by VC Noble
XVI ~ XVII ~ XVIII ~ XIX ~ XX
Brett was awake by dawn the next morning, determined to get up and take a look around. He wanted to study the temple grounds, but only one thing stopped him. He had no clothes.
Ped knocked on the door and walked in before he could answer. "So, how many minutes was it?"
"You said you'd be counting the minutes before my arrival," Ped said saucily. "How many minutes was it?"
He groaned. "Do you take everything literally?"
She grinned. "Only sometimes. Now, I think you might need this?" She handed him a package.
He took it. "What is it?"
"Clothes, courtesy of the warlord wing. They send their well wishes and look forward to fighting with you."
Brett shook his head. "How did you know?"
She cocked her eyebrow. "My dear, you will find that I know everything. Now get dressed. Kim wants to escort you to breakfast, feed you to the lions and all of that." She turned and headed for the door.
She stopped, but didn't turn around out of deference for his modesty. "Yes, wounded warrior Brett."
Ped smiled at the humble note in his voice. "You're very welcome. You've got three minutes before Kim comes barreling through here."
Brett was dressed two and a half minutes later when KimD came in.
"Ready for breakfast?"
"I suppose," he said, looking down at his clothes. Everything fit perfectly.
"Wow, you look good!" KimD complimented. "Nice leathers."
He shrugged. "Is someone else my size here?"
"Nah, Ped guessed when she gave instructions to the seamstress. She's good, isn't she?" KimD went over and held out her arm. "Now, let me tell you a little bit about myself."
By the time they got to the dining hall, KimD had told Brett about her latest vacation and the most recent party in the temple. The other priestesses stopped their conversations when the two of them walked in. Those who knew what Hades looked like were stunned. The others just thought he was quite a handsome fellow.
KimD made the introductions as she had him sit down. He was glad to see Séi and nodded at Ped. Tyrus and Diviant exchanged knowing glances then gave him a hearty welcome. Lapis, in her human form, gave him a smile. The warlords shouted out loud greetings and playfully threatened to train him good when the time came.
Ares watched the scene before him, undetected by his priestesses and warlords. Discord appeared beside him.
"So, that's him. Kinda cute," she said, licking her lips.
"Don't even think about it, Discord," he warned.
"Oh why ever not, Ares? You know, I've always thought Hades was cute in that dark, brooding way. Now here is a mortal version of him. Delicious!"
"He's not for you. Unless you want to incur the wrath of my priestesses, you'd do good to stay away."
"Do good? Who wants to do good? The name is Discord! And what puny priestess of yours could touch me? Not one!"
"He belongs to Kiari," Ares said quietly, firmly.
Discord balked. "Kiari? The sometime, part-time goddess? Why does he belong to her? She's already got Hades wrapped around her little finger, that thief when he's not off with someone else and some guy named Rafe in the wings. You really give her way too much leeway, Ares. Maybe I should take care of her. I offed her once, I could do it again."
"Touch her or any of the others and I'll make sure you suffer."
"Oh don't tease me, Ares," Discord purred. Ares didn't respond. "Fine, I know when I'm not wanted. Perhaps I'll just go and make some trouble elsewhere."
With a shrug, Discord disappeared. Ares just shook his head, thinking maybe he should have just left the pesky goddess as a chicken. Then he felt Kiari enter the temple. He waited until she was in her room before appearing to her...
(top of page)
She was in the middle of changing her clothes when he came up behind her. "Gads, Ares! I hate it when you sneak up on me like that?"
His arms came around her. "Hmm, so you say."
She turned to face him, a smile on her lips. "You are incorrigible."
"Just part of package," he grinned at her, dropping a kiss on her forehead before releasing her. He watched her as she put her leather leggings on, then her leather top. Leather, he thought to himself, just does something to those curves.
Kiari shook her head at him, catching his thoughts.
"How was the underworld?" Ares asked.
"The same. The staff is overworked but managing. I'll probably have to make another trip tonight."
Ares nodded. "And Hades? How is he?"
Pleasantries, Kiari thought to herself. "He's overworked as well, but handling it quite well. He promoted my sister to keeper of the Elysian Fields."
"Really? Interesting. Doesn't she overlook your duties when you're not there?"
"Yes." Kiari was brushing her hair and tying it back. "But really, the Elysian Fields are the easiest to manage. It'll be good for her. She was glad to see me. She doesn't particularly like the counseling part of my duties. And Hades wants me to take on more responsibilities."
"Does he? Well, as long as they don't interfere with your duties here. I have an assignment for you."
"I want you to begin training with Brett."
"Me? But why me?" She couldn't help but question.
"You've been neglecting your training for too long," Ares stated. "Your sword fighting is only adequate. I want it excellent."
"I've been practicing with the knives and daggers," she said.
"Yes, but you also need to work on the hand to hand combat."
"With Brett? He's staying then?"
Ares smiled. "He's staying. Did you doubt it?"
"I don't know his plans," she said.
"He fights in my name. He owes me for my generosity in letting him stay here. He knows his duty well and considers staying here his reward. You might take a lesson from that."
Kiari began chewing on her bottom lip, eyes averted. "It's just--"
"You're not going to refuse, are you?" He drawled
"No, of course not. I will do as you bid."
"Of course you will. Besides, I sense he trusts you the most. An important factor in a partner."
Kiari's eyes met his. "Partner? What do you mean?"
"I mean that I want the two of you functioning as one unit. Call it an experiment. I want you inside his head and he in yours. You're capable and he's willing. He will do whatever I command."
Questions bubbled inside of her, but she kept silent. Then, in a swift change of subject, she blurted out, "Hades proposed to me."
Ares just stared at her for a moment, not sure he heard her correctly. "Proposed what?" He asked slowly.
"He wants me to be the Lady Consort to the Underworld," Kiari answered quietly.
Ares stepped back, fury lining his face. "Impossible! I will not allow it! What is he thinking? No, I know, he's not thinking. What of his wife? Persephone would have his head on a platter if he does it. And he'll never get the support of any of other gods."
"I haven't given him an answer yet," she interrupted.
"I'll tell you what your answer is- NO! You are not going to become his Lady Consort, do you hear me?"
"The whole temple can hear you when you bellow like that," she said, her voice even.
"How can you even consider a proposal from a married man?" Ares barked, her unmoving demeanor angering him even more.
"Ares, he's my Imzadi! You just don't understand, do you? I love him. He was the first one to touch my soul, the first kiss, the first love! It is an unbreakable bond, stronger than my vow to you."
"Stronger than his bond to Persephone? I don't think so. No, I believe he just wants it all. Well, he can't have it. You won't agree to his proposal," he said, his voice hard, unyielding.
"I didn't say I would. I haven't made my decision."
"Let me make it for you. Tell him no and end it there. He should just be glad I allow you to visit the other side at all. It would do well to remind him."
"When I make my decision, he'll be the first to know," Kiari said stubbornly.
Ares glared at her. "I already know what your answer will be. Brett is in the dining hall with the others. Give him a tour of the temple, get to know him. I want the two of you out on the practice field by dawn tomorrow. I'll send Heraclid and Derex to work with you."
"As you wish."
With a curt nod, Ares flashed out of the room, leaving Kiari alternately confused and fuming.
A knock at her door snapped her out of her thoughts...
(top of page)
"Come in," Kiari called out.
The door didn't open, but someone came in nonetheless.
"Hello Kiari," Psyche said.
"Psyche! Good morning," Kiari greeted. "Um, what are you doing here?"
Cupid's wife smiled. "Well, I told Ares that I wanted to discuss your duties at Cupid's temple."
Kiari wrinkled her nose. "I know, I've been neglecting the petitions. I promise, tomorrow."
"It's okay, Kiari. I'm not here to scold you or anything. Actually, I'm here to help. Ped thinks you might need a trip to the first realm."
The first realm? "Why?"
Psyche just shook her head. "You know the answer to that one. Or you will when we get there."
Before Kiari could protest, Psyche took the priestess by the hand and the two of them disappeared from her room.
They appeared in a non-descript land, a meadow setting, almost identical to the grounds surrounding Ares' temple, but Kiari knew that it was not.
"Well, she said she would be here," Psyche mumbled, looking around.
"Ped, silly. She's the one who can help you. I'm just staying to see what happens."
Kiari nodded, looking around. The place was familiar and she knew that the path just beyond the trees would take her to her mother's land. How she missed her mother! She almost started for the path when Ped appeared.
"Ah no, you're not here for that," she said.
"What am I here for?"
"Kiari, you must regain more of your memories to help you make your decision about Hades and Brett," Ped said.
"How do you know about Hades?" Kiari asked, eyes widening.
Ped laughed. "You forget so easily, sibling! I know everything. And you would too if you would just get into goddess mode. Geez! Psyche, didn't you tell her?"
"Oops, forgot that part!" The goddess giggled.
With a thought, Kiari stood before them in her goddess gown. The surface memory emerged.
"So that's where I know him from!" Kiari exclaimed. "He was my last assignment--"
"There's more," Ped said, tapping Kiari's forehead. "Right there."
Kiari frowned, then an ancient memory, buried beneath her current lifetime, awakened.
(top of page)
In a place faraway and in a time long ago, they lived in a land wrought with war and intrigue.
She was the daughter of a noble family. An intelligent woman who had a seat on the governing council. Independent and educated, she was considered a more than decent candidate for marriage. But she had her opponents as well.
He was the son of the king. A handsome warrior who fought in the name of honor and justice. His family was the most powerful of the land, influential in all affairs. Anyone allied to them would be set for life.
Their parents arranged the match based mostly on connections. The ruling family needed new blood infused into their lines. The noble family wanted the prestige of one of their own becoming royalty. Luckily for all, the two were in love. Their very souls were bound together in a nameless wonder, a haven against all the chaos.
Their wedding was a lavish event, befitting the son of the most powerful family in the land. All the most important people were there, but it mattered not to the couple, who did not care for all the fanfare. All they wanted was that night together, their first "official" night.
They had one perfect moment of peace. Then it was ripped away by the stab of an assassin's dagger.
Her spirit stood beside him, sorrow reflecting his pain. She heard his vow before the darkness took her.
His tears flowed into her eyes. "I will find you, my beloved. My soul shall not rest until I hold you in my arms once more. I promise you."
At first it was thought that he was the original target, but soon the word spread that her enemies had wanted the alliance with him. He found the assassins and the ones who ordered the hit. Even when it was revealed to be a powerful family, he killed them, all of them, his hate and sorrow driving him. He never married again and threatened even his own family if anyone suggested it.
Kiari sank to her knees, the rush of memories overwhelming. As she thought of him again, the tears began to fall. So much pain, so much sorrow. So much time had passed.
"That was me," she whispered. She did not question the idea of a lifetime before her goddesshood. She only knew it to be true.
Ped sighed. Her sibling could be so emotional. "Yes, Kiari, that was you. But don't you see, he's found you. Bring his soul to rest."
Kiari looked up. "But I won't remember all of this. How can I bring his soul to rest when I won't even remember that we were beloveds so long ago?"
"You'll remember some of it," Ped smiled. "And there is the surface memory..."
In what turned out to be her last favor to Celesta, Kiari had taken the candle to retrieve the soul of a fallen warrior. His name was Garek, a man of honor and loyalty. His death was exactly the way he wanted it-- bloody and on the battlefield.
When Kiari retrieved his soul, she fell into conversation with the man, who was not surprised to find himself dead. He had only one regret.
"My lady, I ask one request-- a last visit to my young brother. He's like a son to me and I want to tell him all the things I never could."
Kiari was thoughtful. "The only way I can grant this is through a dream. I cannot promise you that he will remember, but I can bring you to him."
"I would be so ever grateful, my lady."
Kiari smiled and took his hand to the realm of dreams. She watched as Garek and his brother fought one of their familiar practices. She was struck even then at young Brett's resemblance to Hades, but even more she was drawn by his power and skill as a warrior. Garek finally took his brother aside and spoke with him, advising him to carry on the family name with pride and honor. Brett nodded solemnly. This speech was familiar, Kiari could see, but not its end. Garek hugged his brother tight, surprising him with its intensity.
Kiari stepped forward, a vision bathed in golden light. She smiled at the one still living, then gently reminded the soul it was time for the other side. Brett's eyes widened at the sight of her and in that moment, she knew he would not forget this dream. But she reminded him nonetheless.
"Remember your brother's words. Know that his death was as he wished it and he died with honor." She kissed his forehead and he faded away, back to the land of the living.
"Thank you, my lady," Garek said.
"I will watch over him, warrior," she promised as they went to the other side...
"And I did watch over him, until I left the underworld," Kiari murmured.
"You visited his dreams," Ped said. "It was one of the other reasons why Morpheus banished you."
Kiari remembered that as well. Morpheus had been furious that his daughter was visiting a mortal in his dreams, interacting with him. It was one thing to show a dreamer a path to a solution, but quite another to develop a relationship with that dreamer. A lesser concern compared to the fact of her lost virginity.
As everything clicked into place, she stood up and faced Ped and Psyche.
"I know my path now," Kiari said, her decision made...
(top of page)
Brett found Kiari in the gardens, her eyes on the blossoming hills and blue skies. She stood very still, a thoughtful expression on her face.
She turned, her eyes squinting from the late morning sun. "Brett."
He gave her a smile as he approached and stopped before her. He hadn't realized he was so much taller, but she managed maintain eye contact with her face just slightly upturned.
"You look too troubled for such a beautiful day," he said quietly.
She allowed a small smile. "I have a lot of things on my mind. I am very glad to see you up and about. You look quite healed."
"Do I? I feel a little sore, but I think I'll live. I missed you at breakfast."
"I'm sure my sister priestesses took good care of you," Kiari said. She gave him a onceover. "They certainly had the seamstress working hard. I bet Ped gave these to you."
A quizzical expression crossed his features. "She did."
"She's good at guessing sizes. One of her many skills. So how was breakfast?"
"Great. Carnation is a wonderful chef," Brett complimented. "And your sister priestesses are very... lively."
Kiari laughed at his polite description. "Most definitely lively. You should see them at a party."
"Kim was telling me about your parties. It seems very strange to think that the god of war has parties in his temple."
"Perhaps," Kiari conceded. "But Ares is quite accommodating to his priestesses. We do as he bids and he rewards us in many different ways. Parties are one of them."
"Have you fought in any battles for him?" Brett asked, curious.
"I have watched battles and have occasionally participated," she answered slowly. "Generally, I stay away. The battles are bloody and many die. I end up working with a lot of them in the underworld."
His eyebrows shot up. "The underworld?"
She figured he might as well know. "Probably one of my most important duties as priestess of Ares is my position as Liaison to Hades. I play messenger between the two and when I'm in the underworld, I work with the incoming souls."
"Are you a goddess?"
Although he did not physically back away, Kiari could feel the distance. "A lesser and part time goddess," she admitted.
"Part time? Is that possible?"
"For awhile, it was. It's getting to be more and more difficult. I can call upon it more easily now, but the constant changing becomes a strain. I suppose I need to decide on what exactly I want to be." She could see that Brett had no answer. "Come, Ares wants me to give you a tour of the temple and I'm sure you're curious about the place."
He smiled. "Actually, I was going to explore it myself. I would be very honored to have you as my guide." He held out his arm and she linked her arm through his.
They headed first to her weaving room.
"This is what I do when I'm here at the temple. As you can see, I've been neglecting my duties. It's a lucky thing I've a healthy supply. Most of my tapestries are sold at the nearest village."
He studied one of the tapestries on the wall. It was a temple scene and he saw many of the priestesses he had met at breakfast. "You do beautiful work," he marveled.
"Thank you," she murmured.
Next was the warlord wing, then the guest wing.
"You'll need a room here," Kiari realized. "Most of the men sleep in the warlord wing, but if you'd like a room in the guest wing?"
Brett shrugged. "Maybe somewhere in between?"
"I think that can be arranged," she smiled.
They stopped at the armory. Séi was nowhere to be seen.
"Probably taking her dog for a walk," Kiari said.
Brett caught sight of his sword. He picked it up, appreciating its polished look. "This was my brother's sword," he said quietly. "After he died, one of his men gave it to me."
Kiari nodded, remembering Garek.
Brett saw that look in her eyes again. "Something is wrong," he said.
"No," she shook her head. "I was just remembering."
"Garek had the sword in his hand when he died," she said softly. "I was there to retrieve his soul."
The revelation shook him and instinctively, he drew the sword on her. All he could think was that here stood a priestess of Ares, admitting she took his brother's soul. "You killed him."
Her eyes widened and she quickly drew her own sword. "Brett, no. It was his time."
He shook his head, remembering the decade old pain. "No, he was in his prime. He shouldn't have died!" He swung his sword.
She met his blow. "Don't do this. Your brother died with honor, just the way he wanted."
"You took him!" He swung his sword again.
Although Kiari wasn't the most skilled at the sword, she knew she was at an advantage and easily blocked all his advances. Finally, she pushed him back and kicked him right in the stomach. He landed on his back, his sword skidding across the floor. She threw her sword down and was quickly on top of him, holding him as he struggled to get up.
"Not yet," she commanded. "Have you forgotten your dream?"
back to Prologue - V / VI - X / XI - XV
onward to XXI - XXV / XXVI to Conclusion
back to FICTION
© 1998 VCN