Title: A Demon’s Rebirth – Chapters I-II
Series: Mischief’s Ire
Series Order: 2
Fandom: Xena: Warrior Princess
Genre: Alternate Universe
Relationship(s): Ares/Joxer, Cupid/Strife
Content Rating: PG-13
Warnings: This one is mostly just family drama. The entire story will have dark themes, discussion of murder, effects of the possession of a dark God, canon-level violence.
Word Count: 11100
Summary: Joxer plays mediator between Strife and Apollo while being courted, and getting Xena’s help to complete a mission that will have far-reaching consequences.
Joxer stared at the orb suspended in the air, frozen in a time bubble, trying to see if there was anything left of her mother in this creature.
“Is this it? The future of mankind?” Jett asked popping in behind his younger brother, silent as always.
“The future of mankind?” Joxer asked. “Not exactly; the hope of mankind perhaps.” He waved the orb away, returning it to its safe-keeping. “Did you need something?” It was a well-known fact that Joxer’s home temple was avoided at all costs; the tapestries considered too disturbing, even by the members of the House of War.
“I wanted to talk,” Jett admitted awkwardly.
Joxer raised an eyebrow. “Talk? About what, exactly?”
“The past few years.”
Joxer sighed and sat down on a stone bench which was set underneath a particularly gruesome tapestry depicting some sort of demon with a gray pallor and two huge horns.
Jett sat down next to him, looking at his brother for a long moment before he spoke. “How come you never said anything?”
“I couldn’t,” Joxer answered. “There was too much at stake.”
“I’m your brother. You could have trusted me.” Jett sounded hurt which was an unusual emotion for the God of Assassins.
“Your first loyalty has always been to the House of War, even before you married into it. This…thing I had to do, it was too important.”
“You told Strife.” Jett pointed out.
“Not at first. Strife only found out after he died. When he came back, it couldn’t be helped.” Joxer sighed. “It doesn’t matter now. What’s done is done.”
“Alright.” Jett allowed, not wanting to get into Strife’s resurrection. That was a touchy subject under the best of circumstances, and this was certainly not the best time to broach it. He stood up. “I get that you felt you had to work in secret. You couldn’t risk Dahok or any of his minions discovering your plans. But now that it’s over with, now that your,” he waved vaguely to where the cocoon had been sitting, “project is trapped, you can return to Olympus.”
“It’s not that simple,” Joxer said, suddenly bone weary. “There is still a lot to do. Besides, you know I never fit in there. Hades, I never fit in the Underworld either.” He sighed quietly. “I wasn’t wrong when I said I didn’t have a home anymore.”
Jett stared hard at his brother for a moment. “You could. Eris said that…” He trailed off not entirely certain if he should repeat exactly what Eris had told him. Finally, he scowled. “You have family there. Strife and Cupid; Eris and I. Even Jayce and his weird side of the family. We’d all like you to come back.”
Joxer sighed wearily, but there was a hint of a smile in his eyes. “I’ll try. But right now I have someplace I need to be.”
“Good luck,” Jett smirked, having a good idea what Joxer had to do. “You’ll need it.”
Joxer smiled as his brother disappeared in a flash. “Don’t I know it?” He took one last look at his tapestries before he too flashed out.
Joxer, the God of Demonic Prophecy, reappeared in an overly bright temple. He stared from one of the room’s occupants to the other. Both God’s were staring mutinously at one another, brows furrowed in a way that showed their familial connection though he would never say that aloud.
“Well, this is going well,” Joxer observed. He turned to his best friend. “How long have you been here?”
“Too long.” Strife snarled.
“Strife.” Joxer admonished. “You promised.”
The God of Mischief sighed theatrically. “Okay, fine.” He turned to Apollo. “So…” He trailed off not sure what he should say if anything.
“How’s…work?” Apollo asked suddenly, trying to make some sort of start at conversation.
Strife blinked. “I create mischief for the mortal world to bring about chaos and confusion. It’s…mischievous. You?”
Joxer wanted to laugh. He really, really did but knew he didn’t dare. This whole thing was his idea after all, and if he didn’t want a repeat of the prank wars from a few weeks ago, then he had better get these two talking.
“Good,” Apollo answered. He froze for a second before his eyes lit up. “Hey, I heard about that mess with Hercules last week. You had him so twisted around he wasn’t sure which Warlord he should be trying to stop.”
Strife grinned in remembrance. He had uncle Herc so confused he was ready to beg for Ares help. He looked up at Apollo startled by what he realized was a compliment. “Thanks. I, uh…noticed the…uh sun was shining today. Good job.”
Joxer snorted. “Okay, this is getting ridiculous. Apollo, Strife, maybe we should try something that isn’t so…one-on-one.”
“Like what?” Strife asked.
“Hmmm. Well, Jayce’s birthday party is next week. You’ll both be there, I assume?”
Apollo nodded. Strife looked like he was about to shake his head but changed his mind at the last minute.
“Good. If we can get through the night without either of you trying to blast the other, I’ll call it a success and we can go from there.” Joxer tilted his head slightly, hearing a prayer, his eyes going wide when he recognized the voice.
“What is it?” Strife asked in alarm seeing the look on Joxer’s face.
“Nothing…I have to go.” Joxer disappeared in a muted flash, leaving the two God’s alone once more.
Xena finished making the circle and lit a lone candle. “Joxer.” She said quietly, knowing she didn’t have to speak the words aloud, but it helped center her thoughts. “I…I was hoping we could talk.”
Joxer flashed into the clearing, standing just outside the circle Xena had made. “That wasn’t necessary, Xena. I wouldn’t hurt you.” He sat on the ground, trying to appear less threatening, not that he thought Xena was afraid.
“I know. I just…wanted to show respect I guess.” She said sheepishly.
“I’ve never known you to respect the Gods,” Joxer said with a flicker of the old smile.
“I’ve never known one deserving of it.” Xena countered.
Joxer nodded ruefully. He knew, better than most, about Xena’s history with the Gods. “What would you like to talk about?”
“Me?” Joxer asked in surprise. “What exactly would you like to know?”
“You’re the God of Demonic Prophecy. Is that anything like Apollo?”
Joxer laughed. He didn’t mean to, really, but the idea that he might have anything in common with his best friend’s father was…amusing at best, offensive at worst. “Sorry.” Joxer shook his head. “Not exactly. Apollo is…okay, I can’t really be objective about Apollo, but while he is the God of Prophecy, that’s true, it’s a little different to the kind of prophecies that I receive.”
Xena frowned. She wasn’t aware there was any tension between Joxer and Apollo, but then again her genuine knowledge of Joxer was insufficient. That, was in fact, the purpose of this little summoning. “What’s the difference?”
Joxer sighed and fingered a blade of grass on the ground absently. “With Apollo, when dealing with the Prophetical part of his godhood, he tends to oversee the seers in Greece, the oracles, and whatnot. He does receive visions about the Pantheon, but they tend to follow a certain theme; His other visions, the ones about the mortal world, they have limits. They are meant to guide the oracles, not the mortal world at large. He can have prophetic dreams about certain occurrences, but it’s rare. Even if he does foresee some event, or that one of his prophets do, it is almost always linked in some way either to Greece, or the power base of the Greek Pantheon or tied directly to the humans that fall under their protection.”
“And what you see is different?” Xena guessed.
“What I see is very different.” Joxer agreed, trying to think of a way that explained it to Xena’s satisfaction without revealing anything too important or dangerous. “For example, Apollo’s prophecies and those that follow him, tend to have a short lifespan, relatively speaking. That’s not because their vision is so shortsighted, but because there will come a time when the mortals of this world will no longer need the guidance of the Gods in quite the same way. Their faith will shift focus, and those that continue to worship will dwindle in numbers.“
“Is that the Twilight of the Gods I’ve heard myths about?” Xena asked, curiously. She’d heard Hercules mention it once, and Gabrielle had talked about it a few times, but it hardly seemed like something that was likely to occur.
“Yes and no.” Joxer shook his head, explaining the changes to occur seemed like a little more information than she was really looking for. “Regardless, the visions I receive are not isolated to Greece, and while they do contain references to mortals, most of the things I have seen are not limited to mortals alone, in fact, they tend to center on the world outside the mortal realm.”
“Do all your visions come true?” Xena asked, deciding to let Joxer choose how much to tell her.
“They all have the potential to come true. Some can be subverted, but others will occur, regardless of what is done. In some cases, it is imperative that certain things happen in a certain way.”
Xena nodded once, deciding that he had given her enough answers, for now. She stood up and carefully stepped out of the protection circle. “I want to help.”
“Excuse me?” Joxer asked, surprised. “How?”
Xena shrugged slightly. “I don’t know. You’re the God. You tell me.”
Joxer stared at her intently for a long moment, staring into her, weighing her words against what he could see of her aura before making a decision. “Very well. I do have something you could look into for me.”
Jayce looked over the scroll carefully before eying his pacing brother with a grimace. “If you’re going to muddy my floors with your incessant pacing, at least tell me why you’re so upset.”
“I don’t like this plan of Joxer’s,” Jett said with a snarl, twirling one of his knives around, looking as if he’d really much rather be stabbing someone with it.
“Which idea is this?”
Jett looked up from his weapon to glare at his brother. “The one where he thinks it’s a good idea to reunite your father-in-law with my son-in-law.”
Jayce rolled his eyes dramatically. “You’re only irritated because if it works that means you’ll actually have to see Apollo more often. Plus, you’re afraid if Eris spends more time with him, she might forget it’s you she’s married to.”
“I’m not afraid!” Jett snapped.
“Of course not,” Jayce mumbled. Before re-rolling his scroll and handing it over to his brother. “This list is fine. But tell father that if there’s another incident like last year, I will not be held accountable for the repercussions.”
Jett smirked. “That was a fun party.” He disappeared before Jayce could say anything further.
Jayce shook his head. Maybe he should remind Apollo of what happened last year, and he’d keep the reveling to a minimum. Probably not. Jett was right about one thing, Apollo was tied up in knots about this situation with Strife.
Besides, birthdays only came once a year.
Joxer watched through the viewing portal as Xena loaded the heavy crate into the cart and connected the cart to Argo so that they could be on their way.
He sent his power through the portal, questing, trying to determine if anyone else was watching, through any similar means. Once he had concluded that no one was, Joxer teleported to her location.
Xena tightened the fastenings to the crate to make sure it didn’t accidentally pop open during the ride and then straightened up. “Checking up on me?” She asked Joxer quietly, not surprised to see him, though the appearing and disappearing at will would take some getting used to.
Joxer smiled slightly. “Not exactly.” He placed a hand on the back of her neck, and she flinched at the contact.
Xena held herself still as she felt heat where their skin touched. Joxer had never been overly tactile with her before, so she guessed this was another God thing. Almost as soon as she had registered the heat, it started to dissipate. Joxer released her and stepped back. “Sorry, but that will prevent anyone else from finding you.”
Xena raised an eyebrow. “Anyone?”
Joxer laughed softly. “Yes, even your father.”
“He won’t like that.” Xena frowned. Ares really wouldn’t like that. “I thought he could always find me through our blood connection.” Ares had told her once that there was nothing that could disrupt that.
“That’s true.” Joxer nodded. “I’m not really preventing him from locating you, exactly, more like preventing him from isolating precisely where you are. I guess you could say I’m masking you like you would hide scent during a hunt.”
“He still won’t like it,” Xena observed.
“No, I don’t suppose he will, but I’ll deal with him if it comes to that.” Joxer nodded towards Argo. “You’d best be on your way. I may have some additional work for you when you return.”
Xena nodded her agreement and turned towards the horse. She felt Joxer leave and shook her head. She wasn’t entirely sure exactly why she was taking the crate where she was. Only that Joxer seemed to think that it needed to be in a particular place.
When she had agreed to help Joxer, Xena wasn’t sure exactly what she was getting into, but she believed that her friend had a heavy burden and maybe if she could help him with some of it, she would begin to make sense of the path she now traveled. Without Gabrielle to guide her, things seemed less clear than they once were, and yet, she couldn’t go back to how she had served her father before, not yet.
Perhaps not ever. Maybe she just needed time.
Joxer watched Xena again through his portal only long enough to see that she had begun to move towards her destination before he waved the image away with a nudge of power.
She had been right about Ares, and it was only a matter of time before the War God realized he couldn’t contact his daughter and Joxer had only exerted enough power that the average person would come up blank. If someone with an actual, honest connection to her and knowledge of how such things worked, they would recognize who had masked her signature.
Unfortunately, Ares had both.
A flash of Godly power drew Joxer away from his inner thoughts. He turned towards the newcomer, only mildly surprised to see Apollo appear in his temple. The blond God looked around uncomfortably before focusing on Joxer.
“I agreed to this truce with Strife.” Apollo started, “But do you really think that your brother’s party is the best place to start?”
Joxer tried not to smile, he really did. Granted, he didn’t work very hard. “Jayce has been…complaining about last year’s incident with the contingent from the Underworld, hasn’t he? And you’re concerned that Strife will use the opportunity to create a little…mischief.“
“Well, that is what he does!” Apollo snapped.
Joxer narrowed his eyes and took a step closer to the Sun God. “Do not forget, Apollo, that it is your actions that started this feud with your son that I am trying to rectify. Strife has agreed to a truce, just as you have. He will abide by it, so long as you do.” He took one step closer. “Furthermore, I am well versed in my brother’s more trying qualities; however, his hissy fits are not my concern. Straightening out this mess between you and Strife is.”
Apollo opened his mouth about to say something nasty when Joxer’s eyes shifted to black, and he was suddenly reminded of which side of the family tree Joxer came from as if the incredibly creepy temple wasn’t disturbing enough. He closed his mouth and disappeared in a muted flash.
“I thought so,” Joxer mumbled before turning his thoughts inward once more.
“Where is Xena?”
“Why do you think I know?” Joxer asked curiously watching as Terpsichore tried to tempt Urania onto the dance floor.
Ares stared at the other God for a moment trying to determine if Joxer was testing him or if it was a valid question. “I know your power signature when I feel it.” Ares finally answered.
“Or don’t feel it.” Joxer clarified, turning to Ares and knowing this was more a case of an absence of power rather the signature itself.
Ares narrowed his eyes. “My daughter is gone.” He enunciated clearly. “I may have originally noticed because she was supposed to be at this party.” He waved his hand encompassing the surrounding revelers, the gods, goddesses, and demi-gods, celebrating the birth of the triplets. “However, let’s be clear. She’s not missing. She’s gone. That tells me that someone or something has cloaked her, and whatever or whoever did it, did not cause her any undue stress while doing so. There are very few things that would have the ability to do so and not raise any sort of alarm with her. You are on a very short list. So I ask again where is Xena?”
“I can’t tell you,” Joxer answered quietly. He looked away from the dark gaze. He didn’t want to lie to the War God, but he couldn’t answer the question completely honestly either. There was too much at stake. “She’s doing something vital for me.“
Ares nodded, having guessed that was the case. If Xena had been on a minor errand, Joxer wouldn’t have expended the power necessary to cloak her in the first place. “Fair enough.” He smiled, deciding that the time for business was passed. “You owe me a dance.”
“Excuse me?” Joxer asked, looked bewildered.
Ares grinned, liking the confused expression, and more than a little pleased he had been the one to put it there. “Don’t you remember? Strife’s wedding? You promised me a dance. Then you had that weird…episode…and you disappeared, and I never got my dance.” Ares frowned as he remembered. “That was a vision wasn’t it?”
Joxer shuddered as he remembered. “Yes.”
“A bad one?” Ares pressed.
Joxer nodded, unable to verbalize precisely how bad it had been. He remembered it in excruciating detail.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Ares offered a little awkwardly.
Joxer shook his head. “No, but I will give you that dance.“
Strife grinned across the room at his old friend dancing with his uncle. Maybe agreeing to come to this party wouldn’t be too bad. He felt someone brush up against his left side. He turned his head slightly to see who it was, knowing instinctively it wasn’t his mother or his husband. Seeing who it was, he lost the grin. Then again, maybe it would be that bad. “What do you want?”
“I didn’t See that coming.” Apollo nodded towards the dancing couple.
Strife raised an eyebrow at the god, noticing the extra emphasis on the word see implying he meant it in a more mystical sense. “You get visions about the goings on of Olympus?” He asked curiously. He didn’t know that much about his father’s godhood.
Apollo shrugged and then grinned himself. “How else do you think I always seem to know who is doing whom around here?”
Strife cackled. “I just thought the muses liked to gossip.”
Apollo nodded. “That too.” His eyes moved across the room to where Aphrodite was speaking quietly to Hephaestus. “I saw that long before it came to pass.” He pointed discreetly to his other son and the organizer of this little party. “And that coupling has given me more than a few nightmares.”
Strife snorted. Being as close to Joxer as he was, Strife knew more about his two brothers than was probably common knowledge, so he could only imagine. “And Cupe? What have you seen for him?“
Apollo stiffened. He was only trying to find some common ground with his estranged son, and he had thought that the romantic entanglements of the Pantheon might have amused Strife. He should have known that nothing was ever that simple. “Strife.”
“Did you see?” Strife asked lowly, recognizing the cautious tone in his father’s voice. He hadn’t been sure where he was going when he’d asked, or if he truly wanted to know, but now that they had ventured there he couldn’t turn back. “Did you know what that spell would do to him? How years of his life would be affected by one of his own arrows? Did you see how the friendship we had shared as godlings would be ripped apart by that farce of a marriage because she didn’t like me? Did you know how that spell would cause Cupe, my Cupid, to do whatever she asked of him, including telling me we couldn’t be friends anymore? Did you see that?“ As each question was asked, the memories of those horrible years coming back to him, the tension surrounding them mounted until there was a swirl of angry energy surrounding the two.
“Yes!” Apollo snapped out. “I knew.”
“Is everything alright?” Joxer appeared between them, placing a hand on each God and absorbing the energy. “Strife? You alright?”
Strife shook Joxer’s hand off and stalked away.
Joxer watched him go before turning back to Apollo. “What’s going on?”
Apollo sighed. “We were talking about how sometimes, most times, I get visions about the romantic relationships of the Gods. He asked me about Cupid.”
“And Psyche.” Joxer finished flatly. “Fantastic. Good Job, Apollo.”
“How was I to know he was going to ask about that?” Apollo growled.
Joxer narrowed his eyes and was about to respond when he felt Xena re-enter the area in Greece where the masking would no longer be necessary. “Nevermind. I’ll talk to him.” He turned around and moved across the room quietly, deciding that he’d give Strife a chance to cool off before he tried to deal with that mess.
The party was only half over; if he could meet with Xena, perhaps he could bring her back in time to set Ares mind at ease, and still salvage something from this disaster.
“Is it done?” Joxer asked as he appeared next to Xena.
“Yes. I placed it exactly where you said.” She smiled at him as he placed his hand against her neck. She felt the heat searing her again as she assumed whatever he had done to her before was removed.
“Good. Your father is looking for you.”
Xena frowned. “Your brother’s party. Does he know where I was?”
Joxer shook his head. “No. But he figured out that you were doing something for me.”
“What should I tell him?” She asked quietly. She didn’t like lying to Ares, especially since he could always tell.
“Nothing. If Ares asks, which he may, or may not, just tell him you were doing something for me, and you can’t talk about it.”
“Will he be able to read my thoughts?” She asked with concern. “He’s done that before.”
Joxer grinned. “No. And if he tries, he’ll just get a headache, and believe me, he won’t try it more than once. Now, come on, if I’m gone too long, both your father and my brother will come looking, and I have a situation with Strife and Apollo that needs sorting.”
Xena frowned as they transported to Olympus, curious, but decided she really didn’t want to know.
Apollo downed another glass of wine and scowled at all the partygoers. Everything seemed to be going smoothly. His little hiccup with Strife hadn’t been noticed by anyone other than Joxer it appeared, which was probably for the best. Their long-standing feud was the subject of enough gossip as it was.
“If you drink much more, we’ll have to teleport you to Asclepius for treatment. I don’t imagine your son-in-law will appreciate his husband being called away in the middle of his birthday celebration because you can’t hold your wine.”
Apollo rolled his eyes at his sister’s dry tone. “Artie, back off.”
Artemis turned and really looked at her twin. “Okay, this isn’t just a party drunk. What has you so upset?”
“Strife and I had a little…disagreement,” Apollo said vaguely.
Artemis blinked. “No, I’m pretty sure your disagreements with Strife usually involve more firepower.”
Apollo sighed. “He started to get upset but Joxer interrupted, and he walked off.” He hesitated unsure how to continue. “Artie, I don’t know how to do this.“
“What this?” Artemis asked.
“This father thing. It’s complicated.” Apollo sighed.
Artemis snorted. “Apollo, you have other children. This isn’t the first time you’ve had to deal with them.”
“None of my other children hate me.” Apollo pointed out reasonably. “Strife is…complicated.”
“You’ve said that before.” Artemis nodded. “What exactly happened tonight?”
“We talked about my visions. The ones about the pantheon and he asked me about Cupid and whether I had known about him shooting himself with that arrow and falling for Psyche because of it. He wanted to know if I had known that Psyche would make Cupid choose between them and that because of that arrow, Cupid wouldn’t choose Strife.”
“And did you?” Artemis asked carefully, unsure how precisely to advise her brother.
“Yes,” Apollo admitted quietly.
“And the fact that Strife was your son did that make any difference?“
“I thought…I thought that Strife would get over it…or he wouldn’t care.”
“What would make you think he wouldn’t care?” Artemis asked in confusion. Strife and Cupid had been close since they were godlings. Everyone on Olympus knew that. The fact that they came from different disciplines didn’t matter. When their friendship dissolved due to the effects of that arrow and Psyche’s jealousy everyone on Olympus felt Strife’s pain.
“He’s the God of Mischief,” Apollo said with a shrug. “The House of War is full of Gods who don’t care about anything or anyone.”
“Oh, ‘Pol.” Artemis sighed. “If you really believe that, you’re beyond hope, brother.”
“Sweetie?” Aphrodite called, following the swirl of angry power to her son’s temple. “Are you alright?”
Strife threw a Powerball at a statue Cupid had in the corner of the room. “Do I look, alright, ‘Dite?”
“You look like someone who needs to calm down,” Aphrodite answered as Strife threw another Powerball, this time at a painting, leaving a scorch mark in its wake.
“How dare he? That bastard knew the whole time, and he just stood by and did nothing!”
“Strife!” Aphrodite shouted, gaining Strife’s attention. “Perhaps you should start at the beginning?”
Strife looked ready to launch another fireball but decided that maybe he should talk about it. He usually only talked about this kind of stuff with Joxer, but judging by the fact that his friend hadn’t tracked him down yet, he was probably putting out a fire somewhere else. Aphrodite would have to do. She wasn’t nearly as airheaded as she preferred people to believe.
“Did you know that Apollo gets visions of the pantheon?” Strife asked, suddenly. Aphrodite was the goddess of love, and she involved herself in the love-lives of the Gods as much as mortals.
“Sometimes, yes. Usually only about certain things though.” She paused as she started to get an idea where this might be going. “Is this about Psyche and Cupid?”
“He knew!” Strife spat.
“What did he know, exactly?”
“About the arrow and what happened because of it.” Strife scowled at the floor, he could feel the anger threatening to resurface.
“And you’re upset because he didn’t say anything, warn you somehow?” Aphrodite asked softly.
“Yes!” Strife began pacing again.
“What do you mean, why?” Strife stopped, mid-pace to stare at his mother-in-law.
“Well, he gets visions of other gods and what is going to happen, why should he try to stop this one thing? What makes this so special?” Aphrodite asked in an entirely rational voice.
“I’m his son!” Strife roared.
“Yes.” Aphrodite acknowledged. “But how was Apollo to know how you would react?”
“I’m sorry?” Strife was confused now. “Cupid was my best friend. More than that. I am in love with him as you well know. I was in love with him then too. That just about killed me.” Strife said the last quietly, even now he hated to admit how hard it was for him to deal with those events.
“I know, honey, but your father, he…he doesn’t know love from…well from hate.” She paused for a second trying to think of how best to explain what she had to say. “You and I, Cupid, your mother, and Uncle, we all deal with the baser emotions on a daily basis. That’s our job. We know them, we feel them, we can project them, and sense when others are feeling them too. Apollo doesn’t deal with emotions like we do. He’s basically an intellectual. His house focuses on the healing arts and Divinity, what do they know of emotion? That’s why he’s having such a hard time dealing with you. You inspire such strong feelings in him he doesn’t know how to deal with them, or you.“
“She’s right,” Joxer said as he flashed into the room quietly.
Strife sighed and sat down on the floor. Joxer sat next to him, their shoulders bumping. Aphrodite smiled softly at the two. She knew she’d gotten her message across and hoped that Strife would think about what she had to say.
“I’m going to go back to the party. Heph is probably wondering where I ran off to.” She bent down and kissed Strife on the cheek.
“Thanks, ‘Dite.” Strife whispered as she disappeared in a wave of floral perfume.
“Sorry, I’m late.” Joxer nodded towards the destroyed statue. “I always hated that thing.”
“Where were you?” Strife asked with a laugh.
“Xena’s been doing some…work for me. She came back, and I had to find out how it went and to remove the power mask I put on her.”
Strife’s eyes widened. “You blocked Unk from finding her?” Joxer nodded. “He’s not going to be happy about that. You’re braver than I am.”
“So…about what ‘Dite said…” Joxer began.
“You really think it’s true?” Strife asked, unsure what to believe.
“Yes. Apollo is not what I’d call emotionally in tune. He’s had a lot of relationships, but none of them have seemed very meaningful. I’d doubt very much he’s ever been in love. He’s never had to deal with a lot of strong emotions…until you.
“What should I do?”
Joxer bumped his shoulder again. “Well, this truce is a start. He needs to learn how to deal with you. You’re not the one that started this. He is. He wanted your attention, now that he has it, he needs to figure out what to do with it.”
Strife grinned and stood up. “Come on. Let’s get back to the party, maybe you and Ares and dance again. That was entertaining.”
Joxer started to blush. “Hey, no fair teasing me. I’m only trying to help.”
“How was your little mission?” Ares asked as he approached Xena with two glasses of wine.
Xena smiled slightly as she detected the sarcasm in his voice. It wouldn’t have been detectable to anyone who didn’t know her father exceptionally well. “Successful.”
Ares nodded and handed her a glass of wine. “Are you going to tell me where you were?”
Xena took a sip of the wine to keep from laughing. Her father could be predictable at times. She raised her eyes over the glass and eyed him carefully before taking a long drink from the fruity wine. Her father continued to look at her, his dark eyes serious, though she could tell he was fighting a smile as well.
“Xena.” Ares finally said, slightly exasperated.
“Father.” Xena countered. “If you spoke to Joxer,” she paused as he opened his mouth to argue, “and knowing you, you did speak to Joxer, you know I can’t tell you anything.“
Ares narrowed his eyes at his daughter. She was right. Joxer had told him as much but he really, really hated being kept out of things, in particular when they concerned his own kids. Maybe he could get some sort of impression where she’d been. Joxer said he couldn’t read her mind, but perhaps he could get a sense of where she’d been or what she might have been doing, some sort of clue. That might be enough for him to put the pieces together. He felt his power reach out and connect with her, their blood bond making it that much stronger. He centered his power and aimed it towards her mind, hoping their own mental connection would give him an impression.
First, there was nothing. Just the standard connection between him and Xena, then there was this overwhelming sense of heat, like fire just under the skin, the feel of electricity dancing across nerve endings, and then the smell of fire and brimstone and ash. When the connection broke, Ares found himself lying in an unfamiliar place, staring up at Xena, who looked both concerned, and annoyed.
“What…what happened? Where are we?” Ares started to sit up and realized he was on a couch of some sort.
“The Underworld, Father,” Xena said with a grin. You made quite a spectacle of yourself at the party.“
Ares looked around quickly and saw Joxer’s parents watching him from a corner of the room. He now recognized where he was. Hecate’s temple in the Underworld. Fantastic. This was not the impression he wanted to make on the parents of the god he was trying to court.
“What did I miss?” Joxer asked, looking around the hall carefully.
It wasn’t so much that anything seemed wildly out of place as it was the absence of the key people he had expected to see. Both of his brothers were still in attendance, along with their spouses, though if Joxer was honest, the look Jayce was wearing could not be mistaken for friendly, under any circumstances. Jett was sporting some unforeseen combination of sour and amused, which didn’t bode well, regardless of the cause.
The party itself seemed to be in full swing, which did nothing to explain the look Jayce was aiming in his general direction. Joxer chose to believe that Jayce’s ire wasn’t explicitly focused at him but just concentrated near where he was standing. It was safer that way, for everyone. Xena and Ares were missing, which didn’t necessarily mean anything terrible had happened, and his own parents were missing which was typical as they weren’t fond of Olympus get-togethers, though they usually made some sort of appearance, for Jayce’s sake if for no other reason.
“Ma is smirking.” Strife commented nodding in the direction Jett and Eris were standing.
“Your mother is always smirking.” Joxer pointed out. He looked around again, spotting Cupid talking to Aphrodite. “Go talk to Cupid. Find out what happened.”
Strife was already heading in that direction before Joxer had finished speaking.
Joxer watched Strife move towards his husband and shifted his eyes across the room, studying the small groups of people carefully, trying to determine what may have happened in his absence. Nothing seemed out of order. Still, he couldn’t shake the feeling that something had happened.
“Must you always cause a scene?” Jayce asked dramatically as he strode up to his brother, face drawn in a frustrated scowl.
Joxer sighed. “Jayce, how exactly did I cause a scene? I haven’t even been here for most of the party.”
“Exactly!” Jayce stomped his foot. “Tall, Dark and crabby has been stalking around looking for you all evening. I don’t know why he even bothered to show up if all he was going to do was scowl at everyone. Eris has been glaring daggers at Apollo ever since you and Strife disappeared. I will never understand what Jett sees in that woman. She’s creepy. And to make everything perfect, Ares stopped scowling long enough to corner Xena and whatever they were talking about made him pass out. The God of War fainted at my party!
Joxer, I will never live this down!”
Joxer shook his head at the barrage, running it through his mental Jayce-filter and then frowned. “Ares passed out? Where is he?”
“Have fun baiting your father?” Eris asked sweetly as she stepped in front of her son on his way to Cupid. She nodded towards the side of the room Apollo was slumped in, speaking quietly with Artemis.
She had seen her son talking to Apollo, and while she didn’t begrudge Strife the desire to mend fences with his estranged father, knowing her son as she did, she wasn’t sure it was possible. Too many years had passed, and too much bad blood, and above everything else, Strife was her son. He could hold a grudge like no one’s business. She had seen the way Strife’s body had tensed during the conversation and how Strife had run off after Joxer broke up whatever had been said. While she was too far away to hear their exchange, she knew her son well enough to know that whatever they discussed had hurt Strife and probably just widened the gulf between father and son.
Strife snorted, his own eyes moving towards his father and his twin. “It’s not important.”
Eris reached out a hand and placed it against Strife’s cheek. “It’s important if he’s upset you again.”
“It’s fine, ma.” Strife smiled at her and then moved away slightly, not far, but enough to let her know he didn’t need her coddling. “I was upset about something he said, but Jox and ‘Dite made me see that maybe he’s just clueless…not cruel.”
Eris’ eyes drifted across the room again. “Apollo is a lot of things, but I don’t think he’s ruthless. If he said something to upset you, it was probably unintentional.” Her eyes narrowed on the Sun God. Of course, that didn’t mean she wouldn’t be observing him very carefully from now on.
“So…where’s Unk? I thought he’d be waiting around for Joxer to come back.”
Eris smirked. “Oh, he had to take a little trip…to the Underworld.”
“This is awkward,” Hades observed, peering from Thanatos to the God of War and back again.
Ares snarled and tried to stand up. He was still a little disoriented. “How did we end up down here?”
“I brought you,” Hecate answered with a raised eyebrow, daring the War God to challenge her.
Ares stared at her for a second and took a deep breath, let his anger go. He wasn’t about to challenge her. Aside from her being Joxer’s mother, she was scary, and God of War or no, he wasn’t afraid to say so. Anyone who said they weren’t fearful of Hecate was either a liar or a fool. “What happened?” He asked carefully.
Hecate smirked. “You tried to peek into things you shouldn’t, young Ares.” She patted him on the knee. “If you want to woo my son, the first thing you need to understand is that he has a destiny and sometimes that means that we can’t always follow where he leads and sometimes he has a need…sometimes he asks people to do things, and he can’t tell them why and they may never know…you have to have to trust in Joxer. There is a bigger tapestry at work…one we may never see.”
Ares tried to work out what she was saying, and what she wasn’t and how precisely it applied not only to what had happened earlier and the mission Xena was sent on but to his general understanding of Joxer.
“Joxer isn’t like other Gods,” Ares said, at last, his eyes straying not to Hecate but to Thanatos. Death simply nodded. Ares sighed, having suspected as much. He turned back to face Hecate “This destiny…it’s important, isn’t it?”
Hecate smiled and tilted her head. “I believe it’s time to return you to your party. I think Joxer has returned as well.”
Ares opened his mouth to protest. He wanted an answer to his question, but between one blink and the next he found himself not in the Underworld but sitting around Aphrodite’s table listening to her tell Hephaestus how she and Cupid planned to turn both Sparta and Athens upside down during the winter festival.
Aphrodite didn’t seem surprised in the least by his unexpected arrival. On the contrary, she turned to him and included him in the conversation as if his appearance had been expected.
Only on Olympus.
“Are you going to tell me what happened earlier?” Cupid asked after Strife had reached him.
Strife stared blankly back at him.
Cupid snorted. “Don’t give me that look. I saw you talking to ‘Pol, and I saw how upset you were when you disappeared. My mother left right afterward. This is not a coincidence.”
Strife looked away, surveying the room, his eyes once more tracking his father’s whereabouts. He saw him slumped in a corner sharing words with his aunt, Artemis. “How about you tell me what happened while I was gone instead?”
Cupid huffed out a sigh. “Pop has been making the rounds, scowling at everyone. I think he’s a little peeved you ran off, and Jox followed.” Cupid shrugged like it made no difference to him. “Then little ‘sis shows up, and Pop corners her. I don’t know what they were talking about, but it made Pop scowl some more, then he touched Xena, and the next thing I know, Pop’s lying on the floor…he passed out. What in Tartarus was that about?”
Strife grinned. “He probably tried to read Xena’s mind…find out where she’d been. Jox had her doing an errand for him. He would have blocked it so no one could read her.”
Cupid’s eyes widened slightly. “He blocked Pop? That won’t end well.”
Strife shrugged. “Whatever Jox asked her to do was probably important.”
“I know.” Cupid sighed. “Pop is just a little…intense when it comes to us. We’re all grown up now, but he likes to believe that he can protect us from…well, everything.” He paused for a second before continuing, “It’s gotten worse since you…since that thing with Callisto.”
“You mean since I died.” Strife said flatly.
Cupid swallowed heavily. He hated thinking about that time, how confused he had been…how devastated and alone. “Yeah, he uh, tried to get Hades to release you, or something, but Hades wouldn’t even let anyone see you.”
Strife took a deep breath before letting it out slowly. “That was my fault.”
Joxer watched as Ares returned to the party in what was apparently not under his own power. He had that perplexed expression on his face which told Joxer more about where he had been then any of the information he had garnered by other observers.
Ares spoke to Aphrodite briefly before he turned in his seat and looked around the semi-full ballroom. His gaze went first to his nephew and son, then across the room to where Joxer stood, drinking something blue. Joxer lifted his drink slightly and grinned at him.
Ares narrowed his eyes and stood up, moving across the distance separating them. “You’ve returned,” Ares said quietly.
“So have you,” Joxer observed. “You really should have listened when you were told to stay out of Xena’s head.”
Ares looked uncomfortable for a second before scowling. “She’s my daughter. I was…concerned.”
“Were you? And did you imagine that I would have injured her in some fashion? Or perhaps you thought she couldn’t take care of herself?” Joxer smirked slightly. “No, neither of those…perhaps you just don’t like being left out of the loop.”
Ares scowl deepened, but he didn’t say anything. He didn’t really have anything he could say.
“Your mother suggested we should talk,” Ares said finally, ignoring his actions and his reasoning, for the moment.
“Did she?” Joxer raised a brow. “Somehow I think she did less suggesting and more vaguely threatening.”
“Your mother is…interesting,” Ares said carefully.
“I think the adjective you’re looking for is scary,” Joxer smirked.
Ares opened his mouth to deny that he was afraid of Joxer’s mother but then thought better of the blatant lie and closed his mouth. “Maybe you’re right. She is a little frightening.”
Joxer smiled, pleased that Ares was willing to admit to the truth. “All right. We probably should talk…before this gets any more complicated.”
“This?” Ares frowned.
Joxer sighed. “Father told me you asked them for permission to court me and that they granted it. However, I don’t think you fully understand the situation.”
Ares wanted to know how exactly Thanatos had told Joxer anything. It wasn’t his experience that the God spoke in any way either mortal or God understood. However, Ares more immediate concern with Joxer’s statement was that Joxer didn’t seem on board with the courting idea.
“What’s to understand? You are a God. I’m a God. We’re immortal. End of story.”
Joxer snorted. “The future I’ve prophesied will come to pass.” Joxer began, becoming serious and placing a hand on Ares’ arm, teleporting them in a flash of subdued power. “These beings will walk the world one day. I must prepare for that eventuality.” Ares looked around their new location and recognized Joxer’s temple. He moved his eyes across the disturbing images depicted on the tapestries lining the dark walls. He thought of a world in which these scary demonic creatures roamed free, how different would it be from the world of now with Harpies and Hydras. These things were not God-created but something else…something darker.
“These…things…there’s no stopping them?” Ares asked, already guessing the answer.
“No.” Joxer shook his head. “It’s too late for that. They are still forming, it’s true. Still young, infants, really but, there is no stopping them, not anymore. That time is passed.”
“Infants?” Ares tilted his head slightly. “Wouldn’t it be easier to kill them now then, while they are weaker?”
“It wouldn’t help.” Joxer walked away, his fingers brushing softly over one of the tapestries. “Besides, the things I have seen…some of them…they have to happen. These horrors are the darkness that must exist before humanities future generations are ready to fight it.”
“I can help,” Ares said seriously.
Joxer sighed. “I know you think you can, Ares, but this isn’t like any battle you’ve ever started. This is…different. I don’t think even you are prepared for what’s coming.”
“Whatever you have Xena doing…it’s tied to this?” Ares asked carefully, trying, against his usual practice, not to press for information Joxer wasn’t ready to share.
“Yes,” Joxer answered simply. “Ares, I know you want to know more, but it just isn’t safe.” He paused, hesitating slightly, not sure if he should leave well enough alone but deciding to just get it over with. “I also know you think that we can work something out, I assume, between us.”
Ares smirked at Joxer’s hesitance and the slight confusion he was showing at the change in subject. He was evidently not nearly as confident on the future of their relationship as he was on the future of the world. “You assume? Joxer, I would think, at the very least, your friendship with my nephew would have taught you to never assume anything, especially where I am concerned.”
Joxer scowled. “If we were talking about a quick romp in the fields, we wouldn’t even be having this or any conversation.”
“Is that so?” Ares queried, curious.
Joxer narrowed his eyes. “I’m not sure where you got your information, but I am not opposed to meaningless sex.” He paused, his eyes shifting to their more natural fathomless state. “But that isn’t what you want. If it were, you wouldn’t have gone to my parents.” Joxer sighed. “You shouldn’t have done that.”
“It was the proper thing to do,” Ares said as if it was apparent.
“I know, Ares. But my parents, they’re well…my parents. They love me; they want me to be happy and to find love and all of that crap that keeps people worshiping Aphrodite.”
Ares raised an eyebrow. “That’s as it should be, Joxer. As my parents want for me, and what I want for my own children.”
Joxer nodded. “True. My brothers, they’ve found people to make them happy, but I don’t think my mother ever truly believed there was any hope for me, not with the path I must walk.” He looked up, and Joxer narrowed his eyes again. “And then here you come, the God of War, walking into the Underworld and doing things the proper way. Asclepius courted Jayce, but he still won’t go anywhere near the Underworld unless someone is ill, and while he’ll interact with Mother around Olympus, Father still freaks him out a little. Needless to say, he did not ask their permission to court Jayce.”
“I’m sure that went over well with Thanatos.” Ares grinned.
“Not especially,” Joxer said dryly. “He takes any opportunity to scare him, just because he can. It’s become a game.” Joxer shook his head. “My point is that you’ve made things very difficult for me. You endeared yourself to my parents both by following protocol and by just wanting to court me. I can’t really deny you without making things awkward.”
“Do you want to deny me?” Ares asked. He stepped closer to Joxer. “Do you want to deny me? Not because of your destiny or what you think is best, but because you, yourself don’t want me, or what we could be?”
Joxer paused and then sagged. “No.”
“Nothing else matters,” Ares said, a smirk forming. His eyes moved back to the tapestries, his mind drifting towards the future and what horrors awaited them.
He finally looked back to Joxer. “You have a plan?”
“I do.” Joxer nodded.
“It sounds like you’ll be fighting a war,” Ares observed.
Joxer blinked. “With the preternatural.” He allowed.
“But a war nonetheless.” Ares pointed out. “Who better to help than the God of War?”
Joxer blinked again. What could he say to that?
“Are you giving up?” Artemis asked as she watched her nephews across the room. They were speaking quietly to one another, and neither looked happy about what was being discussed.
“What?” Apollo asked in confusion. “Why would you think I was giving up?”
Artemis shrugged. “That’s what you usually do when things get too…complicated.”
Apollo slumped in his chair. “Fair point.” He allowed. “But this is my son.”
Artemis snorted. “You say that is if he’s the only one, and as if that makes one iota of difference.”
Apollo opened his mouth to retort but then shut it. She had made a valid point, again. Still, this was different. “This is different.”
“How?” Artemis asked.
Apollo wasn’t sure what to say because he wasn’t entirely sure why it was different, but it was.
“Is this because he died?” Artemis asked quietly, her shrewd eyes studying her twin.
Apollo started to shake his head but stopped. Was it? Maybe that was part of the reason, but not the only one. “Perhaps, a little bit, but Artie, he’s so angry, and I…just don’t want him to hate me.” He finished solemnly.
“He has reason to be angry, ‘Pol.” Artemis pointed out. “You need to decide whether or not you’re willing to follow this through because I can tell you if you start down this path…to fix things with Strife, and then change your mind, you’re going to have a lot of pissed off Gods on your hands, and that side of the family? They hold grudges…long ones.”
Apollo nodded. “I’ll think about it.” He offered, knowing she was right, but also knowing he couldn’t just let this go.
The Demon God screamed. His anger was a living thing. He couldn’t feel his daughter any longer. She was gone from this world. Gone, but not dead. He couldn’t sense her shade. Someone had trapped her. He didn’t know who, and he didn’t know how, but without her, his plans were ruined. She was the Mother of so many. Her work wasn’t near finished though. The children already birthed would have to suffice.
He looked around and wished he could just create another like her, but her own mother had gotten herself killed and cut off the doorway between worlds. Still, so long as he held his present host, he could travel between them. He could devise a new plan. And looking as he did, he might even be able to wreak some havoc as a bonus.
“How is the courtship going?” Hecate asked as she watched her son quietly. He seemed to be focusing inward.
At her question, he turned toward his mother and rolled his eyes. “Why are you pushing this?”
“Joxer, son. I love you. And I know you. You have a great burden, it’s true, but you do not have to bear that burden alone.”
“There’s work to be done. I don’t have time to be…courting.”
Hecate raised an eyebrow. “You have nothing but time.”
“Mother, things are complicated.” Joxer tried again.
“Things will always be complicated, son.” She responded. “But, if you don’t allow someone in, you’ll not only be unhappy, but you’ll crack under the pressure.”
“I’ve let people in.” Joxer protested. “Strife, my brothers…”
Hecate stared at her son, the inky black of her eyes saying more than any words could.
“Okay, I’ll try.”
“Excellent.” Hecate smiled. “Now, are you still fighting with your brothers?”
Joxer frowned. “I wouldn’t call it fighting, exactly.” Joxer hedged. His mother wasn’t pleased when the triplets fought, and she always seemed to know when something was going on with one of them.
“Jayce seemed rather put out after his party,” Hecate observed, her fingers adjusting one of her plants while she turned away from her son.
“He’s difficult.” Joxer agreed, “but he’s not truly angry.”
“No.” Hecate nodded to herself. “Jett?”
“He’s a bit more problematic,” Joxer admitted. “He’s still upset I didn’t tell them the truth about my time in the mortal world.”
“He thinks you don’t trust him.” A whisper came to him through the wind.
“No, father, that’s not it…I don’t think.” Joxer frowned. He honestly wasn’t sure whether his father was correct or not. “He would have tried to help.”
“That’s what family is for,” Thanatos told him patiently.
“He can’t help with this.” Joxer scowled. “I don’t get involved with his business.”
“Joxer.” Thanatos mind-voice didn’t shift, but Joxer could feel the irritation.
“Sorry.” He whispered.
“You’re all good boys,” Hecate said with a smile. “Just different.”
Joxer watched as the demon wreaked chaos around the village. The people were unaware of the Dark God in their midst, and Joxer was tempted, oh so tempted to intervene. Not only to save the village people but to try to save what was left of the soul of the man the God had possessed.
However, it wasn’t time yet. Joxer still needed to wait.
Soon though. Soon, he would be able to free Iolaus, and trap Dahok.
You must have patience, young one. The voice whispered through Joxer’s head, and he sighed, feeling the presence drifting through the wind, so like his own mother’s infinite patience, yet different.
“I know.” He whispered back. He waited a moment to see if the Titaness had any further wisdom to offer, but there was only silence. “Very well.”
His great-grandmother had done her duty and moved on, but sometimes she liked to take a look at what was going on.
Joxer supposed she was something he and Apollo had in common. Perhaps they were not too far removed after all. If Phoebe had felt safe enough to leave her duties in his safekeeping maybe there was hope for him yet.
Joxer opened his eyes and stared into the darkness. He could feel the chill in the room covering everything. There was a dense fog that tended to drift in the air when the temperature was lowered. It was another side-effect of Hecate’s influence.
Joxer had inherited more than one gift from his mother, but it was his ties to his father which grounded his power the most. Grounded him and troubled him equally.
Jett was his father’s son but had grown into his own godhood in a way that made his parents proud. Jayce, while dedicated to his duties, was equally committed to other pursuits, and had left his upbringing in the Underworld behind. Hecate and Thanatos didn’t begrudge him his freedom though they did wish he’d visit more often.
Joxer was the odd middle child, a perfect blending of both parents. Something that at times had caused dissension among his brothers. He didn’t have Jett’s penchant for causing death, but he was attuned to its frequencies. He could also sense magical energies in the world in a way few others could manage.
His grandmother believed this was due to his Godhood and the future that lie ahead of him.
His visions weren’t always clear, but they very rarely were meaningless. Even more, rarely did something he See not have some bearing on his godhood or his task ahead or some challenge he would have to undertake.
Of late, he’d seen the objects he needed to secure. It helped him to know where and when to send Xena. Some of these things were necessary and needed protecting until he could release them for their own dark purposes. They would eventually make their way to the proper place, at the appropriate time, but only if he put the pieces in play now.
Then this vision.
He could sense the power in the stone, its age, and flashes of the battle with the Titans where it had been put to use before. It had been many years since then, a time forgot by mortal man. In fact, he’d be surprised if most of the Gods even knew about what had occurred. Still, this could be the answer he was looking for.
Joxer approached the cave cautiously. He wasn’t nervous exactly, but he did want to get some insight from his grandmother. She always understood him better than most. Perhaps it was the nature of her children and her understanding of things.
Clotho looked up from her spinning and smiled at him.
“Are you keeping Ares out of trouble, Cousin?” Atropos cackled.
Joxer ignored the questions and moved towards the back where his grandmother sat weaving a quilt.
“Who is this one for?” Joxer asked quietly. His grandmother seemed to know about additions on Olympus way before they were announced and she liked to weave baby blankets as a combination welcome gift and protection.
“I don’t think I’ll share, child. You’ll have to wait just like everyone else.” She continued her weaving, but Joxer noticed a twinkle in her eye.
Joxer frowned. His grandmother usually only became silent on the matter of new and upcoming births if it affected Joxer in some way. He wasn’t sure he wanted to push, so he left it alone.
“I’ve had a vision,” Joxer said as he sat down across from her.
Nix nodded. That in and of itself wasn’t surprising.
“I think, it may be the key to containing Dahok.”
Nix nodded again. She had been waiting for the answer to come to him, whether that be by self-realization or his own foresight, she hadn’t been able to determine.
“And does your vision trouble you, young Joxer.” Nix watched the young god, her dark eyes seeing through him. This one, of all her children’s children, had the potential to understand what fate had in store.
“Troubling? Not exactly, grandmother. However, I see how it could benefit both the present and the future.” Joxer sighed.
“Do you also see how they used it in the past?” Nix asked quietly, knowing of what he spoke.
“Yes,” Joxer answered sadly.
“Then, you know what you must do, who you must ask?” Nix continued solemnly.
“It cannot be helped,” Joxer answered.
Nix smiled. Her grandson had a strong spirit. Perhaps it was time she spoke to Ares on his behalf.
Joxer entered the Temple of Memory cautiously. Acolytes were going about their business, but no other immortals. There was a raised dais to the left which had terracotta bowls filled with some sort of liquid that Joxer dare not touch. He remembered his mother’s lessons on the service Mnemosyne provided to mortals.
“It has been a long time since a child of Night has visited me.” The disembodied voice came from everywhere at once.
Joxer turned to where a throne would have been in a typical temple. “I don’t suppose we have need of your aid.”
“And yet, here you are, Son of Thanatos, Son of Hecate.” Mnemosyne materialized in front of him, her face ageless, but her crystal blue eyes curious.
“Yes. Here I am.” Joxer agreed.
“What need has the God of Demonic Prophecy of me?” Mnemosyne asked.
“The Stone of Creation,” Joxer said quietly.
Mnemosyne’s expression didn’t change, but her eyes darkened. The two stared at each other for a long moment before she sighed. “May I know what purpose you wish it for?”
“You wish to use it to exorcise him from the mortal Iolaus?” Mnemosyne clarified.
“In a manner of speaking. I wish to use the Stone to trap him.” Joxer knew what he was proposing was not easily done and not something easily explained, even to a Titan.
“Can you kill him?” Mnemosyne asked carefully.
Joxer hesitated. “Not now.”
“Can you send him back to his realm?” Mnemosyne pressed.
Joxer hesitated again because if his plan worked Dahok would not return to where he had been hiding for millennia, but neither would he have the power he once did. “I can sever his connection to this world until such a time as those who are able to defeat him permanently are equipped to do so.”
Mnemosyne stared at him, weighing his words carefully before she nodded. “Very well.” She opened a viewing mirror through time and showed him where the Stone would be found. “You do understand that the Stone will most likely be destroyed if you alter it in any way?”
Joxer smiled sadly. “If I am successful, it will no longer be needed.”
“Then I wish you luck.” She placed a palm on his forehead. “I grant you a boon, Joxer, Son of Thanatos. May time treat you kindly, and that you shall grow into the new gift I have granted you this day.” She removed her hand and stepped back. “I do not think we shall meet again.”
Before Joxer could say anything, the Titan had disappeared.
“I have another task for you,” Joxer said as he approached his friend. She was cleaning a fish, and her posture indicated she had been expecting him.
“Okay.” Xena nodded as she continued cleaning. The jobs she was doing might not have been in the plan for her life, if she had ever had such a thing, but they were important, and they helped her deal with what had happened to Gabrielle.
Joxer continued to watch her quietly. It was a little unsettling. “Is something wrong, Joxer?” Xena asked carefully.
Joxer turned away before focusing on the rolled-up scroll he held in his hands. He motioned with the scroll. “This one is different from the others.”
Xena got up and stepped a little further away to wash and dry her hands before returning and taking the scroll. “How so?”
“There’s a deep cavern outside Thalius. The cavern is far beneath the Earth. You’ll have to follow a line of hot springs to reach an opening where you may enter. Once inside, I do not know what you will face, not exactly.”
“And what’s in this cavern? Will I be able to breathe once inside?” Xena unrolled the scroll and looked at the map.
“There’s a crystal there. It’s important that I retrieve it.” He paused for a moment. “Essential.” He watched her for a moment before continuing. “Before you get to the opening, break the outer shell of this.” Joxer handed her a necklace. Joxer carefully held it out to her by the braided leather acting as a chain.
Xena lifted the leather equally carefully and looked at the pendant. It was odd. She shifted it in her hand, almost afraid to touch it. There was what looked like a tiny version of the night sky suspended in a thin layer of what looked like a transparent bubble, like those made from soap. But as she turned it, she noticed a weird iridescent glow emanated from it.
Joxer lifted a hand, and the necklace moved, the leather twining itself around her wrist, once, twice, three times until it was tight.
Xena grunted an acknowledgment to his words as she examined the map more closely. There didn’t seem to be any easy access to the cavern that was marked on the map. She saw the path of the hot springs, and from what the map indicated there didn’t seem to be a better path. In her experience, sometimes other routes were available even if not often used or mapped out, but without actually seeing the terrain herself she wouldn’t if that was the case here.
“Have you been here?” Xena asked, eyes memorizing the details.
“How accurate is this map?” She wanted to know if she could make a plan based on this or not.
“I drew it from memory.” He answered.
Xena looked up at him for a moment and then turned back to the map. “Okay. What’s the timeline?”
Joxer smiled at her acceptance. She hadn’t taken long to realize that he was different from the persona she had first met and had been open to learning who he truly was.
“To you, you’ll have one cycle of the moon to retrieve the stone and make your way out of the cavern and back to the location where I will leave you. Time will be moving differently here than where you are, so if you need help, I will be unable to provide it. By the time I would receive an alert and could respond, too much time would have passed for you to make any difference.”
Xena’s eyes widened. “How much time?” She knew the Gods were capable of time travel, but she had no idea how they did it or what could happen.
“One moon cycle where you are going is only a full day here.”
Xena stared at him in disbelief for a second and then just nodded once. “I won’t be late.”