good looking hat, made of finely tooled leather and decorated with silver around the rim. It even had nice leather ties that tucked under your chin to hold it on your head on windy days. Normally, I wouldn't wear a hat. Hat's are not my thing. I like to feel the wind blowing through my hair. I'm not sure why. I just like it. But this hat was a gift from a friend, so I started to wear it. Little did I know that the very same hat had caused a major rumpus up on Mount Olympus!

Well, I guess I better start this story at the beginning. With my brother, Ares.

~ Hercules



Ares glanced from the black leather hat on the table to the Goddess standing across from him. Athena stood there proudly in her golden armor, a smirk on her face. Well, sure, it was a nice hat but it was still a hat! "Athena, you can't be serious! You're going to pay your debt to me with a HAT? I'm the God of War! I don't WEAR hats!"

"But Ares, it's perfect for you!" Athena purred as she picked up the hat and tilted it so the light reflected off the silver pieces around the rim. The light flashed into Ares' eyes and momentarily blinded him. "Just look at it," Athena continued. "It's black leather and you know how you love black leather! And these silver pieces match the design on your shirt and gauntlets. I had it made *just* for you!"

"All right, Athena." Ares snatched the hat out of Athena's hand and turned to leave. Once he was out in the hall, he shook his head. How did this happen? How did he let Athena repay the debt she owed him with a mere hat? All hats did anyway was mess up one's hair. Ares ran his hand through his long wavy locks. No way was he going to end up with Hat Hair! The God of War was no dweeb! Hat in hand, Ares headed back towards his personal quarters.

Ares hurried around the corner and ran right into Aphrodite.

"Hey!" Ares yelped as something cold, wet and sticky leaked down the inside of his leather vest. He looked down at himself and saw.... PINK. Lots and lots of bright pink. Some foul smelling pink liquid dribbled down his leather vest, his leather pants and one of his arms. And he could feel it INSIDE of his clothes running down his body. He twisted his nose up. The fumes were giving him a banging headache. He forgot himself and rubbed his head, smearing the pink stuff in his hair. He pulled his hand away and stared at it for a second, then locked his dark eyes on his sister.

"Oh, Ar, I'm soooooo sorry!" Aphrodite said as she nervously clutched an almost empty container of pink liquid. "I was just going to repaint my quarters and I had Hephy make me this new paint..."

"PAINT! You got PINK PAINT all over me!" Ares bellowed as loudly as he could, a column of steam rising from each ear.

"Hey, now that's a new look for you, Ares!" Apollo said as he stopped in the hallway to gape at the God of War. "What kind of fashion statement you trying to make?"

"Why you...!" Ares pulled his arm back to throw a fireball at Apollo. To Ares' embarrassment, even the fireball was pink! He watched as it flew down the hallway at the Know It All Apollo, who easily sidestepped it. The fireball continued its journey until it smashed into one of Zeus' prized tapestries. The fragile woven cloth burst into pink flames and was soon spewing out clouds of pink smoke.

"Boy, you're in for it now!" Apollo laughed. "Here comes the Old Man! And then he'll know you're the has-been you are. What kind of sissy War God makes pink fireballs?"

"ARES! I saw that!" Zeus cried as he hurried over, his long white robes trailing on the smooth marble floor behind him. "You threw a fireball at your brother and destroyed one of my tapestries. I'm fed up with your constant destructive behavior!" Zeus went on and on with his complaints, painting Ares a long and finely detailed picture of all his faults.

What seemed like hours later, Ares stumbled into his quarters and wearily collapsed onto his bed. Getting yelled at by his father was only the start of his bad luck. The paint under his boots had caused him to fall down the stairs. At the bottom, he had landed next to a large decorative iron pot and had banged his head on it. Then, with blurred vision, he had stumbled into Gaia's quarters. The overweight Earth Goddess was only too happy to remind him of some favor he owed her...he didn't even remember what. He hadn't known it was possible for a God to be so much in pain. And when had he lost one of his boots? He had one bare foot and one covered foot.

Ares picked up the hand that held the hat. He noticed dully that it was still in perfect condition. Not a drop of pink marked it's smooth leather surface. Nor had it gotten crushed or mangled during his eventful day. "Everything started going wrong when I got this hat."

The War God turned the hat over and examined it from different angles. He was forced to put it down when light reflected off the silver parts again, stabbing him in the eyes with unbelievable intensity. Yes, there was a lot more to this hat. Athena had tried to pull a fast one on him, getting him to look incompetent in front of Zeus. Ares' laughter bounced around the room as an idea popped into his head. The sound vibrated the walls and a heavy war hammer rattled in it's place on the wall above Ares' bed. The nail holding it there broke and the hammer crashed onto the startled War God.

"If I live long enough, Little Brother, you're going to get the surprise of your life!"

After cleaning himself up (it's easy when you're a God!), Ares appeared on a road near the Academy. A voice drifted to his ears, carried on a brisk breeze. A broad grin spread across the War God's face. "Oh, this is going to be good!"

Ares dropped the hat on the dusty road and dashed into the nearby trees. Safely concealed behind thick shrubs, Ares peered out to see what would happen.

Soon Iolaus appeared. His head hung low and he aimlessly kicked at a few small pebbles in his path. The wind whipped his curly locks into his eyes but he didn't seem to care much. "It's not fair. I work at Cora's all the time and I still don't have any spending money. How am I going to get Hercules something for his birthday? And I don't want to mooch off Jason all the time, it makes me feel so worthless. I have to figure something out, but what? All my money goes toward the Academy fees! I just wish for once I could get Herc something really nice."

The wind gusted through and blew the hat right at Iolaus. It smacked him on his legs and then dropped to the ground at his feet.

"Wow!" Iolaus bent and picked up the leather hat. He turned the hat over in his hands as he examined it. "This is worth a lot of Dinars! A lot and lot of Dinars! I could sell this in town and get a small fortune for it. Heck, I might never have to work at Cora's again! Then I could get Herc the present he deserves, something really great."

Then Iolaus frowned. Someone must have lost the hat in the strong winds. They'd be looking for it. So that meant it would be wrong to sell it. Or the townspeople might think he was stealing again and then Chiron would hear about it and he would have some real problems! "What to do...?"

"Maybe if I just gave Hercules the hat. Yeah, that would work. That way if someone came looking for it Herc could just give it back because that's the sort of thing Herc would do. Well, hopefully no one won't be looking for it, not around here anyway." With a firm grip on the fine black leather hat, Iolaus headed back toward the Academy. He almost walked right through the doors when he realized that Hercules might see it, so he took off his shirt and wrapped the hat in it.

"Did you get something for Hercules' birthday?" Jason asked Iolaus as he spotted the shirt-covered object.

"Yeah, something really nice!" Iolaus said happily. "And it's something Herc won't never expect!"

"What is it?" Jason asked as he reached for the bundle.

"No way!" Iolaus hugged the bundle to his bare chest and twisted sideways so Jason couldn't reach it. "I'm not going to show you. You might blab to Herc!"

"I'm not going to blab to Herc, Iolaus! I'm the Crown Prince, remember?" Jason argued.

"Yeah, and we all know how you politicians are!" Iolaus countered as he flopped down on his bed. "Besides, you'll find out tonight when we celebrate Herc's birthday! I'm just glad I got him something this year."

Later that evening, Hercules sat at the largest table at Cora's as he opened his presents. He was getting so many gifts that he blushed with embarrassment. "You guys didn't have to go through all this trouble."

"But of course we did!" Iolaus insisted as he held out the shirt-wrapped bundle to his best friend. "And this is from me!"

Everyone leaned in closer as they watched Hercules slowly unwrap the package. The last piece of cloth fell away and Hercules' mouth dropped open in shock as he saw the hat. The thought that Iolaus might have stolen it flashed through his mind quickly but he quickly pushed the idea away. He knew Iolaus better than that. His friend didn't do that stuff anymore. But he also knew that there was no way Iolaus could afford such an expensive item. Then Hercules grinned and laughed outloud in relief. The answer was so simple! Jason had leant Iolaus the money for it!

"Hey, that's a really nice looking hat!" Jason exclaimed as he leaned in closer to get a better look at it where it rested on the table. He touched the rim lightly and whistled. "That's certainly not Corinthian leather, but it sure is expensive! Look at all the work that went into making it. Yeah, someone with real skill made it."

*Jason sure is a good actor. He's acting like he never saw this hat before.* Hercules thought. He reached out to pick it up. As the Demigod's fingers brushed against the leather, a hot jolt raced through his fingers and up his arm. Hercules yelped in pain and jerked backward.

Cora was just passing behind Hercules' chair, carrying the giant birthday cake to the table. She had advised the cadets to eat the cake first and then open presents but they had been to excited to wait. They all wanted to see their friend's expression as he received their gifts. Now that he had opened the last one, she was bringing out the cake that Chiron had paid for. She had worked all day on it, getting it to look perfect.

Hercules' chair toppled over backward and he hit Cora on her hip. She, Hercules, the chair and the cake all fell to the floor. The cake landed with a loud plop right on top of Hercules' head. Slowly he sat up and wiped white frosting out of his eyes.

He had a feeling in the pit of his stomach: it was going to be one of those days. Luckily the day was almost over.

Or was it?

Hercules climbed to his feet, hunks of cake falling to the floor. He quickly turned to help Cora up. He held out his hand but she ignored him and got up without his help.

"Look what you did! I spent all day making that cake and now it's ruined! And you're not getting a refund!" Cora said angrily as she hurried into the kitchen.

"Ah, don't worry about it, Herc." Iolaus advised his friend. "It was probably all dry and the frosting too sweet, anyway. We'll have cake when we go see your Mom this weekend anyway. Now that's a real birthday cake! Hmmm...yummy!"

Most of the other cadets left with Chiron and headed back towards the Academy. Jason and Iolaus stayed with Hercules as he gathered his gifts. The Demigod pushed open the outer door and stared in shock. A huge storm had blown in while they were having an early birthday party. Before it had been a blustery day but now dark thunderheads hung low in the sky. The wind whipped past with such strength that Hercules was almost shoved back into the inn. Off in the direction of the Academy the sky was even darker and he thought he saw faint flashes of light. Hercules turned to his friends. "Come on! We better hurry back to the Academy before this storm lets loose! It looks like it's going to be a bad one!"

"Yeah. We'd better hurry!" Jason rushed past as Hercules used his strength to hold the door open for his friends. Iolaus followed.

Hercules bowed his head, squared his shoulders and walked into the fierce wind. It reminded him of the time Strife had let loose the West Wind from Zeus' bag. It had almost destroyed the Academy before he had managed to trap it again. But there was nothing he could do about this. He just hoped Chiron and the others had reached the school safely. The first icy drops of rain splattered against Hercules' face and within moments he was soaked. Thunder roared and lightning flashed overhead. The ground trembled under his feet from a large impact and Hercules slipped in the wet mud. He landed on his back, his feet up in the air. He twisted around in the mud and saw a huge oak tree had crashed to the ground behind him.

"Jason! Iolaus!" Hercules tried to scramble to his feet but his feet kept sliding out from underneath him. He landed with a wet plop right on his stomach, splashing mud up into his face. He tried to wipe it away but his hands were covered in mud, too. And the rain was washing the frosting out of his hair right into his eyes. He frantically blinked his eyes, trying to clear the sugar out of them. The rain didn't help any, either. It poured down in heavy sheets, like a giant waterfall.

"IOLAUS! JASON!" Hercules screamed into the wind. He was scared the giant tree had fallen onto his friends. They had been right behind him, where the tree had landed. He inched forward towards the tree, crawling on his hands and knees. Soon he touched it's rough surface and felt along the ground, scared of what he might find. His heart thudded so loudly in his ears that he could no longer hear the storm ranging around him.

Or a second loud crack of lightning striking a second tree.

"Hercules! Look out!" Jason called as he suddenly appeared on the other side of the fallen tree. "Behind you!"

Hercules rolled over just in time to see a huge tree coming right at him. It seemed to be just a few feet away and getting closer every second. He knew he only had one chance to save himself. Hercules braced himself in the wet mud as best he could and put both his arms up. The tree hit him with incredible force and Hercules gritted his teeth as sharp jolts of pain shot up his arms into his shoulder blades and back. He bunched his muscles and heaved the tree a few feet to the side. It splashed down in the mud and Hercules let his body go limp as he closed his eyes. That had been to close.

Jason and Iolaus scrambled over the first fallen tree and crouched on either side of their friend. "Herc! Are you OK?" Jason asked as he bent over the Demigod.

"I'll live." Hercules moaned as he struggled to sit up. The storm was still brewing and they needed to get to the safety of the Academy before any more near misses happened. His friends helped Hercules to his feet and they leaned on each other for support against the wind.

Finally they passed through the stone gates of the Academy and was greeted by Chiron. Their centaur Headmaster had the most strangest expression on his face. If it had been anyone else, Hercules would have guessed it was embarrassment. But this was Chiron. What in the world could embarrass a centaur?

"I don't know how to tell you this, but there was an accident during the storm." Chiron started.

"Look, what ever this is, can't it wait until morning?" Jason asked as he led Hercules past the centaur. "Herc was almost crushed by a tree and he's really tired. I think he should just get in bed and go to sleep."

Chiron nervously pranced from one hoof to another. "That's part of the problem. The doors had been blown open during the storm and one of the local forest creatures had slipped inside the Academy. By the time we discovered it, it had hidden in the sleeping quarters."

Iolaus rolled his eyes. He had thought Chiron was smarter than that. "You're scared of some little woodland creature? Heck, there's nothing even remotely dangerous living in these woods! Just go over there and grab it one! It's more scared of us than we're of it."

"I know that." Chiron said as he followed the three cadets towards their quarters.

"Oh, man! What is that smell?" Iolaus moaned as he covered his nose and mouth with both hands. It was the most terrible stink he had ever smelled!

"A skunk." Chiron told him.

Hercules leaned against the wall and let his body slide down it until he rested on the hard floor. He looked at the centaur with knowing eyes. "It sprayed on my bed, didn't it?"

"I'm afraid so." Chiron admitted.

Dear Diary,

I remember spending that night out in the horse barn sleeping in the fragrant hay. The rich earthy sent reminded me of home. I still can't believe how much that hat had changed my life. I had learned so many things since than, grown a lot wiser. In those days I was so confident. I was the All Mighty Son of Zeus. I had thought that I knew everything. But I found out what I knew for sure I didn't know at all. Now I sit back and wander how I could have been so blind. The facts had been right in front of me but I didn't see them. I now know a lot of that had been my fault. But we were both to blame. Both of us had been caught up in a scheme so evil and vile that just thinking of it makes me physically sick. It makes me angry to know that I was being controlled like a puppet, just a tool for someone else to use. I have to stop now and go cool off, I'm that angry.

~ Hercules

Hercules woke up in the barn and cautiously stretched his sore muscles. Sleepily he rubbed the sleep from his eyes and straw from his hair. He sat up and his blue eyes settled on the round leather hat. He clearly saw in his mind's eye what had happened the moment he had touched it, remembered the electrical spark that had leaped up his arm. He glared at the hat. "I know you're the one behind all my sudden bad luck!"

"What?" Iolaus yawned loudly as he rolled over onto his side and watched Hercules. "Who you talking to?"

"It's this hat you gave me. I think there's something wrong with it." Hercules explained to his friend. "When I touched it last night at Cora's a hot spark jumped up my arm and that's what caused my chair to topple over. It was almost like getting blasted from Ares or Discord."

"That's just crazy!" Iolaus told Hercules. "It's just a hat! Ares or Discord isn't hiding under that hat. Heck, not even Strife could make himself that small! You're just spooked because that tree almost got you last night. You'll feel better after you work off some steam, do some drills."

"I'm serious, Iolaus. I can feel it in my gut." Hercules wrapped his long arms around his knees and pondered what he should do next. "I have to find out what it's doing and how. Then we need to make a plan on how to stop it."

Iolaus watched Hercules with growing concern. He took a deep breath and released it with a loud sound. "OK, what exactly did the hat do?"

"You know what it did!" Hercules said loudly. He could see that Iolaus didn't believe him. "It almost knocked that tree on me! And then there's the skunk that sprayed on my bunk and Cora dropped the cake and who knows what will happen next?"

"It's just a hat, Herc. It didn't do any of those things. Cora dropped your cake because you and your chair fell on her."

"Because it zapped me!" Hercules insisted.

"And trees DO fall down during storms. You know that. We all know that. And that skunk was just an accident. It only got in because the storm blew open the door. Besides, I carried that hat around with me all day yesterday and nothing bad happened to me at all. Nothing. It's just a hat, Hercules, and I'm going to prove it to you." Iolaus stretched out his arm and reached for the hat.

"No! Don't!" Hercules cried in panic.

But his days as a thief made Iolaus faster. His fingers locked around the leather rim and he snatched it away before Hercules could stop him. He held it, tossed it up in the air a few times, catching it each time as it came back down. Then putting the hat on his head Iolaus strolled around the horse barn. He stroked a brown mare on her nose and climbed up the ladder to the hayloft. He then jumped off the loft, caught a rope that was hanging from the ceiling and leaped to the ground. He grinned down at Hercules. "See? Nothing bad didn't happen to me, nothing at all! The barn didn't collaspe, I didn't fall on a rake or even break a fingernail."

"Maybe you're right." Hercules sighed. Maybe he was jumping at shadows that didn't exist.

"Herc, I know I'm right!" Iolaus grinned as he took the hat off his head and placed it on Hercules' head. "There. How does that feel?"

"Odd." Hercules replied. And he DID feel odd but he couldn't say exactly what it was.







Hercules shrugged the odd feeling off and stood up. Maybe Iolaus was right. Maybe he was just spooked from last night and what he needed was to do something. Besides, he couldn't spend the rest of his life hiding out in the horse barn! How would he explain that to Chiron? No, he definetelt needed to be active and put the entire stupid mess behind him. Feeling a bit better, Hercules walked out of the barn and headed toward's the Academy's main building. He grinned as a delicious scent wafted out from an open window to his nose. The cook had made flapjacks instead of the usual oat porridge disaster Chiron considered food. Hercules' stomach rumbled loudly and he hurried towards the door. He forced his way past the loud croud of students flowing the other way, the sweet scent of maple syrup on their breaths. He ran into the almost empty room and went over to the cook.

"Oh, I'm sorry." The cook said. "We're all out of flapjacks and maple syrup. You should have gotten here sooner. Hmmm...I must have something here to feed you. Oh! Here we go. How about a loaf of bread? It's really tasty!"

Hercules sighed and took the loaf of bread. Finding Iolaus and Jason at one of the tables, the Demigod sat down. He watched as Iolaus held his plate up and licked the last sticky drops of syrup off it.

"Don't be such a pig, Iolaus!" Jason told his friend as he licked syrup off his fingers. The Prince shifted his gaze to Hercules. "You should have gotten here sooner! The cook made flapjacks!"

"I know. They're all gone. The only thing that was left was this loaf of bread." Hercules lifted the bread up to show his friends. It was a French bread, as long as his arm.

"Too bad. I managed to eat three plates of flapjacks in ten minutes!" Iolaus proclaimed loudly. "With the type of people that hang around here, you have to eat as fast as you can or you'll starve! I mean, the nerve of some people, going back by cook again and again and again!"

RIIIINNNNGGGGG!

"Oops! There goes the bell! Time to go to class!" Jason stood up and dumped his dirty plate on a side table reserved for that purpose. "Come on, Herc, or you'll be late."

"But I didn't get to eat!" Hercules protested, his mouth hanging open.

"Should have gotten here sooner." Jason said as he hurried out of the room, a pile of books under his arm.

Sighing, Hercules tucked the French bread under his arm with the textbooks. Maybe he could sneak a few bites in class. Feducious would never notice. Following his friends, Hercules dashed down the hall and slid into his seat. Several of the other students started to snicker when they saw the giant loaf of bread. Hercules jammed it under his desk and held it there with his legs. Trying to look innocent, he folded his hands on top of his desk and sat quitely, looking towards the blackboard. Soon Feducious hurried into the room. He dropped a huge stack of papers on his teacher's desk and turned to face the class.

"Goodmorning students." Feducious said as he stood straight, his hands tucked behind his back. "I trust you are all feeling well today and ready to learn. Today's subject will be the geography of Greece. Please get out your Geography textbooks and turn to page 45."

Hercules started to open his book and his stomack growled. It sounded like a sick hydra. Hercules blushed as the students near him snickered again.

"What was that sound?" Feducious asked as he turned to face the class. He had been busy writing the names of city-states on the blackboard. Now his suspicious gaze swept over the class, lingering on each student before it moved on.

Hercules pretended to be very busily studying his textbook. He breathed a silent sigh of relief as Feducious once again turned back to the board. He waited a few moments to be sure Fiddle Face was busy, thenm slipped his hands under the desk. He gripped the top of the bread and tried to tear off a small hunk. If he was quick enough, he could jam the piece into his mouth before Fiddle Face saw it.

The bread was hard like a rock.

"Drat!" Hercules said, forgetting himself. His hand flew to cover his mouth as he realized he spoke the word outloud. But he started to relax as he realized Fiddle Face hadn't heard him. The teacher was mumbling to himself as he wrote stuff on the board. A pain surged through Hercules' stomach and the Demigod grew braver. He reached under the desk and pulled the long bread upward. Now the top of the loaf was at chest height. Lowering his head, he tried to take a bite out of it. But his teeth only slid on the surface. Determined to eat something, Hercules attacked the bread with renewed vigor. His teeth gnawed on the hard surface and he gripped the bread with Godly strength. His hair hung in his eyes as he tried twisting his head this way and that. He finally felt part of the bread give away and he gnawed even harder.

"Hercules!" Feducious called loudly as he rapped his knuckles on Hasrcules' desk.

Hercules' head flew up, spittle flying from his mouth and dripping down his chin. He tried to shove the bread under the desk but in his haste he hit the desk instead.

"Hercules, you know the rules!" Feducious said loudly in a firm voice. "No students are allowed to eat in class or sneak food into class. And they certainly are not to gnaw like a rodent!"

"Yes, I know! I'm sorry!" Hercules didn't know what to do with the loaf of bread. Everyone in the classroom was staring at him now. He could feel their eyes on him. Then his stomach rumbled again and evetyone started to laugh.

"Come along!" Feducious grabbed Hercules by his earlobe and pulled him out of his desk. Hercules had no choice but to follow, the bread still in his hand. They left the classroom and were out in the hall.

"Where are we going?" Hercules asked.

"To see Chiron." Feducious replied in a firm voice. "For breaking school rules!"

"But I missed breakfast! I'm starving!" Hercules told Feducious as he was rudely dragged down the long hallway. "And it's not my fault anyway. See, it's this hat. It gives me bad luck but I'm not sure why."

Feducious stopped and turned to look at Hercules. Fiddle Face rubbed his chin as he thought about what the cadet had told him. "You don't say? The hat gives you bad luck? That hat? The one on your head? I must say it's a very nice looking hat."

"Yeah, it does look nice but it makes bad stuff happen!"

"And why do you think that's so?" Feducious asked.

"I don't know. Maybe it's cursed or something." Hercules' eyes lit up as an idea occured to him. "OH, I know! It's Ares! He's trying to kill me again. Or it's Strife and Discord! Yeah, I bet fifty denars it's one of those three behind this."

Feducious pulled out a tiny scroll and started jotting down notes on it. When he was done, he raised his head to look at Hercules. "You know, Hercules, it's time you started taking responsibilities for your own actions. You have blamed all manor of things on the Olympian Gods, claiming they are attempting to murder you. I, unlike Chiron, don't believe these stories you tell. I'm tired of seeing you get away with all sorts of things just because you claim to be a son of Zeus. This favoratism must stop. If you are having bad luck as you say it's your own fault. You are a good student, Hercules. You get good grades on the written tests. You do your homework. And you're skilled in the physical parts of this school, the drills, the fighting. But that does not give you the right to break school rules. So far you have broken the rules three times today."

"Three?! The bread, but what else?" Hercules asked, confused.

"Wearing a hat in the classroom and you just admitted to gambling." Feducious said as he continued down the hall towards Chiron's office. "And I might add you have an unhealthy fixture on several of the Gods."

"But I don't gamble!" Hercules protested as they finally reached Chiron's office. "I was just talking! I didn't mean anything! How can you say the Gods are NOT trying to kill me? What about the time Apollo fireballed the school? Chiron knows their real! Ask him!"

Feducious sighed. "I didn't say they were NOT real. I know they are. I'm just saying you can't blame ALL of your problems on them when it's clearly your own fault."

Before Feducious could knock, the thick wooden door flew open as Chiron started to emerge. The door smacked Hercules in the head and knocked him over. He crashed to the cold stone floor, and lay there moaning. He touched his forhead and felt a large lump forming.

"Hercules! Are you all right? I thought I heard voices so I came to investigate. I didn't know you were standing right on the other side of the door." Chiron said as he gazed down at his star pupil. "Why are you not in class?"

"He has been breaking the rules! Eating in class, wearing a hat and he admitted to gambling! Plus he has an unhealthy way of blaming all his mistakes on the Gods." Feducious explained to the centaur headmaster.

"Why didn't you get hit with the door?" Hercules asked Feducious.

"Because I was standing next to the wall. That way if it opens it won't smack you one and give you a concussion. It's simple logic." Feducious rolled his eyes. "Are you going to say this accident is caused by your cursed hat, too?"

"Well, it is! This is proof of what I've been trying to tell you. It's like I'm always in the wrong spot at the wrong time and all this stuff happens. I don't know what to do about it! It's driving me crazy! Chiron, you have to tell me how to fix this!" Hercules pleaded as he slowly sat up, rubbing his aching head.

"Hmmm, why don't you come into my office so we can discuss this?" Chiron said to Hercules. "I'm sure we can figure something out. But breaking school rules is an important offense. I hope you understand that. And I just can't dismiss what Feducious has told me. That would be unfair and playing favoratism. But I can't allow you to disrupt class, either. Eating in class disrupts the other students. But I also realize one can't learn on an empty stomach, so why don't we eat an early lunch together while we search for a solution to your problem?"

Hercules' stomach rumbled loudly at the mere mention of food. He just hoped it wouldn't be centaur food but something humans could eat, too. But he had to admit at this point almost anything would be better than this hard loaf of bread. "That would be great!"

Hercules followed Chiron into his office and closed the door on Fiddle Face. He waited until Chiron moved behind his desk, then sat down in a chair facing him.

"And now, Hercules, for your punishment..."

"Punishment?" Hercules gulped noisely.

"Yes, punishment." Chiron held out his hand. "Give me the hat, Hercules. Since you are so convinced it's causing all these problems, perhaps they will stop if I take it away. I'll lock it up in my office. You can have it back later."

Hercules quickly tore the hated hat off his head and gave it to Chiron. His body instantly relaxed and he released a breath he wasn't even aware he was holding. It was like a great pressure had lifted off his chest. He felt totally free of the bad luck. He watched as Chiron stuck the hat inside a small safe he had and locked it with a key.

"Boy, for awhile there I thought you were going to make me mop the floor in the practice room or something!" Hercules laughed.

"Now that wouldn't be a bad idea." Chiron said with a smile. "After all, we don't want Feducious to think I'm favoring you, do we? You know how upset he can get. I expect it to be done by tomorrow morning."

"Yes, Sir." Hercules sighed as he wished he would have kept his mouth shut. After eating, he left Chiron's office and headed to the drill room. It was now his favorite part of the day. He always looked forward to beating Iolaus on the balance beams and the other fun stuff they did. It all came so easily to him, even if sometimes he had to practice a move over and over. But he knew once he learned something it would be his forever. He moved his arms and flexed his shoulders to lumber up his muscles. He spotted Iolaus over in a corner and went over by him.

"So, did you get in trouble or what?" Iolaus asked, eager for information. "Tell me all the juicy details!"

"Chiron took the hat and I got to mop this room tonight." Hercules told him as he pulled a big padded practice cudgel from the rack. He twirled it around a few times and leaped up onto the beams. He balanced lightly on the balls of his feet, holding the cudgel with one hand. With the other, he waved at Iolaus. "Come on, you sissy, get up here! My jinx is gone and I'm ready to whip you one!"

"I aint no sissy!" Iolaus shouted back as he jumped up on the thin wooden boards with Hercules. He gripped a padded cudgel in both hands and took on a fierce expression. "Come on! I'm ready to knock you off onto the mat!"

Hercules swung his cudgel, trying to strike Iolaus on his leg to knock him off the beams. But Iolaus saw it coming and leaped up above it. As he leaped upward, he swung his weapon at Hercules. Herc did a forward flip, flipping towards Iolaus. His feet struck Iolaus on his chest and kicked him backward off the beam to crash onto the floor. But as Iolaus was falling he struck Herc with his padded weapon. As Herc was in mid air when he was struck, this caused him to flip further upside-down. His feet went higher in the air and his head lower. Before Hercules could do anything, he was falling head first towards the wooden balance beam. He saw it rushing up at his head and he stuck his hand out to avoid hitting his head. He heard a loud crack and then he crashed to the floor. He landed on top of Iolaus and he heard his friend make an odd sound, halfway between a grunt and a moan. Hercules rolled off Iolaus onto the mat and sat up. He lifted his hand to push his hair out of his eyes and froze.

His hand was covered with blood!

"What?" Hercules looked down at himself frantically. He seemed to be OK, but then his eyes shifted to Iolaus and he stared in horror. The cudgel had snapped in half and part of the jagged end had stabbed Iolaus in the leg! Iolaus lay on the floor moaning as bright red blood pumped out the wound. "Iolaus!"

In the background he heard someone calling for Chiron and Feducious but he didn't pay any attention. It was all his fault! The bad luck from the hat hadn't left him at all, he had just hoped it had. Now it was clear that it would take a lot more than locking the hat up to actually stop it. He needed to get to the root of this problem and fast, before any more of his friends got hurt because of him. Iolaus' injury weighed heavily on Hercules' chest, like a heavy piece of iron pulling him under the waves of a deep cold sea. He covered the wound with his hands but blood seeped out from between his fingers.

"What happened here?" Chiron asked with both concern and authority in his deep voice. The centaur then quickly ordered a gurney and they carried Iolaus into the sick room. After the broken weapon had been removed and the wound bandaged, Chiron turned to face Hercules. He did not looked pleased but the angriest Hercules had ever seen him. His dark eyes flashed with fury. "How could such a thing happen? I want an explanation, Hercules! I have run this Academy for years and never, NEVER have had such a terrible accident involving the cudgels!"

"We were practicing like we always do and we knocked each other off the beams. I'm not sure how it happened really. It happened too fast. It's that bad luck from that hat. Locking it up didn't stop it." Hercules explained to the centaur.

"I don't want any of that nonsense!" Chiron yelled at Hercules. "You are getting out of control, Hercules. You better stop behaving in such a manner. I will not tolerate it!"

"Me? I didn't do anything!" Hercules yelled back at Chiron. "It's that stupid hat! Locking it up didn't help at all! I'm still jinxed!"

Chiron's nostrils flared and he pawed the ground with his front hooves as he slashed the air with his tail. "You are on dangerous ground, Hercules. Keep this behavior up and I'll be forced to expel you! Now go to your quarters!"

"How can I?" Hercules asked the Headmaster of the Academy. "You let some skunk pee all over my bed! My mother is paying your outrageous school fees and I'm sleeping out in the barn! I didn't even get any breakfast! And that slop you feed us isn't even fit to eat."

"OUT!" Chiron grabbed Hercules by the back of his shirt and carried his to the front door roughly. Flinging the door open with one hand, Chiron flung Hercules out onto the hard ground outside. "Come back when you got your head on straight. Until then, consider yourself expeled!"

Hercules watched the Academy door close and heard it lock. He stared at the door for a moment, fuming. "You can't expel me! I'm your star student! I'm a Son of Zeus! I'll tell my father on you and then you'll be sorry! He'll blast you one!"

Feeling angry, Hercules picked up a stone and threw it at the Academy's thick wooden door. He was satisfied to see it break a big chunk of wood off the door. He paced around in a circle for a few moments, thinking. He HAD to find his own solution. It was obvious that no one was going to help him. The cursed hat had turned everyone against him.

"The hat. I got to get that hat." Hercules walked around the Academy until he came to Chiron's office window. He pressed his face to the glass and peered inside. Like he expected, the office was empty. No doubt Chiron was either over seeing Iolaus' wound or he was telling all the other cadets how he had gotten expelled. No doubt both at once. Hercules reached out and struct the window with his fist, breaking the glass. Then he quickly hopped through the opening and hurried to Chiron's safe. Using his Demigod strength, Herc tore the door off and flung it against the wall. Hearing pounding footsteps and yelling voices in the hall, Hercules snatched up the hat and leaped through the window. He landed easily on his feet and took off at a run. He was out the main gates and deep into the forest before he finally stopped to rest for a moment to catch his breath.

"What am I going to do now?" Hercules asked himself.

Hercules stared at the hat in his hand. Black and silver. Ares' colors! Why hadn't he noticed that before? And wasn't the silver design around the rim of the hat the same as on Ares' gauntlets? "Ares! I'm going to get you for this! You're not going to get away with destroying my life!"

Feeling a tad better since he knew where to go, Hercules started off for Ares' temple. He had never been to one of Ares' temples, but he had a good idea of where one was.

Hoping no bad luck would interfere with his trip, he carefully hurried through the forest. He tripped over vines and once almost broke his ankle when he stepped in an animal borrow. After that, he limped onward, his ankle shooting sharp pain up his leg. But Hercules was determed to reach the temple even if he died on the steps outside. He passed through a large apple orchard and apples fell on his head from every tree, even though there was no wind. He covered his head with his hands and tried to hurry past the vilent trees. He breathed a sigh of relief when they were behind him. He looked upward and saw Ares' temple atop a tall snowy mountain.

"Great. With all this bad luck, how am I going to climb that?" Hercules rubbed his chin as he thought about it. " I wonder...?"

Hercules thought of calling his older brother. He knew if he called him he just might come. In the past he had called Hephestis and his black-smithing brother had heard him and had came. But Ares? Maybe it wouldn't be such a hot idea. As far as the Demigod could tell, he had the benifit of surprise on his side. If he called Ares, it would give him a warning. "Of course, I don't have the slightest idea what I'll do when I do reach his temple. I wish I had a plan but I don't. And I have no idea how Ares will react."

So far Hercules' entire plan had consisted of simply storming into Ares' temple and complaining about the hat. And in his present state, he may not be able to fight Ares and win. Hercules just hoped his father's protection order worked in the God of War's temple, too, because he was relying on it now more than ever. Deciding not to call out to his Godly brother, Hercules marched forward. Soon he reached the base of the mountain and started upward. So far there wasn't any snow but he knew he would have to face it at a higher evalation. Climbing prooved to be a lot easier than he had hoped. He found solid footholds, testing each one before he trusted his weight to it. His luck seemed to be holding for the most part but Hercules refused to hurry. A mistake at this height could kill him.

He stopped halfway up on a small ledge to rest. His feet dangled in the open air beneath him and Hercules wished for the tenth time that he had some climbing equitment with him. Some rope and solid pitons would be very useful. The climbing had grown more difficult the higher he got. He was forced to cling to precarious handholds that just barely jotted out from the surounding rock. He had been very lucky to find this ledge to rest on. His fingers were cramped into curved claws and he tried to massage some life and feeling back into them. They were so stiff he could barely move them.

As Hercules stared out into the air before him, he noted how small and peaceful the world looked down below him. The river was a blue line curving between various shades of green. The forest was just a textures area of darker green. Then Hercules realized he faced another serious problem. It was getting late in the day and the sun was setting. If he didn't get a move-on soon, he would be forced to spend the night on the mountain. Freezing to death was a very real possibility. He hadn't brought any blankets or anything with him. "I should have picked up some of those apples. Then at least I'd have something to eat."

Wearily, Hercules carefully climbed to his feet. Shaking his hands in a laim attempt to wake them up, the Demigod started climbing again. After a few moments, he reached the snow line. His fingers turned an angry red from gripping ice covered rocks and they felt like they were on fire. The ice burned. White plumes of smoke drifted out of his mouth with every breath and frost formed on his eye lashes. His body started to tremble in a laim attemp to generate some body heat. But there was no heat to be had in this cold, lifeless environment.

Hercules searched for his next handhold and found it. It was just above him. He stretched out his arm as far as it could go and gripped it with his fingertips. He let go of the other rock he clung to and that's when his hand slipped on the slick ice. Frantically he tried to grab anything as he started a mad plumet down the side of the mountain but his fingers were numb from the cold. He could barely move them at all.

Hercules' hands and body left deep slide marks in the snow as he slid downward faster and faster. The wind whipped past him, making his body even colder. Snow started to fly around him and he heard an ominus rummble. It started out quite, like the purr of a cat. It soon grew louder and louder until it drowned out everything else. Hercules stared straight up the mountain and saw a huge piece of the mountain top break loose. It careened down the mountainside right towards him, gathering more snow and rocks as it fell. Soon more snow gathered around him and it was getting difficult to breath, to see.

Hercules' mind raced. He knew there was no way he could survive this under normal circumstances, but with this bad luck and the cursed hat, he would die for sure! Only a God could save him now. Anger bubbled in his chest at his half-brother. This was all Ares' fault!

"ARES!" Herc yelled. He didn't care anymore if his mouth filled with snow.

Ares was yanked out of his temple and suddenly found himself caught in the middle of an avalance. He felt a pair of arms wrap themselves around his neck, trying to choke him. Through the thick snow, he saw a pair of angry blue eyes staring back at him. And he saw that blasted hat!

"What the..?" Ares muttered and used his powers to pop both himself and Hercules to the safety of his temple. Ares stumbled and slipped on a slick patch of snow under his boots. He tumbled over backward and Hercules fell on top of him. The little half-mortal brat was still trying to choke him but was shivering too violently too really do any serious damage. In fact, he was making Ares shiver! It felt like a block of ice laying on top of him. He could feel Hercules leeching every last drop of heat out of his body. He wanted to push Hercules off but soon discovered he was lying on one of his arms.... "GET OFF ME!"

Hercules spitted a big gob of snow out of his mouth. "You! This is all your fault! You gave me this cursed hat, didn't you? DIDN'T YOU?"

Ares' attention switched to the chandelier above them. It was a huge round one made out of metal and held many candles. The thing was swaying crazily and he was sure any minute the chain would break. Ares rolled over several times, hauling a startled Hercules with him. A few seconds later, the chandelier crashed to the stone floor where they had just been.

"You get that thing out of my temple, NOW!" Ares bellowed at Hercules.

"What?" Hercules blinked. Now he was totally confused. Had Ares just saved him? Not only from the avalance outside, but just now from that chandelier? And why wasn't Ares trying to kill him? In fact, Ares was quickly moving along the floor crablike backward. When he got a few feet away, Ares got to his feet and made a dash for it. He ran past his throne-like chair and hurried into a room Hercules hadn't even known was there. A moment later the door slammed shut, leaving Hercules by himself.

"Stay away from me with that thing!" Ares bellowed at him through the closed door.

Hercules, feeling a bit better now that he was indoors, got to his feet. He didn't know what to make of Ares strange behavior. He had never seen the War God act like this. He rubbed feeling back into his stiff, frozen hands and carefully approached the door. "You come out of there, Ares! This hat has ruined my life and I want to know why! You better tell me how to get rid of it, how to destroy it! If you don't, I'll....I'll....I'll wreck your temple!"

Before Ares could reply, the temple shook around them. Hercules was knocked off his feet and crashed to the hard floor, landing on his butt. The shaking grew worse and big cracks raced up the walls. The zigzagging cracks grew wider right before Hercules' started blue eyes and weak daylight shone in. A large section of one wall collasped, just barely missing Hercules. The Demigod scrambled closer to the door and yanked on it.

It was locked.

A crack appeared on the floor and raced towards the Demigod. As it grew, hot steam issued from it along with an awful stink. Hercules gagged on the terrible smell and banged on the door. "Ares, do something! Tell me how to destroy this hat! The whole building is coming down on us!"

The door opened.

"I can't help you, Hercules." Ares admitted. "I don't know how to destroy that hat."

"What?" Hercules said, surprised. "Isn't this hat your newest way to kill me?"

"Ok, I admit I DID sort of give it to you." Ares said. "But I had to get rid of it. It was jinxing me and making me look like a fool in front of the other Gods. Thing is, I got it from Athena. She owed me a favor and when I went to collect she gave me that hat. The moment I touched it I had bad luck. So I passed it on to you. But now that you brought it back we BOTH have the bad luck."

Hercules had never thought there was another God involved, especially not Athena. He had seen the Goddess only once, when Ares had been on trial. He almost knew nothing about her at all. He did know that she was the Goddess of Wisdom and Justice and War. "Why would Athena give you a cursed hat?"

Ares rolled his eyes. "Because she wants my job, just like Strife and Discord do. She's always trying to say I'm imcompetent and can't do my job right. Well, I know that she's not qualified to do it. If she tried, she'd make a total mess out of everything."

The building groaned loudly and a large chunk of the ceiling collasped. More dark, sooty steam issued from the growing cracks on the floor. An entire section of floor gave way and vanished into a deep pit. Hercules moved closer to Ares. This sudden partnership with Ares, if that's what it was, left him confused. As far as he could tell, Ares was telling him the truth. And he HAD been upset at seeing the hat. So if he wanted to get this curse off, he needed to see Athena. "Quick! Get us out of here before this entire place goes! Take me to Athena!"



"Fine." Ares took Hercules' hand and together they popped out. A moment later they appeared up on Mount Olympus. The War God led Hercules down a long empty hallway. "But I doubt if you're going to get anywhere with Athena."

Hercules craned his neck and tried to see everything at once. He hoped that he might see Zeus, his father. But what were the odds of that? Maybe after he got this hat problem fixed, if he asked Ares....Of course, he didn't want to push his luck with the War God. For a rare moment they actually seemed to be getting along.

"Here it is." Ares stopped before a door and motioned to Hercules. "You want to see her? This is where she is."

Nervously, Hercules stepped up to the door and knocked. A few moments later a tall woman answered. She had dark hair and wore golden armor. She blinked in surprise when she saw Hercules and Ares standing outside her door. "Yes?"

"Why are you ruining my life?" Hercules blurted out at Athena. "I demand you take the curse off this hat!"

Athena laughed. "YOU have the hat now? I feel sorry for you, I suppose, but there's nothing I can do about it. That hat was meant for Ares."

"I don't care who it was meant for!" Hercules told her, staring her in the eyes. "Just fix it!"

"Well, I didn't make that hat." Athena explained. "See, I was told to give Ares the hat and so I did. If it worked, it would be in my favor. But if you want the curse removed, you'll have to go see the one who made it."

"Well? Who made it? How many people are involved in this mess? Do I have to go see every single God on Olympus?" Hercules complained. But he moved out of the way as Athena came out of her room.

"I can take you to the person, if that's what you really want. Is it?" she asked.

"And when I find out who's behind this scheme I'll make their immortal lives miserable!" Ares promised. "And don't think you're off the hook, Athena. My favorite temple got destroyed!"

"Oh, please, Ares!" Athena moaned as she led the two down the hallway. "Your meaningless threats don't scare me at all."

Athena led them deeper and deeper into the building. They took so many twists and turns Hercules knew he was totally lost. Finally they stopped in front of a pair of huge golden doors with fancy carvings on them. Jewels glittered on them and the doorknob appeared to be a giant diamond. "well, here it is! Enjoy yourselves!"

Hercules watched Athena leave and now he was left alone with Ares once more. He noted Ares had fallen silent as they reached these doors. It was obvious the War God knew who lived here.

With doors like this, it must be one of the major Gods, Hercules thought. But which one?

Taking a deep breath, Hercules wrapped loudly on the door. The door opened and Hercules saw....ZEUS! Hercules knew it was Zeus because it looked just like his statues: grey hair, facial hair, a long white robe. The elder God's jaw dropped open and he stammered. Apparently even Gods didn't know everything!

"Hercules...how did you...and with Ares...is he trying to kill you again?" Zeus stammered.

Hercules answered by shoving the cursed hat into Zeus' face. Zeus' eyes grew wide and he backpeddled quickly, tripping over his own robes. He landed on the shiny marble floor with a loud thud. "What are you doing with THAT?"

Hercules frowned. Zeus, his own father, had made the cursed hat! He had hoped maybe it had been Hera. That he could understand. Hera hated him because Zeus had loved his mother, Alchmane. All these years he had dreamed of meeting Zeus and was proud to be his son. Only to discover this! "No, Father, for once Ares isn't trying to kill me. This time it's YOU!"

Zeus' face darkened as he got up off the floor. Like usual, Ares had goofed everything up! And the plan had been working so nicely, too. Maybe he could still patch things. "Hercules, I'm not trying to kill you! I'm your Father. I have done my best to protect you from Ares and the other Gods, giving you my Protection Order. Haven't I done all this?"

"Right now I don't care about your Protection Order." Hercules told Zeus. "I can handle the other Gods on my own, in case you haven't noticed. But then again, you're never around, are you? What I want to know is why you made this cursed hat!"

"I'm the King of the Gods, Hercules. You know that. I don't have time to go see you." Zeus tried to explain to his youngest son.

"He never has time for me, either." Ares muttered. "I only see Father when he yells at me or wants to say what a wonderful son you are and I'm not. He's always saying 'why can't you be more like Hercules'".

Hercules listened to what Ares had said. He had presumed because Ares was a God and lived up on Mount Olympus with Zeus, that Ares saw Zeus all the time. But now it became clear that he didn't. His brain clicked and focused on the problem. His gut feeling told him there was more to this than just a cursed hat, a lot more. And he had an even stronger feeling he wasn't going to like it at all. His blue eyes shifted from the hat in his hands to Zeus. "Did you make this hat?"

"Yes." Zeus replied. "Yes, I did. But I never meant for it to harm you, Hercules. That was not its purpose."

"So what IS its purpose?" Hercules asked, although he was afraid he already knew the answer. Athena had said the hat was meant for Ares. But why would Zeus want to give Ares such bad luck, bad luck that maybe could even kill a God? "Is that it? You wanted me to kill my own brother? Is that why you've been fueling this rivalry between us? Heck, I bet you even STARTED the rivalry, didn't you? Well, I'm not going to do it! You're crazy and sick and need some serious help!"

"But you don't understand." Zeus said as he watched his plans unravel in front of his eyes. "He's incompetent in his job! We can't trust him, he's too violent and bloody and loves war too much! Athena is much better, with order and discipline!"

"Hey. You're the one that made me this way." Ares told Zeus to his face. "You and Mother locked me in that dark place and left me there for what seemed like forever when I was a kid."

"What?!" Hercules exclaimed in shock. "You're guilty of child abuse, too?"

"It was necessary." Zeus said. "Ares didn't want to be the God of War."

"So you forced it on him and then complained when he's too good at it?" Hercules knew a lot of his family members were odd, but this takes the grand prize! "You're a lot sicker than I thought! In fact, I'm embarrassed that I'm even related to you!"

Surprised at his half-brother's strong words with Zeus, Ares watched. In the past, he had thought those words but he never dare speak them. Now he relished seeing Zeus being told off! He just hoped Hercules survived it.

Hercules walked up to Zeus and placed the jinxed hat on the elder God's head. He pulled the chin strap down and listened to it snap loudly in place, securely holding the hat on Zeus' head. "You can have the curse, now! From now on, you're not my father, we're not related and don't call me you're son. I refuse to take part in any foul murder schemes your sick brain thinks up! And if you don't take the jinx off me and Ares, I'm going to travel all across Greece and destroy every temple you have."

"Fine! I'll remove the jinx!" Zeus said angrily. Anger boiled the blood in his veins but he controlled it. He knew if he didn't, Hercules would never forgive him and he wanted his youngest son to trust him once again someday. He had been stupid, very stupid!

He had been so busy making sure the hat worked on one son he never made sure it didn't affect the other! Zeus tore the hated hat from his head and threw it to the marble floor, where he stomped on it several times with his sandaled foot.

Hercules shook his head and turned to leave. He gripped Ares by the wrist and pulled him out of the room. "Come on, let's go."

Ares paused in the doorway and looked back at Zeus. "Yeah, and you're not my father either!"

Thanks to Ares' powers, the two left Mount Olympus. They soon discovered they were both free of the jinx and Hercules suspected Zeus might be suffering from it now. As far as he could figure, the hat seemed to affect any males with Godly blood. But Athena had not even batted an eyelash at it. And Iolaus had been immune because he was one hundred percent mortal.

Soon Hercules realized he really knew nothing about Ares. Zeus had interfered in their lives so much, convincing each one that the other was to be hated. Ares decided the best place for them to start was to get Hercules reinstated at Chiron's Academy. He was sure he could convince the centaur that these were incredible circumstances! And a few denars were sure to help!



And so that's how I got expelled from the Academy. I still can't believe to this day that Zeus was controlling me like a puppet. I never was a real son to him, as he never came to see me or anything. I was just a tool. And if it wasn't for that hat I never would have found out!

Well, the things at the Academy were straightened out and I went back to school. For a while everyone treated me funny but then they all forgot about it as new problems popped up. And me and Ares? We decided it would be best to continue our fights except now they were not real fights. Maybe they looked real to others but we knew the truth. And I needed the practice. The drills at the Academy were helpful but I needed real combat experience, too. Fighting against Ares, Strife and Discord gave me the skills and self-confidence I needed in order to become the Champion of Mortals. I think if it wasn't for all those fights I had against my Godly relatives I would have been killed a long time ago! Besides, in time me and Ares grew to enjoy our fights and we actually looked forward to them. I think Iolaus eventually caught on to the truth but I'm not sure about Jason.

But sometimes I think about that hat. What ever happened to it? I have no idea! I do know that Zeus did not keep it. Oh well, as long as it's not hurting anyone.

~ Hercules



EPILOGUE

Zeus had drained most of the curse out of the hat but could not remove all of it, although he had done his best. Then he threw the hat off Olympus. It floated down to Earth where a mortal had found it and sold it to a hat shop for a large sum. Over time it changed hands until a blacksmith acquired it. By this time the hat was a bit worn and the blacksmith had used it for the lining material in the new helmet he had just made. The metal helmet was very unusual in shape and design, a real one-of-a-kind hat. For a long time the hat sat in the blacksmith's store, unwanted. He kept reducing the price until he was practically giving it away. One day a skinny young man with brown hair entered, wearing mismatched armor...if you could even call it armor. He fell in love with the hat and bought it. Soon after starting to wear it he was affected with all sorts of clumsiness, which greatly reduced his chance of being a great warrior. But instead of becoming depressed by his misfortune, he sung songs of himself.

"And I'm Joxer! Joxer the Mighty!"

THE END