Gods at Play

by VC Noble

Prologue ~ I ~ II ~ III ~ IV ~ V

Prologue

Once, long ago...

In a faraway land of constant warring and endless intrigue, their very souls were bound together in a nameless wonder, a haven against all the chaos. One glance, one touch could soothe the confusion or the anger or the pain. They believed that their love would exist through time and space, that nothing could tear them apart.

As he held her in his arms on their wedding night, the glow of their love still on their skin, he knew that this was the most perfect thing in his life. As she snuggled closer to him, she could not imagine the world without him.

In a sudden rush, he was pulled away from his love. He heard her scream. He fought his captors and when he finally made his way back to her, blood was rushing from her, death in her eyes.

"Nooo!" He cradled her in his arms even as her soul departed.

"Don't leave!" He cried, but she could only cry with him, a silent shadow fading into the moonlight. As his tears flowed into her eyes, he made a vow from the pits of his soul. "I will find you, my beloved. My soul shall not rest until I hold you in my arms once more. I promise you."

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I

It was a beautiful morning one day in early spring. Persephone, goddess of the season, alighted the steps of Cupid's temple to visit the god of love. Oh, she could have easily popped in on him, but she wanted to see how her touches were blooming throughout the land. Everything looked lovely.

She found him in his throne room, looking over some scrolls. His handsome face lit up with a smile when he saw his visitor.

"Well good morning, Persephone. What brings you by?"

"I've got a proposal, oh god of love," she said to him. "And you're just the one I need."

"Uh-oh, sounds like you've got some mischief in mind."

Was she so transparent? "An experiment, if you will."

Cupid raised an eyebrow. "Shoot."

Persephone told him her idea. After her speech, Cupid shook his head.

"I don't know Persephone, I'd have two very powerful gods angry with me if I did that. Not that I'm afraid of them, but hey, I've got to keep my options open too. She's got connections I'd like to keep healthy. Besides, she's my priestess too."

Persephone knew he would act this way and she had two choices. Plead with him or threaten him. She decided to do a little of both.

"I don't want her to fall in love with a degenerate. I could go to Aphrodite for that. I trust you to choose someone worthy of her. You know you want to do it."

Cupid made a face at the mention of his mother. Yes, she would definitely do something quirky like make his priestess fall for some cad, though he suspected that his priestess secretly liked the dangerous types. But Aphrodite was sure to choose an even more unlikely type.

"I want all my priestesses to find love, Persephone. I would like them to do it on their own though. She's got fellows in the wings. She's been hanging out with Autolycus a lot and there's that con man Rafe."

"Neither of whom are likely to offer marriage. I want someone new to come into her life, someone to sweep her off her feet."

"But most of all you want to test that bond she has with your husband," Cupid interjected.

"I'm not so unselfish," the goddess admitted. "I'd be lying if I said that it didn't bother me that Hades has a mistress when I'm not there. But even you could see that she needs this. Please Cupid, do this. I want to know if her love for Hades is that strong."

"Strong enough for her to deny a gut-wrenching love? Don't you realize she has a high capacity for love? She's almost in love with Autolycus; she just needs to admit it."

"But there's always Hades to consider," Persephone said. "She holds herself back because of him."

"And Ares," Cupid reminded her. "I still haven't figured out her feelings for him."

Persephone could see that he was almost convinced. "So will you do it?"

"But what if the love she has for Hades is strong enough? Having her fall in love so deeply and not admitting it will throw her into a depression."

"Take the spell off then." She didn't want to see the priestess hurt too much. The goddess was not cruel.

"By then it could be too late," he said.

Persephone sighed, but she was determined. "Do what you will."

Cupid considered for a moment, then grinned. "I'll do it."

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II

The perfect opportunity presented itself a few days later. Cupid sometimes watched the petitioners to his temple and on this evening a particular warrior caught his attention.

~Now this could be interesting,~ Cupid thought to himself, a sly smile on his lips. He channelled his mind to the man kneeling at his altar.

The warrior was praying. ~Oh god of love, I beseech you to show me the way to the lady of my dreams. Though I am a warrior dedicated to Ares, I am haunted by her. In my travels, I seek her face. I know that when I see her, I will recognize her. I only ask a sign to help me find her, this lady of my heart.~

Cupid was oddly touched and delved a little deeper into the warrior's mind. Emerging from a dreamy mist was the warrior's lady. Coincidence? Cupid raised an eyebrow...

The warrior left Cupid's temple in a pensive mood. He was somewhat comforted by this impromptu visit to the temple. He hadn't admitted until now that he was searching for her. His practical warrior side knew love was a foolish game. Yet his dreams held a longing for exactly that-- love. More specifically, he wanted to find the woman in his dreams.

He tried not to think about what he would do if and when he ever met her. What could he offer? He was a warrior, his travels dictated by Ares. Not to say that he didn't know how to romance a woman. He had his share of female companionship, though none had touched that longing within his soul.

The warrior thought of that first dream. It had been typical. He and his brother were sparring, as they always did and as he sometimes dreamt. At the end, a golden light appeared and a woman stepped forward. Her long, dark hair hung in a slightly wavy mass passed her shoulders. Her dress was the color of moonlight, fitting over her curves. But it was her eyes that caught him. Big and brown, innocent yet filled with wisdom.

She bid him to remember his brother, then kissed him softly on the lips. The moment she touched him, a fire lit within him and he knew that this was no ordinary dream. Even as he faded back to reality, he remembered.

She visited his dreams for a few months, then she just disappeared. But he could remember every detail about her.

For the past ten years, he nursed the fire in his heart. The frustration translated itself into a warrior who fought with a dispassionate ferocity. Yet in those quiet times, he often searched the crowds for her face. He never saw her and now he wondered if she was just a figment of his imagination. How foolish was he to chase a dream of a woman he never met?

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III

Kiari was strolling the meadow between the two temples of Ares and Cupid. She had begun the walks during the winter time. After her "death" at the hands of Discord, she found that her dreams had a strange and mysterious element that she didn't want to face. She didn't really need to sleep, but sometimes she found that it refreshed her soul, in spite of the dreams. The nightly walks in the meadow did the same for her.

This moment, just past midnight, was her favorite time of night. The waterfalls beckoned her and even with only the stars to guide her, she found her way to her tree. She snuggled into her cloak, breathing in the cool, crisp air. She leaned against the tree and closed her eyes, listening to the quiet of the night.

Kiari thought of her life as it was these days. Priestess of Ares, priestess of Cupid, liaison to Hades. Three gods with three very different personalities, yet she enjoyed her work. Weaving tapestries for Ares, answering scrolls from the lovelorn for Cupid, tending to the dead of the underworld. She sighed as she thought of Hades. It was almost time for her to go to the underworld, to once again don her goddess mantle. She wondered for how long.

Her Imzadi. She smiled to herself at the word. Very few understood it and she could never explain how she knew it, but she attested it to her former goddess life. She heard many things in the dreams of mortals. Imzadi was the one she remembered the most. ~The first one to touch your soul,~ she thought to herself. And that was the lord of the underworld for her.

The bushes a few feet away stirred and she heard a groan. She opened her eyes and concentrated. The groan again. She drew her sword and quietly approached the bush.

Cupid watched from the distance, unseen by his priestess. He knew what she would find there. The moment was crucial.

Kiari sheathed her sword when she saw that it was a man laying face down on the grass. He was holding his side, his breathing labored. Even in the darkness, she could see the blood trickling from his wound. She knelt beside him and carefully turned him over.

Now, Cupid thought to himself. He eyed his target.

Kiari checked the man's wound. He was unconscious, but breathing. She checked his pulse, then finally looked at his face.

Cupid shot his arrow right through her heart.

She felt the strange tingle and almost fell back, but she righted herself without a thought.

Cupid watched.

~Gods~, she thought to herself, ~I've got to get him help.~ She thought of calling out to the temple guards she knew were patrolling Ares' grounds, but she felt an urgency to get the stranger out of harm's way. She closed her eyes and in an instant she was in her goddess gown. She took the stranger's hand and with a thought brought them to Destine's healing room.

"Destine! I need help," Kiari called out.

The temple healer hurried out a moment later, obviously just rising from bed. She blinked at Kiari's outfit. The temple weaver never called upon her powers in Ares' temple. Something must really be wrong.

"What is it?" Destine asked.

Kiari gestured to the man on the bed. "I found him out in the meadow. It looks like he was beaten."

Destine nodded. "I'll take care of him. Who is he?"

"I don't know. He was unconscious when I got to him."

The man groaned and Kiari took his hand. His eyes fluttered open and he looked right at her. He tried to smile and he whispered, "I've finally found you." Then he passed out.

"It sounds like he knows you," Destine commented.

"I've never seen him before," Kiari murmured, but she didn't let go of his hand.

Kiari watched as Destine checked him over and stitched up his wound. He had lost a lot of blood, but the healer said he would survive.

"I'd like to stay with him," Kiari said, when Destine tried to shoo her out of the room.

"He's just going to sleep Kiari. Something you should probably do too. Although I suppose goddesses don't need sleep?"

Kiari frowned, then looked down at herself. "Oh, I forgot." She quickly changed back. "I was just worried about him."

Destine looked at the man's face. From his attire, she guessed him to be a warrior. But it was his face that interested her. Behind the bumps and bruises, there was a faint resemblance to someone she knew.

"He looks familiar," the healer mused, studying him closer. But she couldn't quite put her finger on it.

"Does he?" Kiari asked, gazing at him as well. Then her eyes widened. "Hades," she whispered.

"That's it! He looks like Hades," Destine agreed.

Up above, Cupid smiled to himself. He was not without his own quirks...

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IV

A dream...

The waterfalls called to her. The steady sound of it pounding on the lake, the gurgle of the water as it rushed by beckoned her to come closer. So she walked slowly, toward her favorite tree. The cool grass felt good on her bare feet and the sun filtered through the tree leaves. Then she saw him, waiting for her, a smile lighting his eyes.

"I've finally found you," she cried, rushing into his arms.

He held her tight, his breath warm in her hair. "It has been too long, my love."

"I never thought I'd see you again," she murmured.

"Me too," he said. He held her back a bit to look down into her eyes. "I kept searching for you, vowing to find you no matter how long it took."

"So much time has gone by," she said. "I thought you'd give up and forget me."

He shook his head. "I could never forget you..."

Kiari awoke with a start. The healing room was still dark, but she could see the sun beginning to rise in the window. She was sitting in the chair next to the warrior's bed, her hand still holding his. Their fingers were entwined and his grip, even in sleep, was firm. She gazed down at him, brushing the hair from his closed eyes.

Why did she dream that? The details were fading, but she knew that she had dreamt of the warrior beside her. Had she somehow stepped into his dreams? Yes, that must have been it. The man was searching for his lost love and Kiari had somehow put herself in that woman's boots.

Kiari gently let go of his hand and stood up. She didn't need to stay in his room. Destine would call her when he woke up. She turned and got about halfway to the door when he began to toss and turn, mumbling and groaning.

She went back to his side and touched his cheek. "Shh," she tried to soothe. He immediately calmed down. Kiari sat back in the chair and realized that she could not leave. For whatever reason, he needed her.

A few days later, Ped came to the healing room, concerned for her fellow priestess.

"How is he?" Ped asked.

"He's getting better. He's still in and out, but he had some soup today," Kiari sighed.

Ped studied the sleeping warrior. The bruises were healing and his face was almost back to normal. The resemblance to Hades was unmistakable.

"So he's finally found you," she murmured.

Kiari glanced at her sharply. "What did you say?"

"I didn't believe when Destine said he looks like Hades," Ped remarked. She turned her attention to her sibling. "Kiari, it's been three days."

Kiari just waited. Ped let out a long suffering sigh.

"You've been neglecting your duties and Ares is driving us crazy with his questions. He keeps coming to me, asking me if I know anything."

Kiari shrugged. "Why doesn't he just come here?"

Ped rolled her eyes. "Go figure. I don't know. But he sent me to come after you."

"He's already sent Sura and Séi. I'll tell you what I told them. I have to stay with him."

"Why?" Ped asked simply.

"Watch." Kiari stood up and walked towards the door. She got to the doorway and turned around.

Ped had her hands on her hips, tapping her foot impatiently. "Well?"

Kiari frowned. "Any other time, he starts fussing if I get just halfway through the door. Did you do one of your spells on him?"

"No," Ped said, an innocent look on her face. "Look, he's not fussing now. Why don't you get out and get some fresh air or something. I'll stay with him. I'll call you if anything changes."

"Well..."

"Go on!" Ped admonished.

"All right. You'll call for me?"

"I said I would. Shoo!"

Kiari took one last look at the patient and left the room...

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V

Kiari took a walk out in the meadow, the waterfalls beckoning her yet again. No one else was around. It was late afternoon and the sun was just beginning its descent. A faint breeze ruffled through the trees. As she walked, something glinted in the bushes.

She realized that it was the place where she found the warrior as she went over. A sword lay on the ground. When she touched it, she knew it was his.

"Nice sword."

Kiari spun around, surprised to see Hades. "What are you doing here?"

He raised an eyebrow. "That's not the greeting I expected." He gestured at the sword. "That's not yours. Whose is it?"

Kiari turned it in her hand, examining the hilt. "I think it belongs to the warrior I found here the other night."

Hades nodded. "The one who almost made it to my realm. You know, Celesta almost took him. She stopped when she saw you."

Kiari frowned. "I didn't see her."

"Apparently not. She said you disappeared before she could say anything." Hades didn't add that it took a lot of persuading on his part to get his sister to tell him what happened. Celesta usually kept things to herself. And he still felt that she kept something from him.

-Haven't you a greeting for your Imzadi?- He asked, his voice quiet even in her mind.

She smiled a little and went up to him, tiptoeing to give him a soft kiss on the lips.

"I've been waiting for you," he said. "I expected you last night."

Kiari gripped the handle of the sword tightly. "I know. I've been concerned with the warrior. He was beaten pretty badly."

Hades' eyes narrowed. "I didn't know you've taken a role as nurse."

Kiari kept her annoyance at bay and her voice calm. "I was the one who found him. I want to be sure he's all right."

"You used your goddess powers to take him to the temple. The agreement--"

"The agreement needs to be renegotiated," Kiari reminded him. "You no longer have control over whether or not I use my powers."

"Don't I?" Hades asked, his voice a dangerous purr. He glanced at her hand, the one that wore his ring.

Kiari shook her head. "No, you don't. But don't worry, I'm not going to use my powers to help Ares in his schemes. He knows that. You should too."

The underworld lord looked unconvinced. "I was just surprised. You have always made an effort to never use your goddess powers in Ares' temple. I just don't understand the change."

"It was just once, Hades. The warrior needed immediate help. I couldn't very well carry him."

"Your concern is touching, but you still have your duties to the underworld. Your sister was also looking forward to your visit."

Kiari smarted at the mention of Ilaria. It had been too long since the two sisters had been together. "I know, Hades."

"Will I see you tonight?" He asked, taking her hand.

She sighed. "I'm not sure."

"Kiari."

"Hades, I'm not sure."

"Leave her, Hades," Ares said behind them. His arms were crossed and he waited.

"This conversation is private, Ares," Hades said.

"Not on my time. I need to speak to my priestess, alone. If she chooses to go to the underworld tonight, I will gladly send her. Until then, leave."

Hades looked at Kiari. "Tonight then?"

She couldn't meet his eyes. "I will try."

Hades growled in frustration and left.

Ares laughed. "Well, never thought I'd see it."

"See what?" Kiari asked ,annoyed.

"You make Hades angry. I like it."

"You would!" She shot at him.

The smile vanished, replaced by a dark look. "We need to talk, Kiari."

She braced herself for another confrontation...

Prologue ~ I ~ II ~ III ~ IV ~ V


Gods at Play  VI - X / XI - XV / XVI - XX / XXI - XXV / XXVI to Conclusion

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©1998 VCN