Gods and Demi-gods

Chapter One

We Meet Again

The night had been cold, but now the morning was sunny, yet brisk. Xena and Gabrielle hadn't long rolled out from their sleeping furs, bundled together to help keep each other warm, in more ways than one. Xena was tending to her horse while Gabrielle was building up the fire to warm up the leftover rabbit from the night before.

"Greetings, ladies," a familiar voice rang out. "How are you on this glorious Autumn morning?"

Gabrielle dropped the frying pan she had been rubbing with fat as she exclaimed, "Thor!"

As she ran to him and his waiting embrace, there was a resounding thud as he dropped Mjölnir to the ground.

After the initial joy of seeing him again after almost six months had passed, Gabrielle became very aware of the massive arms encircling her. Ever since the confrontation with Ares, the only arms around her had been Xena's – strong, but slender. Not like the ones holding her now. She was conscious of their strength. It was as if a statue had been standing in the sun, then several blankets had covered the arms, letting their warmth come through, but padding their hardness. She also couldn't help but take in his masculine scent, so different from the female aroma of Xena's that she so loved. Yet still appealing and almost irresistible.

As she watched them holding each other, Xena suddenly felt a stab of jealousy. But Thor, being a god, was very much aware of Xena's feelings and gently pried Gabrielle's arms from around his neck and walked to her, his hand out in friendship. She took the extended hand – forearm to forearm.

"It's good to see you again," she said guardedly. "It's been a while."

"I must agree," he replied, smiling. "It has been much too long. I trust you are well."

"Well as can be expected."

"Thor," Gabrielle interrupted, a slight feeling of jealously in her as well. "How is everyone at Valhalla?"

Thor gave her a big grin. "They drink, they carouse. They are well. They ask of you often. One day you must return with me to visit."

"I'd like to do that. So, whatever happened to Loki?"

"There have been rumors of his whereabouts, but he still keeps himself unavailable, and out of sight. But tell me, what became of Ares?"

"Zeus kept him confined up on Mt. Olympus for a while, a month or so," Xena answered. "But it seems without a god of war to keep warlords in check there was just too much chaos, too many towns and villages being attacked and pillaged for Athena to protect, so he's back in business."

"We all have our place in this world, according to All-Father Odin."

"A wise man … well, god," Gabrielle said.

"So what brings you here? Just a friendly visit?" Xena asked. "Or is there some other reason?"

"I search for a hero I have heard of – half man, half god, possessing enormous strength."

"That must be Hercules," Gabrielle said. "Why are you looking for him?"

A solemn look now crossed Thor's face. "There is a serious danger threatening the Northlands. One that may prove our doom, and Odin has requested I find this hero, this Hercules, in the hope he may wish to join us in this struggle."

"Well, if the stories I've heard are true," Xena said, "I doubt that he can help you."

"What stories are those?"

"It is said he has gone mad. Supposedly, for some unknown reason, he killed his wife and sons. And when he realized what he did, he went mad. The rumor is that he is locked up somewhere, or possibly chained up, to prevent him from destroying everything, and killing everyone he meets."

"So, we meet again," said a familiar voice behind them.

Mjölnir immediately flew to Thor's hand as they turned to face Ares. But Ares waved him off nonchalantly.

"I'm not here to fight. Although, I can't remember the last time I had so much fun."

"You thought a fight to the death was fun?" Gabrielle asked incredulously.

"Sure," Ares answered light-heartedly. "Little girl, do you have any idea how boring life can be – all my powers, and nothing and no one to challenge me?"

"So what do you want?" Xena voice was cold.

"I heard you talking about Hercules," he said to Thor. "And trust me, you want nothing to do with him."

"You know something?"

"Well, we don't talk about it, but Xena is right, he is mad. And in his madness, his strength seems to have increased. And not even your hammer could keep him from tearing you to pieces."

"What happened to him? What really happened?" Xena asked, her voice not quite as cold. "Or is that a big Olympian secret?"

Ares hesitated, as if he wasn't sure he should say anything. But as a minor defiance of Zeus, he said, "As I'm sure almost everyone knows, Zeus has been known to - umm, visit mortal women occasionally…"

"I hear he's not the only god to do that."

Ignoring the jab, Ares continued. "Most of the time, there are no real consequences, but in Hercules' case, or rather Alcmene's, she got pregnant and my half-brother was born – a demi-god. Well, to say the least, Hera was not particularly happy about that. And for most of his life, Zeus has protected Hercules from her. But Hera finally found a way to get her revenge – she sent Lyssa, the goddess of rage and fury, to temporarily inflict madness in Hercules, and he killed his wife and sons. But when the induced madness left him and he realized what he had done, he went mad on his own. And to keep him from destroying everything in his path, Zeus had Hephaestus forge his unbreakable chain, and a spike as big around as a man and five times his height. Zeus drove the spike into solid rock with the chain around one ankle to keep Hercules bound."

"So just where is he?" Xena asked.

"In a cave on the Isle of Crete."

"There are a lot of earthquakes there," Gabrielle remarked. "Could his being there have anything to do with it?"

"Everything," Ares replied. "Most of the time Zeus keeps Hercules sedated. But he has to eat, so wherever he awakens, his efforts to free himself causes the tremors and quakes until he eats the doctored food. Then he sleeps again."

"Is there no way to end his madness?" Thor asked.

"Not until he is able to forgive himself for what he did," Xena said. "And I doubt that even knowing that Hera was responsible would ease his pain."

"I wish to see him for myself," Thor said. "Can you direct me to his site of imprisonment?" he asked Ares.

"Didn't you hear what I said? He will tear you apart."

"Perhaps, perhaps not. Will you, or will you not?"

Ares shrugged. "Why not? Do you teleport?"

"No. Do you fly?"

"I don't. So – how do we do this?"

"Thor, can you sense Ares' presence as he seems to be able to sense yours?" Xena asked.

"I've never tried. But I know I can sense Gabrielle. That is how I found you two."

"Really?" Gabrielle asked, pleasantly surprised. "I'm flattered. I think."

Thor smiled warmly at her. "I hold a special fondness for you."

"Yeah, that's great," Xena interjected. "But how does that help?"

"Ares can take Gabrielle with him to the cave, and then I shall follow."

"Works for me," Ares said.

"Not for me, it doesn't," Xena said. "Gabrielle goes nowhere without me."

"Then you can travel with me," Thor suggested.

"You mean fly?"

"Yes."

"No, I don't think so."

"Come on Xena," Gabrielle pleaded. "It's not so bad."

"As I recall, you said you kept your eyes closed the whole time."

"I did, but I'm not as brave as you are."

"I won't drop you, if that's what you're worried about."

"I don't see where you have much of a choice," Ares said.

Xena shook her head, her teeth clinched, then acquiesced. "Okay. If we're going to do this, let's get it done."

Gabrielle walked to Ares, he put one arm around her as she put her arms around his neck, and they were gone. Next Xena tentatively put her arms around Thor's neck as his free hand went around her waist, holding her tightly up against him. And like Gabrielle, she was very aware of his strength and his masculinity.

Then spinning Mjölnir faster than the eye could follow, they were airborne.